All posts by Kitty Felde

About Kitty Felde

Award-winning public radio journalist, writer, and TEDx speaker Kitty Felde hosts the Book Club for Kids podcast, named by The Times of London as one of the top 10 kidcasts in the world. The Los Angeles native created the Washington bureau for Southern California Public Radio and covered Capitol Hill for nearly a decade, explaining how government works to grownups. Now she explains it to kids in a series of mystery novels and podcasts called The Fina Mendoza Mysteries. Kitty was named LA Radio Journalist of the Year three times by the LA Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Newsletters

by Kitty Felde

If you’ve attended as many book marketing webinars as I have, you’ve heard the same advice: you need a newsletter.

The reason is simple: if the rest of social media goes the way of Twitter, er, X, you need a way to stay in touch with your theatre contacts, publishers, and fans in a format that you can control.
So as a veteran of writing hundreds of newsletters, here’s a few thoughts.

WHAT SHOULD I PUT IN A NEWSLETTER?

I’ve always thought of newsletters as a bit self-indulgent. Who would want to read anything about my life, my thoughts on climate change or politics, or pictures of my cat? And then I remembered that my husband and I have put out a Christmas newsletter for more than a decade that does just that. I apologize to my friends and family and tell them they can just toss it in the trash or ask me to take them off the mailing list. On the contrary, they say, they look forward to this annual missive. Go figure.

The truth is that we long for personal connections – even those that show up in a newsletter once and a while. Your contacts want to know more about YOU, the writer yourself. You don’t have to disclose utterly personal information. Instead, address the questions most people ask: Why do you write? How do you write? What are you working on? What does your desk look like? Who’s your favorite playwright? Why?

OTHER IDEAS

Readers and theatre goers and fans also like a peek behind the curtain. How do you cast a play? Do the actors hired for your work look like the ones you imagined when you were creating them? Who’s your favorite director? Why? What was the best (and worst) production of any of your work? (Leave out specific identification of the offending theatre…it’s a small town.) Write about an amazing production of someone else’s play or recount a memory of a play you saw years and years ago that still sticks with you. Ask your readers to tell you about their favorite production of any play and put that in a future newsletter. Ask them which play they wish someone would write. Put together a survey. In other words, get your fans to interact with you, otherwise known as that horrid word “engagement.”

Ask yourself what your newsletter subscribers NEED. A calendar of upcoming shows you think they’d enjoy? A monologue or scene that got cut from one of your plays? A really wonderful – or really awful – review of a previous production of one of your plays? Information about upcoming productions or publications or interviews?

MY NEWSLETTERS

Currently, I write two professional newsletters with a combined 4,000 subscribers. I began writing them in 2015.

For my Book Club for Kids podcast, I didn’t want the newsletter to be about ME. I wanted to give subscribers something that was useful. I knew that my audience of teachers, parents, and librarians needed help getting reluctant readers to pick up a book. So every month, I send a reading tip from a librarian or an education specialist. The newsletter also includes promotional material: information about the latest episode, an invitation to check out my other podcast The Fina Mendoza Mysteries, and an invitation to contact me if they want to bring the podcast to their school.

For my Fina Mendoza Mysteries civics series, I write a Facts Behind the Fiction newsletter where I expand on some Congressional fact mentioned in the books or podcast. The newsletter also includes links to research material, as well as links to the audio and to bookstores where the audience can buy the book.

Then I REPURPOSE the newsletter content in a blog on my website. And if I’m a good girl, I post links to it on social. That way, I get a three for one hit on my written material.

HOW OFTEN DO I SEND A NEWSLETTER?

It’s up to you. But once a month or every six months is plenty. Unless your audience asks for more.

HOW TO BUILD A MAILING LIST

Start with your friends, family, professional colleagues, and anyone else who might be interested in your work. Or in you. Include a signup link on your website. Include it in social posts from time to time. Do a “newsletter swap” – you write a post that a fellow playwright sends to her mailing list and she writes one for your newsletter. Include that signup link! Hopefully, her fans will sign up for your newsletter and become your fans as well. You’ll be surprised at how fast your audience grows.

MAILCHIMP, MAILERLITE, CONSTANT CONTACT, ETC.

Don’t send mass email blasts from your Gmail account. You will be punished. Instead, start with a free subscription from one of the usual suspects. I’ve used both Mailchimp and MailerLite and they’re easy, pretty much drag and drop. One warning: there’s a success tax. If your mailing list goes over a set threshold, you’ll have to pay for hosting.

STILL UNCERTAIN?

Subscribe to a few OTHER writer’s mailing lists. You can always unsubscribe. See what they are writing about, how they are providing value to the reader.

Newsletters are purely optional for writers, but as a control freak myself, they are an important part of my professional presence in the world.

Kitty

PS: You can subscribe to the Book Club for Kids podcast here. Or the Fina Mendoza Mysteries podcast here.

Kitty Felde is the author of numerous plays and the Fina Mendoza Mysteries series of books and podcasts, designed to introduce civics to elementary school readers. Her novella Losing is Democratic: How to Talk to Kids About January 6th will be released by Chesapeake Press this month.

Revision

by Kitty Felde

It sounded so idylic: ten days on Nantucket, and then two and a half weeks in Maine. All that time devoted to one thing: revision.

I’m working on my first adult novel, a mystery set in Theodore Roosevelt’s White House. The first draft is too long – 368 pages and still lacking a last scene. It’s a mess.

This year has been full of chaos with running a tiny publishing company, producing a pair of podcasts, and then five family members developed health issues. It’s been difficult to concentrate.

But I had those two trips to look forward to, away from the many fires that demand immediate attention, and I would use them to whip my novel into shape.

I was afraid to look at the pages. I’d written the first draft a year ago. What if it was awful? What if I couldn’t figure out how to fix it? Should I just burn the darned thing and eat lobster and enjoy myself?

After talking myself off the ledge, I remembered how I edit. And that’s what I’ll share with you.

PRINT IT OUT

A play or novel looks completely different in other formats.

I write on my laptop, but edit on paper. (I know, I know. I’ve sacrificed trees for this book. All the more reason to make the editing count.)

You see things differently when a book is on the screen vs on a piece of paper. It’s tactile. There is something satisfying about crossing out duplicate words with a red pen or watching a stack of pages dwindle as you read and reread and edit. (The only downside: my carryon bag was particularly heavy since I insisted on dragging my printed copy with me on the plane.)

READ THE DAMN THING

I write in short spurts. A scene here, a chapter there. I don’t make a habit of going back over my work again and again and again.

But editing begins with looking at the project as a whole. Does it make sense? What’s missing? Are there duplicate scenes?

I don’t immediately fix these problems, just note them in a separate notebook. I just keep reading.

WHAT’S IT REALLY ABOUT?

I knew that underneath the mystery, the book is really about a daughter’s lifelong effort to get her father’s attention and approval. Upon re-reading my manuscript, I was satisfied with the emotional underpinnings of the story. What I was lacking was a plot that made sense.

I started making lists, outlining the various murder plots, the actual clues and the red herrings. I followed main characters through the story – their locations, their motivations. I found holes and noted them in my notebook. More things to fix.

FIX THE BIG STUFF FIRST…OR NOT

After looking at plot holes, I had a good idea of what needed fixing and decided to tackle that first. Rereading the entire work made it clear what was important and what was not. I eagerly picked up my red pen and got to work.

But there were other problems that had no immediate solution. I needed to sleep on it or take a long walk or a swim, distract myself long enough for my brain to figure out a solution.

In the meantime, I tackled the small stuff I’d listed in my notebook. How many children DID Mrs. Caldwell have? Was it eight or nine? What was the name of the bank owned by Mr. Johnston? What was the rank of that police officer? It was just as satisfying fixing little things as it was solving big problems. And fixing the small stuff gave me courage to attack the big stuff.

KILL YOUR FAVORITES

Writers are always telling us to be brutal in editing, to not be afraid to kill our darlings.
I’m not that brave. I marked up my paper copy. But when I have reliable internet and make those changes in the master script on my laptop, I will save all those edited scenes in my Leftover file. I’m braver about making changes if I know that I can always go back and put that scene back in the main manuscript. Or use it in another book.

BETA READERS

I’m a member of THREE writing groups. I also regularly swap drafts with yet another set of writers. It’s invaluable to have another set of eyes on our work. There are just some things we are blind to, things we skip over. They tell us when they don’t understand a plot point or the physical action in an action scene or the motivations of a character. They tell us when things are dragging, when a line is funny, whether the ending is satisfying.

KNOW WHEN TO STOP

At some point, we have to admit to ourselves that our work will never be perfect. We have to share it with the world and take the consequences. What’s the worst that can happen? An agent will reject us. Or three. Or a hundred. We decide to self-publish and get a one star review on Amazon. (At least someone took the time to read the darned book!) None of our siblings will buy the book and never ask about it at Thanksgiving. (Good. They’ll never know we named the villain after them.)

Be brave. Write your cover letter and your synopsis. Polish them. And send out your baby into the world. It’s time.

Kitty’s many plays have been produced around the world. Two are available in print. These days, she writes The Fina Mendoza Mysteries series of books and podcast for kids.

Opening Nights

by Kitty Felde

Is launch day for a book the same as opening night for a new play?


Yes and no.

On Monday, my middle grade mystery novel Welcome to Washington Fina Mendoza comes out in English and Spanish. It’s the story of the 10-year-old daughter of a congressman from Los Angeles who moves to D.C. and solves mysteries inside the U.S. Capitol. I’ve been nervous and excited and had to remind myself that I’ve had opening nights for years.

But it made me think about what book launches and opening nights have in common.

Some things are the same.


As a playwright, you’re sending out emails to all your friends and family, begging them to buy tickets for opening night. You’re posting on social. You might even go ‘old school’ and send out postcards to that agent you’re hoping to snag, or that friend of a show runner you met at a party. You’re hoping for good reviews in the handful of places that actually still review plays. You offer ticket discounts. You post some more on social… You get the idea.

As a book writer, you’re also emailing your friends and family, begging them to buy your book. You’re posting on social. Instead of postcards, you’re printing bookmarks, handing them out like candy at book festivals and library conventions. You’ve sent your book out to Kirkus and other review sites and posted the manuscript on NetGalley, (a free service free to readers, but a few hundred dollars for writers,) hoping for reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Instead of discounting tickets, you’re discounting book sales. You post some more on social…

Sound familiar?

For writers, book events are our opening nights. There is often champagne and cakes decorated with the cover of your book. The difference is that plays are what one pal described as ephemeral. A production disappears after its run. Books are tangible evidence of our writing. Sure, they may gather dust on library shelves and on the bedside table of your best friend who promises to read it one of these days.

There is one difference between writing for the page and writing for the stage: the community of theatre. As a book writer, you often do get to collaborate with a designer (for the cover instead of the set) and an editor (similar to a director.) What you don’t get writing books is the joy of the rehearsal room, the hours you get to spend with actors who bring your characters to life, the collaboration that leads to genius stage business and laughs you didn’t know where there.

But writing is writing, whether it’s plays or books. And after the stage lights are turned off or the bookstore locks the door, we all head back to the laptop or yellow pad or dictation app and start all over again.

LAFPI readers can get an autographed copy of Welcome to Washington Fina Mendoza or Bienvenida a Washington Fina Mendoza by clicking here.

Kitty Felde is a playwright currently working on Snake in the Grass, the third book in her Fina Mendoza Mysteries series of middle grade novels.

Writing Through Trauma

by Kitty Felde

I used to think that I needed to clear my plate before I could sit down to write. Bills had to be paid, phone calls and emails had to be returned, and any emotional or physical turmoil had to be addressed before I could clear my head and give myself permission to sit down at the keyboard to write.

I used to think that way. And then my brother-in-law jumped off a freeway overpass. I discovered that chaos demands the written word.

My mother used to say April was the cruelest month. Everything bad happened in April. It must be genetic because I found April to be awful as well…though in recent years, my horribilis mensis shifted to March. The month started off in its usual rotten way – stomach flu, a cracked tooth. And then the jump.

The brother-in-law had been the sole caregiver for his wife, a woman my age who’d had a stroke six months earlier and was left with dementia. He kept saying everything was fine. A visit to their house proved that it wasn’t. Both were taken to the ER. She was shifted to a psychiatric hospital, he was released. Twice. And then he jumped. He survived, but broke just about every bone in his body.

And then the stupid minutia began. We couldn’t find the house keys, which meant we couldn’t lock up his house. The police threatened to tow his car, but the hospital wouldn’t give us his car key. The insurance company demanded the wife be moved, but the new hospital couldn’t find her.

But in the middle of the tornado, I found myself carving out an hour here and there to write, to spend time with my fictional Mendoza family, researching snakes and basement windows and scenes about learning to drive and partisan politics. I NEEDED that other place where I could control the chaos.

It will be a long process, picking up the pieces. But once things settle down, I’ve learned a lesson I’ll long remember: the emails and bills and self doubts can wait. I have something more important to do right now. I need to write.

Kitty Felde is author of The Fina Mendoza Mysteries series of books and podcasts. Welcome to Washington Fina Mendoza will be released in July, 2023 by Chesapeake Press. Her ensemble play A Patch of Earth, a courtroom drama about the Bosnian War, is now available on Amazon.

Publish Your Play

by Kitty Felde

I’ve taken a leave of absence from playwriting.

I was frustrated by Covid, joining legions of theatre-goers who still aren’t comfortable sitting that close to human beings in a crowded space. I was even more frustrated by the pre-Covid developmental process that discouraged actual performances live, on stage.

Instead, I’ve been writing books for kids. There’s something magical about holding something solid in your hands, proof that your writing actually exists after the curtain goes down. If it ever goes up.

I spent last week in an Amazon Ad class, trying to unlock the mysteries of Jeff Bezos’ marketing platform. I knew nothing, but dutifully created category ads, keyword ads, writing and rewriting a pitch line.

It was when I learned how to read the numbers, I discovered that an old play of mine was selling like crazy.

A Patch of Earth is my most-produced play, a courtroom drama about a Bosnian war criminal who confessed to killing “no more than 70” of the 1200 people shot in a cornfield near Srebrenica. I’d covered the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia as a reporter and was haunted by the story of Drazen Erdemovic long after his trial was over. So I combined courtroom testimony with fiction and put his story on the stage.

Timothy Newell as Erdemovic at the Alleyway Theatre in Buffalo, NY

Since most of the characters are in their early 20’s, the play is particularly popular on high school and college campuses and I’d often get requests from teachers for a pdf of the play for a classroom discussion. I happily sent it, since I felt it was an important story for the next generation to learn about to prevent the next genocide.

LA County High School for the Arts production of A Patch of Earth

But I was tired of emailing pdfs.

The play was included in an anthology from The University of Wisconsin Press, but at $30 a copy, with a title like The Theatre of Genocide: Four Plays about Mass Murder in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Armenia you can imagine the number of copies flying off the shelf.

Nonetheless, I owned the rights, so I self-published A Patch of Earth on Amazon.

And then forgot about it. Until that Amazon Ad class.

Who knew? Even with a lousy cover, my acting edition of the play has been quietly, but steadily selling. The script contains information about performance rights. But because the play is historically accurate, the demand has mostly been from teachers and college professors who want to tackle the Bosnian war in their classroom curriculum.

So, may I suggest that you consider publishing your own plays? It’s not difficult.

You need to open a KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account in Amazon.

I chose a 6” x 9” format in paperback. Amazon has free templates you can download for lots of sizes if you want something specific. Just cut and paste your play, and download as a pdf.

If you want an ebook version, you want to sign up at Reedsy and use their free Book Editor app. They provide easy instructions. Again, download your play.

For covers, there are lots of places you can find templates for ebooks and paperbacks. I paid less than $100 for an ebook cover for a novella recently, hiring one of the artists on Fivrr.

Cover designer Mindyrella on Fivrr

You’ll need to know how many pages your book is, including dedication, copyright information, cast list, etc. Amazon has a template for that, too.

You upload the lot to your KDP account, along with price, book description, etc. Then, just wait a day or two, and voila!

And then you can learn the not-so-wonderful world of Amazon ads…

Kitty Felde has written more than a dozen plays, including A Patch of Earth. The play won the Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition, and has been performed around the world. She co-founded Theatre of NOTE. Now, instead of writing about war crimes, she explains civics to kids in a series of mystery novels The Fina Mendoza Mysteries.

Chronicling America

by Kitty Felde

I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of research. Dangerous, I know, because researching is a great excuse for not writing. But often you find unexpected treasures that can sometimes become an essential part of your play.

I’ve been using the vast newspaper records available online at the Library of Congress. Chronicling America, a partnership between the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a free, searchable database of American newspapers from 1777 to 1963. If you’re writing about an era before or after that, the LOC has a secondary collection of newspapers from 1690 to today.

There’s a map where you can discover ethnic newspapers across the country. Who knew there was a German newspaper in San Diego and a Finnish one in Washington state? There were dozens of African-American newspapers from Butte, Montana to Miami, Florida.

I fumbled around at first, but found absolute gold in the digital pages of Chronicling America.

Currently, I’m working on a murder mystery set in the White House era of Theodore Roosevelt. The plot takes us all over the Washington, D.C. of 1902. I had so many questions.

How did police get around town. Did they ride horses? Drive motor cars? Bicycles? Who were they? A profile of “Well Known Men of the Metropolitan Police Force” in the Washington Times helped me create my policemen characters – including one who was active in the temperance movement.

What happened at an inquest of the era? The Evening Star had a full report of one particular proceeding. Though I admit I was distracted by the ad for furniture on the same page that featured a $22 “Polished Mahogany-Finished Toilet Table.” A what?

I needed a place for a body to be discovered. The Washington Times reported on a years-long battle to either fill in or fence the James Creek Canal. Little more than a sewer, neighbors labeled it a “death trap” where five bodies a month were pulled from the mud.

For one scene, I needed the name of a stationary store where my amateur detective could find a blank book to record her clues. I searched “stationary supplies” and found an advertisement at the top of the page in the Evening Star.


My favorite gem didn’t happen in Washington at all. The Washington Times, like papers and TV news today, reprint sensational or odd stories from around the world. This one involved a pair of guinea pigs at a temperance meeting in Paris, as written up in a newspaper in Liverpool. The experiment was designed to demonstrate the destructive power of alcohol. Guess which one got sick. One animal was given water, the other alcohol.

article about guinea pigs at a temperance meeting

There were challenges. I was overwhelmed. I wanted to read everything. (Anything to avoid staring at a blank screen and actually have to write. But my lousy eyesight made it difficult to see an entire page on a 13” laptop. I wasn’t sure how to find what I needed. And when I found a juicy tidbit, what was the best way to keep track of it? Was saving links the best way to capture the information?

I am no research genius, but let me save you the learning curve and share my tips:

SEARCHING

o Narrow down your search parameters. If your play is set in 1939, look for newspapers from that year. If it’s set in Pittsburgh, narrow your search to just papers from Pennsylvania.
o Try various search terms. If you get too many hits with “police,” try “detective.”
o You’ll soon discover which newspapers go with the sensational, which have the most advertisements. Ads are great to help you describe clothing of the era or which stores or restaurants were frequented by your characters.)

READING

o If you’re using Microsoft Word, use the snipping tool. You can isolate the articles you want to keep, and save images for future reference or inspiration. And for those of us who are visually challenged, you can save it IN A LARGER SIZE.
o Images are also helpful while you’re writing. I often drop an image into the manuscript if there’s a quote I want to use or a detail that’s perfect for the scene. (And then I delete the image.)

ORGANIZATION

o DO keep track of your links. It will save going back and searching all over again. Note the source and date of the article, just in case you do have to go back and search.
o I’m sure your graduate school training will have given you a better way to organize your research. Me? I keep a simple Word or Google doc where I list topics I’ve researched. Sometimes I drop in a line or two, sometimes an image, but always a link. (At first, I kept a numbered “footnote” file at the bottom of the document, but since I’m not including my research in my notes, I gave up on that.)

PERMISSIONS

o If you’re considering including images in your book, take note of the copyright and who owns it. You might want to start asking for permission now to use the material later, long before you’re done with the book. If the answer is “no,” that gives you time to find an alternate image.

Good luck! And happy reading.

Kitty Felde is an award-winning playwright currently working on her third book. Her Fina Mendoza Mysteries series of books are also available as a podcast. She is also Executive Producer of the Book Club for Kids podcast.

Goodbye Theatre?

by Kitty Felde

I haven’t been inside a theatre for two years. And I’m not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable enough to return. Does this mean the death of live theatre? Does it mean the end of playwriting? At least for me.

It’s a question I’ve had to ask myself. Why spend my life writing something that no one will see?

Oh, sure. There are alternatives to a black box theatre experience. I myself have written a play that should be performed in a National Park. And I’ve written audio dramas for the Fina Mendoza Mysteries podcast series – plays that are performed inside your head. Others have created plays for Zoom and Instagram and YouTube.

Culture Clash turned its epic drama Chavez Ravine into a video project. Antaeus Theatre Company asked its playwrights to write audio plays about Los Angeles neighborhoods. They were turned into a podcast called The Zip Code Plays. Ellen Struve, a most creative playwright in Nebraska, wrote and produced what she calls Picture Window Puppet Theatre, a shadow play performed from her living room window for all of her Omaha neighbors.

The pandemic has indeed forced us to be creative. But it’s also challenged us to think about theatre itself. What’s the point? How important is it for us to gather together to share an experience? Is theatre just an elitist exercise?

I wanted to be an actor from my earliest days of watching television as a child. I spent most of high school backstage, either performing or running the sound board. I changed majors from Social Ecology to Theatre after one week of college, braving the censure of my mother who always wanted me to be a lawyer. (She surprised me by telling me to go for it!)

I spent my 20’s living on $40 a week plus board at a melodrama company near Pismo Beach, driving to commercial auditions where occasionally I’d get hired to extoll the virtues of peanut butter or play the rear end of a horse, performing plays and improv in tiny theatres where the performers usually outnumbered the patrons. I co-founded a theatre, Theatre of NOTE, where I served as Managing Director for more than half a decade. I rejoiced when I earned my Equity card and performed at South Coast Rep. I wrote dozens of plays, some published and performed around the world. One was even performed in the nude.

But that feels like another lifetime. I was another person.

A few years ago, Stanford political science professor Frank Fukuyama wrote that we had come to the end of history. Have we come to the end of theatre?

Of course, Fukuyama was wrong. A lot of history has happened since 1995. And since theatre has been around since human beings started telling stories around the fire, it’s unlikely the end of theatre.

But for me, for now, that shared experience of sitting together for an evening of theatre is over. And so is writing for that mythical place that filled so much of my life.

I’ll still write stories. Books and podcast dramas and who knows what next. But at least for now, and for the foreseeable future, my life in the theatre has come to an end.

Farewell, theatre.

The Power of Two

by Kitty Felde

Back when I was a journalist by day and playwright by night, I stumbled upon a terrific psychological tool to fight off doubt and rejection. When the “thank you for your submission, but…” letters poured in, I picked myself up off the ground, telling myself, “I’m not really a playwright. I’m a journalist.”

It worked the other way, too. On those days when police spokesmen were rude and TV cameramen trampled me as they rushed ahead of me on a story, I’d console myself by saying, “I’m not really a journalist. I’m a playwright.”

Simplistic, but it worked. I could protect my ego simply by switching hats.

It was my power of two: two identities, twice the chance to succeed. The double identity also provided me with a built-in escape route.

THE POWER OF TWO (me and the two lions that led to Rancho Montoya in the old TV show “The High Chaparral”)

I find myself using the power of two with my sewing projects.

As a sewist (one of those new titles that feels contrived) I like to have a project in hand, and one I can cheat on – er, dream about in the future. I have some lovely green corduroy for a pair of trousers for fall. I’ve cut out the general pattern. But before I can head to the sewing machine, I realize there are some fitting issues that need to be tackled, and fitting is hard. I don’t want to do it. So to escape the immediate challenge, I dream about the next one.

top left

What can I make out of that crazy Italian racing striped jersey I found at that warehouse of a fabric store in Phoenix? A tee shirt? A dress? Let me go through my stash of patterns… In other words, I “play hooky,” thinking about the next project. And while I’m planning ahead, my brain is also organizing the steps needed to fit those damned trousers. It’s as if my creative brain needs to be engaged on something else in order to figure out the answers to the problems at hand. The power of two.

It’s the same with my writing.

I long for the times when my fingers fly across the keyboards, wonderful dialogue springs forth as if it was written on air and I’m just transcribing what I can see before me. Characters suddenly introduce themselves and insert themselves into scenes, as if they’re telling me, “Trust me, I know what I’m doing. Just keep up with me.”

Then there’s the rest of the time. Every sentence feels tortured. The overall concept for the script seems unimportant, trite, overdone. Some inner voice screams, “This will never be produced!”

Some call it writers block. Others call it a lack of confidence. I call it hell. I know it’s all part of writing. But it’s no fun.

My solution? I cheat on my writing. The power of two.

I spent most of the summer working on the audio script for the second season of The Fina Mendoza Mysteries podcast. It’s usually an “easier” kind of writing: you already have the plot, characters, conflict, etc. But how do you translate them to audio? I kept getting stuck.

So I decided to cheat on Fina with a completely new project.

I’ve had an idea noodling around in my head to start a new mystery series of books with a new character and turn-of-the-last century time period. It felt fresh, new, exciting. Research for it took me down new rabbit holes. Words started flooding the screen. It felt sneaky, like I was getting away with something. Instead of writing what I SHOULD be writing, I was sneaking off to write something new.

Yet all the while, my subconscious was working on the problems with the Fina script. Because I wasn’t confronting it head on, the creative brain was allowed to find its own way, thinking outside the box, finding solutions almost on its own.

I went back and finished the audio script. Yay. And the bonus: I didn’t have to start from scratch with a new project.

The power of two.


Kitty Felde is a playwright who also writes books for children. Her latest Fina Mendoza mystery “State of the Union” is available from Chesapeake Press.

Returning to Normal?

by Kitty Felde

As I write this, I’m flying back to Los Angeles from Washington, D.C., my first airplane trip since February of 2020. I attended my first (and second) Major League Baseball game, ate out in a restaurant, toured a museum, even spent time in five classrooms. It was great, but it certainly didn’t feel normal. The mass transit system in D.C. was nearly empty. Downtown and Chinatown were ghost towns. Capitol Hill was bereft of 8th graders on school field trips. When will we truly get back to normal?

And what IS normal?

I talked to a lot of old friends this trip. One thing I noticed was how many people were re-evaluating where they are in this post-pandemic life. I had coffee with SO people who told me they were contemplating their next act: writing a memoir, quitting their soul-sucking job, finding a way to make a difference in the world. Perhaps the one thing the pandemic taught us was how short life can be, how none of us are guaranteed fourscore and ten, how it’s time to start tackling the items on our bucket list.

Another thing struck me as I spoke face-to-face with human beings again: when I asked how their pandemic year was, every one of them began by talking about how fortunate they were. They recounted their blessings. Even those who lost family members or jobs began the conversation by talking about the good things that came of Covid. And every one talked about a lesson from the pandemic or a routine they plan to keep once they return to “normal” – whether it’s online yoga classes or saying “no” to social occasions they really didn’t have to attend or carving out time with the people they truly love.

So what does the future hold for theatre? When will we feel comfortable to sit inside, in the dark, with strangers whose vaccination status is unknown?

Some theatres, like the Fountain, invested in outdoor furniture, built a stage next door to their brick and mortar building, embracing a new way to create theatre. Others are scheduling full indoor seasons beginning this fall. And then there’s zoom performances…

A good friend in Virginia runs a terrific theatre in Alexandria: MetroStage. Unfortunately, after decades of performing in an old lumber warehouse near the Potomac River, her theatrical home was about to disappear. A multi-story, high-end condo would replace the cabaret musicals and exciting new plays that had graced MetroStage.

Fortunately, the city mothers and fathers were trying to brand that end of Alexandria as an arts district. Part of the deal was that MetroStage would remain in the neighborhood, courtesy of a black box theatre they would build for her in the basement of one of the new buildings.

The downside was that she had to raise a lot of money to finish the raw space. And the theatre would have to shut down for more than a year.
Enter the pandemic when every theatre in the world shut down. Her timing was exquisite.

Artistic Director Carolyn Griffin can hardly wait for the opening of her new theatre space. And yet, she keeps thinking about the theatre from around the world that she saw online during the pandemic. Some of it awful, some of it magical. (I still smile when I think about a zoom production of The Railway Children from the York Theatre Royal that was absolutely magical. If not for the pandemic, I never would have seen it.)

Carolyn believes that our pandemic year has taught us that audiences outside of our immediate neighborhoods are hungry for theatre. The homebound elderly need theatrical inspiration. So do kids in schools too poor to afford a school bus to bring them to a performance. Despite that spanking new performance space, Carolyn says her pandemic lesson is that 21st century theatre must embrace 21st century technology, making theatre accessible to more than just in-person season subscribers. Theatre can truly be for everyone.

If Carolyn is correct, that presents a challenge for us as playwrights: we must create pieces that actually work better on the small screen. Not just talking heads in a zoom call, but theatrical pieces that jump off the screen. Twyla Tharp commissioned Misty Copeland and some of Twyla’s dance company to create unique work specifically for the small screen. It was amazing. Dancers in their tiny New York apartments or Inglewood garage bouncing off the walls, avoiding bookcases, seemingly flying on and offstage. It was like watching Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling in Royal Wedding. We have to think outside the box to create this kind of work for the theatre.

And even if we only want to create work to be performed live, onstage, we have to write cheap. In other words, even the “no more than six actors” rule that has reigned supreme over the past few decades is too big. Theatres have held on by their fingernails. Budgets are amazingly thin. Plays featuring two characters – or even one – are more likely to be produced in the next few years. And unfortunately for living playwrights, much of that work will be tried and true titles designed to lure back an audience. We’ll be competing with the famous dead white guys.

Our last challenge is to ask ourselves what an audience wants to see onstage in a post-pandemic world. If the 1920’s are a model, it’s likely to be comedies and lighter fare. I doubt there will be much interest in a pandemic play, but I could be wrong. Look at Angels in America and the AIDS crisis.

But I’m an optimist. I’m going to view these challenges as pandemic blessings for us as writers. They allow us to reassess our own work, our own goals, our own “next act” as we sit down at the keyboard and start writing something new.

I can hardly wait!

Kitty’s second book in The Fina Mendoza Mysteries series State of the Union will be published by Chesapeake Press August 13, 2021. A mysterious bird poops on the president’s head during the State of the Union address. Can our young detective find that bird before the Secret Service, the Capitol Police, and the rest of Washington and hear its secret message?

I cheer for both the Dodgers and the Nationals

The future MetroStage

Crash Landing on Plot

by Kitty Felde

I’ve been thinking a lot about plot.

A writer friend recently had a zoom performance of her play, a lovely piece about the power of grief and recovery. The last scene is a reprise of the top of the play, flashed back in time, full of the ugly and raw emotion of loss. Several “critics” urged her to expunge the scene. “It isn’t needed,” said one. “Anticlimactic,” said another. What they were saying was that the script didn’t follow the classic Greek model of rising action, climax, and denouement. Or, the penis model, as I like to call it.

Instead, the writer used a circular structure for the play. Which, some argue, is a more organic way of writing for the female storyteller. Yes, you start at point A and return there, but the protagonist hasn’t necessarily “learned something” or “changed,” which are requirements for the official “circular” plot. The writer just finished the story. Period.

The writer rejected the criticism, by the way.

Sticking to the Aristotelian structure has become even more formulaic in recent decades, something I call the “Save the Cat” effect. The popular book by Blake Snyder has become a template for most movies and far too many plays. It’s gotten to a point that I can pretty much predict exactly what will happen next – something I do, by the way, that drives my husband crazy.

Until I watched Crash Landing on You.

Crash Landing on You



It’s a South Korean episodic drama about a poor little rich girl out paragliding and gets blown across the DMZ to North Korea. It’s wonderful – funny, not too scary, full of social and political commentary, but mostly a love story. It’s also incredibly well written by veteran screenwriter Park Ji-Eun.

The show is a worldwide hit. Viewers in India are reportedly learning Korean. A fan in the Phillipines has written a song about the show. Even Chicago Cubs Manager David Ross is a fan.

And here’s the thing: I could never predict what happens next. I was continuously surprised and delighted. As a writer, I kept asking myself, “how did she do that?”

It’s not just me. A playwriting pal had exactly the same reaction. Neither of us can figure out the structure of the story, yet we couldn’t stop watching. What magic is Park Ji-Eun using? And more importantly: can we steal it?

My playwright pal and I have decided to make a formal study of the series, each of us taking one episode and dissecting it, then comparing notes. We’ll likely be applying whatever structure secrets Ji-Eun uses in our next plays.

And here’s the good news: there’s rumors of a second season!

Are you a circular writer? Have you rejected Aristotle’s triangle of plot structure? Have you gotten pushback? Is there a better way to tell a story?

And can you figure out the structure in “Crash Landing on You” on Netflix?

Kitty Felde is a playwright, podcaster, and children’s mystery writer. Her second book in The Fina Mendoza Mysteries series State of the Union comes out this summer.