Monday, Aug. 13, 2018: Respect, as in Self-Respect #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, August 13, 2018
Waxing Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Mars Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde

Let’s talk about respect when it comes to ourselves and our work.

If you don’t respect your writing, no one else has any reason to, either.

Don’t demean your work. Don’t make excuses around it. If you talk about your writing, and call yourself a writer, CALL YOURSELF A WRITER.

If someone tries to demean you, give them “The Look” and move on.

You do not owe it to anyone to discuss how much you earn, how much your advance is, how much your royalties are, or any other terms of your contract. When someone who has no business asking these questions tries to pry the information out of you, simply smile and say, “I’m happy with the terms of my contract.” And don’t engage.

If they persist, go ahead and say, “That’s none of your business.”

If someone tries to get you to work for them for free, whether it’s the insulting “You should write . . .” or the even more insulting, “Oh, but it’ll be so EASY to write this and we’ll make a lot of money out of it” – no.

For “You should write” smile and say, “I’m already contracted out on at least three years’ worth of ideas. But thanks for thinking of me.”

For the trying to get you to team up – which ALWAYS means you do the work while they bask in the money they think they’re going to rake in, again, smile and say, “My agent (or lawyer) handles that. Here’s the number. By the way, negotiations for ghost writing or co-writing start at 30K. And there has to be a publisher in place.”

Don’t engage with people who try to sabotage you. There’s nothing wrong with being cordial and walking away. If they continue to behave badly, there’s nothing wrong with being RUDE and walking away.

But the walking away is important.

Also, don’t denigrate your own work. You don’t “just” write marketing material or romance or genre. There’s not “just” in it. You DO.

Marketing writing is every bit as legitimate as novel writing as play writing as short story as anything else.

Don’t make self-deprecating comments about your work. There’s a difference between keeping your ego in check by being low-key and actively encouraging people not to respect your work. The choice of words you use to describe your work, even jokingly, will set the tone for the way strangers will regard you and your work. There’s a difference between an arrogant hard-sell (which is a turn-off), and a pleasant one-sentence summary (your log-line, your hook that you used in your pitch) that gives potential readers and conversationalists a taste of it.

Women have a tendency to self-deprecate more than men do. In the 1980s, we were supposed to wear the oversized shoulder pads that made us look like line-backers so we could tackle “a man’s world” (in stilettos, no less). Then, in the 90s, we were expected to self-deprecate, especially when we had major achievements.

Don’t.

Use positive language that shows self-respect without arrogance. There’s a difference between arrogance and assertion, and yes, it is about more than gender. Plenty of people will call you “arrogant” or “aggressive” if you are an assertive woman, especially an assertive author who’s a woman. That’s their problem, not yours.

Changing your negative self-talk takes time, but it is well worth it. When you start watching what you say out loud, it will also adjust in the voice that’s your saboteur, that often comes out as the “internal editor” (the negative kind) that gets in the way when we create.

That’s like when someone feigns interest in what you write, asks you about it, you tell them, and they say, “Oh! I never would read THAT!”

They aren’t “being honest.” They’re intentionally trying to make you feel like “less than” and that what you do is “less than.” If they were actually being productive members of society, they would smile and say, “How interesting! How wonderful that you wrote/published that!”

There are plenty of books that I won’t read – but I won’t spit in an author’s face by saying so when they’ve taken the time to tell me about the book, ESPECIALLY when I’ve asked about it.

There’s no reason you can’t be supportive and gracious, even when you don’t plan to read the book.

Smile and move to a different conversational group. I no longer grope for another topic. I’ve learned that this individual does not have the most basic social etiquette, and I’m not going to waste time. I smile and move on.

In this divisive time, I get plenty of “I bet you write feminist libtard crap.” To which I smile and say, “No, you wouldn’t like it. My work deals with concepts of humanity, justice, equality, which don’t interest you. Plus, I use words of more than one syllable.”

And I walk away.

Never forget how much non-artists HATE the fact that artists create. They will pretend they “don’t mean anything” by their remarks. But they do. The purpose is to undermine your self-esteem, your self-confidence, to make you feel bad, to “cut you down a peg” or to “put you in your place.”

My place is wherever I CHOOSE it to be.

Smile, be gracious, disengage.

Hold on to the core of your self-respect.

Don’t let anyone treat you with less than respect.

When you respect yourself and disengage from those who treat you without it, you’ll be surprised how their behavior changes, how positively your self-respect affects your life (and your work), and it begins an upward spiral.

Advertisements
Published in: on August 13, 2018 at 4:14 am  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , ,

Mon. July 30, 2018: #UpbeatAuthors One Tip To Improve Your Writing

Monday, July 30, 2018
Waning Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Mars Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde

 

In my opinion, there is only one real thing that will improve your writing. You improve your writing when you write, and when you apply what you learn from each project moving forward.

Write. Every day, except for days you choose, ahead of time, not to be writing days.

Work on melding your art with your craft. Craft matters. The more you write, the more you learn rhythm and pace and character and plot. Listen to feedback. Learn from critiques.

APPLY what you learn moving forward.

The most frustrating thing when I teach is when grammar, usage, and structural problems are explained to writers and they refuse to apply the notes moving forward. They expect me to keep correcting the same things. It’s not a style choice — it’s that they never bothered to learn basic grammar and structure in school, and can’t be bothered to learn and apply it now.

It’s a waste of everybody’s time.

Every project has something to teach you. Not only in terms of subject and the research you have to do on subjects you don’t know to bring them to life. But on the writing process itself. Every book or short story or play has its own innate rhythm. It has its own voice, that layers over the author’s unique voice.

The more you write, the more you learn to listen to these rhythms. You learn where to bend them to fit structure, and you learn where to CHOOSE not to do so. There is nothing wrong with breaking “rules” of style, genre, structure. But each break needs to be a defendable choice, not just “I don’t like rules and structure” or, even worse, that you don’t know them.

You want to improve your writing? Write. No excuses. Just sit down and write.

 

Published in: on July 30, 2018 at 4:43 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Mon. July 23, 2018: Dealing with Failure #UpbeatAuthors

pier-1467984_1920
Image courtesy of Cleverpics via pixabay.com

Monday, July 23, 2018
Waxing Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Mars Retrograde

As usual, this will focus on how failure affects us as authors, in our work and life. Some aspects can be applied to other parts of life, but the focus is on our art.

The first way to deal with it is to define it.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “failure” as:

Definition of failure

1a omission of occurrence or performance; specifically failing to perform a duty or expected action 

  • failure to pay the rent on time
(1) a state of inability to perform a normal function 

  • kidney failure

 — compare heart failure 

(2) an abrupt cessation of normal functioning 

  • a power failure
c a fracturing or giving way under stress 

  • structural failure
2a lack of success
b a failing in business bankruptcy 

  • He was trying to rescue the company from failure.
3a a falling short deficiency 

  • a crop failure
4one that has failed 

  • He felt like a failure when he wasn’t accepted into law school.

 

But do you?

I sometimes feel I fail if I let someone else down. If it’s because I was thoughtless or disorganized, then it’s on me and I damn well better find a way to make it right. But sometimes it’s because the other person put an unfair expectation on me and I wasn’t strong enough to say no right off.

Sometimes I feel that I failed if I don’t get an acceptance from a market or a publisher or a grant to which I applied. Yes, I failed to get that particular slot. Most of the time, though, another opportunity comes up that I wouldn’t have been able to accept if I had landed the previous one. Also, because I’ve worked on the publisher side of the table, I know that acceptance is more than just a well-written book: it’s about fitting the tone of a particular publisher, and fitting into the needs of a particular list. Most traditional publishers and some of the smaller publishers have to balance their list so it appeals to a spectrum of readers. If they have too many of one kind of book and none of another in any particular season, they will lose readers that season, and might never regain them. It’s about where your piece fits into the bigger picture, not just your piece.

Many organizations that give out grants expect you to apply (and fail to get an acceptance) over a period of years before they take the application seriously. This always angered me, even when I worked for such non-profits. But many organizations want to see that an artist can sustain work over a period of years before giving that individual money. They don’t want someone who will use a day job or another excuse not to work, or to accept the grant and not meet the requirements of the work that needs to be produced.

None of that knowledge takes the sting out of those refusals, or alleviates the sense of failure.

How do you deal with it?

Acknowledge that you feel angry, sad, whatever. Don’t get on social media and rant and rave against the publisher, agent, or organization. It’s fine to admit disappointment, but don’t attack. Save the venting to do in person, privately, with people you trust. Because there IS a need to vent; there’s just no need to do so publicly. Your feelings are your feelings; they are valid. How you choose to handle them has consequences.

If there’s any feedback, step away for a few days, and then re-visit it with a more objective sensibility. What can you learn from this? How can you apply it positively moving forward?

There are certain publishers and/or organizations that are not a right fit. Just “getting published” isn’t enough. It has to be a place where you have a positive working relationship and both the writer’s and the publisher’s needs and goals are met. Sometimes what starts out as a promising relationship deteriorates. It’s not that one side is “better” or “right” — it’s simply that the needs of both parties aren’t being met, and it’s time to part ways (hopefully amicably), so you can both move on to a better situation. That’s true in any job situation.

I think it’s often harder for artists to deal with failure because what we do is so personal, so much a part of ourselves. It’s difficult not to feel that it’s a rejection of us as human beings.

If something we wrote doesn’t sell well or sell at all, we feel we failed. After a period of time, we can look back. Could it have been structured better? Used stronger language? Have you learned something in the interim that makes it work now? If it’s a sales number, what can you learn from that book’s campaign that you can apply to future promotions? We are pushed to think in terms of immediate large sales numbers, instead of a steadily growing readership. There are plenty of books I’ve read with huge opening sales numbers — and I’ve never read anything by that author again either because I didn’t like the book or because the author never managed to get anything else done, feeling the pressure.

But there are a lot of competing needs and agendas out there, and we’re not all compatible.

When it comes to finding the right agent or publisher, I often compare it to dating — it’s unlikely you’ll find your soul mate the first time out. You need to meet a lot of people and date around. Finding the soul mate for your work is similar.

There’s no need to dramatize or villainize if something doesn’t work out (although, in the first flush of hurt and disappointment, we will). Happy yippy platitudes too soon to the hurt are counterproductive. But then, take a step back, look at the positives, and apply what you learn moving forward.

As a teacher, that’s the most infuriating aspect. When a student REFUSES to apply a correction moving forward. We all start somewhere. We all have things we need to learn. When something is explained (such as the difference between a possessive and a plural) — learn it. APPLY IT MOVING FORWARD. Don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again and expect someone else to fix it.

The only true failure is REFUSING to learn from something that didn’t work and refusing to apply it moving forward.

Most other situations are disappointments or setbacks that can be overcome.

–Acknowledge

–Create objectivity

–Learn

–Apply

And then go on to create something wonderful!

Mon. July 9, 2018: Say “Yes” — #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, July 9, 2018
Waning Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Mars Retrograde

 

There’s a saying I’ve heard about both opportunity and the Muse: that when it knocks, you better answer or it will move on to someone else.

I believe that.

Of course, there are those who will insist they are “offering” you an “opportunity” to try to get them to work for free while they do nothing. Laugh and walk away. That is not something you to which you want to say “yes.”

But say “yes” to new experiences that are out of your comfort zone, but that you might enjoy. I did that with Argentine Tango – I said “yes” to taking classes for a few months. Not only did I have the chance to do something I hadn’t done in years – dance – I met new people, learned about a world-wide community, and gathered material for at least three new books. I even put a tango scene into my radio play “Light Behind the Eyes” which was produced this past March.

I said “yes” to attending my very first Bouchercon way back in the mid-1990s, and that was the catalyst to writing novels again. I said “yes” to my very first Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which led me to an invitation to participate in the Adelaide Festival Fringe, which meant I got to go to Australia, something I’d always wanted to do. And I got to go there as a working artist.

In Australia, I said “yes” to a local networking meeting someone I’d met in passing invited me to, which led me to saying “yes” to a curator for the library, who invited me to see an illuminated manuscript, one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen in my life. I said “yes” to doing a promo on a local radio show – which got such a positive response that I wound up co-hosting the show while we were at festival. I said “yes” to an invitation to an art gallery opening, where I was exposed to stunning work by Aboriginal artists depicting the sections in Australia where the ozone layers are burned all the way through. I said “yes” to an invitation to join a group of Aborginal women artists for their morning coffee – a rare honor, since they didn’t mingle with the other festival participants often – and learned a whole new way of communicating and relating.

I said “yes” the first time I was invited, in my first theatre lighting class in college, to working on the crew of a show – and that, eventually, led me to my career on Broadway.

I said “yes” in high school, when I was starting to learn cello, but they needed more viola players and asked me to switch. And I learned the viola (not that I remember it after all these years, but still . . .)

I said “yes” when I was just getting back into thoroughbred racing to work on a benefit to help racetrack workers have access to childcare and ended up with lifelong friends among trainers, jockeys, backstretch workers, which led me to pitch (and accept) a job covering the Triple Crown for thirteen years, and go to races in England and Scotland.

I said “yes” when given the opportunity to write about ice hockey and spent months with a minor league time; I said “yes” when given the opportunity to cover America’s Cup and learned about sailing and those beautiful old Newport yachts (even though I can’t swim). I said “yes” to covering Highland Games and local sports and lighthouses and restaurants and anything else that sounded interesting.

I can’t even count the times I’ve said “yes” – because I say “yes” more than I say “no” – especially if it means a new experience. I trust my gut – if something seems off about the offer, or I figure it’s dangerous in the wrong way, I decline.

But I trust my gut, and saying “yes” means I had opportunities and experiences many others around me haven’t. I ask questions. I’m interested in the world. So when someone offers me a chance to do something unique, especially by someone who is passionate about their interests, I try to say “yes” and then enjoy it!

 

Mon. July 2, 2018: Calm #Upbeat Authors

abstract-2384_1920
image courtesy of pixabay.com

Monday, July 2, 2018
Waning Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Mars Retrograde

There are two kinds of calm. One is the kind others try to impose on you, usually when you make them uncomfortable by holding your boundaries and standing up for your rights. Don’t be manipulated.

The other kind of calm is the calm you need in order to function in these dark times. It’s the calm you have to pull from your own depths in order to stay sane and focused.

That can be helped by external stimuli. I love the beach in winter — that’s why I moved to Cape Cod. I like it in summer, but can’t get to it with all the tourists! The ocean helps calm me. A walk on the beach, yoga on the beach, meditation — all of that helps me even out.

A walk in the woods will do something similar. Sometimes I need water, sometimes I need trees. Sitting on my back deck, looking out over the yard, helps, too. I often get some of my best work done out there in decent weather. Since it’s a covered deck, I can also sit out in the rain and work!

Sitting on my meditation cushion, morning and evening, helps to. It’s a correction for my emotions and thoughts that can swirl out of control. It allows me to regain perspective, because it is from the place of perspective that we can make our best decisions.

While some of my best writing comes when I ride a wave of emotion, revisions are best done from calm.

I also have built a “space of calm” in my imagination. A place to which I can mentally place myself if my day is difficult and I need a few minutes of respite. I can turn inwards and ground there. I can’t go into detail publicly — the fact that the space is private, known only to me, is vital.

Find what works for you. Make sure that “calming down” is YOUR choice, and not something someone else wants to impose on you, not for your own good, but for their agenda. Trust your own instincts, that you know when and how to stay calm, and when and how to utilize your anger or any other emotion. It could save your life.
green-1072828_1920

Published in: on July 2, 2018 at 4:13 am  Comments Off on Mon. July 2, 2018: Calm #Upbeat Authors  
Tags: ,

Mon. June 25, 2018: Fostering Optimism #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, June 25, 2018
Waxing Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde

 

Tomorrow Mars goes retrograde as well. We’ll be dealing with five retrogrades, which is not fun.

Today’s topic is “fostering optimism.” In these dark times, that’s difficult. We have a responsibility as human beings AND as artists to both bear witness to the atrocities AND, through art, help people find positive solutions and see the world in a better light. We have the capacity to write/create a way to a better world.

There’s a difference between an artist who creates positive work while striving to make the world a better place on every level and someone who keeps creating within a narrow space and shouts, “I stay out of politics!” while pretending nothing bad is going on.

Either choice is personal. But I admit there are several authors whose work I can no longer read. I pick up the books, and I feel sick within a few pages, because I’ve lost respect for them as people. I don’t attack them or their work publicly, because they have the right to make the choices they’ve made. And I have the right to disengage, both as a person and as a fellow artist.

In a climate like this, how do you foster optimism?

I’m trying several different ways. The success ebbs and flows depending on the day. It’s a constant struggle. I don’t have “the” solution, but I have some techniques I’m trying, and I hope to learn some more from my fellow Upbeat Authors.

I try to celebrate small victories, both my own and those of my colleagues. Someone else’s success does not mean any sort of loss for me. It is something to celebrate. I’m happy when a fellow author gets published or lands a contract or wins a prize. As far as I’m concerned, when one of us succeeds, it’s good for everyone.

I take joy in my house and in my garden. In my friends and family. Right now, the roses are in bloom here on Cape Cod, and they’re magnificent. I take joy each time I see one. The fact that roses can still bloom makes me believe there is still hope in the world.

I remain committed to a daily yoga and meditation practice. I’ve added an additional meditation session before bedtime to help me get to sleep. I feel anger high up in my chest, in my throat, in my neck, shoulders, and head (frequent migraines). The anger pulls me up from the ground and disconnects me. If I can stay connected, “earthed” and “grounded” — instead of being caught in an endless cycle of rage, I can channel the anger into positive action and use it as a catalyst.

I keep doing the work. I show up at the page every day. I work. Even on the tough days, I work. I try to learn from the way my characters navigate their challenges, how they respond to both the good and the bad in their worlds. I try to see the world through their eyes, not just my own, and learn from that. The steady, daily work does more for my personal optimism than any other action I take.

Seeing the world through other eyes is also why I read as much as I do. Not agreeing with a character’s choices is different than not understanding why that individual made them. The more you read of as many different authors across genres as you can, the more you expand your understanding of the world. Reading can be BOTH an escape and an expansion.

Through the daily commitment to activism, I have met some amazing people from all walks of life. If the situation wasn’t so dire, I would not have crossed paths with many of them. The intelligence, energy, and commitment gives me hope for the future.

I try to give compliments and encouragement as often as possible. Not to compliment or encourage something I think is vile, but compliment and encourage whenever possible.

There are plenty of ways I fail my own expectations of myself every single day. But I keep trying. Because I believe we have a responsibility to improve the world, both as people and as artists.

 

Published in: on June 25, 2018 at 4:48 am  Comments Off on Mon. June 25, 2018: Fostering Optimism #UpbeatAuthors  
Tags: , , ,

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 14, 2018: Cover Reveal & Writing Plans

 

MYTH&INTERPRETATION Cover

Myth & Interpretation

Stuck in NYC when plans for their next expedition fall through, Gwen and Justin accept teaching jobs at different local universities. Adjusting to their day-to-day  relationship, and juggling the academic and emotional demands of their students, they are embroiled in two different, disturbing, paranormal situations that have more than one unusual crossing point. Can they work together to find the answers? Or are new temptations too much to resist? For whom are they willing to put their lives on the line?

Friday, June 15, 2018
Waxing Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Cloudy and cool

Above is the cover for MYTH & INTERPRETATION, the between-the-books Gwen Finnegan novella, releasing digitally on July 17, from Bluestockings and Gentlemen Press.

Hop on over to the GDR site to see the mid-month check-in. I can’t believe we’re already in June. Pretty soon, it will be time for the mid-year assessment!

Feeling a little under the weather today.

Worked on articles yesterday, got out some LOIs, on the revisions of MYTH & INTERPRETATION. I’d hoped to get it to my editor today, but it looks like I need the weekend to work out some problems. But that means going into galleys early next week, which will still be fine. I’m finally getting used to the fact that digital releases work on a faster scale than print. When we move to the print releases, we’ll be back at molasses, which is why they are staggered so differently.

I’m a little behind on RELICS & REQUIEM, and don’t want to lose momentum. RELICS will have the main drafting focus up through the end of next week; the following week, I will be in writing mode for both RELICS and DAVY JONES DHARMA.

The publisher is waiting for one more piece of information before making the Jain Lazarus announcement. The wait is to accommodate someone I want to include –who hasn’t gotten back to me yet, and the publisher is getting impatient. Now, this individual might be on vacation – it’s someone trustworthy. But, if we don’t hear back, one way or another, SOON, the publisher will need to move on.

I planned to do yard work today, but it’s not very nice out. Plus, I’m not feeling well. So we’ll see.

An organization I used to work with sent a condescending email on how I could “help” them, acting as if I’d never shared a post or posted a Tweet. It was demeaning, considering how much of my business is in social media. I need to let it go, but I’m angry.

My mom had a doctor’s appointment yesterday and all is well, at least for the moment. So all was well.

The weekend will focus on MYTH, RELICS, the play, and maybe a little work on either THREE ROADS OF STRANGERS or POWER OF WORDS.

Good times!

Monday’s post for Upbeat Authors is a very personal essay on my journey.

I hope you’ll read it.

Have a great weekend!

Published in: on June 15, 2018 at 9:05 am  Comments Off on Fri. June 14, 2018: Cover Reveal & Writing Plans  
Tags: , , , ,

Mon. June 11, 2018: Don’t Dwell #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, June 11, 2018
Day before Dark Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde

This is an important topic. We know the need for positivity. That doesn’t mean ignoring the problems in the world, ignoring them, refusing to be a part of the solution.

It means finding new and better ways to solve them.

That’s difficult to do when our own negative loops run in our head.

I caught myself doing this the other day. Something slipped my mind; I had to turn around and drive back to fix it. The entire drive back from the moment I realized for hours later was the internal monologue berating myself for making a mistake. Calling myself stupid, a failure, ridiculous.

For something small that didn’t hurt anyone. It was simply a minor inconvenience.

The current political situation, where those in power reward those for being their worst selves and for attacking everyone who disagrees with them is part of the problem. But the rest of the problem is that part of us agrees that we deserve to be treated this way.

We don’t.

There’s a saying that no one has the power to make us feel bad unless we allow it. I disagree with that. Many like the sensation of power they get from causing pain.

The comment or treatment will still cause pain. It’s how we RESPOND to it that increases or diminishes their power over us.

One way is “don’t dwell.”

We are human. We get tired, we get careless. We make mistakes.

As long as we acknowledge them, take responsibility for them, take steps to fix them, and then take steps not to repeat them, we are fulfilling our piece of the contract we must have with each other as part of a so-called civilized society.

There’s a saying that goes “it’s easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.”

I disagree. Someone who boasts about living by this, in my opinion, is someone who believes they are so charming and talented and special that they can get away with disrespect. No.

I am more likely to give permission than forgive when I know someone has acted deliberately in bad faith.

But again, don’t dwell.

Recognize that person for what they are and move on.

Recognize that not everyone will stay in your life forever. And that is often a good thing.

Example: For years, I regretted the “one that got away.” A man I’d been deeply in love with. Our lives took us in different directions. We parted as friends and lost touch. But, in my mind, no one ever quite lived up to him. Every time a relationship ended, I wished I was back with him.

Well, a few months ago, we got back in touch.

And I realized NOT being together was the right choice. I could not be with someone who has made the choices he made. I still like and respect him; but I no longer have the fantasy of the road not taken – just the relief it wasn’t.

I no longer have to dwell.

Acknowledge your feelings, find the root cause, and take steps toward something more positive. Everything you experience, good and bad, contributes to the person you are. Don’t ignore it, but don’t dwell. Use it as a building block, a learning experience, and move on.

Build something better, stronger, more positive.

Even on the good things – don’t dwell. Enjoy, appreciate, and build something better.

And remember – as writers, EVERYTHING is material!

 

Published in: on June 11, 2018 at 10:51 am  Comments Off on Mon. June 11, 2018: Don’t Dwell #UpbeatAuthors  
Tags: , , , , ,

Mon. June 4, 2018: Tips on Handling Hard Times #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, June 4, 2018
Waning Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde

 

We all go through tough times, times that make us wonder if we can survive. Heck, the entire country is going through one of those times right now.

But our personal crises are often tougher because they’re, well, personal.

Here are some tips that have helped me:

–Take a breath; take a step back. How much has to be dealt with right now? How much time do you have to consider options?

–Look at your schedule. Which commitments can be moved or dropped WITHOUT HURTING ANYONE ELSE? What do you have to see through before you deal with the situation? Plan. Rearrange. Step up to whatever can’t be changed and finish it quickly, so you have the physical and emotional room to deal with the situation.

–Communicate. Even if you don’t want people up in your business, even if you can’t bear any advice, let people know you need to take some time. Don’t just drop off the face of the earth – unless, of course, for your own safety, you need to disappear (i.e., an abusive or dangerous situation).

–Ask for help. That’s the hardest. So often, when we hit a rough patch, we’re ashamed. We feel it’s our fault. Even if the situation is a result of our decisions, the great thing about life is that we grow and we change. We MADE a bad decision. We LEARN from the result. We make BETTER decisions moving forward.

–Build quiet time into your day, so you can think, deal, and heal. If writing helps you figure things out, write; if it’s music or yoga or art – do it. The process of creating will help create a solution WHILE making you feel better.

–Don’t hide from the pain. Acknowledge it. “Embrace it” goes a bit further than I’m comfortable with, but name it, own it, and work on it. The longer you hide, the longer it will hurt. Once you locate the source, you can find a way to heal it. But if you hide from it, you can’t find the source.

–Some things can’t be fixed the way you want them fixed. Know when to let go.

–Balance your needs with the needs of those who rely on you. If they offer a kind of help you can accept, let them help. This ties in to the above – don’t just ASK for help; ACCEPT help.

–Don’t make decisions in the heat of the moment unless it’s about immediate survival. Give yourself time to research, reflect, resolve.

–The online community is great, but sometimes, even well-meant comments can hit the raw nerve. Step back if you need to. State you’re taking some time, and then do it.

–Research your situation and possible solutions. Libraries have great resources. So do law libraries. When appropriate, contact your elected officials. They are in public service, and, despite the current situation, there are plenty of them, especially on a local level, who give a damn.

–Ask questions. LISTEN to the answers, even if they’re not what you want or expected. Don’t reflexively react. Take the time to really think.

The common thread through most of the above is to slow down. If it’s a dangerous situation, move quickly to get out of danger. But then, slow down and make the best informed choices you can.

And remember, tomorrow is a new day, a new opportunity, to make a different suggestion.

Even when you feel alone, there’s a lot of love and support, often from the most unexpected places.

Be well. Be kind whenever possible. Take time.

Best wishes.

Published in: on June 4, 2018 at 2:44 am  Comments (2)  
Tags:

Mon. May 28, 2018: #UpbeatAuthors Pleasurable Indulgences

Monday, May 28, 2018
Day Before Full Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Memorial Day

It’s fitting that today’s post for #UpbeatAuthors should be about pleasurable indulgences.

In the past two weeks, I met four major deadlines. My pleasurable indulgence is doing exactly what I want this weekend! 😉

What gives me pleasure and makes me feel indulgent?

Writing always gives me pleasure. I prefer the writing to the “having written.” Of course I have difficult days, but they make the good ones even better. But an indulgence is to work on an undeadlined project. I’ll be doing that on two projects this weekend, a novel and a play.

Reading gives me pleasure. I read widely, both for research and for pleasure. I have a stack of books in my TBR pile, including Amanda Quick’s newest, and one from Marshall Ryan Maresca.

Gardening — there’s a case where the “having gardened” gives me more pleasure than the actual gardening. I especially hate to mow. But I will garden and then indulge in the pleasure of a beautiful space.

Cooking — I love to cook.

Yoga and meditation — although those are not indulgences for me, but necessities.

Unstructured time is my favorite indulgence. I need it in order to create. I seek some of it every day.

I hope you’re having a lovely weekend!

 

Published in: on May 28, 2018 at 5:50 am  Comments Off on Mon. May 28, 2018: #UpbeatAuthors Pleasurable Indulgences  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Monday, May 21, 2018: #UpbeatAuthors, Favorite Self-Help Site

antique-author-beverage-958164

image courtesy of rawpixel.com

Monday, May 21, 2018
Waxing Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde

The best self-help site?

If you’re a writer, it’s Lori Widmer’s Words on the Page.

Talented, savvy, supportive, Lori’s built a community where we shore each other up, fight for each other, teach each other, laugh together.

You’re a writer? Lori’s site will give you something to sustain and inspire with every post.

May is especially exciting because it’s Writers Worth Month, to help teach us to value our work.

Published in: on May 21, 2018 at 2:23 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,

Monday, May 14, 2018: #UpbeatAuthors The Next Step on the Ladder

black-and-white-construction-ladder-54335

Photo courtesy Khimish Sharma, via Pexels.com

Monday, May 14, 2018
Dark of the Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde

 

My first response to that is, “Which ladder?” I have various limbs on various ladders. I write in different genres, under different names, in a variety of formats: prose, theatre, television, film, radio. Journalism. Essays. Marketing writing. Reviewing.

I do very little editing for private clients now, because the time/money ratio doesn’t work for me, too many would-be writers default on payments (when they’re not trying to lowball me down to a fraction of my rate), and I need the primary focus to be on my own work. When I edit, I am generally hired by the publishing house to work for something under contract that has passed particular gate-keeping standards.

I am with more than one publisher. One of them, who has signed several projects, is small, just starting out. We are taking a risk on each other. Among the reasons I was excited to work with them was that they pay small advances, don’t demand their writers acquiesce to a boiler-plate contract AND, instead of POD, they do small print runs. The print runs are after a certain digital threshhold is reached, but the POD model was not working for me, so I wanted to try this. I am still with another publisher who is doing the POD model, and I have submissions out to several other publishers, who work on a mix of models, so we’ll see what happens. I also liked them because the editor with whom I’m working constantly pushes me to be better. And that is my goal — that every book I write is better, in both craft and art, than the previous books.

About a year ago, I sat down with a lawyer, an agent, an editor, and a marketing advisor, and we came up with a plan. I was unhappy and frustrated with the way things were going in my career. I knew I wasn’t writing what the Big Five wanted; I wanted to explore some things that they are currently giving lip service to, but not following through on, and I wanted to do it in my way. We were not a good fit at the time. I knew I was going to part from an agent I’d been working with for several months, because we were not a good fit. When we got together, she was excited by my work and my voice; but the more we worked together, the more she wanted to dilute it and take out what made it unique. She kept telling me my themes and issues were “too hard for the typical reader.” In other words, she wanted me to dumb things down, and I didn’t want to do that. Also, she only wanted to commit to a book at a time, and I need an agent who is interested in long-term career planning. She has since signed a friend of mine, and they’re doing great together. I’m happy for both of them; they are the right fit. We were not.

As far as the marketing writing went, I wanted to have the confidence to say “No” to the lowballers locally and reach farther afield. The interesting thing is that as soon as I did that, I landed two clients locally with whom I work well, WHILE also reaching beyond the bridge for clients who pay better.

We took four or five days together, and I took about twenty pages of notes. We crafted a plan. Some of that we followed; some of that has fallen by the wayside for various reasons.

I re-stated my commitment not to “niche” — to me, that’s a death toll for a creative life. Far too many people who “advise” freelancers sneer and call what I do a “generalist.” I prefer to call it being a “Renaissance Writer” and I’ve written on this topic for both WOW-Women on Writing and Write Naked!

I wanted to get back into article writing, which fell by the wayside for a bit. I started pitching again, and I did pretty well, but that seems to be one of the things that falls away first. Since I enjoy articles — every part from the pitch through the research through the writing and the polish, especially working with a good editor — I need to get back on track with that.

One of the big changes I made was in the way I do pitch letters. Instead of trying to frame what I do to sound like what they want, I’m more specific in the elements I think will appeal and more specific in where our paths diverge. I’m more myself in the cover letter — while still structuring it the way I find works — hook, one paragraph summary, technical info, bio, why this market. And the results are good.

This year and next, I’m on a brutal contract schedule. I’d spent a couple of years working on different types of material, on working on craft. Now, with a commitment to more than one series, I am sitting down and writing the books.

Last year, PLAYING THE ANGLES was re-released, as the first of the Coventina Circle paranormal romantic suspense novels (in its original incarnation, it was a stand-alone). The second book in the series, THE SPIRIT REPOSITORY, just released, and the third, RELICS & REQUIEM, will come out in October of this year, with the fourth, GRAVE REACH, coming out in May of 2019. So that’s a tight schedule.

Last year, the first Nautical Namaste mystery, SAVASANA AT SEA (as Ava Dunne) released. It’s a not-quite-cozy mystery series, whose protagonist is a yoga instructor on a cruise ship. Only one of those books comes out a year! But the next one, DAVY JONES DHARMA, is due in early December this year.

TRACKING MEDUSA, the first Gwen Finnegan mystery, re-released this past January. As I worked on the second book, THE BALTHAZAAR TREASURE, I realized that there was a chunk of it that slowed down the plot. Yet the information was necessary to where my characters were in their emotional lives and how they’d built their day-to-day relationships. Flashbacks and info-dump conversations wouldn’t work; so my editor and I decided to pull out those chapters, flesh them out into a “between-the-books” novella, now called MYTH & INTERPRETATION, and put that out this summer. BALTHAZAAR is still scheduled to come out in January of 2019, and that is now back on track, the pace and content correct.

In the meantime, I had three terrific opportunities. One was to pitch a serial. Those of you who’ve known me for several years know that I used to write four serials in four genres under two names for 18 months a few years back. A total of 8000 words a month. I love writing serials, and I miss it. I had the chance to pitch to a company that specializes in serials.

I pitched a fantasy/adventure novel. I’d written the first four chapters a couple of years ago and put it aside for scheduling reasons. But, when I had this opportunity, I wrote a few more chapters, and outlined what would be the book-length arc of this serial. I fell in love with it all over again. If it’s picked up, it goes back in the schedule; if not, it will be back-burnered again.

I also had two other ideas, stand-alones, that I played with, on and off for a couple of years, writing my way in the first few chapters, then making notes for my Writers’ Rough. On impulse, I polished pitches and tossed them into a Twitter pitch day for a specific company. Editors liked both; so I’m working on some additional chapters, polishing them, and sending them out by deadline this month. Again, if the editors want the full manuscript, they go back into the schedule sooner rather than later; if not, they are back-burnered until next year, when my contract schedule isn’t quite as demanding.

As I said above, I have a couple of other pieces out on submission; if they are contracted, they will be worked in. I also have a serial novel — which is different than a novel broken down as a serial. This is a set of novels that are all of a piece. It follows the filming of a television series over several seasons. Not a series, in the sense that each stands alone and progresses. These novels all fit together like puzzle pieces. One of my publishers has expressed interest in looking at it when the first five or so puzzle pieces are ready. When will that be? I don’t know.

I also made a commitment to do more script work again. I’m taking this year off from stage plays (I wrote four in three years for 365 Women). But one of my radio plays will be produced later this month, and I want to submit some screenplays I’ve polished.

Along with all this, I will pitch to higher-paying clients and higher-paying article markets. Gotta keep a roof over my head, and if I don’t keep up the writing pace I can’t. This is my profession, not my hobby. I am paid to write. That IS my day job. While my book sales have jumped considerably since I moved webhosts and redesigned my websites, I still need the marketing writing and article writing for income. Plus, I enjoy it.

So, my “next step” is building on the foundation of the series on which I currently write; continuing to expand the publication contracts with other publishers at higher-paying tiers, and book higher-paid marketing and article gigs.

I’ve found a process that works for me as far as the new ideas — because, as we all know, new ideas come in batches. I write my way in for a few chapters, then sit down and do a Writer’s Rough Outline. That way, whenever I can actually sit down and WRITE the book, I can drop into its world. The Writer’s Rough outline captures the initial energy of the idea, and then, as I work, I can develop the structure and the craft.

In the coming weeks, we will sit down again and assess how this last year played out. What worked, what didn’t. Where I lost focus, and what I dropped because it didn’t work. And we will craft a plan for the coming year that will guide me toward the “next step on the ladder.”

I don’t want fame. I worked in theatre and film for too many years and see how it can hurt creativity and general life; that is not what I want. I do want financial stability, and to be paid fairly for my work. There is no reason not to be paid well doing work I love. My profession is writing. I will not let ANYONE decide that it’s a cute lil hobby and I don’t deserve to be paid a living wage. I will dig in and do it, and earn my living. It will be a mix and match of projects and styles and tangents, but writing is my profession. When I decided I wanted to work on Broadway, I didn’t let anything or anyone stand in the way of achieving that goal. Now that I’m writing full-time, I feel the same way.

My next step is increased earnings and visibility for my work. It is also participating in the community of writers who love what they do and are committed to a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work across the board, no matter what the profession. It is refusing to “dumb it down” or change what I write because people I don’t respect threaten not to buy what I write. The great thing about writing is that there are plenty of authors writing in plenty of styles and genres, so there’s something for everyone. It’s fine if someone doesn’t connect with my work — there are wonderful authors out there with whom they WILL connect. But threatening me and demanding I change what I write is not going to work.

Artists have a responsibility. I believe that responsibility is to bear witness to the world, to expand people’s vision of the world, but also to create better worlds and help us find ways to reach those better worlds inclusively and fairly. A better world needs social and economic justice. By respecting our own value, our own worth, we set the tone.

For more inspiration on valuing your work, please visit Lori Widmer’s Words on the Page blog. It’s great all the time, but May is Writers Worth Month. It’s especially great now.