Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Two Feet High and Rising

Children, Turkey and Pumpkin Print from Art.com

If I were to list all that I am grateful for and then print it out, the length of the paper roll would be considerable. But here are the top ten highlights:

  1. My family, most of whom will be at my house on Thursday. They keep me grounded but give me great dish to work in my fiction ... even though they never guess which character they are!
  2. My son who not only makes me believe in pirates and super heroes, but who is my most profound spiritual teacher. Right now he calls me his Sleeping Beauty princess, even though I tell him that there is a little girl somewhere out in the world who will grow up to his special princess. (Which will then make me the Queen!) He insists I'll always be his princess and while I know what's coming down the road, he'll always be the Prince Charming of my heart.
  3. My husband who from the first time I showed my first script in college has been my greatest fan. He was my first Prince Charming and after 15 years together, he has now grown into a king.
  4. My mom and my mother-in-law who show me how to be generous and the dignity of being of service to others.
  5. My dad who taught me to think for myself and when to keep my mouth shut and when to speak up.
  6. The new babies in my family who are on the way or who have already arrived. You remind me that magic and miracles are not just in stories.
  7. Domenika Lynch for entrusting me with her and her family's story of coming to this country. When I wrote the pilot and treatment for the series, I felt her mother looking over my shoulder and telling me, "I'd never say that but I'd definitely wear those shoes!"
  8. Michael Wortsman who trusted me enough with the pilot script and series treatment and then took it to his contacts at HBO. Not only that, he gave me a raise and opened the door to possibilities I never would've considered before.
  9. Barbara DeMarco Barrett for recommending me to Gary Phillips to be included in the upcoming anthology, Orange County Noir.
  10. All the people who have advised me that The Ballad of Aracely Calderon is not quite what it could be. Their challenge has shown me what it means to persevere and to believe in something that other people can't see.

Friday, November 20, 2009

WWII Barbie

Without thinking about it, the other day I happened to mention on Facebook that writing my WIP (a TV pilot set in Hollywood 1944) is like playing with Barbies. But super awesome 1940's Barbies who wear hats, gloves and stockings. Underneath the glamor, they hide secrets, wrestle with insecurities and ambition and use whatever they've got to get ahead in a man's world.

(If you ask my mom, she'll tell you that this was how I played Barbies when I was a kid. She once caught my Barbie in bed with a Gene Simmon's doll that I'd traded my Ken for.)

But to the point of this blog, this is what writing is supposed to feel like! I recently interviewed Linda Wisdom whose Hexy series has been optioned for a TV series. (The article will appear in February 2010 issue of Romance Writers Report.) She doesn't call writing writing; she calls it playing with her characters. When I heard that, it was a "D'oh!" moment because somewhere at some time in recent months I forgot to play. Even though my WIP is rather serious - I do tend to make a lot of girdle jokes but this is a first draft so who cares, right? - writing it is the ultimate play date.

So here are some of the "Barbies" I'm playing with:

And yes, this last photo is Norma Jean Dougherty, aka Marilyn Monroe.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Note to Ego: Shut the Hell Up. Thank you.

The Broken Bridge and the Dream by Salvador Dali @ Art.com

Well, that pretty much sums up what I have to say. My writer's brain is a strange contraption. It takes me to places and creates people that I swear are real. And just when I've got a handle on a character, the key to a scene or a sparkling bit of dialogue, within the same brain Ego snidely whispers, "That sucks. You think that will sell? You think people will actually read that and not laugh at you?"

I don't know how many hours and days I've wasted caught up in the nastiness of when my brain and Ego conspire against me. If I added all that time, I bet its close to at least half my life ... possibly more.

But in the last four years I've learned a thing or two. Meditation and study has helped me to recognize when my brain is turning away from the light of creation towards the darkness of despair. In her book Taking the Leap, Pema Chodron writes a great deal about shenpa, the Tibetan word for attachment. She describes it as the moment when we react or get hooked by a dirty look, a harsh criticism or even a compliment. She writes:
"Shenpa is not the thoughts or emotions per se. Shenpa is preverbal, but it breeds thoughts and emotions very quickly. If we are attentive, we can feel it happening."
The only way to become free from the evils of shenpa is to become familiar with it, to recognize the taste, the feel, the sound and the smell of it. Only then can we unhook from it. Easier said than done because it takes study, meditation and awareness - all that stuff I claim I never have time to do. By the way, I've yet to catch myself from stopping shenpa and my deeply ingrained habits of obsessing, self criticism or talking smack about someone who hurt my feelings. But my practice has taught me to become aware of those habits and then I can carefully, attentively work myself free. Let's face it, there's something delicious about good pity party or bitch fest.

Yesterday was such a day. I got some critiques that really knocked me on my bum and made me question this whole writing racket. Suddenly the great WIP idea I'd been working on seemed like a dead duck, a terrible idea! What was I thinking?!? But I had to proof the copy edited pages of my upcoming short, "2:45 Out of Santa Ana" because they're due before Friday. I haven't laid eyes on this story in nine months and in my very sensitive, high-strung "who the heck do I think I am to attempt another lame story" state of mind, it would be fatal to proof my own work.

But alas, I'm a classic Capricorn and we scoff at weakness even when we're dragging our wounded, bleeding limb behind us. When I began reading the proof pages, the snap of the lashes went quiet in my mind. In fact, these were no longer proof pages, it magically became story until I got to the fifth page when I realized this was my work. And God please don't smite for saying this (so I'll whisper) it was pretty good stuff. Re-experiencing the plight of my heroine, Danielle Dawson helped me to stumble through the dark room of my mind towards the shades and then crack them open to the light. After three passes, I proofed the pages and I was simply to busy to be bothered by all those dark thoughts and feelings. Suddenly the WIP that seemed DOA had promise again. I even heard the characters' voices in the way that you tune a radio to catch a station. Just words and a few broken sentences. But they were out there. It was enough to give me hope that I wasn't reaching well beyond my means, or going on some wild goose chase.

I'm not quite sure why I'm sharing this with you. Initially it was to give myself a pat on the back and then when I went back into edit it, I thought no, this is something all of us, writers or not, face every single moment. It's not about victory or "hey look at me!" I'm just being honest that sometimes - many more than I care to think about - I feel like a failure. My ego and I beat myself up until I'm black and blue. And yet, I'm learning how to (politely) tell ego to go take a hike.

Friday, November 13, 2009


The hardest part of a story to write is the first line. Speaking from my experience as a reader (e.g. what pulls me into a story) and a writer (what has sold my work), a character has to make an entrance. Or, if told in the first person, a statement. I don't mean just having someone walk through a door, or wake up in bed and most definitely not stare at herself in the mirror over the bathroom sink. Characters arrive. They have a presence that makes you turn to the next page and the next until the end when you (hopefully) wish the book hadn't ended so soon.

When I think of great entrances off the top of my head, I recall Barbara Stanwyck's ankles as she descends down the staircase in Double Indemnity, or Nitta Sayuri asking the reader to imagine sitting with her at tea in Memoirs of a Geisha. Actually the most tangible entrance I've ever witnessed was in the Seven Year Itch when Marilyn Monroe's fan cord stuck in the doorway. Me and three hundred gay men gasped in the dark and held our breath at the palpable energy that radiated from her 50 years after she'd shot that scene.

Right now, or rather right before I began this blog, I arrived at the phase of my WIP when its time to write the first line. Some lines appear just like that. Some take a few drafts or they hide from me until I realize that the first 20 pages I wrote don't belong in the book. The only way I know that I have the first line is when (a) it no longer bugs me in the middle of the night, and (b) when it makes me sit up and shout, "Whoa!"

So here I go into territory unknown and still no first line in sight. But I figure it'll show up sooner or later.