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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Don’t Step on Greta Garbo

People always seem surprised when they ask me what I’m working on and I say screenplays. Is it that I fail to give off a Hollywood vibe (size 0, painted hair, pilates abs, Balenciaga handbag, etc). Or is it that I can’t figure out how to use my Bluetooth? Or that I’m entering a decade you are not allowed to even whisper in that town. People are also always astonished that I love LA. Not just like it, but love it. Is this because I fit more easily into the Woody Allen neurotic Jew jello mold of life? Or perhaps it’s because the ship of my life has sailed, only no one told me.

I was 46 when I audited a screenwriting class with a bunch of Yale undergrads. For weeks before the class, I dreamed I couldn’t find the room. The day of the class, I arrived a half hour before hand, sweat trickling down my back. Over the next 12 weeks, I read a pile of screenplays, got Final Draft and learned the format basics, workshopped a short script, and made friends with two guys who are still willing to read anything I write. Not too shabby for a middle-aged literary agent with stars in her eyes.

I like screenplays because you can tell stories using concision and compression in a way that reminds me of poetry and it’s like a big puzzle. Fiction is a bitch I just can’t wrap my arms around. I also love movies more than life itself. My idea of heaven: a twelveplex. What’s your form and why?

20 Responses

  1. My form is long fiction, novels; have published one and have another with an agent. I don’t understand short stories very well and they seem a lot harder to do.

    When I read your blog it feels like a novel; it feels not like reading a novel but working on one, because you are always in the kitchen, where things are made, where one thing is turning into another. It seems to me that fiction is not something you wrap your arms around but something you get your hands into, and that is where your blog goes, amazingly. That’s why I read it every day. Because nobody else writes about this place, not this way.

  2. I had this discussion with Chris Cleave of “Little Bee” fame – and it seems that there are two distinct camps (with a few overlaps allowed for Venn’s benefit) – namely that if you are to write fiction, you should stay away from screen writing, and if you are to write a screenplay, then you cannot indulge in the freedoms of fiction. Those freedoms being, well, he says it better than I:

    ” …the overwhelming consensus was [in re: a writer’s panel in Dubai where the question to screenwrite or not was asked – kc] that if you are serious about writing novels, there is every chance that you should avoid writing screenplays. It takes a very long time to do either, so pick one and go with it. And this is a very serious artistic point: as a writer, when you are writing a novel, it costs nothing but the cost of your time, that and the opportunistic costs of not writing another novel while you are working on the one. But basically, I can live on $20k a year, so that’s what it costs to write a novel, for me. And you can do wild things with a novel, you can experiment, you can throw new ideas into it, you can rip out bits of your own soul and plaster them onto the page, and it costs no extra to do that, you don’t need CGI, you don’t have to employ actors, you don’t need anyone’s permission, you don’t need a team of people who will tell you they will not finance chapter nine if you don’t write it in a particular way. You are absolutely unconstrained, and I think that is why a novel is so much an innovative and endlessly flexible, re-inventable art form. It’s cheap! Cheap and dirty. You can pour your heart into it, and if it doesn’t work you can pour your heart out into another one, you know? It’s endlessly malleable like that as an artistic space. And I think the mindset of writing a novel is really out there, artistically it is about as far out as you can go, and I think that being involved in the process of writing a screenplay is just as artistically difficult, but it is a very different mindset, because you are having to think in the back of your mind, okay, how much will this scene cost the film? Who will back a movie like this if I simply have this scene that is a bit risqué?”

    I’ve dabbled in screen writing (rather tame wine-related programming to date) but I have to side with my man CC on this one. The sheer expanse and boundlessness of fiction, of creating an entire world, either in surrogate as so many writer’s do who envision a world that starts and ends at the Holland Tunnel (no more novels set in NYC please), to writers who go Tolkien on you and create an entire world from the ground up, language, races, politics and all.

    I prefer the beach to the sandbox. (caveat: I *adore* a good movie with as much respect and admiration as I reserve for a good read.)

  3. Sorry, I didn’t sign the “Anonymous” comment above.

  4. Betsy–You are a fabulous writer whether the genre’s a memoir, a screenplay or a friggin’ blog post. The rest of us could only pray to reach that bar.

    I’ve spent the last few years focusing on novels, only to realize recently that screenplays should have been my gig. I’m all about the dialogue, which lends itself best to screenwriting.

    Never too late to reinvent ourselves, is it?

  5. Much influenced by old forties Hollywood film where decades pass in an hour, characters truly age and back-stories reveal motive. Consequently I like a jump cut structure for my novels–stories inside stories, lapidary scenes that show dramatic consequence and prose that conjures images in your head as you read. I don’t care where my ideas come from as long as they come.

    I love LA too, that’s why I stayed after grad school.

  6. It’s always been novels for me, of many and varied genres. But currently biography is my thing – in some ways very similar and in others very, very different (and a lot more responsibility). I love both equally, I think.

  7. While I recognize and love the art of long, flowing, poetic prose, I think there is definitely something to be said about a novel or short story that can be conveyed more through dialogue. They’re completely different, of course. But a work of fiction can be created in such a way as to mimic a screenplay, where your only cues to the emotions and motives of the characters are dialogue and the shuffling of feet or stifled breath. Hemingway was the master of this. I also think of Dostoevsky’s Demons/Devils (depends on your translation) is written this way, not for a lack of a narrator’s hints, but due to his complete unreliability.

    While I would never want to compare myself to one of these two men, I tend to aspire to this form of fiction, generally novel length. On the other hand, the best writing workshop I took in college was for screenplay writing. Go figure.

  8. “Movies and I don’t agree chronologically. In Oxford there is one show at seven o’clock, and the town goes to bed at nine-thirty. It’s not that I don’t like the movies, but my life just isn’t regulated that way.”

    William Faulkner

  9. short stories. i write them because they’re difficult and sometimes, if you’re lucky, they work.

    ps there’s big money in shorts.

  10. Fiction. Novels. And fantasy at that. I keep trying to write shorter pieces and spinning them up into larger works. I keep trying to seque into literary fiction, but keep finding myself enjoying the imaginative world-building. At some point I’m going to have to branch out, but I fantasy novels are just where my heart lies.

  11. I tried writing a screenplay. I had someone see my columns I used to write for NH Register…Life With Wendy and they thought it would be a funny take on the female life, a Larry David of sorts. This person lived in LA with a ton of connections. I gave it a try and was entertained enough that I am putting it down as a long range goal, but didn’t finish it because I was torn when it came to writing the pilot. I felt once I wrote the book it would be easier for me because the pilot was a much longer form. I found the individual episodes to be similar to my column and completely different from writing a book because it was a number of short forms and they had to be visual and funny. Once you got the format down it wasn’t that bad. I would recommend it for any writer to stretch their visual muscles.

  12. Good to keep them guessing, Betsy. But that is a nice bag. Fiction is my bitch and I’m loyal to her.

  13. Two forms for me: 1) the novel; and 2) flash fiction, simply because it works to unclutter my mind for writing the former.

  14. My mother was a novelist. (I think that may be a fate worse than death.) My father wrote literary criticism.

    I write essays because truth matters more to me than fiction.

  15. What I love is many things. What I love is just about every form of writing I’ve ever read. So far in my colorful career, I’ve managed at least to dabble in many of these. I’ve worked in journalism, written a play that now seems unproduceable (and I mean to write another, better one when I can get back to it), written an opera libretto based on a Henry James novel, done technical writing, and played around in film production (though a screenplay is one form I don’t have much desire to write). Like your average high school student, I’ve even worked up a few things I could call poems. Currently I’m working on a memoir, despite having less interest in that field than in others, because I became part of a family story that I feel compelled to record.

    Life is…interesting when your heart is pulled in many directions. I wouldn’t mind having fewer loves, but at least I’m not bored.

  16. I have to make a pitch for episodic television. After a lull, it’s come back with an artistic vengeance. Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Sopranos, even Weeds, Californication and, ok, fine, I’ll just say it, (I’m not ashamed) Sex and the City… I fall in love with shows because there is nothing like the 45 – 60 minute on-going episodic series for creating rich, multi-dimensional complex characters. Even the stock cliche characters seem to eventually morph and change, kind of like real people.

    My real dream is to write for an on-going show and/or create my own. I also love how actors can take a line and offer so many interpretations.

    Yes, I do think that if Shakespeare were alive, he’d be writing for television.

  17. Essays (and, well, blog posts). I always used to tell the people in the fiction MFA program that I was in nonfiction because I have no imagination.

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