Write Night

Blank

“All right, so we open with our heroine tied to a chair. She’s disoriented. Close-up of her face, there is dried blood on her forehead, pan back to reveal a gag in her mouth. She strains at the ropes, moans in fright. She looks around the room and sees its contents, wood floor and walls, creepy paintings, old furniture. A good 45-60 second establishing shot as we see how frightened and helpless she is.”

My voice had an air of drama to it as I set up the scene.

“Then we flashback to earlier in the night. We have to call her Amy Knox, right, and she has to be an investor? So she is out on a date with Jason, the handsome guy she’s been seeing, and they are having wine with a few friends, toasting Amy’s new accomplishments, a major acquisition for her non-profit. Charming dialogue, laughing, wine sips. Then we cut back to the present.”

“Wait, so there would actually be a flashback?” Amber, the gorgeous actress in her early 30s asked, applying makeup in a mirror.

I wrinkled my brow. “Um, yes. We only have one day to film all of this, right? So we can do the house stuff in the morning, and we can film the double date stuff later and then edit it together.”

“Oh, okay.” She rubbed her lips together, spreading the lipstick.

“So we are back on Amy and she’s managed to get her hands loose. She rips the gag out, considers screaming, changes her mind. Gets up and is searching the room, knocks over a candelabra. (We have to use a candlestick in this, right?) The floor creaks, the light hits the walls in frightening ways, she’s disoriented, there’s blood. The door is locked, the window won’t open, she enters the kitchen and screams. And then flashback again!”

The director, Tony, a thin man in his mid-forties, his hair tied back in a ponytail, wrinkled his nose. “The genre we drew was thriller, correct? This should be a suspense thriller. There should be dialogue. Very smart dialogue. There should be a lot of nuance and psychology behind it. Major revelations. Perhaps this woman, Amy, this is all a dream? Or, oh! Maybe she has the power to, um, see what is ahead. What is that called?”

I cocked my head, confused. “Precognition?”

“Yes! Precognition!”

“Wait, wait,” I muttered. “I’m open to ideas, but let’s finish the basic outline first. This is just a rough sketch, a skeleton I put together in ten minutes. These are just loose initial ideas we can build on.

“So Amy and Jason leave their date, and he mentions how things are going so well between them, and he asks if maybe she’d like to come back to his place, and she nods. They get to the porch and they are kissing and–”

“Wait, wait,” Amber interrupted, closing her make-up mirror. “I can’t kiss. I act in shows and plays and commercials and stuff, but that is the one thing I’m not allowed to do is kiss.”

I simply looked at her, dumbfounded for a moment, then went on. “I, okay, so it’s implied that they are kissing. And they head inside his house, where she has never been before, but there is a man in the shadows. Then we flash back to the present and she sees Jason in the kitchen, on the floor, dead, and then there is the scream.”

Tony furrowed his brow. “Wait, so who tied her up if Jason is dead?”

“The intruder. The guy in the house.”

“So there are two guys?”

“Yes!”

“Well, but, why would he tie her up?”

“We can figure that out. Maybe we never tell the audience that. Maybe he fancies her, maybe she jilted him. Maybe he’s just a robber.”

Amy interjected. “I don’t feel like I understand my character’s motivation. What is she doing there? And she just doesn’t seem to have a lot of depth. I think–oh! I love-love-love the idea of her having a dark side! What if she was secretly the killer!”

Tony picked up her idea and ran with it. “So she has precognition and she’s a killer. Do you see this picture of this creepy old tree hanging here? I have to use that in the show. She sees the tree when she’s tied up and it alludes to a larger tree outside, one that hangs down with heavy branches and–”

“And that’s where she puts the bodies!” Amy punched both fists out in front of her in enthusiasm.

Tony turned, wild with ideas. “And maybe this whole date she is on with Jason is just all in her head, and we see it play out there, and we can hear her thoughts in a voiceover, and she’s scared, and she realizes that if she never went on the date in the first place, then she would never be tied up and Jason would never attack her, and at the end she calls the police to have Jason arrested when he knocks on the door for the date because now she never goes on it.”

“Guys, I–” I tried to get back on track, seeking to finish laying out the story points I’d put on paper.

Amber slapped her leg in excitement. “Oh! And there is that creepy old church down the road! What if she is like running from her intruder and she is running through the church yard at night!”

Tony stroked his chin thoughtfully. “I do like the symbol of crosses and what they represent. Maybe we use a cross instead of a tree. Also, if we are doing scary, I love involving kids in that. There is nothing scarier. Maybe some kids are ding-dong-ditching at the house and one of them goes around back and never comes back.”

Amber pulled her hair back. “But why is she killing the men in the first place? Is this an Arsenic and Old Lace thing where she is putting guys out of their misery? Oh! We have another actress! What if instead of Jason, we have Julie? What if Amy is a lesbian, and she invites her date home and–”

Tony clapped. “I like that, very progressive. And the lesbian can confront Julie about the money she stole and then when she denies it there is a wine bottle across the head and then she wakes up tied up and gagged, back where we started.”

I had a wide-eyed look on my face when they finally turned, remembering I was in the room. I sat back in my chair, the outline papers having fallen from my grip and to the floor.

“I, wow. Just wow. Look, I think this might have been a bigger ask than I realized. We are supposed to make a 4 to 8 minute movie in 48 hours, right? We have the assigned elements, and the randomly assigned genre of thriller. And we have this old house. And I was asked to swing by for a couple of hours to help put an outline of ideas together. For a friend. But this is an awful lot of ideas.”

Amber picked up her phone. “Oh! Super sorry, but I have to go. I’m doing a photo shoot, but I’m back in the morning. If you get any of the dialogue put together, send it over, that helps me get into character. See you guys tomorrow, so excited to work with you!”

Tony sat back, propping his chair against the wall, folding his arms over his chest. “I think if we can pull an all-nighter, we can get this puppy in good shape. This is going to be award-winning shit. We just have to figure out what her precognition powers are doing first.”

I blinked, as if I hadn’t been heard at all. “I’m a writer, yes. I blog. I have a book. I’ve done comics, and I just finished a documentary. I’m not– you want a screen play–But I–I can’t hang out with you here all night to write this. I work in the morning and it’s already late here.”

“Well, if you have to run home, just load us up on Skype and we can keep chatting and generating ideas. This is the hardest part, but it always turns out the best product.”

I sputtered, my brain spinning. “But it’s a date, and then lesbians, and the candlestick, the body in the kitchen, the old church, the tree, and the buried bodies, the fundraising scandal, the-the future powers but it’s all in her dream, and–”

“And the best part?” Tony looked over, smiling a wicked smile. “We probably won’t use a lick of this. We are only just starting. But isn’t this fun?”

“I–I gotta go home. I’m sorry. I can’t help.”

A few hours later, I lay in my bed, baffled by the long evening. What had just happened? What this what professional writing was like? I closed my eyes, determined to shut my brain down, but I found myself worried about Amy, and how she was going to get out of a predicament that I’d never gotten her into in the first place.

Independent Christian Bookstores

jesusfish

“Thank you for calling Covenant Books, I’m Dawn, how can I help you?”

“Hi, I’m Chad. I wrote a book, a memoirs of my life. I’m looking for a literary agent and a publisher to help me get it on the shelves.”

I kept enthusiasm in my voice, even though I was a bit nervous. Calls like this challenged some of my greatest fears and insecurities.

“Well, Chad, congratulations on getting your manuscript finished!” The word manuscript felt strange, it wasn’t a word that was part of my regular vocabulary. I would have to get used to it. “Tell me a bit about it!”

And so I told Dawn a bit about my book, telling her that it was my story of growing up Mormon as a gay kid in large and chaotic family, about my attempts to cure my homosexuality with religion, about getting married to a woman and having children, and about finally coming out of the closet and finding myself.

This was the fourth or fifth call to a literary agency that I had made in the past few days, and one of the agencies had already mailed me an official “we aren’t interested” letter. I’d done this once before. Just after college, years before, I had written several comic book scripts and shopped around for talented artists to draw them. Only one of my several books ever made it to print, and it had taken four years, and several thousand dollars, to publish. And then I had spent many months traveling around and selling it, never quite breaking even, and definitely never making a profit. I didn’t want to have to do that all over again.

My book now, which I was calling Gay Mormon Dad had come on suddenly. After years of blogging and writing my story, suddenly the format and layout of the book had struck me like a bolt. I’d hidden in a hotel room for four days, where I wrote the first third, and then I couldn’t stop writing it over the following weeks. Some formatting, some edits and alterations, and suddenly I had a manuscript. But I had to have a literary agent in order to connect me with publishers if I wanted this read. This book was me, my very essence, in so many ways, and I felt like it had the power to change the lives of those who read it. It could inform if not inspire. It felt like a calling to get it out there.

Dawn listened to my passionate, nervous voice for a bit, and then confidently responded. I could tell that her words were rehearsed, she must speak with many writers every day, but I could hear the warmth in her voice as well. She sounded as though she loved her job.

“The first thing I need to make sure of, you understand this is not the Covenant Publishing that is a business affiliated with the Mormon church, correct? That is a separate one. We get calls sometimes, and your book has the word Mormon in the title.”

“Oh, I don’t think the Mormon church would have any interest in publishing my book,” I laughed.

“Okay, good. Well, let me tell you what we could do for you.” She invited me to submit a full copy of the book to an editorial team, and they would review it to see if it was a good fit, to make corrections, and to recommend any formatting changes. If the book was accepted, I would then sign a contract with the company and pay a “to-be-determined” fee. That fee would go toward a cover design for the book, the initial printing, social media advertising, and the publishing of the book itself. I imagined it would be several thousand dollars out of pocket, but I didn’t know any other way around it. I grew very nervous and excited.

“The book would be available in certain places online, mostly in our European markets, and we would get it on the shelves in all of our stateside stores that want to order it. Most of these stores are independent Christian bookstores.”

“Wait, what?” I could hear the screeching tires sound effect in my head. My nervousness and excitement were replaced by a sense of dread. “Independent Christian bookstores?”

“Yes, we have a wonderful market across the country.”

“Dawn, my book in large part covers being gay, leaving Christianity, ending a marriage, and becoming an atheist, and it has references to gay sex.”

Dawn cleared her throat. “Well, like I said, our review team will determine goodness of fit with the company.”

“That isn’t the market for my book. There is no way this would be the right fit.”

For a moment, my brain flashed back to growing up Mormon in Missouri, and the hatred some of the other Christian groups had for Mormons there. I wondered if some of her initial interest in the book was due to the fact that I’d mentioned leaving Mormonism.

“Well, I certainly respect any decision you make. But if you’d like to try working together, we would certainly give the book a read and see how we feel about it.”

I thanked Dawn and hung up, drawing a black ink line through the name Covenant Publishing on my sheet of paper. Oh the irony, I thought. I envisioned the Christian mother in small town Alabama walking into her local Jesus Saves store and seeing a book called Gay Mormon Dad on the shelf. I couldn’t help it, I laughed out loud.

Back to the drawing board, I thought, and I dialed the next number on the list.