authors, creative inspiration, Life in General, New Novels, writers, writing

Categorically Wrong Again.

fun one
Just a few words.

Whenever someone finds out I’m a writer, (because I tell them) their first question is always, “What do you write?” by which they mean, ‘what genre?’

How do I sum up my work in a word? I wish someone would tell me. If you’ve read “Invisible Ellen” you’ll know why. It’s comedy, it’s drama, it’s fable, it’s reality, it’s socially conscious, it has story and it’s character driven, and while it’s primarily about two women, it’s not ‘women’s fiction’ perish the narrow-minded dismissal! I understand why people ask, they may prefer cozy mysteries or violent thrillers and are jonesing for their next hit, but I can’ t help them there.

Well, I could. it might be much easier for me to stick to a genre, write the same kind of book again and again. For publishers, it’s easier for them to button hole a writer into a small, easily promotable group. But the entire idea that anyone’s entire body of work can be filed under one word is lamentable. Not to say that writers like Rex Stout aren’t masters of their genre, practically creators of their own library sections, but that is because their work is so complex and compelling to start with, they are anything but simple.

Full disclosure, I have written books based on a label by contractual agreement. In fact after my first book “Loaded” was purchased, the publisher ordered two more books described thus: “Mystery thriller with a romantic entanglement.” So…at least that was two labels in one. I always bucked the identity of ‘romance writer’ not because I don’t love a good romance as much as the next red-blooded, sex-crazed female with a penchant for tactile mental imagery and the well-described monkey noises that accompany them, but because I know so many writers who write romance so much more deliberately and, frankly, so much better than I do. Romance is just not my passion, if you’ll forgive the awkward juxtaposition of nouns.

Which sends me spinning off on one of my tangents; I do this a lot. I’m just cruising along on a big merry-go-round of topical reasoning when something suddenly snags my mind’s eye, I lose my grip on the painted pony of focus, and the centrifugal force slings my thought process into free flight, tumbling my head over my ass off into another part of the zoo. I might return to my original point but I might also spend the rest of the essay admiring the zebras, sorry.

Anywho…speaking of herd animals, isn’t it a relief to sometimes be one? I mean, to just say, “Yeah, I’m not even going to try to lead the pack in this field, So-and-so is so brilliant at it that I might as well not bother.” Giving up on the aspiration to do something or be something you respect and admire is sort of life’s version of screaming “Uncle!” while simultaneously enjoying the experience of having your arm folded up your back like a dislocated chicken wing. There are so many amazing vocations that I would love to conquer, like painting, or astrophysics, but—even making the wild assumption that I had the talent and propensity—without at least one more lifetime of devotion to the cause, I’m not likely to give Monet or Neil deGrasse Tyson a run for their money. Therefore, I content myself with gazing covetously at the transformation of pigment into emotional impact, and listen with rapt reverence to the simplified explanations of a superior intellect.

Not everything. Never give up on everything. Keep something, I say. Find a couple of things you love and even if you stink, you will find fulfillment in the doing if not the adulation that may never come. There’s a lesson in that, is it the proficiency or the laurels you crave? Do you want to act or do you want to be famous? Those are two very different goals, and it is the latter inclination that makes an artist. But then, you never know, maybe your first novel will be ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’ I mean, hey, you never know until you try.

Meanwhile, let me climb back onto the carousel of my original thought process here. Why do we feel the need to pigeon-hole everyone and every thing? Okay, maybe it works for some things, like B movies and restaurant types, if I feel like pasta I won’t go to a BBQ pit, but people and creativity? That’s just nuts.

Because I don’t want to be chained to any one thing. If I do something for a while and it works for me but I weary of it, I’ll move on. I’ll write books on topics and characters that interest me, I just don’t have the time and energy for a project that isn’t worth six months to a year of my life.

And here’s something I’ve found out not from writing, but from reading. The books I love the most, the ‘break-out’ books, are almost always true originals, impossible to stuff into a cubby-hole with a computer-printed genre-label gorilla glued on the cover.

Screw that. There are true examples that fit any given description, but there is no description that is true about every example. White people aren’t all racist. Politicians aren’t all crooked, (well, a few aren’t!) Blonde women aren’t all vapid. Not every athlete is a bad student. Some mysteries are magical. Some dancers are clumsy. Good people die. Bad people do kind things sometimes.

Life, like literature, is a whirlwind of variety, constructs that grow or crumble, even things we build on foundations that can be washed away in the worst of a storm. If you look at the sum of someone’s work like a house they are putting on the market, before you buy, you need to see more than the real estate agent’s brochure. And while it takes extra time and energy to walk all the way around and through a house, judging the structure by the curb appeal alone leaves you ignorant of the floor plan and no understanding at all of the possible lives and loves that would be constantly changing inside. And don’t forget that everyone has the potential, at any time, to redecorate and redefine.

So…if anyone can help me with a quick phrase to sum up ‘what I write’ please, I’m begging you, I’m down on my scrubby knees chanting for clarity. Share it! As far as summing up my life and divergent personality in a simple adjective, give it up. It can’t be done. Not by me, or you, or anyone. Not about me, and not about anyone else. There is always more, layers on layers, basements and attics and add-ons, carpeting over hardwood floors, recessed lighting with a couple of bulbs burned out, a backyard filled with weeds on one side and a garden on the other. You can choose to live in a mid-century modern, mission style, or Victorian. You can occupy living rooms, bedrooms, tiled kitchens, and even spend time completely away from that home, possibly in the occasional muddy camp-site. Hey, I’ve done a bit of wallowing, every one occasionally makes a lateral move to our lower selves, so wipe that gunk out of your eyes and follow me to the showers.

But for heaven’s sake, stop limiting your vision, there is so much more to see.

If you want to change, do it! But be ready for resistance.

Because people don’t like it when you change.

It’s easier for them if you stay the same.

And nobody does.

So grow.

Dare.

Be all that you are.

Some one will read it.

 

Shari, November 7th, 2017

 

 

 

authors, creating character, creative inspiration, New Novels, parenting, writers

But What I Really Want To Do Is Write.

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                    In between laundry loads.                                                                Gussied up.

So here we go, a new novel out tomorrow in stores and on line everywhere!! So I’ve spent many hours on FB and twitter, or addressing postcards or arranging speaking engagements. Of course on Saturday I’ll be at Vroman’s in Pasadena at 4 for the book signing, so, it’s been distracting from my usual routine.

I generally spend about 40 hours a week working, not in a row, of course. I break it up and try to spread it over time that I haven’t reserved for my family. Sometimes I can actually get in 6-8 straight hours, but other times it’s two hours before I go to bed, three hours before everyone else gets up, or, like now, forty-five minutes over a quickly snagged burrito while I’m out buying detergent and other important things for family, like…oh, I don’t know…food.

Meanwhile, my next book, isn’t receiving the necessary time and concentration and is therefore resisting my efforts to keep it progressing steadily.

But writers, let’s be honest. Unless you are a super freak or an automaton, you don’t sit down everyday and write forward 4 to 12 pages. You squiggle around a bit, start a character but aren’t totally sure who they are or what they’ll say yet. You have a basic story line idea, or plot layout, but in truth you’re not working from a blueprint or IKEA instructions, (which to be fair require special tools and a keen understanding of fourth dimensional math.) Writing requires time just thinking, doodling concepts and character traits on napkins, watching people behave badly at the grocery store, talking to the homeless guy reading novels on a bus bench, (to be fair, my homeless reader-friend prefers, ‘domestically challenged’) even screaming at the moon to inspire you.

The book, the idea, and your thoughts about it are incomplete. And no amount of forcing words into the computer will congeal it into one of those pretty molds with sliced fruit suspended in a cake-shaped gelatinous mass.

That’s why I love editing, especially with a great editor. The basic form is already there and all you have to do is fluff, like a designer backstage at a fashion show. The main work is done, just a tug at the hem, a twist of a scarf, and you can shove that creation out onto the stage.

As much as I love writing and the books I’ve produced, I have a major problem with promoting them, and here’s why—besides making me feel vaguely braggadocios, (Mom, mom, mom, watch me, watch me!) getting myself out there involves makeup and an attempt at coordinated clothing, even possibly, god-forbid—high heals. Three things I’m able to avoid on a daily basis for months while I’m writing.

One of the big problems with being a writer is that people assume you are available at the drop of a hat, you are not ‘working’ at a job, so you must be able to go to lunch, answer their emails within seconds, take care of their kids when they are busy, and chat for hours on the phone.

Wrong. I’m not a chatter, I turn off my wifi when I work, I love your kids and will take them to the space center when I can take an afternoon off, and if I eat, it will be on the run. My family has learned that they may interrupt me when I’m writing, but I reserve the right to say “Not now.” (One major exception was when my 8 year old daughter put on her Sailor Moon costume, complete with star-wand and stood next to me saying, “But mommy, I want you to come help me save the world.” I mean, come on, I had to go. The future of the planet was at stake.) My friends—who aren’t writers—don’t get it.

And then a book comes out and everyone says, “Oh, you’re so busy, you have so much going on!” Not really. I’m busier when I’m home trying to focus on my story plot in my torn T-shirt with unwashed hair while simultaneously trying to keep a decent house, do the gardening, prepare delicious meals, and spend time with my husband and my daughters.

So when you think of my recent ‘success’ remember this mental picture of me at home, moving cats off my keyboard, jumping up to check the laundry, the crock pot, the sprinklers. It might not seem as glamorous as speaking in front of a group of people wearing a nice skirt and blouse holding my shiny new hardcover, but it’s the bulk of my life, and frankly I prefer it.

Because, while I appreciate and am eternally grateful for the friends and readers who say lovely things on line, re-tweet my good reviews, and actually take the time to come out and support me… what I really want to do is write.

What will you do today?

Shari, August 10th, 2015

acting, creative inspiration, Life in General, New Novels, writing

Leap of Faith

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Jumping in.

And so…I find myself beginning a new book, which leads me to the question, “Where does inspiration come from?”

The truth is I don’t know. I don’t know who the characters will be, what they will say or do. I don’t know the plot yet, I don’t know if the message I want to get across is worth a plug nickel. Hell, I don’t even know what a plug nickel is.

Which means that the simple answer is— The best place to find inspiration is to start with what I don’t know.

Powerful words. “I don’t know.” That simple phrase means that the world is open, that you are ready and eager to learn. It means that you have questions and curiosity, that you are still open to be filled with wonder, to be surprised, delighted, to not judge, to wait and see.

To take a leap.

If you already know everything, or pretend to, you can learn nothing.

In truth, those words, “I don’t know,” have been a game changer for me. Earlier in life it seemed so important to know everything, to be right, to be knowledgable, to appear wise. Which meant, I wasn’t. “I don’t know” set me free.

I know of one author who titles every new work, “Shitty first draft.” This gives her license to just get it all down, then she can go back and make it an ‘acceptable first draft’ and finally, ‘a really good first draft.’ After that, well, as we writers know, the editors will have at it.

I don’t label my drafts, I’m still too timid to put the word ‘shitty’ at the top from fear it might seep down into my work. Silly, I know, but there it is. Words mean something, they have power, so when I start listing ideas for a new novel, I put them in a file titled, “The Best Book Ever.” A girl can dream.

I learned so much from the acting process about improving, enriching and ‘fleshing out’ characters that I don’t fear my first tentative, feeble efforts will not improve. As I learn a part, let’s say, Viola in Twelfth Night, I begin to understand what the words that were written by the great bard really mean, to me anyway. As I go through the rehearsal process, I absorb the emotions and feelings of the other actors and as their characters come to life, they inform mine. My homework and history inform me, the stage informs me, the words themselves inform me, and mostly, the emotion takes hold.

It’s the same with writing. Though in this case, it is the emotions that are finding the words and story to express themselves. Either way, I must leap, dare, jump and throw myself into the ether, from which all things come. And I trust that, while I might hit the ground really hard and roll, I’ll probably land safely, in a new place, unknown to me before now, and if it’s a good place, a place worth visiting, I will share it with others.

This is like life, whenever I think I need to change or try to understand someone and their (to me) bad behavior, I have to remind myself that I haven’t lived their childhood, I haven’t woken up from their nightmares, I haven’t listened to whatever abuse was heaped upon them, ergo…I cannot, ever, understand them. All I can do is honor their journey, understand that their limitations are not the same as mine.

We all want to connect, to be understood. It’s why most of us write, or act, or play music. We want to connect, to be heard and understood. But in truth, we don’t. We relate, we appreciate, we sympathize, but we do not ever fully understand. Our adventure belongs to us, it is unique, and so is theirs.

And that’s okay. It’s better than okay, it’s brilliant. It’s what makes us unique and more than that, it’s what makes us need each other. Our journeys and our paths are different, but our need for other humans binds us all.

We are alike, but we are not the same.

Isn’t that wonderful? It feels like it to me, but then I don’t know how you feel about it.

Shari, October 15, 2014

acting, Entertainment, film, makeup, mental illness, movies, New Novels, schizophrenia

Sometimes I Scare Myself.

Not my best day. photo by John Dlugolecki

This image of me is a work of art featuring makeup by an incredible artist named Devan Weitzman.  I realized when I looked at this picture, how my priorities have changed over the last trio of decades, and all I have to say is…what a relief!

I spent my teen years as a competitive ice skater, so I understood that hard work, and artistic ability were things that fulfilled me, that moved and motivated me. But then the day came when modeling, and then commercials, became my bread and butter, my entire value was suddenly based on how I looked, not necessarily by me, but by the people with whom I worked. In that business, it was a somewhat understandable—if horrible—place to have your self-worth centered. I remember how important it was to always look ‘sexy’ and ‘attractive.’ I was proud to be the one on the cover of the magazines, on the billboard, or the one who turned heads when I walked through a restaurant. I was proud, because it’s all I had to be proud of then. Without realizing it, I became more and more discontent, distressed, and unfulfilled. But, of course, since I had what others wanted, I was not allowed to express any unhappiness. I didn’t even understand that I was unhappy, and certainly not why.

And then I went on a remarkable photo shoot.

There was a model in Atlanta, I cannot remember her name! because she was a few years ahead of me. When I was starting out, she was winding down. I’d heard about her, and seen her picture everywhere, but we had never worked together. Then one day we were booked to do a swimwear ad featuring us on a bicycle built for two. We shot together, and then each had a turn alone. I was so interested, (and yes, invidiously so) to see why everyone thought she was so great. I was ‘a model with a brain’ so I was well known for using the area, theme, space, movement, and being creative, but I always, of course, focused on looking ‘good.’ So I took my turn and then she was up. I stood in the dark behind the photographer to watch and learn, like the Chinese stealing trade secrets.

She did a few shots of standard smiling or pouting poses and then she did something that shocked me. She pretended to have slipped and hit her crotch on the cross bar, and she did this ugly, ugly, pained face.

And it was fabulous!! In that silly moment, I realized that there was so much more to being a contributing talent than just looking ‘good.’ It was clear to me that because she was less inhibited, she was just plain better at it than me!

Now, no one’s ever accused me of being inhibited, mind you, that was just a step up to being able to see the value of being a character, instead of a face/body.   A realization, in fact, that ‘unattractive’ could be brilliant!! That producing something from the inside out was far more rewarding. And—here’s the secret—It’s much more fun!!! When I came to LA, I deliberately worked on characters in class like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, or one of the witches from Macbeth. And it was really terrifying for me, as it would be for so many women and girls who equate ‘ugly’ with bad. We who were told when we raised our voices, or argued with authority, that we were ‘acting ugly.’ And God forbid we were deemed unattractive by a society that worships beauty.

Taking my ‘ugly’ characters out in public showed me how differently people treated me, though i was the same person inside, and that inspired me to write “Invisible Ellen.”

Thankfully, things are changing, women are increasingly being valued for who they are and what they do, but we have a long way to go. And girls, you all need to get on board! Don’t let men make you compete with yourself or others, and instead of tearing other women down, build them up!! Root for them, cheer for them, chant their name as they go in on the same audition as you are! After all, we’re all on the same team, and isn’t it great to celebrate a thousand victories than to hoard a few of your own and resent everyone else’s?

Theater and acting helped me change my center of self-worth. I was desperate for substance and creativity as opposed to surface appearance. I learned to work in a company, a group, be a part of a whole, and be proud of my talent and hard work instead of my blonde hair and athletic body. I got my worth back.

And now, full circle. In “Scream at the Devil” I play a schizophrenic who is anything but concerned about her looks. She recedes into madness until she’s terrified by every sound and flash of light, and that is what’s important.

“Scream at the Devil” opens Oct 24th at the North Hollywood Laemmle, and plays through Halloween. If you want to check out the theatre page and watch the trailer to see just how far down I can get, here you go— http://www.laemmle.com/films/38650

This character and her pain aren’t pretty, and that’s why I’m so proud of it.

And now I am happy.

Shari, October 9th, 2014

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, family, Life in General, men, New Novels, parenting, Theatre, writing

Who am I NOW?

As the evil disney queen in a book video a few months ago. It suits me.
As the evil disney queen in a book video a few months ago. It suits me, fantasy and literature.

Who am I now?

I haven’t been on my website for a week or so or posted anything new, and so I was surprised to see that I had 3000 hits in a single day hits a few days ago. This was, to quote Zoolander when his message machine tells him he has 12 hundred messages, “A little above average.” and I wondered why.

Sure, I have a new book out and “Invisible Ellen” is doing pretty nicely, but that couldn’t be it. And then I remembered that my girls told me my ex had done this show called “Celebrity Wife Swap,” and I thought, “Oh, it must have aired.” I knew about the show, but only because he and his wife had wanted the girls to be on it, which caused some friction, but my daughters had the sense and the backbone to refuse. Neither of my daughters are fans of ‘reality’ TV, and—though admittedly I’ve never watched CWS—that show seems…uh, let’s just say…not exactly creme of the crop, and they didn’t want to be associated with it. Bless their classy little hearts.

Now, I didn’t see the show, don’t ever intend to, so maybe it’s a steaming pile of art and I would be sorry to have missed it, but my instinct tells me no.  I have never once looked at either my ex’s or his wife’s websites and I definitely steer away from anything involving them in social media, (I know, I know, I’m writing this, but I’m trying to make a point!) I know I won’t like what I see, so why go looking for it? To be honest, I don’t really know them, and have only the barest of contact since he announced with a smug smile that he wouldn’t be contributing to college, then drove away in his Porsche. He tells a different story, no doubt in his public version of himself and has an image of himself to maintain, as many people do, but I deal with the reality, usually damage control, and that’s plenty. I do my best to disassociate from that whole, publicist-generated, artificial world version 2.0.

So it interests me that people would see that wife swap show and look me up. It’s a weird interconnected web out there. It feels remote to me and my everyday life. I think of how I’ve tried to focus my life away from that kind of negativity and on doing work that is worthwhile to me. That’s not to say I wouldn’t work on a show for the money if i really needed it, the key to avoiding that is to keep your cost of living down so that having to prostitute yourself is kept at a minimum. From someone who once starred in “Death Spa” that may seem a bit bogus, but hey, things have changed.

You see, at first you want the things that everyone else envies, I don’t know why, but that’s often what our society teaches is desirable. You want to be sexy, and famous, and beautiful and rich, and then you grow up and want to be valued for something real. Well, some of us do anyway, others get caught in the cycle. For me, after living by my looks modeling in New York and ending up a cocaine addict, which I beat myself at 22, I had to come to terms with the fact that being valued for what is on the outside is very, very lonely and untrue. Then I wanted to be famous, because that impresses people, right? But when I got a dose of that, It just felt just strange. When many people meet someone they’ve seen on TV or film immediately there is a veil, an artificial wall, that separates you because they think you are something you are not and, falsely, feel different from you. I hated that. You give up privacy and often even the ability to spend time in public with your family comfortably. I’ve had people put their kid in my lap while I was eating at a restaurant and start video taping. I love meeting new people, but that was just invasive, (especially since I was eating spinach). Now I have many wonderful friends, who I first met as ‘fans’, don’t get me wrong, but there is a difference between meeting people on an equal footing, and people wanting to document meeting you as a trophy for being on a show or in a movie that you don’t even think is very good.

That didn’t feel right to me. It’s lovely to have people like and respect your work, and name recognition as a novelist is important as well as for an actor, but when you have to constantly pretend to be what you’ve created, meaning some kind of public persona, it is, for all but a few, confusing to the point of soul-crushing. Egos get all out of whack. But I did love acting, the art of it, making an audience breath together or laugh as one, and since the film and TV roles of quality weren’t coming to me, I turned to theatre where I’ve done my best work, respected the writing and myself, and felt the joy of working with an artistic community that betters the many, instead of the few.

And writing has always been my first love. Though I’m proud of all of my books, I don’t think there’s any question that “Invisible Ellen” is the kind of book I’ve always wanted to write. Hopefully, it’s original, funny, heartwarming, and uplifting. Those are qualities I feel good about.

So, one day soon, maybe I’ll get thirty thousand hits on my website because my new book, “Emerging Ellen” is hitting the stores. I certainly hope so, but for me, that’s a different kind of attention, one I can spread around and share. Oh, and it would go a long way toward helping me pay for private school and college, which would be lovely, and for my charity as well. Meanwhile, I’ll drive my used Ford Escape Hybrid, give what I can, and laugh and love with my girls and my family, support my friends’ many endeavors and try to create something new and worth reading or watching.

Because that’s who I am now.

Who do you want to be? Go get ’em baby.

 

Shari, July 25th, 2014

 

 

 

 

creating character, creative inspiration, New Novels, writing

Building with Words.

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Searching for clues.

 

It’s great to have “Invisible Ellen” out all over the country, it’s great to have the sequel to that book written, turned in and accepted by the publisher. But now comes what I call the dreamy-between time, when I wonder…what do I write next?

I am asked quite often where I get my ideas for my books. I have no easy answer, but I understand the question, it’s an infinite universe, but that doesn’t mean we can see all the stars. Sometimes we need a telescope to find what’s out there, or turn it inward on our own thoughts. Sometimes vague thoughts for a new book sort of alight on my shoulder and mumble in my ear, but it’s only wisps of ideas, characters calling from some far away place for my attention, fragments of lines and scenes. Suggestions in the ether, that I put down and try to connect into something coherent and interesting by linking them with snatches of conversation, observation, imagination, and memories. Inspiration can come from many emotional sources as well, rage at hearing of a horrific and pointless crime was the primary motivator for my first book, but I was surprised to find that I had played that out by the end of the first chapter.

Before I start mixing my metaphors into a frothy lilac, sardine, purple chai latte, I think a better way to describe this unborn stage of a new novel, or any creative endeavor, is that it’s much like constructing a house without a blueprint.

The funny thing about this creative process is, I’m committing to a place I will live for at least a year, but I don’t know yet what I’m buying. I don’t know exactly how much work it will be, I’m not even sure what materials I’ll need, and what portions of the structure will need extra support or will have the best view. I’m building blind at this dreamy-between time.

The fact is that it takes a good amount of concentrated effort before I even begin to construct that house. And it doesn’t always come foundation first. Sometimes the first thing is a claw foot bathtub say, (a character for instance) which may be, ultimately the most important part, or something that gets thrown in the construction dumpster. A room or two (plot lines) may take shape before the plywood framing goes up. The truth is, I don’t keep track of where the ideas come from, but I know this, just as when building a dream house, it must fulfill several criteria.

First, as I said, I have to live there, and it will take a year of my life, so it must be worth building.

Second, It must be original with touches that are unique, exclusive to me.

Third, The inhabitants must have something to say and an original voice to say it in. They must take a journey, either physically or emotionally. There must be change.

Fourth, This house is entirely new, but it must have history, secrets and layers, basements and dark spaces.

And last, Those who eventually come to visit my finished house must leave feeling that they gained something they didn’t have before. It could be a new friend, a fresh point of view, a glimpse into another world, or a good laugh. It could be many things, but they must take away something!

So, today, and tomorrow and tomorrow, I will watch and think, and rest, and sort, and sleep, and let the fledgling ideas find some purchase. I will introduce them to each other and watch how they interact. I will stack them in my building site. From the heaps of raw material, I will choose bricks and beams and fixtures. I will build in doors and windows that offer different vistas and then I will go back in and take out extraneous space or discordant features, (plot lines that didn’t work, for example) then I will add the curtains, or the dust, and the subtle colors of afternoon light or leaky plumbing. And I will be certain, no matter what, that this house enables those who visit there to see far, very, very far, either in to, or out from, its many windows.

I don’t know what I will write yet, I don’t know what that house will look like when it’s done, but I do know that I will inhabit it fully, I will have lived there as surely as any of the homes my corporal self has lived. It will be part of my own history.

We all do this. We all create our new story, build our homes and our lives every single day based on fragments and thoughts and impressions. We might not know it, but we do.

What will you build today? Whatever it is, I hope that it empowers you to see very, very far.

Shari, July 10th, 2014

Continue reading “Building with Words.”

Acting & Experiences, Life in General, New Novels, writing

Hiding Behind the Real Me.

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The lady behind the ARC’s of Invisible Ellen

So…last Wednesday, I’m booked to do a radio show. It’s been set up by the Putnum publicity department in NY, and communicated to me by email. The show, “Connie Martinson Talks Books” is ‘taping’ in Santa Monica at 11:00 and she’s featuring me and “Invisible Ellen.” So, I put on some jeans and a comfortable, very wrinkled shirt, throw on some mascara at the last minute, (I hate makeup, but I don’t want to offend anyone) and make the drive. Parking is tricky, and I go the wrong way, and have to run back to make it to the studio on time. I rush in, sweaty now, and look around.

Cameras. In the back of my mind, a little buzzer is going off, Not Radio. Television.

I look down at my wrinkled shirt and almost clean jeans, realize I’m pale and shiny, will be totally washed out by the lights, my hair is frizzy and snatched back with a plastic clip, and all I can think is…. Perfect. As I’ve said, I’m an everyday philosopher, meaning that I say, ‘Oh well,’ a lot. And this one has an exclamation point at the end.

Oprah has her “Aha” moments. I have my ‘Oh Well’ moments. So I get miked up for sound, sit in the hot seat, chat with Connie, who, it turns out, shares an ice skating past in Lake Placid with me, (small world) and then we roll. We have a delightful thirty-minute conversation about my new book. She’s so complementary, has me read a page, ‘to show how well-written it is’ which is delightfully flattering, and then asks me to sign a book for her at the end.

I couldn’t be happier. After years of soaps and movies and modeling, to appear on a TV show where nobody gives a crap how I look, but is interested in how and what I write, is a major milestone for me. Not because of my attitude. I have always preferred to not wear makeup and be liked, or disliked as the case has often been, for who I am. I have spent a life time with idiot men telling me I was “smart for a women” and thinking it was compliment when I was twice as smart as them. And too much time dealing with and diffusing  women  feeling competitive with me because of how I looked. Insanity. Unworthy. Ridiculous.

We count as people. Our actions must speak louder than the surface. They don’t call me Shari Action for nothing. If something needs to get done, I’m usually the first to pitch in. Be it as a mom at school, or my charity, or speaking up for someone who can’t, I’ve just never been able to stop myself.

So much for that. But there is more to this story. As soon as I saw her, I realized that I had been on Connie’s show once before, years ago, and thank goodness, she did not remember either. It was for my third book, “The Man She Thought She Knew,” and the only reason Connie had me on was that she was friends with the publicist. I answered her incorrectly when she asked about a character, telling her that they weren’t in this book, (wrong) thanked her at the end of the show by calling her Colleen, and she definitely didn’t ask me to read from the book. Shhhh. So when she asked me this time, before filming, if this was my first book, I answered, “No I have two series, one is a woman named Calla-….uh, it’s a crime series.” Cutting myself off because I’m embarrassed that the light will dawn and the flattering, soft-filtered veil will fall.

It always does, eventually of course, but sometimes we find a few moments of forgiving grace. Yep I’ve got a past, and it’s back there,but as one friends said to me, “That’s what pasts are for.” We don’t need to wear our learning curves, but we can use them for traction.

‘Oh well’, and ‘Aha!’ They make a good combo, and both are welcome in my life now. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those other moments, those mistakes, those embarrassing scenes, those times I fell on my butt on the ice in front of twenty thousand people. But you know what? I’m glad I did. I lived to tell the tale, as it were. And most likely, as it shall be.

So embrace your fundamental imperfections. Be human, let the wrinkles on your shirt and your face show. You earned them. And if, in spite of all that, you can hold up your book—or better yet, your life—and be proud, then you are a success.

In my case, it’s a success with some pretty scathing memories behind it. That’s me, Shari Action. If my life were a race, I’d look back and see lots of hurdles laying on their sides where they were knocked when I didn’t quite clear them. Look closer and you’ll see my cartoon outline in the brick walls I sped into and crashed through. You’ll see the indents where I gave up for a while and curled into a ball to rest.

The more I think about it, the more I think that the word ‘imperfect’ describes me best. It describes us all.

And isn’t that wonderful?

Shari, June 19th, 2014

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, Life in General, New Novels, writing

A Legacy of Love.

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The fourth book in the Callaway Wilde series, “Legacy’ will be coming out in ebook soon. This one is a slight departure from the first three books because I break the first person narrative and visit the past. The subject is one in which I am very interested, war crimes during WW11. My uncle was one of the senior officers who was actually present at the surrender of the Germans to the Allied forces in Milan during that fateful war, and he worked for years before that undercover with the Italian resistance. So, much of my information comes from real letters and stories of people who lived it.Though my uncle is gone, his son sent me copies of letters, reports, and files that have been declassified now. The stories they hold, the drama revealed even within the factual, military reporting are inspiring and humbling. My uncle made it through that war unscathed and went on to become a Senator and then an Ambassador, but too many did not. We know this, but when we pay attention to the real stories we are reminded of what our current lifestyle cost, and who paid the price.

Which is why I do not think much of people who take from the world and give nothing back. No matter how talented, wealthy, beautiful or famous. When you go through that door, as our first lady said, you do not slam it behind you. You turn around and help others through.

Writing this book really got me thinking about the people that I admire in my life. While there are certainly actors or musicians whose work I adore, it is the intentions and contributions of people that matter most to me. There are artists who also do a great deal of good in the world, this separates them from the crowd of the self-serving to whom being ‘famous’ is the life goal.

I admire them and others who have made a choice to be of service to someone else. People  like Ileana and Bernie Geestman who founded the Desi Geestman Foundation. I have served on the board of this charity for 13 years and in that time we have assisted the families of children suffering through the cancer journey in so many ways. But what I do is small, it is Ileana and her family who truly perform the mission. To have lost a child, and then dedicate your life to helping others who are fighting that battle takes more strength of character and is far worthier of our admiration than any star of any TV show.

People like the doctors and nurses at City of Hope, where our charity is primarily instrumental. In my years of helping out, I have seen again and again the sheer relief of families when they know that  they have the full support and commitment of so many devoted professionals. There is a place on the grounds of City of Hope, the meditation garden, where the staff sometimes go when the stress and the sadness become overwhelming. And then they go back in. I am in awe of the hugeness of the human spirit in these people. Yet no one will ever write them a fan letter.

And so it was that in my research for this book, I came across stories of so many people, forever unnamed and un-lauded who acted with such bravery and selflessness. All across Italy, including in the Vatican, Catholic priests and nuns hid the hunted Jews, often at the cost of their own lives. How remarkable. This book tells some of those stories.

If I were asked what the most important traits a person could have my answer would be simple: Kindness and Courage. Those two things both compliment and balance each other.

Most of us will never have to face the horrors and heart-rending decisions that even the common citizens faced during that war or many others. We would like to think that we would act with courage and honor, but we don’t really know. I think though, that sometimes it is good to stop and ask yourself, would you help? Or would you save yourself and even, possibly, profit from the suffering of others? And if your own family was starving, could anyone blame you?

These were very real questions in that horrible time, often on a daily basis, but I believe that they are applicable even now. If only we would all reach out a hand, help in one small way, the world would be such a kinder place.

So, I like to remind myself, I always have a choice. Will I spend my life acquiring ‘things’ and glorifying myself? Or will I do what I do for the love of it, and include as many others in my success as possible?

I choose the latter. Here’s  my hand, take it. Now reach back and offer yours. See? We are chain, stronger than we are alone.

Shari, February 3, 2012

New Novels, writing

The ‘Twenty Questions” Writers’ Exercise.

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This photo has nothing to do with this little exercise, it’s just me looking like a know-it-all which is, of course, perfect for a writer deigning to give advice to other writers.

So, let’s play Twenty Questions.

I’m not talking about how you come up with your ideas for a whole novel, or even your characters, but how to make an encounter or any ‘scene’ in your book work for you. It’s simple, but one of the most functional exercises I’ve found. It’s actually from a screen writing class I took, long ago, which means that it’s designed to create the best picture for both your scenario and your characters.

So let’s get started. You have your idea, you’ve done your homework on your characters, now you need them to encounter each other or perhaps some other obstacle that will forward your story. The very best books and screen plays establish their characters distinctly the first time we meet them. My favorite example of this is in “The Professional.” Jean Reno plays a hit man. The movie opens with him getting to his mark who is highly protected in a hotel room. About 19 people die, very creatively, and then, this ruthless killer, goes home to his empty apartment, sits alone at his table, and drinks a glass of milk in silence.

And we feel sorry for him.

What a great set up. Now, how the heck did Luc Besson pull this off? How in the heck did he create a ruthless killer, and then make us relate to him and feel for him, before he ever speaks a word?

I think it’s pretty clear that he didn’t just go with the first thing that came to mind. But it can be confusing to sit at a desk and try to force yourself to be interesting.

Try this: You have two characters who need to meet, your romantic leads, let’s say.

Your first idea, is, they should meet in a bar. Great.

You are not done. Write that down. Now, make a list of twenty other ways that they could meet, and do not stop until you reach twenty, no matter how stupid they get. You will be amazed at how many mental doors this will open for you. Even if you decide that number 12 is terrific, finish your list. They meet at a bar. They meet at a funeral. They both have kids in the same playschool. They are both given gift certificates to go sky diving, and one is afraid of heights. Etc. Don’t stop, get to twenty.

But perhaps you are writing characters who really should meet in a bar. They are alcoholics, say, or desperate singles. Fine. They meet in a bar. Now make a list of twenty ways they can meet in the bar.

He spills his drink on her. She forgot her wallet and tries to nab his change to pay for her drink. He accidentally goes into the ladies room, and she is in a stall, thinking it’s another woman, she asks if he has a tampax in his purse. She sees an old boyfriend and tries to hide under his table. Etc. Don’t stop until you have twenty!!

Now you have choices, mostly choices that will help you establish your character and story. And I’m willing to bet that you’ve opened up opportunities for dialogue and emotional exchanges, ways to show your character’s traits and not just tell us.

I.E. Instead of saying your male lead is preoccupied and not very observant, his going into the ladies’ room can be a repeated action that defines him. He’s always going through the wrong door, walking into closets at home and kitchens at restaurants. This tells your readers quite a bit about him without you writing down, “Bob was absent minded.”

Which is boring.

Which you don’t want to be.

It’s a simple, but effective technique and best of all, it’s really quite easy.

So there you go!! I’m going to wrap presents now. Unless the ceiling in my office is leaking, or the dog gets into a fight with a skunk outside, or all the gifts have been stolen by the UPS man, or…

Well, you get the idea.

Happy listing!!

Shari. December 12, 2012

Acting & Experiences, Life in General, New Novels, Theatre, writing

Want to Write Well? Learn to Write Badly!

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Here’s a shot of me singing ‘Mein Herr’ in Cabaret a few years back. I know, I know, I didn’t write that. But, I did have to sing the part, and here’s the thing; I’m not a singer.

Sure, I can carry a tune, and have a ‘nice’ voice, but compared to those who work at it, I’m weak. So, I had to work my solar plexus/abdomen off to get myself up to belting-it-out level.

It took about eight weeks with a vocal coach and a minimum of an hour a day practice, not counting the actual rehearsal times, to get there. When I was asked to play this part, I auditioned for the music director, the dance choreographer, and the director. Acting? No problem. Dancing? Done enough with my ice skating to fake the lead, (it’s the chorus that really dances). Singing? Wasn’t quite so sure.

However, when the musical director, who was blind, said I could handle it, I agreed to take the part. And I’m so glad, it was one of the best theatre experiences I’ve ever had. One of the best overall acting experiences actually.

But I had to start with an average talent and work on it until I could hold the solos and bring down the house. It took weeks of cracking notes and perfecting technique, and if I had only been as good as my audition, the show would definitely not have been a hit, in fact, I would have let a lot of people down. There was pressure to be, not just good, but exceptional. A pressure that all to often, writers put on themselves too early on.

We don’t start off being perfect at anything in life, especially not when creating the first draft of a new book. You don’t know yet if the idea will be good, if you’ll be up to the challenge, if this is an idea that will flesh out into a full-bodied epic with pith and wisdom and sentences that make you weep. Most people, I’m guessing, begin a book with little more than a basic idea and go from there. If we expected our first draft to be the opening night performance, (i.e. finished novel) we’d be so terrified, we’d never even start.

So here’s my first advice, go ahead and suck. Be bad, let the typos and the spelling, and the over-writing and the rambling go. Get it down on paper, or at least, in a computer, then you can go back, work it, get advice, have an editor work with you. We do this in every other aspect of life, we learn as we go, we improve and we step up, it’s the same in writing.

Don’t forget, you’ve got the rehearsal to perfect it, to get better, to polish and fluff and fill. If you are afraid to put something down that isn’t good enough or might need to be thrown out, you won’t have the joy of writing, of the process. And if you don’t love the process, do something else.

I mean, look at it this way—you might not be Celine Dion, but does that mean you can’t belt out one of her classics in the car? Of course you can, and I’ll bet you sound good in there!!

So start that story, create those characters, dream up scenarios and whole other worlds, because it’s fun!! And if it isn’t quite right, change it, start over, twist and shape it into something you do love.

Just remember this, don’t do it the way you think it should be done, do it from your heart and use your own voice, because it’s all you truly have to offer.

I ain’t no Celine, but with a lot of sweat and more than a panic attack or two, I pulled off Sally Bowles, and loved the experience, even if I wasn’t good when I started.

So just write it down, get your idea out of your head and into some workable form. Your idea will evolve and improve, I promise. Your words will smooth out, and the discordant notes will strengthen as you work on them. Have the courage to cut and change when needed. In a month or two, or six, or twelve, each to their own tempo, you will have a finished work that you can hold up proudly and say, “I wrote this!”

And if nobody else likes it, so what! Nobody can predict that, but like singing in the shower, it’s still really fun!

Shari, November 13th, 2012