Monday, July 6, 2015

An Interview with Author Donna Figueroa

Donna Figueroa
I am pleased to have a very special guest today! Donna Figueroa is an actor who has worked on stage and on the big and small screens.  Her credits include several television commercials and voice-overs for animation, commercials and industrial projects.  She is also a producer and performer at Story Salon, Los Angeles's longest running storytelling venue. Please help me welcome Donna, as she tells us about her debut novel, Fall Again Beginnings, now available at Amazon!

Thank you, Donna, for joining me today. I read Fall Again Beginnings and thoroughly enjoyed the story! So, first of all, tell us a little about it. 
Fall Again: Beginnings is the first installment of a four part contemporary romantic series that follows the lives and careers of two working actors over two decades. In Beginnings, readers will meet actors Marc & Lauren and their closest friends in the optimistic New York City of the 1980’s. Unfortunately, Marc and Lauren meet at the wrong time in their lives while they are both building careers and Marc has a serious girlfriend. Decorum dictates that their relationship remain in the boundaries of a platonic friendship, a task that over time will become increasingly difficult. Despite their best efforts, Marc & Lauren fall in love.

What inspired you to write it?  
In the Fall Again Series I wanted to explore several themes; meeting the right person at the wrong time, the power of a first love, friendships, and the randomness of luck, timing and situations that can shape a life and career.

As a hopeless romantic, I’ve often looked at events in my life and have marveled at how I’ve come to be where I am today. It amazes me that minor events can completely change the course of a life.

Fall Again: Beginnings
For example, as I was about to graduate from Emerson College in Boston MA, I was waiting to hear if I had been hired as an actor for the coming season of The Boston Shakespeare Company. My two auditions had gone extremely well and I was hopeful. I was told I’d hear if I’d made the company by the end of the week.  On Friday night I was devastated when I’d heard nothing. However, two days later I was offered a job in a theater company in Chicago and was on a plane to the Midwest the first thing Wednesday morning and in my first rehearsal Thursday morning! On Thursday night I received a call from a friend back in Boston congratulating me; The Boston Shakespeare Company wanted to offer me a contract for the next season…and I was already committed to the theater in Chicago!

Had I stayed in Boston, I never would have made the contact who would introduce me to a Los Angeles contact who asked me to come to an audition in Los Angeles. Instead of making a quick two or three day trip (and in the most impulsive move of my life), I moved to LA three weeks later and have never looked back! A few years later I met the man who I would eventually marry. If the company in Boston had contacted me earlier my life would have been very different…not necessarily bad, just different. Frankly, I can’t imagine my life without my husband Tony.

A personal goal in writing Fall Again was to create a realistic look at the lives of working actors whose profession is often misunderstood and represented.

How did your background in acting influence your writing? 
A friend of mine (an Emmy Award winning writer) told me that I write like an actor,  that is, I try to fully visualize the scene in my imagination as I write, and often read dialogue aloud to hear my character’s voices. I find that I create characters for the page the same way I would create a character for an acting role for the stage or screen. One of my first tasks in approaching an acting role is to create a strong backstory. I do the same in my writing, feeling that a strong backstory will make a fictional character real.

I think it goes without saying that several of my personal experiences, as well as the industry experiences of many of my fellow actors, inspired events and situations in the Fall Again Series.

You’ve said that the Fall Again series started as a short story.  How did it evolve into a novel? 
I have developed procrastination into an art form. 

Fall Again: Beginnings is the first book in the Fall Again Series. My original plan had been to write a short story entitled Time for Coffee, where two actors (who would eventually become Marc & Lauren) meet after several years on Sunset Boulevard outside of a casting studio as they’re both leaving an audition. Neither has a lot of time and decide to have coffee where they discuss their lives, careers and why they separated years before. 

The problem was I could never find the time to write this story, but the characters remained in my head and started to take on a life of their own. By the time I decided to start writing there was too much to the story. I no longer knew how to tell this story as short story, and I decided to write a stand-alone novel. After I completed a first draft, I realized that I had only told part of the story and owed it to my characters to tell their entire story. I had grown to respect them too much to do anything less. That’s when the novel morphed into a series.

As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take you to complete Fall Again?
When I’m working on a project I try to write every day. I am most productive during the mid-morning hours or after seven in the evenings. I find a spot where I can relax with my laptop (though I somehow managed to write my first draft on a notebook) and allow my imagination to flow onto the page. I don’t outline on paper, but I do have a mental plan on what I’ll write for each session. I always keep a notebook close by just in case inspiration strikes and I need to jot down a few quick notes that I can easily incorporate into a manuscript.

I am always very aware of my surroundings (an actor’s trait) and will happily take inspiration and ideas from my world view. (I heard an interesting name one day which became the name of a character in the next installment, Fall Again: Lost Boy.)

One very important part of my writing process is music. My playlist for the Fall Again Series was eclectic ranging from Chopin to Billy Joel and David Benoit to a recent discovery, bass player and vocalist Nathan East.

Each novel in the Fall Again Series begins with a song lyric which sets the tone of the story. Fall Again: Beginnings starts with the first few lines of the classic song On Broadway.

I began writing Fall Again on November 1, 2012 and finished sometime in early 2015. The most difficult part of the writing process was stopping.

What’s next for you?  
As a writer, my next project will be a stand-alone novel entitled A Private Family Matter. This is the story of another working actor who returns home to attend a family funeral. In this novel I’m exploring family dynamics and the humorous elements which always surround these events.

As a working actor, I am constantly auditioning for various projects here in Los Angeles. I’m currently in the process of narrating an audio book; a crime drama that features a strong heroine, several teenaged girls and other characters on both sides of the law. I’m enjoying creating the different characters, their voices…and am having a great time and loving the process. For many actors, voiceover is the purest form of acting: it’s you, a microphone and your imagination!

Donna, thanks again for visiting with me today, and readers, be sure to check out Fall Again: Beginnings at Amazon!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Corn and Black Bean Salad

I had a dinner  party over the weekend, and in addition to chicken, rice and salad, I wanted a summery side dish to serve. I love black bean salad but I'd never made it and didn't have a recipe. I found this dish at and was very pleased with the result, as were my guests!  It was so good, I thought I'd share it today. Enjoy!

Corn and Black Bean Salad

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon paprika
2 (15 1/2-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups frozen whole kernel corn, thawed 
1 large orange bell pepper, coarsely chopped 
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 small jalapeƱo peppers, seeded and minced 
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Add beans and remaining ingredients; toss well to coat. Cover and let stand 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

Do you have a favorite Corn and Black Bean Salad recipe?  Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, June 22, 2015

She Wasn't the First!

Rachel Dolezal in black and white 
So, Rachel Dolezal has been all over the news since her parents outed her as white! I'd never heard of her, but studying her image, I never would have suspected that she wasn't black.

Fair-skinned blacks have passed for white throughout the ages, but it's certainly out of the ordinary for a white person to want to pass as black. As strange as Ms. Dolezal's situation is, she isn't the first white person to do that. You've probably never heard of Clarence King, but his
story is told in Martha A. Sandweiss's book, Passing Strange.

Clarence King is a hero of nineteenth century western history.  He was also a brilliant scientist, best-selling author and architect of the great surveys that mapped the West after the Civil War. Secretary of State John Hay declared King “the best and brightest of his generation.”

However, King hid a secret from his friends, as well as the prominent Newport family from which he hailed:  He lived a double life.  For thirteen years King was known  as a celebrated white explorer, geologist and writer.  But he was also known as James Todd, a black Pullman porter and steel worker.
Clarence King

The fair skinned blue-eyed son born to a wealthy China trader passed across the color line.  This was not the usual case of a black man passing as white--but a white man passing as black!  And he didn't reveal his secret  to his black common-law wife, Ada Copeland, until his dying day.

Why did King do this?  To be with the woman he loved.  To marry Ada publicly, as the white man Clarence King, would have scandalized him and destroyed his career.

Passing Strange is a fascinating account of a sacrifice made for love.  If you like history, romance and forbidden love stories, then you'll enjoy Passing Strange!

All right, Clarence King passed for love, so what was Ms. Dolezal's motivation?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Christopher Lee: The One and Only

The late Christopher Lee was quite a fascinating individual. I found this article, Chirstopher Lee: Renaissance Man  in and thought I'd share it today!

Christopher Lee died June 7 at the age of 93, but what seems to be common among those who knew him is that he was a regular Renaissance man.

Director Peter Jackson wrote was likely the most touching of all the tributes that flowed throughout social media. According to Jackson, Christopher Lee was “a true gentleman, in an era that no longer values gentleman.” Jackson worked with the venerable actor through five movies between the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series of films. Lee’s status as a gentleman is not the only characteristic for which he was known, however.

Christopher Lee‘s parents — a retired British officer father and an Italian countess mother — divorced, and when his mother remarried, it was to author Ian Fleming’s uncle. This is, of course, only one factor that ties Christopher Lee to the James Bond legacy; Bond fans doubtless remember Lee’s chilling turn as Francisco Scaramanga, the titular Man with the Golden Gun. This was only a part of his legion of work that would forever cement his part in cinematic history; he took part in no less than at least five historic movie series, including Bond.

Before taking on the roles of Star Wars’ evil Count Dooku or Lord of the Rings’ Saruman, Christopher Lee had a past with the British Special Forces, could apparently speak seven languages, and was known for his love of heavy metal music. He was a Lord of the Rings aficionado as well and knew author J.R.R. Tolkien. Older generations would know him as the penultimate Dracula from the Hammer Horror series of films...

Did you know any of this about Christopher Lee? For the complete article, click here. Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Dead Body Disposal - Tips for Writers

Jeanne Adams
"Don't take life too seriously; you'll never get out of it alive." Elbert Hubbard

Not long ago, I had the amazing opportunity to attend a "lively" and enthusiastic program called Drowned DamesMauled Menand Crispy CrittersA Body Disposal Primer for Writers presented by Jeanne Adams. Ms. Adams became a writer after working in the funeral business for several years. Now she's the author of thrilling suspense and magical romance.

I learned quite a few things that I'll be applying to my writing. One of my books involves a shooting, a coroner, a mortuary and a funeral. So this workshop was rather timely for me, and Ms. Adams was eager to answer any and all questions!

Here are a few tidbits of interest I learned:
  • Coffin vs. Casket -- There is a difference! A coffin is an eight sided "Dracula Box." Caskets came into vogue around the 1930's. That's when the coffin evolved into a furniture grade item (case--casket).
  • Best ways of natural body disposal include sharks, alligators and crocodiles.
  • Donating your body to a Research Facility -- This is harder than you think! The facility has to want your body. If you're about 97, chances are you're not wanted. A thirty year old has a better chance.
  • Full postmortem vs. limited autopsy -- Full postmortem involves the removal of the brain and all internal organs. Limited autopsy only involves the removal of one organ.
  • Embalming -- Head has to be elevated (to rest on pillow later in casket) arms have to be elevated into position (such as crossed on chest). Once the embalming fluid is in, the corpse won't move.
  • Open Casket vs. Closed-- Some families do want an open casket, even when the deceased has been disfigured (i.e. gunshot wound), and the reconstruction doesn't look that great. If the funeral home deems the appearance too inappropriate, they won't allow it, but will instead refer the family to a different funeral home.
  • Cremated Remains -- In the "biz" known as "cremains."
  • Scattering of Ashes -- Illegal at sea.
Hope you've found these little bits of body disposal trivia informative. What I've shared barely scratches the surface of Ms. Adams presentation. So if you ever have the chance to go, don't miss out!

Any thoughts of your own on body disposal? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Reposted from 7/12/10.