After years as a development executive, Manny Fonseca is now on the other side of the table as a full-time writer and Podcaster. Now living the life of a writer, Manny is navigating a whole different side of Hollywood. You can follow him on Twitter: @mannyfonseca
"You can't know where you're going, until you know where you've been."
Will Smith expertly tells Eva Mendes in the 2005 classic, Hitch. No, I'm not an idiot... I know it's an old English proverb; it was just more fun to quote Will Smith, and YES, I was being sarcastic when I used the word "classic."
Regardless of who said it, the adage can be applied to finding your voice.
I spent the first few years of my life living in the ghettos of Detroit. To be fair, all of Detroit is pretty much a ghetto, but back in the late 70's/early 80's, people still actually lived there. I was the only child of two products of the 60's who were born and raised in Detroit.
My dad grew up across the street from Clark Park. During the '68 riots, the National Guard used the baseball diamond my dad and his friends played on as a helipad to bring in troops. My mom grew up a block away from the Ambassador Bridge. They met at the Clark Park skating rink. How cute is that?
Neither of them came from means, nor were they ever given the opportunity to become anyone WITH means. They were given the short end of the stick pretty early in their lives.
My dad was a gauge maker in a small machine shop. He pretty much spent his life making precision gauges to measure the size of a screw. How did he get such a glamorous career? The day after he graduated high school, my grandfather barged in his room at 4:30 in the morning, kicked his bed and said, "Come on, you're going to work with me." That was that.
My mom has a similar, equally sad, backstory. In her freshman year in high school, her counselor sat her down and asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Taken by surprise, she simply said, "I don't know." His response? "Okay, well, we're gonna make you a secretary, okay?" and proceeded to assign her to typing and bookkeeping classes. Besides taking time off work to raise me, she spent her entire life working as a payroll specialist.
Neither of my parents could ever fulfill their dreams because they weren't even afforded the opportunity to discover what those dreams were.
Back on the homefront, it was getting obvious that our neighborhood was getting worse and worse. The gangs were expanding their turf, and my dad couldn't keep a cassette deck in the car. I remember at least three times when my Dad woke up to go to work to find the window smashed and the radio gone.
Finally fed up with crime and wanting me to go to a good school, one that might give me an opportunity to be something, my parents moved to the suburbs, specifically Dearborn... Which was more "Ghetto adjacent," as the edge of Detroit was just a couple of streets over.
While my parents knew enough to get out of the ghetto, it's not like they really knew what they were doing. They built a loving home, but up to this point, their blueprint for life had been dictated to them by people who didn't have too much faith in their abilities.
Never mind the fact that my dad was Mexican and my mom was white. In the 70's. Interracial love was hardly acceptable. My dad wasn't even allowed in the delivery room when I was born due to the way he looked. My mom's dad disowned her for choosing my dad and my dad's father wasn't the biggest fan of my mother. There were a lot of attempts to hide all of this from me, but kids pick up stuff, I just didn't understand what I was picking up.
I could never figure out why my mom's family treated me "differently." When they saw me, I got "How's school?" and that was it. Every Christmas, my aunts and uncles would bring lavish Barbie dream houses for my cousins. I always sat in the corner and watched them open up their presents, never getting one of my own. One year, FINALLY, my aunt handed me a present. It was small, but I was thrilled to be included. I think I was about 11 or 12. I ripped open the gift to find: a silver bell Christmas ornament.
An ornament! Who the hell gives a kid an ornament!?
As for things on my dad's side, I never understood, or asked, why my dad and I would always go visit grandpa without my mom. It would be many, many years later when I found out the "family drama" behind that whole ordeal.
Luckily the Mexican side was super cool. My cousins Alejandro and Danny are my closest extended family members, even if I don't talk to them regularly. It's been my experience that there are two types of Mexican families: The kind that are inseparable and the kind that never see one another, but when they do, it's like we saw each other yesterday. The latter is what it's like with my cousins.
You'll notice I never mentioned Grandmothers. I didn't have 'em. My mom's mom died before I was born. Her replacement held the title, but hardly did anything to deem her worthy of being "grandmotherly." My dad's mom passed away shortly after I was born. It's my understanding that the grandmothers were the linchpins of both families. If they had been alive, my mother's family wouldn't have been so awful and my dad's family would be that first type of Mexican family I mentioned.
At the end of the day though, my "family" consisted of my mom and my dad. Growing up, I had a handful of friends that came from one parent homes, so having both parents was a complete luxury. My parents spent nearly 25 years together. During my first year of college, suffering from "empty nest" syndrome, my mom decided to leave my dad.
Making sure I understood her reasons, she opted to tell me, in great length, why it was time for her to move on. During that conversation, she told me that she "wasn't sure she ever loved my father." I was 17, so I played it cool. "I don't care," "It's your life," "You're both adults." Yadda, yadda. You know, things angsty teens say. But don't think that didn't shatter the image of my happy childhood and my idea of what a marriage should be.
(For the record, I'm turning 38 this year... Have never been married and never plan on getting married. Gee. I wonder why that is?)
So why the hell am I telling you all of this?
There are a lot of reasons. I think every writer needs to understand where they come from. How else are you supposed to figure out what your voice is? How are you supposed to write believable characters if you're not aware of the things around you or the things that have happened to you? The people in your life and the experiences you have, deeply influence the themes and subjects that you write about.
One time, while I was taking an undergrad screenwriting class, our professor asked us to write down three characters, in books, TV or film, that we liked. I think what he meant to say was "related to," but whatever. Which three were mine?
James Bond, Bruce Wayne and Hamlet.
At the time, I thought it was funny. "Oh, look at that! I picked all loners who either have no family, had their family killed or trying to kill their family. Isn't that HIL-AR-IOUS? HA HA HA!"
Now that I'm older though, I finally understand why I have never been able to write a successful romantic comedy. I understand why the male characters in those scripts were loners. Why every male character somehow got the name "Holden" after Holden Caulfield. Why my characters never have any family. Why the one time I DID try to write a rom-com involving a family, it was a cliched mess.
I spent years trying to force my voice into a genre that wasn't in my wheelhouse. I was ignoring what I was good at, or at least ignoring the fact that there was something I was BETTER at. Some would say that I needed to go through that in order to come out the other side. I would agree, I just wish it hadn't taken me so long to go through it.
- More articles by Manny Fonseca
- Script Angel: Finding Your Writing Voice
- A Writer's Voice: Why No Two Writing Voices Will Ever Be Alike
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