Thursday, October 25, 2007

Let's be Zen about it all

So we’ve had a bit of movement on the book front. I met with my publicist this week, and she’s great. She works for an excellent company that has excellent references, and we are embarking on a nationwide “radio tour” that will begin in November, with a first interview scheduled for November 20. It’s on a station called WQQQ in Hartford, Connecticut, from 8:10 – 8:30 a.m., live.

I am excited enough about this that I will actually wake up and be on time for it. (This is about the time that I should wake up for work every morning. Unfortunately, as a nighttime insomniac, I have had to begin drugging myself thoroughly to override both my night-owl tendencies and my seeming inability to sleep more than four hours at a time. Then I have to break through the drug haze when my alarm goes off in the morning, which is increasingly difficult.) In fact, I will likely wake up seven or eight times during the night to check and see what time it is, and make sure I haven’t yet slept through it. I will have a dream that I missed it entirely, and be awake from about 5 – 6 am worrying about that. Then I will drift into a deep sleep but jump out of bed the moment the alarm rings. It will be a long and tired day at work, and at three-thirty I will get a headache that feels as if long pins are being stuck into the base of my skull. I will be tired but push through it and go to the gym that evening, and then decide I am going to sleep at ten-thirty, no joke; but ten-thirty will come and I won’t be tired, so I’ll procrastinate and do a few extra things and then look at the clock and say, “Twelve-thirty? Again? Wasn’t I tired today?” And I will thoroughly drug myself and have to pry myself out of bed the next morning at eight-something.

Predictable, I am.

It will be worth it, though, because I will happily end up tired if it's for an interview. A good cause. A book cause. (It is not worth it when I’m tired because I’ve been guilted into attending a very boring dinner that lasts until eleven p.m. and I get home at midnight and am unable to sleep for a good two hours after that. Or something likeunto that.)

But...anyway...that’s the big development on the book front. One non-development: my marketing website, (the placeholder site explains it) is not going to be done for another ten days. We started this project back in May. I’m not entirely sure where the fault lies and not too eager to find out, because I’ll just get mad and I can’t really do anything about it, and I don’t want to put up a buggy site, but...argh.

I also finally heard back from iUniverse and their Publishers’ Choice program, and I am no farther along than I was before (having waited about 10 weeks to hear anything at all). They want a ‘detailed marketing plan,’ which I don’t yet have, and when they receive it they will put my book into a Barnes and Noble in four to six weeks. This means I will miss Christmas entirely. Ah well. Again, nothing I can do. Let’s be Zen.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Visual Interest

I am trying my hardest to upload some old vacation photos onto this blog, simply to vary things a little. I am not having success. This is not my fault. I am doing everything the directions say to do, and it's not working. Hmm.

Okay, another post about "Dirty Sexy Money." I watched on Wednesday and was dismayed--nay, aghast--at a plot twist of theirs. It is exactly the same plot twist as I had in my own moneyed-world script. In a panic, I sent an email to my screenwriters' group and asked if I should change the twist, if I ever indeed get back to rewriting that script. (I will. Just not in the coming few months.) Unanimous consensus: No. Plot similarities are the only rule of the writing universe: if you have an idea, odds are good that someone else has that idea too. I learned this the hard way: in my undergraduate years, I took a screenwriting class and took way too long developing an idea into a script. I hadn't quite figured out where the whole plot would go before I started writing, and 'round about page 60, it started going way wrong. I turned it in, because I had to, and abandoned it.

Two years later, "Duplex" comes out. The plot wasn't exactly like mine, but pretty darn close.

Now, I did not say, "They stole my idea!" Odds are good they'd never heard of me or my idea, and with the movie time frame, they were probably already in some stage of production (ie, the script was already written) two years earlier, when I was writing mine. The lesson I took from that was, If I don't write it, someone else will.

I could say the same thing with my Daughters of Fortune script and Dirty Sexy Money. I originally finished the thing in 2002. I sat on it. Fast-forward five years, and I resurrect it...right in time for Dirty Sexy Money to go on the air. Say I rewrite the thing in six months, finish in two, and start shopping it around. Eight months from now, people won't say, "Hey, that's a plot twist that happened with the Darling Family!" And say, through some divine stroke of luck, it gets purchased and, with even more luck, made. The process will take about two years; even more likely that no one will make the connection. So I will keep it as is. The world is full of rich people and their stories, and as the rich get richer, their stories get more entertaining.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Michael Clayton and writing, writing, writing

Hi again.

Nearly two weeks since my last post. I started a blog about two years ago detailing the pathetic state of my life--I won't provide the link--and wrote six or seven posts before quitting. I told exactly one person about it, and she read faithfully and even wrote me to request more posts after I stopped. I explained that writing a blog felt like actually writing (you know, real writing) and it was too easy to blog and not do any real work. I stopped. The blog is probably still out there, but I haven't seen it since my last posting. I lost interest, mainly.

I seem to have slipped into the same pattern. Not that I've lost interest, just...I have other things to do. But that won't stop me this time.

I saw "Michael Clayton" over the weekend. It was a Friday night, but I was still surprised at how full the theater was--I hadn't been expecting that many people. (I really was not expecting someone to come in about 3/4 through the movie and ask to take the seat next to me. I lied, saying "My friend is coming right back." Truthfully, I had laid all my stuff neatly on the seat next to me and didn't want to pull it all into my lap. Courtesy would dictate that I give up the coatholder to the ticket-bearing patron...but I can't imagine this man had bought a ticket.)

"Michael Clayton" is a really good movie. Go see it. This post will be full of spoilers, so if you plan to see it, stop reading now, go to the theater, and come back here when you're ready.

I'll wait.

Now then. The opening scenes quickly and efficiently show us that Michael is not doing very well. He's gambling, he's lost his shirt (and all shirts to come, he's so in debt) to a bad business investment, and there's a certain look in his eyes and on his face that says, "Not tonight. Do not mess with me tonight." He gets called to "fix" a situation in Westchester involving a wealthy man and a hit-and-run, and gives the man the same kind of advice I'd give him: find an attorney, plead guilty. Huh, we think. That's not pulling any strings; that's not fancy. I was expecting movie magic. Then he drives away (and the wealthy man is super-mad).

Meanwhile, there are negotiations going on through the night at his law firm. There's a woman about to melt down in a bathroom stall. Interesting.

Michael stops driving when he sees some horses on a hill, parks his car, and walks up to them. He's staring deep into their eyes ad communing, and as he's having his man-and-nature moment, BAM! his car explodes. Huh.

Supertitle: "Four days earlier."

It's a contrivance. It's a gimmick. But it works. The rest of the movie, we're thinking, "How does he get to this point?"

Forgive me for a little indulgence, but...I did the same thing in my book. I have a "Prologue" where my main character, Jennifer, is haggard and bitter and wandering through a big discount store (not Wal-Mart, whose labor practices I abhor, but a generic big-lot kind of store) looking for pills to kill herself. She sees a man, follows him, and runs into Henry, who will change her life. Cut to chapter one, and Henry starts to tell his story. We're still kind of in present tense, and Jennifer doesn't want to hear his story; she wants to get back to the discount place and get her pills. But he won't let her go and so she start to relive her own story, starting almost seven years ago.

Not quite the same as Michael Clayton, but close. It's a contrivance. It's a gimmick. I want people to say, "How does she get to this point?"

Does it work?

I will let you, dear reader, decide. (The book is available now on Amazon. Did I mention that?)

Meanwhile, I have been reading many different blogs on writing. There are hundreds, I think, maybe thousands; everyone from big-time successful television writers to the "I'm struggling and detailing the process for you" people have been writing blogs. (I fall more into the latter category, so far.) They're fascinating, they're often funny, they're educational.

For my fiction-writing folk, I am posting a link to a list of "amateur manuscript" no-nos. It's a blog by someone named E.E. Knight of the "Vampire Earth" book series. I hope you find it as enlightening as I did. It's interesting to progress as a I read his list I remembered moments when I figured out what he's written down, saw it in my own writing, saw it in others', actually called it out. And one or two made me very nervous. But ah well.

More later--soon.

I'm also posting these random photos, taken by me on various vacations. Just to liven up my text-heavy blog.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Money, money, money

I watched “Dirty Sexy Money” again last night, and enjoyed it just as much as I did the week before. I think this one has staying power. (for the record, though general TV is not the subject of this post, I also really liked “Pushing Daisies”—the aunt’s line, “I can hold my breath for a long time” was classic—and I just can’t get into “Private Practice,” despite being a diehard “Grey’s” fan. Addison without the company I know and love is an Addison I don’t care to follow.) And, to stay a bit more on the general subject of the blog (writing! You probably couldn’t have guessed that, so far), I am learning from it.

You see, long ago I wrote a play about a woman who had the same kind of filthy-rich lifestyle exemplified on this show. The kind of money where helicopter pilots are at your disposal if “traffic is ghastly,” or your staff consists of fifty people who are mostly unseen and unheard, doing all their work in the kitchen or garden. The play I wrote, called “Daughters of Fortune” (I have a problem with titles) centered around a woman who had married into this family, gotten well accustomed to the lifestyle, and was now trying desperately to remake her life—but still had to pay the bills. And when I say “the bills,” I do not refer to Time Warner Cable. I mean taking the Concorde (as I said, “long ago,”) to and from Paris twice a month, staying in hotels ($500-a-night hotels) for two-month stretches because your apartment is being remodeled, and making sure that those hotel rooms are filled—filled—with $300-a-vase floral arrangements. The kind of expenses that require you to take $1000 out of your checking account DAILY, sometimes more than once a day, and still max out your five credit cards each month. I could go on.

Now, this play is on my mind because I recently resurrected it with the intent of turning it into a screenplay. The differences between stage plays and screenplays are many. Stage plays almost always have small casts, budgets being what they are; they are often centered in one physical location, like a living room or a restaurant or an attic, again for practical/budget reasons; and the playwright is allowed to luxuriate in dialogue. (This is a big reason that television is turning into something worth watching again: playwrights are being recruited in droves, and playwrights--an oversimplification, fine, but I'll say it anyway--write killer dialogue.) None of this “The camera pans to her face, which reveals her true feelings of love”—instead you can write what she might say, in a perfect world where people are not tongue-tied, able to speak in beautiful or witty or snappy prose. (I do not inhabit this world. My thoughts come at the speed of my typing, which works great when I am typing and not so great when I’m sputtering out loud.)

So anyway, I am converting my small-cast, one-indoor-location, dialogue-heavy play into a screenplay. I have this family that lives a “Dirty Sexy Money” lifestyle and a character who is trying to get out of it.

The main problem: these people are wretches. Obnoxious, clueless, loathsome people, at least to the average Joe who actually has to work for a living.

So why are we, average Joes ourselves, interested?

In DSM, so far, it’s because our main character is not. Nick is an outsider, a friend of the family but not a member, who (a) has a happy family, (b) is an attorney for poor folk on the side, (c) has a reason to try to be close to the family and their money (trying to figure out how his father died) and, importantly, (d) is taking not only a salary but $10 million a year to give to charity. If that’s not a Way to Ingratiate Your Character To the Audience, I don’t know what is. How can you hate a man who is giving $1m to a nun-founded playground for orphans? How over-the-top this is, I will let you decide.

It is through Nick’s eyes that we watch the Darling family and their excesses—even when Nick is nowhere to be found. We can laugh at them and their self-centeredness and come back, because the show acknowledges how awful these people are. The show laughs at them.

When I showed my DOF script to my writers’ group, they all said the same thing: “These people are all so awful!” One member even suggested I do a send-up of the rich. Hmm. With the advent of DSM, that’s not in the cards; they’re doing it already, and well. But I do have to find a way in. I have to make at least one character sympathetic. Who that will be, and how, I am not yet sure. But...I do have an idea. Good.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Un poquitico en español

I watched "Cane" again last night. I am not like the networks, who pull the plug on disappointing shows after one or two airings. I, on the other hand, just watch them until I get bored.

I heard something interesting to me as they were speaking their difficult-for-me Spanish: a word ending I thought unique to Costa Rica. This is worth mentioning on this blog because one of my two main characters is from Costa Rica, and he liberally sprinkles his English with Costa Rican Spanish. ("Costa Rican" Spanish differs from other countries' Spanish the way British English differs from U.S. English. For example, the word "toalla" is the one taught in Spanish class to mean "towel." But in Costa Rica, you say "paño" for towel, because "toalla" means "maxi pad." Most of us found these out the hard way.)

Now, in Spanish, if you want to emphasize something you can put an ending on a word. An example: "Poco" means "little." If I want to say "Really little," I can say "muy poco," but almost no one says that. Instead they say, "Poquito." If I want to say really, REALLY little, I say "Poquitito." In Costa Rica, they change that -ito ending to -ico--e.g. "Poquitico," and because of that, they are known as Ticos. (Formally they are known as Costarricenses; really, they are called Ticos.) Henry, my 2nd narrator, is a Tico and he occasionally will say "poquitico," and I don't explain it in the book because I don't think that even Henry would take the time to mention this when he is telling the story of his life.

So back to "Cane" -- the (impossibly hot) new head of the family business, Jimmy Smits, was talking with a man who was trying to blackmail him. Jimmy said, "Our family does not pay blackmail. Ni un poquitico." Even with his very accurate consonant-eating accent, I caught "poquitico," which means the -ico ending is not unique to Costa Rica. Does this mean that Ticos are improperly claiming a title that isn't actually theirs? Are there other countries out there that also use -ico, thereby making this ending ho-hum and common? Is this little bit of specialness ... just a fraud? ay ay ay.

Ah me. I shouldn't be watching television anyway; I have three, count 'em, three projects I should work on instead. Only one of them has a due date attached, though (an indirect way of saying, "They're all on spec," or, more plainly, "I'm working for free") so it is very easy to flip on the television and/or just go to the gym and watch a Yankees game while on the elliptical machine, thinking, "I'll write tomorrow. Or maybe Thursday. Actually, this weekend is good." And then be surprised nothing is actually done.

But I am watching "Dirty Sexy Money" tonight. I'll keep my script in my lap while I watch and make it feel like I'm multitasking. Because self-delusion keeps us sane.