Local Writers at the San Mateo County Fair

My Award Winning Short Story on the Wall

Yes go to the fair for sunshine, double stacked corn dogs, a block of curly fries melded into the shape of a fry basket, pig races and carnival rides but also consider stopping in at the Literary Stage. Yeah, the San Mateo County Fair held a mini writing conference sandwiched between the fine art and quilt displays inside the main exhibition hall the third week of June.

I was especially excited to visit the Literary Stage this year because I knew I had won two Honorable Mentions for my writing. Out of roughly two hundred submissions I made it to the acknowledgement level. Every piece of writing submitted to the fair was on display hanging on the walls of the literary area. While I was searching for my name I encountered a pleasant surprise. I found that the third piece I had submitted also won Honorable Mention!

Two of my pieces that won have been featured on this blog. Little Free Library, is a post about micro neighborhood book lending and A Decade of Imitation Fruit is a guest post on the topic of the literary journal I have been producing for the past ten years. A new short story based on a comedy sketch that I wrote, The Birthday Committee was also featured at the fair.

Winning stories, essays and poetry are put into an annual anthology Carry the Light: Stories, Poems, and Essays from the San Mateo County Fair. The publisher of the fair’s anthology, Sand Hill Review Press, works closely with local authors many of whom are also members of the California Writers Club San Francisco Peninsula chapter. CWC helps organize the Literary Stage and performs judging duties for writing entries. The anthology, publisher and CWC are great resources for writers in San Mateo County and beyond.

Darlene Frank’s Workshop, Photo by Eva Barrows

The Literary Stage hosts a variety of events for writers to learn about the craft of writing, authors to read their writing to an audience and an opportunity for readers to buy books from local writers. This year I caught my CWC friend Darlene Frank’s workshop on “Creating Your Most Powerful Writing.” For about an hour and a half Darlene outlined how writers can identify and execute writing with a clear purpose. It was fun to hear a fellow writer share their process and to take the time to think about my own writing in a supportive environment.

After listening to writers that I’ve come to know through CWC read from their award winning work at the Literary Stage author’s panel I am inspired to continue submitting my work to the fair. I hope to move up a notch next year and take home one of the big fluffy ribbons!

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Screenwriters Hook Up With Hollywood at San Jose Cinequest

Hammer Theater Center, San Jose CA, Photo by Eva Barrows
Hammer Theater Center, San Jose CA, Photo by Eva Barrows

Cinequest’s ad on the Visit San Jose website flashed at me as I was cruising upcoming city events. I clicked over to Cinequest’s site and found that the 13 day film festival just began, running from February 28 to March 12. The festival will honor actors Jane Lynch and Fred Armisen for their bodies of work and screen 100 feature films, 150 short films, and virtual reality films in San Jose and Redwood City. During my internet search I discovered that the film festival was hosting a one day “Writers Celebration” for the budding screenwriter. I was lucky enough to find out in time and attended this past Sunday.

The Writers Celebration kicked off at the San Jose State University campus with two panels of entertainment industry insiders. The first session was a how to pitch and pitch challenge with movie and television talent agents. The winners of Cinequest’s screenwriting competitions pitched their story ideas in front of the agents and audience. Some presenters had flair and kept the early morning crowd’s attention while others went long losing momentum. The panel advised writers to stick to the main character’s story line in a pitch and highlight how the secondary story lines propel the main story. They also encouraged writers to be concise and use action to keep the audience engaged.

The second act of the Writers Celebration was dedicated to discussing the business side of getting into the entertainment industry. The four person panel included Carol Leifer, standup comedian and television show comedy writer. Carol wrote for the television show Seinfeld where she pitched story lines for the character Elaine. Carol advised that women are needed in the writers room because men can’t tap into issues that women face: such as “skinny mirrors” (where department stores create optical illusions) and Korean manicurists that speak about you to their co-workers in front of your face. Carol carries a notebook around with her at all times to get these funny observations documented. Since her reminder, I’ve jotted a few gems down myself in my “funny file.”

Cinequest Banner, Photo by Eva Barrows
Cinequest Banner, Photo by Eva Barrows

The other members of the panel work in acquisition for production companies, Sierra Affinity (Entertainment One) and Grindstone Entertainment Group (Lionsgate). They named a few film and screenwriting competitions their companies scout for new projects: Sundance, Nicholl Fellowship, UCLA and SXSW. They also troll script rating systems, Blacklist, Script Pipeline and Ink Tip. The panelists advise that when a project is submitted to them they pay attention to catchy email titles and intriguing loglines, and if those aren’t there they don’t read the query.

The finale of the Writers Celebration festivities was a recognition ceremony at the San Jose Hammer Theater Center for the Cinequest screenwriting competition winners. Approximately forty screen writers filled the stage with ten writers in four categories: full length feature, short film, 60 and 30 minute teleplays. Some of the winners got to pitch their log lines to the audience and the audience voted for their favorites.

The Cinequest Maverick Spirit Award was given to accomplished director and screenwriter Jason Reitman. The award celebrates Reitman’s bold story telling choices in his work. Being the son of a successful director, it was important to Reitman’s to find his own path. When he started making movies he entered them in film festivals and caught industry attention. Reitman’s experience with film festivals illustrates that they are a great place to gain exposure and recognition.

The cost of attending the Writers Celebration at Cinequest, a mere twenty five dollars was well spent. I left inspired to keep up my “funny file” and look for outlets and opportunities for my own screenwriting. I will definitely keep Cinequest on my radar for further exploration next year.

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Public Library Indispensable For Career Changer

Belmont Library, Photo by Eva Barrows
Belmont Library, Photo by Eva Barrows

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I forgot how great the public library is. When I didn’t have to research books and periodicals for college essays anymore I pretty much stopped going to the library. I bought books online and in bookstores, rented videos from Blockbuster, then Netflix and Amazon Prime. When my bookshelves overflowed with books I didn’t want to keep, I’d donate them.

I couldn’t continue with this lavish lifestyle of buying and dumping books when I started on my new journey to becoming a full time freelance writer. I found myself suddenly needing stacks of books to educate myself on my new business. I had to find out how to set up a WordPress website, how to get into the freelance writing marketplace, a refresher on journalism, how to write marketing copy and so on. I’d go broke buying all of these resources. So I drove the few blocks to my local library.

Statue of Readers, Photo by Eva Barrows
Statue of Readers, Photo by Eva Barrows

The local branch provided a great start to my quest for knowledge. It has current technology and business books. For a wider range of books related to the craft of writing, I turned to the online catalog that is connected to all of the other libraries in San Mateo County to order books from other branches to fill my knowledge void. The ordered books show up at my local branch in about a week.

Besides all of the technical how to books the library has, it also provides a comprehensive collection of current movies, TV, music and audio books. Listen up people! Go to your library and rent the recent release movies for free. Ok, not all libraries are alike. I’ve heard that some public libraries charge for renting new movies but it could still be a better deal than streaming them. Within the last few weeks I’ve checked out the current movies: Suffragette, Man Up, Brooklyn and the new Bridget Jones all for free…

I’m grateful to the San Mateo County Library network for assisting me in learning my new trade and keeping me entertained at the same time.

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Imitation Fruit Literary Journal: Guest Post at Yvette Keller’s Aspiration Blog

Come celebrate 10 years of Imitation Fruit Literary Journal with me at Yvette Keller’s Aspirations Blog. Yvette was curious to know the recipe behind the creative juices at Imitation Fruit and I told her all about it.

Cover Art by John Barrows
Cover Art by John Barrows
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Simple As That : Rewriting a Short Story

Fruit and Story, Photo by Eva Barrows
Fruit and Story, Photo by Eva Barrows

December 2014 – Wrote short story during an online writing class. Had particular goal in mind for characters but wasn’t pleased with outcome. Instructor said he thought story was fine and I was being hard on myself.

All of 2015 – Story hanging out in computer — All year. Wonder what it was like in there…

August 2016 – Thank god I found a writers critique group to be a part of. Story re-visited.

September 2016 – Kept essence of characters, moved the setting around, explored using different points of view and found the one that would show off the most interesting character the best. Edited myself as I wrote (slap on back of hand). Made my critique group read parts of story several times. (Will make it up to them somehow…chocolate?)

October 2016 – Agonized over ending. Complained at dinner table to husband about not knowing how to end story. Went back to desk, struck by lightning – premise isn’t what I wanted it to be, it was even better! And better yet, everything I needed was already there. Finished story and told husband. He said, “Really?!?” He didn’t understand how I could be in despair one moment then done with the story the next.

Currently – Waiting for next critique meeting to see what the girls think.

Next – I have some ideas about how to punch up the ending. Then I’m going to submit the sucker and get the story published. I hope it likes hanging out on paper better than stuck on my hard drive.

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