So this is the first blog post in a loooong time that hasn’t been a podcast episode or a reminder about some upcoming appearance. A job in academia tends to preclude a lot of basic writerly pursuits.
I’m sitting right now at a Starbuck’s in San Jose, CA, across from the San Jose Repertory Theatre, where I’ m awaiting the start of the CINEQUEST Film Festival Writers Celebration. The screenplay I wrote with Jim Pinto, a horror-western called Death Wind, has made the Top 10 in the screenplay contest. This is not the first Top 10 or finalist status; DW got 2nd place at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival–L.A. and Top 10 in the Writers on the Storm screenplay contest, both of which felt like real achievements, except for the “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” result. I’ve also participated in a bunch of panels at conventions like World Fantasy, Mile Hi Con, and, hopefully, World Horror in a couple of weeks.
However, this is my first real film festival. I feel familiar with the literature side of writing, but screenwriting is an amalgam of the words and the visuals, and I’m a huge movie fan, so this is a brand new arena. Screenwriting requires many of the same skills as fiction writing, but there are others, such as the intricacies of format, brevity, and a much tighter narrative focus than a novel allows.
Of course, I’m hopeful that we’ll win, but I’m not expecting it. Our Top 10 placement in Writers on the Storm, gave us the detailed feedback that helped some things in the story click into place. We wrote another draft, and that one is the one I feel great about. Cinequest will be judging the previous draft. C’est la vie.
So I’m not expecting to win, but I am hoping for a chance to put the story idea in front of the right people, say, “Hey, we’ve already done a new draft. How about I send you that one?
A peculiar corollary to this experience is that it’s being held at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, the same hotel where I attended the World Fantasy Convention in 2009. The convention proved to be one of the turning points in my writing career, where I felt for the first time that I had truly joined a community of professional writers, geeks like me. I had found my tribe, all of them with high degrees of talent, experience, hopefulness, and awe. Authors I had been reading for years were suddenly real people standing in front of me, and I was part of their tribe, too. All creative people, writers in particular, should experience this.
Maybe I’m hoping for another experience like that here. A Writers Celebration. A different kind of writer, but only slightly.
Oh, yeah. That, and a movie deal.
. . .
About three hours after my blog post yesterday, at the CINEQUEST Film Festival Writers Celebration, the eight finalists in attendance were coming back to the theatre from lunch, and one of the assistants pulled me and Mozhan Marno, one of the other finalists, aside and took us back stage.
Internally, I was about to explode with the sense of impending … something. The assistant was very circumspect, trying very hard not to release any cats from bags. Finally, we Mozhan and I realized that apparently we were the FINAL finalists. The assistant said, “When we announce your name, come on stage.”
We waited. I can’t speak for her, but my heart was certainly pounding. “Do you have a defibrillator back here? If I win, you might need it.” The assistant, a very petite young woman, looked at me like I was serious for just a second.
And then they announced Mozhan’s name.
And then they announced the second place winner’s name, and it was not me.
So after my gobsmacked shock wore off later that afternoon, tons of people were congratulating me, telling me wonderful things about the script, those who had read it. The other writers in the Top 10 were all incredibly talented, gracious people. I also met an agent, a producer, a couple of actors, and other passionate people trying to make it in the film industry. The day went by in a blur of amazing conversations.
So, about a block from where I first felt acceptance into the tribe of professional genre fiction writers, just like that, I had found another tribe. And received some validation in an incredibly subjective business. And secured a brief window of opportunity to secure more connections.
I love San Jose.