Tuesday, May 11, 2010


The following entry was written April 19. With my series of recent technological challenges, I neglected to post it in a timely fashion.

As I began a new comedy screenplay, I decided to set the story in a charming small town in the United States. Mount Vernon, Washington caught my eye on New Year’s Day as I drove to SeaTac airport. To be specific, one building captured my interest from the freeway: a gorgeous brick granary building that had been converted into a bookstore. In fact, I’d forgotten the name of the town and had to Google Washington book establishments. While the store didn’t figure into my story, I had a gut feeling that a town with such a charming structure would be a perfect fit.

I told myself that spending a weekend at a planned setting for my new screenplay would help. I’d have a better visual. I’d be inspired. Gosh, the words would fall onto the page (laptop). In forty-eight hours, I’d have thirty, maybe forty pages—lively, authentic, maybe even magical.

I had such high hopes. When I went through the check at the border, the customs officer said, “Reason for your trip?” and I keenly answered, “A writing retreat.” She looked at me quizzically. A what?! “A personal writing retreat.” I could read her mind. In Mount Vernon?! I hastily added, “And maybe see the tulips.” I didn’t let her doubt deter me. She was probably near the end of a shift. Or, more likely, she was just beginning and needed to endure another eight hours of meeting Canadians bound for casino buffets and factory outlet malls. I was on my way. Cleared at the border, next stop the writing hub of Skagit County!

The only thing that could ruin the scenario was actually going. Yep, complete demolition of a dream. Pages of screenplay written: one. Sure I’ve got notes, some lovely tourist brochures, a few bad pics snapped on my digital. Oh, and of course there are those memories that will last a lifetime. My first Domino’s pizza (cheeseless!) in twenty years. Hanging out in Walmart to get a better feel for the locals. (Bonus: They stock these adorable mini Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s ice creams, comparable to the teensy liquor bottles on airplanes. Not that I bought one. Just a little freezer window shopping.)

As for the bookstore in the old brick building, it had gone out of business, a beautiful yet sad empty space. Yet another casualty to big box book businesses and online ordering sites.

Yes, I was disheartened, but that was not excuse for a single page of writing. Was it writer’s block? No. I don’t believe in such a thing. There is always something to write. But I was trying to take in the local atmosphere, looking for the perfect settings. Part of the problem was that my main character lives in a decrepit mobile home in a rural area. He frequents the kind of bars I wouldn’t dare go in. (Just imagine the hush as I asked for a glass of the house white!) I drove down enough country roads to have me humming John Denver songs. (And speaking of the ’70s singer, his look-alike was one of the highlights at the Downtown Mount Vernon Street Fair. I’m guessing the Elvis and Michael Jackson impersonators had bigger gigs in Spokane or Bellingham.)

Despite my field research, I couldn’t find any inspiration as to locations or people. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the expedition was a bust.

For my next writing project—assuming I ever get through the current one—I’m setting the story in Prague. Or Moscow. Or Paris. Or even Tallahassee. (I just like to say the name.) That way, if a research trip is unsuccessful, I’ll at least have something else to take away from the visit.

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