Archive for August, 2012

Ssh…

I was so excited to finally sit down today and write my first five “stream of consciousness” pages for my new Susan Kaplan mystery that I wanted to call someone–anyone–to talk about what I’d written. The tentative title I came up with (“Lights, Camera, Murder”), the bones of the story, various characters in various stages of development, but–and this is totally unlike gabby me–I didn’t. I’ve learned through hard experience: when you’re at the beginning stages of a creative project, it’s best to keep your big mouth shut.

When I was at a graduate student at William & Mary, harboring dreams of becoming a TV writer, I had written my first spec, based on the sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati.” My playwriting professor, Lou Catron, read the script, gave me 15 pages of notes, and I embarked on a rewrite, finishing it a week later. Dr. Catron was so impressed by my efforts, he became my mentor, friend and champion.

So, it was with great fanfare that I embarked on a second spec, this time for “Barney Miller.” But unlike the process of writing “WKRP,” when I holed up in my apartment, writing the script in secret, I told everyone I encountered about my “Barney Miller” spec. Only problem was, I hadn’t written it yet. And the more I told people about it, the less I inclined I felt to write it.

It got to the point where talking about my unwritten spec was more interesting to me than writing it. It took me months to finally sit down and actually write a completed script. And I learned a lesson: Don’t talk. Write. So, as I toil away on my five pages a day, creating a characters, setting, victim, murder(s)  and a bunch of red herrings, I won’t be sharing any of that with you here.

At least not yet.

A shocking discovery

Susan meets someone at this Starbucks but it’s at the neighboring doughnut shop where she learns something that blows her mind.

Writing tip: getting started

Starting a new writing project is always fun for me because I spend a lot of time thinking about my story while waiting in line at the post office or stopped in traffic on the freeway. But at some point I have to stop thinking in my head and start thinking on the computer. Which means actually putting my thoughts down and developing them into an original TV series, a pilot script, or a novel. (Writing a script or breakdown [outline] for a soap opera is a different process for me, one which I’ll discuss in another blog post.)

Sitting in front of the computer is the easy part. But how do I start writing and stop checking my Facebok page, my e-mails, and the Internet for interesting news stories? I mean, even as I started to write this post, the doorbell rang and I opened it to the FedEx man who delivered a box wrapped in lovely gold paper with a matching sparkly gold bow. How could I not open it immediately? (It contained a fabulous bottle of wine and a much-needed credit card holder from Tiffany & Co.–a thank you from my Sony bosses for winning a writing Emmy on Days of our Lives.)

Now I have to send thank you e-mails to the Sony bosses and call my mom in Florida because I share everything in my life with her as soon as it happens. But, then again, it’s another distraction and I haven’t even gotten to the heart of my writing tip yet, have I?

See how easy it is to get distracted from writing?

So, when I know it’s time to start putting my thoughts to computer and, knowing how intimidating a blank screen is (though, frankly, even with words on the screen I’m intimidated), I ignore e-mail, Facebook, phone calls, and the Internet and I just start writing. When I’m beginning a project, I put down all the ideas that were popping up in my head while I waited in line or was stuck on the 405. And then I keep writing, like stream of consciousness, asking myself questions about character and plot, finding answers or even writing that I don’t have the answer–yet. I don’t censor myself, I don’t second guess myself, I don’t look for the right answer, or even the best answer. I just write.

And I don’t stop until I’ve written five pages whether they be good, bad or indifferent. Some days I write those five pages in five minutes, other days in five hours. But tough. I stick with my five pages per day, every day (I work weekends) and eventually (sooner rather than later actually) the pages reach a coherent conclusion and I’m ready to write my novel or script.

That doesn’t mean I have the answer to every question. What I do have is an overall structure to my story: strong characters with goals they wish to accomplish, antagonists, as well as obstacles that prevent my protagonist from obtaining his or her goal. As I begin writing I often go back to that original stream of consciousness document and look for answers to more questions that popped up as I was writing my script or novel.  If the document doesn’t have the answers, or spur me to come up with the answer, I write another five pages a day until I have it.

By not censoring myself, I find that the document is my favorite part of the writing process. And it makes the actual script and/or novel writing more enjoyable as well.

So, if you’re really serious about writing, sit down and begin writing five pages, seven days a week. You’ll find it’s not as difficult as you thought!

Protect your hero

I was writing for the Aaron Spelling soap, “Sunset Beach,” and the story line involved a young woman, Gabi, who, while in a relationship with one very attractive man, Ricardo, finds herself falling in love with Ricardo’s brother Antonio. Who happens to be a priest, natch!

Antonio finds himself falling in love with Gabi as well and after months of fighting their love, trapped during a building collapse? Cave in? Thinking they’re going to die, Antonio and Gabi make love.

Of course they’re subsequently rescued and now they have to deal with the aftermath of their lovemaking. I’ll never forget Gary Tomlin, the executive producer, telling the writers that while Gabi is in love with Antonio, she should never diminish Ricardo or compare his lovemaking to his brother’s.

“Protect your hero,” Gary said, and even after moving on from Sunset Beach, I’ve taken those words to heart. When writing about your hero, never make him less attractive emotionally or sexually than other male characters in your story. He can–and should–have flaws that create obstacles for himself and others, but he should never look sexually less than, or even intellectually less than, the other males in whatever love triangle he finds himself in.

Killer Ratings, Susan Kaplan and tomato sauce

This is Tuscan Fresh-Tomato Sauce which I made with roma tomatoes and garlic from my local farmers’ market, basil from a plant donated by a neighbor in exchange for lemons from my tree and parsley from my friend Paula.

As I ate this wonderful meal I couldn’t help but think of Susan Kaplan, my heroine in Killer Ratings, who thinks tomato sauce is a can of Campbell’s tomato soup and has a can of chicken noodle soup for dinner, after having found the murdered body of her boss Rebecca earlier in the day.  Poor Susan!  Maybe she’ll soon sell a TV script and will be able to afford more interesting food one day.

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Killer Ratings is Barnes & Noble Pick of the Week!

Mona, my 82 year old mechanically inept mother (Dad used to tease, “Mo meets the machinery”) bought a Nook in order to read “Killer Ratings.”

No surprise, while reading the book it suddenly disappeared so she went to Barnes & Noble to get it back. The Nook woman was easily able to retrieve it for her, then, when Mom told her I wrote it, she made the book the store’s Pick of the Week!

Mona Seidman, south Florida’s publicist. Thanks, Mom!

And congratulations to everyone reading this and putting together “Mona Lisa”!

Claire McNab and Russia

I know Claire McNab as Claire Carmichael and I love her books! I had brought one of the “Carol Ashton” books with me to Russia. One of my favorite memories of Moscow is reading it while having dinner at a Russian chain restaurant which the Americans working for Sony in Moscow fondly called the Hokey Polky. (A derivative of the real name which is something like Yerki-Polky.) I had come down with a cold (not from the cold winter but from the germy flight to Msocow) and happiness was reading Claire’s book while sipping the Yolki-Polki’s chicken noodle soup in the dark beamed downstairs restaurant. Thanks, Claire!