Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Screenwriting Dream Reported Stolen

Horrible, devastating news: Kristen Wiig’s Bridesmaids premiered at the SXSW Film Festival a few weeks ago, and from what I can tell, the reviews are mostly positive.  The film is being touted as “the female version of The Hangover” and “the first genuine female comedy.”

Um, no, actually, I wrote a genuine female comedy three years ago.  And adding salt to the wound, it was full of irreverent wedding humor.  Blerg!  This should've been my moment!  It just goes to show that if you never give up, someone will eventually achieve your goals.  I just wish it had been me.

I was warned that this might happen.  To quote my screenwriting teacher, “If you write a script that is even remotely mainstream, you can count on someone else coming up with the same premise, and that someone might have better connections.”  As an unproduced screenwriter, it’s safer to go with a truly bizarre premise that no one else would ever think of.  For example, "a depressed man believes that his beaver puppet is real" – now starring Mel Gibson!  But wait, that plot sounds remarkably similar to the plot of Lars and the Real Girl.  Okay, so there are no new ideas, only slightly less common ones.

In related news, I learned that the big-shot studio executive who I met with in October is now working for a different company.  Apparently, he switched jobs shortly after meeting me, which means that he probably never received my follow-up email.  Now that I have his new work address, I’m toying with the idea of sending him this letter...

Dear Mr. Studio Executive,

I am writing to bring your attention to a tragic oversight.  Last October, I pitched you my very funny anti-wedding comedy, and you loved it!  Boy, did you love it!  You could hardly contain your excitement.  You said that I could very well be the next Diablo Cody and that you desperately wanted to follow-up with me.  Your intentions could not have been clearer.  You used the word “definitely” not once, but twice!

Unfortunately, you then switched jobs (congrats, by the way) and in all the chaos, I suspect that you misplaced my contact information.  No doubt, you’ve been cursing yourself ever since and have been trying in vain to track me down.  I can just imagine you seething with frustration and berating your assistant, “That tall blonde girl – the funny one with the great ideas – you have to find her! ... I don’t care how!  Knock on random doors if you have to!”

Well, call off the search.  Here I am, ready and willing to send over my script.  I’m not going to lie, it’s been a difficult six months.  My optimism was starting to wane.  Before I heard about your ill-timed job switch, I was almost convinced that you were blowing me off.  Lucky for you, I’ve decided not to hold a grudge.  Everyone makes mistakes.  So let’s put this little mishap behind us and get on with my six-figure development deal.


If the letter thing doesn't work out, I'm afraid it might be time to move on.  So many impractical dreams, so little time...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Once Upon a Time, There Was a Purple Unicorn ...

My fiction writing class is officially half over.  In the past when I’ve taken workshop-style writing classes, I’ve always managed to establish myself as the star pupil by this point, mostly because I have a lot of free time to devote to polishing and perfecting the assignments.  Unfortunately, this is not your typical workshop-style class.  Most of the writing is done during class, through various creative exercises.  We're expected to write hastily and carelessly for five minutes and then share whatever we've scribbled down.

Personally, I would rather parade around the classroom stark naked than read my unfinished, unrevised writing aloud.  First drafts aren’t meant to be shared; they’re meant to be burned and destroyed.  Even my blog entries are rewritten and painstakingly edited, hence the long gap between posts – and you thought I was just lazy!

The other students seem perfectly comfortable sharing their unedited writing.  There are a surprising number of improv performers in the class – including the teacher, who performs fully improvised musicals (there isn't enough alcohol in the world to get me up on that stage).  I never would’ve guessed that I’d be the only introvert in a writing class.  I’m basically a spectator.  When it comes time to share, I keep my head down and avoid eye contact with the instructor at all costs.

During the exercises, I rarely produce more than a few scattered notes.  Unlike my classmates – who type at a furious, almost maniacal pace without ever stopping – I feel compelled to plan everything out before I write a single sentence.  I’m usually still in the brainstorming phase when the instructor announces, “Pencils down."  Then I sit in disbelief and listen to my classmates share entire stories, with beginnings and middles and ends – and they're not always terrible.

I even struggle with stream of consciousness, the simplest of exercises.  The teacher will ask us to write down a chain of word associations starting with the word "purple."  The idea is to keep going no matter what, but I can’t seem to make it past three words.  Here's a sample of my best work:

Purple.  Eggplant.  Marinara ...  No wait, I don’t like that.  I’m just hungry.

Purple.  Unicorn.  Rainbow Brite ...  Um, yeah, that’s a dead end.  I haven’t seen that show in years.

Purple ....  You know what?  Purple sucks.  It’s by far the least inspiring color.

Yellow.  Banana.  Monkey ...  Oh my God, how predictable.  I hate it.  I hate yellow.

It has occurred to me that my problem might be a lack of creativity.  It does run in my family.  My mother took an aptitude test in the tenth grade, and her creativity score fell into the 4th percentile.  The guidance counselor said it was the lowest score she’d ever seen.  My mother’s achievement score, on the other hand, fell into the 99th percentile.  Come to think of it, that explains a lot.  I might not be able to write spontaneous stories about purple unicorns, but when it comes to achieving good writing, I’ll always pull through ... eventually.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Festivals Galore!

It’s that time of year again in Austin, when the weather is perfect and every weekend brings a festival of some sort.  Today, the celebration is threefold as Saint Patrick’s Day coincides with both South by Southwest and the Austin Rodeo.  I’m not sure whether to wear green, dress like a hipster, or don my cowboy hat.

The music portion of South by Southwest is already in full swing with 2,000 bands performing around downtown Austin in the span of four days – and those are only the official shows.  Every venue in the city is throwing some kind of party.  The dentist office around the corner from me is hosting a three-day event called "Mouth by Mouthwest" with twenty bands and a full bar (but don’t worry, the on-call dentists are limiting themselves to two drinks apiece).

Because I live in downtown Austin, I can hear the music and the screaming crowds from inside my apartment.  All.  Day.  Long.  How am I supposed to concentrate on writing when there’s a party raging outside my window?  Ever since I broke my leg in the ninth grade and had to be homeschooled for a few months, I have a fear of missing out on fun things.  If it were up to me, I’d be out in the street, drinking green beer and listening to that indie chick who plays the ukulele and sings African chants, but my husband likes to remind me that it’s Thursday and “at least one of us has to work.”

If it was a one-time thing he’d probably humor me, but Austin loves to celebrate and hardly ever takes a day off.  I don’t even set my alarm anymore; I just rely on the daily parades to wake me up.  Nothing infuriates my husband more than a parade.  He’ll go out on the balcony and start waving his fists around while yelling, “Another parade?!  Don’t you people ever stop?!  What’s wrong with you?!  For the love of God, put down your trombones and go home!”

I expect parades and live music on Saint Patrick’s Day, Fat Tuesday, and Cinco de Mayo.  Texas Independence Day?  Why not!  A day to celebrate ice cream?  Sure!  But what about hot sauce?  Reggae music?  Urban music?  Celtic music?  Bluegrass music?  Let’s not forget about Jugglefest.  Or Fantastic Fest.  Or Fun Fun Fun Fest.  There’s the Gypsy Picnic Festival, the Louisiana Swamp Thing Festival, the Old Pecan Street Festival, the Sherwood Forest Faire, the Zilker Kite Festival, Batstravaganza, Batfest (yes, it’s different), The Dragon Boat Festival, The Rattlesnake Sacking Festival…

And then there are the weird ones, like No Pants Day.  Or the 13th Annual Mighty Texas Dog Walk, where Austinites and their dogs attempt to break the Guinness World Record for “Largest Dog Walk.”   Austin has been celebrating Eeyore’s birthday (yes, that Eeyore) since the 1960s with drum circles and a maypole. The Keep Austin Weird Festival includes a costumed 5K run with a pit stop at an ice cream shop; its tagline is “the slowest 5K you’ll ever run.”  My personal favorite is the Hairy Man Festival, which features a petting zoo, karaoke, and, of course, the Hairiest Man Contest.  I still have yet to check out the No Idea Festival, which is entirely unplanned and improvised.  (Yes, these are all real events.)

With so many festivals, it’s amazing that partygoers manage to keep them all straight.  The Republic of Texas Biker Rally and the Austin Gay Pride Parade are held in the same location on back-to-back weekends.  Imagine mixing up those Saturdays.  It probably wouldn’t take you very long to figure out your mistake.

Well, time to give up for the day and join the party.  Happy Festivaling!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sarcastic 30-Year-Old Female Seeks Bestest Writing Buddy

Are you a woman between the ages of 22 and 40 with a passion for writing, a dry sense of humor, and plenty of free time?  Do you live within 10 minutes of downtown Austin?  Do you enjoy mocking others over a cup of coffee or many beers?  If so, I would like to invite you to audition for the role of my best friend / writing companion.

For several weeks now, I’ve been scouring the Austin writing scene for such a person, attending various creative writing Meetups and critique groups.  I can’t even begin to tell you how much bad writing I’ve subjected myself to on this quest for friendship.  And I mean really bad.  The general rule when critiquing someone else’s work is that you’re supposed to offer at least one positive comment; this is an area in which I struggle.  I’ll end up saying something like, “Well, I thought your avoidance of plot was really innovative. The main character didn’t actually do anything.  It was like we were trapped inside her head, listening to whatever random, pointless thoughts she was having.  So, um, great job!”  In my experience, comments such as this one rarely spark lasting friendships.

I've also noticed that the other writers who attend these groups are either much younger or much older than I am.  It's as if all of the thirty-year-olds have retreated from the social scene to play house and make babies.  On Facebook, my friends’ smiling faces have all been replaced by pictures of big-eyed, drooling infants.  Meanwhile, I’m left socializing with older retired ladies and college girls with fake IDs.

Last week, I went to my first fiction writing class, where the teacher kicked things off with a guided visualization.  She had us close our eyes and said weird stuff like “Listen to yourself breathe” and “Your hands are getting heavy” and “Let everything go white.”  I took the opportunity to blatantly stare at my fellow classmates, sizing them up and trying to decide who might be good friend material.  There was only one girl who I thought had potential.  She had bright pink hair and the only thing she said all night was “Go @#$% yourself,” but she didn’t say it to anyone in particular – it was part of a creative exercise.  Anyway, she didn’t show up to this week’s class, so it looks like I’m back to square one.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Publication #2: Underwired Magazine

I’m happy to report that one of my personal essays was published in this month’s issue of Underwired magazine.  You won’t be able to get your hands on a physical copy unless you happen to live in Louisville or southern Indiana, but don’t despair.  Here is the complete essay as published in Underwired

I refuse to wear a dress unless the situation demands it. It’s not that I’m a tomboy or a feminist; it’s just that dresses don’t suit me – much like red lipstick, bangs, and 9-to-5 office jobs. At any given time, there are two, maybe three dresses hanging in my closet. I will typically wear the same dress over and over again to countless consecutive weddings until it literally falls apart at the seams and I’m forced to buy a new one. When shopping for a new dress, I’m not looking for the latest fashion trends; I’m looking for a dress that will stand the test of time – one that I can wear year after year after year, hopefully without anyone noticing.
When I got engaged, I realized that I was going to have to break tradition and attempt to be fashionable. When you’re the bride, there’s no hiding a frumpy dress under a pashmina shawl. Knowing that I would be the center of attention on my wedding day, I obviously wanted to look good. That being said, I didn’t have any fairy-tale expectations about my wedding dress. When I went to the bridal salon, I knew going in that I wouldn’t be one of those women who fall instantly and irrevocably in love with a dress, gasping and smiling and sobbing into a Kleenex while someone places a veil on their head. I was willing to settle for a dress that wasn’t a total disaster.
When the bridal consultant asked me to describe my perfect wedding dress, the first thing that came to mind was “sparkly.” My day-to-day wardrobe has always been rather drab and boring, so I tend to equate dressing up with being covered in glitter. The next thing I knew, I was slipping into a dress that could only be described as “sparkly.” The entire gown, from the strapless neckline down to the end of the cathedral-length train, was heavily adorned with silver embroidery and crystal beading. When I first saw myself in the dress – twinkling like a giant disco ball under the dressing room spotlights – I couldn’t help but think I looked pretty.
My accompanying friend, who prefers classic, simple designs, grimaced when she saw me in the bedazzled dress. “It’s very, um, you?” she offered. That was all the validation I needed. I put down a hefty deposit, went home, and warned my husband-to- be that he should be prepared to shield his eyes at the sight of me coming down the aisle. Self-deprecating humor is really the best way to deal with buyer’s remorse; it helps lower expectations.
After months of joking about my “garish gown” with its “25,000 imported Italian twinkle-beads,” my husband was pleasantly surprised upon seeing me in the dress. I have no idea what anyone else thought – telling the bride she looks beautiful is mandatory – but as I stood at the altar, shimmering and glistening in the candlelight, I decided that I had made the right choice.
When my husband and I got back from our honeymoon, I had my dress cleaned and preserved. I felt like I should keep it, although I had no idea what for. For three years, it’s been buried in the back of my closet, along with my violin and my scuba diving equipment. Every once in awhile, I’ll dig it out and sit cross-legged in front of the presentation box, peering through the thick plastic window. The once-sparkly bodice appears dull and muted, trapped inside its coffin-like box. I feel an overwhelming urge to rip open the cardboard and let the cathedral-length train spill out everywhere. Oh, to see those sparkles sparkle again! But then, what would I do with it?
The obvious choice would be to wear it again. Unfortunately, it required dozens of excruciating workouts and tasteless salads to fit into it the first time. I was at my goal weight for all of twenty minutes during the wedding ceremony before I gorged myself on shrimp cocktail and spring rolls and truffled prosciutto popovers.
Even if I did manage to zip up my wedding gown again, where exactly would I go dressed like a disco ball? Perhaps if I had chosen a simpler style, I could have re-worn my dress to a black and white charity gala, but as it is, I would surely be recognized as a recycled bride. I suppose I wouldn’t have to go anywhere. I have a friend who often wears her wedding dress when she’s at home alone. She’s one of the happiest newlyweds I know, having finally achieved her lifelong goal of marrying a Jewish doctor. I can easily imagine her skipping around the living room in her wedding dress and veil, introducing herself to various pieces of furniture. “Hello, I’m Mrs. Herskowitz. And this,” she says while indicating the coat rack, “is my husband, Doctor Herskowitz.” It’s an entertaining idea, but being accident prone, I probably shouldn’t attempt to maneuver around my apartment with such a long train. Knowing me, I’d get tangled up on a chair and go face first into the coffee table.
If I’m not going to wear my dress, another possibility is to use the fabric to construct something more useful, like a beaded quilt or a decorative pillow. I made a pillow once, fifteen years ago, in my Home Economics class. It was supposed to resemble a hamburger. I sewed the pickles on crooked, but otherwise it turned out okay. Of course, when you’re working with fabric of great sentimental value, there’s a lot of added pressure; I’m just not sure I could handle it.
Part of me feels obligated to leave my wedding dress in the box for another twenty or thirty years in case my future daughter wants to wear it. But, really, the odds of it working out are astronomically small. Assuming that I even have a daughter and that she even wants to get married, I’m guessing that my dress will be too conservative for her. “But, Mom, that old thing doesn’t even show any leg!” I was only in elementary school when I rejected the idea of wearing my mother’s old wedding dress, with its long sleeves and high lace collar. She eventually donated the dress to Goodwill.
That is, of course, another option, and probably the best one. There are several reputable organizations that re-sell wedding dresses at a lower cost and then donate the proceeds to a worthy cause. While I like the idea of the money going to charity, the thing that I find most appealing about donating my wedding dress is imagining the woman who would buy it. She’s probably someone who couldn’t afford it otherwise; someone with a soft spot for sequins and rhinestones; someone who would see my glittery dress out of the corner of her eye and wouldn’t be able to resist picking it up and taking it home with her; someone who would love it as much as I do.