Just over 3 years ago, I decided to go back to school. I wanted to do something more, challenge myself beyond just acting and writing material for myself and others to perform. I have always written and have been fortunate enough to have had some of my material produced for the stage and screen, and radio, but creating work for myself is one thing, while creating work that stands alone and doesn't have me reading or performing it, is a completely different thing all together.
I enrolled in UCLA Extension Writers' Program, signing up for the 3 year certificate program with a focus in long form fiction, or novel writing. It was at a time when we didn't have the money to do so, and the idea of spending countless hours at home writing, instead of hustling at a job, didn't seem like the wisest decision and yet, I did it. And my husband did it. He worked his butt off to allow me the luxury of devoting myself to mastering this new craft, encouraging me every step of the way. I studied on-line so that I could still audition and do freelance jobs, and I wrote and worked harder than I ever have before. I met some wonderful writers, and some of my classmates became friends, I met my mentor, and I worked with professors who were not only hugely successful as authors, but gifted and generous teachers. I felt part of a community, and was proud to finally call myself a writer. Not an actor/writer...a WRITER. I finished my first novel and wrote a second. I was accepted into the advanced novel writing workshop. I was also allowed to take film classes, and personal essay writing classes, and with each one felt inspired and encouraged to keep writing.
Yesterday I graduated with distinction. It was a beautiful ceremony at Royce Hall, and Tiffany and Jeff made it feel very special. (I was also spoiled with pressies, like these gorgeous flowers!) I was moved by the nearly full house of graduates and friends and family, the organ music, the speakers, the special guests and musical performance. We applauded and congratulated one another, and the smiles on everyone's face, told me that they too were proud of their accomplishments. And their friends and family were proud of them. Our guest speaker, Marty Panzer, a musical composer and extension teacher who has worked with Barry Manilow for years and has more awards and gold albums than I can count said it best..."Often kids go to school because they have to. It's the next step, or they are expected to. But adults who go back to school, go because they want to. They want to learn. And they are going to give it their all because they are often juggling and sacrificing so much to do so."
He was right. And it was one of the best things I ever did!! And the great thing is, I am still doing it, the learning never stops.
I am trying to take advantage of all things free this summer and the Lamca is once again doing a great job of helping me out! I wrote about their fabulous Jazz events on Friday nights, and now I am going to check out their Latin Music and Dance on Saturday. Admission is free and the festivities run from 5:00pm- 7:00pm.
I plan on getting there early, laying out a picnic blanket and admiring those much more skilled than myself at some fancy footwork!
If you have any great free summer events that you'd like to give a shout out to, let me know and I can post them here for all to enjoy!
Have a great weekend!!
The rows in this vineyard remind me of the rows of books in a bookstore...both yield delicious results. Although while my wine supply has gone down, my supply of books has continued to increase! I try not to read the works of other fiction writers when I am working, but that doesn't mean that I stop buying books. I buy them and put them on my shelf in my office, on my dresser, in the bookcase, in a stack next to bed, and wait until I have time to read them. Well that time has come!
First up on my summer reading list is the Stieg Larsson trilogy, Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet's nest. These books are long, with many characters and plot points and they are the kind of books that keep you up at night long past bedtime. I have read the first two, finishing the second one this morning after staying up all night reading and will start the third one tonight. (I have work to do first!) After these, I will continue reading my former prof and friend, Robert Eversz's Nina Zero series. Both these novelists feature great unlikely female protagonists. While the late Larsson's world is that of a cold and stern Sweden, Eversz's is set in a sunny film noir L.A. landscape, with smart dialogue and great stories and a kick ass heroine. I love that there are men writing these amazing female leads, and I love that nobody dares call them "Women Fiction" writers because of it. I can't wait until the same is said of women who write fiction with female protagonists!
But I digress. Also on the list, Holly LeCraw's The Swimming Pool, a couple of award winning British debut authors, including Rebecca Gower's, When to Walk, and fellow Canadian Douglas Coupland's new book, Generation A. And there are more...the list does go on... and on. I will read as many as I can, until my own novel, that is now no more than a seed, starts to grow, and then out of fear of cross pollination with other authors, I will stop reading and spend more time listening. But until then...into the pages I go!
What about you? What is on your reading list?
I write this post from the couch, dogs napping on either side, covered in sunscreen after a long walk, and a leisurely breakfast in the backyard. Summer is here, and my brain and body know it. I wonder if there is something about the rhythms of our childhood, and how they coincided with the school year that stay with us, long into adulthood. As I walked the neighborhood today, I saw parents and students celebrating the last day of school with a party, presents for their teachers, hugs and shouts goodbye to one another. Some of those kids will go off to camp, some will go to summer school and some will find a way to pass the days as quickly as possible, eagerly awaiting the fall and the start of another school year. I used to do all 3. From the time that I could, I worked. I had a kids entertainment business at twelve, worked at a food pavillion at 13, had my own t-shirt design street vendor business at 14 and so on. Summer was always a chance to DO something, ACCOMPLISH something, and GET AHEAD.
Even now, with the structure-it-yourself lifestyle that being self employed affords me, I find myself restless when summer hits, and eager to have a project or a task that I can complete so that I feel a sense of accomplishment come fall. For the last few years, every summer has been taken up with demanding screenwriting or novel writing courses at UCLA, but this year I graduated and am left once more to my own devices to create an activity that will fill my days in between the auditions and the freelance, both of which are quieter in the summer months.
I hope to get through my reading list, I hope to eat as much frozen yogurt as possible, I hope to relax and enjoy the quieter time with friends and family, and most of all I hope that I can actually enjoy the downtime, and listen to those quiet moments that I have and try to hear...the new novel that is whispering, and the hopes and dreams that are murmuring. And maybe if I can sit still long enough, without judgement of doing so....I might just be able to not only enjoy this summer, but learn from it as well.
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 November 2010.
Thank you so much, Holly.
So, what’s it like to be a debut novelist getting all this attention?
Unreal. It’s a dream come true, and all the rest of it. But I am very conscious that I am at the beginning (hopefully) of a career, and I will have much more to be proud of when I have stuck it out and written several books, not just one. I should probably just relax and enjoy it more…I am always a little too concerned about hubris.
Where did the idea of the novel come from? (I read your remarkable essay on Amazon about the line between what happens in real life and what happens in an author’s fiction, so I had to ask this.)
The characters, the plot—I honestly don’t know. But there were certain themes that had been on my mind, and I think the story came about because of those preoccupations. I was thinking about how obsessed we are with control, and how in this life it’s all illusion; it can disappear in a second—for instance, the moment you find out someone you love has been murdered. I am a Metro section addict—I read about the things that befall ordinary people, and wonder what happens next, after all the news articles have been written. And so often those stories involve secrets, and ordinary, decent people making terrible decisions. Also, I am a mother, and I started the book when my kids were very small. So, really, it is parental love that is the underpinning of the book. The illicit romantic stuff is really just the surface.
Betrayal figures prominently in The Swimming Pool—do you think it’s ever possible to be betrayed) or to do the betraying) and come away unscathed?
I don’t think so. I think it’s possible to heal, but no way would it not leave a wound. I don’t know if I personally could survive it, or if I could heal very well.
Honestly, the plot of The Swimming Pool involves things I would never do. Dear God, I hope not. But I knew that they were things that these characters would do, and that these characters were not fundamentally bad people, despite their actions. I wanted to dig down and understand the how and why.
The ending, which I won’t give away, is a stunner. At what point in writing the novel did you know what your ending was going to be? Did it surprise you?
Let me just say that I am dying to go visit some book groups (I already have a few scheduled), so I can talk about the book with people who have read it! It will be so interesting to hear what people think of the ending. It came about naturally—I didn’t know it at the beginning of the process, certainly. When I had the idea it shocked me (just like the idea of Jed and Marcella’s affair shocked me), but it also seemed right.Once that idea was in my head, nothing else would work.
I knew that my job then would be to make it believable from a character point of view. The characters involved absolutely had to act organically, and the ending had to be the natural outgrowth of their other actions and of who they were. Also, I don’t think it’s shocking from a whodunit point of view; real mystery buffs would probably spot it a mile away. But I think it’s shocking from a character point of view.
Speaking of the ending, I should mention that the only really substantive change my editor wanted was for me to lop off the last seven pages of the manuscript—what was essentially an epilogue. I absolutely agonized over it, but in the end I decided she was right. And she was. Now I can’t imagine it any other way.I like very much that these characters come to some sense of peace and resolution, but that the story is not over—it’s continuing, somewhere, after you close the book. I know where I think they go, but readers might have other ideas. Which is as it should be.
I have to comment on the great marketing strategy—a book about a steamy love affair, dark secrets, set on the beach, yet with a pedigree of blurbs that makes it undeniably literary. I especially loved the marketing letter which ended, “Is it hot in here?” as a tease. Were you involved in the strategy? Was this how you saw your novel?
No, that line was my editor’s. She gets all the credit. I always saw it as literary fiction—or, at least, that was what I was shooting for. The more commercial aspect of it is surprising to me. Probably because when you’re writing your first book in total obscurity, it’s amazing to think that anyone will ever want to read it! I like the term “literary page-turner.” Literary merit and plot are, obviously, not mutually exclusive. I always read for plot—although by plot I usually mean emotional plot rather than action, and in the end that’s what this book is about. It is about how characters get from A to B to C emotionally and psychologically. There is a tremendous amount of tension in those evolutions.
I also want to say that I was so, so lucky with those blurbs. Those authors were extremely generous; it’s an embarrassment of riches.
What idea is obsessing you now?
My next book. The working title is The Sweetness of Honey. It’s a Cain and Abel story about two half-brothers, nearly twenty years apart in age, who are both teachers at a New England prep school; they fall in love with the wrong people, who, just to make things interesting, are also the same people…the center of the book is the older brother, who’s Cain, of course. Another deeply flawed character whom I love anyway.The bad guys are always the most interesting, right?
And finally, What question should I be mortified that I didn’t ask?
Oh, no mortification. These were wonderful questions. Thank you so much for having me here.
Harder said than done.
One thing that helps is immersing myself in the world of someone else. Right now I am deep into the world of Lisbeth Salander the unlikely anti-heroine in the Girl With a Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larson. I adore losing myself in a book, and not just because it is a welcome escape from my own reality, but because it is an insight into how another writer sees the world, crafts his/her sentences, portrays their characters and weaves complicated narratives. I lose myself, and then I go back and see how the author made that happen. And all the while, I trust that the little sentence that swirls in my brain, is slowly growing into a paragraph, all on its own.
I actually love the Lacma all year long, but I especially love it in the summer when I am able to attend all the free outdoor concerts that they have! Right now Lacma is offering great jazz concerts on Friday. They have a special bar and a taco stand, or you can bring a picnic and sit on the grass, or if you like your jazz straight up you can sit right up close to the musicians and listen to them play for two hours straight. I went last Friday and it was heavenly. All kinds of music lovers, all ages, all enjoying great jazz outside on a hot Los Angeles night.
As if this wasn't enough, Lacma is also offering Latin music and dance on Saturdays! I have yet to check it out, but from what I have heard adults and children gather outside and practice their salsa moves as the sun goes down. All of this for the price...of parking.
Check it out!!
Like any artist, I think that writers need to stretch themselves in order to grow. I know that with my last novel, I stretched myself by writing in a way that I hadn't before; a first person point of view, a complicated narrative, plots and secrets that involved many generations, over many countries. It was the most difficult thing that I had ever written, and I felt such a feeling of accomplishment as a result.
Now that I have rested and relaxed and renovated as much as humanly possible, I think I will look for more ways to stretch my writing skills. A screenplay? A collection of essays? An outline for a new novel? Knowing me...all 3...and maybe a little gardening too.
What about you? How do you stretch your artistic self?
...And I could sleep for a week!! I came back to these two faces, which made saying goodbye to my friends and family a little easier.
It was a great visit with family and friends and it was hot!! Toronto was experiencing a heat wave, and lots of humidity, which meant that my hair was both wilted and frizzy and I was sweaty and often sunburned, no matter how much sunscreen I applied. My feet were covered in blisters from all the glorious walking that I did, and my vocabulary expanded to include many new ways of saying poop, butt and fart, thanks to my playmates in the under 7 crowd, (my niece and nephew) and I fell into bed every night exhausted and happy. I had forgotten what summer with little people was like; parks, activities, fun fairs and ice cream!! My Mom and Dad took me for gelato one night to "Hollywood Gelato", which made me laugh, but it is the best Gelateria in the city and the line up out the door proved it!! I had a small serving, which included 3 scoops and the Coconut Cream Pie, was my favorite!!
It was a week of eating, and playing, and loving...and a much needed reward for finishing my second novel a year ahead of schedule!! Now it is back to auditions, looking for freelance, planning a new project and a hosting my mother-in-law. Easing back into more work, with a little play along the way.