Sunday, September 27, 2015

Advice on "Should I Write This Book and Tell My Story?"

or, Book Proposal 101

A few days ago, I received an e-mail from a person who is uncomfortable being called a "writer," but who feels compelled to write and share a very personal story. The e-mail briefly outlined the situation and the person's involvement in the story. It then asked my advice on the viability of this non-writer undertaking such a project.

These sorts of letters are not uncommon. I routinely get several e-mails a month from "non-writers" who want my opinion on whether or not a project that they are crazy about has merit.

To be fair, I rarely say "No." But then, I am not a publisher.

(Book industry joke: Q: How does a book get published?
A: Someone forgets to say "no.")

On the other hand, my advice is rarely full of warm fuzzies, either. Here, in a nutshell, is the gist of what I suggest...

I firmly believe that the most important thing for any book, movie, or other undertaking is a passion to see it through to completion. That must drive every project. With it, every project has a chance of success. Without it, every project -- no matter how valid or potentially interesting -- is doomed.

If you hope to write a successful book or screenplay, you must have a real passion for it. If it is a non-fiction project, you must want to share your experience with others in the hope that you can benefit those who identify with you and who share your experiences. If you have such a passion, then I would encourage you to follow this project through. (If not, drop it. Now.)

The only thing that makes a person a "writer" is that the person writes. You don't need to be a fast typist or an eloquent speaker. If you have a great story to tell, you owe it to people who could benefit from that story to tell it.

Some advice on the writing aspect of producing a non-fiction book:

Determine what you want to say. Since your story is true, it will have a very personal feel to it. Decide how closely you will adhere to the truth and where you wish to change names, dates, places, times, or anything else you feel the need to change in order to protect your privacy or the privacy of those you love.

As you develop this project, keep in mind your reasons for writing it in the first place. Articulate these. Keep them before you as the project progresses. They will help keep you focused and on track.

One of your first priorities is to construct a working outline. Don't let this scare you. Jot down 10 to 15 topics that you want to talk about in your project. Underneath each topic, make a list of the things you'd like to discuss about it. Each of these, then, will become a chapter. Your outline will become your working Table of Contents.

Take the chapter or the section that most interests you and write it. Say all the stuff you want to say about it. Pour your heart out. Explore all the avenues you wish. Show it to people you trust. Get their advice. Incorporate the advice you like. Throw out the advice you don't. Make that the best chapter you possibly can.

Then, write a short paragraph explaining what each of the other chapters would be like. Explain what their contents would be, giving examples where relevant.

When those two steps are done, you have the beginnings of a book proposal. You’ll have outlined the entire project AND you will have written one complete chapter.

The next step in the process is essentially writing up a marketing plan to show the publisher, editor and / or agent how timely, viable, and salable your book is. Again – don’t let this scare you. You can finish it in a day, but it’s not the place to begin… Don't do this until you have proven to yourself that you really do have something to say about this subject, and that you can make yourself write at least one chapter -- a good one -- that is worthy of publication.

Now, some comments on marketing -- the other half of the book business:

You can sell a non-fiction book on the proposal. The book does not have to be completed before it is sold. As you develop the project, however, bear in mind that the thing publishers really look for is a platform. They want to know how an author is going to get the word out about a book, and how the author can help drive sales. (Publishing is a business. It’s all about the bottom line.)

Start planning for this and developing your platform now. Tell people you are working on a book project. Look for organizations, individuals, speakers, celebrities, or others with a wide-reaching audience who could get excited about your book and help you move it.

If you write a book just by yourself, no matter how good it is, you will need help getting the word out. But if you have a well-known speaker, or national organization, or advocate for your topic in your corner who will gladly tell the world about how wonderful and important your book is, publishers will sit up and take notice.

Start a list of people who might give you a written endorsement (those blurbs on the covers of books only get there because someone asked someone else to write them). Start another list of people who you wish would give you a written endorsement. Start educating yourself about the realities of the publishing industry. The more familiar you are with it, the less likely you are to be intimidated by it or to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous predators.

In my experience, people are often amazed about how involved they need to be in the business and marketing aspects of their books. Those who are aware of the need for a platform early in their projects often have a leg up on those who have drafted a manuscript and then find themselves swimming in a sea of "Now What?"

In short, I tell writers (and non-writers with good ideas) that if you have a great idea, you owe it to that idea to give it an audience. That means educating yourself about both the craft of writing and the business of marketing. Then, act on that knowledge and make it happen!

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.


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...

“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?


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 
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 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!