Friday, December 30, 2011

Do you Look Back or Forward?

2011 comes to an end and people always use this time to stop and ponder. I have a tendency to always look forward, but sometimes I think it's important to look back on what you've accomplished or been through the previous year. There were many huge life-changing moments for me in 2011, but I want to look at a few smaller ones as I plan towards 2012.

  1. I've never been an animal person (as I mentioned in a previous blog), but there I was at War Horse getting misty-eyed over a four-legged creature. Then the ASPCA commercials come on and the sad eyes are calling to me. I still don't think it's part of my resolution to run out and rescue a dog, but perhaps I'll be more caring when people speak of their own.
  2. Math has never been my strong suit. As a matter of fact - I hate it. Someday I'll write a book where a character needs to know much about it and can research out the waaa-zooo. But doing year-end accounting on everything surrounding my book has taught me I need to improve in this area. Resolve to start 2012 by keeping better records from the start of the year.
  3. For a planner, I'm shocked to admit there are things I just procrastinate on for one reason or another. I've been with my partner for over 11 years and if I were hit by a bus tomorrow - he'd still have no idea where certain things are located. Must create a spreadsheet for him with accounts/passwords/etc just so he knows all my secrets.
  4. I've often labeled myself as a selfish person (ask my sister: I've said it for years). Yet there are numerous instances of me giving to others that I guess I haven't considered when calling myself out on being selfish. I learned something this year: I'm not good at receiving. I prefer to give. Can I still say I'm selfish? This year I found giving does not always need to have a monetary amount attached to it. Paying-it-forward became a slogan for me as I continue to learn new things in the world of publishing/marketing/etc and I really plan to continue that into 2012. (Oh...and I'll also try to get better when people give to me and not be all weird about it.)
  5. 2011 was a year I discovered a new way at making friends. Social media. Some would say "those are not real people. They are not your friends." But I strongly disagree. I love the friends in my life, but those people on FB & twitter have become so very important to me as well with their encouragement and support. I really hope I can make that kind of difference to 'web strangers' as well as I look towards the new year.
  6. Balance. What a concept that has been in 2011. And one I must work on daily. Life must have it. Relationships need it to grow. And I have to continue to remind myself of it all the time so as not to become consumed by one thing. No promises I will master this in 2012, but will definitely try.

I don't want to create a long list of resolutions that I will simply not be able to get to, so instead I end with this. Be happy in 2012. Be healthy. Do something that makes you feel good. See a movie. Go to live theater. Read a book. Take a walk with a loved one. Live life and as politics and the economy throw curve balls at you, duck and attempt to not stress. We only get one go at this life. Why not enjoy!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holiday Travel

I just returned from a wonderful Christmas trip in Texas. It was a great visit filled with not only time spent with family and friends, but also a few book signings and speaking engagements thrown in. On this trip, a couple of things came to mind about travels and I just felt the need to share my list. Here they are in no particular order:

  1. What is up with that priority lane when boarding an aircraft? Is that piece of carpet really that wonderful that only first class and certain people can walk on it?
  2. For someone who has never had a love of animals - I found myself really drawn to my sister's small dog on this visit. Teaching this old 'dog' a new love.
  3. Some airports actually still have smoking lounges...and one man that walked out said "there is no need to even smoke in that room; just walk in and breathe." 
  4. People from middle school (yes, that's 30 years ago for myself) truly ROCK and can find you on Facebook and surprise you by attending book signings. So grateful.
  5. For those that say they don't like gays - I think they shouldn't be allowed to ask any male flight attendants on an airplane for anything. (You can deduct my reasoning on this one.)
  6. My body needs a warmer climate. I hated thinking of returning to a Jersey winter after spending a week in Texas.
  7. I have an amazing family and so many of them showed up at the library to listen to me talk for 45 minutes. Who would do that? (Thank you, family!)
  8. Free WiFi on when flying usually has fine print somewhere. In this case, 30 minutes meant all together - even if you logged off.
  9. Face time with your mother never seems to be enough time. So much going on during this trip, we didn't get our one-on-one. We'll hook up next in 5 months on a beach and we WILL get some alone time!
  10. I hope that everyone reading my blog enjoyed their holidays as much as I did. Cheers to the new year ahead!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Thankful Can't Begin to Explain the Feeling

In some ways, the past three weeks have been a blur and in others the most amazingly bright spot of my whole year in writing. To those that know I had a book released this year will find that statement hard to believe...and it is very difficult for a writer to chose between his children - but something truly wonderful has happened with Chicken Boy: The Amazing Adventures of a Super Hero with Autism that I never dreamed of happening.

This book is not even published and I have more people requesting it than have read my debut novel. The simplicity of the storytelling has touched so many. The need to share it with others to give a small insight into their own loved one with autism. The desire from people to get the book 'now' so they can begin to use it in classes. It has moved me beyond words.

I'm not sure MeeGenius knew what they had created when they envisioned this challenge. I'm sure to them it was a fun way to get people involved in choosing a children's book, but for me - it was an eye opener about the need of those very types of books for autism awareness. My own eyes have been opened in such a different way and no matter what happens going forward in this competition: I know this book must get into the hands of children across the country.

And I have so many people to thank. I've been calling them #TeamChickenBoy and they are a huge group of people that I wish I could thank each by name. I know there are so many that have created their own chain of the "telephone game" in getting others to vote for the story. Others have posted on every single autism/bullying/children's facebook page and forum you can think of. And still others have tweeted and reached far and wide to get this book seen all around the world (and I know that is true from where the comments have come from on the bottom page of the story). I can't tell you how grateful I am to each of you. I am so aware that it takes an army for any kind of success and from the bottom of my heart - I give thanks. And what success it has been! You all helped us climb that leader board until Chicken Boy took on a life of it's own - over 1900 votes in just three weeks!!

Though I have a background in children's theater I wasn't planning on writing a children's book at this point in my career. Natalie and I were just telling a story about her little brother. But the book was written, submitted to a few publishers and then I was told about this challenge...and off it went!

So on this final day of voting - I thank each and every one of you! Major players in the first round of this challenge. Major support in my life. And collectively, we ARE #TeamChickenBoy!


Monday, December 12, 2011

The God Complex

As one of my favorite shows comes to a close this season, the story line involving religion in Dexter this year really got me thinking. Religion plays a huge part in many people's lives. It can join people of like faith together and it can build walls between those that disagree. It can cause people to say they are acting in such a way due to their particular beliefs and others can use those beliefs to twist a message in the way they see fit.

I use themes of religion in my book Well With My Soul and some people have scoffed at the language used by some of the fervently religious characters I've created. Many people find it difficult to believe that someone listens so earnestly to what others say when they use the phrase "God told me to tell you..." - but as Dexter has proven: it happens. It happens when Jim Jones told people what 'God was telling him'. It happens when Lisa Ling recently did a documentary on faith healers on the OWN network. It happens when people are in dire need of something in their life and faith gets many, many people through tough times.

But it can also be used to by certain politicians and those in power to stir up emotions in people, to rally them together as some sort of battle cry. Religion is a powerful force that has been utilized throughout history for personal gain. My novel is but one story that shows how a man's ego can get in the way of God's message...and really be a message simply shared by man.

And when you get down to it, that can be true of so many different people who use God's name to get something accomplished - something they want to see happen. Because how many of us can claim to know for certain what God's plan is if we're only human? I for one know I falter and can't even pretend to tell you what God wants in your life. 

I'm doing good enough working on my own.       

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Home Stretch

As we head into the final week of voting for the MeeGenuis Author Challenge, many things come to mind: 

  1. How amazing people have been - both friends and strangers - in becoming a huge, much-needed part of #TeamChickenBoy.
  2. How wonderful it has been for my friend Donna as Gabe's classmates and other parents rallied around this book about autism in a way we never saw coming. His school and the people in Nutley are excited to know Radcliffe Elementary would benefit from a library of books (not to mention just how pleased they are over a book based on Gabe potentially being published).
  3. How healthy competition can be a good thing (even when we sometimes question how others jump 400 votes over only makes you work harder).
  4. How ironic it was that when Donna and Gabe read the story, the one word he faltered on was 'autism'.
  5. How much I've enjoyed thinking about my roots of writing for children.
  6. How exciting it has been for Natalie as a 14 year old to know about her part in putting this story together and to watch her working online, sharing the link with others so they can vote.
  7. How I've always thought of autism because of my godson, but never really 'thought' about making others aware. We go out in public and I see how people react to him - but I've never really considered what part each person can play in teaching awareness to others to not be fearful of an outburst. The noises made. The flapping of arms. There is nothing to be scared of with these precious children. 
  8. How much I'd love to see this book published so that all those people that have written such moving comments on the wall get a chance to read it and share it with others.
Thank you, all, for voting for this book. I can't say thank you enough. And please continue to share it with others this last week of voting! 

As Chicken Boy says "Bahcaaaaah!" 

One of my first children's musicals

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Is Diversity Still Good?

Diversity is a really great thing.

It fills my writing. It encompasses my group of friends. I love that people have different opinions about different subjects - when they can talk rationally about it and not get into finger pointing.

But sometimes, it is hard. Hard to keep your mouth closed (even when you may go against the grain of popular opinion). Those that follow this blog know I write about numerous topics and sometimes have a different take on something. Lately, I find myself feeling that way over some videos hitting the news.

I'm Christian, but I have friends of all different faiths. Rick Perry's new video truly riled me up, but not for the reason people assume. Yes, he blatantly called out gays in the military in his new 'strong' video, but it was what he wasn't saying that got to me. I think it takes a certain kind of person that can lead a varied group of people; no matter what their beliefs may be. This man doesn't appear to be "For the People, by the people" - but instead "for the people who believe as I believe and celebrate the same religion that I do." (Again, notice I said I'm Christian...what he proclaims to be as well.) This video feels so obviously slanted towards Christians only and leaves out any other religion in this country (that he wants to preside over). That truly makes me nervous when a president would not be able to separate their religious beliefs from the way they would govern.   

On the flip side of the aisle is another video that really got to me. The one with Michelle Bachmann and the little boy. (Over 3 million hits on youtube) So many people rallied and lifted this boy up as some sort of gay activist and I've stayed quiet and not commented on the numerous posts I've seen on Facebook and the web. I saw him as a child that did not want to speak up and was pushed into speaking by his mother. Do I agree with the message? Absolutely. Do I agree with the way it was delivered? Not at all. 

Diversity means being able to say the unpopular thing even in the middle of our own community, political party or religion. And just as people that agree with these videos have rights to speak out, so do those that find fault in them. It's what has always made our country such a great place to live. But the more diverse we become as a nation, the more it feels as if the threads are being pulled out of old glory until nothing will be left.

Diversity is a great thing.

If people know how to coexist among that diversity.


Monday, December 5, 2011

One Child: One Project Can Change a Life

Something has happened to me the past week that I did not expect. 

When I entered a contest to get my children's book published, I thought it was sort of cool - but I also knew I was busy promoting my novel and I never thought I'd have the time to devote to this story. Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to make it seem as if I didn't care about it - because I always did. It was something my young friend Natalie and I believed in and we both have a huge love for her little brother. Gabe was the entire reason we wrote the story. Watching him, interacting with him, seeing how people react to him when we're out in public: autism awareness became even larger to me than it has been the ten years that little boy has been in my life. (About 8 of those with him being diagnosed.)

But then the MeeGenius Challenge started and I did what I knew to do: tell people on facebook and twitter about it. And then more and more people told their friends. And comments were being added to the bottom of the page where the story resides and I saw how this small story was affecting people...and it's not even a published book! I found by writing to my own friends how many of them know someone with autism or how it has affected them personally. And then it started to consume me. Not my need to win. My need to share this story. To get more people to know about it so they could vote and this book could get published - being available for other kids to know not to fear children with autism.

I've met more and more autism groups and individual people that are touched by it daily and have corresponded with them online. My friends and family are posting it with teachers and autism forums and my godson's mother checks the list all the time to see how the book is doing (I call them all #TeamChickenBoy) and suddenly -  I realize the book must have a life well beyond this contest.

I wanted to blog now because I need my friends and facebook/twitter followers to understand if I come across pushy and sound like a broken record. It's not the same as Greg attempting to get people to buy his book. This is not about buying my book. This is about voting (clicking on a link) to make this story available to children down the road. Allowing it to get to the point that MeeGenius will see they must publish this story so that children and parents will be able to BUY the book and will read it for years to come; learning about autism from the point of view of a little boy who lives with it every day. And like those children that get one thing in their mind and begin to 'script' by saying it over and over...that's what I'm doing as I ask people to read the story and vote. 

I hope beyond hope we are chosen for the next round of finals and the book will be illustrated. And if that happens: please forgive me now when there are three weeks that I will eat/sleep/breathe Chicken Boy: The Amazing Adventures of a Super Hero With Autism to do all that I can to get the book published. And I know that #TeamChickenBoy feel the exact same way and I appreciate each and everyone of you for all you are doing now...and will do then if needed. :-)

I started this saying something has happened to me. I realize this book/this process is so not about me. It is way larger than anything I could ever do. But it's been an amazing feeling that I've not known previously in my writing, directing, producing or acting life: and I'm so very honored to be experiencing it! 

I end with some wonderful comments coming in from people about the bok: some I know and some that are strangers. If you haven't clicked on the link yet to vote: I really ask that you will.

  1. "I'm an avid reader & researcher of autism and never have I been moved to tears. Never has a children's book touched me so profoundly or clearly explained the very special mind of autism. " - Kentucky
  2. "This gives me a new glimpse into the young man who sits in front of me every Sunday in church. I know I will smile a different smile when I see him this next time because of the insights your story tells." - Texas
  3. "Thanks for creating a story that will help lesson the fear of someone that may be different." - New York
  4. "My 3 year old son was confirmed as being on the Autism Spectrum 2 weeks ago...he too was catching raindrops on his tongue today!" - London
  5. "For all the little Chicken Boys out there...I have 2 chicken boys in my life that I love with all my heart!" - New Jersey

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Movies Bring Back The Past

Last night I finally got around to seeing the movie Super 8 that so many people have talked about...and I'm so glad that I stayed up to watch it. Not only was I reminded of the great Spielberg movies  (ET, Close Encounters, Goonies) that I loved as a kid (obviously nodded towards with this film) - but I also thought the look of the film mixed with the acting of (especially) the two lead kids was wonderful! (And a great score used at the end!)

I was also taken back to my own childhood. There are many movies out there that capture the joy of being a tween, but this one hit it for me. That feeling of young blooming love. The unwavering friendships you create where you'll do anything for them. And in this case - a gang of creative kids making a movie! Completely made me think of directing the neighborhood kids in my own backyard plays. Early in the movie, the dad says he doesn't want his son wasting his summer doing 'the movie' with his friends. That line hit me and made me be so thankful for my parents. Not once growing up did they ever stifle any creativity I had. I was so lucky to be brought up how I was with parents who believed I could do anything! I thank my mom (and dad in heaven) for bringing me up the way they did. I know that had everything to do with me going for all that I do as an adult with such gusto. 

And for those friends I had as a kid? Many of them are still part of my life thanks to the internet and Facebook and are still doing things for each other even as adults. And that 'young blooming love' ... she's still in my life too and we travel with our spouses all over the world having adventures as adults that we could only dream of as a kid. 

Now how is that for 'super'??

Friday, December 2, 2011

Children's Books Aren't JUST for Children

Many reading this blog do not know of my background in children's theater. I basically got my start doing theater 'for children by children'. I wrote and directed musicals in high school for a group in Texas. I moved to New York and worked with a local children's theater company in New Jersey (both performing and writing music for their shows). And I even got my equity card touring in a children's show that brought well known children's books to life. I think I've always been a grown-up kid and can still enjoy a well told story geared for the young at heart.    

It's wonderful when you meet someone of a like mind that simply cannot be placed into one genre of writing. Arthur Wooten has been doing that for years: everything from novels to plays and now his first children's book. But this book has a long journey.  

"William was first created as a children's book twenty years ago," Wooten told me. "But Hollywood found it and optioned it both as an animated feature and a television series. When neither paths materialized the project was put away until just recently. Now, I'm determined to give it the life it deserves and in the medium it was first intended."

Lucky for readers that Wooten has dusted it off and brought it back to life!

I often tell him he and I seem to have been on very similar paths in our lives moving to NYC as actors and both writing in multiple genres - only I remind him he's further ahead on the path in both age and volume of published books. (See, I'm a snotty kid at heart!)

I was very honored to be able to see an early copy of his book and I'm thrilled to recommend it to all reading my blog. Wise Bear William: A New Beginning is a beautifully illustrated children's book with an even more appealing message. William's name says it all as he gives sage advice to the other toys in the attic - eagerly awaiting to be 'chosen' by children. This story of patience, understanding, a giving spirit, and friendship may be told for the ears of a child, but Wooten has made it a lesson for all to hear. Taken at face value - it is a children's story that is perfect for people to buy as a holiday gift (and I do recommend to grab them up for those under-the-tree-gifts). But I can't help analyze beyond and see dynamics that can be found in circles of friends of many ages.

Wooten has created a vividly imaginative world of talking toys that transports us to another time and place with the luscious illustrations by Bud Santora. I absolutely love that this man that can deliver novels meant strictly for adult eyes can locate his inner child and craft a world of wonder for all to enjoy. (Classification of writers be gone!)  

I hope this 'new beginning' is the start of a wonderful series of adventures for Wise Bear and his friends. You can get more information on the book at Arthur's website or ordering online at createspace marketplace and will be on Amazon and in stores soon!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How Long Will it Take?

It's 2011 and the world is still dealing with HIV and AIDS. Decades have come and gone where doctors and scientist were certain they would have found a cure, yet it hasn't happened. People have gotten to the point of making it a manageable disease and can live with it - but others still die from it. Not everyone can afford the cocktail drugs used to stay alive. Not every country makes it a priority. And not everyone thinks about it. Yet on this day, this World AIDS Day - the news will bring it up again and people will be reminded it's still a part of the fabric of our lives.

It's been on my mind much lately and not just for this day. As an indie writer who has not only written my own book that deals with the 80s and 90s when the epidemic was at the onset, but as a reader it has shown itself in many books. Rick R. Reed has written a moving love story Caregiver where AIDS plays a prominent role in the story set in the 90s.  I'm currently midway through reading author Kergan Edwards-Stout who has chosen that same period for his book Songs for the New Depression which vividly details what people were going through in the early days of AIDS. I've yet to read his book yet, but Don Carrel (another author I've met on twitter) has written about his own dealing with the disease for over 30 years now as he works to educate everyone about it in My Dream to Trample AIDS

It excites me that while none of the writers knew the other was writing about this period in history, the stories were being told for a new generation who may be removed from that 'not-so-distant' past. Reminding people where we have come from in this epidemic. Allowing others of a certain age to relive it once again. And that is not a bad thing. People should be reminded of it from then as well as now. It's not over. A cure has not been found. But we have certainly been able to get to a place of living with and not only dying from.

To commemorate this day, I encourage people to remember those lost. Read one of the books mentioned here or another one you find. Watch a movie such as And The Band Played On or Long Time Companion. Celebrate those that are gone and cherish those that have a constant reminder of it in the form of daily medication. And think about what each of us can still do to be sure it never leaves the minds of those who are working towards awareness, treatment, and a cure. 

I still pray we will see it in this lifetime.