Books, BBQs and ACTRA Con

After finishing a new first draft of Prophecy as the first book in a trilogy, I spent last Monday reading it with a notebook to keep track of things. I find it really useful to write down any important information I reveal about characters (eye color, likes and dislikes, dates, etc.) or the story, so that I don’t contradict myself. It is especially useful when you are writing more than one book in the same universe. In addition to facts, I make myself a list of things that need to be changed or added. This can be for mistakes (if I wrote that she was 12 a decade ago, then say she is 26, I have some math that needs fixing), creative decisions (removing a character, changing their name) or missing information (not enough background on a character, they come out of nowhere, she suddenly has a car that wasn’t there in the last scene…). I do this chapter by chapter, then add notes in previous or later chapters (mention x before they meet her, bring up y so we know she hasn’t forgotten him). Sometimes I’ll just write questions, like “Did she know this?”, “Who is Spencer?”, “Why did he do that?”, so I know I need to figure that out before I write the next draft.

Once I have answered all of the questions and figured out where everything goes, that is when I’ll start the next draft. Right now I am also waiting on my Alpha Reader (my mom), to let me know what she thinks about the story and the characters, so I know if everything is coming across like I want it to, and if the story is interesting for people who are not me. In the meantime, I am working on the novellas, character backstories and some compulsive planning, because that’s how I roll.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday I did background, each of them an awesome experience. I was referred to as ‘our hero’ on one set, booked as SSE and learnt a whole lot on the next one, and wrapped within 2 hours on Friday.

I only went to Jiu-Jitsu twice, which sucks, but was also the smarter thing to do. On Thursday I did some Brand Ambassador work on a van, which was a lot of fun, but I sort of fell through the cracks in the early morning. I was praised for my acrobatic abilities in catching myself and preventing what could have been a lot more damage, but I still ended up very bruised with a slice of skin missing (a very thin, small one, don’t worry). I probably still would have gone, but my foot was swollen and gently brushing three-quarters of my legs brought pain, so I decided to wait until the swelling went down to go back to class.

On Saturday I attended the Fall Member’s Conference with ACTRA, which is an awesome opportunity to learn valuable information while mingling with old friends and new acquaintances who share your interests. The day started off with a screening of some TiP projects, which are low-budget, ACTRA-approved films like Get-together and Touched. These are both in post-production stages and waiting to go through the festival circuit, but I would absolutely love to have them screen at ACTRA once they’ve made their way around. It was really inspiring to see what you can accomplish when you get a bunch of actors together.

Next I went to the TAWC (Toronto ACTRA Women’s Committee) Page-to-Pitch Session, where we had industry leaders share how they got their projects off the ground before 3 brave souls went up and pitched us their ideas. It was really interesting to hear these new ideas and then get the feedback that the experts provided, which was sometimes a question I was asking myself, but other times something I completely missed because I don’t get pitched to all the time and just heard the awesomeness of the ideas.

Next, we had lunch, where I caught up with some friends and slightly kidnapped a baby. I had the mother’s permission, but I also claimed her for the next 20 minutes or so, as she tried to devour my hair and my shoulder. It is moments like this (and when the childcare workers bring a baby to the door of our classroom so a mother can breastfeed and not miss anything) that make me realize how incredible and badass mothers are. They get it all done. Everything that I have to do, plus a million other things because they have tiny humans that depend on them for everything. They’re superheroes.

After lunch we attended the plenary session to find out what’s going with ACTRA this year, then I went for round 2 of Page-to-Pitch. This time, 10 ‘presenters’ went to another room with the executives and they pitched in private (with the knowledge and comments from this morning) while we got a presentation on being an entrepreneur, an often overlooked facet of our industry, and figuring out how to analyze your idea and build on it, how to network, etc. Very interesting.

At the end, both groups merged and we got comments and a Q & A session with the executives who went off to hear the pitches.

I learned a lot from these sessions, including the fact that I don’t think I want to be a showrunner. Or write a TV series. At least not for now. I loved the ideas and information and tried to transfer it for books, but I am no Mindy Kaling. Even when I produce a short film, I need to no longer be in charge while I do the acting part. Ideally, I would like to write a book series while acting in a TV series. And producing films with amazing people. Wouldn’t that be perfect?

There was a wine and cheese thing to finish off the conference, so I met a few new friends and said goodbye to my people before heading home for date night. After supper, we watched Murder Mystery, which was filmed in Montreal so I got to see some of my Montreal friends. I enjoyed it, but possible spoiler alert, I went in knowing Gemma Arterton is not 4 years younger than me.

On Sunday I did a few hours of ultrasounds then went to a Barbecue. There was delicious food, excellent company, we watched some of the Emmys, and I got a beautiful notebook from Venice to write some stories in.

 

“Treat your family like friends, and your friends like family.”

It’s a Good Thing

I am loving the pictures everyone is sending me as you receive your copies of Shards of Glass. It really means a lot to me. You guys are the bomb!

I spent any free time this week plotting out my trilogy, writing it, and doing research. People on set think I’m weird, but every time they’re setting up a shot I take out my notebook and write a character description or figure out some backstory.

Whenever I’m in the car, I listen to self-publishing podcasts. While some are informative, most are inspirational. One of them discussed the one thing that sets successful authors/book launches apart. It wasn’t having a huge list, an amazing book, the best cover or any of the things you would think. You could find an exception to every one of those. According to Tim Grahl, “In a successful launch, the author believes that buying their book is actually a good thing for people to do.” Basically, you need to believe that your book is worth buying. It sounds simple, but I recognized myself when he said that some authors see someone buying a copy of their book as doing them a favor. I am so grateful for every one of you who has purchased a copy of my book. Who downloaded a free copy. Who shared my post. Who commented to congratulate me. Who liked it. It’s not that I don’t think my book is good. I poured my heart and soul into it. I just couldn’t imagine people spending their money to read what I wrote. And how can I expect anyone to do that when I treat my book like something they buy for me rather than for themselves?

It goes back to my self-confidence/self-worth issues that I work so hard to get past. I guess this was my first writing venture, so I had to overcome it in this aspect of my life as well. I’m not saying I’m cured, but being aware of it makes a huge difference. And you feel less sales-pitchy when your mindset is “I wrote this awesome book I’m really proud of and I think you would like it” instead of “please do me a favor and buy this book I wrote so other people can know it’s out there”. My marketing was based on people’s relationship to me rather than what the book is about, which is definitely not the way to go.

What does this mean for you? Hopefully less annoying posts from me 😉 I really, truly appreciate every single person who is encouraging me. More than you could possibly know. But I don’t want you to feel like you have to read my book because I wrote it. If it sounds interesting or you want to check it out, please do. It means the world to me. But if fiction or young adult novels are not your thing, there are a million other ways to support indie authors: Like and comment on my posts. Share them with the people you think would actually enjoy the book. Tell people about it.

Acting-wise, one project we were working on has been pushed to the spring, but I’ve been on a few sets for background. One of them was really small and I got to have conversations with the director, who was awesome. He treated everyone with respect, whether you were background or the main actors, and wasn’t above standing in for his actors or spraying wheels with WD-40 so they would stop squeaking. It was also for a Christmas Movie, which is up there on my Bucket List.

“The fundamental difference between someone you trust and someone you don’t is your belief in whether or not they are looking out for your best interest above their own.”

-Tim Grahl

WRAMPS

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of work opportunities, family and writing. There were ups and downs, but overall I am so excited for what I hope is to come.

I have a list of priorities, that I tried to find an acronym for. I eventually ended up with WRAMPS, so that is how I am going to break down this Blog Post.

Writing

As you may have read in my last post, I’m in the thick of the 4th draft of a book I started in 2003. I realized it was partially written by a 13-year-old and I was trying too hard to stay true to that story. So I decided to rewrite it. Instead of starting with a blank word document (which I would have copied and pasted most of the original draft into), I started with a blank notebook. This way I have to rewrite everything and think about my words instead of settling for what was there. I am on my second notebook, and I think the story is definitely getting better as I go along. And I am catching so many bad writing habits that I have, words I like to use way too often.

I am hoping to publish in August, which is possibly overly ambitious (my friend was very convincing when he suggested 6 months, but I’m a little hard-headed). Either way, please sign up for my newsletter. I am aiming to put out one a month or so, and I’ll try to make them interesting 😉

Writing isn’t first because it’s my top priority, this is just how the letters scrambled into a word. However, I make lists and goals and schedule things all the time, and I’m always excited at the possibilities. This is the first time that one of these plans, my writing plan, has given me purpose, and felt 100% achievable.

Relationships

This includes the romantic variety (like date nights, hand-holding and John Wick watching), but also family, which means a busy trip back to Montreal. I went hiking with my mom, hung out with my parents, spent some time with my grandparents, ran around with my nieces, had brunch with my cousin and got a ton of writing & publishing advice for my friend, who happens to be a published author.

 

Acting

This is where I had most of the ups and downs. Basically one down and a lot of ups.

My agent removed me from her roster. I can defend myself against some of her reasons, but it was a valid decision. She raised some good points about my priorities and efforts lately. I have been doing a lot of things to try and move my career forward…but they weren’t the things that my agent needed me to be doing. I submitted a self-tape knowing it wasn’t my best work. Not how I would want a casting director to remember me. I told myself I wouldn’t get the part anyway, so I sent something okay, but nowhere near what I could have done.

The whole thing made me take a good hard look at my priorities and what I am working for. Right now I am so busy in writing and pre-production mode that I wouldn’t be good on a new roster. So I am going to clear my plate, do some research and build up my team.

The ups for acting are obviously a lot more fun. I went to some TAWC meetings. I’m figuring out which amazing writer to bring in for our workshop this month. We had our Nell Shipman Award Gala, which was wonderful and inspiring and magical and everything I hoped it would be. Sherry White is amazing and should give Ted Talks. I tip my hat to my fellow TAWC members, who are so dedicated and supportive and inspiring. They are go-getters who don’t sit around and wait for things to come to them, they make things happen. I am so proud to be one of them.

Monies

Right now, I make my money from Background, Standardized Patient and Brand Ambassador work. I enjoy all 3, for many different reasons. One gives me the opportunity to be on set, one lets me hone my acting skills and all 3 give me the flexibility to be available for big opportunities.  Lately, I really enjoy getting paid to write. There’s a lot of downtime with these jobs, and I have been using it wisely. Being paid to write usually means a book advance or someone paying you to write something, but I still think this qualifies.

Producing

I hope to produce a project at the end of August, but for now, my Producer-brain’s focused on TOUCHED. We went to our meeting with ACTRA, have most of our crew and are missing one location. We even held auditions to cast our leads, which was so interesting. Not because our actresses screamed bloody murder and aroused the attention of the receptionist. Actors need to see what it’s like on the other side of the casting table. The decisions are hard. So many actors brought it and a lot of them made me cry. So many factors make a person right for a part. Most of it is out of the actor’s control. It’s even out of my control, and I was sort of the casting director. I am happy with our choices, and can’t wait to see how it all comes together in a few weeks.

 

(Being in) Shape

This one is mostly jiu-jitsu, which I have been missing out on lately because of work. I can’t complain, but I hope to get back into the groove and work on my moves 🙂

 

“The path to our destination is not always a straight one. We go down the wrong road, we get lost, we turn back. Maybe it doesn’t matter which road we embark on. Maybe what matters is that we embark.”

-Barbara Hall

I’m Writing a Book!

I actually started writing the book in 2003. At first, it was a bunch of characters brought together by a traumatic event. Then I fleshed it out and used it for Camp Nanowrimo in July 2015. I finished it that month and have been slowly self-editing it for years, adding and removing chapters and characters, struggling to make it the best book it can be. And I think we’re getting close.

I am currently on my fourth draft and am sharing this with you because once I am done editing (with help, so much help), I am going to publish it. This is huge for me because my mom is usually the only one who reads most of the books I write. Luckily for me, my mom is an honest, knowledgeable and very helpful Alpha Reader. She believes in me and isn’t letting me release something that is beneath what she knows I can do. I should also thank the friend who told me that instead of publishing a terrible book anonymously, I should make the book awesome and then publish it as myself.

So far it has been quite an experience, with a whole lot of research and figuring things out. Telling you is my favorite way of keeping myself accountable because I will inevitably run into someone who read this and will ask me about it. Please do. I would love to tell you all about how far I have come. And to find out about you. Do you have any goals you are striving to reach? Have you self-published and have a list of steps I should take? Or avoid? I would love to pick your brain if you do.

I am also starting a newsletter you can subscribe to. I’ll share chapters from the book, let you vote on the different cover designs, and let you into my hustle. It takes a village, so I would love to have you in mine and to hear all about your hustle.

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”

-Octavia E. Butler

An Exciting Month

We’re secure! By that, I mean that there is a little lock icon beside the website url because I fixed the security issue and people should be able to find the blog again. Amanda 1, Technology 0, right?

This past month has been pretty consistent as far as working for the gym and doing Jiu-Jitsu classes, doing background as a high school student and living a multitude of lives as a standardized patient. There’s also some new/exciting things happening.

For starters, I turned 29 and celebrated and had a wonderful time. Then I realized I only have one year left to accomplish my 30 by 30, and slightly panicked. But I’m okay with hustling.

I filmed a little short with a friend of mine, where I got to be sassy and get yelled at. You can see the full clip here.

I took an acting class at Armstrong Acting Studios. It has been ages since I was in a consistent acting class and it makes me miss Suzanna‘s so much. I loved continuously having scripts to work on, characters to live and friends to see!

I competed in the Ontario Open. I fought hard and was proud of myself, but tapped out to an armbar I probably should have fought harder against. Still, I left with a Bronze medal, that makes me want to work harder to deserve it next time.

We had our monthly TAWC meeting, a meeting to prep for the Gala next week, and we had the Post-Production and Film Festival Strategy Content Development Session that I put together. There weren’t that many people this time, but everyone there was really interested and asked good questions. I definitely learnt a whole lot. Filmmaking is a million tiny pieces coming together, and although it sometimes seems so daunting and scary, it is also so exciting and I can’t wait to do more of it.

I celebrated Easter with my boyfriend’s family, which included egg fights. Not in the sense that you throw eggs at each other, like I misunderstood, but in a very civil manner, you have a one on one egg smashing competition. It’s nice to have that family vibe here in Toronto when mine is all in Montreal.

I did some Brand Ambassador work at the Blue Jay’s Games, though you wouldn’t recognize me if you saw me. I’ve been a giraffe and a turtle so far, with an amazing view of the games during my breaks.

I went to Montreal for less than 24 hours to celebrate my badass cousin, Rikki, getting her MBA. I also managed to hang out with my nieces and spend time with my family, so the visit was 100% worth it.

The two most exciting things on my docket right now are Touched and Shards of Glass. Touched is a short film I am co-producing and acting in, which we will be filming in late June. For now, there are all kinds of production meetings and research and paperwork and getting it all together so we can start preparing for the next one. It’s the kind of project I am so excited to be a part of that I keep thinking it can’t really be happening. But so far it is 🙂

Shards of Glass is a book that I started writing in 2003. Then I chose it for Camp Nanowrimo in July 2015. Since then I have been half-heartedly editing it, cutting my darlings, building up the courage to eventually share it with someone who isn’t my mother…and now it will be the first book that I will publish. August 15th if all goes well. I will definitely keep you all posted 🙂

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

-Nelson Mandela

Nanowrimo 2016

This was my third time participating in, and winning Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) where you commit to writing 50 000 words during the month of November.

I am what the Nano community calls a Plotter, meaning that I have my story pretty much figured out before November 1st rolls around. Other people, called Pantsers, might have a general idea, but they don’t necessarily know where the story is going. I have not only done the November challenges, but the April and July ones as well, referred to as Camp Nano, where you choose how many words you write. Every time, I have gone in knowing the people in the story, with chapter descriptions, a plot, and knowing what the story was about. Except for this time.

I was still a Plotter, in the sense that I knew my characters and exactly what happens in the story; the timeline was solid in my head. But if you ask me, I can’t really tell you what the story is about. I can tell you what happens, and who’s involved, but this was when I found out these aren’t the same thing.

My goal is usually to write 2000 words a day, and I am very often ahead of schedule. Both previous years, I validated my word count almost as soon as winning started (the 21st of November) with more than 50 000 words. This year, I barely made it over 50 000 and validated on the last possible day. I got a bit behind in the beginning, but I wasn’t worried; it wasn’t unusual for me to write 4-5000 words in a single day. Then this year came along and I was struggling. I would write for hours and only come up with a couple hundred words.

I usually write for me, so I don’t think about following a plot outline or whether the story is one that other people would want to read, as long as I do. I’m not saying this is something I should change, because if you always write what you want to read, then you can be sure you’ll always have one happy reader 🙂 but in the future, when I am writing something I would like to get published, I will spend a little more time plotting a cohesive story rather than just knowing a timeline.

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”

-Ernest Hemingway

My First Writing Post

Okay, not my first post in this category, but the first time that I am sharing my writing with you. It’s from a story I still refer to as Prologue, because of a habit I used to have of saving things under the first few words instead of actually finding a title. I finished it for the July NANOWRIMO, and am currently editing it for possible, eventual publication. This actually really terrifies me, putting it here for the world to see, but here it is, my first piece of fictional writing on the blog 🙂

Prologue

I watched the raindrops hitting the windshield, listening as the rain pounded on the roof of the van as we all waited. It was easier to concentrate on that than to think about what had just happened, or to try and look while our imaginations ran wild. Everything was quiet other than the rain, remarkable since we were five of us just sitting there, but no one dared to put their thoughts into words. I could tell that even though no one was saying anything, they were all just as terrified as I was. When mom had run into the building, I had been the one who had grabbed onto my brother’s hand, but Kyle was holding on pretty tight now too, and not just to make me feel better. He was looking for the same comfort I was. We were the only ones in the complete back of the van, and while we usually sat on opposite sides, with the empty seat between us, I had moved closer once we parked.

I had my eyes on Billy, who was sitting in the passenger’s seat. He had one hand running through his curly dark hair, while the other was keeping him propped up on the armrest. I could see that he was biting his thumb nail, something he had stopped doing long before I was even born. As the oldest sibling, he was the one who was supposed to have everything figured out, to know that everything would be okay, but seeing him just as worried as I was…it didn’t inspire much confidence.

I was biting on my bottom lip to try and keep from crying, because crying would mean I thought something bad had happened, when Katie, my six year old niece, broke the silence. “When is nana coming back?” she asked, playing with her little yellow soccer ball. The fact that she had lasted that long meant this was serious, because that kid never stopped talking unless she was sleeping or eating.

Billy looked at his daughter like she was speaking a foreign language, and Donnie wasn’t much better. I was the second youngest in the car, so I felt justified in just quietly ignoring what was going on, but Donnie was the second oldest. He had taken Katie out of her car seat a few minutes after mom left, but other than keeping her in his lap and holding her close, he didn’t really know what to say.

“She’ll be back in a few minutes sweetie, don’t worry.” Kyle, who was usually the funny one, assured her. He was smiling to support his words, but it was the kind of smile you would use to make someone feel better, not the genuine smile that portends the truth. Still, Katie nodded and accepted it, because we had never given her a reason not to trust us before.

Kyle looked at me when Katie turned away, the fear in his brown eyes telling me that he was just as worried as I was. My niece was still young enough to think the loud noises were thunder, even though there was no lightning. As for me, I flinched every single time we heard a gunshot. The silence was unnerving, but the sounds that ripped through the rain and chilled my bones were so much worse.

“Is she going to be okay?” Katie asked after another series of gunshots. She was used to noise, because our house was normally bursting with all kinds of arguments, telephone conversations, loud music, video games, the TV as well as some occasional singing. This noise was different though, and the silence wasn’t helping.

I couldn’t tell how long it had been since my mom went into my high school, but it felt like hours. I knew it was probably less than 10 minutes, because I still didn’t hear sirens and we had called the cops as soon as we knew there was a reason to. Katie had continued asking us questions every minute or so, whenever she got the courage to disturb the silence, and we took it in turns to tell her everything would be okay, that she didn’t have to worry or be afraid.

“Is nana ever coming back?” she asked when the rain and gunshots stopped. This time, none of us spoke. It wasn’t that we didn’t know what to say. We just knew, or rather felt, that our assurances wouldn’t be true. It was like we knew that nothing would ever be the same again. I couldn’t tell you the exact moment that it happened, or which gunshot did it, but we all knew that at some point between the last reassurance and Katie’s final inquiry, our world had fallen apart.

Another 50 000

No, not money. Although that would be lovely. Instead, today marks the end of my second November participating in the National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) 🙂

Winner 2015 - Web Banner

I was going to post throughout the month with updates, but ultimately decided to put the words into my story instead of into talking about the story. Which leads to me having been able to finish another novel in a month. Or, a novella. Still, a major accomplishment for someone who hadn’t been able to finish more than a play within a story before last year. I now have two NANOs and two Camp NANOs under my belt.

My next mission is to edit one of those 4 stories to the point where I feel confident to send it out and possibly get it published. I am definitely my own worst critic, but at the same time, you don’t get a second chance at a first impression.

This Writing section of my blog has been pretty neglected, and I was considering removing it entirely, but I want to start posting samples of my writing, either as a continuation of a story from month to month, or just random short stories or poems whenever inspiration strikes. It terrifies me even mentioning that I am thinking of sharing my writing with the world, which tells you why I have so much trouble even beginning the process to get myself published. Still, I have come so far in the past year and a month, and with baby steps, there is still a lot that I can do 😉

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

-Ernest Hemingway