Big Cars, Billy Joel and Coming to Terms with “Pressure” – My Shuffle Synchronicities Guest Post

My friend Dave has this interesting Substack newsletter you can subscribe to (for free!) called Shuffle Synchronicities where every morning he shuffles his Spotify playlist and then talks about whatever song comes up, also staying alert for possible synchronicities — or connections with his own life.

He invited me do a guest post, and here it is: Shuffle Synchronicity Guest Post!

Here’s the first paragraph to draw you in….

In an era before airbags, seatbelt laws and child-car-seats-built-like-padded-exo-skeletons, my father possessed an impressively modern, before-his-time anxiety about shit that could happen to his children on the roadways. When my sister and I went on combined-class field trips in grade school, he made our teachers put us on separate buses, so if one of his kids died, there’d still be one left. When he saw teenagers showing off in their small, sporty cars, he’d say, When you kids start driving, I want you in the biggest, heaviest car on the road so if you get into an accident with that idiot, you’ll survive.

I Want to Write Short but I Write Long, I Want to Write Fast, but I Write Slow…

Some people are good at tweet-length writing. I’m not. Some people are good at 500 word or 1000 word “flash fiction.” That’s usually not me either. I had a class once where each week we wrote from a prompt and the limit was 800 words. That was fun. But later, when I went back to turn the exercises into actual stories, they landed more in the 3000-word range. This was okay. 3000 words is about 10-12 printed pages, and even in a world with ever-shortening attention spans, most people can manage ten pages.

My last story that earned some accolades was about 3000 words and there’s a good chance that its contest performance had to do with its abbreviated length. This is not me trying to be self-deprecating. I’m pretty sure that when a reader has an obligation to read a hundred stories for a contest, they are going appreciate the stories with a lower page count! The people running the contest were traditionally screenplay contest people, and readers for screenplay contests can tell you it’s usually a job that pays by the script, not by the page, and it usually doesn’t pay enough to work out to more than minimum wage if you actually take time to read every page. Thus there is often a rule for readers — official or less so — that if the work doesn’t grab them in the first ten or 20 pages, they don’t need to keep reading. (While I’m sure other variables were at play, in was my 10-page story that won, while my 32-page story stalled out in the semi-finals.)

Literary journals also tend to appreciate stories around 3000 words or less — they can print three or four stories instead of one long-ass story. In the last eight or so months, I’ve worked on four short stories. I hoped in the beginning they might end up being about 3000 words.

They have not.

They have turned into long-ass stories. Each one is between 8000-10,000 words. This is like the no-man’s land of fiction. Too long for most journals, almost-but-not-quite in “novella” territory. Technically, I think they qualify as “novellettes, ” which most people haven’t heard of, much less read.

There are things called “chapbooks” which are like fancy, high quality ‘zines of between 16-32 pages. The majority of calls for chapbook submissions are for poetry— I think traditionally, a chapbook has been a mini-collection of poems — but a few places publish chapbooks of fiction. The artsy-craftsy part of me thinks maybe I could commission some illustrations and make a chapbook myself, I guess just for fun, since after I gave a dozen away as Xmas gifts I’m not sure what I’d do next… sell them on Etsy maybe?

The question is not pressing yet, because none of the stories are finished. They are so long that when I reached the end of the second draft of each, I was overwhelmed by the idea of going back and revising right away. They are long, weird, and strangely episodic — I’ve begun giving them miniature “chapters” as an organizational feature. I’m worried they might be boring. And bad. Bad and boring. They might be stuff like people write during a pandemic and then wake up and realize is terrible.

But the truth is, I won’t know if these stories work until they have gone through all the layers and permutations still to come. I am a messy maker. In my high school drawing class the teacher once came by, looked at something I was working on and paid me a sort-of compliment, saying that at some point my art always looked like a hot mess that he would secretly think was irretrievable, but then at a later point he would walk by and be pleasantly surprised because it actually came together. (He also noted that he didn’t really understand the mechanics of how this happened.)

This was a helpful observation to think about when I’m at the hot mess stage in my writing and feeling depressed and fearful it’s not going to get better. I remind myself that the mess is only a stage in the journey, and if I just apply myself, with patience and persistence, I might end up with something good. (It also reminds me that even if people I look up to don’t see my path, that doesn’t mean it’s not there.)

Thinking this helps some, but it certainly doesn’t immunize me against being depressed. With each project, I reach a point where I’m fearful that I’ll never get it to where I want it to be, artistically. On top of this, certain people ask what I’m working on, and in an attempt to show them that I’m not a complete wastrel, I tell them. They, in turn, in the nicest, gentlest way, are like, “What the fuck are you doing? It’s taking you forever, and that is not something we can sell.” When this happens, I often stop working on the unsellable project in order to work on a project that I think is going to be better / faster / more commercial, only to have that project arrive in the same place as project before it — the same place all the older projects are, because even though I set them aside to work on something else, I’m always planning to come back for them, like Rambo First Blood Part II. *

So right now I have four stories and two screenplays that are all in this purgatory, waiting for me to come in, guns blazing, and break them out. But I’m not really a guns-blazing type girl, so it’s more likely I’m going to have to half-carry, half-drag them out. One. At. A. Time.

And it’s going to take too long, because it’s not fast, and the results may be long, though I’d prefer something short, and though I wish the path was straight, it’s circuitous. That’s just the way it is.

*Full disclosure, not actually a movie I have seen.

My Name in The Hollywood Reporter

Today I saw that The Hollywood Reporter published this article last week.

The article is mostly about another project at Jumpcut, the studio that has optioned a pilot I wrote called Jack 9, but Jack 9 is mentioned here in the subheading…

And later in the article, I am named in conjunction with the project.

To amend a few details, my name has an additional “t” at the end, the project did NOT go through the Jumpcut incubator and I’m not sure that Freedom Road is still involved… but still, it’s fun to see one’s project in print.

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!