Sunday, May 30, 2010

Anatomy of a Successful Writing Workshop

When I first decided to organize a critique workshop, I didn't know heads or tails about forming a group in the publishing capital of the world. What did I know about interviewing and screening potential workshop members without insights into human nature, psychology, or human resources training?

I'd reached the point in my life when I had transitioned from auditioning, cattle calls, and acting to other. I'd been in collaborative creative environments as an actor, the school band, member of the glee club, and probably thought I'd always rely on others to initiate a project. 

My earliest writing was personal, not meant for public eyes and scrutiny. I read and wanted to work through the Artist's Way, but I was terrified to go to those spiritual and emotional places the author suggested for deeper writing that would unleash a waterfall of creativity and connection or reconnection to the universe and/or a higher power. My foundation was biblical, not touchy feely, writing letters to myself or to those who I felt wronged me and blocked my creative path. The book would require lowering and eventually removing my actor's masks.  

The original goal was to a create a collaborative writing workshop to improve my writing and eventually find an agent and get published. It was easiest to plan a screenwriting and playwriting group back then. Fiction was an unmanageable beast. Writing for the stage or screen was more direct and second nature for me. I thought it was similar to being a carpenter and stage manager.  

I can't recall now how I recruited the various would-be, never would-be, and promising writers. I remember my small living room filled with bodies in folding chairs, squeezed onto the loveseat, snacks on the coffee table, and the mess the participants left in their wake. On second thought, I most likely recruited people from the last few plays and independent films I appeared in or worked on. Most meetings were held in my apartment until folks began complaining about traveling to the Upper West Side. The fair thing to do was alternate among members' homes or office conference rooms, which later proved problematic not only because of the trek to the outer reaches of Brooklyn or Queens, plus all weren't committed and would show up. 

I felt something was missing. But what could it be? Was I getting in over my head? Should there be more structure? Should I separate the genres into different groups? Should there be safe words and boundaries as there are in therapy or in a dimly-lit room of pleasure and pain? I dismissed these questions as soon I registered them. I didn't want to tip the already shaky canoe.

I didn't know how I would proceed, but I did. I knew on some level that I should stick with it one day at a time. Morningside Writers Group felt right in my bones. I named the group because of my proximity to a once-derelict park that was being refurbished. What now seems symbolic didn't occur to me until years later. A novel or any other creative writing is a pile of leaves, branches, dried soil in need of watering, discarded syringes, and pill bottles. The city and park volunteers sorted and cleaned debris and restored Morningside Park. How many manuscripts begin the same way and are helped through a workshop process? 

The first year was bumpy and emotionally taxing, yet I pushed through the bad behavior, withdrawals, and need for organization and bylaws. Oftentimes I thought about walking away and strengthening my writing in solitude. Over successive months and years, I enrolled in several writing workshops, but none worked for me. I felt that I was on a factory conveyor belt. I kept coming back to my idea my idea of creating an intimate writing salon closer to my Southwestern sensibilities. 

To overcome the early false starts, I had to return to my stage acting core accustomed to research and script analysis. I looked for articles and books on critiquing, editing, copyediting, writing groups, and creative communities. The two books that stood out were Immediate Fiction and Writing Alone and With Others, and a series of technical, business, and creative PDFs.  

All research and theory don't make for an enduring and successful writing workshop. I'd have to put my findings into action with a new group of strangers who might not share my beliefs and publication goals. After I regrouped, the meetings were better because I knew things about myself, writing, and the applicants that I hadn't before. 

I set a bar of excellence that I'd have to achieve along with the others. I read everything I could get my hands on, subscribing to several mail-order bookclubs, literary, and writing magazines. I had to become a home-schooled literature professor in a matter of months, versed in popular and obscure fiction, scripts, and memoirs. I had to distinguish between mediocre, good, and excellent writing. I had to guide others toward more polished drafts. 
The writers would have to have a common set of protocol when evaluating manuscripts and offering constructive feedback. The writers would have to share a vocabulary and representation and publication goals.  

I had a huge learning curve because I took people and the application process too seriously. I had to become less of a father and scout leader, and more of a moderator and business owner. I had to overcome my fear of failure and plod through to the end of each new workshop until I found my footing. It was difficult to say no to unqualified candidates, and tougher still to read angry e-mails and forum postings afterward.

I'm a better moderator now because I developed a thick skin and focus on who and what matters, and ignore the petty stuff that only results in headaches and heartburn. If someone complains about not being accepted, I don't internalize and dwell on the attack. I've created multi-genre professional workshops and writing classes that have recurring yearly participants. Morningside isn't for everyone, and I've learned to live with that. It can't be all things to all people, and it shouldn't be.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Seeking Business Development Manager & Marketing Team

Corporate Legal and Entertainment Management company seeks virtual and local marketing team.

Seeking experienced commissioned Business Development Manager, preferably with a legal background, but will consider all applicants, two commissioned Junior Business Development Managers, and two commissioned Marketing Interns

Job duties will include:
  • Generating and closing legal and entertainment management sales leads.
  • Developing business relationships law schools and firms.
  • Recruiting personnel, training materials and HR follow up and file maintenance.
  • Developing proposals, marketing materials, and affiliate B to B marketing.
Interested applications please forward a cover letter and resume to OGC Application

Thanks in advance for your interest!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Finding My Voice

I once dreamed of the bright lights of Broadway because I felt at home on stage in someone else's life during rehearsals and the duration of the play. It seems I've always been on a stage or raised dais of some sort as an actor, speech tournament, at church, or standing up for my younger brothers and cousins. In all these past roles, it could have been easy to have gotten lost, overwhelmed, or angry. 

Acting was an escape, and sometimes shedding the character I'd spent so much time creating was akin to losing a part of my soul. Inhabiting a life with a different set of challenges was enticing whether I was a homeless vagabond for Thanksgiving in a junior high school production, or a teen street hustler in an off-Broadway theatre on Restaurant Row.

An actor's training is invaluable, and I recommend at least one intensive acting workshop if only to test emotional and spiritual boundaries. I could be young or old, American or foreign-born with the proper dialect training and rehearsals. There's no such protective and nurturing cocoon in real life outside a familial home. It's usually trial and error, emphasis on the errors. There are no do-overs.

I didn't know I was a good actor, or I should say accept I was a good actor until others begin complimenting. I knew the ghouls and demons that haunted and taunted me at home or on the school playground, and used them as fuel as an actor. I was strong on stage and later film, whereas such bravery didn't come as easily outside the rehearsal space or performances. 

I sought shelter in other worlds that were less painful than my own. My directors and fellow cast members didn't judge me as did my family, classmates, or churchgoers. They didn't need to really, I was doing a great job ostracizing myself in the full length bathroom mirror. The make-believe shielded and comforted not unlike Granny's hugs and kisses on my forehead before walking to school. 

Initially it was difficult to separate myself from the characters I played on stage and go to the next class when the school bell sounded or return home and deal with my parents who either refused to or didn't understand and accept that I was different. I wouldn't grow up to play sports, walk on the moon, or cure a disease.

Acting took on a new meaning in my second high school. It was at my predominantly white, racially-mixed school that acting and actors looked and behaved unlike before. Perhaps it was the big fish from a previous small pond floundering in a large sea of high school angst, new racial tensions, prejudices, and competition. Mr. Hudson and Dr. Owens weren't there to guide me and give historical and cultural context to my characters. They were replaced by a musical theatre maven coach who begrudgingly complimented me and never cast me or the other three black students in advanced theatre class in a lead role.  

It was in high school that I got a crash course in the underside of Hollywood that I now know changed the prism through which I saw auditioning and acting. Acting was no longer pure or raw for me on too many levels. It was and remains far more complex than any character I've created. I think the best actors suffer from a form of acting schizophrenia. How else could we do what we do?  

Years later after I endured one too many sexual advances or accidental touches, I walked away from acting, not because I no longer had talent or wanted to perform, it all became too much for me. I know others who've done the same and have become successful in other aspects within the industry or hover nearby. Once bitten by the acting bug, it's not easy to leave wholeheartedly. Performance training and acting have come in handy in the past when I taught MS Office Suite in corporate America, worked on a help desk, taught Pre-GED/GED in an inner city educational nonprofit, or the bane of most New York and LA city actors, hotels and restaurants.

I no longer regret having left the New York cattle call grind because it was part of my journey. I don't rule out returning to the stage or film as an actor, playwright, screenwriter, director or producer. Maybe an admixture of all as a number of others have done and continue to do. 

I've arrived at this point in my life as founder and creative director of Morningside Writers Group and founder and account generator (among my many hats) of Keneritz Media because it's my natural progression. What better place to be than a writing community to help shape the next crop of plays, screenplays, short stories and novels that might be adapted to film and collaborate with production companies and producers? What better place to be than surrounded by talented singer-songwriters, artists, and small businesses that need a Pied Piper to lead them to their next logical step? 

This is my voice. I am many faces and things to different people, and if not for my schizophrenic acting training, I'd be one-dimensional and unable to handle and nurture the revolving door of writers and artists that have and will cycle through both of my creative enterprises.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Summer 2010 Writing Workshops

Morningside Writers Group offers flexible and affordable 12 or 24 workshop sessions for writers of literary fiction, mass market fiction, speculative/horror/fantasy genre fiction, creative nonfiction/memoir, stage/screen/TV.

Writers interested in our fiction workshop, apply here.

Writers interested in our returning adult/stage II fiction workshop, apply here.

Writers interested in our creative nonfiction/memoir workshop, apply here.

Writers interested in our screenwriting/playwriting/TV pilot workshop, apply here.

The main purpose of the group is to provide necessary feedback to other writers prior to submitting to editors, agents, publishers, and contests. We are most interested in helping each other further writing careers.

Morningside Writers Group is listed among other regional writing groups, writing centers, and workshops that 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.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

New York Virtual Law Firm Hiring

New NYC-based virtual law firm is seeking a Business Development Start Up team for an initial one-week commitment and ongoing maintenance and consultation. 

Seeking experienced recruitment/HR personnel, virtual and on-site administrative assistants, programmers/coders, technical support, graphic and web designers, commissioned sales representatives, and legal PR and marketing staff

Job duties will include:
Graphic, logo, and website design.
Basic web application/forms coding.
Recruiting personnel, training materials and HR follow up and file maintenance.
Developing proposals, marketing materials, and affiliate B to B marketing.

Stipend available, approved business-related expenses with receipts will be reimbursed, and residualized commissions. 

Interested applications please forward a cover letter and resume to OGC Application. Graphic and web designers please include link to online portfolio. PR/Marketing applicants please include two previous writing samples (Ex: press release, social media case study, proposal, grant, or sponsorship/endorsement letter). 

Thanks in advance for your interest!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Call for UWS Artists & Writers

Brooklyn simply can't corner the Arts market in NYC without a fight. At least that is how some of us west of the Park feel. That being said, it's time that we establish a footing in this neighborhood.

Our objective is this: we seek to foster and sustain an interest in Writing and the Arts by developing a consortium of like minds and ultimately building a community we can be proud of.

Ideally we'd like to meet monthly to discuss initiatives to share/promote our work, extend our reach and uphold artistic relevance around these parts.

Sound like a plan? If you are a writer or artist that lives on the Upper West Side, and if you find this type of syndicate interesting, please contact us so we can begin a dialogue. Don't forget to include a little note about yourself and what you do.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

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.