Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The children of the children in "Fairy Spell"

The two girls at the center of my book Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real are Frances and her cousin Elsie; the story starts in 1917 when they were, respectively, 9 and 16 years old. Frances passed away in 1986 and Elsie two years later.

Their children have been nothing but receptive to the book; as far as I can tell, it is the first picture book (in any country) on the subject. They agreed to pose with the copy I sent to them in the UK, and further agreed to let me post the photos here.

 Christine Lynch (Frances's daughter), age 87

Glenn Hill (Elsie's only child), age 83

Chris added a charming footnote: "I plan to send [a copy] to little Princess Charlotte with a note saying it is from the daughter of the little girl in the [fairy photo]. A few years ago, I sent a book we published to Prince Charles and got a reply from his Private Secretary with a message from Charles himself—so you never know. It is such an English story that Kate might know it and might read your book to her."

I thanked her and said that I'm, of course, madly eager to see if we do get a response (even though I am not one of those who woke up crazy early to watch the latest—or any—royal wedding). But I made one small request: I asked Chris to address the book to all three children in the family—Charlotte and her brothers George and Louis. Fairies—and stories—are for everyone.

She cheerfully agreed to that, too.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Two special guests at a special speaking event

On 6/14/18, I did something old and new at the same time.

I gave my talk about the often-tragic backstories of Superman and Batman at the Raue Center for the Arts, a performance venue in Crystal Lake, IL that has hosted notables from David Sedaris to Rick Springfield.

I've delivered a version of this presentation so many times, but never quite like this. That is to say that I've done evening events, I've done events where people actually paid to hear me speak, and I've done events in beautiful settings—but never, as far as I can recall, all at once. (And certainly never on a stage that has featured Los Lobos.)

Like many authors, I tend to go into events like this with low expectations (so as not to be disappointed if no one shows). The hall—originally a 1920s vaudeville theater, then a cinema—was not filled, but I was happy with the 50 or so people who attended.

Two in particular.

One was Lee Ann Marie, one of the women whom I interviewed because she appeared in a popular 1980s music video, Survivor's "I Can't Hold Back" (1984).

She could not stay for the talk but made a special surprise trip—with her mom—to say hi since she and I had not yet met in person. About 30 minutes before showtime, before the audience was let in, she walked down one of the unlit aisles of the Raue to introduce herself. It almost reminded me of one of her scenes from the video (see second black-and-white photo at that link)—sans smoke, of course.

It was so lovely to see her and meet her mother.

I knew in advance that the other special guest would be there, but that made it no less special. Her name is Hannah Klamecki. In 2007, she survived two days alone in the woods. She was 5 years old. In my 2010 book Vanished: True Stories of the Missing, I told her story.

In 2012, when she was 11, I met her for the first time

The Raue marked the second time I've seen her (and her wonderful parents, Mike and Carol) in person...and it was, by chance, the eve of the 11th anniversary of her rescue.

She's got a boyfriend, a nose ring, an admirable sense of self, and college plans. Oh, and she's got several inches on me.

I'm so proud of the person she's become and so honored that in telling her story, her family have become my friends.

Sunday, June 10, 2018


It's June. It's fairy season! 

Or perhaps every season is fairy season…

In honor of my newly released book Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real, a hodgepourri of fairy dust:

Fun British phrases I learned while researching the story (one of which made it into my book):

  • up the beck
  • 'tice the fairies
  • go in the dance
  • at the sides

"Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies!" 
—newsman Francis Pharcellus Church to 8-year-old Virginia Hanlon, who wrote to the New York Sun editor to ask if Santa Claus was real, 1897

"Like fairies, hamburgers are famously difficult to photograph because they can take thousands of forms and wear a variety of sauces."
—Groupon 12/6/10 (promoting a restaurant called Z-Burger)

Interview clip of Frances and Elsie, the "Two Girls" of the subtitle, from Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers (aired in 1985, shortly before both died):

Frances's daughter Christine at Frances's grave (1997):

Now go outside and look for the real thing.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

"FairyTale: A True Story" interview: Ernie Contreras (screenwriter)

Both my book Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real and the 1997 film FairyTale: A True Story are based on the Cottingley fairies incident of 1917 England. 

Ernie kindly agreed to an interview (conducted in 2015 and held till now, since the book released this year).

How did you get the job to co-write the FairyTale script?

The script wasn't co-written. I wrote the screenplay. Story credit I shared with Albert and Tom. "Screenplay by" and "story by" are different credits entirely

At the time my agents at CAA set a meeting with producer Wendy Finerman who had a fairy project they thought I might be interested in writing. The project was originally brought to Wendy by Albert and Tom. They'd worked up a story proposal based on the Cottingley fairy scenario. I was intrigued and signed on. 

Initially I fleshed out a story outline from Albert and Tom's original material and my own research and then pitched it out to the major studios. Paramount bought the pitch and I was cleared to write the screenplay.

Do you remember if you'd heard of the Cottingley fairies before being hired?

I was reminded the subject had come up at party years earlier, but I had no recall of the mention at the time I was brought in.

Were you ever in touch with the families of Frances or Elsie?

No, I was never in touch with the families.

What was the hardest part of writing the script?

I don't recall parts being "hard" to write. Once the story was set, the characters came to life and pretty much took over. It's not always like that.

Do you remember why you incorporated major elements that were not part of the real-life story (namely Houdini and Joseph, a brother of Elsie)?

If I remember correctly, Sir Arthur and Houdini had corresponded over the matter of publishing the fairy photos. Houdini's roll was expanded because at the time he was the grand de-bunker of spiritual fraud. He was the perfect skeptic and he held moral ground for that side of the equation.

Joseph anchored loss inside the Wright home. Originally, Joseph was a soldier lost to the war; this to bring home the devastation of a war that wiped out a generation of youth and put belief on the ropes. The director changed him to a brother who died of illness as I recall.

Do you remember why you chose not to explicitly reveal how the fairy photos were taken?

As far as I remember the director altered that course. I was not consulted.

Any funny stories about the process?

None that I recall.

What did you think of the movie?

For the most part I was pleased. Technically, it was superb.

Do you remember any reviews of the film that were especially meaningful?

I try to keep reviews at arms distance; good or bad they're out of my control.

Do you remember/have you saved any criticism of the film that was especially frustrating?

Have I saved frustrating criticism? No point in that.

What are you doing these?

I continue to write. I recently adapted a book, Elephant Winter, and I have a semi-autobiographical story, Last Night in East L.A., both in the process of acquiring funding. I'm involved in a number of other projects, mostly industry-based. I also teach, consult, and lecture.

Where do you live?

The Hollywood Hills.

When was the last time you saw the movie? How did it hold up for you?

It's been years since I last saw FairyTale beginning to end. I catch snippets when it loops through the cable channels. It holds up all right, though I tend to dwell on parts I would have done differently or changes made by the director that rip at my heart.

Do you believe in anything that hasn't yet been proven by science (including fairies)?

My faith continues to evolve. I'm open to miracles.

What did you think when you first heard from me?

Are you legit?

Has anyone else ever interviewed about this? If so, when and for what publication?

The movie has come up in interviews, but nothing specific. At one point I was approached about adapting it to the stage, but nothing ever came of that.

How do you look back on the experience?

Getting a studio movie made is a miracle in itself, so I'm grateful for that. The process up to production was amazingly straightforward. We knew what we had and everyone up and down the line was on board. The first director was my personal fairy tale choice, Lasse Hallström. Lasse and I worked together in Stockholm making final revisions. Soon before production, I get word that Lasse's out over budgetary concerns. Paramount recirculated the script and it was nabbed by Mel Gibson's Icon Productions. They took over, hired a new director who expressed no need for writer input. From this point on, I'm out.

My look back is bittersweet. No regrets.

Anything you'd like to add?

If I could only change that one scene…