Friday, October 31, 2008

Iowa Writing Coach: Don't Be Suspicious of Yourself

You see a painting like the one above by Houston artist Stephen Dickerson. It strikes you so forcefully that suddenly you want to create something right on the spot. That’s what happened to me two years ago at the Des Moines Art Festival after I saw Dickerson's colorful cityscape paintings.

I burst out of the display area and sat down and sketched the Des Moines Public Library and the Principal building. When I look at my sketch I clearly remember talking to Dickerson, hearing his wonderful Southern drawl, and being totally envious that he was making it as an artist.

I called Dickerson after the festival in my ongoing quest to soak up the wisdom of artists and writers who make their living at their work. He wins the prize for quitting-day-job stories: after graduating from the University of Alabama with a BFA, he began working as a display designer for a large retail corporation. Eventually he worked his way “up” into management, working 70 hours a week and hating it.

After 18 years of working for The Man, he scraped together his collection of paintings (“I had time to do about one a year”) and entered an art show in Birmingham. That was 12 years ago and he’s been working full-time as an artist ever since. He lost $5,000 the first year, showed a profit the second year of $15,000, and for the past 9 years, has achieved his goal of making more money than he made while working for “that stinking corporation.” He has even been able to put his wife through pharmacy school.

Dickerson says he changes his style every year rather than get locked into formula-painting just to please customers. “I lose customers every year and get new ones,” he said, “but somehow it works out. I decided that if I’m going to do such a risky thing, I’d better please myself.”
I think about his next statement nearly every day as a freelance writer/editor (the emphasis is mine): “I feel like the luckiest person in the word. People buy these things I make; I do what I want to do; it all works out. The key is to find what comes easiest to you and not be suspicious of it."
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Career Inklings from Columbia

Storm Clouds Ahead

Janet M. Ruck

Sometimes we need to pay attention to change before it befalls us. Ignoring the signs along the way can create havoc and disruption. Often we are blind to the signs because we are in our comfort zone, and we don’t want to consider the possibility that change can overtake our circumstances. We like where we are and we refuse to think about the fact that perhaps things will be changing.

In my work as a career counselor, I often see very capable individuals become overtaken by change, because they were unwilling to see the trends that were happening around them. They falsely believed that if they kept their heads down, did their work and ignored the environment around them, they’d weather the storm of job layoff or furlough. Working hard in this case was definitely not working smart. They focused myopically straight ahead, and didn’t look left or right. If they had, they would have seen the workplace changing right before them, and they could have prepared themselves for what was happening. Had they been proactive, by facing reality and preparing themselves, they might have been able to take charge of their situations. Instead, they found themselves in a position of being reactive, responding to the environment. They were in a defensive mode. Their careers and lives were turned upside down, and they found themselves in crisis. They had to dig out of a bad situation, with the resulting blows and bruises to their self-esteem and confidence.

Don’t let this happen to you. In these uncertain times, be on the lookout for signs that may be telling you that you need to get ready to make a change now. These are some steps that I have used with my clients to help them protect themselves:

1. Pay attention to trends in your industry, your organization;
2. Develop and maintain a professional identity;
3. Keep your skills updated;
4. Take calculated risks; seize opportunity!
5. Live, work and grow with passion;
6. Know and use your resources, and reciprocate.

If you pay attention, you may be able to minimize the upheaval and potential damage that an unexpected job loss can bring about.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

By Kathy Carpenter

Hex Appeal

A cute little witch story for Halloween. Hex Appeal is by Linda Wisdom. Basically a romance between a Vampire and a Witch.

This gave me lots of options to tie in. But I did Vampires recently, and we don’t currently have any Witch shows. And yes I was a big Charmed fan. However I’m taking this in a whole different direction. I am going with appeal. I going to talk about “America’s Top Model”. I’ve watched this show since the beginning. Every cycle as they call each season. Growing up I watched all the beauty pageants and still try to catch them. Isn’t every girls dream to win a beauty pageant. Or use to be. I think Top Model plays into this fantasy. To be a beautiful, and to lead a glamourous lifestyle. Although after viewing the show maybe young girls can see the realities involved in this profession.

Do the girls all a sex appeal? I do not know about that in fact most of the girl’s I want lose out to the ones I hate. But they all have some kind of appeal or they would not be there.

Often a girl I feel is downright homely will be one of the judges favorites. And sometimes I admit the camera does work miracles. Other times the judges will love a certain picture and I don’t get the appeal at all..

Appeal or not as with most things I guess it in the eye of the beholder.
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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Don't Quit Your Day Job

Creating and the Dependency of Other Writers

Last year I joined my local chapter of the California Writers Club (CWC). My theory was if I acted like a writer and hung out with writers, maybe, I would slowly believe that I was a writer.

So far it’s been great. I’ve met some great authors and networked with other writers in my community. But still, when other members ask me what I write, I find myself stumbling over my words and how I define myself as a writer. I’m in my second year of membership now, yet I still feel like an outsider. I don’t have enough “street cred” to feel like I can truly pal around with the other members. My only comfort is there are many members that have a good couple of decades on me, so I do feel like I have time.

I also attend a local writing school that offers short term classes. I usually take a Saturday class every spring that inspires me and, although provides much intimidation from the talent of those around me, challenges me to step up my game.

The class I took last spring enabled one of my writing goals to come to fruition. Someone wanted to start a writing group and I jumped at the opportunity. Our little group meets once a month and it has forced me to put my fingers on the keyboard and write. But what happens when we don’t meet? I hate to admit that I need these monthly meetings to spur me on, but I do. It’s so easy to get caught up in our daily lives and all the tasks that take precedence over creating. However, if I have to read my work to the group for twenty minutes, certain things are just going to have to be put on hold. The day before my last meeting, I had only written a few new paragraphs on my memoir. It was okay because I had a half vacation day from work. My son is not quite old enough to stay home alone and with an early dismissal from school, it proved to be a perfect writing afternoon.

By the time I came home and fired up my computer, I saw an e-mail exchange that immediately changed the course of my afternoon. One member could not make it, another was out of town, a possible new member was not heard from at all and other member already informed us that they wouldn’t be available for several months. That left only myself and one other person and it just didn’t seem worth all of effort.

A lesson to learn here could be to write first and not open your e-mail! I must admit that after I read all of the e-mails, it suddenly seemed more important to do laundry and clean up the kitchen. Although I’ve been writing other things, I have not worked on the memoir all week. I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll be able to pin down a date for November, before the holiday season gobbles up everyone’s time.

I guess I still need a lot of help to keep me writing. Sometimes peer pressure is a good thing. Surrounding myself with other writers and putting myself in situations where I need to behave like a writer, is the kick in the pants I need to make me continue to produce. I’m still searching for the inner strength to self motivate and prioritize writing in my life. For now, my need for other writers is paramount. Hear that? I need you guys!
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Creative Connections - Encouragement

Golden Bell 2008 089

Last week I went on a three day field trip with my 5th grade twins to a conference center in the Colorado mountains. One of the highlights of the trip was the zip line. Some kids didn't hesitate to climb the tree to the platform, jump off the edge and travel hundreds of feet on a zip line down the mountain. Some cried a little, others bit back their tears. Almost all the kids conquered their fears and made the jump. Their teacher had told them what to expect and emphasized how strong the ropes and harnesses were. As the kids climbed the tree and made that jump the other children and parents cheered. I kept thinking how rare that kind of encouragement is. These kids were taking a literal jump out of their comfort zones. No one was telling them to be careful, to consider the consequences, to consider the odds of success, to play it safe. Instead their names were chanted, and they were told "one step at a time", "keep going", and "you can do it".

And yes, that's one of my sons in the picture. And I cheered for my boys even though I was nervous and worried. They looked so tiny when they were at the top of that tree. It would have been safer for them to stay on the ground, but not nearly as thrilling.

Encouragement shouldn't be rare. Let's spread some around. Encourage somebody today - maybe not to jump out of a tree - but to take their own creative leap, to do something new even if it's scary.

Lauri Griffin is a published short story writer who is currently revising some longer works. She holds degrees in educational psychology and gifted education, and is the instructional coordinator for a a literacy program. Lauri is fascinated by the many different ways our brains learn, and by the creative process. Visit Lauri's Reflections, for more thoughts on creativity, writing, lifelong learning, and parenting. Read more!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Garden Views: Writing with Pictures

Four decades ago, it was possible to write garden books and magazine articles that contained few, if any, photos. But not today. In today’s garden writing world, the pictures ARE the story. Some publications start with the photographs and the writer is asked to write the story specifically to the pictures. Others may use photos to illustrate a story. In some cases, such as a book about a specific garden, or specific objects within gardens (such as sheds), it would be impossible to write the piece without the pictures.

Literary writers might lament the passing of an era when detailed, evocative descriptions could “paint a picture” of a garden in words, but those of us in the trenches know that the right picture IS “worth a thousand words.”

Necessity has caused us to stretch beyond our natural writing gift into an arena that uses the right side of the brain, which deals with patterns and spatial relationships. I started out taking “inventory” photos that simply document what is there, leaving the art to the “real” photographer, who would come later.

But I always had a good sense of composition and color, as well as friends who paint landscapes and garden vignettes. I admired garden photographers who could create works of art from the most mundane scenes. I wanted to make something that reflected the enjoyment I got from their work. Soon I was trying my own hand at taking artsy garden photos and pictures of flowers a la Georgia O’Keefe.

I still have a long way to go. But I now feel more confident about the quality of my photos, I enjoy this necessary part of my job much more than I used to, and I am looking forward to taking an internet-based class during the off season.

Look around at the necessary evils of your own art. Perhaps there is something you can explore, something that will stretch you, something that might even turn into fun.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Iowa Writing Coach: Got 15 Minutes? Make Something.

I took an online course from Eric Maisel last year. The focus of the course was coaching other writers, but I was so in need of a motivational kick in the pants as a writer/artist that I elected to coach myself while I took the course. For me, the most useful exercise during the twelve-week course was developing the practice of devoting fifteen minutes to a creative project, several times a day -- in and around the other responsibilities I had at the time.

What I learned during this exercise is that even when you're half-mad at your partner because his job means a move you don't want to make, and even when you have work to do to pay the bills that isn't all that engaging at the time, it turns out that if you can devote at least two or three fifteen-minute sessions a day to your own creative projects, you will find the energy you need to move forward.

During this time of relative chaos I was able to make amazing progress on a book proposal about the freelancing life (okay, it got shelved but I plan to reignite the project this winter) and I was able to sketch the sweet view out of our upstairs bathroom window in Ames, Iowa -- a view that I had savored for the five years we lived there. I was so pleased to be able to capture the essence of that view that I forgot to be sad about moving that day.

Fifteen minutes can do wonders. Try it: make something.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Television Musings-Rants and Raves of a Romance Writer

By Kathy Carpenter

True Confessions

A chapter title from The Red Club Rides Again. Connection. Lawyers. I wanted to talk about Lawyer shows. I like shows about lawyers. I do not like cop shows for the most part. I guess I like the due process.

Used to watch Law and Order and always enjoyed the second half more. The part where they went to court. I like mysteries where you figure out who did it - Matlock - Murder She wrote. But this is about Lawyers.

Boston Legal, love it. Especially the beginning and end. In the beginning they have some far out funny incident and at the end Alan and Denny (the main character) sit on the balcony drinking and smoking and talking. Always quite funny. The show has a huge cast, which always amazed me. How they could get so many people into each show. And each character has their peculiarity , The show makes fun of everyone and has some pretty controversial subjects. But it fun. I was sorry to hear Monday night this is the final season. It’s only been on about four years.

Eli Stone. Another creative attempt. Where this lawyer has an aneurism which allows him visions from God which helps him win his cases. Like it.

Raising the Bar - More of your serious straight law firm but I still like it.

Guess that’s it for my current law shows.

Law and Order - Like not so much. All those crime shows got so depressing after awhile.

Want to talk Television email

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Funny Things in Vegas- Sammy Shore!

He's opened for Elvis Presley. Along with Joey Bishop, Moms Mabely, Redd Foxx and Phyllis Diller, he headlined the Las Vegas Strip for years. The Comedy Store in Los Angeles was started by him. And, he is the father of MTV-Generation Xer, Pauly Shore. Sammy Shore, at 81, is still going strong, writing books, and even opening for Tony Orlando.On a cloudy day in October, I sat with Mr. Shore as he sold books at the local library book fair, and we talked about life in Las Vegas, entertainment, and even politics. His book, "The Warm Up" is less about the years he spent with Elvis, and more about growing up in the entertainment industry. He writes about the issues of going on the road while being a full-time father and husband. He writes about realizing that he was no longer part of the "under thirty" crowd. The book is as much about coming to terms with getting older as it is about spilling inside secrets of parties and concerts.

As we sat, Mr. Shore also chatted about his latest projects. He just published a book called "The Man Who Made Elvis Laugh" about the years he spent trying to get work with, then succeeding on stage with the most popular entertainer in the world. There are stories about band members, and late night sandwiches that you once heard about in talk-shows- but for Sammy, there are some real, honest to life "this happened to me" tales of life and death, women and drugs, and of course, "Vegas Elvis".

For many of us, Sammy is synonymous with the Comedy Store. He and his ex-wife, Mitzi, ran that club until it became the mecca for hundreds of young comedic minds including Sam Kinison, Steve Moore, Argus Hamilton, Jim Carrey, and even Robin Williams. But, according to Sammy, "Mitzi really turned that club into something. I gave it to her in the divorce and she turned it into the wonderful place it was." She brought in Andrew Dice Clay. For some she gave them a home in the condo behind the building. The respect he has for her business sense is inspiring. I asked how the Store was doing now.

"You know it's not the same. People are fighting over what it's supposed to be- a production company, a club- but it's not going to be the same place anymore. Now that Mitzi isn't running it, it's lost its heart." The Comedy Store remains part of the Shore family, but he noted, his daughter Sandi as a great influence to many comic minds. "Sandi is so talented. She has more talent in her pinky than anyone else in the family. She even wrote a book about how to be a comedian. She's just wonderful."

Shore also tours with his famous son, Pauly. "They're a different crowd. I was the original 'Weasel' you know. He gets on stage, and I just give it to him. The crowds love it. Can't outdo the old man!" I asked Sammy what he thought of other young comics, "Oh like who, that Dane guy, I can't really say anything. People that are good, write a lot of their own material. I don't see a lot of writing on stage anymore. There's a lot of dick jokes, but anyone can do the dick jokes. If they're good dick jokes, I'll laugh, but there's so few good ones now."

The small, unassuming gentleman gives the appearance of a former beatnik, maybe heading to a poetry reading, but he is all business. While we sat, he was on the phone with a publisher who didn't send him enough books to sell at this event. "They're complaining about one small edit before they reissue. I was on Larry King, and Larry didn't say, 'oh you misspelled synagogue' or something. It's nonsense. Everyone wants to sue you if you said something they don't want to hear. The publishers are just covering themselves, and it's a waste because I want to sell books, or I wouldn't be here."

"No good comedy about elections anymore. Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin. But Will Durst and Mort Sahl, they get it. This can't keep going the way it's going. We need to have a change."

People were admiring and buying, too. Sammy Shore is also opening up a new venue, when he isn't working as a Comedy Host of the Laughlin Tropicana, touring with Tony Orlando, or spending time with his wife Suzanne, and their adorable little dogs. "Oh I lost one of those kids last year. It was awful. Worse thing. Just like losing a kid in a way.. 12 years together. He was a great dog. Just a sad day. I still get shooken up about it."

Few people like Sammy Shore are on stages today. Mort Sahl teachers script writing. Phyllis Diller does voice over work for Family Guy. Chuck McCann is a frequent guest, along with Stan Freiberg on the Dr. Floyd Podcats. But, Sammy is only 81, and he is probably going to be the guy who opens for his favorite singers for another 20 years. He's part of what makes Las Vegas- VEGAS.
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Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday Morning Motivators to Slay Your Creative Dragons

By CJ Lyons and Margie Lawson

Banishing Stage Fright: from CJ

Everyone has some stage fright, even if we don’t admit it. But for some it can be incapacitating to the point where they can’t perform at all, whether it’s speaking in public or putting their fingers on the keyboard and writing.

The fear of getting it “wrong” can be paralyzing. Here are some tips to overcome stage fright.

First, close your eyes and breath from your belly. In and out.

Imagine your audience. It can be an audience of one, perhaps your perfect reader or your agent or editor. Or a larger crowd.

Okay, can you see them? Now, ask yourself: what do they want from me? What can I give them that would please them? Make them smile in delight?

Usually it’s Entertainment, Enlightenment, or Education. Or a combination of the three.

Once you decide what your audience wants, why they would pay their hard won money or take the time to listen to your words, then with your eyes still closed, make a grand gesture.

Perhaps a sweep of your arm like an opera singer, or a mysterious flick of the wrist like a magician. Anything that works for you, but use this movement every time you practice your speech or sit down to write.

You’re programming your body that with this gesture, you are now “on”, primed for success, all excuses and stalling behind you, this is it.

Finally, envision yourself giving your audience exactly what they want. And more. Imagine wild success, cheers and applause.

Now open those eyes and get to work!

As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a national bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller." The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, is due out January, 2009. Contact her at

Margie Lawson -- presenter, psychotherapist, writer -- lives at the top of a Colorado mountain west of Denver. Margie merged her two worlds, psychology and writing, to develop psychologically anchored editing systems and techniques that teach writers how to write page turners. A former college professor, Margie works as a psychotherapist, writes fiction and nonfiction, and presents full day master classes for writers internationally. Go to for more information.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Don't Quit Your Day Job

Creating and Falling Off the Wagon

Well, I had a good stretch. I managed to meet my personal goal of posting to this blog every Sunday for two months. Then…nothing. What happened? I’ve been away from blogging for several weeks; writing has been the last thing I’ve had time to do. Despite that, however, it has been at the forefront of my thoughts.
I hate that I haven’t been able to write. Life really got in the way. You name it, it was on the table. Work, finances, health issues, kid stress and at one point, the dog started limping (he was okay later that day, but after paying $164 to the plumber, a vet bill seemed inevitable)! While I dealt with all of the issues in front of me, I had a new one to add to the pile: the guilt of not writing. Before, it was easy to put my writing aside for long periods of time. At first I would make excuses and then soon, I would go for days without even thinking about my writing.

The feelings I’ve had over the last few weeks have awakened me in the middle of the night and have stopped me short during my normal daily activities.

“What are the right decisions?”
“Where will this path lead?”
“What if I take this one instead?”

My head has been filled with so much decision making, creating seems like a luxury. Can I suspend all of these real life issues and write with abandon? I haven’t been able to. This is when hobby and job come to a direct head. No matter how seriously I want to take my writing, if no one is paying me to do it, it will have to take a backseat when paying the bills comes to the forefront. I want be a writer and feel like I’m a writer, but when you have kids, a mortgage, a car, then it’s going to be put aside when other responsibilities rear their ugly head. This is when I begin to doubt my abilities. How do you continue to make something so important in your life when, for the most part, no one even knows you’re doing it?

That being said, I have reached a point in my writing where it feels serious and real to me. I’ve been depressed that I’ve gone weeks without posting to this blog or my other blog. I feel more physically tired doing less then when I worked all day and came home and wrote in the evenings. Lately, I’ve been pulled in so many directions that when I do have free time to write, I just want to empty my mind and relax. But I don’t relax. That’s the lesson to be learned here. If I don’t have an outlet for my creative endeavors, they will plague me just as much unpaid bills and leaking pipes.

So another challenge is to keep writing during stressful times. Keep writing when you have no audience. Keep writing when no one is paying you. Keep writing even if it seems frivolous.

Keep writing.
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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Creative Connections

Oct 2007 Rocky Mountains 4

Old Friend, New Writer

A friend of mine recently decided she wants to write. I have mixed feelings about this. Most of me is excited to have another writing buddy, and I'm proud of her, for doing something she wants to do, for dreaming big, for mining the creative depths. I have no doubt she will be a talented writer. She has a flair for storytelling, and she's incredibly intelligent and well read.

And yet a small part of me thinks, "don't do it". Because from my own experience, and from talking to other writers I know that the next couple of years are going to be hard ones for her. She will struggle with her own identity. She will find some ugly things in those creative depths. Wrestling with them will make her stronger, but it's tiring, and messy, and scary. Writing takes time. Something will have to give. Those decisions about what gives and when are not easy to make and are often loaded with guilt.

People she trusted to support her will let her down. She will spend too much time wondering if her writing stinks, or if those trusted people are jealous that she's pursuing her goals or are worried about what she write, or maybe they can't imagine that she has anything interesting to say, or maybe they just aren't interested in her at all. She will learn to keep the writer part of her self safe, but only after a lot of painful bruises.

Others will surprise her with their interest and support. And I want to and will be one of those people.

Lauri Griffin is a published short story writer who is currently revising some longer works. She holds degrees in educational psychology and gifted education, and is the instructional coordinator for a a literacy program. Lauri is fascinated by the many different ways our brains learn, and by the creative process. Visit Lauri's Reflections, for more thoughts on creativity, writing, lifelong learning, and parenting. Read more!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sculpting a Life

Susan Gallacher-Turner's turn in the Pacific Nothwest.

For two weekends in a row, I've been part of the Portland Open Studios Tour. That means from 10 am to 5 pm Saturday and Sunday, I open my studio to the public. But it's more than an art show and sale. It's more like art show and tell.

Remember when you were in kindergarten and you brought something to school to share with the rest of the class? Well, this is something like that. As a participating artist, my job is to show people where, what and how I work. It's been an interesting process.
.When people come to my studio, I show them how I bend, shape and pinch window screening into sculptures of animals and people as well as push copper sheeting into masks and landscapes. I tell them how color is added and answer questions about where I get my materials. I let them wander through my home looking at my some of my other pieces explaining how the original stories and found objects give the pieces unity. I listen as they tell me about their experiences with art and sometimes, show me some of their artwork.

I must admit, I wasn't sure what this experience would be like. Opening up my studio to strangers seemed a little scary at first. Not to mention, putting many of my sculpture pieces on display in my own home for people to see and touch. Talking to all the people for 7 hours each day was both invigorating and exhausting. It was a lot of work, more than I expected. And it gave me an even greater appreciation of all the work that gallery owners put into every monthly show.

But I'm glad I did it. They learned about my art process and I learned about their art experiences. I told them about how my work evolves with each piece and they told me how they felt about the sculptures. It was a wonderful exchange of appreciation, knowledge, creativity and ideas. And isn't that what show and tell is all about?

Read Susan’s blog at or visit her website at
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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Iowa Writing Coach: Has Mother Nature Caused the Crash?

Could it be that Mother Earth has somehow willed the economic crash? Maybe this ground zero financial disaster is nature’s offering – a golden, just-before-the-tipping-point opportunity for us to align our consumption toward preserving nature more and despoiling her less. We all know that Nature needs fewer plasma screens and more vegetables grown without chemicals, but now maybe we’re going to have to really listen. Maybe she’s asking us to simplify a la the Voluntary Simplicity movement even if it’s not quite voluntary, and embrace the Slow Movement even though we love the Fast Track.

Maybe Creation wants us to reconnect with our creative selves (write a song, draw a picture, dust off the guitar) more often and rely on adrenaline rushes and shiny new toys less often for that sense of being alive.

Okay, maybe it’s na├»ve to suggest that the earth is metaphysically causing us to base our existence on creativity over material consumption. Still, trusting in the earth’s wisdom to right itself shines a little hope on the situation.

I heard Sandra Steingraber speak last week at the University of Iowa. Steingraber holds a Ph.D. in biology and a master’s in English and is the author of a book of poetry (Post-Diagnosis) and two acclaimed books on the environment (Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood). She told the audience that when she was a graduate student at the University of Michigan in the 1980s, she made a bet with a graduate student in economics on which system would crash first – the economic system or the environment. Each chose his/her own area of study, the economist because of the deregulation going on, and Steingraber because of the lack of teeth in environmental regulations.

They were both wrong, she told us: it turns out the systems are crashing at the same time.

Steingraber went on to explore some of the elements common to both systems. Both are large and complex, with far-reaching causes and effects. (An example in the ecosystem is the proliferation of large plasma TVs that require as much electricity as an average fridge. More electricity means more coal being burned, which causes more ocean acidification, which causes the collapse of coral systems.) Another element common to both systems is that with less diversity comes more danger. (Mergers in financing mean more catastrophic losses; agricultural monocultures mean potentially larger outbreaks of pests.) Both systems have an underlying addiction to oil. Both tend to be dominated by positive feedback loops. (Economic panic and fear create more panic and fear. Melting permafrost releases methane, which causes more melting permafrost.) Finally, in both systems, regulatory apparatuses have been dismantled – or never existed in the first place.

One difference between the two crashes, Steingraber asserted, was that business writers have “made the economy visible” in a way that environmental writers still have not made as environmental issues visible. “We don’t have a steady stream of data like the Wall Street ticker,” she lamented. She wondered who would become the ecological equivalents of Paulson and Bernanke. Who will rally the world into an integrated set of policies that will help decrease pollution and the use of fossil fuels that are clearly warming the planet? (She was too humble to name herself but did mention Bill McKibben and Paul Ehrlich – names familiar to environmentalists but still unknown in many households.)

I don’t have the credentials to rally the world about the environment, but I do hope that the silver lining in the economic uncertainty is that as a society we’ll shift away from currency to creativity as our raison d’etre.

And in the spirit of making the environment visible on this day in Eastern Iowa, I offer these observations of Mother Nature: Okra plants are still blooming even though the leaves are beginning to yellow. There may be a few more of these lovely little vegetables to pick and eat. Purple ashes are not native to Iowa but they’re everywhere in the towns and cities and they’re at their peak in the southern tier of Iowa, all luminescent yellow, peach, orange, and plum. Some of the early-turning maples are beginning to fire yellow, orange, and red. Geese can be seen flying overhead and on the ground, combing harvested soybean fields that look like tightly woven, grey and brown sweaters.

And big blue stem grasses are waving purple arms in prairie patches across the state, unbothered by the Dow Industrial Average.

As a writing coach, writer, editor, and visual artist from Eastern Iowa, Suzanne Kelsey tries to inspire people to live their passions and to find miracles even in the mundane. She blogs about the freelancing life, Midwest Bohemia, nature, creativity, visual journaling, and living large in a small town. Visit her web site at Email her at
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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Television Musings-Rants and Raves Of a Romance Writer

The Red Hat Club Rides Again

By Kathy Carpenter

Yes! Onto a new book. I think one thing slowing me down is definitely the new television season. So much to watch-so little time.

This weeks book is The Red Hat Club Rides Again by Haywood Smith. Tie in - the book is about five women who meet each month to have lunch and bond. Woman who have know each other for years. They have been through every life situation together and stand by each other no matter what. Women-bond series a trend. We had Sex in the City a show I did not watch. Which bonded together four longtime friends. Last year we had The Murder club. Also four friends who bonded together. Three we longtime friends. Then we had Lipstick Jungle and it’s mirror counterpart Cashmere Mafia. Of the two I preferred Lipstick Jungle and it’s the show that remains. In each of the shows they featured three high powered women in New York City friends who stick to each others sides through thick and thin.

The secret behind these kinds of books and shows - is the conflict. Sure sometimes the get mad at each other (who doesn’t). But the main source of the story conflict comes from the outside and they fight it off together.

A formula that works time and time again.
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Career Inklings from Columbia

Show Your True Colors

By Janet M. Ruck

In my opinion, this is the best time of year on the East coast. The emerald foliage of summer has given way to the oranges, crimsons, golds of autumn, as Mother Nature clothes the world in technicolor. Dark, cool mornings obscure the promise of the color array which emerges as day unfolds. For me, this is a magical and majestic time. I feel reborn as I am treated to the many hues that the autumn equinox brings to life in the mid-Atlantic. Change is in the air, and the vibrant colors herald its arrival.

Perhaps this might be a good time to consider changes to your career or job. As a career counselor, I often see individuals who have fallen into a rut. They perform the same job, with the same tasks, day after day, year after year. They complain that they are bored, yet they are often fearful to make the change that will result in doing something more and better with their lives. By looking at their work with the same viewpoint, they find that they are unable to take the steps to make the change that will create new experiences. Yet, just as Mother Nature kisses a palette of many colors onto the trees in the forest, along the highways, and down each and every country road, so, too, are workers afforded the chance to manifest their many talents through their work.

Whether you spend your days behind a desk, at a bedside or on an assembly line, you can decide which of your attributes will color your work this day. Fall’s tribute to nature can provide a backdrop for your view of your work. Take a cue from Mother Nature to move toward the change that can give your career new vibrancy. Demonstrate your many talents, passions and skills, remembering that you get the chance to choose which colors you show the world. Shake off the doldrums and color your world with brightness and vibrancy. Make this the best season of your career!
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Sunday, October 12, 2008


By Lisa A. Riley

Depression - Repressed Creativity?

“The distinctive characteristic of human beings is namely, to influence our own evolution through our own awareness.”

– Rollo May, The Courage to Create

To be creative is to be human. We were born with the innate drive to pursue creative inclinations. Creative energy has motivated us to build shelter in challenging climates, find food when resources were scarce or develop weapons to protect against predators. Our built in innovativeness has also motivated men and women towards advancements in medicine and technology, driving artists to create masterpieces on ceilings or philosophers find meaning in life’s complexities. It has helped us to survive as a species.

But what happens when one does not pay attention to this instinct to freely convey their creativity? When one buries such needs under the fear of disappointing others or under the expectations of society or family, it finds a way to express it self and in ways that are unhealthy. Creative energy turned inward and suppressed can manifest into depression.

In The Woman's Book of Creativity, C. Diane Ealy, Ph.D. mentions that, "Repressed creativity can express itself in unhealthy relationships, overwhelming stress, severe neurotic or even psychotic behavior, and addictive behaviors such as alcoholism. But perhaps the most insidious and common manifestation of repressed creativity in women (and men) is depression."

Depression is most commonly known as a quiet suffering, however perhaps it is a silently screaming of the soul to express it’s authentic and creative self. In addition to the sadness and hopelessness that is commonly experienced with depression, we feel disempowered, invaluable and non-existent.

I have found when my clients begin to honor their creative voice and give it the nurturing attention it deserves they feel more alive, more themselves. They become empowered by the discovery and appreciation for their own sense of uniqueness. Found in the act of art making is a renewed meaning and purpose in their lives. Rather it is through a visual image, a poem or a piece of music, they reconnect with those authentic parts of who they truly are. These qualities counteract depression and maybe serve as an antidote to a loss of self. In turn, as one’s genuine voice becomes louder the voice of depression grows fainter.

Next time feelings of discontentment or depression come knocking on your mental door, maybe some creative time and self-expression is what your soul is starving for. Honor that voice by providing an avenue to thrive and exist. To censor one’s creative voice is suppressing one’s need to be truly human.

Lisa Riley is a Marriage & Family Therapist Intern, painter and writer. She has spent the last 25 years integrating various forms of self-expression as a way of life and an avenue towards healing. Lisa has her own private practice in Southern California. She feels a strong connection with the creative person and can understand the unique challenges that accompany being creative. In the last 5 years she has had the pleasure of working with artists, writers, actors and musicians in helping them gain self-awareness, healing and a deeper understanding of themselves as artists.
For more information feel free to visit her site at or if you wish to reach her, you can email her at

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Wild Woman of Queens: Notes on Urban Creativity from across the East River.

Where There is No Will, There is No Way

I don't understand myself. Full of creative ideas I instead aimlessly spend my time. There is TV to watch. Errands to be done. Let's not forget that the apartment should be cleaned occasionally (I opt for TV instead). I subject myself to a barrage of mindless and unproductive activity instead of doing what I think I want to do. What is going on here?

I am going to admit to utter slugdom. I give up. I do. Despite some feeble intentions I can't move past this malaise of uncreativity. I tried the coffee joint down the block. I thought if I just got out of the house I could move past this inertia. There was Texas style mini-burger with corn chips and salsa, followed by strong coffee and a half of a brownie. There was a bag of interesting books and paper at my feet. But I was so deeply tired. Really tired that I came home and went to bed- to wake three hours later. Some food. Popcorn. Coffee. Finally I sit down to write this blog post that should have been done and posted in the morning.

I would like to give you something. Some wisdom that could kick me and you out of the doldrums. Sorry buddy you are own your own. I got nothing. Zippo. I am as dry as a bone pick cleaned in an Arizona desert. I mean it. Dry.

It took me hours, but I am here. I am withered and barren and looking for creative water to bring me to life. Outside I hear the sounds of laughter and life. The whoosh of cars driving by. The clap of a high heel on concrete echoes down the street. The air has the odd feeling of transition just before the change of season really kicks in. I am humbled and hungry. I feel a certain melancholy. I am of a certain age where like the weather I too am in transition. I remember my past and can see the future. I am sorrowful, missing the opportunities that i rejected when too young to know better. I am constrained by my memories and fearful of the future.

Hmmm... maybe I am not as barren as I thought. Maybe I have just surrendered to a deep fear of living.

Yesterday I discovered a fellow writer living across the street from where I work. We had talked several times but I never knew what she did and she knew me only from my daytime desk job.

When we discovered we were both writers we swirled in a whirlwind of conversation. She full of creative juice, clearly intoxicated, talked about writing in lush descriptions. I just wanted to cleave to her in some vampiric way. Please just a bit of that intoxication. Finally we realized we would have to talk more out of the confines of my office. Writers really do like to talk.

I am not without hope. Even as I sit here with this odd mix of fear and panic- I have a glimmer of hope. I have been here in this dry, forlorn place once or twice. It is like burrowing deep in the dark earth, getting quiet, absorbing the radiant life force of the great mother. And then, I can be born once more.

Next week I have not one, not two, but three coffee and dinner appointments with fellow writers. Keeping myself engaged in the conversation helps. If you are like me- feeling a bit out of sorts take up some creative opportunities. Dinners with your more artistic friends, museum visits, deep reading of some inspriting books. We are all in transition and I am certain there is something worthwhile on the other side.

Sandra Lee Schubert is a creative vagabond, a poet, writer and dabbler in the arts and online entrepreneur. She co-facilitates the Wild Angels Poets and Writers Group at the historic Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. She is also the creator of the e-course, Writing for Life: Creating a Story of Your Own. Visit her blog: Email her or @writing4life via twitter.
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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Muse Quest PDX

Romancing the Creative Life in Portland, Oregon

Kim Switzer

Inspiration From Others

Have you ever read something that made you want to set it down and write something of your own? It happens to me quite a lot. If I’m having trouble starting a new story, I’ll seek out writings from my favorite authors and poems just to find a little spark for myself in their words.

I am thinking about this today mostly because this is the anniversary of the publication of my favorite Edgar Allan Poe poem, “Annabel Lee.” (The poem was published in 1849, two days after his death.) My favorite lines in the poem: “And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side/Of my darling -my darling -my life and my bride.” I don’t know why, but those lines have given me a thrill ever since I was a child, and whenever I read the poem, I itch to write something spooky and atmospheric in response.

Some other lines that stir my muse:

From “Lost” by David Wagoner: “Wherever you are is called Here,/And you must treat it as a powerful stranger.”

From “Tapu’at House” by Charles de Lint: “In the Fairy House,/Coyote sleeps.”

And this line from Terri Windling, and I don’t remember where it’s from I think maybe from The Wood Wife: “rustlings in the midnight wood.”

So…stuck? Not sure what you feel like working on just now? Grab some of your favorite books and poems and start reading (this works for visual artists, too). Wait for a line to grab you. When it does, write it down then keep writing, anything that comes to mind. And keep more paper or paintbrushes or whatever your art needs nearby. This always stirs up my creativity. I’ll bet it will do the same for you.

Kim Switzer is an aspiring novelist and avid dabbler in various visual and fiber arts, especially embroidery, beaded embroidery, oil painting, and her new-found love--art quilting. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her boyfriend, her cat, and various incarnations of her muse. For more information or to contact Kim, you can use the
following links:

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Step Outside

Step out of your skin for a minute
Go beyond the boundaries of form
Into a space never occupied
Go beyond yourself and look around

What would you hold back?
This debilitating self-consciousness
To be different is to be judged
To be different is to have courage

Do you wonder what’s out there?
What if you could get closer to that mystery
Where love and beauty have no definition,
No limitation
Where joy and wonder unite
In profound appreciation

For but the fear of appearing strange
To others whose boundaries are fixed and rigid
Would we deny the sense of wonder
To be accepted by others
Rather than accepting of ourselves.
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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Power of Silence: Beckett and No Country For Old Men

Pauline Kiernan's notes on Creativity, Writing
and Thinking.

One of the writers I'm mentoring at the moment is asking how to de-clutter her writing. She says she wants to discover how to stop over-writing. It got me thinking about all the artists and writers who seem to pare down what they create as they move on. Samuel Beckett took this to an extreme with a 35 second play called Breath. It consists of light and breath and silence with no actors.

Maybe it's partly because artists and writers get more confident the more they create - they've discovered how to trust their unique voice to 'stand alone', and don't feel the need to try to fill up the space of what they're expressing in case it's not enough.

A lot of movies get stuffed with overcompensating matter. My personal bugbear is music that tries to punch the emotion and tell the audience what to feel, which has the opposite of the effect intended - it just detaches us from the characters. A movie that I can't seem to stop thinking and talking about, No Country For Old Men, is a magnificent exception to this rule. Film composer Carter Burwell's score is only 16 minutes long, and the majority of it is heard during the end credits.

Director/screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen are still quite young, but they seem to have reached the stage where they trust their superb cinematic story-telling instincts. And, perhaps, more importantly, they trust in the intelligence of their audiences. The power of silence and stillness in this movie demonstrates something I think all creative people can get inspiration from.

I've been writing about this film a lot lately, and I've been covering the often misunderstood element of screenwriting - subtext - and how it's much much more than simply a question of dialogue, of the difference between what someone says and what they mean. It's what you leave out. The unspoken, the stasis, the deeper meaning that is what lies beneath.

I'm not sure I could want to go as far as Beckett in stripping away words and actions to a raw core of meaning, but I think he helps me to understand that what a writer leaves out can be more important than what you put in.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Television Musings - Rants and Raves of a Romance Writer


By Kathy Carpenter

Yes I’m still on the same book. But what could be more perfect for a Romance writer to blog about than the new show Valentine.

Valentine aired it’s first episode Sunday at eight. Will it make the cut? Well when I see a new series I need to give it a few episodes. The first couple they spend a lot time introducing your characters and setting up an overview plot line. Which cuts into the one night show so-to-speak.

If you remember the show Cupid which I guess aired in the late 90's ( it’s hard for me to think it was that long ago. The show featured the god Cupid and each show brought happy couples together at least by the end of the show. Happily-ever-after shows are a rarity. We had Love Boat way back in the early 80's. And there was a show called Hotel which brought couples together and now we have Valentine.Television shows don’t want happily-ever-after because the push and pull of the relationship is what keeps the show exciting. When you bring the couple together that ends and then you have to find something else to keep the viewers tuning in. That’s why we have romance books so we can have are happy ending.

We need these kind of shows every once in a while to show us there is true love that can endure. At least we are left with that feeling.

Valentine is this kind of show. Valentine the goddess of love, her daughter her son, a couple other and a romance writer make up the team of people who will bring fated couples together. Each week will be a new couple. That’s the only way we get the happily-ever-after feeling.

Of course I’m a sucker for this stuff and will be watching as long as it’s last’s. I liked Cupid though and it did not last too long. Too corny for a lot of people I guess. Although, when last year’s Pushing up Daisy’s aired. I liked it escape from reality fairy-tale-like aspect but did not think it would last. Pure corn. However, it has returned for another season.

All we can do is watch and wait.
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Monday, October 06, 2008

Monday Morning Motivators to Slay Your Creative Dragons

By CJ Lyons and Margie Lawson

Take Ten: from CJ

We all know that we’re supposed to exercise everyday. We all know that we’re supposed to do 45 to 60 minutes of exercise to reap its benefits.

And most of us, don’t. No time, no energy, no time….But, you do have the time!

New research has shown that it only takes ten minutes of exercise, five to six times a day to gain the same benefits as a solid hour.

The only trick? You need to exercise vigorously enough to build up a sweat. Other than that, anything goes!

So next time you need a break from writing, take ten and by the end of the day you can cross that exercise goal off your “to-do” list!

As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a national bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller." The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, is due out January, 2009. Contact her at

Margie Lawson -- presenter, psychotherapist, writer -- lives at the top of a Colorado mountain west of Denver. Margie merged her two worlds, psychology and writing, to develop psychologically anchored editing systems and techniques that teach writers how to write page turners. A former college professor, Margie works as a psychotherapist, writes fiction and nonfiction, and presents full day master classes for writers internationally. Go to for more information.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

FunnyThings in Vegas- Comedy Clubs FREE to Everyone

Okay, maybe not the club at Harrah's, but from the guy who founded the World Famous Improv Comedy Clubs, Budd Friedman, comes a website that allows EVERYONE to visit comedians, talk about comedy, and learn about the shows that are coming up at the clubs in cities across the country. It's called, and features video snippets from everyone including Old School favorites, to the newest star on Last Comic Standing. Budd Friedman is also available to answer questions about the comedy world, and will do so with a tongue as sharp as his mind.
Have you ever wondered what it was like to have a quiet moment with Robin Williams? How about sitting down with Roseanne and talking about cookie recipes? Did you ever just want to laugh for no particular reason and needed a great place to visit. This is the purpose of Paul Lander, a television producer and comedy expert in his own right, has produced specials for HBO, and networks for everyone. He is the voice of, partnered with Budd, and bringing the best comedians from around the world to the site simply to amuse the visitors.

It's also a site of education. Have you thought about writing for screen? Have you wondered what it would be like to pitch a television show? What about podcasts? Do you know about improvisation, or would you consider trying stand-up if you just knew where to start? is the website that gives real-life, experienced voices to the answers. Recent forum discussions include- "What do I need for touring?" "What can do to make my work stand out?" and "What does a video do for me?" All are answered by people who are not only comedians, but club owners, marketing experts, Hollywood big-wigs, and even those who are fans of the art.

If you are a fan of people like Erma Bombeck, Mark Twain, or Dave Barry, you have found a place to make your own humor writing known. When you sign up for an account at, you are given a blog space- which is a great way to test out humor writing before submitting it to competitions, periodicals, or agents. You will get valuable feedback from people who have been on the judging panels, or who may have one competitions, such as the Bombeck event that happens each year. Join in the discussions and get your own page by clicking here.

Not sure about going to comedy clubs anymore because you wonder if all the material out there is just beyond blue? Visit the website to learn about the headliners at your local clubs, and see their work on display. You may discover people like MaryEllen Hooper, the Aspen Comedy Festival Winner, and Shane Mauss, whose appearances on Conan are now legendary. Or you may find that an old favorite, John Caponera, or Dennis Blair is now part of the community chatting with others about life on the road after MTV.

Nothing is quite like sitting before a stage, and seeing a comedian up close. You feel the infectious laughter of others spill onto your funny bone. You get inside jokes about events happening just there, just then, and just with you in mind. But, does its best to bring that same idea to the net-surfing public. And it's free. It doesn't get much better than that.
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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Wild Woman of Queens: Notes on Urban Creativity from across the East River.

Mojo Rising

The news can be a real creativity crusher. The feeling is like trying to dance in quicksand. You want to move. There is yuck surrounding you that blocks out your vision and prevents any movement. When you are thinking about how to pay your bills the urge to create can be severely squashed. But now it is more important then ever to reignite your muse and get creating.

On the way to work on Friday I kept hearing a certain refrain from the song LA Woman by the Doors. "Mr. mojo risin, mr. mojo risin, Got to keep on risin. . ." played over and over in my head. I don't know what the song as whole had to with any thing but it did get me to thinking about Mojo.I had the thought that I had lost my mojo, my special magic, my juice, my inspiration.

That realization hit me like an epiphany that if I had been on Oprah surely it would have been an "ah ha" kind of moment that would have catapulted me, Oprah and her millions of viewers out of this quicksand that had sucked us into its grip.

We all get sidetracked, giving into a night of TV instead of writing. The more depressing the news gets the more we want to disappear. Giving in to our art will be the thing that will keep us sane, and reasonable happy. There is a certain joy in producing a piece of art. No matter how hard it may be to start something the end result can propel you to more creativity.

Once you are on a creativity roll the bad news will have less effect on you. I guess you can say your mojo gives you the incentive to rise above circumstances or live next to them.

Jim Morrison may have met a tragic end but he was certainly engaged in his creativity. Was he whispering my ear, reminding me that I have control over my creativity and my life? I don't know. All I know as the news churns around us we have the choice to take what need to make reasonable decisions about our lives. The rest of it we can ignore while we craft a more vibrant like for ourselves.

Sandra Lee Schubert is a creative vagabond, a poet, writer and dabbler in the arts and online entrepreneur. She co-facilitates the Wild Angels Poets and Writers Group at the historic Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. She is also the creator of the e-course, Writing for Life: Creating a Story of Your Own. Visit her blog: Email her or via twitter.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

'Avoid Voiceover' - Really?

I've lost count of the number of ground-breaking screenplays that use voiceover. Off the top of my head, here are a few:

Joel and Ethan Coen movies:
Blood Simple
The Big Lebowski
Hudsucker Proxy
The Man Who Wasn't There
No Country For Old Men

Then there's:

Fight Club
L.A Confidential
American Beauty
Apocalypse Now
Taxi Driver
A Clockwork Orange
Dr Strangelove

I'm sure there are plenty more if I thought longer. All of the movies on this
list are outstanding, most now modern classics, and many are multi-award
winners. Their writers and directors quite rightly didn't bother worrying
whether voiceover was something the gurus frown on.

Of course, these movies are stunning examples of cinematic originality, and there are plenty of films where voiceover just creaks with embarrassment-inducing clunkiness.

Whether you think voiceover is just a question of laziness on the part of the screenwriter is up for discussion.

Voiceover is an element of exposition, and is one way for your audience to get inside your character's head. But you'd be a rare genius to get away with this for the whole length of a movie.

Exposition - finding ways to externalize meaning is one of the biggest challenges for a screenwriter and is probably what makes it most difficult in comparison with novel writing..

I've just been writing about this dreaded problem of Screenwriting Exposition which every scriptwriter has nightmares over. It was something that I always found really difficult when I started out writing scripts.

But once I put the How To Books back on the shelf and trusted my intuition, I began to realise that exposition isn't just about getting facts across to the audience, it's how you communicate meaning to your audience.

And instead of dialogue, you can use visuals, atmosphere, climate, the weather, sound, even the clothes your characters wear. Exposition became something that fired up my imagination instead of being a mechanical chore. So I've been coming up with ways (I hope) to get my students and site visitors to learn to love it.

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Garden Views: Writers’ Conferences

Writers need different sorts of stimulation at various points in their careers, but one conference that never tires is the Garden Writers of America, which just celebrated its 60th anniversary. While there’s always some griping to be heard, those of us who have been involved in putting together any big event really appreciate the efforts of the volunteer committees who manage to pull together a four day whirlwind of seminars and garden tours, complete with meals and side trips, that have us up by 6:00am but not even close to a bed before 10:00pm.

There’s always an after-tour on the fifth day. By that time, one needs a vacation from the vacation. Which is what we’ve learned to do. The conference moves around the country so that folks in all eight regions have the opportunity to attend one in their neck of the woods. Dan and I tack on a few days vacation, veg out, play tourist, then go home and dig some holes.

Vendors at the trade exhibit don’t just give away refrigerator magnets and keyrings; these folks know a captive, plant-hungry audience when they see one and give away hundreds of seed packets, seedlings, plugs, full-sized plants, books, and tools. We shipped it all, including 30 pounds of literature, via UPS. There are opportunities to sign up for field trials too, the main reason my rose garden has grown beyond its original two plants.

With more than 600 attendees, all competing for a microscopic writing market, you might think there would be lots of sniping and competition. Thankfully, that small number of immature (or insecure) writers is easily avoided in the crowd. Garden writers are, for the most part, also gardeners, a group renowned for their willingness to share – plants, knowledge, ideas, and technology.

I’ve made life-long friends of people across the country. Even though I only see them at this conference and correspond occasionally via e-mail, it’s great fun to hear what they’ve been up to in the intervening year and to share hopes and dreams for the future. These writers are some of the most inventive, imaginative, and creative people I’ve ever met and I come home invigorated by having spent time in their company.

While few conferences offer this level of satisfaction, those that renew us and re-boot our creative juices are a gift that all writers deserve to give themselves.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Career Inklings from Columbia

Becoming Who You Were Meant to Be

Janet M. Ruck

Does a green tomato know that one day it will become red and juicy, bursting with flavor and goodness? Can an azure blue robin’s egg know that in its time it will burst forth with the vibrancy of new life? Do we know what we are capable of becoming, if we but follow our instincts, use our talents and listen to our intuition?

All too often, it seems that we ignore the signs along the way on the road to reaching our potential. We take detours, undermine our instincts, and allow other voices to tell us the right path to take. We succumb to pressure from others, to conform, to obey, to do what they tell us is “right”.

In my work as a career counselor, I hear many adults lament the fact that they ignored their own calling, and pursued directions dictated by others. Certainly, many of these others were well-meaning and thought they were dispensing good advice. Parents thought they could spare their artist-striving children the agony of struggling and starving. Teachers were sure they were helping their students avert disappointment when they steered them away from their aspirations of a life of art or of writing or of music. These well-meaning adults, in their zeal to protect these children from distress, crushed their dreams, their passions and took away their meaning.

Sometimes, the lucky ones, the survivors, may discover later in life that they still have a painting or a novel or a symphony tucked away in the recesses of their souls. If they have the energy, they are able to break free from the ties that the adults in their lives bound their souls with so many years ago. The unlucky ones never look into their souls again, having been led away from the search for self so many years ago. Their painting or novel or symphony will never grace their lives or the lives of others.

If you still hear the murmur of the voice within, beckoning you to seek that self that has been tucked away, heed its call and let your voice be heard throughout the world. Your instincts and your talents are waiting to be unleashed, and the world needs what you have to offer.

Janet Ruck is as an escapee from the world of full-time work. As a career consultant and writer, she is consumed with helping people identify their passions, uniqueness, interests and talents to keep them from slipping into the faceless abyss of the workplace. Janet encourages herself and her clients through the use of journaling and creative self-expression as means of gaining perspective and insight into their authentic selves. She helps clients create and sustain satisfying careers by recognizing their own personal magic. Contact her at
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Muse Quest PDX

Romancing the Creative Life in Portland, Oregon

Kim Switzer

Inspiration Through Doing

Remember those old Nike commercials? “Just do it!” I think sometimes finding my muse is like that. If I just start doing something, anything, on one of my projects, she’ll get interested and show up.

In September, I had the chance to interview author Maureen McQuerry for her Fall, 2008 blog tour (you can read the interview on my writing blog). When asked what advice she would give aspiring authors, she quoted Jane Yolen. “B.I.C.—Butt In Chair.” I’ve noticed this suggestion popping up in my life quite a lot lately.

Earlier this year, I joined an online writing group called Book-in-a-Week. Their motto? BIC HOC TAM. Butt in chair, hands on keyboard, typing away madly. Then, Maureen McQuerry offered the same advice, quoting another author I admire.

Finally, in case I wasn’t quite completely sure that the Universe was trying to tell me something, I got a really great book out of the library on Tuesday. Revision & Self-editing by James Scott Bell (I highly recommend it—this one is definitely a purchase for the writing shelf book). And what does he say on page 16? “Most often the parking of the butt in chair, and the pounding of keys by fingers, is all you need.” To top it off, at the beginning of the first section, he quotes Michael Crichton: “Keep working. Don’t wait for inspiration. Work inspires inspiration. Keep working.”

And today I parked my butt in the chair. I pulled out my notebooks, some note cards, a pack of sticky notes and my pen. And I worked. And you know what? It was hard to stop to work on this post. I just want to keep going now, even though it took me almost two hours to actually get myself to start working.

Now I’m putting my butt back in my writer’s chair. If you’re having trouble getting in touch with your muse, try the B.I.C. method—it seems to be working for me. I hope it will work for you, too. Let me know how it goes!

Kim Switzer is an aspiring novelist and avid dabbler in various visual and fiber arts, especially embroidery, beaded embroidery, oil painting, and her new-found love--art quilting. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her boyfriend, her cat, and various incarnations of her muse. For more information or to contact Kim, you can use the
following links:

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Funny Thing In Vegas-What is Hack?

In a few weeks, Caesars Palace becomes home to the annual Las Vegas Comedy Festival, sponsored by TBS. Ellen Degeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, and dozens of others who are household names appear on the stages here, and even The Kids in The Hall make an appearance. The magic of the festival is the ability to see the new comedians, unknown to Agents nor to sitcoms, and the disgrace of the festival is the same comedians who appear to borrow material from others.

Most comedy today has been done to bits..and the words "sarah palin" are so intrinsic to the comedy stage, it's already too done to say them. But, the thing that bugs me on the comedy stages are the people who claim they are doing 'clean comedy' but are just redoing Bob Newhart, Rossi and Allen, and even older Alan King bits, and calling them original. It makes me upset because that is the essence of all things HACK. And, they get away with it because people who are supposed to know better actually hire them, and use them in clubs. Or promote them in contests. Either way, they're stealing and shouldn't be rewarded.

When I hear an insurance bit I think back to Alan King. When I think of bits about teaching, I think about Dennis Wolfberg, whose bug eyed delivery always made the bit better than it was. When I think of a white jewish girl pretending to be a big black man, it's Karen Haber. And, when I think of the Wizard of Oz, it's Lois Bromfeld. My personal heroes- Phyllis Diller and Moms Mabley did the "I'm ugly" bit long before others did. And, they did them right. The first time.

These bits are all on you-tube, and other websites, and are readily available. If you see them, you can see who is doing the exact routines. Mark Pitta, for instance, does one of the best Robert DeNiro imitations ever...because he LOOKS like DeNiro when he's not doing it. When I saw some kid imitating Pitta doing DeNiro, it just didn't ring true. He was imitating Pitta doing DeNiro and it was just not correct. It was mimicry at best, and falsely inflated ego at worst.

The fact is, there are thousands of us with ADD. There are thousands of us bringing note cards up on stage, and using THAT as part of the bit. The general colloquialisms that permeate our language, (all the izzle's inclusive), are not new. Bill Hicks did Bill's material, Denis did Denis's material, but the performances were so extremely similar no one can dispute them. Parallel thought is part of the world of comedy- parallel parking on an exact phrase, exact delivery, and exact timed piece is just plain hack.

The ones who bother me are the ones who assume that no one else studies comedy the way they do. That bothers me because I am one who would go to clubs EVERY night whether I was on stage, or not, and LEARN about comedy by watching everyone I possibly could. I sat transfixed to Lenny Clarke, Richard Jeni, and Roseanne with the same aplomb. (love that word) They were up there, headlining, and getting people to pay attention to them, and I wanted to know WHY- not what they were saying that I could improve on, or plainly steal, as so many seem to do now. When I saw someone doing a Bobcat imitation on a TV show supposedly designed to find "new" comedy, I nearly lost it- it wasn't anyone behaving as a comic and being funny, it was someone PERFORMING without WRITING anything new- and it was just theivery. It's the problem Fred Travelena and Rich Little have with those who imitate THEM, when in fact, they've written bits specifically to match their impressions. Other impressionists stealing bits from Fred and Rich are just telling the audience, "screw you, you don't know any better." That's just the wrong song to be playing in the Intel Age.

The online video sites are there for anyone to learn about what stand up is, and what it isn't. It's there for people to see "Oh yeah, Jeneane Garafalo had a good few years before she was on TV doing stand-up", "Patton Oswalt wasn't always killing when he first started.", "Oh yeah, look at Bernie Mac doing TV for the first time, wow, he was so much like Redd Foxx in his timing." It's for people to understand character motions, like those done by Buster Keaton, Mark Blankfield, and Jim Carrey. It's there for anyone to watch good comedians when they were not-so-good, and see them grow. It's there for people to see Ritch Shydner, and Mitch Hedberg and not just wonder who they were on the stage. It's there for the wisdom gained by Piper and Tupper, and Bobby Slayton, and Margaret Cho. Some continued on to be huge names, others great headliners and others, just footnotes in the comedy history books- but they're not up there so people can STOP writing.

Writing is what comedy is about. In Vegas, we have some terrific writers- Don Barnhart, Brandon Muller, Tanyalee Davis, Kathleen Dunbar for example. All are at different stages of their careers. We have terrific shows- the Short Bus Comics inclusive- where those who are more like Tim and Eric or even Terry Fator- can be alongside those who are college headliners, and longtime veteran champions of comedy everywhere. But people are writing constantly. It's what makes the stages come alive here. Diaz Mackie to Jeremy Flores, you'll find gems if you look.

So no, there isn't a reason to assume your audience isn't aware of comedy and the history of stand-up. (And before you start to mumble it, yes the Ass of U and Me line..done to death, thanks.) Assume that someone in your audience is also aware of Jim Norton and Jen Kober. Assume that someone in your audience has seen Carlin or Cosby, maybe even the same nights, and have played their albums for as long as they could. Assume that someone in your audience gets that Ernie Kovacs and Norm Crosby knew what they were doing. Assume this because if you don't, you are going to be disappointed when it comes time to talk to that person who DOES know these people and GETS that you are 'borrowing' material.

Everyone has their own views of something . I will write about a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a different way, based on my own experiences and language than Grace Fraga. I will write my way, she will write her way. I will present my way. She will present her way. But I will WRITE and she will WRITE. When you're up there and talking about George and Gracie's version of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it will be obvious to others that you're just "playing comedian" and not actually being one. If you want to do the acting thing, that's great, but you don't get a pass to not write your own stuff. Check out Michael Keaton's stand-up and see if you can't find Johnny Dangerously in it. Learn the craft. Learn to write.

And then be the comedian you want to be- don't pretend you are someone else. You WILL be discovered, as a hack if you do. You WILL be discovered as talent if you WRITE.
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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Television Musings - Rants and Raves from a Romance Writer

The Voice
By Kathy Carpenter

Well it happened. I had not quite started the book I selected to use in last week’s blog. I did start the book but I have not finished it. Being on the same book posed a problem what do I use to creatively tie in my blog with. In this case I used a chapter title. The Voice chapter title in The Night Rising by Chris Marie Green. However in most cases this will not work most books I read do not have chapter titles.On with The Voice, in writing a book one of the big advantages, at least in fiction, is to be able to get inside the characters head. To know what the character is thinking. In television and I noticed this trend back in early 2007. Shows are using a narrative voice. From a person who is never shown.

Sometimes to tell what is going on in the story at the beginning and end. like in Desperate Housewives Sometimes to point out something that’s happened in the story they didn’t want you to miss like in Gossip Girl. And sometimes to let you know a characters thought. I believe they use this technique in Malcolm in the Middle.

Desperate Housewives had their season premier this past Sunday. They did something rather creative, at least something I had not seen done before. The projected their character five years into the future. In most case I really don’t think actors would like to be five years older. These characters weren’t exactly spring chickens to start with. But they did it. Will be interesting to see where it goes from here. They can always claim it was all a dream, but then that’s been done hasn’t it?
Until next time.
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