Reflections on Another Year in the Life of a Wannabe Writer

I worked hard this year. There’s no doubt about it. I read a lot. I wrote a lot. I networked and made new friends. I learned a lot about writing. I wrote my second novel – a novel that I truly believe might be The One. The One that might get me an agent and just might get me published.

When I wrote my first novel, it was almost like I was writing it at a distance. I think it turned out okay, but not fabulous. I’ve stopped sending that one out to agents. But this novel? This one was different. It feels different. I become much more emotionally attached to the characters, which was exhilarating and exhausting. Mostly, it was wonderful. I feel like found my “voice” when writing this novel. If my friends read the novel, they might say it sounds like something I wrote, but I hope they would also say it sounds like it was written by a cocky, twenty-something major league baseball player. It’s written in the first person, so that’s what it’s supposed sound like. For the most part, I think I succeeded. Henry Vaughn, Jr. and I shared a brain and heart for several months, and it was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. I’ve found that, for me, writing a novel was a much more intense experience than writing a screenplay.

Unfortunately, no one has read the novel, despite my requests. People have started it, but got “too busy” and didn’t finish it. Is that because the novel is no good? I hope not. I guess I’ll never know. My husband, who hasn’t read a book in the entire time I’ve known him (12 years), got about halfway through, but has stalled. I’ve given up that he will eventually finish it.

I know people are busy. They’ve got their own lives to lead. But these are my friends and my family. And it’s taking them longer to read the book than it took me to write it. That saddens me, but I have to let that go. I understand that completing this novel can never mean to other people what it means to me. Still, I wanted to share it with others, but nobody seems to have the time. I find this frustrating, because I know that if someone entrusted me with a work of art – something they produced from their heart – I would set aside time and have it read within a week or two. No matter how busy I was. 

This is my favorite thing that I’ve even written, and we’re talking about 16 + years of writing. It’s based on my favorite screenplay. Unfortunately, for now, it’s going to have to remain something that only makes sense to me. A bunch of lines, jokes, and songs that have “inside” meaning only to me, despite my efforts to share them with others.

The final step for completing this novel is for me to read it out loud. I’m kind of looking forward to that step. It will be just me and my guys, my characters, telling our story one last time before we release it out into the world in the form of query letters to agents. I really believe in this story in a way that I never have before and, since it’s in novel form instead of a screenplay, I believe this time I have an actual shot at success.

I wrote screenplays for 14 years (had two options with production companies out inL.A.and one script was a Finalist in a national contest. I actually got further with my scripts than I ever thought possible, especially considering I live on the East Coast). I’ve always known that the odds a publishing a novel, while still slim, are far, far greater than those of selling a screenplay, but I’ve put off writing novels all these years because I just didn’t think writing a novel would be the same for me. My passion is for screenwriting. Always has been. At the age of 19, when I first began screenwriting, I always feared that I really had very little chance of selling a screenplay both because I lived outside of L.A. and simply because the odds are just terrible. Still, I plugged away for many years, doing the work that I loved. Now, at the age of 36, I have begun to think that 19-year-old me was right all along. It truly is next to impossible to sell a screenplay.

So, not wanting to give up altogether, I wrote my first novel in 2009. I found that I liked novel writing.

In 2011, I wrote my second novel. And found that I LOVED novel writing. It was not just “as good” as screenwriting. It was better. I never, ever thought I could be as passionate about anything as I was about screenwriting. But I am. I love novel writing MORE.

As 2011 draws to a close, I’ve come to the conclusion that I may very well never write another screenplay again. This may not seem like a big deal, but this is 14 years of my life we’re talking about. It’s been a tough decision, but I’m finding that I am feeling an enormous sense of relief in it. I’m relieved at no longer having to try to keep up with what’s going on inHollywood, no longer worrying about how it’s nearly impossible to network with people while I’m on the other side of the country. I think I’ve always had a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach that this could never really happen, the feeling that I’ve always known that selling a screenplay was nearly impossible.

Novel writing is different. It feels different. It feels like it really could happen. Maybe I won’t be a New York Times bestseller, but with enough perseverance and hard work, publishing a book is within the realm of possibility.

If I loved screenwriting more, I would stick with it, damn the odds. But I don’t. Novel writing seems more freeing, more “writerly” and less like a blueprint like scriptwriting was. It was more intense, more fun, more exhilarating. Like the difference between liking someone and loving someone. You don’t understand until you’ve felt both. Novel writing, where have you been all my life??

I’m excited about the future. I can’t wait to see what 2012 holds. Maybe I will get an agent. Maybe this will really happen. And if me and my characters have to face the future alone, then that’s what we’ll do. Maybe my future agent will be the first one to actually read the novel all the way through. Everybody else had their chance to get in on the ground floor.

Maybe people will have time to read my book if it’s on the shelves at Barnes and Noble.

Hey, it could happen!

Until then, it’s okay if it’s just me, Henry, Thomas, and Alice on this journey. We’ve made it this far together. Let’s see what the future holds for us.

 

Advice for the Beginning Actor Part 8 – Should You Accept Extra / Background Roles?

Special thanks to the actors who have taken time out of their busy schedules to graciously provide advice for new actors for Wannabe Pride, including Regen Wilson, Chris Pentzell, David DeBoy, Ken Arnold, Mercedes Rose, Gabriel Voss, Brittany Baratz, Laura Hunter, Lance Carter, Stephon Fuller, andRachel F. Hirsh.

“In the beginning I accepted most any kind of role. But after the first 15 years in the business I learned all I could as an extra. Now I’m focused on learning all I can in the speaking roles. 30-some years in the business and I’m still learning.” – David Deboy (email) (website)

 “I don’t.”   -Regen Wilson (website)

“I was more willing to do it before I was eligible to join SAG.  Since then, I won’t do it.  Not that there’s anything wrong with it but, as I see it, it probably won’t lead to anything substantial so it’s largely about the money.  But my day job (private tutoring) is more lucrative and less time-consuming so I’d rather do that.” – Chris Pentzell (email)

“When starting out as an actor these are great jobs to take. It’s like a film school and acting class all rolled into one. And they pay you for it!  But you have to pay attention when you get on set. Don’t just go to socialize and miss the opportunity to learn. I have had the opportunity to watch Steven Spielberg direct, Ben Kingsley go through his process, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, and many more. And I watched closely. How they handled themselves, what they were doing, how they stood, how they carried themselves etc. It’s an amazing learning opportunity but…there comes a time when you need to walk away from that and have the desire to be the one on camera speaking. The focus of a scene. But if you keep doing extra roles casting directors think of you as just that. And you miss a lot of auditions/opportunities because you are doing extra work.” – Ken Arnold ( STUDIO BOH)

“I got my start as “background”. I think it is just that- a great place to start. Being a n extra is a fantastic way to get to know how a set works, the industry terms, the players, etc. But if you want to eventually do speaking roles you have to eventually step out of the shadows and stop doing the background stuff. And anyone who thinks be an extra is a good way to “get discovered” need a dose of reality. No one looks at the background. Literally.”  –  Mercedes Rose (Imdb)  (website)

“They do not advance your acting career but it is a good way to get on big budget sets and see how things work. It’s also a way to make money and you can’t knock that.” – Gabriel Voss (website, imdb, facebook, twitter)

“I think it is a great way to gain experience on a set and an easy way to earn cash and a free meal. I will work background a few times a year if I’m available.” – Brittany Baratz (website, twitter, Knuffle Bunny National Tour)

“Oh, people will tell you all sorts of things about this. I think its a great way to get a feel for how a set is run, and to learn your way around a new city. I’ve done it in both NY and LA a couple of times. I wouldn’t make it a frequent thing, but its not going to kill your career. In fact, I can think of at least 3 people off the top of my head who got “their break” from doing background work. So, you never know. People will give you lots of advice about lots of things, 99% of them have no idea what they are talking about. Do what works for you. If you need extra money and want to take a background job, do it.”  Laura Hunter (email, website, twitter, facebook, youtube, contributor to NonSociety.com)

 “If you don’t live in NYC or LA, I think it’s fine. You can meet a lot of people in your area with the same interests and network. That’s what happened when I did it back in DC. In LA and NYC, I think it’s fine if you need some quick money but I wouldn’t do it on a regular basis.” – Lance Carter website, twitter, Facebook)

“I don’t currently do background roles, but I’ve done a lot in the past and it was a great learning experience while earning a check.”- Stephon Fuller (twitter, blog, website)

Advice for Beginning Actors Part 7: What is Your Dream Role?

Special thanks to the actors who have taken time out of their busy schedules to graciously provide advice for new actors for Wannabe Pride, including Regen Wilson, Chris Pentzell, David DeBoy, Ken Arnold, Mercedes Rose, Gabriel Voss, Brittany Baratz, Laura Hunter, Lance Carter, Stephon Fuller, and Rachel F. Hirsch.

WHAT IS YOUR DREAM ROLE?

“I dream of playing the father of the star on a sit-com. Steady work, not too many lines to learn, you get your laughs in front of a live audience and make good money doing it. It’s as close to a 9-5 job as you can get as an actor!” – David Deboy (email) (website)

 “The one that pays well enough to allow me the freedom to pursue other dream roles without having to worry about what they pay.”     -Regen Wilson (website)

“I know it’s cliche, but I would love to be in a Woody Allen movie.” – Chris Pentzell (email)

 “Wow. There are many roles I would love to play. A James Bond type or Jason Bourne could be fun. Anything in a JJ Abrams project. Anything opposite Tom Hanks or Diane Lane.” – Ken Arnold ( STUDIO BOH)

“I intend to someday star in a pop culture phenomenon. Something that people talk about for generations. Ya gotta have a goal.”             –  Mercedes Rose (Imdb)  (website)

“Daniel Craig’s James Bond or Jason Bourne – badasses with emotion and intellect. That said, I’m set to star in an indie film shooting in Maryland in 2012 that has one of the most original and thought-provoking story concepts I’ve seen. It’s as groundbreaking as Saw or Fight Club.”  – Gabriel Voss (website, imdb, facebook, twitter)

“My dream role is Christine in Phantom of the Opera. I first saw it on Broadway when I was 13, and it has remained my favorite musical.” – Brittany Baratz (website, twitter, Knuffle Bunny National Tour)

 For theater, basically anything Ibsen or Chekhov is a dream role in my eyes. In film or television, I’m sure its something that no one has thought of yet. My dream would be to play a really strong female role in a television series, and to work with good people that I love. Its funny, though, I’m doing a play in a couple of weeks that was written by one of my best friends from high school. She just moved to LA and is already getting great attention as a playwright. For us to be able to come together, after both moving to LA from a small town in Virginia, and work on something artistically… that feels like a dream role, too, in a way.”Laura Hunter (email, website, twitter, facebook, youtube, contributor to NonSociety.com)

“I don’t really have a ‘dream’ role. I just like/want to play people who either challenge me or make the audience laugh.” – Lance Carter website, twitter, Facebook)

“My dream role doesn’t necessarily exist yet. It lives in the mind of some young composer carving out a name for herself just like me. I want to be part of the creative process. My dream is to be known as the girl who originates roles on Broadway (or workshops and readings all over the country)!” – Rachel F. Hirsch twitter, website, acting website, website)

“There are too many things I still aspire to do to have a single dream role.  I look forward to many more commercial, TV/Film, stage roles, etc.  There is so much I wanna do.  I like to be a rock star, infantry man, father, dancer, inmate, comic, etc.” – Stephon Fuller (twitter, blog, website)

Advice for Beginning Actors – Part 6 – Do you have to live in New York or Los Angeles?

Special thanks to the actors who have taken time out of their busy schedules to graciously provide advice for new actors for Wannabe Pride, including Regen Wilson, Chris Pentzell, David DeBoy, Ken Arnold, Mercedes Rose, Gabriel Voss, Brittany Baratz, Laura Hunter, Lance Carter, Stephon Fuller, and Rachel F. Hirsch.

Do you think it is vital to live in New York and/or Los Angeles to make it as an actor?

I think it’s vital to live in NYC or L.A. if you want to be a STAR. If you want to be a working actor, you can do that most anywhere. So you need to figure what “making it” means to you. I don’t need to be famous. But I do want to be respected for the work I do. – David Deboy (email) (website)

No, but it can help.  However, the Baltimore-Washington, DC, area is probably the third-best place to be an actor, which is something very few people know.  In addition to the films and television shows which visit, there’s also a significant amount of commercials.  When you also consider DC is the documentary capital of the country as well as home to dozens of government agencies and contractors shooting industrials AND the third-largest regional theatre market in the U.S…you can see the opportunity for growth here.  And since there’s less competition than LA or NY there’s also more work to be had.  Whether it PAYS as well is another matter entirely due to the fact that casting directors are used to having a glut of perfectly acceptable non-union talent so why pay union scale wages?

 – Regen Wilson (website)

It depends on what “making it” is to you.  I know a lot of actors who have moved away from LA to a decent sized city (e.g. Spokane, WA or Austin, TX) and they suddenly found themselves with more auditions and, more importantly, more actual work.- Chris Pentzell (email)

No. It is becoming easier to just send in auditions via the internet. The last 3 big roles I’ve gotten have all been sent via email/casting web sites auditions. Obviously there is more opportunity in those markets and it helps to be there if needed quickly but is it an absolute. No. You can be an actor anywhere. – Ken Arnold ( STUDIO BOH)

Well, since I do NOT live in either of those places I would say I think…no. I have made a very nice little living for myself not living in a large market. Do I think it is easier to do it in NYC or LA? Sure. Maybe. I like being a medium size fish in a small bowl.-  Mercedes Rose (Imdb)  (website)

Yes. While there is a lot of really good work in markets outside NY and LA, living in LA, I can now see that casting directors here never look outside the city for talent. Since the biggest roles in the biggest stuff is cast from here, you can only go so far elsewhere. – Gabriel Voss (website, imdb, facebook, twitter)

If you want to make acting your full-time career, then you need to be where the action is. New York and LA are not the only vibrant acting communities. You can also check out Washington, D.C./Baltimore/Philly, or Chicago. New York and LA have the highest concentration of opportunities. It can make it easier to find work, but there are also more people looking for work. I think you’ve “made it” if you are creating art and happy. You could do that in a community theater or with a student film.- Brittany Baratz (website, twitter, Knuffle Bunny National Tour)

– I think everyone needs to define “success” for themselves. It depends on the level you want to reach. If you want to be on television, your best shot is living in LA. Shows shoot all over the place, but most lead roles are still cast here. If you want to be on Broadway, you need to be in New York for the same reason. You can work occasionally as an actor in other markets, but I don’t think you can make a living doing it. I’ve lived in both New York and LA, I went to NYU Tisch for college to train as an actor and then moved to LA to pursue my film/tv career.- Laura Hunter (email, website, twitter, facebook, youtube, contributor to NonSociety.com)

 Not at all. I got my start in the Baltimore/Washington. I was working there non-stop, making some good money. More than I am now actually living in LA. As long as you know (or don’t want to get famous), you’ll be fine. I know plenty of actors all around the country who make their living acting. – Lance Carter website, twitter, Facebook)

The instability. My husband and I have the hardest time planning our life because I never know when some amazing opportunity might come up. You have to be willing to completely change directions at a moments notice. 

Absolutely not. It’s all about what your goals are. Yes, if you want to be on Broadway then New York is the place for you. And if you want to be a movie or sitcom star than most likely you need to be in LA. But if what you want is to be a professional actor you just need to find a town that has a few professional theater companies. With a little research you’ll find that there are plenty of options.

            I started my professional acting career in Birmingham, AL. My goal is Broadway, so the move to New York was important. But I still know many incredibly talented people who stayed and have constant work because of it. (Believe it or not, you sometimes avail yourself to more work opportunities in a smaller environment because their are fewer actors). – Rachel F. Hirsch twitter, website, acting website, website)

Professionally?  To qualify for P&H consistently over the course of a career?  Yes, for the most part.  There are exceptions of course.
Stephon Fuller (twitter, blog, website)