Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Wishes!

At Thanksgiving, I had grand plans to write my Christmas letter and have it posted by the beginning of December. But the lack of snow on the ground made thinking year-end thoughts seem hasty. And the tidal wave of work that washed in made any additional writing nigh-on impossible.

Time, however, marches inexorably forward. And since I keep running into friends who say they’re awaiting my annual missive, it seems ill-advised to confess that I was considering not writing one this year.

So, without further ado, I give you: 2008 in Review!

Shivering at SeaWorld

The year began with a family trip to SeaWorld in Orlando. My mom and dad took the whole family there for Cassandra’s birthday. While we had a ball, unfortunately, the temperatures plummeted into the 30’s. It was SO cold! We literally wore everything in our suitcases -- several pairs of jeans and shirts -- at the same time. Still: Shamu was worth it!

Mini Miracles and Other New Additions

Our good friend Chari started “Mini Miracles,” a not-for-profit ministry, this year. She takes therapy animals to visit hospitals, nursing homes, women’s shelters, and schools.

In May, Chari began her ministry with two rescued miniature horses. (One of which, we discovered, was expecting. We are awaiting a “blessed event” at some point in the near future...). This fall, she received her Delta Society Therapy Animal certification. She is well on her way to making her dream a reality. We are very proud of her.

The minis are stabled on our property. They are always good for a laugh -- especially when viewed next to our two Percherons...

Several new horses now call our place home. Cassandra got a lovely 21 year-old half-Arabian gelding this summer. That was an intentional addition to the menagerie. We also acquired an Arab mare and Chari rescued an Arab gelding-- neither of which were originally part of our Grand Plan.

This summer we said a final farewell to Digory (our “special needs” Dalmatian). He was 11 and succumbed to renal failure. For two horrible weeks, our house was dog-free. It was an entirely foreign and unwelcome feeling.

Ah, but the dogless misery has passed, thanks to Seraphim.

“Sera” is world’s most wonderful English Mastiff puppy. Her favorite thing to do is to lie on my feet and keep them warm while I’m working. A friend of mine says that Sera is God’s way of blessing me for ever having Dalmatians. She’s currently 70 pounds, with lots of growing still ahead of her.

School Daze
Cassandra started Kindergarten this year. I was all for keeping her home and homeschooling, but Little Miss Sociable really, really, really wanted to go to school. ::sigh:: We documented the Auspicious Occasion with this photograph. Makes me all smiley and teary at the same time...

She attends Ruth Murdoch Elementary school in Berrien Springs, and is enjoying every moment of it. So far, she can count to 100 by 1’s, 5’s, and 10’s. She can count to 10 in at least 5 different languages including French and Swahili. And she is reading everything in sight. She turns 6 on Jan. 4, and constantly amazes us.

“Oooo! I Do!”

In November, Cassandra was a flower girl in a friend’s wedding. She’d been to weddings, but had never been “in” one. She loved every moment of it: from fitting the dress to rehearsal, from walking down to aisle to the reception. Of course: it was a chance to get all dressed up and have people look at you -- what’s not to love?

Fun With the U.S.H.J.A.
Work on a Major Project for the United States Hunter Jumper Association that began in May, 2007, has continued throughout this year. The project is scheduled for launch in late Spring, 2009, and much remains to be done.

My involvement with it took me to Chicago and Harrisburg, and has enabled me to work directly with legends in the hunter / jumper industry including Olympic medalists, USET coaches, show jumping hall of famers, and other notables. My December list of interviewees reads like a Who’s Who of the horse world. In times like these, it’s oh-so-easy to love my job!

Other Updates
While the USHJA project has been my main concern, I thought it wise to heed the advice handed down from the Sages of the Ages and not put all my writing “eggs” into a single client’s basket.

Other projects in the works include a book for “Horse Behaviorist” Ryan Gingerich, and a screenplay for an independent biopic that a director friend of mine is developing.

Other professional highlights of 2008 included having American Horse Publications name “The Rider’s Pain-Free Back” as one of the Top 3 books of the year, and winning a spot in a Master Screenwriting class with one of the top script consultants in the country. (I didn’t even feel a twinge of guilt when I put my regular clients on hold and spent a blissful week of intensive screenwriting work in L.A.)

This year, I had a few speaking engagements, including a well-attended writer’s workshop that lasted for 4 weeks in the Spring.

At one of my lectures, I connected with a woman who has an amazing life-story to tell. I spent the better part of the summer and fall mentoring her through the process of developing a book proposal. I’m hoping for great things for her in 2009.

We Call It “Performance Art”
Robert continues to build and maintain websites for several clients. He’s a deacon in our church, a first-class cook, and Cassandra’s favorite game-playing buddy. He also does a superlative job of running the house while I work crazy hours to keep clients happy.

Doing the “Potato Dance” at a Potawatomi powwow. (We took second place.)

In February, Robert’s seizures returned after a three-year hiatus. He’s had several this year -- some were quite spectacular. (Nothing squelches choir practice for the Christmas cantata quite like a grand mal.) Through it all, however, he has kept his optimistic outlook.

Daddy and Cassandra waging war with "Risk."

Christmas in Our Winter Wonderland!
With over a foot and a half of snow on the ground, it’s beginning to look a LOT like Christmas here!

This holiday season, our entire family wishes you and your loved ones an abundance of health and happiness, wealth and wisdom.

Thank you for continuing to keep our family in your thoughts and in your prayers. God has been so good to us this past year. We trust He has blessed you and those you love as well.

May the joys of family, friends, and good fortune brighten your life for the remainder of this year and throughout the next. Merry Christmas!

The Hendrickson family: Ami, Robert, Cassandra, and Sera – December, 2008.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tangental Thoughts on the 2008 "Black List"

Calling all screenwriters and other dreamers:

Current must-see reading is this year's Black List Scripts.

Here's the thing: Perhaps I'm being obtuse -- but as a prospective movie-goer, I don't see a single title on the list that even remotely piques my interest and makes me wish that movie would ever get made. Is it just me?

Some thoughts:

* Is it the inherent evil of the Log Line that sucks all soul from a great project?

(As one Black List blog commenter pointed out:

None of these sound spectacular, but it's hard to do 'spectacular' in a one-sentence summary. I'll say what I usually say in these situations… it's all in the execution.

Iron Man by Mark Fergus & Co.
A rich guy makes metal suit.
Status: The guy who played Chaplin is signed to attached to star.

I have to agree with him. Consider, for instance:

"Wanted," by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas.
A loser geek embarks on a quest to become an assassin.
Status: Star vehicle for "Narnia's" Mr. Tumnus.

I thoroughly enjoyed "Wanted," the movie, but seeing it listed like that wouldn't exactly make me want to find a babysitter and line up for popcorn...)

* Is it the fact that no casting (or dream-casting) is included, so I don't know whom I should be envisioning in the title roles?

Hugh Jackman as "The Cockroach King," and Elisha Cuthbert as "Princess Powderpuff" you say? I'm there!

* Or is it a base vindictiveness that makes me wonder how on earth some of those projects ever even found an agent?

(Did you see the one about the amputee fetish brothel -- ::bleah!::)

Maybe I'll download some of these scripts and see what I'm missing...

I figure: anything that makes agents and execs say they like something is probably worth examining just for the sheer novelty of the situation.

And then I'll go back to work on my own nearly finished, hopefully produced-in-2009 biopic, while thinking Beaver puppets and butter carving... Now THERE's an idea for a movie...

To every screenwriter on the list, congratulations! Regardless of whether or not a one-sentence logline makes me want to see the movie, you've made an impact with enough industry bigwigs for people to go on record as champions for your work. Kudos! Here's hoping that 2009 sees you moved from Black List to Greenlit!

And to the rest of us, realize that you have just received a glimpse of the projects Hollywood is pushing right now. From what I can determine, some of the scripts on the list have already moved into production. See what we have to look forward to for cinematic entertainment in the coming months?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Shameless Fan

I have recently discovered the brilliant writing genius of the amazing Paul Abbott, and must say that I am a raving, "shameless" fan.

Abbott created the exquisitely twisted British comedy "Shameless" and the BBC miniseries thriller State of Play. His ability to craft tight story lines that blindside the viewer while simultaneously making total sense is a genuine delight.

Abbott has perfected the art of creating characters so flawed, so thoroughly odious, that they take on a life of their own -- and worm their way into your heart. He makes you root for the deadbeat alcoholic, the Robin Hood of car thieves, the unfaithful MP, the juvenile child-napper, the agoraphobic nymphomaniac, and the perpetrators of insurance fraud.

His characters may be people you wouldn't want in your social circle -- but you can't wait to invite them into your home because they're so alive.

It's true; I think I have a little writer's crush. I'm studying some of what he does and shamelessly applying some of what I find to my latest screenplay project. And I'm stunned at how much more interested I am in my characters. They're much more complex, multi-dimensional, and real. It's quite exciting, because I suddenly can't wait to find out what they do next.

Project Updates

The V.I.P. project for my Major Client has reached an important milestone. Part I is, for all intents and purposes, completed. Part II is coming together nicely. By all accounts, the project will likely end up being a sort of living legacy to the client's industry. I am extremely proud of it and honored to have been involved in its creation.

This does not mean, however, that it is smooth sailing from here. The project deadline is a non-negotiable one that is mere months away. And, while the content is (finally) more or less under control, the illustrations are another story.

Back in April, when I told the Chair of the Project Committee that -- in my experience -- choosing and captioning illustrations to complement the text generally took nearly as long as writing the text in the first place, she positively blanched. Well, it is now seven months closer to the deadline, and we have still not begun photo selection or captioning. I am envisioning calling in lots of favors from friends to help me wade through pictures in the near future. I pray that I am wrong.

Ryan's book project is progressing slowly, but steadily. I have about two days' worth of concentrated work to do on it before the ball is ready to throw back in his court.

And the screenplay writing project that I mentioned earlier has become quite a Blessed Event. I have a draft of the first Act -- the first three sequences -- nearly finished, and am enjoying the process immensely.

I'm working on a bio-pic -- a script based on real events in the life of a real person. Earlier this week, I finally got my first solid sense of who the character is (which necessitated going back and rewriting the pages up to that point). Now I love this guy. I love putting him into situations and finding out what he'll say, what he'll do, and how he'll get out of the mess he creates.

I could work on the screenplay every waking hour. It's that invigorating. Plus, there is the added incentive of the director wanting a draft finished by the end of the month.

No pressure, you understand...

Further bulletins as events warrant.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pajama Party

I had a parent-teacher conference with Cassandra's kindergarden teacher yesterday. The teacher enjoys writing and has been in a library-based writer's group for some time. She was interested what I wrote, asked intelligent questions, and was generally curious as to how someone could make a living with words. (A subject I have been known to wonder about myself, from time to time.)

While it's true that I love what I do -- putting words together in interesting new ways, helping people connect with a larger audience, and trying to get the movies in my head on paper and (ultimately) on screen -- I have to admit that one of the major perks of my profession is the fact that I don't have to dress up to do it. If the muse strikes, I can work all day without even getting out of bed.

A friend of mine has a 6 year old granddaughter who already understands such fringe benefits. For Halloween at school this year, all she wanted for her costume was a pair of pajamas. She's going as a writer. Smart girl!

Today I'm working on drafting the next few sections of Ryan's book. I have some transcription work to do of content that he has dictated. Then I need to sequence it and polish it. He's quite articulate, so the process generally goes quite smoothly.

Later this afternoon, I have a conference call with a director friend who I'm working with to develop an independent bio-pic. We've been wrestling lately with the best way of taking a very compelling true life story and forming it into a workable screenplay. Depending upon the angles we decide to focus on, the story could be a sports drama, an underdog story, a tragedy, a comedy, a coming-of-age piece, a character study, or fit into any one of several other genres.

The process of determining the "angle" has been quite lively at times, as we both tend to be quite opinionated, and we both have certain scenes that we'd like to highlight in the main character's life journey. How to sequence those scenes, and what weight to give them in the overall story has been a challenge. I have a sequencing plan / story line that I'm currently championing. It remains to be seen whether or not I've done a good enough job of convincing him that it's the right choice.

Once we have a handle on the overall story line, writing the screenplay (my favorite part -- and his most dreaded) can begin.

Still no word from the producer who has "Shutters." Not certain whether that's good or bad news at this point. But I don't have time to sit around worrying about it.

Now it's time poof my pillow and get back to work...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Zack and Miri Make a Break from Utah

Am I the only person in the country who is genuinely disturbed by the fact that Megaplex Theatres, which operates theaters in Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah, has refused to show the astoundingly silly Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but has readily booked the ultra-icky "Saw V?"

Larry Miller owns both the theatre chain and the Utah Jazz. Remember him? He's the same enlightened soul who refused to screen "Brokeback Mountain" two years ago because it "crossed the line."

The theater manager is the morally uptight Cal Gunderson who takes exception to Zack and Miri's "graphic nudity and graphic sex," but refuses to comment on his decision to make a film that involves people putting their limbs in table saws available to Utah movie lovers.

Now, I'm hardly endorsing Zack. Or Miri. But I do think that posturing, censorship, and moralizing fall a bit short when sex porn is out, but torture porn is a-ok.

Frankly, if forced to choose, I'd pick "Z & M" any day of the year! Unlike Mr. Miller and Mr. Gunderson, I just don't consider watching gross dismemberment and extreme agony all that entertaining.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Writing for Royalty

Or, Long Live the King!

Today was a banner day in the Hendrickson Writing World.

* I had a producer who has asked to read one of my screenplays show some interest and request a release -- which is always very cool.

* I finished tying up every single loose end on my long-term V.I.P. client's Major Project. (Rah! The project is now in the client's hands, awaiting commentary and revisions.)

* I finished tying up all other loose ends, dotting i's, and crossing t's on smaller projects. (My desktop is cleared. Sticky notes are gone. To-Do lists are full of crossed-out items. The spirit soars!)

* And I did some work for a new client which was just plain fun.

This client contacted me after reading one of my articles on how to write a Foreword. (This is a perennial favorite. I regularly hear from total strangers who take the time to write and let me know that they found it of use.) He had an interesting dilemma -- after soliciting forewords from two powerhouses, both agreed. So he decided to use one for his book's foreword and the other for the introduction.

He wanted to enlist my help in polishing up the two pieces. His staff had done a fairly decent job on the first edit, so I said "yes."

(On a side note, I found it funny that in contacting these two movers and shakers, he mentioned my name and quoted my "Forewords" article. Which would have been great, except he called me "Ami Henderson." Doomed to obscurity... That's me...)

So, this morning, I found myself writing for what can only be called royalty in certain industry circles. I went through the process I always follow when ghosting:

First, I read several transcripts of interviews and short articles by the person in question.

Then, I made note of any turns of phrase or consistent speech mannerisms I could find.

Then I read a few of the person's actual interview transcripts aloud to get a feel for cadence, tone, and sentence structure.

Armed with that information, I approached the Foreword. It was already structured fairly well, so I just worked it over with an eye toward duplicating the Royal Voice.

As an exercise in dialogue, character, and voice, it was truly fun. Plus, it was all billable. If the Powers That Be decide to use my work, it will be icing on the cake to look at the Foreword when the book is in print and know that I wrote for royalty.

Finding Followers

Imagine my surprise the other day when I discovered that this blog had a follower! I didn't even know such things were possible. Now that I do, I've made it easy for my loyal readers (both of you... you know who you are!) to make themselves known. Just click on the "follow this blog" text on the left hand side of the page and -- voila! you're on the list of the Chosen Few. Welcome!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Making Mini Miracles

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."
– Mark Twain

For the past year, a friend of mine has been keeping her horses here at our place. Earlier this summer, she felt very strongly that God was leading her to start up an animal visitation / therapy program using miniature horses as well as dogs.

She has little money, less time, and -- because of her husband's work demands -- is for all intents and purposes a single parent. Yet, she stepped out in faith and decided that if God was telling her to do this, then He would find a way for it to happen. It wasn't too long afterwards that two wee equines came to our place, and Mini Miracles became a reality.

When the horses came here, they were in rather sad shape -- undernourished, under exercised, and just generally in poor condition.

In the time that they've been here, they've bloomed. (Literally. One, we discovered, was -- surprise! -- expecting.) They have brightened the lives of people in nursing homes, elder care facilities, elementary schools, church gatherings, and women's shelters. They have more of a purpose than most horses, and they have risen beautifully to the occasion.

Not only am I immensely proud of my friend for responding to her convictions, but I am almost as proud of the fact that she has begun a Mini Miracles blog documenting her experience. This is huge.

I've known Chari for years. When you think of people who would leap at the chance to keep a running chronicle of the goings-on in their lives, her name is not one that would generally be at the top of the list. She's much more happy doing a thing than writing about it.

So, for her to choose to write about what she is undertaking -- beginning a non-profit from scratch, wearing her convictions on her sleeve, and documenting the on-going therapy horse ministry -- only serves to underscore her commitment to the project. In a sense, her blogging is a mini miracle in itself.

Writing is like that. When things matter -- when they count -- we often feel compelled to commit them to paper (or, in the 21st century, to pixels). It is as if doing so makes a thing somehow more significant, more meaningful, or more real. It has the added benefit of allowing others to peer into the windows of our souls and see the mechanism that drives the Great Undertaking. It encourages people to share in our experience, to sympathize with our setbacks and to rejoice in our triumphs.

Not everyone enjoys writing. Chari would be the first to tell you that she is "no writer." Ah, but she would be wrong. Because, you see, she has something to say. And she is choosing to write it down -- regardless of whether or not it is perfectly phrased or punctuated. She wrestles with the same words every other writer has engaged in battle. And in doing so, she joins the rest of us poor saps who can't stay away from the fray.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On Muzak, Squirrels, and Mega-Mouths

Ernest Hemingway wrote an immortal ode to "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." One would think that clean and well-lit is all one should require for getting decent work done.

One would be wrong.

Every day I take my little girl to kindergarden and sit in a nearby cafe that, blessedly, has wireless internet access, where I work for the few hours she's in school.

On the surface, this is a great plan. I get three hours of billable work, uninterrupted by the distractions of home, dog, laundry, well-meaning friends, and political telemarketers. In reality, however, it has some very real snags that I had failed to take into consideration beforehand.

For one thing, the configuration of the server / internet access allows me to receive e-mail and get online to do research, but it prevents me from sending anything. If I know that my work will require on-the-spot messages, I have to plan ahead and drive 10 miles down the road to Panera's. Inconvenient, but not insurmountable.

Another thing involves the twin evils of fluorescent lighting and it's bigger, more annoying brother Muzak. Oh. My. Everloving. Head! Some days I just HAVE to leave. I have no idea how the poor saps who work here can stand it. It's insidious. It's persistent. It gets into your head, into your subconsciousness, and sucks your soul dry. The cafe here at Apple Valley plays the same CD over and over and over and over. Until you know that "Lara's Theme" is followed by "Memories." And driving off a cliff suddenly seems like a warm and fuzzy alternative way to spend an afternoon.

These glitches are nothing, however, compared to The Mouth. I don't know his name, and I don't want to. But he works here, and EVERYTHING that goes on in his head comes out of his mouth for others to share and enjoy. Unlike most sound projecting equipment, he does not come equipped with a volume control. And he is incapable of speaking a sentence -- any sentence -- without using the word "like" more than twice.

Today was no exception.

I, and every other person in the cafe / store within a 100 foot radius, was treated to a lengthy story about a friend of his who, like, stayed at this friend's house and, like, went to eat, like, breakfast, but, like, the milk was kind of lumpy. And he thought, like, "Well, maybe this is buttermilk, and they, like, like it that way." So he, like, poured it on his cereal and was, like, eating breakfast when his friend came down and was like, "Dude, that's disgusting..."

This narrative gem was immediately followed by, like, a story about this flying squirrel that was, like, trapped in a garage and these two friends were, like, trying to get it out. And they, like, moved into one corner -- but the squirrel, like, moved past them into the other corner.

I tried headphones and iTunes and favorite songs. But even Bon Jovi's version of "Hallelujah" couldn't win over Muzak and, like, squirrels.

Clearly, I need to find another place to work. Which sucks. But I guess it's better than, like, eating breakfast with spoiled milk.

Project Updates

The Major Project for the V.I.P. client continues and appears to be on track. A major segment of it should be out of my hands by Friday, which leaves only two other major components to be completed.

Earlier this week, I did a "help me in a hurry" infomercial script for a client who throws small jobs my way from time to time. I've written several of them for the client over the years and, must confess, I've never seen the final product. It'd be kind of interesting sometime to see how they turn out. Maybe I'll ask for the YouTube version -- just for grins and giggles...

Also earlier this week, I had a producer ask to see one of my screenplays. Which is exciting, but I'm holding off on the yee-ha'ing until an honest-to-God option comes along. Crossing my fingers and holding my breath, but refusing to turn blue.

I also did a little work for a director / independent producer friend of mine. We're trying to come up with the best way to sequence his current project. I had some ideas and sent them his way. I plan to talk with him tonight, to see what paths he wants me to pursue.

Finally, my friend, who I've been mentoring as she puts together a proposal for a riveting memoir, has finished the proposal and is awaiting my edit / commentary / polish on the project. I'm very excited about the possibilities for her book, and am honored to be involved in the creation of it. I'm also terribly impressed with her work ethic and her stick-to-it-iveness as she learned everything she could about putting a proposal together. She followed my instructions (imagine!) and has created a very professional looking package. Further bulletins as events warrant on that front.

That about covers the writing end of things here. The eternally growing "Sera Bear" got spayed and microchipped this week, so she's laying about the house recuperating. And Robert has been working on developing several websites for various clients, so there is no shortage of things to do in a day.

Thank God I don't have to, like, capture a squirrel. I wouldn't, like, have the time.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Fun Reading "The Fine Print"

I am in the midst of reading Mark Levine's excellent book The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, and am thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Mr. Levine was a practicing corporate and entertainment attorney for nearly a decade. He is now CEO of Click Industries, Ltd..

In "The Fine Print of Self-Publishing," Levine not only demystifies the process of skipping the rejection-letter collection game once one commits to getting one's book in print, but he also does the unthinkable. He talks dollars and cents. He decodes standard publishing contracts. And he names names. Real names of real self-publishers, complete with website URLs, contact information, and standard publishing services offered.

A significant portion of the book (now in its third edition) is committed to evaluating 45 self-publishing companies -- analyzing what they offer and ranking them for service, production, value, and ethics.

Eight companies earn the rank of "Outstanding."

Nine are "Pretty Good."

Seven are "Just OK."

And readers are warned to "Avoid" a frightening 21!

Levine's style is engaging, humorous, self-deprecating, and straight-forward. By page 35 (the book is over 300 pages), the information in the book has more than paid for the purchase price. I was especially impressed with his no-nonsense approach to marketing, his debunking of unrealistic expectations, and his advice on how to know when self-publishing is the right step in a writer's career.

This is an excellent resource for anyone entertaining the thought of "going it alone" in the publishing world. I consider it an invaluable addition to my reference books.

When Worlds Collide

In a few days, I leave for a multi-day meeting with one of my Major Clients to discuss the progress and future of the VIP project that has been occupying many of my waking thoughts (and a few of the slumbering synapses as well).

Ryan's book is still in a holding pattern, but I spoke with my publisher the other day, and am in the process of considering what appears to be a very exciting new book project. I just received an outline / book idea / proposal, and will spend some time looking that over this afternoon. But what I've heard is exciting -- especially because it would involve working with an industry legend. Heaven knows how I love to do that!

Further bulletins as events warrant on that front. In the meantime, there is no shortage of things to be done. So I'm reluctantly going to put "The Fine Print..." aside for the moment, and attend to the "Fine Art" of writing for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How Not to Become a Client

or, Strange and Tangential News of the Weird

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from someone who had read one of my articles on writing online. He had appreciated the information in the article and sent me the following e-mail:

Do you give consultations? I need help with a few questions now but I also have big writing needs. I am available either now (my preference) or soon or later.

I was catching up on my e-mail late on Saturday night. I responded: "Yes, I do provide consultations. I also edit, ghostwrite, and co-author on occasion. I would be happy to learn more about what you need, to see if what I offer would be a good fit for you."

Then I asked him to tell me a bit about his writing project, and let me know what sort of help he wanted from me. (I noted that he had a well-received book in print, and had been featured in the front matter of another, so he was no newbie to the publishing industry. I was intrigued as to what questions he had for me...)

Almost immediately, I received a reply: Do you want to talk now? A phone number was included.

Now, I don't know about you, but this struck me as odd. I generally do not accept new clients on the spur of the moment, at 11:30 p.m. on a weekend, without knowing the nature of the problem I'm going to be asked to tackle.

(Regular clients, because they live in so many different time zones, know that they can contact me any time, day or night. Some have been known to dial the phone first and do the math required to figure out the time difference later, but without malice aforethought. Still, they generally get in touch via e-mail and we schedule a mutually agreeable time for a phone consult.)

So, I wrote back that I tried very hard, with varying degrees of success, not to work on the weekends. I suggested times I was available on Monday morning, and left the ball in his court.

The next day I received an electronic manuscript -- a lengthy one -- of a fairly polished book. This book dealt in great detail with a subject that is SO not my area of expertise: finances. My would-be client had indicated that he'd like me to look at two specific pages and a complete chapter. I took a look at them, but, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what he needed my help with.

For one thing, the text in question dealt with detailed investment information for people in their 50's and older, so the subject matter was completely foreign to me.

For another, the writing style, syntax, punctuation, and grammar were all passably fine. Hardly riveting, given the content, but literate and readable, nonetheless.

Still, I was willing to listen to his questions and help, if I could.

I asked him to let me know a good time to contact him (within the parameters of my schedule availability), and I would be happy to chat with him. But first, I reiterated, please tell me how I could be of use. I reminded him that he must be aware that finances are not my field of expertise. I stressed that any assistance I would be able to offer would be primarily in terms of editing for structure and clarity.

I thought that was pretty open-minded and inviting.

Evidently, I was mistaken.

The response I received said that he already had an editor. He thought I was an expert in helping people write forewords (I am), and he needed my help RIGHT NOW. It couldn't wait -- nope, nope, nope. So, since I didn't drop everything and consult with him immediately, he'd referred to my article online. He'd gotten along just fine without me, and had no further use for me.

As for the pages he'd referred me to, he thought those "gems" would be most applicable to me in my current financial position.

To which I audibly responded: "Bwuuuh?"

I wasn't sure which confounded me more: his assumption that I was a good decade or so older than I actually am (yesterday's birthday notwithstanding), or his expectation of becoming an instant client -- with me at his beck and call.

Perhaps I'm being overly harsh. Perhaps I genuinely let the guy down by not immediately picking up the phone and doing a Saturday-night consult. But I doubt it. I also doubt that in HIS professional life, he would have responded differently if our roles were reversed.

There are certain Rules of Thumb that govern How Not to Become a Client. These include:

1.) If the person with whom you wish to consult is a woman, overestimate her age.

2.) Be intentionally vague about what you would like the consultant to help you with -- even after repeated requests for specific information.

3.) Cut into the professional's personal time.

4.) Disregard the scheduling boundaries the professional gives.

5.) Expect to take precedence over the consultant's family AND current clientele.

I have to say, the experience caught me off-guard. I'm very picky about who I work with, because I want to make sure that we will both make the best use of each other's time and fields of expertise. I honestly believe that my clients are the best in the world. I consider most of them as friends rather than business acquaintances. We tend to have lengthy business relationships that grow over the years.

Perhaps that's why the entire experience struck me as weird. Ah well, into each life, a little strange must fall...

And Speaking of Strange

"Strange" isn't always "bad," you understand. Today, the mailman brought me a very strange, wonderful, and completely out-of-the-blue unexpected package. One of my film industry friends (who, incidentally, is one of those who phones first and calculates time difference later) sent me some way cool screenwriting software as a birthday gift. I suspect that he may want me to provide some writing services using the gift, but so what?

I was FLOORED, FLUMMOXED, and at a LOSS FOR WORDS. Which doesn't happen very often, but is an altogether pleasant experience.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yes, the sands of time continue to trickle through the hourglass of my life, and yet another grain has dropped. Today is my birthday, and though a good friend's husband told her that I have to still be in my 30's, this, alas is not the case.

However, the good news is that I've spent all year thinking that I was as old as I am today. Whether this bodes well (this birthday is a breeze -- I've spent the past 11 months already there, in my mind...) or ill (how bad is it when a person doesn't know her own age, for crying out loud?) remains to be seen.

Years ago, when Robert and I were still puppies, in our early twenties, we had a friend at university who was celebrating his 30th birthday. We took "The Old Geezer" out for a birthday dinner and, over dessert, I got smart and asked, "So, what year were you born?"

He told us.

Now, I'm no math genius, but I know how to subtract. It didn't take Robert and me long to figure out that with our friend's birthdate, he could only be... 29.

We told him he'd have to pay for his own meal, for trying to pull one over on us. It struck us as flat-out hilarious that a person could not know how old he was.

Ah -- one should never laugh at another's shortcomings. It will all come back to haunt you in the end.

I've come to believe that the more birthdays you have, the less your actual age means.

This has been a great birthday.

We had friends over Saturday night for a rousing game of Monopoly (the Grand Rapids edition). It was the most fun I've ever had playing the game -- and not just because I won.

Yesterday, we had some friends who are considering taking one of the horses in my pasture off my hands over for a vegetarian / organic / good-for-you sampler meal and engaging conversation. A good time was had by all -- including the horse, who seemed to really connect with them.

This morning, after letting Sera puppy out, I crawled back to bed and slept in until the frivolously indecent hour of 9:00. Robert had gotten me a wonderful gift selection. (He's great. He listens when I say things like, "if you're wondering what to get me for my birthday..." Then he acts on what he hears.) It's a gorgeous Michigan end-of-summer day. And I'm caught up on work, so I didn't feel at all guilty for wasting time just surfing around online for a while this afternoon.

So: happy birthday to me. I couldn't have asked for a better one.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Goals vs. Needs

I'm going to jump back into my screenwriting project that I took to Jim Mercurio's Advanced Screenwriting Workshop in July. I've tackled the first 20 pages. But they still require another rewrite before I continue with the rest of the script.
My goal is to craft this script into something salable that actually gets made into something that bears a fundamental resemblance to my original vision for the movie. But my need is to write something that I desperately want to see -- that will merit my going to bat for it until it becomes reality.

Fundamental Motivators

The difference between GOALS and NEEDS was something that Jim went into in detail during his workshop. Though it may seem like splitting hairs, understanding these two fundamental motivators is important in crafting a solid story. Too much emphasis on one leads to a weakness or deficiency in the other -- which either opens up gaping plot holes (never good) or causes a disconnect between your audience and your main characters (even worse).

For the record, a goal is something physical. It's an external force. A goal is something the character wants, something the character will take steps to acquire. It's the Brass Ring your character dreams about.

A need on the other hand, is something emotional. Fulfilling the need will, of necessity, result in the character's psychological, spiritual, and / or emotional growth. With good story craftsmanship, the need is the Thing that Must Be Overcome in order for the character to achieve his or her ultimate Goal.

Ready, Maestro?

Goals and needs drive each other, to a point. A character's needs can be used to illustrate the depths he or she is willing to plumb in efforts to reach a goal. Also, the larger goals can make turning points within the story more clear and more significant.

In any case, the need must inform and drive the goal.

This leads to the character's epiphany, when he thinks he is ready to gain his prize.

Not until the climax, however, does the character prove he is ready and worthy of reaching what he seeks.

The point is to use the character's needs to "Orchestrate the Goal." The character can't reach his goal until he's had the necessary growth.

...If it's true that "Theatre is Life, Film is Art, and Television is Furniture,"

and that "Life Imitates Art,"

then evidently there is some fundamental growth that I need in order to orchestrate and achieve my goal of Successful Screenplay Sale & Subsequent Filming Occurring. Like many screenwriters out there, I've already had the epiphany. Now I'm just pushing forward to prove it.

Here's wishing every writer out there everything you Need in order to achieve your Goals!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Puppy Love

Sera, our lovely little English Mastiff, continues to charm her way into our lives. She's 13 weeks old now, and the most Perfect Puppy I've ever known.

In the short time she's been with us, she has learned:

* Humans do not comprehend the inherent Toy Value of shoes.
* Cats and chickens are almost, but not quite, as much fun to play with as footwear.
* "Business" is to be done outdoors. Even when it's raining.
* No one in the family enjoys having their toes chewed.
* If Mom calls, run around the cat. Cats don't move. They hate getting run over, and they make for nasty speed bumps.
* Everything tastes better in the kitchen.
* When in doubt, go to the crate.
* It's hard to stand up when you're stepping on your ears.
* No one in the family ever runs out of "scritches" and hugs.
* Life is goooooood.

"Dribble Work"

Work has slowly been trickling in from various clients. I honestly thought my Very Important Project would be so hot right now that I'd be unable to accept new clients or new projects until the end of the year. However, it is currently stalled in Committee.

This development has given me time to start on Ryan Gingerich's book. But I'm caught up on that, too, pending Ryan's commentary and approval on the preliminary chapters.

This has allowed me to work with my friend Paula, who I'm helping put together a proposal for a book about her very interesting life. And that, too, is caught up.

Which means that -- barring a load of files being dumped in my In-Box tonight -- I have a window of opportunity to work on my own stuff! I'm practically giddy with anticipation.

I want to continue working on the screenplay I workshopped with Jim Mercurio in July. I want to finish the text and illustrations of a coloring book for Mini Miracles a friend's not-for-profit ministry that uses miniature horses, dogs, and other therapy animals to brighten the days of the sick and elderly. And I have an idea for another screenplay that I'd like to be able to play around with in the near future.

Though there is no shortage of work to be done for my clients, as of now, the balls are all in their courts. Which leaves my court free for playing on my own.

Let the games begin!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Forewords vs. Testimonials

I have been corresponding via e-mail with an author who read the article on forewords on my writer's website. He liked the article, but had this question:

Would you say people offering testimonials enjoy some of the same benefits of people writing forewords?

To which I responded:

I'd answer with a qualified "yes." The operative words are "some of the same benefits." To my mind, writing a foreword can benefit both the foreword-writer and the book's author, whereas giving a testimonial primarily benefits the person receiving it. (I'm not negating the goodwill fostered from saying nice things about people who have helped you. I'm merely saying that I consider giving testimonials more as networking, while a good case could be made for considering a foreword as marketing.)

In my opinion, the best personal result one can hope for from offering a testimonial is keeping one's name and reason for fame in front of the public without actually producing something new. In the world of fiction, for instance, Stephen King is brilliant at giving testimonials. He puts his seal of approval on an emerging author while simultaneously reminding the world who the true writing master is.

I believe that forewords hold more value than testimonials, however. I would argue that forewords hold more innate credibility than a testimonial. Anyone can write a few lines of glowing review. Not everyone is asked to pen a foreword. If done correctly, providing a foreword can bring the writer's work to the attention of a whole new audience while still introducing the larger work.

That's my two cents' worth, at any rate.

I spent most of the afternoon working with a writer friend and helping her polish a sample chapter for her non-fiction book proposal. The project she's working on involves telling part of her very remarkable life story. I find it utterly fascinating. I'm honored to be included in some small way to help make this project happen.

Tonight, I'll finish up a rough draft of a chapter for Ryan Gingerich's book. Then, tomorrow begins with a phone consult with a potential client and concludes with a drafting of a section for my Very Important Major Client.

It's good to be busy. And I must say that it's interesting work keeping all these projects afloat at once.

I generally like to work on only one Major Project at a time, but events have conspired against me. Due to reasons beyond my control (and the fact that I have difficulty saying "No" to valued long-term clients who come perilously close to begging for my help...), I've got several irons in the fire. Right now, all is copacetic. I just pray that I don't get burned...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Secession of St. Paul

or, Words Fail Me

It appears that St. Paul, MN, is no longer a part of these United States. It has seceded (or succeeded) and become something entirely separate.

Surely, something like what happened there earlier this week -- when three exemplary college journalism students and two producers and Amy Goodman a well-known on-air personality, were arrested for alleged rioting, when police arrested people and took personal property on the suspicion of a political protest and vegetarian groups were raided at gunpoint and labeled as dangerous anarchists -- could never happen in the rest of the country that I know and love.

Because this country was built on words. Powerful words: the Declaration of Independence ("all men are created equal"), the Constitution ("We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility , provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America"), the amendments, and generations of journalists free from governmental muzzling.

We believe in our words. People have fought and died for what those words stand for. It occurs to me that if owning words, dispersing words (according to reports, political pamphlets criticizing various current events were among the contraband seized by the St. Paul police), saying, or shouting words becomes regulated, then the area in which that is allowed to happen is no longer a functioning part of what keeps these States united.

It also occurs to me that if the trend continues, my freedom to write words such as this may soon be a thing of the past.

"Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear."

Harry S Truman, August 8, 1950
33rd president of US (1884 - 1972)

In that case, it could truly be said that words -- utterly -- failed me. Failed us all.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bittersweet Goodbyes and Bright New Beginnings

So far, August has been a Season of Change. To begin with, we had to say good-bye to Digory, our 11-year old Dalmatian. (Here he is with Cassandra, Christmas of 2006 -- a happier, healthier time.)

Dig' developed a sodium imbalance and went into renal failure. After several hundred dollars in vet visits, we realized that there was really nothing that could be done for him. He was depressed and wouldn't eat. When he collapsed one morning while Robert took him for their daily walk, we knew the time had come. So we said our goodbyes, and he went on a "one-way trip to Disneyland," at the vet.

For nearly 20 years, there has been at least one dog in our home.

Dig' was a "special needs dog" when he came to us, emaciated, injured, malnourished, and abused at 6 months of age. He eventually grew accustomed to the other dogs and cats we had at the time, but we were never successful in introducing any new animals to him -- he became extremely territorial and aggressive.

So, by attrition, when our other dogs and cats passed away, we were unable to bring any more into the fold.

It was odd coming home for the first time without Digory there. The heartbeat of the house is very different without a dog inside. That, coupled with my feeling that losing him was the equivalent of disconnecting our burglar alarm, made getting another dog -- soon -- a priority.

Which is why we now have Sera. Sera (short for M'Lady's Seraphim) is a sweetheart of a girl. She's an English Mastiff puppy who "only" weighed 18 pounds at 11 weeks of age. What a little gem.

My friend Wendy says that Sera is God's way of blessing us for ever raising a Dalmatian puppy. She's referring to Bogie who, compared to the laid-back attitude of Lady Large-Bones here, looks like a hyperactive teenager on crack.

I can distinctly remember Bogie at this age. I'd just brought him in from outside. I thought, "He just peed. He'll be fine." So I left the puppy alone while I literally ran upstairs to the restroom, and returned to the livingroom.

In the short time I was gone, Bogie had eaten our recliner. Right down to the metal and wood.

Sera, on the other hand, is all dignity, composure, and grace. She needs lots of socializing, and she needs to learn to like the outdoors as well as the indoors. (She's spent the first part of her life inside, I gather. She's not terribly pleased when there is only sky over her head. She much prefers a ceiling. We're working on it.) But she's as sweet and willing to learn as they come. We're looking to a long, happy life together.

Earlier this week, I discovered a blog with a review of Dr. Warson's Pain-Free Back book. The writer has encountered some spinal issues, and had some very kind words to say about the book. It's always gratifying to learn that a project I've worked on has touched someone.

I've signed a contract to work on a new book. I'll be working with Ryan Gingerich, "the Behaviorist," of Connective Horsemanship. The book is due out sometime in 2010, and I've just begun to assemble Ryan's notes. Further bulletins as the project progresses.

And, in the mother of all "Bittersweet Endings" and "New Beginnings," my little girl starts kindergarten tomorrow. Words fail to describe how I feel. I'm so pleased, and proud, and full of love and admiration for the beautiful little person she is becoming. And I'm so worried, protective, and concerned for her at the same time.

So many questions arise at this time: Will she make good choices in friends? Will she be a follower or a leader? Will the other kids want to play with her? Will she continue to love learning as much as she does now?

Part of me just wants to keep her home and home school her. But the other part (the smarter part) knows that school isn't just about learning "book stuff." It's about developing important social skills. And making friends. And learning that the sun does not really rise and set on you. All of which are important for one to live as a contributing and balanced part of society.

So -- it's off to kindergarten. Her father and I will no longer be the only authority figures in her life. We will no longer be a part of everything that happens to her. We won't even know everything that she does in a day. It's the first baby step she'll take away from us -- and that step will instigate a gap that will never be closed again.

It's a good thing that our children grow up and live their own lives. As parents, its our job to equip them to be worthwhile, connected, empathetic human beings. We want them to be strong, resilient, and dependable. But that means leaving us behind while they grow into a person that is completely separated from us.

And so, tomorrow, I'll drop my little girl off at school as August's Season of Change continues...

Monday, June 30, 2008

It's a Winner!

I just returned on Sunday from a week in L.A. at Jim Mercurio's very excellent, inspiring, and challenging Killer Screenwriting Workshop. I'd intended to blog about my experience there -- and will do so. Soon.

But I just found out that on June 21, American Horse Publications declared The Rider's Pain-Free Back one of the Top 3 Equine-Related Books of the Year! Nearly 1,100 titles from 2007 were nominated. I didn't even know we were in the running. I'm thrilled for Dr. Warson, Trafalgar Square Publishing, and for the book.

One of the wonderful things about my job is the opportunity to work with real movers and shakers within their fields. It's always a joy when the stars align, and the world recognizes my clients for their expertise.

So, while I'm not yet holding a statue of a little naked gold man and thanking the Academy (soon, Bwana... Soon...), I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the judges from American Horse Publications for recognizing the effort we put into the Back Book project.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Killer Screenwriting

When I teach writing workshops, I talk about "networking," and "goal setting." I encourage writers to know what their goals are, and to be open to any opportunities that may help them reach their goals faster or more readily.

I specifically talk about how contests can be useful in helping writers meet their goals. Many contests have prizes that are more than just money (although that's nice, too...). Some of them can offer invaluable opportunities for networking and continuing one's writing education.

Back in the beginning of March, Sheila Gallien (my friend, screenwriting guru, and story consultant extraordinaire), told me about "Killer Screenwriting," a week-long screenplay workshop with the exceptional Jim Mercurio.

(For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Mr. Mercurio, when Nancy Hendrickson reviewed the services of 24 of the top analysts in the business for Creative Screenwriting Magazine, Jim was in the Top 5, and was Highly Recommended.

According to Nancy, Jim is "The best example I've seen of how an analyst can give concrete help...")

I was intrigued and wanted to sign up on the spot, but because of the time frame (June 23 - 27 in LA, and July 7 - 11 in NYC), the demands of work and the realities of my bank account made that impractical at best.

Then I discovered a contest that offered, among other things, the chance to win a slot in Jim's Killer Screenwriting workshop. Figuring "what have I got to lose?" I entered...

And won!

So, I've been making frantic last-minute plans to get Robert and Cassandra taken care of (thanks, Mom and Dad for agreeing to drive up from PA), to find hotel accommodations, and book my flight.

I'm also trying to find the time to do a final polish on the VERY ROUGH first draft of the script I finished in March. I'd love to use that one for the workshop. Heaven knows, it's the one that needs the most work.

I'm so looking forward to this. An entire week focusing on what makes a screenplay tick. Sounds like a great way to spend the day to me.

If you're interested in joining me and a few other screenwriters on this Killer Screenwriting adventure, I understand that (as of today) there are a few spots still open. Go to the website, get in touch with Jim, and reserve your spot. Tell him Ami sent you. Then get ready to get to work in just... 9 days!

Saturday, May 24, 2008


It's Memorial Day weekend already. (As my husband is prone to point out, the passage of time is relative. When you're young, an hour is an eternity. School days drag on, and summer passes at a leisurely pace. But the older you get, the faster time flies until eventually it's just one Olympics after another...)

I've been on pseudo-hiatus for the past few weeks.

At the end of April, I spent a few days in Chicago at a retreat with my Very Important Client working on the top-secret Major Project that is still in the works. But now my part on the project is stalled until the client determines the approved content for the next stage. (Where before I was Between Projects, now I'm just on hold. Same client. Same project. Moving ever forward. Slooowwly, bwana... Sloooowwwly..)

"May day" is an internationally recognized call of distress. (It comes from the French "m'aider," which literally means "help me!") If a month goes by without a major project to work on (and without a corresponding pay check), I could be tempted to call "mayday!" However, when that month is filled with such perfect Michigan spring days, and when being without deadlines means that I can spend quantities of time outside, I'm more inclined to count my blessings and dance for joy.

An acquaintance recently commented to a mutual friend that "Ami works, but she doesn't really work." I was mildly offended at first ("I work all the time, thank you very much!") But I'm not now. I think that since I don't have to drive anywhere to do my work, people have no idea what my job actually entails. I've gotten a lot accomplished in the past month -- working for me instead of for a client.

In the past several weeks, Theo's education under saddle has continued. He and I have gone on several lovely long trail rides. We got a pony for Cassandra (a 21-year old sweetheart who has forgotten more than many horses ever know), and she's been riding some, too.

I had the time to take Cassandra to swimming lessons, and to visit with my parents when they came for a week.

I prepared the ground and put in my vegetable garden, and my herb garden.

We put up a new paddock, tore down an old one, and put up a new (larger, and hopefully improved) chicken pen.

I got lots of mowing done, disced and dragged the riding arena and small paddock, and put up a new lean-to in the paddock.

I completely re-did the guest room (painted, moved furniture, and re-decorated).

And I taught a Writer's Workshop at the Coloma Public Library on Wednesday evenings. This coming Wednesday is the final session. I've been blessed with a great group of writers -- over 30 have attended each evening.

Teaching writers is something I love to do. When our library director asked if I'd do a workshop this year, I really didn't think I'd have the time. But when I saw that May was going to open up, I agreed to do it. I'm glad I did. Conducting workshops always re-energizes me and makes me realize how much I love doing what I do.

In other words -- I work at it, but it's not really work!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bordering on Business-Speak

A while ago, I wrote about the perils of Business-Speak. Say What? explored the dangers of using 25-cent words when 5-for-a-dime ones would do just as well. It bemoaned the practice of convoluting perfectly good English in an effort to make one appear better educated, better informed, or just "better" than the general public.

To kick off the earlier post, I mentioned -- and quoted -- a well-known and well-respected writer of one of my husband's techno-geek magazines.

Well, of course such a person would have spider-bots crawling the web looking for mention of his name. The original writer noticed my post and commented upon it online. Being a decent sort of person, he didn't bring his flamethrower. He acknowledged the dangers of Business-speak, and was quite gracious about a total stranger (me) taking his use of language to task.

I was reminded of these events today, when, while reading the news, I came across tales of Borders Bookstores financial woes. In a statement discussing the company's $42.5 million financing commitment, Borders CEO George Jones said:

We believe that consummation of the transactions under the commitment will make us fully funded for 2008, where absent these measures, liquidity issues may otherwise have arisen in the next few months.

I have to say, that I agree with him. If I were guaranteed $40 million, I believe the House of Hendrickson would be "fully funded for 2008" as well.

There is nothing wrong, per se with Jones' comments. It's just that instead of saying "With these funds, we should be able to limp through the year, but without them, we'd have been broke by summer," he felt compelled to couch those sentiments in Business-speak. Why?

Perhaps if Jones had simply said what he meant, investors would have jumped ship in droves. Clarity of word often leads to decisive action.

On a day when headlines include both Jobless Claims Hit a Two-Month High and Big Payday for Wall St. in VISA's Public Offering (which discusses how VISA has become the largest U.S. IPO in history: over $18 billion), it probably behooves a beleagured CEO to border on Business-speak so that only those who are listening closely will be able to discern what he's saying.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"Back" in Horse & Rider

I just discovered that The Rider's Pain-Free Back is featured in March's Horse & Rider magazine.

They feature a nice overview of the book, with specific references to sections that can help alleviate back pain. There is also an excerpt of the "Spider Crawl," one of the easier, more useful stretching exercises.

I'm thrilled. Doing the exercises has been very helpful to me. They take very little time, and I'm not sore after I ride or do groundwork. I'm hoping that they can be as beneficial to others, too.

I've been working Theo regularly lately. We've been doing some riding and a lot of fun groundwork. I really like working him at liberty. He's learning to free lunge in a large arena, to bow, and to come when he's called.

Yesterday, we worked with another horse in the arena and though he wasn't perfect, he wasn't horrible. I have grand plans of doing liberty groundwork and tack-free riding with him to show people that Percherons aren't just big clunky work horses. Theo is light, nimble, sure-footed, and sooo willing. He's such a joy to work with.

I grew up showing hunters. But I have to admit that "show ring riding" holds very little appeal to me anymore.

Walk... trot... walk... canter... walk... reverse... walk... trot... walk... canter... walk... Come into the center and line up... Back...Stand.

I figure if I'm bored to tears with the drill, my horse is probably wishing he were in a coma.

I found Stacey Westfall's amazing 2006 tack-free reining demonstration truly inspiring. Lately, I've been studying the things that Frederic and J.F. Pignon, Klaus von Hempfling, and others are doing with their horses. I am having a ball working on developing the connection and communication required to work together with my horse. And I am convinced that my horse is enjoying our time together far more than he would if I were simply "working" him.

I'm grateful to the exercises in Dr. Warson's book that are keeping my 40-something back strong enough for me to play around with my 2,000 pound, 19 hand boy. Here's hoping that the Horse & Rider exposure will help other backs as well.

Monday, March 10, 2008

It's Only Words

It's official: we don't mean what we say.

Do you take this woman...? I do.

I've never felt like this with anyone else...

I'm the president of the company -- I would never lie to our shareholders...

I'm very concerned about our part in global warming.

And, in Ohio: I'm a Democrat.

I find it fascinating that over 16 thousand self-described conservatives -- die-hard Republicans who champion Life (without choice), Liberty (with wiretaps but without immigration), and the Pursuit of Happiness (heterosexuals only, please), and who publicly stand firm on their beliefs in God and Country -- would commit a felony in order to champion those beliefs.

According to the article in the Plains Dealer, Ohio voters in last week's primary listened to the on-air exhortations of conservative talk show hosts ("It's like the voice of God," I can imagine them saying...) and participated in a "plot" to undermine the election process.

Mucking with elections. In Ohio. I, for one, am shocked.

So -- this time -- here's what happened. A Republican presented him- or herself at the polling center and declared that allegiances had changed. A card was signed to that effect, and the person could then cast a vote for the other party's candidate (read: the enemy) that he or she felt had the least chance of defeating the party's Official Choice.

One woman who "crossed over" is quoted as saying, "I don't mind being deceptive to politicians. They are deceptive to us."

Another said she "crossed over" to mess with the results because she "doesn't trust" the opposition's strongest candidate.

So she was willing to sign a statement pledging allegiance to a new ideology that she doesn't believe in, to commit a felony punishable by up to a year in jail, and incur a $2,500 fine.

So -- who's not trustworthy here?

It kinds of makes you go "hmmmm....."

It's only words, we're quick to point out. Actions speak louder, you know.

Is that so? I'm not so sure. The advice to "Let your 'yes' be 'yes,' and your 'no' be 'no'" has an alluring simplicity to it. Say what you mean. Do what you say.

Besides -- forming words is an action. So is signing a voter's pledge card.

Screenwriting guru Syd Field made the famous pronouncement that "Drama Is Conflict." When creating characters in a work of fiction, it is often useful to have them do something that flies in the face of their own dearly-held beliefs. However, in film, those actions generally have consequences that result.

Imagine the drama that would result if the "Ohio 16,000" were forced to live up to their pledge and only vote along their new party lines for the next election cycle. Now THAT would be worthy of more than a few choice words.

Language is the thing that separates us from the animals. It's what makes us human. It's also what makes us capable of prevarication, lies, and abuse of the truth.

What we say influences what we do. Saying one thing and doing another only cheapens what we originally claimed to stand for. It becomes "Conviction of Convenience," able to be dropped, edited, or manipulated at a moment's notice.

While it's true that saying something doesn't make it so, there is no escaping the fact that saying something untrue does make a person a liar.

Harsh language? Perhaps. But don't get offended. After all -- it's only words. Right?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Good Advice on Script Consultants

My friend, Sheila Gallien , screenwriter and script consultant to the stars, has written an excellent article about how to get the most benefits from a script consultant.

We writers need good criticism. We know that. But we often don't know where to get it. Our family and friends serve one purpose -- to tell us how fabulous and creative we are. But as the rejections accumulate from agents and producers, one quickly comes to the conclusion that perhaps Mom may not be the go-to person for an honest appraisal of a work.

Finding a qualified consultant to discuss your script (or book) with you, to point out story strengths, and to illuminate weaknesses isn't always easy. Several things have to happen first:

* The writer must be ready to hear an unvarnished critique.
* The writer must realize that NO work is ever perfect. No consultant will ever read a screenplay and say "It is perfect. Change nothing. Let me put you in touch with my agent who will make all your dreams come true."
* The work must be thoroughly edited and as polished as the writer can make it.
* The writer must believe in the merits of the work so much that criticism doesn't dissuade the writer from championing the project.
* The writer must have done his or her homework in order to choose a consultant who is a good fit -- creatively and professionally.

Ms. Gallien has been a consultant for years. Her credits are impressive and impeccable. If you have a script that you are ready to take to the next level, and are considering a script consultant, you owe it to yourself and your work to read what she has to say about making the writer / consultant relationship work for you.

In addition to addressing things like creative communication, the consultant's tone, and avoiding a consultant's baggage, I especially like the article's Tip #5, which addresses the consultant's experience with scripts in different stages of development.

When I consult with writers on books they are working on, I am very up-front about my experience with the publishing process. I feel that I bring the most to the table when discussing non-fiction works, because those are what I have the most real-world, hands-on experience with. I have actually taken books from concept through creation to publication. I understand how a project's parameters might change during each phase.

In the same vein, when I work with a script consultant, I want to make sure that the consultant has worked with many optioned and produced scripts. Otherwise, I'm essentially paying for a glorified reader's opinion -- and that won't help me or my script much.

Sheila Gallien is the real thing. She has literally written the book on screenwriting. She has worked with a veritable Who's Who in the film industry. And she took the time to work up an article dispensing free advice to writers ready to take the next step in polishing their work.

Is your script ready for a consultant? Only you can say. Perhaps, after reading Sheila's article , you'll agree with me that the better question might be: "Am I ready to hear what a consultant has to say?"

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Not in A Million Years

What's the difference between a million, a billion, a trillion?

A million has 6 zeros (1,000,000)
A billion has 9 zeros (1,000,000,000)
A trillion has 12 zeros (1,000,000,000,000)

A million seconds is 11 days, 13 hours, 46 minutes and 40 seconds.
A billion seconds is 31 years.
A trillion seconds is 31,688 years.

The United States of America has not existed for a trillion seconds.
No civilization -- Western, Eastern, or Middle Eastern -- has been in existence for a trillion seconds.
Recorded history has not existed for a trillion seconds.

A million minutes ago was 1 year, 329 days, 10 hours and 40 minutes ago.
A billion minutes ago was over nineteen hundred years ago -- just after the time of Christ.

A million hours ago was in 1894.
A billion hours ago, man did not exist -- regardless of what "Origins of Man" theory you adhere to.

A million dollars ago was five seconds ago at the U.S. Treasury.
A billion dollars ago was late yesterday afternoon at the U.S. Treasury.
A trillion dollars ago, we were halfway into the current "War on Terror."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are an estimated 300 million people in this country.

If Bob Herbert's New York Times editorial is to be believed, the current war our Fearless Leaders have waged in the Middle East will cost this country (read: us) at least $2 billion.

The war in Iraq will ultimately cost U.S. taxpayers not hundreds of billions of dollars, but an astonishing $2 trillion, and perhaps more...

On Thursday (Feb. 28, 2008), the Joint Economic Committee, chaired by Senator Chuck Schumer, conducted a public examination of the costs of the war. The witnesses included the Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz (who believes the overall costs of the war — not just the cost to taxpayers — will reach $3 trillion), and Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International.

Which means, if you do the math, that 3 hundred Million people will bear the financial burden of at least 2 TRillion dollars.

To the tune of $6,667 per person.

Did I authorize that expenditure? Hmmm....

Not in a Million Years.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Don't Know Much About History

"In fourteen hundred ninety two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue..."

Thus begins the little rhyme designed to help schoolchildren learn Important Dates in History. Our focus on Columbus as the "discoverer" of America completely ignores the Norsemen who made the same discovery five centuries earlier. And, according to British author Gavin Menzies, it also discounts the Chinese who beat Columbus here by over 70 years.

Ancient maps, pre-Columbian Chinese beads, Native American folklore, and even the upheaval that accompanied a change in Chinese ruling dynasties are all cited to support the "1421 theory" that Menzies proffers in 1421: The Year China Discovered the World his bestselling book.

Of course, for every historian who embraces the idea, there are hordes of scholars who are slavering to debunk it.

Which just goes to show that no matter how much you think you know, there will always be someone waiting in the wings to prove you wrong. Regardless of one's expertise, regardless of the study, research, blood, sweat, and tears one pours into an endeavor, there will be someone else willing to invest the same amount of effort to show the chinks in the argument's armor.

It's the yin and yang of truth.

No matter what we believe, we can never be 100% SURE. What is true may be absolute. (Whether or not history ever remembers his name, someone commanded a ship that discovered North America and brought it to the attention of the rest of the world.) But that doesn't mean people will ever buy into it and accept it without argument.

Whether or not you subscribe to the 1421 Theory, it's a fascinating undertaking for someone to pour so much time and energy into questioning the veracity of such a historical behemoth. It's the amateur historian David against the Goliath of conventional wisdom. And it reminds us that though we expect the future to surprise us, our past is just as much a cypher.

Monday, February 25, 2008

An Alan Smithee Award

Now that the Oscars are over (dubbed the "least-watched awards show in history" by some wags who should know), Roderick Jaynes can go back into obscurity -- until the Coen Brothers need to pull him out of the closet and dust him off.

Jaynes was nominated for an Oscar for "Film Editing" for his work on "No Country for Old Men," the powerhouse that ruled the Night of Little Naked Gold Men. It wasn't his first time up for the award. Ten years ago, he was also nominated for his work on "Fargo."

Jaynes has had an enviable career. Not only has he worked extensively with some of the most original and exciting filmmaking visionaries of our time AND been recognized by the venerable Academy for his expertise, but Entertainment Weekly named him as one of the 50 Smartest People in Hollywood in 2007.

(And before you scoff at the phrase "smart people in Hollywood" as an oxymoron, ask yourself what other profession pays its principals millions of dollars for a few days of work. Based on that criterion, physicists appear to have the intelligence of yogurt for their chosen profession. It's all a matter of priorities.)

So while it appears that Jaynes is riding high, enjoying everything that life can offer: steady work, recognition, an interesting career working with interesting people -- you'll never find him out and about enjoying his good fortune. In fact, if he had won the Oscar Sunday night, he wouldn't even have made his way down the slippery slope of the stage to accept the honor.

Jaynes, you see, doesn't exist. (Check out other Oscar nominees who were similarly Not There in Stephen Saito's excellent article.)

It used to be when a movie was so destroyed in the final cut that the director wanted to put as much distance between himself and the product, the director's name would be removed from the credits, and "Alan Smithee" would get the credit. It was better than saying "Directed by Mr. X."

One would think, however, that when one did GREAT work, it would be worth putting your own name on it in case someone felt compelled to hand you a golden statue of a naked man to commemorate your achievement.

It appears that some people actually still care more about doing quality work than they do about the glitz and glamour that clutter up the pop culture landscape. They adhere to the adage that "There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don't mind who gets the credit."

Maybe I should just put Roderick Jaynes' name on the next screenplay I start shopping around. I wonder if his agent (or the Coens) would mind. 'Cause I'm pretty sure he wouldn't complain.

Flu Thoughts

Last week, I was working on deadline to finish a screenplay in time for a regularly scheduled group who had very generously agreed to read and review it. I was working on a tight schedule, trying to get a workable draft done when -- the Flu hit.

So, for three days, I sat on the couch with my eyes closed (because every time I opened them, the room spun, and that wasn't as much fun as it might sound). It was awful. In addition to the pressure in my head from the Ick Bug, I could hear the ticking of the clock as time ebbed away and the deadline loomed closer... and closer...

It's not like I was lacking inspiration. I had all the beats of the story worked out. I knew exactly what happened next. I just had to write it. And I sat with my laptop on my knees, feeling exceedingly sorry for myself.

In the midst of the Ick Bug's visit, I had a speaking engagement last Monday night that -- somehow -- I got through. I think it went well. I was prepared for it, but I'm not delusional. I know that I wasn't on top of my game. The flu does that to you.

The upshot is: the flu symptoms subsided, the room stopped spinning, I opened my eyes again, and got back to work. I finished the screenplay on time and it's GOOD. I'm extremely happy with it. So happy, in fact, that I'm going to stick with the story for awhile and work it into a book. I sent it off on Friday for the readers to rend to shreds.

A few comments on readers' groups... Every writer's dream is that readers will tell you how brilliant your work is, how fascinated they were with the story and the characters, and how they wouldn't change a thing. This dream, of course, never becomes reality.

The trick is to know you've done everything you possibly can to be true to your original vision, and to be open to any comments that may come along that would make that vision stronger or help you better execute it. It's also important to remember that writers feel honor-bound to make changes to other people's work. It's like the unwritten Writer's Creed: Read. Critique. Alter.

It was a welcome rush to finish the project on Friday. All weekend, I rode high on the excitement that always accompanies completing a major undertaking.

And now that the flu has fled and "The End" has been written, we return to our normally scheduled program: watching kids and working on Other People's Projects.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

And God Said "HA!"

In Next , Nic Cage plays Cris Johnson, a man gifted with precognitive abilities to see a few minutes into his own future. However, he warns us, simply looking at the future is enough to change it.

I can go him one better. Sometimes simply stating the present is enough to alter it.

In my February Already?! post, I discussed the current situation at the Hendrickson house. It was nearly idyllic: Robert was happy to watch our 5 year old daughter and the 2 year old son of a friend of ours in order to provide me with lengthy, uninterrupted daily writing time to work on my current screenplay project.

Robert has been doing so well. February 2 marked the 12 year anniversary of his surgery to remove a brain tumor. As of January 31, he had gone three full years without seizing.

But if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. A breakthrough seizure inflicted itself on our happy family on Tuesday night during supper. While we're not exactly back to Square One, we are certainly forced to regroup and come up with Plan B.

My writing time is now much more hard-won. And my worry about my husband's well-being has returned. But it just goes to show that the only thing constant is change. And it makes me appreciate my Happy Place all the more -- if I could just get there more often.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

February Already?!

The year is not going according to my original plan, but in some ways its progressing far ahead of schedule.

Though I "got" the big writing gig last fall for my Important Client, in December and January, it became increasingly clear to us all that they lacked the same clarity of vision for Phases II and III of their project that they had for Phase I.

So, while I had intended to be working like crazy, day and night, from now through the end of April, it now appears that I will be waiting until the end of April for them to agree on their goals and the content they want covered. Where there is no vision, the people perish.

Which leaves me in a writing Limbo. The client wants to retain my services to finish the project once their sub-committee can reach an agreement on things like required content and approved resources. And they have not yet changed their planned roll-out date of the project from January of 2009. So, at some point this year, I will be doing the aforementioned working-like-crazy. Just not now.

I'm using my unexpected time off to work on a new screenplay. It's almost like being on a glorious extended vacation.

I actually do feel a bit guilty for being able to sequester myself away in my studio and just write all day. I haven't been able to indulge my creative side like this in years. And the new script has developed into a wonderfully inspiring obsession. I can't stop talking about, researching, or working on it. Nor do I want to. It's the most fun I've had writing in a long, long time.

Uber-husband Robert is extremely supportive. He watches Cassandra during the day so I can be alone to work. He says he considers me his lottery ticket. Ha! And he enjoys the time he's spending with our daughter.

So -- though things may not always go according to plan, sometimes they go far, far better...