An Artpreneur’s Guide to Pigging Out: Storing Some Fat to Survive the Famine Before Your Feast

Melissa Matthews

“Every child is an artist,” wrote Pablo Picasso. “The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Much too often, the demands of making a living take precedence over the joys of making a statement and affecting social change through the creation of original artworks. When we mistakenly embrace a mindset that everything we do must be tied to compensation, there’s a tendency to become risk-averse, especially in a shaky economy.

In her new book, An Artpreneur’s Guide to Pigging Out: Storing Some Fat to Survive the Famine Before Your Feast, author Melissa A. Matthews shares savvy advice on how to feed your muse, keep your bills paid, and turn your current struggles for recognition into a journey of personal empowerment.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

 Q: Let’s start with some background on your journey to becoming a full-time artist and art consultant. Who or what, for instance, was the strongest influence on your decision to pursue your creative path?

A:  It wasn’t a cognizant decision. Discovering art in high school introduced me to a catharsis, I am not willing to give up.  Every decision after that has kept me on this path.

Q: What would you identify as your biggest “break-in” moment?

A:  I suppose my break-in moment as an artist came in January 2008. I was invited to be one of three artists exhibiting at a private show at the home of a former NBA player in Trenton, NJ. After, four years of university and working three plus jobs at any given time as a fulltime student studying painting which my mother so eloquently described as “aspiring to poverty,” I sold eight of the sixteen paintings I exhibited and walked away with roughly $6,000 in cash.  It wasn’t the first time, I had sold work but it was the largest volume of work at one time and the only time my mother was able to witness firsthand that I could make a living at this “art thing”. It was an “aha” moment for her that has served our relationship well as she is now one of my biggest supporters.  As a professional and a daughter, there is just nothing more validating than to make believers of your family.

Q:  “Art as a Lifestyle” is a wonderful tagline for your online shop, Mamltdart. How are you living this dream yourself in straddling two environments as culturally diverse as Washington, D.C. and Trinidad/Tobago?

A: Well, having owned and operated MAMLTDART for just about nine years, (most of that time utilizing it as a part time income stream) I made a conscious decision in early 2012 to commit myself fully to the growth and development of my brand. This meant making a few sacrifices. I gave up my apartment in Cheverly, MD, sold as many of my earthly possessions as possible, booked a flight to Trinidad and embarked on a journey of embracing two sides of myself. I have always straddled these cultural environments being a first generation American whose family is inextricably tied to their home country. Trinidad has been ingrained in me as long as I have known myself and I touched its soil just six months after being born for the first time.

Most of my art practice revolves around this twoness of being an American that isn’t so American and a Trinidadian that isn’t so Trinidadian. Therefore, shuttling between the two, physically is perhaps the most natural part of my journey as an artist. I couch surf in both countries; to keep costs down and ensure all my energy and money feed my business and develop my brand. I have managed to pull together a small support team that assists me in setting up exhibitions, staying current with my client base and developing new products and brand strategy. When I don’t have supplies, I work digitally on my small netbook computer. In the last year, I have created in excess of 150 pieces of art. I am constantly entrenched in creating, blogging, and engaging around art wherever I am. Art is my lifestyle.

Q: What are some ways that creative types can affect social change in today’s world while they’re caught up in just trying to keep a roof over their heads and staying a step ahead of their creditors?

A:. Social change is affected when people channel their passions in the direction of achieving common good. I started my career in the NGO/ Nonprofit sector, helping NGOs hone their branding and community outreach. As a consultant, I do project development and arts administration planning for arts based nonprofits. Every industry needs creative people; from graphic design to marketing to product, brand, and project development- creativity is a commodity Another way, creative people affect change is by being provocateurs, questioning the why, where, and how of the society they live in through whatever medium they are working in.

Q: Define the difference between “wants” and “needs” and why entrepreneurs oftentimes make the wrong choice on which to focus their time and energy.

A: Wants are those things that would make our lives easier— a ritzy apartment, a new instead of a used car, eating out, a $500 handbag and/or pair of shoes, a fancy studio. When in fact most people have the capacity to live and operate on much less than they think. Needs are those things that are NECESSARY for us to subsist and keep working –a roof over your head, something that takes you from point A to point B (feet do count), food with some nutritional value, any bag that holds your stuff and a place to work (Starbucks will do). Oftentimes people make the “wrong” or more extravagant choice because they don’t know any better. No one has told them that their work product is not a reflection of where it is created but of their knowledge and skillsets that could be aptly applied in any environment. When you focus on what you don’t have, you will always be in a state of lacking— your work will never be good enough because you don’t believe that your tools are good enough. Entrepreneurship is the choice between perfection and the idea of being perfectly imperfect. Successful entrepreneurs realize that the latter sets them apart in business.

Q: The concept of barter has become a viable currency in our downward spiraling economy. What are some venues outside of the artistic community where the implementation of bartering would be effective in managing costs and resources?

A: Bartering can be applied in almost in any situation. A good example of this would be food co-ops, giving a bit of your time for freshly grown and harvested produce.  There are also cooperative workspaces wherein people lower the overhead costs by dividing the maintenance work amongst them and practice conservation techniques to keep energy costs low. The possibilities are really there for bartering and cost conservation in every field if you look close enough.

Q: Arts programs are typically the first things to be cut in school programs. In your view, how does this diminish us as a society and what can be done to reverse the trend and make art more accessible to future generations?

A: Art teaches a new way of seeing, examining the world around you, and relating to or empathizing with it.  We are developing a generation of people that will lack the ability to think outside of the box. As a result, their problem solving capabilities, ability to conceptualize new and innovative ways of moving forward, and empathy will be lacking. This will leave us starved for new products, processes and perhaps most disheartening— leaders.  Remedying this situation is as simple as outlining the role of art within other fields and making a concerted effort to teach arts integrated education. This will make for well-rounded individuals that can more easily understand the role of the arts, creativity, critical and imaginative thinking within a number of realms.

Q: Has 21st century technology made it more – or less – hospitable for individuals to become entrepreneurs?

A: I would say easier. Sitting within the confines of your own home, you can develop and run a web-based business be it ecommerce, counseling, a processing service, the possibilities are endless.

Q: If a young person came to you and said, “I want to quit school and become an artist but my parents want me to go to college and get a ‘practical’ degree,” what would your advice be and why?

A:  I would first question why he/she felt that art was a field that denoted quitting school and encourage them to do their research. Tell them that any field worth being apart of is worth studying for. I would have them outline a plan for where and how they saw their art career evolving including education and post education plans as well as market research for the expansive ways in order to succeed with an art background. I would then have them present said plan to their parents. Parents are often worried about stability and once you can prove a solid career or financial stability is an achievable their worry is quelled.

Q: What do you feel are some of the common attributes of successful entrepreneurs?

A: Determination ( a “go get it” attitude), creativity, and failure— the ability to embrace failure as lessons learned and stay in pursuit of the ultimate goal.

Q: Tell us about what inspired you to write An Artpreneur’s Guide to Pigging Out: Storing Some Fat to Survive the Famine Before Your Feast.

A: I have been blogging for years. Sort of documenting my journey as a creative professional, and I started getting little notes from artists and non-artists alike telling me, that my posts were helpful to them. One day after going through quite a few blog posts, I had an epiphany, why not write a book for other people like me— artists, entrepreneurs, and people beating their own path. I’d read and absolutely love some great business books but none of them fit squarely in my box. I wanted to give people a realistic but still encouraging look on how to survive entrepreneurship, creativity as business and the like.

Q: Did you work from a formal outline or just let the thoughts flow freely?

A: I had a basic outline, taking a cue from the formatting I used in my blog but I basically free wrote the entire book over a day (it’s a short read) and then spent the next few weeks refining it.

Q: Who is your target demographic and what do you feel is the book’s primary takeaway value?

A:  Entrepreneurs, artists, recent graduates, and the confused: people who aren’t quite sure what they want to do but are perhaps sure that conventional job paths may not be their thing.

Q: Self-publishing is a popular trend these days but also requires that authors don multiple hats to successfully see a project through to completion. Why did you take this particular route and what do you know now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I took this path because as proven by my life, I enjoy a challenge. The thing I know now that I didn’t know as the beginning is that Epub formatting is an exercise in sadomasochism (just the most excruciatingly annoying process ever).

Q: If a movie were made of your life, who should play you and why?

A: That’s a tough one. Perhaps Quvenzhané Wallis when she gets a bit older. I absolutely adored her in Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Q: In your own words, what is “failure” and how do people rise above it?

A: Failure is finding a way that won’t work. Rising above it is dusting yourself off and finding a way that will work.

Q: A sense of humor is critical in life as well as in business. How has your own sense of humor served you effectively as a professional?

A: I try not to take my work or myself too seriously. Most of my gaffs and failures are well documented in my art. I’ve literally sold them.

Q: What is the most surprising thing that your readers and followers don’t know about you?

A: It’s a toss up between the fact that I’m 4’9/ 89lbs and I’m a twin.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I have an exhibition opening in Maryland this June, continuing to produce the monthly illustrative zine, Overdrawn and I am writing the second installment of An Artpreneur’s Guide to Pigging Out this fall.

Q: Where can people learn more about you and your work?

A: You can find all my new work, musings on career and life on my blog mamltdart.tumblr.com and links to all my projects on mam-ltd-art.com.

 

 

 

 

Animation Unleashed

animation-unleashed-ellen-besen_medium

To this day, I still recall the longest line I ever stood in for a movie. It was a cold evening in Seattle in 1961 and the line snaked completely around the block for the opening of 101 Dalmatians. What especially stood out to me that night were the weary looks on the faces of the parents – my own included – who probably wished they were doing anything but spending money on a full-length cartoon.

Who could have predicted that by the 21st century the combined sophistication and entertainment value of animated movies, TV shows and video games would win legions of adult fans not only seeking to recapture memories of childhood but to escape the workaday world’s stress through a fantasy portal requiring little concentration. Bringing this form of artistic expression to “life”, however, is much harder than it looks, says author Ellen Besen, author Animation Unleashed

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Let’s start with a little background about your professional journey.

A: When I was young, I was dedicated to a career in theatre. That all changed as I started college at Sheridan Institute (just outside Toronto) and signed up for their Classical Animation Program. While the program was in its infancy when I enrolled, it’s now recognized as a world leader in digital media programs and its School of Animation, Arts and Design is the largest postsecondary arts school in Canada. I taught there on and off for 16 years and prior to that was a director/filmmaker at the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). Today, I teach at various international film festivals, write books on animation and continue to produce and develop animated short films. In 2008, Animation Unleashed was published by Michael Wiese Productions and today I’m working on another MWP book, this time on storytelling/filmmaking techniques for animated and hybrid films.

My film credit highlights include Sea Dream (Director/Filmmaker- NFB; festival award winner; featured regularly in MOMA’s family film programs); Slow Dance World (Director/Filmmaker together with partner L. Baumholtz – Independent; multiple award winner); Illuminated Lives (Director/Filmmaker- NFB); and Stroke (Director/Filmmaker- commissioned; currently working its way around the festival circuit).

Q: What attracted you to the medium of animation and how did you first break in?

A: I always liked animation – particularly Warner Bros cartoons and NFB films – so when I stumbled upon Sheridan’s animation program, I thought it might be interesting and put it on my application as a second choice. I quickly discovered, though, that it was a good fit. I came into the program with a background in art, music, dance and a lot of background in theatre. None of it quite added up to anything that motivated me. But animation became like a prism that took all these divergent skills and focused them into one creative force. Once you actually see the movement you created from nothing, there’s a good chance you’ll be hooked, and I was!

Breaking in was relatively easy in the 1970’s both in television and with government contracts. By the time I was 23, I landed a freelance contract with NFB and began work on Sea Dream. In school, we were taught the mechanics of animating and some very basic use of rhythm and that was about all. Over the years, I’ve had my own revelations about this art, especially in the precise use of literal analogy and around the capacity of animation to work outward from a core analogy to focus every visual and aural aspect towards extremely multilayered yet highly accurate communication. I’m very fortunate to be able to apply these lessons learned not only in my own creative projects but with my students and at festivals and conferences.

Q: Tell us about Animation Unleashed.

A: Animation Unleashed touches on the mechanics of the craft and but really focuses on how animation should communicate through every stage of production from core idea to end credits. I’ve been teaching the principles of animation filmmaking for many years and found over time that only a handful of factors generally tended to predict both the ease of production and the degree of audience impact. Key factors which promote success include the incorporation of animation’s inherent properties into the deepest fabric of content and the use of vivid and very accurate analogy as a foundation for communication.

I wrote the book to help make these factors better understood. It’s primarily a book of applied theory intended as a problem-solver for every stage of production. At the same time, it’s also of interest to animation lovers who would like to deepen their understanding of the medium.

Q: How do you view animation’s relationship to other graphic forms of storytelling such as editorial cartoons, comic strips and graphic novels?

A: All these forms are graphic which means they share certain key properties. They’re all highly visual which places responsibility on creators to make the visual elements vital. They also all have  potential for an aural element (though only animation’s is literal) and they naturally inhabit created, rather than recorded, worlds with all the creative responsibilities that characteristic implies. Animation, however, is real-time based which adds the complications of movement and literal rhythm/ pacing while completely altering the nature of “performance”. It means that the delivery of material is controlled more fully by the creator than by the audience in terms of performance detail, sounds, where the eye lingers and for how long.

At its core, the distinction is between storyboard versus the comic book/strip panel format. Because these two elements resemble each other, it’s easy to assume they’re the same thing, therefore pointing to a key bridge between these art forms. Leaping over this particular gap is trickier than it seems for students. For the animator, the storyboard is only a blueprint for a film in which the images laid out on a page will actually replace one another on the screen, linked by movement, rhythm, etc. Thus, when animators create or read a storyboard, they have to keep this in mind to translate the information in the board into film terms in order to understand it properly and to think in terms of action from the very beginning of project conception.

On the other hand, for the comic artist, that page of panels is the end product. The relationship of one panel to the other and of each panel to the whole can be created by and refer to a number of complex factors, but all the info required is already there on the page for a reader to take in.

Q: Which would you say is more challenging – to adapt a cartoon or comic strip (i.e., Dick Tracy, Spider-Man, Dennis the Menace) to a live-action feature or to take a popular film franchise such as Star Wars and turn it into an animated weekly series?

A: In general, I’d say that the first one is trickier. This is because animation can successfully mimic the most essential elements of live action more easily than the other way around. Individual cases depend, however, on the nature of the source material. Dennis the Menace translates easily from strip to live-action film because the source material exists in an essentially realistic world. The surreal Popeye with its exaggerated design and other worldly storylines is more problematic. If you try to bring it closer to reality, the essence of the source material disappears. Try to emulate the surreal aspects in live-action and the results are grotesque, and not in a good way.

The live-action to animated series transition faces its own special challenges. Animation can’t easily handle the nuanced performance of live actors. That being said, since the films franchised this way are more typically big action-based, such as Star Wars, this is usually not an insurmountable issue. Animation can readily recreate the unreal aspects of such films (in simplified form) and adequately mimic the real elements.

Q: For study purposes, provide us with some examples of animation projects adapted from a different medium that have done particularly well. Conversely, what are some that have failed?

A: Many of Disney’s earlier features were adaptations from traditional fairy tales or books. Each of those stories had a specific use of fantasy and a strong central theme which translated well into visual, action-based symbolism. The translation process managed to keep the thematic foundations intact or to convert them to ones that fit as well in their own way.

More recent Disney adaptations haven’t been as successful. The Princess and the Frog demonstrates how a failure to grasp – by analysis or intuition – the deeper emotional themes of a story combined with the absolute freedom of the medium lead to a wildly overdeveloped, overly complicated and ultimately less satisfying end product. Highly filigreed plotting which keeps adding elements deep into the second and even third acts is one of the surest signs a film lacks a firm foundation.

An interesting comparison can be found in Disney’s two versions of 101 Dalmatians: the early 1960’s animated classic and the mid 1990’s hybrid. Because key changes were made in the structure of the world inhabited by the story, the hybrid doesn’t come close to the brilliance of the classic. One change in particular completely changed the real trajectory of the hybrid adaptation and that involved how the dogs and animals in general were treated. In the animated version, animals can talk to each other (even cross species) and to the audience. This allows the dogs to bring us into their world, allows them to function as the story’s true leads and places the POV of the story entirely in their paws. This opens the door to fantasy, originality, full development of the animals as characters and audience empathy with their plight in the face of human fallibility.

In the hybrid, the animals can’t talk which reduces them to little more than props. Unable with this combination of elements to develop the second act into a narrative following the animals’ clandestine rescue mission, the creators press supporting characters into action – two bumbling henchmen who spend most of the movie being dropped off cliffs into piles of manure.

Q: What story would you most like to see developed for animation?

Animated features haven’t fully made the leap into personal, adult content that comic books and graphic novels achieved in the last 30 years. We’re getting closer but in many ways are still waiting for the powerful individual voices to emerge. In that vein, it might be interesting to see Maus translated to the screen, in part because it takes elements strongly associated with cartoon animation in their traditional roles (sympathetic, underdog mice and evil cats) and uses them for a much darker, infinitely more personal approach to storytelling.

Q: Let’s talk about animation’s transition from a minor art form to a major player including its changing relationship with reality.

A: The animation breakthrough to prime-time TV in the late 1980’s, combined with the advent of specialty TV channels, were critical factors. It took a new generation not only of animators but of producers and administrators to allow a show like The Simpsons the chance to prove the old maxim wrong. In the wake of its success, many other prime-time animated series followed. Two other factors are the production of more sophisticated family features such as Toy Story that the whole family can enjoy and blending animation seamlessly with live-action footage.

Q: What are some of the factors that go into the decision of making animated characters look like actual humans versus caricatures?

A: So far, 3D is creating excitement and mood enhancement but nothing really intrinsic. In 2D film, the general POV is shared with the whole audience – distorted perhaps by where in the theatre you’re sitting but essentially a shared experience. In 3D, the vantage point is individual and each member of the audience experiences it this way. This is a significant difference with all kinds of story potential, barely tapped to date. If this potential is harnessed, 3D could settle in as a serious tech advance, at least until a new technology emerges.

Hybrids are nothing new – they go back to King Kong and the groundbreaking work of Harryhausen. But the flexibility of the new tech for mixing the two elements and the seamlessness of the end result is opening up the field for hybrids. The main issue I have with many hybrid films is that the creators don’t understand how to set up alternative worlds that support story. A film such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button showcased lovely effects creating some magical screen moments but completely missed the boat on the story implications of its main effect. On the other hand, Amelie – whose director came from a background in animation – handled the hybrid approach with grace and accuracy.

If you’re going to take viewers to a new universe, every detail has to be considered and nuanced for its thematic implications. When nothing is a given, then everything is up for grabs. Every detail has to be chosen with care since every detail has potential intended or unintended symbolic meaning. It’s best to make these meanings intentional. It’s an extra load of responsibility that falls on the creators that can’t be avoided once the break from reality has been made.

Q: Given the amount of technology available today to entertain children (and a lot of adults!), how has the proliferation of cartoons, anime and video games impacted their ability to identify and interpret embedded themes in stories? 

A: While audiences are inherently more sophisticated in their level of media literacy, I don’t think the vast proliferation of media and tech has bolstered their ability to “read” the hidden elements in stories more clearly than in the past. All audiences get the underlying messages if they’re effectively communicated, but that gut reaction only happens if the media pieces strike a real chord with the audience. The awareness of that process is not only not growing – it may, in fact, be going backwards. Much of the material being thrown at audiences encourages only the narrowest, most stereotypical thinking. Getting pros to move beyond their clichéd thinking when it comes to their own work is one of the most challenging tasks for a mentor, so it’s not surprising that much of the work created by amateurs succumbs to the same tired thoughts they’re being sold over and over again.

Q: How can screenwriters that want to use animation as a vehicle for their plots make it a more active – versus passive – experience for their target market?

A: When the animated elements serve only as window-dressing, the entire project is weakened. Take, for example, the talking animal sidekick in an otherwise realistic story or the endless talking headshots accompanied by wall-to-wall dialogue. The first weakens the narrative fabric by undermining the foundation logic of the story and short-changing creative possibilities, usually leading to more generic, predictable storytelling; the second is merely animated radio. In both cases, the creators have failed to harness animation’s inherent power. Dialogue and animation which each play distinctive yet related roles require audiences to listen and watch with full attention in order to understand what’s going on…and I think most would agree that a fully engaged audience is what we all want! In other words, rediscover and develop action-based storytelling beyond more car chases.

Q: It was Hitchcock who’s credited with saying that the elements of a compelling film could still be followed if the sound were turned off. Does this same suggestion apply to animated works that seem to rely heavily on explanatory dialogue and music?

A: Even more for animation than for live action because of its graphic nature. Check out One Froggy Evening for virtually wordless communication of a complex story- brilliant!

Q: What genres and themes do you think lend themselves best to an animated world and why?

A: There really is no genre or theme which couldn’t be handled by animation. The key lies more in how the material is handled: (1) in the awareness that a new world that properly contains and supports the content has be successfully conceived, built and maintained; and (2) in the acute awareness that this is animation and not drawn reality. This remains true even when the story is apparently reality-based.

Q: What do you see as the future of animation?

A: In about 15 years, animation will have totally escaped its old reputation as a minor, limited form suitable mostly for children. It will have grown up with the young adult audience which discovered it (quietly) in the late 1960’s and this changed attitude will have trickled down through the following generations. Consequently, we’ll have educated audiences of all ages who are open to the full potential of this medium. Interestingly, digital technology which is a significant factor in the rise of hybrid filmmaking allows all film to be manipulated at the frame level. In other words, in a digital world, all film becomes animation, at least to some degree

We can hope that the outcome of all the above will be an explosion of creativity including many more well crafted small animated features. But it will also, most certainly, be harnessed for its economical advantages as well.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about the craft of animation? 

A: I think it’s now imperative that every film and video student (and professional preferably) should study animation as part of their training. Too many live action folks (filmmakers and stars) still look at animation as they do children’s books. Because of its graphic nature, it looks much easier to master than it really is. They would do themselves and the media-consuming public a favor by gaining some understanding of how animation really works!

 

Advance Your Image: Putting Your Best Foot Forward Never Goes Out of Style

Lori_Bumgarner_of_paNASH_Style - new hair

Whether you’re on a cusp of your career or are in transition to something completely different, an invitation to improve your overall image is one that should not be ignored. And who better to dispense that advice about developing every aspect of your public presence than Lori Bumgarner, owner of paNASHstyle and author of the popular self-help guide, Advance Your Image: Putting Your Best Foot Forward Never Goes Out of Style, published by O’More College of Design. Coincidentally, Lori was one of the two dozen experts who recently contributed to Media Magnetism: How to Attract the Favorable Publicity You Want and Deserve, and I’m pleased to put the spotlight this month on her incredible arsenal of image-building talents.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: What attracted you to the business of fashion and image consulting, and when/where did the door first open to launch your career in this field?

A: I have always had an interest in fashion ever since I was little. I always loved dressing my Barbie Dolls in different outfits and coming up with outfit designs with the Fashion Plates my grandmother got me for Christmas one year. That interest combined with my experience in career advising is what inspired me to start doing image consulting. This occurred when, for the first time in my career, my creativity was starting to be stifled. I couldn’t work like that. My friends encouraged me to do wardrobe styling which allowed me to use my creativity, but I wanted to do more than just that. As a result, I decided to offer image consulting services that incorporated both wardrobe styling and presentation skills (i.e. interview skills, etc.), which are also part of one’s image. I started my company part-time while still working full-time as a career adviser and did that for 9 months. Then, I took a leap of faith and quit the full-time job to take my business full-time.

Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I have learned so much about running a business that I never knew before. I also am using my undergraduate psychology degree in this career field more than ever before which was an unexpected surprise.

Q: Tell us what inspired you to write this title and how you went about determining what topics would best benefit your target demographic.

A: Actually, it happened the other way around. I came up with the title after writing on each topic. That’s usually how my own personal writing process works, especially with my blog. I write my blogs first and then come up with the title for each after. The initial inspiration of the book came from a lot of the work I do with individual clients and also the work I did in the past as a career adviser. In my opinion, a person’s image is more than just how they dress. It’s also about how they present themselves on paper, online, and in person, whether that includes networking events, job interviews or media interviews. That’s why the book takes time to cover each of those topics separately.

Q: What do you feel is the best takeaway lesson for your readers in Advance Your Image?

A: That anyone can improve their image in simple ways and see results. They will have a greater confidence and will see how that confidence will open new doors of opportunity for them. The great thing about the book also is the Appendix because it gives readers hands-on activities and steps they can take immediately to improve their image. It serves as a resource that readers will refer to again and again over time.

Q: For someone who wants to update their image – whether they’re staying in their current job or transitioning to a new one – what do you recommend as the easiest and/or most economical starting point and why?

A: The easiest and most economical way to update one’s image is to “shop” in one’s own closet to come up with new outfits with what they already have on-hand, and then to incorporate new accessories (jewelry, shoes, bags, scarves, hats, etc.) in with their current outfits. When “shopping” in one’s own closet, it’s always good to get an image consultant or a stylish friend to help you because you are so used to seeing garments and outfits put together only one way. It takes a fresh pair of eyes to show you how to create new combinations that you may have never thought of on your own.

Q: When most people go to have their professional headshots taken for a website, corporate brochure or lobby display at their place of business, they tend to dress according to the current season. Considering that their picture will be likely be seen year-round, however – and possibly even in different countries – what thoughts should govern their choice of wardrobe?

A: They should mix classics with current trends, but never with fads. Fads are things that last for only one season. A trend is something that may last for 3-5 years or even up to a decade. An example of a fad would be those ridiculous chicken feather hair extensions we saw a few seasons ago. An example of a trend would be a pointed-toe shoe or a dark wash dress jean in a modern cut. Also, it’s best to stick with classic colors and avoid trendy colors in photos that won’t be updated often. But, I would say that professional photos should be updated as often as a pair of glasses frames should be updated which is once every 3 years, and more often if your hair or glasses frames have changed dramatically since your last photo was taken. For instance, I went from a blond to a red-head, so I had no choice but to update my promo pictures, especially since I have my photo on my business card.

Q: While we’re on the subject of clothes, should a prospective job candidate (1) emulate what s/he knows to be the company’s workaday dress code and subliminally project “I fit in here!” or (2) wear his/her best business attire for the interview and potentially risk dressing better than the interviewer?

A: Definitely the 1st option! Always know your audience and make yourself relevant to that audience. Once a candidate has made it through the resume screening process to the job interview, this is the point where the company is determining fit. All the interview candidates meet the minimum qualifications. The interview is where the company decides which of those candidates will best adapt to the corporate culture.

Q: During the dot-com era of the late 1990’s, the concept of “Casual Friday” made its debut, inviting workers to take a break from having to wear coats, ties, pantyhose, and dress shoes. But has “Casual Friday” now gone too far by spilling into the rest of the week?

A: It’s hard for me to answer that question since I work mostly with recording artists and music industry professionals, a field where casual is the norm no matter what day of the week (and even here “casual” means “trendy/hip/funky,” not sloppy). I think perhaps it has, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing if people are “dressing up” their casual look instead of just using it as an excuse to be a slob. You can easily dress up a pair of jeans and look well put together, and yet be more productive than you would be in a suit and tie. Maybe “casual” isn’t the right term to be using (because it can sometimes be interpreted as “sloppy”). Maybe we need to call it “not-so-boring Friday” instead!

Also, I think it’s time for the classic job interview attire to make a shift to something a little more exciting than a boring cookie-cutter black suit. If I was a recruiter, I think I would get tired of seeing the same outfit on every single person I interviewed. I would instead prefer to see a little bit of the candidate’s personality and personal style shining through in their look. That way, I would have some idea of how the person would dress on a daily basis if they were to get the job. Anyone can dress up in a suit on interview day, but do they have the style and fashion sense to represent the company well on a daily basis? That’s why I started my Pinterest board entitled “Alternative Job Interview Attire.” It’s my hope that recruiters will open their minds to allow for some personal yet tasteful style in the job interview, and that candidates will be encouraged to take a risk by showing a piece of themselves to the interviewer. After all, if interviewers are trying to determine a good fit for their company, what better way to do so?

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes that artists and entrepreneurs make in creating their “online presence” without the insights and expertise of professionals?

A: Not keeping the reader’s perspective in mind when creating the content of their web pages and online profiles; not utilizing LinkedIn to its fullest extent; begging for “Likes” of their Facebook fan pages without offering relevant content in return.

Q: “Authenticity” and “transparency” are two words popularly associated with today’s social networking. What’s your personal definition of these two concepts, and what are some ways that individuals and small businesses can apply them to their networking activities?

A: To me it means still being yourself, but a more polished version of yourself. The best thing people can do is to not fall into the trap of comparing themselves to others (i.e. their competition, the people with whom they are networking, etc.). Comparing yourself to others is the quickest and easiest way to feel defeated, to lose your self-confidence, and to lose focus on what you are trying to accomplish.

Q: Is successful networking an art or a science?

A: It’s a little bit of both with some divinity mixed in. I totally believe in divine connections and how we are brought together with other people. After that, it’s what you do with it, applying the science of networking rules and etiquette along with the art of building, fostering, and maintaining relationships.

Q: What are the most common elements of a boring profile and what can be done to rev up the appeal and excitement?

A: It is extremely difficult to write your own professional bio and make it sound interesting. This is because we as humans feel a little weird bragging about ourselves in writing. It’s much better to get someone like myself who can paint a picture with words describing what makes you unique. My artists who have hired me to write their artist bios have all said when they tried to write it themselves, it never came across the way they wanted it to. After hiring me, they always come back and say, “Wow! This is exactly what I was trying to say but just didn’t know how.” Anyone interested in having me write their bio are welcome to check out some of the bios I’ve written for other clients at http://panashstyle.com/documents/SampleBios.zip.

Q: The good news is that you have just been invited to do a media interview. The bad news is that you have never done one before and you are absolutely terrified because you have no idea what to expect. If a client just told you this, what would your top three tips be to prep them for the experience?

A: 1) Do your research. Know the stats about the magazine, radio station, or TV show and know the demographics of their audience such as its median age. 2) Read, listen to, and watch others’ media interviews with a critical eye. Learn from their strengths and weaknesses. 3) Read both Advance Your Image and Media Magnetism for even more tips to be best prepared!

 Q: In addition to being an author, you are also the owner of paNASH Style and editor of a pretty spiffy newsletter, too. What would you like readers to know about the services you provide that enable them to put their best foot forward whether it’s onstage, in a recording studio, or stepping into a boardroom?

A: Our goal is never to turn someone into something they’re not. Instead we focus on keeping the client’s image (their look and presentation of themselves) true to their own personal style, personality, and work/art. Also, we work with many clients virtually via online chat and email, especially for services such as media coaching and development of professional bios. We have clients all over the US, in Canada, and in Australia.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: In addition to more speaking gigs at various music industry events and working with more clients one-on-one, my plans for the near future are to bring on additional stylists, offer more workshops, and possibly start my second book.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a tee-shirt, what would it say?

A: It would be the tagline of the Advance Your Image book: “Putting your best foot forward never goes out of style!”

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: Yes. Readers can get exclusive tips and advice not featured in the book when they subscribe to my monthly newsletter on my web site at www.paNASHstyle.com.

 

 

Brothers and Bones

B&B_ePub Hankins

Federal prosecutor Charlie Beckman’s life has his existence turned upside down when a deranged homeless man calls him by a secret nickname, one known by only one other person in the world…Charlie’s brother, who went missing 13 years ago. Such is the premise of James Hankins’ new suspense thriller, Brothers and Bones. Hankins recently took time from his busy schedule to chat about what it’s like to be a full-time writer and stay-at-home dad.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Let’s start with what compelled you to make the transition from screenwriter and lawyer to working for yourself in the demanding role of “published author”.

A: Well, the transition from screenwriter to lawyer occurred because Hollywood was more reluctant to roll out the red carpet for me than I had hoped, and I had to start paying the bills. So I became a lawyer. I loved writing, had done it all my life, and I wasn’t about to stop simply because I’d started to practice law. But because I’d moved from L.A. to Boston, putting Hollywood thousands of miles behind me, I decided to shift from screenplays to novels. I became a lawyer by day, writer by night, and when my wife and I learned we were going to have twins, we decided that one of us should stay home with them. She’s a fantastic lawyer who has always wanted to be a lawyer, while I was a reasonably good lawyer who always wanted to write, so the choice was easy. I retired from the law two weeks before our boys were born to be a stay-at-home dad who writes books.  

Q: How did your prior employment prepare you to take this leap of faith, and were your expectations about the transition realistic?

A: My expectations were realistic because they weren’t terribly high. My hopes were always high, but my expectations were very reasonable. I’d spent years in Hollywood without making much of a dent in the place, after winning awards at one of the top film schools in the country, so I was well aware that achieving success in certain creative endeavors can be extraordinarily difficult. It’s almost freeing, to be honest, to be shooting so high that no one expects you to hit the target. There’s no pressure. If you succeed, it’s wonderful. But if you fail, everyone knows what a long shot it was anyway. It takes a lot of external pressure off. Of course, the internal pressure, the desire not only to tell my stories but to find someone willing to listen to them, never goes away. Thankfully, though, my reasonably low expectations have been exceeded by a comfortable margin. I’ve been very gratified by the reception my books have received.

Q: How do you budget your time to write amidst the distractions of hearth, home and the Internet?

A: I treat my writing like a job. I try to treat my domestic duties as one, too—at least with respect to household maintenance (hanging around with my sons doesn’t feel like a job). But I’m full-service stay-at-home dad. I do the laundry, shop for food, cook what I can manage, change light bulbs, take out the garbage, help with homework, etc. I try to do whatever chores need to be done in the first hour and a half after I drop the boys at school. Then I write until it’s time to pick them up again. That gives me four solid hours every school day. Sometimes I sneak in a little more later in the day while the boys are at a friend’s house, or at night when everyone else is asleep, or sometimes even on weekends. As for the Internet, it really can be distracting, can’t it?  It’s invaluable when it comes to marketing and social media, and it’s a powerful research tool (like when I needed to find out, when I was writing at 2 a.m., what constellations are visible in the night sky in Indiana in October). I just force myself to stay off of Youtube and limit social media interaction until my workday is over. (There’s plenty of time to watch videos of parakeets riding cats like horses later, with my kids.)

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up? If so, who are the authors that resonated with you and perhaps even influenced your own writing style as an adult?

A: I was. I loved Richard Adams’s Watership Down. I read it as a kid and I’ve read it three or four times as an adult. It’s one of my all-time favorite books. I also loved Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I read the Narnia series, dozens of Tarzan of the Apes books and other Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure books, Ray Bradbury’s science fiction, Jack London’s books. I’m not sure their styles are reflected in my own, but I do see a pattern. I gravitated toward adventure stories, as so many children do, and I write thrillers today. My love for suspense and action is deep-rooted.

Q: What comes first for you – the plot or the characters?

A: I generally come up with the plot first. It starts with a small idea, a seed of a story, something that gets me thinking or wondering. When I have an idea of something interesting that could happen to someone, or an unusual situation a person could be thrust into, then I start to think about the kind of person who could impacted in the most interesting way by whatever that is. This probably comes from my screenwriting days, when story was always king, at least for the kinds of scripts I was writing. High concept stories that can grab you in a sentence. The hook for most thrillers can be boiled down to a sentence or two. That hook is usually what comes to me first, then I develop appropriate characters. That said, I work very hard on characterization, because the last thing I want is to write is a really interesting story populated by cardboard characters.

Q:  Tell us about Brothers and Bones, how it came about, and the influence that your previous career had on giving your protagonist a job as a federal prosecutor.

A: Brothers and Bones is about Charlie Beckham, a federal prosecutor who is on his way to court to start the biggest trial of his career when a deranged homeless man says two words to him that turn his world upside down. He calls Charlie by a nickname known by only one other person in the world—Charlie’s beloved older brother Jake, who went missing 13 years ago. Charlie has a hundred questions but loses the homeless man in a crowd before he can ask a single one. So begins his search for answers, a search that takes him into dangerous places and pits him against ruthless people. The book is a thriller, of course, but it’s also part mystery, part action, and at the core of it is an interesting “partnership” between a prosecutor and a homeless man who isn’t afraid to bend the laws as he needs to.

The seed that grew into the story was planted when I was a lawyer in Boston. I’d pass the same homeless man on the street every day, near the same street corner, and he was always talking to himself as though he were arguing with someone only he could see. He’d be very focused on whatever he was saying and to whomever he thought he was saying it. One day I wondered how strange it would be if, as I passed, he interrupted himself, looked up at me, and said – very clearly and lucidly – “Hi, James,” before resuming his argument with himself. It was an odd thought that I couldn’t shake. Then I thought it would be even stranger if what he called me was something secret, something he simply shouldn’t know. What would that be?  How could he know it?  These questions led to more until it was a mystery I wanted to solve.

I do think that my experience as a lawyer helped me write Brothers and Bones, at least a bit. Like my protagonist, I was a lawyer, but Charlie Beckham is a federal prosecutor while I was an employment lawyer—and those are two very different animals. But from my legal practice I knew what it was like to be a lawyer in Boston. I’ve been to court, and to the federal courthouse where Charlie works. I might have chosen to make Charlie a lawyer even if I hadn’t been one myself, but I’m certain that writing him was a little easier because I did practice law.

Q:  In Brothers and Bones, a defining moment in Charlie’s life took place when his brother, Jake, went missing many years ago. A strong sense of familial devotion is evident in the book – both in Charlie’s dedication to finding out what happened to Jake, and in Charlie’s memories of Jake’s sacrifices for Charlie as they grew up without parents. Does family play an important part in much of your writing?

A: It wasn’t something of which I’ve been conscious, but it’s evident that family has played an important role in my writing to date. As you note, Charlie and his brother had a very strong bond, one that drives the story to a very large degree. In my other books there’s an importance on family, too. In Jack of Spades, my police procedural, the detective is divorced, still in love with his wife, and frustrated that he’s growing apart from his college-age son. This is woven throughout the book. And my supernatural thriller, Drawn, is about four very different people, driven by different forces — some supernatural, some all-too-human – toward a shared destiny. But each of those four characters lacks family in any meaningful way, and they all seem to be searching for it in their own ways without even realizing it. As for me, I’m the last of six kids in a very close family, so I’m not surprised that familial bonds are important to my stories.

Q:  Brothers and Bones is actually one of three books that you released simultaneously. What challenges did you face releasing three at once that you don’t think you would have had publishing one at a time? 

A: The biggest challenge was that I couldn’t promote each book equally, at least not at first. It’s hard enough to get people to pay attention to a new author at all, much less get them interested in three books at once. If I split my focus I would have done none of the books justice. I realized that, instead, I’d have to focus on one book and hope that people would like it enough to buy my others. For the most part, that has worked for me. I chose to focus my efforts primarily on Brothers and Bones because, of the three, it probably has the quickest hook to grab a reader. I love my other books, but Drawn is a supernatural story, which has a smaller audience than straight thrillers, and Jack of Spades is a cop-chasing-a-serial-killer book, which is also a subset of the larger thriller category. I’ve been very pleased to learn from reader reviews many people finish Brothers and immediately buy my other books. Of course, there are also people who start with one of the others, then buy the remaining two. Either way works for me!

Q: If your favorite of these three titles were turned into a movie, who would your dream cast be?

A: I love this question because I never think about this. My wife does and she’s usually spot on with her casting choices. She reads my books and tells me who should star in the movies, and she’s usually right, but I never have anyone particular in mind when I write, though I can see my characters very clearly. I can’t really pick a favorite of my books – I love all of my “children” equally, if differently – but I’ll use Brothers and Bones because it’s the one that would be most likely to make it to the silver screen. For Charlie, the prosecutor, we’d need an early thirties lawyer with a sense of humor. I think Ryan Gosling would be terrific. Tougher casting would be the quirky homeless man who starts out a little deranged but slowly regains his faculties. He’s strange and tough as nails and in his mid-to late forties. Nicholas Cage, who makes really interesting performance choices, could do it well.

Q: Like many authors, you opted to go the self-publishing route on your titles. What drove this decision and what did you learn from the experience?

A: I’ve had a terrific agent for years but we were never able to find a fit for my books with a traditional publisher, despite positive feedback. With the explosion of self-publishing and ebooks, it became obvious that self-publishing was the way for me to go, as it has been for so many thriller writers who aren’t already established in print. Indie publishing seems to be the way that these books are getting out to the world. I’ve definitely learned a few things, but first and foremost is that the work never ends. When the book is finally written, the marketing begins. But all authors are expected to promote their books these days, not just indie authors (though mega-sellers often have access to marketing opportunities that indie authors don’t). But what I also realized is how much control self-published authors have over their work, from how it reads, to how the covers look, to pricing, etc. That’s something that I really like.

Q: What would you like readers to take away from your stories?

A: Other than a burning desire to make sure they’ve read all of my books?  I hope that I help readers escape – just for a while—to a new place, a new life. I want to give them a chance to walk around in someone else’s shoes for a bit, maybe to visit a place they’ve never been, to find themselves in a situation they’ve never experienced, to feel a few tingles up their spines, some excitement and thrills and a sense of mystery and discovery, as well as a sense of satisfaction that causes them, when they reach the end of the books, to say to themselves (and hopefully to all of their friends and family) that reading my books was a worthwhile way to spend their valuable time.

Q: What would your fans be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I almost went with the fact that I can juggle knives (not well, but I can) or that I can recite Lewis Carroll’s wonderful poem of near-gibberish, “The Jabberwocky,” by heart…but I’m going to go with the fact that twenty years ago I got to kiss Dawn Wells (who played “Maryann” on Gilligan’s Island) on the cheek…mostly because I love to tell that story.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Another thriller. It’s too early in the process to say more about it, but I’m working on another thriller. I’m always working on another thriller.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: I hope people visit my website – www.jameshankinsbooks.com. There’s more about me and about my books there. They can sign up for my newsletter, which I send out on only very special occasions. They can also email me through my Contact page. I love hearing from readers. Also, I can be reached on Facebook at  http://www.facebook.com/JamesHankinsAuthorPage. And I’m on Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6644088.James_Hankins.

Of course, most importantly, I’d love folks to check out my books. They’re on the major online retailers’ sites, but here are the Amazon links:

Brothers and Boneshttp://www.amazon.com/Brothers-and-Bones-ebook/dp/B009XGD2DY/ref=pd_sim_kstore_2

Drawnhttp://www.amazon.com/Drawn-ebook/dp/B009XGIHES/ref=pd_sim_kstore_3

Jack of Spadeshttp://www.amazon.com/Jack-of-Spades-ebook/dp/B009XGD6LM/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1

Finally, I want to thank You Read It Here First for this interview opportunity. It was a lot of fun. Happy reading, all!

New Beliefs, New Brain: Free Yourself from Stress and Fear

new_beliefs cover

Lisa Wimberger, a consummate professional who has dedicated her life to helping others discover a new way of living, delivers her debut self-help memoir/course in rewiring one’s mind to weed out the true stories from those illusions of our mind that hold us back.

I had the opportunity to sit with her to discuss her book (New Beliefs, New Brain: Free Yourself from Stress and Fear), her teaching philosophy and her views on the spectrum of healing.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

**********

Q: In your Acknowledgements page of New Beliefs, New Brain: How To Free Yourself from Stress, you thank the reader as being your inspiration for this work. When and how did you discover you had to write this book? 

A: I value my gut feelings often. I had been meditating in the bath one night reflecting on how I could help in the world. I got a clear answer that I was supposed to write. About a week later a stranger who heard my story at an event I was speaking at told me afterwards that he got a clear message I should write a book. Then about a few weeks later after a cover story came out in a Denver publication about my work with officers, my publisher called me and asked if I had a book. So I began writing!

Q: That came together quite beautifully. How did you assemble the balance between sharing your personal, traumatic experiences and creating an environment where people could engage in their own lives through your exercises?

A: I modeled the book after the way I teach. I know from experience that if the material doesn’t engage someone on their own personal level it will mean nothing. And because my traumatic journey is the foundation for why I do what I do, it’s critical for me to remain authentic and share my “why”.

Q: That sense of authenticity shines in your work. I appreciated reading the real-life stories of Sam, Joseph and Kathy. Are there any notable stories you’d like to share of people who have read your book and have perhaps reached out to you with their results? 

A: I am fortunate to have many stories from clients and from readers. I was just contacted recently by an officer in Wisconsin who was so moved by the techniques, he bought copies of the book for all his family and friends. I have people tell me that since using the meditations they are finally liking—and even loving—their lives.

Q: Congratulations! How did you reach out to other professionals for their reviews before publication (and how did you approach Dr. Perlmutter to write the foreward)?

A: I was very inspired by Dr. Perlmutter’s approach to health and well-being. He’s written several amazing books. I went to Kripalu Yoga and Meditation Center some years back to do a workshop with him and Dr. Alberto Villoldo. After meeting Dr. Perlmutter in person, and his wife, I knew his work and his voice had so much integrity that I couldn’t imagine a better person to sanction my story. I asked him, and after reviewing the manuscript he agreed. I also sent requests to the other professionals whose work was important to me. I feel very blessed to have their accolades.

Q: The subject of self-help is far-ranging but your unique approach simultaneously encompasses the perspective of science, meditation and memoir. What has been your most successful marketing campaign to make your book accessible to those who would benefit most from its content?

A: My most successful marketing campaign I believe is yet to come! 

Q: Sounds exciting! Please share with us.

A: My future plans are to grow the institute as a funnel for all of my work. To lecture more, and to find a PR person!

I position my work for the everyman. I personally feel that the self-help enthusiast may already have great resources. However, the everyman may not know where to start. So I’ve been realistic in my descriptions of the book. I think its availability in the mass marketplace is the first step. I do a lot of blogging and speaking about it in venues that extend beyond the typical audience.

Q: This being your first book, what was the publishing process like with Divine Arts Media? 

A: They were fantastic and made it so easy to work with them. I was on my own much during the writing, although the publisher always answered questions right away. It seemed effortless. I hired my own editor to make sure my finished manuscript was as polished as I could make it.  Once I turned it in, there were some review cycles but nothing much changed.

Q: What a perfect balance between being a self-guided / published author and having the structure and support of a traditional publisher. What was your post-publication process like with Divine Arts Media?

A: They mapped out placement of the book and got it into the national and international distribution market. Beyond that I am my own PR agent. They offer me suggestions but the execution is up to me. The transition [from publication to marketing] isn’t always easy. I am not expert in marketing, nor do I have the time to do another full-time job. So with me as a one-woman show I’m sure the book sales are not what they could be if I had a PR agent, a team, or a larger platform to support all of what I do. I’m working on putting those things in place so that I can spend more time helping people and teaching and less time marketing and selling.

Q: Thank you for that insight. What advice would you give new writers?

A: My advice to new writers is to write. Pipe-dreams aren’t anything until you put it all into practice. There’s no perfect time to start. Just write.

Q: Great advice. As a teacher, consultant, healer, how would you define “education”?

A: I believe education is that which informs, inspires and then hopefully creates. If any of those pieces are missing then the deliverable is only a fraction as powerful.

Q: Beautifully expressed, thank you. How has your academic background (a Masters in Education from University of Stoneybrook, New York, certification as an MBTI, training on psychic awareness at ICI, etc.) and your time in the field (with the Ishaya monks and in counseling others) shaped your perspective on educating others?

A: I feel like I have been fortunate to have had a balance of very formal education mixed with many alternative modalities. This breadth lent itself to my understanding that you can’t just learn in one way. It’s not just about academic information and it’s not just about in-the-moment experience. Our brains want both. So I try to design my work to honor both.

Q: Yes, that balance of left-right brain was evident in your book. How do your companies (The Neurosculpting® Institute, Ripple Effect, LLC and The Trance Personnel Consulting Group) help you free others from stress and fear? 

A: Those business platforms allow me to have a space in which to do my trainings, a structure in which to go out into the world to teach at agencies and organizations, and offer me an online presence so begin to speak with a global audience.

Q: That’s awesome. You really seem to have a pulse on crossing boundaries to promote your message. How does your experience as an international tribal percussionist weave your sense of healing?

A: Percussion is an avenue for intense and euphoric healing. It is when I can get out of my mind and let my body create a message that others can interact with. I use words a lot, so it’s beautiful for me when I can stop talking and continue communicating that way. Percussion and dance are the ultimate experience of being present. It’s meditation in motion.

Q: I also have a deep affinity of music; that ultimate poetry of life. With everything going on, how do you manage to juggle these myriad endeavors?  

A: I actually don’t always know! I often have to meditate when I feel overwhelmed and go back to integrity. The only question I need to ask is “Is this in alignment with my mission on this planet?” When the answer is yes, I know I will find a balance. If I hesitate at all, then I know that’s the thing I have to walk away from. I’m learning that more and more each day.

Q: Life certainly feels like a work in progress. If you could only impart one piece of advice to someone seeking guidance, what would you say? 

A: Deep healing is far more accessible then we might think, but it takes work.  If you’re ready to work, then you’re ready to heal.

**********

To find out more about Lisa, you may visit her on www.linkedin.com/pub/lisa-wimberger/1/136/633 or check out her website at http://neurosculptinginstitute.com.  

 

Writing the TV Drama Series

200_tv_drama_series

If you frequently say to yourself whilst channel-surfing, “I could write a better series than that,” think again. It´s a lot harder than it looks. Pamela Douglas, author of Writing the TV Drama Series, explains why.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Let´s start out with some background on why you decided to pursue a writing career and why, specifically, it turned out to be in television instead of novels or plays.

Writing of any kind is a means to discover truth and tell it. Our currency is the truths of real lives, human desire ranging from the most deeply held passions and secrets to lusts and foolishness and mistakes, or whatever brings a moment of joy. Writers deal in insights people gain through knowing each other. And in today´s fractured society, it is absolutely necessary to make sense of our experience in the way humans always have, by creating stories that explain why things are as they are. All that is within the mission of any serious writer. As for the method you choose to convey the characters and stories that make up our world, it doesn´t matter. Each form has opportunities and limitations, but good writing (or bad) is up to you.

Power does matter, though. Through television, you reach millions of people. And because of the intimacy of the medium – how close and personal it is to the viewer – the creator wields great influence. Even the lowest rated shows are seen by more people than all but the most successful movies; and compared to TV, plays and novels aren´t even on the radar. That´s not to say writers shouldn´t explore all means of expression, or that artistic fulfillment can´t be found in art films, novels, poems and plays. But I have always been keenly aware of the power of stories to raise consciousness, both individually and in addressing society´s critical challenges. TV, especially the best dramatic series, can have an impact beyond anything else.

How did you get your first break and who were your mentors?

I had no mentors. No relatives or friends in the business, and no one slipping me onto a staff as a favor to anyone. Instead, I had opposition as a woman in a male-dominated field, as a person of color when the guys in charge were more comfortable with someone like themselves, and later as a person who insisted on quality when stereotypes or an easy laugh line at the expense of truthful characters might have been more commercial.

I built my career by continuing to write, by writing well and growing as a writer, by learning how this business works, and working it as well as I could. Ultimately, by some people´s measure, I failed. That is, I did not become extremely rich or own an empire of shows. But I´m proud of some of what I wrote and glad my work was recognized by the Humanitas Prize, the Writers Guild, and Emmy nominations – though winning awards was not my motivation.

My first paid TV writing job was when I was quite young — Trapper John, M.D. in the mid 1980s. I got it by realizing that a member of the continuing cast, Madge Sinclair, was being under-used and guessed the producers might be open to a pitch with a story for her. I admired Madge´s work outside the show, and knew she was a great actress, though I´d never met her. So I went in to that meeting and told the producers an honest tale about something her character might experience. They did indeed have a commitment to give her an episode, and no one on the staff had a clue. So they bought it, I wrote the script, it was produced, and Madge received her first Emmy award for my episode.

What television shows were you hooked on as an adolescent? And what programs do you never want to miss as an adult?

I didn´t watch TV when I was an adolescent. In the late 1960s and early 70s I was involved with the Civil Rights struggles, and my interest was in writing what was happening around me. Even while I was in school, I published in newspapers and magazines, ran a community filmmaking workshop, and free-lanced some news segments for a local TV station. My writing included fiction and I was always involved in visual arts as well. But sitting and watching TV wasn´t on my schedule.

But if you´re asking about historic series that I admire, M*A*S*H remains remarkably current and incisive. It was also before its time as half hour dramatic comedy and political comment. Later Hill Street Blues was the great progenitor of today´s best drama, followed by NYPD Blue.

Current shows I never miss include (in alphabetical order) Boss, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Mad Men, and I sometimes catch The Good Wife, Girls, Nurse Jackie and The Big C.

Among shows not currently broadcast, I strongly recommend binge-viewing The Wire (all 60 hours), The Sopranos and Battlestar Galactica. Friday Night Lights and certain episodes of House are good viewing too.

Lots of people watch TV series and probably say to themselves, “I could write something better than that!” Would you say that it´s harder or easier for newcomers to break into television writing than it was in the days when creative works were all produced on typewriters instead of computers?

People who believe they could write better than shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones or The Wire are deluded. What are these people viewing? The lowest level of any creative form deserves that sort of derision, and it´s easy enough to point to badly written movies, YouTube posts, lyrics and any other writing. I would tell those people to stop watching garbage and tune in to the brilliant literature that is richly available all over the TV spectrum, especially on basic cable, and try to learn from the best.

Most media stopped using typewriters more than thirty years ago, before I started working in television, so I can´t address that. The news in the 21st century is the multiplicity of outlets. Long ago in the era of three, then four broadcast networks, the number of shows was limited. Then came Premium Cable (HBO and Showtime) with innovative dramas. And now basic cable stations – AMC, Starz, USA, TNT, and many others – are all producing drama series, many of them outstanding. In addition Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu and other Internet entities are going from short gags to full-length scripted shows. This is a great time to write for TV.

What kind of opportunities are open to aspiring television writers and is it mandatory that they live in Los Angeles?

First, aspiring writers should go to a film school that offers a series of classes in writing for television. Be sure the classes are taught by people who have actual industry experience, preferably on quality TV series. Basic courses in screenwriting usually precede the TV classes, so students get essential skills. Then you will be ready to join workshops and find mentors to grow and refine your work. Once you have a professional quality portfolio you can attempt to be represented by an agent (or manager) and find entry-level jobs on shows. Among those beginner jobs, accept anything at all that gets you in the mix, even receptionist or p.a. Higher up the chain are Writers Assistants and Researcher, but those are competitive positions. Joining a staff of a show is the goal, but that usually takes a very strong portfolio, excellent representation and perseverance.

Since most shows are written and created in Los Angeles, even when they shoot elsewhere, it is important to live in Los Angeles. However, once in a while staff jobs may become available in New York, Miami and elsewhere.

Tell us about your book and what inspired you to write it.

The Third Edition of Writing the TV Drama Series is essential to writing current television because it combines three aspects you need: craft, how the industry works, and perspective on the future. Interviews, analyses of script segments, and step-by-step guides to both writing and placing pilots and episodes make this the truly complete book on the subject. It has been adopted by TV networks in their programs for new writers, and is required reading at the major film schools throughout the United States and internationally, where it has been translated into other languages. Anyone who has not read it will find themselves out of the loop.

I was pressured to write it by years of students in my classes, and the first edition was the exact class I teach. Initially I was reluctant to take time away from my creative work to spend on a text. But at the time no source was available that I considered complete and current enough, so I had to write this. Since that earliest version in 2005, I have enhanced the book greatly as the world of television continues to evolve in exciting ways.

What´s your best insider advice for someone who wants to pursue a screenwriting career?

Get into the USC School of Cinematic Arts in the Writing Division, and take the entire television track culminating in creating an original series in the TV Thesis. You will graduate with pilots and episodic spec scripts as well as internships that give you insights into how shows run. If that´s not possible, find another film program that approximates this. In Los Angeles, UCLA extension offers non-degree introductory and intermediate classes open to the public. The Tisch School at NYU is another excellent choice. Search around for offerings at universities near you.

If schools are out of the question, read and watch everything you can find, especially produced scripts, and then join a workshop for feedback as you write.

Which type of writing do you think presents a bigger challenge – TV or movies?

Unquestionably TV is more challenging. A single movie script has an arc that ends, and usually has a single major quest or conflict. Of course there are complications and dimensions of characters, and ideally, a fully developed antagonist. But structurally, it´s relatively simple. That´s not to say movies can´t be entertaining and stimulating. For directors, special effects and stunt people and certain kinds of actors, theatrical films may be more fulfilling. And some kinds of subjects – especially fantasy action – are far better suited to movies.

For writers, TV offers a range of story-telling that is long, complex and multi-layered. Because storylines must be able to continue for 100 hours (in a traditional 5-season run) a larger potential has to be developed in relationships, character depth and story surprises. In “the long narrative” a single story doesn´t end in an hour, but may weave through many episodes, or a full season, as in 12-episode seasons typical of shows like Dexter. Even in procedurals like The Good Wife, House, CSI, and so forth, where plots do conclude in each episode, enough “legs” must be present in the franchise and “juice” in the characters to make viewers want to watch the show again next week and next.

For a working writer, TV is greatly more demanding than movies. If you´re on your own writing a screenplay, you can work your own hours at your own pace and take as long as you need to figure out all the elements and rewrite after getting feedback over and over. But television writers have to be on top of their craft and fast. There´s no time learn on the job; if you´re on the staff of a show you must deliver finished, polished work, on time. The show is on every week, and if you don´t write the script, someone else will, and you´ll be gone.

What are some of the most significant changes you´ve observed in the American television market?

Five great changes have made television better in the 21st century. (1) The proliferation of broadcast outlets, especially the increase in scripted shows on basic cable; (2) The high quality of TV literature that now goes beyond premium cable and extends competitively everywhere; (3) alternates in viewing including DVR and other time-shifting technologies that make shows accessible at any time, and mobile and other devices make shows accessible at any place, thus increasing overall viewership; (4) The rise of the Internet as both a delivery and production powerhouse, adding even more opportunities for original shows including those for niche interests; (5) International production collaborations and international audiences for American shows and American-international hybrids. All five demonstrate that TV is in a growth phases, and where newness and growth prevails so does opportunity.

Given the proliferation of reality TV shows, does this mean that producers don´t have much interest in courting writers that know how to pen original plots?

First, so-called “reality” or “unscripted” shows are neither real nor unscripted. They are written by writers and acted by actors who deserve to be credited and properly compensated for their craft. Those who unfairly exploit writers by defying minimum working conditions and labor laws don´t belong at the bank cashing in; they belong in court, in my opinion. Because stations are now backing away from the legal and economic complications of those shows, the proliferation of them is slowing. I´m not saying the number of new reality shows is being reduced because the producers who profiteer off them have suddenly gained morality. They are dwindling because the profits aren´t what they used to be. And finally viewer fatigue has set in.

Original, professional-quality pilots are very much valued.

In addition to being an accomplished writer, you´re an artist. What has art taught you about writing and vice versa?

Both co-exist as expressions of my insights and visions. Some subjects are better treated with words, especially those that rely on character development and explore relationships and issues over time. Visual arts are immediate and passionate responses, and a chance to have a different kind of visceral impact on individual viewers. Writing is more difficult than painting partly because of sitting long hours at a computer, and partly because writing can´t fall back on physical materials; confronting a blank page is more daunting to me than a blank canvas. But neither specifically teaches the other. They are complementary aspects of a creative life.

Writing the TV Drama Series is available at Amazon as well as Michael Wiese Productions (http://www.mwp.com).