Subtext Series: Veronica Reyes-How
It all started on a slow day in Detroit, MI when my parents snuggled for warmth -- JK. Actually, truth be told, I was an “oops baby”, so I’m lucky to even be here! And I say this because I think "oops baby" is very much part of my identity, in that I’m trying to justify my existence in various ways.
I have 3 older siblings who are all Mensa-level smart. In third grade, the teacher who ran the GATE (Gifted and Talented) program raved about my siblings being extraordinary and said how excited they were to have me. Then I took the test, and they were like, "Sorry, you don’t make the cut," and I think I’ve been trying to make up for that ever since by being a workhorse and being "clown-level" entertaining.
My parents were definitely tiger parents. They both graduated top of their class and expected that out of their kids. I think that can be a lot of pressure on a kid, but I personally liked that my parents believed I had the capability to excel. Probably because I failed the GATE test, haha. I very much took on my parents’ immigrant mindset -- which can be best described by the famous words of Rhi Rhi, “Work, work, work, work, work!”
"I love that feeling of how books take you away, and so the desire to create stories that could provide that same escape and empathy for other people developed in my twenties."
I’ve always been a voracious reader. I’m a huge escape person. In kindergarten, I would rush to get my work done (it was a Montessori school) just so I could grab books and hide in the top bunk of a bunk bed in the playroom and read until my mom came to pick me up. I love that feeling of how books take you away, and so the desire to create stories that could provide that same escape and empathy for other people developed in my twenties.
As for inspiration, my favorite author is Somerset Maugham. I love his short stories most of all. As for writing screenplays, a huge inspiration for me is Christopher Nolan. In fact, the current tv pilot script I’m working on is a sci-fi, and sort of my "love letter" if you will, to Christopher Nolan, inspired by the movie Inception and Tenet.
When I first tried to write, I found that the writing just flowed, but the difficulty came when I joined various writing groups or writing classes. I’ll say upfront it was probably me - but I would come away so discouraged that no one understood or got what I was trying to say or do in my stories, that I stopped. It’s almost impossible for me to persist when I don't feel like anyone understands me. So I quit writing, for a time. Well, I never really quit, but I stopped showing my writing to people. I sort of just wrote for myself. TV pilots, short films, short stories, plays, etc. Then in the pandemic, I found a writing friend who really encouraged me and could ‘see’ what I was trying to do. That helped me finish my first script and then I couldn’t stop writing after that.
A Writer's Routine[I'm] pretty disciplined. I set aside 4 hours minimum per day Monday through Friday to work on writing. Because of my ever-changing schedule, those hours might start at 4am or at 10pm at night. They may also get chopped up to an hour here, an hour there, etc. but I do get in my hours. I will say, even when I’m not trying to write, like on weekends, I’m writing. I make memo notes all the time and think of scenes. My brain makes movies out of things I hear, and creates scenes and twists constantly for my scripts.
"I think I envisioned the screenwriter’s journey more like a solitary experience, you and your computer. You banging your head against the wall, trying to figure out things on your own. It hasn’t been like that at all."
Screenwriting: Reality vs. Fantasy
Hmm. I’m not sure I created a fantasy out of what being a screenwriter would be like before I attempted it, but if I could make a fantasy of it - I would imagine days by a pool or beach somewhere, crafting pages for 8-9 hours at a time, languishing in story building, bouncing ideas off of a very crafty writing assistant/pool technician.
The reality is that I sit in my tiny apartment staring at a page, occasionally interrupting my partner to tell him my latest idea, then I scurry back to my laptop and furiously write it all out. I live with these stories in my head almost 24/7 and am always thinking of how to convey certain moments or characteristics more cleverly, or more efficiently.
I think I envisioned the screenwriter’s journey more like a solitary experience, you and your computer. You banging your head against the wall, trying to figure out things on your own. It hasn’t been like that at all. I’ve had a good community of writers around me who are incredibly supportive, generous and not afraid to give critical notes. I was lucky to have my scripts place in a variety of competitions early on, and through that, I’ve made connections at ScreenCraft and at Coverfly that have been invaluable in helping me understand and navigate the industry. Also, because of that recognition, I’ve had other professional writers around me acknowledge my work and offer themselves as support.
Prepping for That First Meeting
Well, my first meeting was with a Development Exec at a production company, set up by my writer-friend. I reached out to the ScreenCraft team and asked how to best prepare for this General meeting. We had a call and they gave me a list on how to prepare. So, I did that list like it was my job. I researched everything that this person had been involved in, watched everything that the production company had produced, made notes on their writing style, and what material they seemed to enjoy producing.
I thoroughly researched the individual I was meeting with, as well as the production company and the person who owned the production company. I wrote out questions to ask, things I genuinely wanted to know about them and what they did. I also had my partner do a practice round of questions with me. Then when it got to the day, I let it all go and just tried to enjoy connecting with this person over Zoom.
A Writer's Low Moment
Being completely transparent, if I take enough "hits" in a week -- and that could be anything from harsh criticism I received from notes sessions with an Exec or an industry professional, to the constant rejection from Fellowships and competitions, to the promise of meetings and deals falling through -- I can get into an "I quit" headspace.
"Being completely transparent, if I take enough 'hits' in a week... I can get into an 'I quit' headspace."
Inevitably, my partner (or thankfully sometimes I) will remind myself of a few things: small victories, why I write in the first place - to illuminate stories that wouldn’t be known otherwise, and that it’s always darkest before the dawn. That usually helps me pull through the "I quit" moments.
My grit is inspired by so many things-- but one big thing was running a marathon. I was a pretty sedentary kid. I didn’t play a lot of sports when I was younger. Then in my 20s, one of my friends asked if I would run a marathon with her. I was like, "Yeah, sure!" Fully not intending to run it, but I thought a few training runs would be cool to try.
So that summer, I started running with her in Central Park. I was dying. It was so hard to even run 1 mile! She told me little tricks to keep herself motivated to run when she didn’t want to, and I developed some tricks of my own. Eventually I ran my first marathon in NYC. Something I wouldn’t have ever dreamed was possible for this pudgy junk-food loving kid. It reinforced the idea that anything is possible. And when something feels impossible, focus on taking one step at a time.
Waiting to Exhale: The Other Side of Success
When my first pilot script became a Finalist in its first Screenwriting competition, which I believe was Stowe Story Lab. I felt like that was validation that I had “something” and that all these hours I spent writing/thinking about stories weren’t a waste of time.
I think celebration is so important! For me, my first screenwriting success was finishing my first draft of my medical drama pilot, based on the true story of how my mother became a doctor in America. This happened during the pandemic. At the time, I had found this new type of Hendricks Gin infused with Elderflower. It is DIVINE with lemonade. So my husband and I celebrated with drinks.
"When something feels impossible, focus on taking one step at a time."
A Screenwriter's Mantra
This might sound odd, but remember that Dunkin’ Donuts commercial back in the 80s? I’m a child of the 80s and it always stuck with me: “Time to make the donuts,” which to me says, no matter what’s happening, no matter how you feel, just get up and do what you know needs to get done.
My partner and I will say this to each other sometimes in the morning when we don’t want to get out of bed. Lol.
The ScreenCraft Subtext Series is a group of personal interviews with writers who’ve recently taken their first big step into the industry. The interviews hope to shine a spotlight not only on their success but on the journey behind it - the determination, the setbacks, and the persistence that leads a writer to their success. We hope they are inspiring and that you can take a piece of advice or two for forging your path.