I just heard from a former student, J.J. Strong, who, with his master's degree, is now trying to make a living. Heck, with a name like J.J. Strong, he has a chance, no? While in my master class in playwriting at USC, he wrote a stunning full-length play. A year later, a one-act play of his was produced in the USC One-Act Play Festival. One of my colleagues, screenwriter Coleman Hough who had J.J. in her screenwriting class, also found his work fabulous. He's just created a blog that's displaying, warts and all, the road to his novel's publication--or not. You can keep up with his journey at http://strongnovel.blogspot.com/.
You may have noted J.J. writes plays, screenplays, and novels--isn't that too much? Most graduate writing programs have students focus on one genre only, such as novel writing, but in USC's Master of Professional Writing program, trying one's hand in multiple genres is encouraged. That's because today's creative writer needs to be conversant in multiple forms. I started off writing non-fiction articles, wrote screenplays for a while, then stage plays, and now novels, so I can empathize with the process. One learns a lot from each genre. (You can read more about the MPW program at http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/mpw/admissions/overview.php).
These days, one needs not only talent in multiple forms, but also drive. The fact that J.J. has a blog is a good sign. When a marketing guru and friend encouraged me a couple of years ago to create a newsletter and/or blog, I'd balked. I said, "John Irving isn't doing this." He said that if John Irving had to start today, he would.
One place that J.J. should try his novel is Amazon.com's upcoming Breakthrough Novel Award. Writers like lemmings will pour their manuscripts over Amazon's transom, but some lucky people will get noticed. I can hear J.J.'s inner dialogue for this already. Still, trying every angle counts.
I'm on the same road as J.J., just a few more bends ahead. While I have an upbeat agent, Jim McCarthy in New York who is pushing two of my novels, I'm also bringing out my first novel, The Brightest Moon of the Century, through a small press. My own hope is that a bigger publisher will take note of the book and take it over with more marketing muscle or at least ask Jim for a look at one of my other novels. The very first review of The Brightest Moon of the Century just arrived, and I am now filled with hope that people will fall for the novel. You can read the review at http://zibilee.figearo.net/2009/01/brightest-moon-of-century-by.html.
While all this is happening, my son Zach, 21, is becoming another kind of entrepreneur in Arizona, marketing and selling a clear spray and high-intensity license-plate bulb so that the cameras in the newly created speed zones on Arizona freeways can't read people's license plates. He feels the cameras are too much like Big Brother. Also, the speed zones themselves are creating hazards when people brake fast, and the number of rear-end collisions have risen. He and I might debate the laws and ethics of what he and the state are each doing, but the fact is, he's just as hopeful as J.J, I, and others on our novels.
As I write this, my play, "Who Lives?" is casting and moves toward a new production, which opens in Los Angeles on March 12, 8 p.m. The play is published and can be purchased at Amazon and other places. There will be a publication party, too, for The Brightest Moon of the Century at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena earlier that week, March 7 at 5 p.m.
The road to publication and productions is long. Becoming a lawyer, doctor, or bookie is probably more of a sure thing. Still, this is the only life we have, so you may as well pursue what you adore. Good luck J.J.
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