Sunday, February 22, 2015

Luck? No It's Hard Work

Yes it is possible to make 100% of your living as a creative-artist, writer, musician, actor, etc. You can do it. 

Hey everyone so this is a carryover from a discussion on FB about working as a writer and artist or one or the other.

I write this blog today because it seems that people are misunderstanding some things that were said at the SCBWI winter conference in New York earlier this month. One of the editors made a comment that it always scares him when his first time authors say the words, "I quit my day job." Now everyone is on social media freaking out saying that it was said at the conference NOT to quit your day job because you can't survive as an artist or a writer. Funny, I was there and didn't hear that at all.

What I heard was an editor being truthful about his part in the publication process and how much stress that puts on him when someone does that. The truth is, that editors work too, and if a book is successful or isn't, it affects them as well. Telling your editor, especially on your first book, that you are now depending on your book to hit, and stay, on the New York Times Bestseller list, is a lot of pressure.

To be realistic. Authors don't make a lot of money. That is the truth and it's been the truth as long as writing books has been around. It surprises me that new writers are shocked to hear that they aren't going to be rich when they get an agent and sell their book-the great American novel. Yes there are some that do. We can all name them off the top of our heads-even the people who don't read that much know them. SOME AUTHORS ARE: Stephen King, John Grisham, Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy, George R.R. Martin, Jennifer Weiner, Helen Fielding, and in children's books- J.K. Rowling, Judy Blume, Philip Pullman, Stephenie Meyers, and recently, John Green, Jay Asher, James Dashner. To name a FEW. But these are the exceptions, not the rule.

Wouldn't it be great if we all made money on our novels? And don't forget Dan Brown and E.L. James. Not the best written books of all times, but they are laughing all the way to the bank.

It can be done, but it's not the normal. I have plenty of author friends on the bestseller lists who work day jobs on the side. Most of them are well known in the writing community.

This doesn't discourage me at all. Why? Because I know the truth about it and I don't do it for the money. I have been published in the adult (just meaning non-children's books) world. I jumped at the opportunity to get published with smaller publishers and was wildly unsuccessful because I knew NOTHING about editing, the process, or marketing. I am a published author and yet I still work, have a day job.

I also have been hired, work for hire as a picture book writer. People alway say, "but you wrote like 16 books for FarFaria, can't you live on that?" hahaha, yeah, no. That was for a flat rate on each book, so I could gain experience in PBs etc.

I am now concentrating on my YA (teen fiction) books because I LOVE writing for teens, not to get rich. I wouldn't mind it. I daydream about my book(s) as films, but I don't do it for that reason.

Most of you know that my day job is as an artist-specifically a children's book illustrator. Yes I am one of the ones who makes her living drawing. I have for the last 20 years. I started in animation and then I went to children's books. But guess what? I also do TONS of other illustration and graphic design jobs from painting doggie portraits, to licensing my work, to logos, greeting cards, educational books, magazine illustrations, consumer products, storyboarding, character design, background design, being in art shows etc. See? I work all the time because I do a lot of different things.

One person said to me that I was lucky when I started. That may be true to a point in that I got my foot in the door by luck. The luck was that I was doodling at an audition for Disney when they saw my quick sketches and offered me a job in their animation internship. I turned it down, then a couple years later, sick of my mother telling me how I was going to be a waitress forever, I decided to call up Disney and work as an artist. That's the short version. What people forget when telling that story is that I worked my arse off for almost two years in classes at the animation guild while working full time at the Cheesecake Factory to make that happen.

I drew 8-12 hours a day. I slept about 2-4 hours a night. I took classes 5 days a week, all day long ones on anatomy, life drawing, quick sketch, animals and animation. I busted my hump to make that happen. It wasn't luck it was hard work. Then when I got into animation I worked on 7 films, back to back, to back.. etc.. for 3 years, 6-7 days a week, with an average work week being 70+ hours. I also continued to take art classes and animation classes on the side. Again sleep didn't happen much.

I still take art classes. I still take writing classes. When I got my first novel published in 2003, I had been out of work, when animation crashed in 2001, for two years. I had only worked briefly on a couple films and commercials, but for the most part I wasn't working, so I dove into writing. I took tons and tons of classes with Gotham's online courses and the Children's Institute of Literature. Then in 2007 I was offered a job on a TV show for ABC, it got cancelled the day I started-I know, what rotten luck. Well I dove into TV and film writing courses, workshops etc. I continued to take novel writing courses. Etc. Get it? I worked my butt off and I still do.

To work and make a living as a writer, you have to do more than just get an agent and sell your book. You have to do other things like; being a reader for the studios and publishing houses, be an editor, write copy, write shorts, write for magazines, work in tv and film, etc. Just like art, you have to do more.

So while there may be some element of luck to how I got into art in the first place. I continue to work because I work at it. I network all the time. I continue to take classes. I improve my skills. I used to split my income between writing and illustrating, but these days, I am focusing on my YA novels and so my art is my day job for the most part. I still read scripts, TV shows, specs, etc.. I still do consulting, but for the most part, my day job is illustration. I work on greeting cards and children's books mostly right now, but also do other side jobs when they come in.

I think there is a huge misconception of the creative industries that we don't work-I think that we work harder than most industries. That has been my experience. It's the same for actors and musicians. The friends of mine who are making a living at it, work all the time. The aren't relying on one thing to make them famous, they are working.

So my advice to anyone who is new, don't give up, but know that you have to work at it, all the time. If you end up as the next J.K. Rowling, than great! (don't forget me! Hehe)

Also to be a professional creative-you have to LOVE what you do. I always say that I don't have a choice in the matter, this is why I was born. Rich, poor, broke, flush-none of that matters to me. Trust me, I am always up and down with money, that is part of the deal. :)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

YA For Boys

So many of you know that I write from the male POV. I am not trying to change the way things are done in teen fiction or any of that, it's just what comes to me. I do, however, feel that boys are grossly under represented, in that most of the teen fiction that have strong male leads are MG action adventure-not that there is anything wrong with that. I LOVE the Maze Runner and Percy Jackson books as much as the next person.
I write contemporary YA fiction from the male POV. Maybe it's because I was obsessed with S. E. Hinton in middle school or that I just like boy driven stories better, but that is how I write. I am writing for the teenage boys. Hopefully girls will like my books too. Recently I was at a SCBWI convention and someone said to me, "you are writing Boo-hoo fiction like John Green" because yes in my first book there will be some deaths. I don't think of it as Boo-hoo fiction, I look at it like intense there are consequences to your actions stories from the boy's POV.
I just got an idea and have already plotted it out. I don't mind sharing, because I think there could be tons of books on this subject and we would all write it differently.
I am going to write a YA about a boy who gets drunk and sleeps with a girl, who is also drunk and then gets accused of rape. This is a VERY important storyline and poor guys, they are always just called assholes. What about when it ISN'T rape? Who is sticking up for these boys?
This is all stemmed from a recent storyline on a popular ABC Family teen show that I watch. I blogged about it here on my other blog. I am happy to hear your thoughts on it, but please be respectful of others. Thanks.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Great Article - Advice for New Illustrators

Hey everyone, I know, I know, I know, there is nothing worse than a blog that gets no love for months. I apologize, I got slammed with work and also finishing both my MG and my YA, really working hard at both in revision workshops and classes, and of course the writing.

So it won't happen again. I promise.

I came across this article today and I think it's great so I am sharing it here.

Andreas Deja's Book on Disney Animation

Andreas Deja's Book on Disney Animation

Yay! How cool is this? Andreas was my first supervising animator at Disney on Hercules. When I met him I was clueless about who anyone was in the industry, I just thought he was the hilarious guy I met in my friend Jacquie's cubicle when I was getting my drawings looked at. LOL.. He was an amazing friend to me when my mom was dying. He is one of the best people I have ever met.

How to Make A Living As An Artist

Hey everyone! Happy Thursday. How are you? I am doing great. I wanted to share something with you all because I think that it's important if you want to make a living as an artist. When I say artist, I don't just mean someone who draws or paints, I mean any creative. As you know I make my living as an illustrator AND a writer. For illustration slash "artist" I work in many areas. That is how I make a living.

People always ask me for advice on how to do this, what's the trick, secret, etc? Well the truth is, IF YOU REALLY WANT THE TRUTH, and most people don't, is that making your living as an artist is HARD. Do you hear me? It's hard. It's one of those careers that has a lot of rejection and sometimes months where you don't have any work coming in. 

I started my art career in animation. I worked 80-100 hours a week and put in 110% giving it my all on 10 films back to back to back... and I thought, "well I'll always have work because I work so hard and people like that." HA! Joke was on me. In 2003 traditional animation hit a real low with the closing of Disney Florida. Over here in La la land we had already seen it fall and then that was the final nail. Everyone was out of work, I am talking hundreds of qualified people who all had to reinvent themselves. Which we all did.

I continued to work in animation for years from project to project and that was great, but also hard as the traditional.hand drawn jobs became fewer and fewer. I loved drawing for kids so I went into children's books and I am happy to say that I am about to start on my 20th. I love illustrating for kids' books, but it doesn't cover everything as they take a long time. So what else do I do? I still work in animation, I paint, I do commissions, I do graphic design, I do logos, I do greeting cards, I work as a character designer, background painter, visual development, I am a colorist, I do infographics.....get it? I work on tons of different things and that is how I am making it as an artist. Truth is, I am not sure I could do anything else. This is what I know.

I am also a writer-but that is for another day. I work as a consultant (see my workshop and consulting pages) and help writers reach their goals. I am going to have a course for creatives called I Love Mondays, so please sign up for my newsletter for information on that.

I really want people to know that they can make a living as an artist, but until that is ready, here is a GREAT video from Marie Forleo (who is one of my business coaches-I am in B School and learning from her all the time) I hope you like it, it's really great and she basically says what I just said in her cute, Marie way. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Why You Should All Read Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Okay anyone who went to highschool or who lives in the real world, read Thirteen Reasons Why-I am planning to blog about this book on both my blogs-But I will say this, unless you were homeschooled, this is the shit that goes on in high school and sadly even as adults. Not everyone commits suicide, but what people do and say does impact others period. I honestly believe this book should be required reading in the 9th grade (maybe 10th) starting now. I'll post the blog links when I get to them, I am being more thoughtful about them than my usual ramblings because of the subject matter-so it's just a question of time.

And I know this book is a few years old, I didn't read it for a lot of reasons, mostly because when I read the title I said to my friend in the bookstore "shit this is about a girl who kills herself, I think I need to wait" I waited. I kept picking it up at Barnes and Noble and carrying it around and then ultimately putting it back. It's haunting and beautiful and sad and truthful in every way. Go read it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Mork and Why Suicide is the Worst Day of Your Life

Okay so the saddest news went around the globe yesterday and we all learned that our beloved Robin Williams took his own life. It's beyond tragic, but the first thing that popped into my head wasn't anything nasty like, "suicide is selfish" or "why would he do that, he had everything?" Just some of the posts I have seen on social media in the last day. The first thing that popped into my head was, "this is so sad, I wish he could have found a way to make the pain stop." I also know that the "funny" people are often the saddest. Humor is a way of coping with all the shit that happens in life. I have a motto, that which does not kill me, makes me funnier, and while that is meant humorous, it's really the truth.

Some of you know and I have been so worried about sharing this information, but now I figure screw it, if it helps one person than it's worth any ridicule I may get. I drove to San Francisco in 2009 twice to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. Two times I made that decision. I simply could NOT take one more second of the pain I was in. Here is something that is important for people to know, I do NOT suffer from depression or bipolar disorder. Yes I am an artist and a writer and I could easily have either, but I don't and yes I have seen doctors, especially when I was suicidal after my mother's death in 2004. I thought, I am not normal because the pain gets worse every day not better-there must be something clinically wrong with me. There wasn't, I was just in pain.

The fact that I don't have a mental disorder is probably 100% of the reason that I was able to walk away from the rail and say, "okay this pain I am sucks, but I don't want to die, plus that really looks like it will hurt." Humor again, my go to is always humor.

It wasn't just about losing my mom, although that ripped my heart out and the pain is something that I can't truly describe-even though I am a writer-that's how bad it was. It was like losing a child. I felt like a part of me died with her.

Before mom died, my step brother was killed in a car jacking in Phoenix while I was living and working in Sydney, I felt like if I was in the States it wouldn't have happened, which is wrong, but it's how I felt. My brother and I were really close all through high school and college so his death was the beginning of what I now call the "LOSS DECADE" of my life.

Then Sept 11th happened and I lost friends, then mom got cancer, then grandma died, then mom died and as if all this wasn't hard enough-traditional animation crashed and I lost my career.

Someone on FB was posting about Robin Williams' death and saying that money is never a reason to kill yourself. Well to this person I say, that is so wrong. I don't know what issues with money Mr. Williams had, but I do know for a fact that when you go from having money and a career to being worried every single day about money and paying bills and for me being homeless, it does take it's toll. It's about so much more than money, it's about feeling like a failure. It's about feeling like you aren't worth anything in society, it's about self doubt and feeling like you are the only one who isn't making it work. Even if none of that is true it's how it feels. For me, not having money coming in for 8 years up to when I decided to jump was enough to make me feel like I was failing at every turn. The stress of always wondering if I could afford to eat and pay my rent was debilitating. No matter how many jobs I applied for and tests I took for jobs, nothing was working for me, so yeah MONEY was a huge part of my decision to jump.

So where was I? Oh yeah after mom died in 2004, I went to Denmark for a year, I needed the work and it was a great escape from reality, but what was so bad about that decision is that I didn't deal with her death at all. Nothing in Denmark reminded me of my mother and so it was new. "I am fine" became something I said all the time when people asked me how I was doing about mom. When I came back to the US in 2005 I was lucky enough to have a job in AZ. Arizona! UGH that is where mom lived so all the pain from her death came right back, but at least I was working.

Then that job went bust and I moved to middle America for another job that went bust after just 5 months-these places went out of business or had layoffs, I wasn't getting let go, the jobs were ending.  I moved back to Los Angeles still pretending everything was fine and then the 4 weeks I was working at Disney ended and I was back to fear, worry, stress etc. Then the phone call came.
"Your father is brain dead and we need you or your sister to come pull the plug" Yes that is what I heard. I feel into a deep despair. "OMG I HAVE NO PARENTS LEFT!" and I am in my 30s.

Well my sister decided not to pull the plug and this started a 6 year nightmare of my dad in a home with the mental capacity of a toddler to maybe first grader at best. A lot of the time he didn't know who I was when I called, but he did come out of the coma he was in and was not brain dead. But it was beyond hard to call my own father and he didn't know who I was, I had lost him. I was grieving-AGAIN.

So by the time 2008 rolled around, my depression was so bad that I could hardly function. I was worried all the time about money and I missed my parents so much that it hurt constantly. I had no one to talk to about it as grief counselling is wicked expensive, so started to make a plan for a way out. In 2009 I made the decision to go to San Francisco and jump. My mom and I had talked about her walking across the bridge if she made it out of her cancer, so I would walk across the bridge and then jump.

I knew it was selfish, I didn't care. YOU DON'T CARE when you are in that place. You only care about stopping your pain. Ever have a really bad day? I mean REALLY bad? Like your significant other cheats on you? Your kid dies, your parent dies, you lose your job? Anything like that? And it's ALL YOU CAN THINK ABOUT or TALK ABOUT? You are being selfish because you need to be in that moment, now imagine that magnified about 100 times and that is how one feels when they are committing suicide.

I knew that people would be sad, I knew that I would be missed, I knew what it would do to my remaining family, I didn't care. None of that mattered because the grief and pain I was feeling compounded by the constant fear of being homeless and feeling like a failure was more than I could take. Luckily for me when I got to the bridge and looked over the side something inside of me stopped me and even though I went back a second time-because of course I felt like a failure for not even being able to kill myself right-the same thing happened and I stopped and chose life.

Again, I do not have a mental illness so that choice was an easy one, but for someone dealing with all this crap and suffering from depression? Forget it, that leap is saving them from the hell they are in. It always bewilders me when people say "suicide is so selfish". Of course it is, it is the worst day of your life if you want to die. Now add a mental illness like being bi-polar or depression and then you don't have the skills or reasoning to not take your own life.

Mr. Williams was a great actor, comedian and from what I have heard person, but he was struggling with something bigger than any of us can see-well most of you who haven't been there. I hope that in his death people will really start thinking about the way they judge others in a more compassionate way and also really understand suicide for what it is, a way out.

Here is a great article that I want to share in case anyone here is thinking about taking their own life.