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Have you ever said, “To hell with it!” and abandoned your dream? Jen Zeman did when she was rejected by her top-choice design school. Today, she talks with us about the impact of that decision and the steps she’s taking to reclaim the dream she turned her back on twenty years ago. Welcome, Jen!

Beyond the Gray: Tell us about yourself and your dream. 

Jen Zeman: My name is Jen Zeman (née Montalbano) and I currently reside in little ol’ Rising Sun, Maryland (located in the northeast corner of the state). I’m 39 years old and I work full-time for the U.S. Army and have been there for the past five years. It pays well but it’s boring and unfulfilling, and a far cry from what I really wanted to be growing up. My dream is to become a full-time author and artist…where I should have been twenty years ago.

My dream to have an artistic career goes back to elementary school. I was always a talented artist who, every now and again, would come up with a crazy short story or two (the most memorable being about a furry, motorcycle riding, make-believe “glurrble” for my fourth grade class). My head was always in the clouds. By high school, I wanted to become a fashion designer. When I wasn’t accepted into Parsons School of Design in New York (which happened to be the only school I applied to), I immediately decided to hell with them; to hell with art. And with that one decision, I entered the 9-5 workforce and have been there ever since.

BTG: Tell us about a time you found yourself in “the gray”. How did you move beyond it?

JZ: After receiving my bachelor’s degree in 2005 (in legal studies, of all things) and obtaining the job with the government in 2006, something started to stir within me. I lost my mother to breast cancer when I was 14, my aunt, who was like a surrogate mother to me, to breast cancer in 1999, and my dad passed away from lung cancer the August after I graduated college. I was lost. I was miserable. I started to wonder how I got to this place in my life, far from where my dreams wanted me to be. I no longer had the desire to flow with the status quo and couldn’t fathom sitting in a cubicle doing God-awful boring work for the next ten, twenty, thirty years.

I started thinking about writing a memoir, and after some encouragement from a close friend, I did. It was gut wrenching at times, but I rediscovered my love of writing. After unsuccessfully pitching the memoir to agents, a few of the agents (and my editor) said I had a good young adult voice and should consider turning the memoir into fiction. At first I was reluctant, but one day I sat down to write a fictionalized version and never looked back.

BTG: Tell us about the fictionalized version of your memoir.

JZ: I took the storyline of the memoir and created a paranormal story I personally thought was kick-ass. Unfortunately, agents didn’t see it the same way. I didn’t get a single bite of interest, whereas with the memoir, agents were at least asking for partials and a few asked for the whole manuscript. I realized after a trip into Barnes & Noble, staring at the YA paranormal books (the rows, and rows, and rows of paranormal books), that my story wasn’t as original as I thought. Note to self: listen to the agents; they know what they’re talking about!

So, I’m now on my third version of the manuscript feeling more confident about it. I’m concentrating on the YA market, particularly contemporary fiction. I’m finished with paranormal! This third version of my story runs parallel to my memoir, but I loved my characters from the paranormal version so much, I brought them over to this story. The paranormal version was a whooping 86,000 words (which was most likely another turn-off for agents), so I’m going to try to keep this version at around 65,000 words.

I’m also starting to get back into drawing and painting and concentrating on calligraphy. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed art!

BTG: How does calligraphy fit into your dream?

JZ: The calligraphy is an extension of the art I want back in my life. I always loved to create my own alphabets when I was in high school, so I figured it would be cool to pick it back up. Plus, becoming a calligraphist would be another way to bring in money while also being creative.

BTG: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while chasing this dream and how did you overcome it?

JZ: The biggest challenge by far is time, or lack thereof. Having a full-time job outside the home only gives me a limited amount of hours to myself. I also have a house to manage, two dogs who love attention, chores, errands, and a husband who likes to spend time together. So the challenge has been carving out hours specifically for my writing and my art. It hasn’t been easy. I finally came up with allotting four hours to myself on Saturday and Sunday (and the same for my other days off) and this has been working really well.

BTG: What is your biggest fear and how do you overcome it?

JZ: My biggest fear is losing sight of my dream because of all the craziness around me. I overcome this by meditating for 15 minutes each morning and maintaining my running and weight training. Both give me tremendous focus and allow me the recalibrate my mind.

BTG: What inspires you?

JZ: I’m hugely inspired by artists of all genres who, despite the odds against them, made it through and are now living their dreams. I always keep in the back of mind: if they can do it, so can I.

BTG: If you could give one piece of advice to someone else who is struggling to follow a dream, what would it be?

JZ: Don’t give up, ever! Listen to yourself, not everyone else around you. Naysayers are only there to drag you down with them; rid yourself of them immediately!

Are you following a dream? If so, I’d love to hear from you!
E-mail me at: erika [dot] liodice [at sign] hotmail [dot] com

Photo credit

Today I’m pleased to be talking with fellow Write It Sideways Blogging Contest winner, Ashley Prince. Ashley is following her childhood writing dream while balancing the demands of college, work and the joys of being a newlywed…

Beyond the Gray: Thanks for joining us, Ashley! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Ashley Prince: Well, let’s see. I am 20 years old, newly married, and currently living in San Antonio, Texas. I work part time at The Children’s Place and go to school full time. I am majoring in Anthropology and Religious Studies. Writing plays a huge role in both fields and I am thrilled to be able to incorporate my dream into my passion for these fields.

BTG: Tell us about your writing dream.

AP: As far back as I can remember I’ve always dreamed of writing. I believe it stems from my crazed passion for reading. My mom always told me when I couldn’t find a book to read, to write the story myself. In sixth grade, I took her up on that and wrote a short story called The Royal Spies, think Spy Kids set in medieval times.  Since then, I have been writing poems, songs, short stories, mock articles; anything really.

As simple as it may sound, I work towards my dream by writing and sharing my work with people who are willing to read what I have to say. The Write It Sideways Blogging Contest was the first writing contest I’ve ever done, aside from National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). When the contest was announced I said, “I’m doing it. No excuses. I am doing this.” And I am so glad I did!

BTG: Your article, “4 Places to Get Your Creative Juices Flowing” was selected as a winner of the Write It Sideways Blogging Contest. Tell us about your blogging activities. 

AP: I write two blogs and co-write another with my husband. Byron’s Curse is a more personal and very random blog. I post on everything from the 7 Deadly Sins, pictures when I can’t think of things to write, serious topics and not-so-serious topics. My inspiration for creating that blog was Lord Byron’s quote: “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” I don’t know about you, but that is exactly how I feel and the main reason I continue to write.

My second blog, Open Eyes and Open Mind, started as a response to a Cultures of the Middle East class I took a couple semesters ago and turned into a comparative religion blog. It’s not exactly what I want it to be, but I don’t want to give it up. I find religion awareness to be very lacking in America today and it truly saddens me.

BTG: What else do you like to write about?

AP: Honestly, it depends on my mood. I love everything but I think I write non-fiction best because I don’t’ have to make up anything. I just write from the heart and from my experiences. But the idea of creating my own stories is so appealing that I try to do it as often as I can.  I am currently working on a novel called Pearl that I started writing during NaNoWriMo last year and didn’t finish.

BTG: Tell us about Pearl.

AP: Pearl is a teen fiction book that is based on a real life relationship; my sister in-law’s, to be specific. She is a junior in high school and got involved in a very serious relationship. In the span of six months, her boyfriend told her he loved her (on the third date), proposed to her, and was physically and emotionally abusive. I am so proud of my sister in-law for being able to get out of it.

Here is a synopsis of Pearl:

Evelyn is just starting her senior year of high school. Heavily involved in the student body, she is president of her senior class, and almost everyone knows her name. Teachers love her, parents treat her as an adult, and she knows who she is in life.

Cole, the town’s wrestling star, begins to notice Evelyn and immediately decides to pursue her. Having never had a serious boyfriend, Evelyn soon becomes captivated by his charm and protective presence.

But their relationship quickly takes a turn for the worse. Cole’s charm hides his true self from Evelyn’s family and friends, and his once protective nature turns into a tyrannical nightmare.

BTG: What is your biggest fear as a writer?

Imperfection. I am scared of having imperfection in my writing, in my stories, in my career, dreams or anywhere for that matter. It terrifies me. I haven’t worked past it as much as I would like, but I constantly remind myself that imperfections are what make people so interesting.

BTG: What inspires you?

AP: My inspiration for writing comes from years of reading, experiencing life and, most importantly, my mom. Without her, I don’t know what I would have done with myself. She has always encouraged me to follow my dreams no matter how big or impossible they seem.

BTG: If you could give one piece of advice to someone else who is struggling to follow a dream, what would it be?

AP: Never give up. Never surrender. Yes, I stole this quote from Galaxy Quest, but seriously. I know people hear this all the time, but I cannot stress how important it is. Every dream is perfectly attainable; somehow, some way.  Everything is within your reach.

And don’t confuse taking a break from your dream with giving up. I have taken many breaks from writing because there were things in my life that needed more attention before I could move on with my dreams.

Dreams are a funny thing; even if you try to hide from them they always have a way of finding you.

To learn more about Ashley Prince, visit her at her at Byron’s Curse:

Are you following a dream? If so, I’d love to hear from you.
E-mail me at Erika (dot) Liodice (at sign) hotmail (dot) com

I don’t typically watch horror films. The sight of blood makes me bury my face against Dave’s shoulder. The ominous music plays on loop in my head for days afterwards. The murderer-lying-in-wait makes me look over my shoulder whenever I’m alone. The thunderstorm scene (and there’s always a thunderstorm scene) sends me scampering like a dog when a real one rolls into town.

I made the mistake of seeing Amityville Horror in the theater. The result? I screamed out loud. Which caused my husband and sister to cover their faces and pretend they didn’t know me. And after watching The Ring (in the privacy of my own home), I had to sleep with lights on. So no, I don’t usually watch horror films…but then again, the movie theater isn’t usually playing a horror film that my friends helped make.

Bereavement, starring Alexandra Daddario and Michael Biehn, opened in select cities (including mine!) last week.  Friends and colleagues of mine, Scott  Krycia and Sean Tiedeman, owners of K Studios in Allentown, PA worked on this project for three years alongside director, Stevan Mena, who was named Best Director at the 2010 NYC Horror Film Festival and cinematographer Marco Cappetta who won the Best Cinematography Award at the 2010 NYC Horror Film Festival for this film. So when I had the chance to attend Bereavement’s big screen debut with Scott and Sean, I couldn’t pass it up.

Did I bury my face against Dave’s shoulder and experience some post-movie paranoia? Absolutely. And I also got the inside scoop on what it’s like to make a horror film and see the project finally come to life on the big screen…

(Note: Scott and Sean were involved with many aspects of the making of Bereavement, such as still photography, set decoration: second unit, grip/electric swing, animal handling: second unit, closing credit crawl, and the behind-the-scenes documentary which will be available on the future DVD/Blu-Ray release of Bereavement.  Sean and Scott also filmed an exit poll commercial which is currently airing on television to promote the theatrical release of the film.)


Beyond the Gray: What challenges come along with making a movie like Bereavement?

Scott Krycia (left) and Sean Tiedman (right).

Sean: Really long days; sixteen hours days were the norm. It takes a long time to set up a scene, so we’d start before sunrise each morning and work well past midnight, getting only a few hours of sleep each night. And then, when we started filming the night scenes, we started at 6PM and end at 6AM. It can get difficult to function after a while and it’s always bizarre to eat dinner at 6 o’clock in the morning.

 Scott: Another challenge was staying warm. I often had to wear five pairs of pants just to stay warm. Shooting in a slaughterhouse was also challenging because it was infested with rats. Plus, we put down mulch on the floor and the crew walking around kicked up a lot of dust. We all had to wear face masks and it even ruined one of the cameras.

BTG: What would surprise the typical moviegoer about shooting a film?

Scott: Most people think movies are shot in sequence, but that’s not true. Movies are typically shot completely out of sequence, which speaks to the importance of having a good script supervisor and production manager, to make sure all the little details are accounted for and everything comes together in the end. 
Sean: Also, people tend to look at actors and actresses and see glamorous lifestyles, but they are a lot more dedicated than they get credit for. Their jobs are brutal. (As Sean says this, he pauses on a frame of one of the actresses hanging from a meat hook by her leg). Like us, they have to endure the elements. And the rats.
BTG: You worked on this project for three years. In a word, what’s it like to see your project on the big screen?

Scott & Sean: Cool.

BTG: What was your childhood dream?

Sean: Mine was to make movies for a living.

 Scott: Mine to work for myself.

BTG: You’ve accomplished both those things. How did you get started?

Sean: I had various odd jobs after college and worked on film crews whenever I could, to get experience. I never went to work for a company. I decided right away that I had to cut my safety net and either sink or swim. Fortunately, I’ve been able to make a career out of this.

Scott: I worked for a web design company before we started K-Studios. I always had an interest in photography and videography, which I pursued in my free time. Sean and I kept bumping into each other on shoots. Eventually we decided to merge our interests and experience – and our equipment – and form our own media production company.

BTG: How long have you been in business?

Scott: We started K-Studios 15 years ago.

Sean: We shoot everything from corporate videos to horror films. And we love it all.

BTG: What’s been your biggest success?

Scott: The project that’s probably gotten the most visibility is an interview we shot with Stephen King, which is featured on Bravo’s “100 Scariest Movie Moments” and airs every year around Halloween.

Sean: We also were the Associate Producers on the film, Everything’s Jake, starring Ernie Hudson and Robin Givens, and Eavesdrop, starring Chris Parnell and Ted McGinley.

BTG: One last question: is the blood really made from corn syrup and food dye?

Scott: Yep, it’s usually something like that. 

Sean: And the ice crystals in the refrigerator scene, are actually sugar crystals.

Well, there you have it. Thanks to Scott Krycia and Sean Tiedeman for taking time out of their busy schedules to talk with me to give us a glimpse behind the scenes of a horror movie.

If you haven’t seen Bereavement, don’t worry, it’s still in select theaters across the country this week and will be coming to DVD soon.

You can visit the film’s website to watch the trailer:  


Sean and Scott with the replica used to shoot the house fire in Bereavement.


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