8 Steps to Finding Your Field of Dreams Job? (1. Build it and they will come…)

fieldofdreams

In the 1989 fantasy movie Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner, an Iowa corn farmer hears voices that tell him to build a baseball diamond in his fields. He does and the Chicago Black Sox show up! It’s a great film and was nominated for three Academy Awards.

Because I make my living as a writer and actor (as Wayne Pyle), I often hear, “You’re so lucky, you’re following your dream” or “You’re so lucky, you have a dream job.” I’ve never quite understood what people mean when they say that because my “dream job” is something that I worked hard to build, luck really had nothing to do with it (it sure helps, though).

Like any job, writing and acting are professions that you can prepare for or just jump into and hope for the best. I took the former path and prepared for a long time to do these dream jobs. Like Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, people often think I’m crazy for pursuing these professions. Like Ray, I’ve been on the brink of financial ruin. But by building my path to these professions, people have come and supported me in my dreams.

TheLadders.com inspired this post. I wanted to share my experience pursuing these professions with people who might be looking for a way to break into them right out of school or later in life.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been passionate about performing and telling stories. When I was four, my parents got me on the children’s television program Romper Room. Our local TV affiliate in Philadelphia hosted the show. My best friend, Bobby, and I were on set together. I still have very vivid memories from that experience.

When I was ready to go to real school (instead of TV school), we moved to rural Pennsylvania and there was no internet or cable television back then (gasp). My brother and I would make puppet stages and write plays. We’d play role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons or make up our own worlds. One of my favorites was “Chuck and Mack” where we pretended to be middle-aged guys with jobs. It was absurd and hilarious. I was always creating short stories and comic books. I got in trouble once when I “published” a comic at my junior high school called “Marshmallow Man” about an overweight bully who just happened to have the same name as the real overweight bully who was always picking on me in class.

We moved from rural Pennsylvania to a small town in Pennsylvania and I kept pursuing acting and writing. I went to undergrad at Susquehanna University where I pursued a Communications/Theatre Arts degree with a minor in Writing. I worked for the literary journal, wrote for the school newspaper (mostly parody essays) and did as much acting as I could. The school wasn’t giving me the professional training experience I wanted, so I pursued an apprenticeship at a professional theatre company called The Actors Theatre of Louisville. It was a well-known program and difficult to get into. I was accepted as a junior, but when they found out how young I was, they wouldn’t take me. They made me wait until I was a senior in college. I had to audition again, and this time I got in. I couldn’t afford to pay for the year away, so I convinced the college president that doing an apprenticeship at an established theatre company was the same as study abroad and that they should give me college credit while I was there.

It worked! I wrote plays and poetry for my writing minor and completed my theatre credits by keeping a journal of all the amazing work I was doing at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. I met some amazingly talented playwrights and I got to act in their plays. The theatre produced one of my monologues and a ten-minute play. It was a great experience.

When the apprenticeship was over, I moved to Chicago. The Second City was where I wanted to be. Chicago is an amazing place to do theatre. There was so much energy and excitement. I worked with a lot of small companies. One company, The Griffin Theatre, was also a place to produce new work. They included my ten-minute play in a short plays festival and I also became an actor in their company. Bailiwick Repertory was another company I worked for often. They produced a full-length children’s play that a group of us wrote together called, The Forest of Arden. It was a choose your own adventure play. At certain points we would ask the audience which action the main character should choose. We would then do that action and the story would change slightly. Most of the work I did in Chicago was because of relationships I built over time with actors, writers and producers.

I also had the wonderful opportunity of being on another children’s television show, The Magic Door. It was shown on early Sunday mornings, so my friends who were out partying late on Saturday would often call me and leave drunken messages on my answering machine. “Hey, saw you playing a screenwriting monkey on the Magic Door! Hilarious! I’m going to bed now. Zzzzzzz.”

I was also writing a lot of poetry in Chicago and participating in open mics. That was quite an experience. Dive bars would hold open mics and the barflys and the poets would be a little family for the evening. One of my poems, Sometimes: The Coat Closet,  was picked by the city for a program called Dial-a-Poem Chicago. It was advertised all over the city. People would call the poetry line and hear the poet read their poem. For some reason, a suburban Chicago housewife called the line and thought my poem was offensive. She called a local radio station and they played my poem about 10 times on the air. The usual call rate for Dial-a-Poem was 80 people. That week, my poem got 8,000 calls. I was “viral” before anyone knew what that meant. The famous Chicago Tribune columnist, Mike Royko, did a column about my poem. I felt like a real Windy City native.

Not long after that incident my mother died of lung cancer. Distraught, I decided to move from Chicago back to the East Coast to get into grad school for acting. That’s where I’m originally from and where my dad lives. I auditioned for and got into the University of Delaware’s Professional Theatre Training Program, known as the PTTP. It was training in the classics, Shakespeare in particular. It was three years of intense training in movement, voice, speech and acting but it also made me a better writer. Saying Shakespeare’s words all day instilled a sense of rhythm and rhetoric that I might not have gotten without that training. We also did an exercise cutting full-length plays into 10-minute versions. Every summer we’d get jobs at Shakespeare festivals around the country. I had the opportunity to work at the Wisconsin and Utah Shakespearean Festivals, the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival and a small festival in Rhode Island. I still do a lot of Shakespeare, mostly playing the clowns, my favorite roles. They now have a REP company and I get to go back and perform with them occasionally.

I graduated and stayed in Delaware, doing various temp jobs in the banking industry. The internet was just starting to boom back then and I found opportunities to write online. I would write book reviews and post them online. I didn’t know anything about blogs back then. I applied to Prestwick House Publishing as a writer for their educational series of Side by Sides. I would take a Shakespeare play and write a more contemporary translation next to Shakespeare’s words. I was also hired by Dupont-Merck to write a few industrial scripts for some important programs they were running. At the time, I was getting paid more to write scripts than I was to act in them.

I also worked as an assistant to a magician touring with a magical children’s show. We went all over the country and even traveled to Taiwan. I built some relationships with the producers in Taiwan and offered to bring them a show from my theatre company (that didn’t exist yet). They said, “Thank you.” I thought I’d never hear from the them again. About a year later, I got a call from Taiwan. They would like us to bring Hamlet to Taiwan. I instantly started a theatre company called The American Shakespeare Theatre Company and recruited actors from all over the US, mostly grads from the PTTP. I convinced the grad school to let us use their space to rehearse. I hired my friend, Ty Jones, as Hamlet and Robert G. Anderson as our director. We rehearsed the show and took it Taiwan with a videographer from The Sundance Channel. The documentary we produced about this crazy production, Within a Play, was shown on Sundance for two seasons.

My next stint was as a proofreader for First USA, a credit card company that later became Bank of America. I’d go into this darkened room and sort through stacks and stacks of papers with teeny, tiny print on them talking about how the rates worked and all the legal jargon and I’d proofread it until my eyes were almost falling out of my head. I was auditioning in New York City and living in Wilmington, Delaware at the time. I was hoping to get a break from all the mindless proofreading when I got a call from my agent that they were auditioning for the musical, The Lion Kingfor their first national tour. I auditioned. Five times. My friend from Hamlet, Ty Jones, was the reader and would tell me what the producers were saying about me in the auditions so I could adjust my performance. The last audition was just after 9/11. Acrid smoke was still billowing from the holes in the ground as I rode the Greyhound bus into the city. After my final audition, I went downtown and walked among the debris and hundreds of flyers looking for lost, and most likely dead, loved ones. I developed a hacking cough from the smoke. It was not a good time for the United States.

A few weeks later, I found out I got the job as Ed the hyena, understudying Timon and Zazu. I was about to live my dream. I was going on tour with a big Broadway musical. We rehearsed downtown at 890 Broadway, the big rehearsal studios for all the Broadway shows. Julie Taymor was there. The teams of producers and costumers and directors and choreographers were there. It was intense. People got fired the first few days. My knees were sore from climbing stairs and practicing being a hyena. I had to ice my hands from all the puppet work we were doing. Eventually, we made our way out to Denver, Colorado to start the tour. I stayed with the tour for five years. It was an amazing experience. I had my ups and downs (I’ll write about those in another post). I traveled the country and the world. Eight shows a week, 50 weeks a year, I worked on The Lion King.

I did a bit of writing while I was on tour, but mostly what I did was act. I taught myself video production and sound editing. When I got off the road, I moved back to the city. Not long after, the economy tanked. There was no work of any kind. I moved up north to the beautiful Hudson Valley to skydive and garden. I lived right next to a community college and convinced them to let me teach in the Communications/Theatre Department. I taught acting for the camera and script writing for film and television.

I had never actually worked in the production end of a television studio, but when they hired me, I taught myself how to run the equipment so I could teach the classes. The students came up with some really great writing and we also made some very funny videos based on their stories. That job ended and I started teaching in the Communications and Theatre Arts departments at one of the SUNY colleges. I was acting in small theatre companies and lots of independent films, writing for academia, teaching and traveling. I started a small film/television production company and voiceover business with my wife. We have a film casting business as well. But I missed the creative writing I had done.

I started writing fiction and short stories again and got into self-publishing about a year ago. That’s when I started my blog and started listening to Sterling and Stone’s Self-publishing Podcast. They did this great project called Fiction Unboxed and wrote a steampunk novel, The Dream Engine, in 30 days. I followed along with their process and learned a lot about how they worked together. I contributed to an anthology of steampunk stories inspired by The Dream Engine called Beyond the Gate and started working on a novel-length story based on the world of The Dream Engine. I’m also writing, illustrating and publishing children’s books through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program. It’s been quite a journey.

This blog chronicles that journey. I’ve been fortunate to be able to tell many stories in my life and I’ve found that Stories are the Wildest Things.

So, what are the takeaways from my long and varied career?

  1. If you want a “dream job” you have to build it and trust that they will come. Instead of thinking you have to “get” a job, think about how you can “create” a job.
  2. Keep looking for opportunities, don’t wait for someone to call you. You have to be active in the pursuit of your dreams.
  3. Do apprenticeships or internships. Find a way to afford it. If there aren’t any apprenticeships for the type of job you want, create one by funding a project through crowdfunding.
  4. Do as many different jobs as you want to. You never know which one is going to be the one you want to stick with. You might never want to stick with one. The freelance life is challenging, but you’re rewarded with a lot of freedom and many amazing experiences.
  5. Sometimes you have to convince people to help you in your journey. They get just as much out of helping you as you get from asking them to help.
  6. Persistence pays off. Five auditions and almost a year later, I got the job.
  7. Use the internet as a tool for finding work and building relationships. Be careful about going down too many internet rabbit holes. That happens to me a lot. But if you do, use the information you find in some way.
  8. Building relationships is one of the most important things you can do to build a career. Almost every “dream job” I’ve had has happened because of relationships I’ve built over the years.

Please leave me a message in the comments about how you are pursuing your dream career. Also, let me know whether you’ve stopped by TheLadders.com to check out their site. I’d love to hear from you!

Rainy Days and Mondays

rainymonday

©2015 Paul Jenny

I’m a big fan of petrichor, that smell of rain after a period of dry weather. I also like Mondays. They are the beginning of a week filled with so many possibilities. So, rainy Mondays are something I’m particularly fond of, especially this Monday.

It’s quiet here in upstate New York and I’m getting some good work done today. I’m working as a full-time creative. It’s an opportunity that I’m grateful for.

My schedule feels a bit overwhelming now. I have four scripts to memorize as an actor, two for stage, two for film. I’m working on promoting my children’s book, “Thank You, Bear!” for Earth Day (It’s FREE April 20, 21, 22. Please download and leave a review!) and I’m finishing up another picture book, “Silly Animals Saying Silly Things” and trying to get the drawings done.

I’m about to teach a six-week adult acting class with eleven students and I’m gathering my materials in order to give them the best possible experience. There’s a lot of material to cover in six weeks. They’ll even get to perform for some casting directors at the end of the class.

I’m also starting a new business with my wife producing voiceover demos for actors and I’m opening in a musical this week after only a week-and-a-half of rehearsal. It’s the first time I’m doing a musical since getting out of a big Broadway touring company nine years ago. I was a little burned out by that experience and vowed not to do a musical for a long time. (That’s a story for another blog post.)

But this musical is so universally appealing that I gave in and auditioned. I’m glad I did. I love a good a challenge and trying to stage a musical in a week-and-a-half brings me back to my days as a young actor doing Summer Stock. We’d rehearse one musical in a week-and-a-half, open that musical, then rehearse another one during the day and perform at night, then when that one was open, we’d do it one more time. Three musicals in a row. I thought I’d never learn all the music, lines and choreography, but I did. I survived. Thrived even. The shows were popular and the producers made money. It was a great experience that helped me grow as a young performer. I’m grateful to have that opportunity again. Who knows? I might just do another musical after this one.

So here I am, on a rainy Monday in upstate New York, acting, singing, drawing, writing, filmmaking and blogging. I can’t wait to see what the week brings. Thank you for sharing in my journey. Please tell me what you are looking forward to this week.

Stories are the Wildest Things

Paul

WordPress Anniversary – One Year Later!

Wayne Pyle Portrait003

This is wild. It’s my one year anniversary on WordPress and it’s been an amazing year of change and growth.

I wanted to take a moment to say, “Thank You!” to everyone who follows and reads Stories are the Wildest Things. I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to share my experiences and challenges as a writer with each of you. I appreciate each story you’ve shared and I’m moved by them. Please continue to share them with me.

As I move forward with the blog, I’m going to continue to share more insights I discover as a writer and more information about what is going on in my life as well. I also want to help others who are seeking to express themselves in the most powerful way they can. If you know someone who needs a little guidance, encouragement or just a virtual hug or high-five, let me know.

Through this blog and Twitter, I’m part of a great online community of writers and other creatives who are out there making things happen everyday and I’m proud to know them. I’ve listed them here so that you can get to know them as well.

Please stop by their websites and Twitter pages and tell them Paul Jenny sent you!

(If I left someone off this list, please send me a quick email pauljennynyc@gmail.com and let me know. I’ll add you to the list!)

@adamdreece                  @hull_libraries 

@soelver                           @Blunderbuss_W 

@debivsmith                     @TanyaMMDash   

@DebbieORiley                @Rowaenthe 

@mrubinsteinCT               @shanonaryder 

@alecwriter120                 @benswoodard 

@auskp69                         @cunninghamb103 

@Laurencelau10               @JacyBrean 

@nikostar                          Kate Loveton

@MRSDBOOKS                WCCunningham

@blacklily_f                       Deborah J. Brasket

@jessstites                        Moosha23 

@AuthorAngelaS               Ksenia Anske

@WilliamMeikle                @MeirKalmanson

Thank you for your guidance, friendship and support! Here’s to another wonderful year of telling the wildest stories in as many ways as we can! Thank you for being here.

Paul

How To Write & Publish a #1 Bestselling Children’s Book to Amazon in a Weekend (Sort of…)

Thank You Bear COVER FINAL

The title of this post was the promise made by a recent free webinar I did recently. One of the people responsible for the “Chicken Soup for the (fill in profitable niche group here) Soul” publishers sponsored the webinar. Like most of these free webinars, it was well presented and had some great information, but I think the title, “How To Write & Publish a #1 Bestselling Children’s Book to Amazon in a Weekend” is a bit misleading.

The thing about these free webinars  is that they are part of a “funnel” to pull people in with an offer of something for free and then, at the end of the presentation, they offer a class or service (or classes and services together) that they say is worth in $2000-$3000 range (or more). When they hook you with the price of how much everything would cost separately, they cut it a few times to around $300 (give or take). It reminds a bit of the late, great Billy Mays of infomercial fame saying, ‘But wait, there’s more!”

Just to be clear, this is not a post about trashing these free webinars. I want to share my experience of trying out the information without buying the product offered at the end. I don’t know how much money the publishers make running these free webinars, but it seems like a great way of making extra income that also drives people to your books. If you get 100 people to pay $300 for the product, you make a nice paycheck. If anyone has run one of these and has numbers they would like to share, please contact me.

Most of the free “Write a Best-Seller Quickly” webinars I’ve participated in give the same basic information over and over:

  1. Do research on Amazon.com in the niche you want to write in. Then do a mashup, i.e. Something that is popular mashed-up with something else popular to make a new thing. This one takes a video game that is popular and mashes it up with the “Diary of a Wimpy” kid series.
  2. Write and publish your book. (Made to sound easy!!!)
  3. Drive people to the site and have a free offer to develop an email list.

The offer was for a lot of videos, a website for support, a promotional group, phone coaching and seemed like a great deal, but I didn’t take them up on it. I wanted to see if I could actually write and publish a children’s book in a weekend.

So I hopped in the shower, where I usually go to get good ideas for books, and when I came out, I had an idea. I did the Amazon research, but wasn’t ready to try a mash-up just yet. It seemed like animal books about bears were doing pretty well, so I went to Morguefile.com, a site that has licensed photos that anyone can use for free as long as they transform them into something else. I searched for photos of bears and other animals.

While searching, a little story started to form. The photos of the Sun Bear showed him being very expressive. He was a cute bear and I thought, “What if the Sun Bear was always being asked questions by the other animals?” Then, when Sun Bear answers them, they say, “Thank you,” and he says, “You’re welcome.”Definitely not a novel length story, but it seemed like a charming way to teach little ones about that concept and the photos were gorgeous and already licensed.

By that paragraph it seems that, “Bam!” I had a children’s book. But, no!

I had to gather all the photos and format them properly, write the rhymes for the story with pacing and rhythm that worked, bring in repetitive elements, find software that would compile the book, design a cover, write the front matter and back matter and put it all together, sign up for a Kindle Direct Publishing account and THEN publish the book.

It’s a LOT more work than it seems and this was a fairly simple picture book.

So, I gathered my photos and put them in different orders. When a photo didn’t work, I looked for others that did. Like I said, Morguefile.com is a free site, so some of the photos are brilliant and some are rubbish, you have to really search to find consistent quality. All of the photos I found were bright and clear with the animals doing dynamic things. That took about two days.

In the meantime, I wrote the copy. I edited the copy about 8-10 times for clarity, rhythm and rhyme. I kept trying to find just the right rhythms for a read aloud book. That took about 3 or 4 days to get right. My son, Willoughby, who is five, was a big help with this.

Then there was the software. I downloaded Amazon’s Kindle Kids’ Book Creator software from their site. It’s easy to use, but the user interface doesn’t have a lot of explanation. It took me several tries to figure out how to place text on the pages, how to keep the photos looking clear and how to add clickable links.

When I had the pictures and words of the book assembled, which took about three days or so, I wrote the front matter and back matter and tried to add links. The front matter was the copyright and title page, the welcome letter and the dedication page. My mother-in-law, who was like a mother to me, passed away recently, so I dedicated the book to her. Then I found a great quote from Dr. Seuss that seemed right, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

I wanted to include fun animal activities and interesting facts about the animals in the book, too. It took a few more days to come up with the animal activities and then I had to research the facts about the animals. I finished these two pages, then added a few “thank you’s” on the back page.

I also wanted clickable links in the front and back matter, so I spent hours trying to figure out how to make this work. I went to the Forums for help, but the help varied and kind of explained what was going wrong. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t seem to get it to work. I finally stumbled on what I thought was the solution and tried that.

Then I designed and built a cover about 10 times. No matter what I did to the cover, it still ended up looking blurry when I uploaded the book to the Kindle Previewer. It looked fine as a thumbnail, but there is still something wrong with this part of the book. If anyone knows a solid solution to this, please contact me at pauljennynyc@gmail.com.

I signed into Kindle Direct Publishing on Amazon and went through the process to upload the book. I wrote copy for the landing page, describing ” Thank You, Bear!” and how the AGAIN, AGAIN books are meant to be read over and over so that children learn the words and concepts in the book.

When I finally checked all the proper boxes and figured out exactly what Amazon was asking for, I hit the PUBLISH button!

I now had a book on Amazon. Wow!

But it was a LOT more than just  a weekend. I took the free webinar on April 1 (no joke). I hit publish on April 6. Not too bad, but definitely more than a weekend.

I let the book be out there for a while before I ran a giveaway and invited friends and family to download the book for free.

They responded and left amazing reviews which drove “Thank You, Bear!” to #1 in ebooks for kids for Bears and Manners! The other benefit was I got to reconnect with a lot of friends I hadn’t spoken with in a long time. All of their news started showing up in my Facebook feeds since I had invited them to my virtual book launch.

After putting the book out there for several days, I realized there were a few problems with the book. The number one problem was the lack of clickable links. A good friend, the illustrator Anita Søelver, reached out to help.

After about 10 hours of searching forums, trying different things, she was able to find an article that showed how you had to REMOVE code from the page, not ADD anything to it. I finally had clickable links. We still haven’t figured out the cover issue.

So for about three or four days after I published the book, I was still tweaking things to make it better. Total time working on the book? I’d say about a week and a half, working on it part-time, three or four to five or six hours a day.

Conclusion:

You can write and publish a children’s book fairly quickly on Amazon with their Kindle Kids’ Book Creator, but it helps to have a knowledgeable community surrounding you that can help you when you get stuck. I think it might have been easier if I’d decided to sign up for the class, but then I would’ve added a few weeks to the process while I learned the information, processed it, and figured it out. I wanted to just jump in there and do it. I haven’t done a mash-up title yet, but I want to try that as well. I’ll post the results here.

I do have several more children’s books almost ready to go, but I’m taking a bit more time this time through. I want to avoid the constant updating of titles, descriptions, and covers that I went through the first time. If you ever need any advice or help, feel free to reach out to me. Here’s the next book’s cover:

SillyAnimalsCover

As always, I’d love to hear from anyone else about their experience of trying to publish something quickly. Please leave a comment and tell us all about it.

If you made it this far, I’d love it if you downloaded “Thank You, Bear! An AGAIN, AGAIN Book” and left a review. It’s only $1.99 right now. I’m running another FREE giveaway April 20, 21 and 22 for Earth Day. Just click the book cover to go to the page. Thank you!

Thank You Bear COVER FINAL