You Can’t Go Home Again, Writers

/beth wareham 

th.jpegI have always wondered why people like Hemingway fled to Europe, why writers end up in bare rooms by the seaside in Greece. I think I now understand their flight: they had to find a place where the truth was safe. Truth could be put on the page without immediate threat. They had found a lie-free spot to work on their writing.

I recently wrote about about race and went into shock when some of my oldest friends on Earth read it and said, “I don’t want anyone to think you slept with a black man” or “I gave you permission to use that passage but I want it removed even though the film has been sold” or, worse yet, not one word of humor or praise or pride over my writing.

This of course has led me to contemplate the nature of friendship. Again. I have out grown them. They do not understand how the writer’s mind processes reality. They are provincial. They gossip and no one knows what vague innuendo and bizarre  untruths swirl around their gatherings. They love Trump. They liked Zimmerman and refused to acknowledge he murdered a young man.  Democrats lay low. This is Texas. I must leave them and their piles of guns behind.

I am not so much disappointed as disillusioned by the rules and regulations others put on friendship. Amongst the group, most of the marriages are long dead. Mine keeps ticking and at the 20-year mark, I will renew my vows on a beach in a long flowing gown on the other side of the world. At 10 years, he and I recommitted on the side of a mountain over the Zambesi in Africa. Our wedding dinner was on an island in mid-river glowing with oil lamps. He was a man my friends told me not to marry, he was too old, it wouldn’t last. He is the best thing that ever happened to me.

I choose my talent over everyone but my husband and my God. I will be gossiped about, called names, and sworn at by those “friends” that don’t think I’m doing it right.  They might as well be yelling down a hole for all I care.

I am a wife. I am a writer. Racism is particularly abhorrent to me and I fight the fight my Mother fought over 60 years ago.  I am what I want to be, I am a person I am proud of. I am making a Hollywood film of the book, a comedic portrait of the hilarious differences and similarities between whites and blacks, all wrapped in a happy ending. I am so proud of the work, the sensibility, the huge talent it has attracted for the film.  I wrote it for my Mother. I loved her spirit and her ideas. I will cry the day it opens because she will not be able to watch it.

I say to those women, those “friends” of mine, think about what you do. Think about who you hurt. Think about the course of your own life and leave mine alone. Stop ganging up on people, stop hating other women. Stop being afraid of every shade of skin darker than your own. Stop making assumptions about the motivations of others. No one died and left you Queens. Connect yourself to the world and not your tiny circle of gossip. Act like an adult citizen of the world which, if you haven’t noticed, seems to be aflame.

You should have been teaching a child to read in the time you spent whispering about me. I am ashamed of you.

Twitter: @giantsweettart @shadowteams

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My last book, Hair Club Burning, was intended to be a movie script. There was only one problem: I didn’t know how to write one, even with the costly purchase of Final Draft software. (So what if it works for James Cameron and Amy Schumer: They’ve seen a camera.)  So, I wrote it as a book, the back-asswards way, but the only way I knew how to do it. No extra words, set pieces that could be broken into sequences, lots of dialogue.

 After all, wasn’t Lonesome Dove intended to be a script then turned into a book? This backasswards approach had been done before: I wasn’t THAT far off the mark in back-asswardness…or was I?  (Of course, a major factor here is that Larry McMurtry is the bomb and I am a mere firecracker….but we share the state of Texas and therefore a certain audacity.)

 Large publishing companies didn’t get what I was trying to do and didn’t like it. What’s more, the book was about interracial friendship and sexual love: Drop it like it’s hot! But the very subject that made it onerous to publishing (One comment from an editor: “I can’t understand WHO would buy this book….”) made it catnip to Hollywood, who was undergoing its own long night of the soul over race. (See 2016 Oscar coverage.)

 Enter the beautiful Susan, CEO of her own production company, who took this book and saw it, every scene, every nuance, every emotion behind the action. She optioned the book and soon my co-writer, Jason Davis, and I were signing big fat legal agreements and preparing for the infamous pitch meetings that are the first dance of the film deal.

 Jay and I began practicing the pitch over and over until we were ready to film a test run to submit for critiquing. After a month of revising, we came up with this. The final word came down that if I kept my hair out of my eyes and swore more, it was a great. (Hollywood likes swearing, apparently, and I’m a virtuoso.)

 From there, we went to the land of bottled water: A long happy pitch at The Weinstein Company. I wrote them a beat sheet and a three-act breakdown, all terms I had never heard before no less understood how to create. Frantic googling and calls to Hollywood mentors set me on course. Frantic writing and revising ensued. We made the deadline.

 And our point person was let go.

 Next stop? The CEO of one of the largest studios in Los Angeles. The beautiful Susan, my producer and leader, had dated him in college. He loved the pitch and wanted a script, which I still didn’t know how to write. (Union scriptwriters get fees of $70,000 plus for screenplays, produced or not.)  Nor was I qualified to speak the language of film.  There we were, back to the beginning. Passion and persistence, the name of the game in Hollywood, Susan assured me, were what was needed.

 Then, like anything related to Hollywood, magic happened. Susan slipped the book to a director far more famous than any of the actors we were discussing for casting. I was agape, agog, alarmed, elated, and humbled.  We waited for him to come off the road from promoting his latest film and preparing a version of an earlier film for Broadway.

 My words to Susan, “We do WHATEVER he tells us. We give him WHATEVER he wants and needs.”  She agreed, laughing.  All I could think about was the sweetness of having an internship under such accomplished people at the age of 56.  Better late than never.

 This famous director is now “attached” to the film, a word that conjures invasive vines or eels, but a powerful, all-important word in motion pictures.  He has asked us to get him a 5-page outline, in film language, of the book, a much easier task than a screenplay, believe-you-me.

 From that 5 pages, our “attached” film director icon will attach talent and take the attachments to the studio.  All the attachments form the package they buy –brilliantly assembled creative teams to make films.  Whoa. Nice business model.

 We move forward, slowly.  Each script consultant has added to the feel and pacing of the story. The characters are deepening and changing in my mind, the action growing faster. I am hugely grateful for what they are teaching me because it makes me a better writer, helps me to see.

 In short, Hollywood is doing what it does best, very very slowly.

To follow Beth Wareham on twitter @giantsweettart @shadowteams

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A Tonic for the Times: An Interracial Comedy



by Lisa Shanahan

The funniest woman I’ve ever known is my college roommate, Beth Wareham. In her new book with co-author, Jason Davis (a Blood, O.G.), a Westchester County housewife and a Harlem gangbanger get it on in hilarious circumstances. It’s a beautiful thing, y’all.

My College Roommate’s New Novel   (Lisa Hagan Books)

Another beautiful thing? The real-life story of Beth and me.

I was one angry young woman by the time I met Beth my senior year at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where I’d arrived freshman year a sheltered, naïve, seventeen-year old from an all-girls high school with a progressive bent.

Y’all see, society on the Vanderbilt campus in the late seventies didn’t work the way my Sunday School teachers at East Ridge Baptist Christ in East Ridge, Tennessee, told me all my life that they did, as in the song that goes “Jesus Loves the Little Children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow. Black and white. They are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

Jesus may love them, but in college I learned that people do not love all the little children. A codified social system based on the Greek letters of the alphabet stacked everybody up in fraternities and sororities against one another according to gender, race, and creed. And that’s for starters. There were other markers for dress, wealth, and social standing. The Greek system that dominated social life at Vandy, which was accepted as the way things were, awakened this little believer, who had almost zero prior knowledge of sororities and fraternities, to the injustices in the world.

By senior year, heartbroken and pissed off at the world, I was living in a single in the stoner dorm, the result of two life-altering decisions I’d made junior year.
Number one, I’d deactivated from my “exclusive” sorority following a year of acting out after an officer told me my friend, who was rushing sophomore year, couldn’t join our sorority because she was Jewish and wouldn’t represent our Christian ideals. Angry, aghast, shocked that this officer had gotten an entirely different message than I had out of Sunday School, I never participated in the sorority at the level they required again. After a year of cutting meetings, of not caring, they asked me to leave. I’m still ashamed of myself for not quitting that day I found out what all my former sorority represented, for childishly acting out instead of protesting and demanding answers.

Number two, my pivotal junior year, I switched majors from Molecular Biology, from being a pre-med, to English. But that’s a longform story for another day.

Thus, long story short, I wound up alone, in a single, in the stoner dorm senior year — gladly rid of my sorority status, but bittersweet about leaving my group of pre-med grinds.

That fall John Lennon was shot. I was eating next to nothing after a nasty break-up with my longtime, on-again/off-again boyfriend over my summer romance in London with an Irish boy. I was listening to the Steve Winwood album “Arc of a Diver” over and over. I visited my high school boyfriend in Chapel Hill in a lame, failed attempt to recapture my past. I wrote an emo-style paper for an independent study on e. e. cummings that my professor called “oddly elliptical.” A cute frat boy, one with a mind and a heart, in my Medieval Literature class came to visit me in my single, but only wanted help with his homework.

Right before Christmas, a friend and former roommate — bless her — invited me to live in her suite with five other girls the next semester. I’d be in a double with a girl I’d never met. “Yes, please,” I’d said, afraid that I was living in an unhealthy way, knowing I had to stop reuminating on my lost pre-med status, my nasty break-up, my lost Irish boy, the stigma of having de-activated from my sorority and take on the real world that did not love all the little children. I was a privileged person — a young, educated white woman from a supportive family that’d risen in the world by starting a business. Moaning and moping anymore about my “aloneness,” I felt, would’ve been ridiculous.

Enter my new roommate. Beth Wareham. A six-foot-tall Texan outfitted with a gorgeous tan, a mane of blond hair, and a sharp-shooting wit that mowed down frat boys within a hundred yards.

That last semester at Vanderbilt, I still felt the sting of being a persona non grata in my former circles since I’d lost my labels, since I didn’t dress to conform in preppy pink and green, since the whole scene pissed me off, but I have to hand it to Wareham. That girl was my tonic — this little nonconformist’s bodyguard, the first badass I ever knew. With her, screw ‘em, I was back to walking the brick byways of Vandy with impunity. Y’all see, Beth was her own woman, had never pledged a sorority, was solely the product of her convictions; and I was proud to be her new roommate and friend.

We could’ve fit in if we’d wanted to, but we didn’t want to. We didn’t want to conform when so many others didn’t even have the choice.
After graduating, I moved to Boston to work in publishing, an idea that’d germinated during my hiatus in the stoner dorm. Beth joined me for a year, but then moved on, on her own journey, ending up in Manhattan in publishing, where she lives today with her husband, a former music critic for The New York Times.

For the past decade Beth and her co-writer Jason Smith — a Blood, O.G., as in the gang in Harlem and the Bronx, now a writer and father who mentors at-risk youth — have been friends. Beth says she and Jason cause a bit of a stir out together in New York. Feeling the camaraderie, the empowerment I’d felt with her, I imagine them striding the concrete canyons of Manhattan — friends, blood brothers — slaying the haters.

In Beth and Jason’s stylishly hilarious new book, Hair Club Burning: An Interracial Comedy, Marianne — a real housewife of Westchester County — takes down her low-down, no-account, bastard-of-a-husband with the help of Jay — a Harlem gangbanger — who perhaps needs Marianne as much as she needs him. A match made in heaven, Marianne and Jay burn the house down. Y’all will be amused, delighted, shocked, enthralled in the company of these funny-as-hell badasses, who discover love is, indeed, color-blind.

Come for the wisecracks and the sex scenes. Stay for the message.

“Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow. Black and white. They are precious in his sight.”


Hair Club Burning is available on Amazon.

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