My photo
I am a restless writer of fiction, film, and music. I scripted such films as 9 and ½ Weeks, Sommersby, Impromptu (personal favorite), What Lies Beneath, and All I Wanna Do which I also directed. Both my documentaries, Marjoe and Thoth, won Academy Awards. Formerly a recording artist, I continue to write music, posting songs on my website. I live in New York with my husband James Lapine. My second novel, the paranormal thriller Jane Was Here, was published in 2011. My latest film, Learning to Drive, starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, came out in August 2015, now available on VOD, DVD, and streaming media. This blog is a paranormal memoir-in-progress, whenever I have spare time. It's a chronicle of my encounters with ghosts, family phantoms, and other forms of spirit.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

PAGING 'JANE'


People often ask me what it's like to write a novel after 30 years of writing screenplays. But even more often they ask, "Why?" Why leave a job being paid, and paid well, for writing 100 pages in three months? Sometimes you're even paid a ridiculous sum by the week, hanging around the set until someone needs a quickie rewrite. And how about the thrill of seeing your name writ huge on the screen; of knowing that hundreds of people and beaucoup bucks were employed to manifest your crazy ideas?

Let's be frank. Business is slow now in movieland. An aging writer, and a woman at that, is routinely passed over for any genre except romantic comedy. There's plenty of work in indies - better quality and infinitely more rewarding than studio projects, and even at the low pay scale you can make a good living by saying yes to everything and stacking your plate with assignments.

But there's also a very disturbing new trend right now: a lot of producers ask you to write for free (on spec), and your reps actually encourage you to do it. So if you're going to work for nothing, why not write what you really want to?
And I really wanted to write a novel. The last one I wrote (Dry Hustle) was published in 1977, before I got sidetracked into scriptwriting and documentaries. During all those 35 years, I waited to get the one book idea that would seize me so hard I couldn't not write it, because writing long-form fiction requires not just stamina but mania. Instead, over and over the ideas that sprang to my head were for films. I despaired that I was irreversibly condemned to the movie rut with my one good trick. No matter that people envied me for it. All I had ever wanted since the age of 14 was to write books.
My husband and I routinely spend summers at a family home in Martha's Vineyard. We are not on vacation: there is always a lot of writing to be done. Summer of  2006 was the first time I happened not to have a script job.  If I have nothing to write, I have no idea what to do with myself.  I'm gloomy, snarky, and captious. I develop weird unconscious habits like squeezing my face.

And then I got the Idea, and the idea was Jane. A crime is committed and remains hidden for 150 years. All those involved have long since died - and been reincarnated in the present. They remember nothing of their past lives. They are all lured as if by cosmic appointment to the town where the crime occurred. In walks the victim, Jane, with a fragmentary memory of what happened in 1853. And karma settles the rest.

I experienced such forward thrust when I got the idea that I couldn't even wait to outline the story. I simply began. The characters coalesced faster than I could write. The plot thickened so rapidly that I myself was rooted to the page, wondering what would happen next. Script jobs interfered. Ordinarily grateful for work, I bristled at being taken away from the book. After three years of only being able to work on Jane Was Here in my spare time, I announced to my reps that I was taking a leave, a dangerous thing to do in the film business because everyone forgets about you. But I finished the book, then went back and rewrote most of it. Blood, sweat and tears? Nah. Pure joy, all the way, every day.

So when people ask "Why?" I say that, like Jane, I'm coming home again.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

JANE WAS HERE book trailer HD

video

Reincarnation and Evil


My friend Ron Rosenbaum has written a “single” or short take for Kindle called Rescuing Evil. At $1.99, there is so much profound reflection packed into this essay that one must read it again and again, in my case obsessively. (One also prays that Ron will expand his single into an LP, a third book to join his two masterpieces Explaining Hitler and The Shakespeare Wars. And if you want your pants scared off, read his recent How the End Begins, which analyses the prospects for nuclear Armageddon.)  

In Rescuing Evil, Rosenbaum explores, among other things, “theodicy,” or the study of the question: How can an omnipotent loving Divinity allow evil to permeate human existence?  Ron narrows the discussion further to human complicity, otherwise known as free will: or the “evil intention within human beings, the deliberate, knowing choice to do harm, do wrong, cause suffering.”

It has become customary to point the finger at external factors: the evildoer is actually the victim! Parental abuse is to blame, a cruel environment, poor diet, addiction, an “anger problem.” And then there are folks about whom it’s said, with a mystified shake of the head, that they’re “just born evil.”

Could a baby be born with a propensity toward wrong over right? Are we talking genetics here? Or are we in the realm of reincarnation?

I bring this up because reincarnation is the theme underlying my paranormal-suspense-mystery Jane Was Here (just published in hardcover and ebook). In the story, several characters caused the suffering and murder of young Jane Pettigrew in a small Massachusetts town in the year 1853. They have been reincarnated to the present, to the same town, where they are already atoning for their past misdeeds by leading somewhat wretched lives. They of course have no memory of their past lives, and so think of themselves as ‘unlucky.’ Enter Jane, herself reincarnated, and haunted by a fragmentary memory of her long ago lifetime. She seeks answers, and at the end of the story she gets them. Her presence in the town eventually causes a cataclysmic karmic event that dispatches the guilty and restores the innocent.  

I, as the author, was in charge of karma for the duration of Jane Was Here. Therefore the meting of justice is tidy and fair, with no loose threads: mystery solved. But once we exit the blithe play of fiction, the rules of karma become once again baffling.

In a 1945 speech before the Theosophical Society in London, one Lord Dowding declared: “I have some reason to suppose that those who sowed the seeds of abominable cruelty at the time of the Inquisition reaped their own harvest at Belsen and Buchenwald.”  The speech caused a furor at the time, understandably. He was suggesting that the victims of the Holocaust were the past-life Christian murderers of heretics and apostates. The wheel of karma neatly regenerated these souls, centuries later, as Jews, the ultimate apostates according to Christians, and they received the same fate to which they condemned others during the Spanish Inquisition.

Reincarnation, tidy and fair, explains the most emblematic wholesale massacre of the 20th century. Except, like a snake eating its tail, this spiritual logic returns us to the same question we began with. Are the Nazis who committed evil destined to return as victims next? Were they in Rwanda, to be cut down by a fresh mob of malefactors, men and women who also chose to commit wholesale evil? And who must then be reborn themselves to be punished by…and so on. The implication is that evil is recycled. How could a loving Divinity permit it?

The Buddhists, who kind of skip God, would say that the soul is a student, sent by divine design into a world of duality. Here good and evil are necessary: they’re in fact an assignment. The soul must face challenge and conflict in order to evolve – or devolve – according to which choices it makes. And return the soul must to planet earth, again and again, until it’s fully enlightened (or its karma is lightened) – at which point it no longer needs lessons in this world of terrifying division.

I don’t have the genius, scholarship, or intellect of Ron Rosenbaum to sift through such questions. I know an abyss when I see one. I prefer mystery fiction over divine mystery; I’ll choose to write a book with the answers in the back.

Jane Was Here is available in hardcover and ebook formats at Amazon and other online bookstores, or by order at your local bookstore.

Ron Rosenbaum’s Rescuing Evil is available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Friday, July 15, 2011

GODS AND WRITERS


“Do we live in a world where terrible people go unpunished for their misdeeds? Or do the wicked ultimately suffer for their sins?... ‘I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something…I like to believe there is some comeuppance, that karma kicks in at some point, even if it takes years or decades to happen.’”

      Vince Gilligan, TV writer, in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, speaking about his AMC series “Breaking Bad”

Lately I’ve had to opine a lot about reincarnation, since it drives the plot of my new novel “JANE WAS HERE.” I have to admit, I don’t know tons on the subject, but karmic justice comes perfectly naturally to many authors. There’s an innate wish, both for writer and reader, that all be balanced in the end. Good is rewarded; evil is punished. So we play Supreme Deity with our characters: we design the story so that certain events are foreordained (by us), and then we follow our characters as they make choices and learn lessons. In the movie business, it’s called a character arc. (Martin Scorcese once commented to a mutual friend, “Arc?! The only character who ever had an arc was Noah!”)

In “JANE WAS HERE” I went a step further. I designed a past life for each main character: a previous incarnation in the 19th century. They were all present at the same time in a small New England town, and they were all complicit in some way in a terrible event that resulted in the disappearance of my heroine, young Jane Pettigrew.  And whatever evil they’d done would be atoned for, but in the next incarnation: in our present time, when they would be once more convened in the same town for the reckoning.

It’s one of the more satisfying aspects of belief in reincarnation: that people who profit from evil, and have no comeuppance but instead flourish until their death, are then reborn into a life of suffering – specifically the kind of pain they meted out to others with impunity in their previous lifetime. How cool is that? And they have no idea why they’re suffering. But the Supreme Author knows…