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Those Godless British Heathens

Just had a conversation that went something like this:

Me: Oh, I’m going to be in England for Easter.
Scott: Do they care?
Me: That I’m going to be there?
Scott: About Easter.
Me: No, of course not. They are godless heathens who know nothing of magical rabbits bearing chocolate.

The truth is, I have no idea what they do for Easter over there, since I’ve never been during that time of year. I do hope there are flowers, though. If not bunnies and chocolates.

Things I Used to Do as an Undergraduate . . .

. . . Some of Which Would Probably Get Me Arrested Today
 

Talk to blackbirds. In French. (I still do this. No risk of arrest, though a crow once stole an earring.)

Run up to campus tour groups and yell, “Welcome to Jurassic Park!” . . . then run away.

Use a French accent in the library, pretending to be a foreign exchange student so the desk clerks would take pity on me and go find my books for me, thereby saving me the trouble.

Put on my “Scully” suit, hold a hand to my ear as if on a com, and run between the campus buildings glancing up at the roofs and saying loudly, “I don’t see him! I don’t see him!” (It was really fun to watch everyone start looking.)

Get to class really early, before anyone was in, and leave random business cards at just a few desks. The cards read, “Archangel Gabriel: Messenger Service, Baby Sales & Judgment Day Counseling”—Again, hugely amusing to watch people react when they found them.

“Raptor” my dorm mates.

Dive in and out of open dorm rooms with a water gun, shooting people while humming the theme to Mission: Impossible.

Put on a rock star wig, some glittery eye makeup, and a gold hoop earring and pretend to be “Ollie” from the Olive Branch Band. In fact, I once did this at the mall, using a banana as a phone, while a friend filmed it.

Put on my cloak and “haunt” the campus late at night. Sometimes I’d go into buildings that were still open and frighten the cleaning crews.

To My Valentine, My Blessing

I know you wonder whether it’s possible that I really, truly love you. Rest assured that I do.

You inspire me, and that is the greatest gift one can give to a writer. If I were to say there is a little bit of you in everything I write, it would not be a lie, or even a stretching of the truth. All my work is a silent dedication to you; your influence is like stardust sprinkled over the vault of heaven, a blessing and a delight.

I wish I could do more for you in return.

But I can only say again: I do love you, my greatest desire is for you to be happy, and if by some miracle I can be the one to make you happy, I consider that a true and wondrous gift of Divine Providence.

Blogfest: Origins (or Why and How I Became a Writer)


 
Look, I’d been writing a long time before biting the bullet and calling myself a writer. When I was young, I used to make books and stories and newspapers for the neighborhood kids. But I wanted to be a film director. And in high school I edited both the yearbook and the school paper. Then went to university with the idea I was going to become a journalist. But ended up with a screenwriting degree instead (along with some film set experience).

So that’s when I started calling myself a writer, right? Nope. I went to grad school and got a Masters in Writing, Literature and Publishing. And did I start calling myself a writer then? Uh-uh. Although I continued to write in my spare time, I worked in publishing for a decade, first in book production, then as an editor.

For years and years, I said that I “liked to write.” And at some point I even began saying I “wanted to be a writer.” But I never actually called myself one, despite the fact that I did, in fact, write.

In my mind, you see, a real writer was already successful, able to make a living at his or her work. That wasn’t me. It still isn’t me, by that definition. But here’s what happened:

I quit publishing to stay home with my children. And I was going crazy. But then I went back to writing, and it saved me, saved my sanity. I’m much more likable when I’m writing, because I’m happier when I’m writing, and easier to live with.

You see, I am a writer.

It’s in me, always has been. For a long time it only oozed out in small amounts. But then, when I found myself at home with young children and no outlet . . . My contents were under pressure, and when I’m bottled up and unable to write, I explode.

So a couple years ago, when I started really devoting myself to my work, even before I’d met with any success (and now, I’m pleased to note, I have had some moderate amounts), when people would ask me what I did for a living, I began answering, “I’m a writer.”

And I stand by that.

Blogfest: Hook, Line & Sinker

For this blogfest, you are required to post 500-1000 words of your story’s or novel’s “hook” and then go visit the other participants’ sites to critique their hooks in turn. I had a tough time choosing what to post. For one thing, I’ve been mostly writing plays and screenplays lately. For another, while I really feel St. Peter in Chains is a strong work, I get the sense it’s not for everyone; most blogfest people (from what I gather) write and are interested in sci-fi and fantasy.

I finally decided to post the first part of my novella The K-Pro, which is one of the projects I hope to finish over the year (it’s on my list of goals). It is, at the outside, a sort of paranormal romantic comedy, if there is such a thing. Up-and-coming British actor David Styles finds himself hopelessly entangled with Andra Martineau, who is a Kleidouchos Propilaya, or K-Pro for short, a sort of granter of wishes. Andra is convinced David called her, that he must want something, but he insists he didn’t. And Andra begins to realize there’s something very different about David . . . Something even he doesn’t know . . .

This, then, is the opening of The K-Pro:

The scent of the hydrangeas carried across the wide lawn, pushed along by the ocean breeze. The combined smell of flowers and salt water, along with the remainder of uneaten dinner littering the table and the musk of wine on everyone’s breath, was enough to turn David’s stomach. He sat back and watched the sky grow steadily darker, idly wondering how long he was expected to stay.

No one tried to talk to him. Everyone here knew him too well for that, thank God. They’d been filming for a week and staying in the house—well, the principals had been staying in the house; everyone else was in trailers or local hotels—but soon they would finish with this bit and move on to another location. In the meantime, nearly everyone was looking at this as a sort of paid holiday. Everyone but David, who took the work too seriously to relax. He’d been an actor for eight years, but most people wouldn’t know it since he’d only begun to be noticed over the past two or three. His working philosophy was to keep his head down and barrel forward, ever building what looked to become a fair-sized empire if his luck continued.

“David Styles,” said Alfred from across the table, drawing the words out so the name was long and somehow heavy. There were more wine stains in front of Alfred’s seat than anywhere else on the white linen cloth. “What are you thinking about over there?”

Well, almost everyone knew him too well to try striking up a conversation. Or more likely, Alfred knew perfectly well and simply didn’t care.

“Tomorrow’s scenes,” David said.

“Rehearsing your lines?”

David made a noncommittal noise and pushed back his chair. “Early call time.”

“Beauty sleep,” said Alfred. “Who needs it? Let the makeup artists earn their keep, I say.”

On Alfred’s other side, Liz turned. “They earn their keep on you even when you’ve had enough sleep,” she told Alfred, and he laughed, too long and too loudly.

David stood and heads swung his way. A chorus of “good night” rained around him. No one tried to stop him, to talk him out of leaving. He exited the patio, now reliant on the lanterns that lined its margins, and went inside to be enfolded by the warm, dim glow of chandeliers and the chill of too much air-con.

It was a lovely house, an old and grand estate that was as much a movie star as David had ever wanted to be. In fact, the damn house probably had more credits than David did. But not for long, he told himself. No, he was on the rise now; after this project there were three others in the wings, and his agent had new scripts for him to look at almost daily. He should be pleased. He was pleased. His life was turning out to be everything he’d aspired to.

But as he trudged up the richly carpeted stairs, David felt tired. Overextended. He needed a real holiday, he supposed, and reasoned that maybe he’d finally reached a point in his career when he could afford to take one without missing any opportunities.

Did he have any down time between this project and the next? He’d ask Walter in the morning.

He reached his room, a nice room with big windows but no balcony. He wasn’t the lead, after all. It was an ensemble cast, but his name wouldn’t even be above the title. Not yet. Not this project, and maybe not the next, but that was coming. That, and the room with the balcony, and creative input on the scripts, a producer credit . . . All of it was on the horizon.

But for now, this would do. Even though he’d showered before dinner, David hopped in again. He couldn’t sleep without having showered first. Quirk. Kind of thing that would turn up in a magazine one day. He made it quick, pulled on clean boxers and went to lie down. Alone.

Not that it had to be that way; David had come far enough that he had good chances of company in bed when he wanted it. But he found it to be like rich foods—too much indulgence gave him a sour stomach. That, and almost a decade with Marjorie had made him the relationship equivalent of lactose intolerant. He’d only recently shaken her loose—his broadening prospects necessitated keeping his options open—and if there was a tiny amount of guilt preventing him from moving forward on that front, David supposed that was normal. He’d get over it and so would she. Better to have done it now than when his career really started snowballing. Then it would have been so much tabloid fodder. He’d done them both a favor, really, breaking it off when he did.

These are the things David told himself as he drifted off to sleep, alone in the oversized bedroom of an old English estate house that was serving as the shooting location for a movie in which he was, if not starring, at least majorly featured.

Name on the poster. Second to last, but they were alphabetical. Not much he could do about that aside from possibly change his name.

David Styles.

No, that was good. Easy to say, and no one was likely to misprint it.

And Margie had been proud of him, she’d said as much, and a little bit jealous of David’s growing popularity, though she’d never said that of course.

David wasn’t aware of having fallen asleep until he woke up. His last coherent thought had been along the lines of how stupid it was Margie had spelled her full name with a “j” but her nickname with a “g,” something that had always bothered him. And as he opened his eyes (fan sites having reliably informed him that his clear blue eyes were his best feature), he imagined for a moment that Margie was there, in the bed. But no. She wasn’t.

Margie was blond, you see. The head sharing David’s pillow was auburn.

Sign up for this blogfest here.

Moon

I found the moon in my night table drawer.

It’s the same moon I wrote to Rob about years ago:

Dear Rob,

Today I bought the moon.

I bought it hanging full in the branches of bare trees.

I bought it held hard and fast to a deep blue-and-purple sky.

I bought it spattered by golden starlight.

Today I bought the moon, so that I could have it when I wanted it.

And some day, when I die, someone will find it tucked into a drawer and say, “What is this moon doing here?”

They will flip it this way and that, trying to figure it out. But they never will.

Isn’t that fantastic?

Sincerely,
~M

I’ve been hiding it all this time, and now I will take it with me to the West Coast and hang it over the water on nights when I’m the only one around to see.

My 80s Crush


 
 
I should start by saying that in 1980 I was four years old and a little young for crushes. I really don’t remember much of the 80s as a whole, aside from a vague notion of Ronald Reagan as president (and that Genesis video with the puppets), and a fear of Russians, except that in my mind all Russians looked something like Gene Hackman, and so really I had a fear of, well, Gene Hackman.

I’ve had people make suggestions: Richard Dean Anderson (aka MacGyver). Yes, but I didn’t actually get into that show until the early 90s. And while I admired MacGyver, I didn’t have any romantic feelings for him or anything. Robert Downey Jr. I do like him—now. But in the 80s I didn’t know who he was because I was too young to see the kinds of movies he was in. Jonathan Frakes (aka Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation). I was a ST:TNG fan, true, but again, no especial romantic attachment to the characters or actors.

So after some thought and once I sifted down I discovered there are, perhaps, two potential candidates for this blogfest. The first would be Harrison Ford. Raiders of the Lost Ark is the first movie I can remember seeing in a cinema. (My parents swear my first movie was Bambi, but I don’t remember that at all.) I was under this strange impression that the main character’s name was Petey and was, because of his hat, some kind of cowboy, but these misunderstandings aside, the film made a terrific impression on me. I went over to my best friend’s house and forced her to play endless games of Indiana Jones (once I’d been corrected on the name). I was also aware that Indy was the same person as Han Solo from Star Wars, and since Star Wars was my best friend’s favorite movie, it was easy to marry the two into one game by making Han and Indy cousins.

Still, wanting to be someone is decidedly different than wanting to be with them. I was too young to want to be with anyone romantically; I only wanted to have adventures.

Candidate #2 came a few years later, when I was on the cusp of understanding “attraction.” It’s a movie I mention often enough here: Young Sherlock Holmes, starring Nicholas Rowe. That movie came out when I was nine, and while a part of me wanted to be Holmes—the clever one, the hero—a bigger part of me wanted to be Elizabeth. She was pretty, and moderately smart, and very pert, and most importantly: Holmes loved her. In my mind, nothing could be more perfect.

I think the influence of that movie, and of Rowe in the lead role, bred my predilection for tall, thin men with accents and messy hair who are somewhat more interesting looking than classically handsome. (Though growing up in a house filled with Sherlock Holmes in varying incarnations may also have had something to do with all that.) I was still too young to want anything more than, say, hand holding or, at a stretch, maybe a kiss (though the very idea embarrassed me without me understanding exactly why), or really just to be saved by the hero for once instead of being the hero myself. But I look at it this way: though I didn’t have fan posters in my room until I was much older, if there had been one in my room at age nine, it would have been of Young Sherlock Holmes and/or Nicholas Rowe. So using that as a rule of thumb, he comes out on top when attempting to gauge my budding interest in the opposite sex circa the 1980s.
 

 

London

I’m returning to London at the end of March and will be there through not quite mid-April . . . Somehow I’ve never been in the spring, so I’m looking forward to seeing the city in a new way. I usually go in the summer, you see, but with the Jubilee and the Olympics, I decided to get in and out early.

This will be, perhaps, the one big drawback to living on the West Coast—being that much farther from London. One day I’ll just go ahead and get my own place there, but this time around I’m staying in Eccleston Square. I usually stay in Mayfair, but I really liked this one flat with its big windows and aquamarine walls, and it’s not as if London is hard to get around. Meanwhile, Victoria Station is right there (though I prefer walking), and I think there’s a Krispy Kreme inside, if I’m remembering right.

Whenever I go to London, people are unfailingly charming, possibly because I apparently look perpetually lost, even when I’m not. It’s that whole living-in-my-head thing again. Writer’s bane. Actually, the biggest challenge for me in London is the bathtubs. They’re always so tall and so deep I’m in danger of tripping, or drowning, or tripping then drowning. How much water these people need to clean themselves, I can’t fathom. (Ha! Fathom . . .)

If you’re hoping to find me while I’m there—or Sherlock, who will of course be traveling with me and gets recognized more often than I do—I suggest you look in the parks during the day (weather permitting; I’m not adverse to rain, but Sherlock and my writing tools are) and around the theatres at night. Do people still dress for the theatre in London? I’ll have to pack something for that . . .

And you can always check the Krispy Kreme, too.

Or the bathtub.

In Memoriam: Douglass Parker

One year ago today, Dr Douglass S. Parker passed away. Today I lay my personal headstone.

“Doc Parker,” as we called him, was a simply amazing individual. I was an undergraduate student of his at the University of Texas, and he was what every [American] kid pictures when thinking of a Classicist: the jackets, the ties, the cane, the pipe, the white hair and beard. He had two separate offices, one at the Harry Ransom Center and one in Waggener, and both were so full one could never wedge themselves inside. I myself never made it past the door; Doc Parker would instead say to me, “Amanda, wear your suit tomorrow, and I’ll sneak you into the faculty lounge for lunch.” So that’s what we would do, eat lunch and then stroll across the campus, me feeling so very important in my suit and such esteemed company.

During those lunches and walks, Doc Parker would tell me about playing jazz in Memphis, his service during the war . . . All manners of wonderfully interesting stories. He once paid me the great compliment of lamenting that I had not learned Greek and so could not help him with his translations . . . He also said, oddly enough (and so something I’ll always remember), that I reminded him of his ex-daughter-in-law. Evidently they’d been close, and he was sorry to have lost her in what I assumed was a divorce.

It was Doc Parker’s letter of recommendation that won my way into Emerson College. I never got to read it, but I know he said good things about me. Better than I deserved.

He would e-mail periodically to see how my writing was coming along. He had a few examples of it in his personal library, and now and then he’d say, “I came across this, thought of you . . .”

And I still have all the teaching materials from his courses. In fact, I appropriated some of them when I taught parageography (a phrase coined by Parker) at a summer camp. But I could never hope to do as well as Doc in guiding students through the labyrinth of world building. I was a pale imitation.

But I digress . . .

Doc Parker was one of my chief encouragers when it came to writing, and I might have given up if not for him. For whatever reason, he saw a spark in me, something I can only hope to live up to. I’ll never have his experience, or even a fraction of his wit, but I’m lucky—as all his students were and have been—he was willing to share those things with me. We lost something rare when we lost him.

Writing Opportunity: Call for 10-Minute Plays (or excerpts)

Call for scripts / Galwad am sgriptiau
We are accepting ten minutes plays or excerpts for Script Slam on May 31st 2012.
Five plays will be chosen, developed and performed script-in-hand by professional actors. After each play is performed a panel of industry experts—writers, actors and directors—will be on hand to offer their advice. The audience will then get to vote for their favourite. The winning writer will then have the opportunity to work with Sherman Cymru’s Literary Team to develop their playwrighting skills.

Rydym yn derbyn dramau neu ddarn o ddrama deg munud o hyd i SgriptSlam ar Mai 31ain 2012.
Fe fydd pump drama yn cael eu dewis, datblygu a’u perfformio sgript-mewn-llaw gan griw o actorion proffesiynnol. Wedi i bob drama gael ei pherfformio bydd panel o arbenigwyr o faes y theatr – awduron, actorion a chyfarwyddwyr – yn cynnig eu barn a’u sylwadau. Yna bydd y gynulleidfa yn pleidleisio dros eu hoff ddrama. Fydd yr enillydd wedyn yn cael cyfle i weithio gyda Thîm Llenyddol Sherman Cymru er mwyn datblygu ei sgiliau ysgrifennu ar gyfer y llwyfan.

Deadline / Dyddiad cau: Monday April 9th / Dydd Llun Ebrill 9fed
If you would like to take part please send your work to / Os hoffech chi gymryd rhan plis gyrrwch eich gwaith i:
sarah.bickerton@shermancymru.co.uk or/neu
Sarah Bickerton
Cynorthwyydd Llenyddol / Literary Assistant
Sherman Cymru
Theatr y Sherman / Sherman Theatre
Ffordd Senghennydd / Senghennydd Road
Caerdydd / Cardiff
CF24 4YE

For more information please contact / Am fwy o wybodaeth plis cysylltwch a: sarah.bickerton@shermancymru.co.uk 02920 646 983