Archive | April, 2011

Sorry, Kid

Writing is full of delicious highs and gutter-licking lows. It’s a bitter sweet life.

Know what else is bitter sweet? Being a film producer. I mentioned in a post a few days back that my husband will be producing a film in San Francisco in May and June and we (baby, big kid and I) are planning to go up to spend the two months with him. Well, we were supposed to leave on Sunday, and now, on Thursday (yes, just days before it’s set to begin), it looks like the whole movie might fall apart. That’s how the film business works. One day you’re making a movie, the next your not. At least as a writer you’re more or less subject to your own whims and distractions.

It takes a lot of patience and flexibility to live the life of a creative professional. In fact, I think it would be really hard if one of us had a regular job and the other was constantly changing plans, but since we both live and breath this uncertainty called art, we manage it together. I think the hardest part (if, in fact the project does fall through) will be explaining it to our daughter. We spent the last three weeks prepping her for the idea that we’ll be in San Francisco, away from her friends, for two months, and now we 180 and say “yeah, never mind all that, let’s stay home.”

Oh well, this is the life she was born into. When it comes to family hardships, changing plans on a dime is hardly the worst of them.

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Tending My (Dis)Satisfaction

I read a story once about an old woman who was moving to a retirement home. Her son helped her out of the car and said something like “let’s go see your room.” Her response was “It’s lovely dear,” and he gently reminded her that she hadn’t seen it yet. She replied that she was sure it would be beautiful.

Now, maybe she was too old to know what she was talking about, or MAYBE, since she was going to be there for a while, she had just already decided to love it. They say that’s one of the tricks to living a long life – finding happiness where ever you are.

I’m all for it. I try to be happy with whatever situation I find myself in. I find that if you look hard enough you can find humor almost anywhere and choosing to be satisfied is always to your benefit – except in artistic endeavors.

With my writing I take the opposite stance. I actively nurture my dissatisfaction. I am like an old codger at a noisy amusement park. Everything is wrong until proven otherwise. Don’t talk to me, don’t try to appease me, and generally just leave me alone until I’ve decided to come out of my funk.

I wonder if I will ever reach a point with my writing where I am capable of tending my satisfaction, if it will ever serve me in my art. As of right now it seems unlikely, but I do still consider myself a blue-square-ski-run kind of writer. Maybe as I grow wiser I will find a space for peace within my writing practice. Maybe not.

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Stop With the Brilliant Ideas, Already

I had this great idea for an article about five minutes ago. An interesting, research-heavy piece about a topic that’s getting a lot of attention lately. I even know the magazine I would pitch. I’m sure they would love it, and they pay pretty well, too.

Then, in a rare moment of clarity, I realized I need to stop having great ideas, and start producing some finished product. Cheese and crackers. If you’ve browsed my site at all you know I’m working part time as a freelance writer, trying to finish my novel, slowly chipping away at a guide book about northern California, waiting to hear from my agent about my non-fiction book proposal, blogging and oh, yeah, raising two kids. Vishnu, with her many arms, would have trouble juggling all that.

To date, I’ve managed my life on a squeaky wheel system. Kids first (they are, after all, pretty loud), paid work second, and everything else when I have time for it. If my agent actually sells my proposal I’m going to have to seriously reassess my time management/get a full time nanny.

So I’m shelving the brilliant article, filing it away for future reference, and instead, pulling out my notes on the novel – trying to write a little more tonight before I fall asleep, or the baby starts crying.

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Victorville, CA

If you’re ever feeling like a complete wreak, do a little reading up on Victorville, California and you’ll feel better about your life. Unless, of course, you happen to live there.

I’ve been working on fleshing out a few scenes in my novel and this morning I came across an article that gave me some real insight into the setting of my story. Well, technically my story is set in Oro Grande, CA, a small town of less than 1000 folks, that is really more like an old ghost town, but the nearest city (just to the south) is Victorville. Here’s a quote:

“It’s a hustle and bustle every sun-baked day: No Country For Old Men-style shootouts, tweakers forgetting to take their babies out of their car seats, leaving them to be cooked alive in the hundred-plus heat, harmless bums getting sentenced to life for picking pockets thanks to three-strikes-and-you’re-out laws, drug dealers swallowing baggies of meth to hide their goods from the cops and overdosing, people trying to rob stores with BB guns and getting laughed at by shoppers, middle-aged women on parole getting arrested for fucking underage teens, wasted grandmas crashing into storefronts and flipping over on sidewalks…” (click here to see the whole article)

That’s some juicy modern-day western kind of shit. The article goes on to describe in some detail a few amazingly awful things that have gone on. How is it that I’ve been working on this story for over two years and didn’t know that the city I’m writing about is down right wild, wild west?

I guess I had romanticized the place. Since my characters live outside of the city, what I’ve seen of the place is the stunning rolling hills of the desert, but this is great. This adds a whole new layer to my story. The safe farm life verses the scary city life is something that works quite well in the world I’ve created.

Is it bad that I’m rejoicing in the downfall of man, in the utterly terrible ways we treat each other some times? Maybe, but what the hell. A good story’s a good story.

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Siren Call

An interesting thing has happened with my novel. I’ve reached a point where it is no longer daunting to work on it. Instead of forcing myself to sit and write, I’m dying to get to it. It’s a good thing too, since I have less and less time to spend on it.

This week is my daughter’s spring break from preschool (you know, because the academics of her “little dragon” class are pretty strenuous – they need a vacation right about now), and juggling both kids has left me almost no time to write. The work I do get done, is written after they’re in bed, which has left me pretty tired. But all day, as I chase, and wipe, and cajole, I’m thinking about my story.

I think it’s because I’m actually getting close to finishing this draft. I don’t know that I’ll actually make my goal of getting there before my birthday on May 7th, but I do think end of May might be doable. That’s five weeks, after this spring break business is over, to get to the finish line.

And the timing couldn’t be better. My husband is shooting a movie on location is San Francisco in June and the little ones and I are going with him, so as soon as I finish this draft I can put it aside, go back to chasing both kids again for June, then follow that siren call again into my third draft come July. It still leaves me a little behind on my plan to finish the book before the end of the year, but considering the storm that is my life right now, I’ll take that. Happily.

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Just When I Thought It Was Safe

About four months after the birth of my daughter I was walking home from the store, pushing the stroller, when I suddenly turned and threw my guts up onto Beverly Boulevard. It was morning sickness all over again.

I was completely freaked out at the idea that I was pregnant after just four months of motherhood, but I couldn’t see any other explanation for the puking. Well all my panic was for nothing. It turned out I wasn’t pregnant. I’ve since chalked it up to some crazy hormonal postpartum readjustment.

And now, about four months after the birth of my second (and, trust me, last) child, here I am again. A complete wreck. I haven’t yet tossed my cookies on the side of the road, but I am a hormonal mess. A complete basket case, I admit it.

My emotional, raging, cranky state is made all the worse by the fact (?) that I’m never going to make my goal of finishing the second draft of my novel before my birthday. Sometimes I feel like I will never finish this book. I might as well just sit here and cry about it. Waaaa.

I promise to pull my shit together as soon as possible and get back to blogging about something a little less self indulgent.

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The Future of The Written Word

When I was little, my mom worked as an illustrator by day and an oil painter by night. The illustrations she did for a company called Northwestern Graphics paid the bills, and the oil paintings were her passion. It occurred to me, or rather, it occurred to my husband who pointed it out to me, that I am rapidly establishing a life for myself that is very similar to my mom’s before me. I do business writing by day, and after the kids are in bed, I work on my novel.

The thing that struck me today is that my mom fell on really hard times when computers came along with their graphic programs and killed the professional (free hand) illustrator. She had to go back to school to learn the software programs that now do in seconds what she once did all day every day.

It seems inconceivable to me now, but what if the written word is dying? I have friends who teach grade school who say they regularly have to explain to kids that “U R” is not the same as “you are.” While it seems crazy that some day all memos, white papers and promotional material might be written in texting short-hand, perhaps I’m being optimistic. If I am, I better make myself into a prized novelist right quick, because my day job won’t last long.

I guess the good news is that a lot of the business writing I do is for websites. Web content should be around for a while. And people of my generation will still be running things for at least a few more decades, and we mostly still like complete sentences. Mostly. I guess I’m just feeling curious about what the future has in store. Only time will tell, I suppose.

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For All The Freelancers Out There

This morning I had to take the little guy to the hospital for some more blood tests (hopefully his last round, as long as everything comes back alright). One thing I can say about combining infants and needles is this – drink your coffee first. Don’t think you’ll just grab a cup at the convenient little stand outside the building, because they won’t let you drink it in the waiting room, and by the time you come out of there your head will be pounding.

While I was sitting (forever) in that coffee-free zone called a waiting room, I was catching up on some Twitter action and came across this seminar presentation (via @Weegee) called “Fuck you. Pay me.” It’s all about how to make sure you have solid contracts set up for your freelance work, so that you never get stiffed. I found it very informative, and thought some of you out there might like it too:

2011/03 Mike Monteiro | F*ck You. Pay Me. from San Francisco Creative Mornings on Vimeo.

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Those Who Can’t Teach

I had coffee with a writer friend a couple weeks ago. We are both at points in our careers where we see a path toward financial sustainability, but we need that one last little boost to get us out of the struggling artist category and into a place where we are comfortably bringing home the bacon.

It wasn’t long before the conversation turned to teaching jobs, and our inability to land one. After comparing notes it was clear that we had both thoroughly shaken that tree without causing any fruit to drop. High schools, junior colleges, private schools, you name it, we’ve tried to bring our considerable expertise to America’s youth, but the fact is, especially here in LA, teaching jobs are hard to come by.

I spoke with a career counselor about six months ago who explained it like this: teachers with 20 year’s experience in the LA Unified School District are being laid off every day and competing with them is kind of pointless. So what’s a writer in her early/mid career to do?

Well, there are only so many options. 1. Sell a book or non-fiction proposal 2. find freelance work 3. decide on a different vocation. As I refuse to choose option three (and really, I don’t know what I do if I’m not a writer), that leaves me with options one and two. Option one (the non-fiction proposal) is in the hands of my agent at this point, at least until I finish my novel and can start pushing it out into the world. So that leaves freelance work.

I’ve been very fortunate as of late to find some great freelance gigs. The question now is what level of yearly income will suffice. That’s a good question for any independently employed individual, and I suppose it’s something I need to think about. Given that I would never turn down a bigger pay check, I guess the real question is how much time can I devote to this? Every hour I spend on freelance work is an hour not spent on the novel, or with the kids, or with my guy. This is big life/work balance kind of stuff. I’ll let you know when (if) I start figuring it all out.

To quote Ferris Bueller “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

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