Category Archives: Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting

Paul and Me [reboot]

In remembrance of Paul on his birthday, I bring back an updated post from the past.

NOTE: This was supposed to post a week ago on January 25, but I messed up. Sorry.

~~~

This is about the first novel I had published, La Desperada.

It’s about the script adaptation I wrote that was based on that novel.

It’s about Paul Newman.

It’s about a lot of things.

But mainly, it’s about how (if I want to do the Hollywood stretch) I almost wrote a script for Paul.

Or if you want to do the reality check, it’s about how I maybe almost talked to him on the phone. I think.

Mainly, it’s about my writing, my western, my attempts to get it made as a movie, and my new efforts to bring out the ebook, and finally see it in print again.

And it’s about a book by Gwendon Swarthout called The Homesman.

Some years ago one of the producers on the film UNFORGIVEN read my western script, liked it a lot, and said to me, “You know, as I was reading this, I thought, this is the writer who needs to adapt THE HOMESMAN for Paul Newman.”

That is a moment. A Moment. Somebody actually tied me as a screenwriter to a project for Paul Newman. Not that he was in position to do anything about it, mind you. But still. It put an idea in my head. (Dangerous place for ideas, my head.)

I read THE HOMESMAN and loved a lot of it–except for (no spoiler here, I’m restraining myself with great difficult) how the female protagonist dealt with her loss near the end. And I knew, yes, I could write the hell out of this script, but not if Paul (he was Paul in my mind by this point) wanted THAT to happen!

Brace yourself.

I wrote Paul (well, it was official correspondence so I called him Mr. Newman as it didn’t seem right to call him Paul) and told him what I’d been told, and that I’d love to offer myself up for the task of adapting The Homesman for him.

Yes.

I really did that.

And-

It gets worse.

I did that knowing–KNOWING–that the script he’d been shopping around trying to get made was supposedly causing all sorts of problems because everybody “knew” that despite whatever name was on the script, Paul had written it himself. And nobody wanted to say, “Paul, this script is bad.”

So it didn’t get made, it kept getting passed around, and…

I wrote and offered my services as a screenwriter.

*takes a bow*

Yes, that is chutzpah.

Of course nothing came of it.

Until many months later, I came home from somewhere to find a message on my answering machine. A voice said, “Call for Patricia from Mr Newman.” And when I didn’t answer, there were murmurs and then a voice continued, “Mr Newman wanted to thank you for your interest in The Homesman, but he isn’t looking for a writer at this time. If his plans change, he will let you know.”

I almost fell flat on the floor. ON the FLOOR, people.

First of all, it sounded distinctly as if–had I been home–I might have actually spoken to MR NEWMAN my own sassy self! (That murmuring in the background? I am sure it was Paul-murmurs. Seriously. I could tell.) (Okay, maybe in retrospect I decided I could tell.) (Okay, I have no idea, but it had to be, didn’t it? Oh hush.)

At any event, his asst had called to pass verbally, and so nicely and–

Well, I eventually started breathing again.

And that was the end of it.

My brush with almost maybe writing a script for Paul Newman, okay, maybe almost talking to him on the phone.

Moving forward… I’d had a few people tell me that my book reminded them of Unforgiven in several ways (though my book was published first), and then this mention of my potential skill with the material in the The Homesman, and then…

One day I was looking for book comparisons for my new ebook, La Desperada, so I could say, if you like THIS you might like mine, it has been compared to Unforgiven* only with a love story and sex,” and somebody said, “This might be helpful. Unforgiven was written by a guy who was influenced by a novelist, did you know that? He was influenced by Gwendon Swarthout, who wrote The Shootist and The Homesman.”

As comparisons go, it probably doesn’t help me a lot, as these are books which I suggest very few of my target audience will have ever read.

And yet it felt very odd, like a voice from the distant past bring back a producer from Unforgiven and a near-brush with Paul Newman and The Homesman and…

I like to think that if Gwendon Swarthout had ever written a western with love and sex, somebody just might have said to him, “You know what, this reminds me a lot of that book by Patricia Burroughs….”

* I could tell you about the time my script got couriered to Carmel because Clint wanted to read it, but that would just be name-dropping.

The Nicholl Award-winning script Redemption is available as a download here on Book View Cafe, and in print from Amazon.

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Filed under Books, Fiction & Literary, Film, La Desperada, Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, Writing

Why I Wrote It, or, Since you didn't ask…

A few weeks ago Bill Chance reviewed La Desperada.

This is the kind of thing that can make an author nervous, because Bill was not the target audience when the book was written as a romance novel (quite) a few years back. And who knows how a man will react to a sexy genre typically written for women?

His review was thoughtful and gratifying because he picked up on things few people do, so as I responded to him there, I knew I’d eventually want to mention some of these things here.

First, I think I’ll address a question few people ever ask or care about.

“Where did you get the idea?”

I thought you’d never ask!

JK Rowling said the first thing that popped into her head before writing Harry Potter was, “Once there was a ten-year-old boy who was a wizard and didn’t know it.”

Well, in my case, what popped into my head was, “Once there was a woman so desperate to escape that she held a cold-blooded murderer at gunpoint and said, ‘take me with you.'”

That’s all I knew.  I didn’t know if it was contemporary or historical, if it was set in London or Acapulco. I just tasted this woman’s desperation, could feel it in my veins, and could only ask a few logical questions in an effort to find out more.

How desperate is she? Well, if the cold-blooded murderer looks like Redford/Pitt/Depp, how desperate does she have to be? Seriously? Take me with you? Isn’t that a no-brainer? So I immediately knew that he was not handsome, and worse, had to be terrifying. Because the more terrifying he was, the more desperate she had to be.

My hero began to take form.

How desperate was she? Well, backing up a bit, why would she be dependent upon a cold-blooded murderer? Story-telling logic told me she had to force herself into his company (and again, if she didn’t have to force herself, what was interesting about that? Not much, so again, I learned more about him, because I learned that he didn’t want her. Truly. Did. Not. Want. Her.) And once forced, they would be forced to stay together.

Why?

Isolation.

And thinking of isolation made me think of the Trans Pecos.

Of a town so small, Fort Davis was big in comparison. And Fort Davis is not and was not ever big. Fort Davis in the 1880s was even more isolated than today, when it’s connected by state highways and such to the rest of the world.  Because Fort Davis is over 200 miles from the nearest city of size, El Paso and (my research uncovered) only had one mail coach a week.  Getting away from Fort Davis would be hard. From an even smaller more isolated town?

Bingo. I had a location that I named Cavendish (and later, for the screenplay, Redemption).*

Imagine that isolation, that desperation, if someone is in an insufferable situation and is in fear of their very life–

And then I knew even more about the woman.

She was totally unprepared.

She was a lady.

She was from “back East.”

She was fragile.

And desperate.

And… strong.

I chose the location not because I love it. (I prefer green places, the greener the better.) I chose it not because I love westerns. (I’ve read two Louis L’amour and no Zane Grey, though my grandfather loved them.) I chose it because I knew it in that way you “know” a place you’ve visited a few times, have driven through, have peered at through various windshields over the years thinking, “I could not survive here.”

I chose it for logical reasons and for dramatic reasons, and thus, ended up researching places from afar, before the internet was an option, with a two-day side-trip from a tornado chase to nail down some details.

And thus, when Bill Chance wrote about the setting with such understanding and connection, it really, really made my day. And I had to respond, as follows:

You’re the only person I’ve ever known who knew the setting and recognized the details–even McKittrick Canyon, which you recognized even though I didn’t name it. It has been so long, I don’t remember why I didn’t–I think maybe it wasn’t known by that name yet? Or I wasn’t sure if it was? Twenty years ago I decided not to name it but heck if I remember why now. (That is true of most of my research. I research for hours or even days or longer on this detail or that, find what I want, use it, move on, and have no record nor memory of it for later.) Anyway, it’s really thrilling to read your review and see that you knew the area and appreciated it.

The Sierra Diablo is an interesting place to research, too, because I frankly couldn’t find out much about it at all except a few sentences somewhere, and it was all private access so we couldn’t drive into it to look. I finally decided, “There are 18 people on the face of this planet who will know if I get it wrong, and if any of them ever read my book, they are welcome to inform me of my errors.” LOL!

Rooting the conflict in Missouri was another interesting choice, since I didn’t know at the time that my great-grandmother was a James of Missouri. But when it came time to do the screen adaptation, I couldn’t find a way to gracefully work all that background in and make it dramatic and succinct, and I finally resorted to changing it to abolition, which drew a sharp line in the sand between good and bad.

Secondary characters–there is a trend in romance novels to spin off series by writing about secondary characters. I’m not sure why, but I felt obstinate and decided to write secondary characters that were too flawed or unheroic to merit their own books, just to be perverse. Thus I named my young deputy the very unheroic name of Wendell Crutcher, and Obregon was a drug addict. (BTW, today, Obregon would be a perfect hero, romance having changed so much.) Despite the fact that I thought I’d managed to sabotage any desires for spinoffs, I had letters from readers begging for books about Wendell, Obregon, and (yes, really) Doralee. People wanted me to write a book about the whore. Today? Yes. Back then? No. My editor confirmed, no whores for heroines. (And yes, I realize there are other problems with using Doralee for a future book but we won’t go there!)

As for the sex, ah, that’s okay, you weren’t the target audience. (wink)

Thanks so much for this eloquent review. It was well worth a twenty year wait to accidentally find somebody who appreciated the backdrop as much as you did!

[In writing this, I discovered that Bill and I have something in common.  The “other” Patricia Burroughs who crops up in google searches is a real estate agent in Canada. When I typed in billchance.com instead of billchance.org, I found a real estate agent in Virginia. We both have careers in real estate in our alternate lives!]

McKittrick Canyon, unexpected oasis in a desert terrain, my bit of green.

* Originally titled What Wild Ecstasy [Kensington Books], this tale inspired the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences/Nicholl Award-winning screenplay, “Redemption.” 
The novel [La Desperada],and script [Redemption] are available together for the first time in one download at Amazon and at Book View Cafe.

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Filed under Book View Cafe, Books, ebooks, La Desperada, Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, research, Review, Screenwriting, Texas, Writers, Writing, Writing Process

We have a winner!

Many thanks to all of you who entered the contest to win a book of your choice!  But don’t worry, it’s not too late to win because I’m going to do this again. It’s too much fun not to.  So if you didn’t enter before, go ahead and sign up to receive the blog (see sidebar) and next time there’s a contest you’ll be in on it from the beginning!

But wait, what’s that you’re asking?

Who won?

Well, that’s really kind of fun. Lacy Waltzman won.

And the book she asked for is The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides.

The first person who responds in comment and tells me why this fact amuses me will get a different prize.

(The answer is on this site.)

(I told you I’m having fun giving things away!)

(What are you waiting for?  Ready, set, go!)

Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding! We have a winner! Michelle gets a $5 gift certificate to the online bookseller of  her choice for her answer: You’re a Nicholl Fellow like the author.  

To further elucidate: Jeffrey Eugenides and I are both Nicholl Fellows (even though we’ve never met and I’m sure he’s never heard of me) AND he also won the Pulitzer Prize for Middlesex. Lacy’s choice of book allowed me to point that out yet again,  which means I get to preen again in his reflected glory!

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Another small digression.

What Wild EcstasyWhat Wild Ecstasy by Patricia Burroughs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wrote it. The adaptation I wrote was awarded a $30,000 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting (presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). I hope I can be forgiven for giving it five stars, understanding that ymmv! (Obviously the story had a lot more going for it than the bodice-ripper that the cover presents.)

View all my reviews >>

I may someday figure out how to scan it in and convert it and make it available as an e-book.  Unfortunately right now I haven’t the time or patience for it.

It’s so funny, I expected this book cover to be all desert-toned and dusty, and instead it was pink.

Pink? OMG, what on earth?  (Of course this was the 80s and pink and blue were the hottest color combo around, so it was hard to complain. Too much.)  And then I opened it–my first published book, oh my god, my baby… and reread the opening of the first chapter, first sentence of second paragraph:

Within minutes the peaks of the rugged mountains to the west appeared, bathed in pink and orange and magenta, honored by the sun’s first rays.

I’m just lucky they didn’t toss in orange.

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Filed under Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Books, Goodreads, Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, Romance, Writers, Writing

Stupid writer tricks.

No, I don’t really think these are stupid. But I called them that because, well, whatev.  I just did.

The first time I sold a novel, I wrote it with a certain voice in my head, a voice that ran on and on in endless sentences.  (Well, okay, that voice is still there.)  Sometimes I’m not even sure the sentences had verbs. Somehow that book sold.  It was a pretty good story.  The story, adapted, won me my Nicholl.  (I make that point because talking about my endless sentences-maybe-without-verbs might make you wonder.)

And when I got the galleys–the page proofs that look like the book will look, because it has been typeset and now all we’re looking for are typos and such–I suddenly heard the book in a different voice.  It was no longer the voice that crooned the story into my ear with dulcet siren tones.  It was a crisp, professional voice that made every little odd quirk stand out and scream “unprofessional” to my ears. It was a wakeup call and a learning experience. (I hope.)

From that point forward I played games with myself, trying to trick the voice in my ear.  I have printed out my completed manuscripts on colored paper (pretty purple, guess what color I’m buying next!) and using a different font so that it looks totally different, and that really helps.  It rattles the voice a little, and makes it easier to spot problems. When I first started writing the current novel, I printed the opening chapters in a pretty copperplate, just to get a historical voice in my head when I was reading. And these stupid writer tricks help me, help me a lot.

But my Kindle.

Oh, my Kindle.

My Kindle has opened up new avenues of voice-trickery.

I routinely convert documents to pdf files, then import them into calibre (a free conversion program) which in turn, converts them to mobi and loads them onto my Kindle.

And… wow.  This is like getting galleys for myself.  Seeing the book all looking book-like on my Kindle screen. It’s like holding the published book in my hands.

The voice, she is different when I read this way.

Oddly, I’ve gotten so hard on myself, the book sometimes looks better on the Kindle, reassures me that it actually is working.  Other times it makes problems stick out. I can highlight and make notes with the Kindle if I want, or just keep a moleskine handy to scribble on. (And by the way, that moleskine? The large with lines? Is impossible to find any more. I looked in various local stores and finally had to order from Amazon.)

But today.

Today I learned a new Kindle trick.  I mean, I already knew it. Text-to-speech. Yes, it’s a computer voice, but the male voice isn’t awful. (The female is.)

It has taken me a while to write the last 25,000-ish words, and somehow going back to reread felt like scraping my fingernails on a chalkboard. So I loaded them into the Kindle, and let the Kindle read to me.

It was astounding. Computer voice, yes, but that meant it didn’t rise and swell and dip and whisper with emotion or rhythm, just spit out the words. And listening to the words… helped.  Helped in new ways.

I know people who read their work aloud and swear by it. That doesn’t help me. I hate my voice, and when I read aloud I hate that words that are being spoken by an English girl in 1811 sound ridiculous when spoken by a middle-aged Texan. Stilted and awkward in a way they don’t when read silently. Somehow, listening to the computer voice doesn’t bother me as much. Don’t ask me why. I can’t explain.

But more to the point, when I read, I see individual words and remember the struggle to find the right word, and does this one really work, and I get caught up in word-by-word reading.

When the Kindle reads to me, the words simply flow. The story flows. I hear the big picture flowing over me, without pausing to ponder, worry, re-edit.

Tell me a story…

My Kindle was telling me a story, and to my wondrous ears I realized… I love it. I love this story as much now as when I started it. And more importantly, things that I struggled for weeks to get right with all sorts of tweaking and massaging and slicing and dicing and suddenly thinking of a description that might improve things and sticking it into a scene I wrote last month and–

Yeah. I did mention the runon sentences, didn’t I?

Instead of seeing all that on the page, I simply hear a story read into my ears.

It’s magic.

I love my Kindle.

I love my story.

And right now? I love writing.

Ask me again tomorrow.

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Filed under amazon, Kindle, Moleskine, Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, Writing

Today I bought…

Impatient with Desire, by Gabrielle Burton, my friend and fellow Nicholl Fellow.

From the publisher:

A great adventure.

A haunting tragedy.

An enduring love.

In the spring of 1846, Tamsen Donner, her husband, George, their five daughters, and eighty other pioneers headed to California on the California-Oregon Trail in eager anticipation of new lives out West. Everything that could go wrong did, and an American legend was born.

The Donner Party. We think we know their story–pioneers trapped in the mountains performing an unspeakable act to survive–but we know only that one harrowing part of it. Impatient with Desire brings us answers to the unanswerable question: What really happened in the four months the Donners were trapped in the mountains? And it brings to stunning life a woman–and a love story–behind the myth.

I’m thrilled for Gabrielle and look forward to reading!

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Remembering

Today is the memorial service for Gee Nicholl, the wonderful woman who endowed the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.

The writers who have benefited from her benevolence include some dear friends, and also include some amazing writers–two groups that are not mutually exclusive.

Jeffrey Eugenides was named a Fellow in its inaugural year. I hope you’ll forgive me for that bit of name-dropping, but it’s as close as I’ll ever get to a Pulitzer Prize.

Other notable Fellows are listed here.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Every year, thousands of screenwriters plan their lives around the Nicholl deadline. Thousands of writers are fueled by Nicholl dreams. Thousands of writers create new worlds, new universes, and many go onto success without ever achieving that goal of becoming a Nicholl Fellow, yet achieve goals that surpass it.

Mrs. Nicholl was an amazing woman. She wanted to carry on her husband’s dream by nurturing writers. Despite his successes as creator/producer of some of the most loved television series in the US and UK, Don Nicholl always considered himself a writer first, and when he left this world, she decided to honour him by creating these fellowships.

I like to think that they’re together again, and that he is very, very pleased.

May light eternal shine upon them.

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