The advice most given to writers is to write what you know. For that reason, I think it is every writer’s job to go out and experience as much as you possibly can. When I look back at my life, I’ve done my job. It’s been quite a ride.
The first 17 years were spent on a farm in a very rural part of South Dakota. Books and my imagination were the things that kept me going. My mom says she taught me to read at 4 because I kept trying to do it on my own. Books let me know there was a big, wide world out there, and I couldn’t wait to go see it.
My senior year in high school I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. Living an hour from a theater meant I hadn’t seen many movies. This one had an impact. After the movie, if I didn’t do it physically, I did it in my head – I stood, pointed at the screen and said, “I want to do that.” When I found out screenplays were only 120 pages long, while novels were 200-400 pages, my long diversion away from novels began. I decided I would write screenplays.
I wandered the earth a bit, fulfilling my writer’s job of exploring life. I spent a couple of years in Hawaii, a summer in Yellowstone National Park (best summer of my life), a winter at The Grand Canyon, a spring in the San Bernardino Mountains teaching city kids about the outdoors, and then finally, I made my way to Hollywood. With luck, hard work, and some talent I started working as a teleprompter operator.
The first five years were freelance, and were enough to make any farm girl’s head spin. I worked with celebrities I had seen on my TV for years. One day I was doing a PSA with The Fonz. The next day I’d be on the set of Home Improvement. Another day it was Murphy Brown with JFK, Jr. standing next to me at craft services. I worked with Michael Jackson at Neverland Ranch. I prompted Presidents Reagan and Clinton, and Vice Presidents Gore and Quayle. Sydney Poitier asked to speak with me privately in his sitting room, and I asked Meryl Streep to get off my cases so I could pack up and go home. I’ve been kissed on the lips by Bob Hoskins and Connie Chung, and slapped on the ass by Kevin Costner. Neil Simon once asked my thoughts on rewriting his speech. Every day was a new adventure. It was also an adventure on how to make ends meet in LA on very little money.
That struggle to earn a living led to the biggest wrong turn in my writing career. I traded all the excitement, and opportunities to meet new people doing freelance work for the good money and security of a long-running studio show – The Late Late Show. The problem was, I wasn’t connecting with the kind of people who could further my career. If I wanted to do standup, or be a comedy writer, it was the perfect place. For someone who wanted to write dramatic TV or film, it was an absolute dead end. My scripts piled up, unread, un-submitted. Even trying to further my career within the network went nowhere, because I was too valuable to them where I was.
After 20 years of watching celebrities parade across the control room monitors, and seeing there was no future for me writing in Hollywood, I walked away, sold my house, and moved to a spot in the middle of the country where I had good friends, the weather was tolerable, and the cost of living was low. I have a job where it takes me a month to earn what I used to make in a week, but it is one that makes my heart sing, and not one that kills my soul. I have found the balance that has allowed me to write.
I’ve completed my first novel, though if you count the pile of screenplays in a box somewhere, it’s not like it’s my first attempt at writing. I’d like to think it’s not your typical first novel. I’m focusing on MG at the moment.
The MS I am submitting to PitchWars is Fear Unleashed, which takes place 2000 years after mages and dragons filled the land. They still exist, but now, technology has replaced the need for magic, and kids just want the latest gadget. 13-year-old Opal’s mom was working in the space program when she was killed. Now all Opal can think of is fulfilling her mom’s dreams and heading into space. The only problem is, her magic ability score is even higher than her science scores. The placement board has other ideas for her, and on her first day of school she summons a deadly karuk. In the midst of all the danger and adventure, Fear Unleashed explores spirituality vs. science, and by the end of the trilogy, love vs. fear. I hope to find a mentor to help me fix some structural problems, and give the MS a boost in finding its way into the world.
I was part way through book two of the trilogy, when I decided it might be better to have a more stand alone book to offer. I have nearly completed that book, but can’t come up with a name for it. It follows the adventures of an 10-year-old girl named Daisy, who finds a magic stereoscope in her great-grandfather’s attic. When she presses a button on the side, it sends her back to the exact moment the picture was taken – Buffalo Grass, Oklahoma just a few days before Black Sunday, one of the worst dust storms the country has ever seen. While this book is a stand alone, it also has the potential to be a series, with Daisy traveling to any number of historical events between 1835 and the present day.
So that’s what I’ve been up to during my years on this planet. Thanks to my wandering, there’s a lot I know and a lot I can write about. Hopefully some day all those experiences will make it to print.