On the Journey to Becoming a Writer

Being a writer was not my childhood dream.  Reading was my passion when I was young. I never saw myself having the gift of creating worlds with words.  As a chubby, cat’s-eye-glasses-wearing lonely child, books were dependable companions. I came to love epic fantasy and science fiction – Jules Verne, HG Wells, and JRR Tolkien were my go-to pals. I’d read 3 or 4 books at the same time, and my childhood defiance (aside from sneaking drinks from my parent’s Crème de Menthe bottle, but that’s a whole different post) was staying up past my bedtime reading under the covers with a flashlight.

High school didn’t uncover a yen to write either. While English was one of my favorite classes, I detested grammar. I couldn’t tell you what a noun was or why we would have to diagram it. I tiptoed through grammar tests, guessing at most of the answers.  Then came along one of THOSE teachers, the ones that change your life forever.  June Dirks stood maybe 5 feet tall and always wore heels.  She had helmet hair that needed a full container of Aqua Net to build every morning.  She was my AP English teacher in High School.  Eagle-eyed Mrs. Dirks noticed my grammar shortcomings after I failed a “review” grammar test.  She handed me her worn copy of Strunk’s “Elements of Style”, and gave me one weekend to learn it and retake the test.  I crammed grammar for 48 hours. It didn’t make me like it, but I learned about nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositional phrases.*  I passed the test.  Mrs. Dirks was also the one who submitted, unknown to me, one of my short stories to a contest.  I ended up winning it and a nice sum of money.  That was the first time I got paid for writing.  Extra perk from learning that grammar: I got a nearly perfect Verbal score on the SAT (it balanced out my abysmal Math score) and didn’t have to take English classes in college.  In college, the extent of my writing was what I needed to do in classes.  

Despite evidence that writing might be an ideal path, I insisted on being an actor and ignored writing unless it was a thank you note or a complex explanation to the landlord as to why rent was a wee bit tardy.  I worked with an Improv Comedy group in Los Angeles that was heavy on “boy” humor, leaving nothing interesting for me to do except be an adjunct pair of legs for a sketch. So, I started writing sketch comedy to give myself good lines and fun roles.  People laughed, it felt great. I wrote some one-act plays that got good reviews and attention from the industry –  not for my acting, but for the writing.  A few director friends asked if I had any screenplays. I didn’t, but I took a class and got cracking.  Writer’s Boot Camp was a fantastic 6-week course taught in an apartment living room.  In 6 weeks, I learned structure and a system that helped me not waste time.  With a raft of story ideas in my head, I wrote a bunch of screenplays. They kept getting optioned but not made, but as a side effect, I became known as a female action writer who could write fast, and got “ghost writing” gigs that paid well.  I was valuable because there are laws in Hollywood that require inclusivity of minorities on projects.  I covered two minority bases – I was “old” as in over 30, and I was a woman. To my knowledge both those categories are still considered minorities in Hollywood.

One of my movies was made, and I got a real paycheck and the opportunity to see my writing ripped to shreds by poor directing and worse editing.  Upside: one night I was allowed on set.  It happened to be a night shoot action sequence with explosions, and people on wires doing flips and fighting.  There had to be 200 people present from precautionary firemen to stunt people and actors and all the riggers, grips, etc. gathered together to make my 4-sentence description in the script a reality.  I sat on the periphery of the set, and thought, “I made this up”.  What had been little black words typed on an IBM Seletric typewriter in my apartment off Laurel Canyon in Hollywood had metamorphosed into reality.  The explosions went off, the actors acted and fought, the firemen hosed down the set after the pyrotechnics went off and the cameras captured it. You can still find this movie if you look hard, its called “Lord Protector”.  I can’t recommend it, but Charleton Heston did the voiceover work.  That was cool too, having Ben-Hur say my words.  He’s a fellow Northwestern alum. Rawr.  

Since The Fire and starting this blog it seems that writing may be re-entering my life after a 15-year hiatus.  I’ve written a couple of full length plays which have gotten lovely productions.  Perhaps this weekly blog could turn into a book. I have a multi-volume Fantasy book growing in my head too, although truth be told, writing it scares the heck out of me.  Telling stories sure is a lot of fun, and sometimes, just sometimes you get to touch hearts and let folks know they aren’t alone.  That’s pretty cool, coming from a cat’s-eye-glasses wearing, chubby, lonely child perspective.  My younger self is quietly urging me on, saying “please, oh please… make it so.”

 *side note, I think they must have added to some grammar rules.  When my sons had to do the dreaded ‘grammar project’ in 9th grade English, Gerunds, Clictics (!) and Grawlix appeared.  I didn’t know there were things.  My son Steven takes after me.  He named his grammar project “Pain and Sorrow”, and almost passed it.

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