Tuesday, September 21, 2010

SECRETARIAT, the New Disney Film

Theme Song from "Secretariat."

Sunday, September 19, John Scheinman nabbed tickets for my husband and I to attend a screening of the new Disney film, “Secretariat.” Scheinman is the farsighted writer that the nearsighted Washington Post laid off. He may be their best, last-known horse-racing beat-writer.

Scheinman introduced Randall Wallace, an Oscar-nominated writer of screenplays and a film director who has worked with actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons and Mel Gibson, saying, “Randall knows what to do when he gets his hands on a rousing story.” Wallace surely had one with Secretariat and his feisty owner, Penny Chenery.

Sasscer Hill and Film Director Randall Wallace

I remember 1973 well. There were no women CEO’s in 1973, and Penny Chenery was up against it. Back then, I was the executive secretary for an all male DC aerospace industry association, which means I took the minutes at their meetings and served coffee. None of those men took me seriously, even when they couldn’t understand the monthly financial report, and I had to explain it to them. How could Penny Chenery’s persona in this movie not resonate with me?

Scheinman sat next to me in the theater and was obviously moved by the film. I sniffed my way through it, not because of the sad parts like the death of Penny’s father, but because of this colt’s phenomenal ability to touch human emotion, and because this movie is about themes I cherish -- fighting the odds and following your heart. Wallace brings it all home.

The director totally gets the comradery and competition among horse players, owners, trainers and backstretch workers. He nails the fact that many horses are natural born comedians, and though Scheinman probably identifies with the characters of real-life reporters, William Nack and Andrew Beyer, I suspect he struggled not to howl in the scene where Secretariat hoses Beyer with horse pee.

It’s hard for me, a horse woman, to give an objective review of this film. I’ve experienced a horse, that I both bred and pulled out of his mother, win my first race for me at Pimlico. I know the tension, the hope, and the fear far too well not to be moved by this movie. But here’s the thing, I knew exactly what was going to happen in each of Secretariat’s races, and I was still on the edge of my seat.

My husband, Daniel Filippelli, said he hadn’t been this moved by a film since he watched Kenneth Branagh’s Saint Crispin’s speech in Shakespeare’s “Henry the Fifth.” Could there be a more favorable comment?

When I stepped into the lobby afterwards, I looked at the people around me. They were all pumped, like when I walked out of the first "Star Wars" movie. And many of the people in that theater were not horse people.

Some reviewers get hung up on the absolute accuracy of historical details, but Wallace has not made a documentary. He has produced a great, entertaining film that will allow more people to understand the beauty and power of horse racing.

I think Randall Wallace is about to have a hit on his hands.

William Nack, pictured to the right above with Thomas Foley, is the author of, “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion.” The new movie was based on Nack’s book.

Thomas Foley, center, pictured below with Grant Witacre and Sasscer Hill, landed the role of exercise rider Jim Gaffney. Foley is the author of the soon-to-be-released book, “The Simple Game, An Irish Jockey’s Memoir.” Published by Caballo Press, the book comes with two “Secretariat” movie tickets at Caballopress.com.  Grant Whitacre portrays Paul Feliciano, who rode Big Red in his first two career starts as an apprentice, before the connections turned to the more experienced Ron Turcotte.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


On October 13, I fly to San Francisco for the huge Bouchercon Mystery Writers conference with its cornucopia of best selling and seasoned authors. These pros write for big New York publishers like Random House, Simon and Schuster, Penguin, and St. Martin’s Press. Most of these authors have multiple books out and large followings of fans. Their books are available in hard bound copies, followed a year later by massive print runs of paper editions.

Then there is me, Sasscer Hill, published by the small Rockville, Maryland outfit, Wildside Press. Nobody, has ever heard of Sasscer Hill or her first book, FULL MORTALITY, a trade-paperback horse-racing mystery.

In my heart I hear the acoustic guitar of Jimmy Page, the magical voice of Robert Plant and the lyrics of Led Zeppelin’s 1971 classic, “Going to California.”

Broken pieces of the lyrics play in my head as I plan my trip -- words like, “Took my chances on a big jet plane . . .”

The dreamlike, taking-risks quality of this song resonates with me, a new author traveling to the big time with her paperback book in hand. Since I’m with a small press with a no-returns policy, none of the booksellers at the conference will take a chance by pre ordering the book to sell at the convention. I’m forced to pack books in my suitcase and hope I can sell them on consignment.

If I’m lucky enough to get a signing through a convention bookseller, no doubt I’ll be in the same room at the same time, with the likes of Michael Connelly, Robert Crais and the ghost of Stieg Larsson. I hear Led Zeppelin again . . . “I might be sinking. Throw me a line. If I reach it time . . .”

I’m trying hard to get on a panel at Bouchercon, but the competition for these slots is immense. Did I tell you I am an unknown? My book comes out officially on October 15, right smack in the middle of this conference. If I had some cash, I would host a small party to celebrate the launch of FULL MORTALITY, to let folks know it is available in book stores and as a download on Kindle and Ipad. But there is no cash. When I think like this, Robert Plant is singing, “Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams, telling myself It’s not as hard, hard – hard as it seems.”

Still, I can do this! I’m a darn good writer, my book is better than average, and I will make friends out there. I will tell myself it’s no big deal. I will follow my heart and chase my dream.