Monday, November 29, 2010

Something Happened On The Way To Paradise

I'm sure a lot of people are curious about who I am, due to current planetary constellations being in flux. So here it is.

I'm a writer. I've always been a writer. I've had to do other things to put food on the table and support my family, but that is who I am. I could no more not be a writer than not breathe.

I've been published online and off. The New York Times, Newsday, Baby Talk, Screen Talk, and others.

In 1994, after a devastating experience, I was bitten by the screenwriting bug. I've been infected ever since. Friends and family said I was crazy. I was a woman, I didn't live in LA, and I didn't know a damn thing about it. Undeterred, I bought Michael Hauge's excellent screenwriting book and taught myself. My first script was over 200 pages long, and the formatting was all wrong. But I persisted.

In 2001, my Showtime original family film, MY HORRIBLE YEAR, with Eric Stoltz (who also directed), Mimi Rogers and Karen Allen aired. It got good reviews and a Daytime Emmy nomination for Mr. Stoltz for directing.

I was on top of the world. I made plans to move to Los Angeles. However, life had a different plan in mind.

I've had my own horrible year (more like years). I've perservered through very difficult circumstances. My mother's illness, my brother's untimely death, and a rash of other unfortunate events. Through it all, I can hold my head high.

I have no manager. I have no high powered agent on speed dial.

I write every day even if it's only a sentence. I query. I send my material out. I have my hopes and dreams just like everyone else.

Did I forget to say I'm a writer?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Just Hatched

No, not talking about a script. I'm talking about Michael Peter Ruales, born on July 20, 2010, 7lbs.4oz, 20 inches. I thought my baby days were over, but my youngest daughter had other plans, and Baby Mikey is the happy result.

The upshot: my entire schedule is upside down. I have to fit in writing between diaper changes and laundry and napping baby. Another plate I have to balance, as if I didn't have enough. Upheavel. Change in routine. I don't do well with changes in routine.

And from the moment I saw him--hell, from the moment I knew he was coming--I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Grand and Glorious Adventure

"We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz..." (apologies to Judy Garland, cos I don't sing as well as she does).

Ruby red slippers. Check.

Gingham dress. Check.

Pigtails. Check.

Toto in basket. Check.

Tornado approaching. Check.

Haagen Daaz Vanilla Ice Cream. Check.

Yes, boys and girlz, ladies and gents, PJ is off on an adventure. Where I'll land, nobody knows, but so long as I don't land on my head, I should be okay. Whether a Wizard (or Wizardress) will be waiting at the end of the Yellow Brick Road, I cannot say with any degree of certainty. But I'm packed, I'm loaded, and I'm going. Feast or famine, fair or foul.

I'm constantly challenging myself. More ideas. Bigger ideas. You get the picture. Since I finished THE RETURN, I'm not happy settling for the same old crapola. It has to be better. It has to be more. It's like pornography, I may not be able to explain it, but when I see it, I knows it.

Writing should be like that. An adventure. A leap of faith. A kick in the butt. If it isn't, what's the goddamn point? Just to regurgitate hackneyed character and boring dialog we've all seen and heard a thousand times before? Fuck that.

Am I tough? Damn straight. But as tough as I am, I'm even tougher on myself.

Time to change it up.

One house falling on the Wicked Witch and away we go.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Falling In Love

Now that the whirlwind of the day job is finally winding down, I'm finally able to catch my breath. Life, kids, family, writing, there is always some drama or crisis to deal with. But my monthly column at is now at an end (anyone looking for a screenwriting columnist, call me), so I'll be musing much more often here (which, depending on your point of view, is a very good thing or a very very bad thing, like eating beets).

But today I'm full of love. I want to fall in love. Oh, yes I do. I'm an incurable romantic. When I'm in the mad crazy throes of it, I'm like a woman possessed. I want to feel the heat, the passion, to the point of obsession. I want to be overtaken, overwhelmed, overcome, so I think, breathe, live it down to my very core, my very soul and being, until I'm left emotionally raw, sore and battered and bruised.

I push myself until I think I can't go any further....and then push myself some more. I can't eat, can't sleep. Everything---everyone---is pushed aside until I type FADE OUT. For those 100, 110 pages, 120 pages, whatever it winds up being---I'm in a love affair, damn the torpedoes.

That's how I feel every time I start writing a script, and it's how I want to feel when I crack open another screenwriters script. None of the writers I know set out to write a shitty script. Hell, I know I don't. Spend three-six months (if not years) on a lousy script? No thanks. I'd rather cut off my head and boil it for stock.

But it's also true, like all love affairs, that some of them do end badly. I've had my heart broken time and time again. After I cry in my Diet Pepsi, I pick myself up, lick my wounds, and flit around from idea to idea and script to script...until Cupid's Arrow strikes me again and I'm off to the races. Some scripts are just flirtations. Others are one night stands. Then you have the rare ones, and I do mean rare, that leave you gasping for air the morning after. You have no idea where it came from, but you hang on for dear life. I think it was William Martell (yeah, Google him) who said words to the effect that if your script doesn't drive you crazy, it's not doing what it's supposed to do. And he's right.

In other words, if you're not in love with your script, why should I be? I'm so easy.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Waiting Game

The baby is spanking clean, smells good, ready to be taken out into the world. So as I gear up to begin another query campaign (a necessary evil which I hate more than a sinus infection, which I'm suffering with as I write this), I figured this was was as good a time as any to muse on my muse, the fabulous, vastly underrated Ted Levine.

It's become the standing joke in my household that Ted is the only man I'd leave my husband for. Besides being handsome and sexy as hell, Ted is a great actor, and I don't say that lightly. You've probably seen him in dozens of movies and not realized it was him. From his spellbinding turn as "Buffalo Bill" in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, to Starbucks in MOBY DICK, Silas Kincaid in HARLAN COUNTY WAR, and of course, Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer in MONK, Ted Levine has always been outstanding, (yes, even in stinkers like EVOLUTION). When Ted's nice he's wonderful, and when he's nasty, he's even better. No one can turn on the "creepy factor" like Ted.

So my last couple of screenplays, I've purposefully written meaty roles that I'd like to see Ted play (hey, a girl can dream). In BOBBY VALENTI, he's a hard working cop and devoted family man; in HEAVEN KNOWS, he's an oddball trust fund hippie father; in THE FUCK IT LIST, he's a sexually frustrated Dad; and in THE RETURN, he's a loving husband and father who tries, under desperate circumstances, to keep his family safe in a frightening new world order. Versatile. That's what Ted is.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Naughty Notes

When you finish a script, it's like giving birth. You're exhausted, mentally and physically, but your mind is still racing. What could be improved? What could be tossed? And of course, like any proud parent, you want to show your kid off.

I've sent my newest spec off to some fellow writers for their thoughts and comments, and I was encouraged by the early feedback. That is, I was until someone whose opinion I value told me what he didn't like about this draft. I know it has some issues, but I really didn't think it was that bad, and I still don't.

Now in the old days, I would've been crushed. When my seventh grade teacher refused to be my writing sponsor in a contest because he wouldn't believe that I'd written the short story I wanted to enter without any help, I was so devastated that I didn't write for a couple of years afterwards.

As I matured and grew as a writer, I developed a thicker skin, honed my ability to self-edit, and learned to trust my instincts and creativity. But it still hurts to be rejected, and it hurts to be told your baby is butt ugly.

One of my early attempts at screenwriting was a very down and dirty thriller set in the Florida Everglades I wrote in a burst in a week. However, the people in the writing workshop I was in at the time didn't like it and savaged it. I really took their comments to heart; in hindsight, probably too much. But what did I know? I was a virgin. I began a furious rewrite according to their notes and wrote all the heart and passion out of it. I was never able to capture that passion, not for that script. But it's funny that I've since seen the same plotline that I used, or variations of it, in subsequent films. Either I was ahead of my time or there were a lot of clueless assholes in that workshop.

Flash forward a couple of years, and I had myself some managers. They had notes on my scripts. A year, a year and a half later, I'm still rewriting my scripts. One draft would please one manager, but not the other. I was becoming increasingly frustrated and unhappy with my writing. Worst of all, I began to doubt myself creatively. If I couldn't please myself, how could I please anyone else? I mean, how bad a writer could I be, the script that Showtime had bought was virtually a first draft! While I wrote it, I didn't have a manager or an agent or a workshop to tell me where I'd gone wrong. I relied on myself, my voice and my faith.

So now when it comes to notes, I'm much more laid back. I'll digest them, absorb them, discard what doesn't reasonate with me, absorb what does and reinterpret them in a way that speaks to me emotionally. I'm not interested in hearing how other people would do it. I'm not other people. The only thing I have that sets me apart is my voice, my style. If I lose my spark, my individuality, my faith, then I might as well stop writing because I'm just regurgitating what other people think or feel.

In other words, if I can't do it my way, I'll get off the highway and take the back road. It might take me longer, but I'll get there.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Yes, it's the return in more ways than one.

Since November I've been working on one script, and one script only, and this week I typed FADE OUT on the first draft. I wrote it through trauma, drama, the full time job, the holidays, you name it. A thousand times I wanted to chuck the whole fucking thing, but I persisted. This script, these characters, got into my blood as none before. I had to finish it, do or die.

When I wrote the final scene, I'm not ashamed to say I cried. First, because I was mentally and physically exhausted. Second, because of what I put through my characters through. I didn't shy away from doing "bad things to good people", my bugaboo from an earlier script that I had attempted and had to put aside after four different drafts because I couldn't pull the plug. This time, I went balls to the wall, and I did it with a grittiness and sense of purpose that I didn't know I had.

I've come to the point in my life and writing that I could easily just write the sweet stuff, and just coast by. In this script I decided to challenge myself and swing high, and those goals were met. Anything else would be gravy on top of mashed potatoes.

But of course, writing the first draft, it's just the beginning. Seconds after I typed the last scene, I began to think how it could be improved because no draft is ever perfect. Rewriting and all that jazz. I'm not going to show this script to any agent, manager, prodco until it is pitch perfect. I don't care how long it takes.

In the meantime, waiting on some other possible good things, looks like the script that is in at Hallmark is getting some juice due to the success of CRAZY HEART. I'm reminded once again that it's indeed, a wild and crazy world, and the longer we hang on for the ride, the sweeter it is.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Happy New Year

I can't believe it. It's 2010.

I also can't believe that I haven't updated the my blog since August 2009.

I do have an excuse. August was when I began the full time job doing the overnight shift for a big Internet company. My entire schedule was turned upside down. Working until 2AM every night, having to decompress until I fell into bed. It's tough. And a real grind to grind out pages.

But I'm writing every day, even if it's only a page or a sentence. Right now I'm working days on special assignment at least until February--hopefully longer if I have my druthers.

Still hoping that the cable network will come through in 2010 with a slot for my Father's Day drama. And my big resolution for the New Year (besides updating my blog more frequently) is to write scripts that will have the dogs of war salivating over (instead of me salivating on the other side of the gate). Am on page 89 of a new spec, got another one half written, got a couple of scripts percolating with co-writers. New ideas. Always new ideas. I wish I could turn my brain off sometimes, like a TV.

For example, I was going along very merrily on a spec, a family adventure...when I had this dream. A really disturbing dream of a graphic nature. I tried to put it out of my mind while I worked on my family adventure, but like a bully in 5th grade, it wouldn't go away. So I finally succumbed to the dark side. Is it any good? I dunno. But some things you have to write for the sake of writing it, just to get it out of your system, with no expectations or goals. I even decided to write it under another name, so I can really go hog wild. Let's put it this way, I can never look at a violin in quite the same way again.

So while I've been silent on the blog front, it's been anything but on the writing and home front. I'm determined to make 2010 the year---whatever year it has to be to get where I need to be in 2011. And I hope you'll be here with me.