T. Gregory Argall is the author of more than 20 plays, a collection of short stories and a book for children. He is currently working on a musical (co-written with Todd McGinnis), a sketch comedy television proposal, two novels, a screenplay, a non-fiction study of language development, a board game and, possibly, a nap. He lives in Brampton, Ontario with his wife, Margaret, his son, Robert, and Lefty Stitchnibbler the Wondercat.
What made you want to become a writer?
I always enjoyed telling stories and putting those stories on paper just seemed like a natural outlet. I never had any aspirations of being published, but friends kept urging me to submit to editors and enter writing contests. Then one friend in particular got me involved in theatre and writing plays. So essentially, while the basis of “a writer” was always there, I guess an honest answer to this question would be, “My friends told me to.”
Was the journey difficult?
Yes, to all three, but well worth the effort. I have a wonderful collection of very encouraging rejection letters to go with many of my earlier short stories. Then William Poulin (a brilliant actor – you should interview him) asked me to write a play for him to direct in a one-act play festival. With some trepidation I agreed, worked out an idea and wrote my first script for the stage. Bill had ten years stage experience at that point and I was completely new to the whole process of how a play works. I gave Bill the first draft, expecting to receive a long list of required changes in return. Bill said, “Don’t change a thing,” and that first draft became the final draft. That play was “A Year in the Death of Eddie Jester” and when I saw it performed for the first time, I was amazed. I was torn between watching the stage and watching the audience. People were laughing at all the right things and the admitedly sad ending actually had some some audience members crying. With a thirty minute play I had moved people between two extremes of emotion, simply with words. I was hooked. I had to do it again.
The thing is, beyond my immediate (yet ever-growing) circle of theatre-related friends, no one knew about my plays. That’s where the internet comes into play. The web, if used properly, has so many opportunities for shameless self-promotion. As a result, I’ve had plays performed on six continents. (I’m still waiting for a call from the Antarctica Theatre Guild.)
In 2002 I expanded “A Year in the Death of Eddies Jester” into a full length two act play, running about an hour and forty-five minutes. With that play I won the Samuel French Inc. Canadian Playwrights Competition and became an actual published playwright. Subsequently, I self-published many of my plays on Lulu.com. When I was asked to read to a group of elementary school students during Literacy Week, I decided to go all out and wrote a book encouraging literacy among children. Also published on Lulu, that book was very well received when I read it at the school.
Looking back over the last few paragraphs, it actually looks easy, doesn’t it? It wasn’t and it wouldn’t have happened without friends. Writing the stories is the relatively easy part. Getting people to want to read (or perform or watch) the stories is the real challenge. My circle of friends are a wonderful PR machine, full of ideas and encouragement.
What were some of your favorite stories growing up?
I remember reading a lot of Hardy Boys books and Tom Swift books. Danny Dunn. Encyclopeadia Brown. Books that made me think and ask questions. They showed all sorts of possibilities. In my early teens, a librarian introduced me to the books of Donald E.Westlake and I learned that very serious situations and activities have an enormous potential for laughter and comedy. Then I discovered Science Fiction, followed shortly by the discovery of Douglas Adams. Through it all, from childhood to adulthood, I have been a reader of comic books. All of the elements of great storytelling can be learned from reading comics.
What inspires you as a writer?
Laughter. I love to laugh. I love to hear other people laugh. I love to make other people laugh. I want to show people that it is OK to laugh. Life is so full of potential comedy just waiting to be recognised.
I’ve also found that there is a certain point in whatever story I’m writing, when the characters themselves become my inspiration. I have a play called “South of Hope,” involving a wheelchair-bound former hockey player, a blind photographer and a factory worker who had lost an arm. It was originally intended as a short exercise for actors; can you maintain the physical restrictions of the character? I had planned on it running about twenty minutes, but once I got started, these characters just had so much to say that I ended up with a two hour play.
What advice would you give a writer with writer’s block?
Put it on a shelf and work on the next project. When you can’t find your keys or a book you were reading or the TV remote, or whatever and you finally give up searching after tearing the house apart, suddenly there it is in front of you. It’s the same with plot elements. If you try to force your way through a writer’s block, something will get broken. Put your focus on something else and at the back of your mind the tangled storyline will sort itself out and just present the solution to you. Keep a notepad on the bedside table, because this couild happen at three in the morning.
What stories are you working on presently?
I am co-writing a musical about Norton the First, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. He was an actual person in San Francisco in the mid-to-late-19th Century.One day in 1859 he decided to declare himself Emperor and he maintained that post for more than twenty years. 300,000 people attended his funeral in 1880. He is a very very fascinating character.
I’m working on a novel about the next stage in evolution, where the collective gene pool of the human race must find alternate means of breating, because the air is so polluted. That sounds very sci-fi snooty, but it’s actually more of a character-driven story.
I’m writing a screenplay that would give the wrong impression to your young readers, so we probably won’t talk about that.
With my occasional writing partner, I’m developing a sketch comedy televion show.I will soon begin working on a sit-com idea developed by a filmmaker friend of mine.I am toying with ideas for a second children’s book, but nothing is quite clear yet.
Finally, what advice would you give kids who wish to pursue a career in writing?
Read a lot. Learn different storytelling techniques.
Learn to spell and keep a dictionary handy. Don’t trust the spellcheck on your computer. It doesn’t know what you’re trying to say.
Pay attention to everything. Watch the world around you. The stories are there waiting for you to tell them.
Where can kids and parents find out more about your work?
Here are some links to more about me and/or my work…
I can be contacted via any of these sites and I’ll gladly talk about myself ad nauseum.
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