The most important thing you can do to understand your characters, your scripts, and your neighbors better – and why it’s becoming harder and harder

What would you say if I told you the things you enjoy the most are keeping you from understanding your world?

It may sound odd or far-fetched, but it’s true. Thanks to social media, we are becoming more and more close-minded, but this is not simply my opinion. This is actually the way social media works, and it’s preventing more and more of us from experiencing empathy, something we all need to be able to function as voice artists, writers…and human beings.

The fact that we are doing this to ourselves may surprise you.

Empathy: what it is and why it’s important

id-10044279-sep-coupleMost dictionaries define “empathy” as not just understanding, but identifying with the feelings or thoughts of others. Being able to relate to others’ concerns, experiences, and attitudes broadens our own understandings and helps us to respect those who do not share or own opinions.

Unfortunately, a quick look at the comments section on any random Facebook post often reveals how little respect there is for others. There may be many reasons for this lack of respect, but one reason is an inability among many to care to understand another point of view; a lack of empathy.

And unwittingly, you, yourself are exacerbating this.

Algorithms and the shrinking of your world

Before we get to how empathy can help in your writing or voiceover career, we need to address how it affects personal relationships – and that starts with social media.

In the pre-internet days, we relied on the real world for our information: not just newspapers or tv and radio, but actual interactions with fellow humans who may or may not have shared our beliefs. We would discuss, read, learn from a variety of sources.

These days, the internet has opened a world of differing viewpoints, but is, ironically, closing us off to all viewpoints except our own.

ad-spaceHow?

Algorithms.

You see, every time you search Google, read a Facebook headline, or click an ad, you are telling someone what you like and what you don’t like. In return, the social media sites do their best to tailor your experience to the things they think interest you.

For example, if you see “chocolate chips” trending on Facebook and click to see the stories, Facebook deduces you are interested in chocolate chips. If you only scan the posts without clicking a story, your interest in chocolate chips may be dismissed, but if you click a story, Facebook now assumes you are even more interested in chocolate chips than it had thought.

So don’t be surprised if you see an ad for chocolate chips pop up in your newsfeed the next day!

Same with Google; if you check out a couple of recipes on Betty Crocker’s website, you might soon find cooking ads sprinkled throughout the sites you visit.

Now, while a chocolate chip addiction may not be cause for alarm, things get really problematic, really quickly…

Democrat, Republican, or Independent? Let’s ask Facebook!

Here’s a test: with which political affiliation do you most identify? If you’d like to find out what Facebook thinks, do this:

  • Open up Facebook, and on the far-right drop-down menu (to the right of the padlock icon), click “Settings.”
  • On the far left of the screen, click “Ads,”
  • Where it reads “Ads based on my preferences,” click “Edit” and then “Visit Ad Preferences.”
  • Under “Interests,” click on”Lifestyle and culture.” From there, you should see a box titled “US politics” – and if you have not already declared a political affiliation, Facebook has made a guess as to what it thinks you are!

How does it do this?? By using algorithms based on the sites you visit and other Facebook pages you like. For instance, if a person “Likes” the MoveOn.org Facebook page, Facebook will infer that you are a liberal; if you follow Glenn Beck, Facebook assumes you are conservative.

Obviously, there’s much more to it than that, but you get the idea. The more you tell social media what you like, the more of what you like social media will give you.

And therein lies the big, big  problem.

Where does all this lead?

What it boils down to is all of us living in our own little worlds of singular thought. The more we profess our disdain for Trump, the more pro-Hillary content we are fed; the more we dislike Obamacare, the more conservative content is provided.

The more we read about the Kardashians, the more news about the Kardashians we’re going to get. Oy.

id-100107463-man-screaming-2It is this narrowing and narrowing of our opinions and worldview that is not only harming our capacity for empathy, but our ability to be decent to each other and debate issues politely and respectfully. Being spoon-fed our daily news, we lose sight of all the other opinions out there and the fact that there are, indeed, living, breathing humans on the other end of those opinions.

How empathy comes into play

Empathy, as stated earlier, is not just understanding another’s feelings or opinions, but actually identifying with them, whether or not we agree with them.

Whether it’s the guy who cut you off in traffic, the woman who was too loud on her cellphone, or the person who holds opposing political views to yours, practicing empathy not only helps us interact with others civilly; it reminds us that we are all human and all imperfect.

For all the talk lately of ‘tolerance,’ a little empathy could go a long way…after all, tolerance without understanding has no foundation on which to stand.

A Trump supporter may not be able to understand how a person can vote for Hillary without making a concerted effort to put him/herself in a Hillary supporter’s shoes, looking past the political posturing to see the human being who is running and to understand why she is running.

Likewise, a Hillary supporter may not understand how a person can vote for a candidate like Trump until he or she takes the time to listen closely to a Trump supporter and puts him/herself where the Trump supporter is, recognizing and identifying with the Trump supporter’s experiences and values.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that Trump supporters or Hillary supporters are right or wrong, I’m not saying one is better than the other. That’s a decision individuals have to make, and this blog is not a political forum.

What I am saying, however, is that when we have a steady stream of news content delivered to us based on the ideas, opinions, and beliefs we already hold, the less we are exposed to other viewpoints.

Then, when we do happen to come across an article, comment, or post that goes against our tightly-held opinions, we are so taken aback that we cannot (or will not) take the time to try to consider why that person with the different opinion ever dared form it in the first place.

What does all this mean for writers and voice artists?

If you are a voice artist narrating a script or performing a character, it is imperative that you understand who you are and why you are saying what you are saying.

You don’t have to be a ‘character’ in the sense of a 19th-century British soldier or school lunch lady, either – even a narrator is, at heart, a character. To the listener, the narrator is the voice of reason, of reassurance, of solution. So take the time to think about this, wrap your head around the script, and try to identify with the speaker – as well as the person being spoken to.

Who are you? Why are you speaking these words? Who is hearing them? What might they think when they hear your words? And what is most important to the person to whom you are speaking?

If you are a writer, ask these same questions of your characters. And really, really, try to answer them honestly, from your character’s point of view.

I know of some authors who will stop themselves in the middle of a manuscript and throw one of their characters into a completely unrelated plot, then write a short story around that, for the sole purpose of getting to know their character better.

A lot of work, yes, but if it helps to create a better understanding, then it’s time well spent.

And come to think of it…asking yourself these questions each time an opposing opinion comes along might not be a bad idea, either. What do you think?

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Throwback Summer continues: “The Inevitability of Advertising”

As I mentioned at the beginning of summer, I recently came upon several boxes of my old schoolwork, hidden away at my parents’ attic which I’m cleaning out in advance of its sale.

While it’s nostalgic to look back at these journals, projects, and tests – and a bit disheartening, knowing my childhood home is going to be sold – it has been enlightening for me, as well. I have been able to read so many things I’d forgotten about, that I can now look back on and realize how they played a role in me developing into…well, me.

Scan_20160718 (4)
Wow, what happened? Before the contacts, before the braces, before the male pattern baldness…I was a high school senior 3 1/2 months away from graduation. This photo was taken by Mrs. Jencks, my English teacher, in Feb. 1985. Considering how straight-laced I was, I have no idea why I look so stoned.

Since I have been spending my Fridays sharing some of the >ahem< “poetry” that I was writing in my journals back then, I thought I would share something that foreshadowed my other career: advertising.

I began working in radio right after my college freshman year, and I’ve been writing, voicing, and producing commercials ever since. It’s no wonder I do voiceover work for a living! (If you’d like to learn more about that aspect of my life these days, or would like to know how I might be able to help you with your advertising, please click HERE.)

I loved writing and acting before I had even entered high school, and in addition to poetry and short stories, I developed a fondness for advertising. I owe this to the genius of Stan Freberg, whose old radio shows and commercials I had grown up listening to, thanks to my dad.

Scan_20160718
(click to enlarge. But why would you??)

By the time I was in high school, I was writing and voicing (and sometimes pre-recording) the morning announcements and living the dream in drama club. Reading a steady diet of Mad Magazine, Cracked, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy while watching British comedies like Monty Python and the under-appreciated The Goodies carved my sense of humor into what it is today.

Looking back on all this now, I completely understand why I made up fake advertisements for some of my journal entries, like this…

And since I made reference to “Loc-Tite” doorknobs, I figured I’d resurrect the product for what I think was a Creative Writing class project. I didn’t fool around, either – this thing was poster-sized:

Scan_20160718 (3)
(click to enlarge. Again, I have no idea why you would)

That’s right, kids – we didn’t have Photoshop, we didn’t have scanners, we didn’t have selfies. This selfie, in fact, was probably taken by one of my parents on my old 110 camera, which was then brought to a Fotomat and developed in time for me to cut it out and paste it, and — whoa, hold on. I think I just hit old age. Pass me the Geritol.

Scan_20160718 (2)
(click to enlarge. But you should really know better by now)

Anyway, even though I can tell I was trying too hard to be funny, I can completely appreciate where this style of humor came from. Like I said, too many issues of Cracked magazine and too many episodes of Fawlty Towers.

And a big, big influence from Stan Freberg, who I referenced earlier. He still influences my copy writing to this day.

Oh, and then there was this masterpiece journal entry from Feb. 1985, just a few days after that horrible photo of me was taken…

And yes, these were journal entries.

While some teens were pouring their hearts out in belabored free verse and others were writing about partying over the weekend, I was there making up fake advertisements, ridiculous rhyming poetry, and concocting word puzzles.

Somehow, I graduated as valedictorian. So the moral of the story is, if I can do it, anyone can!

(Stay tuned…more dubious-quality poetry coming up this Friday, when I feature “Ode to Lint!” And yes, I’m totally serious!)

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Back on the field…finally!

If your memory goes back to a few years ago (and you cared enough to even bother remembering!), I had a major injury on the soccer field two years ago. I tore my right knee apart – the ACL, MCL, and meniscus – while playing on my men’s indoor soccer league and needed surgery to repair the damage.

Well, the injury happened in late November 2013, the arthroscopic ACL reconstruction surgery was late March 2014, rehab took a little over a year, and I spent this past summer and fall continuing to strengthen my leg and hip muscles to ensure the knee would be safe to use in an aggressive setting like indoor soccer.

So after all this time, I’m finally back on the field tonight!

Don’t tell my wife.

Seriously, she supports me, but really doesn’t want to deal with another torn ACL – and I don’t, either, of course. No reason to think it will happen again, as the new ACL (fashioned from a piece of my right hamstring tendon) should be as strong as the original, but I don’t blame her for worrying.

Good things come to those who wait…but waiting only helps so much

Yes, patience is a virtue and the ability to wait patiently is beneficial, but that only gets you so far. One needs to take active steps to achieve certain goals.

For example, after years of writing poetry for adults and getting some published in various journals around the country, I decided in 2009 to make a serious effort to write for children. And not as a hobby; I wanted to make a career out of writing for children, which I knew was neither easy nor, for that matter, lucrative.

Lullabye coverBut I was determined, and set about doing whatever I could to make that happen. I joined an open SCBWI writer’s critique group, then joined SCBWI, started connecting with folks in the business, and learning everything I could. In 2015, I saw the fruits of my labors in the form of EIGHT children’s poems in FIVE children’s books, including my very first children’s publishing credit, Lee Bennett Hopkins’ Lullaby & Kisses Sweet (Abrams Appleseed).

I reached another milestone last year, when Rebecca Davis at Boyd’s Mills Press liked my picture book manuscript, Flashlight Night, enough to purchase it! With a Fall 2017 scheduled release date, it is a true test of patience, believe me.

Patience, patience…

– My new studio won’t be ready until later this year. When we had $20,000 worth of ice dam damage repaired this past December, the contractor volunteered to rip up all the upstairs carpeting – which we were going to need to do – at no charge. We took him up on the offer, but that means there’s no carpeting in my present studio space, so voiceover work is a challenge when it comes to sound dampening. I’ll just have to wait!

– Our 2-year-old daughter, whose nursery is going to be my new studio, no longer takes naps – which means I get no writing, voice, or marketing work done until after the two kids are in bed. She’ll start preschool in another two years, but until then…I’ll just have to wait!

– I currently have 8 or 9 manuscript submissions out there in kidlit land, sitting in the slush piles of various editors and agents. The wheels turn slow, so it’s possible 6 months could go by before I get a response, positive or negative. In some cases, I won’t even get a response unless there is interest! I have some names of people I want to send these manuscripts out to, but until I hear back from these others…I’ll just have to wait.

I could go on and on, but won’t. My point is, trying to have patience in a world of instant gratification is tough – and I’m not perfect at it. Far from it! I hate waiting, just like most people.

I think I’m at the age where I’m young enough to still be a bit impatient and impetuous sometimes, but mature enough to recognize that life is short and tenuous. Who knows what could happen between now and my picture book release date? What if i die before I ever have a chance to see the book in print??

Sorry – there’s that imagination again, coming up with all sorts of circumstances. But seriously, if I DID die before the book came out…there are plenty of things I could have been doing in the interim besides worrying about it! So I’ll try to be patient and wait.

After all, I have a new manuscript I need to work on…

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

A busy 2016 – and it’s barely begun!

If that old saying is true – that “idleness is the devil’s playground” – then I suspect Satan has probably left the building.

Although I had some enjoyable downtime with the family over the holidays, I can’t say I was relishing in any sort of ‘idleness’…and with the new year upon us, things are just getting busier!

Cybils-Logo-2015-Round-LgCYBILS Awards finalists

The 10th annual CYBILS Awards (aka, the Children’s and Young Adult Literary Bloggers Awards) are underway, and as a first-round panelist for the graphic novels category, I had my work cut out for me. My fellow panelists and I had to pore over 102 nominated books to nail down the 14 that we felt were the best!

The graphic novels category is an interesting one, because of a number of reasons. First, it’s divided into two sub-categories: Young Adult and Elementary/Middle Grade – which means we are reading for different age levels. Second, it’s not just fiction; there was non-fiction, historical fiction, even memoirs!

It was tough to sort through them all, but a lot of fun, and quite a learning NG Book of Nature Poetry coverexperience. In past years, I’ve been a judge for the Poetry category – but since I was a contributor to three of the nominated anthologies, I had to step aside. I am extremely proud of the fact that one of those anthologies, the National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Kids, 2015) is a 2nd-round finalist, so my fingers are crossed!

You can see the list of all the finalists for all of the categories HERE.

Anthologies ahead!

In addition to the children’s poetry anthologies I contributed to this past year, I will also have a poem included in former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt’s new anthology, One Minute Til Bedtime (Little, Brown Book for Young Readers, Spring 2016).

I’m also thrilled to announce that I will have two poems in two separate anthologies yet to be announced! I wish I could tell you more about them, but cannot…at least, not yet, anyway. In fact, one isn’t due to come out until 2018 (tentatively), so you’ll be hearing plenty more about it in the months (and years!) ahead!

Children’s manuscripts, anyone? Anyone??

I’ve been busy cranking out manuscripts this past year and am now sending them out in hopes of finding an editor or agent interested in acquiring them.

If my numbers are right, I wrote or revised 13 manuscripts over the course of 2015 – some brand-new, others revised – and they are all looking for homes. Most are picture books, but two are children’s poetry collections.

One was a rhyming picture book collaboration with one of the nicest and most talented and prolific children’s poets in the country, for which I’m honored. It’s my sincere hope that the manuscript gets picked up – not simply because I am a children’s writer looking for a contract, but more importantly because I want our collaborative effort to be validated as a worthwhile effort for my partner, who took a chance on me.

Three magic words: New. Voiceover. Studio!

We recently wrapped up $20,000 worth of construction work on our house (most of which insurance paid for, thankfully!), but one of the things that came out of this was a rearranging of our rooms.

My wife and my master bedroom had to be vacated and will soon become our 2-year-old daughter’s new room, while we had to move downstairs to what had been a playroom/storage room for the kids. The benefit of this is that the nursery in which our daughter sleeps now – a fairly small room, by any standard – will become my new studio!

I’m looking forward to treating the room for acoustics, sound-dampening, organizing, etc. – but first we need to get walls painted and beds situated before any of that can happen. Oh, 2016 is going to be a good year, indeed.

Last but not least, the 2016 NE-SCBWI Conference!

nescbwi16 logo

The New England chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is hosting its annual spring conference at the end of April, and I’m already packing!

Why? Well, because it’s always packed with insightful panels, intriguing keynotes (Jane Yolen, Tomie dePaola, and Kwame Alexander, to name a few), educational workshops, and tremendous networking opportunities. But beyond all of that, this year is special to me because I’ll be involved in two new ways: as a volunteer and as faculty!

On Sunday, May 1, I’ll be hosting a workshop entitled “Free Yourself with Free Verse Poetry.” During this 55-minute session, I’ll teach the basics of free verse for children’s writers and poets who may want to learn more about poetry, but are afraid of rhyme schemes and scary terms like “iambic pentameter” and “dactylic hexameter.”

After a brief overview of what free verse is and how to utilize it, attendees will be able to practice with some on-the-spot writing and ask questions. My desire is that this workshop will be beneficial for writers who just want to be more creative as well as for those who wish to write in a more poetic or lyrical style…and it could be a great primer for writing verse novels, which are often written in free verse.

I’m also helping to coordinate our Open Mic programs Fri. and Sat. nights, together with fellow writer Sharon Abra Hanen. Attendees are encouraged to share what they’re working on – children’s poetry, a picture book manuscript, even a few sample pages from a book – with the crowd. And new this year, a special feature called “Whose Rhyme Is It, Anyway?”- a quick, improvisational flash-poetry game where two writers (or teams) will be given random words and subjects and will need to create a children’s poem within the allotted time.

Get more details about the conference HERE, and if you’re a member of NE-SCBWI, I hope to see you there!

Is that enough?

Well, for now, it is. I need to write two more poems, but they will have to wait. One is for Penny Parker Klosterman’s blog (my kids and I will be featured on January 29), and one is for my chiropractor, Dr. Stephanie Foisy Mills, D.C., C.C.W.P., who asked if I’d mind writing something for her blog.

I also have two more picture book manuscripts and three children’s poetry collections I need to work on…but one can only do so much. Please stay in touch – either through this blog or via any of my social media homes listed below – and I wish you health, happiness, and all wonderful things for this brand-new year!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

In a season of expectations, find peace in reality

My expectations have been too high.

For what?

A lot of things, actually…but I’m trying to change that.

This time of year is filled with expectations: the arrival of Jesus, the arrival of winter, the hope of a new year, and myriad other things.

In fact, our church has been using the concept of “Great Expectations” as a theme for Advent this year. Because of that, I’ve been making an effort to adjust my own expectations…in many ways.

from Charles Dicken's "Great Expectations"

The problem with expectations

It’s fine to look forward to certain things and get excited about what’s in store for the future – whether it’s preparing for parties, unwrapping gifts, or simply getting to work on time. But the problem is, very often, our expectations are far different from reality.

Religiously speaking, as our pastor explained, the Israelites of Jesus’ day were expecting a king in the manner of King David: a warrior, fighter, take-charge kind of guy who would march right in and restore their kingdom. So when they began thinking Jesus may be the one, they got their hopes up based on their expectations of what their king would be like.

However, when Jesus instead preached peace and love, refused to take any role in the government, and allowed Himself to be persecuted and tortured, they were so aghast they rose up against Him. He did not live up to their expectations.

Likewise, in our personal and secular lives, our expectations often get in the way of us enjoying life when reality sets in. A few examples…

Long lines at the mall…who’d have known??

People always complain about waiting in lines at stores this time of year. Everyone is shopping and everyone is in a hurry – so when everyone gets in line to check out, everyone gets annoyed.

Not me. In this particular case, I understand expectation vs. reality.

I assume that I’m going to be in line for at least half an hour. No, I probably won’t be in line for that long, but that’s what I tell myself to expect. Then, when I end up only being in line for 20 minutes, I feel like I’m 10 minutes ahead of the game!

And you know what? My day is not ruined and I leave the store with a smile.

Assuming, of course, my 2-year-old daughter isn’t screaming.

Speaking of high expectations…

Expecting my daughter to not scream about something is unrealistic. Remember what I said at the beginning of this post about my expectations being too high lately? This is what I was talking about.

You see, she stopped taking regular naps a few weeks ago, which is killing me – I have no more time to work, other than the evening. This means I cannot market my voiceover business, write children’s books and poetry, or even update a blog until after the kids are in bed.

That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time; 2-3 hours is about all I have, if I want to spend any quality time with my wife. Consequently, my paychecks have plummeted while my anxiety has skyrocketed. And my expectations have been so far off from reality it’s driving my nuts!

I keep hoping my daughter will take a nap, but of course she doesn’t. I keep expecting her to not draw on the floor with Sharpies while I’m cleaning the cat pan, but she does. I keep expecting her to not play in the cat pan while I’m wiping off Sharpie from the floor, but she does that, too.

I keep anticipating that today is the day she won’t fight and flail and scream because I want her to wear long pants instead of a summer skirt.

But it never is.

Today was different!

No, she didn’t change. What changed were my expectations.

I woke up this morning assuming I’d get absolutely nothing done.

Call me defeatest, but I was simply trying to be realistic! Anyone with kids knows how hard it is to clean a house with a 2-year-old around: as soon as you fold the clothes, the kid is climbing into the kitchen sink; as soon as you pull her out of the sink and wipe the counter, she’s throwing the folded laundry on the floor.

And somewhere in the midst of it all, she’s finding another Sharpie that we thought we had hid and is drawing on a wall.

Or her face.

Speaking of Christmas and my daughter…hard to believe she was just 4 months old on her first Christmas!

So today, I tried something different. I planned to accomplish nothing – and it worked! I didn’t expect to get the dishes put away and reload the dishwasher, but I did. I didn’t expect to be able to get some yard work done, but I did! I didn’t expect to be able to get any voice work done, but —

Oh, wait. I still wasn’t able to do that.

Dang.

But by setting my expectations lower, I found I didn’t get upset or frustrated like I have been, and my daughter and I are both the better for that.

Revising expectations: not always lower…just different

I’m not saying you should always lower your expectations. I’m just suggesting that altering them to be more realistic is probably not a bad idea.

Should you expect a holiday bonus this year? Should you expect one as big or as little as last year? Should you expect to get a great parking spot at the mall two days before Christmas? Should you expect every driver on the road to always use their turn signals and never cut people off?

Should I expect to sell two more picture books next year??

Well…probably not. It’s not going to keep me from trying, certainly; setting a goal of selling two picture book manuscripts is absolutely worthwhile. But I’m not expecting that to happen. I sold one this past year, so the expectation of selling two the following year may be a bit too ambitious.

Oh, and by the way…now that I no longer expect to be able to decorate for the holidays due to the massive construction work at our house, I’m much more at ease. I am, however, still coming to terms with my office/studio being crammed full and covered in plastic:

house 1 house 2 house 3

YOUR “Great Expectations”

Is there some area in your life where you find that reality is not in line with your expectations? Do you know of any ways that you or other readers can alter our expectations about things, so we feel less disappointment and be more at peace with our lives and the world?

Myself, I’m still a relatively new player to the publishing game and have two poems coming out in two separate anthologies in 2016, so I’ll be happy if I sell at least a couple more poems.

I also expect to gain at least one new voiceover client within the first half of the year – far less than I should, but considering my parenting situation, I really cannot expect much more!

I also expect that the new Star Wars movie is going to rock our planet with awesomeness far beyond all expectations!

That’s not too much to expect, is it?

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Rejection: all part of the business

I received two rejections for two different picture book manuscripts last week. And just yesterday, I received a third! Three in two weeks, a new record!

Has that ever happened to you? If so, what did you do?

Me, I deleted the messages and sent the manuscripts off to other publishers!

Oh, and I started working on a brand-new manuscript, which has been taking up a significant portion of my free time, which is why I wasn’t able to post anything last Tuesday.

Accept it and move on!

Everyone has a different way of dealing with rejections, for manuscripts, voicework, or otherwise. Some folks – usually those new to writing – take a rejection notice to heart and anguish over it, deciding right then and there that it was foolish to ever consider sending something out and they swear they’ll never do that again.

Those poor souls never get published because they quit.

On the other hand, some folks save every rejection letter they’ve ever received, and joke about plastering their living rooms or bedrooms with them once they hit it big. These folks may also never get published – but at least they’ve got the right attitude. You can’t get a deal if you’re not in the game.

Still others, like Yours Truly, discard rejection letters as soon as they show up.

Early on in my career I had considered holding onto them as a sort of badge of honour…but I quickly decided I didn’t want any kind of negative energy around! Occasionally, I’ll get a very positive rejection – an editor or agent who can’t use what I sent them, but are encouraging nonetheless – and those I’ll hang onto for reference.

But if it’s a form rejection, sorry, not interested, doesn’t fit, not quite what we’re looking for, blah blah…it’s in the circular file!

Oh, and another rejection, of sorts

My baby!I also learned from one of my voiceover clients that one of their clients (for whom I voice monthly radio commercials) wants to go in a different direction – i.e., wants to use a voice other than mine.

Again, this goes with the territory. It’s not that they didn’t like my voice, didn’t like me, didn’t like the quality of work I was doing….they just wanted something different. So I don’t wring my hands over it; I simply continue on, doing what I’ve been doing.

The term, “You win some, you lose some” was created specifically for writers and actors.

Full disclosure: I have no idea if that preceding statement is true, but it seems to make sense, so I’m sticking with it.

Honestly, I’ve been rejected by women for reasons a lot worse than “I’d like to try something different.” (Although, now that I think about it, I actually have been rejected by a number of women for that very reason…but I digress…)

But that’s the reason most of us in these businesses get rejected: the people we’re dealing with simply want something different. Not necessarily something better – although that certainly could be the case – just something differentAnd all a person in my position can do is say, “Ok, best wishes!” and then move on.

In my case, I’m moving on by wrapping up a new children’s poetry collection, starting a new picture book manuscript, and jotting down ideas for three other books I haven’t gotten to yet. I’ve also been in touch with a potential new voiceover client, so we’ll see what happens there!

What is your attitude about rejection?

How do you deal with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. We all feel differently about it and deal with it in very personal ways, so perhaps your nugget of wisdom might help someone who is struggling.

I look forward to reading your opinions! Right now, though, I have another cover letter I need to write…

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Poetry Friday: A new poem, a new anthology, and a new CYBILS category for me

Poetry_Friday logoWow, it’s been quite a busy week! This past Saturday, Carol Varsalona published her “Summer Splashings Gallery” – a huge collection of poetry and photographs celebrating the season that is winding down. I’m very happy my poem, “Stonewall County Summer,” is included. Please check it out, along with all the others!

Then this past Tuesday, I shared some revelations and affirmations from the local state fair, where I wrapped up a live-announcing gig during Labor Day Weekend. 55 hours over 4 days…one can learn a lot during that time, and I did, as I do every year!

The next day, on  Wednesday, look what showed up at my doorstep:

My contributor copy arrived!

This beautiful book hits shelves about a month from now, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it. This is the fifth and final book of 2015 in which one can find my poetry, and what a great way to wrap up the year!

Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-SmI’m also very excited to be a CYBILS judge once again. This year, I’ll be a first-round judge for the Graphic Novel category, which is a change of pace for me, as I have judged poetry for the past 2 years. I would have loved to have judged poetry again, but was concerned that one or two of the anthologies to which I’ve contributed might get nominated – and I wouldn’t have wanted to create a conflict of interest. A number of quality poetry collections came out this past year, so I’ll be eager to see which ones make the cut!

By the way, friend and fellow poet Michelle H. Barnes is hosting Poetry Friday today at Today’s Little Ditty – so stop on by and check out all the poetry links!

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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
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What I learned at the state fair, Vol. IV

IMG_1562It’s that time of year again! It’s fair season…and that means a wealth of knowledge and enlightenment for Yours Truly.

As you may know, I am the live announcer for one of the local state fairs, which means I spend 12+ hours each day wandering the fairgrounds, reminding attendees of all the events taking place: 4-H Sheep show is coming up at 10am in the Hood Arena! Be amazed by the Hypnosis and Magic of Marko, with 3 shows today at 5, 7, and 9pm! If you’re looking for the restrooms, they are easy to find…

Well, you get the idea. Anyway, each year I am amazed at all the things I learn and affirmations I encounter. The first year, I mourned the loss of patriotism. I have also written about giant robot dinosaurs and the most despised candies in the universe.

Last year, I shared the best time to smell the fair. (And yes, there IS a “best time!”)

This year’s fair, which took place Labor Day weekend, was no different in its ability to educate and enlighten. Here are my Top Ten tidbits:

1) There is STILL no better single food item at the fair than the loaded baked potato.

Heaven on a plate, folks. Heaven. On. A. Plate.

Yes, I love the deep-fried Oreos, giant glazed donuts, and steak ‘n cheese subs (the latter two of which you can get combined, by the way – steak ‘n cheese on a donut!?! Seriously!)…but there is nothing at all like this potato, which features chili, cheese, bacon, broccoli, salsa, sour cream, and jalapenos all piled on top of one enormous spud.
It cost me $13 and every bite was worth it.

2) If you are good at doing one job, be prepared to do every job that is similar to that first job. I am a voice artist and have experience doing recorded voice work (commercials, narration, etc.) as well as live announcing, such as what I do for the fair. However, when the announcer for the tractor pull didn’t show up, guess who was pressed into service? And when there was no announcer for the super-modified tractor/truck pull, guess who got the call? And when the fair needed someone to announce the daily parade that meandered through the fairgrounds, guess who was tagged? After a 55-hour weekend, my voice was crying Uncle.

3) Environmentalists hate tractor pulls.

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IMG_9672 IMG_0117
I haven’t actually talked to any environmentalists about this because they’re still coughing, but it’s a good hunch.

4) Environmentalists also hate demolition derbies.

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Again, just a hunch.

5) A lot of people in this world do not walk straight. This probably seems like an odd sort of observation, but on more than one occasion I found myself in back of a person I started to walk past, only to have him/her veer in front of me. I would then attempt to cut over to the other side to pass them, only to have them veer back in the other direction. These were not drunk fair-goers, either – they were just drifters, sort of like that car in front of you on the interstate that you’re not quite sure if you should pass or just keep a safe distance behind.

6) Anything can be a breakfast food. One day I overheard a gentleman say to his wife, “Yes!! Turkey legs! Right over there!” at which point he quickened his pace in the direction of said turkey legs. Now, this scene wouldn’t be all that unusual except for the fact that this was at 9:30 in the morning. Not that I’m judging, by the way. I’ve eaten chili, lasagna, and General Tso’s Chicken for breakfast – so it’s nice to have the validation.

7) Hornets are bad-ass.

No. Fear.

8) Kids can have the most adult conversations if you let them. Two young boys, who couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 years old, were walking among the animal exhibits, near the pigs and cattle. One said, “I could never kill an animal!” The other replied, “You EAT animals!” The first one retorted, “Yeah, but they should be allowed to live!” To which the second one responded, “Well, then, you’ll need to find something else to eat.” Right or wrong, carnivore or vegan, these two friends continued their conversation down the path as I turned and walked in another direction. I would love to have known how this little debate ended.

IMG_03739) Concepts like conservation and environmentalism are totally lost on some people. After watching a demonstration on wildlife conservation at the state Fish & Game Dept.’s building, the ground was littered with flyers from the demonstration. Irony at its worst.

10) The best new fair food item is not something you may be able to order at your local fair. That’s because this is a unique offering by one of our fair’s longtime vendors and supporters, Pat’s Apple Crisp & Cider Donuts. What did they do, and why is it better than anything you’ll taste all season long? Take a look:

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That’s a warm cider donut topped with French Vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce, cinnamon/apple streusel, and whipped cream. If the loaded baked potato is Heaven on a plate, this is your halo.

You’ll notice I started and ended my list with food. Because really, that’s the best way to enjoy a fair, isn’t it? I hope to eat consume devour learn more at some of the fairs I’ll be attending with my family.

Have you ever had an unusual learning experience at your local fair? I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to share your story in the comments, below.

And remember, when it comes to eating fair food…you can only eat so much. PACE YOURSELF!

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The importance of avoiding luck

I have a confession: I hate the game of Monopoly.

Actually, I don’t hate the game itself – I just hate playing it. I used to like it, when I was a kid: all the property I got to amass, the colorful cards I got to collect, the buildings I could put up.

And truth be told, all that money-changing was pretty good math practice.

But here’s the problem: I rarely won. And it’s not that I’m a sore loser or anything. It’s just that no matter what I did or how I tried to play the game, a single roll of the dice would inevitably upend my entire game – and I became frustrated.

As an adult, I now realize that for all its real-life street references and corporate wheeling-dealing…Monopoly is ultimately a game of chance.

And when it comes to relying on luck, I suck.

Talent can be learned, skill can be developed

If it’s an endeavor that requires skill – whether it’s Trivial Pursuit, soccer, or writing – I have no problems. I can learn, I can develop, I can compete…and hopefully succeed a few times. Even card games like poker or rummy, which are based on the luck of the draw, require at least some skill in determining how to play each hand.

I’m ok with that.

My problem is having to rely on pure luck to help me win. If I have to do that, I lose, every time.

Let’s see if we can find a common theme, shall we?

1) When I first began doing voiceover work, I learned about the industry through attending workshops, corresponding via LinkedIn groups, and connecting with others already ID-10084724 (Mic)in the business. I paid attention to how I was delivering lines and would redo them if I felt they weren’t exactly right. I set up a website and began marketing myself.

I would audition and audition and audition, and continually try to get better and better. After a few years of doing small gigs, I eventually got to the point where I was providing voice work for places like HBO Comedy, Muzak, and Symantec.

2) When I decided to make a concerted effort to go beyond my adult poetry and become a published children’s writer, I looked around for information on how to make that happen.  A friend suggested joining an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators) writer’s group, which I did. I also went to SCBWI conferences, took tons of workshops, and went out of my way to meet as many established (and developing) writers and poets as I could, via Facebook and Twitter.

I wrote, wrote, and wrote…and strove to get better. Eventually, I connected with folks like Lin Oliver from SCBWI, poetry anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins, editor Rebecca Davis of Boyd’s Mills Press, and Charles “Father Goose” Ghigna, who all encouraged me in their own ways. Between this year and next, I’ll have 9 poems in 7 boyds logodifferent publications (books/magazines), and my debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyd’s Mills Press), has a planned Fall 2017 release date.

3) As you may recall me mentioning a few times here, I tore my ACL (among other things) in my right knee a little over a year and a half ago. I had been playing soccer, and took a wrong turn and completely ripped the knee ligaments apart. Following my reconstruction surgery in March 2014, I spent the next 12 months doing rehabilitation – stretching, flexing, bending, turning – with plans of getting back on the field.

It wasn’t until earlier this summer I was able to play again (just some friendly rec games to start out), but I still took it easy, making sure I knew how my knee was going to handle the stress. Each week I played I could feel the knee and leg getting better, and now the last two games I’ve played I’ve had more confidence in running and cutting, better ball control, and have even scored 2 goals in 2 games.

You don’t need to be a genius…

…to understand the thread running through these three scenarios.

None of them had anything to do with luck!

I got the HBO Comedy gig because the producers liked my audition the best out of all the others.

I’m back on the soccer field because I spent over a year exercising and prepping.

And I signed my book deal with Boyd’s Mills Press because a) the editor thought my manuscript was well-written, b) I had developed a relationship with that editor over the previous three years, and c) I had initially met that editor courtesy of an introduction by Mr. Hopkins, whom I had met a year earlier and who became a mutual friend and confidante.

Luck…has been nowhere to be found in any of this.

No good without the bad

I read the audition script exactly the way the producers wanted it to be read. I took the time to rehabilitate my knee over the course of a year-plus. I made the effort to learn about the children’s literature world, and tenaciously kept writing and submitting manuscripts.

I don’t see where luck had any role whatsoever. Sure, one could say I’m lucky I didn’t tear my other knee, or that I’m lucky I came across Mr. Hopkins or Ms. Davis. But that’s not really true.

ID-10056952 (soccer ball)If I’m going to assume I was blessed with good luck, I need to recognize the existence of bad luck, as well. If my latest picture book manuscript doesn’t get picked up, is that bad luck? If I fail an audition, is that bad luck? If I succumb to some other injury of the soccer field, is that bad luck?

Of course not. These things happen. Manuscripts get rejected, auditions get passed over, and wives beat their husbands senseless if they injure themselves one more time.

Oops – sorry, that last one is just my personal situation.

Seriously, though – if we are going to recognize that good luck and bad luck have roles in our lives, what’s the point of trying to make things better? We’ll never know how much good luck or bad luck we’ll have, we’ll never know when one of them is going to strike, we’ll never know if what we succeeded at or failed at was our own fault or just “dumb luck.”

Most of us, I’m sure, will say we owe whatever success we have to hard work, determination, and perseverance – and of course, a certain amount of skill. As our third U.S. President, Thomas Jefferson, once said, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

Personally, I find that the harder I work, the better I become and the more opportunities come my way, period.

Now who’s up for a little Apples to Apples?

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When it rains, it pours – and I’m drenched!

They say when it rains, it pours. And whoever “they” are…they know my life pretty well.

Freelancers often never know what their days are going to look like. Will I have several gigs, a few gigs, none?

Being a freelancer as well as a stay-at-home parent, this is doubly true. With the responsibilities of parenting compounded by the responsibilities of my work, I really never know how busy I’m going to be one day to the next. Some days are slower than others; it’s the way my world works. A few days ago, my world got very, very busy.

HS Fair logo - digital

I had no sooner started work on a new (and rather unusual) poetry-picture book when I found out brochures were ready for the upcoming 100th Hopkinton State Fair, taking place Labor Day weekend in Contoocook, New Hampshire. I’m not only the official announcer for the fair – I work all weekend, wandering the grounds with a microphone reminding people of what’s happening – but I also oversee all the radio broadcast purchases and production, and now that the events had been finalized, I needed to jump into high gear:

  • I have announcer notes I needed to update from the previous year (and with 4 days of agriculture events, live music, demonstrations, family entertainment, and grandstand shows, it took me over 4 hours just to do that)
  • I needed to write radio commercials – eight, to be exact – plus several short “live reads” for when the radio jocks talk about us on the air.
  • I needed to update all the telephone on-hold messages, which required that I write 3 pages of text before recording anything.
  • I needed to confirm with all the radio stations that they have everything they need to begin their promotions
  • I still need to voice and produce those eight radio commercials, and voice the audio for the TV commercial…that’s on tomorrow’s “to-do” list.

I mention all of this not because I want anyone to think I’m trying to show off what I do – but to understand that all of this was done in two days’ time! And now that that project is (almost) complete, I have a book manuscript co-authored by a client of mine I need to proofread! So far, I’ve gotten through Chapter 1. It’s a good book, but it takes longer to read it when one is scanning with an eye for grammar, syntax, and such.

What about that picture book?

I hate putting things on hold, but that’s what you have to do when you’re a stay-at-home parent with only a few hours of each day available to work. I’ve got the beginning of the picture book started, so reading it helps me get into the groove – but I probably won’t resume writing it until later this week, hopefully.

I still need to update my list of folks to whom I’ve submitted other manuscripts, and see if there’s someone out there who might be looking for a manuscript I have to offer.

Oh, and I have some short voiceover projects I need to attend to, as well. That’s the career that allowed me to stay home in the first place, so I really can’t neglect that!

First things first, though!

First, I have two kids who want to play with me, so that takes precedence. I don’t always have the luxury of playing with my 5-year-old son and nearly-2-year-old daughter (I do have dishes, laundry, and other chores to take care of!), but I try to make the time whenever I can.

My son isn’t into playing “games” like kicking a soccer ball or throwing a Frisbee per se – he’d much rather pretend we’re Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or wild lions or dogs or robots or whatnot – so playing with him is a much more physical activity than one might expect!

As for my daughter…well, she’s happy playing whatever her brother is playing.

And I can’t complain. A few years from now, he’ll probably grow tired of playing with me and spend all his time with friends, classmates, and girls. And of course, I can’t blame him. It’s way things go, right?

So as long as he and his sister want to play with me, I’ll do my best to keep up with them.

The laundry can wait.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!