Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Writing Groups Part II (Two days late)

Caught up in holiday madness. I knew I needed to post on Monday, to keep with my new goal, but I was occupied pretty much all day. I am home for the holidays (because I caught a flight early Saturday a.m. out of New York, thereby escaping the blizzard/travel insanity, thank heaven) but I spent Monday and Tuesday occupied with the nephew, who is almost two and can't be left alone for a second. Adorable, if exhausting. But, I owe you all a post this week, and a post you shall get.

I said in my earlier post that writing groups are a tremendously valuable part of the writing process, and I meant it. For my first book, Did I Expect Angels? I know I wouldn't have finished the book without the group. Around Christmas of 2001, I had a general idea and theme in my head, and over that Christmas break from work I sat down at the family computer and wrote about 15 pages. And then I left it. (This was my habit in those days: starting projects and never seeing them through, all the while thinking, "I want to be a writer." Of course, writers have to write--and more than that, they have to finish things. I knew this, but couldn't quite get over that hurdle.) So I had 15 pages and a vague sense of dissatisfaction with my life.

Fast forward to Memorial Day of 2002. I had lunch with a friend, who told me she was also working on some writing projects. We talked it over and agreed that we needed some extra help getting things done (in my case) and getting feedback (hers). So we each recruited a friend and set up an online writers' group. We set up a schedule where every Monday one of us would email the others a selection of pages, maybe 15 - 20 at a time, and the others would have a week to read and write a critique. We'd email our critiques to everyone the following Monday and the next person would email her pages.

Suddenly I had a deadline! I sent out my 15 pages the first week, and I had 3 weeks more to produce 15 pages. And I actually did. I got going and wrote pages! For the first time I had an actual direction and motivation to finish something, and it was wonderful. And I discovered that I was not a great writer. I remember being told that it read like a short story, because I *talked about* things happening, rather than putting the reader in the moment and showing what happened. "Everything just kind of zooms past," was what they said, as well as I can remember. This was a revelation. I had had writing classes in college, but we'd done short stories, where it's more acceptable to sum (some) things up just to conserve space; with a 4000k word limit in many magazines, you know, some summation is in order. But this doesn't apply nearly as much in novels, which I was trying to write.

Through this writers' group, I finished my book. I worked on it actively from that June through January of 2003. I am very grateful to this group.

I cannot say that we were free of drama. There was one member whom I inadvertently offended. Several times. Consistently, weeks on end, it turns out. I have no idea when it began, but apparently it grew and grew until we hit the boiling point, and she sent out comments about my latest installation that ... well, they weren't constructive, they weren't helpful; they were just angry. "I don't like this...I've already read this so many times I don't care..." (yes, she had, but part of the writing group experience is reading revisions) "... I don't agree with this sentiment and I don't care to read anything that says it" etc.

I was confused. My friend told me that this woman was incredibly angry with me because I hadn't begun my critiques with positive comments first. Apparently this is a rule of most writing groups; but I had no idea. And no one mentioned it to me after they noticed that I was ignoring/ignorant of the rule. Angry Woman had sent my friend a draft of an email that she wanted to send to me, telling me how rude I was and how I was affecting her mental health; she was agoraphobic and couldn't hold down a job and unhappy and I was making everything worse. My friend told her not to send the note, that I was just more blunt than other people. So she didn't send it; instead she got angrier and angrier every time I didn't start with the positives. Sigh.

Once I was aware this was a problem, I sent her a note. I apologized for having harmed her so grievously (though I didn't include the sarcasm, I promise I didn't), said I was unaware she'd been having these problems, and maybe she could let me know when I offended her, and we could just start again. Well, this made it worse. She emailed back a nasty note. I wish I remembered what it said! It would make this post a lot more amusing. But I don't remember, so I can only talk about it. (Writing lesson! Talking about things -- aka "telling" -- is not as interesting as showing them!) I do remember she said something like, "I was just being blunt. Maybe you can't handle bluntness." Angry Woman emailed us all and literally asked the other two to take sides, because she couldn't handle being in a group that tolerated my kind of behavior. Please let her know, she said, if we wanted her out of the group. She ended the note with, "I await your decision."

Of course my two other friends wouldn't kick her out. They told her the decision had to be hers, so she needed to let us know if she wanted to continue or not. Within a day there was an email labeled "resignation" in my inbox. (as I think about it, that's not terribly specific; she could have been announcing her resignation to the idea of remaining in the group that included such an ignorant boor as myself.) Consensus on the sane side was that she had some problems bigger than this, and had been looking for a reason/way to get out of the group.

We continued on for a while. It was a lot harder with only three members, however. Somehow, having two weeks in between submitting was quite a bit harder than having three. More than three would have been too long, but two was way too short. We soldiered on as best we could, but also found that only two outside opinions weren't as helpful as having three (even if one of them was angry).

A few months later we recruited another writer, who wrote restaurant reviews (my dream job!), and she was low-drama and low-key and gave helpful critiques. Unfortunately, soon after this, I started grad school. (Unfortunate for me being in the group; not unfortunate for me.) My writing in grad school was focused on stage and screen, and I simply didn't have time to continue writing prose. And if I sent the group my playwriting, by the time I got their comments back I had already submitted that piece of writing and gotten graded on it--the program moved fast. So I had to bow out, and I was sad to do it.

I have great memories of that group. We saw each other through some interesting times and crises and frustrations, buoyed each other through some things, and then I managed to ruin someone's life. I guess I still love them since it was not *my* life that was ruined.

Monday, December 14, 2009

writing groups!

Ever had this happen?

You have a great idea, you’re on a tear, you’re particular inspired by a tear-jerking movie, you’re drunk (ahem) or just delirious because this is the third day you’ve gotten less than 4 hours sleep. You go to your computer and write something at breakneck speed, and you’re convinced this is the greatest thing you have ever produced. You finish the piece, sigh happily and hit Print, then go (back) to bed to revel in that feeling, that joy, that knowledge: You Are A Great Writer.

Oh, the pain of the mornings.

Now imagine a slightly different scenario. You’ve labored on something for days/weeks/months/YEARS and you know it’s the best thing you can do. You’ve gone through it dozens of times, found typos, found inconsistencies, realized that perhaps this line where Kaylee screams “I’ll find that rare stolen coin if it’s the last thing I do!” (a) reads like she’s a psycho or (b) is perhaps a tad on the melodramatic side or (c) is a placeholder you wrote because that is in fact what she’s looking for but you planned to come back later and make it a little less like an infodump/less freakishly awful. And then you forgot about it and on the seventh re-read you found it.

And suddenly you think, “What else have I left in there that I forgot about?” If you have a long piece, you just can’t remember all the places you do something like that.

What to do?

Beta readers. Readers are incredibly important. And make sure it’s someone who won’t smile and say, “I loved it!” Because as good as that little ego stroking may feel, ultimately it doesn’t help. I assure you, agents and editors will not smile and say “I loved it!” when they come upon someone shrieking, “I’ll find that rare stolen coin if it’s the last thing I do!”

Now, it’s also a big favor to ask, having someone read a completed 100,000-word manuscript. Friends will often do it for several reasons: they’ve heard you talk about this piece for days/weeks/months/YEARS and they’re curious. They’d like to write, but never have. They’re good readers. Or perhaps they have nothing else to do. But nine times out of ten, their feedback isn’t going to be that great. Why? Simply because they don’t do this very often.
A better option is to have people reading what you’re writing as you go. It’s less painful to read six pages, rather than two hundred fifty. The reader can also pay closer attention to little things. It’s hard for your readers to get the big picture (actually, nigh on impossible) but…because you have also read their submissions as the weeks go by, they wn’t be as offended when you ask them to read the whole thing in a big gulp.

I will talk more about the writing groups I’ve been part of…later.

Monday, December 7, 2009

My First Book

Monday Blogging
Look at me! My goal is off to a good start.

I don’t quite remember what the impetus was to write my first book. My English class had been writing stories for a few weeks, and I really enjoyed it, so maybe it was that. But I do remember sitting down at our relatively new computer and saying to myself, “I’m going to write a book,” and starting to type. I was 14 years old.

The short story unit had been fun. We took a few weeks to talk about characters and plot, and I set about writing a murder mystery. I was very into Agatha Christie at the time (though I only read the Hercule Poirot mysteries, rather than the bland Miss Marple—or I thought she was bland at the time; maybe she’s not and I need to revisit?) and I was determined to do the same. I started with a catchy title—BIRTHDAY MURDER—and began writing.

I don’t remember the plot of Birthday Murder. I revised it a few times, and I don’t remember the first plot or the second or the third. I do remember the first ending, however, because I cribbed it directly from Ms. Christie. And this was not a generic ending, where one could think that I just arrived at that idea independently. No, it involved a murder happening in silence, several hours before it was discovered; false blood strewn about the room (an unnaturally bright shade of red, because a chemical had been added to keep it fresh); and a balloon with a stopper that got pulled from a cord stretched out the window, emitting an ear-splitting, animal-sounding scream to bring people running when the killer was among them, so they wouldn’t suspect. Very creative, Agatha! Me, using it again? Not so much.

At some point, I realized that it was a bad idea to plagiarize. Unfortunately, it was right before handing in the final draft. I needed an ending, one that I could just scribble down to turn in the next day. Hmm, how did I handle that? I don’t remember that either. I do remember that I changed the motive. Rather than a crazy, involved family secret being exposed (or some such nonsense) I changed it to the covers-all “For Kicks.” Yep. A semi-direct quote, as close as I can remember it: “She did it for fun. FOR FUN.”

Take a moment to let that wash over you. High drama.

And yet Mrs. Morris liked it enough to read my story aloud to the class. I’ve recounted this to people before, and every time I tell it I remember sitting at my desk, staring at the faux-wood surface, the heat of blood in my cheeks as I was embarrassed and thrilled at the same time. Mrs. Morris didn’t actually tell the class whose story she was reading, but they all knew (probably from my reaction) and they complimented me profusely after it was over. I was in love. I’m not sure with whom. Maybe with myself. More likely, with writing, given what I did next.

I think it was the next Friday night that I sat down to write a book. And that was my goal. No short story this time. I turned on the computer…and looked at a blank screen. (Black, back in those days. Although I was able to change both background and character colors, and I enjoyed messing with that a lot. Mint green on pink? Red on black, black on red? Orange on blue? Best part: my mom didn’t know how to fix it.)

My problem was plotting. Not actually ironing out what would happen when, but the very idea. It’s an age-old problem for writers of all sorts. It’s not quite writers’ block, but this general feeling of “I should be writing something!” but not knowing what that something would be. I’ve had that feeling since, but a few years ago I actually realized that I already have more ideas for books and screenplays than I could ever finish. The problem is not getting ideas; the problem is making ideas work. (Therefore, when someone says, “I have a proposal: I’ll give you ideas and you write them, and we’ll split the proceeds 50/50” you should RUN. First, the idea of “proceeds” is far-fetched in far too many cases; second, ideas are as easy to come by as urine [Really? Am I really going to use that?] and the ideas are not the work.)

So…at that point, where was an idea? This was easily solved. My sister gave it to me. She was 17 at the time and she said, rather offhandedly, “A guy’s wife gets kidnapped, and their baby dies, and he gets revenge and kills the people involved and then he’s prosecuted and he escapes to Nicaragua, fighting with the Contras.”

That is the plot I chose.

I’ll just let that sink in. More high drama. Higher.

Forget the fact that I didn’t know the first thing about Nicaragua, the Contras, kidnapping, marriage. Or that my idea of revenge involved putting toothpaste in inconvenient places. Forget that I didn’t do any research. I could do this!

It took a month or two, and I had written my book. Now, I was (am) a softie and I couldn’t have a sad ending. So the guy (Alan) couldn’t be banished to Nicaragua. In fact, he couldn’t be a bad guy. Therefore the person on whom he gets his revenge must be a total horror. I chose his mother-in-law—divorced from the father-in-law, because the father-in-law is rich and therefore a good guy—and yes, she was so awful that I had Alan’s wife, Jody, scream “You total bitch!” though I couldn’t make myself have an actual swear word in the dialogue, so I changed it to witch. Whoo.

It is also noteworthy that I didn’t think this would be a YA novel. I thought this would take the publishing world by storm when it went out and bio on the book jacket (which I had helpfully written out at the end of the manuscript) said, “Yes, folks, this lady’s fourteen.” Direct quote. Sigh.

Now, off to my readers! I gave it to my mom, and said, “I want your real feedback. What you really think.” She made a face that I have since made, that “I don’t want to hurt you but I don’t want to encourage you either” face, and said, “It’s…amateurish.” I nodded and thought about it. I gave it to a 14-year-old friend, who loved it. And I gave it to my 9th grade teacher, who also loved it and told me to publish it. (Whose opinions did I latch onto? Whose do you think?) She didn’t, however, tell me *how* to publish it. Problem.

A bigger problem: My little brother, who loved messing with the computer, then erased our hard drive. I was 14, so he must have been 11. He was very into computer games (specifically Digger, the only computer game I’ve ever gotten into, and “Bushido” which I don’t remember except that it involved samurai swords.) and decided one day to clean up the hard drive. The next day, I turned on the computer and when it didn’t take me to LeMenu, I called for my dad, who called for my mom, who called for Bill. Bill told us, so cavalierly, “I just erased an extra command.” (The words on screen said, I am not kidding, “Missing command.”)

My book was gone.

My mom’s eyes were saucers. I stared at the computer, that dark screen that was missing THE MOST IMPORTANT COMMAND (apparently no commands are “extra”), silent. My mom looked between me and Bill, worried about the possible carnage, and took me away and said, “If you don’t say anything to him, I’ll take you to Baskin Robbins.” (worth noting: she took him, too, in the same trip.) I turned around and went to my room and closed the door.

I was able to retrieve the printed manuscript from one of my friends. I spent many more hours retyping the same book into the computer, since Bill was now forbidden to mess with the programming. He kept on playing “Bushido,” though, and as revenge I hid the floppy disk (a five-incher!) which was more effective than toothpaste.

So I had gotten my book back, in a way, but by then the spirit was gone. Maybe Bill saved me from myself; the thing was dumb. I really cannot imagine what an agent’s response would have been, since a form rejection seems too nice. (Although I do have an agent friend. Maybe I’ll ask her.) No copy survives, only memories. It remains where it belongs: under the proverbial bed.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bad blogger, bad!

Why the Weeble? Why not?

I am a bad blogger. Okay, it's not every count, but I am a bad blogger. My flaunting of #2 and #4 is particularly flagrant and egregious. It's been partly just that I've been busy, yes, but...I admit, it's been mostly laziness. And so, dear reader (how many are left? Three? On a good day?) I am now making ... wait for it ... a goal. We'll get back to that in a moment.

I do not set many goals. Not firm, "I will do X by Y date" goals, anyway. I say, "Hmm. I would like to start running." And I start a running class and I do their assignments and soon I consider myself a runner, as I now do. I don't like setting concrete X-by-Y-date goals, for some reason, even though a lot of people say that's the way to get things done. I have a couple of friends who do that every year, make long lists of things to accomplish that year, and I am not exaggerating when I say NOT ONE OF THOSE GOALS gets met. I hope I would actually meet goals if I set them, but I have this bad example in front of me and I am therefore...disinclined, shall we say?, to set them.

But I am now setting a goal. Monday is blog day. Holy cow. It's official, because I just put it in my calendar! Not Monday morning, because mornings are not my friend, but Monday afternoons. I will keep this blog mainly writing-related, because it unnerves me to have personal things out there on the internet for anyone and his pervy neighbor to see, but there will be the occasional personal tidbit. If it's ever juicy or exciting, well -- let's just say, that means something (anything!) in my life will have changed.

I do have things to write about, I do. I have a terrific critique group that meets every Wednesday, since the end of May, and I could blog some stories about them/writing groups in general (I've been in a few). I could blog about the process of research I'm involved in. I could write some memories I have of writing--specifically, my first (TERRIBLE, AWFUL, HORRIBLE) book that I wrote when I was 14. Actually, thinking about it, I will definitely share that story. It's pretty funny. The book I started when I was 25 and never finished (and never will. It's also bad. Some portions are okay, but my, I did like my "said" adverbs--ie, "she said angrily," "he said briskly" [see all of Harry Potter 5 for a more extended example. No hate here; I love HP and JKR, but she loves her adverbs even more than I did at 25 and apparently her editor couldn't say no at that point], which was jarring to see since they are now a pet peeve.)

I am/we are finished, yes, FINISHED with the Madame Curie script. It has been a great experience, writing with Anil, and we are thinking of new future projects and collaborations. (no news I can report yet on results, though.) One may be a script I initially finished at NYU; I showed it to Anil, and he and I talked it through and discussed some things I could do to make it better/more market-friendly. There are some very good suggestions, some concrete suggestions, but no "just change this word here" suggestions, which are the easy ones to implement. So I have to figure out how, exactly, to make the changes. In the meantime, I have a first draft of another script, started long ago (BEFORE we began Mme Curie) that I'd like to finish so I can look it over and see the many places I went wrong, fix those, then take it to my writing group so they can point out even more places where I went wrong, help me fix them, and then perhaps have Anil look at that one, too, for more ideas.
Meanwhile I continue to write my second book. It's turning into a good thing, I think/hope/dare to dream. It is HARD to write, on many different levels. I had no idea how difficult it would be when I started. I am no longer cruising through with 1000+ words a day, my earlier pace, since I am revising the first half because I had taken a couple of wrong turns earlier. Right now the first half feels like (get ready for an extended simile) a dress I've sewn where I had one pattern established, and I finished only the skirt, and now I have to go pull apart the skirt and take out some sections and replace them with better sections, and I have to get a new pattern for the top so I have to change some other parts of the skirt so they will match the top.

Make sense? I do love my similes.

All right. I also plan to do an experiment. I will announce it soon. Maybe even before next Monday! Wow!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hot and Humid

After a rainy June and a delightful July, we're into a disgusting August. We've had many, many days of heat and humidity. I know New York has had worse summers--I've lived through them--but every time the real heat kicks in, it's just gross. I live in an old apartment building. It was built in 1905, give or take a year, and central AC was just not part of any building plan more than 100 years ago. (Happily, space was, which makes my spacious and cheap apartment a real rarity.) So we have window units that dehumidify rooms and make it comfortable. It's a blessing to have the window units, and we have them in all our bedrooms and the living room, so things could be worse. However, we do not have one in our kitchen and the setup of the place doesn't allow the kitchen to get cooled by any of the units we do have, so the kitchen is always sweltering. Bake something and it's a thousand times worse. So don't bake, you say. I know, but last Sunday I bought a few delicious peaches from the farmer's market and I desperately needed to make a peach crumble. So I didn't preheat the oven until the thing was almost ready to pop in, kept the kitchen doors closed (there are two), and once I stuck it in the oven I left and just let it combust in there. Last Sunday was a great writing day, too; I'd be working on my computer in my room, air conditioning going full blast. Walk down the hall, which is also cool due to the living room unit. Walk through the kitchen door to check on the crumble and melt. Oy, vey. Spoon a portion of peach crumble onto the plate, take it back into the cool bedroom and eat. Repeat.

They've been promising us rain for a few days to cool everything off. And we did have one impressive rainstorm two nights ago; I haven't seen rain that intense ever, and I lived for 18 months in Costa Rica. The thunder and lightning began when I was in the shower. I heard rumbling, but it was so sustained I thought there must be fireworks in Central Park. They'll do that on random occasions in the summer, and I didn't think much of it. But then I got out of the shower, and with the water no longer running I could tell what it was. And then lightning began. Rather than turn on the Yankees in my room (because while my room has windows, they look over an air shaft and you can't see much, and the configuration of the TV and air conditioner and bureau and bookshelf prohibit me from opening them) I went to the living room to write on the laptop and listen to the rain.

I have to say, since Costa Rica, rain evokes rather intense feelings for me. Countless days we were out in it, trudging through a downpour on our way to visit somebody, only to get stood up and be left wondering what to do with our newfound extra hour. We could knock on doors, but that was inefficient. We could visit somebody, but they usually lived quite a distance away. So we would do one or the other anyway, under umbrellas four feet in diameter (not exaggerating) and stil get drenched from mid-thigh down. We wore skirts and sandals, Tevas, so it didn't ruin our shoes, but so many times I just wanted dry feet. Countless days I longed to go home and change into sweats and slippers and read. And now, more than twelve years later, when it rains I experience that yearning to go home and change into sweats and slippers and read. And when it's at all possible, I do and I just revel in it. When I'm home to begin with, as I was the other night, I just sink into a couch or bed or chair and appreciate being dry.

I know it's strange. But remaining soggy for 9 months at a time will do that to a person. Even twelve years later.

But that rainstorm did not knock out the humidity. The humidity remains in a giant wet blanket enveloping the city. It was supposed to rain yesterday, and it didn't, and it's still as humid as ever. They're promising more storms today (more? how about "some"?) and tomorrow and a dry weekend and week ahead. Please, let it rain! (when I can go inside and change into sweats.) writing-related news...the new book continues apace. I've gotten some great feedback on it and I'm actually excited to keep going forward. I figure, if I keep what I've written (always a question), I'm about half done with the first draft. Yay! Of course, I've written out everything that I knew was going to happen. I now know the ending, but what lies in between...I don't know. I'm standing at the edge of a gaping black morass, wondering what on earth to write. Exciting stuff. I just arrived at that point two days ago. We'll see where I go from here.

Marie Curie continues apace. My screenwriters' group is reading it and we'll get together next week to discuss. Anil and I are going to talk this Friday and have a long phone conversation where we discuss my draft and his, and who is right and who wins. (this is not exactly what we discuss, and this is not what it feels like, but sometimes it's fun to make little 'notches' each time I win one and he wins one. All in good fun.) We figure that Hollywood is on vacation, and we're aiming for a new round of submissions in September. And September is when the movies in theatres turn serious, so hopefully some dramas will perform well and shake loose this "I will only produce a comedy, because comedy is the only thing in the world that sells! Drama is a dirty word!" attitude. Please, people, someone needs to break from the herd. And if that person broke with Marie (our version of Marie, not someone else's), that would be fantastic.

Also in writing-related news, I am developing carpal tunnel syndrome in my left hand/wrist. Exciting stuff! I went to an orthopedist a week ago for a sharp pain in my wrist, and he said it was tendinitis and to let it rest and leave it alone. Well, a few days later, I began developing a tingling sensation in my fingertips...which hasn't gone away. Classic carpal tunnel symptom. I don't have the tingling in my right hand, knock wood. So I've ordered a wrist brace from Doc Ortho (a real brand!) and have started doing carpal tunnel exercises and stretches. We'll see. All of my injuries come from sitting. Hmm.

Enjoy the last weeks of summer! I will, as soon as it rains again.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I Need an iPhone

I'm running around a lot these days, for some strange reason. Things to do after work, things to do on the weekend...I take a magazine or book with me to while away the time, because I can't exactly write on my projects on the subway, but it feels a bit like wasting my time. If I had an iPhone, I could be blogging! best of all worlds! Or--hey--Tweeting. I actually did open a twitter account. Right now it's stupid. But if I got an iPhone...I could make witty, trenchant 140-character observations in the moment they happen. Like this morning. I was rounding a corner and I bumped into an older man. He looked at me, confused, and I smiled and apologized. He smiled back and we went on our ways. Twitter post: "People can be nice." Deep!

Or the moment I walked out the door. I have a pair of white sandals that I love but they HURT. I've had them a few years and I've thought numerous times that at some point, really, they'll get broken in. So I put them on and walked out the door and about halfway between the apartment building and the subway, I thought, "Still not broken in." Twitter post: "My shoes hurt! Cute but not practical." Give people a little light into my life.

And I had some odd dreams last night. I don't remember what they were, other than that I was trying to do the Charleston with someone. But we were adding in an extra beat and I kept saying, "No, it's in four." This not-remembering-my-dreams thing is happening a lot. If I had an iPhone, I could jump out of bed and Twitter about my dream: "Charleston in four, not five counts." See, that's practically a public service announcement, it's so helpful.

Oh, I know, I'm not the first person to ridicule Twitter. Lots and lots of pundits hate it, think it's stupid, write about how stupid it is. But get this: most of them have Twitter accounts! It's bizarre to read an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by a respected journalist and have the article end saying, "Be my friend on Facebook! Follow me on Twitter!" Sigh.

I don't want to Twitter at every moment of the day, so I probably don't need the capacity to do so. The chief effect not having an iPhone has on my life is that I can't look up an address while I'm en route. That's all I've noticed, anyway.

But I still want one.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Still kicking

Hi all,
just to let you know I'm still alive. Hi! You can all breathe a collective sigh of relief.

I have been busy, you see. I know, I've said that before, but I have. I'm leading what a friend called a "crazy double life," which sounds so much more exciting than it actually is. But I have a job that I work during the day and a second job that I work at night. It's just that I don't get paid for my night job. Yet! Yet, yet, yet.

Marie Curie is thisclose to being done. The lack of a space is not a typo; it is for additional emphasis, on top of the italics. We can see it, feel it, taste it. (Not literally, you understand. Literally, right now I can only taste the candy I'm eating. Peppermint patties. Must tide myself over until lunch, which I ordered from Chipotle but which, I was informed, wouldn't be ready for another half hour! What's that about?) We've sent it out to some rather reputable companies and people, and gotten really good responses. But they all have the same complaints: they're fascinated, but they're not MOVED. Anil and I are sure that MOVING the audience involves only a few tweaks, so I did a pass, adding some things, and he did a pass, adding some more, and when he sent it back to me I really got a sense of what they mean when they say "you can't see the forest for the trees." We're so set on individual scenes and tweaks etc, we're not sure how the entire script is coming together. So we decided to give it a month's rest and come back to it fresh. Another couple of weeks for that.

Book 2 is finally-actually-finally getting written. (I love talking about writing in the passive third person. "Getting written" makes it sound like it's just spontaneously happening and requires no work from me. Believe me, I wish that were the case.) I'm taking a class from the novelist Alison Pace and it's been very helpful, full of insightful critiques and insights into how to make this thing work. I'm reading others' pages and sharpening my own critiquing skills (always a good thing, because then you can turn your knives on your own work) and it's motivating me to work more on the book. The goal is 1000 words a day, which is sometimes easy and sometimes like trying to pull out my entire head of hair, one strand at a time. Painful, and not very efficient. A couple of weekends ago I was really tearing through pages, doing very well, and then tendinitis in my right arm came roaring back. Ah well.

On the drama side, Anil and I are thinking of new projects to get into. I have one script that is finished that perhaps we could try to sell. (It may be a little too small-scale, though. Not really commercial.) I have two other dramas that are in various draft stages, and I could bring one of those out. To sate the current appetite for all things comedy, I may get out an old comedy I wrote at NYU. We'll see.

Meanwhile, the sun is shining and New York is having a remarkably cool July. Time to go to Chipotle and take my Bol out to the park and enjoy!

Friday, May 8, 2009

All Tribeca'd Out

Hello again.
I am officially Tribeca’d out. This is a good place to be, really, but it took almost a week to recover fully. I’m not even sure if I recovered fully. But here I am. Writing again!

Tribeca itself was very cool. Then again, I had the swine flu for the first week. I’m serious. Well, I don’t know for sure that it was swine flu, and it did happen the week BEFORE Mayor Bloomberg got on TV and said, “If you are feverish and coughing, STAY HOME” and therefore didn’t do me any good; due to a precarious situation at work, I came in five of the seven days I shouldn’t have. But it was the flu. And then I went to Tribeca events at night, again when I shouldn’t have. It was ridiculous for a couple of those days, because I literally couldn’t speak. And these events are not exactly conducive to speaking. Blaring music, tons of people screaming over the blaring music, and then having to scream even louder because of the combination of the blaring music and screaming people, and it just gets harder and harder. I’m not a good screamer in the best of times, and afflicted with swine flu, I am much worse. So the first night I tried—oh, how I tried—and ended up leaving early. It was funny. “What are you here for?” (The Tribeca equivalent of “What do you do?”—the standard good-to-meet-you New York question) “I wrote—cough cough—a script—cough cough—about Marie Curie and got a fellow—cough cough—fellowship.” Cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough ad nauseum. I threw in the towel after 45 minutes. The next night, Anil had come into town and so I just smiled and mouthed, “I’m sick. I can’t talk.” And he talked. He’s a good talker, so it worked fine. I tried to interject from time to time, so I didn’t look like Hillary Clinton circa 1991 (anyone remember her nod-and-smile routine?), but was so relieved he was there and I didn’t have to speak. Wednesday night I stayed home and watched Wedding Crashers (really very funny) and slept. Nice. Thursday night there was a party at the Apple store in SoHo, which still had the loud music and crowds, but we got there early and avoided the worst of it. Friday night was the awards ceremony, the one for which I purchased The Dress. The event was nice enough (Robert DeNiro was there!), though after a while I just had to sit down and got hit on by a drunk guy from Long Island. Anil came by and gave me the “Do you want me to leave you alone?” look. I leaned forward and said, “I need you to get me out of this.” So we started talking, and by the time I turned around again, Drunk Long Island Guy had disappeared. Nice to have a guy around for that. Saturday we went to a brunch (very tasty food) that was nice but not really anything special; then we went and hung out in the Filmmakers’ Lounge and met one of the Tribeca funders, and had an interesting conversation with him and his buddy. They invited us to a happy hour at an expensive restaurant, and we went there and then walked around SoHo/Tribeca for a while* and got gelato. The next day, Sunday, there was a reading of scenes from some of the fellowship recipient screenplays. They were great. We didn’t get read, because we didn’t finish the screenplay in time, but given that we’d done a full reading in LA a few weeks prior, it was fine. And Jodie Foster was there! She seems nice. She’s directing the production of one of the screenplays. Exciting stuff.

The next week we had a lot more parties, more of the same. Thursday morning was very cool, though: a "Women in Film" brunch. It was at City Hall Restaurant, again in SoHo, and there were all kinds of lovely women who chatted and commiserated and congratulated each other. The parting gift: a jar of Chanel anti-aging cream. Very appropriate for women in film. I cracked up. (it's worth $375! I looked itup!) And then I asked my dermatologist sister if I should use it. Her verdict: sell it on eBay and use Renova instead, "something that actually works."

Friday night was the best, since it was a dinner for the Sloan recipients. It was more intimate, much quieter, and I sat by great people (though a lot of them rotated) and had great conversations about Marie Curie, the screenplay, my books (Did I Expect Angels? and the other one that I’m writing—or, more accurately, trying to write). You know how sometimes you have a night where you just don’t want to go home because you’re having such a great time? That was Friday. Anil had gone back to California already, so he missed it, and he shouldn’t have because it was by far the best event.

Anyway. In DIEA news—well, there’s not much. My website, My Unexpected, is finished, so check it out and leave a story of someone who has helped you out. It’s all good.

*for non-New Yorkers, SoHo refers to “South of Houston,” meaning Houston Street, a stop on the 1 subway line. It’s a particular area, small, just on the border of TriBeCa, which means “Triangle Below Canal,” which is the next stop on the 1 line. And Houston is not pronounced like Houston, Texas; it’s HOW-ston.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hello again

I thought I'd shock anyone still out there and post again. A second post in ten days! How can that be?

Well, see, the script is just about finished. I can't believe it. We had a reading in Los Angeles and tweaked, sent it out to friends to have them read and tweaked some more. Today we sent it to our rep at the Tribeca Film Fest, and that's about it. We can still tweak, of course, but now our business turns to trying to sell the thing.

Oh, the humanity.

Selling a screenplay is a tricky business. There's the "option," which is essentially getting paid to sit on the script and not send it to anyone else, as the optioner considers what s/he would like to do with it. Often an option comes with an extension clause, where you have to sit on it for six months, and then the optioner decides whether or not s/he wants it for another six months. So you can spend a year just wondering if your optioner wants the script or not. Granted, it's not bad to get paid to do nothing, but you're not getting paid a lot. Certainly not enough to quit a day job or anything like that. Not enough to establish a career as a writer. And it's not as prestigious as actually selling a script, so you can't go around bragging to potential industry partners, "I optioned a script." They'll say, yeah, so what? My dog can option a script. (This is not true, by the way. Just thought I'd make that clear.)

The next step up is selling the script. This is good. If you sell it to a Writer's Guild signatory, you become a member of the Writer's Guild, which is also good. WGA membership means you get the WGA minimum for the script (a lot of money, a heck of a lot more than an option -- not retire-on-this money by any stretch, but a lot to me) and you now qualify for WGA-sponsored health insurance and you have a say in union negotiations (albeit a tiny one), a vote, etc. You also have the WGA behind you in your negotiations, and can call on them for help if need be. This is valuable.

And the step after that is actually getting the movie made. This does not automatically follow a sale, sadly. You have to find the right cast, the right director, additional producers. They will sometimes demand rewrites. One of my writing teachers at NYU said, "There's nothing so depressing as going into a meeting with your sixteenth draft--you've given your life to this thing, labored on it--and having the producer say, 'Well, the script is just a first draft.'" I can imagine this quite vivivdly, having worked on this for a while. And all kinds of things can go wrong. A friend of mine had a script optioned and a director and actress attached. They were set to begin filming in a few months. But the actress demanded a new ending. Not just any new ending, but one she dictated. The director said he'd walk if they rewrote to that ending. The actress said she'd walk if they didn't. Time went by, the director's window of availability closed, and the director quit. Then the actress quit. Then the option expired. The script remains in limbo.

That's only one of the many, many things that can go wrong. I won't go into all of them here, not wanting to jinx myself.

Now on to good news about my book. Yes, my book! Remember that? The thing I started this blog for?

I qualify for the Star program, in which they can place my book in bookstores, "regionally and perhaps nationally." It won't happen any time soon -- it takes at least six months, possibly a year -- and meanwhile I have to fill out some extensive forms talking about what kind of publicity plans I have. It's odd and difficult to shift focus back to Jennifer and Henry, my old friends. I may have to do some rewriting of the book, too. Interesting.

Meanwhile, a short story I wrote, "Secret Combinations and the 7-Eleven," got accepted for publication in a literary journal: Weber, the Contemporary West. Better than that, they are submitting it as their entry for a best-of compilation, called Best of the West. An acceptance for that would be incredibly cool. Don't count your chickens, I know. But it still would be cool.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Oh, the shame

It's been almost six months since my last post. What have I been doing for six months, dear reader? Why, writing a screenplay. In my last post I had just won a screenplay development grant from the Sloan Foudnation, through the Tribeca Film Institute. Well, they wanted a rewrite (it's a screenplay development grant, after all) and so I wrote one. And another. And another. But FINALLY I can say...well, not that we're done, but we're literally a couple of weeks away from being done. Which is a good thing, since the Tribeca Film Festival is at the end of this month and they're having an awards ceremony and everything.

(I have the dress...I bought it even before I knew I'd gotten the award. I saw it in June at Lord and Taylor as I was shopping for a dress for my brother's wedding. It was beautiful...and way too expensive. So I watched it. It wasn't going anywhere; it was a dry summer for sales. I waited. I stalked the dress. I visited it weekly. Sometimes they changed location to try to sell more of the dresses and I would panic, thinking it was gone, and run through the floors to find it again. Always there, and never on sale. Until October, when it was about half off. I opened a Lord & Taylor account to get an additional 15% off (I know, such bad financial sense!) and got another 15% off because I told the saleslady my summerlong stalking story. So it was affordable. And two weeks later I got the news. It was as if the universe had said, "If you buy it, you will get the fellowship!" And now I need to lose 10 pounds. I've been telling myself this since February. Hmm. Maybe this will just be an opportunity to purchase Spanx.)

Anyway. Marie Curie has occupied me since then, just about exclusively. Every so often I get ideas for future stories--both screenplays and books--and say, okay, jot that down for later. When is "later"? After Marie Curie sells! Optimistically speaking, of course; one never knows what will happen. I remain optimistic, just because it's a darn good script (if I do say so myself) and we've gotten such great feedback from so many people.

I actually just got back from a trip to LA, where we had a reading. We got 8 professional theater actors to donate their time (we paid them in sandwiches, literally) and we had one rehearsal and one performance. A "reading" is different from a real performance, fyi: actors sit in chairs and don't actually walk around or do anything they're supposed to do; they just read the lines from the script (no memorization) and put the proper vocal inflection in. But if someone slaps Marie (as does happen...juicy science stories!), the actor doesn't actually get slapped; the narrator literally says, "Jeanne slaps Marie." So there's some imagination involved for the audience, but it's so great for the writers to hear their words aloud. See, it always works in the writer's head; the eternal question is, does it work for anyone else?

So. I apologize if anyone has checked this blog in the last six months and not gotten anything. I've been busy -- you know, writing.

Just read and highly recommend: THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE