Posts filed under Children's Literature

Dan Jolley: Self-Employed Freelance Writer

Name: Dan Jolley

Age: 44

College & Majors/Minors:b University of Georgia, BA in English

Current Location: Ringgold, Georgia

Current Form of Employment: Self-Employed Freelance Writer

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work from home—I'm self-employed—and my current position alternates between "on the treadmill" and "on the couch." I write in both locations, though; I have a walking desk set up, where I plod along at 2 miles per hour and type, and on a good day I do about 5000 words and about 15000 steps. That works best for prose, though. If I'm doing non-prose, such as a comic book script or a screenplay or dialogue for a video game, more often than not I wind up on the couch. Usually with one or more cats on me.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

I got my first professional writing contract at age 19, after I met a girl in a video arcade and asked her out. On our first date I told her I wanted to be a writer, and that I'd written a number of short stories, and she asked if I'd ever considered writing comic books. I hadn't, but I'd grown up reading them, and I told her as much. She said, "Well, I know a couple of comic book artists. Want me to introduce you?" I told her yes, yes I would like that very much, and she introduced me to Tony Harris and Craig Hamilton. I ended up working with Tony for about the next ten years on various comics projects, one of which got nominated for an Eisner Award, the comics industry's equivalent of an Oscar.

From there I branched out into licensed-property novels, movie novelizations, original young adult novels, some manga-format novel tie-in comics, some children's books, and video games. 

I've been writing more games than anything else for the last several years, but that's about to change, because on May 13 of this year, my first original novel for adults is coming out from Seventh Star Press. It's called Gray Widow's Walk, the first book in the Gray Widow Trilogy. It's the story of Janey Sinclair, a teleporting vigilante in contemporary Atlanta, Georgia, who must face a grotesque, vicious, possibly extraterrestrial enemy.

Then, on October 18, the first book in my new Middle Grade novel series, Five Elements, debuts from HarperCollins. Set in modern-day San Francisco, it's the story of four twelve-year-old best friends who become bound to the magical elements of Fire, Earth, Air, and Water, and have to try to stop a century-old, hideously evil magic user from dominating the world.

Dying Light - PlayStation 4
Warner Home Video - Games

So I guess I'm a little more novelist than game writer now. Well, this year, anyway.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

In 2014 I was fortunate enough to land a job coming up with dialogue, scenarios, and characters for the first-person parkour-vs-zombies video game, Dying Light.

While working on the game, I got to live in Wrocław, Poland for three months, since that's where the developer, Techland, is located. It was a fantastic experience. I got lots of exposure to a culture I might never have otherwise known, made some fantastic friends, and ate way more pierogies than I probably should have. Dying Light went on to sell a bit north of five million copies, so now I can realistically say that my words have reached people all over the world. 

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

College is about a lot more than taking classes. It's a chance to test the adulthood waters without committing a hundred percent, and at least in my view, is an excellent time to make mistakes. (One of the best bits of wisdom I ever heard was, "The older you get, the higher the stakes are when you screw up.") I made a lot of mistakes in college, from partying too much, to making terrible relationship decisions, to endangering a few true, solid friendships. The key there is to learn from those mistakes, because living life and gaining experience will help your writing every bit as much as mastering your command of language. Not much good comes of being a brilliant writer if you've got nothing to write about. (It helps, I've found, to have friends with terribly sordid pasts.)

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Well, this advice is for those who want to be writers, because I got my start as a writer before I left college and haven't ever truly tried to do anything else. But here it goes: absorb as much knowledge as you can, both in class and out. Make as many friends as you can. Listen to as many stories as you can, from many different types of people. Take as many creative writing classes as possible, to be sure, and learn as much as possible from your professors. But be aware, keenly aware, often painfully aware of the world around you, because that's where your stories will come from. Sometimes you'll witness whole sequences of events that you faithfully transcribe; sometimes you'll hear other people's accounts, with which you can then take artistic license; sometimes you'll catch just a scrap of conversation or an image glimpsed from the corner of your eye that will spark an original idea. As Stephen King puts it, when you're a writer, "Everything is grist for the mill."

“Also—and saying this got me in hot water when I spoke to some creative writing students at NC State a few years ago, but it’s one hundred percent true—do not, under any circumstances, expect your degree to get you work by itself.”

Also—and saying this got me in hot water when I spoke to some creative writing students at NC State a few years ago, but it's one hundred percent true—do not, under any circumstances, expect your degree to get you work by itself. Use the knowledge you gain as you earn the degree, certainly, but the degree itself is... I wouldn't say worthless, because you learn so many invaluable things while you're getting it. It's just that the credential itself is inconsequential. I've been a professional writer for twenty-five years now, and no editor or publisher or producer has ever, not once, asked me about my education. They don't care. It doesn't come up. The all-important question is, "Can you write, or can you not write?" That's the only thing that matters.

Check out, follow Dan on Twitter, and check out his Facebook page

Andy Badalamenti: Creative Director at an Advertising Agency

Name: Andy Badalamenti

Age: 48

College & Majors/Minors: Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art (diploma in Cinematic Animation); College of St. Elizabeth (English degree, minor in writing)

Current Location: New Jersey

Current Form of Employment: I am a creative director for an advertising agency

Where do you work and what is your current position? 

I began my career as a commercial artist—I did illustrations, mechanicals, layouts, posters, lettering and the like. I often worked with writers who had Journalism, Communications and English major backgrounds… they wrote the words, I created the pictures. (“Me not know, me simple artist” was my favorite saying back then.) My father was a former English teacher, and my sister currently teaches middle school English, so I was always exposed to great literature and art. Shakespeare and Whitman were regulars in our house. To this day, my father and I share poems and talk literature all the time.

The first company I worked for was a public utility. I was part of the Communications and Marketing Division. One dark year, we had a round of layoffs, and a number of the writers were let go—yet the amount of work was the same. (It’s been this way in America ever since.) Given my love-of-English DNA, I volunteered to help write a newsletter for our customers. That dopey little decision changed everything, as many dopey little decisions do.

When I wrote the newsletter, I had very little supervision, thanks to the fact that staff that was cut to the bone. I gleefully unleashed the anxious little creative dog in my brain longing to be free and let him run amok. I wrote a quirky, fun piece… which was a huge change for the stiff, stodgy, conservative, make-bankers-look-like-Dead-Heads company I worked for. Yet, after it was published, we got a great response—customers wrote and called in, saying it was the first time they ever read the newsletter, and some had received it every month for 20 years. 
The vice president of our division was simultaneously thrilled, flabbergasted, horrified and defensive—and came up with an appropriate punishment for my success. I was given the project to write every month from then on. (“You like being creative, huh? Well, here you go…”)
Soon, I realized I was smitten with writing. But if I wanted to get anywhere with it, I knew I needed a degree, so I went back to school at night. It took seven grueling years, and I moaned and complained every minute of it, even though I found the subject fascinating. In the meantime, my wife and I started a family and I was working in excess of 45 hours a week. I worked very hard at school, focusing on writing, kissing up to professors and networking with fellow adult students. I ended up graduating top of my class.

I eventually left the watch-paint-dry world of electric utilities, and I began working for advertising agencies. In the beginning of my time with them, I was a 50-50 hybrid—art director and copywriter. I wrote the copy for projects, then I would mentally unplug from left-brain to right and create the artwork. I loved it, but agency life was a huge adjustment for me at first. It was, and is, creativity on demand—and what you produce must be really good. Clients are paying top dollar for it and love to fire agencies that ever fall short. No pressure.

I worked for several advertising agencies and began climbing the proverbial ladder to supervisory positions, which I still hate. I can supervise—I have the ability—but I don’t like it much. I’m truly a Mac monkey who loves to create. I’m having a blast right now banging out this little interview. Fortunately, in my current job, the agency relies on my creativity a lot, too… so I still get to play. 

Because I had both an art and writing background, I was valuable to the smaller agencies that hired me—they couldn’t afford separate supervisors for each function. I found my niche: Getting paid to do two jobs for the price of one. Just kidding.

I also threw myself, completely and hopelessly, into self education. I have read hundreds of books and thousands of articles/blogs on writing and marketing and I have taken dozens of courses, seminars, and workshops over the years. I am currently very tired and nearsighted, but well informed. Advertising and marketing is all about being current, and you have to stay on top of your game, constantly. Clients look to you for that expertise, and you better provide it. Again, no pressure.

For the past few years, I’ve been educating myself on content and social media marketing, and I’ve been writing a marketing blog for a few years now.

In my current position, I am responsible for all the daily operations of my advertising agency (part of a larger marketing company). I oversee a staff of account executives, art directors and production personnel. I work directly with clients, help pitch new accounts, write copy (headlines, content, ad copy, marketing strategies, public relations writing, social media, etc.), and I help our clients shape their brands and messaging for their products and services. If you watch Mad Men, I would be Don Draper, just uglier and nowhere near as nicely dressed.
Working in advertising and marketing is a ton of responsibility and stress. I usually put in at least 50-70 hours a week, year round, which is typical in these industries. But it can be very exciting and interesting work, too. You just have to handle stress well!

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different). 

In advertising, having a degree is important, but I’ve always found that it is much more important what you can do. In other words, what specific skills can you bring to an employer? That can include—depending on the advertising agency or department you work for—writing, editing, conceptualizing, partnering with art directors on projects and more. In marketing, an advanced degree is much more important—we’re talking MBA here.

A major part of the interview process in advertising is showing the work you’ve done—having a portfolio of work—and highlighting what skills you have. Talent matters, a lot. You also have to be comfortable presenting work to clients, defending ideas, and be at least decent with handling people, taking criticism, working with a smile under heavy pressure/deadlines/hours, and doing multiple projects at the same time with perceived grace.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

Since I went back to school at night, I was already working in my field by day. Still, I wanted more writing experience—things like radio commercials, brochures, websites and more. Freelancing was a big help with this. I started writing for friends and acquaintances’ businesses, often for free, just to get experience and build my portfolio. My only payment was samples of the finished pieces! Before long, I had a book full. Today, my samples are on my iPad.

As I alluded to before, stopping your education at your degree is a huge mistake. No matter what field you’re in (advertising, writing, teaching or whatever), keep your skills fresh. I really believe we’re living in a transitional period. I can’t think of a single industry today that is either A) About to go through a major change, B) Is in the midst of a change, or C) Has already changed dramatically. Keeping your skills and outlook current, I think, is key to survival—no matter what you do.

If you’re in college now, and you have an idea what field you’d like to end up in, use those pricey English skills and research the hell out of that industry. Find trade publications, websites, blogs and more and read, read, read. (Just what you want, more reading!) Know that industry and what’s happening in that world, and set your skills and sights accordingly.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

I think my advice to anyone—not only English majors—is to be self aware. Know what your talents and abilities are. I was always good at coming up with ideas, and I found a way to use that skill, coupled with my degree, to make a career. It’s not like I had a big plan or anything. A lot of it was by accident or luck. But when I saw something I thought I could do, I went for it. And I always shaped my skills.

Your talent may be in teaching… writing resumes for people… blogging on a topic you love… writing articles for a local pub… composing killer lyrics… being a social media maven… assembling data for scientific studies or reports… interpreting classic literature with a fresh perspective… or editing other people’s work to bring the best out in them. Know yourself, know what interests you, and try to find a job that needs that ability. Always learn all you can and bring something of value to the table every day.

Currently, Andy writes a blog on marketing for his currently company, CI - Group. It's a blog that's geared towards marketers in business-to-business or business-to-consumer companies. 

Connect with Andy on LinkedIn, and check out the children's Christmas book that he wrote and illustrated!

Marisa Bunney: Immersive Journalist & Social Media Specialist

Name: Marisa Bunney

Age: 24

College & Majors/Minors: B.A. in English with a minor in Religious Studies from Youngstown State University

Current Location: Miami, FL

Current Form of Employment: Immersive Journalist/Social Media Specialist

Where do you work and what is your current position?

Example of Marisa Bunney's work.

Example of Marisa Bunney's work.

I work for Ronin Advertising Group in Miami. My official title is Immersive Journalist, but as is the norm in advertising, I wear many hats. Realistically, I’m a Copywriter, Journalist, Event Planner, Account Manager, Brand Manager, and Creative Director. I manage a team of writers, produce content calendars, work with designers, create content strategies, manage social media accounts, plan events for luxury residents in Boston and San Francisco, and manage production of creative and collateral material. I also write everything from event invitations and digital e-blasts to ads, social media posts and lifestyle news and blog articles. 

I’ve done freelance work as well, writing websites, serving as a script consultant, and creating social media strategies for clients such as IBM’s #mysocialcommerce crowdsourced campaign. 

Example of Marisa Bunney's work.

Example of Marisa Bunney's work.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different). 

I actually started with Ronin five years ago as an intern, was promoted to a paid internship and was ultimately offered a full-time position. The interview for the position wasn’t quite as rigorous since I already had a relationship with my boss. But, I still had to sell myself. The position was different than what I’d previously done as an intern and required a fresh set of skills. In addition to copywriting, I had to be able to write SEO-friendly content and journalistic articles. I also had to be able to communicate with the client and manage expectations with a certain level of confidence and professionalism. Luckily, I was able to fulfill and exceed the demands. I’m a people person at heart and I was able to show my boss that I could handle client contact and project management and that snowballed into the position I have now. 

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

My freelance work. I’m a hungry writer and I learn quickly. Having the ability to cross multiple industries taught me to look at every project with an open mind. Script writing, for example, is totally different from copywriting, but it helped me learn the art of storytelling; and in advertising, that’s what we do, we tell stories. My personal interests and activities helped me as well. You may not think those countless hours of Facebooking are productive, but in this industry, having a voice online will get you far. The rise of social media and online marketing are forcing us to communicate in new ways and being able to master that kind of short-form writing is an incredible asset.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

As an English major, I wrote a ton—and I mean a ton—of long-form essays, which essentially gave me the tools to become a great writer. Being the perpetually curious cat that I am, I used my electives and “free time” to expand my skill set. I took poetry, film and screenwriting classes, got into journalism circles, volunteered at the campus Writing Center, edited work for friends, tutored high school students, worked in Summer internships and even wrote a children’s book that was eventually published as part of a recruiting campaign for a daycare. 

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

My biggest turnoff is to hear someone say that English majors have limited possibilities. On the contrary, it actually opens a lot of doors. Not everyone who wants to be in advertising should major in Advertising. One thing my boss—who just happens to be one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known—always told me that any writer worth their salt has a degree in English. This degree teaches more than grammar basics and sentence structure. It teaches you comprehension and the elements of a great story and how to reach your audience. That knowledge translates into a number of areas: script writing, ad copy, textbook copy, news articles, social media posts, blogs, copyediting, proofreading, even strategy. Always remember this: writers tell stories. And to tell a great story, you have to see it from every angle. That means even if you’re writing technical instructions for assembling an entertainment center, you need to understand who you’re speaking to and what level of knowledge your audience brings to the table, how to create a natural progression or order for what you’re writing. Everything you write will have an arc, a beginning, a middle and an end. 

Lastly, possibly the best piece of advice I could give is to build a portfolio. Trust me, employers care more about what you can do for them than your 3.8 GPA. If you don’t have professional work, write your own stuff. Write a spec script, write product ads, start a blog, do whatever you can to have some kind of concrete work to show. That’s what will you get you your dream job.

Connect with Marisa on LinkedIn and follow her on twitter!

Check out more of Marisa's work online here:

Charlotte McGill: Self-Employed Writer & Editor

Name: Charlotte McGill 

Age: 22 

College & Majors/Minors: English and Creative Writing BA, Writing for Children MA 

Current Location: Hampshire, England 

Current Form of Employment: Sole Trader, offering Professional Writing Services 

Where do you work and what is your current position?

At the moment I am set us as a sole trader with no other employees, so I have the luxury of working for myself. The name of my business is Charlotte McGill Writing Services, and I mainly deal with businesses as an outsourced copywriter or editor. 

In my previous two jobs, while I was technically classed as 'sales' I was actually more of the marketing manager, and this meant I had the responsibility of writing content for the company blogs and websites, as well as managing social media and the marketing department. I found this particularly useful, and when you're going into writing as a professional, having a marketing background is a massive bonus. 

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job.

Up until University I just worked in retail, so I don't feel this is relevant. I found my first 'real' jobs through an employment agency, which required you to take basic competency tests to prove you could write and count. I was lucky in that I didn't have to interview much before I was offered the job. The main skill the employers were looking for in both accounts was the ability to communicate clearly, come across as personable and enthusiastic, and how good my ability to sell myself to them was. It was these skills that convinced them i would be good in sales, but better in marketing. I always thought the interviews would be terrifying, but once you arrived and realized that they are just normal people, the interviews were relaxed and easy going. 

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

One of the most important things I did during uni was take part in Project Litmus. This was a part of the 'Publishing Project' where students created and published an anthology of their works, from start to finish. We split into sections and all took on different responsibilities. Everyone wrote a piece, it was then given to designated editors (I was the editor of all children's fiction submissions) before being given to the graphics department to be typeset, a cover designed and sent to print as an anthology. I was also part of the marketing department, working on promoting the launch event and a general marketing strategy. This gave me a great insight into the whole process and allowed me to say I had a piece published. 

My uni frequently ran author and career talks, and I attended every one of these. These were a great chance to pick the brains of people who had made it in the business, and get an idea for just how many ways you can succeed in writing. 

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Make sure you ask questions of anyone who you think can help you. Don't be afraid of looking stupid— we were all there once— but getting advice from people you admire of who do what you want to do is the best way of not only getting ideas of how to move forward, but also to disillusion yourself. Everyone thinks a career in writing will be easy for them because they are great and people will love them, but the truth is, until you acknowledge that it's a tough, competitive field that you have to work incredibly hard in to be successful, you won't move forward. 

Ask questions. Get advice wherever you can. Learn from it, and make a solid plan. Know where you are now, where you want to be, and how you're going to get there.

Visit Charlotte's professional website, and follow her on twitter!

Carol Ayer: Technical Writer & Freelance Writer


Name: Carol Ayer

Age: 51

College & Majors/Minors: UC Berkeley, B.A. in English

Current Location: Northern California

Current Form of Employment: Technical Writer and Freelance Writer

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I've worked on and off for the last 25 years for a company that produces travel-training software. I'm currently telecommuting for the company part-time. My title is Technical Writer, although I spend more time on editing and proofreading than on writing. Also, a lot of my job is ensuring that the program is working correctly. I work on lessons, quizzes, tests, and workbooks (the latter is in physical form; everything else is online).

I also work as a freelance writer. I've sold poems, personal essays, and fiction to magazines and ezines. A small epublisher published my romance novella in 2009, but I have since gotten the rights back and have self-published the book on Kindle. I'm currently working on a cozy mystery, which I hope will become the first in a series.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job.

Well, I have to confess that my technical writing job is with my brother's company. So I didn't have to take any tests and I didn't have to interview! (I'd like to think that I was hired partly because of my English degree). My first job after college was not a writing job at all. I worked at a storybook park called Children's Fairyland. I was going to be a teacher, and I needed a summer job before I started student teaching, so I applied to Fairyland. I ended up not becoming a teacher after all, and stayed at Fairyland for several years. Although I didn't use my English degree, I later found my time there to be quite fruitful. Many of my short stories and books are set at a storybook park.

What's a storybook park?

Storybook parks are rather rare these days. They're also called fairytale parks, and were the precursors to theme parks. Walt Disney actually visited Fairyland before he built Disneyland. In the 50s, there were a number of them around the country. They aren't as popular anymore, what with the proliferation of theme parks, but there are still 10 or so left.

They are built around works of children's literature. So any given storybook park might have sets based on Alice in Wonderland, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Three Little Pigs, The Owl and the Pussycat, etc. Live animals are often part of the sets. At Fairyland, we had goats (Three Billy Goats Gruff) and pigs (Three Little Pigs), for example. Usually there are a couple of small rides, too, such as merry-go-rounds or Ferris wheels.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I worked at a local newspaper part-time during my college years. The job consisted mostly of proofreading and filing. I was working on the day that Reagan was shot. The newsroom went crazy. It was scary but exciting, and fueled my desire to work in journalism. I later realized that I was way too shy to be a reporter. I also work much better on my own.

 What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

As just noted, I was interested in journalism for a time. I wrote a freelance article for the Daily Cal, but that's it. I wish I had done more with creative writing during that time.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

My problem was that I didn't think I could make a living as a writer, which is what I'd wanted to be since I was a child. So I thought that journalism would be a good fit for me. When I realized otherwise, I flailed around quite a bit. It was suggested to me that I could become a teacher, but that wasn't right for me, either. I wish I had just overcome my practical side and attempted to write way back when. Thirty years after getting my English degree, I'm finally doing what I'd always dreamed of— writing. So my advice would be to follow that dream if that's why you've chosen English. Being a writer is difficult in many ways--not least of which, it *is* hard to earn a living at it--but it's the best job in the world. My other job satisfies my urge to catch spelling mistakes and typos, which I would guess is pretty typical of those of us who majored in English. If you're like that, too, I would suggest looking for an editor position of some sort. Actually, *any* company should be happy to have someone who is good at writing and who uses grammar correctly and knows how to spell.

Visit Carol on her website, and connect with her on twitter @storyparkgirl.

Melissa Pilgrim: Writer, Editor & Writing Coach


Name: Melissa Pilgrim

Age: 45

College & Majors/Minors: University of New Hampshire (1990). B.A. in English, Minor in Theatre. Graduate of The Institute of Children's Literature (1993).

Current Location: White Mountains, N.H.

Current Form of Employment: Writer, Editor, & Writing Coach

Where do you work and what is your current position?

For the past seven years, I have run my own writing, editing, and script/writing coaching service called Your Writing Muse from my home office (which started in Los Angeles, but is now in the White Mountains of N.H.). In the course of my career since leaving college in 1990, I worked all over the country for seventeen years in all mediums-- theatre, film, TV, and book publishing-- and based on all of those experiences I am now able to help others with their own writing goals.

You can see my full bio on my website, but in short I have had 16 plays produced, four screenplays optioned, one TV show optioned, one children's book and app published, have either edited or ghostwritten over twelve books (both in nonfiction and fiction genres), been a judge in two screenwriting contents, and have been hired by many producers, authors, and companies as a writer-for-hire on various projects (including Martin Sheen's ESP Productions). I also co-write songs as a lyricist with musicians. Besides doing all these types of creative writing projects/jobs, I also work on business websites helping clients with all their business-related writing and editing needs including their page content, blogs, articles, reports, and newsletters.

As a writer I've found it's great to be able to always stay both creative and versatile, for you never know what kind of writing someone may need help with! Working in all fields has kept me both marketable and employed, for when it's slow in one medium it's normally not in other ones. (Plus, it keeps life interesting!)

Tell us about how you found your first job. 

My actual first job out of college was very hard to get, for when I graduated in 1990, the country was in a recession. I went all over Boston and N.Y.C. hoping to find work in theatre, film, or publishing, but no one was hiring. But, one interview in N.Y.C. led to a lead for an interview for a job as part of the "starting crew" of Universal Studios in Orlando, which I got. So I moved to Florida where I did a variety of things at Universal, including working in casting for one of Nickelodeon's TV shows. This experience showed me that I really wanted to work with kids more as well as write more. So I started sending out my resume and writing samples to different children's theatres that I knew of in the area, and I was soon hired by one of them.

I found that having great writing samples was very important to get the playwriting/directing job in children's theatre I was looking for, so I always kept writing and trying to improve my craft. It also helped to keep studying in the craft (especially within the children's writing market, specifically), so in the early '90s I also did The Institute of Children's Literature writing program to really learn how to write for every age group of children and teens. This knowledge has helped in many job interviews later on dealing with children's projects in all mediums, for clients can tell I know the field very well.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I have worked in different community theatres in several states with both children and adult groups, and not always, but most of the time writing the plays for each group basically "came with the job," and so I was very fortunate to be able to be paid for my writing skills as well as my directing and producing skills all at once. But I wouldn't have gotten hired just on my writing abilities alone in any of these theatre jobs. I found it was an asset to have a variety of skills to offer when interviewing for positions in the field of theatre. People who can handle many types of jobs and responsibilities are more likely to get a job in most small theatres. (But as you work your way up to bigger theatres, this changes and you can then be more specialized into doing only one job, or at least let one job be more of the focus overall.)

For instance, I really got into playwrighting even more when I spent five great years as the artistic director for The Sheil Park Players in the Wrigleyville area of Chicago where I wrote plays for the children and teen groups.  I also did writing workshops for adults to develop new plays out of it for the adult group and helped new playwrights’ original work get showcased.  Many of those workshopped plays went on to be produced in other theatres in Chicago, New York, and even London.

During this whole time I was also focused on evolving my writing in other areas— I started writing screenplays and sending them out to writing contests. One of them placed as a quarter-finalist in both the Nicholl's Fellowships and the Writer's Network Screenwriting Competition, as well as a semi-finalist in the Illinois/Chicago Screenwriting Competition. An agent from Beverly Hills then noticed it, and I moved to L.A. to start writing for film and TV. I went on a lot of what Hollywood calls "meet & greets" and got four of my screenplays optioned over time. I was hired to do a lot of rewrites, script coverage/critics, became a judge in two screenwriting contests, and helped many clients develop their own ideas into screenplays or book manuscripts.

The biggest break of these kinds of jobs came when I was hired to work for ESP Productions (Estevez-Sheen Productions), which is an independent production company in Los Angeles founded by Martin Sheen and his son Ramon Estevez. (It is now run by Ramon and his brother Charlie Sheen.) I worked for them as a writer when it was under Martin Sheen. They are a wonderful family and it was a fantastic experience when they hired me after reading one of my original TV series pilot scripts I had being pitched around Los Angeles at the time. I didn't sell that TV series (yet-- I'm still trying!), but it just shows you never know what is going to happen when you're showing your projects!

I learned early on in my various entertainment jobs that you always have to keep writing new projects all the time and keep pitching/showing your work. Perseverance is key when it comes to writing as a career, in all the mediums, and especially in book publishing... I have helped a lot of people with their book projects (in both nonfiction and fiction genres) over the years, and I really saw how long it took before many books became well known. This kept things in perspective for me as I created my first children's picture book, Animal Motions, which is a fun, easy-to-do, interactive book based on some of my made-up children's theatre improv


After pitching Animal Motions many different places (to both big and small publishers), I finally found a great publisher, Indigo River Publishing, who understood the book's concept and importance to kids right away and I got a publishing contract with them. They found a wonderful illustrator, Ira V. Gates, and we all worked together on the book's creation, with me using my theatre background to "direct" the design of each page as the story unfolded. So once again, I learned how valuable it was to know how to do more than one thing when it came to working on a project like this. An app for the book (published by was also created in this fashion and it is being launched in February 2014, which is very exciting!

Each of these experiences have all been very important in my career, and I hope they show all writers reading this that working on any and lots of different kinds of projects is possible-- you just have to stay focused and keep writing all the time (as well as bring as many other skills you can to the table/project). If one medium isn't working for you (or you just need a change from it), then do a different one. It's all up to you to keep writing and trying until the right project falls into place at the right time, then you can go on to the next one.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

I always knew that I wanted to write in a variety of mediums one day, but my first love was the challenge of writing for the stage. I felt it was a great way to learn characterization, dialogue, and plot development skills that would then always help craft any other kind of writing to make it even tighter, better, and stronger overall. So I became an English major with a creative writing focus while I also minored in theatre to really learn as many theatre skills as I could. (Even back then I was advised that to work in theatre you should have several different kinds of jobs/skills to be marketable in the field.) At the time, the east coast had the best programs in writing, but there wasn't as much opportunity for learning about how to write for film and TV, which I knew I also wanted to do. So for my junior year I did an exchange program with San Diego State University to learn the craft of screenwriting out west, where the best training for that was offered. By the time I graduated, I felt I had covered all the mediums and was ready to work in any of them!

At the University of New Hampshire, I was involved with UNH's concert choir, drama groups, several different writing groups, UNH's Student Exchange Club, and SCOPE (a music/performance club that got professional people to come do shows and events at our school including rock groups like The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Inxs, comedians like Jay Leno, filmmakers like Spike Lee, etc.). They were all fun and great activities, but SCOPE was the one that put me around professional people who were doing creative, writing-related types of careers for a living, and that inspired me to know it was possible for me to do it too.

Also keep in mind that just because you're out of college doesn't mean you shouldn't stop learning about or working on your craft. For instance, I always knew I wanted to write for children as well as adults, so I enrolled in The Institute of Children's Literature writing program and studied how to write for children and teens pretty soon after I graduated from UNH. Always look for ways you can keep improving in your craft so others will see you're highly skilled and valuable to their specific project/job.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

My advice to anyone just starting out in the world of writing (beside perseverance, which I already mentioned) is to learn to have patience… things take a long time to get done in this whole "writing world," both the actual writing part and the trying to get it sold (and then hopefully produced) part. So patience is a big lesson in this field (along with a good sense of humor when a project you thought was all set to sell or go suddenly "falls apart")!

I'd also like to mention that it's important to always respect (and appreciate) other people's time and only pitch them something you feel is truly relevant to their own needs or goals (in all mediums, always). I can't tell you how many times I've worked for companies or people who say they only want to read romantic comedies at this particular time, yet get pitches for all genres anyway. Do your research before you pitch, always! For it only makes you look unprofessional if your project doesn't seem relevant to their current needs or tastes.

And lastly, if this is a career field you truly want to do for a living, then respect that it is an actual career choice and expect to get paid for it. Know that your skills--and eventually experience-- are worth being paid for. I see many "free/spec jobs" listed for writers all the time and it saddens me, for all forms of writing takes time, focus, and skill to do, and if someone is going to put all of that into a project they should also be paid for their time, focus, and skills. But for some reason people try to talk them into doing it for free or very little money. But I, like other professional writers I know, normally work on their own projects for free until they're ready to be pitched and sold. Working on other people's projects is then an actual job. Believe it will be for you, too.

Visit Melissa on her professional website for more examples of her work and writing tips. You can also check out her latest project at!