[This post originated on my newer blog Payperazzi. Check out that blog for my latest musings on writing, the writing life, and teaching writing. I'm publishing it here too on Creating Van Gogh because I first mentioned this subject (briefly) in a CVG post a couple years back. Consider this an update and a coda.]
Two years ago, I was all set to go into the movie business. Well, sort of. Here's what happened. Early in the summer of 2012 I was contacted by an actress in London, one with reasonably serious stage and screen credits to her name. In between acting jobs this actress had been serving as an assistant producer on some films. Now she wanted to produce a film of her own, a short. And she wanted to base that short on my story "My Word," which she had just read in the online journal Literary Mama. What's more, if all went will with the short film, she wanted to expand the short into a feature. You can imagine my surprise and delight. A film? Of my story? Maybe a feature?! This opportunity felt like it had dropped out of heaven and into my lap. The whole thing was as bizarre and amazing and exhilerating as it was unexpected. After all, although I have a strong and abiding interesting in writing plays--and in the entire art of stagecraft--I've never, unlike so many of my undergraduate students, had the least interest in writing a screenplay or getting involved in the business of putting a movie together. And yet here was this movie-making opportunity; from a credible, connected source. I wasn't about to say no. And I didn't.
Due to various delays--some unavoidable; some which struck me as quite avoidable--it took two months before the actress had a contract to show me. But finally in early August she faxed it to me, and I signed it. The contract would cover a period of two years. And it would only apply to the short. I wouldn't be paid for my story, but I would receive co-producer credit on the film, and my specified duties would include reviewing and commenting on the screenplay, which she was determined to write herself. (I had asked around to various people in the know, and what I heard was that with a short film the writer usually just gives the story away for the sake of publicity. "But," the same gurus said, "if she does decide to make a feature you need a new contract, one that pays you actual money. Because if it's a feature there's going to be more money involved.") After the delays in getting the contract finalized it looked like the project was finally about to take off. The actress was begining a three week vacation (in America, ironically), and she had decided that it was to be a writing vacation. In a phone call from her vacation spot, she told me that she would have a screenplay ready to show me in a week. And she was certain that the film would not only be started but in the can in no more than a year. Sounded great.
I checked in with her via email after a week, only to be told that she hadn't actually started writing yet. But she was about to, she said; I should give her another week. When I checked in the next week, however, she said she had encountered some problems in the writing and had decided to read a novel by John Steinbeck to give her some ideas on structure. Hmmm. Okay. When I emailed her a week after that I received no reply. At some point she must have shut down her vacation and flown back to England, but she did so without sending any further word about the supposedly imminent screenplay. That fall I emailed her semi-regularly--just light, friendly messages--hoping for good news. I didn't actually ask about the screenplay; I just wanted to keep lines of communication open. Mostly she didn't respond to my messages, but sometimes she did. She only addressed the screenplay once. She said she still hoped to get to it, but she had two or three other projects to get to first. Oh. Eventually she stopped responding to my emails altogether, so I just let it go. If she really did want to do this movie, I figured, she would contact me. But she didn't.
And she hasn't.
Now, two years later, the movie project based on my short story appears to have been long since scuttled without ever having been launched. And now that the contract has expired there's little to no chance of the project being resurrected. Every now and then I check the actress's IMDb resume of acting and producing gigs, in hopes of noticing some reference to our film. But nothing's been added to her resume in over a year, so I have to wonder if she's even in the business anymore. I guess so far this post makes me sound bitter. Maybe I am; just a little. But, honestly, not that much. Even when it appeared that all systems were go and my story was about to generate a movie, the project didn't feel real to me. It felt instead like some kind of pretend amendment to my life. To my actual life--the one with my family--but also, just as importantly, to my writing life: which is about composing fictions. (Btw, that August, while I was waiting on the screenplay that never came, I did reconfigure "My Word" as a one-act play. I wanted to be able to imagine it as words and movements only, in order to be better prepared to "consult" when the time came. I didn't really write it in order to be performed, but I did publish it last year in the online journal Foliate Oak.)
Looking back on this curious episode, I'm tempted to try to draw some lesson from it. But the only lesson I can draw is one I already knew at the time. That is: Know who you are and keep doing what you do. After all, it's the only thing that's really yours; the only thing you can control. Even as I emailed and phone conferenced with the actress, even as I hoped for and looked forward to her screenplay, even as I prepared myself to help with it, even as I was disappointed that it never came, I kept working on stories. I wrote new stories; I revised previous ones. It's who I was. It's who I am. It's what I do. Now, two years later, I have a book of short stories called Island Fog forthcoming from Lavender Ink press in New Orleans, and I couldn't be happier. Lavender Ink is clearly serious about the project. Lavender Ink has promotional plans. Heck, Lavender Ink answers my emails! And still, even as I busy myself this summer with marketing work on the book--lining up reviews in magazines and on blogs, drawing up plans for a late fall book tour, consulting with the woman who will be designing my website--I'm composing new stories. It's who I am. It's what I do. Any life and any career will encounter setbacks. This includes a writing career. And with a writing career the best way--the only way, I think--to handle any setback is to keep writing. It's hard to concentrate on, or even remember, bitterness from a lost opportunity when you're engaged in creating a new story with new characters and all new oppoertunites. The story of your last story falls away and all you see is the story of the new one: the potential there and the pleasure. Suddenly you're thinking not about the recent past but the future, the future of this story. After all, in two years who knows where it could be?