Today, Bookpleasures.com is excited to have as our guest actress and writer, Christine Elise McCarthy.
Christine has been acting professionally for 25 years and is recognized primarily for her roles as U4EA-popping bad girl, Emily Valentine, on Beverly Hills, 90210, as Harper Tracy on ER, and as Kyle, the gal who killed Chucky in Child’s Play 2. She has also appeared in recurring roles on China Beach, In the Heat of the Night, and Tell Me You Love Me. Among her other film roles are Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers and two films starring Viggo Mortensen: Vanishing Point and Boiling Point.
As a writer, she has written three episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210 as well as characters and storylines for the series, a pilot that was optioned by Aaron Spelling, and comical true-life essays that she performed at the Upright Citizens Brigade and Naked Angels theaters in LA.
Christine maintains an irreverent food porn blog called DELIGHTFUL-DELICIOUS-DELOVELY for which she provides recipes, photographs and sometimes shares details of the triumphs and, more frequently, the humiliations of her own life.
She has a great passion for Photography and has shown her pin-up and decaying Americana imagery in the United States & Paris.
She has been on the selection committee of Michigan’s Waterfront Film Festival since its inception in 1999, she is co-director of the Victoria Texas Independent Film Festival, programs for the Self-Medicated Film Festival and The Lady Filmmakers Film Festival, and consults & judges for many others. Her directorial debut, Bathing & the Single Girl, was accepted into over 100 film festivals and won 20 awards.
Good day Christine and thanks for participating in our interview
How did you get started in acting? What keeps you going?
Hi there! And thank you!
born in Boston, I initially went to Boston University as a film major
with the intention of becoming a director. After a year there, it
seemed inefficient to finish film school in a town with no film
industry so I moved to Los Angeles.
Nineteen & on my own, I
soon found myself working 60 hour weeks at $6 hr just to pay the rent
& film school became an apparition on a horizon I could never
reach. After two & a half years of this, I decided to take
acting classes at night – still as a part of preparing myself to
Typically cripplingly shy, I was surprised to find I really enjoyed it – acting, that is. I thought, “Actors that are talentless & untrained make a living every day. Why can’t I be one of them?” So – I adjusted my goals & pursued acting. I had early success, primarily because I was in my early twenties & looked fifteen. And the rest is history.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Not specifically. I do remember being in grammar school & taking every writing assignment as a challenge to put a funny spin on it. I also started a novel, in fifth grade. I still have the few chapters I wrote. It was about a pair of Golden Retrievers & a host of really gruesome accidents that happen to them. I don’t know what was wrong with me as a kid but even my handmade cards to my parents would have dark elements – and stories of dogs getting hit by cars but surviving. Seriously. Like – “Once upon a time there was a dog named Pogo. He got out of the yard & was hit by a car. Then a woman saw him & took him to the vet & he got better. Happy mother’s day!”
It’s pretty bizarre. Those cards are hilarious. At any rate, writing has always been something I played with.
How has your environment, upbringing, photography and acting colored your writing?
That is a pretty broad question! It is basically asking how everything that ever happened to me impacted my writing and I have no real perspective on that. I can say that my parents are comic ballbusters & being funny has always been seen as an asset in my family.
My parents are both artists (my mother is a photographer & my stepdad is a painter & installation/found-art artist) and the stuff they do has always inspired me – but neither is a writer. Still, they have both always urged me to write. I like to think that is because I have always been a decent storyteller and maybe they thought I should take that to the next level – but it might just have been a way to get me to stop talking & go into another room and be quiet.
My photography, my acting career &my writing are complete separate in my mind & I see no connection between the three.
What motivated you to write Bathing & the Single Girl? Could you briefly tell our readers something about the book?
Years ago, my screenwriting partner challenged me to write a short piece for a show called Four Stories & a Cover at the UCB Theater here in LA. They required a true, comic essay about your life. I wrote a piece that they accepted & the night I read it for the audience, they asked me for a title. I quipped, “Uhm – Bathing & the Single Girl?”
After I did it, someone suggested I do it again & tape it so that I could use it in my acting career as evidence of my comedy skills. So – I did. Then a cinematographer I know saw that & said, “That is hilarious but the footage is hideous. You should make it into a short film.” So – I did. That ten minute film went on to screen at over 100 film festivals and, eventually, someone suggested I expand it into a novel. So – I did. The whole process from essay to film to novel was a domino effect of suggestions made by others. Now, someone just needs to suggest I win the lottery.
BATHING & THE SINGLE GIRL is my smutty, mercilessly irreverent and laugh-out-loud funny debut novel. Inspired by my one-woman short film of the same name, it’s the kind of novel Jonathan Ames might write if he’d dropped out of college and had been working as an actress in Hollywood for the last 20 years. At least – I hope!
The book is summarized as follows: The life of an actress in LA isn’t all glamour, money, and bedding rock stars. Sometimes it’s more about humiliation, red wine hangovers, and the bad decisions they fuel. Ruby Fitzgerald has barely worked in years, not that anyone remembers her for anything but her short stint on a long-canceled but iconic TV show. But that was back when her career prospects seemed on the upswing -- longer ago than Ruby cares to admit, and awkward sex with regrettable partners is doing nothing to take the edge off. Everything once functional in her house is going on strike, but the unemployment checks barely cover the mortgage, and a self-respecting girl needs to be able to pay her bar tab -- so repairs are on hold. One more bubble bath and a few more cocktails. A gal can always get responsible tomorrow.
With everything mounting against her, a cranky and increasingly despairing Ruby will have to find out if her life’s larger indignities are the result of bad luck, or a chronically bad attitude. What follows is a walking tour of the hilarious depths you can sink to if you stop exercising your best judgment.
Do you have a specific writing style? As a follow up, how is writing for TV different than writing Bathing & the Single Girl?
My writing style, as far as content is concerned, is conversational & swear-ridden. So far.
wrote for the original 90210 but that is a very structured writing
environment – as characters & stories are all pretty
well-defined when they ask you to write an episode. All serial TV is
that way. As a guest writer on a show, your job is really just
filling in dialogue & bringing their outline to life logically.
Being a staff writer for TV means a lot more creative input but I
have never yet been on staff. Beyond my short, the only writing I
have done is for my Food Porn Blog.
The novel – the first draft – was written stream of consciousness-style. I drew up no outline. I didn’t know what the next chapter would bring – let alone have an ending in mind. I just sat down every day, after the gym, and wrote until 5pm – or until I felt I had come to a natural stopping place. I usually tried never to stop writing without having some idea of where I would be starting the next day – in an effort to avoid a block. The first draft took eight weeks precisely, I think, because it was so free form & without constraints or expectations. The final version is about 50% different from the first draft so, clearly, the first draft was far from perfect but I just had to pound it out & get something “done” before I could begin to look at it critically.
I enjoy both kinds of writing. They both have their pressures & freedoms & their own rewards. Seeing a produced episode of TV & hearing actors say your words is thrilling & TV writing is a union job which has other important rewards. But writing the novel provided a total aesthetic freedom – both as to content & work ethic – that I also very much appreciate. Doing both in tandem would be heaven.
Where did you get your information or ideas for the book?
I saw a Federico Fellini quote recently that I imagine I will be citing a lot. He said, “All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.”
That said – my book is fiction. Still - I knew that no matter how much I protested, everyone would assume the book was autobiographical. I also know that when I told people the stories in the short film were true – people didn’t believe THAT.
So – I decided to play with people a bit & toy with their need to think it is all true. I deliberately give the book’s heroine a lot of biographical overlap with me. She is an actress from Boston. We share a birthday & each have three dogs. Stuff like that. But the book is overwhelmingly fiction. In a book about stuff as personal as the stuff is in Bathing & the Single Girl – it would be impossible to keep my life from bleeding into it here & there because I only have my own experiences & reactions to expand from but – the book is fiction. Is there any author whose own life doesn’t impact their stories?
The stuff the characters go through is universal & human. Nobody needs to research what awkward sex is like or what it feels like to fear being alone or broke or insignificant or unattractive or embarrassed. The challenge for me was to make these things funny & not maudlin.
Is there much of you in Bathing & the Single Girl?
What was the most difficult part of writing your book?
The writing was remarkably easy. Marketing it & getting it read is proving to be the harder part. With my short, all I asked of people was ten minutes of their time while they passively let the story hit them. With the novel, I need them to buy it & sit with 472 pages & actively engage. That bar is far higher.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it? As a follow up, what would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Mostly – I learned that no matter how much you pay a proof reader & no matter how many times you read a book yourself & no matter how aggressively you ask your friends to point out errors and typos – TYPOS WILL STILL SNEAK THROUGH. It is crazy making! My agents mocked me as “The Princess & the Pea” of typos. They really upset me.
My writing quirk? I type with only might right index finger & my left thumb on the shift key. I am a two-finger typist. I know that isn’t what you were asking but it is the more interesting answer.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I actually do because I am very active on my personal Facebook page. What I hear, at the risk of sounding immodest, is that the book is hilarious. That is a very good thing because funny was all I was going for. This review is true of men & women in equal measure. Once they get past the peachy cover & the chick-lit title, men are finding the book just as funny & scandalous as my lady readers. My advice to all readers – if you think the book is remotely entertaining in the first 100 pages – brace yourself for way it picks up the pace after that. Rapid-fire humiliation & degradation. Dirty, raunchy, hysterical.
Do you feel that writers, regardless of genre owe something to readers, if not, why not, if so, why and what would that be?
That is a tough one. My knee-jerk reaction is to say no. I suppose I might change that answer if we were talking specifically about serial writers – because then there are characters & stories to remain faithful to. I know I hate it on a TV show when, for example, a character that once bemoaned the agonies of being an only child suddenly has an older sibling or something.
But – in general - how can a writer owe a reader anything? Readers are all different with different tastes & different expectations. Trying to pander to everyone is a losing proposition. So – I’d say – write until you are proud of it & then throw it out there. Failing on your own terms hurts but failing because you betrayed yourself trying to please someone else is far worse.
What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
I wonder those things myself but I still do it. I still create. I write & photograph & keep posting on my Food Blog & posting my recipes & pictures & words & I keep auditioning. Most of it gets very little feedback – good or bad. And no feedback is almost always defined as negative feedback – in our heads. So - if creating makes you happy – fucking do it. If you are doing it for validation – you are not likely to get it – and you will be miserable. But remember – a lack of validation from others doesn’t mean your work isn’t valid. If it makes YOU happy – it is as valid as it needs to be.
As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
don’t know. Since this book was released – I feel like all I do
is talk about myself in print. Maybe, “What’s for dinner?” My
answer – something from my recipes I’ve posted on my Pinterest Blog
So many yummy things to choose from! And wine. Lots of wine!
Thanks again and good luck with all of your future endeavors