Amazing Author: Lacy Crawford

With back to school around the corner, a lot of my friends have been talking about elementary school, private vs public, and middle school, which everyone tells me is when you really have to decide if you are a public school person, whether you will stay one, cause the overcrowding in L.A. is a big problem. And then there is college to think about which is really terrifying apparently and takes a whole new set of coping skills, not to mention entrance exams and essays and staggering tuition! Geesh. You need an expert to navigate all this. And even though my sweet boy is not yet ready for preschool, I am thinking of reading this book now!

This guest post is from Caroline Leavitt and is part of my Amazing Author series. If you are grappling with college entrance anxieties for you or your loved on, give it a read! Thanks Caroline and Lacy!

Sigh. The Boy is in the midst of writing his college essays, applying to theater schools and taking his SATS and ACT for the last time. And we, his parents, are fried, frenzied, scared, lost. Living in the NYC area, we hear of kids being sent to Thailand to build houses, in order to ramp up their community service angle. We know of would-be-thespians taking acting classes in London, and there is always the $700-an-hour college consultant some families are fighting over because the price tag comes with a supposed guarantee the consultant can get their kid into Yale.

Sigh is right.

So when Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy, popped through my door, I was nervous. Until I began to read. Crawford's taken one of the most terrifying and pressure-cooker times in a family's life--applying to college-- and turned it into art, along the way exploring how the stress to succeed often has nothing to do with happiness. I'm thrilled to have her here. Thank you so much, Lacy.

So what made you want to put your experiences into a novel rather than into a memoir? is any part of the process fictionalized? (I ask this with a heavy heart...)          

A memoir would have violated the privacy the families I worked with, and in many cases the students whose stories I remembered had already been hurt enough; they didn’t need a book to publicize the wound.  And on the liability front, it would have been crazy to report the true stories of some of the enormously powerful and prominent families I worked for.  Finally, I wasn’t interested in telling my own story as memoir.  I was interested in the students, in redeeming their experiences and in—I hope—helping other families to avoid the same pitfalls.  
            The nuts and bolts of the process as depicted in the book are absolutely true, as any student or parent going through it will know—the labyrinth of forms and scores and essays, the bizarre experience of completing the Common Application.  But the characters in my book are characters, and while they were born of my experience in real life, they very much took over their own fates in the book’s pages.
            The anxiety, too, is real.  But one of the reasons I wrote a satire is to try to lift the scrim a bit, to reveal how this process is causing so much upset—how we can become so convinced that destiny hangs on a college acceptance that we forget that life is so much bigger than this.  And that raising a child through young adulthood means giving perspective to this process, not overwhelming a child with it.

 Are you familiar with the great documentary Nursery University? It's about what NYC parents do to get their 3 year olds into pre-school, including hiring a woman at $750 an hour to help them.  Do you see any signs that this trend and all this pressure is ever going to end?

Children have always borne the weight of their parents’ ambitions, in one way or another.  I think, broadly speaking, that it is the case in the United States at least that the expectations parents have for their children have become more specific: that is, it’s no longer to marry a suitable partner and have a family, or to find a career and support your family, but to have a very specific sort of life, involving one kind of partner and one kind of career, and the gateway to those things is often perceived to be one of about twenty-five colleges (and nowhere else).  Excepting the most status-hungry parents out there, I think that most parents are motivated by a healthy fear: fear of shifting economies, a battered job market, the pressures of globalization; all of these macroeconomic and social trends make it difficult for parents to imagine the world their children will inherit, and that is terrifying.  In the face of that, you want to give your child the best, most bullet-proof background you can.  Unfortunately, instead of defining that as self-reliance, authenticity, the confidence of one’s convictions, human compassion, they define that as Harvard / Yale / finance / law
            It is fascinating to me that some parents, particularly those featured in films such as Nursery University, believe that a child’s success in life can be secured by acceptance to the right preschool.  It is true that certain schools are “feeders” for other schools, and so on and so on, so if you get your child into, say, First Presbyterian Nursery School in the Village, you have a better shot at Brearley, and from there a better shot at Yale.  But those calculations aren’t at the heart of these parents’ quests.  Emotionally, they are looking to exempt their children from competition by competing for them; they’re looking to win them a place right from the beginning, so everything will be lined up for the rest of their lives.  This is a dream, of course.  To me, it signals a failure of imagination, and a reflexive, and very fear-based, response to parenting in our day.
            Is this going to end?  I couldn’t say.  There are strong, lucid voices arguing for sanity—Madeline Levine in The Price of Privilege and Teach Your Children Well, Paul Tough in How Children Succeed, and others—as well as the sparkling examples of kids who took non-traditional paths to prominence.  I don’t much esteem Mark Zuckerberg, but I like that dropping out of Harvard has now become about as cool as getting in.  There are a million ways to make a life, and the world is astonishingly large and various.  The dream, I think, has to be to raise a child who has some sense of the possibility in the hands of the young, and who has enough quiet and faith to learn her own desires and go after them.

You were a college admissions counselor to children of privilege. Do you think it's the same way among those who aren't so privileged?

While I was working with wealthy clients, I volunteered at local public schools and, later, for individuals who were sent my way who could not afford anything like the sort of help I provided.  The hothouse climate of trophy schools and pressure does not exist for students who fall outside of a very narrow band of income and aspiration.  It is, quite simply, a luxury to sweat Harvard’s 5-percent admit rate; and I wish more parents had this perspective.  One of the characters in Early Decision, Cristina, is based on a real student, the daughter of undocumented immigrants, who graduated from a huge and embattled urban high school and ended up at an Ivy League school.  Students as talented as she was have nothing to fear in the application process; their challenges far precede competition in the applicant pool.  Elite colleges and universities are keen to find and admit students like Cristina, and the top schools have plenty of funding for them; but the public education system fails them year after year.  These young people don’t know that college is a possibility.  They don’t know about the top schools, they have no idea of the fellowships and grants on offer, and they don’t have anyone to shepherd them through the maze of forms, test scores, and deadlines.  Often their parents are immigrants, documented or not, and this adds another layer of inscrutability to the application process.  It’s a problem that transcends racial and ethnic lines, and it really does enrage me to think that after clearing so many hurdles, posting consistent academic achievement in an underperforming school environment and with heaven knows what responsibilities and disadvantages at home, a student could fail to reach a top college because of what are essentially logistical requirements.  I hoped to help sound the drum for outreach and service to students in settings such as these. 
            In the middle, of course, is the wide band of young people who have to worry not only about where they’re accepted, but also about where they’ll receive aid (and how much they’ll be offered).  This is a grappling with real life that their more privileged peers are spared at great psychological expense.  It’s a rude awakening when, in their twenties or later, young people whose parents paid their way through college realize that things like rent and car insurance are not also free.  Also, in my experience, having to face the realities of college costs makes for more focused students.  We value things we have to work for.  Rich kids go, they drink, they network, they read some, they graduate.  But do they take advantage of as many opportunities as they could?  I’d argue that many of them never do.

Let's talk about the writing. What was the whole process like for you? Did you outline? Just fly by the seat of your pen? Was there anything that surprised you in the writing?

After my first child was born, I found myself thinking about my decade-plus of former students more than I had in all the years before.  I remembered the interactions with their parents, the long, late, miserable October and November nights with crying kids who felt they were going to let their parents down, who were convinced that their lives were over before they had even begun.  And I remembered with a fresh horror some of the things the parents had said and done.  I looked at my baby and thought, will I be possessed by the same madness?  I refuse to visit this on him. 
            I dreamed up some student characters first, and wrote their essay drafts, just for fun.  But I was home alone with my baby, and my husband’s job took him out of town every single week, so for the most part I just took notes for about nine months.  My son was colicky and would only nap in his car seat, so I’d drive around foggy San Francisco until he fell asleep, and then go park in a parking garage (I had a few favorites, usually the free ones attached to grocery stores) and take notes on the book.  I didn’t say a word about it to anyone—it was just a private folly, something I did to entertain myself while working out those first months with a first baby.  Finally I read a few pages to my husband, and he told me it was time to get serious about the book.  We hired part-time childcare to buy me a few hours during the week, and my husband took our baby on Saturdays so I could write.  I never outlined, but when a sequence of events came clear to me, or a particular character’s arc, I would scribble it down as quickly as I could, so as not to lose it.  By the time I started writing, I had been collecting ideas and intentions for so long that it was like unfurling a sail—it just billowed out ahead of me, and the experience was of chasing it, always trying to keep up.  I worked on it whenever I could—in the middle of the night, early mornings, whenever.
            Then there was revision, of course, sentence by sentence, constantly—I work with an entire manuscript, nothing is firm until it’s all done—but the drafting came to me with great pleasure.  I had waited so long to be able to work on it that it was a treat to finally be able to do so.

I found it fascinating that you wrote that in teaching these kids, you were able to sort out your own life. Could you talk about that please?

Immediately after graduation I tried my hand at a few things that I thought I would love to do, only to discover that I was in the wrong place.  I taught high school English, but I wasn’t a very good instructor.  I interned in public radio, but I wasn’t hungry for leads and I wasn’t really that turned on by narratives of sound.  I started a PhD program in English Literature, but I didn’t really want to be an academic.  After a time, this experimentation began to feel like floundering, and soon thereafter like drowning.  I can see now that I was trying things because I loved them, not because I loved doing them.  Not a bad way to experiment, and I was very lucky to have the opportunity to do this, but loving your English Literature studies does not translate to loving a classroom full of teenagers on a Monday morning, and listening to a lot of NPR does not mean that you’ll find your groove in a newsroom.  In a sense, I was performing a version of adulthood rather than working my way toward it; I wanted to be something before figuring out how to do something.  As I aged through my twenties, I began to panic.  I worried there was no place for me, that I would never hit upon the run of steady, small, cumulative successes that leads to a career, that allows someone to move from apprentice to practitioner in a given field.
            All of this time, I was working with high school seniors.  So many of them had been trained to present themselves in a certain way, particularly in writing, that it could take quite a lot of conversation for me to come to understand the things that mattered to them most.  Sometimes, without even knowing it, these kids were voicing their parents’ dreams rather than their own.  My job was to listen to them intently, to infer their interests based on how those things were expressed or hidden.  Terrific essays and a clear academic direction would always follow.  They’d say, But I can’t DO (biology / calculus / Latin).  There’s no WAY I can become a (dolphin trainer / video game designer / classicist).  And I’d reply, let’s just put one foot in that direction, let’s just knock on a few doors, and see what happens.  And they’d be off and running.
            It took a very, very long time for me to figure out how to apply this to my own life—how to admit what I really wanted to do and have the courage to go after it.  Some of my kids were emotionally savvy enough to detect this, and they’d provoke me a bit—So, are you loving this tutoring gig?—and it used to infuriate me.  Of course it did; they were holding up the mirror.
            But really I discovered that I needed to calm down, make some clear choices, and let the gods handle the rest.  It was a lesson in both resilience and conviction.

So what's obsessing you now?

You might have read about, or seen, the new documentary Blackfish about the keeping in captivity of killer whales.  My family relocated to San Diego last year, so Sea World is a regular day’s outing for us.  I’ve long been ambivalent about wild animals in captivity, and I usually find zoos to be terribly depressing, but I found that my resistance lessened when I saw the way my children reacted to the orcas and other animals at Sea World (and the San Diego Zoo, the aquarium, and so on).  I regretted that these magnificent animals weren’t roaming the open oceans, but I was able to imagine the thousands upon thousands of children who come to see them, and hope that if just one in every ten thousand children discovers his dream thereby, is overwhelmed by passion for these animals and set on a path toward oceanography, environmental research and preservation, even philosophy and the ethics of our association to the natural world, then there is a net positive here.  This film has thrown my precarious acceptance back into question, and I’m wondering if instead of offering my children a path to stewardship of the natural world, I’m instead modeling for them that humanity always has dominion over that world, even (and especially) the most powerful, exceptional animals, the ones who, in many ways, are most like us.  Which opinion most accurately reflects the truth?  I don’t know, but it seems to me that between the well-being of these animals and the preservation of the natural world (which task soon falls to my children’s generation), the stakes are very high.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

So should the parent of a college-bound senior hire someone like you?  Can my child compete without such a tutor? 

            There is absolutely a place for independent college applications counseling.  In-house (high school) college counselors can be overwhelmed, with far too many students to know everyone well and help them make good choices, much less be in useful dialogue about essay topics and other ideas.  There are wonderful college advisors out there who really know the schools and can offer support with the deadlines, forms, financial aid processes, search for grants and scholarships, and so on—all really critical logistical help for busy parents who may feel horrified by the anxiety and manic energy that attends every aspect of this process.
            That said, as with any profession, there are splendid practitioners and there are lesser ones.  Any applications advisor who is packaging a student instead of listening to him will insult a young person just as independence beckons.  It’s a tender time.  Choose wisely, lest your son or daughter be dropped into an applicant-molding process that will take care of everything except for taking responsibility if it doesn’t work out.  In other words: find your friends and stay above the fray, and it will all end up fine.  Really, it does.          


Taking action.

I've made a lot of bold moves lately. I've retired from acting, I'm seeking new literary representation, and I've declared myself and my goals publicly. After spending so much time waiting, I decided to take charge and really be true to myself, to make plans about my future instead of always waiting and reacting. Sometimes it is necessary to react, to take a job to pay the bills, to work on projects that will take care of immediate needs, to deal with the here and now as it comes barreling toward you. Reacting is not a bad thing, and I have had to roll with the punches a lot this year, and am grateful that I know how. But when at last, there is a moment to reflect and catch one's breath, when there is space enough to be able to sit and think and not hustle, I think it is important to ask, what is it I really want? And how can I get it while still taking care of my family and responsibilities?

Until recently I have had not had time to ask and answer this question, and after so much time spent focused on just taking care of the immediate future, I wasn't sure that I knew how to ask. But now I am asking again, and I am taking my time in figuring out how I am going to make it happen, in the way that I want it to. And all of that is just details and planning, and some luck, and lots of hard work. But at the center of it all, is one thing. What is I want to be doing? Writing. More writing. Less worrying. More creating and less time spent worrying about the outcome. More time spent with my beloved family, more joy in what I have, less judgement in what I don't. More pride in my current accomplishments, less shame about those I am still trying to achieve. Keep moving forward. It's a good life and it's my life and I can't waste it waiting and worrying. I can only keep doing. That's really the best advice I can give myself. And so I am...doing...just that.


Moving forward while waiting...

A writer's life is full of waiting. Waiting for inspiration, waiting for the words to come, waiting for feedback when done, waiting for representation, waiting on revisions, waiting on publication, waiting on sales, waiting on reviews, waiting to begin the next book, and then beginning the wait again.

It's exhausting.

And there is still life to be had in all of these introspective angst filled moments. Life that hopefully puts these moments in their rightful place. But like anyone who has ever been in love, as writers are with their cherished novels years in the making, waiting to see if your affections will be received or rejected, is a hard thing to endure.

I am waiting.

And I am trying to write the next novel. And so I begin...again...here...and hope that this blog will be more consistent and helpful during the wait.


Algonquin Giveaway Monday!!

It's Algonquin Giveaway Monday and Amazing Author Caroline Leavitt's fabulous new book is the giveaway!

Check it out!!



Amazing Author: Katie Boland

Katie Boland and I have known each other since she was 8 years old. We met doing our first ever television series. I was much older than 8, but still young enough to understand what it was like to be Katie's age, and old enough to understand that her fascination with me and my life, was her way of beginning to formulate those questions that she had not yet found words for and the answers that may guide her in the years ahead. They were questions about love, friendship, lipgloss, acting, hair products and boys. (She has always been older than her years!) Sitting next to one another at lunch, Katie would go through my purse and while sampling all my makeup, ask away. We worked together on that particular tv show for years, and have worked together in many ways since. Her mom gave me my first film gig, she did my my first short film, my husband and her worked on another series together, and a tv movie too, and we have stayed in each others' lives through marriages, babies, heartaches, tragedies and triumphs. Although 15 years separate us, there is little else that does. We have always been eerily similar in our introspection, our need to create, and our yearning to fuse all that we love and miss in our two cities of Toronto and Los Angeles, into some as yet to be created place to call home. We are worriers and dreamers, grappling with the themes that haunt us-for me, secrets and choices, and for Katie, love, loss, and heartbreak.

Katie's work is haunting and poetic. Her ability to capture a time and place in our emotional landscape is both extraordinary and heartbreaking. She is able to put into words the feelings that the lovelorn and lovesick experience in the silences of things that go unsaid, and dreams that go unfulfilled. She also has the biggest smile and the amazing ability to shine her light on the accomplishments of others. But today, I want to shine the light on Katie. I hope that you enjoy this post reprinted from Caroline Leavitt's Blog, and buy her book Eat Your Heart Out, now available from Brindle and Glass, and Amazon.com.http://www.amazon.com/Eat-Your-Heart-Katie-Boland/dp/1926972937 Read it and weep.

What Writing Eat Your Heart Out Gave Me
Writing my collection of short stories gave me a way to say goodbye.
"I feel too sick to sit," my grandmother told me one afternoon. It was around this time that I began writing, that panicky period when things end, for real and for the first time. I had tried to bury my past but it kept clawing its way out. Six months too late, I realized I had left the man I loved.
"What'd you do today, Nan?" I sat on the chair near her bed. I should have sat on her bed with her but it scared me. It had swallowed her whole.
"Nothing, just lay here. Thinking about my life, all the people that have come in it. I have thought of every single person in my life."
"Oh, yeah?"
"Can't help but think about things, stuck here like this. I have known so many people. Even near-strangers I am thinking of. Most of them are dead now."
"It's funny how some people only come into your life to leave, it feels like."
"But you never forget them. They come in and out but you never forget people."
At this time, we were both trying, with various degrees of desperation, to time travel. My grandmother, under those covers, was as much twenty as she was eighty-two. While writing, I was who I once was but also who I wanted to be. My book is about heartbreak, and in writing it, I got over my own. Coherence and closure can exist in literature, not always in life.
Writing helped me make peace with that.
Recently, a friend of mine, also a writer, came over.
“Writing that script was the best catharsis,” he said. “But now, so much time has passed that I have this weird relationship to my memories. I re-read it and I think, did that happen like that? Did she actually say that? Or did I write it?”
I could relate. Conversations that were too succinct and honest for me to have, the characters in my short stories had. Through the act of writing them, I began to feel like I’d had them, too.
Working on Eat Your Heart Out, I accepted that I liked living in the past. As a writer, it was okay to love what I had made up. In life, that’s not as true but now my nostalgia had a purpose. I took what was destroyed in my life and built it into my stories.
As I wrote my book, I healed. Before it was finished, I met someone else. I fell in love with him, too. We broke up, too. He and I didn’t get to say goodbye, not the way we deserved to. I went through the same process. My characters could say things to each other that I could never say to him. This time, it was a little easier.
Through writing I had to come to accept that human beings don’t always end things with dignity; not like trees that change colour, flowering, fading, falling, beautiful, alive. By being a writer, I can give things the ending that I want. You plot the ending from the beginning. Unlike life, it doesn’t come out of nowhere.
I spoke to my mother recently about heartache. “Are break ups ever really resolved?” she asked.
Between the two people, I would say the answer is no. Between myself and my computer screen, I would say the answer is yes.
Ernest Hemingway said that living outside yourself while writing is dangerous. For me, in writing Eat Your Heart Out, I realized it was safer.


Amazing Author: David Rotenberg


David Rotenberg is not only a highly acclaimed bestselling mystery writer, and skilled master of tightly wound suspense thrillers, he is a renowned acting teacher and founder of The Pro Actors Lab, and Pro Actors Lab L.A. 

Check out his website for more about his novels, and the great reviews they have received at: www.davidrotenberg.com

Full disclosure, David and I go way back. Back to when I was a young actress, studying with him. He taught and mentored my husband acting, and now my husband acts and teaches his famous technique. I taught his daughter improv, and have shared holiday gatherings with his lovely wife and family. We were out of each other’s lives for years after I moved to Los Angeles, and recently got back in touch. And though we are both older and hopefully wiser,  some things never change…and for me that is how much we both love a good story. My favorite part of David’s acting classes was always talking about the imagined lives behind the stories of the characters I was asked to play. Who were they, what drove them, what scared them, what gave them joy, and what were the secrets that they kept buried deep within themselves. Secrets. As a writer I love secrets, and David does too.

David’s latest book A Murder of Crows, the second installment in The Junction Chronicles, is about protagonist Decker Roberts, an acting teacher, and a man with a secret. Decker has the dangerous gift of being able to know when someone is telling the truth. In the first novel, The Placebo Effect, this gift turns from a lucrative side business that he uses to help corporations in their hiring process, to a life threatening hazard that turns his world upside down and sends him on the run from an unknown enemy, and a government agent determined to find him and others of “his kind”.

A Murder of Crows has Decker trying to stay off the radar of the NSA, searching for his estranged son. But when a vicious attack wipes out the best and brightest of America’s young minds, devastating the country's future, Decker is forced to step out of the shadows and help track down the killer. The hunt brings him in contact with other people of "his kind," and Decker begins to realize that the full extent of his gifts, go beyond his wildest imagination.

I am thrilled to have David here today to talk about story, his stories, and his writing process!

This book is the second installment in the Junction Chronicles. Did you know when you were writing the first one, The Placebo Effect, that there were going to be more, or did you just fall in love with your characters and want to keep going?

I knew that it would be several books. My first contract with Simon and Schuster was for two books. In fact now we have a bit of a dilemma – I’ve pretty much completed a draft of book three which would wind up the plot lines of the series – but, I really feel that I’m not finished with these characters and the ideas driving the books. So Simon and Schuster and I (and my lawyer) will have to sit down and discuss the possibility of extending the series.

That should be interesting.

Your protagonist Decker Roberts has an extraordinary gift that comes with an extraordinary responsibility. As an artist do you feel that we have responsibilities with our gifts? To share them? To help others find and realize theirs?

I’m not sure about the ‘as an artist’ part of this. I think people with gifts have a responsibility of sharing those gifts – beauty (see Anouilh’s play Mademoiselle Colombe), strength, intelligence etc.

All eight of the novels that I’ve had published deal with the problem of people who have special gifts of some sort. Many of the novels deal with that gifted person wanting his/her gift acknowledged by others while at the same time wanting to be simply part of the greater society. This was absolutely central to my first five novels all of which are set in modern day Shanghai.

In fact I was faced with this issue when I was invited to Shanghai to direct the first Canadian play in the Peoples Republic of China. The very first thing that the Artistic Director of the Shanghai Theatre Academy said to me – through my translator – was: “You are to remember that you can be replaced.” No welcome to China, no how was your 28 hour trip, just: “You are to remember that you can be replaced.” Hard to hear when you were a Broadway director, but central to a lot of what I’ve written.

As a teacher I think it’s absolutely my duty to help others realize their gifts, no matter how different they may be from mine. 

 What obsesses you? I am obsessed by secrets and really, by choices. All my work deals in some way or another with choices, and the ramifications that they have for us later on. Right now I am obsessed with this idea of “how did I get here”? Cue, the Talking Heads soundtrack. What about you? What is obsessing you these days?

Dave Alvin’s version of Route 61 Revisited. Early Dylan altogether. Namibia is in my thoughts a lot. High desert. The southern sky – especially the constellation Scorpio (no I’m not a Scorpio). Why the behavior of so many people seems to have been learned from bad tv acting? Would police officers know how to walk? Talk? Be? Without bad examples on TV? When did every cabbie think it was his job to be a witty raconteur? When will I hail a cabbie who actually is a witty raconteur rather?

When did life begin to imitate art – rather than vis a versa?

And what kind of world are we generating where everyone has seen virtually everything so that we have programmed responses to every situation? We know what every line of text should sound like – jeez, we even know what a nun having a baby is like!

By the by – that voice reading your lines to you is not your voice or your first impulse. It’s the voice of big media talking to you. Want to find your own voice? You’ve got to kill the voice of media in your head.

Can you tell me what your writing life is like? Do you outline? Do you have a writing ritual? I find I am completely lost in a fog for months, sometimes longer, driven by a thought or a line of dialogue that I roll around my brain and body forever, until I trust that there is more there. And I outline, but wait until I absolutely have to.

My refusal to do outline drives my editors quite mad. I also refuse to show them things until I totally understand what I’ve got. Over and over again things that I know any talented editor would have crossed out proved to be the very hook that I needed to make the plot turn – and I didn’t know it until well after I’d written it.

I always know what I’m writing about – always. But the circumstances, plot and details can take me a long time to find.

On a scene level, because I was a stage director for so many years, geography is important to me. I can write the scene if I know where the door is, what’s out the window, who stands and when. Looking at and looking away become important to me.

I was an extremely disciplined stage director. But as a writer I’m a mess. When I finally have a full day to myself I usually cook and clean. Sometimes when I have absolutely no time I find ideas. I can go an entire week without writing a word worth keeping then have a fifteen page morning where almost every word is a keeper.

I love the ocean to help me clarify my thoughts – especially plot, which is not my forte. I tend to write scenes first – heavy on character. Once I know the characters I can imagine them in various circumstances – some of which I keep – most of which I discard. Writing a series is fun that way – surely by the end of the first novel you know the basic characters. I often keep them somewhat close to my age – usually ten or fifteen years my junior so I have a bit of distance to understand what they are going through.  

As for writing rituals … depends totally on the project. Some novels I wrote with the same music playing over and over again – didn’t make me all that popular with my kids. Some novels I wrote in complete silence.

You’ve lived and worked in New York, Toronto, China, South Africa, and most recently Los Angeles. How does this effect your writing inspiration? Does each new location become a possible setting for your next work? As writers I know we are constantly mining people and places for story, but is there one place that speaks to you more than others?

I’m a terrible tourist and seldom find that kind of travel helps me. I like to go places and work. I’ve directed in China and South Africa as well as a great many American cities. I ran a major American regional theatre in North Carolina. It’s living in places that allows me to understand – or begin to understand – them. I spent a lot of my formative years on NYC and still somewhat think of it as my home although I haven’t lived there for 25 years. I was born and raised in Toronto and came back to raise my kids. It’s an unusual city. Over 50% of the people in Toronto were not born in Canada. So there are many times when you look at things here – that there simply is no ‘there’ there. Sorry Gertrude. I never found that with NYC or Shanghai for that matter. Those places have deep roots, you can push hard against them and they won’t give. They are easier to write about, and from.

I’m deeply influenced by architecture and interior space. So different cities often give me ideas for stories. 

What question should I have asked that I didn’t?

I think unfortunately the one question that all novelists must now face is why exactly are you still doing this? Do you not sense a tidal wave approaching? Can you not see the trend away from valuing what you do?

And there are times that I feel that – but I’m attached to story. I continue to believe that story itself is important to the human spirit. And that the novel still presents the most intimate way to tell stories. It doesn’t hurt that after all those years in the collaborative art of the theatre that it’s downright fun to actually not collaborate – to control the process virtually from beginning to end.

I also think that “Does long form TV invade the space of the novel?” is an important question. Perhaps the best of such – The Wire, Breaking Bad etc. – does. Yet the experience of taking a book and controlling your pace of consumption, of being able to go back and re-read or skip sections – still strikes me as the most truly interactive of the media … besides, I can’t imagine a world without novels. 

Thanks for a great interview David!!


Finding time...

Pass the coffee please, I need to stay awake!

I'm busy these days, and tired, and leaning heavily on the sweet nectar of caffeine. Making the most out of my time and finding more of it, is my big issue lately. How do I do it? How does anyone find time to parent, have a relationship, work several jobs, take care of a home, pets, and find time to write? Or do whatever your passion is? You will notice that I have intentionally left out exercise or taking care of myself...these days that means chasing my little one around, eating dinner before 9:00pm and getting 6 hours sleep!

I am always amazed by people who say that they only sleep 4 hours a night, and feel fantastic! I wonder if they also do everything themselves during those other 20 hours that they are awake? Do they have assistants, nannies, housekeepers, chefs, dogwalkers, and someone to blowdry their hair everyday so that they don't have to always wear it in a bun? Okay, I admit that last one isn't really a question, but a secret wish of mine. But seriously now, whether you have kids or don't, anyone I know who is working for themselves these days, works way over 50 hours a week. Being self employed means answering emails until 10:00pm at night, because your iphone/smart phone and laptop are your office and it's useless to pretend that you don't check your email, so if you are checking it, then you might as well respond to it...and the next thing you know it's 11:00pm.

I recently had this conversation with a friend and colleague, we were on a work call past 10:00pm, and we both admitted that we have never known what it means to clock in and out at a job. We work Monday- Saturday, taking Sundays off until after dinner time, when we get a jump start on all that has to be tackled the week ahead. Another self employed professional writer friend of mine works until 10:00pm every night, cause if she didn't, she couldn't get it all done. Only recently I told a client that I try to unplug at 9:30pm and not to panic if I didn't return email. But then I promptly broke my own rule and emailed him back several days in a row well past that self imposed deadline, because I wouldn't have time to do it in the morning. He laughed and asked me if I was only working a half day? He was teasing of course, ribbing me good-naturedly, as I had started our correspondence sometime that day around 6:00am.

The truth is, I am a workaholic, but I also need to work this much right now. My big concern, is what about my own writing? Because it too needs hours to be dedicated to it, and at the end of the day, I am too tired and too fried to have anything left to give it.

How do you find time to grow your art? Do you spend time on it first thing in the morning, or last thing at night?

Any advice is appreciated. And if you have a time machine and a pot of gold, I'll take that too!


Doing what we can and doing it well

I worked in an office this week, and as far as offices go, it's a beauty. Well, as far as buildings go, it's a beauty. Truly. And I drove happily to work each day that I had to be there. I got a job. A job-job. A job that interests me and uses my skills as a writer and namer and brander and is flexible. I get to work part time from home and part time in the office and I work for a fabulous boss, who is excited about what I bring to the table and also is teaching me so much in the best possible way...sharing information and including me in the process. It is pretty much a dream situation and I just hope that it goes on and on and on.

I also was an actress briefly again this week, and had a great callback, but I didn't get it. They liked the blonde. I think she matched the kids. And I was so upset with myself that I didn't get the spot, that I couldn't make them want me. But how? How would I do that, I am who I am and look the way I look and to be upset that the director doesn't like my hair color is ridiculous. My skills weren't being rejected, it wasn't because my 'work' wasn't any good, it was not about me. I can only do a great audition, to get a callback and after that it is about who looks right with who. For someone like me who always strives to do more, to not be able to 'do' anything about a situation is frustrating.

It was a great contrast; my new job that is all about my skills, and the job I lost that wasn't about them at all. Here's to being valued for what I can do and do well.


Resume reassurance...

I have been working on a resume. Now for someone who has been self employed or worked due to referrals, a resume, a job-job resume is a really hard thing for me to write! Where to start? Why does it all look so weird? What have I done with my life? Why didn't I go to law school? Waaah. Inevitably, these are some of the thoughts that go through my head. It's amazing how looking for work, always leads me back to judging myself through those ol' "you-should've-done-something-different" goggles.


I wrote the resume. I showed it to a couple of very smart business friends. One of them helped me with my confidence, "it doesn't matter that you didn't study this in school, you've been getting paid for it for the last 5 years". Oh right. And another said, "you're selling yourself short, you also do..." and listed a huge list of things that yup, I do, but hadn't stated. He also told me what I really could be earning.

It was one big wake up call. It turns out, I really have done a lot and I really did need a resume to remind me of that fact. Regardless of who sees it or if I need to use,  I have one and just the very act of writing it, reminded me that even though I don't clock in at an office, I have indeed worked my butt off and made great strides. And for that, it was worth it. Although I am glad that it is done.


Wearing lots of hats...and running on Jet Fuel.

After a wonderful visit to Toronto to see family and friends, we are back in L.A. Thanks to amazing friends and neighbors who house and dog sat, we returned to a clean home and happy pups. The fact that there were fresh sheets on the bed as well, made me want to weep! After 11 hours door to door,  we were ready to collapse. And collapse we did.

Wednesday I hit the ground running, checking in with my literary agent on what is hopefully the final revision, getting back in touch with manuscript clients to see how their changes and query letters are coming along and revising my copywriting resume in an effort to find a steady part-time freelance job. Novel writing takes years, and as everyone knows you don't get paid to write your novels, you get paid when you sell them. So in the meantime a lot of writers wear many different hats in an effort to support themselves while they write. I work in naming and branding, as a copywriter, a manuscript story editor, a proofreader and also an actor. I'm also a mom, a wife, a daughter and sister, and try my best to be a good friend to many near and far. Like a lot of people I know, I wear a lot of different hats and I work hard to wear them all well, and some times are better than others. I find coffee helps, like the amazing beans from Toronto's Jet Fuel, a very thoughtful gift from my cousin and her husband. Now if only I didn't need to sleep.

What about you? How many hats are you wearing these days and do you ever wish you wore just one?


Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!!

A new year, a new look for the blog, a new chapter in my life. My sweet baby boy is over a year now and life as a writer mama is slowly taking shape. I've never worked harder than I did this past year both personally and professionally, and I am looking forward to reaping the rewards of my efforts in 2013. My copywriting business Gina Colada continues to grow and I have had the great fortune of working with wonderful new people on projects big and small. I've worked on everything from frozen food to analytic software, and named everything from wine to make-up, as the associate creative director of Eat My Words.

As a copy and story editor I had the great fortune to work with 4 terrific writers, and the privilege of being trusted with another writer's work is one that I hold dear. Not only do I get to see how others write, but I get to learn along with them what shapes a story and holds the reader's attention. This year I got to meet amazing characters, read powerful essays and immerse myself in complicated and original narratives that both stunned and impressed. I was reminded how lucky I am to be a part of this world where novelists take years to dedicate themselves to telling stories that stay with the reader long after they are done. And I continue to be amazed and grateful at the generosity of my fellow writer friends and colleagues.

As for my own novel, I think it is ready. At long last. 2013 will be the year that my debut novel goes out into the world and finds a great publisher. This next step is an exciting one, and I am ready. I am also nervous and hopeful and anxious to see where the novel finds a home. Stay tuned!

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