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.

 

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.

 

March 3, 1965

March 3, 1965

Should anyone doubt my Nerd credentials, read no further than the above diary entry. In fact, I’d argue knotting grass to make insect beds raises the bar on Dorkiness. Surely, I had a few worthier – at the very least, cooler – hobbies.

The essence of Dorkiness, seen with sisters and neighbor kid
The essence of Dorkiness, seen with Joyce and neighbor kids

What did pre-digital loners like myself do for entertainment in 1965? I pasted green stamps into books for my mother. Played “Kick the Can” and “Monopoly” with the neighborhood kids. I tottered around on the pair of stilts my father built for me. I pored over the Sears catalog – its arrival was a major event in our house. We always placed an order, forgetting that the merchandise never looked as classy in our living room as it did in the catalog.

Spring-Summer Sears Catalog 1965
Spring-Summer Sears Catalog 1965

When the new catalog arrived, I claimed the old one. I named the prettiest models, carefully mulling the perfect moniker for each. I bought my first “A Name for Baby” book around then – the start of a lifelong obsession. And then, I wrote stories about the people I named.

So many boss outfits!
So many boss outfits!

Of course, I became a writer. What other profession gives you god-like powers in your fictional universe plus carte blanche to name a cast of thousands?

Get to work and name these girls, already!
Get to work and name these girls, already!

 

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 22, 1978

January 22, 1978

While combing my diaries for a suitable blog entry, if I find a snippet about CD, I usually send it to the adult CD just to give him some idea of his life as a two-year-old.  Since he has no conscious memories of his infancy, he can’t enlighten me about what actually ran through his mind.

CD at the park 1

A child psychiatrist might hazard an informed guess about which cognitive skills were in development but no one will ever know for sure. Odds are, my instincts were right and what amused him involved repetition.

CD at the park 2

As my diaries suggest, by nature I wrote down almost everything that happened, no matter how apparently trivial. I’m glad I did, now, since some of the things that seemed mundane – even then – acquired significance in the ensuing years. I forgot almost everything I failed to record for posterity.

CD at the park 3

As my firstborn, CD was the beneficiary – or the victim, depending on your point of view – of my meticulous record keeping. Sometimes, in bursts of energy, he’d run races with himself, up and down the family room, shouting “Go!”  a few seconds after he started. We could guarantee a smile by throwing a towel over his head, asking “Where’s CD?” and yanking it off. Hilarious! Two-year-old’s – the best audience ever.

J & CD at the park

 

 

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.

 

August 30, 1980

August 30, 1980

Sailing


Art, CD & J sailing
Thirty-eight years flew by and we never went sailing with Art – or anyone else – again. How do our good intentions – our genuine desires – get so easily buried under our daily routine?

Castaic Lake

Most people – myself included – have at least a vague idea about what might make us happy but most things I think I want – my fantasy about shopping for a medieval chateau in France, for example – rarely top my To Do list.

Skipper Art

Okay, that example is over-the-top, particularly since I don’t speak a word of French, so I’ll scale it down to “we should go sailing more often.”  Current reality suggests that goal is as impossible to realize as a castle in France.

J sailing

In part, that’s due to the Protestant work ethic – in the words of John Lennon, “a man must work to earn his day of leisure.” Until I make significant progress toward my grandiose goals, I don’t deserve to reward myself.

Kathleen enjoying sailing

My second handicap is the fact I’m spectacularly disorganized. Every weekend, I promise myself I’ll stay home and order my life so that next weekend I’ll have nothing but free time to do whatever I please. Unfortunately, like Gatsby’s green light, my dream of a perfectly organized life “year by year recedes before me. It eluded me then but that’s no matter. Tomorrow, I will run faster, stretch my arms farther, and one fine morning – so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (Thank you, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’m pretty sure I’d die happy if I wrote something that beautiful.)

Cd sailing

August 26, 1977

August 26, 1977
Lazing at Lake Tahoe

 That summer, the Rowells rented a house at Lake Tahoe and CD and I spent a lazy week lounging by the lake. CD was eight and a half months old (those half-months seemed to matter back then).

CD & J on the beach

J enjoyed what – in retrospect – can only be considered conservative gambling. Before he played the first chip, he settled on an amount he was willing to lose and stuck to it, no matter what happened.

The following year in Tahoe again
The following year in Tahoe again

That wasn’t good enough for someone with my Midwestern roots. The concept of gambling was – and still is – an anathema. Spending real money for what will probably amount to “nothing” violates my core values. Watching J do it – with our money – created unbearable anxiety and made me intolerable.

CD & me on the beach in Tahoe

I hovered over his shoulder while he played, snatching every chip he won and stuffing it in my pockets on the theory that if he lost the rest, my stash would pull us closer to even. Not surprisingly, my oversight dampened the fun for him, (apparently, today such chip-snatching is against house rules).

Like father like son in Tahoe

My tolerance for games of chance – for any ambiguity, actually – is considerably lower than J’s, which explains why he’s a trial attorney – a profession in which no verdict is ever guaranteed – and I write fiction, where I control the ending.

 

April 30, 1976

April 30, 1976

George Sontag & Ed Morrell
George Sontag & Ed Morrell

Back in 1976, when I was immersed in research for what I hoped would be a non-fiction book on central California train-robbers Sontag and Evens, I knew their story down to the tiniest details. (Link to previous blog) Driving through the central Valley to interview another old-timer, I mused about the true nature of these dead people I read about in the history books. They were as real to me as most of my friends.

John Sontag, the wounded outlaw and the successful manhunters
John Sontag, the wounded outlaw and the successful manhunters

It’s disheartening to read this entry today and realize I have no idea who “George” was. The name Ed Morrell sounds familiar but I’ve forgotten the part he played in the story. All those facts I thought were hard-wired into my brain lasted about as long as the Southern Pacific ruled the central Valley (not very).

animated-train-image-0031

There’s a box in my garage full of cassette tapes of interviews, notes from old newspaper articles, dusty books with yellowed pages. I never consciously abandoned the project; I told myself I was taking a break to unmoor myself from the trivial literal details that paralyzed my efforts to tell the story.

Research notes and letters - all hand typed - no spellcheck back then
Research notes and letters – all hand typed – no spellcheck back then

To pick it up again, I’d need to start over and the process would be different. An hour on the internet probably equals weeks of pound-the-pavement research. The downside is that all of their contemporaries are dead. I probably have some of their last interviews, although I can’t vouch for their accuracy. For all I know, someone else wrote the book I intended to write.

Official photographs of Chris Evans
Official photographs of Chris Evans

But if they haven’t – there’s a box in my garage that awaits my attention.  Maybe the time has finally come.

 

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