I’M MAD at the lessons you’ve taught (pt 2)


When I was at the Austin Film Festival a professional screenwriter hit on me. He asked me if I would be moving back to L.A. and I said yes, when I sold one of my screenplays. He sighed and said that’s never going to happen and walked away. At the same time I was reeling at how horrible his  game was, I pondered what made him think that I would never sell a screenplay? He had never read a single word I had written. The only thing he had to go on is my appearance and somehow my appearance said to him that I would never make it. Why?

At every turn screenwriting requires me to be more than who I am. I am not a natural salesperson. In my life as a woman, I’ve worked hard to learn that if a man doesn’t want me, I don’t want him either. One of my problems making it in the industry is I don’t care who you are. It would be nice if I was a gold digger. They are despised by a lot of people but they get things because they know how to make themselves valuable to people who can get them what they want.

Most women, are taught to be the best person we can be and then wait for someone else to see our value. Since birth we are taught not to sell ourselves. To stay off the pole and to save ourselves for someone who loves us. We are taught to understand passion and inspire passion but never to sell ourselves.

When I am passionate about something that I know I can do I will run myself into the ground making it happen, but I don’t know how to prove that to you. I’m trying to learn how to be more aggressive about selling myself but most of my attempts come out awkward and desperate, much like as if I was forced to sell myself on the street corner. (I’m telling you I would be the worst whore ever.)

For me, the solution is that if you see that I am passionate about something, but I don’t sell you on it that well, give me a chance anyway. I won’t disappoint you.

I’M MAD at the responsibility (pt 1)


I’m Mad! I’m mad at you and you and you and especially, more than anybody else, I’m mad at me because I’m having a hard time letting the noise go.

In the last couple of weeks I haven’t wanted to be a screenwriter. Ironically, it’s because of all the talk of underrepresentation of women and women of color in the entertainment industry.

We… and this is part of the problem, we are thought of as a we. We are expected to write certain things. We are expected to deal with our issues and yours too.

Unlike a man, when I tell a story of a human being I am supposed to represent all human beings in a fair and equal manner. Well guess what? Fair and equal is boring. Fair and equal is not the human story, is not anyone’s human story.

In one of my thrillers, the woman starts out weak and adrift because she wants to turn her life over to any man, even if he’s an asshole. This is the kind of woman I want to slap in the face in real life but in the story she has to start there to grow. But, as a woman, I am forced to think  what it means that people see this squishy limp noodle as a representation of women. Am I harming women by acknowledging those like her exist?

When I began my western I spent days trying to force women into the narrative. It’s based on a true story and if you’ve ever researched the 1870s the mentions of women that aren’t simply listed as the wife are a thousand to one. I had to travel to Arkansas to purchase a 713 page out of print book to find a single page of a woman who was not mentioned as someone’s wife or daughter. History represents us little more than walking uteri, so how do we balance that with what true life was? I also have to worry that I haven’t been able to find a voice in this story because there is no white hero. Can I make a movie with a black main character without a white hero? Outside of blaxploitation films it has never been done before. I get nervous and fight with myself over the truth of it. The only thing I should have to fight with are that there are no heroes in this story at all, there are no solutions either. It’s only a man struggling with who he is and how that fits into the world around him. In a western that should be enough. But I am a black woman writing this so will people except that it’s enough from me?

Every time I choose not to make a main or supporting character black or a woman I wonder if I am failing my people. I switched from prose to screenwriting because I was an actor searching for parts. In an interview, John Leguizamo said as a person of color if you have the ability to write it is your power, your way to break in. He did it, Whoopi Goldberg did it, and so could I. When I became disabled and was no longer able to act the stories I wanted to tell were so much bigger than movies I could star in. The color, weight, sex, of the person depended on the history they needed to be in this spot on this day.

I get mad that I’m a stereotypical woman writer who does not do giant stories where the goal is to blow up as much stuff as possible. I love those movies but I’m no good at writing them.

How do you get more women in the business? Stop telling them why we need them in the business. Forcing us to be the hopes and dreams of billions of people is too much.  I can’t take care of everyone else, I’m too busy trying to take care of myself.

Maybe all this talk of more women is as simple as considering us for a project when you think the writer being a woman, or black, or disabled, is not needed. As writers, we are already asked to deliver a story that will speak to the human race. Even though we may choose to, we shouldn’t have to speak for the subset of millions of people we belong to as well. Consider us because we are writers and we have stories tell and not because you think you know what those stories are.

Hello, White People!


Today is the day you can claim me as your black friend. So put your arm around me or better yet, I’ll put my arm around you, and we shall sing old Negro spirituals. Don’t worry if you’re an old racist. Today we celebrate, not only Martin Luther King but all the people who let you kick their asses during non-violent protests until you got winded and they had your balls.

That’s right, don’t feel guilty if your ancestors were assholes just explore the benefits of the Civil Rights Movement with the rest of us. Go someplace where you are the only white person. Someplace where if there is another white person people think you know each other. Don’t be afraid, other races do this all the time. Also, if you have kids make sure that by the time they’re four they’ve at least talked to a black person long enough to realize we’re not brown because we’re dirty white people. (Yes, children still ask me why I’m so dirty. Come on, get on this white parents.)

Hello, Black People!

Be happy. We have white friends and if we have sex with a white person it’s not a crime. (Well, at least not if you’re doing it right.) My mom’s generation went from having to step off the sidewalks to make room for whites to having a black president. So little time for things to change so much. The extreme poverty gap between the races is something that stems from that time. In fact, poverty was the next civil right that MLK was going to tackle before his death.

Think about it. Besides the institutionalized oppression, we were forced to oppress ourselves. People said things like: If you educate your black boys they will be competition for the white men. If you’re black and educated you’ll think you’re equal and you’ll want more. People who want more get lynched. For heaven’s sake, all we were doing was trying to stay alive. Now there are generations still stuck in survival mode. Unable to believe there can be more for them. Let’s not feel handicapped by what happened to our ancestors. Be proud of what they fought through to not only survive but to thrive.

Hello, Asian/Hispanic/Mixed/Native American/African/Other People!

Each one of your races has your own struggles and accomplishments. Never forget that when society seems to forget you, your stories still exist and are worth knowing.

You too have ancestors whose experiences shape your world today. Respect that and keep what’s good but don’t dwell on what they did. Live in the now.

Hello, People!

We are scary and beautiful. We are cruel and good. We are our past and our present as we strive for a better future. We are.

2+0+1+4 = 7

(via George Takei on Facebook)

(via George Takei on Facebook)

Maybe it’s because I’m happy that I know that’s lucky. Well, I’m hoping that’s the way this numerology thing works anyway. As many of you have heard me say, 2014 is my year. I have no doubt. When I looked at the picture above, the first three words I saw were love, success, and health. That sums up my wishes for myself this year perfectly.

Maybe it’s because I’m older and wiser that I’m determined to strive for what I want. There’s no grand pronouncements this year of exactly what I’m going to do. I don’t need them. I’m going to write and network and people will come to me. I’m done with begging for people to give me a hand up. This year I’m going for a totally different tactic. Before, I only looked for friends. Now, I’m looking for mentors as well as friends. My life experiences taught me to be uncomfortable with people of power because they might think I want something. Worse, I thought they might be right. Well, who cares? …And dammit I do want something! I want to have fun talking, hanging out, and learning a bunch of crap through absorption. Hell, I don’t even have to be noticed if I’m learning. There have been plenty of times that I’ve done my best impression of the Invisible Boy from Mystery Men. “I become invisible until someone looks at me.” (By the way, that’s how I learned that Terry Rossio is not only a great teacher but a great man. At the Driskill Bar Terry taught me how to defuse an argument between two correct people with honestly hurt feelings using only three words. But that’s another story.)

Maybe it’s because I’m more experienced or just old and grumpy but I’m no longer interested in talks or articles of more women/blacks/diversity in this or that part of the entertainment industry. I say let’s stop talking and start doing. It doesn’t matter how you do it.  They did it at The Black List with the diversity opportunities they offer. They did it with Little Tin Man by making a great movie with a little person in the lead. People in a room saying let’s do this is how every revolution starts isn’t it? People in a room tired of being ready to start, instead they decide to start.

I’m starting.

Maybe it’s because you want to start too that you are going to join me as a mentor or friend or colleague. Let’s make 2014 the change for the better we all want.

So, yep. That Happened.


IMG_1074 When you opened my holiday card you thought you got away without getting one of those cheesy year end letters from me. Ha! I only lulled you into a sense of security. Instead, I’m posting all of my year of babblings, translated through ones and zeroes, here.

My 2013 may look like a face full of pepper spray on paper, but it actually ended up being pretty great for me. This year was full of enormous changes, even though so little happened. If you go back to the post I wrote at the beginning of the year about my goals you’d think I failed worse than the levees in the Ninth Ward. I didn’t stalk Dean Koontz for the rights to The Face or find the screenwriter who is attached to the Newsflesh series and drug her into handing the job over to me. I didn’t sell any scripts or have a literary manager fight for me with a sharpened ball point pen and a broken coffee mug. Good thing none of that was essential to a year well lived.

The beginning of the year was hard. So hard, I became pessimistic and wasn’t sure I wanted to know how the rest of the year was gonna turn out. My birthday passed with little fanfare. I had to quit playing bells at church because of the toll it was taking on my body. I had practically quit every activity because of the toll it was taking on my body. I was in pain and depressed, struggling to write as often as I could between sleeps.IMG_0919

In March, I came home one night to my cat refusing to eat. She could no longer walk in a straight line and would intermittently lose control over her back half. The vet at the emergency room said there was little she could do. The medicines she’d been taking for almost two years could no longer hold back her disease. That night I held her in my arms as she took her final sleep in my arms. That week my grandma began to go downhill fast. My mother cared for her during the day and I took her during the night. As I helped her from the pot one night she said, “I’m getting in that bed and I’m not getting out again.” I laughed and said, “OK, Granny.” When I checked on her 45 minutes later she had passed away.  As odd as that may seem, the next morning began to turn the year around for me.

I knew that my cat, Emily, had gone exactly one week earlier to find the perfect couch to wait for Granny on. Every day, she had waited on the arm of our couch for Granny to come home from the daycare. Emily died so that she could be there to welcome Granny home from her life here. And Grandma? She was tired. She was 97 and didn’t want to stick around anymore. Even though I had laughed at it, she had let me know with her last words that she was ready to go. It was a story I could tell and a comfort that I could give to everyone. It was her choice to go which gave my mother and me incredible peace.

By May, my mom had finally convinced me to go to Mayo Clinic to see if they could help me with my medical problems. I was NOT happy about any of it. I was doing this crap for my mom. Well, I was until the end of the first day when a doctor there was able to diagnose a problem I’d been having for three years. The place still freaks me out but I go because I get better and better every time I do.

I started to be able to do things again. Small things to most of you but things I had fought to do in the last five years. Things like walk without a walker, climb a flight of stairs, and eat something besides rice without having to drink Sprite to keep from throwing up.

July brought a new activity. I play nerd/geek board games with friends and strangers.  I’m able to exercise again and keep a regular writing schedule. Now, I even have the confidence to make commitments to hang out with people without it being a 50% chance I’ll be too sick to go. For the first time, I’m took my nephews to a movie. It was wonderful.

The biggest thing that 2013 has given me is the knowledge that not only am I a good writer but a good screenwriter. My Bass Reeves script teased me all year. Every time I thought that I was done and there was no way I could possibly make it better it would beg to be improved. So for a day or a week, I would pause my current project to rewrite it. It’s on The Black List as The Black King. and I’m comfortable with that. The giddy excitement that I’ve felt every other time I thought that script was done is missing now. I’m hoping that’s a good sign. Soon, I will have two other scripts posted that will benefit from all I’ve learned this year.IMG_0971 (Thanks Craig Mazin, Danny Manus, John August, Scott Meyers, Lindsey Doran, Berry Meyer, Terry Rossio, and The Austin Film Festival)

I’m so happy now. There are times, I find myself wishing things would be perfect with the snap of my fingers. That scripts would flow from my fingers with ease. That my group of friends here would become as special to me as my friends in L.A. That I could see my L.A. friends more often and still keep my family close. And finally, that money would be a thing I’d only have to think about when paying my taxes. But then I remember. Long ago, I told God that more than anything in the world I would love to learn for the rest of my life. Right now, I’m thinking it’s not so unfortunate that God listened.

Rely on the Reply


Cover of "Akeelah and the Bee (Widescreen...

Recently, my script came up in reply to an article on diversity in black film on The Black Board. Here is part of my response with other diversity in film stuff added.

I think the real reason for the difficulty getting black movies made is a lot simpler and a lot more complicated. Studies show that too often people classify their fellow humans as something so separate from themselves they have trouble empathizing with them. It took this study for me to understand why white friends would say they don’t consider me as black. That has always hurt me. I never understood why I couldn’t be myself to be their friend. The article Brain Research Shows White People Lack Empathy for Brown People and the even more relevant Why White People Don’t Like Black Movies. explains this concept of the racial empathy divide in more detail.

This is one of the main reasons that White males are the default as a story’s protagonist. We have all been trained to see things from the White male perspective from a very young age. In many places around the world, we are still taught that he is the penultimate human being. It hurts my soul when I hear people of color praising or lamenting the shade of their skin. It is easy for whites to accept films on racism. We all know where they belong in these films. They are the bad guy and also the savior. Black people would not be oppressed without whites and would not escape this oppression if not for the one exceptional, kind white person. This gives white people an entrance to the story, someone to empathize with. Where does that emotional connection begin in a film like Akeelah and the Bee?

At the Austin Film Festival this year I saw one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while, The Little Tin Man. I had no intention of seeing this great movie. Why? Because it had a little person and it said it was a comedy. I have been trained that all comedies with little people are of the dumb guy variety. The little person will be flung around and/or treated like he’s (it always seems to be a he) a prop. Many people love the Mini Mes and Jackasses of the world but I hate these gags. Maybe part of the reason people who don’t have this empathy problem still don’t go to black films is that they’ve been taught that if it’s not historical it’s all stupid race jokes, bad writing, and melodrama. We have to make more of all kinds of films so the movie going audience can be open to seeing something that will surprise them that was made with people who will amaze them.

Wow Wee. They Read Three.


scriptnotesEeeeeeeeeeeee! So happy that John August and Craig Mazin reviewed my three page challenge for the Scriptnotes Podcast (review starts at 42:19). When I heard it was going to happen I tapped, I paced, I boogied down. I was so excited my mom told me I was making her nervous.

They reviewed the first three pages of my screenplay Bass Reeves: Lawman. Outlaw. based on the true story of Bass Reeves. And yep, Bass is pronounced like the fish. And yes, I’m actively looking for a better title.

Very happy with their notes. That they got the action pleased me because it’s something I’ve struggled with in screenplays. It amazed me how many things I just couldn’t see anymore. The Fade In was there from a previous draft were I had a short voice over against a black screen before the visuals. I never caught that I started the rain before I started the rain (neither did the other people I’ve had read it.) It’s odd how you can get so you can’t really see things anymore.

Like any writer, I was disappointed that it wasn’t perfect. The thing that got me the most is what they said about those last three lines. I fought to get the last two lines within the three pages. Finally resorting to erasing the super of Spring 1876 and adding it to the slug line. I was so proud of this last part. I thought they were going to think it was so clever and funny. I knew it was going to be the highlight of the sample. But this is what they hated the most. When Craig said that these guys had just killed and escape being killed I realized what a horrible mistake I had made. I forgot to make sure these characters where real, with real thoughts and emotions. Instead, I went for what I thought was cute.

In fact, both times in these pages that I went for what I thought was good writing instead of a record of real people I messed up. That second line in which John pointed out the many faults and Craig called Yoda writing I had fallen in love with the words and my fabulous imagery. Maybe my struggles all these years to move away from prose writing to screenwriting is just as simple as it’s not about the words, it’s about the characters. We hear it all the time, a screenplay is only a blueprint. The words are not the final product. Now I understand what that means for me.

That revelation is not the only thing I’ll take away though. Craig Mazin said I can do this and John August said I’m a talented writer. The warm fuzzy feelings those words give me is something to cherish and hold onto for the rest of my life.

P.S. I’m black and I go out of my way to recycle. 🙂


UPDATE: My revised first three pages for that version of the script that was reviewed on the podcast can be viewed here.

However, this scene is no longer in the script. I rewrote the entire first act and changed the title. Read the entire script of The Black King on my Screenplays page.

Story is Everything


I know. Seems obvious but it’s so easy to lose sight of. Today, I tweeted three words. No not “Story is Everything.” I tweeted, “Fuck high concept.” This was not a dig at commercialism or a grand rebellion on my part. It was what I was doing at that very moment. I’ve been concentrating on rewriting lately which has caused me to learn a lot about myself and my journey struggling to become a paid screenwriter.

I love thrillers and I’m good at them. The things I can imagine people doing to each other comes in second only to what people actually do to each other. Unfortunately, my thriller screenplays bored those who had blessedly taken the time to read them. In my desperation to sell something I had clung to the words high concept like they were a raffle ticket for a million dollar drawing. I thought having a high concept idea that I was really excited about was all I needed. So I mined that high concept into the ground. Every subtext, situation, and scene had to revolve around this concept. By doing that I got some great moments but I was missing out on a great story.

The same thing happened with my contained thriller. I had two rooms and a hallway to work with and gall darn it these people were going to stay there. When I completed my screenplay with an entire 90 pages in two rooms and a hallway I counted it as a success. They want contained thrillers and I contained the hell out of this thriller. I also contained my ideas, my characters, and my story. When I went back to rewrite after some really harsh reviews I realized that I didn’t put the story first.

In these screenplays, I was asking what is the best way to show off this high concept, or what can I do to keep this contained. Instead, I should have been asking what is the best way to tell this story. What I found out during my rewrite is that when I let everything else go except the story things became much clearer. In the end, 65% of the contained thriller still takes place in two rooms and a hallway but the story became 100% more moving.

Once a date asked me what my favorite thing in life was. Bread was my first thought. Story is my truth.

KISS of the Rules Woman


Private collectionI’m going to tell you a secret. Well, it’s not really a secret since I’m going to tell it to you, so pretend you never heard this if you’re planning to give me money. My contained thriller sucks. No, it really sucks. I didn’t realize how badly until it got a 3 and a 4 on The Blacklist site.  I know I shouldn’t advertise this but I haven’t written on the blog in a while and I need to use this information to make a point damn it.

When I got those scores back I was super bummed. I knew it wasn’t perfect but a number you could show on one hand was a stab in the heart. After falling on my knees crying, “Why, Lord? Why?” while fanning myself with the church bulletin, I racked my brain to figure out what was wrong with it. The notes were close in content. They each wanted a fuller exploration of the love story and why the woman fell in love with this man who is a killer. It’s a contained thriller, not a romantic comedy, so when I cut the cord on the love story at the end of Act One I didn’t think anyone would care if I left the umbilical dangling. At first, I grumbled to myself about male readers not being able to understand a woman being able to fall in love with a man simply because he’s nice to her. (Sexism, defensive crutch to the wounded for centuries.) Then I ranted about how they didn’t seem to see that as soon as she found out he’s a killer all romantic feelings left her. I mean, after Act One this guy couldn’t make her wet with a fire hose. When I stopped blaming others long enough to tell myself to stop being a sexist asshole I realized something. Even though the majority of the notes were about the relationship between the killer and the victim that’s not what they were really talking about. They were about the rules.

You can find screenwriting rules in every how-to book or website. Rules on structure, description, format, dialogue, etc. You can also find exceptions to every single one of these rules on any top ten list. I realized that without meaning to, I had bashed the rules over the head and thrown them down the stairs. In a fit of love for my killer character I had overthrown the usual horror victim protagonist to tell the story from the killer’s point of view. Through this and many other choices, I had sucked the surprise out of my story and made my characters anemic. By wanting to tell all aspects of the story without paying attention to the rules I broke I had made my script too complicated. I distracted my readers from what was important.

Screenwriting rules are a way of saying Keep It Simple Stupid. Breaking rules is fine just as long as you do it with intention. They’re a way to keep your creative self from dirty dancing with your grandmother. Usually, no one wants to see that but in the right circumstances it could be epic. Rules keep you from adding too many flavors to the pot. Coming from the buffet of a prose writing background, I’ve realized that screenplays are one of the simplest forms of writing. No, I don’t mean in effort. Only poetry further distills narrative through words. We are impressionist not realists. When you look at a screenplay you should see what is intended even though not everything is there.

After polishing a script that got much better reviews, I will rewrite that contained thriller with an eye on the rules. Whether I follow them or not I will do it with intension. Really looking forward to scores that two-year olds would have trouble showing me on their fingers.

When I Die Young


10.2.12 028Not if. I don’t want there to be an if. I want to die young. You don’t have to bury me in satin or lay me down in a bed of roses. I know what it’s like to be old and I don’t want it. Though I do think that sinking me in the river at dawn would be pretty cool especially if there’s archers with fire. My Viking dreams aside, I’m good with being cremated in a cardboard box and having a party where those who I leave behind can eat and do what ever the heck else they want in my honor.

I know a little bit about being old because my arthritis robs my body of being ignorant of it almost every day. That old is just physical and means a lot, but nothing at the same time. Of the two grandparents I’ve had in my life both have gotten old. My grandpa died in 1988 of an Alzheimer’s that burned through his brain leaving his body untouched. This man wandered off to be found later that day having walked thirty miles. The sweetest memory I have of my brother is when he coaxed me out of my hiding place after Grandpa hit me in a confused rage. In the end he was a mute that didn’t notice when two little girls snickered over the outline of what was under his hospital gown.

Grandma is different. She has dementia. We’re pretty sure it comes from when she had her strokes. It rolls over her in waves of varying length and intensity. Like a teenager trying to find herself she’s gone through phases and personality shifts that effect those closest to her the most. Her body has not fared well. It’s disintegration causes her even more confusion. She doesn’t know what to do with her own body anymore. It doesn’t work like it used to and she is incapable of learning the new quirks she must use. Unlike Grandpa she knows who we all are and can fake a level of health for the people who see her infrequently. The memories of her past are as spotty and subject to exaggeration as those in the present. The slow erasure of the woman she used to be effects my memory of her as well. From the days before she was sick, I only remember flashes of her in the kitchen cooking. When she dies I will remember her as she descended into old age. I will only clearly remember the times when my mom, and sometimes I, took care of her. I don’t remember when it was the other way around. I don’t remember when I came home from school and she was there waiting with a meal. I don’t remember her taking me on adventures while my mom was at work. I don’t remember her letting me sneak out to the movies in the summers starting at twelve years old. I know all those things happened but the woman who stares, and smiles, and waits, does not seem like the same woman.

Soon Grandma will go into surgery to get her pacemaker replaced. A quick 15 minute procedure, but at 97 they give her a 20% chance of surviving the anesthesia. If it was up to me I don’t think I would give permission for the surgery. I would let the battery die. I would let her die. Being a caregiver to someone who is being stripped of humanity from the inside out is hard for me. Death doesn’t scare me as much as never being able to learn another thing in my life.

A couple of years ago, there was a medicine that worked for my arthritis. I danced, I worked out, I walked. What I couldn’t do was read, or write. I also couldn’t drive. I could feel my IQ take a dive and my freedom was linked to who could drive me that day. I chose to let my joints stiffen and the pain to return because I learned that without my brain fully functioning I could not be me.

I don’t know what Grandma would choose if she was still the person in the not so solid memory of my  youth. But I have made my choice. So let me die young, I have already seen old.

[The song If I Die Young by The Band Perry]

If I Die Young