I’m thrilled to welcome the multi-talented and accomplished media relations expert and award-winning author, Christina Hamlett, as my first blog interviewee. Christina and I initially met online via LinkedIn, then followed each other over to Facebook and began connecting on a more regular, personal note. I quickly realized that here was a lady who had walked the walk and gave back generously to those coming up the ranks. I was honoured when she offered to interview me for her own blog, You Read It Here First, in May, 2014. After reading and reviewing her book, Media Magnetism, I was convinced this was one writer I wanted to interview and get to know better, and whose words of wisdom needed to be shared.
Q You have been involved in so many things over the years; playwright, author, actress, theatrical director, etc. What are you most proud of today, and why?
Being able to write plays that are performed across the country and around the world by young people, and receiving sweet fan mail like this: “Dear Ms. Hamlett. How are you? I am fine. I beat out my best friend for the part of Lady Elaine in The Knight of the Honest Heart. It was fun to put on this play. I’m going to be a famous actress when I grow up. I just thought you’d like to know. Thank you for writing this script because it has changed my life.” Priceless.
Q What has been the lesson most difficult for you to learn, either personally or professionally?
Patience! Back in the day when everything was sent via snail mail, I was very much like Charlie Brown sitting under the mailbox and waiting, waiting, waiting. At that time, it could take six months or even longer to get a response to a query. Although email has significantly shortened that wait period, I’m the first to admit I get impatient if I don’t receive a response within 10 minutes.
Q You know I have to ask this; What advice would you give to up-and-coming writers?
The universe will never open up and grant you nine unobstructed years to work on your Great American Novel. If you’re really committed to the dream of being a writer, you have to grab chunks of time whenever and wherever you can find them. As a writer, you are your own boss as well as your own worst obstacle if you allow procrastination and self-doubt to keep you from plunging ahead. You also have to learn not to edit-as-you-go. Many a writer never finishes a book because s/he is much too hung up on trying to craft the best possible first sentence in Chapter One. Insider secret: Whatever you write, a zealous editor could likely end up changing it anyway so just stop agonizing about it.
Q In your book, Media Magnetism (www.mediamagnetism.org), you talk about using social media wisely. We’ve all seen people, some very professional people, misuse this communication tool. What do you see is the key to using social media wisely to help build a strong platform?
It’s all about establishing yourself as someone who is engaging, entertaining and offering refreshing posts that readers can’t wait to tune into each day. Surveys show that customers are more likely to purchase goods and services from someone whose name is not only familiar to them but whose personality is also genuinely likeable and trustworthy. While there’s nothing wrong with tooting your horn about your latest book, for instance, you never want to do a hard-sell in social media. What you want to do instead is a soft, subliminal sell that establishes you as the best possible expert on your book’s topic. It’s likewise critical to know who your audience is, what’s important to them, and where they tend to congregate so that you can fashion your own blogs – and do guest blogs – around topics that will hook their attention and make them curious about what else you know that’s helpful to their lives, jobs and dreams.
Q Writers and other creatives deal with rejection on what can feel like an almost daily basis, and this can be tough on the ego. When you give or receive a review or critique a piece of work, what are you looking for, and how do you approach giving or receiving feedback (two sides of the same coin)?
When I give reviews/critiques, I always take an objective approach (even if it’s not a genre that appeals to me) and look at elements such as originality, character development, dialogue, pacing, structure, etc. I also look at whether the writer has used the most effective medium to deliver his/her story. Many aspiring screenwriters, for example, have skill sets that would be a much better fit for plays, novels or short stories and I share this with them. Further, I remind them – and myself – that writing is a subjective craft. If 10 people independently find 10 different things they like/dislike, it just reinforces that subjective element. Conversely, if 10 people zero in on exactly the same things (i.e., dislikable characters, contrivances, lame dialogue), this is something that needs to be remedied. I also tell writers that although it’s lovely to have the adoration and support of friends and relatives giving critiques, odds are that none of them are actually in the publishing or production business to make informed decisions about a project’s marketability.
Q You have mentored many others along their own personal and/or professional paths, but who would you consider is your greatest mentor, and why?
I was blessed the most to be mentored in the craft of playwriting for 20 years by the late Sylvia Burack, founder of The Writer and Plays Magazine. She taught me everything I know about crafting an entertaining story, peopling it with interesting characters, and putting words in their mouths. Unlike a lot of editors and publishers, she also took the time to explain why she was rejecting a script and what she believed I could do to make it better. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel her looking over my shoulder and either nodding in approval or raising an eyebrow and saying, “Are you quite sure that’s your best work?” Everyone – regardless of their career choices – should be so lucky as to have a Sylvia encouraging them to pursue their dreams. When she retired years ago, I asked her what she was going to do with her old IBM Selectric typewriter, the very typewriter on which she had composed 20 years worth of letters to me. She was going to just leave it in an alley behind the office on Boylston Street for someone to steal but then decided they’d more likely give themselves a hernia doubled up from the laughter of seeing something that antiquated. And so instead, she shipped it to me along with a new ribbon and a box of white correction fluid. Today, it keeps company in my office with a 1917 typewriter that weighs roughly the equivalent of a cast-iron stove…and still works!
Q Where do you do most of your writing?
I have a beautiful home office with French doors that open out toward the dining room. (We do lots of entertaining so this set-up makes it incumbent upon me to keep the room reasonably tidy.) The French doors are flanked by a suit of armor and a black velvet dragon named Mischief. Holding court in the middle of my Oriental rug is Viktor the Siberian tiger (one of 310 stuffed animals I have collected throughout my life). My L-shaped oak desk has a high, 6 foot long hutch with lots of cubbyholes and cabinets that prompted one of my friends to remark that it reminds her of a really quirky Advent calendar! My love of books is evidenced by all the bookcases behind me and my love of photography (we travel a lot) is reflected in the fact that virtually every square inch of wall space has something hanging on it. (I suspect that one day the drywall will completely collapse from the weight of all the frames.) A life-size standing cutout of Captain Jack Sparrow literally has my back. I often turn on the miniature white lights in my silk ficus tree when we have dinner parties; they throw off just enough light that guests who haven’t been here before have been known to freak out that there’s a pirate standing in the shadows by my chair.
Q You write for Plays, The Magazine For Young People and have written two books targeted to aspiring young filmmakers: Screenwriting For Teens and ScreenTeenWriters. What is it about working with young people just coming into the business of screenwriting that you enjoy the most, and the least, and why?
I like being able to ignite young imaginations with tips, tools and resources that weren’t available when I was their age. And besides, nothing keeps you younger than mentoring teens and tweens! Sadly, the thing I find the most disheartening about the current generation is the pervasive attitude of “entitlement” which has been fueled in large part by the current administration. While I delight in letting young people know what they need to do in order to hone their craft, there’s a growing segment that is not only ignorant of how to correspond professionally and respectfully with adults but also believes they shouldn’t have to work hard if they can just make demands on anyone they perceive is successful at what they want to do. I even had one of them tell me, “The problem with Hollywood is that all you old people need to go away.” My, my, not exactly the best way to endear oneself, is it?
Q We all experience failures and successes in our professional careers. What would you consider your greatest failure, and what did it teach you in preparation for future success?
Not joining the Navy in 1972, although I’d really label that more of a disappointment than any sort of career-crushing failure. It was a rainy Sunday morning and I had just come home from an audition. My heart was really set on getting a particular part but I learned that same day the role was going to someone else. Maybe my theatrical career was already over, I thought, and I should be doing something completely different. I remembered walking past the military recruiting offices everyday on my lunch hour and a light bulb came on that maybe I should just join the Navy and see the world. So off I scampered in the rain to sign up, only to discover that the recruiting offices weren’t open on Sunday. I came home, sulked for a bit about the lost audition, and the following Monday I got a surprise call from a director I had auditioned for three months previous asking if I’d like the lead role in an upcoming comedy. The takeaway lesson in this is that there are three important lessons in life: (1) Everything happens for a reason, (2) It’s never the reason we think, and (3) Timing is everything.
Q With so many significant changes happening right now within the publishing industry with regards to digitalization, self-publishing, and questions surrounding the need for traditional agents and/or publishers, what do you see is the future of publishing and writing, and why?
Traditional publishing and electronic publishing will continue to co-exist but I predict that more and more writers will want to take control of their own intellectual property. What many aspiring authors don’t know is that (1) the shelf-life of new books in brick and mortar bookstores is 2-6 weeks; (2) traditional authors get 8-15% royalties vs. 70% royalties for those self-published; (3) almost 30% of hardcover and paperbacks end up in landfills; (4) the timeframe between book contract to actual publication at traditional houses is 18-24 months; and (5) agents are rarely interested in authors who only have one book up their sleeves. As more writers turn toward self-publishing their work, this will also require them to become their own PR/marketing department as well as fully utilize the advantages of social media and professional networking.
Q As children, we all have dreams of what we want to be when we grow up. Would you say you are following that dream, or something completely different?
I always knew I wanted to be a writer and, happily, that’s exactly what I am.
Q What has surprised you the most about your life now vs. when you first started?
The only real surprise is how my writing style has evolved from what it was when this journey began.
Q Do you let anyone read your work in progress or do you make everyone wait until you’re all done?
My husband (who is also an excellent writer, editor and proofreader) is not only my brainstorming partner but he’s also the first one to read whatever I’ve written. We especially have fun reading all of my new scripts together out loud at the dining room table. Since we have both spent time on stage (I was in theater; he was in opera), we’re adept at splitting up the roles and doing a wide range of accents. I’m sure that on the occasions when a window is open and our readings are particularly boisterous, our neighbors must wonder exactly how many people are living with us.
Q What is next for you, Christina?
In addition to several new plays, I’ll be releasing a new business book this fall called Office For One: The Sole Proprietor’s Survival Guide. I’m also working on a chick lit novel called All But the Midnight Kiss, and Exit Strategy, a contemporary political suspense about a cover-up in the Congo, the escalation of Ebola, the scandalous resignation of an intelligence director, and a corrupt president.
Bio: Former actress and theatre director Christina Hamlett is a media relations expert and award-winning author whose credits to date include 30 books, 156 stage plays, 5 optioned feature films and hundreds of articles and interviews that appear online and in trade publications throughout the world. She is also a script consultant for the film biz (which means she stops a lot of bad movies from coming to theatres near you) and a professional ghostwriter (which does not mean she talks to dead people). Learn more at http://www.authorhamlett.com.