Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Working Titles: Don't Eat The Dandelions or The School Nurse Dials Poison Control

The other day my wife, Beth, a teacher at a nearby high school, received that call that most parents dread.
A phone call from our son's school.

The text of the conversation went something like this:

Office Secretary: Beth, we have a phone call from the middle school nurse regarding your son, Adam.

Beth: Okay (deep breath, pulse rate jumps)

Clicking of transferred call.

School Nurse: Hello, Mrs. Anastasio? This is (insert name here) the school nurse at Adam's school.

Beth: Yes, is he okay? What's wrong?

School Nurse: Yes, it's not really serious.

Beth: What happened?

School Nurse: Well, there was an incident outside on the playground.

Beth: Okay.

School Nurse: Apparently, while running outside, Adam fell down and somehow when he was near the ground, he ingested a dandelion.

Beth: What?

School Nurse: He swallowed a dandelion.


School Nurse: Ate it.

Beth: (repeating in monotone manner) He ate a dandelion...

School Nurse: Yes.

Beth: Umm. (mind spinning with images of a slow motion, high definition replay of Adam tripping, background noise grinding into a drawn out groan. As his body nears the ground, his mouth opens and we see a close-up shot of the menacing dandelion zooming upward, center screen. Cut to Adam rolling over and sitting up, chewing slightly. He burps audibly, clutching his stomach. Teachers on duty rush to his side. One of them shouts above the schoolyard din, "Get a medic! Stat!" A WWII corpsman appears, mud spattered, med pack in hand. "What do we have?" he shouts. "Dandelion!" one haggard teacher replies. The corpsman's face blanches as he slowly shakes his head, the teacher bursts into tears--

School Nurse: Mrs. Anastasio?

Beth: (snapping out of trance) Yes, he okay?

School Nurse: Oh yeah, bit of a stomach ache, but I called poison control. There's really no danger in swallowing a dandelion. Adam may experience some discomfort later on, some minor stomach cramps. But, he'll be fine.

Beth: Uh-huh.

School Nurse: Just wanted to let you know.

Kids... ya gotta love 'em.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Still "Wilder" Than Ever

This past Saturday, my sister and I traveled down to Stratford to attend the first annual Unicorn Writing Conference, organized and implemented by my agent, Jan Kardys.  The day was packed with informative workshops involving every angle of getting published, understanding contracts, developing characters, screenwriting, etc.  It was a worthwhile experience and I would heartily recommend it for anyone who writes (Jan is making it bigger and better next year, if that's possible).

For me, two events stick out from the day.

The first involved a visit from Gene Wilder.  I've been a fan of his work since I can remember, so I was obviously excited to hear him speak. To me, Gene Wilder is a cultural icon, even students I have now know his body of work, as evidenced by the number of responses I received on Facebook from jealous teenagers that wanted to be where I was at that very moment.  As one student wrote, "Gene Wilder is the man!"  I agree.  I even wrote and delivered a speech for an awards ceremony at Bacon Academy in "Gene Wilder- Willy Wonka" persona.  I mean, come on, who doesn't recogninze and appreciate the iconic actor, writer, and now water color artist.  In my mind I will always picture him donning his Willy Wonka top hat, or shucking and jiving in black face, boom box perched on his shoulder, Richard Pryor in tow. 
Soon, a murmur ensued in the room.  He had arrived, and our attention pivoted toward the door.  But the man who entered the room, hunching slightly, shuffling toward the easy chair was not the man entrenched in my mind... This man didn't spring into the room or duck into a somersault and leap upward to grand applause.  This man looked every bit the 76-year-old he should look.  Where was the Gene Wilder I remember?  He seemed lost...lost that is until he was seated and began to speak.  That unmistakable voice-- clear, steady, unique.  And with every question posed (all fresh and unrehearsed as he had insisted) the Gene Wilder in my mind's eye slowly evolved and took shape.

He spoke of his time with Gilda, of the loves in his life, his time spent acting and writing.  He spoke of meeting Mel Brooks for the first time, the origin of his stage name (his real name is Jerome Silberman), and how he almost didn't take the role of Willy Wonka unless one very important concession was agreed upon, a request for a scene change that altered the entire tenor of the film.  Soon, the entire room melted into his world and hung on his every word, much like little Charlie Bucket wandering aimlessly through the Chocolate Factory, we didn't want it to stop.

But, all too quickly the visit did end, and as Gene Wilder slowly made his way toward the exit, people descended around him seeking autographs and posing for pictures with the star.  My sister leaned in and asked if I wanted a snapshot with Gene. 

If she had asked me before he arrived, I probably would have said yes, but after hearing him speak, hearing him open up with persoanl stories and honest emotion, a photo opportunity seemed almost inappropriate, if that makes sense.

So, we sat and watched him pause with people he didn't know, camera flashes firing on and off like mini-indoor lightning storms, and soon after he was gone.


The second significant event is a personal one.  Apparetly, my manuscript found its way into the hands of a movie producer and he had read it, and he also happened to be attending the conference.  My sister cajoled me into approaching him about it, and I did.

Our encounter was brief.  I introduced myself and explained that it was my understanding that he read my book.  He smiled and said, "Yes, it's almost there.  You're a terrific writer." 

After months of doubt and self-loathing about the manuscript and the rejections received, those words have reinfused me with hope.  Which is my point, I suppose.  If your goal is to one day see your work published, the roller coaster of emotions is part of the deal.  You can't give up.  You have to believe in the message of your work and roll with the highs and lows of ebbing confidence.

Of course, it helps to hear some encouraging words from outside of your own head, too.

So now, on the eve of some major re-writes to my work, the movie producer invited me to call him so that he may share his comments on my work.  "Nervous about what he might say?" you ask.  Not at all.

Wait a minute, strike that, reverse it.