Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Check me out in a Songwriting Contest!

Hello! I'm not sure if anyone reads this, but if so I wanted to put it out there that I'm a finalist in City Page's Rock Out Romeo Songwriting Contest for my song "Pearly Gates." Check it out!:

Thanks for your support,


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Informational Interview with illustrator Mike Wohnoutka

One of the reasons I'm such a sucker for children's books because the illustrations can be so magical! I recently came across The Twelve Days of Christmas in Minnesota in the local writer's section at Barnes and Noble and its spirited illustrations caused me to write down the name of the illustrator, Mike Wohnoutka. I thought I'd try and interview him so I Googled him and contacted him with the email he had listed on his website. We met up for an informational interview on November 23rd at a Caribou Coffee in Minneapolis. Mike is so awesome and so willing to lend advice. It's obvious that Mike's amazing self motivation has led to his deserved success.

Here's some information on Mike's background:
"Ever since Mike can remember he knew he wanted to be an artist. His dad, who was an engineer at the Hiway Department, would bring home reams of paper that had hiway plans on one side and were blank on the other. Mike would be so excited to have all that paper to draw on and would fill each sheet with race cars, snowmobiles, baseball players, super heroes, everything he was interested in. In high school his art teacher, Mr. Chase, encouraged Mike to pursue art as a career. This, along with a scholarship, led him to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. Since graduating with a B.F.A. in Illustration, Mike has worked with various clients including Random House, Dutton Children's Books, Clarion Books, Holiday House, Cricket Magazine Group, General Mills, 3M, Medtronics, Mpls-St. Paul Magazine, Peaceable Kingdom Press, Scholastic School Productions, and City Pages."

Mike was expected to be an engineer like his father and interned at his father's company for 2 summers. I think it's pretty impressive that he was able to escape influence and go for his dreams! Mike told me that when he won his scholarship to SCAD, he intended to study graphic design being that it was the most lucrative option. However, as a student Mike attended a presentation by illustrator David Shannon which motivated him to become a children's book illustrator.

When Mike graduated from SCAD with the highest honors he was very optimistic about his future as an illustrator. He moved home to Minnesota after graduating, and when the rejection letters kept coming he realized that pursuing a career in illustration would be more difficult than he originally thought.

Mike then moved to Minneapolis and got a job at a commercial sculpture studio. This ended up being an important job for Mike because he was surrounded by artists with similar dreams to his; it was here that Mike met his best friend who also aspired to become a children's book illustrator. At this time, Mike was still sending out illustrations and was receiving rejections, however he did land the cover of a Delaware-based magazine.

Mike slowed down on submitting his illustrations for a while because he was burnt out on receiving rejections. However, after 2 years Mike went back to his rejection letters and realized that they were all very supportive and encouraging, but he hadn't really let himself see that.

Mike worked at the sculpture studio for 5 years until Random House saw that magazine cover and contacted him. This, along with the reading of the rejection letters strengthened Mike's confidence, which pushed him to get involved with local illustrators and travel to New York City to meet with editors at other major publishing houses. On his trip to NYC, a Clarion editor liked a drawing of a cowboy that he had on his business card, and had him send a full-sized painting of it. Four to six months later the editor contacted him because a writer had seen the painting and had written a story to accompany it. This became Mike's first book, Cowboy Sam and Those Confounded Secrets. After that, his career took off and he's never had any breaks in work and he's now illustrated 12 published books!

The life of an illustrator:
     -A typical day for Mike is dependent on where he is in the project. He typically does his art work in the mornings and the business stuff in the afternoon.

     -Mike says that the most rewarding part of the job is interacting and connecting with readers. He also loves the process of working on his art; it's a constant learning process and he is constantly striving to improve.-Mike says that the most difficult part of his career is dealing with editors, because it can be frustrating to be constantly altering his work.

     -I asked Mike if he thinks his job is affected by eBooks and digital downloading. He said that for him, there are not many changing trends in the industry. If anything, there is more encouragement for young children to read books and interact with books.

     -Some of Mike's goals are to keep growing, keep doing what he's doing.

Mike thinks that the qualities that make someone successful are passion and self motivation-driven by the love of your art. Mike's been able to keep up with his passion by taking risks. Mike's advice is to be persistent. It can be so easy to be discouraged. Mike felt like he lost time when he was putting away rejection letters instead of taking them as positive feedback; he wasn't being persistent. One of the most valuable things that Mike shared with me is that the paintings that he's done for himself are the ones that end up being most popular with everyone.

We talked about The Artist's Way and Mike also recommended another book to me, Creating a Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd--it's on my Christmas list!

Thank you so much Mike!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Informational Interview with writer Catherine Thimmesh

I could maybe see myself as a children's book author in the future so I knew that I wanted to interview one for this project. I looked through a database of local authors that the St. Paul Library has on their website, and when I went to Catherine Thimmesh's website I knew that I had to meet her; she's a trapeze-swinging woman who writes books about how awesome women and girls are. That's my kind of lady! On November 19th I met with Catherine at Starbucks in Highland Park where she shared her story with me.

Here's some info on Catherine:
"Catherine Thimmesh is the Sibert Medal-winning author of Team Moon. Her newest book, Lucy Long Ago, explores the scientific sleuthing that surrounded the famous fossil hominid, Lucy—a key clue in the search for human ancestors. Madam President, a New York Times notable book, was recently updated to reflect recent advances for women in politics, including Hillary Clinton's historic run for the presidency. Catherine's previous books, Girls Think of Everything and The Sky's the Limit, have been translated into Korean and Chinese. Girls Think of Everything won the 2001 IRA Children's Book Award, was a Children's Book of the Month Best Nonfiction Book 2000, a Minnesota Book Award finalist, and a Smithsonian Notable Book 2000 (amongst other honors). The Sky's the Limit won the Minnesota Book Award in 2002, was a Smithsonian Notable Book 2002, and an Outstanding Science and Social Studies Trade Book for Children 2002. The author lives in Eden Prairie, Minnesota with her husband and two children."

Catherine is a University of Minnesota alum! While in college Catherine didn't really know what her passion was—she was interested in a lot of things, but didn't have a single driving obsession that would drive her towards a specific career. She always liked writing, but it never occurred to her that she could doing writing beyond journalism as a career. She ended taking lots of interesting classes and up majoring in art history with a concentration in film, but didn't know what she wanted to do career-wise.

After graduating she "did the restaurant circuit" until opening an art gallery in Minneapolis when she was 26. The experience of owning an art gallery helped Catherine discover a lot about herself. One thing that Catherine did for the art shows was show filmed interviews with the artists about their work and processes. This involved a lot of research which ended up relating to the research Catherine does now with her writing. She ending up having to close the gallery after 3 years; she loved everything but the sales part.

When she was a gallery owner Catherine had a lot of free time (unless there's a show, only about 3 people will stop in on any day), so she decided to take writing classes at The Loft Literary Center because she enjoyed writing. This was the catalyst for Catherine deciding to become a writer! She took a class on writing for children and discovered that she had a natural ability for it. In a second class that she took, she wrote an article and submitted it to a children's magazine and they bought it! Being able to sell her writing opened up Catherine to the idea of being a children's book writer.

After closing the art gallery, Catherine went about the transition into being a writer pragmatically by giving herself a 2 year time-frame to publish a book. She then got a job in marketing at a local children's book publishing house so she could learn about the industry. After 6 months of working there she built up the nerve to ask what they look for in manuscripts, and after she showed them one of her own she was offered a book deal. It ended up falling through, but luckily during this time she sold a book independently.

Catherine's advice to other writers is that networking is extremely important. Also, invest in conferences. Catherine was once a lead volunteer at a local book conference, which gave her the opportunity to interact with one-on-one with prominent editors. One of these editors took interest in her manuscript, but wanted Catherine to change from fiction into nonfiction. Catherine wasn't sure if kids liked nonfiction, but she didn't want to turn down the opportunity. Catherine said that because she had the personal contact with the editor they were willing to work with her on the idea, instead of just rejecting her. This opportunity turned into her book, Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women.

Catherine has had 4 other children's books published! Right now she is working on a picture book, and recently wrote a screenplay.When Catherine starts on a book, she starts with a complete vision of the book--how big it will be, what it will look like, etc. Catherine does market research before she starts a project to ensure that there aren't already a lot of books written about a topic. She also considers if there is a market for that kind of book.

Catherine says that it is very important to accept (and celebrate!) the small victories and successes. For example, accept positive feedback, even if it does come from a rejection. She also said that writers need to have thick skin to have their work critiqued.

Catherine doesn't have a typical day in her job, which is something that she enjoys. She also accepts that she works slowly; you can't force creativity. A huge benefit of being a writer is flexibility, but there are always the business things that you have to do during the day, like making phone calls within business hours or doing speaking engagements. It's extremely necessary to be disciplined with your writing when you create your own schedule.

For Catherine, the most rewarding part of being a children's book author is spending with the kids during classroom visits to discuss her books. It's nice to know the kids' personal reactions to her books. Catherine's greatest accomplishment came with her book, Lucy Long Ago. A 4 year girl old loved loved the book and one day informed her mother that she now wanted to be an avian paleontologist when she grows up instead of a Disney Princess!! After hearing that Catherine knew she could retire happy!

I asked Catherine about the climate of the book industry and she said that right now the publishing industry is in “melt down mode” as many intellectual property based industries are, due to digital pirating. Also, Wal-mart and other "big-box" stores have changed the industry because they act as gatekeepers. Despite the huge changes taking place in her industry, Catherine doesn't seem concerned. "Just let the publishers worry about it. No one knows where the trends are going." However, as an artist you have to stay business-wise in order to protect yourself.

Catherine's advice for people pursuing their dreams:
-It's all comes down to persistence.
-Learn how to “play the game” of the field that you're in.
-Get feedback from outside eyes and ears, but know when to throwout the feedback if you really believe in what you've created.
-Don't take yourself too seriously.
-Don't try to please everyone.

Thank you Catherine! For sharing your story and for the awesome books that you write

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Make friends with your fears": An informational interview with Aby Wolf

On October 29th I met up with Aby Wolf, singer, songwriter, and visual artist at Spyhouse Coffee Shop In Minneapolis for an informational interview. We talked about her path in music and art and about the creative process.

(photo by Sharolyn B. Hagen)
"Aby Wolf has an American Idol–worthy voice that would likely win her a callback on the show, probably even from hard-to-please judge Simon Cowell. It’s rich, thick, soulful. You can even imagine her singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. It’s that stirring a sound. The songs on Wolf’s debut album rightfully showcase her pipes. She’s engaging enough musically, as on the rousing R&B–driven number “What U Waitin 4,” to almost make you overlook her writing chops. Her lyrics are gracious, tender, and often gazing well into the future, where she’ll likely be sitting pretty atop the charts." —Jessica Chapman, Minnesota Monthly

When I decided to do this project I obviously was eager to talk to singer/songwriters, so I was very excited to meet with Aby. It was so great talking with her because she is so honest, purposeful and self-aware.

Aby is from a small town in Illinois, and always knew that she wanted to be a singer. She credits 2 experiences as what sealed her path:
1. Going to Illinois all-state choir while she was in high school
2. Singing back up at a Honey Dogs show

After high school Aby moved to Minneapolis and originally started at the U of M, but ended up switching to MCAD to pursue drawing. While working on visual art she also began writing music, and in 2009 released her first album, Sweet Prudence. Her first album was a "feeling things out" process of what it's like to put your work out there.

We talked quite a bit about what it's like to release creative work out into the world. Aby noted that it's kind of scary when your dream space and reality come together; it seems like this is something that Aby's going through right now. I think that a lot of people can relate to that (myself included), and I think that's one thing that prevents people from following their dreams. When your dreams merely in your head and your heart they're safe. Nothing can mess with them.

Aby also told me about how she takes voice lessons from a Buddhist teacher, which is SO COOL. She's also been involved with the The Minnesota Zen Meditation Center. Again, AWESOME.

Aby believes that it's important to honor your individual artistic process, which is also just great advice. She fits her process into her everyday life: her creativity is always there. Aby tries to "breathe life" into her day job as a server, which I imagine is necessary so that she's not too burnt out to be creative. I asked Aby if she ever feels pressure to pursue a more "normal" career, and she responded that the pressure isn't that she should get a "normal job," it's that she make a living off of her music and art.

We also talked about the amazing book Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, which we've both read. A big lesson from this book is that it is important to let in the ideas unedited. Also, discipline is necessary because creative work is not always fun. Writing is a process of struggling and wrestling, it's an interaction. You have to step back and actually listen to what that interaction is. You can't force it and the interaction becomes the song.

When it comes to material, Aby said that lyrically, we don't need grand new ideas. Her work tends to be about returning to the simple things she already knows.

It was great to have someone be honest; the rock star/artist mythology is that songwriting (or really creating any kind of art) and performing comes naturally and it's easy for people who are meant to do it. That is not really me, and it was great to have Aby shatter that myth for me.

Both the rewarding and difficult part of her career is that it's never easy. She directly has to face her fears in singing and performing. Sometimes it's rewarding and sometimes it's hell. It is what it is. It's not perfect or easy. Aby feels like she doesn't have a choice in her path. There is all of the momentum behind her; everything has led her to this place.

Aby's thought's on finding one's path: "If you're working hard on something that's meaningful to you, the lessons you learn will be applicable throughout your life." Aby's (amazing) advice is to learn how to make friends with your fears. It's not about trying to get past them because they'll always be there. Aby's resources or "keys" are Art and Fear (again!), and The Artist's Way, which I've done (twice!) and want to do again.

Aby's advice for someone who wants to follow their dreams: Just do it. Make friends being afraid. She deals with this everyday. Your future is completely dependent on where you put your intention. You have to surrender to the fact that it's scary and hard.

After talking with Aby, I just feel so good and so relieved. The advice above was very comforting to me. I sometimes doubt my dreams because they involve doing things that don't always come easy for me, and things that quite honestly scare the living daylights out of me some of the time. Aby is living proof of how great and rewarding it is to make friends with your fears.

Thank you so much Aby! You are amazing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

J.K. Rowling's Harvard Commencement Address

"The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination"

It's absolutely amazing.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Informational Interview with arts administrator Judy Bartl

On November 5th I met with Judy Bartl, Program Director of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie B.F.A program in her office in the Rarig Center on the U of M campus. Judy had so much wisdom and light! With her entrepreneurial spirit and passion for the arts, Judy has worked a huge variety of jobs (she once sold tombstones!) and has always been open to new experiences. These qualities are what brought her to where she is now: at a job that she loves.

Here's a bit about Judy:
“University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program Director, has contributed more than two decades of experience in the theater to the BFA Actor Training Program. Her arts management path took her from The Guthrie Theater's Company Manager to Mixed Blood Theater as Director of EnterTraining. She has also spent time as 'J' in J&S Casting - Casting Directors who worked with Disney films, the Ordway and many commercial projects. Her personal experience for this Program comes from playing the role of Mother for over 20 years.”

When Judy graduated from college she wanted to pursue a career in acting. However, gradually and naturally her path brought her to the administrative side of the arts. It was never her plan to end up in academia.

Judy was a company manager of the Guthrie Theater, and when the Guthrie created the B.F.A program with the University of Minnesota, Judy was asked to be the Program Director. In most instances Judy has been able to “create” her own jobs and enjoys that as program director she gets to create her own “business” within the greater structure of the University.

Because of the wide variety of things that Judy does for her job, there's no typical day, which is something that Judy likes about it.

Judy says that the most rewarding part of her jobs is watching the students develop, from the time she meets them as high school seniors to when they graduate with their B.F.A. The parts Judy doesn't like about her job are having to evaluate her faculty. They're artists, and she wants them to feel supported. Also, she doesn't like that there is always a lack of money and they are continually fighting for more funding.

I asked Judy about how the current poor economy has affected her field and she said that changes have mainly occurred in dealing with parents who are concerned about their kids wanting to major in the arts. Also, more and more arts management companies need strong leaders to deal with these difficult times.

Also, a current trend in the theater world is trying to get younger audiences, by changing theater conventions. For example, "conventional" theater doesn't exactly appeal to today's young people: no talking, no cell phones, have to dress up, etc.

For those interested in pursuing arts administration, Judy recommended getting a degree in arts administration or a business degree. It's good to study a broad spectrum of things because the career entails so many things.

Something I'm really interested in is work/life balance in the arts, so I asked Judy about that. She shared that because the arts are so demanding, it can eat you alive if you don't set boundaries. Judy wishes she would of sat down and thought about what her priorities were earlier in her career.

I also wanted to know what it's like to be a woman in arts administration. Judy shared that being a woman is always a factor in the workplace. You need to behave in a certain way; there are great role models, like Hillary Clinton.

Judy's advice to women is that it is important to be true to yourself. Women can bring positive things to the work place. Women tend to be better listeners, are more organized in some ways, are better at multi-tasking. Competition among women breeds negativity; women can get where they want by being strong and confident. However, in the arts, gender dynamics are not as clear cut, which puts a different spin on it.

Learning about Judy's path has taught me to stay open to new experiences. It's alright to be thinking about the next thing, don't get too comfortable, especially in our current economic climate.Judy has had an exciting journey because of her openness to new experiences. All of her experiences have led her to where she is now; she wouldn't change a thing.

Thank you Judy!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

It is a fact that doing informational interviews will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.