Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and reading resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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If you'd like to see older WWFC strips, please check the Will Write For Chocolate archives or start from the beginning. You can also follow WWFC on Facebook, Pinterest and Google+. Thanks so much for your continuing support! -- Debbie

Entries in interview (6)

Wednesday
May302007

Interview: Tanya Huff



(Cross-posted to Inkygirl)

I got hooked on Tanya Huff's Blood novel series years ago. Her books are funny, scary and sexy, and I love the main characters. I was excited when I heard that the novels were being turned into a tv series! The first season of Blood Ties aired on Lifetime on Sundays in the U.S. and is currently on hiatus until October, when it will air the last nine episodes of the season. Blood Ties will be airing in Canada starting August on CITY-TV (yay!). See the bottom of this page for a video trailer.



The show has done well for the network. An excerpt from BroadcastingCable.com:



"Lifetime debuted the show, based on The Blood Book novels by Tanya Huff, on March 11 and the show has been a bright spot on the network’s schedule since. After it premiered to 1.6 million total viewers, the show has averaged 1.4 million total viewers, 460,00 women 18-49 and 220,000 women 18-34 for original Sunday-night episodes, according to Nielsen Media Research. It has also proved popular on iTunes."





You can find out more info in Tanya's Blood Ties blog or in her Livejournal blog. Tanya kindly agreed to answer some questions for Inkygirl:



How would you describe your Blood novel series?



Extremely well written, extraordinarily engaging, and excellent graduation gifts... oh wait, that's probably not what you meant. I've always considered the Blood books to be contemporary fantasy with mystery overtones -- a PI, a cop, and a vampire solve supernatural crimes. Except for book four, Blood Pact, which I'm willing to say has certain horrific elements, they're not really dark enough to be considered dark fantasy.





How did you first hear that your books were going to be turned into a tv series?



Kaleidoscope Entertainment Inc. had held the option for a few years and I knew they were very keen on actually producing a show and had kept both my agent and I informed about the torturously long process of securing financing. Finally, after a lot of hard work on their part, all the pieces came together, they called my agent to tell him that the show was a go, he called me, and I made embarrassing shrieky noises.




How involved were you with the development process?





The people at Kaleidoscope -- in spite of the fact that their responsibility to me ended the moment they wrote the check -- were really good about keeping me involved. They asked my opinion on the lists of actors sent in by the casting director, they sent me a copy of Peter's script of the pilot, and, after they had the writers hired and the room set up in Toronto, they asked me to come in for a few days and go over character backgrounds. They were, in short, amazing. The impression I get from others I've spoken to in the industry, is that this sort of involvement almost never happens. I've just been so incredibly lucky to be dealing with a production company that loved the books and wanted me to be a part of things.





Any comments on the rumour that you'll be making a guest appearance on the show?



No rumour. I play a background hooker in episode #9, STONE COLD.

I suggested a homeless person but Angelina and Marie the costume designers hadn't dressed a hooker for a while and had this pair of magic size ten pants so...




STONE COLD is also the episode I wrote.



When you wrote the "Stone Cold" episode, what was the process?



Oh, it was very different than writing books and, in the interests of space and time and suddenly sounding like a Dr. Who episode, this'll have to be the condensed version:






1. I pitched an episode idea -- monster of the week because Mytharc is tricky for freelancers. Especially freelancers who are some distance away and can't make it in for story conferencing.

2. A few days later, because they hadn't yet moved out to Vancouver, I sat in the writing room and we hammered out the basic beats of the story.

3. The next day I wrote up those beats, sent them in to Peter and they were pretty much entirely changed.

4. Using the changes, I wrote an outline.

5. Shortly after that, after they finished unpacking out in Vancouver, I got the notes on that outline and I rewrote it with some major changes.

6. This version of the outline went to network for approval and there were yet more changes.

7. With the outline finally approved -- although with notes still to incorporate -- I wrote the first draft of the script.


©2007 Lifetime Entertainment Services


8. I got notes on that draft, and notes on the notes, and notes about the notes on the notes, and I wrote the second draft. Weirdly, in spite of all the notes, the changes here managed to be both extensive and relatively minor -- a number of them having to do with the fact I was essentially learning on the job. Peter and everyone involved were being wonderfully understanding about having to point out some fairly basic things.

9. The second draft was approved.

And, just as an addendum, although my part in the script had now ended, there were four more rewrites by staff writers before they started shooting the episode and at least one line of dialogue deliberately changed by Peter during the filming of a scene to better reflect the emotional space of the character.

(Note from Debbie: You can read more details about the writing of this episode in Tanya's Livejournal blog. Be warned that there are small spoilers, but Tanya always warns the reader upfront.)

How bothered are you by the differences between the show and your books?



Not at all. First, print and television are two very different mediums and changes have to be made to accommodate those differences. For example, in the books, Henry's a romance writer. Well, that'd be pretty boring to watch. But a graphic artist -- much sexier. Second, nothing that they do on the show affects the books -- they don't change -- so my vision of these characters and their stories is intact and Peter Mohan's vision can take off and go places I never dreamed of. I'm constantly amazed and enthralled by the way things are changing and developing.




©2007 Lifetime Entertainment Services


Has this experience made you think about doing more screenwriting in general (e.g. not just for Blood Ties)? Have you written screenplays before?



I had never written a screenplay before "Stone Cold" but I do have a degree in Radio and Television Arts so I have some small amount of (mumble) year old training. I loved the experience so much that I've picked up a media agent and I'm out there pitching ideas in hope of picking up another contract.



When you were writing your Blood books, did it ever cross your mind that it would make a good tv series?



It didn't so much 'cross my mind' that they'd make great television as the thought was always there in the back of my brain. I had them mostly cast while I was writing them -- Jamie Lee Curtis as Vicki, Ed Marinaro (Joe Coffee from Hill Street Blues) as Mike... but I never managed to cast Henry. And, since my only training as a writer is media related, I'm always fairly aware of how a scene would play on screen -- given time and an unlimited budget, of course.



Any chance of a Blood movie?



There are always dreams of having the time and the budget to do the sorts of things a small show just can't manage but, right now, we're all just keeping our fingers crossed that we get a second season. And it's not easy typing with your fingers crossed...




Tanya and a custom-made Henry doll given to her by Heather Borean, made by Teddy in the U.K.


What are your current / upcoming projects?



I'm currently working on the fourth of the Valor books, Valor's Trial. This will be the final of my Torin Kerr, military SF novels. Book three, Heart Of Valor will be out in early June in hardcover.



Any advice for hopeful writers?



Tell the stories you have to tell; tell them as clearly and as truthfully as you can. With any luck they'll be stories people will want to share.



Remember a rejection letter is saying only that at this time, this piece of work is not suitable for publication. A rejection of your work is not a rejection of you. Develop a thick skin, you'll need it.



Embrace art but learn your craft.



In fact, learn from everything that happens to and around you. Ask why. Don't be afraid of repeating the question until you get an answer even if you sound like a three year old; you want to be a writer, your friends already think you're weird.



Love what you do because the odds are good you'll never be paid enough to do it for any other reason.



Blood Ties video trailer:



Wednesday
May162007

Interview: Adam Selzer

Thanks to all those who suggested names for Eliza's cat, especially Rachel Starr Thomson, who suggested "Theobroma." :-)




(cross-posted from Inkygirl)


Adam Selzer is a 26-old writer whose first book for teens, How To Get Suspended And Influence People, was published by Random House earlier this year and has been favourably reviewed in Kirkus, Booklist and School Library Journal. HTGSAIP is packed with laugh-aloud moments, with fun characters and clever writing.



In addition to his writing career, Adam works as a guide for Weird Chicago Tours, a ghost tour company, and is also an accomplished songwriter and musician, with five CDs out. You can find out more about Adam's books and other projects at his site, AdamSelzer.com.



Adam Selzer


What's the first thing you ever wrote?



That would be "The P.U. Book" in 1987 - you can see it online. That was followed by a thing called The Great Monkey Hunt, about a couple of lions who hunt for pet monkeys. I have that around here someplace.
The first novel I wrote was when I was 15 - it was Dean Koontz-type book called Instant Karma. You can't see that one.

What was your first writing sale?



Well, outside of a couple of those "we'll print it if you buy a copy" poetry anthologies, I guess my first "sale" was a couple of short shorts to a sci fi fanzine when I was about 15. One was called "Time Isn't Real," which I don't remember much about, and another was called "PES," a sort of mock-Lovecraft piece about the Public Education System.

What are your writing habits?



Every day I get up fairly early and take my laptop to a coffee shop down the street. If I'm working on a new rough draft, I'll shoot for 1500 words per day. If I'm just editing stuff I've already written, I just work 'til I feel like I'm done for the day. Usually, I end up starting at 7 or 8 and working for about three hours. In the afternoon/evening, I usually hit another coffee shop, and if I feel like going beyond what I wrote that morning, I do. But I don't force myself past the 1500 word mark unless I'm on a deadline or something.



Do you outline before you start writing? If so, how much?



Not when i first start out - I start out writing some very rough opening sketches. If I like where it's going, I'll spend a few days setting up a plot, then come up with a general outline for where things out to go. If I'm just doing a proposal, though, I'll do a more detailed synopsis much sooner. In a way, the entire rough draft is like one big outline. It gets all of the major pieces in place, then you go back and fix up the details, clean up the writing, and make sure it's funny enough.

Do you do any specific character outlines?



Almost never, really. For the most part, I'll write down a short paragraph or so, tops, on each character, and then fill it in as I go. I find that if I start out with two much information on the characters, you end up with this info dump of information that isn't really that important - no one really needs to know how tall Dustin Eddlebeck is, unless he's freakishly short or tall or something. I try to sort of let them build up organically, and keep my own outlines general enough that I can keep things sort of fluid in the long run.



It's a mistake a lot of people make, I think, trying to work too much information about a character or place into a book. "World building" is important, but those details should come out when they need to. There are piles and piles of information about the town where these books takes place that hasn't made it into the books yet, and I have a pretty good idea what'll happen to the characters a few years down the road, and what they were like years before. But it hasn't been necessary to work any of it in yet.



How did you get your agent?



I looked at writersmarket.com - or something like that, and found a few agencies that I thought would be a good fit. I'd been through the process before - I had another book a few years ago that another agent had tried to sell. But that agent didn't think "Suspended" would sell, so I started looking for someone else. I ended up sending queries to three places, and all of them asked to see a few chapters. I ended up getting to go with the one I liked best, which quite a novelty, since I'd previously been ready to sign with anyone who offered to represent me! I've been very happy with my agent - she's done a great job of keeping me working!

How much of you is in Leon (the main character of your book)?



I'm normally a lot more reserved than Leon, but I do tend to be a smart-ass. It's my job, after all. It says so on my business card.

I notice from your site that the sequel to HTGSAIP, Pirates of the Retail Wasteland, is coming out in early 2008. When you wrote HTGSAIP, did you know there was going to be a sequel?



I wasn't sure. There's actually a version of "Pirates" that was written a couple of years before "suspended" with different characters. It never went anywhere, but after Suspended was done, I realized that putting those characters into the basic plot of "Pirates" could be a lot of fun, especially for Brian the Pyro and Edie the Communist - I really liked writing those guys and wanted to use them more. Originally I was going to set Pirates well into the future - the characters in the original version were in college - but in the end it worked better to set it just a few months later. I would have been skipping over a lot!

IMG_7709.JPG


How many times did you (or your agent) submit HTGSAIP before it was accepted?



HTGSAIP was sent to about 10 editors a once, but we got offers on the first submit. Having been through the process before without getting an offer, this made the world seem like a much friendlier place. When I got the call, I was on my way to work at an awful tourist-trap restaurant. After 11 years of work experience and a college degree, I was still only getting the same jobs - and about the same money - that I got when I was in eighth grade. I finally felt like I had a future outside of telling people that they couldn't get a baked potato instead of cole slaw. Obviously, I wasn't able to quit my day job at that point, but I could see a light at the end of the tunnel.

What did you do when you got the call? (e.g. Scream? Hug strangers? )



I sort of went numb for a second. Then I ran around on the pier (I was working at a restaurant at Navy Pier that summer). Then, ten minutes later, I had to try WAY harder than normal to pretend that I cared about the assistant manager's shouting match of the day. But I had a goofy grin on my face the whole time, I'm sure. I didn't have a chance to really get ecstatic til the bike ride home through the city. Think George Bailey at the end of "It's a Wonderful Life."

What projects are you working on now?



Lots of them!

We still have a few things to do on Pirates of the Retail Wasteland, and then I have a couple of satires of the spelling bee genre following that - I think the first one breaks the record for most Nixon jokes ever in a kids' book.
Beyond that, there's the aforementioned mystery series, a new middle grade project, a smart-alecky nonfiction book about US History, and possibly a graphic novel and a top-secret YA project. There's also talk of doing a Weird Chicago book to go along with the tours eventually. I THINK that's everything. Except for the live album, which is now being mixed for a late summer/early fall release. It'll compile together a lot of songs about characters and places that are also mentioned in the books.

This sounds amazing! Where can people buy your book-related CD, when it's available? Do you have any other CDs?





It'll be on most of the usual CD selling sites, plus most of the digital ones, such as iTunes. It features one heck of a backing band and, including the free bonus EP, will have about 25 songs. It gives me a chance to do a better job with some of the older songs than I was capable of at the time - including my smash hit, "Pushing Cheerleaders Down the Stairs" (on which the graphic-novel-in-progress is loosely based). There aren't too many references to the songs in HTGSAIP (other than the town name), but a few more references ended up in Pirates - I liked one song character so much that I wrote her into the book!

I have a few other CDs - "Storm Shadow," "Suburban Post-Modernist," and "Clark Street Carols," that are all available on iTunes.

The "top-secret YA project" sounds intriguing. You sure you can't share any details?



The top secret one is in the earliest of stages, and, if it happens, it'll probably be under a pseudonym. It's always good to have spare proposals for a rainy day!

Could you tell me more about your graphic novel? It looks like graphic novels are becoming more and more popular with young people (and therefore with publishers). Are you doing the writing AND illustrating?



While I was cooking up new ideas earlier this year, I came up on the idea of expanding the song "Friday Avenue" into a book. Then I decided to combine it with "Pushing Cheerleaders Down the Stairs." After all, they both use the exact same D, F#7, G, D, chord pattern. After writing up a synopsis for Pushing Cheerleaders Down the Stairs, my agent suggested I try writing it as a graphic novel, which sounded like fun. I won't be doing the illustrating! There's a rather rough draft written up; I'll probably start revising it soon.

I think the biggest mistake a lot of people make is writing a lot of their own personal problems into a book. Writing about your problems can be very therapeutic, but it won't likely be all that marketable. I always try to bury anything autobiographical - it'll come out anyway, of course. I think it was Daniel Pinkwater who said there's never been a book that couldn't be subtitled "How To Be More Like Me." But write about your characters' problems, not your own. A lot of people get really upset when I say this - you always hear people say "write what you know." But there's a tendency to use that advice as an excuse not to be creative.

I'm curious about how a writer puts together a graphic novel. How detailed is the text? Do you describe each image, for example, and what text goes in what panel?



There's really no standard format - it's about like writing a screenplay, really. I might need to be more descriptive, frame by frame, than I have been so far, but so far I've just described the parts I think are really necessary to describe.

What's the main piece of advice you have for aspiring writers?



The most important thing is to write things you'd enjoy reading - one of the basic rules of writing a long project is that if it really starts to feel like work, not fun, then you're doing the wrong project. If it's not much fun (or satisfying, if it's one of those dark, depressing books) for you to write, it won't be much fun to read, either.

Also, stay away from people who think drugs will make you more creative. They won't. They might make you THINK you're being more creative, but you'll actually just end up broke. I get really sick of people who think getting wasted will make them better at writing - or anything else, for that matter.

Anything else you'd like to mention?



Don't forget to bug your local bookstore until they put HTGSAIP on the shelves! And don't forget to look for Pirates of the Retail Wasteland in February.

Since I have your attention, I'd also like to point people over to http://www.hullhouse.org - they do a lot of good work, and are worth checking into.

You can find out more information about Adam Selzer at his Web site, Adamselzer.com.


Thursday
Apr122007

Interview: Jurgen Wolff

(The following is an extended version of the interview I posted in Inkygirl recently)



Jurgen Wolff's screenwriting credits are impressive, including episodes he's written for Benson, Family Ties, The Love Boat, Relic Hunter and two ABC TV movies for the Olsen Twins. His original animated series, Norman Normal, has had 65 episodes produced, and he also wrote the feature film The Real Howard Spitz, which starred Kelsey Grammer of Frasier and Amanda Donohoe.

Jurgen has considerable television and film experience under his belt after 25 years in the business. "The first eight were in Los Angeles, then I moved to London because I love this city and kind of burned out in LA. Literally, unfortunately--I had a play opening in a small theater here in London and came over for the rehearsals. During that time, my house in LA burned down and destroyed everything I had. When I got back, I also developed a blood clot and while I was in the hospital I had time to think about what to do next and I decided to move to London. I make less money but I'm happier, which is a good trade-off."


Cartoon by Jurgen Wolff


Jurgen's first screenwriting sale was in sitcoms. "My first sale was for a series called Too Close For Comfort which starred Ted Knight (who before that was on The Mary Tyler Moore Show ). The producers made me show them five sample scripts for other series before they let me write a script for them. It took over two years of trying to get an agent and then get some pitching appointments before this first assignment. During that time, I was living in a studio apartment, eating mostly peanut butter sandwiches and trying to block out the noise from the hooker who lived next door."



Cartoon by Jurgen Wolff


Jurgen has been a consultant to the BBC Children's Programmes Department, and to Columbia Tri-Star Television. His books include Do Something Different (Virgin Books, 2005), Successful Sitcom Writing (St. Martin’s Press), and a co-author credit for Successful Scriptwriting (Writer's Digest Books, 1991). Jurgen is also the editor and publisher of the free creativity e-bulletin, Brainstorm, and teaches creativity workshops around the world.





When asked about the biggest misconception that new writers tend to have about screenwriting, Jurgen said that they don't tend to realize that once someone has bought your script, they have total control over it. "They can change it any way they want--and frequently do!"

Jurgen has also written an e-book called Time Management For Writers: Right-Brain Secrets For Being More Productive. An excellent book about how to manage one's time more effectively to be more productive, including some great suggestions for writers who work at home. I'm only partway through and am finding it hugely inspirational!

Jurgen's advice to aspiring screenwriters: "Write scripts that have stories that really have some meaning for you, not ones that try to out-guess what the marketplace might want. Your unique story may be harder to sell initially but ultimately it will stand out."

What he's working on now: "Preparing for the release of my new book, YOUR WRITING COACH, which comes out in the UK in April and the US in May--)I'm doing video interviews with several writers, agents, and others that will be on the book's website and serve as bonus material for each of the chapters. I'm also preparing a podcast to go with the book. Both should be live at the beginning of April. As far as script projects go, I'm in the early stages of developing an idea for a comedy-drama TV series that, ideally, would star an actor and actress who are also represented by my UK agent (it's too early to mention their names, as they don't even know yet that I'm working on this)."




You can find Jurgen Wolff's tips, ideas and inspirations for writers at his blog, Time To Write. You can also find his free creativity e-bulletin, cartoons, and other resources at his main Time To Write Web site.



Wednesday
Apr262006

Xocolatophobia

2006-04-26
Wednesday
Mar292006

Writing Collaboration Profile: Cheryl O'Donovan and Tom Wolferman

Help Mimi name her bad children's book! Please post your suggestions for Bad Children's Book Titles in the comments area. Try to keep your title suggestions to four words or less (any more might be too unwieldy in a cartoon panel), thanks. I already know about this list of Rejected Children's Book Titles but I'm more interested to see what some of you come up with.



This week's column is about writing collaboration for two reasons. Reason #1: I collaborated with Michelle West to co-author a short story for a DAW fantasy collection called Magic Tails and am in the early stages of possible book collaboration, so am especially interested in this topic right now.



I recently found out that writer/cartoonist Chery O'Donovan and writer Tom Wolferman co-authored The Estrogen Underground (A Better Be Writer Publisher, 2005), described on their Web site as "subversive humor for the woman over forty." Reason #2 for this column: It's my birthday today, and Cheryl's and Tom's book title definitely caught my eye for its relevance. :-)



Anyway, Cheryl and Tom kindly let me pick their brains about their collaboration process:





How did you and Tom decide to collaborate?



Cheryl:
I can’t recall how the quote goes…something like, “Dying’s easy, comedy’s hard.” Doing comedy alone is hard. There’s no laugh track to measure that your humor’s working. I’d met Tom through a mutual business contact. We corresponded over the years with humorous and philosophical e-mails. I knew he had talent.



I felt “The Estrogen Underground” as a concept had merit, and knew he could help deliver something funny and insightful. We’re both older, too, more inclined toward Mad magazine, “The Daily Show” and old Dick Van Dyke reruns, and relate less to stuff like “South Park.”



Tom:
Cheryl and I had worked with a mutual business contact, but not directly with each other. We began corresponding via email and realized we shared similar interests in writing. Our senses of humor also were aligned. After several years of volleying humorous emails, Cheryl contacted me for feedback when she hatched the idea for "The Estrogen Underground: Reinvention." When a publisher responded to her query and samples, she asked if I'd be interested in collaborating on the book. Although we never had a prior working relationship per se, there was an existing comfort level and mutual respect.



What was the collaboration process? (e.g. how did you decide who did what, how much was in-person, by phone, e-mail etc.)



Cheryl:
Because this was our first collaboration ever, the process was a little scrambled and hectic – and heavily electronic. After creating a working outline, we each took sections. Tom would write up a section, e-mail it. Back at my home office, I’d illustrate and design, as well as write. Occasionally, we’d do phone calls. I’d often be working at 3:00 a.m., cackling like some madwoman in a cellar.



Sometimes, the whole loony process was hilarity in itself. In our e-mail subject lines were questions about female werewolves and Hollywood plastic surgeons. Far from normal. But we never claimed to be normal.



Tom:
Cheryl had a vision for the book from the start. She wanted the writing to be smart; the humor spoofy, but not crude or demoralizing. I've always shared that sensibility so it was a project that intrigued me. She also wanted portions of the book's humor to touch readers on a more personal level, through essays. We agreed that a somewhat self-effacing tone would allow the reader to better relate to us. Once a publisher was on board, Cheryl put together an outline of chapters and topics.


Based on this blueprint, I started feeding her a few additional concepts, ideas for satiric content, etc. Once the chapters were finalized, we then chose specific sections we thought we'd each have fun tackling. Because the book was targeting baby boom women, as self-described "token male" I was apprehensive at first in being able to find a voice in my personal essays that would be relevant to this audience.


The key was choosing topics that were authentic for me. Our collaboration took the form of emails and occasional phone conversations. Since we had never met prior, by the time the project moved forward we both agreed we would delay meeting in person until the book was completed. It makes for a quirky story. Our first momentous face-to-face encounter was at an American Airlines departure gate en route to the Texas Book Festival, prior to removing our shoes for security purposes.





What problems did you encounter collaborating this way, if any? How
did you solve these problems, or at least get around them?



Tom:
Surprisingly, there were few problems in the collaboration process. I think if there is mutual respect between collaborators, and both are secure in their talents and abilities, it is possible to create a working relationship where sharing suggestions is not viewed as a personal attack. Though we are similar in work ethic and creative approaches, we don't always agree. That would be unrealistic. But we attempt to be honest with each other. We'll lobby for ideas we feel strongly about. But respectfully, without an agenda.



When it comes to the creative process, Cheryl is probably a better multi-tasker. She can juggle tirelessly. I like to focus on a topic, then move on to the next. We try to adapt to each other's styles. After years writing in business settings, advertising agencies and corporate environments, we've both had experience working as part of creative teams. They can be infested with high drama and self-serving motives. If you're both looking to create something for the good of the project, not personal ego, it can be a healthy, satisfying collaboration.


Cheryl and I are confident as writers, but somewhat ego-deprived. Neither one of us has any particular need to stand alone in the spotlight. Actually, either one of us is more likely to shove the other into the spotlight, breathe a sigh of relief, and wave happily from the sidelines. We are reluctantly learning how to navigate the rapids of self-promotion.

Cheryl:
By talking it out. We can disagree on what’s funny or effective. When that happens, we try to get an objective ("third party") opinion. We don’t ask for cotton ball feedback, either. We want people to be candid, if not brutally honest.



It’s hard sometimes, especially when deadlines loom. Under pressure, I can do a brain-freeze, and veer toward panic. Even then, you’ve got to stop, breathe and give each other space, if just for a few hours.



Finally, it’s also how you say it. Tact is a good thing. Tom and I have an appreciation for diplomacy, having both toiled under dictatorships. (Just kidding)



What are the advantages of collaborating?



Cheryl:
Writing is an isolationist sport. As they say, you can’t write a novel by committee. However, you can become too insular. As collaborators, you’re not working in a vacuum. Creative people run the risk of becoming too self-satisfied, especially if they have success. For me, an overblown ego is the kiss of death. Once you think your stuff is untouchable, that’s when the inevitable decline begins.



People think they work best with people who are identical to them. What happens in that scenario? Usually the same old stuff. Think classics like Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” were written by the same flock of birds? No. Tom and I are different. Our styles complement each other. At least, that’s what it says in our press release.



Tom:
I think the advantages of collaboration are the excitement of conceiving an idea, building on it, shaping it, and ultimately developing it into something that breathes. It's the fun of the creative process, feeling free to bounce around ideas in the brainstorm stages, even the most ridiculous, eye-rolling concepts. If the give-and-take is safe, the results can be rewarding. And for those who loathe the publicity process, collaboration is the way to go.


We've had a blast promoting the book through online audio recordings, at the Texas Book Festival and at a recent signing at Barnes & Noble. I don't think it would have been nearly as fun going solo. The support really makes a difference. The camaraderie gets you through the rough spots.



What advice do you have for writers who are considering a collaboration project?



Tom:
I would say take some time to get to know the person. Set realistic goals. Talk about how you prefer to work. Give it a trial run and see how it goes. Have grounded expectations. Don't expect to agree, but agree to give and take. Let ideas marinade. It's all part of the process. And keep your sense of humor. Oh, and you'll want to know in advance what your collaborator looks like if you plan on meeting for the first time at an airport security checkpoint.



Cheryl:
Have some flexibility. Early on, discuss how you’ll resolve conflict, because they’re unavoidable. Listen to your collaborator’s opinions on your work, and vice versa. Respect how he or she works. I’m a tad ADD, and create in a cloudburst. Tom’s more methodical. So, everyone’s different. Some people get their engines revved in a group brainstorm. Others first work solo, then get together to discuss ideas.



You can find out more information about the book, including excerpts, at their Web site.





If anyone out there has other advice to offer on writing collaboration (do's and don'ts), please do post them below!
Wednesday
Feb152006

Deborah Ng: work-at-home mother AND successful freelance writer

I felt inspired to interview Deborah Ng for this week's column because like Eliza, Deborah quit her day job to become a freelance writer.

Despite having a young son at home also clamoring for attention, Deborah has enough freelance work to keep her busy fulltime. "Bills are being paid and money is going into the bank or being put towards 'extras,'" says Deborah. "I'm taking this month's earnings and buying myself a new stove! A big one with lots of burners and two ovens!"


Deborah spent 12 years as an Administrative Assistant for a publishing house in NYC, after which she worked for four years in the accounting department of an upscale bath and tile chain. Her publishing house experience helped Deborah learn what editors looked for, and she also did some writing and proofing in her job.


Deborah N.


What prompted her to make the leap to freelance writing? "I always loved to write and I hated office work. When my son was six weeks old we moved to another state. I didn't want to return to filing and typing, so I gave myself a year to find enough work to pay the utilities."


Deborah's strategy: troll markets every day, be professional



Success didn't come right away, and Deborah found herself facing more rejections than acceptances in the first year. The following year, however, her career "really took off." Deborah read every job board she could find, made sure she submitted a query or answered a call for writers every day. It took a while, but she was able to build up a good reputation and a strong client base.

"I think my career took off because I worked so hard. I had options, I could either be a stay at home (or work at home) mom, or I could go back to working in an office. How could I do that when I hated office work so much? I just kept conjuring up images of all of the mean, snippy bosses I had before. Fear is a great motivator! Half my time was spent writing, the other half was spent looking for work. I took the job hunt seriously and didn't stop looking just because one client called. I still take at least an hour each day to troll the markets. I also do what I promise. I do the work and I do it well. I don't flake on editors just because a task is unattractive and I proof my work before turning it in. It's important to be professional."

Deborah says she typically wakes up at 4 a.m. (yes, I said 4 a.m.!!) and works until 7 or 7:30 a.m., when her husband and son wake up. "If I was working late the night before or if my son had a rough night, I might sleep later. On preschool days, I work another couple of hours while my son is in school, otherwise I work sporadically throughout the day if my son is keeping himself occupied. I'll also work in the evening anywhere from 1 to 5 hours depending on my workload and most weekends are also taken up with work."


Challenges of being a work-at-home mother




Her biggest challenge? "Convincing others that I needed time to work. People really don't believe that you have a job when you work at home. At first my husband didn't 'get' that I needed time to become successful and it could take a year or more. Now that I'm bringing in a nice income, he understands and helps out more with our son." For phonecalls, Deborah says Caller ID helps, and says she doesn't usually pick up the phone unless she knows it's work-related.


Another challenge Deborah faces at home is balancing her work with the needs of her three-year-old son, but she says, "I primarily left work to stay home with my son. That means that if he needs me I have to be there. I do try and encourage him to keep busy with art projects and fun activities, but for the most part I'm there for him when he needs me, no matter how busy I might be. Sometimes that means I won't get any work done until my husband gets home. In a couple of years he'll be in school every day. I want to enjoy every minute with him I can until then."




Deborah does her work on the kitchen table. "I have a laptop on the kitchen table and a file cabinet in a spare bedroom. My husband is renovating but it's been a slow process. Hopefully when the house is done, I'll have an office."


Here are just a few of Deborah's online projects:


Writers' Row: "Writers Row is a community made up of other writers in various stages of their careers. Most, like me, write mostly web content. We all have blogs and websites offering advice and information to other aspiring writers. There's also a forum and my job leads blog."


Love To Know: Deborah is a Group Editor at this site, which she describes as a "wonderful up-and-coming Wiki community."

SURVEY FOR NEXT WEEK'S COLUMN:



How do YOU find time to write? Please post your answer below.

Some reader feedback for previous columns:



From Mari, who says she likes the writing prompt calendar at the Toasted Cheese community.:

"I have this quote pasted up on the sidebar of my blog: "When writing a novel, that's pretty much entirely what life turns into: 'House burned down. Car stolen. Cat exploded. Did 1500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.' Neil Gaiman


As for where I get my inspiration? Honestly, most of the time it's 'out of thin air'. For example, yesterday I was sitting working on one thing, when a scene for something else sideswiped me. And sometimes, the characters I'm writing get into my head and just won't shut up. The only thing to do is to get the pen out."

From Dan McGee:



"Just found your site through Writer's Weekly and am bookmarking it. Inspiration is where you find it. Like being on a bus and hearing a woman, who was not all there mentally, but was giving college everything she had.


Less than an hour later being on another bus and finding a beautiful woman, who proved to everyone on board that she was an idiot. Cellphones are great for that as their users always seems to yell.


Keep up the good work, liked what you wrote."