Author Natalie Rodriguez recounts her writing journey, moments at the movies that touched her and shaped her artistic sense and inspired her to be a writer.
BY NATALIE RODRIGUEZ, AUTHORS.me user
VARIOUS. DIAMOND BAR, CA:
My childhood movies were an interesting choice, ranging anywhere from Disney and Nickelodeon, until one school night…I saw Ghostface on television as soon as I walked into the family room. It was spooky, not seeing or hearing from my mom after I had called out for her. I just wanted to ask if I could change the channel, but I did not. My mom was not too happy when she had finally stepped back inside from the garage and saw me watching the infamous Drew Barrymore opening sequence. I told her that it was already on. She forgot to turn off the station. But with my calm demeanor, not flinching or crying like most children my age, mom kept the film on. That was the first time we had watched Scream together.
LOCAL AMC THEATER. DIAMOND BAR, CA. NIGHT:
But on December 24th, 2003, it mom’s word over mine for movie night. There was an early Christmas showing of the family film remake, Cheaper By the Dozen, starring Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt and their rascal bunch of twelve kids. I was familiar with the cast, especially the actors who played their children. It had only been a few years since Steve Martin starred as George Banks in the Father of the Bride reboots, not to mention Hilary Duff as Lizzie McGuire and Tom Welling as Superman. I was a strange kid and preferred the latest slasher or the one where Mark Wahlberg played the guitar (I saw Rockstar a few years later), instead of a family one. But as soon as I walked out of that two-hour screening of two parents trying to manage their twelve children, I was consumed by the bug and my life had honestly changed from there on.
VARIOUS LOCATIONS. SOUTHERN, CA:
For the following week, my mind kept wandering back to Cheaper By the Dozen, from the acting, dialogue and, overall, story It was a bit jarring, constantly playing the film out day and night in my head, wondering why certain character did this and that and not something else. It was a series of, “What ifs” and “What is the film had gone a different route?”
It was my first epiphany that I acted upon because only months before I had an end of the year project, in order to graduate the fifth grade: write a book and make it look like one. I dreaded the assignment too, annoyed on the amount of time that went into it. Until I started writing, then it just clicked and at the time, I was always drawing and coloring something. So making the title page and adding pictures into the short story was not something I was used to for a homework assignment.
Only, I thought writing was something that would never come back into my life, until that following week after seeing Cheaper By the Dozen.
HOME. DIAMOND BAR, CA. THAT NIGHT:
Winter break was coming to an end and I was to return back to school in seven days for my final semester of the sixth grade. It had been exactly seven days after seeing Cheaper By the Dozen. After dinner one night, I decided to go in my bedroom to process why the film was still on my mind. I wanted to be left along, but instead I found myself sitting on my bedroom floor for a good hour, exhausted and overwhelmed. Scene after scene kept coming at me like flashes of the light. It was getting on my last nerve and for whatever reason, my solution was what I had least expected. I got up and approached my Hello Kitty theme desk— stickers that my mother was not fond of because her dad built the desk. Then, out came the stacks of lined pieces of papers and number two pencils. It was going to be a long night.
It was a long night.
I had finally caved into that voice, as some had called it (or still do), inside of my head and started writing on my downtime from school and sports practices and later the drama club in high school. But for the ongoing years, I was having an affair on everyone. When I had first started writing, it was a big secret, except my mom who used to wonder why I preferred to stay in, instead of seeing my friends (well, still does at times). I lied to my family and friends, who most of had wondered why I was suddenly “tired” or why I had to rush home to “finish homework.” It became difficult when I started running out of excuses, especially when my friends and I had the same classes our final two years in high school. Sooner or later, it was expected to become known as the flake or “grandma” to my peers because I always canceled or missed out on events.
To be honest, I felt guilty about it, especially when my mom shared some news to my guidance counselor, who told the faculty. I was embarrassed when one of my teachers made the announcement in class one morning. It had only reminded me why I kept writing a secret, not out of shame but the knowing. Knowing that other would not understand, or try to, that my patches of isolation were how I wrote/worked.
OSWALT ELEMENTARY. WALNUT, CA:
Long before turning to my favorite screenwriters and authors for advice and how they got their start, the “unknown” and I were strangers. Reading and writing were never my “thing” as a child because I despised it. I was the smart aleck who used to say, “Who has time to read,” “WHY would someone read for fun,” and “Why to write more than your name down onto paper?” It was obvious years later why I had a negative attitude towards literature after my second life-changing epiphany. In the first grade, I was the girl who needed extra help and was enrolled in RSVP, Reading Speech Vocabulary Program.
Every day, twenty minutes before lunch, my teacher, Ms. Gata, would crouch at my desk and those next four words dismissed me, “You can go now.” She had practically whispered those words and it was all a walk of shame towards the door and across the quad to RSVP. I was pissed off and convinced of being the dumbest one in my class. None of my other classmates had to go. Just me.
I was always on time and had the same tutor, which I later discovered her position at the school, every day before lunch. We sat side by side, as she spoke about the tools that I would be given to improving my reading and writing. I could care less and was always sidetracked by the small room and around three to four other students who were with their assigned tutors. It was a strange place and I was never in the mood to talk to my helper, but she was kind. There was always a friendly and warm approach to her, which got me comfortable and, ultimately, reading aloud to her was a piece of cake!
At some point during my time in RSVP, my curiosity peaked for reading. My homework reading actually became interesting. I would reread the take-home stories, which were anywhere from ten to twenty pages with pictures, for fun. My favorite story was the one about an orange being passed around as a good luck charm amongst children and teenagers. It was told in the first person—the orange—and it had always amazed me how tuned in I was because the story felt different. The more I read and read, my reading and writing had improved and, like my peers, I moved onto the second grade that following school year.
The rest was history.
THEN, NOW AND ONWARD:
For starters, writing is difficult and can be one of the most isolating and depressing times. Some days, I am able to pat myself on the back, whether it is for finishing a draft or asking for feedback. Other days, I hate it and want to quit and complain about pursing something else because I suck at writing and will fail, etc. I used to see myself as a failure, until the day I saw a book of mine (that fifth-grade short story—forty rejections and counting) on the book shelves. It is why something my mom said recently to a few guests and how I have always been the same as I was as a kid. I asked her what she meant by that. She said that I never gave up and always pursued whatever I set my mind on. That opened my eyes a bit more because for the first time ever, I recently confided in her how I was always so hard on myself.
It is difficult to sometimes brush off rejection and even negative comments from others because let’s face it, anyone who pursues the arts in general faces rejection no matter what. Anything we work on and the display is not always going to be liked by everyone. And that is okay. One is not “bad’ because of rejection. Rejection is daily, both works related or not.
My biggest rejections have become more frequent since summer after I had decided to resubmit that fifth-grade story, now YA novel, to book agents. For a while, I was discouraged and sick of the brief “No” and debated if I should toss the project aside and start fresh. But I scared myself when my mind wandered to the quitting side. That was not an option and it should not for anyone who has ever felt discouraged, stuck or terrified. I do believe everyone’s time has already come in what are sometimes seen as just moments, whether it is booking a gig or a business meet or even meeting others to collaborate on projects. Those moments are actual, to what I have learned myself, dreams becoming reality.
Natalie Rodriguez is a writer and filmmaker from Southern, CA. She is a contributor for FlockU and AXS. Her other work has also been featured on James Franco’s “Sex Scenes;” Zooey Deschanel’s “HelloGiggles;” Short Kid Stories; and Thought Catalog. You can find her @natchrisrod.