Friday, December 31, 2010

The Gift of Time

In 2011, I'm going to guard and protect my time as if it were a living being in need of my ninja skills. #learntosayNO

The other day, I declared the above goal on Twitter.  I hope I can succeed.  Of all of my personal goals for the New Year, this is the one that matters most.

Time.  It is far more fragile and precious than we treat it. 

I challenge you all to think about time this year. How you use it.  Why you waste it.  If you squeeze every last drop out of it.  If you wish it away. 

I promise you, if you do the latter, you’ll ultimately wish you had it back.

Respect your time.  Make other people respect your time.  Demand that.  Do it for yourself.  Do it for your family.  Do it for your sanity. 

I am now declaring publicly that I will protect my time as if my life depended on it.  While I’d love to read all your scripts and manuscripts, write projects for you and with you, promote your work, read every blog post, watch every short film, and spend hours helping all of you, I simply can’t. 

In 2010, I accomplished more than I ever could have dreamed.  I squeezed every second out of a day… and then some.  But in doing so, I reached a breaking point that threatened to push me over the edge of sanity.  I gave too much of myself without nurturing myself in return.  I can’t do that for another year.  It will kill me.  Most importantly, I missed far too many moments with my teenage children, who are growing faster than I care to admit. 

Will I continue to be your Twitter Pimp Angel?  HELL, YES!   But I will now ask myself each time a request comes my way, “If I say yes, will I resent it later… will it distract too much from my own goals… will it take too much time away from my family?”  I urge you to ask yourself those same questions when your time is on the line. 

I have no doubt I am at an impasse in my career.  I am right there.  So close I can taste it.  I need to grab that brass ring, and to do that, I need time to continue to prepare myself, and my writing, for when the ring flies by on the carousel of this insane ride.  I need to be ready for the opportunity. 

I need time to do that.  I deserve to give myself that gift.  My children deserve it.

Are you using your time to its fullest?  More importantly, are you really nurturing yourself enough?  How do you juggle family and career?  Do you feel balanced?

I’d love to know how you all manage your time.  I could definitely use some advice. 

I wish for you a glorious year of love, success, happiness… and the time to enjoy it. 

Happy New Year! 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

From Country Girl to Film Courage: The Power of Community

Last week, I had the honor of participating in a fun Christmas campaign by David Branin and Karen Worden of Film Courage.  They gave the gift of allowing their audience to choose the radio guest for December 26th.  This past Sunday, they announced I had won the spot!  I’m beyond thrilled to represent not only the Scriptchat treefort, but also all the members of our incredible community of screenwriters. 

The fun-spirited “competition” between myself and the other nominees didn’t lead to fist fights, slander, or smack talk, it lead to a widening of an already incredible community.  It was truly a Christmas miracle. 

I’d like to formally tip my pimp fedora to Andrea Shreeman and Oklahoma Ward, both who put up a fierce fight to the end.  Because of their efforts and support, David and Karen have promised them slots to guest in 2011.  I can’t wait to help promote their appearances and their projects.

Another huge shout out to Hal Croasmun, president of ScreenwritingU, for rallying all the Pro Series alumni to cast their votes, as well as Jane Friedman and JT Ellison, who did the final weekend push of support.  Of course, the enormous rock-the-treehouse effort was led by my fellow treefort members, Kim Garland, Jamie Livingston, Zac Sanford and Mina Zaher.  I would be lost without all of you!

To all who voted, pimped me out on Twitter and Facebook, and watched the Scriptchat feed light on fire, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Imagine little old country girl me, on the LA Talk Radio station, all because of an astounding community of writers uniting!  I’m blown away, and so grateful to have all of your support and encouragement.

Please listen in on Sunday, December 26th at Noon PST.   You can go to the Film Courage page and click on my face, or go to and click on the Film Courage icon.  If you miss the show, you’ll be able to listen to an archived version.

I should warn you, I sound like I’m 12.  J

Happy Holidays!   You guys rock!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Choices We Make

What makes us who we are?  Why do we make the choices we do?  Those are questions I ask of my characters and also of myself.

This month, I made choices that were slightly insane, to say the least.  In November, both my mother and my husband had scheduled surgeries, I got a new freelance gig, had 13 houseguests for Thanksgiving, and I still went through with my promise to myself to participate in my first NaNoWriMo, a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

The most common question people asked me this month was where I got my drive. 

The answer was, surprisingly, not tequila.  It was, “Mom”.  

As a little girl, I'd watch her beauty as she switched from being a gourmet chef to a construction worker, doing both effortlessly.  This woman could run laps around Gloria Steinem.  No Barbies for me.  She thought they were sexist.  Okay, so I didn’t like everything about my mother.  But she was, and still is, a one-woman dynamo. 

I wanted to be her when I grew up.

When she was pregnant with me, we moved from Connecticut to the Chicago suburbs.  As a country girl, the idea of living in a city was Mom's worst nightmare.  Neighbors everywhere, and real friends nowhere.  They stared from behind their curtains at her as she defied the logic of most housewives, digging in the dirt, actually playing with her children, and quitting smoking. 

One spring day in 1964, the neighborhood Stepford Husbands pulled out their sprinklers.  My mom watched in amazement as they carefully synchronized the swish of the flow, all to avoid wetting the sidewalk.  That night, my father informed her she needed to get a sprinkler so we'd be "in sync" in our new neighborhood. 

Her response, "Yes, Dear." 

The next day, my dad returned from work, driving down the street, witnessing the left, right, left, right, left, right water dance, anxious to see his own yard in unison.  As he pulled up, there before him was a loud, circular sprinkler – swoosh, swoosh, swoosh – watering not only our yard, but also the entire sidewalk.  Neighbors peeked through the curtains in disgust.  My mother opened her curtains wide, smiling. 

With one purchase, she made her statement.  We didn’t last the year.

After Illinois, we moved to the country in Upstate, NY.  Mom was in heaven.  We bought a run down 200-yr-old house on 150 acres.  No sprinklers and not a neighbor in site.  She didn’t even put up curtains. 

We let dandelions grow freely.  Mom celebrated the yellow, multiplying flowers and had the four of us barefoot with buckets picking dandelions for her to make dandelion wine.  When she wasn’t making wine, sewing dresses or having weekly barbeques, she was wielding tools and fixing the old house. 

My childhood home was always full of construction workers.  There was one in particular I remember – Jules, the excavator.  Maybe it was because he reeked of dirt and drove a really cool bulldozer, or perhaps it was because he dug the hole that spewed water, creating a mud puddle that would later be our pond.  But most likely, it was because he came in every day and had an Irish coffee.   I marveled at the smell of the whiskey on his breath and how his face glowed a rosy color. His laugh was infectious.  I was all of five, but he left a lasting impression. 

With piles of dirt covering our yard, Jules took ill and needed a few days off.  My mother watched the empty bulldozer from her kitchen window, tapping her foot, anxious to see it moving again.  I remember the heat of that summer day.  My mom was in a bikini – I will say, she was nearing 40 with a smokin’ hot body.  Perhaps that’s why the contractors loved working for her.

Itching to see progress of any kind, she jumped up on the roof of the porch and ripped down boards in between swatting flies.  Every once in a while, she’d look over at that still bulldozer taunting her from the distance. 

I noticed a look in her eyes as she glared the beast down, like they were having a telepathic conversation of double-dog dare.  A little gleam came to her face.  She jumped off the porch roof and marched over to the dinosaur. 

My petite mother, 5 foot 2, 100 pounds soaking wet, with rock hard abs (not something in vogue in 1968) stood next to the intimidating yellow monster and grabbed hold, pulling herself into the seat.  I was in awe. 

She turned the key.  Vroom.  I think she was more shocked than I when she pulled the lever and the monster moved.  It didn’t take her long before she was a pro. 

What I remember most is the look of satisfaction she sported at the end of that day.  She had conquered the machine and moved mountains of soil, despite being… a woman.   And a woman she was, with a unique combination of grace, beauty, charm and strength.  She set the bar high for me. 

For the next five days, she owned that sucker. 

When Jules came back and saw what she accomplished, he stood speechless for at least five minutes.  I held my breath and waited for him to scream at her for touching his baby.   But, he didn’t.  He slowly smiled and admired her work.  The yard looked fabulous. 

Finally, Jules mumbled, “You wanna come work for me?”  When she got done laughing, albeit with great pride, she politely turned him down… all while pouring him a double shot of whiskey in his coffee.   

I knew right then I wanted to be her when I grew up. 

Who influenced you and the choices you make?  Was it a teacher, a friend, a parent, or a complete stranger?  Think back and honor that person in the comments below. 

If you’re a writer, consider who had the most impact on your characters.  It might spark some fresh ideas. 

By the way, when I finished my NaNoWriMo challenge in 19 days, I had the same expression on my face as my mother.  NaNo wasn’t a bulldozer, but I moved a mountain of words.   It felt fantastic.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Succeed by Giving

#PIMPtipoftheday: When you network, ask what you can do for THEM, not what they can do for you.

That was today’s tip.  I sent it out and wondered what the reaction would be. 

Networking:  the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business

Do you see the word “selfish” in the definition?  I didn’t think so. 

I witness so many people on Twitter “network” by solely promoting themselves or asking,  “What can you do for ME?” 

Maybe they don’t directly come out and ask that question, but the subtext in their actions screams it.  When my DM stream gets clogged up with “gimme, gimme, gimme”, I shake my head in disbelief. 

Pondering this selfishness made me take a look back at my own networking strategy.  Where had I achieved the most success?  Why had those connections succeeded and not others?  The answer didn’t surprise me. 

I helped them first.  Proactively.  Happily.  Without obligation or expectation.  Just reached out and helped simply because I could.  Period. 

Through an intertwining series of networking opportunities, I landed a gig teaching a screenwriting webinar for Writer’s Digest.  That class was yesterday.   I learned from teaching.  The participants learned from listening.  But we all connected on a selfless level. 

My email inbox was pinging like mad after the class with exclamations of gratitude and declarations of a break in their writer’s block.  You can’t imagine how great that felt. 

Teaching is just another way of helping people, bringing them joy, and giving them skills they need to succeed.  I hope to do it often.

So, as your Twitter Pimp Angel turned teacher, here’s your homework assignment:

Do something selfless for someone in the next week.  Don’t expect a thing in return.  Just reach out and help.  I double-dog dare you not to enjoy the rewards.

Does this mean you can never ask for help?  Absolutely not.  It just means you need to give back too.  Don’t be a Hoover, sucking all the energy out of your relationships.  Nurture them and give something first. 

You really do get back what you give. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pimps and Power Point, Together at Last

That’s right, I’m teaching.

Writer’s Digest has provided me with an incredible opportunity to share my screenwriting knowledge with their community of writers. 

On October 14th at 1pm, I’ll be teaching a live webinar, entitled, How to Write a Marketable Screenplay: Learn how to structure your script the Hollywood way. 

All the details of the webinar can be found on the Writer’s Digest site HERE

If you’ve always been curious about screenwriting, please join the class, and I’ll provide you with as much knowledge as I can fit in 75 minutes. 

You’ll even have the opportunity to send me the first three pages of your script for a quick critique.  I’ll try not to make you cry. 

And, if you’re good in class, I may even pass out cookies.  

Monday, September 13, 2010

Editing is Murder... and other tips

My writing partner and I recently cut 25 pages of SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME in order to meet contest requirements.  Daunting, to say the least.  But in the process, I learned I love editing.  I’ve always said, “Love is in the details”. 

I love writing, even the gritty nasty parts.

As I tweeted out my progress, writers started sharing their own tips.  Whenever I learn from others, I aim to spread the love.

Carrie Bailey of Peevish Penman graciously offered me the perfect venue for 
Editing is Murder, my latest in a recent string of editing and rewrite pieces. 

The previous two were for Tyler Weaver’s Multi-Hyphenate on what I learned at Stony Brook Southampton Screenwriters Conference, specifically, rewrites and handling feedback:

If you’re looking for other writing tips, you can find great information on Peevish Penman as well as the Scriptchat blog.

Don’t dread editing.  Embrace it.  You can't be a true writer without the courage to kill your own words.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Scriptchat has arrived!

What started as a little Twitter screenwriting chat on Sunday evenings has turned into an internet phenomenon.... okay, maybe just a big screenwriter party of learning.

Script Magazine mentions #scriptchat in the November/December 2010 issue!

Thanks to Joshua Stecker, West Coast Editor and wonderful supporter of scriptchat, we appear on the page alongside other recommended websites for screenwriters.  We even share the page with John August!

The smiley stickers are plastered all over the scriptchat #treefort!

Long live the generous screenwriting community, our treefort team... and tequila!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

lessons come with a sting

I have been bitchslapped by Sundance. I only have one thing to say to Robert Redford:

“Thank you, Sir, may I have another?”

If you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably familiar with my journey to get our script, SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME, into the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. Yeah, it was our dream. A big one.

Am I upset they passed?

Did I cry?
You betcha.

Did I get angry?
Just ask my heavy bag in the basement.

Do I feel defeated?
Not on your life.

I. Am. Grateful.

I’m grateful in part because it’s with rejection and failure we learn the most.

Just ask yourself if you learned anything when things came easy to you. I bet the answer is no.

I know I haven’t. It’s only those journeys full of pain and obstacles where real growth has happened for me.

In short, this script was my black belt in writing. Hands down. It kicked my ass every single day. But, I took the beating and kept coming back for more.

On February 1, 2010, my writing partner, Doug, and I started with a 31-page outline, and 11 weeks later, we had our submission off to Sundance. In between that time, I wrote 12-hr days, never took a single day off, went to NYC to meet with Doug and Bill Pace, our fabulous script consultant, and barely saw my family.

I cried many tears while writing.  It wasn't because I was tired or thought for even a minute I wasn't capable of doing it.  I knew we'd kick this out of the park.  I cried because of the enormous weight we felt to “get it right” for the African-American community. We didn't take that responsibility lightly. Sundance accepting us wasn’t about an advance of our careers, it was about the advancement of this incredible story… and the truth being told. Note: I didn’t cry after the rejection because of my loss, I cried for the loss of an opportunity to share the truth.

I tweeted in panic one day after realizing that in the midst of getting the draft done, Sundance also wanted a 2-page synopsis. That moment nearly pushed me over the edge. Then, Jacqueline Lichtenberg wrote a post for me with synopsis advice. You have no idea what that meant. It wasn’t just her great advice; she was the hand reaching out as I felt the undercurrent pull me down. Her generosity saved my life that day. I will be eternally grateful to her.

Even after we submitted, we sought more feedback. I spent hours on the phone with Nevada Grey for consultations, Bill Pace sent added notes to work on, and we sent the script to trusted screenwriters to read and rip apart.  We continued to rewrite draft after draft, in hopes to knock Sundance off their feet when they requested the full read. It would be a total of six months before I took my first day off.

In short, we kept raising the bar for ourselves.

But they passed. Passed without that full read. Ouch.

Was it that Sundance thought the Pulitzer win and PBS documentary would already give us a leg up over other, newer writers? Perhaps they didn’t feel we really needed them, or the budget would be too big for an indie venture. Or maybe I’m just rationalizing and they simply weren’t interested. In the end, it doesn’t matter.

The bitchslap stung like hell.

Once I numbed the pain with tequila last night, I realized I learned an enormous amount from the process. Maybe that was my win.

*I learned I’m capable of so much more than I ever realized.
*I can write like a fiend under pressure.
*I absolutely LOVE feedback and editing.
*As much as I loathed writing that synopsis, I will now make it a regular part of my story preparation process (1. Outline, 2. Synopsis, 3. First draft).
*I have an entirely different outlook on writing partnerships.
*I will ALWAYS get professional feedback.
*I am blessed to have Doug’s trust and faith. In truth, I still pinch myself that I am writing with a Pulitzer winner as a partner. He is both generous and humble.
*I am a damned good writer.
*My family believes in me.
*There isn’t enough room in a partnership for both an ego and a successful project. The project always comes first.
*Patience. Patience. Patience.
*Stony Brook Southampton Screenwriters Conference kicks ass.
*You can be a determined and great businessperson, but without writing talent, an ability to take honest feedback (even when it’s ugly), and a great support system behind you, it doesn’t mean squat.  Everyone talks about having to have a business mind to succeed.  Yes, you do, but first and foremost you need to know the craft and write well.  Even the best businessperson can't sell a poorly-written script.
*Polish, polish, polish.  Do the hard work.  

The Sundance experience also taught me who my real friends are. While most were supportive, some who have known me for years weren't.  That saddened me, but I had to learn  to not let anyone piss on my flame.  I had to keep moving forward.  I grieved and moved on.  I took delight in my Facebook friends and Twitter writers cheering me on and following our #slaverybyanothername hashtag with curiosity and support. You were there for me, not expecting anything in return other than the joy of riding the wave and learning alongside me. You didn’t try to distract me.  You fought to keep me focused.  You wanted me to succeed.  I wanted to succeed for you.  You raised the bar for my standards of real-life friendships. I am deeply grateful for all of you and the lessons you have taught me.

But, one of the best things that came out of the experience was a voicemail from my mother. Our characters and story moved her to tears. That trumps Redford’s seal of approval any day. My mother has never read any of my scripts before… and she rarely cries. She’s the toughest bird in town.

I take Sundance’s bitchslap with pleasure. No regrets. No “what ifs”. We tried. We put our baby out there. I’m damn proud of our script and of us.

However, I will be drinking tequila yet another night to continue the writer’s anesthetic. I’ll also be making voodoo dolls of the 12 winners. I am Sicilian after all. Just sayin’.

What have you learned from the setbacks in your life? Those goals you thought mattered so much… did they really matter in the end?

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Graveyard Writing Shift

Living in rural New York, I often drive the countryside for writing inspiration.   This particular day, I needed to find a way to kill one of my characters.   I wanted something unique for her death.

Suddenly, my car’s ball joint snapped and twisted the front wheel perpendicular to the car.  The car screeched to a halt, opposite a graveyard.   How fitting.   Could my character die in a car wreck?  No way.  Too cliché.

As I waited for the tow truck, a flurry of tornado-warning emails filled my cell.  I’m not an alarmist, so I ignored them, until the winds swirled faster and faster.  I was a sitting duck.  I glanced over at the graveyard wondering if God was trying to kill me… or just send me a message.

Should this tornado come, there was no way I’d survive in the car or fully exposed outside.  Why didn’t I watch that survivor episode on The Discovery Channel? 

Think. Think. Think.  How could I find safety in the middle of nowhere?  The graveyard.  I grabbed a rope from my car and ran across, planning to tie myself to a gravestone.  Yes, you read that right.   I may be calm under pressure, but I didn’t say I was smart. 

Whose stone would I choose: a man’s, a woman’s, or a child’s?  Who would I want to die with? 

As my hair spun in the wind, I pulled it from my eyes to read the names and dates on the stones.  My imagination ran wild.  I became swept into the stories buried with these people.  Maybe he died in a shoot out.  Perhaps she died in childbirth or at the hands of a jealous lover.  Stories were popping in my head.  My body was in peril, but the writer inside me was on fire. 

Like a lunatic, I lurked gravestones while the threat of the tornado was still buzzing in my pocket.  Is this how Geraldo felt revealing King Tuts tomb?  Maybe someone would find my dead body the next day. 

There should be a warning label on notepads: “Writing can be deadly.” 

The winds whipped, literally smashing me into gravestones as I searched for the one I’d connect to, both emotionally and physically.   Then, I discovered the old section of the graveyard.  The stones were riddled with details.  Such art.  

As I admired the carvings on the delicate stone, a tree branch snapped and flew past, almost crashing into me.    I glanced toward my car to see the large SUV rocking in the heavy winds.  Time to stop admiring and start graveyard bondage.

While the old stones were more to my artistic taste, I couldn’t tie myself to a wuss headstone.  I needed a big, gaudy monument.  I ran toward the largest one I could find, the wind forcing me into a zig-zag path.  

Just as I found the perfect dead person to join in all eternity, the tow truck pulled alongside my car.   I raced to my hero of wreckage.  

As my mechanic secured the car on the flatbed, I snatched my notepad and frantically wrote, “Idea: girl passes up delicate gravestone for a sturdier, safer and massive monument.  Ties herself down.  Winds howl.  Suddenly, the delicate gravestone is yanked from the ground.  She smiles, happy not to have chosen it… until it heads her way, smashes into her, and kills her.” 

Now that is what I call a unique death.  

I’ve decided to make graveyards a part of my writing inspiration routine.  Next time, however, I’ll choose a lovely sunny day, admire the beautiful ornate stones and see what other stories rise from the dead.

A graveyard can be the perfect resurrection for creativity.

*originally published in Making Me Magazine

Memories of the Crandell Theatre

Palms sweating and heart pounding, I entered the Crandell Theatre.  I prayed garbage cans were within reach, as I was positive I’d be sick from fear.  I was 11 and on my very first date. 

The Crandell Theatre was built in 1926, as a vaudeville house in a little Upstate, New York country town.  Much of my childhood was spent sitting in the balcony watching the red velvet curtain part, to reveal the Marx Brothers, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Jaws, amongst others.  For years, the price of a film was $1.50 until it slowly rose to $5.00.  The best bargain in town.

What better place for a first date? 

Young Frankenstein, 1974.  Yes, I’m revealing my age with that admission, but the thrill of seeing the film alongside my boy crush was indescribable. 

That night, as I sat frozen in my chair with “him” mere inches away, I never noticed the beautiful architecture of the building.  The old lanterns, Spanish-arched designs, stucco walls, 26-foot wide stage and orchestra pit. Little did I know, there were still dressing rooms in the back from the vaudeville days.  Perhaps my date knew, but luckily, we were only 11 and not 18. 

Did he hold my hand?  I don’t remember, but I do remember the sexual innuendo between Gene Wilder and the gorgeous Teri Garr horrified me.  I was definitely too young to date… and too young for that film. 

This was to be my first of many dates at the Crandell.  Three years later, I went back with the same boy to see Star Wars.  This time it was Princess Leia flirting with Han Solo.  If only I were that graceful and experienced.  Even though I was older, not even a Jedi mind trick could calm my nerves.  I was convinced I was in love… though perhaps it was Luke Skywalker I loved, not my date.

The years past and my taste in movies and boys did too.   I saw everything from The Breakfast Club to the horror flick, Friday the 13th.  For that, I do remember being clutched to a boy’s arm.  Horror films were the perfect rouse for boys to hold my hand.  I fell for it, hook, line and sinker.

The thrill of the Crandell wasn’t just in the charm of the architecture, it was the family who ran it.  I’d come to the counter to buy my R-rated film ticket, terrified the owner would turn me away for being under 17.   He would give a stern look, ask if my parents gave permission, I’d nod, then he’d smile and hand me my ticket.  No one dared lie to him, because he indeed knew all our parents.  Small town living. 

Time went on, but it never seemed to change the Crandell.  It was the town anchor of amusement and beauty.  Ten years ago, our community formed The Chatham Film Club, a lovely group of film fanatics who birthed the film festival, Film Columbia.  Our Crandell Theatre was the star.  I would buy a pass and sit in my chair, this time with my husband holding my hand.  We’d watch foreign films and a variety of independent features.  The seats were packed, and we lived on popcorn and Hot Tamales for four days.  By this time, the theatre had passed hands to the next generation, and every day of the festival, the owner and his wife were present.  Him smiling and greeting the locals, and her at the concession stand passing out Milk Duds. 

Sadly, the owner, Tony Quirino, unexpectedly passed, and the theatre closed.  The Film Club is raising money in hopes of purchasing it to preserve its beauty and charm for future generations, just as the Quirino family did. 

A part of our town’s charm passed away with Tony that sad day, as the lights went out on the marquise.  While we all miss him, we are grateful for the years of joy he and his family brought our lives and the memories forever embedded in our souls. 

The Crandell was more than a movie house; it was a treasure of celluloid, first loves, hand-holding memories and a magical red velvet curtain. 

*originally published in Making Me Magazine
*update: The Chatham Film Club now owns of the Crandell Theatre. Full story HERE

*NEW URGENT UPDATE* Our theatre desperately needs a new roof.  

Please help the Crandell Theatre win $25,000 in a community challenge.
Just click on this link and vote for the Crandell in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "This Place Matters" contest.  It doesn't cost anything and you can opt out of receiving any further emails from them.  Please do this now.  You must vote BEFORE SEPTEMBER 15th.
You can only vote once, but please take a few moments to pass this message along to your friends, neighbors, family and co-workers.  The Crandell needs your support and a new roof before winter!
Thank you so much for your time.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Writing as a Martial Art

“This is a last-laugh business: If you can survive as people are kicking you in the head, eventually their leg will get tired, and they’ll want to start kicking someone else.  If you’re still there, and can pull yourself up to your feet, you get the last laugh.”   
Billy Ray, professional screenwriter

When I heard the above quote, while watching TALES FROM THE SCRIPT, I realized how similar writing is to martial arts. 

Persistence, determination and belief in oneself are needed to finish any script or novel.   Coincidentally, those qualities are also found in a martial artist. 

Let’s compare the journeys:

1. Training:
MA: We train by repeating blocks, kicks and punches over and over until sweat drips from our bodies.  
Writer: The first draft is never good enough, so we write it over and over, until our brain and fingers throb.

2. Fighting under pressure:
MA: Once you’ve trained hard enough, the moves become “muscle memory”.  When under the pressure of fighting, we need our moves to occur without thought.  
Writer: When you’re under a deadline, you need your words to flow effortlessly.  That won’t happen if you spend your days procrastinating and not putting words down on paper (side note: the program Write or Die is fantastic at honing your writing-under-pressure skills).

3. Being tested by your Master
MA: The test day for your next belt arrives.  If you’ve practiced, your Master will know it and reward you.  But if you haven’t, he can see it with one look into your eyes.   There’s no way to fake being ready.
Writer: Every time you send out your work, you’re being tested.  Are you prepared? Did you do as many drafts necessary to make it your best?  Will your work be viewed as amateur or professional?  Do you have the stamina to wait for, and then deal with, the feedback?  It’s a test.  It’s always a test.  

4. Number one rule of fighting is to avoid a fight at all cost
MA: Never, ever fight if you don’t have to.  Only fight if it’s absolutely necessary, and even then, just inflict enough injury to your opponent to give yourself time to get away.  Instead of looking for a fight, be aware of your surroundings. 
Writer: Every new producer, agent or editor who reads your work is a new fight.   But, you can avoid the fight simply by being patient and make your work shine before you ever send it out.   If you send it too early, be ready to defend your work and choices.  Believe me, the blow from a premature submission can be just as bad as one dealt you by a black belt.

5. Humility:
MA: being humble in and out of the dojo is a must.  Simply put, its what earns you respect from your peers.  A Master or comrade might kick the crap out of you in the ring, but at the end of the fight, he’ll always shake your hand and bow.   It’s an honor to be in the ring with a warrior.  Take your lickings and learn from them. It’ll make you better, in and out of the ring.
Writer:  No one wants to hear a writer say how great her work is.  The work should speak for itself.  When you sit across the table from a producer or agent who has just ripped your work to shreds, be gracious and reach across the divide, shake their hand and thank them for their time and thoughts.   It is an honor to have gotten the chance to be in the ring with a professional.  Their criticism isn’t a personal attack; it’s a gift of perspective.  Feedback is THE most valuable asset a writer has.  Don’t run from it; embrace it. 

The seven years I trained before becoming a black belt, my master always said, “It is the journey that matters, not the belt color.”  As writers, we’re so focused on becoming published or getting produced that we forget to enjoy the journey.  Every piece of work we put to paper is a chance to learn, grow and challenge ourselves, not just the ones that reach celluloid or book shelves.  Appreciate those early, horrible pieces of writing that will never see the light of day… and thank the heavens they won’t!  They taught you.  You cut your teeth on them. 

Above all, don’t give up.  As writers, we need to be prepared to pull our half-broken and bleeding bodies off the floor and have the last laugh.  I know I intent to.

What have you learned from your other passions in life that have brought your writing to a different level? 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

what if...

After posting Kicking Fear’s Ass, many people have approached me, fascinated I gave up fear for Lent.  They want answers.  How can I be fearless too?  Are you ever terrified?  What do you do when you can’t imagine facing your fear? 

I may have faced fear head on, but I still have moments of terror.  Everyone does.  We’re afraid for our children’s safety and health.  We’re afraid we won’t get a job or do well at the job we have.  We’re afraid we can’t pay our mortgage.  We’re afraid world peace will never come.  We’re afraid of growing old.  You name it, we’re afraid of it. 

At this point in my life, there’s only one fear that drives me: I'm afraid I'll arrive at my deathbed and utter the words, “What if…?”  What if I had worked harder?  What if I had pitched that script to one more producer?  What if I had taken that writing bootcamp?  What if I had spent more time with my kids?  What if I admitted I wanted to change my life years ago?  What if…?  

Missing out on living my life to the fullest scares me far more than failure or rejection. 

“What if?”  We all need to be reminded of what the greatest dangers truly are in life... not living it. 

What are you afraid of?  What will you do to face that fear?  

*this post is dedicated to Alie Flierl @2degreesofalie

Saturday, May 8, 2010

a disease diagnosed... an author born

November 22, 2008 is the day my life changed forever. Only months ago, I was an innocent 10-year-old running around carefree.  Then Crohn’s disease forced me to become a prisoner in my house.  I wouldn’t dare try to walk in fear that my stomach would explode. Lying down on the couch, watching old reruns of “Full House,” I dreamed of a book with a child’s perspective of Crohn’s with the hope of finding a cure.  Google was the only option to search for my dream book, but all I found were medical versions only adults could understand.

As time progressed, and tons of medicine ingested, my life began to return to normal… almost. Even though I was feeling better, I always felt a pang of guilt, running around playing soccer when I knew other children were still very sick.  

Flashbacks of my dream of a children’s Crohn’s book pushed me to think if nobody else had the “guts” to write one, why couldn’t I?? For two months my fingers were sore from typing my special story about a girl who has Crohn’s disease, and through her determination, she finds a cure. Madison popcorn, snickers, and cashews were finally reunited!!

I believe, children with this serious illness will finally have something to look up to and something uplifting to read while they are feeling down.  Being 12 doesn’t mean that I can’t follow my dream.

~Grace Wilgucki

Our brave niece, Grace, is participating in the 2010 Take Steps for Crohn’s and Colitis Walkathon.  Please CLICK HERE to help her reach her $500 goal and help the effort in finding a cure.

If any children’s book publishers or agents are lurking out there, please contact me if you’d like to read Grace’s wonderful book.  Email:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Love the Invisible

How often do you reach out to another human?

On Good Friday, I was at Penn Station.  A homeless man politely approached me and asked for money.  His pitch was eloquent, heartfelt, and with wonderful eye contact.  I was marveled by his intelligence. 

Liquor seeped from his breath, and a cane supported his frail body, but I couldn’t help but wonder what his story was.  If he were a character in my script or novel, what would I learn from him?  What would his arc be?  But this man wasn’t fiction.  He was real, and he indeed needed help. 

Instead of handing him a ten dollar bill that would have most certainly been spent on more moonshine, I offered, "Let me buy you lunch."  I wanted to take him into the restaurant so he could choose what most appealed to him, but he explained the homeless weren't allowed.  

As I stood on line waiting for food, I glanced back at him, propped against the wall.  People were passing by, as if he didn’t exist.  He was invisible.  Totally invisible.  My heart broke. 

With a bag of warm nourishment, I returned and held out his hot lunch.  As he reached for it, I looked him in the eyes and said, "I love you."  He was astonished.  A tear rolled down his cheek, "I don't remember the last time someone said that to me.”  I simply repeated, “I love you.”  A sweet smile rose across his parched lips as he declared, “I love you too."  

I smiled and walked away, never to see him again.  But for that one day, that one moment, I hope he felt loved.  Those three words were more nourishing to him than any amount of food. 

Try spreading love and see what joy comes back to you.  

Friday, February 26, 2010

Write or Die

Today, I officially became a freelance writer, and I owe it to insanity.  
I was too insane to quit.

I was a hustler by day.  Sales.  Straight commission.  Even though I enjoyed my job, the economy was not conducive to selling anything.   While I wasn't making enough money, I was still afraid to leave the job for the unpredictable world of freelance.  I also recognized I’d never make it as a writer until I knew more about the industry.

So there I was, working the day job and writing whenever I could squeeze in some time.  Sometimes, the lines blurred.  Last spring, I was at a convention answering questions from potential customers as they passed by our booth.  I gazed at them as they strolled by, wondering who they were, what their wounds were, what kind of character they’d make in a story.  My mind was on anything but my “job.” 

Then, the “ah-ha” moment hit.

A woman approached, picked up our brochure and asked about our company.  I jumped into my sales pitch, “blah, blah, blahing” her the spin.  During our chat, I asked, “what is it you do now?”  She answers, “Oh, I’m a writer.”  My heart sank.  I wanted to yell, “I’m a writer too!”  But I couldn’t.  I stuffed it down and presented her with my card of my false life.  She was a writer.  I was a salesperson.   I vomited in my mouth. 

The next week, I met my writing partner for breakfast.   He noticed my distraction.  I shared my frustration of living a dual life.  Would I ever be free?  He reached across the table, looked straight into my teary eyes, “Jeanne, I am your biggest believer.  You are a writer.”  You’d think, coming from a Pulitzer Prize winner, I would believe him.  I wanted to believe him.  

I kept working the job, writing blog posts and connecting with writers.  I soaked up information anywhere I could find it.  I simply wouldn’t give up.  I was readying myself for the opportunity.   When that opportunity finally arrived, it was in the form of Jane Friedman, publisher of Writer’s Digest.

I met Jane on Twitter and pimped out her links and those of her colleagues.   She knew my day job was based in Cincinnati, so when Writer’s Digest had its 90th Anniversary Party, she invited me.  I used my last airmile to get there.

It was a dream come true.  I had found nirvana in that crowded bar full of hippy writers.   I was the real me.   I was smiling so brightly, my face hurt.   Jane opened her arms, literally and figuratively and changed my life.  While drinking and chatting about Twitter, she nonchalantly said, “You should write an article for us on the value of Twitter.”  She was dead serious. 

Before my plane took off, I started writing.  I submitted a classic, conservative article along with a how-to list to tweeting.  Jane sweetly replied the article was “solid,” but she wanted a personal essay of my journey through Twitterverse in my own unique voice.  I rolled up my velour sleeves and gave her the pure, raw Twitter Pimp Angel that is Jeanne.

Today, I got an email from Writer’s Digest, making an offer to acquire my submission.   Within two hours, I had the contract signed, scanned and back. 

I still don’t know how I did it through the tears.  Yes, tears.  I was bawling.  I’m still crying.  I wish I had the words to describe the validation coursing through me.  It’s more than validation; it’s relief.  All the tension, anxiety, fear, and insanity that is being a writer is pouring out my eyes as the words fly out my fingertips. 

The irony is the editor probably has finalized offers with hundreds, maybe thousands of writers.  Today was just one more writer providing the article to fill the empty slot.  But for me, it was a day I will remember forever.  A gift.  A blessing.  A moment of hope.  I am a writer.  I am free.   Freelance.  Damn.  I did it!  

What Jane didn’t know was just hours before I walked into that party, I quit my day job.  It was time.  Write or die.  

I pray I never forget this feeling or ever take it for granted.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Honest Scrap Award

I click a link and BAM – I discover I have been awarded the Honest Scrap Award by Brittany Landgrebe aka @lights_aurora.  I look closer. This must be a mistake.  Perhaps it reads “Honest Crap Award”… yeah, that would be more like it.

I have no idea what this award means, but it comes with rules.  I knew there was a catch.  Why couldn’t it come with unicorns, candy and sparklers?  I read closer. 

The rules? Simple. Reveal ten things you likely don’t know about me, then pass the award on to someone else I admire. They shall do the same, and it’s just a whole big pile of Honest Scrap!

She admires me!  She admires me!  I felt like Rudolph.

Once the happy dust settled, the rules sunk in.  I’m to unleash 10 sins to cyberspace and do the work for TMZ.   Afraid?  Hell, no.  I’m very competitive, therefore the thought of beating a reporter hiding in my shrubs and sifting through my garbage for an award-winning expose of my life has my sin-riddled skin tingling. 

Go to fullsize imageI need to channel a reporter to get into character.  But who… or is it whom?  If I were Walter Cronkite, I’d know the answer.  He was my fraternity brother (see #7 below).  I even shook his hand while wearing a very ugly 1980s puffy dress.  I was in the dress, not Walter.  Just wanted to clarify, since I’m a top-notch reporter and all. 

Does that count as one of the ten?  Nah, I’ll give you that one for free.

1.  Jackasses make me laugh.  In the 60s, my parents decided to move to the country in pursuit of a simpler life.  Intellectual father.  Hippy mother.  They found an old run-down farmhouse on 150 acres where the animals roamed free… inside and out.  Flies.  Oh man, were there flies.  The sale came with a horse and a jackass.  I always giggled when my daddy said, “jackass”  *giggle*.  I was four when a scary man came and took them away.  They either became my school glue or my dog’s dinner.  I hate the smell of both.  

2. I didn’t like to play with the girls in kindergarten.  I wanted to play with the boy toys… oops, I mean boyS' toys.  My kindergarten teacher didn’t know what to do with me, since all the other girls were fighting over the only cute doll.  At first, she tried to conform me into a proper girl, but I always ended up on the sidelines starring at the boy’s fascinating toys that made noises and turned into buildings and magical structures.  These girls bored me.  One day, the teacher knelt by me, took my hand and said, “Go ahead.  Show me what you can do.”  She unleashed my creativity in that single moment.  I ran straight to the Legos and found a quiet, shy boy who became my best friend.  I remember building a duck with wheels for feet.  I still have some clay ducks we made together. I guess we liked ducks.  

Go to fullsize image3.  I have always been unlucky in love.  My Lego duck buddy came to class with cupcakes.  I was confused.  I knew it wasn’t his birthday, but was convinced he did it just for me.  He knew the way to my heart.   He liked ducks, after all.  As I joyously gobbled my chocolately goodness, he sadly announced he was moving away.  My heart was pounding so hard I thought I’d throw up… but I never let chocolate out once it was in.  I held back tears all day.  As we lay on the mats for our daily nap, I let the tears fall.  He crawled closer to me and held my hand.  I squeezed his back.  When it was time to say goodbye, he leaned in and gave me a kiss.  My first kiss.  Then he ran out the door and never looked back.  I don’t remember his name... but he loved me.  I didn’t play with Legos the rest of the school year.  I tried to conform… because playing with the boys hurt too much.

Go to fullsize image4.  I was obsessed with babies.  I cut baby pictures out of magazines and hid them in my room.  The Vietnam War was always on the news.  I’d watch people bringing home Vietnamese babies, praying my parents would adopt one for me.  Being the youngest of four, I wanted a little sister.   I cried when the war ended, and no one understood why.

Go to fullsize image
5.  I am a murderer.  Back on the farm, we replaced all the farm animals with forty-five cats.  Yes, you read that right.  The previous owners would let their pigs in the house, but we changed that rule.  Our cats were never allowed inside unless one was about to give birth.   Grumph gave birth a lot.  She was a kitty slut.   I used to curl up with my kitten on the couch and fall asleep.  When I woke from my deep child-like slumber, I found her lifeless, fuzzy body and panicked.  I squashed her.  I ran to the fire and laid her on the warm hearth, hoping to bring her back to life.  I don’t remember anything other than being alone in the living room with the dead kitten and feeling empty.  I think I left her there and ran upstairs.  I wonder what my parents thought when they found her.  They might have thought I was the next Ted Bundy.  Yikes.  I should really ask.

I need a part two to #5 because now I’m depressed.  Let me share a really cool kitty story:  my siblings’ kittens were always healthy, but my kitties often fell victim to amputation.   No, I didn’t amputate them.  I just had bad kitty luck, remember?   I will never forget picking my injured kitten up from the vet only to be terrified to hold the now "broken" kitten.   The vet heartlessly shoved the kitten into my 6-year-old arms, with still-bleeding stump, and told me I was selfish for not loving her.  He was a mean prick.  I had no idea how to handle a three-legged cat.  I ignored her for weeks.  She hobbled around the house crying for me.  I hated her.  I missed what she was before… perfect.  Then one day, I was playing with my matchbox cars on the square-patterned rug, and she came bouncing over.  Without even thinking, I swept her up in my arms and kissed her.  A moment passed and I froze, holding this imperfect cat that I had hated.  An enormous smile swept my face, and I went running out of the room, kitty clutched into my chest, yelling, “Mommy, mommy… I DO love her!”  That kitten taught me great lessons in loving the imperfect.   I don’t remember her name… but she loved me and I loved her.

Go to fullsize image6. We never bought new clothes as kids.  Our “shopping sprees” were always at Salvation Army – $1 for a paper bag of clothes.  Sure, my dad had a great job, but my mom was a hippy and a Depression-Era kid.  I think she felt guilty buying new things.  Once, she drove in the yard in her hippy van, jumped out, and yelled for us.  She whipped open the back doors like The Price is Right curtain, revealing hundreds of jeans!  Fat jeans, skinny jeans, straight jeans, and bell-bottoms.  She paid $100 for the van load.  We were set for life.  I made purses, stuffed animals and my own bell-bottoms with flowered-patterned triangles.  Man, my mom was cool.  She picked up hitchhikers too.

Go to fullsize image7.  I never joined a sorority.  I went through the whole rushing process.  Even got a bid to the most popular sorority on campus.  But when it came time to accept, I felt like that little girl in kindergarten.  I just didn’t get it.  I didn’t want to fight over the pretty doll.  I became a little sister in a fraternity instead. 

8. I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and even fix the broken shelves.  I was 29 when I got married and managed a motel and restaurant.  I had all the girlie things I needed at that age, but I didn’t have tools.  For my wedding shower, I registered at True Value Hardware Store.  There was even a picture of me in the national True Value newsletter.  Before you assume I’m a complete tomboy, you should know I’m also a gourmet cook.   I would have dinner parties with five-course meals.  I once broke up with a guy because he wouldn’t eat Coquille St. Jacques.  I’m sorry, but if you were too scared to taste a scallop, you’d be boring as hell to live with.

Go to fullsize image9. I gave birth like a monkey.  When I was pregnant with my first child, I was a tad nervous about this whole birth thing.  I’m gonna push this kid out of there?  Really!?  Yikes.  As my belly grew, I searched for any answers I could find on how to make this hurt less.  I flipped to the Discovery Channel and found a show with two monkeys giving birth – one via cesarean and one natural.  Excellent.  All the research I needed.  The mama monkey who had the natural birth was amazing.  No humans helped her.  She delivered her baby all by herself in her little cage.  That monkey never made a peep.  Not one little groan, moan or complaint.  I was going to be that monkey.  And I was.  Three days of labor, and not a peep out of me.  I quietly pushed my baby girl out without even an aspirin. 

10. I got fired only once in my life.  After both my kids were in school full time, I decided I needed a new career.  A friend convinced me to try medical transcriptioning.  Being a competitive freak and all, I was top in my class.  I started working for a hospital in Massachusetts, getting all my files online.  Every few days, this one doctor would dictate with the most pompous voice, and he’d make up big words that didn’t exist.  Now, I went to Cornell.  I’m no moron, but I am a perfectionist and stickler for detail.  At first, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt and search for the words, but when I was finally satisfied they didn’t exist, I’d flag the report.  After several weeks, my boss told me I was pissing off Dr. Pompous.  In fact, the doctor’s words were, “Who does this glorified secretary think she is?”  I may have given birth like a monkey, but I wasn’t going to put my name to a report dictated by one.  He fired me.   I wish I could find him and thank him.  He was the person who finally gave me the confidence to write. 

There you have it.  Ten things about me you probably didn’t know.  Is your life better for knowing them?  I’m sure not.  But at least I beat TMZ to it. 

I now pass the Honest Scrap Award onto a person who I admire but don’t know enough about.  This was very difficult to choose.  There are many I admire, but today, I am choosing @slushpilehero.  Oh my God, I don’t even know her real name!  Actually, I don’t know the name of my dead kitten or the boy who gave me my first kiss.  This is perfect.