Write on Wednesday: Hiring a Script Consultant

When Laura Ambler and I finished our movie script for The Santa Diaries, we knew we wanted to hire Dara Marks to help us polish it. Laura had used her in the past on a couple of screen plays. We consulted our checkbooks, took a deep breath and called Dara. We booked an appointment and sent her a copy of the script which was ultimately called Santa, Flawed.

Santa Flawed

Laura and I have used writing consultants in the past. We hired two different editors to look at Big Skye Ranch. It was a better book because of the money we spent and went on to be a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. It won international awards at the London and Paris Book Festivals and an IPPY award.

A week ago we had our four hour telephone conference call with Dara. We were nervous. What would her reaction to the script be?  It was a somewhat fitful start because the email outline she sent us got hijacked by some virus scrubber on her computer which decided to scrub at precisely the moment she was emailing us. And her dogs went bananas when the UPS man came calling, but after a few minutes of sorting things out, we got to work.

By the end we were exhausted, but exhilarated. Dara told us our script was “highly marketable, it’s got everything, a really good piece, the writing is terrific, there is a strong structure in the script.”  She really said all those things. I took notes! …and then she told us the plot needed strengthening and we could be clearer about the theme. She said the first 25 pages needed to be totally rewritten. Well, that’s what we were paying her for – brutal honesty.

The theme thing is tricky. It’s the universal denominator and the theme drives the characters, the dialog, the setting. Theme should underscore everything in the script. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around because in the past our writing has been more character or plot driven. That’s not to say there wasn’t an underlying theme, but we didn’t spend time really trying to get that down to the bones.

In this telephone consultation we spent at least half an hour sorting out the theme. Turns out the theme is more elemental than Christmas, finding your inner Santa, nostalgia for small town life, or reconnecting with a lost love. The theme of The Santa Diaries script is “we’re all in this together.” We had not known that! Of course, the flip side of that theme is “we are alone” and that is Will’s fatal flaw. If he doesn’t change, he will be alone.

Will is isolated because he has sold out to Hollywood. He has lots of people around him, but they all want a piece of him. His business manager, Josh, whom Will calls his best friend, is a suck-up. Even his girlfriend has her own career agenda. If Will doesn’t find his authentic self (as opposed to his inner Santa) he will never be happy or fulfilled.

There were a couple of times when Dara pointed out that we were still thinking play, not movie. She was right. In the play we couldn’t have Sandy in the hospital with a broken leg. Heck, we couldn’t even get him staged in a bed in traction which is the way we wrote the original script. Sandy in a wheel chair with his leg propped up on a stool had to do. In the movie script he gets to be in a hospital.

Dara suggested that we start with a clean slate for the rewrite and we did. We are now 22 pages into the first 25 (Act 1 up to the First Turning Point). After that it will be more tweaking than a total rewrite as we make sure any changes in the beginning are reflected in rest of the script. All the characters are slightly different than they were in the original play and the script we sent Dara. We hope that gives them more depth.

Will Hawes is a little softer, more redeemable. His father, Sandy, is no longer the paragon of virtue. We’ve roughed up his edges a bit. Brandeee is smarter and shrewder. We haven’t decided if Brandeee and Will are engaged anymore. It always bothered me that Will broke up with Brandeee and moved on to Jessica so quickly.

The point is, do these changes drive the theme to its logical conclusion? We hope to have that figured out in the next month. Then the script will go back to Dara for notes. After that it should be ready to pitch. We think/hope the investment in using a script consultant will be well worth the cost.

Note: This blog was first published June 14, 2013. Gosh, almost five years ago. The script was eventually titled Santa, Flawed. No one bought it, but you can buy it on Amazon formatted for Kindle for $3.99. Using a script consultant was a great learning experience. In reading this post again, I am struck by the importance of theme. Whatever kind of fiction you are writing, figuring out your theme is paramount.

Letter to an Obnoxious Little Girl

Dear Little Girl,

You stood in line at Santa’s Wonderland last weekend waiting to come into the Shop and Wrap room. That’s where there are tables full of donated items that kids can buy for their parents and siblings for 25 cents. I was one of the volunteers helping kids wrap their gifts.

dreamstime_m_16749330

© Roxichka25 | Dreamstime.com – Little Smiling Girl Photo

The people at the door were supposed to let one child in at a time who would be helped by one adult. They were also supposed to tell kids the rules: they could select six gifts, if they needed more for their family, they had to get in line again.

Suddenly you were at my side with a basket full of gifts. Way, way over the limit. When I gently told you you’d have to put some back, you whined. I don’t like whiners. That kind of set the tone, but almost immediately you realized that whining wasn’t going to get you anywhere. So, you began to argue with me. These weren’t the rules last year. Nobody told you the rules had changed. Why did we have these dumb rules anyway?

I tried my best to be patient but you were really getting on my nerves. Finally your seven (okay I did give in a little and there did seem to be some confusion about what the volunteers at the door were telling the kids) gifts were wrapped and you went out to get in line again.

After the event I kept thinking about you. I wondered why I experienced you as so annoying.

Here’s what I think it was. I was a little girl in the 50’s. We were supposed to wear dresses, be polite and never question adults. I ended up in the Principal’s office a number of times because I did.

The message to girls in the 50’s was be submissive, defer to boys and adults and generally keep quiet. Those weren’t the rules in my house. I had two educated, liberal parents, but the world gave me very different messages.

Those recordings in my brain still get activated from time to time and you turned them on, reminding me of the little girl I used to be. Thank you. I still need to work on those messages.

Here’s my advice. Cut the whining, but keep asking questions. Rules do change and sometimes it’s important to ask why, because sometimes the rules are just plain stupid. Your question might be the one that gets adults to rethink a policy. You’ll learn to pick your battles, but don’t automatically defer and don’t be submissive. Maybe if women of my generation had been more assertive we wouldn’t still be fighting for equal wages.

 

 

 

 

 

Could I Face the World Without Mascara?

I just looked Googled the question “who invented mascara?” Early Egyptian versions included crocodile dung. Why am I not surprised! Later versions were mixtures of petroleum jelly and coal. The mascara wand was not developed until almost 1960.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like the way I look when I add mascara to my make-up routine.

mascara pandas

Note: my make-up routine is not very exciting. Some moisterizer and then a little bit of Bare Minerals powder. If I’m going out into public I might add some eyeliner. But if I’m going out to dine, or know I’m going to be photographed, or attending a meeting with other “women of a certain age” I go the additional mile and add mascara. After all, we need to pretend to one another that we are still in our 30’s.

The problem is that I’m right handed and when I put mascara on my left eye I usually manage to poke myself in the eye with the wand. I’ve always wondered they call it that. Wand, as in magic wand? Will it magically make us 20 again? Do I really want to look like those women in the ads who seem to have grown pelts on their upper lids? Disclaimer: photo below is not me.

mascara pelt

When I was twenty you could still see my blonde eyelashes. They were kind of golden. They’re still there, but seem to have receeded into invisibility only corrected by the dreaded wand.

 mascara wide eyed

The indignity of poking myself in the eye always results in a reflex action of my hand that means I have now smeared mascara below my eye. That section where I had carefully applied concealer. Crap! Now I have to start again on that left eye and hope I can make it look like the right eye. You can understand why most days I don’t even pick up mascara. If I’m writing at my computer, or out in the garden, who’s going to see me?  

My husband will, of course, but he tells me he likes me with or without make-up and I’m inclined to take him at his word.

And I didn’t even get to the part about removing mascara before going to bed. That’s another travail. I’m beginning to wonder why I ever bother. Could I face the world without mascara? What about you?

 

 

Believe in Lightning!

It’s New Year’s Eve and time to look ahead. If you’re a writer you’ve heard the expression, “You’re more likely to be hit by lightening than to sell a movie script.” But we keep believing. 2015 might just be the year.

For Christmas Laura gave me a wine sippy cup. A truly thoughtful gift. I think it was in anticipation of celebrating all things writing.

wine sippy cup

It sparked memories of the book signing where I knocked over my drink and almost ruined a pile of her books. The waitress brought me a sippy cup. Read more

This sippy glass is much more elegant. And plastic to boot. I’ll use it to ring in the New Year, although we never seem to make it to midnight. My husband and I are joining Laura and her husband for an early New Years dinner and then we’ll watch Sharknado New York. Hopefully it will be right up there with Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Watching Sharknado has been on the “to do” list for months and we just never got around to it.

This has been a great writing year for Laura and me. We had our play, The Santa Diaries, produced again. This time in Minnesota and we were there to see three performances. We’ve completed several scripts and one of them is actually being “considered” by a production group, but we’ve been asked not to talk about it yet. Who knows, 2015 might be the year.

Happy New Year to everyone with wishes for health and happiness and joy. And to all the writers out there, don’t give up on your dreams. Keep believing in lightning.

A Chorus of Cookies

My dear friend Carol invited me to to cookie exchange. I remember the last one I’d attended. It was during one of our visits to Montana – probably twenty years ago. This is such a busy time of the year – who has time to bake twenty different kinds of cookies? Let alone cookies with no gluten or dairy which is pretty much why I don’t bake anymore.

cookie exchange 3

We had been asked to bring a dozen cookies to eat and a dozen cookies to share. If we brought a dozen, we could take an assortment of a dozen home. If we brought more, we could take more home. I had brought three dozen Molasses Orange cookies. You do the math.

Our hostess even provided Christmas containers to put our cookie assortments in. So twenty women walked around the table filling our boxes – and occasionally, because we just couldn’t help ourselves – putting cookies in our mouths. I confess to trying a chocolate bourbon ball. Oh my!

I brought home a lovely assortment of cookies I shouldn’t eat. My plan was to divide them into two batches and carry them to two new neighbors. At least that was the plan on Friday when I came home from the party. On Saturday morning, before breakfast,  Linzer cookies called my name from that closed container. Then a Three Ginger cookie chimed in. Before I knew it a chorus of cookies was singing to me and the container had been breached. By Sunday noon there were no cookies to share with new neighbors. They, and you,  will have to be content with my good holiday wishes.

 

 

 

Mala Enjoys Koonilingus at Ruby Tuesday

Laura and I and a writer friend, Mary Ann Hillier, discovered that none of us had ever been invited to join a book club, so we decided to start the We Didn’t Want to Join Your Stinky Book Club Anyway book club. We’ll meet every other month and talk about the books we’re reading. We didn’t want the pressure of having to read a particular book. That sounded like too much work. Wine and book talk seemed perfect.

We met at Ruby Tuesday. The last time I had a glass of wine there it was some truly dreadful Zin or Merlot, so I was reluctant to order wine. But last night I noticed that they had Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet on the menu.

Mala and Ruby Menu

I sometimes drink Koonunga Hill at home, but always seemed to have a hard time remembering the name and it quickly evolved into Koonilingus. It was easy to remember and the word just rolls off the tongue. Stop laughing. (Laura snorted her Sam Adams Octoberfest Ale.) My husband knows exactly what to do when I say, “Roger, I’d like some Koonilingus.” He heads for the wine fridge.

I live in a family where things are often named something other than their real names and everybody in the family knows what it means. Maybe this happens in all families. When I was growing up we all knew what Willsy meant. My parents, as young newlyweds, had gone to dinner at the home of another young couple, the Wills. Apparently the wife wasn’t much of a cook and passed the potatoes through the boiling water and they were not completely cooked. Ever after,  anything undercooked at our house was Willsy.

My husband calls the couple who clean for us every two weeks The Wanderers. They sort of wander around the house and clean. I’m okay with it. My husband called the last cleaning person we had The Cleaning Chick. She was a young, well-endowed, energetic gal who cleaned in cut-offs and a tank top, but she went walkabout and we had to change the locks. We’ll keep The Wanderers.

Laura shared that one day, when she was driving home, she saw a rabid racoon. She stopped the car and went to a nearby house where there was a man with a gun. (It’s the Eastern Shore, okay?) He came out and shot the animal. Ever after that she and her husband refer to that part of the road as “dead racoon.”

As in, “Honey, are you on your way home?”

“I’m at dead raccoon. See you in a couple of minutes.”

Laura and Mary Ann dared me to blog about our meeting and enjoying my glass of Koonilingus. The We Didn’t Want to Join Your Stinky Book Club Anyway book club survived its first meeting and so did Ruby’s.

P.S. Here’s what we’ve been reading. We are an eclectic bunch.

Margaret Atwood’s speculative fiction Madadam Triology: Oryx & Crake, The Year of the Flood, Madadam; Jonathan Tropper, This Is Where I Leave You; Deborah Crombie, To Dwell in Darkness; Jonathan Evison, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving; Donna Leon, Death at La Fenice; Jasper Fforde, The Woman Who Died Alot – A Thursday Next Novel; Peggy Hesketh, Telling the Bees; Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore.

 

 

Verizon DSL vs Atlantic BB

Verizon DSL, Atlantic BB and HVAC

Friday, October 3, 2015: Two guys from Atlantic Broadband showed up to bury a cable from the pole in the back to the house. That was what the guy who came a month ago said needed to be done. The Friday crew showed up with a tractor trailer and a trencher. When they looked at the site they decided they didn’t need to bury the cable, they could run a wire next to our overhead phone wire.

The next day the guy showed up to install the internet service. He discovered that there was already an Atlantic BB cable to the house. It is buried, but there was a bright orange cable and box by the house. With all the digging I do in my garden beds, it’s amazing I hadn’t found that cable. And even more amazing that Friday’s crew of two didn’t see it. It’s located next to where the Direct TV cable comes into the house and they looked at that area. Maybe they were both color blind.

The Saturday guy knew what he was doing. The cable, which must have been installed before we moved into this house 9 years ago, was still live. I had bought the needed DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem, which Atlantic BB wanted to rent to me for $8 a month + $10 a month for an “n” router. I said NO!  Since I had all the equipment, we were up and running in an hour. I can’t wait for faster internet.

The installer had to go under the house into the crawl space. Crawl space is no exaggeration. Most Eastern Shore houses of a certain age (the 60’s) were built on foundations two cinder blocks high – about 20 inches. Both my husband and I are very hands-on home owners but neither of us have been under this house. Nobody wants to go under the house. When the installer came out from running the cable to the router in my husband’s office, he told me there were three of the HVAC tubes that were not attached to the heating and AC. Just laying on the ground. I don’t want to think about how long that has been going on. Did we heat the crawl space during last winter’s cold weather? Cool the crawl space all summer? I gave him a nice tip.

Sunday, October 5: We had somebody from Service Today, who installed the HVAC system six years ago, come out to hook the HVAC tubes back up. It was 68 in the house that morning. Nothing a sweater couldn’t fix, but colder weather will be here soon. We want to be able to turn on the furnace. When I saw the older gentleman who came get out of his truck, I knew there was going to be a problem. He got in the first part of the crawl space, but couldn’t get through the smaller opening to where the problem was. He was too fat. Someone thinner is supposed to come on Tuesday.

And the Atlantic BB vs DSL issue? I don’t think my internet access is any faster. It might even be slower. Sunday morning it was just as pokey as before. Our IT guy is coming out on Tuesday to fix a printer issue for my husband’s MAC. He’ll check the speed and see where we are. My husband says his internet is faster, but the router is on his desk. I’m ten feet away in another room. Even if my internet isn’t faster after all this, we found a problem in the crawl space that we wouldn’t have otherwise known about, so that was a very good thing.

Tuesday, October 7: I was gone all day on a bus trip to Winterthur to see the incredible Downton Abby costume exhibit. My husband, Roger, was at home to handle people showing up to fix things.

Travis, our IT guy from Staples, came out. It wasn’t my imagination. My internet is no faster. He ordered a Universal Dual Band Wireless Internet Adapter for me and is supposed to come on Thursday to install it.

Another guy from Service Today came out. Much younger and thinner. He hooked up the tubes and, when he emerged, told Roger there was a cat skeleton in that section of the crawl space. I didn’t really want to know that. He thought maybe it had crawled in there to keep warm. The fact that it was a skeleton makes me think those HVAC tubes have been hanging a long time. Money down the drain. Oh, and he didn’t bring out the remains. Now I know I’m not going down in that crawl space. I wonder which neighbor has been missing a cat.

Thursday, October 9: Travis didn’t show up. He must have gotten tied up on another appointment since he stays until the issue is resolved. I’ll call to schedule another appointment.The internet speed issue is annoying, but not crucial at this point. The Bay to Ocean website that I take care of is completed for the time being.

And life goes on, despite pokey internet access and HVAC issues. Cold and rainy again today. I’m not complaining. We need the rain, but we might have our first fire of the season tonight to take the chill off the house.

 

 

Networking “Down the Ocean”

We’ll take a brief hiatus from writing mid-week when we go down to Ocean City, Maryland and spend the night with our friend Bonnie Feldstein. Bonnie writes as Anna Gill and Laura and I got to know her through her involvement with the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference where she’s handled manuscript reviews the last couple of years. She lives in Rochester, New York, but spends a couple of months in Ocean City holed up in a condo and dedicating herself to writing. We’re both jealous she’s figured out how to do that.

anna gill

On the agenda — dinner and then lots of girl talk. Bonnie has a wicked sense of humor and is a great story teller. At BTO she had us in stitches with a tale of trying on a full length (bra included) Spanx. This is supposed to give you a lean look from shoulder to knee and take care of any bulgy bits. I could relate! Apparently Bonnie’d been given a size too small to take into the dressing room, but she managed to get it up over knees, hips and bust. Once it was on, however,  she couldn’t breathe and only managed weak “help me, help me’s” from her stall. I had images of The Fly superimposed on Bonnie held captive by Spanx from which she had to be rescued by a saleslady. At that point Laura and I were laughing so hard we were crying.

Networking isn’t just about working. Forging personal bonds over stories and wine is the best networking there is.

Note to self: do not wear mascara when visiting Bonnie!

Santa Diaries’ Playbook

We thought you might be interested in seeing what a revision page of the movie script we’re working on looks like. Maybe it somehow made its way into the Denver Bronco’s playbook and resulted in their spectacular defeat.

script notations

Figuring out how to make your work better is the hard part of writing…and football.

Christmas Movies as Research

At Christmas We Believe

Laura and I believe that 2014 is the year The Santa Diaries will be made into a Christmas movie.

At Christmas I Believe

Twenty-one Christmas Movies

In the last month I watched twenty-one Christmas movies in the name of research. Ten of the movies were new in 2013, four were from 2012 and seven were from years 2003 – 2009. There are still three movies recorded that I haven’t watched, but I just don’t know if I’m up for it.

Hallmark Channel and LifeTime channel show Christmas movies all December.  I know there were more that I didn’t get recorded and Laura watched a bunch at her house, too. We watched many of them together. She’d bring lunch and assume the position on the love seat in my family room. I loved having them recorded because I could fast forward through the commercials.

Laura watching Christmas movies 2

Movie Watching as Research

This research has a purpose.  We are finally getting back to our screenplay of The Santa Diaries, using the stage script as the story arc. We wanted to know was there anything out there like our story (not really) and we needed to know what was getting made. Three quarters of the way through the line-up I had to watch Bad Santa as a Christmas movie mind-cleanser. (Bad Santa 2 is scheduled for production in 2014.)

We didn’t watch all those movies for life lessons, but from a writing standpoint entertainment blogger Melissa Locker has summarized many of the themes, conflicts, and turning points in many of these movies.

20 Valuable Holiday Lessons Learned from Watching Lifetime Christmas Movies

1. Never EVER fire Santa Claus.

2. If you accept a bottle of champagne from a stranger, be aware that it just might send you back in time to help your younger self make better choices.

3. The Grinch isn’t necessarily a green monster.

4. Sometimes a head injury can lead you to your heart’s true desire.

5. Christmas is the perfect time to re-evaluate all your life.

6. If you ever wanted to rekindle an old flame, Christmas is definitely the time to do it.

7. It never hurts to have straight talking friends/guardian angels/in-laws.

8. If you’ve got an incredible voice and want to work on your acting chops, Lifetime holiday movies are the place to do it.

9. Never plan a Christmas wedding. It’s bound to be a disaster.

10. Love after death is possible if you believe in worm holes

11. Be suspicious of old white men with beards named Nick who play Santa Claus at community functions.

12. It’s never too late to look up an old flame.

13. When in doubt, sing Christmas carols.

14. If you don’t believe in Santa Claus, he will track you down.

15. Always, always go home for Christmas.

16. Love is everywhere.

17. You can’t chase happiness, you have to find it where you are.

18. Christmas dreams can come true.

19. If someone gives you a pep talk, be sure to really listen

20. Finally, there’s always a happy ending at Christmas.

What We Watched

In case you have an inquiring mind and really want to know…here are the movies I watched along with the log lines.

2013 Movies: There were twelve new movies for 2013. Somehow I missed two of them.

Christmas in the City – A woman tries to bring the Christmas spirit back to a department store. (I couldn’t resist using this photo from the movie. There can never be too many gratuitous almost naked Santas. That’s Ashanti in the middle.)

naked santas

Hats Off to Christmas – Mia does not like Nick’s unreliable ways until he helps her disabled son.

Christmas on the Bayou – A man tries to rekindle a romance with an executive who’s spending the holidays with her mother.

Let It Snow – An executive with plans to update a rustic lodge has a change of heart when she falls in love.

The Christmas Spirit – Charlotte’s spirit tries to change a developer’s mind and stop development in her hometown.

Dear Secret Santa  – A woman in mourning receives a surprising Christmas card from a secret admirer.

Finding Christmas – Sean and Owen swap homes and open their hearts to two women.

Window Wonderland – Two store employees compete for the window dressing job and find they have a lot in common.

A Country Christmas Story – A country singer reunites with her father while appearing in a competition hosted by Dolly Parton.

Christmas Belle – The sudden arrival of a longtime suitor complicates a woman’s budding relationship with a client.

2012 Movies

Christmas Song – Romance blossoms between two music teachers who compete for the same job.

A Bride for Christmas  – A man bets his friends that he can convince a woman to marry him by Christmas.

Christmas with Holly – The owner of a toy store falls in love with a man who cared for his orphaned niece.

It’s Christmas, Carol – The ghost of her former boss shows a ruthless CEO her past, present and future.

Previous Years

Fallen Angel – Reluctantly returning to his ohometown, a man reconnects with a young woman he knew as a child.

Bad Santa – A con man/thief masquerades as a department store Santa.

When Angels Come to Town – A mistake places a holiday angel’s job in jeopardy.

A Boyfriend for Christmas –A woman waits 20 years for a holiday wish to come true.

Crazy for Christmas – A limo driver tries to help a wealthy man find his long-lost daughter on Christmas Eve.

A Christmas Wedding – A real estate developer embarks on a wild cross country odyssey to get home in time for her wedding.

12 Men of Christmas – A public relations executive uses her media savy to stir excitement in a small Montana town.

What’s Next for Us?

We pull out The Santa Diaries screenplay and read it again. (We’ve been away from it for a couple of months.) Perhaps that marination time will prove useful. It’s already been through three major rewrites. Script doctor Dara Marks had us remove the magical elements from the script. We’re now thinking we might want to put some of that back. We’ll look again at the arc of the story and the arc of each of the main characters. Sometimes a few tweaks in the dialogue can enhance a backstory.

We’ve discovered that we are never quite satisfied with our scripts, but at some point you have to say it’s the best we can do for now and move forward. When we get there we’ll send it off to be read by some industry colleagues. There is an implicit timeline for buying scripts and getting them into production.

One of the things we noticed about the movies we watched was that some of them seemed to be filmed in spring and summer in California. I could tell from the vegetation. The most egregious production error was the film that was supposed to be set in fall and winter Connecticut and had people driving through California brush. Come on, people! Did you think no one would notice? Set the damn movie in California.

Laura and I will keep working to make our dream come true – 2014 will be the year The Santa Diaries screenplay will be turned into a movie.