Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Unquenchable Thirst

Zestful Blog Post #125

Everybody says, ‘Now’s the hardest time to break in.’ They always say that. Because it’s true; it’s always hard. But here’s the thing, also true: There is unquenchable thirst for great story out there. Humans will never stop wanting, needing, craving, story. That’s the beauty of being a storyteller—whether a camp counselor who wants to send them to bed trembling after the bonfire, or a  novelist dreaming of greatness.

I write these words on the eve of meeting with nine aspiring authors in St. Augustine at the Florida Heritage Writers Conference. We’ll meet in the cool kids’ room at the exquisite Markham House on the Flagler College campus. Everybody’s read everybody else’s first ten pages and written critiques. We’ll all discuss the work one at a time, together. I’ll give it everything I’ve got. And we will all learn.

When I was a young girl, I sat next to my mother watching Olympics gymnastics on TV. Stirred, I said, “I’d like to do that!” She said, without even thinking much, “Oh, the chances of making it are so low.”

I meant I’d like to tumble and fly like those girls did. She thought I meant I wanted to be on the Olympics team, stand on the platform and get a medal. She wanted to quash that ambition right away, because so few who try, make it onto the world stage. Why set the kid up for heartbreak? She thought she was doing me a favor. But that’s a terrible way to react to a child’s impulse, or dream. (All loving respect to her memory.)

It’s a fine, but clear, distinction. I never did pursue gymnastics. Just as well, because my body was wrong for it—too spindly, too tall.

But she couldn’t dissuade me from writing, and later from quitting a lucrative corporate job to try to earn a much more meager living from writing. No matter what negativity I got from her, I kept on in some fashion or other, too compelled to give up. Which is really all there is to it. If you’re destined to do it, you’ll keep at it, whatever the externals, whatever the outcome. You have

no choice.

And that’s beautiful. Let it flower. Open. Audiences await.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

5 Things the Queen Did That We Like

Zestful Blog Post #124

I’ve always been grateful for my first name. I’m told my mother considered naming me Marybeth, but my father said, “None of those two-part hillbilly names.” So I got to be Elizabeth Mary. I’ve always felt a little special, because of the Queen, you know. I’ve kept track of her over the years and felt proud that she never betrayed our name by doing anything scandalous or tacky. (Not a word from you about the handbags, not a word.)

When I was a student in London many years ago, the local folks in the pubs loved to debate the issues of the day (and I’m sure still do). A frequent topic was whether the monarchy was a good idea or a bad one, and I witnessed some pretty heated arguments. But when a new round arrived at the table, everybody, and I mean everybody would lift their pints and say in strong voices, “Here’s to the Queen, God bless her.” Then the argument would resume.

I was thrilled, along with millions of Brits, when the Queen last week won the longest-serving-monarch derby, snatching the title from Victoria. Say what you will about the monarchy, Elizabeth was born into it and had no real choice as far as that went. She did have the choice of being a terrific head of state or a crummy one.

Zestful Writing

[photo by Cecil Beaton ripped off from official Buckingham Palace web site]

So yeah, she:

1)      played the hand she was dealt with courage and grace;
2)      stuck to her role as counsel and support for her various PMs;
3)      weathered, with dignity, horrible personal and family storms;
4)      kept on course through scathing criticism;
5)      yet embraced change when it seemed the right thing to do.

Not a bad way to live a life, whether you’re a writer or any other sort of bloke or blokette.

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

3 Tips for Choosing Deadlines

Zestful Blog Post #123

For professional writers, deadlines are a fact of life. Fortunately, they’ve never daunted me. But I’ve learned a few tricks along the way.

Deadlines fall into two categories: Those imposed on you, and those you have occasion to impose on others. The first kind are set by employers, clients, agents, editors, publishers, etc. Sometimes a deadline is not negotiable. Daily newspapers pretty much have non-negotiable deadlines. If you’re writing freelance, your editor has probably told you a deadline that’s a few hours earlier than the real one, but if you want to keep a good relationship with that editor, you get your piece and pictures in on time.

[You want all of your business relationships to be happy rainbows, not crushed raccoons like the one by the side of the road I Photoshopped out.]

But sometimes, as for a magazine article or a short story for an anthology, you can have a say in your deadline. The conversation might go:

You: So, when do you need this by?
Editor: Well, ideally I’d like it by [X date], but [Z date later] would be OK.
You: Let’s split the difference. How bout [Y date]? Would that really be all right with you?

Because something always comes up, and you’re going to be glad for those extra days. So:

Tip #1: Pad it if you can, but not by a lot. You want breathing room, but you don’t want the job to drag on forever. Plus, bosses like it when you make their lives easier.

Tip #2: Never, if you can help it, choose a deadline that falls on a Monday. Once you’ve made that mistake and paid for it by sacrificing weekend plans, you’ll never make it again. I like Thursday deadlines.

Both of those tips work when you have to impose deadlines as well, like if you’re editing something or arranging for production work to be done, like design and printing.

One more thing, for longer-term deadlines months away, like your next book for your publisher. This also works if you’re the requester of work, like if you’re editing a collection or suchlike:

Tip #3: Never choose a date at the beginning of a month. If you do that, everybody’s like, oh, yeah, we have until February 1st to get that done. And they think February all the way through January, until suddenly it’s like, “Ruh-roh, tomorrow’s February, and it’s not just February, its February 1st, and we’ve screwed ourselves.” But if you pick January 31st, everybody at least starts to bear down in January. “Oh, yeah, January deadline on this one.”

All of this works for self-imposed deadlines as well. It’s all psychological, but real.

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

This Should Make You Feel Better

Zestful Blog Post #122

The other day I was listening to a published author complain about various aspects of our business, like we’re supposed to do social media, blog, write a book every two months, not mind that some jackass who writes cruddy books is really famous and rich, etc. And yeah, one is entitled to complain about anything and everything. But it got me to thinking about my contacts in show business, and how they have it worse than any author who ever lived.

I’m talking about actors and actresses who are not household names, who haven’t played romantic leads, who haven’t won Oscars, but who go out on auditions every day and pretty much take any role they’re offered, be it a character modeling job for an ad photo shoot or a part in a commercial, TV show, or feature film. The journeymen and -women out there who put together a living, sometimes a good living, but sometimes they’re on unemployment.

A favorite story is when I asked an actress friend of mine about the proverbial ‘casting couch’.

[It’s a couch, but it’s the wrong color.]

I’d noticed, when spooking around casting studios doing research for The Actress, that each and every separate studio had a black leather couch on chrome legs, upon which would sit the producer, director, casting director, assistant, and whoever else, in various combinations, to watch the auditions. It was so remarkably consistent: almost identical black leather couches, in casting studios all across Los Angeles.

Which prompted me to ask about the you know, casting couch. My (gorgeous) friend said, “Here’s how it works today. You go to an audition, and the director and everybody are there. You do the audition and they tell you, very nice, thank you very much. Afterward, your agent doesn’t get a call; you do. You get a call on your personal cell phone, and it’s the director, and he says, ‘You did a wonderful job yesterday in the audition! By the way, I’m going up to San Francisco this weekend. Would you like to come?’”

I asked if she ever said yes.

“No. If you do, there’s no end to it.”

Disrespect seems to be the order of business. “They f*ck with you because they can,” said one friend, who had gotten jerked around doing a seven-second shot in a commercial shoot, asked to do it one way, then another, then another, then another. Seven seconds.

Incompetence comes up as well. An actor acquaintance related how he was the principal actor in a TV commercial that was shot over two days. He had been asked to bring his own wardrobe of khaki pants and polo shirt, which he did. After the first day’s shoot, he asked if he needed to bring the same pants tomorrow. The director told him no, just bring the shirt, because the next shots would all be from the waist up.

But when he arrived at the next day’s shoot wearing black pants, they were like, no, man, you’ve got to have the same pants as yesterday! The director had been wrong; they needed to retake some full-length shots. Go home and get em! The film studio was in Santa Monica. This poor bastard lived in Pasadena, 25 miles away. If you have even a passing knowledge of Los Angeles, its traffic patterns and population, you know he was in for probably at least two hours of driving, sitting in traffic, dealing with alternate routes around whichever crashes du jour, etc. He was like, can’t wardrobe come up with something here? And they were like no, you miserable nitwit. Go!

Another time I arrived to have lunch with an actor friend at his house, to find him on the phone, feverishly trying to come up with a jester costume he could borrow from somebody. Because yeah, you’re supposed to costume yourself for auditions (and sometimes even roles, as above), and he wanted this jester role in a commercial, auditions tomorrow. Nobody had an outfit he could borrow. Did he want to rent one for $200? No, man. I believe in the end he bought a jester hat, nailed the audition, and got the part.

It’s a jungle out there.

I’ve never heard of an author being offered a publishing contract in exchange for, well, going along on that weekend to San Francisco, though I suppose it’s not beyond imagination. But really, when we think we have it tough, let’s just remember our friends in Hollywood. May they get residuals for life. And always bring the khaki pants, just in case.

Now for some publishing news from pals around:

Tate Volino, a new local friend, just sent me a copy of his book The Front Nine, a collection of short stories on the golf world. From a first look, I can see the authenticity—behind the scenes at a private club, for instance.

Peter Frickel, another local buddy (with a fabulous South African voice), has been busy publishing on Amazon, most recently Lilies of the Vlei and River, both set in his native continent of Africa.

From Christina Gross, one of my friends from Port Angeles, here’s Rescue the Innocent, a geopolitical thriller with an intriguing plot.

Lastly, buddy BJ Phillips landed a publishing contract with Desert Palm Press for her novel Hurricane Season. Will let you know when that’s available.

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