Gratitude is the sign of noble souls ~ Aesop

Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving ~ Kahlil Gabran

Joy delights in joy ~ William Shakespeare

Monday, April 25, 2016

How Salinger Broke My Heart...and Started My Career

I have been waiting for September 6th like a kid waits for Christmas, like an Apple-lover waits for the new grande-nano-mini iPad, like a total nerd waits for the J.J. Abrams reboot of STAR WARS (okay, I’m waiting for that one too).  What is this September 6th event that could have me so twittery (remember when that was a word completely unrelated to technology?) and breathless with anticipation? 

It is the release date for SALINGER – the new documentary about the life of Jerome David Salinger, better known as J.D. Salinger – recluse, author, and love of my life.  I can hear you thinking to yourself, “Oh no – she’s one of those Salinger quoting, dog-eared Catcher in the Rye toting weirdos” to which I can only say – you don’t know the half of it, buddy. 

The love affair began in high school, which is the time when so many of us afflicted by this disease first begin to notice symptoms: uncontrollable head nodding upon each and every mention of the word “phony”, bouts with nervous giggles over the curse words, and the distinct and overwhelming feeling that someone finally really gets you.  A certain someone named Holden – I mean, have you ever heard a cooler name? 

If the exhilaration of reading The Catcher in the Rye was my first contact with Salingerphilia, Franny and Zooey gave me a full blown case.  It was absolutely revelatory and pretty much shaped my life philosophy – to this day it is still one of the most brilliant distillations of what Christianity is really about that I’ve ever encountered. “Don’t you know who that fat lady really is?...Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy.  It’s Christ himself…” 

Of course from there I read his Nine Stories, and then when those were devoured, I set up shop in the microphiche (look it up, kids!) department of the library to pour over his stories published in magazines like Good Housekeeping and The Saturday Evening Post.  In fact, it was one of those little known stories (A Girl I Knew) that inspired me to write my very first screenplay.  Salinger wrote about a young American man, a thinly veiled version of himself, who meets a young girl in Vienna and falls in love with her while tying her ice skates one day.  They begin a romance, but then the war breaks out and the man must go back to America… he leaves behind the young woman who he later hears was killed in a concentration camp. 

I was so devastated by the story that I decided to imagine a different fate for the characters, and so wrote a script about a teenaged girl who discovers her grandmother was the girl with the skates, and that she escaped with her life, married and moved to America – the girl discovers her grandmother was in love with J.D. Salinger and so sets out with a group of friends to try and find the recluse and deliver the news that his beautiful skater was indeed still alive.

When I finished the script I was proud and excited – and grateful to have been inspired and encouraged, if not directly, at least in example by Mr. Salinger, and so I decided to send the script to him.  I had hopes that he would respond favorably, feeling very much like Holden in Catcher when he says, “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”  And so, with visions of future phone calls with my favorite author, I mailed a copy of the script along with a letter and a headshot (I had heard he had a soft spot for young, wide-eyed actresses) by Fed Ex, just to show how professional I was.  Oh how I dreamed that he would read the script and invite me to his cozy New England home to read his secret stash of Glass family novels that I was convinced existed.  But that dream was never to be.  A month or two after I mailed my heart to the New York offices of J.D. Salinger’s agent, I received a short letter back. Seven little words that amounted to a dagger to my soul, 
 “Mr. Salinger does not accept fan mail.”

Fan mail?  FAN MAIL??  It was a script that had taken me a full year to write!  I was broken hearted.  My hard work and passion had been reduced to unwanted, unworthy trash.  Just like that, my fantasy of knowing Jerry better was crushed.   But in the rubble of the experience, a writer was born.  A producer read that script and liked it enough to stage a table read for investors.  It didn’t sell, but the interest was enough to encourage me to keep writing, and soon after I applied to USC to get my Masters in writing – and got in.

And now, some ten years later, there is a new film promising to give me the unprecedented, unvarnished glimpse of Salinger that I so craved.  Even more exciting, the biographers released news this week that there are indeed more stories about the Glass family – rumored to be published in 2015.  And buddy, you better believe I’ll be first in line to get my copy, dressed not in a rabbit fur collared coat, but in a nice warm cloak of nostalgia.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering – Holden is not the name I was born with.  It’s a little nod to the character who first inspired me to write, and so began my whole career. I can’t help thinking that it would’ve made Mr. Salinger’s eyes sparkle at the irony of a writer honoring him by adopting a fake name…what a phony.

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