Dream Big, Be You: What Do You Want To Be?

I didn’t start out to be a writer, so how the @#$%^&*! did I end up here? I just heard from the Cat Writers’ Association that my fiction book HIT AND RUN just won a Certificate of Excellence Award, with consideration for a Muse Medallion. I always wanted to write fiction, but it only happened when forced to reinvent myself and dream big. What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to be remembered for? What will your legacy be?

what do you want to beThe Accidental Writer

I’ve written about my journey several times and have blogged off and on for 20+ years. But the blog only gained traction about ten years ago when I took an Email course on branding and social media from Kristen Lamb (read her blog!). She asked lots of “thoughty” questions:

What do you (want to) write? What are your interests, besides the writing topics—because we are so much more than (fill-in-the-blank). Who do people “see” when they look at you? Is that the BRAND you desire to create? It must be the real you—pretend won’t cut it. People see through the phony-isity of such things. As an actor, someone able to put on a persona for different people or events, that struck a chord with me.

Taking Off the Mask, Being YOU

Okay, she didn’t use those words, but you get my drift. I had an acting coach tell me the same thing, and I wrote about it in another blog, that you are enough. Bring YOU to the table—that’s enough.

And that’s scary! Dang. And it leads me to another question–what did YOU want to be when you grew up? Kids seem to know and show even in the games they play what path they’ll take through life. Me? I wanted to be an actor because they were glamorous, people liked them, and they never laughed too loud or were at a loss for words. I could be whoever I wanted, and if folks rolled their eyes, it wasn’t about me, but the persona. Being real, though–EEEK! Then if they don’t like you (or your work), what then?

writing advice what do you want to be

“I own this content!”

What Do You Want to Be…?

As a kid, my brothers and I put on plays in the basement, and directed marathon “let’s pretend” soap operas. The recurring kid, horses, dogs, and cat characters and stories were so real, they had us in tears—and made my folks roll their eyes.

I never played with dolls, much to the dismay of my grandmother. Nope, it was stuffed animals and best-bud pretend pets who could “really talk!” Mom always said, “When Amy grows up she won’t have babies, she’ll have puppy-dogs and kitty-cats.”

Mom knew.

Write Your Passion—Be YOU, Not Someone Else’s Idea

Early in my writing career, people constantly questioned why I didn’t write about more important topics, like starving children or world peace? And was cautioned, “You’ll never make a living writing about just pets!” Thpbpbpbpbpbpbpb! (insert raspberry sound effects!)

I write about pets because that’s me. It’s what and who I am, and I am enough. No, it’s not ALL that I am, but it’s a big part. I’m not on Broadway–yet! But all my stage and tv experience serves the pet writing causes. I listened to my furry muses. And I have the bling ready for when the big moment comes.

publishing tips

Writing about dogs (and cats) is serious business.

Becoming My Best Self

Something unexpected happened along the path to becoming Amy. I’m no longer at a loss for words—and instead I have to work at NOT jumping into every conversation. The animals taught me that. I don’t need to bark, howl, wag my tail (no wise cracks!) or hiss all the time to get ahead. I’ve never found being a “whisperer” to be particularly effective.

I’ve learned to be a pet “listener.” If you listen with your eyes and your heart, animals tell you what they’re thinking and why they’re acting in certain ways. Works with humans, too.

When I was a kid, I wanted to wear sparkles, tell stories with happy endings, and have bestest-bud animal friends who really talk. As an adult, when a career on the stage seemed out of reach, I turned to writing as a creative outlet, and it turned into an extraordinarily rewarding career. What did you want to be when you were a kid? Are you there yet?

what do you want to be remembered forWhen I Grow Up…

I always wanted to write fiction but at first, only made headway with nonfiction. My childhood dream came true only happened when I lost my grownup nonfiction writing career ten years ago and gave up writing to teach high school choir.

For the first time in years, I had nothing to prove and nothing to lose. So I wrote the novel I’d always wanted to READ in twenty-minute increments: before work, on lunch breaks, and after classes.

I don’t have two-legged kids. My legacy will be my written works, and I hope I will be remembered for helping cats and dogs and those who love them. And now and then, helping fellow writers with tips that helped me, like this webinar on beating writer’s block.

And today, my peers have honored my fifth book, HIT AND RUN, (complete with puppy-dog and kitty-cat characters), something I never could have predicted.

What do you want to be? There’s still time!

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I do not recommend anything unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

 

Jesus Christ Superstar: Living The Part

Many of my readers know about my passion for plays and theater and music. So when the opportunity came to be involved in a rock opera, I had to audition for the chance to sing in the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice masterpiece, Jesus Christ Superstar.

L-R: Amanda Pillow, Heidi Scheibmeir and Amy Shojai reunited in the Finley dressing room. Last fall, we acted and sang together as an evil trinity in Little Mermaid–and now, the sinners have reformed!

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR CAST IS FAMILY

Besides, it’s just plain fun to meet new people, and reconnect with friends from previous productions. Working so closely together builds unique ties and relationships that are treasured long after the curtain goes down. Yep, many of us work full time jobs, and then spend long hours late into the night rehearsing, perfecting, and gnashing virtual teeth to make things right.

Why? Because we love it. Theater is my brain candy, and a part of who I am. I got hooked at six years old, and never looked back.

Another dressing room picture with a new theater friend, Cynthia Brandt, brilliantly playing “Queen Herod.” Hey, I told you it’s a novelization!

MARY, MOTHER OF JESUS

I was honored to be offered a role in the Superstar company, and play multiple parts (as do several of my colleagues). We love singing the challenging music–this is a ROCK OPERA, for goodness sakes!–and the emotional content of this novelization of biblical history is joyful, thought provoking, heart-rending, and uplifting by turns.

Being “Mary, mother of Jesus.”

The production boasts more than 50 individuals serving as actors, singers, orchestra members, and technical crew perfecting lights, sound, costumes, choreography and more, all from the North Texas area. Some are veteran performers, and for others, Jesus Christ Superstar is their first production. The audience, though, won’t be able to tell the difference–yes, the entire cast is that good!

Amanda Pillow (Mary Magdalene) with Grant Bower (Jesus), and Amy (Mother Mary) singing from balcony. Note: The role of Magdalene is shared with Teresa Natera, not pictured.

What can you expect? A joyful explosion of color, movement and song, gorgeous set and costumes, creative props, and an energetic outpouring from the cast and crew. We LIVE these parts…and after all, everyone knows how the story ends. The emotion is very real–and we couldn’t do this without each other.

Jesus Christ Superstar is our gift to you, the audience. And I feel blessed to be a part of this, and believe my fellow cast members feel the same.

Historically, audience members hail from the Dallas metroplex into North Texas and southern Oklahoma and beyond to attend Sherman Community Players productions mounted at the history Finley Theater in Sherman, Texas. Although performances are scheduled every Thurs-Sunday throughout June, the 200+-seat house often sells out. Tickets and details are available here–get your reservation asap! 

Mary Poppins! Three Roles, One Great Show

Yes, I’ve been cast in the Sherman Theatricks production of Mary Poppins, and I’m having a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious time! Tonight is opening night, yee-haw!

Some of y’all know that I’m also an actor/singer and that performing for me is brain candy that reduces stress and invigorates all other parts of my creative life. The more “creative schtuff” that I do, it seems that just feeds the muse. You can find out more about my “playing around” endeavors here. And when able to combine acting, singing, and PETS, what could be better!

Playing Multiple Roles in Mary Poppins–Meet Miss Lark!

MissLark

Miss Lark loves her Willoughby!

That’s right, betcha didn’t know there’s a character in the cast who is dog-crazy. Gee, why did I get that role? LOL! Miss Lark carries around Willoughby, a small barky and very opinionated canine she treats like her child. (Oh gee, now that’s a stretch for moi as an actor…). I found a brilliant Yorkshire Terrier puppy puppet, from the paw-some folks at Folkmanis Puppets.

Willoughby

Willoughby’s paws and mouth can move, as well as his head. We’ll see how believable his “acting chops” are!

Miss Lark only appears in the first act. I’m fortunate to also be able to sing with the brilliant company in all the chorus numbers, too, many of them sung from backstage. But in the second act, it’s “evil nanny time” and I get to play the part of the polar opposite of Mary Poppins in the role of Miss Andrew.

Evil Meanies Offer Lots of Fun to Play!

MissAndrew

Miss Andrew “seeks satisfaction in punitive action” using brimstone and treacle to punish (instead of a spoonful of sugar).

The Tap-Dancing Chimney Sweep

Finally, all the extra hair comes off, and I get to pick up a broom to sing (and try to dance!) in the Step In Time number as a chimney sweep. Hey, it’s all about challenging ourselves with new things. There are some brilliant dancers and singers and actors in this show, and how kewl that I get to “play” alongside them? I have a feeling some of these experiences will go into a future book.

ChimneySweep

Actually, the next thriller has a scene in which my main character plays cello in the orchestra for Secret Garden (something I was pleased to do last year). In my world, EVERYTHING is material!

Here’s the details from the theater’s press release, so for those of you in the North Texas area, I hope to see you at the show. Make reservations quickly. We’re only performing two weekends, and the theater holds just barely 100 seats.

So…will I see you there? Please share and tell your friends, this is a delightful show–with FLYING, too!


Mary Poppins

L-R: Rafe McConnell (Bert), Amanda Ferguson (Mary Poppins), Luke Rostyne (Michael) Erica Romm (Jane)

Mary Poppins, the Story…

The story unfolds in 1910 England as the jack-of-all-trades, Bert, played by Rafe McConnell, narrates a tale of the troubled Banks family.  Mr. and Mrs. Banks are played by Paul Jordan and Jennifer Becherer alongside Erica Romm as Jane Banks and Luke Rostyne as Michael Banks. Jane and Michael are naughty children who give the household staff and townspeople plenty of trouble. Kaitlyn Casmedes, Christina Childress, and Leigh Walker play household staff and the colorful town characters are played by Brandon Carnes, Lew Cohn, Drew Crocker, Ken Kozak, Bella Ortley-Guthrie, and Amy Shojai.

Mary Poppins, played by Amanda Ferguson, arrives on the Banks’ doorstep and uses magic and common sense to teach the family how to value one another. She takes the children and the audience on whimsical adventures where anything can happen. Characters they meet include Mrs. Corry, played by Leanne Duigan, and her children Annie and Fannie played by Andrea Bryson and Alivia Bryson; Neleus, played by Caleb Crocker, and the other lively statues in the park played by Brittani Crocker, Reagan Hayes, Allison Hill, and Queen Victoria, played by Logan Shurtleff. Amy Shojai reappears as Mr. Bank’s old nanny, Miss Andrew to shake things up further. Jane and Michael also learn important lessons about kindness and generosity from the Bird Woman, played by Heidi Scheibmeir and the life-size toys played by Charley Becherer, Molly Brown, MacKenzie Kozak, and Sarah McGinn.

Production Notes

The cast was selected in late July and has been working under the direction of Webster Crocker, choreographer Amy Wallace, vocal director Sylvia Rivers and Thomas Bryson. Costumes and make up are the creation and handiwork of Shelley Shurtleff, Tina Ross, Cheryl Hayes and Anne Schell. The show is accompanied by a 12 member orchestra conducted by Thomas Bryson.

Performance times are 7 p.m. on September 10, 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19; and 2 p.m.  on September 12, 13, 19 and 20. For reservations, call the Sherman Community Players box office at 903-892-8818 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. until noon on Saturday or visit the box office inside the Honey McGee Playhouse, 313 West Mulberry in Sherman during the same hours. Tickets are available for season members beginning Monday, September 7 and for all other beginning Tuesday, September 8.

Tickets are also available online at www.theatricks.org. Ticket prices are $12 for adults and $10 for students. 2015-2016 Season Memberships are available at the ticket office for $25 adult, $20 senior, and $18 student and include Mary Poppins, James and the Giant Peach, and The Boxcar Children.


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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I do not recommend anything unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Listen To Your Muse: How #Pets, #Music & #Theater Make a Paw-sitive Difference for Animals

LeaseOfThese

Gotcha day adoption during STRAYS. (All images courtesy of Mike Marlow, used with permission)

I call myself the “accidental pet writer” because I had plans to be a New York Broadway star…and instead my career went to the dogs (and cats). There were very few jobs available in a small town in Eastern Kentucky where my husband and I first lived after we got married, and so I interviewed with a veterinarian for an office manager position.

My interview took place during a Chihuahua’s C-section, with the vet asking me questions while handing newborn puppies for me to resuscitate. I think I got the job because I didn’t pass out!
There were so many amazing experiences as a result of working with veterinarians and I used to share them with my mother. She finally said, “Amy, you’ve got to write those stories down!”

And so I did, and my nonfiction pet-writing career was born. A few thousand articles and 30 nonfiction pet books later, my dream of writing fiction became a reality by combining the cat and dog expertise with fast-paced emotion-driven stories in novels. My debut thriller LOST AND FOUND introduced animal behaviorist September Day and her service dog Shadow, and my most current release HIDE AND SEEK continues her story.

But I never could have imagined that writing about cats and dogs would lead me BACK to the stage—to the Honey McGee Playhouse as a playwright/composer with my partner-in-thespian-crime, Frank Steele.

Kaitlyn-Christina-DreamCat

DREAM CAT song, sung by “Queen Cat” Christina Childress (above) and danced by “Pariah Cat” Kaitlyn Casmedes

THE THEATER CONNECTION

We’d already collaborated on other scripts, including KURVES, THE MUSICAL, but both of us are passionate pet people. I think Frank first brought up the concept of a pet-centric show, with actors portraying cats and dogs in funny or poignant scenes to not just entertain, but explain these behaviors. We didn’t want funny animal makeup or elaborate costumes, though. Our characters, we decided, would be developed strictly through the actor’s skill—so they’d need to love pets themselves.

STRAYS was born over countless glasses of iced tea and scribbled notes, developed through back and forth emailed lyrics and dialogue, written and revised music, recording the orchestration, and finally polishing with the help of two different volunteer casts, setting up a “cast recording” and three preview performances. Truly, the show was written in “kitty litter” with final polishing help from the cast.

The generosity and support of SCP Theatricks made the performance possible–how often does your own hometown get to debut an original theater production? PLEASE support the arts in your community–Frank and I hope this experience opens the door for other local artists. It’s been quite a journey.

PuppyMonologue

“PUPPY MONOLOGUE” was the first scene written in STRAYS, with “Puppy” performed by Kate Carson.

THREE YEAR PROJECT

The first scenes were written in August 2011. Now, after a 40 month gestation, STRAYS has been born this week, thanks to a brilliant cast and crew of local talent. Mee-WOW!

STRAYS was written to be performed for (and by) animal rescue organizations as a fund raiser. Frank and I never intended to write a “kids show” and STRAYS was designed for an all-adult cast. Through the review-style performance, the various scenes and a dozen songs highlight the many ways cats and dogs lose their homes—mostly because of “normal” behaviors—and also offer tips to solve problems and preserve that most special loving bond between pets and owners.

ItsNormal

Our youngest cast members shine in “NORMAL” chorus.

Because of the venue and its wonderful support, we’ve cast the show not only with experienced adult performers but also talented young thespians from the Theatricks program. Their own “furry muses” are featured in the curtain call, too!

Muse

“THE MUSE” song, led by MacKenzie Kozak (center) with slide show above illustrating how our cats and dogs inspire us every day.

Last night was OPENING NIGHT of STRAYS, the MUSICAL. The amazing cast of 30 performers prompted laughter, cheers, and perhaps a few tears in the generous crowd gathered for the event. What a feeling! To have the words and music come to life–and take on a furry life of their own–is every creative’s dream-come-true.

If you’ve never visited the lovely Honey McGee Playhouse, now is your opportunity. STRAYS takes the stage again tonight and tomorrow, 7 pm. on November 7 & 8. Tickets are $10 general admission at the door, or reserve online at www.THEATRICKS.org on the STRAYS page.

There’s even a fund raising program to benefit Animal Refuge Foundation and Red River SPCA during the show. At last night’s event, we gave away a big basket of dog food and a cat-care basket with fun toys, pet CD and cat care books. Pet carriers, more books and pet food, a “well pet vet package” and waived adoption fees are also offered!

Here are a few more photos from the show, taken by the amazing Mike Marlow. He also videotaped the entire show last night, so DVDs and photos from the show will be available to the cast. We may be able to make it available to theater groups interested in producing the STRAYS show.

PuffPuff

“Puff Puff” (Jim Barnes) and “Mom-Cat” (Marty Burkart) discuss how litter-ary mishaps lost them their homes.

CuzImADawg

Theresa Littlefield sings the dawgie blues to “Show Dog” (Jesse Childress) about the normal behaviors that got her kicked out of her home.

PetDebate

Lew Cohn (left) and Susan McGinn (right) in the Pet Debate….”why dogs roll in “schtuff” etc.

No, I never intended to be a writer. I never planned to be an animal behavior consultant. For sure, I never thought I’d be a choir teacher, or a composer, or heck…never imagined I’d live in Texas…But I did all of that. Sometimes, the unexpected turns into something wonderful.

StraysProgramPlease come share our “something wonderful” celebration this week, as our STRAYS cast makes our dream comes true. And don’t forget to dream up your own “something wonderful.” You just might discover an unexpected, glorious dream-come-true of your own!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

Got Strays? Pet-Astic Theater Celebration Helps #Cats & #Dogs

FullStraysCastSTRAYS, an original musical by local playwrights Amy Shojai and Frank Steele, premiers at the Honey McGee Playhouse for three nights only November 6, 7, 8, 2014 at 7:00 pm. Cast with 30 local talents, the review-style show explores furry foibles from the PETS’ point of view.

STRAYS was written to be performed for (and by) animal rescue organizations as a fund raiser, and isn’t specifically a “kids show,” although talented thespians from the Theatricks program are cast. All ages will enjoy STRAYS.

“I’ve been a fan of STRAYS since I saw the concert preview back in 2013,” says Susan McGinn, “so I’m delighted that my husband John, daughter Sarah, and I are cast for the first fully staged production! It’s been fascinating (and unique in all my theater experience) to be directed by the co-writers of the show and watch them refine and tweaked the script and score during the rehearsal process. It’s an honor for all of us who are acting in the production to know that our work has contributed to shaping STRAYS.”

PariahCat2

Susan McGinn (far left) and the other “cats” intimidate the Pariah Cat (crouched center) played by Kaitlyn Casmedes.

Jim Barnes recorded the show songs for the preview cast album, and decided to audition for the staged performance. He portrays the only boy cat, a feline who has used up 8 of his 9 lives. “I like performing in STRAYS because it gives me a chance to make people laugh,” he says. “Everyone should see it. You will laugh, you will cry a little and you will learn some insight on the behaviors of animals.”

TheresaLittlefield-LewCohn-JimBarnes

Jim Barnes sings how he’s wasted 8 of his 9 lives, while two dogs (played by Theresa Littlefield and Lew Cohn) look on.

The large cast has become close. Lew Cohn says, “It is great to see talented performers of such a wide variety of ages come together to perform original material that is so well written and informative about the plight of stray animals. My favorite scene is the Old Dogs Talking, in which I play a Bassett hound with various “difficulties” that make for a lot of fun. But there’s something for everyone—bust a gut comedy, tear jerking drama and great original songs that tell a story.”

LewCohn-SteveMildward

Two dogs played by Lew Cohn (left) and Steven Mildward (right) discuss bulldogs, bullfrogs, worms and Poodles–and other important dog schtuff.

Steve Mildward has been involved in many productions, both onstage and backstage. “I can address the excitement that comes from the direct involvement with the writers. In the classics, you can’t ask what the intent was. In this production, the directors are there to lend that insight.”

Cohn also appreciates being able to create a role from the ground up. “This is an exciting opportunity to set the bar in an original show.”

Abraham-Eliana-Sofia-Guerra

Abraham (a puppy) and kittens Eliana and Sofia Guerra have featured roles in the show.

For some actors, STRAYS is their first onstage experience. Carolina Guerra and her daughters Sofia and Eliana are first-time performers cast when Carolina’s son Abraham decided to audition. She especially enjoys being able to share the experience with her family. “My kiddos love to perform but I am more of an introvert so I was not sure how it would go. Much to my surprise, the play has been both educational and fun for all of us. It has been a great introduction to being in a theatrical production. I might even consider trying out for another one.”

Her son Abraham is a veteran of Theatricks productions, and says he likes getting to wear a bone as one of the puppies. He also performs a dog rap. His favorite scene is Show Dog, because it’s so funny. “The main difference (compared to other plays) is being on stage the whole time,” he says. “In some ways it is easier because we are not running back and forth but it is also hard because you have to stay in character the whole time.”

Both Sofia and Eliana Guerra like playing kittens. Sofia loves to sing and march in GOTCHA DAY, while Eliana prefers the fun song NORMAL.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to be not only working on a new show but a show with an important message,” says Kaitlyn Casmedes, who choreographed STRAYS and portrays the “pariah” cat. “Anyone whose heart goes out to animals will love this show.”

Carolina says her favorite song is RAINBOW PETS, the finale. “In particular the lines, “Lessons learned don’t come for free…shed no tear have no fear pay it forward in kind.” What a great life lesson not just about pet ownership but everything in life. I hope my kiddos will remember these words forever.”

“There’s a line in STRAYS that I think describes perfectly why the show is so appealing,” adds Susan McGinn. “There’s a lot of love represented here, a lot of love.” When the joyous finale arrives, we all truly feel it. We want the audience to know about the happiness that comes from helping cats and dogs in need. We can’t wait for opening night!”

The Honey McGee Playhouse hosts three performances November 6, 7, 8. Tickets are $10 each available for sale at the door or can be reserved online at https://www.theatricks.org/ by clicking on the STRAYS link.

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!