Interview With the Writer: Melinda Cotton

Melinda Cotton is the author of the short story “Grammy’s Keys,” the inspiration for Durham Harrison’s upcoming short film. See this story on the big screen on March 23rd. 

What were your hopes for your short story when you submitted it to Expecting Goodness?

Because I am from Columbia and the festival is based in Spartanburg, I had no idea about the submission process or even about the project itself. I was contacted by Kari Jackson and asked to submit “Grammy’s Keys” for consideration. I’ll never forget the surreal feeling that engulfed me at the moment I read her email (my son’s ears are probably still ringing!). Come to find out, Sandlapper magazine suggested Kari contact me because my story won the 2011 SC Fiction Writers Project and was published in their magazine. Being asked to participate in the selection process was an incredible honor in itself. I never dared dream my story would be chosen. In October 2012, my husband and I sat on the couch with our laptop and watched the webcast announcement of the winners. I must admit it was very late in the program before I learned “Grammy’s Keys” was the first choice selection by Durham Harrison. (Now my husband’s ears are also ringing!)

How did you envision your short story as a short film? Was there a persistent image or a persistent set of scenes? Was there a particular actor or actress that appeared?

Because my story was written from personal experience, I had the images of my grandmother and her house in my mind. When Durham first told me where he wanted to shoot the film, I thought “really?”, but once I was able to remove my own images from my head, I quickly realized Durham found the perfect location for the film. Many thanks to Marguarite Haines for her incredible generosity in opening up her home and property.   

If you’ve had a chance to visit Durham and the set, what was it like? Was it as you imagined?

My filmmaker is the best! He included me in every step of the process. He told me from the beginning he wanted to keep the film as true to my story as possible, and he did! Early on, he sent me copies of the screenplay and asked for my comments. When he interviewed potential cast members and recruited them to the studio to read for parts, he invited me to attend and asked for my opinion. When the day of the shoot finally arrived, he called to make sure I would be there. I was on the set the entire day from the beginning to the very last scene. To walk into a room and hear actors saying your words and to watch them bring your story to life, well, the emotion left this writer without words. I’ll never be able to thank the wonderful cast, crew, and other folks on the scene who gave up their entire day to transform my story into a short film. I have met and made friends with a great group of actors and musicians who are dedicated to their art. Thanks, guys, for being a special part of helping my story transition into film. You have my heart. Without a doubt, Durham went out of his way to make sure I was part of the process, and I am indebted to him for including me in his dream. This has been the most amazing ride of my life!

I’ve heard that this story’s transformation into a film is portraying a powerful message. Could you tell us about that?

When I wrote “Grammy’s Keys,” I never envisioned the story as delivering a powerful message. I wrote the story based on personal experiences with my grandmother and efforts to keep her from driving. Now I realize the story is about an issue faced by nearly every family sooner or later – when to take the keys from an elderly driver. Because of that phenomenon, I believe the audience will be able to relate to the story and the film. 

What scene, in your opinion, will have the most impact on the audience?

Although the story is written with humor, there is a touching moment that is beautifully created and expertly acted between my characters Jeremiah and Grammy when Jeremiah tries to explain why he wants her keys. 

Finally, what are your personal aspirations from this project and what do you hope the audience will take away from your story?

 I hope the audience, whether they’ve experienced the situation yet or not, will understand the difficult dilemma of taking away the keys from a loved one. It is not an easy decision to make or to enforce. But the strong love and family commitment portrayed in the film is ultimately a story of loving and caring for our elderly family members.

I am grateful to everyone who’s been a part of this incredible festival. The folks behind this project have worked tirelessly to create and organize an event that will raise awareness and appreciation of the arts in our local communities. I suspect this festival will become an annual event to showcase the many talented writers and filmmakers we have in South Carolina.    

One comment

  1. Linda B

    Melinda you are the best. So proud to know you and be even a small part of your extended family.