Monday, June 14, 2010

Chapter Eleven - Part One - Heirloom Peaches

When beginning a new writing project I only have the vaguest sense of the outcome of the work, and a deep hope for some catharsis contained within it. Like a seed, tightly folded upon its woody self, the true tenderness is thoroughly concealed from my most penetrating gaze. Even after a few weeks of development the story reveals at least some of this interior motive, and thus becomes a seedling. However, the pits is where most projects begin for me.

They say that peaches were brought to the Americas by Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. Obviously, these were not saplings ordered from a Burpee catalog. These peaches started as pits. Native Americans formed their own love affair with the sweet fruit and spread it all over what is now the Southeast United states. In places they grew so close and abundantly they become more like thickets of peaches rather than orderly orchards. When British colonists began settling the area a hundred years later, they presumed that peaches were native to the Americas because, of course, Native Americans couldn't possibly have the farming technology to plant and harvest such sweet goodness for themselves. (I shake my head at the arrogance of my antecedents.) In fact, the Native Americans who were forced on the long march from the Southeast to the Oklahoma territories by Andrew Jackson's armies brought with them their peach pits. So that Oklahoma's peach tradition is as rich as Georgia's.

Peaches have such a storied past. They have been hailed the fruit of immortality in China, eaten by the Gods only every 10,000 years to boost their longevity, now of course, commemorated yearly. They have been celebrated in ancient Persia. They have been taken along the silk road, and the Oregon trail. They come in different shapes and sizes and colors and consistencies to be used in different recipes all for the singular outcome of, "Yum!"

Unfortunately, the same thing that has happened to movies has happened to peaches in America. They have become hard, brightly-colored, tasteless things that we buy because we remember a time when they were, "yum!" Raise your hand if you have paid good money for a totally disappointing, mass-produced, picked-too-early, prettily packaged -- movie. I know that I have. These movies, as those peaches, are produced for one reason only: profit. It begins with the dream of the screenwriter to have a paid-for existence, a rather low goal for a writer in my opinion, but one I bashfully admit to carrying in my briefcase. There are much easier ways to make a living for goodness sakes, right?

In order to write a profit-minded script one must adhere to industry standards, and this leads to comfortable, predictable results. Like a peach grown in a commercial orchard, the shape, color and consistency must be reliable. As this puts the growers' minds at ease that they'll reap some reward from their effort, the reliability of a script to hit the page-numbered milestones shows a screenwriter's market that a profitable product is envisioned.

Now, I'm not saying that every commercially grown peach is tasteless, anymore than I'm saying that all the movies coming out of Hollywood are predictable. A few good ones slip into the packing boxes every year. Those keep us buying the rest.

Am I still interested in trying to write one of those good commercial scripts - the high concept thriller that makes your heart beat and convinces you of conspiracies you never even considered, or the girl-power driven comedy that has you rolling your eyes and nodding in agreement? Of course, I am. I've been studying how to do it for years and years. But, if I do one and it succeeds, then will I ever take the time and risk again to grow the heirloom peach orchard of my dreams?

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