A FUNNY THING HAPPENED UPON ARRIVING IN HOLLYWOOD
Some—as in many—years ago I resigned from a short teaching career, turned my young back on the Midwest, and landed in Hollywood, anxious to learn screenwriting. I landed a job, two actually, and started taking screenwriting classes. All was going according to plan—until I met a young man who insisted I read his translation of his great-great-great-great grandmother’s diary.
Out of politeness, I did read the diary of Countess Anna Maria Berezowska, who began her journaling in 1791 when her parents died and she was forced to live with an aunt, uncle, and two nefarious cousins. The diary held me spellbound as I read of her falling in love with neighbor Jan, while being obstructed in her happiness by crude Walter and scheming Zofia. The background to all of this was the nation at war and on the cusp of destruction. Margaret Mitchell could have outlined it.
But this didn’t call for a screenplay—that could come later. I would create a novel, yes—a novel. To cut my own serpentine story short, over years, the manuscript could not survive three agents, countless would-be editors, one lying publisher. Even the weight of Bette Davis, who read it with an eye to an eventual screenplay, didn’t seem to matter.
Return to the Midwest and to teaching. Keep the telling short, James, I tell myself. OK, one day print-on-demand comes along and I publish the book myself, hoping to catch the eye of one of the big publishers. Fates smiles. St. Martin’s Press purchases Push Not the River. Anna’s story gets told. I pray it’s told well, I whisper to the spirit I’ve felt on my shoulder for so many years. Why, her story is translated back into Polish—full circle—and Nie ponaglaj rzeki becomes a bestseller in Poland. Na zdrowie!
Oh, the publisher wants a sequel? Cool. Done—Against a Crimson Sky. I’m flying now, pun intended. Wait—my editor is leaving St. Martin’s? What, without her on board they are declining the final part of the trilogy? Publish it yourself, my agent urges. How do I do that? Oh, yeah—I do know how. And so I do—The Warsaw Conspiracy. All three translation into Polish have done very well.
Now what is it they call writers like me—those who have been published by the big boys, as well as by their own big bad selves? I always forget. It’s some kind of flower or plant, isn’t it? Hybrids?—yes that’s right.
I’m a hybrid author. And do you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing.
Oh, a screenplay? It’ll happen one day.
You just wait.