Category Archives: books, movies, YA, writing

Tales from the Writers’ Room: Part One

One of my favorite parts about writing for TV or film is the magical process of seeing my words come to life. In reality, it was a very talented props person named Ian, and not magic, that made the centrifuge I wrote about on Thursday appear in the entryway of our building Monday morning. But unless I end up winning Powerball, scriptwriting is probably the closest I’ll ever come to that genie-in-a-bottle moment: your wish is my command.  I hope I never become too world-weary to appreciate how special this feels.

So, I called this blog “Tales from the Writers Room,” but the truth is, I’m not actually spending much of my time in the writers’ room these days as I start to prep my first Bones episode. However, I do hope this kicks off my (sporadic) blog about the super awesome job of writing for a network television show.  For the uninitiated, Bones is a drama that airs on Fox, 8pm Thursday nights.

centrifuge

Some props, including a piece of the centrifuge, which will end up looking a lot more magical (and bigger) when the show finally airs.

At Bones, the writers each produce their own episodes and are encouraged to be involved in the producing process.  We are lucky.  Not all TV writers get to have a hand in production.

Location scouting.

Shall we shoot a scene here? Nah.

Here we are on a location scout.

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How ’bout here? Nah.

One of the scenes in my script calls for a bunch of animals in the Ookey Room.  Cue the animal parade…

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Director Tim Southam auditions a cat.

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Director/iguana whisperer.

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Now he’s just showing off.

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Seriously, someone give this guy the directing gig for Dr. Doolittle 6.

It was like one of the animal shows you hire for a kid’s birthday party. Except I was at work, getting paid for it. ;)

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Nibbles the Raccoon needs you in the conference room. ASAP.

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Best. Meeting. Ever.

 

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Can Harvesting Human Body Fat Solve the Oil Crisis?

That’s the premise of GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT, a dark, daring, and hilarious new novel by author/filmmaker Pamela Corkey.  Read my interview with her below.

You'll DEVOUR this book.

You’ll DEVOUR this book.

If I had to place your novel in a genre it would be really difficult, so can you tell me, in general, how are people categorizing it? Science fiction? Drama? Fantasy? Dark comedy?  Literary fiction, or satire with literary fiction underpinnings. It’s not quite “laugh-out-loud funny” enough to be categorized as humor, but it is a comedic satire, not a stark social satire the way you would think of Aldous Huxley or Chuck Paliniuk. It’s lighter than those works but darker than Irma Bombeck. By a mile.

Were any of those writers on your mind? Aldous Huxley, in particular?  No. Actually, I hadn’t read Brave New World when I started working on GDP. I read it while I was writing the book just coincidentally. Now, after reading it, Brave New World had a huge impact on me and my thinking in general, but there’s no connection to Gross Domestic Product for me.

Something that everybody who’s read the book probably wonders: harvesting human fat to solve the oil crisis — where did that completely outlandish premise come from?  I think it was just the natural trajectory of a train of thought. You hear about people adapting their car engines to be able to run on the fat from deep fryers — they go collecting that stuff from fast food chains — and I thought, well, what’s the difference between the fat of a peanut, the fat of a chicken, and the fat of a person? Once that thought struck me, I considered the fact that we also have this often-commented upon obesity issue in our country — so it all just unraveled from there.

I think that’s one of the brilliant things about the book — it takes these two conundrums that we face in our modern world and they dovetail.  Right. I discovered as I was writing the book that it was really all about, “What if we solve all our problems. Then what?” Stories are based on conflicts, but I’ve often been tempted to push past conflict and see what is there to say once they have been resolved. What about society when it’s done addressing its shortcomings? What is the meaning of life if we don’t have struggles? What would we do with ourselves? I don’t know if I answered that question in the book, but it was constantly at the back of my mind while I was writing. What would happen to the human animal if it didn’t have to struggle and strive or exert any effort? What then?

That would bring me to the three main characters: Frannie, Derek, and Treyshawn. Why these specific people?  Early on, when I was just sort of playing around with what would happen if we really could use human fat as a fuel, I wondered who would get rich and what problems it might solve. And one of the first things I imagined was that poor communities that have a much higher rate of obesity and who struggle the most, those would instantly make out like bandits. Poverty would be eradicated. American poverty is not generally made up of a lot of emaciated people the way it often is in other countries. It’s a lot of big people. So I came up with a character who would recognize the opportunity that existed in his own poor community and have the smarts to exploit it.

And that’s Treyshawn.  Yes, that’s Treyshawn. Because he is naturally skinny, he himself can’t participate in the process, but he can see how to exploit it. I didn’t want him to be a villain, even though he’s taking advantage of the situation — I wanted him to be resourceful and caring. I came up with this character who, at the start of the story, is already taking care of everybody. He was born with his eyes wide open and darting around, looking for trouble and trying to preserve himself and those he loves from danger. And I wanted somebody who was immune to the desire to slack off, who didn’t have any impulse to slack off. Treyshawn is just a whirring little engine of industriousness and resolve.

Right. He’s an admirable character. Of the three, his story is the one that gives us something we traditionally expect from stories in that he follows an arc where he overcomes challenges and hurdles and become stronger and wiser. You chose him explicitly to be the one to grow and change rather than then the other two.  Well, none of them really change dramatically. They all come to an understanding with their world and themselves. I guess you’re right though – Treyshawn’s circumstances certainly change a great deal.

And he also gains a lot of self-confidence that he doesn’t have at the beginning.  Yes. Absolutely. That’s absolutely true.

Can you talk about the other two central characters?  Of course. There’s Derek. Derek was actually the first character that coalesced. I wanted somebody who would be in the middle of the media-pop-cultural whirlwind of this initiative — the introduction to the American public of Project People Power, which is the name the government creates for the fat-to-fuel program. So it seemed fitting that he would start out as the fattest man in the world. In the book, Derek starts out completely bedridden, living in a trailer, and then he gets a very extreme and dramatic liposuction that sucks him down to the size of a normal person and he’s put in commercials to popularize the program. He’s not even remotely ready for it. I have a great tenderness for Derek and deep sympathy for his inept attempts at assuaging his pain and fear in this life.

Yeah, and what I would ask you then is, Derek and Franny — you put these poor guys through hell. They’re smart and funny people and they’re characters that a lot of your readers might identify with, even though they might have some problems that are extreme and pathetic. What would you say to someone who said, “Oh, I wish that Derek had more agency or some kind of way to get out of this horrible situation he’s been put in,” or maybe, “Why can’t Franny grow or be stronger-minded in the end?”  Because that isn’t who they are and it wasn’t what I wanted to explore. I tried to give those two characters a happy ending because I’m a sucker for that, but I didn’t want to be disloyal to them or completely manipulative and unrealistic about the psychological profiles I’d created. These three-dimensional characters came to life in my imagination — it’s just not what would happen to them. It would be completely out of character for them to grow in those ways. Franny does a lot of two steps forward, one step back, but in the end I try to reward her. I love her because she’s the idealist who can’t bear to live in this world.

And she struggles when everybody starts to give into this marketing campaign.  Yes, because it’s the antithesis of everything she holds dear, philosophically. Even though that philosophy is made up for a fantasy franchise. She’s trapped in a very mundane life, so she uses her imagination to try to create a simulation of a different world in pure denial of reality.

The place where Franny and Derek do get to have some fun is The Realm (their online game). It seems as if, when the story goes there, Franny and Derek get to escape from their lives, and we as readers can also have fun and fly a little bit, because it’s not so heavy like the rest of the chaos that surrounds them.  Which is exactly why fantasy worlds are so popular, why people are so drawn to games. A game is just a conflict with no real consequences. A simulated conflict with simulated danger and simulated triumph. It’s a lot more compelling than real-life triumphs like, “Oh, fantastic! I found a good parking spot,” or, “There are $212 extra dollars in my monthly paycheck so I’m going to be slightly less pinched.” The triumphs in our actual lives don’t often reach such heights as they do every single day in games like World of Warcraft or a video game like Grand Theft Auto. Most people want to live full lives and just don’t know how. Franny is a person who refuses not to live as full a life as she can, if only in her imagination. Most grown-ups give up on their imaginations. Look at the adults in our lives who are dorks who stay invested in childish dreams of adventure and we look at them with pity or mockery, but there’s something to be said for the life force of a person who refuses to give up on their make-believe world. It’s both sad and beautiful to me.

So have you or do you participate in online gaming?  I don’t. It doesn’t work for me. I can’t get into it enough to for the illusion to take hold. Writing is what I do instead.

There’s an aspect in your writing that I love, and that is the level of detail that creates a sense of these places and the characters that inhabit them and always makes me think, “She’s been there. She knows folks just like this.” Have you been to these places you describe? Do you know people like these.  Of course I do, yeah. In parts and pieces. I’m a big Star Trek fan and when I was younger I loved it enough to go to conventions, but I didn’t go to conventions like a normal dork. I remember one time I dressed up in an Original Trek sort of 60s mod alien outfit of my own invention and several people at the convention were like, “What episode is that from?”

You’d just made it up?  Yeah. It was inspired by those campy alien babes, but the conventioneers couldn’t wrap their heads around that — to them it was like I wasn’t doing it right…I do love alternate realities. I do love imaginary worlds.

So, back to the online gaming: do you think that the things you describe, like the cybersex stuff — does that actually happen?  Yes. That happens a lot. It’s not something that I have personal experience with but I do know of people who have. People have gotten divorced over virtual cheating, so having consensual text-based sex or jerking off to somebody else’s prompts — that’s real.

It’s just that combining it with the sci-fi/fantasy stuff seems really over the top, but I’m sure you’re right.It happens constantly. Thousands of people are doing it right now. As we speak, thousands of people doing it in the greater Houston area.

In this book, you’re pretty fearless about tackling topics that other people would consider unmentionable. Anything from farting to deeper social taboos we’ve been socialized to stay away from. Why is it that you decide to go there?  Because I’m a 12-year-old boy. I find those things funny. I think farting is funny. I also find that the most interesting thing is the stuff that nobody wants to talk about. That just seems so obvious to me. If I were in a situation, in a business meeting, say, and somebody had a booger hanging out, the first thing I would say to the person to my left, if I knew them well enough, would be to point out the booger. I find it endlessly interesting to poke at the invisible boundaries that society puts around us. Because they’re so flimsy! They’re so easy to breach. Another reason is I’m concerned that perhaps other people aren’t noticing these things and some of them are really important. Pretending they’re not there is keeping us apart. Because if you say that Bradley has a booger, so what? It humanizes him. If you tell Bradley he has a booger and he laughs and asks how long it’s been hanging there, then you become closer to each other as human beings. But if Bradley gets really uptight and gets upset, then you know that his sense of self-worth is very fragile and you know that you’ve humiliated him and then you’re not friends with Bradley anymore or maybe you treat him more gently.

Yeah, but when you’re writing a book, nobody’s going to get hurt.  Well… that’s not true, but it’s tru-ish. I think that I want to say to Bradley, “Hey, man, don’t be so upset about the booger thing. It was hilarious — there was something to pay attention to while we were going through all those dry, boring numbers.” I want Bradley to know that I see his booger and I like him anyway. How can we be really be enlightened beings if we don’t acknowledge our farts? Or our humanity, our frailty, the little weaknesses that plague all of us from the moment we’re born.

I want to take the quote, “How can we be enlightened beings if we don’t acknowledge our farts,” and crochet that onto something.  Be my guest. I do have a copyright on that, but I hereby grant you permission. You have to send me a picture of it though.

What’s next for Treyshawn and for the world? And what about you, personally? Are you planning to start a new novel?  What’s next for Treyshawn is I don’t know. I think about it all the time. I envision him coming back with an incredibly brilliant scheme to rescue the planet from itself. But I have no idea. See, that doesn’t need to be a book. There’s no story there. There’s just Treyshawn being awesome. What’s next for Treyshawn is greatness.

Do Franny and Derek have a baby? Yes.

And what’s next for you? I’m working on a web series right now, but I plan to write another book. I have three different story ideas that I am developing and have notes on and I can’t decide which one to devote the next several years to. I think it’ll be the one that seems like it would be the most fun world to spend all that time in.

Thank you for writing this delightful novel. You’re welcome. And thank you for your time and the thought you put into this.

Click Here to purchase GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT on Kindle for only $3.99.  

on the train

Author Pamela Corkey, jammin’ to some tunes.

Pamela Corkey is a film professor at Hofstra University, a director, and the author of numerous screenplays. Her debut novel, Gross Domestic Product, which was recently released on amazon.com and will soon be available in print as well, revolves around the premise that the United States has solved the oil crisis by harvesting human fat, and explores how this development affects the lives of her characters and the social fabric of the country. 

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Rekindling the Flame (at a Writers Conference)

I love writing and I’m grateful to make a living at it. But sometimes, when I’ve been hunched over my computer for 73 hours straight and I still haven’t quite broken the story that consumes every recess of my conscious and subconscious mind, and my right hand has attractively stiffened into its mouse-clicking position at all times, like the desperate final clutches of a melting witch—I tend to get a bit cranky about the whole business. So, how does the burnt-out writer get her mojo back?  She goes to a writers conference!

The view from the Whidbey Island Writers Conference.  October 25 – 27th.

The view from the Whidbey Island Writers Conference. October 25 – 27th.

Like leafing through my wedding album after a marital spat, attending a writers conference reminds me why I fell in love with writing in the first place.  It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching a workshop, or taking one.  Just being among so many other people who share my passion for writing always renews my energy for my own work. Plus, where else are you able to speak so freely about the creative process without sounding like a total douchebag?

It’s all too easy to take the things we love for granted, if we’re not careful. Even a cool job, like writing a pilot for a TV network, can become mundane when you’re banging it out every day, word by painstaking word. Which is why, every now and then, it’s important to ship the kids off to grandmas, squeeze yourself into that expensive silk negligée, and slow dance to your old favorite song (even if you are only doing this metaphorically from the comfort of your conference hotel room).

There’s so much I’ve learned at writing conferences over the years and I’m thankful to have made many friends. But just as meaningful is the feeling these gatherings always rekindle in me—that even after all these years, I’m still just as excited about writing as the day I first fell in love with it.  Which begs the question:  why don’t I go to writers conferences more often?  Writing holds such an important place in my life it’s rather ironic that I often fret over taking time off from my writing (duh) to honor it.

Because the truth is: being a writer is more than just a job. Our work is sacred (this blog post notwithstanding), because in order to do it, we must be willing to give up pieces of ourselves. If you’ve never been to a writers conference, this is the secret we writers whisper in each other’s ears once we’re squirrelled away inside its secure confines, reveling just as much in our shared suffering as we do in our joy. But if you are not at a writers conference while reading this, a belated warning: this is the douchebaggy part.

I will be teaching two workshops at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference located in beautiful Puget Sound, October 25 – 27th. For more information, CLICK HERE.

 

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WIN book goodies signed by 50+ of today’s hottest YA/MG authors!

Author & storyteller extraordinaire Laurisa White is hosting the SUPER SWAG SUNDAY giveaway! Every day between now and June 30th, one winner will be chosen to receive a SUPER SWAG PACK filled with all sorts of book goodies signed by 50+ of today’s hottest YA/MG authors! On the last day, one very lucky winner will receive the MEGA SWAG PACK, a collection of first edition books signed by the authors and some other very cool stuff.

Click here to enter:  http://laurisareyes.blogspot.com/2013/06/super-swag-sunday-day-2.html

superswag2b

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REUNITED Book Club Giveaway (with snacks!)

In celebration of REUNITED’s paperback release, I’m giving away 10 copies to one lucky book club. The winners will also receive a copy of REUNITED’s discussion questions, as well as an assortment of road-trip themed snacks. To enter, all you need to do is share this giveaway on Facebook, your blog, or Twitter, then post a comment about what you did in the comments section below. You’ll get one entry for each placed you shared. Plus, to earn 2 bonus entries, tell me a bit about your book club.

Book Clubs--all this could be yours...

Book Clubs–all this could be yours…

REUNITED is perfect for YA book groups and regular book groups, Recommended for readers age 12 and up.

Teachers and librarians are also welcome to enter. Contest ends Thursday, June 27th, at 8am, EST. Open to U.S. residents only, age 12 and up. Good luck!

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I am a New Adult (Again)

When I was 18 years old, I could not wait to leave my boring, suburban hometown and go to college in the city of Boston. And even though Boston was only a 40-minute drive away, I was convinced that moving to the city had the power to magically transform me—80’s movie montage-style—from a chubby, overachieving nerd, into the glamorous, urbane sophisticate I was no doubt destined to become.

I began my metamorphosis by drowning my former Student of the Month persona in gallons of cheap vodka, while my inner good-girl was smothered in a wardrobe of all black.

The strange thing was, I had this one professor who somehow managed to see through my shroud of pretension and catch a glimpse of the real me.  Over the next four years, she frequently sought me out, encouraging me to get more involved with the university and become a student leader. I spent four years dodging her requests.

And yet, I found myself oddly tempted by the idea of revisiting my inner go-getter. Because somewhere hidden deep inside of me—though, evidently, not quite as deep or hidden as I thought—was a motivated, hard-working kid who didn’t really want to waste her entire life stumbling home from nightclubs at 3:00am. I was enthralled with the idea of a life of reckless hedonism, yet I could no longer ignore the ambition roiling inside of me, the desire to live out my life-long dreams, or at the very least, to get sh*t done.

Shortly after graduation, I began to reconcile these two disparate halves of myself, retaining just enough of my free-spirited proclivities to make life enjoyable, while making sure to carve out enough time to honor my inner over-achiever. I was only 23 when I started to shoot my debut feature film and my former professor was the first one to pull out her checkbook.

HWG1stFILM

I spent the rest of my 20’s pining for and simultaneously reenacting my college days. It was the 90’s, and my generation pioneered the concept of prolonged adolescence, formerly known as “slacking,” which, in turn, spawned the rise of the pervasive Man Child[1] phenomenon of today. Sure, I worked for a living and (mostly) paid my own bills. But none of my friends actually had it quote-unquote together, and as we drank our nights away at the local pool hall, we laughed over the  fact that anyone in our youthful, fun-loving age bracket actually gave a crap about bourgeois, old-people things like 401Ks, biological clocks, and marriage.

Then thirty came, hitting us like the slap of a screen door in the three-decker Allston apartment we were too old to still be renting. We certainly weren’t kids anymore. We were freaking thirty.  So where were our amazing careers? Where were the new cars and engagement rings? In a phrase: What the hell was wrong with us?

For me, turning 30 was the beginning of my adulthood, though true adulthood didn’t come until I became a parent, at age 34. Looking back, I don’t regret my extended stay in Never-Neverland, and judging from my resume (two features under my belt by age 28 and various TV-producing jobs) I can’t exactly call myself a slacker. But I do wonder what I might have achieved if I’d followed the path suggested to me by my old professor and given in to my ambitious side way back when I was still in college. I also wonder what I would have lost by giving up those extra ten years of my youth.

I spent my twenties fighting adulthood with everything I had and my thirties learning to accept it. At 43, I fully embrace my adult self, though there really isn’t another choice. Which is why I believe it’s entirely possible that New Adulthood is more than just some marketing scam cooked up by YA publishers.  I am a New Adult now, for the fourth or fifth time over. Maybe all of us always are.


[1] For more info. on the Man-Child, watch an early Judd Apatow film.

Hilary Weisman Graham is an award-winning screenwriter, filmmaker, and the author of the YA novel Reunited (Simon & Schuster), now available in paperback. http://www.amazon.com/Reunited-Hilary-Weisman-Graham/dp/144243984X/ref%3dsr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1321630047&sr=8-1

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Take the Beach Bag Quiz & enter to WIN a FREE copy of REUNITED

Can someone please make a cocktail called "Reading on the Beach"?

Can someone please invent a drink called “Reading on the Beach”?

Q: Which of These Items Belong in your Beach Bag?

A) A tub of Crisco (for sun-tanning)

B) An obnoxiously large boom-box that only plays AM radio.

C) A thermos of piping hot Ovaltine!

D) A paperback copy of REUNITED.

(CORRECT ANSWER: D.  REUNITED, now available in paperback! Enter to WIN a FREE COPY here.  Or, buy your own.)

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