‘Tis the Season (for Hallowe’en Movies)

I’m not a gore person. I don’t do movies that involve hacking and lots of blood. But I love a good psychological thriller or dark comedy. Here I’d like to mention a couple lesser-known films that I’ve enjoyed.

mrfrost1. Mister Frost

This gem from 1990 shows Jeff Goldblum just prior to his big Jurassic Park moment. I’ll admit, my best friend and I found it equal parts hilarious and disturbing. Goldblum has some amazing lines, like (to the best of my memory): “Oh, yes, the bodies. I was just finishing burying them as you were walking up.” It’s been years since I’ve seen this movie, but I’d love to watch it again. As I recall, there was something about cake—Goldblum, playing the titular Frost, baked cakes then took pictures of them and dumped them in the trash. But that’s only the start. Once they put him in the psychiatric ward, things gets increasingly sinister. “Soon. Soon you’ll be on my side of the mirror . . .”

2. The Last Supperlastsupper

Perfect for this election season. In this film, a gathering of frustrated liberals decide to turn their dinner parties into murdering sprees so they can rid themselves of rightwing pundits. As with Mister Frost I don’t remember many details, but I do recall the Shonen Knife cover of “Top of the World” being fabulous as it played over the end credits. And I remember liking the movie in general.

You have to take into account that when Mister Frost came out I was 14 and when The Last Supper came out I was 19. It might very well be that, should I go watch these again, I’d find them abysmal. At the very least I’m sure they’re dated. But that’s sort of the fun thing about these kinds of movies, too—special effects aside, being dated only adds to their charm rather than detracting from it.

Do you have any favorite Hallowe’en movies? Oldies but goodies? Have any of you had the joy of watching either of these two movies? If so, I want to hear about it in the comments!

24 Questions

There’s a study that shows asking another person a certain 36 questions will prompt greater intimacy between you and at a more rapid rate. “36?” I hear you asking. “But the headline says 24.” That’s because I’m only going to answer the first 24 of these questions. Though I might do the final set in an upcoming newsletter, so if you haven’t signed up, do it now.

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

I’m not sure there’s anyone I really want to bring into my house as a dinner guest. I’m very aware of the fact my house probably doesn’t make a fabulous impression because I’m not a keen housekeeper. Also, I don’t cook. So I’d probably only invite people I don’t actually like and subject them to my dirty house and bad cooking.

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?

Yes, actually. Or maybe not famous so much as known? I think there’s a slight difference. I’d like my work to be noteworthy so that, in certain circles, my name was known. If that makes sense.

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

Depends on who I’m calling and why! I don’t talk on the phone much. I prefer text or email because then I can compose what I say. As a writer, that’s important to me. But people I’m close to—my parents and good friends—I have no reason to rehearse anything.

4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

A day in a foreign city like London or Paris. There would be some time spent in a museum and then a walk in the park. A nice meal or two in there somewhere. A bookstore probably.

5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

I do this all the time. I sing to myself, the cat, the kids. I don’t even notice any more, so I’m not sure when I was last doing it.

6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

Well, wait a minute. Any 30-year-old? Or me when I was 30? Because I’d just had my first child then and my body was not in great shape at the time. And are you saying that if I choose body my mind would necessarily be addled? There’s an implication here but it’s not explicit. I’d need to know more before deciding.

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

No, thank God, and I don’t really want to know either.

8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

We like to quote movies. We both have parents who are still together. We have similar values and ways of rearing the children.

9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

My health.

10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

More family vacations. We only ever seemed to visit relatives; I wish we’d gone other places sometimes.

11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.

Should I type for four minutes? No? Look, you can read my bio on IMDb if you like. Maybe some day I’ll have a Wikipedia page. Wouldn’t that be cool?

12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

To be able to write faster. It takes me a long time to write a book (or screenplay), and I wish it didn’t. I wish I had better focus and could sit down and crank stuff out—quality stuff, that is.

13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

Whether I ever become a well-known author or screenwriter. Or maybe, more specifically, whether I ever win any awards. That’s shallow, but there you have it. I don’t especially want to know what others think of me, and I don’t want to know how I or anyone I love dies. So something simple and concrete. That way I know whether I’m wasting my time or should just be satisfied with what I’ve already accomplished.

14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

Living abroad. I’ve wanted to do that my entire life, but the opportunity has never arisen. I’ve tried to “make” opportunities, too, but it’s never worked out.

15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

I should say something like “my kids,” right? But that’s a joint effort—that’s me and my husband and the teachers and the kids themselves. So what is MY greatest accomplishment? Getting a play staged and then turned into a short film—I consider that my most noteworthy accomplishment thus far.

16. What do you value most in a friendship?

Intellect + humor. I look for good conversation but also a lightness of being.

17. What is your most treasured memory?

Oh, God, I don’t even know. I have so many wonderful ones, I can’t pick just one to be “most treasured.” They carry equal weight. Most are from childhood, though. Fresh-mown grass. Catching fireflies. Stargazing with my dad. Long drives in the car, just for the fun of driving around.

18. What is your most terrible memory?

My entire junior year of high school.

19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

I’d write faster, or at least leave a comprehensive set of notes so someone could finish my work for me. Then I’d travel and make memories with my family.

20. What does friendship mean to you?

It’s a very specific bond. You can’t fake it. There’s a connection there that’s very strong and endures even the greatest strain. That’s why they say you only know who your true friends are when you’re in a crisis.

21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?

I’m not sure I understand the question. I’m an only child and am very close with my parents. Still, I’m very independent in a lot of ways, and I have a difficult time giving and receiving affection in a demonstrative way. I show my affection to friends and family in other ways—visits, calls, sending little gifts, just trying to be generally thoughtful. The one exception is my children. That love and affection, the hugs and kisses, comes very naturally to me.

22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.

Well, my husband isn’t here, but I’ll say this: he’s supportive, smart, funny, a good cook, and family-oriented.

23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?

I mentioned I’m an only child. We are very close. At the age when other kids were trying to distance themselves from their parents, I was still happy to hang out with mine. I don’t know about “happier than most other people’s.” I know I had a happy childhood, relatively sedate.

My family now, it’s large and chaotic. I like to think we’re warm, but I don’t know if we’re close because there’s so many of us. But we do a lot of things together. It’s difficult for me to judge, really, because I’m too close. I’m in it and part of it and not objective about it.

24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?

Ooooh. That’s complicated. We’re fine, I think. I’m closer to my dad because he and I have similar temperaments, but Mom and I had our fun, too. We would go see the movies Dad wouldn’t see. Stuff like that.

My mom is the social one in our family and I wasn’t the type to be on the phone or out with my friends all the time. We’re just very different. But she’s always meant well.

Okay, those are the 24 questions. As I mentioned, I may or may not do the final 12 in my newsletter. A quick glance at the remaining questions shows there are a few similar to #22 in that they ask the responder to say something to a partner, or else have the partner answer in some way. So we’ll see which, if any, I can use in the newsletter, which I expect to put out next week. Sign up now on the sidebar!

Me In 3

So I guess the latest thing going around social media is to pick three fictional characters that you feel represent you. Well, here are mine:

macgyver-pilot-cbs methos_at_joes img_0394

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the left there is MacGyver. The original, not this remake thing. “Mac” was one of my nicknames in high school because I watched MacGyver and was good at physics. In the middle is Methos from the television series Highlander. That was my college nickname: Methos. Relatively quiet and mild-mannered but mean when cornered, I guess. Finally we have Sherlock Holmes. I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes stories, watching the Jeremy Brett series, and (as many of you who frequent the blog know), Young Sherlock Holmes is my all-time favorite movie. My best friend and I would play Sherlock Holmes often, and I do know how to read people. I just never know how to behave around them. Because empathy is difficult for me, I tend to go into an analytical mode instead. Makes me come off as cold sometimes. But I’m the person my friends seek out when they need an honest opinion or a new way of looking at something.

“People don’t come to me for sympathy, John. They come to me to solve problems. I don’t have to be nice about it so long as I get the job done.”

September 11th

This is actually my dad’s birthday. Until 15 years ago, there was nothing particular about having a birthday on 9-11. But now it feels awkward for my dad, a veteran, to “celebrate” on such a day.

Fifteen years ago, I was living in Boston. My personal 9-11 story is here; no reason to type it again. Five years ago, I happened to be in New York City on the 10th anniversary. That was surreal.

I don’t have much of anything to add. But it continues to feel important to acknowledge this day in some way. Despite all our ensuing precautions, I don’t think any of us feel much safer. In fact, I think I recently read that Americans feel more afraid now than ever. At the same time, however, I’ve noticed the memorials and such have dwindled. Not that we should wallow, because that wouldn’t be healthy either. I think it’s natural in some respects to move on. The farther we get away from a point in time . . . It’s strange to think at some point there will be more people in the world who weren’t alive, or at least can’t remember 9-11-01 than there will be who do. “Primary sources” we’re called in schoolbooks. Kids will be assigned to ask us questions about where we were and what we remember. Huh.

Well, happy birthday to my dad all the same.

#TBT: 1997

So astrologically we’re at the end of one 19-year cycle and the start of another. And I kind of felt like looking back at what I was doing 19 years ago, which would have been 1997. That was the summer I worked on the Hope Floats set. I was an extremely poor college student—like, barely scraping together my share of the rent. Trying to divide my time between the film set and my actual job, the one that paid. Trying to stay afloat. It was a tough time. And I do recall very clearly the night I came home from a late shoot and my then roommates were sitting in front of the television because Princess Diana had died. I was so tired and so overwhelmed with my own life at that point that it barely registered for me. I hardly watched the news; I never had time for it. Meanwhile, I was also starting my final year at UT Austin. No idea what I was actually going to do with my life at that point. Life had been school for so long that I couldn’t comprehend that there was anything more TO life than school. I had a vague notion that one got a job after graduating, but . . . ::shrug:: My values were shifting at that time as well; I was no longer completely buying into the church group that was attempting to force me in a very specific direction. In short, it felt like a lot of shifting was going on.

So now what? Well, I’m still struggling to make money with my writing. And I’m still juggling various aspects of my life, but I’m getting better at it (or so I like to believe). Though I haven’t watched the news since Peter Jennings died, I do manage to stay informed at least a little. And I’m long since out of uni but still feeling my way along my path. I know I want to be a writer—I am a writer. I continue to work on establishing myself. As for my values, they remain fluid when it comes to religion but fixed when I consider right and wrong; like pornography, I know it when I see it.

Things are still shifting, but in good ways. Life is no longer school, or at least not my school so much as my children’s. Life is family and writing. I try to keep them balanced in equal measure. Not each day, no, more like: This is a month in which more family things are happening. And here is a month in which I must bang out a book or script.

The last 19 years have been interesting, certainly. I wonder what the next 19 have in store.

No. Hot.

The first two words I learned to speak came in tandem. “No” and “hot.” This is because my parents used those words to keep me from doing things they didn’t want me to do. Like change the channel on the television. I would reach up to grab one of those alluring knobs (I liked the clicking sounds they made when I turned them, I remember that distinctly) and Dad would say, “No, Manda, it’s hot.”

Somehow I knew “hot” was not something I wanted to touch. I don’t remember that particular lesson though. What I do recall is that it wasn’t long before I figured out it was a lie. The knobs weren’t hot. These people, these so-called parents, were just trying to keep me from doing things I desperately wanted to do.

Cue a lifetime of having to learn things for myself. Never trusting when someone else warns me or tries to share their experience as a caution. What if they’re lying? What if their experience was an aberration? Do they really have my best interests at heart, or are they just trying to make things more convenient for themselves in some way?

Yeah, I have trust issues.

Once I figured out the television knobs weren’t hot, it became a game. I would creep toward the telly, looking now and then over my shoulder.

“No, Manda, that’s hot.”

I’d reach out slowly. Look back. “Hot?” I’d ask, grinning madly.

“That’s right. Hot.”

“Hot!” I’d cry as I gave the knob a sharp turn. Then I’d run away laughing hysterically.

As for “no,” well, that’s the word I probably heard most as a young child. Whether or not I took it seriously is another matter. Perhaps my parents unwittingly primed me for a lifetime of rejection. Such is the writer’s lot. It’s not fun to hear, but I’ve become long accustomed to it. And there are worse things. Things that really are hot, that leave a blister, a scar. Not always physical. But at least I know I tried instead of taking someone else’s word for it. That, to me, is living.

I remember sleeping with the window open.

This was in the trailer—a mobile home—we lived in from the time I could remember (which Mom says was age 3) until I was 11. It was one of those long, skinny numbers with the dining room in the front that had a big bay window looking out at our cul-de-sac, then the kitchen, the living room, and a hallway off which were my bedroom, a laundry closet, the one bathroom, and finally my parents’ room at the back.

My room had a loft bed. Dad had built it himself. First they’d papered the alcove it was in with a mural featuring a rainbow over a field of daffodils. Then Dad had built the bed in. At the foot were shelves for all my stuffed animals and board games and books. My dresser, long a low, was tucked beneath my bed, and on it were an old black-and-white television and an even older alarm clock of the kind where a tiny hammer stuttered between two bells. It was avocado green and a terrible way to wake up.

Mom had chosen the decor. She and Dad had painted the walls a pale yellow. The carpet and window blinds were navy blue. And the ruffly sheers around the window were what was called “Fiesta Red,” more accurately described as “rust.” I didn’t much care for this palette, and I’m not sure where Mom got the idea from anyway. A magazine? Some friends? I suspect she was trying to pick colors I could “grow into,” nothing too young or girly that I’d want to change in a few years. But I don’t know for sure; I’ve never asked her.

I would lie in my loft bed—painted the same yellow as the walls, and the ladder was the same blue as the carpet so that it looked as if it were rising from the depths and clinging to my bed frame—with the window open at night and just breathe in that fresh, clean air. I remember distinctly the buzzing of the street lamp, the rustle of the oak tree when the squirrels crashed through it. The hum of the crickets and cicadas.

There are worse ways to grow up.

I had a ceiling fan that I refused to use because it felt too close to where I was lying. This was a bone of contention between my parents and me; they couldn’t imagine not putting a perfectly good fan to use in the hot Texas summer. But I’d rather sweat it out than have those blades spinning a hand’s reach away. To this day, fans of any kind are not my favorite.

There was a time in my life when I would have been too proud to admit having lived in a trailer (mobile home, whatever) at any point in my childhood. But I find I miss something about it now, the simplicity of it maybe. The smell of fresh mown grass on a Saturday morning. Long summer evenings spent chasing fireflies with my neighborhood friends. We had a big willow tree that overhung the mailbox, and every season the butterflies came by the hundreds to that tree. We had the oak tree outside my bedroom window, and then a circle of seven more oaks that seemed like something sacred—the way they stood in a ring like that, with the land inside them slightly depressed like a bowl in the earth. Our big wedge of back yard (we were at the bottom most part of the “U” in the cul-de-sac), unfenced because it was a small town and a simpler time and we didn’t worry about protecting our property. Our deck, on which Dad and I would set up the telescope and stargaze and talk about books and music.

When we moved away, we moved into first a temporary house and then on to a much bigger house. And I loved the bigger house, too. It would be a place of many more memories, my haven during the storms of adolescence. But life would never be simple again. And I . . . After we moved, I quit sleeping with my window open.

My Writing History

I find the question I most get as a writer is not, “Where do you get your ideas?” but “What does the M stand for?” And then, after that one, they ask, “When did you start writing?”

And that’s a difficult thing to answer. (The M thing is answered on my FAQ page linked at the top of the blog, btw.) Because I’ve been a writer a long time, but I get the sense that people want to know something more specific but aren’t sure how to ask.

This morning, for instance, my kids asked me when I learned to write. I told them, “I learned to read and write when I was three.” This is true. But I wasn’t, at age three, thinking of becoming a writer. Even when at age six or seven I was making a neighborhood “magazine” for other kids, I hadn’t considered writing as a goal or career. I wanted to make movies. I wanted to be like Steven Spielberg, who was the only name in movies I actually knew. No idea what he did, mind, but I wanted to do it, whatever it was.

So when people ask me “when” I started writing, I don’t think they mean all this. That’s dabbling. I think they’re asking about intent really.

Around age 10 or 11, I started to write stories. Really write them. I wrote them for my best friend, and I used favorite characters from books and movies and television. I didn’t know what fan fiction was; I didn’t learn about that until I was in college. I just liked weaving together incredibly complex stories that explored the characters more. And somewhere in there I became aware that screenwriting was a thing, that people wrote movies and TV shows. This was amazing to me. Two of my very favorite things in one! So when I went to college, I got a film degree and focused on screenwriting. And at the same time I discovered the wider fan community and became a fan fiction author. I got invited to conventions as a guest, and they were always amazed when they met me because I was 17 and apparently most fanfic writers were middle-aged women. It was fun, though. So much fun.

At the same time, I was interning on film sets and writing my final project, which was a spec for The X-Files. But while they taught me the mechanics of screenwriting, no one taught me the process of getting scripts to people, or networking, or all the other things that you really need to succeed. No one thought to tell me that, when the producer invited me to go to L.A., I should have done it. Instead, I had one more year of college and I stayed and finished. Only later would I realize I’d wasted a huge opportunity.

So when did I become a writer? In middle school, when I figured out that was what I wanted to do? In college, when I actually started trying? Or does it only count once I started getting published?

The school newspaper and literary magazine notwithstanding, I count my “first publication” as 2004. That year I had poems accepted in two literary journals and a short story published in Future’s Mysterious Anthology Magazine. I thought at the time I’d finally made it!

I wouldn’t have anything else published for four years, and that would be a self-pubbed anthology. Then, in 2012, I self-published my first Sherlock Holmes story. I count that as the true sparking of my career. (2012 was also the year I had my first play produced.) So when people ask, is that what I should say?

In truth, I began being able to focus on my writing again after I had children. Because I was home. Before that, I was working in publishing, making other people’s books happen and not doing any writing of my own (aside from blogging). But after I had my first baby, I opted to stay home. And rediscovered my love of writing.

And I started again with fan fiction. It was well received, and that encouraged me. I went back to the Sherlock Holmes story I’d written in 1999 (for grad school) and decided to put it on Amazon. It did well. I was further encouraged. And everything else flowed from there.

So. When did I start writing? A long time ago. When did I really devote myself to writing? Around 2009 or 2010 when I started writing fanfic again. I needed to scrape the rust off my skills, and that was a good way to do it. So that when it came time to turn my efforts to my original work, I was oiled up and ready to go.

And here I am. Chugging alone. It’s not always a smooth ride, but I’m enjoying most of the scenery.

How Star Trek: The Next Generation Coincided with Major Events in My Life

That’s a long title, but accurate.

I grew up in a Star Trek household, by which I mean my parents were fans of the original series (TOS) and I can remember seeing the movies with them at the cinema, at least starting with the second one. At some point I got interested enough to request that we rent the VHS tapes of the television series—Trelane made a big impact on me, and the one about the Nazis, and of course seeing Khan in the series put a lot of things in context. Still, I mostly enjoyed movies two through four, would watch them when they were on the movie channels, and we eventually recorded them so that I could watch them whenever.

But it would be The Next Generation (TNG) that would make the biggest impact, and I think it’s largely a matter of timing. I mean, I was already predisposed toward Star Trek, and my parents were somewhat excited by the idea of a new series, too, though I suspect they were also a tad wary. But I was of an age ready to embrace an updated version, something that reflected me more than my parents.

“Encounter at Farpoint” aired on 26 September 1987. I was 11 years old. Just that summer we’d moved from the town I’d more or less grown up in to an entirely new city. I’d just started at a new school. I hadn’t made friends yet. I really needed something, and ST:TNG stepped up to the plate. It aired every Sunday evening and was the way to end/begin the week.

In fact, the show became a basis for bonding. Besides the fact that my best friend “back home” (aka, in my old town) also loved it, kids at my new school liked it, too. And while it could be construed that their likening me to Data (thanks, Asperger’s!) was cruel, it never came across as such. Hey, at least we had something in common to discuss!

ST:TNG saw me through middle school and high school. It ended on 23 May 1994, just as I was graduating and getting ready to leave for university. How’s that for timing? It’s like the show knew I was ready to go and fly on my own adventures. In the meantime, it had been a constant companion, a place of solace, a way to temporarily forget my troubles. It came and went and just the right time, at least for me. And while I tried to also watch Deep Space Nine and Voyager, and much later Enterprise, none of those ever hit that sweet spot again. Maybe because none of them coincided with my transition from youth, through adolescence, and on into adulthood. ST:TNG was with me on the adventure of becoming myself, so that I incorporated it into that very process. Yes, I was the nerd girl with the Riker poster on her wall, and my favorite teddy bear was named William. I can admit it now. I’m all grown up.

Well, maybe not all grown up. Let’s hope that never happens.

Holiday Movies

Do you have favorites?

I grew up watching The Bishop’s Wife and A Christmas Story pretty much every year. Yet I find when I’m thinking “Christmas movie,” I really want Die Hard and Lethal Weapon.

That isn’t to say I don’t love those others. I do try to watch The Bishop’s Wife every year (I adore Cary Grant), and I also still enjoy A Christmas Story, though I’ll admit I’ve reached that point where it’s no longer as funny as it used to be. Still, it’s a source of great quotes.

I also try to watch the musical Scrooge, and also the film version of A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott. Those are great, even for someone like me who doesn’t much enjoy Dickens.

But for some reason, when it comes right down to it, the movies I first think of when it’s that time of year are Die Hard and Lethal Weapon.

It probably says more about the decade in which I grew up. Stuff like Miami Vice was on TV and these movies made a big impression on me. I didn’t see them in the cinema, of course. But we always had at least one movie channel in our cable package, and my parents considered me pretty mature. They were of that school where they figured so long as I watched with them, so that I could ask any questions and/or they were there to shepherd me through the traumatic experience of an R-rated film, it was probably okay. (Lethal Weapon 2 was the first R movie I saw in the cinema; my dad took me. I was 13.)

I know It’s a Wonderful Life is considered the ultimate Christmas classic by many, but I actually really dislike that film. I can’t even say why, exactly. And yet years later Robert Carradine did this TV movie called Clarence and I loved it. No idea why, can’t remember a thing about it now, but I distinctly recall enjoying it. Again, maybe it’s a sensibility issue. A movie made in 1946 can’t win an 80s kid over the way a TV movie from 1990 can.

But this wouldn’t explain my love for The Bishop’s Wife. Except that I grew up loving Cary Grant and only later, in film school, would I develop a healthy respect for Jimmy Stewart. That must be it because Cary Grant is really the only movie star of that era that I enjoy. I don’t particularly like Bogart, or Cooper, or Burton, or Peck, or any of those. I mean, I liked To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone with the Wind, but I wouldn’t hunt for more movies just because of those actors. When it comes to Grant, though, if his name is in the billing, I’ll watch it. There are very few actors I can say that about.

Anyway, tonight we’ll be watching Die Hard. I haven’t yet watched any holiday movies this season (just the Charlie Brown cartoon), and I’m thinking I’d still like to get in Bishop’s Wife at some point too. But if I can only squeeze in one Christmas movie, I guess it’s going to be Bruce Willis vs. Alan Rickman. Yippee-ki-yay.