MY WRITING LIFE
Left on the Cutting Room Floor
I received the call most writers fantasize about. NBC wanted to interview me for a news special hosted by Geraldo Rivera on women in prison, a subject about which I am passionate. Through her research the show's producer discovered my memoir, The Warden Wore Pink. So you can imagine how heady I felt about appearing on national TV. Dreams of a best seller, the academy awards and endless consultant jobs danced in my head like the sugar plum fairies in the "Nutcracker."
But what would I wear? This was television after all. And I am a writer, not a fashion editor. I agonized for days over this. I dragged clothes from my closet I hadn't worn in a decade expecting they would make the grade on the New York fashion scene. One by one I tried them on as I reviewed in my head what I had learned about what you should wear on TV. One by one each outfit was rejected and heaped onto my bed. I finally settled on a classic, feminine, hard to be dated ensemble and prayed the show's producer would have enough sense to have a makeup artist fix my face so I would look as good as Katie Curic. Viewers, after all, would only think I could write as well as I looked.
The NBC producer flew me to New York and treated me just like a real celebrity. After 3 ½ hours of a taped interview, I flew back to Colorado and waited, in the comfort of my favorite sweats, for the program to air on August 8. I telephoned, E-mailed and wrote to everyone I knew to let them know about my appearance on a prime time show. Headlines in a weekly article of our local newspaper announced my success, and postal workers applauded me when I mailed letters. I was a star. Granted I live in a small town.
The first hint that something was about to disrupt my delusions of grandeur came when NBC delayed the airing of the program for one month. I telephoned, E-mailed and wrote everyone again to let them know the change in the programming schedule. I was becoming doubtful about the whole thing when my inquiries to NBC went unanswered. My anxieties proved to be justified.
Two days before the scheduled program I was informed by E-mail, "Hi Tekla, Just wanted to thank you again for coming to New York and sitting down with Susan to talk about women in prison. Unfortunately, as we are completing the piece, it looks like your interview will not be in the final show this Friday at 10PM. As I'm sure you've heard, we were granted an interview by the Michigan Department of Corrections. As a result, we did restructure the hour. I hope you'll still watch. The information you provided was extremely useful. Kind regards..."
I had been edited out of the program and left on the cutting room floor. All kinds of emotions erupted from me like a volcano. At first I was hurt. Then I was depressed because I felt I had lost all credibility; Geraldo, of all people, and NBC didn't think what I had to say was consequential. Finally I was angry because I undoubtedly gave them a lot of information and leads that I was confident would make their program convincing. I was out of control.
It wasn't the first time I had been edited out. For instance after winning a writer's contest for my story, an excerpt from my memoir, it was included in an anthology. I was delighted that I was among the chosen few. However, after the first printing had been sold out and the editor contracted with a larger publisher, my essay was axed because, "It doesn't meet the new theme."
Though success in writing can be short-lived and ego deflating, I vowed to keep a stiff upper lip. How else will I get that best seller written?
Within an hour of receiving the E-mail that told me I was dumped by NBC, I talked with Janet, my friend of forty years. She is dying from cancer. Shortly after that conversation, I got the news that my husband's younger sister, Audrey, had a stroke. Though I was justified, as is any writer in a similar position, to feel angry, depressed and hurt over being edited out of an important program, NBC and Geraldo didn't matter anymore. Janet and Audrey helped me put my life back into balance.
Did this mean I would give up all efforts at writing a best seller? No! Instead, while I was composing it, I vowed I would also spend valuable and often shortened time with the people I love. Even the fame and fortune that comes from penning a best seller could never replace the hours spent with friends and family. Hours that cannot be made up once they are lost. While talking with Janet and Audrey, I found renewed strength to slough off rejections and the ability to find humor in whatever happens to me.
Janet has found peace and accepts her immortality. Yet I had to laugh when she told me about being upset that her granddaughter, whom she has helped raise, is in love with a young man Janet finds "insensitive, barbaric and self centered." I found it ironic given her chemo-therapy when Janet told me during our phone conversation, "I'm glad I won't be here for the wedding. I don't think I could stomach it." Janet has never had time for people feeling sorry for her. She will only accept honesty and that includes our discussions about cancer and how it is affecting her. She gets on with her life as it is and would tell me, "Quit feeling sorry for yourself and get on with your life. Whining won't get you published."
When I spoke with my sister-in-law on the telephone, she didn't dwell on the fact she was paralyzed on her right side and had slurred speech. Instead she laughed, "I sound like I'm drunk." That was followed with, "I'm being transferred to the rehabilitation center on Tuesday." She sounded optimistic, rather than self pitying. Her belief that she'll be back to gardening in no time, encouraged me to accept exclusions more gracefully than I had with NBC and get back to writing.
Janet and Audrey’s courage no doubt gave me the spunk to accept yet another letdown. A scenario similar to the NBC fiasco occurred shortly after the airing of Geraldo’s expose on incarcerated women. This time I was contacted by a producer from the prestigious Grenada Entertainment. Our conversation resulted in them contracting me (I was paid up front and even given a bonus) as a technical consultant for a TV pilot movie and TV series titled The Warden. For over a year I worked with the competent screenwriter on both the movie and 5 of the projected 22 episodes. Once again I was flown to Montreal for the filming. And once again I was treated like royalty as I learned firsthand all about the hours and people it took to make this movie and it wasn’t even as enormous an undertaking as Saving Private Ryan.
Grenada producers notified me of the air date on TNT. As with NBC, I sent promotional postcards provided by the TNT Public Relations Department, E-mailed and telephoned everyone I know and didn’t know. I handed out the post cards every time I spoke or did book readings. I and the star, Ally Sheedy, were interviewed for magazines, TV guides, newspapers and radio. Then like some mad magician, the movie was mysteriously pulled and never seen.
I took this experience far better than the first. I must admit once the movie aired I was banking on an appearance on Oprah which would have been followed by a meteoric rise to fame and fortune. Yet all I could think about was Audrey and Janet. Both struggling to enjoy every day to its fullest. With their voices sounding loud and clear in my head, I consider myself quite lucky for having the extraordinary experience in the mystifying world of Hollywood.