A picture is worth....

All of us have had our pictures taken. Some of us love it, and some of us hate it. But I think, no matter how we feel about the way that we look in a photo, we are all glad for a physical record that was able to capture a time and place in our lives. As an actor I have had my picture taken many, many times, and no matter how often it happens, the process always makes me feel a little bit exposed, a little bit vulnerable, and a lot wary about seeing what the camera sees. Inevitably the questions...Do I really look like that? Is my face actually that long? When did those lines appear? always spring up. But I would never let my vanity or my insecurity trump the wonder and pleasure that I feel being able to look at a picture and think...oh I remember when...

My guest blogger today is the fabulously talented and generous Megan Edwards. Megan is an actor/writer/photographer and she has a great blog
and a gorgeous website at http://www.charleystarphoto.com

I pestered Megan with some questions...over the holidays, none the less...and she graciously responded, no doubt up to her eyeballs in proofs and assignments. Megan told me that she found these questions to be tougher to answer than they appeared, although you would never know this, based on her eloquent answers. Further proof that she is a great writer as well as a great artist. And she is beautiful too. But before you start to hold all this against her, read on and then lose yourself in her gorgeous pictures.
What got you into photography?

I first got into photography in high school, but then an interest in acting took over and I dropped it for a while. Eventually I started shooting again as a hobby and fell back in love.
I worked as a graphic designer for many years while I was acting, and would sometimes photograph for my clients as part of my graphic design work, but mainly photography was something I did for myself. I was always working on an art project (I do text-based photographic imagery) or some photographic essay, but i never really considered becoming a professional photographer. It wasn't until my daughter was born and I started photographing her that lightning struck that I really got into photography in the sense that I am now. It was a natural progression to start photographing other babies and children. One thing led to another and soon I found myself shooting weddings and the occasional commercial job. All of it is great, and I feel blessed to have found a second calling beyond acting.

You have also worked as an actor and a writer...how is telling your story with photography different?

My years working as an actress certainly influences my photography and I think -- I hope -- I am a better photographer for it. In acting, I was always trying to get inside the character, and with photography, I am also trying to get inside the character, or really, inside the moment. I strive for those images that seem like I, the photographer, wasn't even there, like the image just magically appeared, from the inside-out, onto the paper or screen-- much like how in film the best directors are not heavy-handed, but know how to let the story -- not the director's cleverness -- take center stage. In acting, also, you are trained to embrace the full gamut of human emotion -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- and not to judge your characters. And so I find that I gravitate toward images that capture this emotion, and I don't judge them based upon the normal conventions of beauty. But of course, many clients have told me that vanity reigns :) and they have had to nix some of my "photographer selects" because in certain images where as I see a story or an archetype of The Human Condition, all they see is a funny expression on their face or too many wrinkles. Which I understand, I do -- when we look at images of ourselves we are incredibly self-conscious and it's hard to see the bigger context. But I do find myself encouraging clients to see beauty in a broader way, and to consider their images in a more artful way. And when I can capture an image that is both artistic and feels somehow... eternal and universal and personal AND makes them feel beautiful... then I have done my job well.

What is your favorite subject to photograph? And why?

Oh, kids, for sure! I just love their sense of joy, their lack of self-consciousness, their beauty... I just find them incredibly intriguing and have a deep respect for babies and children and this special time in their journey of life. I love discovering their uniqueness, and all the ways that this little tiny person can, even at such a young age, express such a wide range of emotions. And I love the happy-go-lucky bubbly kid-shot as much as the next person, but I also love images that convey the quiet mystery in a child's face.

Dream subject and dream location to photograph!

Oh man, this is a hard one. Well lately I have been dreaming of a photographing a magical, beautifully designed, winter wedding somewhere in the snow... and I have always wanted to shoot in Morrocco!

I constantly have about 2 or 3 images floating around in my head for some of the fine art projects I'm working on, but just haven't had the time to photograph them in between my family and wedding shoots to because they involve a bit of production, so I would love the time to create some of those images. I also want to start doing more editorial and commercial shoots, especially those involving children. I love the company Wovenplay (http://www.wovenplay.com) and would love to collaborate with them, or some other children's clothing company where I could conceptualize a whole story around the line.

Thanks Megan for taking the time to be on Sorell Says!! And Happy New Year to everyone!! May 2010 bring you much love, laughter, health and happiness!! xo


An Uncommon History of Common Things...

It's Tuesday and I am bringing you another amazing interview by Caroline Leavitt, with another amazing author.

Caroline is the award winning author of eight novels, most recently Girls in Trouble, which was a Booksense Selection and is now in its third printing. Look for her new book Pictures of You coming out from Algonquin this Spring 2010.

An Uncommon History of Common Things
is one of those books you can't put down because of the wealth of fascinating information. A wonderful compendium of everything from how pajamas began to the origins of indoor plumbing, it's been called "witty and enlightening" byLibrary Journal and People made it one of their hot gift picks.

Bethanne Patrick, one of the authors, is one of those people you want to be your friend for life. Warm and funny, she's every author's best friend because of her fierce love for the written word and her incredible support.

Where did the inspired idea for the book come from?

I can't claim credit for the idea; that came from my delightful National Geographic colleagues Susan Blair and Susan Tyler Hitchcock. Susan Blair is a developmental editor at NG, and Susan Hitchcock was a project editor who is now the Editorial Director for Reference Books. They both loved a book whose title I can't specifically recall: Panatti's History of Everyday Objects? They came to me as a freelance writer with an idea and a one-page outline.

How did you go about choosing what items to write about? And how did you do the research?

I developed the chapters and outline, and then Susan Hitchcock and I went through a long process choosing all of the items. We wanted to find things that are still common today, used around the world, and that had great stories to go along with them.

Obviously this took a great deal of research. I'll confess that I started out on the Internet...but there was no way to stay there! I had to get back to BOOKS and many times primary source materials. National Geographic has a rigorous reference process and an even more rigorous fact-checking process. But I'd like to say that there are great materials online: e.g., the New York Times archives has clips that were useful in tracking down "pink for girls, blue for boys," and I found a couple of amazing e-texts of history books for the salt-extraction industry in the U.S.

I loved the sidebars—that the bread slicer was almost banned in WWII (which shows how much people loved it) and that canned goods started with Napoleon, rather than with housewives in the fifties. I also thought the Chinese invented pasta. (it was the Arabs.) What I love about the book is that it makes you look at the world differently. Things that were once as familiar as peanut butter, boxer shorts and breakfast foods take on new significance and meaning, which is so wonderful and lots of fun. Which origin for an item particularly surprised you and why?

Thank you so much, because the sidebars and the timelines were a tremendous amount of work. As you note, sometimes we had to look hard past commonly accepted knowledge (e.g., the Chinese invented pasta) to find first uses of things. I think the biggest surprise was how table napkins came to be -- the Spartan "apomagdalie" were bits of bread dough that people used to wipe grease off of their fingers! Makes complete sense, but who knew?

The photos are as glorious as the text. Did you have input on the design at all?

Our photo editor, Chip (gotta check his surname!), is, like all NG photo specialists, absolutely first rate. The general look of the book was not in my domain, and I didn't need to help Chip much -- but he did consult with me on more obscure items, and we worked closely together on those difficult sidebars (as did my hardworking editor Susan Straight!). I think he had fun, however, with the shoe sidebar.

You worked with another writer, John Thompson, who authored or coauthored Dakotas, National Geographic Almanac of American History, and more. What was it like working with another person? How did you keep the continuity of the tone and the writing?

John and I never worked together! I'm willing to tell you this because our editors could not believe how similar our diction and tone were considering we've never even met. He made life easy for all of us, because he's such a professional and such a fine writer.

You do everything, Bethanne! You interview authors on The Book Studio on WETA, you're the beloved Book Maven at large, a journalist, you do twitter book tours and you write. So how do you manage to juggle all the things that you do?

You're so kind...I'm also a wife, mother to two, and I'm working on a memoir called Broken. I mention those things so that everyone will know that it's possible to realize your dreams. I've failed at so many things (and some of them quite recently!), but I've also been fortunate to succeed at others and to keep moving...I'm a late bloomer, and although I've said this before, my fellow Smith College alumna Julia Child is my role model. She didn't start teaching cooking classes until she was nearly 40, and she didn't get her WGBH TV show until she was 50. So by the "Child clock," I'm actually ahead of the game with my WETA Internet show!

At my college graduation, Beverly Sills told us that "you can have it all, but not at the same time." That was advice I really needed, since unlike most of my friends, I turned down the job in NY publishing I'd been offered and got married. Years later, I'm not only working in publishing -- I'm still married. The message is not to be a child bride; it's to trust your heart and never lose your passion.

Finally, I couldn't juggle anything at all without the support of many. I tell The Book Studio team all the time that "It takes a village to get Bethanne camera ready" and that does not just refer to my wonderful hair and makeup artist Lorna Basse! I've met, befriended, and worked with great people. However, those who weren't so great? Sometimes they taught me the most, or gave me contacts that led to career breakthroughs.

What 's next for you?

The aforementioned memoir, which I'm working on with my fantastic new agents, Rob Weisbach and Erin Cox. We're also working on all kinds of new features and opportunities for The Book Studio (soon our booklists will be featured on the "Masterpiece" web site, starting with the new production of "Emma" in January). I continue to be interested in keeping book reviewing relevant. Right now I'm running for the board of the National Book Critics Circle; I may not be elected, but I believe that criticism can and must remain viable in this new-media world.

What question should I be mortified that I didn’t ask you?

I don't think there are any you didn't ask me...hmmmm...well, you didn't ask me about my favorite books or my greatest influences as a writer (which are questions we ask on The Book Studio!), so I'll tell you! I don't think I'll ever get tired of "To the Lighthouse" by Virginia Woolf, because I believe that Lily Briscoe's "Can't paint, can't write" dilemma (and her confused jealousy of Mrs. Ramsay's boeuf en daube) are still issues that affect modern women. When I need inspiration for writing, I re-read some of John Cheever's short stories or Joan Didion's essays. Funny, since I don't write short stories or essays per se -- but I return again and again to writing that really stays with me, not writing that is like anything I do.


Writing in bits...

I am writing in bits these days. On "holiday" with my family, I still have 4 deadlines to meet, and am trying to steal snippets of time when I can sit down and write. It is during times like these, away from my own routine and office that I am reminded of what my dear friend Kim once said to me..."writing requires space." And it does. Writing requires, for me a physical space, a room of one' s own as Virgina Woolf calls it...

I started this post 6 hours ago...before my family came down to the breakfast table and out the door we went...to a lovely pilates lesson, mani-pedi's and lunch and then errands. This is the way it goes. And of course I want to spend as much time with them as possible...but time when visiting is in short supply and so with this snippet, 15 minutes, before heading out to see friends and have an early dinner with their kids at 5:30, I try and finish this post, and if all goes well, I will get back to my writing, some time when everyone else is asleep.

Snip, snip, snip...


Merry Christmas!!!

Christmas in Toronto, cold, full of family, food, and good fun! Even though I am full of snot, and medicated out the ying yang, I am thrilled to be here partaking in my families unique traditions of french music in the morning, (this years Parisienne picks were a shout out to Jeff and mine's holiday in France last year), a breakfast of chocolate brioches, strong coffee, and present opening. All this is followed by movie watching, then naps, an early dinner and most likely another movie. Throw in lots of anecdotes, magazine reading, and music playing in the background and we have a perfect Christmas. Even the incessant nose blowing is a part of this tradition, as it seems being sick, is also the only way that my family knows how to slow down! That is the only tradition I'd like to change...next year a kleenex free Christmas.

Wishing all who celebrate a wonderful Christmas full of love and laughter!


A White Christmas...

I love a white Christmas. Having spent most of my life in places that have four seasons, a white Christmas is something that I have grown to expect and look forward to. Although I love the sunshine in Los Angeles, putting up a tree and opening presents in 78 degree weather, just doesn't seem right. And it looks like I am getting my wish...at last here in Canada it is starting to snow. A light snow...but snow none the less.

What I don't love, is the annual cold that always finds and floors me this time of year. My nose is streaming, my throat is sore, and I am off to bed for a nap before the holiday festivities begin. For Christmas this year, I'd like to be cold free.


Amazing Author: Julie Metz

It's Tuesday and I am bringing you another amazing author interview by Caroline Leavitt.

Caroline is the award winning author of eight novels, most recently Girls in Trouble, which was a Booksense Selection and is now in its third printing. Look for her new book Pictures of You coming out from Algonquin this Spring 2010.

Perfection by JulieMetz is both shocking, disturbing and thoroughly wonderful. Metz's "perfect" life shattered when her handsome young husband died suddenly and she subsequently discovered his web of infidelity. How she unravelled all the secrets of his life and began to build a new life helped her redefine just what perfection really means.

What sparked the writing of this book?

When my husband died suddenly in January 2003, I was living in a small town north of New York City. My family and most of my longtime friends lived elsewhere and they were all worried about me. After a few days of trying to respond to individual e-mails, I decided to write one long e-mail each day and send that to anyone who wrote to me asking for news. After a few months I had created a diary of my early widowhood. When I found out about my husband’s infidelities in July 2003, several friends suggested that I should write about my experiences. But I wasn’t a writer and had no idea how to take the e-mails I’d written and put them together into a book that anyone would want to read. At this point, a professional writer I knew took me out for lunch and insisted that I give it a try. She pretty much sent me home with instructions on how to get started and kept after me to make sure I was working. After a while I sank into the writing experience and committed myself to the project.

As you were writing the memoir, and when you completed it, what discoveries did you make about yourself and the nature of your relationship with your husband?

The writing process helped me work through so many complex emotions: grief, then anger, shame, despair, and finally, acceptance. Along the way I learned that I was tougher than I had thought, that I could, in fact, take charge of my life, and rebuild it, with help from family and friends. From that point I was able to look back at my marriage and see the good and bad times with more clarity. In the end there are still unanswered questions. Henry’s behavior was so spectacularly self-destructive

You found out that your marriage was an illusion, so I’m wondering, what was the process that allowed you to trust again?

While I was married, I imagined that I couldn’t live without my husband. Then he died and I found that I could, after all, live without him. Slowly I put the basics of life back together. I was a working single mother and my heart was pretty much a disaster area, but I still earned a living and got dinner on the table. When I started to feel more settled, I made a list of what I hoped to find in a new partner: someone who was kind, and honest, who would love my child, and share my world view. When I began dating, I didn’t always stick to the list, so there was plenty of trial and error. When I met my present partner, I wasn’t sure that he was the right man for me, but slowly over time I saw his love for me and my daughter and his genuine interest in making a real family. This is what I’d wanted to have with my husband. It all took time and what I like is that we are still learning about each other.

Do you think a perfect marriage is possible? Why or why not?

Perfection! It doesn’t exist! So what’s left once we give up on that (unrealistic) ideal? We have the variety of real everyday experience, filled with beauty and flaws, excitement and boredom, happiness and sorrow. I look at my present relationship as a series of “everydays,” most of which are terrific, some less terrific, a few disappointing. I think the best relationships are ones where both individuals can change and grow and feel supported. What I enjoy about my situation now is that we genuinely love each other, we have fun together, and we weather difficult times with our spirits intact.

What made you want to know these other women that your husband had been with? Do you think that it ultimately helped, or was it more like rubbing salt into your already deep wounds?

My husband had died, leaving me with so many unanswered questions. I couldn’t ask him why he’d made his choices, but I didn’t feel like I could move forward with my life until I had some answers. I contacted the other women to try to understand what had happened to my marriage. I am not saying this is what every woman should do, but for me this was ultimately a positive experience. In the short term it was painful, but I did get some answers, and encountering these women helped me resolve my anger and find compassion for him, for them, and for myself. In one case, an unlikely friendship began that continues to this day.

I’m wondering, what are you going to tell your daughter about her father?

I have had many conversations with my daughter about her father. I would never have published the book without talking to her. What I have told her is that her father loved us but made some terrible mistakes. I want her to understand that adult life can be complicated, that we are flawed creatures, and sometimes our flaws can overwhelm us. I also hope to show her by example that it is possible to remake your life and that you can create your own second chances. And when I make mistakes (every day), I apologize and try to do better.

Why do you think you didn’t realize the signs of what was going on with your husband and all the women in his life, especially in the light of your honestly portraying the difficulties in your marriage? Do you think we choose to see what we want to see and protect ourselves from the rest?

When I was married, I had a lot at stake in not looking at the reality of my life. My identity was very wrapped up in being Henry’s wife. We had our child and a house and comfortable life in a beautiful town. I think many women are in this situation. Since my book came out I have received many letters from women who also didn’t see what was going on in their marriages because they were too afraid to look. Not looking too hard is a way of protecting oneself, though it won’t work forever.

I always ask…what are you working on now, what’s your writing life like, and what question didn’t I ask that I should have?

I am working on a novel now. Some of the themes are similar—a woman in midlife confronting her past and her future—but it’s such a different experience writing fiction. There is a new freedom in being able to invent scenarios and imagery, though I often feel now that the characters are directing the action rather than the other way around. I have a pretty clear idea of the basic story but I don’t really know yet how it’s all going to turn out.

My writing life is…probably not ideal. Which is to say, I have is no set writing schedule. I clear away the breakfast dishes and write at the dining table, while I also work with my assistant on book design projects, pay bills, make soup for dinner, and run loads of laundry. In the evening I might work some more on writing, while my daughter does homework, also at the dining table. But this is pretty much how the first book got written, so perhaps this method will work a second time…

People are sometimes curious about the title of the book: Perfection, since the story is about a time in my life that was anything but perfection. I chose the title because I felt that women are really struggling with this idea of perfection: perfect bodies, houses, kids, careers. The feeling that you have fallen short of the standard creates a feeling of shame that leads women to make some poor choices as they try to hide or plaster over the parts of themselves they feel are less than perfect. I wanted to find a way to redefine the word “perfection” so that it could encompass real life with all its beauty and flaws.


Writing, while away...

I'm flying to Canada today, to be with my family for two weeks! It promises to be a long and wonderful trip, packed with family and friends and fun and food. The challenge will be to find time to write in the middle of all of this frolic! I still have my novel to work on, and I actually have 2 naming jobs and a huge copywriting project. I was lucky enough to get all this work at the end of the year, which will make my January, much more comfortable!

But how do I carve out time to write? Well, I usually get up earlier and go to bed later than everyone else. I always travel with my laptop and my parents thankfully have wireless internet, so I can sneak into the attic and work in their office, before anyone gets up. And after everyone goes to bed, I do the same. Thankfully two of my jobs are on L.A. time, so with the time difference it feels like I get an extra 3 hours to get it all done! The other job is in Berlin, and it is a fabulous job with a really quick turnaround, so I am tackling that one first.

Thankfully my family is self employed, so they get it...but still, no one wants to watch me write when we only get to see each other a few times a year. So, it will be early mornings, Starbucks Via travel packs, and some Bose headphones for me!

What about you, how do you juggle family visits and work?


Beautiful/ Decay + Synchronicity Book Release Party

Ooooooh Art, How I love thee!! I love thee in all forms! In books and music and drawings... and at events that have these all together!!

This weekend Beautiful Decay the three part creative project that aims to promote, collaborate, and showcase a new generation of artists through their flagship Beautiful/Decay book series, an artist T-shirt line and a daily updated website, is hosting a book release party!

Beautiful/Decay and Synchronicity are teaming up to present a one of a kind book release party & silent art auction! Join them to celebrate the release of Book 2: "What a Mess," and Synchronicity's first year in business! This will be your first chance to buy Book 2, as well as pick up unique Beautiful/Decay holiday gift packages for the art lover in your life! They will be offering special discounts as well as free gift wrapping. 100's of other works of art will be on display and for sale during the event. Live performances and music as well!


Saturday, December 19, 2009 at 7:00pm
Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 12:00am
Synchronicity Gallery
4306 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA

If you are in L.A. check it out! Art of any kind is a great holiday gift!


A few of my favorite things...

Just a few. I have more. My desk is a veritable wonderland of talismans and treats, things to inspire me, lift my spirits when they flag, coerce me into staying in my chair and trying to get words on the page, for just a few more minutes. Here are three of my favorite things, that I can not live without. To start this section off I bring you three things that I eat, play and love all at once.

According to my grade 9 Drama teacher her earliest memories of me include a giant sized cup of coffee attached to my hand. She told me this once many years later...over coffee and as I finish my first cup of the day, I think about how much as changed. I mean I don't just drink coffee all the time, like I used to. I have one, okay, two, big cups every morning and then in the afternoon I prefer to eat my coffee in the form of these delicious little crunchy toffeed espresso bits covered in dark chocolate. I love coffee. I have an espresso pot, a machine with a timer, an old school Italian percolator, a bodum, and packs of Starbucks VIA for hot instant and Nescafe for cold instant frappuccino's. I have tried to stop several times, but it just seemed ridiculous to do so. I was depressed, haeadachey, miserable, and apparently this will pass...but I see no reason to find out. I mean, it's only really 2 generous cups a day. I was told that coffee was toxic, poisonous and polluting my system. But come one, I live in L.A.! Walking outside is like sucking on a tailpipe!Life is short. Writing is hard. I am going to enjoy my sweet elixir of the Gods.

Music. Some people can't listen to music and write. They need silence. These same people often do not eat at their desk, or even drink at their desk. They require no distractions. I have met them, but I can not say I like them. Kidding! I marvel at their monastic sensibilities, all the while rocking out to my favorite tunes by Broken Social Scene, David Usher, Death Cab for Cutie, (my first novel) BSS again, Bon Iver, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, (my latest novel.) When a cone of silence is needed, usually around me, (apparently not everyone wants to hear the same song played on repeat for 4 hours straight!) I put on these amazing cone of silence Bose headphones. If I turn the music off it is frighteningly quiet and I can hear my brain smoking, but if I turn the little button on the side, then I am at a rock concert for one, which is perfect for me, as I don't really like crowds anyways.

Lipbalmmmmmmmmmmm. It's moist and delicious and shiny and sometimes it stays on my lips long enough not to be licked off! The rest of the time it is on the rim of my coffee cup. I am sure that my lipbalm addiction is far more serious than my espresso pillow addiction, but no one seems to want to intervene here. Interesting.

And what about you? Is there something that you can not live without when you work? Or is always in your purse or bag? Candy? Handcream? Gum? I promise not to stage an intervention, if you don't.


Full Disclosure: I slept with My Guest!!

It's true. I did. And I have been sleeping with today's guest for the last 15 or so years, it's allowed, he's my husband...fabulous guy and actor extraordinaire Jeff Clarke. Jeff has agreed, volunteered even, to be the first guest in this section. So...gloves off.

Gina waits in her office, after being told that her subject needs an additional 5 minutes. Coffee? Facebook? Fantasy Football? It could be any of these things that delays him.

Gina: Please come in my office. Sit on the daybed and chat. Is the coffee okay? Yes? Oh good. It should be, you made it. Not for me that is, I made my own. I was up earlier, but never mind. It's the Starbucks VIA you bought me, which is delicious, by the way, although boiling water first thing in the morning can be difficult for me.

Gina: Jeff you are an incredible actor and have been acting professionally for 20 years or so. Tell our readers, what makes you a better actor than me?

Jeff: (he laughs, nervously) I'm not distracted by being such a brilliant writer.

Gina: Good one. But seriously. You have a BFA in theater performance and a MFA in acting , do you believe in the importance of training, or were you just trying to avoid getting a real job?

Jeff: Both.

Gina: Alright, enough kidding around. You are somewhat of a commercial superstar, can you tell us, how you view commercial acting in comparison to film and tv acting?

Jeff: Commercial acting is the framing houses of the fine carpentry of acting.

Gina: Are you talking broad strokes vs detail?

Jeff: In some ways, yes. In Film and TV you are building a whole house. In commercials, you are building just one room. You get more script and time to tell the story in film and television, than you do in commercials.

Gina: I once heard you describe commercials as a snapshot of a moment? Is this what you mean? Could you talk more about that?

Jeff: The commercial industry spends an enormous amount of time, research and skill distilling the cultural needs of a particular product into several well crafted moments and it is the actors job to fully realize those moments.

Gina: Are you talking about distilling the message in 30 seconds or less?

Jeff: I'm just talking about living in the moment and not making mountains out of molehills.

Gina: That must be hard for you.

Jeff: You have no idea.

Gina: I'm teasing. You make it sound so easy. But it isn't, I know.

Jeff: I don't mean to make it sound easy, but it's just not complicated. The business is complicated, the process is complicated, it requires a lot of patience, a thick skin...but one that still needs to be porous. You still need to feel, to be an artist.

Gina: What was your most challenging role? And don't say being my husband!

Jeff: I was going to say being your husband. But lately, the role of John in the independent movie I just shot, "Dinner with Friends".

Gina: Why?

Jeff: On an emotional level the character was very complicated and selfish and deeply unhappy, and his awakening and working his way out of that was a very exciting process, but also involved doing things that I found terrifying, like...learning to play the guitar and sing in public.

Gina: That was terrifying for all of us! I kid, I kid. I actually never knew that you played guitar, what else are you hiding? More on that later.

Gina: What role do you wish you had been cast in? Any role.

Jeff: I have to say secretly...

Gina: It's not a secret anymore...

Jeff: The lead role in the tv show "Castle" would have been fun...

Gina: I thought you were going to say Omar from The Wire.

Jeff: I would have given my left nut, to do anything on that show. (pause) Just my left one.

Gina: Tell me your Dream project.

Jeff: It's an action/romantic comedy, starring me and Penelope Cruz. It shoots in Paris in the Spring...and there is at least one of the following; a chase scene, a 14 course French Dinner, and a long steamy shower scene.

Gina: Nice. I'll see what me and my writing partner Daniel Craig/James Bond can come up with, we'll be in our Central Park Penthouse office working ... A hem. Next question: If you hadn't been an actor, you would have been...

Jeff: A know it all social worker.

Gina: Egads! Thank goodness this worked out.

Gina: Finish this sentence... Acting and writing both...

Jeff: Fulfill the dream.

Gina: Anything I didn't ask that you would like to tell me?

Jeff: I really like your blog.


Amazing Author: Caroline Leavitt

Tuesday is amazing Amazing Author day and I am thrilled to have my fabulous friend and amazing author, Caroline Leavitt in charge of Tuesday's Blogs.

Caroline is the award winning author of eight novels, most recently Girls in Trouble, which was a Booksense Selection and is now in its third printing. She is the recipient of a New York Foundation of the Arts Grant in Fiction and portions of her novel in progress won a Goldenberg Fiction Prize. She was a finalist in the Nickelodeon Screenwriting Fellowship, a semi-finalist in the Fade In/Writers' Net Screenwriting Competition, and a National Magazine Award nominee. Four of her novels were optioned for screen, and she talked her way into writing the script for two of them. She's a book critic for The Boston Globe, People Magazine, and a brand new magazine called Dame. She teaches novel writing for UCLA, does private writing mentoring, and she is a professional namer!
You can visit her at http://www.carolineleavittville.blogspot.com

I first met Caroline through the UCLA Writers Program nearly three years ago, when I was tired of waiting for the phone to ring as an actor and wanted to take my writing to the next level. I had always written as an actor and had even had my work produced, for film, television, and stage, but what I wanted to know was whether or not I could write novels. I wanted to know if I had what it takes to go the distance, as in 300 or more pages, and I wanted to know if I really had what it takes to call myself a WRITER. And that's where Caroline came in. She thought I had talent sure, but we both knew that wasn't enough, I'd have to learn about structure, and character arcs and plotting and pacing and dialogue and I'd have to write eveyday for hours, 4 pages or 4 hours whatever came first. She encouraged me and challenged me and whipped my writing into shape! I didn't have time to worry if I was a writer, I was too busy writing to care! I finished my debut novel "Let It Be Me", had Caroline do a manuscript consult on it, (one of her many talents!) to get it agent ready and now that I have a great agent and it is being shopped around, I am back workshopping with her at UCLA on my second novel.

I adore Caroline. Not only is she incredibly talented, but incredibly generous. She is passionate about writing and passionate about authors, so it seemed only appropriate that we start with an interview about her. This interview was done by Corey Campbell at the UCLA Writers Program
I hope you enjoy it! And I hope that you will check out Caroline's blog and her terrific novels!!

Writers’ Program: You just sold your latest novel, Pictures Of You, to Algonquin. How long were you working on the book, from the first germ of idea to its finished form? What was that process like for you?

CarolineLeavitt: Pictures Of You took me four years to write. I tend to write about what obsesses me, and I've always been very phobic about cars and car accidents (which turns the action in Pictures Of You). I've had my license since I was 16, but have driven once, and then felt so panicked I have never driven again. So, because I always worried I would be in an accident and kill someone, I had been thinking about writing a novel about it for many years, hoping to purge my fears. (Didn't work.) I couldn't find my way into the story, though, until I happened to write a short story, called Breathe, which won a Goldenberg Fiction Prize. The story somehow took off, and it began forming itself into a novel.

The process was really difficult for me. (I keep telling my students it never gets easier!) After two years of working, I had about 600 pages and I knew something was really wrong, so I began showing it to writer friends, and one writer pointed out that I had overstuffed the novel with a whole subplot that didn't belong there. Once I got that out, the novel unlocked, and the last two years working on it were more fun. By then, I had really figured out what the novel was really about--how we never really know the people we love, which was a totally different theme than the one I started out with!

WP: Tell us about the book. What was your approach to writing it? How did your ideas evolve?

CL: Pictures of You is about how we sometimes see the ones we love in a fog, how we see what we want to see rather than the truth that is there in front of us. It centers around a mysterious car accident on a foggy road in the Cape, and the lives of three people around that accident converge: A photographer who is fleeing her philandering husband and who kills a woman who is standing in the middle of the road, the husband who struggles to understand what his wife was doing there and why she had a suitcase and their son in her car, and the son who feels it was his fault and who harbors a secret.

I did what I tell my students to do. I outlined, did story maps and character arcs and kept rewriting them. I threw out millions of pages. I agonized and carried on, but I had one first chapter which I thought worked, and that kept me going.

I found that the more I knew about my characters, the more surprising things would pop up and enrich the story.

WP: What did you learn about yourself when writing Pictures Of You?

CL: That writing about a phobia doesn't heal it, but it does make me feel brave for exposing it.

WP: This isn’t your first novel. Does the process get easier as you write each new book?

CL: Nope. Every time I sit down to write a novel, it's as if it is my first one, all over again. I have learned to recognize the signs though--when I begin to say, "This is the end of my career!" my husband always laughs and says he knows that is when the writing is starting to go somewhere. I've started a new novel and I'm still confused, upset, anxious, and also just in love with the whole process of writing.

WP: What do you draw on most for your novel ideas? Do they come to you in similar ways? Do you use music or other external stimuli to help the writing process?

CL: I always tell my students to write about what obsesses you, write the books you want to read. I tend to be obsessed by any number of things, and they find their way into my work. Usually it's some sort of dramatic questions, a what if: What if a woman abandoned her child in a drugstore? What if a man discovered the woman he thought had died had faked her death? Those kinds of questions always lead me deeper into a story that I want to explore and understand. Character always has to come first.

I have to have music. It really relaxes me. I'm addicted to Pandora.com which is this radio station where you can plug in the names of songs you like or singers, and they give you similar songs you might like, as well as the ones you do want. I keep it blasting.

WP: What’s your writing discipline like? Do you write every day? How do you keep yourself on track? How do you keep yourself interested and immersed in the story for hundreds of pages?

CL: I write every day (except weekends) for four hours. I love it (except on the days I hate it.) When I feel I'm off track, I outline or do character arcs. I sometimes jump around from the beginning to the end, but my problem is more letting go of the characters when I am finished! Every time I start a new novel, I miss the people from the last one!

WP: Who reads your manuscripts when you complete them? Are you in a writers group yourself?

CL: I have three or four trusted readers. My husband reads and a few writer friends read. I guess you could say they are my writers group, but no, I'm not in one that meets. I just don't have the time.

WP: How extensively do you rewrite? Do you go through hundreds of drafts?

CL: I do go through hundreds of drafts. I am constantly rewriting. This last novel was about 15 drafts. Then my agent made me rewrite it a few more times. Now I am working with my editor rewriting it yet again. It's all part of the process.

WP: What is the first piece you ever published?

CL: Oh, that question makes me smile because that was such a thrilling time. It was a short story called GIFTS in the Michigan Quarterly Review. They paid me $50 for it, and I was thrilled beyond belief. Plus, that story got me my first agent, who happened to read the story and like it enough to contact me. By the way, these things still do happen, so I always tell writers to publish in the little literary magazines. You never know!

WP: Are people either born novelists or born short story writers? Or could writers excel at both if they applied themselves?

CL: Another wonderful question. I don't think so. I used to think that I was a born short story writer. I never wanted to write a novel, ever. Didn't have a clue how. And then when I got my first agent, she said, "You have to write a novel. No one is buying short stories." She helped me turn one of my short stories into a novel, and I fell in love with the process. I discovered that I love writing novels. Writing a short story is like a short relationship, but a novel is like a marriage. I think there are no born novelists or born short story writers, but there are born writers. There is that drive, that burning need, and age has nothing to do with it. Some people don't discover that fire in themselves and start writing until they are in their sixties!

WP: Anything else you’d like to add?

CL: Just that being a writer is the most incredible job on the planet. You get to live other lives and then share those lives with readers. And there is profound joy in that. I feel incredibly lucky.


The writing is on the wall...

Literally. Last week I received my giant magnetic erase board. I have wanted one forever, but I could only ever find the small ones that are available at places like Target and Staples, and what I really wanted, was a large dry erase board that I could map my novel out on. I like to be able to draw my story, and for a while butcher paper was working, but it usually ended up crumpled behind the bookcase or rolled up under my daybed. And so after much searching I found one on sale, and on-line and had it shipped to me. I love it. I have put all my plot points up, with color coded notes and a time line that I can follow to keep myself organized and if anything changes I can simply erase it and rewrite as I go a long. It is already full, and I am only half way through my novel, and I must admit that I was thinking, oh two would be great. And then another one arrived in the mail. This one was sent to me by accident and the shipping to return it, is almost as much as the board itself, so the company has offered it to me at cost, which means that I can now have two boards for essentially the regular price of one. How can I refuse? I said yes, and then rearranged my office to make space. I still have to hang the other one up, and will, on the opposite wall diagonally across from this one that faces my desk. On the second one, I can plan out the features for my blog, deadlines, ideas that aren't fleshed out yet, and stick up pics of things that inspire me with my cute magnets!

It is an embarrassment of riches, two boards, but it is amazing to me, just how helpful it has been to see my story mapped out and facing me. It shows me what I have done, and where I am going and all the great threads that I have woven. It helps me feel a sense of accomplishment and it eases my anxiety about the state of my novel and frees up some space in my head to try and make sense of it all. It's like a closet organizer for my brain! Only much neater and cleaner than any closet of mine, could ever be.

What about you? Do you work better with order or with chaos?


Friday- Shout Out!

Today's Shout Out goes to Courtney over at Hughes Design. http://www.hughesdesign.com

I first stumbled across Courtney's work when I was combing blogs for inspiration as I wanted to revamp my own. I contacted a blog writer, whose blog I'll share next week and asked her about her customized blog and she referred me to Courtney. I wrote her and we began e-mailing back and forth about what I wanted this new blog to look like. She had all sorts of great questions, like what were my favorite blogs? What was the feel that I was going for? But most importantly she is incredibly nice, responds right away, and is an amazing listener/reader letting me write and write and write about what I wanted; the colors, tone, style, feel of the blog and what my intentions were.

Hughes Design has a great price structure, that really breaks it all down, and affordable packages that range from the budget friendly, 1 design collaboration, to the 3 design collaboration. My budget allowed me to go for only one design, and I gotta say, I worried...what if I hate it? But Courtney assured me that never happens. And she was right. After 50 or more e-mails, she showed me the template you see here and I was thrilled! We went back and forth for another 50 e-mails or more, tweaking the color, the background, the fonts and it was Courtney who really encouraged me to scan my own handwriting for a more original and personal effect. After the design was set she worked her computer magic, yup, it's "magic" to me, and got the whole thing up and running!

Here it is...well over a hundred e-mails later, lots of finessing and much patience on her part...my gorgeous new blog. And what is so great was that this blog was literally born in cyberspace with the support of other bloggers and their gorgeous designs as inspiration and their willingness to share information...which is what the Shout Out, is all about.

And a Shout Out to all who are celebrating...Happy Chanukah!


My New Blog!!!!

Well, this post definitely belongs in the Eat/Play/Love section...as I LOVE my blog's new layout.

A new year is upon us, and I wanted to start it off with a new look and a new format. The fact that I get to launch the new blog early, as we head into the holidays is an added bonus, as I love the holidays and there will be much blogging to do!

How it works...Each category on the right, corresponds with a day of the week!

Monday's posts are about the Writing Life,
Tuesday's we have interviews with Amazing Authors by award winning author Caroline Leavitt
Wednesday's we welcome special guests and guest bloggers
Thursday's we have a whole section devoted to all things yummy and fabulous in Eat/Play/Love
Friday's we wrap up the week with a Shout Out to someone or something terrific!

I hope that you like the new format and will continue to check in, comment (please!) and share it with others!!

Much Love, Gina :)


The hot lunch...

Now that winter is here, I find myself craving the hot lunch! Hot lunches always make me feel like a kid. I remember when my school started letting us eat off campus so that we could get hot lunches in the winter. We only had a lunch room, not a cafeteria and the parents had decided that hot lunches in our cold Canadian winters were important!

Well, many years later and in L.A. there may not be snow, but it is cold out. Sitting at my desk, wrapped up in layers, furry slippers on my feet, I find I need a little something extra to keep me warm. It needs to be tasty and healthy and easy to eat and it needs to help ward off the crazy snacking that also happens to me this time of year. Although writing is strenuous, it is hardly a cardio workout and so I try to keep my lunch light. Today's lunch is quinoa, white beans and mushrooms sauteed with cherry tomatoes in balsamic vinegar on a bed of wild arugula with shaved parmesan cheese. It's delicious! Of course I will save some room for a tootsie roll or 3, just like I did as a kid. But I will also make room for a giant cup of coffee. I mean after all I may feel like a kid today, but I am still a grown up!


Dreams into action...

I woke up dreaming of being in NYC again today. I wasn't sad or anything like that I just had this feeling that I really needed to be there. It was such a strong feeling, that I have been thinking about it all day. I looked at flights and at hotel packages and as much as I am dying to go (it's been 2 years!) I decided to start a NYC apartment fund instead. I know, the trip would have been cheaper, but there is something about taking action on a dream that helps turn it into a reality. And the reality is, I really want to be living in NYC part of the year, in the next few years. I don't need a big place, and I don't need to own all of it, a friend of mine wants to go in on this apartment dream. But I do want to stop yearning and start working towards my dream to make it come true.

What about you? Are you someone who plans for something in the future, working on it bird by bird as the author Anne Lamotte would say? Or do you just take the plunge when the time is right?

By the end of next week...I expect to have a brand new "Sorell Says..." up and running! The format will be different as will the content, and I hope that you will continue to check in and make your presence known!!



The carrot and the stick!

The stick, the fear of failure and the reality that my new novel needs to be done a year ahead of schedule. The carrot...an endless supply of movies, courtesy of the SAG nomination committee. I am doing my best to write all day and then tell myself that I will be rewarded with a big fat movie and maybe even a glass of wine at the end of the day.

I love movies, love how they capture our imaginations and take us into worlds that we may otherwise never experience. So far I have watched, District 9 (so sad, great acting) The Lovely Bones (even sadder and beautifully done) and Education (what a lesson in storytelling...LOVED it and the performances were fabulous!) and last night I rewatched Julie and Julia, just to enjoy the wonder that is Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci and to live vicariously through their Parisian and New York lives.

We still have 20 more to go...and only 10 days left, and each day more arrive. It makes the writing hard to focus on, but it also reminds me that regardless of the medium, no matter how gorgeous the cinematography, or how talented the cast, if you don't have a good story, you don't have anything. And 3 of the 4 we have seen were all based on books!

And so back to the laptop I go, and I keep writing...
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