That Time I Optioned a Book – ADMISSIONS

Here’s a fun little Hollywood-type story. Back in August, I rented the rights to the novel, Admissions, from my friend Eric, in the hopes of getting someone interested in making a limited series, a la Big Little Lies. I was excited because I could see what the show could be, but because the book had a small publisher and little-to-know publicity, it hasn’t sold a ton of copies. And because I am unknown, my attachment wasn’t really a selling point, so I was having trouble gaining any traction. Somehow, though, I was lucky enough to gain the interest of a producing team, who talked it up at their meetings and sent out packets for a few months — but again, because I neither I nor the book or its author are famous, it was hard to gain traction. However, the book was at a couple places when the story broke, which suddenly made it more timely — and finally, we got an invitation to pitch!

Which was awesome.

And a little crazy:

I got the news that pitch meeting was five days away as I was driving to one of my non-writing gigs, telling myself that I hadn’t woken up that morning with a sore throat (I had). At that point I did not have a pitch, had not read the book since June, and had planned to spend the next day double-bagging all the food in our house and moving out because our building was being tented to fumigate for termites. Instead — well, remember the last time you spent a marathon weekend studying for a really important exam while coughing, blowing your nose and staying at a friend’s house because you and your boyfriend got in a fight? Or that time you got cast in a play three days before its first performance? It was along the lines of one of those things. But somehow — with the help of the producers, it came together and we had a pitch by Monday morning. So. Yay!

But all of that is basically a long intro to a topic that been on my mind on and off for the past year or more which is the concept of PARTIALITY.

However, since I’m trying to do this thing where I write posts that are less than 500 words instead 1000-1500, I’ll sign off here, and pick up the subject in another post, coming soon!

Capoeira Lessons

February 15, 2018

On Tuesday I had got up for an early meeting with lots of energy. The meeting –for a non-industry job — was really interesting, and set my mind to spinning –thinking of some interesting things I could write about…

But as the day wore on, my energy dwindled as I began to feel daunted by everyday practicalities.

And then I got a letter saying that I would not be receiving a publication award I’d been on the shortlist for …

And by evening I was feeling pretty depleted and defeated.

But Paul had just begun a month of Capoeira classes at a studio close to us, and was going to a class that night. On a whim, I said, “Should I go, too?” capoeira

And an hour later I was in a brightly lit studio with new people learning new movements to the rhythm of instruments with unfamiliar names.

And I felt energized and happier again.

Jon Ronson and Jeff Simmermon

You know how on the podcast Scriptnotes, at the end of the main conversation, the hosts each share One Cool Thing? An app, a game, a book that is striking their fancy.

I currently have One Cool Thing X 2 — in other words, two cool things.

One is the book Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson.

The other is this story told by Jeff Simmeron at The Moth, heard by me on the radio on the way back from the gym, which also exists on video:

“sad King Arthur,” “pinballing,” “patina of sheer rage.”  So good.

The Hollywood “No”

Last week, I went to a presentation where a speaker mentioned  that rejection imprints more deeply in the female brain than the male brain. I thought this was pretty interesting, so looked online for details but failed to find any article to corroborating this, although I don’t disbelieve her. In any case, it got me thinking about rejection.

Generally I don’t need to  consciously think about rejection because it has become such an integral a part of my life.  I have a kind of “unaware awareness” of it that is constant, but not always identifiable as an irritant. It’s like after you get used to a heavy purse, a funky hip joint, or the fact that Trump is president. After awhile, you kind of forget about it until you watch a news clip, try the wrong yoga pose, or finally clean out your purse and realize you’ve been carrying THREE full water bottles it it. It takes moments of increased or decreased pain intensity to remind you that “oh yeah, that pain has been there.” 

Currently, I have a short story out to a few literary journals. Last week I received the first “thanks, but no thanks” from one of them. We can assume that perhaps someone else is actually reading my story and rejecting it right now, as I write this.

This is actually my favorite type of rejection — a direct rejection, in writing.  

In Stephen King’s On Writing, he talks about how for a long time, he collected all of his rejection notes on a nail, until the nail got too full, and he had to replace it with a long spike.  When I first read that I found it inspiring to think of rejection letters are kind of a badge of honor — evidence that you have been to battle and survived.  I’ve not done anything so romantic as hammer a spike into my landlord’s wall, and with changing times my rejections are often delivered via email… so instead I keep an excel spreadsheet with my rejections. I also enter my occasional acceptances, and then I color code them so I can see what the proportion looks like. 

The spreadsheet has been helpful in another way — it helps me see rejection more like men are trained to see it — as a numbers game.  I can see patterns — that for every ten or twelve submissions to journals, I’ll get one acceptance. I will never forget congratulating a friend for having an essay published in The Atlantic. It was an honorable mention for a writing contest they held. She told me she had submitted it sixty times. It was rejected fifty-odd times before it placed in a prestigious contest.

What is missing from my spreadsheet however, are the less obvious rejections — the “Hollywood” rejections. This is probably because when I started the spreadsheet, I didn’t have the skills and experience to recognize them.

But then a couple of years ago, I bought Stephanie Palmer’s Good In a Room and found a really excellent breakdown of rejection, Hollywood-style.  By the time I read it I had been around long enough that I was starting to “get it,” but by no means was it a natural transition for me. Coming from the straight-forward Midwest, learning to decipher a “Hollywood no” was kind of like an Asberger’s kid having to look at flashcards of faces to decipher different emotions.  When I first got to Los Angeles, I sent a script an agent’s assistant.  She told me she “liked it, but didn’t love it,” and I thought, “Awesome. She liked it!”

Yeah…no. 

Recently, talking to a friend who is newer to the writing game, I found myself trying to break it to her that the super-complimentary email she’d received from one contact about a script, and the other friend who just hadn’t gotten back to her yet were in fact…rejections.  The conversation didn’t go super well. Maybe I should have just shared the section of the book I am about to share here.  Or… maybe, I should have just kept my mouth shut.  This, too is the Hollywood way: Time is the greatest teacher, let it deliver the unpleasant news. You don’t need to. 

But, to save you a couple years of figuring things out, I will herein share from Good in a Room by Stephanie Palmer:

“No” Is Silence Over Time

Chris Kelly, a writer for Real Time with Bill Maher wrote this in a recent article (crediting Merill Markoe):

“In Hollywood, ‘no’ is silence over time. The way you find out you’re not getting the job, that they passed, that they didn’t respond to the material, that they’re going a different direction, is silence. It’s the call you don’t get.” (via Huffington Post)

Other forms of “silence over time”:

  • If you can’t get an in-person meeting at all.
  • If your emails don’t get returned in one week.
  • If your calls don’t get returned in two weeks.
  • If your script has been passed along (to a star, director, or producer), and you haven’t heard back in a month.

If you pitch to a decision-maker and they want to be in business with you, they will get in touch as soon as possible. If you haven’t heard back, the answer (almost always) is “No.”

Unless They Pay You, The Answer Is “No”

That’s the title of John August’s Scriptnotes Episode 71. John’s screenwriter co-host, Craig Mazin, elaborates:

“Unless there’s money, the answer is no. Isn’t that terrible? And it’s so unfortunate because there’s thousands and thousands — so many wonderful, creative ways for people to say no to you. And so many of them sound like yes, which is horrifying really to contemplate, but it’s human nature. Nobody really likes saying no to somebody. Nobody wants to be mean. No one wants to see that look reflected back to them.” If you’re not getting any money, the answer is probably “No.”

“No” Often Starts With A Compliment

When people in Hollywood say “No,” the medicine is typically accompanied by a spoonful of sugar. Examples include:

  • “This has a lot of potential…”
  • “This is a great piece of writing…”
  • “I love the main characters…”
  • “This is hilarious…”
  • “We love it…”

If you’re getting compliments like this, they can be true, but don’t take them at face value. Most of the time, all of these compliments translate to: “You seem like a nice person and I don’t see any reason to offend you….”

“No” Usually Ends With An Excuse

After the compliment you get the excuse:

  • “… but isn’t the right fit for us.”
  • “… but we are overbudget.”
  • “… but it would be too expensive.”
  • “… but we have another project that is too similar.”

If you’re hearing reasons like these, don’t take them at face value. Most of the time, all of the reasons translate to: “…but this isn’t good enough (yet).”

“No” = Compliment + Excuse

Most of the time when you’re getting compliments on your writing followed by an excuse about why you’re not getting any money, the actual compliments and excuses are not the truth. The truth is that they are saying: “You seem like a nice person and I don’t see any reason to offend you, but this isn’t good enough (yet).”

This is a hard thing to hear because we want to believe that the compliment is real because that’s something to feel good about. We want to believe that the excuse is real because it lets us save face. The thing to understand is that if your work was good enough, you’d at least get a “Maybe.”

This last one, by the way, is my favorite, because I love that it’s an equation: Compliment+Excuse=No. 

 

Some other random articles about rejection.

10 Surprising Facts About Rejection

Get Rejected More, You’re Not Doing it Enough

Science and Stuff

Saturday was Earth Day and March for Science day. I almost went to the march, but did not. It’s okay though, because I made it a point to like all the Facebook posts of friends who did go.  (That last sentence was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek but really just makes me feel sad for reasons I can’t unpack at the moment.)

It so happens that I am reading a science-type book during treadmill sessions at the gym.

It’s called How to Defeat Your Own Clone: And Other Tips for Surviving the Biotech Revolution. how to defeat coverIt’s written by some smart bio-engineers who know stuff and write well for the layperson, so I am enjoying it.

I have a special interest in clones of late, in relation to a project I’m working on, which is probably how I stumbled onto this book online, but I think it was not clones that inspired me to buy it.

Via Amazon’s “look inside”feature, I was able to read the first few pages of the book and can across this paragraph:

“Not infrequently, the answer to an innovation’s dangers is more innovation. When human beings first started to congregate in large cities, disease grew to be such a problem that there was serious speculation that living in large cities was unnatural and unavoidably dangerous.  People were not meant to live so close to one another. Cities were a disastrous and doomed experiment in living!

Then plumbing happened.”

This interested me, both at face value — and in how it views about science as a creative problem-solving process.

In creating narrative, there’s an idea that if you “paint yourself into a corner ” you’ll be pressured into finding some amazing way out of your predicament.  So in this way you can force yourself to come up with a more brilliant solution than had you played it safe.

Sometimes though, the brilliant solution takes too long to arrive, and you have a deadline, so you just have the crumple paper into a ball, through it away, and start from scratch.

So in honor of Earth Day, I wondered which way Earth is headed. Maybe, if we keep polluting, it will force our scientists to perfect the special bacteria that can eat all the pollution from the air, or fake clouds that can patch  holes  in the ozone layer.

Or maybe we’ll have to resort to the crumpled paper scenario.  I’m not sure what the Earth-sized,  metaphorical equivalent to that is, but it seems grim.