Stanley Steamer and a Popcorn Brain

Is it just me, or do others think the guy Stanley Steamer picked to be in their ads is just creepy?  It’s not just the way he looks, it’s what he says. He kisses floors where llamas have defecated.  He loves cleaning up vomit and cat pee.

Would you let this guy in your house? His picture is almost certainly on some sex offenders list. He just creeps me out. And that theme music… I know they’ve had it for years, but it’s almost as bad as ice cream truck music.

Last summer an ice cream truck came through our neighborhood from time to time. We have families with small children and the ice cream truck is a lovely part of childhood memories. I still remember the taste of Fudgcicles on a hot Indiana afternoon. Which, by the way, don’t taste the same as they did when I was a kid.  Must be the high-fructose corn syrup.  As a child I remember the ice cream truck music creating anticipation; as an adult, the response is more visceral.

I was in the garden weeding late one afternoon. I can hear the ice cream truck music. Ah, I thought. Childhood Is Calling. The music came closer and then faded away. Came closer and faded away. By now the music is imprinted in my brain and I know I will be humming that tune for a week. Only thing worse is The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. (If I’m really pissed at my husband, I sidle up to him and whisper that tune in his ear. He’s wrecked for days.)

By the tenth time the ice cream truck music approaches our street, I’m wondering if I could pay the ice cream truck guy to go away. Would $5 do it? $10? $25? Either that or I’m getting out the shotgun. I can see the headlines: Local Writer Terrorizes Ice Cream Truck. Then my popcorn brain goes into overdrive. What if the guy driving the ice cream truck is the Stanley Steamer Guy? Cruising the neighborhood for small children who will be happy to step aboard his truck and help him find his missing puppy. What if he kills them and puts them in the ice cream truck freezer? Okay, I know, I’ve been watching too many episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. What if the Ice Cream Truck guy turns the kids into kidcicles? Oh, yeah, that’s Criminal Minds. I can never watch that one. Too, too over the top.  Back in the garden, weeding is not going to turn off my popcorn brain. Maybe I need to go inside and take a cold shower.

BUT…there are some interesting (albeit kinda sick) ideas here for a character in a story, a script (perhaps for Criminal Minds), or a novel. Popcorn brain is something all us writers have in common. Sometimes it’s truly annoying; at other times it’s just what we need.

Laura, you better post something soon. My posts are getting way weird.

Sitting, Standing or Hanging Upside Down Like a Bat

When Laura and I write together we sit at the table in my family room. If we are working on a script, it is she who is typing at the computer.  She takes off her big girl shoes (the ones with 6” heels) and sits on her heels, back erect, in a straight back chair.

I don’t last in my straight back and pull up a wingback chair. I’m in “thinking and talking mode” so I don’t have to have excellent computer posture. Sometimes I knit while we work.  I knit kid’s sweaters for a Guidepost Magazine project. They collect the sweaters and send them to needy children all over the world. Trust me, these sweaters are brainless knitting.  I don’t have to think about what my hands are doing. The problem is I have to sew the two pieces together when I am finished; it’s much easier to start a new sweater. One winter, as Laura and I wrote a script, I promised myself I would not start another sweater until I sewed the one’s I had finished. Twenty-two sweaters later the script was finished and a big box was on its way to Guideposts.

When I write alone, I sit at my desk in my incredibly messy office where I mostly know where things are. The photo below is on a good day.

Occasionally I sort through the drifts on my desk and find something I should have taken care of last week – or last month.What did we do before Post-it Notes? Somehow the chaos in my peripheral vision isn’t a problem.  My husband pays the bills. He’s much more organized, Thank God!

My copy editor friend, Jeanne Pinault, has a standing desk. I am intrigued with that idea. Don’t your legs get tired? Your feet hurt?  Recently on FaceBook I saw postings from people who were working while they walked (slowly) on a treadmill. Even more intriguing. I can see standing and typing at a computer, but walking and typing? I’d be flung against the wall. Sitting and knitting may be about the only multi-tasking I can do and write (with Laura typing). But at my desk my back does get tired. I’m in the process of installing a yoga sling so I can hang upside down like a bat when I need to clear my head and stretch my spine. Pictures to follow, I promise.

Jeanne Pinault also shared with me her affection for Calico Critters. These are tiny animals, with moving arms and legs, dressed in tiny human clothes. Jeanne has her Critter family on her standing desk and rearranges them every morning before she starts work. She gave me a bunny mother and father who now reside in an old glasses case that sits just below my monitor. Looking at them makes me smile. If I am writing something scary, I turn them to the wall. One day a package arrived in the mail. Inside was a baby bunny in a lacy skirt. Jeanne had tucked in a note. “Mala, she was hiding in the wall clock and just emerged to inquire about her kinfolk. She’s a little the worse for wear but winsome withal. Love, Jeanne.”  Now the family is reunited. I posed them standing outside an elf door in one of my old maples.Critters, like writers, need to get outside once in a while.

Squirrel?

Do you remember the scene in the movie Up? The one where the dog, Dug, gets distracted by a squirrel? That has gotten to be a joke in our writing collaborations. We sometimes have problems with focus. The issue is not staying focused on what we’re working on, but having an interesting new project come up that pulls us away from an ongoing project that is marinating or waiting from a response from someone.

Laura got a call from the Avalon Foundation in Easton two weeks ago. Would we like to submit a pitch for their annual Christmas Play fundraiser?  Squirrel!  This sounded like fun!

Last year we collaborated on a book for the 25th anniversary of Christmas in St. Michaels which, over that many years, has raised more than a million dollars for local charities. Titled The Santa Diaries: Memories of a Small-Town Christmas, the book was a compilation of local Christmas memories, kid’s drawings and photographs collected from the community. (Talented Laura designed the cover!!!)

We were thrilled when it was finished and at the time we put on our “to write” list,  create a romantic comedy screenplay about small town Santas.

When the Avalon Foundation call came in, we thought, why not. This would be one step on the way to actually getting around to that screenplay on the “to write” list. We spent chunks of three days developing the pitch. Laura is not a stranger to pitches, but we had just finished another pitch to Amazon Studios and decided to use that format. That’s me below checking the story arc as we are writing.

Laura emailed the Avalon a one page synopisis of the story arc, one page of the main characters and a five page treatment. We didn’t have to wait long. They loved it. We met with them yesterday and they still loved it so this Squirrel sighting will now consume us on and off for several months. We are thrilled and excited. The show will utilize all sorts of local talent, and has to appeal to a wide age range. There’s music and dancing and while I don’t think we will do any coreography, Laura is keen to write some original songs.

Laura and I usually work at my house. She likes to get away from her office and it certainly is easy for me. Since only one of us can be writing on the computer at a time, one of Laura’s laptops lives at my house. We talk, decide what we want to go into a script, and Laura types it in the appropriate format.

We’re just a couple of hours away from finishing the first draft of the first act of the Christmas play. This will be a collaborative process as Avalon staff  reads what we’ve written and tells us what might not work or what they want expanded. We love the synergy of collaboration.  We’ll keep you posted on our progress. In between projects we continue to work on the rebranding of our award winning e-book, Big Skye Ranch, as Last Chance Ranch. It’s currently being shopped by our agent. If no major publisher is interested, we’ll do a CreateSpace print version and a new Kindle edition and then try to do a better job of the dreaded marketing.

Revisions or MBs

On Saturday Laura and I attended an Eastern Shore Writers Association meeting. The guest speaker was Kate Blackwell, a well known author who teaches at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. Her topic was revision. Kate is a dynamic speaker whose personal style resonates. Known for her short stories (You Won’t Remember This: Stories), Kate shared she is currently working on a novel. She said she had a main character when she started but didn’t know how the story arc would proceed. She had to just start writing.

When I write, I start with an outline. The plot doesn’t always adhere to my preliminary vision, but I can rework the outline as I go along. Sometimes my characters have taken turns that I didn’t forsee, but I’ve learned that those characters have minds of their own and need to be heeded. Occasionally a character just shows up, so perhaps my process is not so different from Kates.

When Laura and I write we start with a story arc outlined on a huge piece of paper. We want to know the story arc highlights and fill in what we think will happen at those pivotal points. This tool has been used by us for novels, movie and TV scripts, and now a play in development.

Some people revise what they’ve written the day before and only then move on. I try not to do too much of that or I get bogged down. I can spend two hours reworking what I wrote the day before, and not get to the new part.

In talking about revision Kate indicated that you have to be willing to discard pieces of the story that you like if they don’t move the action, or move it in a way that will create problems later in the story. That’s hard, but necessary. The bottom line seemed to be that we all write in different ways, using different tools, and revision is idiosyncratic as well.

I don’t remember who said it, but the notion that you have to get something on paper before you can fix it, has stayed with me. I occasionally have dialogue that says, “Blah, blah, blah” because I just don’t know what a character should be saying. But I might know what happens next so I keep going. When Laura and I read what we have written and begin the revision process there are always a lot of MBs in the margins. For us that notation means “Make Better.” And sometimes MB means starting all over again. Don’t you just hate that!

Gravity Sucks or Why I’m Never Getting a Kindle Fire

Laura got a Kindle Fire for Christmas. She took it with her on a recent beach trip and says that while she loves her Fire, there is a major flaw—you can see your neck reflected in the screen. That doesn’t happen on my older Kindle so I may just not jump ship yet. There are too many other places where you are reminded of the unkindest cut of all – gravity.

I don’t have any tattoos, but I know what gravity will do to those cute butterflies that peak out from under the tops of lacy bras. They will settle and cocoon on breasts that are tucked into elastic waist bands and never fly again.  The image inevitably comes of retirement communities filled with senior ladies, tattooed bat wings flapping as they raise their arms and call out BINGO. Where, I wonder, could one place a tattoo that would be immune to gravity?

In Key West the bathroom mirror in our rental condo shows my whole body. I turn to view the back there and I think, “Is this what Roger sees when I walk away from him? I hope he doesn’t have his glasses on.” Then I remember. He had cataract surgery in both eyes and doesn’t need glasses any more. He’s got twenty/twenty vision. I’m just screwed. In fact, that condo mirror added an unwanted ten pounds. I try on my mirrors before I buy and at home I only have skinny mirrors and none show the lower half of my body. Why should I be depressed all the time? Gravity isn’t going to get me down.

Why Is Paying the Check So Damn Hard?

This morning Laura and I had coffee with fellow writer, Linda Fritz Bell, at the Hangar Café at Easton Airport. We are all members of the Working Writers Forum in Easton, but like to get together occasionally to chat. We talk about our writing projects and progress or lack thereof. Linda has been very supportive of Laura and me and even hand delivered a script pitch about our YA book to a guy she barely knows who works in the movie industry. She never heard back from him, and neither did we, but it’s fantastic to have friends who will pimp for you.

And it was nice today to take the time to just sit, to take a break from our desks.

However, I wish I someone had filmed the final few minutes of our get together. The check came. Two coffees and a pot of tea for a grand total of $6.36. We agreed on the tip and divided the total by three. With me so far? This is not high level math. Then we opened our wallets and the trouble started. We couldn’t figure out how much cash each of us should lay on the table. It’s something that gets repeated over and over when I get together with women, and it’s just plain embarrassing.  Linda put three dollars on the table. I only had a five so needed two back. Laura took my five and gave me two dollars from her wallet. Wait a minute! That’s not right.  We did it again and again until finally we gave up. Probably way over tipped. But that didn’t matter. Our waitress kept filling the coffee cups and didn’t hurry us. And I actually had a scalding hot pot to put my Earl Gray teabag in so I was very happy.

I just don’t understand how real money can be so difficult. When Laura and I have a working lunch we pay by credit card and split it down the middle no matter what each of us has ordered. That works fine and we might have done that this morning except you just can’t divide $6.36 into three credit card payments. Even we wouldn’t do that – although it’s tempting.