Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Three-Step Process for Self-Editing


This summer has been the Season of the Edit. In addition to prepping the manuscript for DEAR ALDERONE for release this November, I edited several client's books, my pre-Arthurian novel, and a major project for my VIP client.

I confess: I LOVE editing. I love working with the raw clay of the original words and molding it into something worth making permanent. But I have discovered that many writers don't share my editing zeal. 

I present my editing process -- a three step method of polishing the words you've written until they shine. It's fast and relatively painless. And (dare I say it) it can be fun!

Phase 1:  Read as Your Rival (The Content Commentary)

Read your own work as if a rival writer penned it. 

Write down observations about text inaccuracies, awkward construction, non-sequiturs, redundancies, clarity problems, formatting, and overall execution. Then write specific suggestions for how you (the more gifted craftsperson) would fix the flaws.   

Be sure to also note strengths – those sections that are particularly well-crafted, moving, or memorable.

Reading as if reviewing a competitor’s work tends to make it easier to get "picky" with the piece.  It helps to assess consistency of voice and conduct a general evaluation of things like tense, agreement, parallelism, sentence and paragraph construction, and spelling.

During the commentary, only make notes.  Comment on the entire project, identifying strengths and weaknesses and mercilessly mining for inconsistencies.

Phase 2: Take the Notes and Take Action  (The Rewrite)

When the commentary is finished, review the notes that result and act upon them.  Rewrite until you get it right.

Address every concern raised in the commentary notes.  In addition, conduct a line-by-line edit that would make your 10th grade English teacher proud:

·      Rework passive sentences into active ones. 
·      Replace linking verbs with verbs of substance. 
·      Delete adjectives and adverbs without remorse. 
·      Identify static characters and give them arcs. 
·      Surprise your characters more often. 
·      Eliminate overused words and phrases. 
·      In other words – make creativity take a back seat to craft for a while.

Phase 3: Proof

The final phase – the proof -- is concerned primarily with the manuscript's adherence to proper English usage.

Beginning a proof edit assumes that any glaring errors in logic, plot, or characterization have already been dealt with.  This step is really about making sure all i's are dotted, t's crossed, and things like periods, commas, and apostrophe S's are used correctly.

Commentaries, rewrites, and proofs.  Each is an essential part of the editing process. Done correctly, they can help you analyze your work more objectively.  Then it’s up to you to roll up your creative sleeves and polish your prose until your soul shines through.

Monday, May 18, 2015

How to Have a Successful Book Launch: 5 Simple Steps

I spent this past weekend in Utah with the amazing Alyson Peterson, as she launched her debut middle-grade fantasy, Ian Quicksilver: The Warrior's Return, into the world. (I don't always travel halfway across the country when people's books launch. But Alyson said some really nice, mostly true, things about me in her Acknowledgements, and her husband makes excellent chocolate chip cookies, so... you know.)

Launching a book can cause a new author any number of sleepless nights and Xanax prescriptions. A veritable Who's Who of Worrisome Thoughts can threaten to monopolize one's internal dialogue:

"I just write stories. I have no platform."

"All the bookstores in the state will look at the sales figures from the launch. If it doesn't go well, they won't stock my book."

and the bete noir:

"What if no one comes?"

Alyson's launch was very successful: people came out in droves, she signed books for two hours' straight, and the bookstore manager was full of enthusiastic kudos when it was all over. Here's how she did it -- and how you can, too.

1.) Get the word out.

For weeks before the event, Alyson handed out invitations to friends and family, asking them to come and be a part of it.

Did everyone invited come? No. But many did. And they'd told people, who had told people...

Key Takeaway -- Remember: you're not begging people to buy your book. No one responds favorably to begging. Instead, you are inviting people to an event. And who doesn't love a party?

2.) Give people a reason to come.

In Alyson's book, Ian, the main character, discovers he is a member of an alien warrior race. He has a magical sword and he must learn how to use it. While researching swordfighting, Alyson began studying Mixed Martial Arts.

During the launch, Alyson had a katana sword on display. Every book purchased during the event got an entry in a drawing for the sword. At the end of the launch party, the lucky winner was announced.

Waking up the bookstore!
But that wasn't the only reason for people to show up. Since learning the skills that make one a warrior is an integral part of the book's plot, Alyson decided to stage an event that illustrate those skills in action. She invited the members of her dojo to put on a demonstration at the launch.

Drumming! Shouting! Back flips and handsprings! Swordplay! Board breaking! What a way to bring in a crowd. The Barnes & Noble cafe had never seen the like!

Key Takeaway: Instead of merely reading a few pages, find something in your book that lends itself to capturing your target market's attention. Does your main character have an interesting career or hobby? Bring in an expert and do a demonstration. Is your main character a fashionista? Hold a fashion show. Does your main character like to cook? Do a cooking demo (which lends itself to #3...)

3.) Give people a reason to stay.

Feed them.

Seriously. Have munchies. People will stay and chat if they're eating. Give them something to nibble on.

Key Takeaway: The masses require nourishment. Preferably something portable. Something that won't break your bank account. And something that won't make too much of a mess when dropped on the venue's floor.

Amy M. Hughes (l) and Alyson Peterson (r).
4.) Support others and they'll support you.

I happen to believe that a big part of being a successful author is supporting others who are climbing the same publishing ladder I am. That's one of the reasons I hopped on a plane and flew 1500 miles from home this weekend.

Alyson holds the same belief. Her book launch was scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. But a friend -- Amy M. Hughes -- had her book launch scheduled from 1 - 3 p.m. in a different town. So, of course, Alyson went.

Later, Amy returned the favor. Because authors are awesome that way.

Key Takeaway: Your writing career is not a sprint; it's a marathon. Surround yourself with people running in the same race. Encourage them to keep on keeping on.

5.) Be genuine and be grateful.

Thank the people for coming. Be happy to be there. Do not complain about how long it took you to find a publisher or an agent, or about the weather, or about the bookstore staff.

There will be snafus. You will forget a pen. Or tape. Or your posters will have a typo. Or the information in the ads announcing the event will be incorrect. Suck it up and soldier on.

Realize that every single person who attends could be doing something else -- mowing the lawn, watching "Entourage" reruns, finding a cure for recurring bunions. Everyone leads busy lives. The mere fact that people take the time out of theirs to attend your book launch should put tears of gratitude in your eyes and a song in your heart. Thank everyone who comes, whether they buy your book or not. And mean it.

Key Takeaway: Exude gratitude.

Bonus Tip: If all else fails, wield a big stick.
Though Alyson had no intention to do a demo herself, her sensei had other plans. With her two boys behind her, Alyson showed she knows what she's writing about.

video

Key Takeaway: This is your book launch! You worked hard for this moment. Enjoy it! Have some fun and make it an event to remember.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Listen to Your Mother: "Do You Know How Much Your Daughter Loves You?"

Yesterday, I had the great privilege of sharing a stage with a dozen talented writers, as we brought the inaugural show of LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER to Southwest Michigan.  I am so grateful to Kim Jorgensen Gane for having the vision to bring the show here, and to her co-producers Meagan Francis and Beth Haire-Lewis, for putting on such a heartfelt production.

This was the piece I presented, which, according to my father, "made his eyes leak a little bit." Happy Mother's Day, Mom...



DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH YOUR DAUGHTER LOVES YOU?
“I’ve been thinking of my mother a lot lately,” Mom says as I walk in the door. “You’d have liked her. She was here. You just missed her.”

“No, Mom,” I say in the tone of voice I’ve heard shrews use to neuter their husbands – rich with condescension, laced with exasperation. It’s a tone I never once heard her use on my father. I hate that tone. I try to sing a new song.

“Mom... Grandma couldn’t have just been here. She’s been gone a long time. Grandpa, too. Remember?”

Mom and me: I'm 2 weeks old.
Mom peers at me. Focused. Deliberate. Concentrating on remembering. Finally: “I know that.”

And she does know. For ten, maybe fifteen minutes. Then her eyelids start to close, like an owl in the daytime, blinding her to the present and returning her to her murky thoughts.


Long ago when I had more time than money, I bought a sweater and cross-stitched a floral design on the front of it as a Christmas present for Mom. The sweater wasn’t expensive. Though the needlework I added was involved, I enjoyed doing it because I knew my mother would like it. When she unwrapped the gift on Christmas morning, her joyful reaction made the extra effort I’d put into the stitching worthwhile.

To be honest, I didn’t think about the sweater much afterward. My husband and I returned to our home 500 miles away and picked up our routines where we’d left them.

About a year later, Mom related a conversation that she’d had with a colleague at work. When asked where she had gotten her sweater, Mom explained that I had done the design. Her co-worker examined the stitching closely, then said, “Do you have any idea how much your daughter loves you?”

Mom beamed as she told the story. But it made me wonder. Does my mother know how much I love her?

I remember “helping out” in the kitchen when I was too small to see over the countertop. Mom’s friends would shake their heads. How could she stand to bake with me in the way? She never listened to those who said she could get things done faster if I weren’t underfoot. Instead, she let me sift the flour and the soda, pack down the brown sugar, and measure spices. Today, my kitchen is one of my favorite places. I owe my love of cooking to my mother. Does she know?

One of Mom’s mottoes has always been: “if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” I heard it every time I didn’t want to finish a project I’d agreed to do. I heard it every time I tried something and wanted to give up. Mom’s mantra has shaped my attitude toward work and toward myself. I owe my sense of commitment to my mother. Does she know?

My mother is a deeply spiritual person. Me? I still struggle with the idea of putting myself in the hands of Someone beyond me whom I can’t see or hold on to.

Shortly after she married, Mom chose to change churches, shifting from the denomination she and my father shared to a completely different theology. Now, more than half a century later, suffering from the debilitating effects of a serious fall last summer, compounded with Parkinson’s and dementia, she has remained firmly grounded in her faith.

In our little country church, Mom held a multitude of offices including organist, teacher, lay speaker, and treasurer. She arrived early and stayed late every week. And, when I lived at home, so did I. For years, I begrudged my attendance. Yet, Mom’s unshakable love for God led me to love him too. Does she know?

Mom and me a year later.
Does she know how fortunate I feel to have grown up in a loving home? How lucky I count myself to have had her and my father as parents? Their example as best friends and partners for the fifty-three years of their marriage has been a priceless foundation for my own.

Mom showed me how to disagree without anger, how to stand firm without defiance, and how to forge a vibrant love that does not fade with time. My relationship with my husband is stronger because my mother showed me that nothing on earth is better than a good marriage. I hope she knows.


Some days, Mom knows who I am. Some days...

On the days she doesn’t, she talks to me as if I am one of the aides in the elder care facility where she lives, or one of my school friends, or one of her friends from Pennsylvania. More and more, lately, she is unaware of what she doesn’t know.

And yet...

Mom still has her sweater. It remains one of her favorite things and it still looks great – after all this time. Even when she doesn’t know who I am, she knows I made it for her. When she wears it, she’ll point to the needlework and say, “Do I know how much my daughter loves me?” And I smile. Because I think she does.

I’ve been thinking of my mother a lot lately. You’d have liked her. She was here. You just missed her.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Confessions of a Working Artist: Q & A with Karina Dale

I am thrilled to introduce you to the amazing artist Karina Dale (or xKxDx, as she is known on various social media sites). 

In addition to creating the. most. amazing. illustrations -- often literally giving me visuals on characters that previously existed only in my head -- I love the niche she has carved for herself in the world of fandom.


After an in-depth discussion over how her approach to creating characters with lines was almost exactly the opposite of mine for creating the same characters with words, I knew I wanted you to meet her.  So...

Heeeere's Karina!


Q:  You are active on many social media platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler… How do you balance engagement with time management?

A:  I don't. I'm terrible at that. I'll engage a whole bunch, be funny, not post a lot of art or anything, then forget it all exists for a week. I do things exactly how all the social networking experts say you're not supposed to, but somehow, people stick around. Time management is literally the bane of my existence. Falls right behind getting old and getting sick!

I try my best to weigh my work-a-holic tendencies with having a little fun and hanging out with my friends, but most everyone knows that hanging out with me usually means competing with whatever project I'm working on. I think most people like to see the stuff I make a lot more than they want to hear my witty one-liners on Twitter anyhow. I'm cool with that. I know what I'm good at!


Q:  What are your preferred subjects for illustration? What is your preferred medium? Why?

A:  My preferred subject matter is people. All kinds.

I love diversity and I try my best to celebrate it. I like characters that don't already have a face, or characters who are allowed to change, depending on who is doing the drawing. Books, comic books, movies, television, etc.

I love drawing the people I know, but there's very little room for interpretation. As a realist I'm gonna draw my buddy looking like my buddy, down to the detail. But the Winter Soldier, let's say, he could be Sebastian Stan as cast by MCU, or my husband, or maybe Brock O'Hurn. Who knows?

As far as mediums go, I prefer digital art by necessity. I'm allergic to plastics and petroleum products. So, almost all paints, color pencils, watercolors, charcoal and graphite fixatives, etc. are out. I like digital art but it sucks sometimes not being able to actually hold your finished product until the printer spits it out.

I'm not really that great with digital mediums specifically, though. I don't use Photoshop. I use a painting emulator called SAI. I mostly use it as a direct replacement for traditional media, which is why my art often looks traditionally made. I just treat my computer like a sketch pad or a canvas. It probably takes a lot more time than it should, but I like the process of sketching. I've been doing it my whole life. It's what I'm good at.

A portion of a Karina Dale character illustration
for KNIGHTFALL, my novel-in-progress.
Gorgeous art: Karina. Watermarks that obscure it: me.

Q:  What is your process? 

A:  I'm freelance, totally independent, so a lot of the time my process involves getting comfy, putting my reference pictures on my TV and drawing blue, red, and black lines until I don't hate it. There's a lot of that sort of thing recorded over at my livestream. You (Ami) have gotten a lot of my unfinished sketch art and basically it's just refined black lines on a white background. (IMHO "refined black lines" is an understatement. A.H.) There's never a lot of process to that. Keeping it simple gives you more freedom to change stuff and make it cooler.

After sketching I sometimes color. That's a process, but I've worked the last year on simplifying that as well. Now coloring works a lot like sketching for me. Instead of a bunch of complicated work, I lay down a base layer, a lot of color, and blend it together until I think it looks right. You can't just do that sort of thing right out the gate though. It's a learned skill, just like sketching.


Q:  What are some common misconceptions people have about artists?

A:  That we're cool, or super excited about all the things we draw. It's work a lot of the time.  I like work though, and I also like when people buy my things. As a freelancer, it's very validating to sell all the pretty things. Basically, if I like a thing and the rest of the world likes that thing too, I'll draw it a lot. It does not mean I'm super, intensely into it. I'm weird, so a lot of the stuff I like falls on blind eyes. You won't see a ton of obscure subject matter being posted in my streams.

Also, I am not cool. I have a house, a partner, some dogs, a few bad habits and an ugly yard. Talking to me for an hour might be entertaining, but living a day in my life is a snoozefest. Contrary to popular assumption, I don't have the energy to be cool! Regardless, a lot of people say that to me when they meet me and I legitimately have no idea what to say except 'thanks.' I have a few stories about being an interesting human being but most of them happened a decade ago. Pro tip: compliment my line quality, then we can talk.


Q:  So: Sterek. Discuss.

A:  You wanna open that grab bag of chaos? Fine, we'll go there.... Man, I hope my consistently jovial attitude in this interview comes across well. I'm funny. I'm always funny, except when I'm not.

I digress. Sterek. Yeah.

So, I had a pretty nice career going in pin-up and promotional art, but the ingrained misogyny and patriarchal, racist, sizist, ageist, transphobic (etc.) bullshit was like a lake of oily muck you could never wash off. Our general audience was that asshole, entitled white dude with all the money to drop on shows and merch. It sucked. I loved my fellow creators, but the daily struggle of dealing with consumers of pin-up and similar art made life inside rigorous.

One day I was enjoying my moving wallpaper (aka Color Television Shows via Internets) while I was drawing and this moment of curiosity struck me: does anyone else think this big, burly dude and this weird skinny kid in this strange 1980's movie to television remake have real chemistry? or is it just me? Did Mtv do it on purpose? I had to know! Back then they were comedy gold, and it actually read like a slow burn gay pairing. I was impressed with Mtv's bravery and writing. I went online and looked it up. Within a couple days the Sterek fandom sucked me into their world with a kind if enthusiastic happiness I have never seen before.

It was a bunch of ladies, queer kids, and miscreant youths. I had finally found my people! I quit pin-up and started doing fandom art instead. I had an idea I might like to do concept art, but that would mean going back to work for the privileged dudes with money, so nah. Thanks anyways. I'll stick around and make fandom happy. Take the jobs I like from people I respect. Sure, I like Sterek okay. They're cute if you ignore the flaming balls of crazy the network decided to throw everyone, but eh, that's what I'm for. I'm happy to bring alternative versions of reality to life to make all my friends happy. It's like my own personal form of queer activism.

Sterek inadvertently changed my life. Maybe it was my attention to detail and curiosity that pushed me there, but the fandom kept me around. They've been amazing. I can't thank them enough.


Q:  When you teach artists’ workshops, what are some of the most common things you see other artists struggle with — and what suggestions do you have for them?

A:  Fuel for motivation and the self worth needed to feel like your creations are worth creating. If I could bottle and sell that, I'd make millions. I spend hours talking to people about how to build up the positive inner voice and ignore the outer negative voices. I wish I was better at giving people those tools honestly.

Also, how elitists and ableists ruin art done for enjoyment. AKA not getting paid, just doing it for fun. If anyone ever tells you 'you cheated, that's not art,' they're a jerk and their opinion is null and void by default. More people need to understand both sides of saying something that destructive about art someone has created purely for enjoyment.

(A.H.  Karina recently taught an artist's class which included the Most Excellent Handout Ever, with regards to dealing with joysuckers, trolls, and naysayers.)


Ellie, from THE LION'S CLUB, portrait in progress.
Q:  What three pieces of advice would you give to an aspiring artist?

A:  Practice for yourself, be kind to your hands, and find really great cheerleaders.



Q:  You consistently advocate for artist credit and don’t hesitate to call out online offenders who post art without crediting the source. Any advice to other creatives for balancing vigilance with maintaining creativity?

A:  It's nearly impossible. Every hour I spend filling out DCMA forms is an hour lost creating. People are welcome to repost my art on platforms that don't support reblogging my original post. All they have to do is tag back to me. Other artists have other rules, but those are mine. For some unknown reason these kids would rather steal a bunch of art and piss the artists off than network and make friends. I don't understand it at all.

Of course, most working artists and fan artists want exposure. Their audience is great, please, by all means, I invite them to post, if they credit and tag back. For some reason there's this new psychology of online attention seeking that doesn't include sharing credit. They'd rather steal and watch their numbers go up, like a video game, than make friends and be part of a team. /end rant.

I try not to spend so much time being an online vigilante now days. All those people end up getting their accounts deleted anyways. They have the half life of any virus. If you don't want to be that guy, make friends, ask, respect content. It's all part of the new online language. The internet is growing up just like we are; one day, hopefully, these ideas will be a generally accepted online social practice.


Q: So, where can people find you?

A:  patreon.com/xkxdx
twitter.com/xkxdx
tumblr.com/xkxdx
instagram.com/karinadale

I'm KarinaDale or xKxDx almost everywhere!

A.H. See? See why I wanted you to meet her? I am so grateful to Karina Dale for graciously agreeing to do this interview. I trust you found it as inspiring as I did.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Confessions of a Local Stage-Play Producer - Part II

An Interview with SW Michigan's "Listen To Your Mother" Producer Kim Jorgensen Gane 


This is the second part of a two-part interview with author, educator, and consultant Kim Jorgensen Gane, discussing her experience as a first time stage-play producer, bringing "Listen To Your Mother" to Southwest Michigan. (Read Part I.)

****

Ami: What are some of the challenges you faced with this production? How did you meet them?


Kim: We face similar challenges producing this show today that my husband and I experienced fifteen years ago when we owned a restaurant in downtown Benton Harbor. Berrien County is an incredibly diverse community, yet Benton Harbor and St. Joseph remain pretty segregated. This bothered me as a child, and it was a situation I worked hard to combat in our restaurant. 

After living other places, this is something that has stayed with me, motivating me in our inaugural season to focus on outreach and inclusion. The fact that this was a directive handed down by our national team across the country only made me more determined to find a way to make it work here. They wanted all the voices of motherhood represented, and I did, too.


I called Beth Haire-Lewis, who emcees and co-chairs the annual "Gene Harris: Coming Home, Coming Together Concert," has appeared in "The Vagina Monologues" locally, and sings with the band Sankofa. We had a very frank discussion, and I asked her to help me fulfill my vision of producing a show that represents our two communities as equally as possible, while first and foremost providing great entertainment. Without any previous experience with Listen to Your Mother to bank on, she took a big leap of faith when she agreed. 

Meagan Francis was a part of the NW Indiana cast in 2011, so she already knows what's special and incredible and life-changing about Listen to Your Mother. And she’s a big fan of community theater, recently playing Alma in The Christmas Schooner, with an impressive online following. When the national team put us in touch, we were both like, “You mean there’s another blogger in St. Joe?!” Meagan believed in what we wanted to do with every piece of her heart, too. We three make a great team.

And we’ve all been blown away by how beyond our expectations the local talent has delivered. And we’re thrilled to give these thirteen amazing writers and performers, some of them for the first time, a stage. And a microphone. 


Key Takeaway: Don't try to do it on your own. When faced with challenging circumstances, enlist the help of those who have shown themselves capable of meeting those challenges head-on. Build your team!




Ami: What advice would you give potential producers for casting amateurs?

Kim: I certainly can’t speak as an expert. But we’ve learned a few things that I hope we’ll improve upon in future years. 

I think the word “audition” can be a little off-putting for those who’ve never dreamed of doing this before, but who have a story they feel compelled to share—and story is what Listen to Your Mother is all about. It’s so very different from anything else we’ve seen. 

Some of our auditioners interpreted our call for auditions like a homework assignment. We tried to convey that it’s more about a moment that defines motherhood for you. And we tried to convince everyone that it’s so much more than a show by mothers for mothers. Even so, we only had one man audition--John Berecz--but his story was wonderful and we cast him. 

We’re open and we want you to succeed. We happen to be moms, but we were all something before we were moms. And we’re just regular people. I think we create a welcoming, supportive audition experience, at least I hope we do. 

Though it’s natural for our first cast to come largely from our direct circles of influence, I’m hoping, after a year under our belts we’ll be able to reach out further into the community. I hope after seeing a show folks will better understand what it is we’re looking for. As difficult as it was for us to choose among the auditions we heard this year, I can’t imagine what that process will be like later on.  

Key Takeaway: When casting amateurs, a supportive environment holds the key to success.
 


Ami: What tips do you have for finding and working with local sponsors?

Kim: Oy! Well, I’ve learned that I have a bit of a social anxiety about picking up the phone, which is not conducive to connecting with potential sponsors. 

But what if no one comes to my party!?
There’s a story in my past, about not being invited to a party in kindergarten, about being turned away at the door by the birthday boy while my best friend wiggled her fingers from mine and stepped inside. This translates into me being afraid nobody wants to come to my parties either. It’s often paralyzing and it’s something I’ll be working to further conquer before next year. 

It helps that I know and love a number of business owners who have been incredibly supportive. And I have Meagan as my secret weapon. She reached out to Celebration Cinema and got them on board as a major local sponsor, for which we’re so grateful. 

But one of our favorite things about Listen to Your Mother is the charitable aspect of the movement. 

Since 2010, they’ve raised over $50,000 for local charities that impact women and children in the communities that welcome the show. So, I guess, first pick a great charity partner. We certainly did. Readiness Center, Inc. is so easy to go to bat for. It’s because of them that we found some of our cast members, and some wonderful support from Brenda Layne at WSJM, and from The Herald Palladium (local media). Which is unusual for a first year show. But we had an idea that this community would welcome LTYM with open arms. And they have.

Key Takeaway: Don't let past problems or present anxieties hold you back. Your sponsors become your partners in producing a show you believe in.


Ami: What have you learned that you wish you’d known going into this project?

Kim: I think we’ve all learned SO, so much. As I’ve watched the seeds of our vision blossom into the show we’ll be putting on for Southwest Michigan on May 9th, I’ve learned to trust myself. And to put my trust in others.

I’m not terribly good at delegating, and that’s something I hope to improve upon in future years, too. 

It was a huge risk just auditioning in Northwest Indiana last year, and I’ve enjoyed some major payoffs. I’m sure Meagan would say the same thing of her experience in 2011. 

Even if I wouldn’t have been cast in the show, the experience of auditioning—of sharing my words and my truth, however difficult it was, out loud—was life-changing by itself. I didn’t crumble. The earth didn’t swallow me whole. Lovelyn Palm (NW Indiana director/producer) didn’t turn me away at the door. She didn’t point her finger at me and shout, “YOU WEREN’T INVITED!” Rather, tears filled her eyes. She laughed in all the right places. And she heard me. I want to gift that experience to as many other deserving writers in my community as I possibly can.

Key Takeaway: There is always room for improvement. There is always room for growth. And you can always look forward to the next production for both.

Thanks so much to Kim Jorgensen Gane for this interview. 
Have experience with producing using amateur, local talent? What key takeaways did YOU get from the experience?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Confessions of a Local Stage-Play Producer - Part I

An Interview with SW Michigan's "Listen To Your Mother" Producer Kim Jorgensen Gane 
 
Picture
Kim Jorgensen Gane / photo: Scott R. Gane Photography
   I am so happy to introduce you to my friend Kim Jorgensen Gane.

Kim is a writer and coach, as well a communications, media, and wellness consultant living and working on Michigan’s sunset coast with her husband, son, a standard poodle and a gecko. She’s been every-mom, raising two generations of kids over twenty-seven years.

Kim writes on a variety of topics including parenting through midlife crisis, infertility, health and wellness, personal empowerment, politics, and about anything else that interests her, including flash fiction and her books in progress. She loves to promote the work of talented local writers and artists. She can’t wait to do so as Co-Director/Producer of Southwest Michigan’s first production of "Listen to Your Mother." Her website is GANEPossible.com. Follow @KimGANEPossible on Twitter.

Kim co-facilitates #Write2TheEnd Writers Workshop™ with me, and, as you can see, does SO much more. I'm grateful she took the time out of her busy schedule to talk about her experience as a first-time producer.

Kim is a tireless advocate for building an open, diverse, thriving community. Today features the first part of my interview with her. Part II will run tomorrow. Enjoy! 

*****
Kim:  When my oldest was in middle school, I took time out of restaurant ownership to chaperone her eighth grade choir on a trip to see “The Producers” in Chicago at the Lincoln Theater. The tickets were deeply discounted and we got to see the original cast, with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. It was fantastic! Even if, during the “gay” scene and after a couple of F-bombs, her teacher pulled us all out of our nosebleed seats into the hallway.
Sing with me: "I wanna be a producer!"

She was trying to whisper and still be heard by our entire disappointed gaggle, “I'm rethinking whether or not we should be here [with a bunch of 13-year-olds]. I asked the box office when I called whether this was an appropriate show for eighth graders.”

Our rather intense discussions were met with loud intermittent shushing from the usher. And then from an audience member or two, amid the fits of laughter that leaked out each time the door was pushed open.

My daughter and I weren’t missing the rest of the show for anything. A couple of other parents and I stayed at the theater with a group of kids who thought (or pretended to think) their parents wouldn’t care. The choir director and another group of parents and students went back to ride the escalators at Water Tower a few dozen more times.

The oldest and I need a do-over. Even after missing some of the best parts of the show, I’m still glad we went. But never, not one time during the show or ever in the years since, did I sing to myself, “I want to be a producer…,” and mean it.


Ami:  So: "Listen to Your Mother." What’s it all about?

Kim: Listen to Your Mother (LTYM) began with one show in Madison, Wisconsin in 2010. Founder and national director, Ann Imig, thought moms deserved more than just brunch on Mother's Day. She wanted to give moms a microphone. And boy, has the show resonated! 

In the years since, this movement has grown, with over 1000 individual past readings available for viewing on the LTYM YouTube channel. 

The 2015 season begins this weekend in some of our 38 cities across the U.S., but our local show isn’t until Saturday, May 9th. And LTYM isn’t just by moms, for moms. Anyone who's ever had a mother, known a mother, missed a mother, or wanted to be one will delight in this array of local writers reading their own stories about the truths of motherhood. And 10% of our tickets sales benefit the programs at Readiness Center, Inc. An amazing local charity that supports families in Benton Harbor in choosing education as a way out of poverty. 

Key Takeaway: Before you commit to something, know what it is and what it stands for.



Ami: What is your connection to "Listen To Your Mother?" When did your involvement with the show begin?

Kim: I belong to a very active and prolific group of midlife women bloggers. Several of them had participated in "Listen to Your Mother" in past seasons and, of course, had written about it. Patty Chang Anker included her audition experience in her book, SOME NERVE: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave. Well, brave was something I needed desperately. Her book and her friendship has meant a great deal to me in many areas of my life, and certainly in the case of Listen to Your Mother. 

I visited the website, considered Chicago, but figured the competition would be incredibly stiff. So I auditioned in Northwest Indiana, and my story was selected for the 2014 cast. 
Key Takeaway: There is no bonus for flying blind. Do your homework. Whenever possible, try to see things from your cast's point of view.




Ami: Why did you want to bring this show to your hometown?


Kim: It’s difficult to describe the experience of standing on a stage and reading your own words about something so full of pain, pleasure, doubt, mystique, heartbreak, humor, and joy. 

My story in 2014 was about being suicidal as a young single mother. But it was about so much more than that. It was about survival, and the triumph of enjoying the family of grown, married daughters and young son I share with my husband today. The experience is one, as a reader, you gift the whole audience. And you feel their energy in return, so the process gives and receives. The audience rises with your joy, and their hearts break with yours. I wrote about that “Me, too” experience and compared it to a stand of Aspens—one organism, all connected at the roots. It’s incredible. 

I knew the moment I stepped on that stage that I wanted to bring it to my hometown. That I needed to. I wanted my community, particularly Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, to have that same experience of bonding through motherhood—a topic we all understand, yet experience in many different ways.

Key Takeaway: Passion drives the production.

****
Tune in tomorrow for Part II of "Confessions of a Local Stage-Play Producer!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The Quick-Reference Guide to Making It Through

Life doesn't always go as planned.

I thought this past weekend would be busy: a good friend planned to visit for a few days and I was scheduled to both sing and direct the choir for Easter service.

On Thursday, I was trying to figure out how I was going to get everything done that needed to be done before the weekend hit -- grocery shopping, animal feed and bedding bought, house cleaned, Easter basket goodies procured. Then I took WunderGuy to the hospital for his MRI...

...and suddenly, the little concerns that had been filling my mind were forcibly evicted to make room for the rather morbidly obese concerns that came barreling in and started complaining about the tiny size of their living quarters.

Instead of our planned holiday weekend, WunderGuy enjoyed a brisk, midnight ambulance ride to U of MI, where they drilled holes in his skull and drained blood and fluid through tubes that ended in things that looked, ironically, like hand grenades.

Sleepless nights! [check]

Unexpected stress! [check]

Vast quantities of blank uncertainty! [check. check]

But now it's Tuesday. Easter is over, and in keeping with the weekend's themes of Passover and New Life, WunderGuy has made it through. He was released Monday afternoon. We are both grateful to be home.

Some thoughts on making it through a situation you never wanted to face:

Keep Your Spirits Up
The problem won't go away just because you want it to. You have to deal with it. Time will continue ticking and dragging you forward with it. Chin up! Instead of wallowing in misery or fear, focus on just one thing at a time, and leapfrog forward from moment to moment as positively as possible.
 
Find Something to Be Thankful For
Yes, there can be gratitude even in crisis. The past few days have made me thankful for skilled medical professionals, readily available coffee, and my amazing friends. I'm thankful for free hospital wi-fi. I'm thankful my car runs. I'm thankful that my daughter is healthy and is getting to spend some quality time with her grandpa. I'm thankful that WunderGuy isn't in a great deal of pain.

After talking with some of the other patients' families here, my List O' Gratitude grew exponentially. I'm also thankful that WG can see, that he is not battling addiction, that he can think clearly, and that his personality hasn't changed.

My friend, the fantastic photographer Charles Hilton, once told me about his first day as a soldier in Vietnam. Shortly after getting off the plane, his unit was attacked. He remembered lying on the ground, concussed and terrified, and opening his eyes -- to notice that the light coming through the jungle trees was the most beautiful he'd ever seen. And he thought "with light like that, I can keep on going."

Laugh a Little
I'm guilty of gallows humor. I can find humor -- usually wildly inappropriate humor -- in just about any situation.

It's a gift that's not always appreciated.

But laughter can go a long way toward making the unknown bearable. We spent most of Friday in U of MI's ER, waiting to be admitted, waiting for the surgeon... Waiting.

Fortunately, I had brought along a couple of Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" books. Seriously. Fiction is a wonderful way to pass the time when the cosmic shoe has dropped upon you. It offers a quick escape. It provides quotable passages, enabling you to interact with others, if you wish, without having to search for something cogent to say.

It's amazing how quickly laughter can stave off fear. The two loathe each other and refuse to spend much time in each other's company. Given my druthers, I'd rather hang with laughter.

Send for Support
A crisis is not the time to try to go it alone. Let people you know and trust know what is going on. If you are a private person, you don't have to go into all the gory details. You could just say "Something has come up. It's too big for me to handle alone. I could really use your prayers and support for the next few days."

Tell people only as much as you want to. And don't be afraid to ask for what you need. 

I am so blessed that my father is nearby, so our 12 year old daughter could stay near home with him instead of chewing her nails 150 miles away in the ER. 

A good friend stepped in and took care of the horses, dogs, chickens, ducks, and barn cats while we were away. 

Another good friend came for a visit and brought a giant casserole of food, knowing that we'd appreciate it. (Thank God for her; when we returned yesterday, all we had to do was heat and eat. Mmmmm!)

My fabulous agent, who has her hands full with her own life, talked with me on the phone while WG was in surgery. Since at that point, I'd been awake for nearly 36 hours, I doubt I made much sense. Yet she never let on.

Have Faith
In the time it took for me to send a few hastily typed texts, WunderGuy was on multiple prayer lists and countless support networks. I don't even know how many people know about his condition. But I've heard from many people who heard from a friend... or a church member... or a colleague. And I am grateful for their well-wishes.

One dear Mormon friend, who lives half a continent away, made a few phone calls and sent a pair of missionaries to us, to bless WG. We are not Mormon. But their prayer was lovely and the blessing greatly appreciated.

One sweet friend who is an atheist sent short messages of love and encouragement. She does not share my belief in an all-powerful, all-loving God. But she is faithful with her support, which means the world to us.

Knowing that other people are thinking of us and supporting us, lifting us up in whatever way is meaningful to them energizes us enough to keep doing that moment-to-moment leapfrog thing I mentioned earlier.

Remember: Yours is Not the Only Battle in the War
Resist the temptation to think that your crisis has somehow become the center of the world. It may be what your world revolves around. But other people have to deal with their own things, too--often, at the same time as you.

While WunderGuy and I were in the ER, others we knew were in crisis as well. Fifteen hundred miles away, a writer friend was in the ER with her son, who is battling strep. A colleague in Colorado was in the ER with her business manager who had a torn rotator cuff and cracked bones. A good friend was losing a battle with addiction issues. And another friend was enduring a months'-long headache that refuses to be controlled.

60 hours after surgery: WunderGuy & I are headed home!
Commiserating with these people, as well as with the ones in the hospital with us, helped us avoid the "Why Me?" quagmire of narcissistic misery. Listening to what others are going through can do wonders to put things in perspective.

It's Only Temporary
No matter how bad things get, nothing on this earth lasts forever. Everything we experience here is only temporary. Tomorrow, today will be gone, never to return. Houses and health, work and wealth, can all vanish in a moment. No one is entitled to a crisis-free life. The good news is that crises can't last indefinitely. Eventually, "this, too, shall pass."

Until it does, wishing you all the best as you make your way through whatever life has thrown at you.