Monday, November 10, 2014

The Story of A Lifetime Begins Here

Several times a year I give a talk on writing your memoir. I talk to small  groups, ten or twenty people, often at the local library or senior center. It's never the same talk; I find myself emphasizing some points, depending on how the discussion goes. 
I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. Out of twenty people, one or two have already started writing, or get started and follow up with me.

People always ask, "how do I get started?"

While you’re thinking about writing your memoir, and making notes on the backs of envelopes or starting Word docs here and there, find some time in your day to do this:
FIRST: read other people’s memoirs, at least half a dozen. You’re doing this to identify their voice.
SECOND: write every day. Journal. Pull out a notebook, grab a pen and write. No judgement, don’t show this writing to anyone. Twenty minutes a day, at least.
Doing these two things will set you on the right path. You’ll hear and identify other voices. Through consistent intuitive journaling you’ll finally start to hear and identify your own voice. 

Once you’ve trained yourself to listen TO yourself and really get to know you, the inciting incident in your life will leap out at you. You won’t be able to avoid it. The words will start tumbling out, more and more. You’ll find it difficult to leave the house without your pen and notebook. Or with your tablet and keyboard.  Because the words, rich and compelling, are bursting forth, demanding your attention.

There’s a lot more I can say about writing your memoir, all kinds of fine points to bring out, but if you’re not doing these two things I mentioned, you’re still daydreaming. Get off your keester and write! Don’t just read other people’s memoirs,  and skip the journaling. Don’t worry about how it looks or sounds, just write. As my high school tennis coach reminded us, “It’s all in the follow-through.”

THEN, if you’re doing these two things and writing every day, set yourself a goal to attend a writer’s conference in six months or a year.  Before you get to that writer’s conference, you’ll be prepared with a completed manuscript and a well-written pitch. More on that later. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Love Vs. Road Rage: Love Wins

I was very tired, driving up the New York Thruway. I’d worked all day on a client’s book, in the City, then gone to my son’s marvelous play at Hunter College, despite freezing, sub-zero temperatures. Now it was one in the morning. I wasn’t working the next day, so I just wanted to go home. And home was still an hour and a half away.

A huge truck loomed up behind me. I was in the middle lane, going the speed limit, but just barely. When it’s late at night and I’m really tired, I don’t speed. I don’t trust my reflexes. Exhaustion makes me cautious. Seeing the huge semi tractor-trailer fill up my rear view mirror, I reached out for the Lord and said a quick prayer. I didn’t want to accept resentment; I didn’t want to buy into his anger, or his demons.

The truck finally passed me. I kept driving, staying in the middle to avoid where the road splits off for north Jersey, then splits again for Suffern. I passed Sloatsburg, where people stop for coffee and fast food. Suddenly,  the semi was behind me again. He blasted his horn for a full minute. I glanced up quickly; no traffic  on my right, so I moved out of the middle lane quickly. The truck wasn’t behind me at that point; he was over in the fast lane, still blasting his horn. But I had my shield of faith in place, and there was no anger in me.

I marveled at the peace in my heart. This was a clear, beautiful gift from the Lord. It wasn’t just that I called myself back from demonic thoughts. Because of the Lord’s gift, I didn’t even go there. I felt so light and free, it was marvelous. I kept thanking the Lord all the way home. Peace brings such freedom and joy. ‘Much better to be there, in peace, than in turmoil and road rage.

Plus, my writing is more powerful when it comes from a place of love. Hate shrinks your world, cutting off possibilities, freedom, abundance, joy. Hate limits you; love expands your world encompassing stars millions of light-years away. Love knows no bounds.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Ephesians 6: Putting on the Full Armor

Ephesians 6 comes in handy this time of year, for chasing away the blues.  It's snowing (again) and I've just taken down the tree which is always kind of depressing. I mean, several of the kids are usually involved in setting up the tree. We pick out our tree just a few days before Christmas and its always a lot of fun. 
The first week of January, the kids have gone back to college or to work and I'm taking the tree apart by myself. Plus, snow's just not as exciting after Christmas. Now we're into the quietest two months of the year. But its also the time when I'm setting things up for the spring. I know I need to keep my focus, read lots of encouraging scripture, watch some funny movies and plan ahead.
I'm sitting down to work on a rough draft, following some coverage from Danny Manus' No Bullscript Consulting firm. The challenge is diving into this material and doing a major rewrite without losing the wonderful story. I know a lot of writers hate to change anything, but I'm ready to tear this work apart and let the chips fly where they may. This will be fun. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Write Every Day, Without Fail

As the year winds down, I am already scheduling for spring. One client will be speaking at a series of independent bookstores in the Philadelphia area, to publicize the latest edition of his book on Iran. Another agrees a "starter website" is needed to expand her organic produce business' online presence beyond Facebook. A third recognizes a fresh approach is needed to her autism book project. That project comes off my schedule for a few months. It is quickly replaced by other projects that need attention. Conversations with film producers continue on the screenplay. Short-term copywriting projects -- sales copy, fundraising letters, queries, one-sheets, pitches, etc. continue apace, mornings and evenings.

And somewhere in there, I find a tree, wrap a few presents and make it to choir practice.

Am I doing what the Lord calls me to? He says "write," every day without fail.  If I can capture a moment in someone's life, make them feel they are heard, that they matter, then that is a day well spent. So many times throughout the day He calls me to stop, in the moment, and listen.

I seldom feel I am doing enough. But sometimes I get a sense that I'm doing something right, that I am at least on the right track. And in that, there is peace. Praise God. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Dig Deep, Plant Dreams, Look Ahead

In researching independent bookstores to see which ones would be most receptive to new authors  (a favorite avocation; I have yet to run across a bookstore I didn't like.) I wandered far afield and discovered Richard Nordquist, an intriguing online resource for grammar and style and all things writing. Take a dip into the wealth of wit and wisdom he doles out via Reading Professor Nordquist led me, via some well-placed links, into The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis and the Note-Books of Samuel Butler.  I love learning from the best writers!

And, like any writer, I love to read. November is the month to make up my list of 100 books to read over the next twelve months. Why not wait until New Year's? Too depressing. By the start of the new year, I like to be well on my way.  November, when I plant bulbs in hopes of seeing them blossom next spring, when I dig up my favorite herbs and bring them inside, is also the best time to make plans and set goals.
It usually takes me a few days to mull over the list, to see where it might take me. Three of the books are re-reads, but I need to hear them again. One book in particular, I'll never stop reading and re-reading, because there is so much to explore and meditate on within its pages. This year's crop is eclectic, but focuses on Screenwriting, Copywriting and Catholicism.  Here are the first 25 and yes, all non-fiction:

  1. Aristotle's Poetics
  2. Selling A Screenplay - Syd Field
  3. Secrets of a Freelance Writer - Bob Bly
  4. The Screenwriter's Workbook-Syd Field
  5. Great Leads -Masterson & Ford
  6. The Classics of Catholic Spirituality
  7. How To Write A Movie in 21 Days -Viki King
  8. Poem of the ManGod - Maria Valtota
  9. The Copywriter's Handbook - Bob Bly
  10. The Wealthy Freelancer - Gandia,Slaunwhite, Savage
  11. Words From Heaven - Blessed Virgin Mary
  12. The Hero With A Thousand Faces - Joseph Campbell
  13. Think And Grow Rich Action Pack - Napoleon Hill
  14. The Feynman Lectures on Physics - Richard Feynman
  15. Hiroshima - John Hershey
  16. Essays of E.B. White
  17. The Guns of August - Barbara Tuchman
  18. One Writer's Beginnings - Eudora Welty
  19. The Medusa and the Snail - Lewis Thomas
  20. Kind and Unusual Punishment- Jessica Mitford
  21. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - R. Pirsig
  22. My Life and Hard Times - James Thurber
  23. Nickel and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich
  24. Desert Solitaire - Edward Abbey
  25. Silent Spring - Rachel Carson

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Be My Voice: October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month

It was not easy, at 38, to give birth to twins and realize that one of them would always need extra care, time and attention. But there was such peace, holding Joe. He was so beautiful! He still is. 
Since that day, he has made our lives richer, challenging us to reach in and find him. 
In doing so, he helped us find ourselves, individually and as a family. 
He also, amazingly, brought us closer to the Lord, and to salvation. One helpless little child did that.
Now, at twenty years old, he is a confident young man, despite substantial physical limitations.
I can see where I'm going and process what I see without even thinking about it. I can read a thousand words a minute. When I look at an object, I see one, not two.  I can use my hands to twist off a lid, open a door or shake someone's hand -- it takes no special effort. Most of all, I can talk, freely, without straining to form the words. I can be heard whenever I wish. I can smile. 

Joe struggles to track one or two words with his weak eye muscles. He avoids reading; its just too exhausting. He's constantly tilting his head to steady an object and make it converge. His muscles lack coordination. The muscles in his face, lips, tongue and neck are extremely flaccid.
Joe wants to talk, but its so difficult. He comes close and taps my lips when he wants to say something. 
He means, "talk for me. Ask me questions. I'll tell you when you've got it right."
So I ask Twenty Questions, sometimes more.
He looks up or away, depending on how whether I'm right or wrong.
When I'm getting close, he leans in a bit, to keep me on the right track.
He is very patient, but determined to be heard.

Ironically, I spent years teaching a course on pastoral visiting at a Catholic hospital.
I'd often use Joe as an example of someone wanting to be heard, someone who stands at the door and knocks. 

For years people assumed Joe was severely retarded, because he was so slow to move or react.
It took a decade to realize retardation wasn't the problem. Joe knows exactly what he's doing. 
Despite being non-verbal, he shows as much comprehension as his very-bright twin sister. 
The difference is, he's treated differently. People have very few expectations of Joe. For example he refuses to be tested in most areas because he's "special needs." He knows he can just say no.  So I'm reaching in to find out what he expects of himself.

Being Joe's mom changes everything for me. He doesn't waste a minute on feeling sorry for himself. And he never complains.  I can't give up, because he never does.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Mercenary to the Shah, Glad to Meet You

Just back from an amazing weekend, pitching new script Mercenary to the Shah at the Screenwriters World Pitchfest. There was also a Writer's Digest Writer's Conference going on that same weekend at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel, but the Romans and I agreed it would be too much to try and pitch the book and the screenplay in the same 72 hour timespan.
As it was, there were so many excellent speakers focusing on the timely, practical details we needed to prep for Pitchfest --and for negotiations afterwards. I was greatly impressed with Jeanne Veillette Bowerman who organized the Pitchfest, and the speakers she brought together. That's a very talented woman.
I had a twinge of regret for the luxury hotel room with a fine view of the Hollywood hills. Sort of a waste, for all the time I spent there. I vaguely remember watching the last few minutes of The Abyss as I drifted off to sleep one night. Every minute of the three-day weekend was packed with Things We Needed To Know.
I was writing, listening, meeting new writers and producers, prepping materials I'd been told not to bring, then hastily assembling them into a one-sheet when we realized it was not only okay, but essential to have a leave-behind. Fortunately, there were buffets of juice, tea, croissants, muffins, fruit and this delicious Bitter Orange Marmalade each day, because I hated to miss a minute on ordinary tasks like eating and sleeping. There was so much to absorb.
I had worked for producer Roger Corman at New World Pictures many years ago, and was married to an indie filmmaker for two decades, so it was interesting to revisit film world, but this time with a partner who was committed to his story and ready and willing to send it off to the highest bidder.
Between the two of us, my writing partner, Mike and I (and his very-smart wife, Lucretia) talked to 20 producers. Only two weren't interested in our project, and one of those requested more information on two other projects I had waiting in the wings. Exciting!

It was very cool to pique a producer's interest in this action-thriller, then turn around and casually point out the very man whose .357 Magnum was always close at hand, "oh, and there he is," strolling around the room, a white-haired Indiana Jones. Mike really brought the story to life, by being there.
Mike walks and hold himself like a soldier, so much so that another man came up to him and said "thank you for your service." Mike smiled, "you're thanking me for being a mercenary?"
The other man said simply, "yes, I know you served us well." Which is true....

Now we're into the next phase, waiting, prepping another edition of the book Zehbel: The Clever One on which the screenplay is based, contacting more producers and waiting to hear from the 18+ ones who expressed interest. Of those 18, half a dozen promised they or their team would contact us within the month.
Pitching the script is like coming up for air on a long-distance swim. Its interesting and invigorating, but now its time to get back to work on promoting Mercenary to the Shah and a few other projects.
And, I need to get some more writing done. Onward!! (Okay, still excited from last weekend.)
More later....