#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.

The Truth About Santa Claus

I’m going to try not to ruin this for anyone, so if you don’t want to know the truth about Santa . . . Don’t keep reading.

Here’s the thing. I figured out Santa way before my parents were willing to admit the whole thing was . . . Well, anyway, no one ever told me. So people ask, “When did you find out? Who told you? How did you react?” and I’m sort of like, “I don’t know. I just knew.” Shrug.

I mean, my mother still likes to pretend Santa is real, and I just let her. It’s not worth a fight or anything. I suppose at some point my parents knew I knew, but they never explicitly said anything. There was sort of this tacit understanding. We’re going to keep doing this because it’s fun. But we all know the truth.

In fact, when I think about any of those childhood beliefs—the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy—again, I don’t know when I stopped believing. I can only assume I did believe at some point, at least for a little while. I do have vague memories of hunting for eggs with my cousins and thinking the Easter Bunny really had hidden them. And I recall asking about how Santa got in when we didn’t have a fireplace (answer: magic key). But at some point all that melted away. Around the time I noticed Santa’s handwriting was the same as my mother’s maybe.

I’m only thinking about this because my oldest son is ten now and I’m not sure what he does or doesn’t know or believe. I’m fairly certain the two little ones still believe in Santa. But I don’t know if the oldest is being complicit or . . . I mean, he read the Fudge books (Judy Blume), and I remember Peter talking about how Santa isn’t real in those. Did my son pick up on that? He’s pretty smart, so I’d be surprised if he didn’t. But he never mentioned it.

So now I’m asking myself if this is what my parents went through. The whole, “Does Amanda know? Has she figured it out? Maybe we should just keep going until she says something.” Only I never did. So . . . We keep going.

And it is still kind of fun.

2015 Summary

We’re staring down the barrel of the end of the year, and while there’s still plenty of time for things to happen, I’m feeling a tad retrospective. So here’s a summary of my year (so far).

After more than a year of sending out queries, I found a publisher for The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller. That was exciting! The e-book is out in January with print to follow in late spring.

The romantic comedy I co-wrote was optioned . . . and then the option lapsed, so now it’s on the market again.

The short film Adverse Possession, based on my 15-minute play “Warm Bodies,” premiered at the San Diego Fall Film Festival.

I published another Sherlock Holmes story.

I recorded my first ever podcast interview (I was the guest). It should be available early next year, I believe. (Look for She Wrote a Book, launching December 7. I believe I’m episode 7 as well. Links to come.)

I also had a flash fiction piece selected for a podcast which will air in February (that one is called No Extra Words).

I traveled to London to see Hamlet at the Barbican. Also got to see Buckingham Palace. Turns out they have amazing pastries.

I went to the DFW Writers Conference and got to meet—and really converse with—Kevin J. Anderson. He lived in Livermore! ::fangirling!::

Lots and lots of rejection. I’m feeling pretty beat down by that at the moment, but there are still a few agents and publishers interested in Changers, so I’m trying to focus on that rather than the rejections.

And I have vacation starting tomorrow, and my birthday to look forward to, and another little trip to Carmel just prior to Christmas. So there’s still plenty of time and room for good things to happen. At the same time, I fear getting my hopes up too high.

What you, dear readers, can look forward to is the Giftmas Blog Tour coming up on this and other sites. Keep your eyes peeled because there will be giveaways! Including an ARC of Peter and a copy of The K-Pro. Stay tuned!

30-Day Writing Challenge: Day 29

29. The night of your 21st birthday (if not yet 21, the last birthday you had)

I don’t remember what I did for my 21st birthday. Probably studied for finals. I would have been a junior at UT Austin, and my birthday always fell during finals, right before the holiday break. It’s equally possible my friends and I all went out somewhere . . . Maybe that was the year we went to the restaurant with the girl on the swing [Old San Francisco Steakhouse]? I honestly can’t remember. Twenty-one wasn’t a big deal for me. I’m not a big drinker or partier, so suddenly being able to drink legally held no particular excitement. Also, two of my friends were still too young to drink, so . . . ::shrug::

30-Day Writing Challenge: Day 4

4. Ten interesting facts about yourself

I don’t know if they’re “interesting” or not—that’s sort of subjective—but here are ten facts about me:

  1. I won’t eat meat off a bone. That’s something that runs in my family, actually.
  2. I won’t eat poultry unless it’s so covered in something else (sauce, seasoning) I can’t actually taste the meat. That also runs in my family.
  3. I’m allergic to berries and oranges.
  4. Maybe a non-food item? Um . . . I grew up speaking both French Creole and English.
  5. My favorite movie ever is Young Sherlock Holmes, which I used to watch every day (not even exaggerating) after school while doing my homework. Marcus in Changers is modeled a bit after Nicholas Rowe from that movie.
  6. I’ve both performed and taught Shakespeare, and an essay I wrote on Hamlet exempted me from any required English courses as an undergrad. (But I took a bunch of English Lit anyway because I like it.)
  7. The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller started loosely as an idea for a Sherlock Holmes story but ended up going in a very different direction. As made obvious by the final product.
  8. My “M” necklace from Style Newport shows up in The K-Pro (except Andra wears a “C” for “Cassandra”).
  9. I love to dress up. Either in costumes or in fancy clothes.
  10. I chose the University of Texas at Austin because I’d visited the campus when I was eight years old and fell in love with the Harry Ransom Center. In particular, I loved that they had a plaster cast of the Nike of Samothrace, which is my favorite of the Ancient Greek sculptures. When I visited the Louvre, I didn’t give a fig about Mona Lisa, I just had to see Nike.

I don’t know if #7 actually counts as being “about me” but I figure it is by proxy since it’s about my book, my idea.