Even Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks

Who knew after seventeen years as a Drama teacher I could still feel stage fright? (Not from being on stage, as I will explain…) In that time I’ve directed and produced somewhere around thirty shows, but my experience in drama goes beyond that to involvement in church productions, practice teaching, and my role as a playwright. Yet it never ceases to amaze me that I still learn new things with each production.

Recently my extra-curricular group, the ‘KodiActs’, performed one of my published plays called ‘Ali and the Magic Lamp’. It’s a twisted parody of the classic tale where Ali is a skateboarding teenager and Genie has attitude to spare. The troupe performed four shows over a two day period and by all accounts it was a smashing success. The audience had no idea the anxiety that took place before the show or the somewhat scary turn of events backstage during the last performance.
Crisis number one: My school does not have a stage so every show we have to rent one and construct everything from the ground up, including a complicated truss system for hanging the lights and every
thing else that goes with it. I have a lot of confidence in my ability to direct and produce a show. Inevitably, despite set backs and various crisis situations, everything seems to come together. However, I have no illusions about my abilities when it comes to construction. I’ve always relied on people who are more mechanically inclined (most notably my husband) to help me with these aspects. This year, however, my husband was away working and I had to rely on my own abilities to get the job done. I had a few sleepless nights just thinking about the logistics of ladders, and power tools…

Of course, I’ve seen it done dozens of times, but this time I was actually the foreman, showing students how to bolt together a thirty-two foot truss and then raise and mount it above the stage. I had to demonstrate how and where to screw all the stage flats together to make the backdrop, making sure the twelve foot centre archway didn’t come crashing down in the process. I had to help string electrical cable and hang heavy (and expensive!) stage lights, although I did find a brave volunteer to climb the ladder who was also stronger than I,  to make sure they were clamped in place and wouldn’t come loose during the show.

In all, it was a fantastic learning experience for me. it showed me that I could do this part of the job. I’d often wondered how I would manage without my right hand man there to help me, and now I know I can do it. It gave me a new sense of accomplishment.

But that’s not the whole story…  Enter ‘Crisis number two’: During our final performance, one of the actors had a seizure on stage. (She is being tested for epilepsy and had a similar incident last year backstage. But this time it happened on stage during a scene!)

I was so proud of how my other young actors handled things. They’ve been trained by the old motto, “The show must go on,” so her scene partner ad-libbed his way through the initial awkwardness and I immediately called for lights and music. When I got backstage, she was out cold. With the help of another teacher and a couple of other actors we managed to get her off the stage and out into the foyer. Her parents were called immediately, (we have a contingency plan in place since the incident last year) and the rest of the play went forward with her understudy completing the play.

Although there was a longer than normal scene break at one point, some of the audience didn’t even know what happened. I mentioned it at the end of the show and the student in question got a nice round of applause. Meanwhile, she had been ‘out’ for almost five minutes in total. Her parents took her to emergency and she was disoriented when she came to, but she was otherwise alright.

This was another first for me. I’ve had actors sick and throwing up backstage; panic attacks, last minute substitutions, and as I said, one similar incident with a seizure (but at least it was off stage!) It just goes to show that even when you think you’ve seen it all, something new is bound to happen. Like I said, even this old dog can learn a few new tricks.

 

L.O.V.E.

rosesShakespeare’s Sonnet 116 is by far my favourite sonnet and possibly my favourite poem. It epitomizes the kind of unconditional love that I aspire to possess in my marriage and with my children, and I also think it is a wonderful metaphor for God’s love. I’ve committed it to memory and have been known to quote it or use it in a card or two.

It is also very multi-purpose in that it works well for activities outside the usual ‘Valentine’ variety. I often ask students to analyze it in my poetry classes and I’ve even been known to give bonus marks for those who can memorize and recite it in class. I’ve also used it in my drama classes, getting students to recite it ‘in character’. It’s surprising how the meaning can change depending on the character’s motivation.

Since Valentine’s day is just around the corner, here for your enjoyment is the sonnet in it’s entirety. Enjoy.

SONNET 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Great Canadian Giveaway!

I am thrilled to be a contributing author to the “7 Days of Great Canadian Giveaways,” running February 6 to 12, 2017. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to win an amazing prize package by outstanding Canadian Christian authors and recording artists. Please note that Canadian citizens living in Canada ONLY qualify for this particular promotion. (My apologies to any American friends!)

Each and every day during the contest duration, two prize packages will be posted at http://sallymeadows.com/blog. For each day you comment on Sally’s blog AND click on the link to go to the author’s FB page, you will be entered into both prize packages for that day. You can enter any time during the contest period for any or all of the days. Contest runs from 8:00 am CST February 6, 2017 to 10:00 pm February 12, 2017. Entries submitted prior or after that time period are ineligible for the giveaways. For complete contest rules, please go to the event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/614924578714278/.
My prize package is featured on Tuesday, February 7, 2017, and includes not one, not two, but FIVE books!
Thank you for your interest in this contest and for supporting Canadian Christian authors!

Favourite Tools For Authors

 

Construction worker/Builder with tools. Isolated on white backgroundThere was a very informative and interesting panel at InScribe’s fall conference in September of last year which asked four different authors to share their favourite writing tools. On the panel were: Linda Hall, Rik Hall, Jane Wheeler, and Janice Dick. (And yours truly as moderator.) Here is a helpful list of tools mentioned:

 

  1. SCRIVENER

By far the most popular tool (no surprise here) was Scrivener. Everyone on the panel – including me – love it. Here are some of the reasons:

– deals with complete projects

– flexible, user-friendly

– compile feature for whatever end result is desired, also for separating character / plotlines

– character / setting templates

– linked research

– notes for scenes, document, project (always visible)

– scene categorization (date, time, POV)

– can be colour-coded

– use for any writing or organization project (blogs, recipe collections…)

if you’re not using Scrivener, yet, you should really give it a try. It is free for first month (non consecutive uses so there is no pressure) and even then it is very affordable. I bought two subscriptions (one for my Mac and one for my PC) long before the trial period was up. It’s just that awesome.

  1. THESAURUS

Some tools just never go out of style. Invest in a good thesaurus or fond one online. It’s a great tool for bridging the gap between the right and left sides of the brain.

  1. GRAMMAR BOOKS

This was a popular one as well. Here are some of the resources suggested:

Elements of Style – Strunk & White

Woe is I – Patricia W. Carr (concise and humorous)

Write! Better – Ray Wiseman (succinct)

Writer’s Digest Books (eg. Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, Scene & Structure, Characters & Viewpoint, etc.)

  1. SEND TO KINDLE

This is good for checking how your files will look on a kindle device before you go ahead and publish. Just drag and drop word docs and pdfs into this program and send them to your Kindle device. Another option is ‘Kindle Previewer’.

  1. TEXT TO SPEECH SOFTWARE

Any software that reads back to you is very useful when self-editing. It catches those mistakes that your brain skipped over because you knew what you meant to say. Mac’s have a built in ‘text to speech’ which you can check out by going to the system preferences. My Mac will read highlighted text using the ‘Option+Esc’ keys. There are other programs like ‘Natural Reader’ that are popular. The reverse (speech to text) is also useful if you want to ‘write’ while walking or just tired of typing all the time. You can use your computer or your phone for this.

  1. POPULAR ONLINE SITES AND GROUPS

Many different sites were mentioned and I suspect this one is very much about individual preference. However, here is what I managed to jot down:

Livewritethrive by C.S. Lakin

The Creative Penn by Joanna Penn

goodreads – for leaving reviews, getting reviews, creating an author page, and interacting about books

facebook groups – too many to mention or link to!

  1. DOIN’ IT OLD SCHOOL!

A couple of people mentioned that they liked to use some ‘old school’ methods of organizing when they write. For instance, index cards for each scene help one to visually lay out a book to see if it flows. Another mentioned using coloured pens specific to each character, the plot, setting etc. (FYI, Scrivener has both of these functions as well. Bonus!)

  1. AUTOCORRECT

Linda Hall mentioned developing her own shortcuts to increase her productivity. (For instance: chc = church) To do so on a mac, go to Systems Preferences —Text—Shortcuts. (She suggested checking out court reporting for usable shortcuts.) This is very useful when using a phone, too.

  1. FOR FORMATTING AND DESIGN

Rik Hall, Linda’s husband and a professional publisher, mentioned two programs for those who are getting into self publishing:

I certainly found the panel very informative. I hope you have gleaned some useful bits of information here, as well.

To Pseudonym or Not to Pseudonym

To ‘pseudonym’ or not to ‘pseudonym’… that is the question. 

I attended a panel of multi-genre authors at a conference  who were talking about their experiences trying to switch back and forth between different personas. One panelist used three different pseudonyms in order to keep his crime thrillers, literary work, and humour separate. It seemed to work for him. He was writing for three very different audiences and didn’t want to confuse his readers. It reminded me of another conference I had attended years earlier, where Sigmund Brower, well know author of YA fiction, talked about the difficulties of breaking into the adult market. He said people had an expectation that he only wrote for kids and it was tough to dispel that misconception. Although he persevered, he mentioned that if he were to do it again, he would probably choose to write under a different name.

Another panelist had a totally different view. Her agent advised against a pseudonym when she switched from YA fantasy to a different adult genre. He felt there might be enough cross over to merit keeping her original pen name. Presumably, young readers who enjoyed her fantasy series might mature into adult readers ready for something more. Other authors agreed, citing the well-documented case of J.K. Rowlings when she decided to write under a new pen name. When people found out that Robert Galbraith was actually the writer of the beloved Harry Potter series, sales skyrocketed.

 

My situation is a little bit different. Although I try to brand myself as a writer of ‘faith based romantic suspense with a twist of humor’, I have also contributed to a Science fiction series and I’ve written a fair bit of non-fiction. I’m not too concerned about the fact that these genres don’t necessarily mesh. My non-fiction has stemmed from speaking and blogging. I see it as an extension of my life as a Christian writer – a stream that serves to enhance my fiction writing, but not necessarily a genre to pursue beyond that.

However, writing plays for the stage is a totally separate entity. To date I have written and directed dozens of plays, mostly in my capacity as a high school drama teacher. Of those plays, eight of them have been picked up by various play publishers, which has led to performances across North America. In this instance, I am writing for a secular high school audience, mostly using comedy and parody to get the story across.

My plays and my other fiction are two parallel tracks of writing that, seemingly, will never intersect. There is nothing about my life as a playwright that has anything in common with my fiction. It’s a bit of a marketing quandary when it comes to things like my website. Should I be focusing on one audience over the other? I sometimes wish that I had chosen to use a pseudonym – or two – but I feel like I’m too far into the game now to make the switch.

On the other hand, perhaps it really doesn’t matter. While readers who like my fiction are unlikely to want to read a comedy script, those looking for a stage play might actually like to read one of my books.

I like the conclusion that one panelist finally gave. There is really no ‘right’ way to handle multiple genres. What is a disadvantage to one, works for another. Perhaps it’s more about the passion than the formula. Each author must choose his or her own path and then pursue it with all their might.

This article first appeared on ‘Gelatiscoop’ on September 24, 2015

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