There are some child stars that we really want to see do well. I think its because we see them at their sweetest state, and we get attached. Take Home Alone, for example. The painfully cute, equally mischievous Macaulay Culkin wins our hearts when his family leaves him behind over Christmas vacation. But whatever happened to those big blue eyes? For the beloved Parent Trap star, Lindsay Lohan, we don’t even need to ask the question. If you pick up any magazine at the grocery checkout counter, you’re sure to find an article on Lohan’s latest rehab visit or drunk driving stunt.
With so much pressure on these young celebrities, it is particularly impressive when they are able to reach adulthood without the long list of DUIs. To be able to grow up in front of the big screen and still lead a normal life is a feat that should be recognized. Maybe this is why I have always gravitated to Dakota Fanning films. I Am Sam being one of my favorite movies of all time (despite Tropic Thunder’s jabs at it), Dakota Fanning has always been on my radar as one of the great child stars in Hollywood. Although I wouldn’t argue that our childhoods were even remotely similar, I always felt that she could be just another girl in my grade; she never ceases to be genuine and down to earth.
Because I wanted to blog about one of my favorite actresses in Hollywood, I just watched The Secret Life of Bees. This movie was based off of a book by Sue Monk Kidd that tells the story of a young girl, Lily, in the 1960s who runs away from her abusive dad with her African American housekeeper, Rosaleen (played by the equally wonderful Jennifer Hudson). This story is told by a collaboration of Hollywood greats, also including Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, and Hilarie Burton. Unlike Playing for Keeps, The Secret Life of Bees was able to take full advantage of its studded “super cast.” In a film about finding one’s family, each of these leading women is able to make us as the audience feel at home on the other side of the screen.
While I would like to give credit to the screenwriter, Gina Prince-Bythewood, for such an eloquent adaption, the true hero of this production is the author of such a unique, heartfelt story, Sue Monk Kidd. This movie proves that a truly great story can be appreciated on more than one level. Both the setting and characters are completely unique to The Secret Life of Bees. While they say that all stories come from other stories already told, Kidd does a great job at making us doubt this. Like a shiny new toy at Christmas, screenwriting has swept me off my feet these past few weeks. It has fascinated and intrigued me, and is definitely something that I’d like to explore more. However, The Secret Life of Bees reminded me not to give up on novel-writing either. There are so many ways for a story to be told and shared, passed around and told again. In his book Save the Cat!, author Blake Snyder makes an excellent point: think of the story first, and then figure out which is the best way to tell it. So here is the first bit of my novel, Pink House. While there is a lot more than this snippet, I thought I’d share the words that my script sprouted up from. Also, if you’ve been keeping tabs on the updates at the bottom of each blog post, you should notice that watching The Secret Life of Bees really inspired me to work on my novel this morning. Enjoy!
I’ve always wanted a house on the cul-de-sac. One with green shutters and a blue door and a dog named Elvis Presley. A mailman would hobble to our mailbox shaped like a golf ball and ask me what I thought of the weather. I wouldn’t know what to say, but I’d smile and nod and let the man with the leathery bag walk down to the next driveway.
In Parma, Ohio, 1963, it’s considered normal for the mailman to know your name. It’s considered normal for the ten Bradley children to fill up the school bus with their hand-me-down sweaters and brown-bagged lunches, and for the drunk Mr. Keeler’s cat to eat tar off the pavement. And so it wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary to wait for a thunderstorm from your screened-in porch in the middle of July.
Today, the trees are bowing to our coarse brown lawn and I know a summer storm is coming. I panic, but then remember that my flashlight’s under the bed and the extra batteries are in the top drawer of my dresser. I remember this because I’m claustrophobic, but only when it’s dark. However, when I told Mother this an hour ago she rolled her eyes.
Go play outside, she said. So I sat on this doorstep and haven’t moved since. I pull at the collar of my red sweatshirt and try not to sweat. Today, the mailman would say it’s never been this hot before. But I’m wearing a sweatshirt anyways because of the breeze. Every season’s flu season, Grandmother used to say.
I sit with my back to the house so that I don’t have to look at the slanted, rusty gutter, or the pink paint flaking away from the siding. We should get that fixed, Mother says. But by now I know not to believe her.
I think it’s easier to walk away from a pink house. To sit with you’re back to it. I love going out to the mailbox in the morning to look out at the other houses and pretend that behind me, mine looks exactly the same. Grandmother used to love going to church on Sundays because she hated that thin coat of pink paint. Sometimes, if I listened hard enough, I could hear her praying for a different colored house. Or at least, I pretended I could. Because that was much more interesting than counting each of the linoleum tiles on the chapel floor. Even Mother, although she’d never admit it, loves going to her weekly Bridge game to walk away from the pink house. Yes, my mother plays Bridge. And although I can’t explain why, I am intensely proud of her for it.
And when a yellow taxicab had pulled up to the house—the romantic cabs you watch pull up in movies—, I strangely understood why my father stuffed his black suitcase into the trunk.
The week after he left, Mother made me grilled cheese sandwiches. I guess she thought they were my favorite, and I guess I didn’t have the nerve to tell her that they weren’t.
The grilled cheese making started one day when Mother took all the cheese from the fridge—the only food that was still in there, since Mother refused to go to the grocery store alone— and melted slices on Wonderbread using her metal iron and the stained ironing board. I never have friends over for dinner for exactly this reason: my mother can’t cook. Eating bread soggy and smushed too flat, I nodded and tried to smile with sticky cheese stretching across my teeth. Any good? Mother would ask. And then, she’d spin around and make another before I could say no, not good at all.
Late at night, after Mother made her final wet cheese sandwich and fell asleep on the couch, I’d take a preventive swig of Pepto-Bismol and brush my teeth twice. Just in case, Grandmother used to say. And I would brush my teeth again.
Then, I’d lie down on top of my plain white sheets with the fan spinning above. And just before I would close my eyes, I pressed on my kidney, or the place where I thought it should be, and checked for kidney stones.
From my seat on the doorstep, I can see a legion of boys in t-shirts and baseball caps coming towards me, and at first I’m scared. I try to stand up, if only to block the view of my pink house. Stand by the mailbox; it’ll look cooler. I worry about whether or not I put on sunscreen, but only for a moment, before the boys are calling my name. But they’re just shouting hey Kid or hey You, and I look up. I lean on the mailbox, but feel it quiver beneath my elbow. Stand up straight; you’ll get Arthritis, Grandmother used to say. I scratch at the top of my hands; I don’t want Arthritis.
Hey, you have a glove? We need one more, a boy asks. His hair is reddish and freckles look like they were spat on his round face. But he laughs and the others laugh and I wish I were him, but only for a second.
I slip my sweaty palm into my father’s hand-me-down mitt, but quickly take it out again. Mother always tells me I was horrible at making decisions. You wanna come play? They ask again. But I hate sports.
I start to make a list in my head, with a leaky green pen on blue-lined paper. I could trip, sprain my ankle, break it, the bone poking through my skin. I could chip a tooth on a baseball, get a knot in my leg, fall. I start muttering about Achilles Tendinitis under my breath.
Is he retarded? The boy asks, and the others laugh. I scratch the top of my bony hands again, and they start to bleed. I rub them pink, and think about my pink house and how badly I wanted to walk away from it.
He’s weak, my father said just before he left. I think he knew I was listening, because he saw me on the staircase and stared at my scarred hands; I tucked them behind my back. I remember it soggy, like far away and I’m looking at him underwater and he leaves the pink house and doesn’t look back. And although I hate my father, I wanted to be him at the same time.
A boy with jet-black hair and crooked teeth comes up to the mailbox. He’s short like me, but his strides are long and he’s grabbing my mitt before I can lean against the mailbox again. I push at the glasses falling down my speckled nose.
Put it on, the boy says, shoving my glove into my chest, and I cough, almost dropping it. Sweat mats my brown hair to my forehead and I try to wipe it off with the back of my hand. It stings. The sun is staring at me and the boys are waiting and I look down at my un-scuffed converse.
Sorry, I can’t— I start to say. But someone’s tapping on a glass window, and I turn around.
Go, Mother says, even though I can’t hear her from outside. She shoos me with her hands, clicking the window with her long pink fingernails. I turn to face the boy with the crooked teeth.
C’mon, he says, and so I slip on my baseball glove, the dark leather rubbing against my raw hands, and walk towards the cul-de-sac.
MOVIES WATCHED: 12
SCREENPLAY PAGES WRITTEN: 44
NOVEL PAGES WRITTEN: 70