How to keep your wallet. Keep your friends. And keep your distance.

Cartoon little girl in Sherlock Holmes hat imagining a teenager is an alien, a body builder has a snake, and an old woman has a gun in her purse.
Shay didn’t have imaginary friends, she had imaginary identities of real people.

As a kid, I played make believe a lot. But it often involved people that didn’t know they were playing.  What I mean is, I would watch people and create scenarios of who they really were and what they were doing.  For instance, if I saw a man in a hat and long jacket, I would assume he was a jewel thief.  I would follow him around the mall so I could catch him in the act.

I never caught a crook, but I did become tuned into body language.  I even took an on-line course on body language.  It wasn’t so much a course as it was a blog.  But, it was pretty fascinating.   Here are a few things I deduced which you might want to think about.

The handshake:

  1. Limp – a) afraid of you, b) don’t like you or c) don’t like themselves;
  2. Firm – a) confident, b) friendly, glad to see/meet you c) may even think you’re hot;
  3. Painful – a) domineering, b) desire to destroy you, or c) overcompensating for something.

The hug:

  1. firm – love and affection;
  2. groping – pervert;
  3. loose – same as limp handshake, or your deodorant isn’t working.

The Eye Contact :

  1. Normal Human– Makes appropriate amount of eye contact;
  2. Serial Killer – Never looks away or blinks;
  3. Liar – won’t make eye contact at all;
  4. Pervert – looks at you – but not in the eye;
  5. And the most confusing one:  rapid blinking often combined with open mouth emitting no sound, which means they have an eyelash in their eye.

These are just the basics.  The most important things to be wary of when people watching are: fidgety people ready to pick your pocket; people clutching their stomach ready to puke; and the random naked person.

Milestones, Murder and Marriage

Four photo booth pictures of Jon Schwartz and Sheilia "Shay" Thurmon being silly.
The writing team of Schwartz and Thurmon at a fundraiser for Atlanta Workshop Players. November 2017

I started my professional writing career by accident. First, I was mistaken for an actress and got hired to act in a murder mystery. Then I was hired by another company to write mysteries. Soon after I met, Jon Schwartz, and we would begin writing and producing our own murder mysteries for corporate events mostly under Bacchus Mystery Theatre.  But the first mystery we wrote together  was for Seven Course Theatre, 25 years ago!

It was the spring of 1992 and we wrote a 1920 mob murder mystery called “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Gun.” We had dancing girls, a jazz singer, comedians Rob Cleveland and Kenny Raskin, a cute entertainer named Dan.  Dan was hired to do his one man show within our mystery.  Well, sort of.  You see, every time Dan got on stage and proclaimed he was an entertainer and started doing his act, Jon would shoot him and inform him he was a “bus boy.”  We actually had a film company squib him, so his shirt would explode and a blood pack would splatter from it!  We called Dan’s character “Lucky.”

I never set out to write live murder mysteries, but it was a lot of fun and I learned to “kill my darlings” as William Faulkner and Stephen King have said.  It means editing out the unnecessary and unimportant.  Writing is rewriting and that requires cutting out the fat, keeping it tight and moving the story forward.

Jon and I loved the dénouement of that first mystery.  It lasted 20 minutes, had about 20 actors and eight guns firing at the same time.  It was LOUD, chaotic and WAY over done.

It was just hours before the show, but the first chance we had to run it with the whole cast and the blank guns.  The client was understandably concerned and panicked, asked the Producer if there was something she could do to get us to change the ending.  (Did they really thing we would refuse?)  By the time our Producer made her way over to us, we had cut it down to 5 minutes and two gun shots.  We rewrote the ending with two elderly star-crossed lovers/mobsters getting shot and moving in slow motion across the room to each other, with a variety of incidents happening before falling into each others arms.  It was much quieter, more satisfying and way funnier.

I learned early on not to be “married to my writing.”  I can love a scene, love a line, even love a character, but I will cut it in a heartbeat to make the script better.

I did, however, fall in love and marry that cute Dan Thurmon. We will celebrate 25 years of marriage next year!  I’d say I’m the lucky one!

Sheilia and Dan Thurmon pose for a photo in a house.
July 1992 Sheilia and “that cute Dan Thurmon.” The next year they would marry.

 

Idiosyncrasies comes from the Greek word for idiot, right?

A woman as a drug stiffing dog sniffs luggage while a police man holds her leash.
Utilizing her super human sense of smell, Shay successfully acquired a job as a drug sniffing dog. Unfortunately, it paid in dog bones.

Most people aren’t aware of their idiosyncrasies.  (Most people can’t even spell it.  Thankfully Siri can or I’d still be looking it up.)  But me, I’m different.   I’m actually aware of my differences compared to most of the population.

For instance, I twirl my hair when I’m thinking. Back in the old days people would fiddle with worry beads.  Now people use fidget spinners.  So, twirling my hair shouldn’t seem so weird, but people judge. Like the guy on the airport train. Granted we were crammed in there like sardines so as I twirled my hair it was actually hitting the side of his face.  But still, it was only for thirty seconds or less.  Yeesh.

Another thing is I have a super human sense of smell.  Seriously.  I have actually smelled the smoke of a cigarette from a person five cars and two lanes away, with my windows rolled up!

I can tell when a baby has a poopy diaper before the person holding them realizes it.

I’m also really tuned into the physiology of my body.  I can literally feel a vitamin dissolving in my stomach.  I felt the egg stuck in my tube during an ectopic pregnancy, at four weeks post ovulation, even though the doctor insisted no one can feel it under eight weeks.  Two weeks later it ruptured and I felt THAT like a silver bullet! Sometimes it sucks being right.

There are a few other things, one might consider idiosyncrasies, but they’re probably things you do too like:

*putting Fritos in my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches;

*lifting my feet when riding over a railroad track – (which can be tricky when you’re the one driving);

*practice saying “hello” four or five times before making a call;

*turning around three times before using the bathroom;

*talking baby talk to my dogs – even when it’s a picture of them on my phone;

*saying “yellow one” every time I see a yellow car;

*sticking my chewing gum on the bathroom mirror at night before brushing my teeth in case I’ll want it in the morning (I may have accidentally left some in a few hotels);

*using a foreign accent when making dinner reservations; and

*seeing a penny on the ground, picking it up, making a wish then setting it back in the same spot.

The point is, we all have harmless little idiosyncrasies that can make us endearing or annoying.  I may or may not, do some or all of the above idiosyncratic things.  Subscribe to my blog anyway.

 

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What’s in a name?

Several times recently the subject of names has come up.  That got me to thinking about how we are sometimes defined by our name.  Think about famous people: Hilton, Kardashian, Clinton or Trump.  People know the name and make judgements.  But, what’s in a Name? A person? A job? A legacy?

When I was young I was married for a brief time.  Sometimes people referred to it as a “practice marriage.”  I hate that label, but I have to admit he was practicing infidelity.

When I divorced him, I went back to my maiden name. I didn’t want to have to explain: “I’m not Italian, I’m divorced.”

Weather man in front of map showing 2 hurricanes off the coast.
“As Hurricane Damn-it barrels down on North Carolina, O’#hit is quickly moving in to dump a load on Aruba.”

But names aren’t just applicable to people, think about hurricanes. For years hurricanes only had female names.  Then they started alternating between male and female. But there’s still the possibility someone is going to feel left out that their name hasn’t been used.

To me, it seems to make more sense to use cuss words as names for hurricanes.

Another thing we define people by is their jobs titles: Banker, Lawyer, Drug Dealer. But some people have really obscure jobs that don’t necessarily have titles.  Like what do you call the person that records the sound of a golfers swing at the PGA Tournaments? Whack! It’s someone’s job to do that!  If you didn’t hear that “whack” think how boring golf would be to watch…

And what about the people that do the ropes and pulleys for plays that require actors to “fly” like “Peter Pan?”  There’s the person that hooks him before he flies: the Hooker. And the guy that pulls the rope so he flies: the Peter Puller.  These are important jobs that take skill to make “flying” effortless. Shouldn’t they have important names?

Movies have crews with names like “Best Boy” and “Key Grip.”  I don’t know what they do, but I’m sure it’s important or they wouldn’t be “Key” and “Best.”  In fact, those are better names than, girlfriend or boyfriend for someone that is supposedly a serious romantic relationship.

I guess the moral of the story is, don’t judge people by their names, or their titles.  Judge them by what they do. Then label them accordingly!

 

The Pitch – Rocaberti Retreat at Marouatte Castle

A woman with a big candy inside her right cheek.
The never ending gobstopper dilemma.

I had a screenwriter’s nightmare while at the Rocaberti Retreat in France at Marouatte Castle.  I dreamed it was my turn to pitch, but I couldn’t remember my screenplay, so I had to make up a new one  on the spot.

Just an FYI for those of you not familiar with the term “meets.” Meets is the term used to describe the genre and feel of your script using well known films.  You might describe Snow White and the Huntsman as Snow White meets Lord of the Rings. (This is different than a “meet-cute” which I won’t get into.)

“It’s You’ve Got Mail meets Teletubbies.” I begin.  My three judges, (Joan, Kathy and Golan) have no idea what that means, and neither do I.  Then my logline comes out of nowhere:  “A woman who has a child through artificial insemination, begins to notice her ten year old son looks just like the mail man.”

“Think Bruce Willis played by Ashton Kutcher.” Which doesn’t even make sense! “And she starts following the mailman on his route and discovers all her neighbors are Teletubbies.” I continue, dying with every word.

Golan’s looking disappointed. Kathy, like she’s about to witness a train wreck, but can’t look away. And Joan is flat out horrified.

Horror.  That’s it! Horror doesn’t have to make sense, I’ll go with that.

“Then he suddenly pops up in the back seat of her car, like a Twilight Zone episode, and whispers in a chilling voice ‘You don’t have proper postage!’” I say trying to sound mysterious.

Golan looks like he’s considering putting me out of his misery.  Kathy, having witnessed the train wreck looks down at her notebook.  Joan still horrified, but in a bad way.

And because it’s a dream, weird things start to happen.  Like, now I’ve got a huge gob stopper in my mouth and I don’t know what to do with it.  I try to hide it in my cheek, which I know they can see, plus, I can’t talk.  So, I pretend to cough so I can spit it in my hand, but then there’s another one in my mouth and another.  And I’m thinking, this isn’t possible!

As I’m trying to make sense of the never-ending gobstopper, I notice that Golan has turned into Tom Hanks and I don’t know if I’m excited or more scared.

Before I can decide, I’m suddenly on the outside looking in and it’s just Kathy and Joan left and they are conspiring with each other to destroy the world, but they’re not Kathy and Joan now, they are Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton!

I wake up, trembling at the nightmare.  Then, seeing the silhouette of two ghostly figures floating around the seven hundred year old castle bedroom, I lie back, relieved the pitch was only a dream.

 

Epilogue: My actual pitch went slightly better, but I found it hard to talk clearly with braces on my teeth. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have worn the headgear.

Planes, Trains and Where’s Waldo

A woman asleep in a flat plane seat wearing pjs with a stuffed animal.I flew to France yesterday for a writer’s retreat.  Thankfully my husband has a ton of frequent flyer miles and I was able to get a business class seat on a 777!  If you’ve never been in business class on a triple seven, it’s like a mini man cave. You have your own little sofa bed with a castle wall around you.  There’s a pop out TV, a seat that lays flat and even has a “massager” in it.  The only thing missing is a toilet, but you probably wouldn’t want a toilet right next to you for seven hours, anyway.

Since we were flying through the night, I ate dinner, put on my PJ’s and went right to sleep.  I got a few strange looks, but hey, girls like Spider Man too, you know.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t sleep. And, I accidentally hit the “massager” which is really just an annoying rolling motion in your chair.  So, every 35 seconds your head nods as it rolls up the seat back and then down again.  I think the flight attendant thought I was going to be sick because she brought me an extra barf bag.  When I told her I couldn’t sleep, she suggested the eye mask in the goody bag.

I had forgotten about the goody bag!  I broke it open, brushed my teeth, gargled with the mouth wash, spritzed my face with something I assume is a sleeping potion and put the eye mask on.  Still, sleep eluded me until we touched down and I heard, rather loudly, “Thank you for flying Delta. Please remember to take all your belongings.”

Customs was slightly awkward in my jammies, but if they said anything about it among themselves, I couldn’t tell because I don’t speak French. Except to say “I don’t speak French.”

I had five hours to kill before the train to Angoulême where we would be picked up and taken to the castle – yeah, the retreat is in Miles Copeland’s castle!  Did I mention this was a cool trip?  More on the Rocaberti Writers Retreat next time.

Another cool aside, I noticed most of the men in France wore scarves.  Not on their heads; around their necks.  I just have to say, it’s a pretty hot look.  (I know what my husband’s getting for Christmas.)

Anyway, most of the other retreat attendees were arriving today, so I pulled up their photos from the email I got and tried to pick them out of the crowd.  Immediately, I spotted one of them.  I wasn’t completely sure and she didn’t appear to recognize me, so I refrained from being “the loud American.”  But then I thought I saw another one and another.  In fact, about every five minutes I was sure I spotted one of the people from the email photos.

After two hours of playing “Where’s Waldo” in the airport, I realized they had all headed down the breezeway to the train terminal.   Duh!  They wouldn’t stay in the airport, they would be down at the other end of the terminal waiting for the train.

It was harder to find them in the train terminal because it was so crowded.  I started snapping pictures of the suspects so I could compare with the photos from the email.  I guess it looked unusual to be taking seemingly random pictures of people, because six very nice French Police in plain clothes had a little talk with me.  I would never have guessed any of them were in law enforcement.  In fact, I thought two of them were attendees!  But one of them flipped out a security badge, just like in the movies.  It was so cool!

Since I don’t speak French, I tried to explain in my best French accent, but I don’t think they understood.

They just looked at each other, looked at my ticket, and seem pretty happy I was catching the next train.  Then they said “Au revoi.”  Don’t you just love French?

Until next time “Haricot Vert!” (I think that’s French, but I forgot what it means.)

 

 

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The Road Less Rattled

Purple haired woman asleep at the wheel in car with green traffic light.I want to talk about something that is a serious problem on the streets of America.  Not pot holes or squirrel carcasses, but road rage.  It’s serious, so I’m going to break it down for you like a high school teacher.

Road rage comes from the words “road,” meaning a thoroughfare, or route on land between two places.  And “rage” which, according to Webster’s Dictionary, means: 1. “Insanity” and 2. A “dirty ragged person.”  Sorry, that’s “ragamuffin” I lost my place in the dictionary.  The second definition is actually “furious, uncontrolled anger, esp. a brief spell of raving fury.”

So, there you have it, “road rage” by definition, is a thoroughfare of raving insanity.  Which, I believe we can all agree on, peaks during rush hour.

The only way to avoid it is to stay off the roads during the summer, spring, winter and sometimes during the fall.  Although people tend to mellow out a little with cooler temperatures and changing leaves.

But not driving in the United States isn’t practical.  And I use the word united as the legal name for our country, not as an adjective describing Americans right now.  On the other hand, maybe if we got this road rage under control we could once again be a United States of America.  But how do we do it?  I have a few suggestions.

First of all, the next time you are driving and the person in front of you isn’t driving properly because they are doing karaoke, or investigating the inside of their nose, or more likely texting, (a personal trigger point of rage for me) just let it go.  I know, it sounds crazy.  But it’s a better option… she said with the hopefulness of a child that believes in Santa Claus.

You’ve probably done it from time to time.  You just have to channel that inner Good Samaritan that you use when you’re at a community gathering.   Like when you’re at your kid’s school events, at church, or a house party on a street with limited parking.   You hold your tongue and your horn, because you might actually know this moron driving.  Or want to know them even though they drive like a 90 year old.

And speaking of 90 year olds, imagine the person sitting at the green light, possibly asleep, is your Granny.  Who, let’s face it, shouldn’t be driving, but you’re not going to give up your precious time to drive her around, are you?

The point is, have a little heart.  Wait for them to see the light.  Maybe give a light toot on your horn, smile and say “Granny, dear, the light is green.”  Which, unfortunately could have a frightening affect as she suddenly wakes and bolts through the red light. (This may or may not have actually happened… OK it actually did, but it was Grandpa that bolted through the red light.  And everyone is fine. Thanks for asking.)

So, be patient.  Be friendly.  And if I let you in front of me, you better give me a thank you wave, or I might plow into your bumper!

 

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Screenplays that sit in a drawer are like trees falling in the woods alone.

I read, and watch, a lot of motivation speakers. I like how they use analogies to explain things. Like, Stephen Covey using a clock and a compass to teach about the difference between time and direction. I guess that’s a metaphor, not an analogy, but it’s still good stuff.

Wait, I have an analogy example by Deepak Chopra:
If you’re a skillful surfer, every wave is an exhilarating adventure or at least an opportunity to learn something new. If you’ve never learned how to surf, on the other hand, every wave is a terrifying potential disaster.

A wedding flower girl tosses screenplay scripts instead of rose petals.
Flower girls are like screenwriters. The more petals you throw out there, the better you get at it. You just don’t want to hit someone in the face with them. They don’t like that.

For me, I sometimes I think of my screenwriting like a wedding. I’m usually invited to the wedding. (The top 10% of a screenwriting competition – also called a 2nd Rounder.) Sometimes I’m in the wedding party. (I make it to the quarter finals.) And I’ve gotten to be a bridesmaid. (That’s a finalist.) But I’m never actually the bride.

I don’t have to be the bride though. I mean it’s helpful. Especially if the groom is a big network studio, or even a big budget independent. Smaller independent grooms are okay, if you are planning a small wedding (low budget film). In writing competitions though, if you just make it in the wedding party, your script could still get read by the people you want to read it. They sometimes look at the whole wedding party (finalists). Well, not so much the mother-of-the-bride (honorable mentions), but it could happen.

So, I always want to be in the wedding party and not do anything embarrassing at the reception (like pitch to producers in the bathroom). It means making new friends (networking). Reading a lot of wedding magazines (screenwriting books).  And being ready for the next round of weddings (by rewriting).

To be honest, I have been married before (had an agent). I was just too young at the time and so we parted ways with an “I’ll always love you.” (“I’ll keep writing, and keep it in my drawer.”)

I’ve recently had a blind date (written a stage play). So, who knows, there may be a wedding of some sort in the near future. Until then, I’ll keep reading the wanted ads (industry news, screenwriting competitions) and hitting the gym (hitting the computer keyboard).

Of course, if it doesn’t pan out for me, being the parent of two amazingly talented kids, I know some day I will actually be mother-of-the bride/groom. And people will be nice and polite to me, but still won’t care that once I had a half dozen scripts that were in a wedding party!

Disclaimer: This is my own attempt at analogy and in no way represents my actual marriage. This may not be as powerful at Tony Robbins’ or Dan Thurmon’s analogies, but I’m not a professional speaker. I’m just a writer, trying to get a wedding invitation from a studio exec.

 

If You Must Drink – Ask Your Wife

Man buying a drink for his wife in curlers and robe.

I came across a paper in my grandfather’s belongings that had an interesting take on drinking as well as saving money. I don’t know who the writer is, but I’m guessing it was written early in the 20th century based on the perceived cost of living.

 

                                             SOUND ADVICE

If you cannot absolutely refrain from drinking, start a saloon in your own home. Be the only customer, and you will not have to buy a license. Give your wife $12.00 to buy a gallon of whiskey. There are 128 snorts in a gallon. Buy all your drinks from your wife at .40 cents a shot and in four days when the gallon is gone, your wife will have $39.20 to put in the bank and $12.00 to buy another gallon.

If you live ten years and buy all of your liquor from your wife and then die with snakes in your boots, she will have $35,750.40 on deposit, enough to bury you respectably, bring up your children, buy a home, marry a decent man and forget she ever knew you.

Sound advise indeed:  A saving’s plan for the spouse and keeps the drunks off the roads.

Failing a Personality Quiz

I saw this free personality quiz on line and thought, “Hmm, I could roll the trash can out before the garbage truck comes, or I could take this quiz.”

cartoon drawing of man fidgeting with jacket to avoid conversation
“Do you find it easy to meet new people, or do you pretend you’re trying to get your jacket unzipped until they move away?”

It started by asking about social skills like:

“Would you rather play charades at a party with strangers, or stay home and staple your knee caps?”

 

Then it moved into the self image: “Do you think of yourself as smart or average?”  I think the average person is smart. But I think above average people are smarter than below average people. So, I’d have to say I’m smarter than below average.

Then there were two questions that seemed like the same question but with different words. Kind of like when news reporters ask the same question but pretend it isn’t. It asked:

“What do you like the least about yourself?” a) looks, b) personality, or c) intelligence.” The second question was, “Which do you wish you had more of?” a) looks, b) personality, or c) intelligence.

You would think they would both be the same answer, right? After all, if you like your looks the least, wouldn’t you wish you had more of that? But that seemed too obvious, so I said “a” for the first and “b” for the second, to let them  know I had plenty of “c!”  I wonder if they grade on a sliding scale?

Next up was a series of questions relating to how you think people view you?  Which is kind of tricky, because how can you answer how people view you, if they aren’t the ones answering the question? Are you suppose to say what you think they think you think? Or what you wish they would think of you? Or what they wish you think they think?  I couldn’t decide, so I chose “a” for all of them, hoping to get at least one or two right.

I thought it was going to be easy, but it was worse than taking the SAT.

  •  “Do you need others to tell you what to do in order to make up your own mind?”
  • “Do you pretend to agree with people because you don’t know what they’re talking about?”
  • “Are you worried about the results of this test?”

I was getting so stressed by the line of questioning I just started clicking on answers without reading.  After two hours, I realized the garbage truck had already driven by, and I had clicked on an ad and signed up to adopt endangered mussels in Florida.

Luckily I was able to backtrack to the personality exam and complete the final questions, which thankfully were easy:  name, credit card, social security and mother’s maiden name.

Once I filled in the final part, I got my results:

I’m an under achieving, curious, fiercely loyal, chaos navigator, with a tendency to exaggeration, combined with a pinch of delusion and tree hugging.  Pretty cool, right!