Fri. July 12, 2019: Soggy Friday

Friday, July 12, 2019
Waxing Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Hot, humid, bucketing down with rain

Yesterday seems like so long ago.

It wasn’t a particularly good writing day, although some ideas are twirling around.

I drove my mother to her doctor’s appointment in Yarmouth — the traffic was hateful and it took about double the usual time, but not as long as I expected. On the way home, we picked up Chinese takeout at our favorite restaurant.

Turned down a request for a meeting. I’m not clearing a day again to make a 5-hour round trip for a 20 minute “informational” meeting that won’t lead to anything. The company mis-represented itself. It’s a recruiter for other companies, not hiring itself, and I’m not interested.

Received another request for samples from a gig that sounds like it would be cool (and the pay’s good), but I’m not sure I have the right samples for it.

Shot out a bunch of LOIs.

I need to do some more article pitches, blog pitches, and submit my backlog of stories I’ve worked on.

I read Roselle Lim’s absolutely beautiful NATALIE TAN’S BOOK OF LUCK AND FORTUNE. There’s been so much fuss about it, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it, although I knew I had to read it, to stay up with what’s going on in the industry. But I was delighted by the book. It is beautiful. The writing is gorgeous, the characters and heart are wonderful.

It also brought back many happy memories of when I lived in San Francisco (A Very Long Time Ago), only two blocks from Chinatown. Many of my happiest memories of my two years in that city are connected to Chinatown. Even as a lone white girl exploring alleys and side streets, I was always treated with friendliness and kindness.

It’s pouring with rain today, so I guess the lawn guy won’t be here!

Excellent first writing session of the day on ELLA. Slower, but promising session on GRAVE REACH.

Doing some client work this morning, then going to a Lights4Liberty event locally. The inhumane policies and high level corruption have to be stopped.

I’m planning to spend the afternoon writing, hopefully on GRAVE REACH.

Have a terrific weekend.

 

Published in: on July 12, 2019 at 8:42 am  Comments Off on Fri. July 12, 2019: Soggy Friday  
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Mon. June 18, 2018: Follow Your Dreams — A Personal Story #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, June 18, 2018
Waxing Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde

I’ve lived my life by that motto.

I knew I wanted to be a writer by the time I was six years old. I published in school magazines and newspapers. As a teen, I wrote plays, and I did press releases and other articles for local and regional newspapers about the high school music groups with which I was associated.

In college, I got away from the writing (although I wrote plenty of awful poetry) when I committed to theatre. I graduated high school early, tested my way out of freshman year, and entered Florida State University in Tallahassee mid-year. I took a stage lighting class. I was supposed to put in 20 hours of lab work in the theatre during the semester. I put 20 hours in my first week and never left the building until I transferred to NYU’s film and television program a year later. I got terrific experience at FSU, and even picked up a few side rock and roll gigs.

I transferred to NYU and got into the film department. My first day in film school, I met the guy who still, all these decades later, is one of my closest friends. But, because I was practical and a problem-solver, I wound up more on the production management level than the writing level. I had two brilliant professors, who encouraged me, and with whom I’m still in contact. One was my screenwriting professor, and I wish I’d studied more with him. I still use what I learned from him, in screenwriting, playwrighting, radio writing, and novels.

I picked up theatre jobs here and there. In other words, I started earning my living in the arts when I was 18. Any non-arts job I ever had was only temporary, and in between shows, for the cash. I knew I wasn’t suited to an office job or anything the fearful call “a real job.” Honey — working in the arts is about giving EVERYTHING and leaving it out there. It’s far more real than ANY office job. So shut the eff up.

When I graduated from NYU, I moved to the west coast for three years to work in regional theatre. I knew I needed experiences outside of New York. I loved it, but I also knew that if I was going to realize my dream of working on Broadway, I had to be in New York. While I was west, I spent some time in LA and knew it wasn’t for me.

I came back east, initially to help with a family issue, for two months. I immediately landed a stage management job and worked my way up in the off-off-off-off Broadway community. (I had worked as a stage manager and production manager in San Francisco, and as a props person in Seattle). I switched to wardrobe (as a stage manager in small SF companies, I’d often both stage managed and handled quick changes). I worked my way from off-off-off Broadway to off-off Broadway and then to off-Broadway. I did some work in New York as a stage manager and an associate production manager, for the Pearl Theatre and for Manhattan Class Company. I did wardrobe for the Vineyard, and then spent several seasons at Manhattan Theatre Club, which led to open-ended runs rather than repertory.

While I was still working off-off Broadway, I spent three years working during the day for an art book publisher. I learned an enormous amount that has served my writing career well, working both sides of the table. I worked in the development offices of the Neuberger Museum and the Guggenheim Museum. At the latter, I spent my lunch hour walking the museum, immersing myself in the art. I worked part-time for five years for the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation, when it was so small the staff consisted of the Executive Director and me, putting on seminars and support groups and roundtables and award shows. I learned so much.

It was at Manhattan Theatre Club where I had the honor of working with Arthur Miller and Athol Fugard within the same six months. I’d started writing again. Even though I was the wardrobe girl, Athol respected that I wrote, that I was starting to define myself as a writer. He invited me to sit in on rehearsals any time I wanted, to ask any questions I wanted. I did, and I learned an amazing amount from him. He directed what he wrote, but he kept his writing self and his directing self separate.

On the first day of rehearsal, in his opening remarks, he said, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the writer is dead in this process. There will be no revisions during rehearsal. The bad news is that I promised him you chaps would speak every line exactly as written.”

I loved it. He demanded respect for the words. No paraphrasing (which American actors tend to do more than any other actors, claiming to be “in the moment” when, in reality, most of them simply haven’t bothered to take the time to memorize).

I worked with Arthur Miller within the same six months (their plays were produced one after the other in the season). I adored him. He was one of the most vibrant, vital, intelligent people I ever met. He used to hang out in the wardrobe room during the show sometimes.

At the time, I was getting back into writing. Monologues for actresses with whom I worked, who couldn’t find good monologues for auditions. Who landed the job every time they used something I wrote for them. I was also working on a short story, for a themed competition.

I wrote the first draft on butcher paper in between cues in the wardrobe room. I typed it up and worked on revisions between cues (there were long periods where I didn’t have any quick changes with my actors). I hid the pages in the room, but Arthur found them one evening when I was on the deck doing quick changes.

I was mortified when I returned to the room and found him reading the pages. He was Arthur Miller! I was, well, me.

He looked up and said, “This is good. What are you doing working backstage?”

“I like it. Plus, you know, I like to do things like eat. I have to pay the rent.”

“You need to write full time. You’ll never be the writer you can be, find your full potential, until you rely on it to pay the bills.”

David Mamet told me something very similar when we worked together.

Arthur gave me some suggestions on the text. He never treated me like “less than” because he was Arthur Miller and I was a wardrobe girl scribbling in a corner. He always treated me like a colleague. We kept in touch until his death, and he always pushed me to do better, be more — and only write.

It was quite a few years before I had the courage to only write — and it was AFTER I’d accomplished my dream of working on Broadway.

The monologues I wrote expanded to plays, the plays that would take me to fringe festivals in both Edinburgh and Australia. I found my work got a much stronger reception in Europe than in the US. It wasn’t angsty enough for the American audiences at the time; there was too much sharp humor.

I landed at the Public Theatre and worked with one of my idols, Hal Prince. Another person at the top of his craft who liked and respected everyone with whom he worked. The assistant designers at the Public were working on Broadway and took me with them when the show at the Public closed.

I found myself learning how to be a swing dresser on Broadway, on the production of MISS SAIGON, and in the union. Each series of cues a dresser performs during the course of the show is called a “track.” If you read my novel PLAYING THE ANGLES, set backstage on a Broadway show, my protagonist Morag is a Broadway dresser.

MISS SAIGON had 13 tracks. I learned them in 26 performances. You follow the dresser once to learn it; the dresser follows you as you do it. Within three months, after swinging every track on the show multiple times, the lead actresses who played Kim requested me when their regular dresser took another job. I stayed with the show for five years, until it closed.

It was an amazing, creative group. We wrote plays, songs, other performances, and all went to each others’ shows. Which took place at midnight, in various venues around the city. We put on our own shows, and hung out with the cast & crew of other shows like SNL at KGB. We did The Easter Bonnet Competition and Gypsy of the Year and Broadway Bares to raise money for AIDs and breast cancer. I worked the Tony Awards once and attended it twice over my years on Broadway.

I think I had four shows I wrote produced during that time, in small venues. Dozens of monologues and short pieces. A few short stories published. MISS SAIGON closed and I worked on other shows at other theatres: RENT, GYPSY (the Bernadette Peters version), FOLLIES, 42ND ST, SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS (with Mark Hamill, who became one of my favorite people ever), URINETOWN, and then as a swing on the first 3 1/2 years of WICKED.

I loved it, but I knew I was aging out. Physically, it was getting tougher and tougher. Mentally, I was struggling to get the writing done and work full time on Broadway. They’re not kidding when they say, “The theatre is a jealous mistress.”

By this point, I was also day-playing on television shows shooting in New York. For the money. I could earn in one day on set when I earned in a week on Broadway. I liked it. I learned so, so much. But I didn’t love it the way I loved Broadway. I’m better suited to theatre production than television production. Which is a shame, from a financial standpoint.

I was also writing about sports for various publications. I covered horse racing and ice hockey. Thirteen years’ worth of Triple Crown races; traveled with a minor league hockey team for eight months as background for a book. Covered America’s Cup races and learned about sailing, although I can’t even swim.

By this point, the first Jain Lazarus Adventures were out, ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT, DIXIE DUST RUMORS, and a bunch of short stories and anthologies. I was writing for calendars and almanacs. I was doing marketing writing for companies. I was writing and teaching and working on novels and trying to build a writing career as the publishing world changed. I hit a point where I had to make a decision. I had to decide if I would stop writing or if I would give up Broadway.

I knew I couldn’t continue physically on Broadway much longer — heavy costumes, raked stages, blowing out my knees running up and down concrete steps carrying stacks of clothes.

I chose writing.

SPRING AWAKENING was my last show as a swing on Broadway. The last event I worked was a staged reading of ALL ABOUT EVE, which had a plethora of people I loved working with involved, AND I got to bow out by working with Jennifer Tilly, Keri Russell, Peter Gallagher, Annette Bening, Angela Lansbury, Zoe Caldwell, and more. It was a great way to leave the business. I’d heard so many stories about how wonderful Peter Gallagher is, and thought, “No one can be that great” — he IS that great, and even better. I’ve never laughed as much with anyone as I did with Jennifer Tilly, and I loved working with Keri Russell (we had five quick changes in a staged reading, which means walking around holding scripts).

I moved away from New York to write. There are challenges. I live in a place that is a prime example of how trickle-down economy does not work. I live in place that, if you’re a working artist who visits, they fall all over you, but if you chose to LIVE here, you’re considered a failure and should get a “real” job. Honey, this is a real job. Granted, most of the clients who pay me well are remote, but I’m working a real job. I’m writing material that helps businesses grow and spread their message. I’m writing books that I love. I’m writing plays and radio plays that invigorate people.

I have always made the choices to do what I love. To fight for what I want, to refuse to compromise and be forced into work I hate. I have made plenty of personal compromises along the way.

Every single one of them has been worth it.

Just because I love what I do does not mean I don’t deserve to be paid for it. Loving my work does not mean I don’t deserve to earn a living at it. I do. And nothing less is acceptable.

Those who don’t have the courage to follow their dreams often try to punish those of us who do.

They are not worth our time or our energy.

Do what you love. Follow your dreams. Make them your reality.

Fri. June 23, 2017: Spinning The Freelance Plates and the Threads of Inspiration

Friday, June 23, 2017
Waning Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Cloudy and muggy

Got a section of meadow mowed yesterday morning. It’s starting to look like actual progress. It looks like it will rain any minute this morning. I should use that as a reason to rush out there and mow, like my neighbors are; instead, I’m dragging my feet, hoping it will rain and I can’t.

I was in a lousy mood for a good part of yesterday. I tried to tease myself out of it with the “CrankyPants Song”, but it didn’t work. That’s a song I made up when I worked backstage. When a colleague or I was overtired and grumpy, I’d sing it to make fun of the grumpster (or myself), and we’d all laugh and get over ourselves. But it didn’t work yesterday.

Turned in the latest set of revisions to the new-to-me editor. Let’s hope he’s happy with this set. Also called him out on the contradictions. I hate working in their automated system that won’t let me do what supposedly needs to be done. At this point, it’s a toss-up about whether I’ll be fired or whether I’ll walk. I wonder if this is the norm, and that’s how they get out of paying writers?

Working on a pitch for a publication I hope to finish and send out tomorrow. I’ve written for them several times; it would be great to do so again. I’ve gotten decent pay and some solid clips from them in the past.

Pitched for another gig that sounded like fun; we’ll see if my samples are what they’re looking for. Again, money might be an issue. They pay “per word”, but haven’t said how much per word, or talked about volume and turn-around time. Heard back from them this morning — as I suspected, the per word rate is so low, I couldn’t even fill the gas tank with an assignment. For something that requires A LOT of technical craft, is for-hire with no royalties, um, no. I will send them a refusal today.

Press releases went out for “Personal Revolution”. I finally wrestled the website so that I could add the “Personal Revolution” information into the Delectable Digital Delights, the Media Room, and the Bazaar pages of the Devon Ellington site. No thanks to the webhost, but in spite of them. That webhost is useless. Not only are they unreliable, their customer service is non-existent. I’m starting to think most hosts are. But, by poking around and swearing a lot, I managed to figure out workarounds that got up the information I needed to add. I really need to take some classes in website coding and design. But it’s the usual dilemma — when the time exists, the money doesn’t. When the money’s there, it’s there because there’s a heavy workload in, and the time doesn’t exist. And anything web-related has to be something I can handle, update, tweak, and rearrange myself, not hire in a webmaster. The amount of attention my different sites need would mean I need someone weekly, and the cost (because the webmaster DESERVES to be paid for all this, and deserves a good rate) is out of my range right now.

The press releases also have the information for upcoming projects, which means I have to get my ass in gear and meet deadlines.

I have a good idea about the next Cornelia True/Roman Gray story. I had to have the title for the press release, and came up with “Miss Winston Apologizes”. And then I figured out who Miss Winston was and why she apologized, and there was the premise for the next piece. It’s still set in Cornelia’s time period. I decided I’m going to set three stories there, then have her go with Roman when he next time travels, and they can have adventures elsewhere (that all tie in to the main arc). Now, I need to write the opening, so I can pop it in with “Ramsey Chase” and get going on the proofread. The July 10 release date will be here before I know it.

I’ve also got the opening of “Labor Intensive”, the next Twinkle Tavern mystery, set around Labor Day (which is set to release just before Labor Day weekend, so I better get on with it).

With Playing the Angles hoping to release in October, we really need to find the right cover image. And I really need to do a final proof on it, and settle on the name for the series (even though each book will have a different pair of protagonists).

Think there’s enough to do? Along with keeping up a constant stream of pitches and freelance pieces so I can keep a roof over my head.

A royalty check from the Topic Workbooks and “Plot Bunnies” cheered me up. I certainly can’t retire on it, or even pay next month’s bills, but it helps tide me over a bit, and just getting the royalties makes me feel like I’m moving in the right direction.

The last research book I need for the Lavinia Fontana play arrived, thank goodness, because I have to start writing it at the beginning of July.

Got a rejection on an article pitch for a new-to-me market. I’m going to re-slant it to send elsewhere, and then submit something new to this market. I’m determined to crack it. Some of the content puzzled me; then I got an apology from the editor, saying the email had gone off before he was done, and he hoped I’d pitch again.  I told him no worries, I had every intention of so doing, but I’d let him rest over the weekend!  😉

Heard back from another place I pitched. They loved my samples. They want to know how good my French and/or Spanish are. Um, what? Why wasn’t that in the ad? I read French reasonably well (I read Moliere in French, because it’s funnier than any English translation I’ve yet found), and I can read newspaper and magazine articles and basically figure them out. I can get by in French, and I’ve got a little German. But I’m not fluent. So that might knock me out completely, which would be a shame. I’d love to get my French back up to speed, but I doubt they want me learning on the job.

I’m playing with yet another new idea, this one with a pair of older protagonists. I think it could be interesting. I’m trying to decide if I want to set it in Cornwall or in Ayrshire. I know both, but I know Ayrshire better, and, as I’m working on the outline, it seems to naturally gravitate to Ayrshire. I’ve set several things in Ayrshire, stretching it to add additional towns and do mix-and-match with real places. I’ve even added additional Scottish National Trust properties when Culzean Castle (where I’ve rented an apartment on more than one occasion, and which I know VERY well) didn’t quite fit the plot. In this particular piece, I’m adding a street off the main road to Culzean (halfway between the Castle and Little K’s Kitchen, where I used to get my newspaper and the racing form every morning), and that’s where my protags have rented a house.

I also figured out what I need to shift in another piece I’ve been noodling with, to get the opening different from yet another piece, whose opening I like, but was too similar to this one. The settings are similar — one at an artists’ colony, one at a meditation retreat. But the characters and situations and what I want to explore are very different. Interestingly enough, though, the protagonists for both pieces share some of the same titles on their bookshelves! Such as the Complete Works Of Shakespeare and Louisa May Alcott’s diaries.

Speaking of Louisa, a tweet from the lovely folks at Orchard House got me re-reading her. They were talking about Rose in Bloom, so I ordered that and Eight Cousins (which happens before RiB) from the library and read them this past week. From a critical, feminist perspective, there are plenty of problems. Yet it was still, in some ways, ahead of its time (although highly romanticized). It got me thinking of Fruitlands, which is where I always imagine those two books set, rather than Concord. In fact, I had an exchange with another Orchard House follower about that, when she was puzzled about “rolling hills” she didn’t remember around Concord, and now she’s going to visit Fruitlands!

It got me thinking that I would like to set something in a family compound in that area (Harvard, MA, which is different than where Harvard U. is in Boston). Somehow, I came up with a set of sisters (inspired by the great aunts in Maine), and their patriarch/matriarch based in the compound, but set in the early 1900s, and somehow, from there, I leapt to the opening taking place in San Francisco in 1904, pre-Earthquake, but just at the end of the “Barbary Plague” where so many of the Chinese immigrants died in SF from bubonic plague from 1900-1904, and that led to a stack of research books about that time period, so who knows how the piece will end up? Right now, I see it starting in SF, moving by train eastwards, with a stop in Chicago, but I have to figure out why, beyond simply changing trains.

1904 Newspaper archives, here I come. I think I can read some at local libraries, and probably access some via Boston Public Library’s digital files (I have an e-card from them); when in doubt, I can always contact my stalwart NYPL and Library of Congress.

But it’s amazing how re-reading a childhood book can set off a new train of thought.

I’ve just received Under the Lilacs and An Old-Fashioned Girl from the library to re-read. I remember reading both at my grandmother’s house in Foxboro, under an actual lilac hedge, when I was little.

Who knows what they will inspire?

This weekend, I have to dig in to FIX IT GIRL, because all those books on Hearst Castle have to go back to the library next week. They can’t be extended any more!
Besides, I want to get this draft done and the submission packets ready. I want to start querying after 4th of July, but have to get everything out before mid-August, or I might as well wait until mid-September, because few places actively read by mid-August, and right back from Labor Day, they need a couple of weeks to catch up.

I think I’ve got a handle on how I want the First Big Love Scene to go. Since this isn’t erotica, but historical fiction, the style is gentler, and I have to get it just right. Things were often down and dirty in 1930s Hollywood (as they often are everywhere in every time period), but my protag is neither a goody two-shoes nor a nymphomaniac. Nor is this a category romance where she’s only allowed to be attracted to one man. She’s an intelligent modern woman of her time, and slightly ahead of it, breaking new ground, fighting sexism, but also following her heart (and her passions). I’ve got that balance right in most of her scenes; now I have to get it right in the love scenes, too.

In general, I want this to be a fiction weekend. I’ve spent so much time on articles in order to pay the bills that the fiction has suffered, so it’s time to give it some more attention.

This is a great June for the roses — they’re blooming like crazy. And the petunias in the barrel out front have grown enough so they’re sticking their heads over the rim and peeking out. It’s very cute.

Have a great weekend!