Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Thief of The Gods Audio book Edition - Narrated by T.W. Ashworth

Before I became a writer, I wanted to be many things; A filmmaker, a comedian, an actor. But being an actor always seemed the most appealing. In the end, I figured I had to pick one and not have an ever-growing list of dream occupations I wanted to fill. I thought that you had to pick just one.

However, I was happily proven wrong by one man.

His name is TW Ashworth.

Today we’re sitting down with him because I sought him out to narrate one of my works. Thief of The Gods is a Novella about a Scientist working in Area 51. It took a bit of time to write the book but, as any author will tell you, that’s only half the work. What a story needs is to be told and by the right person.

TW Ashworth is a multi-talented man of many hats. He has acted in such hit shows as HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, SUPERSTORE, PRETTY LITTLE LIARS and CRIMINAL MINDS. He also starred in Justin Timberlake’s explosive music video “Can’t Stop The Feeling.” He paints, directs and is also a musician.(Banjo/Accordion)
And now he’s launched himself into audiobooks.

Hi Tom, thanks for joining us.

So what drew you to acting in the beginning?

I was 17, in high school in Scottsdale, Arizona, and there was an audition for the play RHINOCEROS by Eugene Ionesco at my school. A friend dared me to audition. At the time I was a student body officer, a three-year letterman in track, a math wiz kid, etc. The audition was mostly improv and I got cast in a nice role. BAM, changed my life. We had a very strong arts, music, and theatre department at Coronado High School, and it just was home from the first day.

What did it feel like to get your first callback?

I really can't recall. I've always gotten a lot of callbacks. Obviously, it doesn't mean as much in school because it is not your source of income. I've always pursued commercials and with that part of the market, you audition a lot more because there is more work...so more callbacks.

What made you pursue audiobooks?

My wife, Christine Ashworth, is a writer. My recently passed father-in-law Chester Cunningham was a noted pulp fiction writer with over 300 published novels, many of his Westerns still available on Amazon. He wrote until a week before he died at the age of 88. So, lots of writers around. Christine's roommate bailed on an Independent Publishers conference in Southern California and asked me if I wanted to come. I went to the workshops she couldn't make and one of them was on finding the right audio book narrator. Suddenly I realized I had hundreds of contacts to pursue work, so off I went to learn how. This was last October mind you. I've been doing stage acting for over 40 years so I have a lot of vocal training, dialects, different voices, etc...so it was taking a well-trained instrument (I still take workshops & classes) and learning to play it a different way. I view it as a well trained classical violinist learning to be a Blue Grass fiddle player. You can't do it instantly but you can do it. I've done a lot of Shakespeare, and his writing really teaches you to suit the voice to the words.

Also, I get be the character of Bottom from Shakespeare's MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. He wants to play all the parts, and as a narrator, guess what? I get to play all the parts. Some are easier than others, but it is always the harder ones that make it fun.

As far as the story goes, this was pretty heavy. It’s a first person POV throughout the entire book told in diary form.  Was it difficult to get into that character?

No, it wasn't hard. As an actor first person POV is easier for me. The train of thoughts you don't say out loud on stage or in front of the camera you get to actually say. At this stage in my development, it's the novels with a lot of third person narrative that I find hard. Who is talking? The narration is a character with a point of view. 
The lead character is also a scientist. Math and science have always been things I've enjoyed and I still read about. Science and math matter to humankind, for good and for evil. Your book is very forward about that. The lead character is very ambivalent about those issues, making him very human and easier to play.

Do you do any warm ups before a performance?

I vocalize every day for at least a half hour, so yes. I just do it before I record. I also sing about a half dozen songs on the ukulele, guitar, banjo, etc., that are in the emotional feel of the novel. THIEF OF THE GODS got a lot of early Paul Simon, THE BOXER, SOUNDS OF SILENCE, I AM A ROCK, etc. Gets my articulation warmed up, and the emotional connection between voice, body, soul, and what you're reading going almost effortlessly.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from a director or an actor?

Since I've directed over 40 plays, I'll share something that I always do with my actors...the audience dreams of you being wonderful, so just enjoy yourself and be wonderful.

Even though I wrote the story, I really felt like this was a collaboration. You gave me two good notes that really made the story stronger. One of them was the fact that in the original story, the scientist is in a hotel room with a Television set. But, as you pointed out, there would be no television sets in hotel rooms in the 1940’s. Have you ever pointed out ways to make the character or story stronger when being cast in a show?

No, actors do not give other actors notes, period. There are exceptions to this of course if you have a different relationship with a fellow actor, but usually, it is a huge NO.
In the development of a play or a screenplay, however, when the writer is there and you are reworking scenes, lines, etc., there is a lot of back and forth. I've belonged to several play development groups in Los Angeles and sometimes a writer will tailor the role to your talents. It varies on the situation.
A director may call you aside and ask for feedback, but again that is not me volunteering it.

You brought many different emotions to this story. Do you ever find yourself getting sucked into a role that it begins to get harder to step away from that particular character?

Not overly...but again I'm very well trained. One of the techniques I'm trained in is called Alba, and it is a very physical approach to acting, also very effective for me as an ex-dancer. (Yes, I had a 20-year career as a professional ballet & musical theatre dancer.) After every workout in the Alba technique, you do a stepping out process which is basically telling your body to get back to neutral. Yes, some roles are harder to shake, but the step out helps. If you are doing it right, your body assumes the role, breathing patterns, posture, and returning to neutral by stepping out gets you back to the here and now. You are basically training yourself to let yourself go as deep as you can because you know you can come back in a matter of minutes. Plus, in narration, you are frequently multiple people on the same page so it's hard to get stuck on any one.

Since this book deals mainly with a conspiracy theory, what was the first conspiracy theory you had ever heard of UFO’s and Aliens and did you get drawn into the mystery of it?

The first conspiracy theory I read was a short story from an anthology I read in the early 60's, about earthlings meeting aliens on a distant planet and discovering we were the bad aliens that conquered and destroyed a major portion of the galaxy and they were terrified we'd show up again. We did. I love surprise endings, and this short story had it. Can't recall the name sadly.

In our conversations, when trading notes back and forth over ACX, you said that you briefly hated me because you were reading my story and had missed your stop on the train. Ha ha.  Believe it or not, that’s the second time someone has told me that. What authors do you read frequently? Has that happened before with another book?

I read Haruki  Murakami, Herman Hesse, Christine Ashworth, J.R.R. Tolkien, Barbara Tuchman, Kurt Vonnegut. 

And usually on subways and buses in L.A. I read books that "I should read," such as William Makepeace Thackeray's VANITY FAIR or Tolstoy's WAR AND PEACE. These usually aren't page turners that take you away completely. Though Brady Udall's THE LONELY POLYGAMIST - which I found laying on a bench at a bus stop and didn't have anything to read, almost did. Very funny book. Yes, I take public transportation when I can in L.A., traffic is astoundingly bad then you have to find parking.

So what’s next for you? 

Looking for work, that is what an actor does. Narration wise I'm doing a book on programming in LINUX, a really fun book called DEATH FALCON ZERO vs. THE ZOMBIE SLUG LORDS, and an audition for a Western trilogy.

Where else can people find you online?

www.thomaswashworth.com my personal website, or my IMDb page at http://www.imdb.me/thomaswashworth

Thanks for doing this Thomas. 
You’re welcome to come back on the blog anytime.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Book That Doesn't Exist

Click Here to Buy!
We all have hopes and dreams. But what we seldom like to talk about are the fears and frustrations in between.

And that's what got me writing this novella. Originally, I just toyed with it while I was still busy on THE BIG SCI FI BOOK. That title still has a bit to go. 17,000 words in.

Lately, I've been going back to novellas because they serve a need within me to tell a good story that can be read in one sitting. I'm also expanding to make it an audiobook.

The seed of this story started as a dream.

I got this image of this guy leaving his basement apartment to join a few friends in his driveway who were tinkering with two cars. One was a Master Coach and the other was a pristine Studebaker. While they're chatting, the protagonist's friend reaches into this hidden compartment inside the Studebaker and pulls out a typewriter's carrying case. As he handed this item to the main character, the skies above were filled with thunderous clouds and a wind was picking up. As if this transaction was disturbing the natural order of things.

I woke up at around 6am, hopped out of bed, opened the laptop and just started writing as I was still waking up. It took me an hour and some change to get ten pages down. My wife and daughter woke up and joined me.

The story has changed a couple of times but the constant theme is frustration, of which I am familiar with.

I threw all the problems I had faced in life at the main character; juggling work and home life, fighting against poverty, finding your own voice as a writer, it was all right there. It kind of felt intimidating to write something that struck so close to home.

But the story continued to cook and after about two months, it was finally completed. At 52 pages long I can tell you that this has been the hardest one to write.

I labeled it a dark psychological thriller.

The next one that I'm planning to release, thankfully, is a much happier story. That one involves a writer too. That one involves a series of comical mishaps. I think I wrote it in 2010 but I just looked at it recently, polished it a bit, and think it will be ready soon.

I tell you all this because I don't want you to be afraid, as I was, to go to some dark places while you are writing. You may feel a connection to your characters. You may wish them not to come to harm. That's good. You care for them. That's relatable. But you have to let the story write itself and not try to save the characters yourself. Just sit back and see what happens. Be an observer, even when it is painful to do so. Because only then will your story hold something that rings true.

We all grapple with conflict, tough decisions, heartbreak, mania, doubt. If you completely exclude these concepts from your story, then you are holding back. And, as my wife always tells me when I'm working on a new story in progress, don't hold yourself back.

More importantly, write the book you would like to read. The one that you feel is missing on bookstore shelves.

Heck, write...the book that doesn't exist.

The Book That Doesn't Exist is being released on March 19th, 2017. It is now available for Pre-order. Just click the cover above to buy a copy.

As always, keep writing.

"Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of." ~Kurt Vonnegut 

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Joy of MindWriting

"Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters' theses." ~ Stephen King

"And I don't want to begin something, I don't want to write that first sentence until all the important connections in the novel are known to me. As if the story has already taken place, and it's my responsibility to put it in the right order to tell it to you." ~ John Irving

"I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it." ~ Ernest Hemingway

Over the course of the last decade I must have read over fifty How-To-Write books. Everything from scripting every single word to writing one true sentence at a time. But a good chunk of those books expressed that the most important thing that a writer could do for their story was to outline, outline, outline.

I did that method for my first book.

I wrote out directions, dialogue, plot, and even tone and objective of each chapter before I even wrote the word Prologue.

I thought I had to be chained to this type of device. To color inside the lines for fear that any originality would be lost or escape.

What happened instead was something very encouraging.

Every single time I strayed from the outline, when I'd let my mind wander, the story got better, sharper, grew some fangs.

On my second book, I briefly outlined the story but this time around I was looking forward to abandoning certain aspects of the outline.

Then, on my third book, I only outlined six chapters. Where did the rest of the book come from? Daydreaming, letting my mind wander, meditating on the story.

And you know what happened?

Not only did all of the elements I wanted to put into the core of the story suddenly appear, but I also found connections and crossovers to my other stories and crisp, witty dialogue came out of nowhere.

This was when I realized I was what they called a 'Pantser.' I know, it sounds like something a bully would do. But it's actually a term for writers. Johhny B Truant and Sean Platt describe that each writer falls into one of two groups: The Plotters - The people who outline everything about their story ad nausem. And The Pantsers - The people who kind of make everything up by the seat of their pants.

I enjoy the latter category.

Especially, since I've started the practice of Mindwriting.

Right now, even while typing this, I'm working on seven different novels. That's right. I'm multitasking.

It used to be that I'd take some time out of my day to think about a story and where it's going. But now, I'm thinking about them constantly. I'll map out a scene in my head while running an errand, try several different takes of a scene while at a party, experiment with dialogue doing the dishes, plot devices, character development, etc. Sometimes my wife will ask me what I'm thinking about because I get that far away look and every time I'll say, "Stories. I'm working on a novel."

Our minds are capable of a lot of things. We can figure out complex issues, learn languages or memorize entire scripts. But one thing I've always used my brain for is storage. I've created a room inside my mind with stories in the process of being written. And each one can be pulled up at a moments notice. That way, whenever I feel that the story has cooked for long enough and is just right, only then do I pull out the laptop and actually do the work of transcribing whatever was in my head.

One of the benefits of mindwriting is that it has helped me become more organized. Before, I had boxes filled with notebooks, receipts, post-it's, little scraps of paper with ideas written down. Tracking them all down was way too time consuming. So now, I keep everything up in the old noggin.

So, if you are up to the task, I encourage you to use your brain to its fullest capacity and keep the outline in your mind, where it belongs.

In the meantime, I've got one book that is already nearing the 300 page mark.

In my mind, of course.

Monday, July 18, 2016

I Think I'm In The Middle Of A Story Universe.

Yeah, I think I'm in the middle of a Story Universe.

Let me explain.

When I first began writing, I thought I had created four to five separate stories. Stand alones, basically. But what has developed has me convinced that I'm writing one big grand story that includes all genres.

The first book I wrote (Mr. Dead Eyes) was a medical thriller mixed with a supernatural element. A private detective that I created for that story literally came out of nowhere. But he had a history to him. His name is Thomas Wilker. But that's not his real name. He changed it. He also had some plastic surgery done. Then I began wondering, who was he running from? (Hint: There are two whole mystery novels I have planned that tell who and why.)

On a plane Thomas Wilker shares a story of capturing a murderer and why he has a grizzly scar on his right hand. Just writing that scene delivered a whole new book on to me. (Reviled) But Thomas Wilker only shows up in flashbacks. He's not present for the story but has, instead, 'traveled somewhere' to 'pursue a lead'. That lead, I've found out, is explained in Mr. Dead Eyes 2. But Derek, the main character of MDE1 and MDE2 shows up briefly in Reviled. He's passing through Wisconsin after the events of MDE2.

Then I wrote a novella about a girl who has to escape a group of soldiers. (Village Americana) I had no idea why I set it in the eighties but then that was answered when I finished my third book...

That book is Pickpocket Frankie. In that book she appears briefly. But another character within that book is connected by two other books that I'm planning. The working titles are Jefferey Pleasant Meets Brute Force and The Italian Way

And now it seems that the next ten novels I have planned out are all connected somehow by either a character, an object or a particular setting. It really is crazy how deep this rabbit hole goes. Needless to say, I dunno what the end result of all this will be, but I think I'll just let my characters do the driving. Cause they seem to know better than me. 

Just thought I'd share.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Impossible Return To Innocence

JD Clair is more than just a writer. He's a man who understands emotions as well as how to direct a story and dedicates himself to taking you on a journey into another world. He also happens to be my friend from grade school. I caught up with JD to ask him about his debut book The Impossible Return To Innocence and about his daily writing routine. So, without further delay, here's the author interview. Enjoy!

1. What is your earliest memory of writing?

I remember writing stories as early as five years old with my brothers; creating homemade comics that had the Ninja Turtles, the Ultimate Warrior, and an assortment of 80s icons. It was a blast. I don't know if that really counts because it was a collaboration and I'm not sure how much I really "wrote". However, by third  grade I was writing stories in school and it was my favorite assignment, probably even until today.

2. How did it feel to see your book in print?

I wish I could say I was in love at first sight, but I didn't get that "high" I really expected. I was so hopeful, waiting on a very long shipment that took weeks, and finally when the proof came the colors were duller than I approved and the font not as noticeable on the spine. It was still a beautiful book, but the satisfaction didn't set in the way I hoped and I kind of feel like a jerk for admitting it. 

3. When did you decide to be a writer?

I've wanted to be everything from a fireman, commercial airline pilot, to a shepherd. I struggled in college to decide what to do. I set my heart on early childhood education, but after transferring and losing credits I decided to not retake courses. I was an art major for half a semester before I realized my passion for writing. I've had a desire to jump from project to project, making movies, writing scripts, creating comics, making art... basically indulging in anything and everything.  It was then I realized the simple fact that I loved telling stories and had a genuine admiration for the simplest things.  Writing always seemed to be at the center of this "be everyone" mentality and allowed me to learn and explore many lives. 

4. Do you get writer's block? How do you combat it?

I don't normally struggle with writers block. Often I find myself having too much to write for the time I allow myself to do so. Sometimes the topics my mind fixates on are not the current project and I've learned to write what I'm thinking of to get it out of my head. It's like being determined to walk through a forest but being stopped at a river. You have to deal with the immediate concern to go further.  I realized that allowing time for side projects really worked well for me. 

5. What's your writing routine? Do you write longhand, typewriter or computer?

I write at all hours of the day. Whenever it comes to me. Sometimes it's at 2 in the morning... Other times its while I'm driving. I try to text myself little notes for starting points or quotes as they come to me but  I do set time aside to sit and write. It's mostly in the evening. When my kids were in Awana, I'd sit in the Church and just write uninterrupted for an hour and a half. But mostly, I write after my children go to sleep. I lay in the hall with my tablet and keyboard and write for hours.

6. Tell us about THE IMPOSSIBLE RETURN TO INNOCENCE and how you came to publish it?

THE IMPOSSIBLE RETURN TO INNOCENCE is a story of love and family. It begins with a dark scenario where a mother is caught in the act of stabbing her 12 year old son, Dominick, and follows the anger that boy developed in the years that follow. This is explored through a fantasy world known as the Furtherland, where monsters and masked murderers are threats mirroring some of the mental anguish he is suffering. 

Once I finished I tried finding a publishing agent. I looked all over the internet for anyone who remotely fit my categories (YA, Fiction, Fantasy). I sent letter after letter, personalizing each one, refining them, sharing my story for pointers... and eventually went back in and reworked several chapters. A friend of the family began working for a new publisher, Meraki House, which combines an agency with self publishing. It is at the expense/risk of the author, but they do what they can to help create a better product. I decided to go this route after countless agency rejections. 

7. What was your inspiration for writing it?

I was fat. Really fat. 280lbs of slothful mess, formed in a manchild mold. No one took me seriously because I didn't take myself seriously. So I decided to change. I began dieting and exercising in a very strict but healthy manner. Withing 8 months I lost over 80lbs. In that time I began writing the changes I was seeing in myself and others. Each character is built on forms of myself and other people. The monsters were literally described out of the disgust I had for my own overweight body. The protagonist was me... is me. He was a runner, which is what I was becoming, and I put into him all my own doubts and fears. Unfortunately my father in law began a rapid downward spiral with severe depression. This, coupled with a desire to explore the way depression affects family, led me to creating a fictional event where a mother hurts her child. I've been hurt in my life by family, and it is difficult to forgive, and I wanted to bring that topic up for anyone who feels justified in their anger. You can let go of your justification and decide to forgive.

8. What are you working on now?

I just finished the sequel to THE IMPOSSIBLE RETURN TO INNOCENCE, titled STONECOAT. The story has many parallels and involves all the same characters as the first, but the narrative is now given from the sister of the first story's protagonist. It is a really intense book and I tried capturing the wonderful nature and strength that women have, while also exploring their vulnerabilities. I really tried to speak with an understanding heart and I think it shows.

9. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Writing is lonely. It can be heartbreaking. You can try to write a single sentence a hundred times and no one will understand the effort you put in. You will be rejected. You will want to give up. I've wanted to give up. I've rage quit a few times, one even made public recently... but if you want to do it, you have to find a way to make it work.

Thanks for coming onto the Blog JD.

You can find his book Here.

He also writes a blog at https://thetelltaledark.blogspot.com

and has his own website at http://www.jdclair.com

And for those of you who want a visual sneak peek. Here is a book trailer of The Impossible Return To Innocence.