Sunday, January 18, 2015

Finally a True California Girl

Yesterday, for the first time in my life I a) drove in Los Angeles, b) drove PCH, and c) drove Ventura Highway ("in the sun.....shine").  Despite having spent the first 25 years of my life in Southern California, more or less, I feel like I've just graduated to True California Girl (or is it spelled "gurl" now?).

We could never afford a car when I was growing up, and somehow--don't ask me how--I managed to live, go to university and work in the city without a car for 7 years.  Mostly I took the bus, which despite the best efforts of the Bus Riders Union remains wholly inadequate for a city of this size.  I leeched a lot off of generous friends. But I never had a license until I was 40.  Given that I received my license, and usually drive, in a large rural county of 6800 souls, to say that I was intimidated to pick up a rental car near Wilshire and Western is putting it mildly.

The day was beautiful--78 degrees and clear as the proverbial bell--in January.  I never appreciated how extraordinary this was until I moved to a state, Colorado, that actually has winter.  The rental car place gave me a sporty new Mustang to drive, complete with a thing on the door which projects the Mustang horse logo on the ground at night.  Wild.  I'm a simple girl; our community car is a trustworthy, beloved 2003 Mazda.  I don't have a PhD in computer engineering, which felt necessary, frankly, for operating this car.  I really can't cope with the idea that one can turn on a car engine without a key (though I must admit, it's very cool).

Idiotically, I was still trying to figure out how the radio worked when I got onto Pico Blvd. (looking for Dino's, which I never found).  DO NOT DO THIS.  Do not distract yourself with ANYTHING when driving on a major LA Boulevard for the first in a rental car you don't fully understand.  My guardian angels really put their backs into it, keeping me alive and out of trouble, but by the time I got to the 10 (non-Californian-readers: Interstate 10), all I could think was "never mind the bus riders, why don't the drivers in LA organize for a better public transportation system?!?!?"

As for the driving itself, I decided to take the 10 to the 1 to the 101 to Ventura, so I could drive PCH. (My husband never fails to crack up at how Los Angelenos describe the driving experience.  It really is straight out of that SNL sketch, "The Californians").  But I forgot this is Mudslide Season (the other three seasons in LA being Fire, Pilot, and Awards).  A mudslide on the 1 north of Malibu meant I was diverted over the beautiful but quite curvy Kanan Dume road.  I'd also forgotten it was the Saturday of a holiday weekend, so the roads were far busier and traffic far more backed up than I would have expected.  It took me nearly 4 hours to get from Wilshire and Western to Ventura Beach, which is about as "LA" an experience as one can have.  I enjoyed it as only a tourist could.  The 101 was largely a parking lot, but when traffic DID move, I was doing 70 MPH in a 55 MPH zone, while drivers flew past me in the two lanes to my left.  You get so little opportunity to actually move in your car in LA, I guess no one's going to try to stop you on those rare occasions.

All that said, it was a lot of fun to turn up the music and drive along the gorgeous California coast.  Even sitting in traffic is pleasant when you're in a brand new Mustang with a great stereo system and "seat cold."  (You read that right.  Not just seat heat, but seat cold--I had no idea).  I didn't use it, Except by accident.

I calmed my nerves once I got to the hotel with some Newcastle Brown because, hey, I may be a California girl, but I'm an Anglophile at heart, and I never had decent beer 'till I lived in England, so I still feel a strong sense of loyalty to British ales.   I sat outside, watching the sunset over the ocean, through the smog--which, awful though it is, makes for lovely sunsets--feeling like the luckiest woman on earth.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Writing A Sleepy Hollow Script on Spec

I'm back in LA for my winter writing residency.  I'm so incredibly happy to be here, and so blessed to have such wonderful friends (and such an amazing husband!) to gift me with 3 weeks to write each January!

I've been here nearly a week, but even though I've been writing pretty much from the second I arrived, it always takes me at least that long to start to feel human again, capable of engaging the outside world.

I stay with an old, dear friend of mine (he's not old; the friendship is old) who agreed last winter when I was first really inspired to write for television to serve as my mentor in a no-money-exchanged, no-degree-awarded MFA in Writing for Television.  I began my first spec here, drafting an episode of my favorite show, Sleepy Hollow.  Damn was that hard.  Damn was I clueless. At the end of my three weeks, Tim read my script and gave me thorough and fantastically helpful feedback, the best of which was (after pointing out how I had every single mistake in the novice book), "well, you didn't embarrass yourself.  Keep going."  In other words, I wasn't completely hopeless.  Always a nice thing to hear from a writer you really admire.

And I do admire Tim.  He's kind of amazing.  I've known him since he was a poor and struggling screenwriter and now...well let's just say he's not exactly poor anymore.  He's always struggling because he has exceptionally high standards for himself, and for story in general.  He's also a really generous, loving teacher.  Not everybody would be willing to give so much of themselves, especially as busy as he is, to help a newbie learn the ropes.  But with everyone he encounters, passionate about this work and life, he really tries to be patient, honest, tender, and encouraging.

At the moment, he has an overdue script to finish, so he's holed up in his office pretty much the whole day, every day, which I not only understand but wholeheartedly support.  This is how it is when you're on deadline, I know.  When I do see him, he's always kind and supportive (and as ever, hilarious).  It's exciting to be in a house where the Muse not only shows up every day but has her work cut out for her.  And I know once he's finished he'll make whatever time he can with me for reading my work, talking shop, in between his regular work of show-running an amazing drama.

So my job, all day, every day right now, is revising this Sleepy Hollow spec. for him to read once he comes up for air.  I put it through about 20 drafts last spring, showed it to him again, and he read it and said, "the first two scenes are really good.  They're professional."  As for everything else, it was back to the drawing board.  Since that was June, and I'm a farmer, and our season is pretty crazy straight through to October, I've gotten little done on it of late.  I'm also wondering if I shouldn't just jettison the whole thing and finish breaking this other idea I have for a Sleepy episode instead.

One of the really valuable things Tim helped me see is that I was so in love with my story, I wasn't servicing the needs of my characters and the series as a whole.  TV is a whole different kettle of fish from say, writing one's own short stories, which is the format with which I'm most experienced.  And that's one of the reasons I love it.  I love playing around in someone else's universe, but that does mean I have to play by their rules, and structure and boundaries are two of the most valuable tools, I think, in a writer's chest for engendering creativity.

At the same time, I'd love to try my hand at a Longmire episode (another awesome show).  I have a few more analyses of Season 2 Sleepy episodes I'd like to finish (and there's a new episode on in 8 minutes!! Whoo-hoo).  Doing those analyses has been very edifying for me.  I hope they're useful to somebody other than me (I am always in awe of and intimidated by the Sleepy Hollow writers' work, no matter how much snark comes out in my writing.  This shit is tough).

Good thing the farm is granting two days a week to write this year, even in the warm season. I'm incredibly blessed.  I'm going to need it.