Sometimes You Meet The Nicest People On The Internet


A few months ago I met a wonderful writer named Jen Owenby who contacted me after reading my book, An Agoraphobic’s Guide to Hollywood.  She also has a blog (Jen’s Thoughts) and we’ve exchanged emails, talked about writing, and about juggling life with family, work, and answering the muse.  Well, several weeks ago Jen asked if she could interview me for her blog, and I said (gulp) sure.  She sent me some preliminary questions and asked if I wouldn’t mind answering them for her interview.  Once again, I said (gulp) sure.

Well, Jen’s questions sat on my desk for more weeks than I care to count. It’s not that I was too busy to answer them; it’s just that I was afraid. You see, I’ve got this problem:  I don’t really enjoy talking about myself.  It’s one thing to use my point of view in a story I’m telling, or in a post that’s here at my website.  But I just find it difficult to talk about my accomplishments, or what I’ve done as a professional screenwriter.

It just feels too much like bragging.

The one rule that my parents taught us (along with never allowing us to say “Shut up!”) was that bragging or being boastful was rude.  They never said that to us in so many words.  But if they thought we were boasting a little too long (and too loudly) about some great feat we had accomplished, one of them would just smile and the other would say, “Careful, or your arm will fall off.”  That was our cue to get humble.

I never stopped and thought as a kid what the heck that phrase meant.  But I know that it usually worked, and I kept my conquests to myself.  It was only today that I thought about it (thanks to Jen’s interview questions) and I decided to look up that saying on the Internet.

I couldn’t find it anywhere.

But I found something like it.  And I think this is probably what my parents meant when they cautioned us about losing a limb by bragging: “Don’t break your arm by patting yourself on the back.”  My parents had their own graphic way of interpreting that saying, and well, whatever the phrasing, it took hold of me and still sticks today.

That’s why it took me so long to answer Jen’s questions.  But I did manage to answer those questions, and Jen’s two-part interview with me is currently posted at her site.  I tell you this not to (God Forbid!) boast, but because Jen is doing a random drawing – giving away five copies of my book to five people who show up at her website and say hello.  Also, as a Grand Prize, one person who wins will be able to talk with me (and ask questions)  one-on-one about professional screenwriting.

People seem to really enjoy An Agoraphobic’s Guide to Hollywood – How Michael Jackson Got Me Out of the House (except for the occasional Michael Jackson ultra-fan who hates me for writing a particular scene in the book), and I like the fact that it’s not going to cost five people anything to get a chance to read it, if they win.  The Grand Prize makes me a little nervous because of that bragging issue I have, but I’ve had a twenty-five year career as a professional screenwriter in Hollywood and people seem to like to ask me questions about writing for movies and television.

So, if you haven’t read my memoir, or you’d like to win a copy for a friend, or if you’re just interested in learning more about professional screenwriting, you might want to check in with Jen at her website (Jen’s Thoughts), and say hello. And when you read Jen’s interview with me, please don’t think I’m bragging, or patting myself on the back.  My mom wouldn’t like that.

And I don’t want my arm to break.

(Click here to register for Jen’s Giveaway)


You’re Still Talking But The Conversation Is Over

I’m going to write something today that I probably shouldn’t be writing but I’m going to write it anyway. I’m opening this up for discussion and maybe some of you can help me figure this out.

I have an “online hater.”

Is that an actual term or am I making that up?  Does anybody know?  Well, if it’s not a legitimate term, I’m now coining it.  Here’s what it means: An online hater is someone who is the opposite of a fan.  Or a friend.  Or even some nice-enough acquaintance you just met on Twitter.  My online hater is somebody who doesn’t like me because I wrote a book with Michael Jackson as one of the central characters. She thinks it was wrong for me to write it, and that I said bad things about Michael. She told me this in a brief exchange on an Amazon chat board; we actually had a discussion about it when the book first came out.  I guess that discussion wasn’t enough for her because then she showed up on my blog, on the book’s Facebook, the Amazon review site, and once when I visited a blog site for a Q & A. She just keeps showing up and trash talking me.

Is it wrong that I’m upset about this?

Because I am.  I know I shouldn’t probably admit that.   I know you’re supposed to turn the other cheek. I know that words aren’t supposed to hurt you. And yet, I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t hurt. I guess there’s just something in my double-X chromosomes that makes me want to please everybody, and to make sure everyone’s happy. Well, my online hater certainly isn’t happy.  And I’m trying to figure out how to deal with this.

I’m not good with criticism, but as I get older, I’m getting better at it. You can tell me you don’t like my writing, you don’t like my stories, you don’t like my hair, or the way I laugh, or that I laugh at the wrong moments, my eyes are too close, I wear funny clothes, or ridiculous looking shoes; you don’t like my politics, or you don’t like me because I’m not political.  There are any number of reasons you might find fault with me.  I’ve learned to accept the fact that some people just love to criticize, and they’ll do it openly, and often. My emotional skin has thickened (a little)  over the years, and I can deal with most (all right, some) disapproval thrown my way. But I draw the line when you attack my honesty. Honesty is the way I try to live my life, and it’s what I bring to my writing.

All + Everything.

To do something well you have to be passionate about what you’re doing, and you have to do it to the max:  Body and soul.  All + Everything.  That’s what I do when I write.  I give you my point of view, honestly; and I don’t hold back. And that’s what I did in my book. Michael Jackson was in my life for a brief period of time, and what I wrote about him was from my point of view.  Honest, and to the point.  I didn’t hold back anything – my observations or my thoughts. I told my story (and the key words here are my story) exactly the way I experienced it.

So for the benefit of my online hater:  If you want to find fault with me, for writing about my honest point of view, well, I guess you and I will have to agree to disagree.  You’re not going to change my way of thinking, and I know that I certainly won’t change yours. I guess this conversation between the two of us is now over.

It’s time for you to move on.

(How do you handle the haters in your life?  The ones that find meaning in attacking, criticizing, and judging who you are and what you do? Do you let them know how you’re feeling and confront them? Or do you just keep quiet and hold it in?)

He’ll Always Be Michael To Me

Steven called him Mike.

Of course, he could get away with that but I couldn’t. Steven’s last name was Spielberg, mine wasn’t.  I was somebody smaller swimming around in these show business (shark infested) waters.  I was the little minnow who somehow was now keeping company with some very big fish – just treading water at times, and trying not to sink.

We were at a kickoff luncheon for Disney’s top secret “Project M” – a film that was supposed to be in development based on “Peter Pan.” Steven Spielberg sat to my right in his private dining room at Amblin Entertainment, and directly across from me was somebody I tried (without success) to look at as just another collaborator and human being.  But his dark eyes, beautiful face, his gentle ways, and his illuminating smile made that impossible.

I was in awe of him.  I still am.  And he’ll always be Michael to me.

Today I’m thinking about him – celebrating him as a collaborator, and artist. I don’t want to remember the events of three years ago, so I’m pushing them to the back of my mind.  Burying them away, and trying to forget.  I can do that because I’m just a regular person.  But when you’re a celebrity, it’s a lot more complicated.

When you become a celebrity your life becomes public property.  You try to reclaim it with bodyguards, security systems, handlers, spin makers, and money (lots of it) to help you hide.  But the moment your life hits a sharp curve, and you lose control, the world will know about it, and your life is over.

Think about that.

We all have times in life when we make mistakes (some of them big mistakes) that we’d rather forget.  Usually we do forget.  We push those mistakes to the farthest (and deepest) places in our mind.  We make ourselves forget, and unless we’re in the safety of a therapist’s office, or a priest’s confessional, no will ever know.  But if you’re a celebrity, everyone will know.

Michael never had a chance to be a regular person.  It’s tough enough when you become a celebrity as an adult.  But when it’s thrust upon you when you’re a child, and you really have no power over it, it can end up being destructive and terribly sad.

But that’s not the Michael I want to remember.

I spent this morning listening to Michael’s voice, trying to remember the Michael I once knew – the one I was lucky enough to work with on “Peter Pan.” I listened to the tapes he asked me to record at the story meetings the two of us had. And what I heard on those tapes is the Michael that I once knew:  His excitement.  His sensitivity.  His love for Peter Pan.  His commitment to the creative life.  And his passion.

Also, his giggles. Michael loved to giggle. And that’s what I choose to remember about him today.

Giggling made him sound just like a regular person.

(Michael as Peter Pan artwork by Mikl Olivier)

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor…

The last thing this writer ever thinks about when she’s writing is a press release.

Some writers – the new breed of writers, are much more commercial than I’ve ever been.  The reason is simple: Every time I sit down and write I’m never sure anything is going to come out. That really doesn’t matter when you’re not getting paid, or you don’t have a deadline, but when your mortgage is depending on it, well, let’s just say I’ve spent my share of sleepless nights.

I wish I could tell you that as a professional writer I plan out every little moment, every bit of action, dialogue, or character nuance, but that’s not how it works with me. When the words flow, it’s like some hidden natural spring that I’ve traveled miles to find. There’s no other way of putting it: Writing is just a miracle.  I don’t try to understand it.  I just sit down at my desk and hope that it happens.

When it does happen, and I end up with a finished product, I feel I owe it to the fates (and especially to the story) to sing its praises.  If it’s a blog post, I tweet, I Facebook, I LinkedIn, I email, I practically stop people in the street just to announce this beautiful new birth. In the case of a book, the announcement often happens with an official press release.  I’m proud to share this press release that came out yesterday for An Agoraphobic’s Guide to Hollywood – How Michael Jackson Got Me Out of the House.

Some of you have already read the book, and I thank you for that.  If you haven’t, you can take a look up above in the menu under the title of the book where I’ve put the opening pages, the website, and the press release.  If you like it, there’s a link to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or even iTunes where it’s for sale.  I don’t much like promoting my own words.  But as I said, I don’t think they really belong to me.  I’m just pointing out the way to the story.

It’s the least I can do.

This Is What Happens When You Procrastinate

I never considered myself a procrastinator.  I do my taxes (eventually).  I change the oil in my car (when the red light comes on). I even balance my checkbook (sort of). I never thought I had a problem with putting off to tomorrow what should have been done yesterday. That’s until I took a recent trip down memory lane and faced the truth.

Memory Boxes and the Surprises They Hold

We all have memories tucked away – old photographs, baby items, awards from school days, or an old valentine or two.  Memory boxes can be beautiful, like this one I found online:

Here’s what mine look like:

I’m partial to Tupperware. I stash them all over the house: under beds, inside closets, out in the garage. Hidden away, they’re out of sight and out of mind. I never remember exactly what’s in them; I just know I don’t want to ever throw them away.

I started going through some of those memory boxes a couple of years ago when I decided to write my book.  I was looking for the journals and notes I kept when I had my meetings with Michael Jackson, when we worked on the Peter Pan film script together.  I found what I was looking for in those Tupperware archaeological digs. I found something else too.  Something I wish I hadn’t.

Some Memories You Just  Want to Forget

The memories were stratified – like layers of soil deposited one section on top of the other, each year buried by more recent times. Underneath the years of screenwriting came the tour guide memorabilia. My Universal Studios name tag, a patch from my uniform, photos of trams, tour guide friends, and a family of four I had almost forgotten about.

This was my view as a tour guide at the front of a Universal Studios tram.  These were the tourists on one particular day, and one specific tour. I had a roll of film I wanted to use up so I brought my camera to work that day and took a few random shots.  It was just a quick snapshot, nothing special really. I didn’t think twice about taking it –  until the family in the front row approached me at the end of the tour.  I don’t remember much about them except I think they lived in the Midwest.  They seemed like nice people, soft-spoken, and polite – out-of-place there at that big Hollywood movie studio.

The father asked me if he could have a copy of the photo. He wrote down their address and handed it to me with a dollar. He didn’t want me to have to pay the postage, he said, holding the dollar bill out to me. That wouldn’t be right, he added.  I felt strange taking that money.  Something inside of me knew there might be a problem – a premonition, perhaps. But I smiled at this family, not wanting to let them down, and I took the dollar anyway. I tucked it into the back of my camera case, along with their address, and I promised I would send them the photo.

That was many years ago.  I eventually left Universal Tours; I started acting, became a screenwriter, a wife, and a mother. We moved and the memory boxes with all their contents moved with us. I had forgotten all about that photo until two years ago when I found it. Obviously, I got the film developed –there was the photo at the bottom of my memory box as evidence: I had never sent it to that family.

It was  a long time ago.  I had long since lost the name and address of that family.  There was nothing I could do it about it, I reasoned with myself.  And yet,  I couldn’t bear to look at the faces in that photo. They were a nice family that trusted me, that gave me a dollar to send them a memory. And I had obviously forgotten, or put off doing it. My life had grown complicated, packed with new responsibilities (as lives often do) and with each year more reasons piled up for why that photo never was mailed. I’d broken a promise, and there was nothing I could do to fix it.  No one likes to be reminded of how they’ve failed.  I threw the photo in the trash two years ago, and tried not to think about it again

And then a few weeks ago I started this blog.

Call Me a Cock-Eyed Optimist

Years ago there wouldn’t have been a way to find these people.  But now we have the Internet, and it gave me an idea:  Why not put the photo on my website for everyone to see it? Maybe somebody might know somebody who knows somebody.  And, maybe six degrees of separation later, we might be able to find this family. Stranger things have happened in this world: runaway dogs travel thousands of miles to get home, and lost wedding rings miraculously get found. I’m somebody who likes to believe in miracles, so I searched around in that memory box, found the negative, and printed a new photo. It’s well over thirty-five years ago so those girls are all grown now, with families of their own probably. Here’s a close up, so take a good look – especially if you live in the Midwest. Iowa, maybe?  Illinois, Indiana, Ohio? I’m thinking it could be Minnesota.

Maybe this family never thought twice about the fact the photo never was delivered, that it didn’t show up in their mailbox, or their tour guide never sent it.  But I look at that father, and his eyes seem to stare directly at me. I screwed up. And I can tell by the way he’s looking at me that he somehow knew it would happen.

This is the best I can do to try to fix it.