“In studying the craft of acting and then doing some actual acting a rather deep education occurs.” –Jorjeana Marie
Open the Floodgates
An interview with Jorjeana Marie by B. Lynn Goodwin
Jorjeana Marie wrote about a subject close to my heart in Improv for Writers. I’ve been using acting and improvising exercises with writers for a long time, mostly for character development. Jorjeana Marie takes the use of improv to a whole new level for novel writers, memoirists, and screen writers by offering improvisational activities and encouraging writers to try them in her craft book.
Like her, I performed improvisation. I was part of Improvisation Inc., a San Francisco troupe that performed every Friday and Saturday in San Francisco. It was 1977 and I had infinite levels of energy. We used the principles of support, trust, and cooperation. I added building when I taught the techniques to high school students who took them and ran with them. First hand experience, that improv opens creativity. In addition to performing I wrote a series of articles for Dramatics Magazine, diary entries in the voice of Sandee Mason who told her diary about the improv exercises they had done in class. She’s the main character in my YA Talent. A second edition is coming out from Koehler Books this October.
When I read Jorjeana Marie’s book I found new techniques and approaches. There are an infinite number of ways you’ll be able to use the material in this book. In the interview below she talks about …
BLG: Tell us a bit about your background as an actor and writer.
JM: I love writing because I get to become someone else and while doing so, I feel separate from everyone and also closer to them. I love acting for the exact same reason. My favorite things to write are characters and worlds full of whimsy, so writing for kids of all ages is a natural fit. This also holds true for my favorite characters that I’ve gotten to be.
BLG: You might love my YA, Talent. Briefly how can improv help a writer?
JM: It’s tool and also a way of life. It can be used to unlock certain elements, and it can also become the way a person creates. Either way, I think this is the formula:
understanding improvisation + willing to play = freedom.
BLG: What does your acting background bring to character development?
JM: Understanding how to be true to a character, how to listen to the other characters, how to make space, how to be silent, how to talk for days and not say what you mean (subtext)—these are all enhanced by spending time as another person. Becoming reliable in being able to make that ‘shift’. Because in that magical little ‘shift’ an entire world is opened up.
I’d love to share a little more about this, to buoy up those who are professional actors or have any background in acting or hey, who just thought at one point or another, ‘I’d like to act’. To all those people I just want to say, that’s cool! And really, really, very, truly useful. Here’s why I believe this:
In studying the craft of acting and then doing some actual acting a rather deep education occurs. One is no longer outside looking at worlds, or building worlds from a place ‘above’. Actors are down in the dirt. Actors are chatting with people, watching them, following them, imitating them, being them. And there’s no better way to understand another human being than to see the world through their eyes.
Sometimes, in becoming another person, one develops a new way of thinking about others. You may find yourself thinking: I had no idea life was like this for you, you may find yourself forever changed. I have often thought when working on a character based on someone I met in real life: You were not who I thought you were by looking at you from the outside. You’re more than I ever could have dreamed.
That kind of understanding comes from committing to being someone else. That’s the key and I have always taught in my classes how important that was to me, to being free as a character. I LOVE playing characters whether it’s at my desk or on stage. I’d rather, in my creative time, be someone else. I mean, I’ve been being me for years, and although I do like me, I really like understanding other people by trying my very best to become them as truthfully and as honestly as I can.
When we are learning how to become a character our time is wrapped up in studying all the aspects that make up a character, and also humanity. We are also reading great literature (hopefully). A well-trained actor spends their life doing this. Observing, then being all sorts of people from all sorts of places. I think it is clear how spending much of your time observing everyone and everything around you- from their gestures, their attitudes, their way of holding themselves up -it all serves the chance to portray a life well. To become someone else so fully the ‘actor’ melts away and strangers can look at that and say: Well, I’ll be. So we perform it too. Under the pressure of people watching. But it’s okay, because if it’s one of the greats, we know the words and the story are strong. Any time spent studying, rehearsing, sleeping dreaming, being characters in works by Athur Miller, Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Joyce Carol Oates. Durang, Chekhov, etc. is a profound education.
In a play, one can live, for hours at a time, as another person, walking, shaking, spitting, shimmying, snaking along as someone else. The FREEDOM!
I think having this kind of experience available, this kind of background, makes it possible for one to write very interesting, complex, truthful characters. I think it’s worthwhile to devote a life, even a piece of a life, to the performing arts. And therapeutic too. The actor has been looking at character for a very long time, it’s the numero uno part of the job.
I try to honor the characters I write with the commitment I give the ones I perform. It sure is fun doing both.
BLG: What are your favorite three exercises in the book?
JM: Any of the ones where I am writing in character. I also really like ‘Paint the Scenery’ because writing for animation is so visual and this never fails to get me immersed in another world.
BLG: hat was the biggest challenge in writing Improv for Writers?
JM: Actually narrowing down the rules. I felt like there were a few more I wanted to include. (Which is also why I threw in my Bonus Rule: Conjure Enthusiasm! – I could not imagine life, a writing life, in particular, without that one!)
BLG: Did you go to Ten Speed Press or did they come to you? What sold them on the concept and presentation of your book?
JM: I worked with KN Literary on my book proposal and had worked that book out pretty well when I approached Ten Speed Press – Lisa Westmoreland – with my proposal. Interestingly, I had decided with my proposal editor to leave off the section using improv on story elements (dialogue, character, etc. ) and was focused only on the rules. Well, Lisa wrote me back and asked if I had thought about applying the rules to story elements! I was able to right back: “Funny you should ask that” and send the other half of the proposal that I had held back. There was a certain magic in bringing this book along and that was a sign… It was a really special experience.
BLG: As an actor, what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
JM: I just want everyone to have FULL permission to express themselves. Sometimes when I write, I get tense. I’m sitting so much, trying to meet a deadline, and I would just say, if you don’t already do this, take a ‘character’ break. Walk around the room, the house, the block, as one of your characters. No one will know! And you might receive some inspiration.
BLG: We have so much in common. I have done that. Have you read any fiction or do you have comic monologues online and if so, where can readers find it?
JM: I have a few short films I did on my website jorjeanamarie.com and I’ll be adding more essays, blogs and games up there as I am doing a lot of writing now.
BLG: What else would you like readers to know about you and your book?
JM: Improv is another way to connect to our creative selves and open the floodgates. Don’t be surprised if you do an exercise or two and suddenly have to lean back and say: “Woah, I JUST came up with that?!” It happens at every single event I do. I’m amazed, their amazed, we’re all just stunned at what is inside the person next to us. What is inside us. It just needed an invitation to come out and play.
BLG: Thanks so much for taking the time to share this exceptional approach to writing and developing empathy for characters.
I highly recommend Improv for Writers. It’s an outstanding way to break out of your routines and find truths and motivations waiting to be discovered.
Tackling a New Genre
An interview with Judith Marshall by B. Lynn Goodwin
In late April I received a short e-mail from Judith Marshall, a local writer. She said,
“Since I cannot have an in-person book launch during this shelter-in-place order, this was the best way I knew to tell you about my new novel, Staying Afloat, which is now available on Amazon in print and as an ebook.
“Staying Afloat is a story borne of marriage and lust set against the responsibility of family. It explores a key life question: Can a woman ever really know her heart until she faces tragedy?”
Good pitch. Good enough to pique my curiosity. Besides, I like to do favors for writers who do favors for me, and she had invited me to be on a panel of authors a few years ago. What goes around comes around.
Crystal Scott, her husband, and her boss are the triangle in this charming contemporary romance. When Crystal takes a new job as a travel advisor for an upscale company, she doesn’t expect her boss to show up in New York or Hawaii. He does, though, and the attraction is too real to be denied. Can anyone save Crystal from her bad judgment?
In the interview below, author Judith Marshall shares her experiences as a writer and a book promoter.
BLG: Tell us about your writing background. Where did your interest in writing come from?
JM: I have been blessed with the friendship of a small group of women since high school. In my mid-50s, I started to think about the value of enduring female friendship; all the support women give each other through troubled relationships, dramatic divorces and even maddening menopause. I knew that someday, I wanted to write a book with that theme. My “someday” came when I retired from corporate America. I began by asking a friend who was a published author where I should start. Should I sign up for a creative writing class or join a writer’s group? His advice was to “just sit down and write.” In 1997, I did just that.
I didn’t write full-time. After retirement, I became a consultant for a training and development company that required extensive travel. However, between trips, I always came back to the book. In 2009, Husbands May Come and Go but Friends are Forever was published.
BLG: Staying Afloat has a very different plot from Husbands. Did the initial plot idea come from something you observed or a different place?
JM: When I was in Human Resources in a hi-tech company, I observed a number of office romances; some ending tragically and a few ending in marriage. These observations triggered the idea of a plot about a middle-aged devoted wife and mother re-entering the workplace and losing her moral compass.
BLG: The writing is filled with specific details. Any tips for selecting good sensory details? For tasteful sex scenes?
JM: I write visually. I want my readers to feel as if they are watching a movie. Sex scenes are very difficult to write. I kept in mind that these were two consenting adults whose lust for each other was equal and palpable. What would that look like? What would she feel the first time he kissed her; the first time he entered her? It’s all about putting yourself in the character’s place. As for other sensory details, I use past experiences and memories. For instance, my aunt wore no makeup and smelled of talcum powder so I used that in my description of the protagonist’s supervisor. Her office had deep plush carpeting that “felt like a blanket of marshmallows” when she walked on it. The use of imagination is at the root of good sensory details.
BLG: Many readers would be interested to know how many drafts it took you to get this completed and how this was different from writing your first book.
JM: I started writing Staying Afloat in 2010, a year after my first novel was published. My writing was interrupted shortly thereafter by my husband’s illness and eventual death. Two years after his death, I felt strong enough to I began again. Luckily, I had completed a first draft. I re-read what I had and began editing and revising. This process was no different from my first book, in that I always write one complete first draft, and revise and edit from there.
Writing Staying Afloat was a big jump from my first novel as I had never written a romance. But I found I enjoyed tackling a new genre, stepping out of my comfort zone. A story about the conflict between lust and the responsibility of family was definitely a challenge.
BLG: I like your summary / pitch very much. Any suggestions for what to put in and what to leave out?
JM: I used the steps that I learned by attending various conferences and writer’s club meetings over the years. First, what is the book about? Then what is the context – is this a gothic or contemporary romance? Next, what is the conflict? Lastly, give a teaser to how the conflict is resolved, but don’t reveal the ending.
BLG: You are a successful marketer and speaker. What’s the secret to your success?
JM: The rule I follow on book marketing is to spend as much time and effort marketing the book as you did writing it. What good is it to have a published book if no one knows about it? As for public speaking, my 25-year career in human resources provided me with numerous opportunities to develop and deliver employee training programs. I’m very comfortable in front of a microphone.
BLG: Any tips for marketing in 2020?
JM: This is a strange time. Being sheltered- in- place means no traditional book launch party or book store presentations. However, there are many resources online to promote your book. For instance, Facebook has many groups specifically for book promotion. You just have to spend time researching sites that support book marketing.
BLG: What are you working on now and where can readers learn more about you?
JM: I have started a novel entitled, Bitter Acres, about a small group of single women in the 60s who live on a suburban cul-de-sac and become close friends. The plot is just beginning to develop. My characters will take the story where they want it to go.
For more information about me, go to https://judithmarshall.net.
Thank you for sharing your story with us. Clearly perseverance matters.
Staying Afloat is both entertaining, and enlightening with a narrator you can love and hate. If you love women’s stories and/or romance, you should add Staying Afloat to your list of books.