Good News/Bad News

Yesterday evening I found out my screenplay 20 August made the Top 20 in the Fempire Screenplay Contest. The news came in a rather surprising way, actually:
 
 
 
 

So that was fun.

I’ve been trying to get 20 August made for years now. I’ve had indie directors pick it up and then wander off to do other stuff, which is a bit frustrating. I’ve been told I should just make the movie myself, which is also frustrating. If I could—and if I really wanted to—I would. But I’m a writer. And yet, in the indie world, it seems that’s not enough any more. Indie directors mostly write their own material now and aren’t looking for outside content.

The Good News: 20 August has been recognized yet again as a good screenplay.

The Bad News: I’m not any closer to getting it made.

I’ve often heard, “If you wanted it badly enough, you’d figure out a way.” But life doesn’t work like that. We can want things badly—need them, even—and there’s sometimes no way. People who say there is always a way are the same people who say that if you work hard enough you’ll succeed. And that simply isn’t true. You can work your ass off and still fail. That’s life.

I’m not even sure why I still send 20 August into competition. I guess I keep hoping someone will see its potential and magically pass it up to someone able to make it happen. With the rise of indie Oscar winners like Moonlight, I fantasize that my little movie could also be a winner. But the truth is, I write very few screenplays any more. It’s too difficult to get a “yes” from all the people required to say “yes.” Hell, it’s too difficult to get the damn thing in front of the people who have to say “yes.” Books are simpler.

Still, I had an indie director contact me the other day asking me to write a script for a specific location. Um . . . I’ve written stuff for this director before and he has yet to do anything with it. So is it a waste of my time? I’ll probably never see any money for all the work I’ve already done, not only on stuff for this director, but any of my screenwriting. It’s a losing proposition.

Yet I won’t rule out writing something. Hope springs infernal, after all.

Favorite Books on Film

I saw this post on another blog (sorry but I don’t remember which one), and it got me thinking: Which book-to-film translations have I enjoyed? Sure, we all [usually] think the book is better, most likely because there’s a lot you can do with words that is difficult, if not impossible, to film. Inner dialogue, for example. But some books have translated pretty well to the screen anyway.

One I see on many lists—and yes, it’s on mine too—is Pride and Prejudice, in particular the BBC miniseries. Yeah, I love that one, too. Though it took me a while to warm to it because I had a college roommate that watched it over and over again. At that point I was avoiding her and the series, so when I finally did sit down to watching some years later, I found it was quite charming. And I do love Jane Austen.

Another book whose movie I enjoyed is Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I saw the movie first, though, and then felt compelled to read the book, which was wonderful as well. There is a prequel I’d like to read as well, though I always hesitate when an author revisits a scene after a long break. (See: Anne Rice’s most recent vampire novels, which I just could not get into.)

I’ll admit I liked Interview with the Vampire, too. I have no excuse for why except that maybe it came out at a time when I was receptive to Tom Cruise as an overacting blonde and boy does Brad Pitt look pretty in that movie.

1939 — British actress Vivien Leigh on the set of Gone with the Wind, based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell and directed by Victor Fleming. — Image by © Metro-Goldwin-Mayer Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

Gone with the Wind is a favorite movie of mine as well. I used to lay on the couch and watch it whenever I was home sick from school. My freshman year of high school, we had to read the book. So, again, this is a situation in which I’d seen the movie first. And I know the romanticization of the Antebellum South is problematic, but Scarlett is such a vivid character that I can’t help enjoying both the book and film.

Another book/movie combo that makes my list: The Ghost Writer. Robert Harris both wrote the novel and the screenplay, so that probably goes a long way toward the two hanging together well. And you know I can’t say no to Ewan McGregor.

Finally, an oldie but goldie: The Haunting. I mean the 1963 version. I love, love, love Shirley Jackson’s novella “The Haunting of Hill House,” and this movie did it justice. Of course, maybe that’s because my friends and I stayed up late one night to watch it and scared ourselves silly. Fond memories can color one’s perception of how good a book or movie really is, I suppose.

What book adaptations have you enjoyed? Maybe later I’ll post about some terrible ones. I think it can be tricky to capture a book well on film, which is why good screenwriting is so important. Some day I still hope to see St. Peter in Chains make it to the screen . . . If and when it does, let’s hope it turns out well!

Oh, Oscar

I have an admittedly complex relationship with the Big 3: Golden Globes, Academy Awards, and Emmys. This is because my goal from childhood was to be among those stars, and as I get older that seems less and less likely.

The far-too-late movement to include more minorities in filmmaking doesn’t seem to extend to the likes of me. Despite much wonderful feedback (even a win) for my screenwriting, I can’t get anyone to take me and my work seriously. Is it because I’m a woman? Or because I’ve aged out? Or just because I don’t know anyone?

This is why I resent the overall tenor of things like the Oscars, where they act as though if you just try hard enough you will get recognized. This is patently untrue. Sorry, del Toro, but you can’t just kick the door open. That door is like a bank vault; you need to be able to crack a safe open to get through it.

Some of my sorrow is my own fault, certainly. I made the choice to have a family, and Hollywood is not family friendly. I’ve worked on film sets; I remember the insane schedules and the gnawing worry about what my next job would be. It’s not steady work or a stable environment. Piss off one person and you may never work again.

Still, as a writer you would think I could at least get a script produced. Hollywood needs writers, right? Well, apparently they only need the five guys who write all the Marvel films.

I don’t mean to sound bitter, but I suppose I am a little. For all the talk of being inclusive, what they really mean is including the women (and minorities) who are already there, not anyone new. Those walls are still standing, that vault door is still firmly locked.

Semifinalist

Well, my original television pilot Hunting Victor Frankenstein made it as far as the semifinals in the Creative World Awards. Unfortunately, it was eliminated at the finals. I’m still really proud of the script, and hope it can one day find a home somewhere. It’s written more for network television than cable (and Fresh Voices did call it “worthy of network consideration”), but I do think readers and producers are more interested in cable-style scripts these days. Everyone wants a deal with HBO or Netflix or FX or something, which HVF just isn’t that kind of material. So that may have worked against it.

Mostly I’ve been focused on my prose projects these days, but I still harbor tiny hopes that some of my screen work will one day be produced.

Feast or Famine

I’ve found this to be so true in my writing life. Either I’ve got nothing or there are a dozen projects going on at once.

At the moment I’m working on the second Changers book. I’ve had some eager readers asking for it, which makes me so happy because it means they really did like the first one. (BTW, the latest Amazon review stated that the reviewer would recommend Manifesting Destiny for fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. How flattering is that?!) I’m also keen to finish my Regency romance novel Brynnde which feels as if it’s been very close to done for a long time now yet somehow just keeps going.

And now I’ve been fielding questions about whether there will be a sequel to Peter. I love that book and those characters and that world, but it didn’t sell very well. ::sad face:: I do think I want to write at least one more book, maybe two, maybe more, and I’ve even started on that process, but I can’t prioritize it at the moment. Still, very heartwarming to know at least a few people enjoyed it.

Finally, it also seems that screenwriting stuff is heating up again after being on the back burner for a while. I have fresh interest in a couple of my scripts and another content creator asking if I’d consider helping her write her series. And another screenwriting project is inching closer to pre-production with talks about potential casting. Wow! Always nice, if exhausting, to be in demand. Make hay while the sun shines and all that.

As we get ready to hurdle Hallowe’en and slide toward Thanksgiving, I have much to be grateful for. This is certainly a feast for me, at least in terms of creative work. Thank you, readers and fellows, for all the encouragement! You feed my soul!

Half Way!

Time again to check in on those goals set at the beginning of the year! Goals in green have been achieved.

1. Finish the revision of Changers.
2. Find an agent or publisher for Changers.
3. With my co-writer, finish the Hard Reset script.
4. Write and release at least one more Sherlock Holmes story.
5. Attend at least one writing conference and/or do at least one reading or signing.
6. Find a home for “Aptera.”

I revised Changers and it has been accepted for publication by Evernight Teen. We’ve done two rounds of edits and I’m eagerly awaiting a cover and official release date (they projected July, which is, like, now).

Hard Reset is on the back burner due to extenuating circumstances. I am, however, working to land other scripts with producers and/or directors.

And I did also start writing a new Sherlock Holmes story, but with Changers being picked up, I’ve had to divert my attention to the sequels (it’s meant to be a trilogy). I’ve also been sidetracked by the siren call of a Regency romance novel—a very old project I picked up and dusted off and now find myself steeped in. But I’m enjoying it immensely!

As for writing conferences, I’ve got two booked: Writer’s Digest in New York in August (just an attendee), and InD’Scribe in Burbank in October, where I’ll be presenting and will also have an author table. I’m super excited to officially participate in my first conference as a guest author!

Finally, I’m glad to say “Aptera” found a home with Aurora Wolf. It was published there on June 1st.

Thus far, I’d say things are going well. (Knocking on wood and casting against the Evil Eye.) While 2016 has had its downs, I prefer for now to focus on all the ups—those that have happened and those still to come. Cheers!

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.

2016 Goals Update

These are the goals with which I started the year. Items in green are accomplished.

1. Finish the revision of Changers.
2. Find an agent or publisher for Changers.
3. With my co-writer, finish the Hard Reset script.
4. Write and release at least one more Sherlock Holmes story.
5. Attend at least one writing conference and/or do at least one reading or signing.

The writing conference hasn’t happened yet, but I’m registered for it. I’ll be attending the Writer’s Digest conference in New York in August.

As for finding an agent or publisher for Changers, there has been some interest, so I have hopes it will work out.

I’m waiting for my co-writer to finish his end of the Hard Reset script. So in the meantime, I’ll be turning my attention to writing another Sherlock Holmes story . . . AND probably also poke at the Peter sequel. I’ve got about three pages of it written.

In fact, I’m doing so well it may be time to add another goal. I’m thinking:

6. Find a home for “Aptera.”

“Aptera” is a short story I wrote on spec for a specific anthology. If you read this blog at all regularly, you may remember that it was shortlisted but eventually rejected because it was too different from the other stories; it didn’t fit in with the overall tone of the anthology. So I’m hoping to find a home for it. It’s been rejected a couple more times, but I do believe in this story, so I don’t want to give up on it.

I’m pleased with my progress so far, despite a multitude of rejections in less than two months. Comes with the territory, I suppose. But I’ll keep my head down and keep plugging away. Ti par ti, as we say back home—little by little, I’ll get there.

Color-Blind Screenwriting

So I wrote a script some years ago that did fairly well in competition and received encouraging feedback. But one reader was annoyed that I hadn’t delineated the ethnicities of the characters. To be clear, the script is about four post-college friends, two men and two women. And the reader has a point—in order to picture the characters better, he wanted to know more about what they look like.

Certainly, when I write something, I have a mental image of my characters. And my job as a writer is to take what I see and put it in other people’s heads so they see it too. But in the case of this particular script, though I had ideas about the characters, the parts seem very open to me. These could be any four friends.

Casting directors would hate that. They want to narrow it down. (One reader suggested Jonah Hill and Joseph Gordon-Levitt for the two male roles.) But in the face of uproar over the “white Oscars,” I like to think a script like mine would be a great chance for minorities. Because it’s a shame that Idris Elba and Michael B. Jordan got overlooked, but there are also few great parts for minorities. In order to get nominated they first need to have opportunities.

Now, I’m not saying my script should be cast as some diversity stew. Diversity for the sake of it doesn’t work either. I’d need to go look at the script again to see what would make sense. But it’s something to consider. While the script did well in competition and has been through the hands of many [white male] indie directors (one comp called it “perfect for the A-list indie scene”), it has yet to find a home. Maybe it could find life under other circumstances. And then a minority like me (female screenwriter) might also get somewhere.

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Don’t want to read a script? Try my latest novel instead. Reviews call it “compelling” and “incredibly written.” The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller.