Friday, October 31, 2008

All the houses in the world...and not a one to rent...

Last year, the MLS results for our Georgia city listed 1,000 houses for a population of 30,000. Wow. Many, many houses in our moderate price range. We wanted a 3 bedroom range with downstairs room or basement. Dan needs a large room to set up his musical equipment. 

We came down last spring and looked, hoping that my house would sell. Isn't that a normal thing to do? Sell your house and move? Not in 2007-2008! What a strange real estate market. Reminiscent of New England in 1990: Banks failing. Foreclosures. Dark, dark days.

In Georgia, as far as I can tell, there has been a lot of overbuilding. We're in the north, near Lake Lanier, so there is a second home market. They also thought people would move here and commute to Atlanta, about an hour away. You can get a spanking new, four bedroom house for $160,000-$170,000. (Come on down, ye cold and weary New Englanders!)

We decided to bite the bullet and move anyway, house sold or not. We refused to pay another winter's heating oil. Why not spend the thousands on rent in a warm climate instead?

So we packed up and made the move, optimistic that we would find something right away. Looking, looking looking. It was pretty discouraging. I hadn't had to look for a place for fifteen years. And in the small town where I lived, you had very limited choices. There were too many here.

50 houses later, we found a candidate. We hoped to do a lease purchase, but bagged that idea when the realtor asked for a $5,000 deposit. Ah, no. If we weren't cash poor, we'd be buying right now! 

We were staying with my sister and we wanted to get out of her hair as fast as possible. Have you stayed with family lately? Can strain the best of bonds. 

We shifted gears to look for a rental. After dozens of houses later, we stumbled across our cute little place in the woods by sheer accident. It is on the road where we wanted to buy. We happened to drive by after looking a rental we dubbed the "mold palace," and saw a "for rent" sign by the main road. We followed the signs one by one, like Hansel and Gretel.
There it was. A brand-new dollhouse. We called the number and were able to get in through the lock box. It was perfect, the only place I started imagining where I'd put the couch, etc. 

So here we are. Near town but down a quiet road. The mailman is the only traffic. We have five deer that graze on the grass we haven't mowed yet. Behind the horse are protected woods and a creek leading down to the lake, which you can glimpse from the deck. 

A great place to live..and write.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hey mister...want to buy a dime?

A couple of weeks ago Dan and I stayed in Atlanta at the lovely restored Ellis Hotel. It's on Peachtree Street smack dab in the middle of downtown, across from the Ritz. It's a busy area, lots of traffic and sirens. I forgot how noisy cities can be. 

I was attending a conference and Dan was along for the ride. So while I went to an evening reception, he hung out on the fenced-in patio enjoying the warm air. 

"You look like a guy who wants dope," suggested one fellow passing by on the sidewalk.  Dan looked over his shoulder to see who he was talking to. For those who don't know, Dan is clean cut and wears polo shirts and jeans. He doesn't exactly have a doper thing going on.

The next one asked if he wanted "penicillin." "What? Do I look like I have an infection?" Dan replied. The dealer next accosted a suit walking by, who went to the corner and then came back for  "penicillin," whatever that is.

Dan does smoke (plans to quit, he says) but he wasn't smoking when someone said "you look like a smoker" and offered him a "way cool lighter." Thrusting it through the fence, he pushed a button, and pop, a switchblade came out. A lighter with a switchblade. Hmmm. Wonder what it's used for? Murder or crack pipe?

The last one was the most absurd. "Hey, buddy. You know that sign out here? It tells you all about the history of the hotel. You should come out and look at it." Dan: "Is that the best you can do?" Dan's not sure if he wanted to do a deal or mug him.

Quite an introduction to downtown: Art deco hotel. Great restaurants. A truly messed up road system. And dope dealers by the dozen. Even in front of the Ritz. 

Just peachy...

One of the main reasons we moved to Georgia is the weather. And it's been just peachy. 80 degrees in September. 70 degrees in October. Lately, we've had a couple of 50 degree days, unusually cold, but then again, Gorham, NH, has 1/2 inch of snow today. 

Dan and I are both (almost) life-long New-Englanders. I had a brief stint in Albuquerque, NM in 1979, and I hated the flat brown landscape and lack of trees.  I was so homesick! A photo of a New Hampshire road with stone wall and autumn leaves almost brought me to tears. When I flew back East (over miles of endless lush green) and heard "Ba Haba airlines" on Logan's intercom, I knew I was home. 

During winter after winter of 20 below and snow up to our armpits (when we were lucky), I thought snowbirds were wimps.  I snowshoed, cross-country skied, even tried ice-climbing. Sunset's pink alpine glow on icy white peaks was one of my favorite sights. 

So what changed? I'm not sure. All I know is, two years ago, on August 15, it was 50 degrees with a 20-mile-per-hour wind. We were freezing in our long sleeves and fleece jackets. What happened to the dog days of summer from our youth? You know: hot, hazy and humid.  Global warming is a top issue but all I've seen in northern New Hampshire is cold and often wet summers and pretty dry winters. 2008 was decent, but we had three almost snow-less winters before that. Killed the skiing and snowmobiling, mainstays of the economy up there.

Anyway, Dan and I looked at each other on that fateful day and decided, we're out of here. We're tired of being cold. Tired of shoveling snow. Tired of dangerous driving on icy roads. And don't even get me started on the cost of heating oil.

It thrills me to think that pansies grow all winter here. There are two growing seasons (NH has one--three months). Spring comes with the calendar, not in June. To me, an 80 degree, sunny day is like a Christmas present. In Georgia, Christmas lasts five months. 

I'll take it. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The great agent hunt-or talking your way through doors...

Well, after almost two months of moving-moving-moving, we were able to devote some time yesterday to finding an agent. Our hope is to sell a couple of screenplays so we can work on producing Poplar Hill and Merseybeat to Music Row, a bio-documentary featuring legendary producer Chris Huston. He used to be Dan's producer and sound engineer back in the day in L.A.

We dug out the file--fortunately I hadn't packed that one in a box (we have about 20 boxes left to unpack--ugh), and Dan got to work. One agent has had two of our pieces for months. He made a call to the always cordial assistant, was told to call back and then when he did, they were out to lunch. Ah, the time zone dance. Just when you get ready to call, it's lunch time in L.A.

Another agent was receptive--she called right back after Dan left a message--but said she was too busy to take on anything new, although she thought our projects were "terrific." She is interested in our almost-finished newest one, though. Up the Tracks is more action and drama than comedy, so maybe it will be to her taste.

We've been working on this for a while, sporadically. Dan is great at "talking his way" through doors. He builds a rapport and most people ask to see our stuff. We've gotten some good feedback but we haven't found that "special person." Gosh, it's almost like dating.

We lucked out early and found a good entertainment attorney. We work well with him--and consider him a friend. Ideally an agent would also be a friend, become the third leg of the stool, so to speak. 

Like Dan says, the "easy" part is writing--the hard part is the business end. Who knows what the outcome will be. But if we don't try... unexpected gift

When Dan and I fell in love, I was happy enough to find someone compatible and loving. He is intelligent, funny, compassionate and talented. I would be happy with him even if we both worked at Wal-mart (and we may unless we get some consulting or writing gigs going, ahem). 
But we had the idea for our first screenplay, Poplar Hill, and one day sat down to write. Together. I never dreamed such a thing could or would happen to me (my ex wouldn't even read my writing, sad to say).

I am the scribe--I have a lot more experience with structure. Together we brainstorm characters, plot, scenes, etc.  Dan is incredibly witty and articulate. He can come up with a comedy riff on  a topic within seconds. He often pushes me past the obvious, in plot and dialogue.

I'll never forget how we created our second screenplay, F.A.R.T.  The Enforcers. It's a zany action  comedy about--you guessed it. Somehow in the middle of the night--my daughter was having a college graduation party so we were awake--we came up with the idea of the Federal Anal Retentive Taskforce. And a rival group--PUCKER (People United Concerning Emancipating Rectums. The K is silent). Global warming and a government--pharmaceutical company conspiracy are plot elements.  Pretty "sophomoric" you might think for a couple of middle-aged adults, but we laughed our a**** off. And so does everyone who reads it, or even hears about it. 

But what was special was the sparking of ideas between us. We often do that: think along the same lines with plot development. Our latest screenplay, Up the Tracks, is based on adventures of Dan's youth. What is strange is that I sometimes come up with character insights that correspond to what did happen. And I wasn't there. 

The whole thing is a mystery to me. I feel it's rare to find a writing partner--and even rarer to be married to one. I consider it a gift and a blessing. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In a state of red tape...

We're from the "Live Free or Die" state. One of the few things it has going for it, besides beautiful mountains and no sales or income taxes, is the relative ease of dealing with bureaucracy.  Starting a writing business is easy. Register your business name, if you have one, or become an LLC or corporation, if you want to. No town or county licenses.

Not in the peach state. First you have to get a driver's license within 30 days of residency. And, to get that, you have to provide passports or birth certificates and proof of residency. And, if you have been married or divorced, marriage licenses and divorce decrees for each name change!

They actually ask you on the application if  (paraphrased) "you drink or use drugs to intoxication rendering you unable to operate a vehicle." WTF? Who would say yes?

Once you have that magic license, (they spelled our name wrong and it's SIMPLE--and RIGHT on all the hundreds of documents we provided) you have to go to:
1. the county tax commissioner for an affidavit proving you don't owe taxes
2. the city planning board for "certificate of occupancy," i.e. zoning allows writers to work at home! (if you swear clients don't visit...)
3. the county for a business license--with your photo ID!

Why do I bother? Well, I want to publicize us and perhaps even do some consulting work for the state. And they'll need--you guessed it--a copy of the business license. And probably my driver's license. 

Probably this is old news for most people in most states. But I think those states could learn something from New Hampshire when it comes to being entrepreneur-friendly. 

Are we fools...or what

My husband, Dan, and I, Liz, decided a couple of years ago to start writing screenplays.

We both had a lot of experience--Dan as a songwriter and me as a business and fiction writer.

As happens in mid-life, we saw a lot of peers pass away--and realized that it was time to do what we want with our lives. We'd both raised kids, done the homeowner-worker-bee thing, been responsible adults for the past twenty-five years. 

One of our friends runs a funky old inn and there is quite a motley crew that lives and works there. They operate close to the edge but are some of the funniest, most accepting and upbeat people you could meet.  Every visit we'd hear a funny, tragic or heartwarming episode. Or all three. "This would make a great reality show," we said. Then we thought, what about a screenplay?
So Poplar Hill was born. 

Now we're on our fifth screenplay (page 90). We write comedy: action, zany, romantic, dramatic. We can't help it. We tried to write a thriller and ended up with a romantic comedy, albeit black. An agent told us our work was "witty and well-written." 

Naturally we were met with a lot of skepticism, mainly by family. (Of course) They consider us pipe-dreamers.  They won't even read our work. Strangers do, though, and we've had a couple of script readings that were thoroughly enjoyed by the participants. 

Recently we moved 1200 miles to a better--and warmer--place to make our dreams happen. We are working on getting an agent and plan to produce Poplar Hill as an independent feature.
We also have plans for a bio-documentary.

This blog is about our journey--the tale of two fools who love and live to write.