Sunday, March 06, 2011

Resurrect Your Abandoned Novel Workshop

Resurrect your abandoned novel or short story collection from the bottom of your bureau drawers or from being used as a doorstop.

The reasons are unique and universal, but they exist all the same. We are committed to helping you revitalize your forgotten prose into a polished and marketable book, but we won't stop there.

We are looking for serious, reliable, and disciplined short story or novel writers with a body of work. We are seeking writers with a firm foundation of The Elements of Fiction Writing, versed in workshop dynamics, and able to give and receive constructive feedback.

We meet weekly on Thursday evenings, 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m., in Midtown Manhattan. Each workshop is limited to six writers because it seems to be the best way to ensure that each member’s work gets the attention it deserves.

We use a glass booth format which allows for uninterrupted feedback during the workshop. It also forces everyone to listen to each other and streamline the feedback offered. Our goal is publication. 

Morningside Workshops focus on learning and improving craft with a healthy dose of professional branding and marketing. The gradual result of The Morningside Method ™ is a well-rounded writer who might pursue an MFA, find an agent and build a career as a published writer, produced playwright, optioned screenwriter or working television writer who understands the creative, business and legal components of their career.

Morningside Writers Group is listed among other regional writing groups, writing centers, and workshops which offers alternatives to a full-time MFA degree program in the April 2009 Cover Story in the Writer Magazine, The L Magazine, and most recently in Time Out New York.

Interested writers visit the application link here: Resurrect Your Abandoned Novel

Saturday, August 14, 2010

An Ideal Writing Workshop Member

All art is connected on some level. All humans, too, are connected in minute and major ways if only we pay attention to each other. My initial goal was to unite creative writers in my living room who'd form a loose literary chain gang, with the sole purpose of nurturing and uplifting the person sitting next to them.

I've written on this blog about how I formed Morningside Writers Group, so need to revisit it. This post is to lay bare the disappointment and in other instances, anger, I feel after a workshop participant bails on the group ceremoniously or whimpers out like a deflated balloon. Past members have had to choose between their spouses, family, or friends who didn't believe in and support their creative journey toward personal fulfillment, or prior to the ease and prevalence of POD publishers, navigating the traditional obstacle course of agents, editors, and mainstream book publishers that might result in publishing a short story collection or novel.

Writing workshops are for mature, responsible individuals who need a creative community to lean on, learn from, to co-teach, and be held accountable. Writing workshops aren't for clich├ęd people who believe they'll find publishing success, dead or alive, at the bottom of a shot glass or beer bottle. Drunken and drugged out artists and writers are wretched stereotypes.

Writing workshops aren't social or civic clubs. Writing is an individual pursuit, even when collaborating with others. In those instances, each team member has to know who they are, what they're writing, and most important - why they're writing. If it's for instant fame and celebrity, that fool will soon be disillusioned. Writing workshops aren't group therapy sessions or places to idle away free time after work or on the weekends. 

Before applying to a writing workshop, not a how-to writing class, a person should have a body of work as would a photographer, painter, or sculptor.

Writers create and recreate worlds on the page and screen, similar to a photographer closing a camera's shutter at the right moment to capture an image that existed then. Writing is a snapshot, a moment when an individual is open to the invisible and seemingly impossible.

An ideal writing workshop member is an avid reader across several genres who specializes in at least one. S/he is an expert or soon becomes on the inner workings and window dressings of literary or commercial fiction, screenwriting, or personal essays. My on-the-job training and process as founder and moderator, while not perfect, has worked for the last seven years. I strive weekly to improve and strengthen the mission statement so that Morningside Writers Group remains relevant for those seriously pursuing publication and production.

I'm hopeful each time I read a promising application, optimistic during the first few weeks of a new member's acceptance and joining, and temporarily saddened when a participant (a) flakes out (b) stops producing quality writing (c) habitually late submitting work for discussion (d) disrespect others in the group or (e) realizes s/he lacks the discipline and drive to publish.

It angers me when a participant in a cowardly move, sends an e-mail resignation rather than have the decency to (a) discuss concerns in person or on the phone or (b) try to negotiate realistic changes if need be. This strikes at my core and goes against the foundation of the workshop. Despite the mistaken notion that a departure isn't personal, it is. I wonder if the person's  telling the truth for their resignation, and if there was anything I could have done to salvage the membership. I know that everyone doesn't feel the same about the workshop as I do, but please have respect for fellow workshop members who've invested countless hours reading, marking-up, and preparing discussion notes for a submission. The defector is bailing on the entire workshop roster, not just me. I'm the glue that holds everything together. I've developed a thicker skin in latter years and am able to rebound faster than some others.

No self-respecting person wants to have coffee, send submissions for feedback, or hangout after such cowardice. Wasn't that the initial reason you applied for and later joined the writing workshop?

A workshop is in service of the majority, not one or two misguided snobs who want the majority to tailor to their whims. I've never done well with cliques, and abhor prejudice and discrimination. My creative DNA is comprised of inclusion, not exclusion based on different writing genres or creative outlets. Why then would I create an elitist workshop, application requirements notwithstanding?

I'm overdue to step off the merry-go-round and devote more time to writing and submitting, and less as a wet-nurse to those that are careless and insensitive. My biggest challenge is that I'm a mentor and rescuer, but I must modify my behavior to ensure I that I, too, achieve my multi-book publishing goals. Family and friends have warned me that I'm a glutton for punishment, taking in doe-eyed strays I'd be better off passing by. I've been told I need to become a bit selfish, and put my creative writing and directing pursuits first, and everyone would follow my lead. I'm not currently built that way. I must find a healthy compromise.

How do you deal with the crazymakers in your creative life? I'd love to hear from you in the comment section below.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

You Might Have A Stalker If . . .

All the years I've moderated and participated in Morningside Writers Group didn't prepare me for a would-be workshop member stalker. I know that nerves are usually part of the screening process, but never in my writer's imagination would I have scripted what happened.

I interviewed an applicant for the fiction group earlier this year. It was an easy conversation. We sat for about an hour and half because I wasn’t pressed for time as I am on most days.

I’d arrived earlier to stake out a chair – it’s Starbucks, so you know it’s usually crowded.

I placed my jacket on the high chair next to me at the window bar to hold the seat for her.

She arrived and asked if it was okay to place her jacket atop mine. Innocent enough, I thought, and we proceeded to meet and greet, talk about Morningside.

This is where it gets murky.

At some point during our interview or immediately thereafter as she stood to put on her jacket – her hand accidentally (yes, I said accidentally) falls, slips into my pocket and out with my keys into her pocket or purse unknown to me.

Confusion ensues after the fact. How in the hell did she NOT realize that she’d accidentally slipped her hand into my pocket and had my keys in her fingers?

Off she went in one direction, and I to the new grocery store next door to Starbucks uptown, and then on to C-Town.

It wasn’t until I was standing on the front stoop, hand in pocket, three full grocery bags at my feet did I realize I didn’t have my keys where I remember they were when I locked my apartment door on the way to meet her.

I turned my pockets, jacket, backpack, anything within sight upside down and inside out. No keys.

I looked around for the crew of Punk’d. Nope. Didn’t see Ashton or Demi nearby, and then I panic. ( I still don’t know that she has my keys on her person and on the way home.)

I called my roommate. Refused to return my mother’s call from earlier. I am a big boy. This is silly. My keys, well, they fell into my backpack, somehow, right?

Off I go back to Starbucks and one of the two grocery stores. Scavenger hunt revealed nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Crazy thought. What if somehow (the applicant) picked up my keys from the inside of my jacket when she pulled her waist coat from mine? I called, left voice mail sounding every bit uncertain and embarrassed. It felt accusatory.

I call mom by this point. I’m certain someone’s followed me, knows where I live, and will rob me.

The applicant returns my call. She was apologetic and offered to meet me in the city to hand over the keys. I was just happy that they weren’t lost.

Harp music …..

Roommate drives me to Time Warner Center to meet her and pick up the keys. She’s profusely apologetic, again. She has to make it up to me. I must let her make it up to me. I refused. It’s an honest mistake (right, I ask myself).

She doesn’t relent. No, you must let me make it up to you. Okay, I say. Maybe just coffee or a small token … (back inside my head) You really don’t have to. She doesn’t back down until I agree to dinner. I joked, well, my birthday is next month.

On the down the escalator she says, "At least you’ll remember me now."

Cue theme from Fatal Attraction.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Joy of Teaching

I never imagined I would be an Adult Continuing Education and GED instructor when I was child in Houston. I had no desire to teach. My mind and heart were fixed on the bright lights of Broadway, and I thought I'd eventually relocate to Los Angeles and work in television and film. If anything, I would have probably taught acting workshops and once I felt qualified, I would directed and taught other directors. 

I think the best teachers are actors and directors, for no other reason could we lead and inspire various personalities, skill sets, and appease parents. Apart from helping classmates in school, younger siblings, and later their children with multiplication tables and personal essays, I didn't think of myself as a teacher. That changed when I relocated to New York and was between jobs as most actors and freelancers tend to be. I responded to an online ad for GED instructors in Spanish Harlem, and didn't know the first thing about formal instruction.

The job description called for a focused, dedicated, and energetic education professional. The only thing that wasn't on my resume was certified teaching gigs. I was accustomed to casting calls, cold readings, and convincing someone that I was right for the part. How different could this potential job be once I learned my role teaching inner city teens and adults?  

I was to prepare a fifteen-minute lesson, and if the students didn't like me, I'd be on my way. My former boss stood nervously in the door as I passed out handouts, loosened my tie, and set about my mock training and part two of the job interview. What felt like an hour, was in reality twenty minutes. We locked eyes and she gave the hand signal to continue because I had a captive audience. 

In a matter of a week I was to become an instructor, sensitive to high school dropouts and adults who had long since abandoned their education to marry, raise a family, and coincidentally put their children through school. 

Walking across town once a week with my three-ring binder in my backpack, I never knew what to expect, and which students would attend having understood and completed their assignments. Some students complained that the work was too difficult, while others didn't have resources to buy classroom supplies and were embarrassed to say so. 

I was getting an informal education not afforded me in the Houston suburbs. There were days I felt square and out completely out of touch, but I forged ahead with Shakespeare, Alice Munro, Chinua Achebe, The Elements of Style, and The Elements of Grammar. I was determined to expose my students, level the playing field, somehow. 

A few of my fondest memories. Being called Mister, which of course reminded me of Sidney Poitier. My female students, no big stretch there, embraced learning and oftentimes challenged the male students. The time some of my former students offered to walk me home after a disruptive student threatened to beat me up because he didn't understand an assignment, and felt by pommeling me into a pulp, would make it and me go away.

I miss my students and that first storefront GED workshop. I then moved on to two community centers and two nights a week when my former boss relocated to new educational nonprofits. I miss creating weekly lesson plans, the smell of the dry erase markers, and seeing the look on a student's face when the light bulb pops on. Teaching a class is different than being a writing workshop moderator, but I use a similar toolkit.

All isn't lost. I recently began teaching Stage II Fiction Workshop for writers ages thirty-nine to sixty. I look forward to hitting my stride again, but with fewer students who happen to have formal education.  

Who are your favorite teachers? What did they do to inspire you? What are your best school memories? 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Landlords from Hades

I've lived in my apartment and perhaps New York City far longer than I thought  would when I relocated to the East Coast years ago. When I packed my dreams, fears, insecurities, and Texas mementos into several suitcases and two footlockers, I wanted to flee from Houston. The only plan I had was to land on my feet and figure things out as a I went along. An actor skilled in improvisation, and a bit of a showman, my primary concern was the cold weather. 

As a young child and teen, we moved many times in a few years, less than other classmates, but still disorienting all the same. I think the anxiety set in back then and has remained one of my preoccupations. I don't like moving because of minor issues as my mother seemed to do. I've a faint memory of returning from school one evening to an announcement and cardboard boxes that we were moving to a new apartment complex.

My mother was my first landlord from hell when she kicked my younger brother and I out, I was barefoot, dazed, and just knew that I was the victim of a sick joke or test of loyalty. I remember standing in the parking lot outside that apartment trying to process what had happened. 

I spoke up. That's what happened. My younger brother had did something that she didn't like. Into our bedroom she brayed, not quite foaming at the mouth, leather belt in flight as he cowered on my bed filled with wire hangers. Whatever he'd said or done to her, his being potentially paralyzed by hanger wasn't worth her rage. I might have raised my voice. I had to, or else she wouldn't have heard me. She had to whip him, and might have caused irreversible damage . . .

There we stood in the Houston night, looking at each other, and intermittently at mother's bedroom window at my underage pregnant cousin our mother felt obligated to mother because she'd always wanted a daughter. It might have been a few seconds or minutes, but they both stood staring out at us. 

Time passed, and she allowed me back inside long enough to put on shoes, dump our clothes inside a large black garbage bag, and phone someone to pick us up. Successive calls to relatives, "That's your momma, and I ain't getting into that. She's crazy." Click. Dial tone. It wasn't until I phoned her then best friend that was someone willing to drive the ten miles between granny's neighborhood and our home to transport us safely. I remember the expression on her face when the car eased to a stop in the parking lot. It was as if she thought, "Damn, they got away!" I didn't know how to process my mother's reaction. I later realized she needed to be needed, feel validated as a person and our mother, but didn't have the vocabulary for it. 

Codependent parents aren't the same as some landlords. Landlords need tenants to rent or purchase apartments, condominiums, or split-level townhouses. My first nasty piece of work was in New Jersey. I lived in a below-street-level studio as big as a broom closet. My inaugural winter was brutal. I had to sleep with the oven on and opened, underneath an electric blanket, with a portable electric heater nearby. Had the pilot light gone out overnight, I could've died from gas inhalation. 

Leapfrog through time. After several unsuccessful attempts of polite asking, and a housing inspector that visited on a warm and sunny winter day when the indoor temperature registered the minimum legal, I withheld rent and was later summoned to court wherein I was ordered to pay by a specified day or face eviction. No way. I wasn't going to pay a lump sum while I could see my frosted breath before me at night in the bathroom. I'd long-since stopped using the oven as a heat source.  

Pressed for time, I called in sick, ignored my mother's pleas to return to Houston, and set about looking for a new apartment. I was successful thanks to the aforementioned improvisational acting skills. White lies notwithstanding, I was happy I'd found a place before my lump sum payment due date. Two local Jersey friends and I moved the contents of my studio in Pathmark grocery carts.

There wasn't a moment to spare. We made one final trip to double-check, by which time the constable had padlocked and brandished the front door with a yellow eviction notice. 

My second apartment was all but uneventful save for the noisy next door neighbor who blasted his Spanish music well into the night, and on occasion would trip the circuit breaker located inside my kitchen. He'd bang on the door or our adjoining wall in the ground floor apartment. "My friend, my friend, I gottee no lights!"  

My nominee and winner of Landlord from Hell is the ghoul I've rented from since time immemorial. If it were a musical, they'd be the slimy couple from Les Miserables, and heaven knows they've made my life throughout the years, hell. Exhibit A: the building was without gas for several months and they were too lazy and cheap to do anything about it. I reported them to the NY housing police after wrestling with the decision, unsure of the consequences. I was within my rights to report the lack of a building necessity, but I should've filed the report anonymously. They three-way called me and proceeded to call me everything but a child of God. How dare I tattle on them! 

This man told me a few weeks ago that I was the worst tenant: unapproachable, unfriendly, loud, and a few other vile things. Apparently I'm the building pariah that no one wants around, and it's only because of my former female roommate who flashed her breasts and sat provocatively with her legs slightly apart that we were given the apartment. I knew he didn't like me, and she made no secret of it. I had the credit rating, money in the bank, and a fulltime job at a reputable company. I was an ideal tenant in theory for a landlord with a vacancy. I fell short with the failed lounge singer because I didn't have breasts. I've accumulated a list of cosmetic and necessary repairs over the years that he refuses, conveniently forgets, and recently learned two new words: capital improvement.

I hate being at the mercy of others, but know that it might happen again. I need to learn better coping skills to deal with the power hungry, unsavory characters, and the temporarily blinded and insane.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Black History Month Celebration

What does Black History Month really mean for African Americans and other global African descendants who make their way to the United States? February is the shortest month of the year, so the good folks who were compelled to mark our history didn't do us a favor. Was it so difficult to choose a month with thirty-one days when weighing centuries of murder, rape, lynching, and suicides at sea? Perhaps those additional three days would have been too much to bear for the undoubted republicans who signed the legislation.

My personal, familial, and cultural identities are tied to my blackness. I can't and wouldn't deny who I am, but millions of others habitually attempt to do so. My childhood was predominantly African American until junior high when I met and befriended Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.

I've always been fascinated by genealogy and family lore, but to date I've yet t follow through. My thinking was that I would get around to interviewing my granny on camera or digital voice recorder. She would tell me what it was like to be a black child in the 1920's and 1930's, in Texas. I missed the opportunity to do so three years after her death. I still wonder what her life was like those many years ago, and further what our ancestors' lives were given that she was born in 1917. 

I'm not naive enough to think our family doesn't have slavery among the ranks, but were always free do what they wanted within the confines of the racist south. There was no escaping who and what we were - Southern Blacks, not that anyone tried to assimilate or pass for white. 

Slavery and its unwitting offspring, racism are seven-headed hydras, and twenty-eight days once a year will never be enough to make right what was and still remains an injustice. 

The argument could extend beyond African slaves who were treated as cargo on The Middle Passage, to others races throughout history that were at one time another a servant to a conquering nation. 

One blog post isn't sufficient to discuss this topic, but I want to add my five cents. I personally feel cheated by Black History Month that takes place in February. 

It wasn't until I'd transferred high schools that I made a point of educating others on the atrocities, setbacks, breakthroughs, and triumphs of African Americans. I can't remember how I managed to do morning Black History Month announcements. It wasn't every year. I think it was only during my senior high. I still recall the white student who sat alongside me, noncommittal expression about his face. He was being obnoxious but tried to wrap it in genuine concern and or curiosity moments before I took hold of the microphone. I remember BLURTING BLACK into the mic one morning, perhaps verbally raising my Black Pride Fist at him and all the non-black students and faculty listening. 

It comes down to individual beliefs, acknowledgment of the history, and a concerted effort never to forget. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Killer Cats at Caroline's

A few years before I relocated to New York City, I met a photographer in Houston at my high school's fiftieth year anniversary. She was smitten with me, but the only thing that registered was New York. I'd previously thought I'd relocate to Los Angeles and work on television dramas, sitcoms, and eventually movies, but shifted my focus to Broadway's bright lights. 
When she offered, "If you're ever in New York, I'd love to photographed," I readily took her card, shook her hand, gave her my requisite theatrical grin. I'd later figure out how I'd make it to NYC, but for moment I had a contact that I could call upon. 

I scheduled an audition at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and she volunteered to let me crash at her apartment on West 72nd Street, a few feet away from the entrance of Central Park.  

Prior to the night in question, I'd been allergic to bobtail cats, and to my surprise she had two robust and or overweight cats reminiscent of feline linebackers. The building exterior was swanky, but the one-bedroom apartment was cramped. 
The audition is a blur now, but I still remember the minuscule, almost not there kitchenette, the bump-my-knees into one too many pieces of furniture in the living room, the clawfoot bathtub, and the exposed wooden four poster bed. These many years later, I probably wouldn't recognize her if I saw her on the street. She had red hair back then. She was accommodating in a familiar southwestern, hospitable way. I had full reign of the apartment, or so I thought (more on this later). She packed a bag and stayed with an upstairs neighbor.

My first trip New York was one week, but one of the nights that will forever be etched in my memory is when her two psycho cats, perhaps unsure of who I was, or fed up with my presence in their mother's absence, began a slow and methodical stalking of me as I rearranged my clothes in my suitcase.

Before I realized it, both cats had crept into the bedroom, a la National Geographic stalking their prey. Was there power in numbers? The primal, coordinated attack underscored by in stereo growls, hissing, and yowls was proof positive. A simple flick of my hand, "Shoo cat. Get on outta here and leave me alone," wouldn't work on this night. I had invaded their territory, and the spoiled felines weren't having me.

At this point, the yowls intensify. Sitting atop the log legs, glowing eyes locked on me, my heart began to race. I ran through several scenarios in my mind-all should result in their remaining alive even though I contemplated knocking them both off their perches with my deodorant, shampoo, or tube of toothpaste. They were house cats. Shouldn't they back down, scurry away, leave me in peace? 

Not these two cats. They stood their ground, and my fear intensified. I was actor after all, and my face was my calling card. I wasn't going to risk a kamikaze cat attack to my arms and face while trying to defend myself, and not injure my host's pets. 

I remember abandoning whatever was I was doing, and hightailing it into the bathroom and closed the door in the nick of time before a paw with sharp, exposed claw swiped underneath the door. It was on now!

Safe inside the locked bathroom, I felt like a fool. Safe, but foolish. How in the hell did I allow two cats to get the better of me? Those beasts wouldn't let up. They paced back and forth just outside the door, voicing their displeasure with my presence. I didn't care if they shredded my clothes, as long as my skin remained intact. 

I can see the bright white lights in Caroline's bathroom now. I can see one too many bottles of cosmetics, bags of cotton balls, or her female products littering the countertop and shelves as I stand with my back at the door, again trying to figure out what to do. 

There would be no letting up that night. I wouldn't be returning to the bedroom for a solid night's rest. I settled into my temporary home until she'd return the next morning. I spied some of her plush, over-sized bath sheets, and her very comfortable five-star hotel robe. I unfolded two or three of the bath sheets, slipped on her robe, stepped into the bathtub and fell asleep to the feline sentries' dismay.

It was as if nothing happened the next morning when she arrived, called out to them, and poured their morning food into their bowls. I had to be safe with her in the apartment. When I made my way to the living room looking worse for wear, she promptly laughed at me, disbelieving my previous night of torture. Those cats were possessed, and I was to have been their sacrifice to whatever dark force they worshiped.