Thursday, December 31, 2009

Winter of Wonder

As previously mentioned, I am usually quite the Scrinch (Scrooge and Grinch) around the holidays....IMO there's too much fuss and preparation for only a few minutes of eating and unwrapping. 
But this year, I spent more than 160 hours immersed in holiday cheer.  I worked at Navy Pier's Winter WonderFest in the midst of 750,000 ornaments, hundreds of Christmas trees, dozens of hanging and illuminated snowflakes and inundated by (somewhat repetitive, considering the plethora of options available) Christmas music and the ever-present smells of funnel cakes and cinnamon coated nuts. 

The thousands of patrons ranged from babies (the youngest I met was born on Christmas Eve!), to school groups, families, couples and senior citizen groups.  My job as Major Nougat of the Candy Corps was to improv with my partner Colonel Caramel and the other Winter WonderFriends and entertain everyone we came across. 

In addition to posing for hundreds of pictures and signing autographs, activities included: having bunches of kids march with us and help us create new, silly ways to march, serving as an attorney in Bah Humbug Court defending those ticketed by the Winter WonderForce for infractions such as insufficient holiday attire or Scrooge-like behavior, holding imaginary tea parties, telling and acting out stories made up on the spot, collecting high fives and holding dance parties when certain songs played.  Several times we had the honor of escorting Santa Claus around the fest.  Each day brought new opportunities, games to play and ways to make people laugh. 

One of my favorite things was to infiltrate family photos.  Whenever we'd see a family posing (usually in front of one of the many Christmas trees), my partner and I would literally run over and get in the picture.  The photographer, staring at the camera, would see us appear in the viewfinder.  Watching his/her expresison change from intent concentration to suprise to joy never got old.  He or she would either burst out laughing or say "yes," or "wait," in order to refocus.  One woman was so tickled by this she kept laughing and saying, "I'm just filled with joy."

Most kids were excited to see us.  They'd come running over to talk, play, take a picture or even give me a hug.  But a few were frightened or shy, and hid behind their parents.  So we developed games to draw these kids out.  If we didn't get them to take a picture, usually we at least got a high five. 

Every time I made someone laugh, every time I saw a kid's eyes widen with wonder and joy, whenever a little girl or boy gave me a hug or sat on my lap, I confess I felt the holiday spirit. 

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Double Casting: Two Peas in Pod?

Note:  If you seek holiday-themed reading, I'll be posting tomorrow about Christmas traditions in medieval England at

Double casting: two actors play one role. 

The first time I was double cast was in eighth Oliver in my junior high's musical, Oliver!  Being very short with short hair, I was chosen to portray a boy.  The other Oliver was an actual boy (whose older brother was single cast as the Artful Dodger).  I'm not sure if the school was trying to give more students the opportunity to participate or thought the role was too large for one student to perform at every performance.  But after all the rehearsals, after learning all of the lines, songs, choreography and blocking, I would have liked do to more performances.

I'm currently double cast as Major Nougat at Navy Pier's Winter WonderFest.  Think: Disney characters on steroids.  With 11 others (in particular Colonel Caramel), I pose for pictures and sign autographs, but also traverse the 170,000 square feet of the Fest and improv scenes with patrons and other Winter WonderFriends.  We gather in the center and have a dance party whenever a certain Mariah Carey song plays.  We attend sessions of Bah Humbug Court, where we defend patrons who have been ticketed by our holiday cops for infractions like Scrooge-like behavior, beleagured picture-taking, insufficient holiday attire and impersonating Santa.  Yesterday, Holly the Rag Doll tried to avoid her sentence to Jolly Jail and ran out of court, so I had to chase her all over.  Being a ranking officer of the Candy Corps, I also encourage patrons to salute and engage in various marching exercises. 

Because this is such a physically and vocally demanding role (according to my pedometer, I walk around six miles a shift), and because WWF is often open 10 or 12 hours a day, double casting makes complete sense.  Yet it's odd to see the other major in 'my' costume (she told me she thinks so, too), and to feel like I'm missing out on the fun when I hear what happened days I'm not there.  And yesterday in the hall outside the dressing rooms, a cast member called me by the other major's name.  Hmm.  Both casts rehearsed together so we could develop similar physicalities and ensure understanding of our characters.  But each of us bring different things to the table, and it's fun to work with a mix of the casts each shift. 

Other issues: when single cast, if you have the opportunity to do an on camera job or want to go out of town, you probably have to say no.  When double cast, you might be able to trade shifts.  It's sometimes challenging to get family, friends and talent agents to attend productions you're in.  But when double cast with an irregular schedule, it can be more challenging to mesh your schedule with theirs. 

As a patron, double casting means you have a decision to make.  For example, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, this season's Tosca is portrayed by the very well-known Deborah Voigt and also by Violeta Urmana, who is making her Lyric debut.  So if you'd rather see DV but your tickets happen to be for a VU performance, you'll have to hope you can exchange.  On the other hand, seeing fabulous performers new to you can be exciting.  (I still remember the first time I saw Jose Carreras at the Royal Opera House in Il Trovatore at Covent Garden...)

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Will you work for food? For free?

Oprah is filming a pilot here in Chicago for her new OWN network.  I've been contacted by a friend who will be an extra who suggested I join him and another friend. 

Apparently extras can now recruit other extras, avoiding the need for a casting director or even knowledge of who/how many will show up at the appointed times and locations.  And apparently there's no pay, just meals.  It seems O/her production company are banking on the fact that people are so eager to say they're involved with her in any way they will work for free.  So they can earn bragging rights instead of cash.   

What precedent does not paying extras set?  If someone at Oprah's level expects freebies, will other TV shows and feature films stop paying us? 

I've worked as an extra on dozens of productions and expect to make $65 or $75 for 8 hours plus time and a half overtime, usually excellent meals (and parking).  Many think even that is insufficient recompense for the effort required.  Insufficient pay to endure long hours (usually at least 12) and occasionally unpleasant physical conditions...cramped holding areas, not enough restrooms, standing outside for hours in extreme cold or heat, walking long distances from parking to holding carrying the requisite changes of clothes, days where we aren't even given coffee and donuts or water while the (union) crew is constantly provided all sorts of tempting fare, and often right under our noses.  I choose to look at it this way:  I'm getting paid to observe famous stars/directors up close and in action, or to read/talk on the phone/email/hang out with fun people when I'm not in the scene.  

Being an extra isn't brain surgery, for sure.  Nor it it as difficult as being the star.  But it does require some skill...even an extra can screw up a shot by walking too slow or fast and running into the star, or by overreacting or looking at the camera.  For scenes shooting multiple days, you need reliable people for continuity. 

Certainly there can be reasons to work for no money.  If you don't have any acting experience whatsoever, student films, for example, can be one way to get some.  They can be a way to learn what it's like to be on set and take direction.  However, it's my understanding that these films and extra work even on a major motion picture aren't really considered acting credits by agents or those who hire talent for pay.  Better than nothing, perhaps, but not as good as other things.

For example, many non-Equity theatres in Chicago don't pay their actors, but offer a wealth of experience and the opportunity to be seen.  This "free" acting can count as credits; I've often heard agents like to know their talent also does theatre/improv and some will go see the shows.  And in the corporate world, many companies offer internships (often for college credit, which is a form of compensation) to help those just starting out get their feet in the door. 

Some free work assignments can be worth it in pursuit of a goal: a viable credit, networking and/or experience that should pay off in the future.  If you think being an unpaid extra will provide sufficient benefits, have at it.  But if you think you deserve compensation for your time, if you believe the old adage 'they won't buy the cow if they get the milk for free,' stay home. 


Thursday, December 10, 2009


While some people enjoy living whichever way the wind blows, I am not by nature a spontaneous person.  I like lists, plans, and schedules because they provide a sense of control.  I know what's coming next and what I need to do.

So the freelance/Gainfully Unemployed lifestyle, in which plans often change at the drop of a hat, can present  challenges.  I'm flexible in some ways (I can do the splits), but not so much in others.  Examples: A friend who's having trouble meeting her deadline needs my help with plotting or just wants to vent.  Another whose schedule is as varied as mine wants to get together at the drop of a hat.  Do I drop whatever I'm doing to accommodate these requests?  If I'm on my way to an audition or a job, obviously the answer is no.  But what if I'm working on projects I want to complete on self-imposed deadlines?  Is getting my work done as planned more important? 

When I am spontaneous, I often feel disrupted instead of easily embracing sudden changes.  Though I like keeping to my timetables, it's hard to say no to social opportunities or when friends want my help.  I prefer to work before play, but know I'll still get my work done in a timely fashion. 

Then there's the randomness of auditions and potential recording dates.  Example: an agent called after 5pm to schedule an audition for 10:30 the next morning, with lines to memorize.  I had plans that night that would keep me out fairly late, and already had three major events on tap for the next day.  Not only that, I was already booked one of the days of the shoot.  But I didn't want to say no to the agent or miss the opportunity to go to the casting agency and meet a potential new client.  So I had to scramble to adjust my schedule (requiring the assistance of others to change their schedules) and make the time to learn the lines (fortunately not that many)...all without knowing, of course, if I'd book this job. 

There's a continuum of spontenaeity in various types of acting. One of the reasons I enjoy being in plays/musicals is because I know exactly what to do and say next. I've rehearsed and been given direction. I usually know everyone else's lines by opening night, so it's easy for me to compensate if someone drops a line or misses an entrance. Voiceover jobs are nice because the copy is right in front of you,  Even if there are script changes, you can write them down.

On camera work can be more difficult. You've memorized your lines, but someone wants a script change. Remembering the new line(s) on the spot after you've already engraved the old ones in your memory is tricky.  And when they change the can be hard to keep track of what is old and new.

More challenging still (though also at times more freeing) is improv, where every word you say, every gesture you make, is spontaneous.  You can't plan ahead, because you don't know what your scene partner(s) will do or say next.  If you try to think of something funny to say/do, you won't be in the moment and won't be able to listen and react to what is going on.  Usually when doing improv, you're involved in some scenes, but not all.  So even during a show, you have a little time to regroup.  But my current job is all improv all the time (except during breaks, of course), with anywhere from one scene partner to twelve and an ever-changing number of patrons joining in.  It's both exhilerating and a bit unnerving to have a job requiring so many hours of  being "on" and in character.

First 2010 resolution: learn to adapt more easily to small and large changes in plans.  Some suggestions on how to do that:

eHow  Spend thirty minutes with a child.  These days, I often spend more than that!  And it is surprising and fun to see how willing and eager most are to join in the activities my partner and I come up with, from creating new ways to march to doing the Snowflake Dance. 

LifeDev  Pencil it in.  Oooh.  Scheduling spontaneity?  That I can do!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Life is a Roller Coaster

I've never been a fan of roller coasters--waiting in a long line just to have suspense build while you fear you'll slide back down the huge incline only to plummet and race through hills and valleys you can't control, clinging to the guard rail for dear life resulting in whiplash (emotional and physical) with only a few flat stretches to give you time to catch your breath. 

But sometimes life is like a roller coaster.  Though they say without sadness we wouldn't know what happiness is and even keel existence might get boring, dealing with huge ups and downs, especially when one follows on the heels of another, can be disconcerting and challenging. 

Small ups and downs are one thing.  Say I'm looking forward to an on camera audition, then the agent e-mails that it's been canceled.  A lost opportunity to have agent face time and be seen by a client, sure, but it's easy to believe another will soon follow.  Or I'm told I'm one of the few voices being considered for a big narration project, then I learn the client has gone in another direction.  Disappointing, but the producer says he'll keep me in mind for future projects.  I can believe I'll book another job soon. 

Then there are the big swings.  One minute I get a request for a full manuscript and am basking in the good news glow.  An editor enjoyed my writing and story enough to want to want to read more.  The next I learn of a betrayal.  Though the two events are completely unrelated, emotions can get muddled.  Dealing with bad news on the heels of good can throw you off kilter.  It's hard to maintain hope and excitement and have a positive attitude about the first while trying to take the second in stride.  It's hard to focus on reviewing the rest of the manuscript before submitting and meet other deadlines when trust has been broken. 

There are times when the ability to compartmentalize emotions and/or not be affected by external events might prove helpful.  What does help is to remind myself of all of the things I'm grateful for. 

How do you deal with bad news?  Here are a few articles:

eHow  Consider the worst case scenario, and develop a plan of action to deal with it.

beyond the rhetoric  Reinterpret it.  Frame obstacles as opportunities.

When someone you know gets bad news:

Family Education  ...offer your sympathy and—if appropriate— your help. It is less than useless to act as if nothing has happened.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Beyond Compare

Do you find yourself comparing your successes or lack thereof to those of other people?  Whether you're an executive wondering why the co-worker in the next cube got the promotion instead of you, a mom who wishes her kids would be as well-behaved as her neighbor's, anyone wondering if he's keeping up with the Joneses, or a Gainfully Unemployed who wants to know how Actor A books so many jobs or Author A sells so many books but you don't, appreciating and valuing your own accomplishments can be a challenge.  Even on Thanksgiving.

When I read about another author's sales, it's hard not to wonder when I'll see my name in Publisher's Lunch.  Especially when it's someone I know or finaled in a contest with.  I'm happy for them on the one hand, but on the other wish my turn would come.  It doesn't help when a multi-published, award-winning author I critique for calls to say what I gift I have for making her books so much better and that she can't understand why I still haven't sold. (One of my mss is with one of her editors on her recommendation, fingers crossed.) When I hear how many acting jobs a friend has gotten recently, it's hard not to compare her list against mine and wonder how I can get more work.  Or when, as has happened quite often recently, I see people I once performed with on national TV or Broadway, it can be a challenge not to ask, "Why them?"  To not worry about what else I should be doing, or doing differently.

Comparing yourself to others minimizes your accomplishments.  It can make you feel defeated. You might stop believing in yourself and give up, especially without any external validation. One reason I enter writing contests is because finalling provides a shot in the arm to help me keep going. The weeks between the announcement of the finalists and the winners provide lots of time to share the good news. It's rewarding to know more than one judge liked your entry and that an industry professional will soon be reading it for the final round and may ask to see more.

Christina Dodd gave a speech at a Romance Writers of America conference about how each author's path to publication was different.  Some might be short (ie you sell your first ms to the first editor you send it to.  I know a couple of people who managed this.) while others will be long and rocky (you complete many mss and have hundreds of rejections to your name.  Sound familiar?).  Others will sell one book or a few, then have trouble selling more.  The question is: do you have the stamina to keep walking?

Can you focus on gratitude for your accomplishments?

Articles about ways to stop comparing yourself to others:


Adversity University

Zen Habits

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Happy Holidays?

I've written before about being a Grinch at this time of me there's far too much fuss made over the holidays.  Stores go straight from touting Halloween candy and costumes to pushing Christmas decorations, cards and gifts.  By mid-November, lights and decorations are already on display in many places.  You can't pick up a paper, turn on the TV or go online without being bombarded by holiday ads, articles or programming.  What is the purpose of so many people spending so much time planning, shopping, preparing for and then cleaning up after holiday we really enjoy all the hustle and bustle or feel obligated to participate?

Holiday preparation adds myriad errands and time-sucking tasks to to do lists that are already a mile long.  How do friends who are already overburdened running around on their kids' behalf and who rarely seem to have a moment to themselves fit in even more?  The effects of our recession-burdened economy may add additional pressure to those who can't afford to givethe amount or kind of presents bestowed in years past. 

It's not that I'm not looking forward to or don't enjoy attending holiday parties--as long as I don't have to host them.  It's the cramming of so many social events into a few weeks, plus the crowds in stores and all the hype and, unless you never leave your house or expose yourself to any media, the constant displays of Christmas-y stuff.  

Not only that, this season can be tough on the Gainfully Unemployed.  Business in the acting and publishing worlds grinds to a halt.  Which means hardly any auditions or jobs, and very little chance of long-outstanding submissions being read.  Full-time employees bask in the joy of paid days off, but
the GU know holidays just mean the phone won't ring.  When you don't know where or when your next paycheck is coming from, it can be hard to relax.  

So what do you like about the holidays?  What do they mean to you?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Change, Change, Change...

Technology advances mean the world is changing at an ever-increasing pace.  Five years ago, who'd have thought social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, having an online presence via a Web site and blog would be so important to so many, suck up so much  time and be in the news so often?  Who'd have thought many would send thousands of texts a month, text instead of talking, and that we'd go to a restaurant and see more people focusing on their phones than on their friends?

Newspapers and magazines are disappearing from our front doors and mailboxes and landing on our PC screens.  E-readers like the Kindle, combined with the closing of so many brick and mortar book stores and decreased shelf space for books in other stores that now host cafes and have broadened their product offerings, make it more challenging to wander into a store and discover a new author.

Somehow we survived in the days before answering machines, much less cell phones that we put on the table when we're having lunch lest we miss something.  The rapid pace of digital technology enhancements requires many of us to adapt, willingly or not... or miss out on opportunities.

The pace of the acting industry seems to be ever faster.  A couple of weeks ago I turned off my phone for an hour and fifteen minutes...and lost a booking.  This week I was sent an audition that had to be recorded at home and submitted ASAP.  I've booked several rush jobs recently...a call at 5:30 pm for a job the next morning, a call at 12:20 pm for a job at 9 that night.  Yes, the clients had chosen my voice for their projects.  But given the short turnaround time, who knows what might have happened if I wasn't immediately available to accept the work.

And developments in the writing world, such as Harlequin's newly announced e-publishing division, Carina Press, raise myriad questions about the future of publishing, book pricing and author compensation. 

I have not yet broached e-reading beyond downloading a couple of books.  To me reading online-- when I spend so many hours on the computer already--isn't as enjoyable as holding a book in my hands.  I only like shopping online for books when I know what I'm looking for; all the scrolling makes me dizzy.  I don't have the patience to "look inside" a bunch of books online the way I've done in a store. 

How are you embracing change? 

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

A few months ago I discussed various types of lies and wondered whether you can or should trust a liar again, here. Given the recent movie release, The Invention of Lying and the FOX TV show Lie to Me, many others are also considering the impact of lies and dealing with liars.

The proof is in the pudding. And my answer is no. Recent evidence shows that where there’s one lie, there are very likely more, either already articulated or yet to come. Kind of like cockroaches. At least the nasty insects scatter and hide when you shine light on them...but you know they’re there, multiplying and waiting ‘til the time is right to come out again. Lies are like termites, because by the time you discover how far they go, the damage is done.

Whether the liar is a client who promises to pay but doesn’t, a cheating significant other, someone you hired who pads his bill or doesn’t do what he was paid to do, a post on Craiglist you think is legitimate but leads you to some scam, or a friend or family member whose mendacity makes your life more difficult, how do you handle it once the dam has been broken, once your trust has been breached? Maybe you think that person is dead to you and never speak to him again. Maybe you think, "He says he's really sorry. I'll give him another chance." Good luck. That saying, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me," exists for a reason.

If you’ve been lied to, how do you trust again: 1) others, because surely everyone you meet isn't a liar 2) yourself and your decision making ability? If you choose to keep the liar in your life, how do you relax day to day and not worry that everything that person tells you is a lie?

This brings to mind the old ad campaign, "Do you know where your package is?" The answer is: you don't, unless you can be with it and keep your eye on it 24/7.

Several articles about liars and dealing with them: Liars get what they want. They avoid punishment, and they win others' affection. Calmly state what you know to be true.

wikiHow: To protect your own sanity, seek help.

eHow: Disassociate yourself from that person before you get hurt.

Personal Web Guide: Be careful who you let your guard down with.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Darkest Before the Dawn?

When many things seem to go wrong at once, it can be even harder to maintain a positive attitude and believe there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s frustrating when you put dozens of irons in the fire but get little or no response. Sometimes even a rejection is better than the feeling that your audition/submission/application is floating in the ether of the Internet. The many things we can’t control, the waiting for others to offer auditions/work, etc. can be stressful. So evidence that the tide is turning brings relief and satisfaction. And creates synergy.

Acting: Quite the flurry of activity. One agent called with a direct VO booking (without an audition) that day. Another called to put me on ice for a job. And another called with another direct booking. However, I happened to be without my phone for 1 hour and 15 minutes, so she booked someone else. Sigh.

Though I missed out on that and even if I don’t get the other, it’s great to know more than one client at more than one agency is interested in hiring me. Plus the more you’re on your agents' radar, the better. And I got a callback (the call came after 10PM, another example of why I should always have my phone) for more than 5 weeks of paid improv.

I also learned that I know a couple of the auditors of an upcoming audition. This business, like many others, can be a lot about who you’ve worked with before and who you know. I hope being among friends will help me stay in the moment (not in my head) and audition well.

Writing: The recent request to revise one of my paranormals shows that my writing and ideas are good enough to interest an editor enough to take time out of her day to call, email and be willing to work with me. I needed that shot in the arm.

The sermon, opening and benediction for the Best Church of God (discussed last week) got some good laughs. Which encourages me to do more comedy writing.

I’ve been helping a multi-published friend fix her overdue book. She’s using many of my suggestions, which reinforces that I know what I’m doing.

Other: Will be spending more time with a valued friend. Many fun social events on the calendar. I’m also redoing The Artist's Way. Maybe that’s the catalyst for all of this forward motion?

I’m very grateful to be busy, get work and have things to look forward to. What developments are you grateful for?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Writing for Whom You Know, Not What You Know

When you decide to be a writer, you need to choose what to write, what market you’re aiming for and who the readers will be. Within each type of writing lies a myriad of elements to consider and balance. Then your work needs to captivate an industry professional. Is it easier when you know who that person is? Two recent experiences prove the answer is yes and no.

1) Writing for a particular director and performer. I’ve been doing the weekly Missalette (program) and short marketing pieces for The Best Church of God, a parody church service currently at Chicago’s Lakeshore Theater.

An idea for a sermon popped into my head. Having seen the show many times, I was very familiar with the style, format and subjects previously covered. I also knew that since BCOG believes in the literal word of the Bible as set down in the original English, I’d need a good sprinkling of Bible quotes to support my argument. I’d worked with the director for weeks on the program and a couple of other projects, so I had an idea of his likes/dislikes. And I’ve known the performer who’d be doing said sermon for years , and could hear his character in my head as I wrote.

This was both freeing and limiting at the same time. With each sentence I thought was funny, I’d get pulled out of “the zone” of writing by questions like, “Would the director even like the idea? Would he agree that this joke was funny? Would he take a submission from someone involved in the show but not in the ensemble?” “Would Pastor Dave convey the idea with different words?” These thoughts can halt the flow of creativity. Give you writer’s block so it takes longer than it should to complete the project.

On the other hand, if I strayed too far afield, I could reign myself back in, knowing the situation so well. I could refer to past sermons for inspiration.

Fingers crossed, I sent off a draft. The director liked it...and said he could hear Pastor Dave giving the sermon. Whew. He asked for some revisions, and said I also had to write the service opening and benediction. Interesting to see which jokes he kept, which he slashed (one in particular I thought was LOL, sigh), and which he punched up. We’ll soon see if the audience/parishioners appreciate it: why the Bible says moving corpses and desecrating graves (as in the recent Burr Oaks cemetery scandal and Mayor Daley’s wanting to move another cemetery for an O’Hare runway) is the Christian thing to do.

2) Meeting the needs of a particular editor I’d submitted my paranormal with time travel romance to.

After reading the synopsis and first 20 pages, she called to tell me she was very interested in the premise, some things she thought were clever, and the hero. But the heroine was boring as was the world building. And she wanted me to change from alternating 1st person POV to 3rd. If I’d do these things, she’d take another look.

Exciting yet troublesome at the same time. I’d heard her speak, and had had an eight minute appointment with her and now this conversation, and read books from her line, so I had some info to rely on.

I’d purposely written it so the reader would learn along about the paranormal hero as the heroine did, so most comes later. And after all, you have to introduce the characters, their attraction, and the plot, goal motivation and conflict and don’t want to have what’s known as an “information dump.” But the editor wants to be swept away by his world right away. Easier if the story starts in his paranormal environment, harder when it starts in her normal one. I’m trying a couple of approaches...we shall see.

The point is that many auteurs might just want to create and think about potential buyers and markets and where their work will fit in after their opus is finished. They might be offended by blunt criticism of their long labored over creative output, even if it comes from those who can publish them. But I believe the more you know beforehand, the better, despite the constrictions placed on creative freedom.

The time and energy invested in gaining knowledge will pay off.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Now that Bobby McFerrin song is playing in my mind...and I'll bet yours, too!

Many of us have a lot to worry about these days. Things like supporting our families in this economy while managing to save for the future, how the kids are doing in school and whether to get an H1N1 flu shot. Things like whether family member X will get on your nerves today or you'll get stuck in traffic. And if you'll get everything done on that 'to do' list.

In the face of decreasing home values, fears of more layoffs/not finding another job if you've been laid off (or for the GU, always waiting for that phone to ring and keep ringing so we know our irons in the fire are paying off), health concerns, etc., how do we go about enjoying and making the most of each day? How do we maintain a positive attitude and keep smiling in the face of the disappointments, frustrations and worries large and small that pepper our lives? Just for today, can we reduce the power our concerns can have over us and allow some happiness in?

Approaches for dealing with worry include:

--Be grateful for what you do have. Sometimes when things are looking pretty grim, or when a bunch of things go wrong in a row, it’s hard to remember that there are good or great things to appreciate.
Consider listing things you are grateful for each day and keeping a gratitude journal, as described here . I’ll start: today I’m grateful for supportive and caring friends, that I have a great place to live and for the tasty leftovers in my fridge so I don't have to think about what to have for dinner.
Other takes on the importance of gratitude can be found here and here.

--Believe everything happens for a reason. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don't. It's hard to accept there's some lesson you're supposed to learn when something doesn't go the way you wanted. Or believe that a disappointment/rejection/failure/mistake can and will lead to something better. Here and here (a for and against debate) is info on this approach.

--Never give up hope. Often easier said than done...

--Let go of things you can’t control and move on. I'm working on this. Info here and here.

Which works best for you?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Drawing the Line

The volunteer who gets asked to do just one more thing. The mom whose kid wants another story before going to bed. The person in any relationship (significant other, sibling, co-worker) who for whatever reason has the burden of putting forth more effort and ends up doing more than her share.

Most of us have a basic desire and need to be helpful. To be appreciated and liked. This can lead us to say 'yes' more often than perhaps is to our benefit. And then we end up spending too much time and/or money on projects that need to be done or would be nice to do, may be interesting and even fun, but leave us wondering why we said 'yes' in the first place. Or we give more of our energy or money to someone or to an organization than we're comfortable with, but often we don't speak up and right the balance.

Some people fail to follow through on assignments they've accepted, don't complete them in a timely manner or with the anticipated quality. So those who can and do deliver are usually asked to do more. Often people presume on others' willingness, efficiency and reliability. There's that saying, "If you want something done, ask the busiest person you know."

Sometimes the pushing of boundaries in any relationship is so subtle you don't notice it at first. You think, "I've already done/paid for X, so it's not that big of a deal to also do/buy Y." When does wanting to help and generosity turn into being taken advantage of or becoming a martyr? When does your well run dry...and who refills it? How do you gracefully say "no," or "I've done enough for now?"

For example, I agreed to help a group with some publicity. Next they asked me to write something another volunteer had agreed to do but didn't. Then to coordinate a small task. Then several other small things...which finally added up to more than I was willing to do. I had to say no. I felt bad, knowing they needed the help.

The Mayo Clinic says that saying no can reduce stress, here. The Washington Post's take on why it's often hard to say no is here. Check out more advice here.

Is there something you want to say no to? Will you?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I don’t mean the Christmas carol or how some rejected American Idol contestants think they can sing when we agree with Simon Cowell that they can’t. I’m talking about audio file quality.

This week I lost a VO job I’d already booked because the client wasn’t happy with the quality of the test audio file I sent. Ouch. He and his client liked my voice and my interpretation of the copy, but the sound of my MP3 didn’t match up to that of the male talent.

Fortunately the sting of that news was alleviated the same day by another client. They said they were so pleased with a PowerPoint narration I’d done that they want me to be the voice for their entire product line! So they didn't hear problems in any of the 35 files I sent. And I have other clients who accept files without even asking for revisions. Maybe different clients have different technical standards. Maybe the test file was an anomaly (I offered to send another)? Or is my ear not good enough to hear issues if they occur?

The client suggested I get better monitors and recording the tune of around $199/pair for the speakers and several hundred more depending on the software (not to mention the learning curve). Or I might benefit from a new preamp and/or a microphone. Because if there is a problem, it could be any one of these things. Or it could even be how the equipment interacts with my PC. Meaning maybe I'll need a Mac.

Because I’m not sure there is a global problem, or if there is, which component of my setup is at fault, I don’t know if one change would resolve any issue, and if so, which change I should make.

I do not have patience with the trial and error method of figuring things like this out. I haven't found an "audio engineering for VO talent" class. I have asked a couple of VO talents I know to create one, so far to no avail. I may have take a general class, though from what I can tell they focus on music/band recording, not voice, and cover equipment and technical topics I don't need to know about. There are all kinds of tutorials and Wikis/discussion forums on the Web, but most tutorials move too slowly or don’t cover what I want to know, and with Wikis/forums it can be hard to find the answers to the specific questions I have.

So my first step is asking a VO/audio engineer I know to test my system, then have him help decide if I need to buy anything, and if so, help install and make sure I know how to use it.

Who said you have to spend money to make money?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Here, There & Everywhere

Many full-time employees traverse the same path each their offices and back, Monday to Friday, 9-5. Those who work from home may merely commute from bedroom to computer. Such routines can be either comforting or monotonous.

A Gainfully Unemployed’s week is will o’ the wisp, depending on which way the freelance winds blow. And how much discipline we have to focus on career vs. social events. I’ve started highlighting the success journal I keep so I can see at a glance where my time is going. Because my goal is to have at least 5 outgoing things every day...whether they are auditions, query letters/submissions, etc.

Some weeks, I mostly work at home. Others send me hither and yon. This past week had me traveling to:
--Greektown for a cable TV show shoot
--Humboldt Park for a print looksee
--Lakeview to see The Best Church of God. It’s an all-new each week parody church service where parishioners believe in the literal word of the Bible as set down in the original English. Check it out, here.). I’m doing the weekly Missalette and a weekly promotional piece posted in the church (theater) vestibule.
--Right after that, off to St. Charles after picking up a fellow actress for a small industrial. It took us an hour and a half each way (on the return in pouring rain) to do a two hour shoot at a coffee shop. She was the barista, I was the customer.
--The Loop (for my non-local readers, that means the area of downtown circled by our elevated train, called the “L”) for an hour and a half interview for a part time job.
--On a different day, again to the Loop for a committee meeting.
--Ravenswood for a focus group gathering.

Add in other events including lunches in Lincoln Park and River North, an appointment in Streeterville, an evening in Ukranian Village, dinner with a visiting author friend in Evanston...and you can see that a lot of this week was spent coming and going.

So I had to fit in various projects with upcoming deadlines, including writing and revising the BCOG pieces, a quick VO job, a concert press release, a flier for a committee open house, auditions I wanted to or was asked to submit, a family issue, my next contribution on the English medieval period to a group blog about historical romance (

Though I chose to make time to work on a non-fiction project, I didn’t add pages to any new fiction manuscripts or revise two that I’ve been meaning to (one for a friend who’s critiquing it and the other for an agent who said she’d look at one of my early medieval romances if I turned it into historical fiction). Or another non-fiction project with a co-author, with whom I’m meeting again soon. Or more self-marketing. I did catch up with several author and other friends...

Do you feel you have control over your schedule? What's a good balance of work, errands/chores, social activities and personal downtime?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Size Are You...Today?

Many sources fuel our troubled economy, from unemployment to the tight credit market. Yet retailers want and need us to shop more. Here’s one reason why I’m shopping less: size frustration.

I just bought a pair of size 0 petite jeans. I realize some women might be thrilled to be bamboozled into thinking they’re thin enough to fit into zilch-sized jeans, but I find the concept a bit patronizing of shoppers' intelligence. Manufacturers want us to think, "Oooh, I was an 8 last time I bought this kind of jeans, now I'm a 6. How thin am I! I don’t need to work out, I need more clothes!"

The point is that when sizes are so inconsistent, shopping becomes a chore instead of a pleasant, rewarding experience. With this designer I guess I'm now a 0, but with another I could be a 2, 4 or a 6. Or a 25, 26 or 27. Now a few also offer short, regular or long. I don't care what size I am, I just want clothes to fit so I don't have to try on so many. Not to mention that given the recession (yes, yes, I know it’s supposedly ending), inventories are down so the store might not have sufficient selection were I in the mood to take 10 pairs into the dressing room. I don’t have the patience or want to take the time to run from store to store.

With my former favorite jeans (Jag) I used know exactly what size I wore. I could try on any pair and they’d fit great. No alterations required (anyone who has had a pair of jeans hemmed knows how much that adds to the cost, especially if you want the “original hem.”) But suddenly I was a size smaller. Now that size doesn't quite fit, nor does the next size down. The jeans in my closet still fit fine, so it's not like I’ve gotten skinnier.

(I’m not going to talk about the ridiculous rise issue. If most manufacturers want to target women in their 20s and ignore shoppers over 35, that’s their choice. Low rise on women of a certain age IMO just doesn’t look good. I don’t want to feel or see that little, squishy roll of muffin top. I did buy a pair of GAP’s new 1969 slim jeans, because they were on sale and fit perfectly everywhere else [except the length], but we’ll see if I wear them with anything but a long, heavy sweater. I’ve tried one of the few brands geared toward women who aren’t in their 20s, but the styles, fit, and washes don’t interest me. And the tummy tuck panel doesn’t seem to serve its purpose.)

As to customer service and checkout, I commend Nordstrom and GAP for having helpful salespeople who not only knew their products but went out of their way to bring other jeans I might like and, equally important, do so in a timely fashion. Most other stores I’ve shopped recently haven’t had the staff to enhance the shopping experience and/or have had long checkout lines (and I waited longer than I thought reasonable at the GAP).

And, dear clothing manufacturers, I don't enjoy shopping online. There are too many sites. All the scrolling and going back and forth makes me dizzy. Just because an item looks good on the tall, tall model doesn’t mean it’ll look good on the average or short woman. I’ve come across enough inaccurate measurement charts that the pleasure of opening the package I’ve waited for is ruined when the item doesn’t fit. A friend orders several sizes of each garment. But even with free returns, it’s too much of a hassle for me to pack the stuff back up, fill out the form and drop it off at UPS or the post office.

I rejeoiced to find a practically perfect pair of jeans at Macy's...a DKNY petite style that was even on sale. They only had one pair in my size. When I went online to buy another, there wasn't enough identifying info on the jeans for me to find them among the zillion hits...

How do you find the perfect pair? How can stores/designers make shopping easier?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Coming and Going

I remember a line from the opera The Great Gatsby about people coming and going. Gatsby held huge parties at his mansion (I was one of his waitresses in the Lyric Opera production), but wasn’t close to many of his guests. In our lives, we might lose touch with someone we care about; someone we know casually might take on a more meaningful role. We meet someone new we click with, and a new friendship is born. Others come and go.

Recently, several people have returned that I’m glad to have back, including a sorority sister found on Facebook. And a few are becoming more important. For now, or the longer term?

It can be hard to define what brings a person back into your life. Coincidence, timing... or is there a reason, a purpose, some impact one of you will make on the other? For example, I recently saw an author acquaintance at a conference. We chatted for a minute, but for whatever reason didn’t make plans to talk further. Now she’s visiting Chicago and we’re going to have dinner. Maybe we’ll just catch up and have a pleasant evening. Or maybe there’s something she’ll say--even if I’ve heard it before, she might say it in a different way--to make me realize which direction I want to go or help me to view challenges from a better perspective. Maybe there’s a way we can support each other going forward.

Are there people you miss? I miss two. One is a friend from college; we stayed close for many years...way before long distance was cheap and email, texting and Facebook kept people in constant contact. I’m not sure why we lost touch. And I can’t find her online.

The other is a friend I met years ago at a writing conference. We had so much in common we’d even brought the same pair of Ann Taylor pants to wear for the dressiest event. For awhile we talked every week to make sure we were on track with our life and writing goals. She came to visit a couple of times and we saw each other at other conferences. Then she adopted a daughter (and became one of those moms she said she wouldn’t...too busy to talk/keep in touch). She did email to say she’d call--several weeks ago. I'm sure when she does call, we'll pick up right where we left off.

When one person’s lifestyle changes, the dynamic of the friendship often changes, too. When friends have kids and get caught up in whole new world of mom things. When you or a co-worker gets a different job. How do you maintain what you had, or do you accept that a new phase has begun?

And what about the people you’d rather not have in your life...a boss you don't get along with, an annoying family member or someone who always seems to call/want something at the most inconvenient times (like the neighbor in the recently released Extract)? Can you gracefully find a way to limit communication or do you have to suck it up and put on a smile?

Then there are the friends you know you'll have for the rest of your life. For whatever reason, there are people who just get you. Those you can always count on.

Thanks to my friends, just for being.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Signs and Making Decisions

Do you believe in signs?

When you're making a major decision--whether to accept a job offer, move in with someone, get involved with a volunteer project--do you rely only mainly on facts or feelings? You might do research and weigh the pros/cons. Rely on an advisory board of friends/family. Listen to your gut or subconscience, if one of them tells you something you can understand. Maybe you pray to whatever power you believe in to send or help you choose the answer. Maybe you look for signs (a guy said he decided to date me instead of someone else because as he was driving and pondering, he saw a truck with my last name on it). Chances are you go with a combination of some or all of the above.

Sometimes the options seem overwhelming and outcomes difficult to predict. Maybe you're caught between a rock and a hard place, where no path looks promising. Or you fear making a huge mistake that can't be undone. Then you freeze, and do nothing. You hope the situation will change or resolve on its own, an obvious solution will surface. How do you handle lingering doubts so they don't get in your way? Have you ever known you were making the wrong decision, but went ahead with it?

Recall Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

In the past few months I've been struggling with much of the above as it relates to my writing. Should I start yet another new project...if so, which genre, which story to tell? Revise one(s) I have? Finish a non-fiction project? Keep submitting, believing it's all about 'right place, right time?' Believe one of the submissions already out there will lead to representation/a sale and show me the way? Just give up and get a day job?

I've sort of been pursuing all of these options, to cover my bases. Yet this approach makes me feel scattered, that I'm losing focus and not getting enough done. I thought the writers' conference I attended in July would re-inspire me, and/or perhaps I'd meet someone who'd help me move forward (a friend happened to choose a lunch table with an empty seat next to her...and the person who sat there is now her agent. I did talk a lot with a successful author I've known for years who offered to critique one of my partials; she sent comments on the first chapter and I'm deciding how to address her suggestions.)

I've already spent years working on getting published....insanity or persistence? In some respects taking the path of least resistance can be easier, whether or not that's really what you want or is your best choice. For me, right now, quitting, doing nothing are easiest. Submitting more isn't that hard. Revising, starting fresh or finishing projects is much more difficult and time consuming. What to do?

Maybe I just got a sign, in the form of a contest judge's comments on my latest opus. She wrote, in part, I’d love to see the writer – who is quite gifted with words, grammar, sentence structure, and generally good writing – come up with something fresher that’s never been done. Would love to see this author go totally off the deep end with a high concept story that will bowl over editors and agents. The writer obviously has a LOT of talent. Go deep...take wild and never know what will happen!

You have a great knack for the written just need a stronger story.... Keep working at’re almost there. I can sense it for you!

Is this just one published author's opinion, a red herring, or my new direction? Every aspiring author knows agents/editors want something fresh and high concept. A strong story. Obviously I think mine is all these things (and have received other feedback supporting my opinion), or I wouldn't have written/entered it. Is receiving this advice at this time the push I need to move forward? If so, how do I 'go totally off the deep end,' without pushing the envelope too far?

How do I know?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

He likes me! Right now, he likes me!

Most of us of a certain age remember Sally Field saying something like this when she accepted an Academy Award (hard to believe that was back in 1985 for Places in the Heart. And I checked, she didn't say, "You like me. You really like me," which I think is what most of us remember.). The point is that despite all of her career successes, she genuinely seemed pleased to be so esteemed.

The title of today's entry could also be about the song Love the One You're With (Stephen Stills, 1970, covered by The Isley Brothers in 1971) and the vicissitudes of dating. But I'm talking about the importance of being appreciated. Validated.

I’m very pleased to have a new voiceover client who keeps telling me how happy his client is with my work and how much they love my voice.

Yes, yes, we've all heard about true happiness and contentment coming from within. That you have to love yourself before you can love another. How it's all about living in the moment, enjoying the journey and what you have, not the outcome. That having the biggest house, most money or receiving the highest accolades won't make you happy. We could spend all day staring at ourselves in the mirror repeating affirmations about how great we are or how much power we have (like Amy Adam's Rose in Sunshine Cleaning)...maybe that would help.

Who doesn't like to know they've done a great job? Who wouldn't want to hear the guy they're dating say they think you're beautiful or, “No, those pants don't make you look fat?" Maybe for some it's enough just to bask in the glow of the verbiage. But if you’re paying attention, a compliment delivered the wrong way can make you look askance at the giver and/or wonder about their sincerity or what they are trying to get you to do. And a vast part of communication is via body language. Many studies/experts say that the meaning of a message comes 7% from the actual words, 38% how they're spoken and 55% from body language. So in today's world of e-mail, IM and texting, assessing the true intent and meaning behind nice sentiments typed quickly on a tiny keyboard can be difficult.

The value of a compliment can live on long after the words are spoken. I'm collecting testimonials from satisfied clients to help attract new clients. I've heard of authors making lists of great things readers, contest judges or industry professionals have said about their work to refer to in down times or to help get past rejections.

So the next time you think someone has done a good job, if someone means something special to you, take a moment to say so. As they say, pay it forward.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Smorgasbord or Empty Plate

The life of the Gainfully Unemployed is exciting and unnerving at the same time. We never know if or when an audition, submitted resume, or connection we've made will pay off with a booking or more auditions, or when projects that we're suited for will come to our or our agents' attention. Like an entrepreneur who never knows when a new customer will walk through the door despite great word of mouth, marketing and advertising, we can't do much to control our flow of work.

And when we book a project, we can't bask in the glow very long because it'll provide probably only a day, at most a week of work...and there are 51 other weeks to fill. We can look at all the white space in our calendars and see nary an audition on the horizon. Clingy vines of doubt creep in, distressing and demoralizing. Have my agents forgotten about me? Do I suck? If my last audition didn't go well, would they tell me? Did so-and-so even get my last email? Maybe I should get a "real" job.

These pernicious thoughts can work their way in so deeply I have to untangle and remove each one. I must keep adding irons to the fire. I must fill my mind with positivity. I believe this dry spell will end, and soon. Just be patient. Everything will work out.

Suddenly the phone starts to ring, emails arrive. And I can't ever predict the range of things I'll be called upon to do. There's an audition for a $5000 "upbeat, cool and sincere" TV voiceover. I'm one of a small group selected to be interviewed by a client for a major project. I book a small role as a nurse in a sci fi independent feature that requires me to scream as a guy on roller blades comes at me with a hockey stick and assist with surgery on a patient who has 5 eyes, while hanging out with fun and talented people for a day and a half. And eating tasty Vietnamese food.

The GU also never can tell what interesting situations they'll find themselves in. We filmed in a huge (though hot) abandoned hospital, eerie in a "what happened here, did everyone perish instantly of some plague like on Star Trek" way because all sorts of medical equipment and supplies were left behind, and employees even left pictures on their desks.

I learn that a recent client was so pleased with my recordings of a technical PowerPoint they plan to use me for all of their VOs going forward. (Of course I don't know when/if this will happen or how many projects that means, but who doesn't like to hear that they've done a great job and will probably get more work?)

With all of this good news, the creepers' vivid green fades, the leaves shrivel into dust as shiny hope and satisfaction bloom in their place.

Whew. Despite also receiving a book rejection, this turned out to be a darn good, busy and productive week.

But what about the next one? And the next, which is Labor Day when not much is likely to happen...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Light Painting in a Cemetery

Last night I did a photo shoot. In a cemetery. Wearing not much at all.

This project came about via an artsy friend. First he was interested in having me model for a bust sculpture, which would have required him to slather my chest and perhaps other body parts (like my hands) while I sat still until the plaster dried. But he recently discovered light painting, and decided a cemetery would make the perfect backdrop.

With light painting, the photographer doesn't use a flash. He uses a flashlight, or other light source, and moves it around during a long exposure. The pattern of illumination creates cool effects. Thanks to digital photography, it's easy to check out each shot and make adjustments for the next. Wikipedia explains it here.

He'd checked out the site...deep within thevast cemetery...and had taken test shots with a friend. He'd also cut out a bunch of shots/paintings that reflected what he had in mind and pasted them into a little notebook and had emailed ideas. While I reclined, sat or stood as frozen as possible (a challenge during some rather balletic moves), he ran around with the flashlight. He'd direct the beam in different ways to highlight various parts of the frame. Some shots were done with the flashlight hung from a tree with fishing line, with the flashlight swirling in a big circle over my head. For a few shots, he used two flashlights: a cool and a warm one.

Though I'd brought and borrowed interesting, lacy or clingy pieces of clothing, my main wardrobe was a long swath of white tulle. At times I also wore a vintage parachute thing as a skirt. I just wasn't comfortable wearing nothing at all. And I'm glad you can Photoshop out any extraneous naughty bits that snuck in, and which to my mind distract from the shot.

Why did I do this? A. To show you can still look pretty darn good even in your late 40s. B. To preserve my appearance in a unique way before everything starts sagging. C. Because being a model is fun. D. Because maybe at some point I can show the best pictures to my agents in the hope of getting more print work.

Some of the pictures are amazing. In some the light painting didn't turn out the way he intended. For example, there'd be too much light on my shoulder and not enough on my face. In others, possibly because I was concentrating so hard on keeping still for 15 seconds at a time (try it right now and see how long that is), my expression is kind of frozen. Despite having watched every episode of America's Next Top Model, it's not always easy to smile with your eyes or be fierce as Tyra advises, especially while leaning in an uncomfortable position or extending one leg high in an arabesque.

Though I put on a lot of makeup and dark lipstick (he wanted to border on Goth), the light was so bright it doesn't look like I'm wearing any. We also used gold powder, which looked great up close but in a few of the shots appears as brownish streaks that will need to be edited out. He'd also brought some corn starch to whiten my skin, but we never got around to trying it.

Now that we know what works and what doesn't, we may do another shoot. He may do some kind of show, or turn the pics into postcards or something. We shall see.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Croquet, Anyone?

Even the Gainfully Unemployed deserve and should take some time off from pursuing their various career options. Last weekend I attended a lovely annual event in the burbs: a croquet, aka white, party.

Yes, everyone wears white. Which gives the indoor/outdoor gala a sort of old-fashioned, ethereal atmosphere. Attendees range in age from 2 to over 70. The young children are surprisingly well-behaved (they don't run around or scream). The teens, most of whom have grown up together, are surprisingly polite and friendly.

The wealth and variety of food is amazing at this potluck gathering, from fabulous lobster salad to fresh fruit. Enough desserts (including delicious turtle brownies) to weigh down the sideboard. Champagne and margaritas flow.

So many people play croquet that each heated game takes around an hour. With so many balls on the field and more than one croquet set in use, it must be hard to keep track of whose turn it is. Cheers and moans fill the air as the competitors make their way around the course, smacking each other's balls out of play whenever possible.

Because many partygoers return year after year, there's a Same Time, Next Year sensibility. A neighbor of the hosts', with whom I'd had a long "writers write" discussion last year, said because of that conversation she'd started sending out some of her short stories. Though she's gotten rejections so far, she plans to keep writing and submitting. So you never know when a seemingly random conversation can impact someone's life.

This is also a fairly artsy group. Many guests sing, some professionally. Several years ago, I had the privilege of singing in a Sondheim festival with several of them...including a command performance for Stephen Sondheim himself. Last year, a piece of music was emailed in advance for anyone interested, and we had a short pickup rehearsal before recording A Song of Peace, available on YouTube, here.

So thanks to the hosts for having such a wonderful party at their home, and thanks to the guests for bringing such great food.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Can a Leopard Change His Spots?

When someone is less than truthful, can you trust that person again? Should you?

IMO one of the most important assets each of us has is our word. Either the truth or our honest opinion, when asked, even if the response is not quite what the asker wants to hear. But some feel that breaking their word, lying or intentionally misleading someone is acceptable or has a valid purpose. Even if they wouldn't want to be lied to in return.

White lies: No, those pants do not make you look fat. Yes, I like your haircut.
Supposedly these make the recipient feel better. They keep the giver from being put on the spot. I'd rather know that the pants made me look fat so I could put on a more flattering pair.

Lies of Omission: When asked a question, are you obligated to tell the whole truth and nothing but (outside a courtroom)? Does it depend upon who is asking?

Intentional Misleading: I'd like see you again. I'll call. I didn't agree to that. The speaker knows very well he/she had no intention of following up, but wants to get off the hook.

Lies on the phone: I'm still at school/the office. My meeting ran late, I'm stuck in traffic. It's 10:00 and I said I'd call. Everyone has a cell phone these days. You can be anywhere doing anything with anyone (as long as the other person is quiet) and lie. So your spouse won't know you're having lunch with the ex you told him/her you wouldn't see again. So your parents/boss don't know you're somewhere you're not supposed to be.
If the liar gets away with it, he probably thinks, why not continue? That way he can have his cake and eat it, too.

Lies to your face: I'm not having an affair. I'm not at Susie's. I didn't take money from your wallet. Often accompanied by righteous indignation, as in, "How dare you think such a thing!" Perhaps the liar thought he could correct the situation---stop the affair, put the money back--before you found out, so it's ok. What you don't know won't hurt you.

Lying to yourself: I don't drink much, it's not a problem. My credit card debt isn't that bad. I don't need a doctor/therapy. I'm not a bad parent. Perhaps the saddest lies and the hardest to resolve. If you can lie to yourself, chances are you can lie to the world and no one will know that you need help.

Using lies to take advantage/discredit someone: Your father gave this (family item) to me before he died. It's your word against mine. You didn't tell me that. The burden is on the innocent victim to right the wrong.

Liars want to make things easier for themselves. The fear of getting caught and concern about hurting others must be less than their need to be untruthful. Some may believe the lie protects the recipient from pain. IMO, even if the truth is hard to take, it's better to deal with than the loss of trust and sense of betrayal that accompany lies.

So can a leopard change his spots? If the liar is truly sorry for lying, is that enough to convince you it won't happen again? What/how much proof and/or time would you need to get over a good-sized lie? An article suggesting ways to let go of the pain of broken trust is at Inspired Fitness, here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Decisions, decisions...

A shout out of thanks to faithful readers who approached me at the RWA National Conference in Washington, DC last week to say they enjoyed keeping up with my blog. One, with the enthusiasm of a soap opera fan who anticipates the next juicy episode, pointed out that though I'd offered submission tips gleaned from my recent trip to NY, I've neglected to discuss what I've decided to do about moving there.

Status: up in the air. The editors suggested I should be an agent, because of my background, there's potential for better compensation, agenting is easier to break into and can be done anywhere. They pretty much agreed that despite my knowledge of the industry and my writing/editing and marketing experience, I'd pretty much have to start at the very bottom, literally getting coffee and making copies. The agents pointed out how long it can take for a new agent to make any money because it could be months or a year before you make a sale and then months after that before you get any commission. So, given the state of the economy, for the short term at least I'll stay where I am.

Since then, an editor graciously forwarded a post for a PR assistant. But if I'm going to make the effort to move, I want to start where I want to be, in editorial. And an agent (who I also spoke with in DC) said I could be a reader for her (for the experience. Which would be great, but then I'd have to resign from the RWA board of directors because I'd be involved in the acquisitions process. She also said if I turned one of my medievals into historical fiction, she'd take a look at the partial (first 3 chapters and synopsis). It's something that has been on my 'to do' list for awhile, so I'm looking forward to making the changes now that I already have someone interested.

In the meantime, still waiting to hear on some submissions that have been out there for awhile, and preparing to send those requested in DC. Also trying to be patient during the annual late summer slowdown of both the publishing and acting worlds.

Stay tuned...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Romance Writers of America in DC

Faithful readers might have noticed that I didn't blog last Thursday. That's because I and more than 1900 other authors (from the as yet unpublished to prolific NYT best-sellers such as Nora Roberts and Debbie Macomber), editors and literary agents descended on Washington, DC for Romance Writers of America's® national conference. Attendees could:

--pitch their opuses during 10 minute agent or editor appointments, hoping to get a request for a partial (first three chapters and synopsis) or a full manuscript. The editor I met with laughed out loud several times (as intended, it's a humorous time travel + paranormal) and requested the full (don't get too excited, she always ask for fulls).

--go to any of 8 craft, career, publishing industry, writers life or research workshops offered every hour.

--hear editors discuss what they're looking for and answer questions at publisher spotlights.

--snag free books signed by their favorite authors.

But that's not all. Many invitation only events were held, including publisher parties/dinners for their authors. I particularly enjoyed Harlequin's 60th anniversary party at the Ritz (I got to go as an author friend's "date"), with bars and dessert stations featuring beverages and treats by decade. Some local and online RWA® chapters offered gatherings ranging from The Beau Monde chapter's Soiree offering Regency period music and a dance master to the Kiss of Death chapter's annual Death by Chocolate party and pre-conference FBI academy and CIA tour. Agents and editors met with current and potential clients.

And well-known authors spoke, including Janet Evanovich , who wrote 12 romance novels before switching to mysteries. Her Stephanie Plum series usually tops the NYT best-seller list (her July 18 video interview for The New York Times is here and her July 14 appearance on The Today Show here). Though she has published more than 25 novels, she teared up when telling the story of her first sale, an "it's always darkest before the dawn" tale. As did I, and many others.

What sub-genres are supposedly hot right now? I heard the following: steampunk, urban fantasy, middle grade, "Victorian is the next Regency", paranormal still but not vampires. Not so much: medievals (unless set in Scotland) or humorous women's fiction.

For more about the Conference:

listen to Scott Simon of NPR's story here. He offers his own attempt at writing a romance novel here

or read Monica Hesse of The Washington Post's story here. (though I am a bit piqued by her description of romance writers: "But if you squint and look for a general appearance trend, this is it: They look kind, comforting, domestic, as if they are wearing perfume made from Fleischmann's yeast. " How does one look domestic? And I assure you no one I know would ever wear yeast perfume.)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Do you have enough irons in the fire?

The Gainfully Unemployed and freelancers know the importance of keeping as many irons in the fire as possible. Given the state of the economy, this practice becomes even more important. Incoming leads and projects may taper off as budgets are cut. So we need to have more "outgo." We need to consider provide additional services and step up self-marketing to maintain and increase our contacts, clients and earnings.

I and the actor/freelancer friend I work with are taking this to heart. Here are just some of the things we're doing to get our names out there and grow our businesses.

  • Make sure Web site(s) are current and promote you and your services as best they can.
  • Enhance marketing materials--resumes, demos, stationery, fliers, etc. Now you can send them out again.
  • Use social networking sites to expand your contacts: Facebook, LinkedIn. You never know when a friend of a friend will have a project. But don't overdo! We probably all have at least one person whose statuses we've chosen to hide because they update too many times a day or complete too many quizzes. I suppose I'll have to start Twittering at some point, but there is a limit to how much time one can/should spend online.
  • Add additional agents or agents for additional media, such as print.

Increase outgoing submissions:

  • Frequently troll the Internet for projects.
  • Apply for at least 3 jobs/projects/auditions each work day. These combined with any incoming auditions/opportunities should yield 20+ new irons in the fire every week.
Offer additional services and save on services you need:
We've assessed other things we can do that we haven't been offering or promoting and are defining those services and rates we'll charge.

For example, I'm expanding my freelance writing/editing business (need any documents written or edited, faithful readers?), and already had a new client thanks to an author friend who extolled my talents at a writing workshop. I've gotten quotes/testimonials from other clients but still need to get my marketing materials in order.
  • If you're a computer whiz, can you start designing Web sites? Offer classes/training on how to use a computer or certain programs? What makes your approach unique?
  • If you need a new site or changes to a current one, can you design your own via sites like (my friend can, I'm still trying to figure it out)?
  • Barter with friends to save time and/or money.

Stretch the $ you have: Small savings add up fast. These examples may seem obvious, but I know people who don't take advantage of them:

  • Gas prices in my area currently range from $2.89 to $3.11. That's .22 saved a gallon.
  • Use coupons and buy things on sale. I recently saved $22 on one trip to Jewel.
  • Learn what's cheaper where, and shop those stores when you're in the vicinity.
  • Eat leftovers. Many restaurants serve huge portions, with many more calories/fat grams than we should consume in one sitting . Why overeat or waste food?
What can you do?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Time for the Talk?

By "the talk," I don't mean the one parents have with their kids about the birds and the bees. I mean the talk kids should have with their parents, but often don't because of the difficult, sensitive subject matter. The talk about their parents' finances and assets.

It's hard to choose the right time for this important conversation. Most people don't want to ponder their demise. Some might get defensive, thinking the kids just want to know if they're going to inherit anything. But if you don't have that talk, you, the heirs, will pay the price later. For example, you won't know what sort of funeral they'd prefer, or if they've already purchased a plot or a cremation contract. Myriad other issues need to be covered, such as: Do they have wills, and if so, where are they? What about a power of attorney? Do they have any investments, Social Security payments? Are there medical bills to be paid?

This happened to me and my siblings when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He never brought up the subject, and I just couldn't. How can you ask a dying man undergoing chemo what stuff he has and where it is? Ask for his PIN or the password for his bank account?

We had his will, but hardly any other information, records or files. It's challenging and time consuming enough to close any estate and, say, transfer a 401K to the heirs. While you're dealing with the loss of your parent, condolences and funeral arrangements, you're also supposed to be getting copies of the death certificate and other paperwork in order.

Here are just a few examples of the frustrating problems I faced:

--I didn't know his email password. Despite giving as much info as I could to the provider, I was never able to get in.
--Past due bills started arriving for things we didn't know he owed. Like the insurance policy on his condo.
--I found a key that looked like it might be for a safe deposit box. It took many phone calls to track down the bank and determine that branch didn't exist any more.

Consider having the talk with your parents. Resources for further information:

Death Education
respect my wishes
what now?

Thursday, June 25, 2009


While I like having many irons in the fire, sometimes it's nice to get closure. Whatever we've applied for, whether it's a job or graduate school or health insurance, knowing 'yes' or 'no' allows you to take next steps.

I'm not, however, talking about the closure that comes as a form e-rejection less than an hour after querying an agent. I can't help but think it's just an auto-responder, not from a person who actually read my materials.

When I audition, the only way I know I didn't get the part is if the shoot date passes without word. Few and far between are actual rejections, or "Thanks, but no thanks," e-mails/calls, which would be particularly helpful if the job is out of town. Because not only are you holding open the shoot date, you'll probably need to be available the night before and the morning after to get there and back.

And even rarer is finding out if they at least liked your audition. If I knew I was in the top three, I'd know I was in the ballpark and feel better about not getting the gig. Even learning I was in the bottom three would be informative, because I'd know I'd need to work harder/get help with auditioning with that type of copy, etc.

Sometimes I fear my online queries and auditions vanish into the ether of the Internet. But then, poof, I'll get an email saying I booked a job. On the other hand, the last one I got said the final script would arrive late June. Is it late June yet?

With manuscript submissions, it could take months or years to hear. In May I followed up with an agent who had requested a full manuscript a year ago and asked if she was still interested. She responded that she is, but she's just way behind. Six more weeks have passed without word.

Waiting is stressful because we can't really do much to move the process along. So we're encouraged to let our impatience go, to roll off like water on a duck's back, and move on. Keep writing, keep auditioning, keep sending out that resume. But the hope, the 'what if',' lingers in the back of our minds. Getting "the call" that I'd sold a book or another agent wanted to represent me would mean my years of writing and submitting were paying off. Getting that big on camera job or a new VO client would be great for my career and pocketbook.

So it's hard not to wonder, "Is today the day I'll get great news?" Or at least a little closure.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Editor for a Day! Part 2

Last week I offered suggestions of DOs I gathered from being an editor for a day at a major publisher, here. A couple of lingering thoughts before I move on to the DON'Ts:

7. If you have a Web site that looks professional, enhances your brand and has been updated recently (Hmm. Guess I should go update mine...), include the URL in your correspondence.
a) having a site shows that you understand the importance of self-promotion and building an online presence
b) you never know if the editor will check it out.

8. If you're already published, make sure your query reflects that in the most positive light. The way a couple of already pubbed authors described their experience raised more questions than it answered (I checked with the editor, and she agreed). Consider:
a) mentioning the name of your most successful title
b) including a one sentence review snippet from the best known reviewer you have.
c) though this can be tricky to express concisely, think about letting her know why you are switching houses and/or why you don't have an agent. We agreed we'd request some pages in any case, but having that info up front might have been helpful.

On to the DON'Ts:

1. No pet hair in the pages. Not kidding.
Also, if you smoke, consider printing your submission at a non-smoking facility. I didn't come across any in NY, but I have heard editors/agents say they're sensitive to turning pages and getting a whiff of cigarette smell. I judge a lot of contests, and it's hard for me to concentrate on scented entries.

2. Do not say how much your colleagues at your day job or your friends and family like your story/writing/whatever. Yes, people did this. And yes, it made them look like novices.
On the other hand, if you happen to have a friend who is an NYT best-seller or an author who writes for that house, and she'll give you a quote...that's a different story.

3. Do not say, "this is my first novel." Armed with the knowledge/experience that many first novels don't sell, the editor may think you're not ready. In any case, this isn't info that the editor needs. Save valuable query letter space for factoids that make you look good.

4. Don't address your letter using her first and last names: "Dear Susie Editor." Several people did this. To me this came across as a mail merge form and not a customized letter. Follow the business format and use "Dear Ms. Editor." If you've met her, "Dear Susie" is fine.

5. Don't make your heroine's current boyfriend or husband too, too horrible/evil/unpleasant. When a novel starts with the heroine being married or having a boyfriend, chances are he's going to hit the road in favor of the hero (yeah, he may BE the hero, but I think you know what I mean) or be excised to show the heroine's personal growth. Though most readers have this expectation, you need to maintain tension and make them think the current guy might work out. If he's so awful or their relationship is so bad up front, we might think the heroine is TSTL (too stupid to live) because she's with this complete loser. We might not connect with her and stop reading.

6. This is my favorite DON'T: ABSOLUTELY 100% do not say, "I have a better book I didn't pitch/submit." I couldn't believe when I read that. The editor will think, "Then why am I wasting my time with this one?"
You need to pitch/submit your best work. If it's not ready to send out, why risk ruining your chance to impress her?
Yes, you may be in an appointment where the editor will say something like, "I don't acquire aliens with red hair who have secret cowboy babies," and your red-headed alien secret cowboy baby book is your favorite. But if your other projects aren't ready for prime time, it's better to say, "I'll contact you when I have something you might like."

Hope these tips help the next time you submit...any questions?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Editor for a Day! Part 1

While in New York last week, I had an amazing, eye-opening opportunity: I got to be an editor for a day and read submissions sent to an editor at a major publisher.

She showed me to the spare office housing her submission pile, consisting of unsolicited query letters and manuscript requests she made at conferences (agented submissions were elsewhere). She told me sort them into 3 stacks: YES (she should read them), NO (IMO not ready or not something she'd acquire) and MAYBE (something there but not enough for a YES).

She'd told me she was way behind in responding (as many editors and agents are, because they have so many other things to do), so I'd expected a Rumplestiltskinian mountain of envelopes. I found a fairly large pile, but not overwhelming.

I made my way through nearly 50 submissions, running the gamut from historical to paranormal to YA to women's fiction (almost all of her requests were partials-synopsis and first three chapters, not full manuscripts).

I'll divide my gleanings into two posts: DOs and DON'Ts. While the DOs won't guarantee a sale or even a request for the full, and the DON'Ts won't guarantee a rejection, these are things authors can control or work on in order to present themselves in the best possible light. I hope these suggestions help aspiring authors hone their submission packages.

So here are the DOs:

1. Use the cover letter to your advantage:
  • remind her how you met
  • include a short blurb about your book
  • single space

By the time she opens your submission (some I opened were from 2007), she probably won't remember your conversation based on your name alone. I was surprised by how many letters just said something like, "Here is the submission you requested, thanks for your time." These left me feeling unprepared to read the pages. I wanted to know the usual query letter stuff: genre, word count, a few sentences showing you know your hook and/or goal, motivation and conflict, and a bit about the author's experience.

And don't forget to date your letter!! Submissions may get separated from their envelopes or the postmark can be blurred, and if you don't mention where you met or include the date, she has no way to place your submission. Queries are single spaced, not double.

2. Design some sort of basic, professional letterhead. In today's market, author self-promotion plays a very important role. So show an editor on first contact that you know how to market yourself. Letters where the author's name and address were left justified and in the same type face as the body lacked personality and told me nothing about the author or that she knew her brand. I'm not suggesting anything over the top or busy enough to be and address centered with a different font (not a crazy one!!) in a tasteful color was enough to let me know this author could set herself apart in an interesting way. If you're submitting, you should have a business card. So consider incorporating an element from that.

One letter was a photocopy of the author's stationery...I didn't like that.

3. Use the least amount of packaging possible. Those sealed with too much of that plastic-y packing tape were very frustrating to open. And took too much time. Also, I learned that envelopes are easier, even for fulls. Boxes are cumbersome.

In the pages themselves,

4. Make sure you reveal information in a way the reader can understand and that you tell the reader what she needs to know when she needs to know it. I got the sense that some authors were purposely holding back information I wanted to know, maybe thinking I'd be more curious and interested.
Nope. I was frustrated and annoyed.

5. Maintain the reader's interest/excitement/stakes that you establish with your opening hook. I see this a lot in judging contests, too. The first few paragraphs are great and draw me right in. I can't wait to see what happens or what is said next. Then it's as if the rug is pulled out from under me. All the tension, the pace is lost because either the thing you thought was suspenseful really isn't--like you think the hero is in the midst of a medieval battle or a contemporary crime or being chased by an unseen nemesis, but you find out he's just training/on a simulation. Or you think the heroine has a huge decision to make--and it's only what to wear on a date.

6. Make sure something happens in your opening scenes. I didn't see a lot of backstory overload, which I expected, but I did see long scenes where nothing really happens. The characters just stand or sit around and chat. Yes, one use of dialogue is to reveal character, and no, not every book has the pace of a romantic suspense, but I found myself getting very impatient and wanted to skip ahead when nothing was happening at all to move the story forward.
There's can also be too much play by play, which isn't story action, but just your heroine going through her day step by step by step by step by get the picture.

Next week---the DON'Ts.