Americanish Premieres at CAAM

A notable moment I want to record it before it passes too far into the past: AMERICANISH, a film that Paul produced, had its debut in San Francisco last weekend at CAAMFEST where it won the audience award!

In an only-barely post-Covid-vaccine world, the viewing was both virtual geo-locked to California, and live, at a drive-in at Fort Mason Center.

This felt especially sweet as last year was chock full of disappointments when the film was rejected from a number of top festivals. The producing team went through the additional time, effort and expense of “re-opening” the cut and do more edits, as well as take a hard look at where their film “fits in.” A fun, sweet comedy about Muslim women following their dreams in New York can be a “one of these things is not like the others” situation at film festivals that tend to have a more serious-minded curatorial bent. The movie still has an uphill climb to find love and distribution, but now there are some good reviews coming in, the pandemic easing up, and people in general wanting to feel more optimistic and have fun, it may have found its stride! Here’s hoping!

And here’s a trailer:

A little background, since I don’t think I’ve talked much about this project here on this blog. AMERICANISH has been in the works for about five years. When Paul came on board four years ago, the working title was still “My Cousin Sister’s Wedding.” Paul’s role as a producer began when his friend, Iman, from film school approached him about doing a rewrite pass on a feature she was going to be directing. She and her co-writer were applying for some funding and the script needed a little push to get it in shape. He did the pass, then ended up mentoring and helping her on set, since this was her first feature. (He directed his first feature in 2011-12). During post, he spent months working with a first-time feature editor here in LA. And throughout, he has been involved in the gazillion little decisions and frustrations that go into making a film: which edits, which music, what posters, what trailers, what colors, what name, what fonts where to spend money, what to do then there is no money, what festivals to enter, what to do when festivals say “no,”— and more. This small victory is well-earned by everyone involved.

When Paul or I get some kind of award or a good thing, we joke/not joke, saying, “I’m proud of you everyday, but today you got an award.” This week the film achieved a benchmark, but I’m proud of Paul for the things he does every day. For mentoring and helping people—not just his friends, and not just people in a position to “pay him back”—from where he is now — even when he’s dealing with a disappointments or losses in his own life or career, he is generous with his skills, his time, his advice and his presence and unique energy. There were many examples of this during the course of making this film. (I can say all this, because he does not read this blog!)

Eight Things I’ve Been Doing in the Last Six Weeks

It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday in April and this blog is officially neglected. The problem with neglecting things — like your student loans or cleaning the kitchen junk drawer is that the longer you leave it, the more daunting it feels to come back, which makes it take even longer – so when you do, the interest has grown into a house-sized demon and all those ketchup packets have been tinged with brown and gotten stuck together with leaking soy sauce.

(Fun fact: Due to the pandemic there is a nationwide shortage of ketchup packets. Heinz has promised to increase production to make up for the 12-billion packet shortfall. They could have just asked us for the contents of our kitchen drawer.)

So it is with maintaining a record of one’s life on a blog — there’s too much to catch up on. But I’m gonna try to hit some highlights:

  1. Getting Vaccinated! Just the first shot so far. It’s Moderna. I went to a drive-thru site at Dodger Stadium. I get my second one in a couple more weeks! Here is a rather boring one-minute video of that:

2) Learning to use TikTok. I could have simply embedded a video above, but I wanted to give you an example of item #2, which is that I’m learning how to use TikTok. It’s for my own curiosity, and also research for a screenplay that I’ve started where social media plays a large role. I have mixed feelings about TikTok-ing, as it is interesting to me in theory, but I only have about a six minute scroll tolerance before I feel like my brain is going to bleed! I’ve learned that TikToks can be as long as 60 seconds, and also that 60 seconds feels MUCH longer that it sounds. For instance, the above video is 58 seconds, and it basically feels like eternity. I need to add “editing” to my repertoire.

3)Starting a new screenplay. I’ve been delaying for a long time — I’ve been working on other things — like work for clients, short stories, polishing older work — all good causes, but it was still getting to the point where I was beginning to worry if I could still write a feature from scratch. To put and keep this project at the top of my priority list, I joined not one, but TWO writing groups where I have to turn in pages, and it’s feeling good to push through it.

4) Winning a contest. My short story, “Shell,” which I’ve noted in previous posts was a semi-finalist and a finalist, did go on to win the Grand Prize in the Screencraft Cinematic Short Story Writing Competition. I won some money, and the folks at Screencraft have been really nice, talking to me about my career goals and even introducing me to a showrunner who was one of their judges. (For anyone reading this in the future, you can this story, as well as 29 other horror stories by women writers in The One That Got Away: Women of Horror Volume 3.

(Fun Fact: The One That Got Away was ordered for an English class at Butler University, and so seems like it will be discussed by students in a college class, which I find exciting! Also, Butler is located in Indianapolis, very close to my home town, and my sister and several friends attended back in the day.)

5) Meeting with my first showrunner! In all my years of trying to get established as a writer, I have been fortunate to meet with a number of executives at companies, but never with a showrunner, which has been a source of some frustration. Executives are awesome in that they offer to develop a pitch or a project with you — however that development, though fun and exciting, is seldom paid. Executives generally can’t hire you to work on an established TV show. The person who can do that is a showrunner. I have dreamed of working on a show — but my chances of that are slim without ever meeting someone who might potentially, hire me on one! So, even though this particular showrunner isn’t currently running a show, it was still a momentous benchmark, and he was super complimentary of my story, which was edifying.

6) Celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary. Worthy of note, though it was a very normal day. At this point in time, I think most of us cherish normal days! As usual, Paul and I both worked from home at opposite sides of the apartment. I bought him (i.e. “us”) some new cutting boards and a cake carrier, and he gave me permission to use him as my TikTok test subject — he’s definitely hoping that would never come to pass, but I vow it’s going to! In the evening, we finished Season One of Ted Lasso, which is just as freaking heartwarming as everybody annoyingly kept saying it was. Maybe even up there with Schitt’s Creek. If you haven’t seen it, go ahead and get the one-week free trial of Apple+ and binge it, then come back and thank me.

7) Adding yoga back into my life. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been pretty faithful about going for daily walks, but largely gave up the diligent yoga practice I had maintained for over a a decade. I’ve known it was a loss, but just hadn’t figured out how to work it back in to my routine until my friend, Gina, sent me a link to this Morning Yoga Challenge: 10 min of Morning Yoga for 30 DAYS. For me, it was perfect — bite-sized morsels that didn’t seem too time consuming or painful. Each episode also has an affirmation to carry through the day.

8) Reading some great books. One of these was Kindred, by Octavia Butler. A continuation of my informal Octavia Butler project that began in December of 2019 when I read Parable of the Sower. In the last month or so I’ve also read (listened to) Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and The Fact of a Body, by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. The book that really blew me away though, was Assata: An Autobiography, by Assata Shakur. If you know only a little about her, it might be how she was chained to her bed in the hospital after being accused of killing a police officer on a New Jersey turnpike in the 70s, and it might seem like dark reading. It was not — this woman is full of light and gratitude and wisdom. Honest about her own blindspots and awakening, educational about the great numbers of sneaky and unjust things that happen in our country and elsewhere. At the same time, she manages to be flat out entertaining. The chapters alternate between her time after she was arrested and imprisoned and her life up to that point, beginning in early childhood.

I’m sure there are a couple things I’m missing — but eight is a good number. Hope everyone is enjoying their spring!

Updates on”Shell,” Life and 70s Fashion

Yesterday, I got an email from Screencraft letting me know that “Shell” was now a finalist in their Cinematic Short Story Competition. Looks like that means the top 50. Not bad! We’ll see what happens in March.

Also in “Shell” news. I opened “the Twitter” and saw I was mentioned in a tweet from Kandisha Press. Turns out that I’m today’s featured writer from the On That Got Away anthology. I told myself that this year I was not going to shy away from any offers of promotion, so when they asked for a three-minute clip of me reading from the story a little while back, I did it. I’m hoping it’s one of those things that is embarrassing now, but in ten or fifteen years I’ll run across it and think — awwww, that’s sweet! Look how young I look! I might or might not be a little squished in this video, as I don’t think my face is quite this oblong — we probably gave them a rectangle and this is the side effect of making it a social-media friendly square — but I don’t mind that, and Paul did a nice job of finding some sunny but slightly spooking lighting…

As is so often the case these days — announcements of this type seem pale in the face of LIFE — specifically OTHER people’s lives — as a cold snap around the country took hold this week, and a number of friends (along with thousands of strangers) in Texas have been left without power to their homes at the same time that pipes are freezing and bursting, leaving them without water as well. I feel bad for them!

I was reading an essay this past week about how social media contributes to stress because it’s become so much easier to know more about the troubles of people who are far away, but our ability to help is essentially the same. One thing that has changed is we have more ability to create opportunities to donate and more awareness of opportunities to donate… but these, like troubles, begin to seem unending and out of reach, which becomes an additional source guilt and stress. I have a lot of well intentioned folks on my feeds, and for every cause I donate to, there are ten or twenty that I have to pass by… 😕

Ummmm… other random updates:

This last weekend was a grab-bag of uneventful “smaller” holidays. Chinese New Year (obviously NOT small in other places, but not widely observed here) was Friday, February 12. Saturday was Gal-entines Day — a Parks and Rec invention which every year seems to be a real-er thing. Valentines Day was Sunday and Presidents Day was Monday. We didn’t do much for any of these at our house. Paul tried to order Chinese Food on Friday, but his efforts were thwarted, so we ended up eating spaghetti. I threw my back out on Saturday morning and spent most of the day “on ice” – literally lying on ice-packs – but recovered enough to attend a nice “Zoom tea” with a women’s group I belong to. On Sunday, by mutual agreement, we had a normal day Valentine’s-wise (though made special by the fact that I wasn’t lying on ice-packs.) On Monday, my standing client meeting was cancelled so I enjoyed having some time to catch up.

The other very-small event from the weekend is that we finished watching THE CROWN — at least to the end of Season 4. Our third housemate lives with us part time, having a job where she sleeps away Tuesday through Thursday and is at our place Friday through Monday. On the nights she’s home, we’ve established a pandemic routine of watching an episode of a show together each evening. SCHITT’S CREEK was a highlight of 2020, and it was hard to think of what to follow it up with, but we settled on The Crown — which is obviously very different, but also rewarding. This weekend we’re beginning THE WEST WING.

In addition to this very civilized episode per evening activity, I’m watching on my own I MAY DESTROY YOU and a classic CW show, THE 4400. Paul and I are watching some newer shows, like WANDAVISION, MR. MAYOR, and (help us) CALL ME KAT and … in wake of the recent movie, Paul has decided to rediscover the WONDER WOMAN from the 70s with Lynda Carter and Lyle Waggoner.

We’ve discovered that Steve Trevor and Diana Prince had some rockin’ outfits* and have decided that if we ever get rich, in addition to donating to everyone’s Go Fund Me’s, we’re going to hire someone to recreate some of our favorite outfits from the show. None of these show up in a Google search, so here are some snaps of our TV screen:

I especially like Diana’s long red vest with the stitching. Paul is oddly fond of Steve’s yellow jacket!

*Note — this post has been edited from the original, wherein I expressed surprise that Wonder Woman had such cool clothes in the 80s. It turns out that I was misinformed — these episodes were shot circa 1977, when fashion was AWESOME — and thus I am now much less surprised!

Author Interview for “Shell”

I said I’d let you know when interviews were up in conjunction with the upcoming Women of Horror anthology, The One That Got Away, which I thought was launching Feb 1, but I see is ALREADY on Amazon! Here is the first one! The delightful Paula R.C. Readman, who also has a story in the book, fed me virtual cakes and hot chocolate and let me ramble answer questions on her blog.

Some additional news I got this week is that this same story in this anthology, “Shell,” is one of two stories that are now semifinalists in the ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Competition. Here’s the list which, you can see, is very exciting and official because there are laurels around the word “Semifinalists.”

Inauguration Day 2021

Today was a day both solemn and joyful. In California, the ceremony was already in progress when I swithced on the live feed at 8:20am. The new president was sworn in before 9am. I cried three times as I watched, stirred by the President Biden’s speech, Lady Gaga’s emotional rendition of America the Beautiful and Amanda Gorman’s transcendent spoken word poem performed with the power of incantation.

President Biden declared:
“I will defend America. I will give my all in your service thinking not of power, but of possibilities. Not of personal interest, but of the public good. And together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division.Of light, not darkness. An American story of decency and dignity.Of love and of healing.Of greatness and of goodness. May this be the story that guides us. The story that inspires us. The story that tells ages yet to come that we answered the call of history.”

Poet Amanda Gorman spoke:
“And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.”

Most of my friends, via text and social media, expressed relief, spoke of hope being restored.

But not “Stan,” my third-party-voting, ultra-left friend. He posted a placard that said:
“Joe Biden is president and the children are still in cages.”
Really?
One can always depend on Stan to kill the joy.

And speak the truth, especially when it’s unpleasant.

And so I must thank Stan for the reminder: Even if our new president seems decent and kind, even if the poem was amazing, even if that yellow coat was to die for, it is not permission for me to allow my sigh of relief to become a sinking back onto a soft cushion of complacency and watching others do their jobs.

The First 100 Days is not a series to watch. I also have a hundred days, and hundreds of days after that, each one an opportunity to stay informed, to protest injustice and needless suffering, to advocate righteous agendas, to communicate out loud to those who represent us that we expect pretty rhetoric to bookend action.

Honestly, I would love it if today was just Day 1 for a new president… but Stan is right.
It’s Day 1 for me, too.
It is Day 1 for us all.