Doing it ALL      So, there you are, gearing up for another busy month, made busier by pending holidays. As usual, “work on website” and “go to networking event” and “get business cards” move to the bottom of the “to-do” list. They can, right? Face it–your schedule is full! PLUS your Great Aunt Hossenpfeffersushikins is coming for a week and has a restricted diet of things that are harder to find.

But then business trauma hits– a school loses its funding, a theatre has to cut back its budget, a community organization is cutting the department which contracted you, you were passed over for a gig you thought was in the bag.

How do you turn these moments into success?

First off, allot yourself no more than 10 minutes to spend on despair and the feeling of failure. I would say, “Skip this step”, but as artists and community leaders, we have a powerful sense of responsibility for everything we do, and our sense of success is very tied to outcome. So go ahead, do what you need to do (whine, kvetch, curse, throw things) then cross it off the list (even if you have to add it to cross it off), and move on.

Secondly, remember that there is not enough time in any given day to both make lots of product Reminder!(teaching, writing, performing) and do lots of smart business promotion. So set aside days that are only for promotion. Or schedule a few half days. The key is to schedule it, and stick to it. I find that for phone meetings or necessary but heinous cold-calls, I need to schedule an exact time of day, and schedule exactly two calls. I have learned that I am more effective, more easy-going, and MUCH happier when I only do two of these at a time, and when I know each call has a specific time slot—that way I don’t worry about forgetting to do any of them.

Next step: get two pieces of paper, label one “Dream Projects” and the other “Marketing Ideas and Opportunities”. The first half-dozen or so things on each list (bounce back and forth as the spirit moves to help your ideas flow) will be the easy obvious ones. For me, the Dream Projects page included finishing my play “About Face”, getting “About Face” performed, being in more films, and doing more book narration. Pretty vague. I pushed myself to write ideas to write two pages worth. This is a great writing strategy, because instead of stressing over what to write, you stress about covering the space, and your creative brain is set free (lots of studies support this kind of production strategy). Three years ago, this strategy birthed MysteryGrams and our At-Home Mystery Games. Distracted by holiday prep? Invent some project that is holiday related! Why not? It’s on your mind anyway, might as well put it to good use.


Yeah, you have to do it. And I hate to say it, but this time of year is not only the most socially active in cyberspace, but also the most full of opportunities to meet people. Throw a party and let folks know they are also the beta test for the latest chapter of your novel, or that each person is asked to bring an idea for your classroom study about weather science. Make it fun, include lots of food and Invitation made in Moldiv beverages, and you might get a gold concept nugget! Many businesses are holding a Year End Office or Organization Bash, which is all about chatting about work. It turns out that for most industries, more than 70% of landed job projects come from referrals. That makes person-to-person networking (or strong personalized cyber connecting) the most important part of your outreach campaign.

I want to close with a link to a seemingly non-relevant blog post. It’s about teaching children the skills they need to be happy and successful, but it really applies to all of us in our work. Here’s the original post:

Most important take-away? You have no time, and you need to do outreach or product development while simultaneously doing holiday activities. Finding creative ways that are FUN to combine those things (and mark off times to do the worst tasks while saving time for the most fun) will help decrease your stress, increase your time-efficiency, and help the new year begin with new ideas for your job.

Summer SlingI spent part of this past weekend attending New York Summer Sling, “a 4 day stage combat workshop sanctioned by the Society of  American Fight Directors (SAFD). Classes are taught by SAFD certified fight directors and teachers from universities and theaters around the country. Class options include introductory instruction in all of our eight weapon disciplines for the stage, unique and specialized experimentation with period fighting styles, and master classes in advanced physical acting techniques” (from the Summer Sling website description).

Despite an incredible lack of sleep and profound anxiety ahead of time, I had one of the most wonderful conference experiences of my life. I am still, 48 hours later, in the throes of profound contentment and joy, brought on in part by getting out of my head for a while (which is good for everyone), in part by being in a constant state of motion (which is great for me personally), but for the most part, by being in the presence of so much … grace of heart and soul.

The people were kind and generous of spirit, all experience levels were welcomed and all attendees were welcomed and encouraged, regardless of background or challenges. There were classes for skilled experts and classes for the neophyte, classes for related skills (blood use and application for the stage, English Dancing), and classes open to everyone (such asAction and the Camera Parts 1 and 2 (Corey Pierno)>Students will experience action design as filmmakers, and will be taken through the process of breaking down a script, putting together a fight scene, camera and shot considerations, and solving unexpected problems” or “Shaolin Kicks (Michael G. Chin)>Students will be taught basic Northern Shaolin Kicks and technique including crescent, instep, round house, cutting, sweeps and spins. Students will also be taken through stretching exercises. This class is open to all experience levels, martial arts training is not required”).

These workshops are held in cities across the USA throughout the year, and you can take just one day if you want to. Obviously, if you have any interest in performing with weapons or staging fights, you would love it.

But so would most of the rest of you.

Are you writing a play or a battle-strewn novel? GO and take the open and/or novice classes, and ask to watch an advanced class in rapier or broadsword or whatever for one of your classtimes. Are you a theatre teacher? GO and take any one of “here’s a new way of staging a battle” or “how do you create realistic contemporary violence” classes. Are you a regular person who needs a total immersion get-away that can be very physical, very fun, and very supportive? GO and get rejuvenated! Bring your kindest self, and soak in the learning.

You can also find them on Facebook here.

Holly love the Texas LonghornsSo honored to be interviewing writer Joan Reeves (we talk about writing tips, inspirations, and the whys of things)! Before I share her words with you, please take a moment to cruise around on the website, and support them if you can. It’s an amazing grassroots organization with real news and in-depth cultural content, and it’s not just for Canadians 🙂

June is Audiobook Month, and I personally love ‘reading by listening’. Whether I am cleaning or driving or doing paperwork, audiobooks delight me, inform me, comfort me, keep me awake…. and so much more. Also, I am honored to be an audiobook narrator, and that is how I met author Joan Reeves. Since my blogs are mostly for artists, educators, and community leaders who use arts-in-ed, we talk mostly about how, why, and the importance of writing and of her work.

Hi, Joan! I am so happy to have you with us today. Warning: I am a big fan, I have a bunch of questions!

Joan  Reeves1) Did you always want to be a writer? What was your path to become one? (Perhaps one of my readers will become inspired!)

   My mother was a reader, but she never read to me or my brothers. I remember the first book I ever read because reading made such an impact on me. I became a storyteller for my brothers and would entertain them in the evenings with stories I made up. I guess our family would best be described as lower income. I know my parents did the best they could with their financial and emotional resources. I’ve always tried to adhere to the philosophy that people deserve to be remembered by their best moments so that’s all I’ll say on that subject. In the sixth grade, I had a teacher who required much writing as class work–stories, themes, research papers. I did it all and received little blue ribbons she taped onto my papers. There was the carrot as if I needed one. For me, the reward was as much about expressing a thought so clearly that the reader would easily understand what I was saying as it was about teacher recognition. Everything probably grew from those early experiences.

2) What compelled you to write romances? Do you write other things as well?

   I write what I like to read. By the time I was in my teens, I’d had enough drama, tragedy, and emotional dysfunction to last me for 10 lifetimes. I didn’t want to read about all that or see it in movies. I’d lived it. I didn’t feel the need to see a character grow from embittered to accepting. I felt there had to be people in the world who were happy more often than they were sad, who went after what they wanted with a cheerful optimism, and who were strong, resilient, and able to endure and persist without becoming bitter, angry, and full of hate. I wanted to write about those people — their journeys from not having what they want but not being resigned to that fate. I write about hope. People need hope. Hope they can pay their bills, keep a roof over their heads, find a good job, fall in love, have babies, and live in a committed relationship with their chosen one.

   Yes, I write other things as well. I’ve written a lot of nonfiction, usually along the lines of inspiration and motivation as well as articles about the art, craft, and business of writing to help those who want to write. On the fiction side, I’ve played around with mystery and suspense while keeping a romance in the story too.

3) Part of what I enjoy about narrating your work is the strong sense of PLACE you evoke. I feel like I am actually in the tea shop with the characters, and of course I am hoping beyond hope that the vintage bar/restaurant Crimson (in Scents & Sensuality) exists so I can go there! Could you share some words of wisdom for would-be writers on how you experience a real environment, and a couple tips on making a fictitious place come to life for the reader?

   Oh, I wish Crimson (from Scents and Sensuality) did exist. It’s exactly the kind of place I’d frequent. I tend to associate music with places so when I’m constructing a setting like Crimson, I’m hearing the music they would play. Like in Romeo and Judy Anne, Roman, the hero, listens to his iPod constantly and the music he’s listening to reflects the setting in which he finds himself whether it’s the classroom in the rundown school or the no-frills house he’s renting across the street from Judy Anne, the woman he finds isn’t easy to forget.

   I draw upon my imagination and my travels too. I traveled quite a bit, especially before I had children, and lived in Japan for many years. I’ve witnessed everything from the seedy to the elegant in many places in the world. With Crimson, I envisioned it as the kind of place Fred Astaire, clad in a tailcoat and top hat, would have tap danced around or maybe Holly Golightly would be there with the in-crowd for drinks before she went to Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I always have a visual and a music background when I start.  

4) As you know, I LOVE your work. Part of what I love is that the characters are struggling with the idea that they are not good enough, not lovable, often because of social messages or negative relationships. You deal with their struggles in a realistic and sympathetic way. What draws you to write about these issues?

   Holly, you are so kind. Thank you for such lovely compliments. I write about these issues because they’re what Scents_and_Sensuality_by JoanReeves_Audiowomen struggle with most of the time. Men don’t have nearly as much insecurity about EVERYTHING in life the way we women do. It’s like the old joke about the guy who gains 10 pounds, looks in the mirror, grins, and says, “Looking good, stud.” A woman gains 10 pounds and thinks she should be stoned in the town square–and she’ll be the one to hit herself with a stone! We have all internalized the messages blasted across television, movies, music, and, sadly, from our families, until we’ve lost the ability to judge ourselves impartially whether that’s in the area of our looks, our brains, our career achievements, our gender roles, or anything else. We pay too much attention to the opinions of other people and too little to what we ourselves think and feel.

   The people in my books are damaged in some way. Even in romantic comedy, there’s a shadow over the heart–something a character may dredge up every time something goes wrong. Through the course of the book, they learn that what they thought was true, may not be. They usually have to accept that times have changed, they’ve grown, the past really is the past, what they thought was right may be wrong, and what they thought they wanted may no longer be what they want. They also learn to think for themselves and learn that to get love, they have to trust, risk everything, and be willing to open themselves to possible embarrassment, humiliation, or hurt. 

5) I also appreciate that sometimes the characters have something they have done/said/been that they need to put right, but without melodrama and without ‘miracle-grow’. The characters must learn to reach out, be responsible, and both give and accept love.

    Exactly. Epiphanies don’t happen often in life. You know, that moment of clarity when you see the decisions that led you to a certain point and the knowledge that you can, right now, change it or continue on the path and reap the consequences. Communication as well as granting the other person understanding is important to characters and to real people. I don’t write characters who hammer at each other about why they did something that the other misunderstood that caused a rift and blah blah blah. All that has been played out in scenes for the reader. In most of my books, I give the reader credit for being able to “see the big picture.” For instance, the hero may have an epiphany and return to the heroine who at the same time has resolved to reach out for the happiness she wants. When they see each other, all they want is to hold each other–not have long detailed conversations about why he came back and why she accepted him. The reader knows because the scene where the hero made the decision was played out. The heroine may say, “We’ll talk later, but for now I just want to kiss you.” This is because she’s now secure enough in her own identity to accept him back and to do it on her terms. Some readers don’t like to make those connections. They want it spelled out so I sometimes get negative remarks because of that.

6) Okay, I’m gonna bring it up. SEX. There’s sex in your books! Lovely, sweet, passionate, intense, self-discovering sex!

I recently had a conversation with a friend who has a teenage daughter. She asked me to recommend an audiobook I narrated, and I named a few, including Scents & Sensuality. “It has sex in it,” I warned, “but I think it’s actually an important book for a young woman. It deals with having strong and unexpected sexual feelings, and not being sure what to do about that. The young woman who is the main character thinks she has to look a certain way and pretend not to be smart to be liked by guys, and she’s coming out of a relationship with a boyfriend who made her feel bad about herself. She doesn’t know that sex should be on her OWN terms and be wonderful–she doesn’t even know that it’s “allowed” for her to want it to be wonderful.”

“Wow,” said my friend. “Sounds perfect for us to listen to togetherYES. Yes, yes, yes!!

Now that I’ve ranted, what are your thoughts?

   Sex is a vital part of life and of love. A real man wants to satisfy his woman, and a real woman wants to satisfy her man. By book’s end, they should be equals in bed. In my books, the woman usually ends up realizing that she controls the gates to paradise. *g*

   Some writers are uncomfortable writing about sex. Others, like me, write about the love making because it’s as much a part of the developing relationship between the heroine and hero as anything else in the plot. When characters have sex, it changes them and their relationship. There’s no going back after having sex. There have been entire reams written about the physiological implications of human touch by far more educated scholars than I, and the sex act is always the pinnacle of that human touch. It touches us physically and emotionally–whether we want that or not.

   Regardless of the dispassionate approach to sex in today’s world, I think most women long for a fulfilling sex life with the man they love. I think they would choose sex with a man they love and who loves them over sex with any guy–regardless of how sexy and gorgeous he may be–just to get off. A lot of women are in lackluster relationships and sex is not thrilling. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it does require the courage to change. Women need the courage to admit they aren’t happy in that area, and men need the courage to ask, “What can I do to satisfy you?” (I’ve always said if a man wanted to know how to make love to a woman, he should just read a well-written sexy romance novel.)  

7) Anything else you’d like to share before we say good-bye?

   Yes, I’d like to apologize for being so darn wordy! I’d also like to say that I’ve enjoyed having you as narrator on 3 of my audio books: The Trouble With Love, Old Enough to Know Better, and, most recently, Scents and Sensuality. We seem to be simpatico on so many levels, and that makes working with you such a pleasure.

Thank you so much, Joan! Readers, if you want more, you can read Joan’s article on “What is a Romance Novel?” here.

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First CrocusesToday the snow melted, and I was able to unzip the jacket I wear in the house over my sweater, long johns, and undershirt, and finally…after months of experiencing the act of creating like sucking marrow from a dry bone, I felt like it might be fun to work on one of my projects.


‘Might be fun to work on one of my projects’, coming from my “North of the Wall” inner landscape, was a powerful and radical thought, and I began to think maybe I was able to not only catch up on the bare bones of what was past due, but possibly even—gasp!– actually pick back up the threads of non-critical projects, and do those as well (like submit my play and write a blog post)!!!

Even though it has snowed again for the past two days, several nights ago was the first warm night of the year here in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York. I couldn’t help it; tired as I was, fed up and frustrated with difficult situations and from not having said more often, the softness of the wind tugged me free from the car. I paused, captured, face upturned, and felt every muscle in my body and even my brain relax. It has been a tough winter for me, a winter that seeped into my creativity and made it curl up, spines outward, and bury itself in dry leaves. That smell, however, that true spring smell, made that semi-hibernating creativity unfurl. There is something breathless and secret about spring nights, full of sound, peepers, earth smell and promise….

I share with you some thoughts I had during the winter:

There were early mornings when the temperatures were between -8 and -10 degrees Fahrenheit with a windchill of -18 holly in snowshoesat my house, and down to a record setting -61 degrees Fahrenheit (with windchill) elsewhere in the Finger Lakes region. We were out of split wood, and my husband (the usual wood-splitter) had a broken ankle, so I pulled on a sweater, coat and boots over my pajamas, topping it off with a hat and scarf, and headed out while the sun was rising to attack the woodpile.

As I was out there whacking away at the often uncooperative chunks, freezing my butt off, my eyes tearing with the cold, I said to myself, “How is this a metaphor for working on an artistic or community project?”

Okay, so the “being out in the cold” part is obvious ( 😉 ).

But there is also doing for others, overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and actually accomplishing nearly impossible dreams that is deeply satisfying.

In retrospect, I realize that work is the distance between desire and accomplishment.

And today is my return to a joy in work, which makes the traveling the distance much smoother.

Happy Spring, my friends.

With Chanukah and American Thanksgiving just around the corner, and festivals of light and Christmas not far behind, some of my friends are at a loss as to what kinds of presents to give or how to connect with their family, friends or communities across the miles. I was mentally masticating on this conundrum as I picked up a wonderful anthology I am reading, Murder for Christmas.Then it struck me like a frying pan to the face—WHAT A GREAT PROJECT TO DO! This being an arts-in-ed blog, I am hoping none of my readers freak out, but instead read on to my three simple, fun, easy ways of celebrating whatever you celebrate with people you care about. AND these suggestions have a base cost of ZERO; what you spend on folks is your time.


  1. Write a group story.

    Choose a holiday or holiday theme (lighting candles or sledding, for example).

    Choose a character (or a few) that is a source of fun or remembrance for the group. Garden gnomes, my grandmother, and dogs are always great story centerpieces in my family. Think of an event or story that is true, and let your mind wander about mischievously to alter it a bit. Write a short paragraph that has a cliff-hanger and some implied action. Next is the tricky bit, and should be adjusted based on to whom you are reaching out, because you want people to participate in a way that is comfortable for them, and you want it to feel easy—and sometimes these two things require opposite kinds of organization. My suggestion is send out on the email waves your idea,your paragraph and a list of dates for people to choose (so that the story will have a linear path). For example, maybe have it set up for the 8 days of Chanukah or every-other day leading up to Christmas Eve. Then send out the final version to everyone, or record yourself reading it and send that out, or have a video hangout and share it together! Cost: NOTHING. If you need public access to a computer, this kind of usage is free at most libraries, and it is simple to do.
  2. Create a Holiday-Themed Crime Scene.

You know I create interactive mysteries for events and for homes, and yes that is hard to do. BUT this idea is much simpler and can involve everyone, and is terrific for children. In a nutshell, there are those creating the crime scene, and those who will be detectives. For example, maybe the grown ups are creating it and the kids will be the detectives. Side note: more than one household can have the same group-created crime happen! The Crime Creators choose a theme, then a crime (something is missing ((Stolen? Lost? Transmuted? Etc)), someone has been kidnapped, some place has messily searched), then decide the ‘who’ and the ‘ why’–again, family jokes or themes or stories work best. Set the stage and voila! Help solve the crime and make sure sweets and treats are there for rewards. Making these choices as a group– maybe even different people get to have final say for different aspects– makes it all the more fun. Then on the day of the event, perhaps there is a phone call or an email clue that helps solve the mystery. Video tape the same mystery playing out in different homes, and share that, or just talk on the phone afterwards and be sure to have the kids swap solving stories. A terrific advantage to these is that there isn’t any real writing involved. Cost: can be as low as zero—just use what you have!

3. Make your own anthology of remembrances.

Many of us have had a family or group member collect photos which are then made into a little book (digitally or physically) for a holiday. This idea is similar, and has the advantage of everyone being able to do their part –or not– without very much structure. The point person (you) chooses a person or theme. Keep it narrow, because people do better with some specifics to spark their memories and with some structures to build on. Put out a call or email blast, include a deadline and your own example, and collect the mini-stories and memories as they come rolling back in. For example, I might ask people to share a memory of a time we were all together, including my Texas family. Or, I might suggest that each story have a pet in it, or involve my grandmother. Once you receive the stories, organize them into an arc, maybe add a photo or two (in the word doc or on paper), and voila! A lovely group gift that will be a surprise for everyone in the group. If it is all digital, the cost is ZERO and this project can easily be done at any library. Or use something shutterfly, vistaprint, snapfish et cetera to make an inexpensive lovely ‘book’ with more pictures.