The Big Trek

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Back to Scotland: the big trek is even bigger this time around. Albany to Philly to Manchester then Edinburgh where I’ll catch the train to Dundee. Depending on how timing works, I will either catch up with my family at Granddad’s or back at the house. As usual, I’m still packing.  It’s been so hot here in NY that I have to remind myself it’s going to be (gloriously) cooler in Dundee. Hurrah 🙂 It’s been a taxing year. Happy to escape.

Writer Wednesday: Rita Lakin – The Only Woman in the Room

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Rita Lakin

I can’t recommend this book enough. A terrific travelogue through the Hollywood and television industries from the PoV of writing — and you know how those industries hate writers. Lakin has a multifaceted career that spans the 60s, 70s and 80s, everything from Dr. Kildare to The Home Front and Flamingo Road.  A suddenly-widowed woman with small kids Lakin landed a job as a secretary at Universal Studios, where she had the time — and the support! — to begin reading scripts to learn the trade. And did she ever! Her first big break is a script for Richard Chamberlin’s Kildare that uses her own experience of grief to give it emotional punch.

Of course things don’t go swimmingly forever after: this is television after all. Lakin breezily recounts moments of humiliation and betrayal with a survivor’s comic remembrance. Her dogged pursuit of a career despite these setbacks, the sneering of her fine arts writer pals (sound familiar?) and the active sabotage of some real stinker relationships (oh. my. god.) demonstrates the real love Lakin has for this form of writing. Her prose is lean and lively. There’s never a dull moment. She loves to hold you in suspense by changing topics.

But she never forgets: her pal Doris who wrote that one short story that did so well amongst literary mags, who wouldn’t even watch her script debut on television — sixteen years later asks for an entrĂ© into the business. Lakin, despite working all of those years to get where she was, helps her friend out. That’s a lesson, too. Opening the door for other women was a touchstone of her entire career. After going to Writer’s Guild meetings where she was ignored or to meetings with producers that were just couch casting attempts, Lakin learned a lot but she never got bitter.

–even over her terrible, lousy, leeching loser of a husband Bob. That takes some doing. Though she is plain about Harve Bennett stealing her MWA Edgar in 1970 for Mod Squad (what a creep! who of course went on to a long and successful career as a producer: crime pays).

Things you can learn from Lakin: Never trust Aaron Spelling. Always be leary of producers who promise the world. Get everything in writing. Seriously, everything. Praise people who do good work even if they steal it from your mouth. Hollywood hates writers. Hollywood has trouble remembering that women are people until women remind them. Still.

Lakin has nothing but good things to say about the people who were generous to her over the years. Sydney Pollack, Richard Chamberlin, Steve Bochko — she has a whole chapter on Bochko as the break-through show runner, a job she tried to convince producers to give to her when she pitched a series, but there wasn’t a name for it yet. Every innovation builds on what went before. We just don’t always know or see it.

In the scriptwriting business getting breaks matters, Lakin makes clear, but having done the hard work to be able to make use of them is the real key.

 

Write 4 a Day: 21 May 17

Write 4 a DayDon’t you deserve at least one day to write?

Write 4 a Day is a new series of monthly one-day writing retreats in upstate New York. While I shall be hosting the events, let me be clear that there is

  • no workshop
  • no agenda
  • no required activities
  • no assignments
  • no schedule
  • no WiFi

Write. Don’t write. Think. Daydream. Doodle. Outline. Come for the whole day or just for part of it; network, collaborate or write solo; wander the woods, hills, fields and streams of Universal Pathways for inspiration (bring sturdy shoes) or sit in a comfy chair and brainstorm. It’s up to you.

WHO – you!

WHY – because you deserve a day to devote to your writing (or daydreaming or sketching or scheming or knitting or…)

WHAT – $20  (cash/check/PayPal – $15 for HVWG members) and food (a dish to share or your own lunch)

WHEN – Sunday 21 May, 10am-5pm

WHERE – Universal Pathways, 692 Pleasant Valley Rd, Berne, NY 12023 – Phone: (518) 872-2272

*Co-sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild

Film for a Friday: Sweet Charity

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I just needed some Fosse to get me motivated on finishing grading. Some great stuff but no time to enjoy it all — but I have some really sharp students (of course!). Once all this is done and graduation over, I’ll be updating more frequently. And having a little fun, laughs, and good times.

Midwestern Mysteries & Me

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I’m in the current issue of Mystery Readers Journal talking about my roots in the Midwest. Thanks are due to the fine hostess, Janet Rudolph. Although I’ve not lived in my home state in ages, something of that heritage remains. Pick up a copy!

Walpurgisnacht Freebie

As usual, I’m giving away my much reprinted story ‘Walpurgisnacht’; click the link on the name if you’ve not read it yet and you can download a PDF of the tale. And watch out for witches flying off to the mountains tonight!

Walpurgisnacht Hirsch

Witches: September Gallery

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September Gallery via their Facebook page

Sometimes living in hipsterville has its benefits: September Gallery is definitely one of them. They only opened last year but they’ve already won a fan in me with this show. Witches brings together a variety of powerful works by women. Marjorie Cameron‘s name drew me in, but there were other pleasures to enjoy. It was wonderful to see her drawings up close and marvel at her fine lines and free compositions. Stunning and powerful.

Her work was surrounded by contemporary artists animated by the same questing spirit. Laurel Sparks describes her work a kind of sigil magic, overlaying a dizzying array of colours, textures and materials in her Magic Square series. They sparked some ideas in me. Rosy Keyser’s work likewise mixes materials and colour but in a more abstract way. I loved her Terrestial Mime which hangs materials on a wooden grid with wild layers of paint. It feels like the work behind a painting made visible, a sort of swirl of anarchic energy summoned.

Marianne Vitale’s Very Fine Gander has a whimsical charm, like toys made giant — but charred, too. So there’s also a feeling of something horrible gone wrong. There’s a great description of it in the exhibit essay by Susan Aberth (who wrote that fabulous book on Leonora Carrington — but argh! ‘The Burning Times’ and the Middle Ages are not synonymous. The height of the witch hunts was the 16th-17th centuries: the Early MODERN era).

I was absolutely bowled over by Anna Betbeze’s untitled sculpture of burnt objects on a rug. It felt like an artefact from the past, like a fire that consumed the witch who summoned it or what was left of the village after a curse. Like her piece Howl the literalisation of burning anger feels great.

“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.” ― Maya Angelou 

Best of all, the show culminated in a performance night last Saturday. I arrived to find the place in darkness as it had already begun (so much for being fashionably late). Melinda Kiefer led the audience in an opening ritual “to create [a] sacred yet wacky” atmosphere. Then the fabulous Pam Grossman (who probably alerted me to this show via her blog Phantasmaphile) gave a short version of her talk on the image of the witch in art. She was the organising genius behind the Occult Humanities Conference and exhibit last year that’s still resonating loudly in my head. I was glad we had a chance to chat afterward.

Shanekia McIntosh gave a wonderful performance with amazing code switching in a story about her family and the power of premonitions. There was an interesting Sonic Sigil piece, an invocation and prayer to Hecate by Sarah Falkner, Rebecca Wolff and Jonathan Osofsky (I liked the use of flags). The band Dust Bowl Faeries performed and wow! I was sharing pictures from their show with the Folk Horror Revival group because I knew people would dig it:

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They’re playing Helsinki Hudson on the 7th of May. Be there!

Laurel Sparks wrapped up the evening with a performance that had us back in the dark while she paced a circle around us, reading from huge slabs and then painting herself in dayglo colours with a kind of ritual precision that managed to be both humorous and compelling without ever giving in to the over-seriousness that performance pieces can fall prey to. All in all a fantastic evening.