Angles, Eroticism, and Mirrors — Almost Halfway If Only I Could Stop Eating : A Guest-post by Mary Katzke

Screenwriter Mary Katzke, our February featured writer, is adapting Kathyrn Harrison’s The Seal Wife for the screen — a process she has been describing in her weekly guest-posts.

Is eating constantly really healthier than cigarettes? Maybe it’s just the lack of any good choices in my hero’s world– he’s always hungry. Where did I get the idea that watching a torchlight parade with champagne in hand would somehow not detract from the mission of writing a screenplay over break, or that moving out of one place into another, then back again, packing lunches, keeping track of a 10-year-old’s gear wouldn’t interfere?

Meanwhile, silicon-like snow powder has fallen on the already slippery parking lots and we are at the bottom of a hill — trudging up in ski boots because, yes, he’s lost another pair of snow boots. Argh. He tells me as we’re slipping and sliding that the “mean boy” in his class shared that his father awoke him at 6 AM New Year’s Day to drive in from the Valley for ski class (round trip each day?) and that when he fell back asleep, his father exploded and couldn’t stop yelling — all the way from Wasilla to Alyeska. Corin shook his head like, things could be worse, Mom — and I’m inwardly reviewing my grumpy early morning behavior wondering if there is a hidden message in there somewhere for me. I’m realizing my son is a nicer person than I am. Instead of hammering home a point, he just gently shares a story. Wow. I am so humbled, I splurge on hand warmers for him.

The Girdwood Public library is a hidden gem. Very, very nice for such a tiny community– and free Wi-Fi. Not that one should need Wi-Fi when writing. Right. “Cleats at the door” it says, and so with arms full of computer, book, purse, keys, coffee, I slip out of my shoes and pad across the carpet. Today we are on page 37 — of the script — but halfway through the book. This is a problem. Just speaking in rough mathematical terms, I should be on at least page 50 by mid-book. I’m starting to add more dialog, more descriptions — it is going to get wide and soft in the middle here if I’m not careful. Thoughts of the old fall back – voiceover — start to enter my mind.

Now about all these women who are mute for one reason or another…first the mysterious Aleut, then the prostitute who uses a gag so she doesn’t upset Bigelow by talking too much, and finally, the manipulative mute pianist. Just what is UP with this? Why is it that all the women in his life have trouble communicating with him? Isn’t trying to figure out the weather enough of an elusive mistress? While silent women can be a dreamy, philosophical symbolic concept for literature, it might be hard to write and even harder to put on film. So I break down and ask the author, Kathryn Harrison, to please help me out here.

She is swift and scholarly in her reply.

The point of view of the novel belongs to Bigelow, so I know only what he knows. It’s my guess that she “suffers” what would be called “elective mutism” — she chooses (perhaps unconsciously) not to speak. As a speech-oriented person who is familiar with the limitations of speech, as well as its power, I wanted to explore a character who refused to communicate verbally. I intended the ending to be guardedly optimistic. The novel is one — or was intended to be one — that explores the nature of romantic love, in which the love object provides a mirror to the lover. Falling in love can be a process that ignores the loved one’s true nature, so I wanted to leave Bigelow always in a state of torment, wondering how much of what he perceives is real, how much is what he wants to believe, i.e., his desire projected onto a possibly unwilling object. She needs to convey erotic power and self-possession.

This is a powerful and useful insight and now I have the responsibility of using it with the reverence and skill it deserves. I stop for the day on Page 47. I need time to digest and incorporate this information. She also shares that Bigelow is her great-grandfather.

In the time remaining for writing today, I apply for three grants — Cinereach, Puffin Foundation, and Sloan Foundation via Tribeca Film Center. He’s a scientist, right? Weather man = scientist, right? I want to find a way to take time away from paying work and carry this further into the realm of immersion — and not give up things like ski lessons for Corin. My life is all about the angle sometimes, searching for the right angle, combining personal and professional for the best outcomes, whether it’s to film, or to approach a tough situation, or even to tilt the computer screen to get just the right amount of light… but not too much.

Mary Katzke has produced over 30 documentaries and feature films. She was interviewed at 49 writers a year ago about her recent film, About Face.

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