#KristenJohnston: (PART ONE) Some Thoughts As I Read Her 2012 Book “Guts”

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“Oh God, Robert…a blog post book review?!” Yes. If you know me, that shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m a writer. Writing is, you know…kind of my thing.

Guts is a 2012 book written by two-time Emmy Award-winning actress, Kristen Johnston (3rd Rock From the Sun, The Exes). The book details her life and past as she suffered with a drug and alcohol addiction.

“Oh wow…another book about a celebrity who was a substance abuser….yawn…” If that’s you, then I beg a thousand pardons for this interruption. You were obviously on your way to perform brain surgery and this blog post jumped out, pointed a gun at you and is forcing you to read. No way you were just sitting on here on Facebook and Twitter, killing time anyway and happened to come across something in which you simply didn’t have interest.

A few of you who know me well may also wonder if I’ve ever been an alcohol or drug addict and that’s the reason I bought this book. Don’t worry…I’ve never personally dealt with drug or alcohol addiction (that sound you heard was a deep sigh of relief from my mother). So why would I, as someone who has never suffered with this kind of addiction, choose to buy a book from someone who has and has written about it?

As I said above, I’m a writer. As of the last three years, an aspiring screenwriter. One thing I’ve learned to be very important and something I study all the time is different people and how they behave. Now I do not mean from the psychological standpoint. I’m NOT trying to analyze people. I’m not at all qualified to do that. I’m simply observing them. I’m not trying to dictate or assume as to WHY someone does something; I’m focusing on simply WHAT is it they’re doing. As a writer, it’s important that I learn how different people act, especially if I am to be successful at writing different characters. The best way for me to do that is to not guess, not to assume, but to actually find out about certain people and of course, straight from those people.

For example, if I decided to work on a project involving a recovering addict (I am not at the moment, even though it may seem that way with having bought this book), to be successful, I can’t just create a character and just fill in the blanks with what I think I know. I need to research. I need to talk to people who have suffered addiction. Now there may be other characters within my script who would guess and assume, but that would be because that’s how those characters are, since of course, that’s how a LOT of people out there would be. But that wouldn’t be coming directly from me.

In realizing this, I’ve become more interested in talking to and getting to know people. Even though I’m a very shy person, this mindset is still there. I may not run up to a total stranger on the street and spark up a conversation, but once we do get to that point and you feel comfortable telling me this and that, then I’d certainly love to hear it from the horse’s mouth. People do too much assuming as it is. I choose to be crazy and not go that way. Over these last few years, I’ve become even more interested in learning about other people who are different than I am. The more different from me they are, the more curious I am to learn about them. Now I’m not necessarily researching for a screenplay I’d like to work on. Yes, I did say above that this would be the type of research I would do, but since writing has become such a huge part of my life, aspects of it tend to come out in all kinds of ways. In this case, my desire to learn about different people still exists pretty strongly, even if I have no desire at the time to work on a project with characters based on those folks.

But oh, right; enough of my writing shenanigans…the book review. Speaking of characters, let me preface this to speak about Kristen Johnston, who of course, earns a living playing different characters. I am actually a third of the way through the book at the moment. Knowing before the book even arrived to my house two days ago that I wanted to write a blog post review of it once I was done, I figured I’d add a little bit as I progressed in the book. So rather than spending maybe two hours writing a whole bunch at once, I’ll spend small periods and once I’m actually finished with the book, I may only need to add a paragraph or two…or six. But that’s only if I don’t feel like writing much.

I will admit that even though I knew OF Kristen, I did not watch much of 3rd Rock From The Sun. I remember that my mother enjoyed the show, but that was around the time I as a teenager worked most nights at Wendys, so I didn’t watch much television in the evenings. I also joined the Army in 1997, so of the few shows I did watch, I lost track of a lot of them when as I spent the two months in basic training and everything else that came with entering and spending my first few years in the military.

I do remember periodically seeing promos for 3rd Rock. I knew John Lithgow from the movies and Jane Curtin from Kate and Allie, but the other person who quickly grabbed my attention was the sexy, gorgeous, long-legged beauty who I eventually found out to be Kristen Johnston. Honestly, that was about it. I still didn’t watch much, but not for lack of interest. The show seemed like something I would want to watch, but again, with just beginning my military career, I was occupied with so much else that I just never got to. 3rd Rock ended in 2001.

Back to my writing shenanigans for a bit. A few years ago, I wrote books. In close to a year and a half, I finished three of them. (First, my DISCLAIMER: In case anyone does express interest in my writing, please don’t judge my writing on those books. Those were my first efforts and while they are acceptable, I’ve grown a LOT as a writer since and they are not indicative of that growth.) There is one character I wrote about by the name of “Jasmine Jessup.”

“Jasmine” had NO filter when it came to speaking. Cursed like a sailor. Spoke her mind. FAR from shy. The funny thing is, Jasmine is the exact opposite of who I am as Robert. I am (still at age 36) a very shy person who censors myself quite often. Jasmine wasn’t necessarily a mean person per se; she never aimed to hurt people. If it happened, she did show remorse here and there. But as with many people who spoke their minds the way Jasmine did…it didn’t seem to others like she had remorse at all.

Since I self-published the books, it was mainly my friends and few family members who knew about them. It didn’t take long before people would make comments about me “making these books into movies” and things like that. After reading, people would ask, “So…who would play…?” this character or that character. There is a character in the story by the name of “Terrance Walker” who I did writer to be similar to me. So, to humor them, I threw names of celebrities out there who, in a magical word where I actually had the choice, would play the roles of some of my characters.

Personally, I never have this discussion anymore, because as a screenwriter, I know that I am nowhere near the level of being able to make or even have any say on casting decisions in movies. Hell at this point, I may not even good enough for my writing to become a movies. So I would rather not even bother with it. But back then, just for kicks, I did.

Then came the question, “Who would you have play Jasmine?” I honestly had no idea. I couldn’t think of a single Hollywood actress who would fit Jasmine’s personality.

One day a few years ago as my wife, our kids and I are in a hotel settling in following a road trip, I’m flipping through television stations to see what’s on. We come across TV Land.

I realized the show was a sitcom, so I left it there for a while. I was lying across the bed. A few seconds later on the show, a woman entered the apartment of three divorced men. My eyes widened. Wait, I know her, I thought to myself. Then my mouth fell to the floor. I practically jumped out of the bed, startling my wife. I said, “That’s it! That’s her!” My wife said, “Who?” I pointed to the television and to this beautiful divorce attorney on a show titled The Exes, after not seeing her for about twelve years and said, “That’s Jasmine!!”

Of course, my wife just giggled and said, “Jasmine who?” I did too and mentioned my books, but I was giddy in realizing that yes, there was someone out there who fit Jasmine’s personality. If there was ever a real-life “Jasmine,” she was it. I was giddy mainly because there weren’t many out there like Kristen, and if you know her at all, you know how she is. Very funny, but candid at the same time. If you want it straight, I can’t think of too many others out there who will give it to you any straighter than she would, which I think isn’t wildly common from a celebrity and professional actress. Sure they’re out there, but not many.

Granted, I was mostly thinking of her as her character “Holly” because I didn’t really know her well aside from the show, but later on, I came to find out that she is indeed very similar to her character and of course, my character from my books. However, I’m well-aware that the cold fact is that I’m probably the only person in the world who would care about something like that.

Fast forward to today. A few months ago, as I’m reading online articles about screenwriting, I began seeing the advice that we as new writers should “write the parts that professional actors and actresses would want to play.” That made perfect sense, except, how do the folks writing these articles know exactly how this actor or that actress thought and what types of roles they would be interested in? I get the concept, but how in the world could I possibly know? I figured, why not try and ask some professional actors and actresses myself?

‘Tis the beauty of Twitter.

Again, as a very shy person, this wasn’t a simple decision for me. I figured many wouldn’t answer me, which they didn’t, but I also was concerned about embarrassing myself. There was simply one question I was hoping for anyone to answer, as this is the way I worded it (or a close variation) in the tweet: “Hi, I am an aspiring screenwriter. What is something that impresses you when you read a script?” Again, most did not answer.

One day, I decided to get bold and send that tweet to Kristen. At that time, I saw that she was one of the few celebrities who actually interacted with her fans (and still does today quite often, when she’s able). I saw that same personality through her tweets. Anyway, I sent her the tweet before leaving work one day.

On my drive back home, I thought, I am such an idiot. Kristen is going to probably laugh at that silly request or give me some indication that I really have no business tweeting something like that to her. As soon as I can get somewhere to stop, I’m going back and deleting that stupid tweet. I ended up stopping at a gas station and as I wanted, I reached for my phone to delete the tweet. I picked up the phone and to my surprise, after seeing a notification that Kristen had responded to my tweet, this is what I saw:

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Now that tweet absolutely made my night. Not only because she’s one of the first celebrities to have responded to me on Twitter at that time and that was great enough, but I just love that last sentence. I, as an aspiring screenwriter, send a tweet to a two-time Emmy Award-winning actress and this is what I get back. An honest answer with a touch of humor. I thought it was amazing.

Close to a month later, I sent Kristen another tweet, but this time, I took a blind flying leap and did something damn near every so-called screenwriting “expert” advises NEVER to do, especially when agents and/or managers aren’t in the discussion as of yet. I asked Kristen if she’d be willing to co-write something with me; of course, upon reviewing samples of my work and everything else being to her satisfaction. Now I thought my first question was ridiculous, but this one was insane. I’m a nobody asking a professional actress if she’d be willing to work with me; someone with next to NO resumé whatsoever. I honestly thought to myself that there was no way Kristen was “in the same good mood” she was in when she responded to me the first time. I knew for certain I wouldn’t get a response this time. I definitely felt like a fool.

To my surprise, once again, not long after that, I received a notification and the following response:

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Now, first off, I am absolutely NOT saving and taking a screenshot of every single tweet Kristen has ever sent me. I can imagine she reads this and thinks, “Damn…now I have to watch what I say to this guy.” Absolutely not. These two just stood out to me. But that is absolutely the BEST “No” I can imagine I will ever get. You may be thinking, “Robert…she said no. What’s so great about that?”

I don’t blame Kristen at all for saying no. It’s not about her thinking she’s “better” than me (as she has never exhibited that kind of attitude toward me or any of her fans that I’ve noticed). It’s just that I’m really unknown to her and with her busy life, there honestly just isn’t time to work with someone like me. She’s established and I’m not. I really haven’t shown her much that would be convincing enough for her to even consider. So, if I’m sitting where she is, I would very likely say no also.

However, look at that last sentence. Here she is, after I once again thought that I had made a complete fool of myself, encouraging me to not let her rejection stop me. Her rejecting me wasn’t a surprise. I knew I was leaping blindfolded off a cliff to begin with. But I just cannot even think about another celebrity actor or actress who would directly encourage me like that. Of course, there are those who, maybe in interviews, would speak to writers as a whole (of course, nothing at all wrong with that), but to get a direct response of this nature just gave me a newfound and an even bigger respect of Kristen Johnston.

So why the hell am I telling you all this?

And where the hell is the book review?

First off, these aren’t the only two times in which Kristen has responded to me and each time, she has been so incredibly kind and/or very funny. I’ve always felt I wanted to write a blog post to share some of my thoughts as sort of a tribute to her. She has done what many celebrities simply don’t do. I will always so greatly appreciate that.

As for the book review, oh yeah…that’s right; I have to finish reading the book. Check in for Part 2 in a few days. It’ll be there…I promise.

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