Mary Mackey (mm) Thu 28 Aug 03 10:01
Thanks for the mnemonic, su. Yes, indeed, the novel is published under Kate Clemens (with one "m"). And yes, alas, I have stepped on an innocent banana slug and gushed it between my toes as I shrieked "Ewwwww!" I chose to publish this novel under the pen name "Kate Clemens" to let my readers know that it was going to be very different from my three previous historical novels. I didn't want someone who wanted to read a Mary Mackey novel about the Goddess cultures of Old Europe to be disappointed; and I didn't want someone searching for a comic novel to think that "The Stand In" was historical fiction. Actually, this is the first in a series of comic Kate Clemens novels. "Sweet Revenge," which will be published by Kensington next May, is another "Kate Clemens."
Mary Mackey (mm) Thu 28 Aug 03 10:02
Also Kate is an interesting woman in her own right: fiercely intelligent, tall, slender, high-cheekboned; able to jog for miles without getting out of breath; capable of reaching all the kitchen shelves; endowed with a mass of long, straight black hair that comes down to her waist; never shy, never at a loss for words, never incapable of finding her car keys, able to resist scarfing down an entire bag of potato chips while watching "The Sopranos." I think of her as a combination of Kathryn Hepburn, Kate from Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," and Angelina Jolie in "Tomb Raider."
Moist Howlette (kkg) Thu 28 Aug 03 10:14
And I bet she's a gourmet chef and fixes her own car too, right? One of the fantasies many fiction writers have is of getting that coveted film option deal. Yours seems to have happened instantly--in fact, I think I heard that you've already finished writing the screenplay for "The Stand-In." Can you tell us more about the movie plans, and how this all happened?
She's got a wireless card AND coffee! (tinymonster) Thu 28 Aug 03 11:36
I was about to ask where the first name "Kate" had come from. But I am much more interested in Kathi's question!
Mary Mackey (mm) Fri 29 Aug 03 13:22
Renee De Palma, a director from L.A., optioned the film rights for "The Stand In" while it was still in manuscript form. I have worked with Renee on other feature scripts; in fact we are in the process of becoming (with a little luck) the hottest screenwriting team in Hollywood. Renee first became acquainted with my work when she read "The Year The Horses Came." A few years later, she did a documentary film on a conference on Old Europe which was put on by the California Institute for Integral studies. I was one of the presenters. Renee filmed me and spent quite a bit of time editing the footage (she's done amazing documentaries), so when she saw me at a concert that fall, she came up to me, introduced herself, and we began to talk. At that point, she learned that I was also a screenwriter (I'm a member of the Writers Guild of America, West (the screenwriters' guild) and had feature credits.) She asked me if I had some short stories she might film. I did, and so our writing relationship was born.
Mary Mackey (mm) Fri 29 Aug 03 13:23
It's been a particular pleasure to work with Renee, because not only is she a wonderful director, she can also write screenplays, so when we work on scripts, we work as equals. Renee did the first two drafts of the screenplay for "The Stand In." I came in on the third draft, and together we polished the version that is now going out down in L.A. This happened, in part, because Renee-who is looking to make the transition from documentary films to features-immediately saw the film potential of "The Stand In," which (and I have to throw modesty to aside here for a moment) has a terrific role for an actress who wants to display her range by playing both Jayne and Mary Lynn; two great male romantic leads; and an unusually fine part for an older supporting actress (who plays Clarice, Jayne's mother). Add to this, the fact that the novel contains a lot of very funny situations and dialogue, and you have an easy book to adapt into a great comedic film. All the actual casting, etc. is now in Renee's hands, and I can't talk about it except to say that she's getting a lot of interest.
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 29 Aug 03 13:25
That would be a plum part for a hot young thing who is a much smarter actor than she's given credit for.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 29 Aug 03 17:11
I can hardly wait for the movie to come out! Mary, when you were writing the book, did you consciously build it with screenplay potential? Or was that a happy side effect you hadn't expected?
Hoping to be a goddess, but settling for guru (paris) Fri 29 Aug 03 18:50
I've thought that Reese Witherspoon could do a credible job in the lead role.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sat 30 Aug 03 10:06
I didn't consciously write the book to be a screenplay--rather the other way around: I think visually, which is why I am a screenwriter as well as a novelist. The movie potential of the novel turend out to be a very happy side effect. I didn't realize it was going that way until I was well into the third draft of the novel. Also, I've taught film for a number of years at CSUS (scriptwriting, adaptation, history, criticism, etc.), so I was able to draw on that background as I developed Jayne's character and the world she lives in.
Hoping to be a goddess, but settling for guru (paris) Sat 30 Aug 03 11:17
The more I think about it, Mary, the more I believe this could be an amazingly successful movie, but I'm at a loss to explain exactly why. Would you be willing to talk a little about what makes for a good script/story?
Angie Coiro (coiro) Sat 30 Aug 03 16:48
.. and about your fantasy cast! In fact, I'd like to hear your ideas on casting on both levels: who'd play whom in your wildest dreams, and more realistically, how this will get shopped around, whether you know already whether high-end talent will look at it, how much input you have on casting it, etc. IOW - the dream vs. the reality.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 31 Aug 03 22:09
I hate to put a damper on such a good question, but I can't talk about any specifics with regard to casting-fantasy or otherwise--because negotiations are in a delicate stage and Renee, as director, has absolute control over this aspect of the production. On the upside, I'm happy to explain what makes for a good script/story in film terms. I not only write filmscripts, I read a lot of filmscripts, and (as I said above) I teach scriptwriting, so it's something I think about a lot. If you assume the goal is a film that will play in major theaters to a broad audience, you need to look for a literary work that has a strong, coherent narrative; strong characters; interesting twists; and a plot that can be shown visually. Surrealist pieces-like Joyce's "Finnegans Wake," and primarily non-visual narratives-like Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury," are extremely difficult to adapt. I think what you're responding to when you say "The Stand-In" could be an "amazingly successful movie" is the story line; the characters; the fact that it makes you laugh; and the fact that you can *see* it. Also, as far as the actors are concerned, it has an unusually large number of really good dramatic roles. This last quality is very important, because without it a novel or short story doesn't have much chance of actually getting made into a film.
Moist Howlette (kkg) Mon 1 Sep 03 08:02
It's also true that you have a very visual way of writing fiction. You describe scenes and people in a way that make it easy to imagine how they might look on the big screen. But you don't do this at the expense of touching on deeper feelings or themes. Do you think consciously about achieving this kind of balance, or is it just something that happens without you thinking about it too much, a personal style thing? And it sounds like you have a wonderful collaborative relationship with your director/partner. I've heard nightmare stories about relationships like this, and I'm wondering how you've managed to avoid the interpersonal pitfalls--if there are any special tips you can share.
Moist Howlette (kkg) Mon 1 Sep 03 08:11
Mary, as you know I have a huge event today (Cowgirlpalooza at El Rio on Mission Street, SF) and won't be able to sign on again till tomorrow at the earliest--so, I'm going to fire a couple of other questions at you and urge others to join in the conversation, too. One of the things I noticed about The Stand-In is the book's strong sense of place. You have this delightful story taking place in Southern California--it would be hard to imagine these events unfolding anywhere else! As a California writer, was using California as a setting an advantage or disadvantage? and Are any of the events in the story autobiographical?
Mary Mackey (mm) Mon 1 Sep 03 21:49
I actually spend a lot of time thinking about the balance between plot and character. I keep dossiers on all my characters-quite detailed ones-and I'm fanatical about motivation. I create my characters so they have a complete inner life that generates the plot instead of moving them around like puppets as the occasion demands. I believe character is the soul of a novel and I believe (along with Aristotle) that character must generate plot, not visa versa. So although I'm glad you sense this unity, it's no accident.
Mary Mackey (mm) Mon 1 Sep 03 21:50
As for tips about how to get along with a director/partner, I'd say the most important thing to do is find the right person to begin with. In other words, just as in love, some of the secret is luck. That said, there are definitely things you can do to make a collaborative relationship work. The primary thing is to be polite. I know that sounds positively Victorian, but saying things clearly but civilly can go a long way towards preventing bickering. Next, and equally important, you have to put the work first. Forget ego. Forget your own private passions and hobby horses. Look at the script as if you weren't writing it and ask yourself what it needs, and if your partner comes up with an idea, don't object if it doesn't fit your vision. Hear her out. Let her explain. Try it. Play with it. See if it works. And if is better than any idea you've had recently, tell her so. Many great efforts have been wrecked by power plays and pig-headed stubbornness. Finally, be honest and ethical. Don't try to cheat your partner out of screen credits or money. Mutual trust is vital to a long term relationship. You always need a contract when you write a screenplay with someone (heck, I once signed a 20 page contract for a 10 page treatment), but your partner should know that, even if you didn't have a contract, you are an honorable person who keeps promises. Of course, in the end it always takes two. One person can't make it work by herself. If you have someone you can't get along with, tips won't help you keep the relationship together.
Mary Mackey (mm) Mon 1 Sep 03 21:52
California. Ah, how glad I am you asked. I've written novels set in Nepal, Indianapolis, New York, St. Petersburg, the jungles of Central America, Berlin, London, and places along the English Channel that have been under water for the past 6000 years or so, but I don't think I've ever had quite as much fun as I've had writing about California. In some ways, "The Stand In" is a kind of homecoming for me-coming home to my own state; coming home to my own time. I think being a California writer who is writing about California is a distinct advantage, particularly when you're writing a comic novel. After all, most of the world thinks those of us who live out here on the West Coast are a 24/7 comedy act of 35 million sun-tanned, tarot- reading, tofu-chomping clowns.
Mary Mackey (mm) Mon 1 Sep 03 21:55
There are autobiographical moments in the novel, but most of them are tiny and fictionalized in ways that make them no longer factual. For example, the scene when Jayne gets thrown in jail with the whores is based on my 28th birthday party. I was in Costa Rica with my then-husband, a tropical ecologist. One of his colleagues was married to a woman who had (before her marriage) been a sex worker and she still had a lot of friends in the business. The women threw me a big party in the bar where they worked (and ignored quite a few customers in honor of the occasion). I held a lot of stereotypes about whores at the time and so was amazed to discover how conventional these women were in every other respect except that they sold sex. They showed me photos of their kids, talked about money problems, dental problems, and men problems (the men being their boyfriends. Their customers were sometimes a problem but weren't "men problems" in the girl talk sense). They'd just presented me with a cake and sung the Costa Rican version of "Happy Birthday" when the cops raided the place to check the women's papers (you have to be licensed to be a whore in Costa Rica-at least you did at the time). No one could produce the proper documents, so the cops started to take my new friends of to jail. I said that if they were going to take them, they'd have to take me too. Since I was obviously a gringa, clearly not a sex worker (when I travel I dress in comfortable, colorless baggy clothes that make me look like a missionary), and perhaps totally nuts, the cops decided it wasn't worth the bother. So they left, and the women and I ate the cake and drank rum until the moon rose.
Suttle (su) Mon 1 Sep 03 23:09
(well, you might not be able to talk about your dream cast, but I'd love to see Renee Zellweger in the lead.)
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Tue 2 Sep 03 01:13
Hi Mary (& everybody), I'm joining the fun a bit late here--I had intended to read "The Stand In" on vacation a month ago, but discovered too late that my daughter had absconded my copy! (You'll be pleased to know she enjoyed it.) Then I was totally buried with work after I got back. So I'm reading it now. I'll be back with some questions (you know me) about "The Stand In," but all this talk about film options etc. has given me one about your neolithic triology: Were any of those books ever optioned for the movies? If so, what (if anything) came of it? It always seemed to me that those novels were ideally suited for translation to the screen, since they had strong character, strong plot, and a strong visual element. It occurred to me that Hollywood might have been scared off by what I take to have been the failure of "Clan of the Cave Bear," an enormously successful (if largely unsatisfying) book but a bomb of a movie. But your stories were not only better books, they woulda been better movies (not to mention being set in a more recent time and therefore offering the additional virtue of, um, *dialogue*). So, nu?
Hoping to be a goddess, but settling for guru (paris) Tue 2 Sep 03 08:27
Renee was my original choice, as well.
She's got a wireless card AND coffee! (tinymonster) Tue 2 Sep 03 11:43
(Yes! Mine, too! Witherspoon had also crossed my mind.)
Mary Mackey (mm) Tue 2 Sep 03 11:55
Phil, you naile it. "Clan of the Cave Bear" did poorly and scared Hollywood off prehistory. I agree that the trilogy would make an exciting movie. Perhaps this will happen some day.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 2 Sep 03 12:29
From Goddess595: Mary, I'm a huge fan of all your work. The Stand In is an exceptionally funny novel. How do you envision a lot of the dialogue in the novel being translated to scenes on the screen?
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