Writing

April 23, 1979

April 23, 1979

 I remember this well – my excitement was so intense it’s still indescribable. All of those times I came so close to my goal and missed taught me to lower my expectations. I didn’t let myself hope for more than another meeting. To learn my spec script had been optioned by a real producer for real money (not a lot, but more than I’d ever made writing before) seemed surreal.

Writing - the dreamPart of me always believed I’d make it as a writer, otherwise I wouldn’t have pursued it – but another part saw a screenwriting career as a dream, out of reach.  One of my high school teachers told me I wouldn’t be a real writer until someone paid me to write and I believed her – so, Steve Friedman optioning the script was validation.

Writing - looks like a vacuum cleaner sitting unattended in the messy background.In my dizzy euphoria, I assumed everything would be different now – my career would come easily. That proved overly optimistic. Steve didn’t make the movie and the option lapsed. The same script would be optioned twice more, by two different producers, and it attracted some top-tier female directors and talent, but as of today it remains unproduced.

Page 1 - 17_edited-1Doesn’t matter. It’s still one of the top ten days of my life.

 

April 4, 1995

April 4, 1995 Diary

My Cub Scout, A
My Cub Scout, A

In retrospect, it’s ironic my youngest son “vanished” the day after Vanished aired on NBC. (I wrote the teleplay, based on the Danielle Steele novel.) It’s about “a man and woman faced with an almost unthinkable tragedy – the mysterious abduction of their son.”


Vanished 1

My fascination with kidnapped children began with a Reader’s Digest condensed book, Kidnap: The Story of the Lindbergh Case by George Waller.  Half a century later, I’ve read almost every book on the subject (and there are a lot).  IMHO, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was innocent, but we’ll never know for sure. That enduring mystery is one of the reasons the case still captivates. Kidnappers Leopold and Loeb also inspired their share of films and books but in their case, the mystery wasn’t who did it, but why.  More recently, the 2007 disappearance of Madeleine McCann is a hot case and the subject of a new Netflix documentary.

I didn't know this until today, but this version of the DVD lists me as the director and the director as the writer.
I didn’t know this until today, but this version of the DVD lists me as the director and the director as the writer.

Missing children – in fiction as well as true crime – capture public imagination because the stories speak to a primal parental fear. I suspect most parents survive at least one heart-stopping moment where their child appears to vanish and the previously unimaginable is agonizingly imminent. In a moment of clarity, you understand that one mistake – an instant of distraction – can shatter everything. Since all of us are human, all of us make mistakes. I made several. All my children terrified me with at least one disappearing act. Luckily, none of them were gone very long.

A, again.
A, again.

 

 

March 8, 1973

March 8, 1973

All my dreams...What looked like my lucky break was actually a crash course in how quickly “All my dreams are coming true!” can dissolve into no one’s returning my phone calls. Sadly, this was far from my last experience with emotional whiplash, careers version.

My teacher and mentor, Bill Froug
My teacher and mentor, Bill Froug

Still, Froug was right when he advised me to celebrate. Why not bask in the potential something amazing just might happen? So what if it doesn’t, this time?  The near-miss zone is nothing to be ashamed of. Most people never get that close. Nobody gets there by accident. Somebody noticed you and said, “the kid’s got talent.” If they didn’t believe it, they wouldn’t waste their time. The least you can do is believe in yourself.

The least you can do is believe in yourself

Legend has it, the average overnight success endures twenty to fifty rejections before they’re rewarded with that first life-changing YES. What are you waiting for? The faster you rack up the no’s, the sooner your dreams come true.

What are you waiting for?

The script that earned me this near-miss – “Intimate Changes,” not the greatest title – never got produced, but it won me introductions to agents, producers and network execs, all pivotal in my later career.  What felt like loss was only life unfolding more slowly than I preferred.

 

February 26, 1971

February 26, 1971

Project One Films

The first time I saw a commercial for a phone that shot photos, it looked absurd. Cameras were for taking pictures, phones were for talking. The combination could only weaken them both.

As close as I can come to a photo of a vintage Vivitar Super-8.
As close as I can come to a photo of a vintage Vivitar Super-8.

Obviously, I was wrong – so very wrong. Today, even though I have a good digital camera, I shoot photos with my phone.  However, this brave new world was far in the future when I unwrapped my second-hand Vivitar. To me, it was state of the art; I couldn’t imagine asking more of any device.

In San Diego with the family around '71.
In San Diego with the family around ’71.

As it turns out, there’s no end to things I couldn’t imagine then but take for granted today. Remote controls. Microwaves. Cheap calculators. Smart phones. Cars that come with screens and GPS. Watches that keep track of my steps, my heartbeat, my minutes of REM sleep.

And, of course, the unsettling reality that unknown corporations, foreign and domestic, know more about me than the people in my life. The amount of data that potentially could be harvested from this blog is scary. Why keep doing it?

A selfie taken with my phone today - unimaginable in 1971,
A selfie taken with my phone today – unimaginable in 1971,

Realistically, I can’t stuff the genie back in the battle. What hits the net, lives there forever. And I kind of love it that after I’m gone, bits of my life will live in cyberspace.

 

February 18, 1967

February 18, 1967

This entry’s self-conscious attempt at being “lyrical” suggests I wrote it for others to read, not to bare my soul. One of my failings as a writer (or strengths, depending on your point of view) is my conspicuous lack of place description. It bores me in other people’s fiction, so why torture my readers?

Sandy on this snow trip.
Sandy on this snow trip.

Elmore Leonard’s ninth and tenth rules of writing are:

  1. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  2. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

The parts I tend to skip are description – of place in particular, but pretty much everything else too. Some people love elaborate descriptions of food. I hate them. Unless it affects the plot – for example, if there’s arsenic in the quiche – it just doesn’t matter if the hero selects steak or salmon as his entrée.

Me in the snow
Me in the snow

One can argue what people eat defines aspects of their character. The guy who loves Popeye’s is rarely mistaken for the dude who dines at Nobu. That said, there’s no excuse for describing more than one meal per person per book.  The reader doesn’t need to know and I don’t want to.

January 12, 1972

January 12, 1972_edited-1

I knew that I bragged too much – “I had to tell people…I got into Kessler’s poetry class.” For sure, I boasted to the pages of my diary. I doubt anyone ever paid me a compliment I didn’t promptly record, verbatim. I’m probably bragging right now, by reprinting this particular diary entry. (“Look how great I used to be!”) That said, if I’m ever going to correct my character flaw of vanity – or is it pride? – I need to own it, so here goes – I’m conceited.

Yay me!

It’s not very Norwegian.  My parents raised me not to “sing my own praises.” (On the other hand, there is that parable about not hiding your light under a bushel but I’m not sure that exonerates me.) I always dislike myself after I “toot my own horn” – just not enough to stop doing it.

Good Norwegians avoid the limelight.
Good Norwegians avoid the limelight.

Obviously, my braggadocio stems from a pervasive sense of inadequacy. Einstein didn’t announce he was a genius. Garbo didn’t brag that she was a famous movie star. Brilliant, talented people don’t need to tell the world how smart and exceptional they are. It’s obvious. It’s equally obvious when they are not. And no amount of self-promotion can turn mediocrity into greatness.

Not always, though.
Not always, though.

December 13,1994

December 13, 1994

Boxes & boxes & boxes
Boxes & boxes & boxes

 Technically, I’m not a hoarder – but I totally get what they’re doing and why. For years, it was impossible for me to recycle newspapers and magazines until I actually read them, regardless of how obsolete they might be.  I’m more ruthless about recycling periodicals now, not so much because I can let things go as because I can google any article or story I need. Technically it’s progress, but is it really?

Shopping for more junk to clutter my closets with
Shopping for more junk to clutter my closets with

It’s harder to toss early drafts of my creative work because who knows? Someday I may need that bit of dialog in scene 3 of a movie that was DOA. Today, of course, I can save these gems on my computer, but I’m talking about the golden age of paper. Guess what? In my thirty-year career as a writer, I have never – not even once! – retrieved a piece of rejected dialog.

You can never have too much stuff!
You can never have too much stuff!

J is a different animal. He can trash yellow legal pads without scrutinizing every scribble. It’s true, he’s quicker to toss my rough drafts than his, but that’s because lawyers are legally bound to hang onto files for a specified number of years after a case concludes.

I wish I had an excuse half that good.

No Excuses!

 

December 11, 1967

December 11, 1967

 These conversations may not sound “deep” today (or was the word “heavy”?)  I’m glad I wrote them down – otherwise, I’d have no idea what my sisters and I talked about as kids. Do you remember childhood topics of conversation with your friends? Your siblings? Your parents? Do you ever wish you’d written it down?

Janet and I in 1967
Janet and I in 1967

I have zero independent recall of the vast majority of days described in my diary. They sound vaguely familiar – like something I might’ve overheard or said – but it’s my diary telling me what happened, not any real recollection.

Possibly our Christmas tree expedition - not sure
Possibly our Christmas tree expedition – not sure

Oddly, I do remember this conversation with my father – it started with my short story and evolved into a discussion of coming of age. I can see him on the floor, repairing that cupboard in our Del Monte kitchen. He made such an effort to meet me on my own turf. He listened to my Beatles records, listened to the Doors. Being young and selfish, I didn’t respond with reciprocal interest in his world. I wish I had; he had more to teach me than I could ever teach him. That said, his purpose was never to indoctrinate – he wanted to know me.

My Family
My Family

I should have written a lot more down.

 

December 3, 1980

December 3, 1980

 These were heady, exciting days.  The chance to adapt S.E. Hinton’s novel for the screen was the break of a lifetime and I didn’t want to blow it. At my pitch meeting, I impulsively volunteered to return to high school – posing as a student – to determine if contemporary high school cliques resembled those depicted in Hinton’s 1967 novel.

As part of my disguise, I permed my hair to hide my face. Yikes!
As part of my disguise, I permed my hair to hide my face. Yikes!

I was a novice at writing as well as posing as somebody I wasn’t. I’d written two spec scripts and an unproduced MOW. Technically, I knew what I was doing; I could perform at a high level in academia but what about the real world, for real stakes?  The story meetings were intimidating. Facing blank pages felt terrifying. Add to that, the pressure to pass for a 17-year-old high school student when I was a 29-year-old married mother.

My high school student disguise
My high school student disguise

Because I was a nobody in a sea of somebodies, there’s no reason Jon Davidson should have recognized me – particularly since I worked all of three months at New World, ostensibly as Roger Corman’s assistant (my title) but actually as the receptionist (harsh reality). Jon was sweet to pretend; it gave my ego a tiny but desperately needed boost.

Real life - if Ren Faire can be considered real life.
Real life – if Ren Faire can be considered real life.

 

December 1, 1964

December 1, 1964

A very young Kathy learning how to release my inner powers to achieve confidence and contentment
A very young Kathy learning how to “release my inner powers to achieve confidence and contentment.”

I’m guessing that Julie, Debbie and I were doing a report together. Whatever the reason, I was already fascinated by psychology and still am. At one point, before I made a dime as a writer, I seriously contemplated returning to UCLA for a degree in psychology. Unfortunately, statistics was a requirement.

Julie Farnham & Debbie Callan
Julie Farnham & Debbie Callan

Books on psychology – anything, from pop psychology to doctorate tomes – are invaluable research resources. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with the enneagram. Making certain all my characters are different enneagram types differentiates them. For the record, I’m a solid #4. David Schnarch is brilliant when it comes to relationships. Carl Jung provided a road map for mythic story structure and archetypes.

Enneagram Types - I'm a solid #4
Enneagram Types – I’m a solid #4

Psych experiments are also fascinating; as an undergrad, I volunteered for dozens to make pocket money. The Zimbardo Stanford Prison Experiment (1971) is particularly intriguing. Basically, students were randomly assigned roles as guards or prisoners in a mock prison for two weeks. Supposedly, some of them got too far into their rules –a few prisoners broke down and the experiment was terminated after six days.

Posters for the 2015 film about the Stanford Prison Experiment
Posters for the 2015 film about the Stanford Prison Experiment

Controversy surrounds this experiment because no one has been able to replicate its results. It’s been accused of unscientific methodology and possible fraud – were the guards coached to behave sadistically or did those tendencies emerge naturally from the roles the students played? Flawed or not, the fact the Stanford Prison Experiment is discussed half a century later confirms it was important – and probably warrants further study.

 

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