Black-nonbackOne reason Movie Magazine ranks the Oaxaca Film Festival so highly is because of the attention the festival pays to writers. In most film festivals, screenwriting is the also-ran category, added more for entry fees than for the advancement of writers. Oaxaca turns that on its head. This year, the festival’s fifth, there were two days of workshops and pitch opportunities, in addition to the (ahem) networking screenwriters do at the after-film parties.

Outside the pitching venue

Outside the pitching venue



The "unofficial" pitching venues -- parties

The “unofficial” pitching venues — parties


Here are a few tips I picked up:

#1 From Dove Sussman (just sold a script for a big Clive Owens film) — dive into the setting. Make the setting a character. Start by imagining its streets, its bars, its scary places. It’ll inform how your characters act and react.

#2 Also from Dove — try speedwriting. To unblock you. To prep for his Oaxaca Film Fest workshop, he and a pal in Puerto Escondito wrote a screenplay. In one night. Mezcal might have been involved but hey, whatever releases the creative juices.

#3 Backed up by screenwriter and writing guru Jacob Krueguer   – if you’ve always been methodical, try blitz writing. If you’ve never worked with a partner, give it a shot. You might be in a rut.

#4 Jacob again — figure out what the main character wants and make him try to get it in every scene. While being tormented, tested and thwarted every step of the way.

#5 Jacob again — make sure you do a “reader’s draft” — checking your “me” draft against what a coverage reader will be thinking about. Make the screenplay easy to skim. Cut down on lengthy exposition.

Heard and understood.



Agave hearts ready to become Martin Garcia's mezcal

Agave hearts ready to become Martin Garcia’s mezcal

My taste for mescal started on a road trip through Oaxaca, a stopover on a journey down the Pan American Highway in a vintage 1968 camper. Modern day Oaxaca is not particularly camper-friendly; the streets are narrow and filled with empanada stalls and hippies selling hemp necklaces. But thirty minutes up the hillside above the city we found an American who operated an RV-park of sorts in a field of experimental mescal plants. Here’s an excerpt I wrote in a journal I kept on that roadtrip:

“Douglass is a twitchy 52-year-old, originally from California, who looks like he should have a long surfboard strapped to the top of a VW bug. He is convinced that mescal can be distilled from more than just the 16 varieties of agave plant customarily believed to be possible in the industry. It’ll take nine years to fully prove his theory; these plants don’t grow to mescal maturity quickly, but we sipped two varieties from recycled glass jars that Douglass filled with a plastic funnel. The youngest, cheapest variety scoured my esophagus. But the more expensive variety, aged in oak barrels like a fine cognac, passed through my throat with a smooth, low vibration and a hint of woody sweetness. When Douglass bottles and sells this line of “El Scorpion” mescals, he puts a dried scorpion exoskeleton in each bottle. Local Indians who once laughed at his horticultural ideas now stop by his house everyday to fill their own plastic containers.”

Leaving Oaxaca on that roadtrip, near a village called Santiago Matitlan, we found an indigenous mescal maker named Martin Garcia whose spirits we like even better (and have returned many times to buy more). But it turns out Douglass-the-American got the last laugh. His “El Escorpion” is now exported and available for close to $40 a bottle in the U.S. The mescal industry has gone from Mexican moonshine to the new, hip drink in swanky cocktail lounges – lauded in articles in such unlikely places as Garden-and-Gun and the Wall Street Journal.

All of which is part of the reason Martin’s mescal has also gone up in price – from $5 a bottle three years ago to $25 a bottle now. It’s still worth every peso. Not only do you taste nothing but the agave plants he roasts on site, but it has meant a better living for Martin and his wife. They’ve expanded, from a one-horse operation ten years ago to two today. They’ve planted more acreage and built a proper stand from which to sell their varieties. Martin wasn’t shocked to hear that high-end mescal bars in neighboring Oaxaca sell shots of the best stuff for $10 each – because he says the government has its hand out now. Taxes have skyrocketed, both on the land and the product he makes from it. Banditos have taken to stealing agave plants in the dead of night. Still, he’s making a good enough living that one of his sons wants to take over the family business. He’s even modernized the label – from a rustic image of a sombrero and the name “Mi Gusto Es” (It’s My Pleasure) to a stylish skeleton festival scene under the name “La Comparsa” – costumed carnival-goers. A perfect invitation to join the band wagon.


I’m originally from Oregon and my husband is from Wisconsin. Between our two home states we’ve kind of covered the micro-brewery landscape. If we wanted to be beer snobs, we’d have justification. The thing is, neither of us drinks much beer anymore. Maybe it’s because we live in the Deep South now, but we’ve both switched to stiffer stuff. So when TEDx Charleston held it’s speaker party at the new micro-distillery in Charleston — it was the one social event Gary willingly attended. They make a mean gin, and they didn’t pay me to say that.

But it was on our last trip to Milwaukee that I actually got to “tour” a micro-distillery. My brother-in-law bought us a bottle of Rehorst Gin a while back and I even found it at our local liquor store in Beaufort, SC — it’s that highly ranked. So Great Lakes Distillery was top on our to-do list when we spent a week niece-sitting. They went off to school like good girls; we hit the spirits.

To call it a “tour” is a bit overstated. We were led down stairs from a bar serving cocktails well before noon, to a basement. Where there are some fermentation vats, a row of oak barrels and a copper still. Pretty copper still. But that’s it. Nothing to see here. The longer you ask questions the less time there is for tasting. Which is why people “tour” the Great Lakes Distillery. Because in addition to the aforementioned Rehorst Gin, they make utterly neutral and natural vodkas (I’m told that’s a good thing — meh?) a tasty rum from sugar beets called Roaring Dan, some god-awful pumpkin flavored concoction (a nod to the season, and women who don’t stop at pumpkin and cinnamon scented candles) and then the best surprise of all.

I’ve never liked whiskey. Or Bourbon. Which makes me pretty much an embarrassment to my Scottish heritage and a pariah in my adopted land of the Deep South. Brown liquor always tasted bitter and burned going down. I’m no wimp — I take my tequila and mezcal straight and strong — but I couldn’t take whiskey. Until I tried GLD’s Kinnickinnic Blended Whiskey — on my birthday. It was the best present of the day and I’m now going to lead a one-woman crusade to bring it to  Bill’s Liquor in Beaufort. Besides, what other tour celebrates a convert’s birthday by marking the chalkboard with the number of days since prohibition ended?


Since my now 1-year-old book “The Other Mother: a rememoir” is published by Joggling Board Press in Charleston, SC — I thought I’d explain the peculiarly Southern bench JBP is named after. I like this definition the best, but in my own words — a joggling board is a delightful anachronism of a time long before sexting or hooking up substituted for courtship.


You can even make them yourself. That's my multi-talented publisher painting the joggling board in front of her office

You can even make them yourself. That’s my multi-talented publisher painting the joggling board in front of her office

It’s a long wooden plank suspended between two rockers that give it a saucy bounce. The idea was, the man sits on one end and the woman the other. As their relations progress, they scoot and jiggle a little closer. By the time cheeks met, intentions were declared and chaperones relieved. Bless their hearts. The fact that it might have been devised or even imported by Scottish plantation managers kind of spoils the native charm, though the Scottish part of me chuckles at imaging the whole affair done in kilts.

One day I’m going to have a joggling board made for my bluff overlooking the Beaufort River, and I’ll have an engraved plate installed to commemorate the two best love affairs I’ve ever witnessed: the one between my recently departed Granny Vera and long-gone Grandpa Jock Bruce and the other the partnership of Byrne and Duncan Miller.

Then when my favorite aunt visits from Oregon each year, we won’t have to act like silly kids on the joggling board outside the SC Artisan Center in Walterboro, where this one graces a porch.







The Other Mother: a rememoir is one year old today! November 5th was the national release date and the start of a fabulous dance with readers. If I had to make a David Letterman-style “Top 10 list” of the first year of a book’s life it would look something like this:

#10 The thrill of seeing my baby in the window of my hometown bookstore

#9  The pinch-myself moment when I saw it in the main Columbia library during the SC Book Fair – where I got to be on a memoir panel.


SC Bookfest

SC Bookfest

#8  Book signings galore — it turns out men love to buy the book for their wives, and women for their sisters, aunts and other mothers.

#7  A sold-out crowd at Litchfield Books’ Moveable Feast luncheon – where one woman told me she bought the book as a gift for her daughter, hoping she’d “get herself an other mother right quick!”

#6  A blog tour that introduced Byrne to dancers and readers around the country and got rave reviews you can check out on the “reviews” tab of my website.

# 5 An “Other Mother’s Day” PR campaign that introduced the book to newspaper readers in North Dakota, Utah, Ohio and Pennsylvania; morning talk radio listeners in New York and Providence and public radio fans in Berkeley, California.

#4 Hearing all the stories of how other mothers transform us at the fabulously elegant Other Mother Soiree’s hosted for the book in Beaufort, Charleston and Washington DC


#3 Signing 18 copies of the book for Pat Conroy to give as gifts to all the daughters and mothers in his life!


#2 Winning the Independent Book Publishers Association’s 2014 Benjamin Franklin Award for Best New Autobiography/Memoir in New York

The Mockingbirds: Lolita, Louise, Margaret, Bonnie and Maura


#1 My favorite part — talking to bookclubs (including one in a yurt!) and hearing perspectives that always surprise and delight me!


For a few years now, I’ve been blogging about Other Mothers. The title of my blog — Womenisms — was a word I invented to describe the spoken wisdoms of my own Other Mother: Byrne Miller. She was a champion of reinvention, something I passed on in my TEDx talk before the book launch. So I think she’d love the fact that I’ve renamed the blog “TeresaBruceBooks” and made it simpler to find on the web. Now all you have to google is

Me — my latest reinvention. By way of Halloween and Frida Kahlo.



I’m not alone in long admiring Frida — as much for her fierce spirit as her art — and I always make a pilgrimage to her house in Mexico City whenever we pass through. So when I stumbled upon a stack of vintage, velvet-and-beaded tops in an antique store in Oaxaca I couldn’t resist. It was torture waiting for Halloween, to add the faux jewels I picked up in Milwaukee Goodwill stores and Byrne’s antique poison pendant.

As Frida impersonators go, I’m a white girl without enough hair. But then reinvention isn’t about copying and it’s never permanent. My homage to Frida was a chance to open my mind, to more fully imagine her life and look at mine through her lens.

It wasn’t until I penciled in the unibrow that the transformation, however temporary, began. I, like most self-critical American women, fastidiously shave and occasionally pluck to fit the norms of our society. But flaunting the unibrow was more than liberating. It felt beautiful and defiant — unapologetically earthy.

The costume party I attended as Frida-light was a spectacle of reinvention. Watching all my friends in their creative alter-egos made me realize we all crave reinvention. Hiding behind a mask is actually a chance to parade the inner self. It took a trip to Mexico to make me want to stomp my feet and join in.

Since my new, reinvented blog allows me to insert videos — take a look at this one. Byrne would have loved these dancers — ordinary villagers who reinvent themselves every chance they get. Viva la transformacion!


mil momIf you’re lucky enough to have an Other Mother, one of the best ways you can pay it forward is to reach out to women in the military — they need Other Mothers now more than ever.

Byrne’s daughter Jane was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, South Carolina in the 1960s.

Byrne, then in her 50’s, taught modern dance to her daughter’s fellow Marines and their spouses and gradually became an other mother in Beaufort’s military community. She invited them over to her house for home-cooked meals and advice.

That kind of community support and othermothering is even more important today, when more female members of the armed services are on active duty deployments than ever before.

Turns out Byrne – like most other mothers – just intuitively knew what she was doing, according to Dr. Mark Pisano, a military school psychologist I interviewed. He told me:

“Deployments are really hard on military parents, especially single moms. Even though they are required to have a caregiving plan, when those orders come it is a real stressor. Other mothers can help by doing anything from babysitting, so that mom can have a pampered afternoon, to cooking a nice dinner.”

Pat Conroy says he wouldn't have survived his childhood without his other mothers.

Pat Conroy says he wouldn’t have survived his childhood without his other mothers.

One of the first people to encourage me to write about Other Mothers was Pat Conroy. We all know the story of his abusive childhood, but what isn’t so well known is how he survived it: by finding gentle men and women to replace those who were brutal and broken.

One of the earliest women he unconsciously selected belonged to another teenager on the Beaufort High School baseball team. That boy dropped dead on the pitchers mound in a freak accident and Pat met Julia Randel at her son’s funeral.

He started checking in on her, and gradually she became the mother he wished Peg Conroy could have been. He told me he doesn’t think picking Julia Randel hurt his mother’s feelings one bit – she had six other children to manager.

When he introduced me to Julia, this is what he said: “Having Mrs. Randel treat me as one of her own allowed me to preserve my mother’s image. I needed her to be perfect even if I had to pretend.”

The funny part was watching Pat and his other mother in the same room – mercilessly teasing each other, trying to shock me with stories. And this other mother, Julia Randel told me “We raised him like one of our own. Clearly we didn’t do a very good job.”

I read every book about mothers I could when I started writing The Other Mother. Most weren’t comforting. It seemed like only the most egregious, unforgiveable mothering behavior made it into memoir. And then I found an Other Mother character who resonated with my idea of Other Mothers.


She came in the form of LaRue, the ninety-nine-year-old step grandmother in Franz Wisner’s “Honeymoon with My Brother.” Even though this memoir starts with a jilted groom story, it ends up being a travelogue of the heart. What grounds Franz is his relationship with LaRue. This is how he tells her of the honeymoon with his brother:

“We’re going to quit our jobs, sell our houses, and travel around the world for a year.”

“Wonderful!” she said without pause.

“You know, you’re more than welcome to join us for a stop of two,” I said.

“Well I just might,” she said. “I love travel. It’s one of the few things in life you never regret.”

He writes to her along the way.

“Dear LaRue – I won’t tell you much about our accomodations (felt more like a Ralph Lauren showroom than a middle-of-nowhere safari) because I want you to be under the impression that we roughted it. Don’t want to completely ruin our backpacker image. Love, Franz.”

I knew had finally read the memoir I was looking for. When I asked Franz Wisner for a blurb for “The Other Mother,” he cheerfully wrote back from travels in Spain. “Of course,” he said. “I love the book. Byrne brings back a little of LaRue for me.”

Ann-Marie Adam's dad -- recuperating after a hospital stay with a little  other mothering.

Ann-Marie Adam’s dad — recuperating after a hospital stay with a little other mothering.

Of course. I just happened to write about Other Mother’s because Byrne was a woman. But there have been meaningful, influencial male figures in my life other than my father. In fact one of the experts that I interviewed for the book is a professor out of the University of Wisconsin named Carl Hedman.
While his wife was getting her master’s in nursing in the 70s, their family lived in a multi-racial commune.

“ I don’t know why society is so locked into private attempts to be happy,” Hedman says. “Having other mothers to help raise our two sons was good for our marriage.”

Even the way he pronounces commune, more like the what-you-do-with-Mother-Nature verb than the wacko-hippy connotation, confirms what he sees as the benefit of othermothering. The Hedmans stuck with group housing even after their own boys were grown.

“It eased the empty nest syndrome. I could still be a father figure in everything from teaching little boys to ride bikes to helping one of them cope with the stress of getting through Yale.”

Thanks for the shout-out, Wordpress!

Teresa Bruce


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