Sunday, January 28, 2007

satire rules

So the powers that be say political satire is dead. Redundant. Out-moded.

They say we don't need comedians discussing politics in today's contemporary society; that the public is technologically enlightened and therefore globally connected 24/7.

Um ... that is, of course, unless you're in the CIA ...

Sacha Baron Cohen on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Friday, January 19, 2007


I was nine-years-old when Cadbury, UK published my first non-fiction story. I used my parents’ medical books and encyclopedias for research; wrote descriptive detail of how cocoa magically transformed into chocolate; and drew colorful crayoned pictures of the cocoa plant and the lithe, dark-skinned men who nurtured them. Who cared that my tale was published across Great Britain—I’d won a huge red-ribboned basket stuffed full of rich creamy chocolate bars!

When my first play was selected to be ‘produced’ by the city's regional arts collaboration, I was barely 12. Yippee-skippee! I got to miss math and chemistry while I 'directed' and 'starred' in my own upstairs-downstairs murder mystery.

I won again the following year, and my 13-year-old-self was overcome with glee as I got to openly express rude comments about our headmistress. You see, it wasn’t really me calling Miss Reid a silly old nincompoop with a broom up her bottom, it was him over there—Sherlock Holmes!

Since this was a ‘bigger production’, I took the smaller role of Watson, and gave my best friend her first starring role as Holmes. (Alas, with the exception of a pompous uniformed doorman and two very strange caretakers, it was an all-girls school, ergo no kissing scenes between Sherlock and the woman who tried to lead him astray.)

Some 20 years passed before I wrote anything else beyond love letters, shopping lists, or business reports. Maybe it was naiveté, beginner’s luck, or simply being in the right place at the right time, but the first piece I submitted was accepted and published in a national magazine. Piece of cake, I thought, while quickly hacking out my second query. And that’s when it reared its ugly head. The thing that human potential experts say almost everyone fears more than death itself: R.E.J.E.C.T.I.O.N.

I was half expecting it. I’d been a corporate manager the past 15 years; I'd studied motivation, communication, leadership, and human potential. I'd taught sales psychology, overcoming objections, reading buying signals, turning around rejection. I knew that for every sale one of my employees made, they’d need to average a hundred calls.

It was business, I knew not to take it personally; I knew to deal with it and move on to the next. But it shook the perfectionist in me just enough that I felt certain I had nothing more to offer and I didn’t write for another two years.

Retreating into the cloisters of the corporate closet, I secretly plotted and dreamed of quitting the bank, letting the door slam loud and hard on my way out. I read every book about writing, or writers, that I could lay my eyes on. Sat through dozens of seminars with some of LA’s finest—and worst. And talked with other writers, well-established and not. This is what I learned.
  • Practicing any art form takes courage. Sharing it with others takes boldness. And submitting your work for sale—for publication, production, or show—takes a whole other level of desire and drive.
  • Rejection sucks … get used to it.
  • Rejection is part of the game … get used to it.
  • ALL writers get rejected … get used to it.

If these 10 writers hadn't got used to it (some 1,500 plus times!) here's some of the work we'd have missed:

  • Richard Bach - Jonathan Livingston Seagull rejected more than 145 times.
  • J. K. Rowling - Harry Potter rejected by more than 30 publishers.
  • Stephen King - Carrie rejected more than 30 times.
  • John Creasy - British mystery author’s first novel rejected 774 times (he’s now published more than 550 books!)
  • Alex Haley- received 200 rejections before publishing Roots.
  • Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen - first ever Chicken Soup for the Soul rejected by 33 publishers.
  • Mary Higgins Clark - received 40 rejections before selling first story.
  • Dr. Seuss - first book rejected 24 times.
  • Louis L’Amour - received 200 rejections before selling first novel.
  • Norman Mailer - The Naked and the Dead rejected 12 times.

Last but not least, legend has it that F. Scott Fitzgerald papered his bedroom walls with rejection slips before finally selling his first story.

As for me, it’s now 8 years since I quit the bank and I’m well over the rejection issue. My first book manuscript was rejected by 30 British, 17 Canadian, and 41 US publishers before I got a nibble. Onward and upward!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

pay it forward

"A random act of kindness is a selfless act performed by kind people to either help or cheer up a stranger, for no reason other than to make people happier." Wikipedia

It had been a particularly grueling couple of months. We’ve all been there; you know what it’s like. The summer was whizzing by in a swirl of non-stop pressure. I was dealing with unrealistic deadlines on top of an already overloaded work schedule; impossible divas that created chaos out of everything and nothing; and a negaholic team member who suddenly baled, leaving the rest of us up the wazoo.

In addition, I had company to take care of, and was in the process of moving both home and studio.

There was no escape. Emails at 1 am, phone conferences at 5 am, and 14-hour days right through the weekend so I could take a day off to entertain my company and show them what a great place Seattle is, and how good life is—usually.

I knew I was about to erupt. And since my typically refined British manners restrain me from letting loose Bette Midler style—at least in anger—that eruption would be have been a quiet but very hot, fierce whoosh of steam.

I thought about hiding in the janitor’s closet just to get a few minutes peace, but instead, ran downstairs to my car, slammed it into gear, and screeched off to Starbucks. (Oh yeah, just what you need in that state, more caffeine.)

I tapped my thumbs on the steering wheel stuffing down my impatience at the custard colored Toyota truck hovering in front of me. Who buys custard colored cars?

His left winker blinked; he false-started a left turn, a right turn, another left, then made a sharp right. “Bleepety blanketing ijeet … get outta my way! Ijeet!” (Oh, didn’t I say? It’s perfectly acceptable for one to do a Bette in the relative anonymity of one's car.)

I pulled into the line for Starbucks’ drive through. Eight cars in front of me. How fast is the line moving? Can I afford to wait? While I’m making up my mind, the line shunts forward a couple of cars and now I’m trapped. So I wait. And I wait. And Mt. Vesuvius starts sputtering.

Grande caramel macchiato, extra hot, extra caramel. Please.” I open the ashtray to grab my pre-paid coffee bucks card, and drive up to the cashier.
He leans out the window, “How did your day go?
Terrific, how about yours?” I ask.

He smiles, “Put your card away, the customer in front of you paid for your drink today.”

? … ? Why?” Stupid thing to ask, but that’s what popped out.

Just a random act of kindness. He wanted to do something nice for someone. And hopes you enjoy.”

… Wow … that’s … nice.” I’m speechless.

That stranger’s random act of kindness—paying for my $4.25 cup of coffee—stopped me in my tracks.

Instead of racing back to the source of my tension, as I felt I should, I decided to regroup and drove down the hill to Lake Sammamish. I walked across the field to the beach and sat on the wall overlooking the water, gently savoring every sip of my extra hot, extra caramel macchiato.
When my cell phone rang, I muted it; thirty minutes peace-time wasn’t going to break the bank. I crossed my legs in a loose Lotus pose, closed my eyes, and listened.

Seagulls squabbled at my feet posturing for leftovers. A seaplane growled to silence as it pulled against its dock. Canadian geese cried their goodbyes as they took flight for the day. Waves lapped against the shore, grating smaller pebbles over larger ones. And somewhere there—as the wind gently whispered around my head and shoulders, cooling the warmth of the early evening sun—I heard the unmistakable screech of a bald eagle.

I thank that stranger, whose random act of kindness, saved my day and made my week. I'm sure the people around me silently thanked him too! And I hope, very sincerely, that when I paid it forward, my random act of kindness made a little difference to someone else's week. It did to mine.

(Thanks to Kiyotoe whose pre-holiday post reminded me of this day.)

PS... I just switched my Blog to the New GOOGLE Blogger and the comments now show anonymous instead of people's pix and names ... anyone else had this issue? ~v

Saturday, January 06, 2007

writers on longhand

“Anyone can become a writer. The trick is staying a writer.”
Harlan Ellison.

For five months I’ve been driving back and forth between every furniture store in Western Washington, who BTW, all carry the same ugly, unstylish desks in the same limited six colors. But enough’s enough. I made a snap decision. “That one!” I told the sales clerk. “Let’s order it now … book someone to come out and put it together now … before I change my mind.” (Again.)

I wanted Manhattan loft-style, Parisian chic, with a touch of LA smooch. What I ended up with was … well … what I ended up with.

A week later the ‘new desk’ is all set up. LCD in place, speaker phone at the perfect angle, low lamp and high lamp directed to optimize mood and light. Necessary ‘bits’ tucked neatly in drawers. And a mug full of imported English Ginger Beer spitting bubbles at my fingertips.

And now, oh you’ve guessed it. I have nothing to say. Nada. Rien. Niente. Nichts.

Looking for inspiration I grab one of hundreds of books from a shelf.

“Write about what you know”, it says. Hmmm, today that feels like nothing. Nada. Rien … oh here we go again.

“Write about your family”, it says. Errr, that’s a definite no. Won’t risk my brother reciprocating by posting ‘ugly-big-sis’ pictures on his photo-blog.

“Write about the horizon”, it says. Could do, but it’s pitch black outside. So I can see nothing. Nada … rien …

Still uninspired, I blame my new desk. (Doesn’t every bad workman blame his tools?) And then I remember an interview I did several years ago with movie writer and novelist, Gerald Di Pego, and decide instead, to blame my computer.

Di Pego wrote over 30 screenplays in 30 years, achieving massive Hollywood recognition and multi-million dollar paycheck status with the movies Phenomenon, Instinct, The Forgotten. But he always—as in always—wrote his screenplays and novels longhand, using the same brand of pen and notepad.

Neil Simon wrote his plays longhand using a fountain pen and extra long legal pads, all of which he brought back from England.

Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, told me he too wrote longhand; again, using pens and extra-long legal pads from England.

According to legend, J. K. Rowling drafted the beginnings of the Harry Potter series on napkins in a Scottish coffee shop. And Erma Bombeck apparently got her start by scribbling longhand in the back of her station wagon (that she drove around the corner to escape her kids).

Each of them had their own reasons for writing longhand. Neil Simon said he simply never got on with typewriters, word processors, PCs; he felt technology hindered the creative aspect of writing. Peters, being Peters, wouldn’t give his reasons, even when I asked him directly.

But Di Pego spoke from his heart when he patted my hand and told me to write from my heart.

He believes that writing longhand encourages free-flow from the mind to the heart to the page. He feels it more personal, more allowing, more expressive.

I agree, there’s something instantly freeing about gliding pen and ink across a clean page. Something close to excitement about opening a blank book; the salivating anticipation of a new beginning.

My hastily scribbled morning pages are always hand written using the same emotionally selected A4-size journals, and one of two hand-crafted pens that were both gifts. I always brainstorm new projects and longer features using large sketchbooks and smooth wall-mounted whiteboards. But write an assignment, let alone a play or manuscript longhand? I would never meet a deadline!

How about you ... do you ever write longhand? If so, why, when, and where?