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Meet Melissa Fonzino, 2022 Oregon Literary Fellow

We’re thrilled to introduce the 2022 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients with individual features on our blog! Out-of-state judges spent several months evaluating the 400+ applications we received, and selected nine writers and two publishers to receive grants of $3,500 each.  Literary Arts also awarded two Oregon Literary Career Fellowships of $10,000 each. The 2023 OLF applications are open now. The deadline to apply is Friday, August 5, 2022.

Melissa Fonzino writes screenplays and is working on her first novel. She’s a member of the Writers Guild of America West and her feature film script And They Lived… is under option. Melissa is a two-time semifinalist for the Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting and in 2020 she advanced to the second round of consideration for the Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab.  

Category: Leslie Bradshaw Fellowship – Drama


Q&A with Literary Arts

Who are some writers you look up to or who move you to write? 
This is a tough list to narrow down, but since I mostly write screenplays I’m going to focus on screenwriters:

Mindy Kaling – Rom-Coms are so under-respected as a genre and I appreciate how unapologetic Mindy Kaling is about loving them and wanting to write them. She’s so consistently good and funny in everything she writes and she’s incredibly prolific. Beyond her writing, she’s also a great inspiration to me as a businesswoman. She’s really building an empire for herself.  

Charlie Kaufman – Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are some of my favorite films of all time. Charlie Kaufman has a vision that’s so singular and original. When you read one of his scripts, or watch a film that he wrote, it feels like you’re being let inside his brain. He gave a wonderful talk for the BAFTA Screenwriter Lecture series a while back that’s available as a podcast and is an inspiring listen for anyone interested in writing.

Billy Wilder – There’s simply no other writer/filmmaker who has made more of my favorite films: The Apartment, Sabrina, Some Like It Hot, Sunset Boulevard, and so many more. Unlike a lot of other classics, his films never feel dated and I think that’s because they’re so grounded in relationship dynamics and our fundamental human desires.

What are your sources of inspiration? Of joy?
I think inspiration can come from anywhere and often comes unexpectedly. Sometimes you’re sitting somewhere beautiful and the light hits a certain way and a whole scene unfolds in your mind. Or someone might make a small comment and it unlocks an entire character in your head. I can’t say that I understand how our imaginations work, but it has been one of the great joys of my life that I have found mine to be so easily triggered. It’s a great reminder to get out into the world and quietly pay attention to what’s going on around you.

How would you describe your creative process?
I’ve grown to think of it as a process of layering. When I first started writing, I would inevitably end up with a bad first draft and assume that meant the idea itself was bad. Then I would move onto the next idea and that first draft would also be bad. I finally learned that’s a normal part of the process and that the majority of the good writing happens when you’re rewriting.

In my mind, my rewriting process has taken on the visual representation of an accordion. I go through the latest draft and add things and it expands. Then I go through and cut it down to the essentials and it compresses again. Then there are more expansions and contractions as I keep adding layers. That continues until I have a draft that feels like everything I need is included, but nothing superfluous has survived.

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
For me it was the feeling of encouragement that it gave me. We make art in order to connect with other people but when you’re sitting at a laptop by yourself every day it’s hard to feel that connection. There’s a reason why people line the sides of the street to cheer on marathon runners. It’s really hard to stay motivated entirely on your own. We all need a little bit of support and cheerleading to help push us across the finish line.

What are you currently working on?
I just finished a new screenplay about the early days of the Impressionist painters when they were in their twenties and thirties and just beginning their careers. I grew up surrounded by prints of their work, but I never knew until I began studying them how revolutionary they were. They were fighting against an exhibition system dominated by a government-run institution and challenging deeply ingrained ideas about what subjects were worthy of being painted.

What has kept you writing through the pandemic? Has your process changed? Has the content changed?
My process hasn’t really changed. In a sense, I think being a writer prepared me for the pandemic. I’m used to being alone in a room. Writing trained me to handle the kind of isolation that a lot of people experienced for the first time during the pandemic. It’s never easy. There are always bouts of loneliness, but I think I’m better adapted to that than most people are. That may also have to do with the fact that I’m an only child and I’ve always lived a lot in my own head and my own imagination.

What advice do you have for future applicants?
Don’t self-reject. I never feel like anything is ready to go out into the world. I always want to work on it a little bit more before other people read it. But something doesn’t have to be perfect for people to connect with it and find value in it. By all means, polish your work, but don’t confuse that with waiting for some magical moment of perfection that isn’t coming.

Any book (or movie, album, show, etc.) recommendations?

Book: On Writing Well by William Zinsser – This is a guide to writing nonfiction but I think it’s very helpful for fiction writers as well. I have a tendency to overwrite and this book helped me learn how to make my writing cleaner and stronger.

Book: Black Swans by Eve Babitz – I love everything Eve Babitz wrote but this is probably my favorite of her books. She was a very textural writer with a way of describing colors and smells that’s very evocative for the reader.

Movie: The Hoax, screenplay by William Wheeler, directed by Lasse Hallström – I think this is a great movie for anyone who’s interested in screenwriting. It’s about a con and William Wheeler does such a good job of backing his protagonist into corners, and then getting him out again. Just when you think there’s no way the con can keep going, it does.

Podcast: Scriptnotes with John August and Craig Mazin – There is such a wealth of knowledge in this podcast for anyone interested in screenwriting. It’s free, easily accessible, and hosted by two people who are actually professional, working screenwriters.  

Twitter/Instagram Account: Michell C. Clark (@MichellCClark) – Michell C. Clark is a writer who posts affirmations for creatives. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been feeling down about something and then one of his posts will pop up in my feed and speak to exactly what’s bothering me. His affirmations always give me a boost.


Excerpt from And They Lived..

EXT. LOS ANGELES – DAY – ESTABLISHING

The Los Angeles of the future — not the “sci-fi” future, but
a decade or so hence. The skyline’s familiar but populated
with extra high rises and digital billboards.

INT. MEDICAL CLINIC – DAY

A white waiting room — sterile but stylish. It has the feel
of a plastic surgeon’s office or maybe a medical spa.

Jake and Mia (now late 30s) sit turned away from each other,
phones out, not talking. They both wear wedding rings.

In the background, the sales pitch of an ad —

TV NARRATOR (V.O.)

— so you’ll never fall out of love
with your spouse and they’ll never
fall out of love with you.

The ad plays on a flatscreen on the wall. GENERIC COUPLES do
generic couple things — they walk hand in hand on the beach,
share a bottle of wine, gaze at a sunset.

TV NARRATOR (V.O.)

For better, for worse, for richer,
for poorer, in sickness and in
health.

Jake glances over at Mia.

TV NARRATOR (V.O.)

Marriage as it was intended to be.
Her attention’s still fixed on her phone. He looks back to
the TV.

Onscreen a shot of the MOST BEAUTIFUL COUPLE yet, holding
each other close and smiling together to camera.

TV NARRATOR (V.O.)

“Happily ever after” used to be a
wish. Now it’s a guarantee.

In big, bold letters the word “BLISS” appears over the ad
with an RX symbol next to it.

TV NARRATOR (V.O.)

Ask your doctor what a little Bliss
can do for your union.

2.

As the ad comes to an end, it loops back to the beginning and
starts to play again.


Judge’s Comments

Melissa Fonzino’s screenplay, And They Lived…, asks its audience to consider how far they would go to save a relationship on the brink of falling apart. After years of trying to have children, Jake and Mia are feeling the strain of failure on their relationship. In a last-ditch effort to save what they once had, the young couple turns to Bliss, a hormonal pill that promises a return of the butterflies they once felt. As the drug begins to take effect, the reader is pulled into the early days of their whirlwind romance. We meet a young and confident Jake who falls in love with Mia almost immediately, and a more hesitant Mia, who nevertheless gets pulled into Jake’s magnetism. Years later, when the marriage starts to fall apart, it is Jake that is most desperate to save it, lest they lose their chance at a happily ever after.”

-Nikki Yeboah

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