Monday, December 3, 2018

The best tool to help you finish a big writing project

Here's my other buddy, Virgo the cat - trying to tell me to take a pause I think.

I've been busy with two different projects connected with writing for the last few weeks. The first is my ongoing agent search for Dervish Dust - researching each prospective agent and sending out tailored query letters. I call this process "collecting no's" and I feel good about the number I have so far. Many have been a bit more personal than a form letter, and feel genuinely encouraging.

The other writing I've been doing is the first book in my Middle Grade fantasy novel series - or maybe it will become YA in time. I've been managing to get out close to 2000 words a day, because the plot is very thoroughly written out already. My challenge is actually prioritizing doing it - especially as the Holidays loom. I'm keeping track of my word count at the end of each writing session - a scribbled post-it note with yesterday's tally crossed out, and today's written down. It helps to feel productive.

But one thing that I learned about writing a big project - in my case a fully researched biography - is that it helps to have an accountability buddy. I honestly think I would have added a year to the process without mine.

My new friend Julie, a super-duper marketing maven, set the terms. I was to write without fail from 10AM until 12PM every weekday. I was to text her at the start, and text my word count at the end. 10AM suited me and my schedule at the time. But only two hours? I thought it was an insufficient commitment. But then again, it also felt doable, even when I had other stuff going on.

It felt odd at first, being beholden in a way to someone so entirely outside of my usual life. We had met at a talk about leadership and management for musicians and film composers. Such an odd fortuitous circumstance. When Julie heard that I was finding it tough to get into a rhythm of writing, she suggested being my accountability buddy. It was so kind of her, with her own busy life and schedule, to take that time to hit a thumbs up each day.

Sometimes I would text that it was going to be a research day - and then I got a lecture about actually writing for two hours first. If I needed to miss a day for something nonsensical like a doctor's appointment, I got a pep talk about not sliding out of the writing habit. It was wonderful.

And of course, two hours usually stretched to four or six or even eight when I was on a roll. But the text was always at noon. Sometimes I would text again after the next two hour interval. And the book got done. I'm so grateful for that daily nudge.

So that is my big advice to anyone trying to get the thing done and having trouble starting or focusing or just believing that it's OK to make your writing a priority - have an accountability buddy outside your family, someone with no stake in it - objective enough to see clearly through the likely moments of making excuses. Just two hours - two hours every day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Coburn Movie Review - Charade (1963)

James Coburn as Tex Panthollow in Charade (1963). I love his gingham shirt. 
I have been seeing James Coburn pictures turning up more and more often on various cable channels. When I first started writing Dervish Dust, I had to search out some of his more obscure early pictures. Now they are sitting in my DVR having been grabbed by the automatic "Search and Record" setting. I love technology, and I love that his work is more visible.

This month one of Jim's early movies that is certainly not obscure is playing on TCM. It is Charade (1963) starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, with James Coburn joining the cast as a key villain. There are plenty of neat behind-the-scenes stories in the book, which I won't spoil, but I will say that both Jim and his wife at the time Beverly, absolutely loved Paris where almost all of Charade was shot. That is despite 1962-63 winter turning into one of the coldest on record in all of Europe. In Britain it was called the "Big Freeze". Jim talked about his eagerness to go in to the soundstage to work because it was the only place he could get properly warm.

You would never know it was freezing from watching luminous Audrey Hepburn chase after and spar with Cary Grant. He thought her character was dressed like a "kook", and had less appreciation for the Givenchy wardrobe that to our modern eyes looks so beautifully elegant. There is plenty of humor interspersed with the mystery and sense of danger in the story, and the pacing is good too. Of course there is never any real danger that the charming Cary Grant could turn out to be a bad guy despite the efforts at misdirection in the story. But the cleverness of the various solutions to the mystery are delightful, and I remember the twists as not predictable, the first time I watched this many years ago.

One of Jim's most famous scenes from Charade with Audrey Hepburn.
Even having seen it numerous times, this is one of those films that continues to be enjoyable if for nothing more than the eye candy of beautiful people, beautiful clothes, beautiful locales and sparkling dialogue. It is even more so once you realize that there were often snowdrifts just off screen.

"Tex" was Jim's biggest film role to date. He came to Paris fresh from the shoot of The Great Escape, and was soon joined by Beverly and the two kids for the long shoot. Very soon he would be in a co-starring role in another TCM stalwart, High Wind in Jamaica (1965) which shot primarily on location in Jamaica, and was much more comfortable, at least as far as the weather was concerned.

You can see Charade on TCM, Thursday November 29 at 8:00 pm Eastern

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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Vale James Coburn


Today is the anniversary of James Coburn's passing in 2002. He died of complications of congestive heart failure after collapsing at home. He had been spending some time that evening preparing the music play list for the upcoming family Thanksgiving Celebration.

Jim was a huge and lifelong lover of music, especially jazz and classical music. One of his favorite pieces was Stravinsky's "Rites of Spring". He credited his junior high music and choir teacher, Mrs. Spiller, with awakening a love of all kinds of music in his young teenage self.

Later, as a young adult he spent many happy summer evenings dancing to the big band jazz and swing at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Island. In the army, one of his best friends was a musician who taught him claves, the percussion stick instrument of Cuba. In New York in the early 50's his perennial hang out was Birdland. He was very nostalgic about those great old days of music - he called them "the days of fun and frolic".

Throughout his life many of his close friends were musicians or connected to the music business, like his pal composer Herbie Kretzmer, and his other close friend Petey Kameron who once managed The Who. Perhaps his most extraordinary connection to music is his appearance on the famous cover of Paul McCartney and Wings' album "Band on the Run." And this doesn't even touch the array of fascinating artists who composed the music scores for his movies.

It is quite possible that the last things he heard in his life were the strains of some of his favorite music.

RIP James Coburn.


The James and Paula Coburn Foundation continues to pay tribute to Jim's love of music by supporting the Los Angeles Philharmonic, among other worthy causes. You can make a donation if you wish by visiting the website.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Use Your Library!

Photo: Pixabay.com

One of the most valuable resources any writer has is the public library, and I mean beyond access to the whole world of books.

Here in Los Angeles where I live, we have the Los Angeles Library system and the County Library System. With your library card and PIN, you can access for free a remarkable number of resources for learning all kinds of things including online courses from outlets that are otherwise quite expensive. These include services like Lynda.com, Gale Courses and language learning sites.
The kind of courses you can access include computer proficiency, GED and job searching skills. And you don’t necessarily have to be at the library to do it. Many of these resources are accessible remotely. Did I mention, FREE?

Meanwhile, for writers in Los Angeles – here is a page detailing how to find local writers’ groups. 
Some are free, others are fee based, and some are actually held at libraries themselves. Aren’t we lucky?

If there is one thing that will make a difference to getting your writing project finished, it is having an accountability buddy. I would probably still be muddling along with Dervish Dust, if it weren’t for mine. Your writers’ group may work to fill that role, or you may find someone to do it there.

Of course, when I was researching Dervish Dust, I visited a number of specialty libraries and also accessed material in various archives. But the public library was part of me journey too.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Veteran's Day

James wrote:"Me and the boys at work on maneuvers."

Today is Armistice Day from World War I, and tomorrow is the Veteran's Day holiday here in USA, where we honor people who have served in the Military.

I won't go in to the politics today, but I will say that the fact that there are any veterans lacking access to services, jobs or even homes should be of concern to all of us. I volunteer with a group that helps people experiencing homelessness find work, and many of the our clients are veterans.

James Coburn was a veteran. He was drafted into the Army and spent a almost 2 years in the Service Battery in Germany after WWII. He mostly enjoyed his time in the service, as you may guess from the above picture, and took advantage of the GI Bill to study acting - and we know how well that turned out!

However, Jim was not the first of his family to serve. His uncle Darrell Coburn, the eldest of the four siblings that included Jim's father, had served in World War I.  He had been inducted into the army in September of 1918, part of the last big push to wrap the thing up (the Hundred Days Offensive). In the last months the Allies were putting 100,000 men into the field every day.

Darrell was 19 at the time. He was sent to the front lines, and was fortunate to return home when it was all over. But he lived the rest of his life as an invalid, and I suspect that he had been gassed. Darrell rejoined the family business, managing the Coburn Ford car dealership in the next town over - but he and his wife never did have any children.

Very best wishes to all veterans.

Lest We Forget.


Friday, August 31, 2018

Happy Birthday, James Coburn


This is James Coburn, pictured with my husband as a boy.

This photo would have been after Jim had become successful as a co-star in films like Charade (1963) and The Americanization of Emily (1964). It looks like it might have been from around the time of the shoot of A High Wind in Jamaica (1965), in which Jim sported a beard and mustache.

Here is a brief excerpt from the forthcoming biography:


The Coburn family had recently returned from what must have felt like a vacation, shooting A High Wind in Jamaica (1965) on location in Jamaica for two months, with a month in London for the interiors. Coburn had been to London for tests and rehearsals, then flew into Kingston on June 25 to be joined by Beverly and the kids about a week later. They then spent July and August of 1964 enjoying the tropical climate while he portrayed Zac, the cranky, wily second in command to Anthony Quinn’s Captain Chavez.
At the time, the shooting location, Rio Bueno, and the nearby beach villages had only recently been discovered by tourists. The area could certainly be described as an unspoiled tropical paradise—lush greenery, turquoise waters, pristine white beaches, and a nearly uninterrupted skyline in every direction. Most of the structures dated from Colonial times. It was perfect for shooting a Victorian-era period film.
The movie was based on a 1929 book, The Innocent Voyage by Richard Hughes, about a colonist’s wild young children who, on their way to school in England, accidentally stow away on a pirate ship. It is often compared as a kind of bookend to William Golding’s 1954 The Lord of the Flies. Both deal with themes of children as naturally savage beings who need the firm control and direction of adults to become or remain civilized. According to a 1986 documentary produced by Scottish Television about the director, Alexander Mackendrick was enthralled by the book, considering the “dark” novel a work of genius.128 Some years earlier he declared that he “desperately wanted to make this movie.” After finishing the picture, he was less enthusiastic about the result, having learned a valuable lesson: “Second-rate books, you can make films of, but true masterpieces never should be transferred to the screen.” The story had been considerably lightened and sanitized in an attempt to skew it toward a family film.
Coburn was interviewed for the same documentary about his experience working with Mackendrick. “It was wonderful to watch him. He was producing the thing, helped build the sets, moving. He was doing more than anybody could ask because he wanted this thing to be really good. And he was very responsible to it. He’d dreamed about it, he told me, for twenty years.”
He went on to speak admiringly of Mackendrick’s ability with the child actors. The director had often worked with children and “learned more about working with adult actors from working with children.” He maintained an amazing level of patience. “He was superb with them. He never raised his voice to them. He would turn around, after this little girl who kept looking the same all the time, and [make a face then turn back smiling]. ‘Yes, darling. Just right.’ He would go after her and just… He knew how to do that. I don’t know how to do that. I would lose my patience with the children. But he wouldn’t lose his patience with anybody.”
Working with Mackendrick reinforced Coburn’s profound commitment to his art form. “I think he taught me the value of film, of the honor of making film, of dealing with the magical instrument, the realization of certain visions, the solidifying of dreams—that responsibility… Ah… I don’t think there’s anything anybody can do that’s more important than make films.”
A little hyperbole, perhaps. At the time of the documentary, 1986, Coburn seemed completely sincere in his beliefs about the cultural value of movies as a force for social change. It was an idea that had long percolated around in his thinking, and one that Beverly shared. She had written about it back in 1963—“Movies are the greatest propaganda we have, also the greatest setters of style and attitude, and I feel we should use the responsibility positively.”129 Back then, as a couple they were discussing ideas that would shortly influence the next stage of his career. But in the meantime, A High Wind in Jamaica was an opportunity for him to really show his charisma on screen.


128 “Mackendrick: The Man Who Walked Away 1/6,” YouTube video, 9:58, from a 1986 Scottish Television documentary, posted by robinofgray, June 3, 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfeLZYVIGsY.
129 Beverly Coburn to James Logan, January 17, 1963, private papers.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Unboxing the paperbacks!



I'm bringing them to Free to Be Unschooling Conference, where I am presenting this year.

I'll be speaking on Creativity, Misconceptions about Unschooling, and Job Hunting skills (hence the books), as well as hosting a crafting funshop about stamped clay pendants, and joining my daughter on a Q&A panel.