Writing What Matters

writing26What makes you excited? Happy? Concerned? Passionate? What do you care about? That’s where your story lies. I would like to change that picture to the left to read, “If you wish to be a writer, WRITE WHAT YOU CARE ABOUT.” (I used it though because it’s so sunsetty-pretty.)

So often at writing conferences you have industry professionals tell you what’s hot and what’s so 2012. They let you know what their particular presses are looking for and what they’re tired of seeing. And, to some degree, you may be able to fit your story into one of those trending genres. It’s ever-changing. However, where your stellar writing emanates from is not the hot genre. Instead, it comes from what you care about. Your heart. Your soul. What matters to you. That one you’re thinking of right now. That’s the story you came here to Planet Earth to write.

What other people want you to write isn’t necessarily it. For example, a few weeks ago, a local lawyer contacted me because he was looking for a writer to pen a story for some clients. (He Googled and I came up. He liked my website and contacted me.) He was touched by their story which was pretty remarkable.

It’s a human interest story of love and perseverance. A man had reached rock bottom. He was severely injured, and while recovering, his wife had left him. He was thinking of taking his life. In a moment of desperation, he called 411 just to talk to someone. (Not 911, 411. Resourceful.) He asked the woman who answered if she would just talk to him and she said she couldn’t and hung up. He called back. He reached a different lady and she said, “I could get fired for doing this, but I go on break in 15 minutes. I’ll call you back and we’ll talk.”

Long story short, they fell in love and have been married something like 50 years. Their love even survived the time he clinically died, went toward the intoxicating light we hear people talk about, saw his wife weeping, and came back to be with her so she wouldn’t be alone.

When the lawyer told me their story, his eyes lit up. He was so inspired by them. He had, in fact, thought about writing the story himself, but just didn’t feel like his law practice allowed time for it. To me, it was so clear this was the story he was meant to write. And, it’s equally clear to me, if someone has a “great idea for a story,” that even though it IS a great story, I may be in charge of writing different ones.

I love to write stories based on true stories because I think the world is so interesting as it is. I don’t need to world build (fantasy style) because there’s so much here already that fascinates me.The stories that pound on my head and heart are the ones I know I have to write.

The sweet spot in all this is when those industry professionals are looking for the exact story you are telling. That’s where the magic lies. Even if it doesn’t, though, you will be doing your part when you write the story that really matters to you.

Here we go–and other dreams

dreamAll other blog posts were wiped clean from my brain (EVERYTHING was actually–just tabula rasa me) when I got the email. A series of them, actually.

But before that…

You may remember (this is NOT backstory) last week I was excited/nervous/giddy because my manuscript was all grown up and flying the nest? Destination: Editor-land.

So off it went and guess what? It landed! Immediate requests flew back. In multiples. Not one. Not two. Not three. Ready for it? Four requests within the first 8 hours. Woot! I don’t even know how to describe that feeling. I don’t even know what it means. Does that happen all the time? I’m a brand-spanking newbie at this.

And once again, I danced around the livingroom for a few minutes…

…before that voice in my head said, “Yeah, but…”

I told it I didn’t have time for it right now. I told it it’s not the boss of me. Right now, I’m just dreaming. Picturing the auction. What does that even mean? Are there number paddles involved? Will it be like the one down in Cottonwood on Fridays?

“Yeah, but…”


This is how it’s gotta be. Let me enjoy the dance.

To be continued….

Chasing Eagles

 eaglesWhen I was in high school, my English teacher, Mrs. Jones, was hated by many of her students. Not me. I loved her. I thought she was wise, and smart, and had enough persnickities to start her own Persnickety Store.

One of the reasons I loved her so much is  she made me believe in my writing. The way she did this was with “eagles.” (She was a staunch conservative and I see this now as subliminal training into the Republican  Party.) If a paper was returned with a gold eagle on it, it meant I was “published,” and she sent the papers out to everyone as an example of good writing. Extrinsic motivation at work right there in Anderson Union High School GATE English.

Flash forward MANY years…

Last week when my agent Rachael sent back my edits with a “GOOD FOR YOU” and “I’m so proud and pleased,” I got all eagly all over again. Gold star. A +. I started planning my first book signing. Boy, was I pleased with myself.

Then I had this conversation.

Ego: Ha! I nailed it.

Higher Self: When will you learn?

Ego: Learn what? Did you not see how she just said I brought the whole book up a level? Where’s the Cristal? Pop the cork!

Higher Self: We have so much more work to do with you.

Ego: Buzz kill.

My best work happens not when I’m trying to impress or seek validation or hunt down Eagle stickers. My best work happens when I’m opening myself up and allowing the story to flow through me from some place far greater than me. I am but a willing servant, a conduit. It’s SO not about me.

When I get all stuck in my ego and think I’m so clever (which is hard not to do when somebody says in one way or another, “You’re such a good writer”), my writing pretty much inevitably sucks eggs. It’s distracting, it doesn’t flow, it doesn’t honor the story. That’s not the kind of writer I want to be.

It’s important for me (crucial, even) to keep myself open and present to each moment as it passes by. To be an observer of the eagle and feel its energy as it soars through the sky serves me better than to covet the gold symbol that says I nailed it. If I can do that, while keeping my world in balance and joy–to serve people with what comes out of my fingertips in a way that makes their life better somehow–then that, my friends, is why I’m here.

Birthing Books – It All Begins with the Orgasm


Today, I’m proud to interview Sharon Weil, author of the newly released Donny & Ursula Save the World. Not only is Sharon an award-winning screenwriter, producer and director, she’s also my cousin. Everything she does, she does with passion and excellence. Her debut novel is no exception.

Donny and Ursula Save the World is a wake up call to the potential dangers of genetically modified seeds, couched in a funny, wild-romp, romantic-mishap adventure, about this odd couple, Donny and Ursula, who become unlikely heroes and join forces with even less likely characters (belly dancing feminists, outlaw guerilla gardeners, gun-crazy survivalists…) to save the world from a plot by an agribusiness giant to control the world food supply by owning all the seeds.

At its heart, the book is about what it takes to find the courage to take action, and its playful premise is that sex and Eros are the prime motivators for ALL human behavior. Ursula is a woman who has never had an orgasm, and once she does, it leads her to a political awakening that compels her actions on behalf of Mother Earth. It’s a wacky, yet poignantly serious story.

You are an award-winning screenwriter, producer and director. This is your first novel. What made you decide to write a book?

Before Donny and Ursula Save the World, everything I’d ever written—besides a grocery list—was always intended as a screenplay for a movie, or as a theatrical piece. It’s the way I think and what I’ve known. But when these characters and their crazy stories started to drop in, I knew they needed a larger and more flexible form in which to play. I’d never wanted to write a novel—too many words that can’t change—but, in my view, these stories choose you, and their form, and they’ll make your life miserable if you don’t become their servant. It’s not the first time I’ve jumped into something, blind. As it turns out, I found it an incredibly satisfying and magical experience, and plan to write more novels once this one finally leaves me alone.

 How is writing a book different than writing a screenplay?

Screenwriting is all about economy and craft. Usually plot driven, the words you use are meant to describe visual moments that are shown, rather than told. Directors and producers annoyingly refer to the script as the “blueprint” for the movie, for it’s meant to be the basis of the collaborative process that is yet to come.  And… you don’t even have to write in full sentences!

Writing a novel, at least this one, was all about the particular words on the page.  The visuals, the character descriptions, the rhythm of speech, all have to be there on the page. There are no actors, or scenery, or even music to interpret the work.  And a book is meant to come from one voice… the author’s.  Otherwise, story is story—there are many ways to tell them. I live in Los Angeles where people roll their eyes in boredom when you tell them you just finished a script—but if you say you wrote a book, they bow in respect!  Go figure.

Can you give us your elevator pitch for Donny and Ursula?

The most importantly funny book about sex, love and GMO seeds you’ll ever read.

Where did the idea for Donny and Ursula Save the World come from?

Ultimately, Donny and Ursula Save the World is a love story, and therefore a romantic comedy—because most love stories are. I write from the experience of too many failed relationships, several successful ones, an enormous fantasy life, and a fascination with the connection and foibles of the sexes.

The whole bio-based aspect of the book comes from my being both a Nature Girl, and a Continuum movement teacher.  Continuum is a fluid based movement exploration that I have been teaching for over 22 years. www.continuummovement.com It’s where I’ve learned all about bio-intelligence, and the sparkle of life force we call Eros.  This is where Ursula’s tantric belly dance teacher, Sheerah, gets her smarts. It’s also how Ursula’s hips come to life.  

Also, I love good food, and I care about the quality of the food I eat, and give my family. It amazes me how the general public can think that tampering with the very genetic material of the seeds our food is grown from is a good idea.  It also amazes me how many people have no awareness of what a GMO is, and how much of our food now originates from genetically modified seeds. I wanted to bring people to awareness in a way that might entertain them at the same time as sound the alarm.

I’m not a frivolous person, but I am a playful one.  I like to weave things together, and I have the ability to hold seeming opposites in the same space. It stretches me, and brings a complexity to what I write, in the humorous moments as well as the grave ones.

I love both your Continuum classes and belly dancing.  Tell us more about Sheerah and how the belly dancing feminists wiggle their way into your story?

Sheerah, Ursula’s tantric belly dance teacher who sells exotic creams to her students at cost, showed up as a teacher of the secrets of the divine feminine because I live in California, and I know such people.  Her instruction was just what Ursula needed to open her own muted feminine, and ultimately, Sheerah is the one who helps with Ursula’s awakenings.

As a movement teacher, I fully embrace movement as a source of connection with our bodies and our sensations—especially those undulating movements, the one’s deep in a woman’s pelvic bowl—they’re the ones that connect her with her own sacred feminine. Belly dancers know this.

Will you be writing the screenplay next?

Everyone who has read the book, or even heard me describe it says,  “It’s a movie!”  And it is a movie… a movie you can curl up with, all by yourself.  It’s a movie because that’s what I know how to write. You’ll see when you read it. However, the movie version of this movie-like book will be different than the book, because there are narrators, and inner thoughts, and supernatural occurrences in the book that need to be translated from the descriptive fiction on the page where pretty much anything can happen, back to an arena of symbolic action.  But yes, I’m writing the screenplay next.

 One could say that this is the story of “you are what you eat.” Can you speak to that?

Ursula’s political and personal awakening comes once she experiences her first orgasm. One awakening leads to another.  But really, it all began once she started juicing and eating raw.  Prior to this she ate a pale and limited diet of breads and spreads, and felt sluggish and slow.  Once she changed her diet, she became lighter and more permeable to her own sensations, as well as being open to clear thoughts, like the ones that motivate her in the story. 

Ursula believes that you are what you eat.  Donny is a fast food guy – but even he changes his food, in the name of love.

Can you direct us to the link to buy your book?


Click to order this top Amazon seller: http://tinyurl.com/k79mvfo



Sharon Weil is an award winning WGA screenwriter, producer, and director. Donny and Ursula Save the World is her first novel, and a welcome break out into new form. Her most recent writer-co-producer credits include “Reel Love,” a romantic comedy about a woman who must learn to bass fish in order to catch her father’s attention and find true love—which opened up the new Original Movie Division at CMT (Country Music Television) in Fall of 2011.

She was awarded the Women in Film, Lillian Gish Award, as writer and co-producer, for Best Children’s Film in 1990 for “Sweet 15”, which also won an Emmy for its director. She has written romantic comedies, family comedies and family dramas. She is a film graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

In addition to writing, Sharon has also been a director, producer or editor of many film
and television projects; narrative, documentary, commercials and music videos. She has directed several original theater productions, as well as written and performed her own work in one-woman shows, and shared evenings.

Sharon is an advocate for the natural world through her supportive work in climate
solutions, community arts, and holistic health. Her writing is also informed by 20 years as a teacher of Continuum, a fluid based movement practice that aligns one with a natural state of being.

Sharon has three daughters, two dogs, and one wild imagination. She is an eclectic Los
Angeles native, a frequent visitor to Northern California and Nashville, and a citizen of
the world.

Advance or an In-Between?

writersadvanceThe writer’s advance. A concept beyond me. Why is it called an “advance” in the year 2013 when it really comes in the “in-between”?

Writing is not like any other profession I’ve ever had. I’ve been a movie candy girl, a flower deliverer, a legal secretary, a marketing director in law firms, an assistant in a psychiatrist’s office, a second grade teacher, a massage therapist, a health coach, and probably a number of other things I’ve left out. But every single one of those jobs came with regular pay checks that were delivered very near the time the work was completed.

Not writing. Even in the case of freelancing, rules vary. Some publications don’t pay until your article comes out and frequently you are writing several months prior to publication because of the time required to publish a magazine. This is getting slightly better with groups like Ebyline, but still there’s a long way to go towards closing the gap. Where this is most apparent, though, is the book advance.

The term “advance” stems from way back, I’m told, when deals were made at Parisian bars over a handshake after an idea was thrown out to an editor. The editor would then give the writer money (said advance) to write the book. Since he’d be busy writing, he’d need money to live.

In today’s market, though, it seems to me most manuscripts need to be pristine to ever get to the advance conversation. And to get a manuscript pristine takes hours and hours and hours of writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting…in my case, six years. Now my critique partner Darbie is reading Stephen King’s craft book where he says a first draft should take 3 months. (Whatever, Stephen. You clearly aren’t raising kids. Or going to the grocery store. Or ever leaving your chair to sleep.) Nevertheless, even if we go with that, that’s a first draft and that’s 3 months. What other job do you work at for 3 months (ah-hem, 6 years) and not get paid? Oh, and maybe never get paid?

Fact is I don’t know many writers in it for the money. If they are, they quickly leave when they figure out the “in-between” (um, maybe if you’re very lucky) thing because, in case you didn’t already know this, there’s usually a ton of work waiting after the advance, both in and out of the cave.

I’m pretty sure writers write because they have to. Because nothing gives them the same satisfaction as the idea that their book, their published book (story, article, research, poem), will be out there in the world for others to read.

The Idea Tree

DSCN2871When I was teaching second grade in Manhattan Beach, California, we had Writer’s Workshop. We followed an idea, into words, into a published book fully illustrated.

One question the kids always asked is the same question I’m frequently asked by kids when they learn I am a writer: “Where do you get (and by you they mean I) ideas for stories?”

Easy. The idea tree. You know, back in the orchard behind the money tree.

But, really, this is true. Take this particular tree at the Canoe House Restaurant in Mauna Lani on the Big Island of Hawaii. The characters this tree has seen. The dialogue this tree has lumbered through. The sunsets this tree has witnessed. The whales it has watched play. The slack key it has felt deep down in its roots.

When I travel, I so frequently have a story land on my head. Usually it happens on the plane. I don’t know what it is about being high up in altitude that gets my creative juices flowing, but something does. On this trip, the idea for my next book just landed in as clear as day. Not like I was looking, mind you, as I have a single space four page document with stories I want to write. Nevertheless, it nudges its way up to the front and demands to go next. (Bossy stories.)

Stories are everywhere. Listen to the palm frongs tapping together in the salty ocean breeze. (That one’s for you, QS). Watch the woozles (not their official name, but that’s what they should be called) that were sent over to the Island to control rats but run opposite shifts so now just reproduce–and so do the rats. Walk the land and imagine how it was 300 years ago.

If that doesn’t work, go find the idea tree. It’s waiting for you.

Best Writing Advice Ever

rabbitE.L. Doctorow said once that “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Anne Lamott followed that up with, “You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

But if it were this simple, why do we have the constant debate about outlining vs. following the story? Every time I turn around someone is blogging about one or the other as the answer to the holy writing trinity. Here’s the answer.

There’s no one answer.

Writing is so not about absolutes–and that’s the hard part. If there was one formula, one way, every MFA program across the country would be teaching it. Second grade teachers wouldn’t puzzle over, “How the hell are we going to teach these kids to write? I don’t even know if I know how to write?” (We actually had those conversations when I was teaching at one of the top elementary schools in the country and it’s not like we weren’t armed with masters degrees and curriculum.)

We get through school with some teachers (and later editors and agents) telling us we’re amazing and some telling us we suck eggs and we ought to just hang it up. (They usually euphemize.) It’s a very subjective medium. Just join writers (critics, librarians, parents) in a discussion of published books they think are pure genius or crap and you’ll generally get a divided room.

So what’s a new writer to do when writing a first novel? On the first draft of my first novel I followed the advice of Lin Oliver, co-founder of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The reason I did that was that I’d happened upon her workshop as my first ever and she talked about plot structure that day. She’d come from Hollywood (television) and had learned the 3 Act structure and that’s how she did it. A short time later I met the late Blake Snyder at Book Expo America. He was a third generation screenplay writer and author of Save the Cat. What a great guy. I really liked him. He was funny, nice, and he pitched random people at Starbucks on his ideas.

It was settled. I’d outline. I bought poster board and colored sticky notes. I stuck packets everywhere for my brilliant ideas. Scenes were all over my house in errant places for months. And in the end, I rewrote it all in the first rewrite and it didn’t represent the outline at all. Sigh.

When mentor and friend, and oh–Edgar winning YA novelist–Charlie Price told me how he wrote, I decided to try that. This is the E.L. Doctorow School of Writing. Charlie would say, “Just peer in the window at what’s happening in this scene.” I loved that! And, as an only child who used to plant recorders behind the couch at my parent’s cocktail parties starting at age 6, I had that voyeuristic streak anyway. It was a natural progression. If I just listened to my characters, they’d tell me what was happening.

That’s the approach I’m taking on my current novel. I have the outline in my head, of course, but I’m trusting the story. No poster board or sticky note scenes. It’s definitely more fun even if, as outline afficionados would have you believe, it takes me more time on the flip.

Follow your intuition and know this for sure–in writing, as in life, we are here to explore a diverse buffet of options. It’s how we grow. It’s how we discover. It’s how we create.

YA vs. NA: The New Adult Genre


We do like things in categories, don’t we? Especially when it comes to books, and where to shelf them in the bookstores.

Most writers I know don’t set out to write a particular genre. They have a story in them–one that won’t go away. This story, like a petulant child or annoying friend on Facebook, pokes at their brain until they can’t stand it anymore. They have to let it out.

This is how my stories come to be. I’m working on one now that I have avoided for 36 years. (Why, you ask? Because it involves a serial killer that was very real in my life and I really would rather not go down the road. But it’s very clear when it’s a story I’m meant to tell that I must tell it.)

My debut novel–not the serial killer one but the one before that–is called First Break. Again, a story I had to tell. The plot line goes like this: 17 year old girl from a small town moves to a big city to go to college and two weeks in starts hearing voices telling her to kill herself. (You know. Your average Rom-Com.) Paige finds herself in the vortex of a psychotic break and doesn’t know what’s happening, a coming of age story with a brain that’s in crisis.

When I started to write this story, I didn’t think, “What genre is this?” “Will it be a problem that she steps on a college campus?” I just knew this was a story that needed to come out. Poke, poke.

Because I’m a conference junkie, I’d listen to many editors, agents, and writers affirm my decision: “Don’t worry about the genre. Just tell the story.”

After I finished the 8,527th draft, and prepared to submit to agents, I started hearing this: “Love your writing. Show me anything else you do. Problem with this story is the protagonist steps on to a college campus. True, only for two weeks before she goes to the psychiatric hospital, but those two weeks just may take it out of young adult and then where would we put it?”

Really? But don’t we want our children to go to college campuses? Are we really sure they’re not reading? I mean, as an English major I had to read 10 books per class and still read for pleasure. I wasn’t buying it.

I had more than one agent ask me to rewrite it with her only on a high school campus, but because turning 18 is a key theme here, that seemed rather challenging.

I started calling it “Young Adult Crossover.” Not that it mattered.

And then guess what happened? More studies were done to suggest 18 – 25 year olds actually DO read books after all and maybe the market share had been wrongly calculated. Ha! Having one of my own–a transitional youth, that is–I knew this to be true. My son had friends. They definitely read for pleasure. And went to college.

Enter “New Adult,” the old YA Crossover. That’s what we’re calling it. I’m guessing there’ll be a spot for it soon in the bookstores if there isn’t already.

My fantabulous agent, Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary, explains it like this.

“New Adult” is this genre emerging for an age group that never previously had a voice because people didn’t think it would do well, and that is the college age to early 20’s bracket. (If you want to think of it another way, it is what “tween” books are to the gap between middle grade and young adult literature, but between young adult and adult fiction, usually women’s fiction.) It’s come to attention recently that there may be more of an audience for this genre than previously assumed. The big problem with trying to write that college and fresh out of college age range into literature before was that, even though they are technically “young adults,” they are not in high school. They are not living at home–they have an independence that sixteen-year-old readers can’t identify with, so editors didn’t quite know what to do with them. These books also deal with self-discovery and finding your place in the “real world” and identifying as a proper grown-up for the first time, which is really a little mature for proper teenagers and a little immature for 30, 40+-something readers. However, once people figured out that adults were actually buying a ton of YA literature, minds were opened to expanding the definition of who reads a genre a little more.

What this basically means for you, the writer, is that an editor or agent who sees your manuscript about a college freshman isn’t going to automatically reject it based on her age. Rather, they are going to consider it as a possible fit that can be pitched as “New Adult”. At the end of the day, it’s all about figuring where it’s going to sit in the bookstore.

Hallelujah! Now I have a name for both the stuff I like to read and the stuff I like to write. But it really doesn’t matter. The next story I have to tell will be the story it is no matter what. We can worry about making up a new genre later.