My eBook hits the Amazon stands this week!

While the lights flickered last week, I glued myself to my computer chair and went through the cockeyed directions of creating an eBook (I love how the second letters of techy words are capitalized, and the poor initial letter stays lower case…but I digress). First, I had to perfect it in a Word document. Then, I had to download a software that fixed it up so that it would be in the form of an ePub (I’m not saying a word), and then another software to convert it to a Mobi (ah…that’s better). Once a Mobi, it could be uploaded (downloaded? what’s the difference anyway?) to the Kindle. Then, the process of submitting it to Amazon for review and approval. Lo and behold, this morning I get the email that my book is on Amazon.com!

An amazing exercise in patience, perseverance, eyesight, neck strain, and stiffness from sitting for so long. I swear, for one phase of the process, I was at the computer from 7 until midnight. Maybe I walked my dog once. I did have one real obstacle and that had to do with the cover. I couldn’t figure out the graphics to jpeg. to uploading, and I kept getting this big red X which I’m sure was not a good thing. So, I said, “Let’s skip the graphic and go with plain text.” And so, the cover is just that: plain. I’ve since put a request on this crazy new site (well, new for me anyway, I’m usually about a year behind internet trends) called Fiverr.com where complete, though I hear, talented strangers will do just about anything for five dollars once the purchaser’s paypal transaction is completed. For those who want to see the eBook cover before it gets a revamping (and those copies with the older version may be worth something someday..no, I don’t think eBooks work that way?), go visit and tell me what you think. It’s just the beginning of my digital writing career, not because I have so much content ready to write but because I purchased 10 ISBN numbers.

That’s another story. But I think I still have time here. To create a legitimate, authentic book, they recommend ISBN numbers. It’s a way for stores to keep track of them (and now that I write that, I’m thinking, “why would a store need to keep track of an eBook?” Uh, oh..maybe I got scammed…). But anyway, one ISBN number costs $125. But, get this, 10 of those babies go for the rock-bottom price of $250. So, I thought, the more I spend, the more I save! (Or maybe that’s what Kohl’s says.)

In any event, I have nine more books to write so I get my money’s worth.

What was I writing about? Oh, yeah, my new eBook called, “101 PR Tips & Secrets” and it’s a real helpful collection of the ways I got publicity for my various projects over the years, and it’s also my view of the publicity game from the editor’s chair. If I were even interested in publicity as a career, I’d buy this book. (Hey, maybe I can create that quote for the new cover!)

Here’s the link. Check out the free sample, and if you’re a member of Amazon Prime (sounds like a Ninja Turtle character), you can get it for free for 90 days.

Gotta go. Time for my chiropractor appointment.

N’oreaster, storm from Canada, plus Hurricane = the best of us comes out

As I write this, the sirens are blaring, and the storm is still miles away. There is tension in the air, the Halloween decorations are being brought in, the patio furniture from summer is being tied down. I wonder if my dog senses something.

“The house began to pitch….”

The reports over the last few hours are dim, and downright scary. Mandatory evacuations going on at the Atlantic City casinos? Now that’s big. The NYC trains and buses suspend service tonight, bridges and schools closing. When we first hear these reports, one can’t help but wonder if the weather people just hype these storms; the computer graphic people go wild with “STORM OF THE CENTURY” kind of newsy logos. We watch as newspaper people get drenched in Haiti, then in Miami, then in North Carolina, and as the storm moves up, so does the remote broadcasts. By the time the story hits, you want to pretty much, well, just go under the covers.

I just finished speaking with my family, brother in Long Island, sister in law in Queens. We share how we are coping, what purchases we still need to make, how this one, or that one will get into work tomorrow. It’s almost a bonding event as well, and usually the time when the best of us comes out. After a storm like this, the newspapers carry story after story about how neighbor helped neighbor, or recount displays of real heroism by everyday people. And, sadly, we read about those who didn’t fare as well, who didn’t leave when they were told to, or about a local creek that rarely overflows, does, catching the adjacent homeowner off guard.

Our lives are very predictable from day to day, and we have become a complacent society. It’s times like these, when we are forced to live for this moment, that we can rise to the occasion and know that when the going gets tough, we can take it on.

“101 PR Tips and Secrets” — my next book — is a labor of love

I started doing PR probably when I was about 10 years old. I had been given the popular camera of the day, and I can’t even remember what it was. It was the camera that came out before the 110 film cameras. It may have been like the kind of camera that came on a tripod, and the photographer had to go under the little blanket and shoot the pictures. Something from the “Little Rascals,” I think. (Kidding.) But I began taking pictures of all of my family’s events, and then I’d offer to take pictures of events I’d be invited to; I remember when I heard the screech of brakes and a little “bam” near my house that I ran home, got my camera and took photos of a fender-bender up my street.

cover for “101 PR Tips & Secrets” as taken by MJ on her computer.

Fast forward to the mid 1980’s when I started working at the not-for-profit radio station WNYC in lower Manhattan. I began in the AM department as a secretary, but when there was an event with members of the station and our listeners, I’d volunteer to take the pictures. After doing the secretarial duties for a year, I applied for an opening in the PR department and, lo and behold, got the job. (Life lesson learned: Volunteer to do the stuff you’d like to get paid to do can work!) My enthusiasm for PR matched with the training I received down the line really opened up my eyes into the PR world, and I’ve enjoyed great success in developing relationships with the media and creating press stories that got into the paper.

So, with that said, I figured I’d put down what I know into the handy eBook, “101 PR Tips and Secrets.” I just began listing my ideas, and have about 31 tips already logged. I have the book cover finished, and I’m planning for it to be a “no frills,” even rustic kind of book; a straightforward list of simple but effective information for those who want to get publicity for a new business, or a food pantry, or a church event, or just someone’s winning soccer team, whatever they’re working on that needs a little bit of attention.

I have 69 more tips to go, and I’ll go into online publicity as well. So, when I get to 101, I will then create 101 videos on each tip, filling it out a bit, adding a story or two. Of course, I’ll blog about it as the process continues. I get to share some of the fun adventures I’ve had along that PR path. (Like the time me and a table took a taxi home after an event!)

So, whether or not you are into publicity, join me on this “joyful writing” adventure as I get my first project completed!

A visit with a bunch of animated characters- Katonah Museum of Art

I’ve always wondered how those creative folks behind movies like the hugely popular Ice Age come up with all those ideas and conceive such memorable characters like Buck the weasel or Scrat, the frustrated squirrel who can’t quite seem to hold onto his acorn. So, on a recent colorful Fall morning I went over to the Katonah Museum of Art in northern Westchester to see their brand new interactive exhibit, “Ice Age” to the Digital Age: The 3D Animation Art of Blue Sky Studios. It’s a wonderfully varied collection of storyboards, character designs, from the initial concept stage to the final result. See how the beautifully drawn birds come to life in the movie Rio, and hear how the designers decided to draw Sid the sloth in Ice Age, or Rodney, the robot in Robots. And see the early drawings, and how they morphed into the characters we know and love.


We learn what provided inspiration for key scenes like how the image of actor Martin Sheen emerging from the water in the movie Apocalypse Now was the inspiration for a scene in Ice Age, and we see the painstaking time and effort that went into drawing characters that walked and flew like the real thing. While it seems like a lengthy and difficult process, executive producer/production designer William Joyce describes the making of Robots this way “…even the darkest and most tedious days on Robots were leavened with a sort of crazy, creative delirium that bordered on bliss.”

View the original storyboards (complete with smudges), and read about the animation process. Watch recorded interviews with key Blue Sky design staff that describes in detail how a key scene in Rio – when Blu, the macaw from Minnesota takes his first flight in the along the stunningly colorful coastline of Rio de Janeiro – was developed; we can’t help but marvel at the creative genius. A section of the tour is dedicated to the sculptures created for the movies, so the directors could see the body from all angles, ensuring that Scrat, for example, would move like a squirrel. Computer monitors allow visitors the opportunity to create their own 3D computer-generated sculptures and torsos using a variety of controls that push, pull and pinch the virtual clay.

To make this exhibit fun for even the youngest visitor, the museum staff has created a game so kids can find things in the exhibit, or imitate the sounds of characters, or ponder questions like, “what would you bring to a tropical place like Rio?” Rest yourselves after in the screening room where a 70-minute montage of clips from early Blue Sky films to Ice Age and Robots runs throughout the day.

And for those who truly want to immerse their families in the creative process, there’s a “Family Animation Day,” scheduled for Sunday, October 14* from noon to 5pm. There will be opportunities to create an animated video, make a flip book, and listen to Blue Sky story artist, Bill Frake, discuss the art of drawing animated characters (1:30 and 3:30pm).

And don’t miss the Tree Figures, which have to be seen to be believed. They’re tall figures sculpted out of trees, and like giants, they stand guard in the museum garden, with one fellow greeting visitors in the parking lot. Created by Vermont sculptor, Joseph Wheelwright, they will elicit a lively conversation of what the sculptures mean, and whether or not they can actually move.

It’s a great day for the family, and Fall is a great time of year to head north. Metro North and the museum have collaborated with a discounted train/museum pass package (see details below).

*additional fee
** PACKAGE INCLUDES: Discount round-trip rail ticket to Katonah Station, discount admission to the Museum, and a discount at the Katonah Restaurant.*
PRICE: From GCT/Harlem-125th Street: adults, $22.75; seniors, persons with disabilities and individuals receiving Medicare, $17; children 5-11, $4.50; children under 5, free. Purchase your package ticket from any Metro-North ticket office or full-service ticket vending machine (excluding Katonah Station).
Take the Harlem Line to Katonah Station. Take a short taxi ride to the Museum (cost is approximately $4-$6).
Ice Age to the Digital Age: The 3D Animation Art of Blue Sky Studios runs to January 20, 2013.

Joyful Writing reviews “Please, talk with me” about a true haunting at an upstate college

I met Mara Katria in 2010, and at the time the Hudson Valley native was filming her first indie feature film, Erie Hall, about the 1985 real-life haunting of a Geneseo college dorm. Since then, Katria has completed the filming, the editing, and gave the 1 hour/45 minute film a new title, Please, talk with me. (PTWM)

Shot in a Super 8 home-movie style, PTWM replicates the look, feel and sounds of the mid-1980’s. It begins with a simple college cafeteria conversation about things going bump in the night, and then it’s a roller coaster ride from then on. It’s Chris, the angelic, bubbly sophomore and running star who begins experiencing sudden and unexplainable whispers and visions that only he can see. With his roommates in disbelief, and shrugging it off as just imagination, Chris begins to doubt his sanity, and reaches out to his friend, the serious-minded Jeff, a writer, and the only one who not only believes his friend, but helps Chris reach out to the spirit.

What makes this haunting tale different from the plethora of paranormal movies and TV shows out there is Katria’s focus on the human element of the movie. Over the course of the ten weeks, we see Chris’ personality almost disintegrate, his interest in running starts to wane, and his friends begin to abandon him. We see the visions, we hear the voices, and we jump. In the tight quarters of the dorm, we feel claustrophobic and want Chris to survive this. In one heartbreaking scene, Jeff has been given the job of writing down Chris’ experiences so that his descent into what he believes is madness can be documented.

PTWM is now enjoying select premieres in the Hudson Valley where much of the film was shot. Katria and producer William Rogers, have been careful about when and where to show the film; in fact the recent September 29th premiere was not only a fundraiser for the Shanley Hotel, the haunted inn near Ellenville in Ulster County, but an opportunity to meet the real Chris and Jeff, now middle-aged and ready to share their story, and, in their own words, “find peace.”

MJ, poster, Mara, and Chris who experienced the haunting in 1985

“We couldn’t have told this story any other time,” says Chris DiCesare, who is given film credit for adapting the story for the screen. “After conversations with Mara, and knowing the story would be told this way was the key to my involvement.” Jeff Ungar, on whose original notes the story is based, narrated the story – his actual words – which give the film an authenticity absent in most paranormal movies. Kudos for the production team, led by Katria, for a great cast that despite their youth gives extraordinary and mature performances. In one scene, we see Chris, as portrayed by Kyle Shea, fall to a dirty dorm bathroom floor in utter fear and desperation, it’s raw and feels very, very terrifyingly real.

This time of year, we all love a good ghost story, and Please talk with me, will not disappoint. There may never be a definitive reason for the haunting, and why Chris was chosen, but some questions are answered, which gives flesh and blood to the spirit, and will satisfy viewers. And do remember the name, Mara Katria. She has shown great patience over the two years in nurturing the film to its completion, including the pre-filming research, and shows great skill and promise in this first big directorial effort.

Visit ptwmthefilm.com to see the trailer for the movie, learn more about the haunting, and see where PTMW is playing next. Visit the film’s facebook page at facebook.com/pleasetalk.

At the Woodstock Film Festival par-tay

I got to go to the Woodstock Film Festival launch party in the city last night. It was at a club downtown NYC at the very trendy Libation on Ludlow. I put on my latest Woodstock tee and headed down for the 7pm start. I was covering this for the website, womanaroundtown.com. I got there early so I can get the lay of the land, meet the press people before they got busy, see who was coming so I could prepare my questions. I was working, but it was at an amazing place.

Festival co-founder, Meira Blaustein, signs the Woodstock Film Festival poster at Libation

I saw the Woodstock poster on an easel and saw the executive director, Meira Blaustein, sign it, which they’ve done since 1999 when the festival first began. I watched other press come and go, actors and directors come and go, while I was asked if I’d like a piggie in a blanket. (Even trendy clubs in the city provide piggies in a blanket — love it!)

Since the website is for women in NYC, women who plan the family’s weekend activities, or who are planning girlfriend getaways, I thought I should find an actor or director who created a film of interest to our women readers. The documentary, Pretty Old, was the one. Walter Matteson is the director, and he was milling about the place and we ended up having a half hour chat about the subject: senior beauty pageants. With the message: aging with grace, Pretty Old captures the ten day pageant that happens every year in Massachusetts. Walter described how he and his team holed up for fourteen days, filming over 200 hours of film, but he came away with an experience that will last a lifetime. And, here I am writing down his phrases and facts so I could go home and write up the story. My intent is also to encourage city folk to come up to the Hudson Valley. It helps us all.

Director Walter Matteson with MJ

And then, just before I packed up to leave, a familiar face came in the door. It was John Pankow, a co-star of one of my — and my husband’s — favorite shows Mad About You. I caught his eye after he greeted one of the festival people and I introduced myself. Now here is the back story. Ten years ago, my husband and I were looking at houses in Monroe. When we felt we had picked the right one, we decided to have a slice of pizza over in town, in Marina’s on Route 17M. On the wall was a story about a local actor, John Pankow, who raved about Marina’s pizza. My husband and I said, “Y’know…if John Pankow is connected with this, then that’s a good sign.” And we’ve been here since then. I told John the story, and he cracked up. He said, “I should have gotten a commission on that!” And he asked about Marina’s, if it was still there, and it was like we were old friends. (That’s what good pizza can do, by the way!) And his movie, by the way, Putzel looks terrific!

John Pankow and MJ at Libation

Why I LOVE writing!!

I had this great thought and spent the day running from errand to errand, but the thought flew around in my head, and I couldn’t wait to get it down. Sometimes life hands you great material, and as I mull it over, my mind finds a funny way of presenting it. I think funny, and my quest is to translate that funny thought “down on paper” or today’s version, “typed on my laptop.”

Here is the story. I was in Philadelphia as you know (if you’ve read the last blog anyway), and began checking out the pamphlets in the hotel lobby. I love collecting pamphlets, the suggested places to go, and to me, they can be just like a souvenir postcard. Many of these pamphlets are wonderfully designed and provide all the info I need. Especially since Philly was such a quick ride. I could see myself coming back to visit their haunted places, the Rocky statue, and what particularly caught my eye: the Mayan exhibit at the Penn Museum.

Now, for background, the Mayans believed that humans lived in cycles. The one we are in now is called the Katun 4 Ahau, due to end on December 21, 2012. Over the past few years, the media has drummed into us that the world was probably going to end because the Mayans didn’t really have much to say after that. In effect, we may as well pack our bags. Now, for me to believe a prophecy made by a society that drank blood is a stretch. So, I haven’t exactly gotten my suitcases down from the attic.

The exhibit, “Ancient Prophecy or Modern Myth?” opened at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology on May 5, 2012 and ends January 13, 2013.

Let me repeat that. The exhibit, “Ancient Prophecy or Modern Myth?” began on May 5, 2012 and ends January 13, 2013. 2013!!

The wonderfulness of that irony just struck me as not only hysterical, but a sort of confirmation that we are probably going to be alright.

But the thought of writing this blog kept me so excited all day. What would I write? Where would I put the punch line? What words would I use to describe the extreme relief that we all would be feeling. But, what of the people who planned to blow their whole savings in Atlantic City?

Oh well, that’s fodder for another blog.

So, with that said. I can now go on my day because I have gotten this wonderful real-life story out of my head, down on paper, so that the gazillions who read this blog will sleep easier tonight.

P.S. I am taking my daughter to visit a college near Philly next week, and she and I will stop in to see what this is all about. Stay tuned!!

Mayan Calendar

Home from Philly

I’m not going to belabor this point, but WordPress really annoyed me on this trip. I had a great blog post ready to do, and in my glee to publish, I must’ve hit the wrong combination of keys and LOST my blog post. There is no way to retrieve drafts, I am hearing, and a lot of folks are fuming on the WordPress forums. I was in Starbucks using their wifi (the hotel’s wifi was $12/day), and it was about 10pm, and I was looking to get the blog in before the shop closed. And, “poof” the post disappeared. I spent the next two days googling wordpress and reading about the disgruntled bloggers out there who had similar experiences. So you hear me WordPress? BOO on you.

With that said, let me just state that this weekend’s writers’ conference in the Marriott in downtown Philly was exhausting and exhilarating. I was not only in a room with a about 350 other writers who are passionate about getting their message out there, and perhaps creating a career and a business out of it. But the thing is, the messages were mostly altruistic, like how to do things better, or how to solve this problem or that, and in my case, promoting “write-therapy.” Which, by the way, got a nice response from those I spoke with.

MJ’s “Today Show” outfit

The highlights of the trip? Meeting Jack Canfield who is a bazillion-aire from the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and his talking engagements, and other book on creating success. His multi-million dollar Santa Barbara home, and his tan are testament to that. I also met Steve Harrison, unknown to most of you, but a hero of mine because of his publicity smarts. But, the biggest part of the weekend was putting on my Today Show outfit and meeting 14 literary agents. While 8 felt that my story/pitch was not for them, 6 said for me to send them a proposal, or sample chapters, or more information. That, my friends, is GOLD! Most folks don’t even get to even talk to a literary agent unless they’ve written a best selling book already, or have had their baby.

MJ and Steve Harrison


There are no promises with these agents, only a “let me look at the whole proposal.” But, I am eternally optimistic, and know that something wonderful will come from this!

So the real hard work begins..right after a good night’s sleep and a morning stroll around the lakes to work off conference room junk food.

Finally..I’m on my way. But what do I wear?

While I’d been wanting to do some kind of non-fiction book about writing, it really didn’t click until earlier this summer. I’d been getting emails from the company that works with Jack Canfield about how to get your book written, a company called Bradley Communications. The guy who runs it is Steve Harrison, and for some reason I got on their email list. I ended up signing on for their 8-week webinar series that culminates in this weekend where I get to pitch the idea for my book on writing to 15 literary agents. This is truly a once in lifetime opportunity for me. It comes at a time when I’m ready to write this book, have the means to get to this big publishing weekend in Philadelphia, and have had a tremendous response to not only my book’s intent: to recognize the therapeutic value of writing.

Now, all I have to do is “wow” these agents with a 30 second pitch that explains who I am, what my book is about, and why they should take me on as a client. It is kind of like “American Idol” of the publishing world. What do I wear? Well, they said, “wear what you would wear if you were going onto The Today Show.” So, now the pressure is on. I thought the hard part was putting my pitch together, or creating a website, or blogging about my intentions. No, my biggest hangup (pun intended) was putting together an outfit that said, “The Today Show.”

What to do when a career wardrobe is lacking, and consists mostly of tee-shirts from trips I’ve taken or hoodies of causes I believe in or some very nice office blouses that need ironing. And my shoes? OMG…I have a wonderful collection of comfy flip-flops, or sneakers. I had to dig deep into my collection of “big girl” shoes and I think I’ve found something that will pass. As long as they don’t look below my knees. Maybe I’ll have a podium I can stand behind. Oh well..

But you know I jest a bit. I did put something together, but it’s not something I do easily, nor have I had the need to plan for an appearance on The Today Show. My look is more like one of those celebrity pictures of stars coming out of the gym with a Starbucks in their hand, not wanting to look up. That’s my look…casual, sporty, with a latte’ in one hand.

I will blog throughout the weekend as I go through the paces, and when I return, I plan to have big news. And I plan to have a really good outfit on when I write about it!

I am meeting Jack Canfield, the guy behind the Chicken Soup for the Soul series!!!

You may not know the name, you may not even know the face, but his popular series of books, “The Chicken Soup for the Soul” series has become so big a deal in the publishing world, that it has created its own genre. You will see a whole section of “Chicken Soup” books in book stores across the country, across the world. His name is Jack Canfield, and he has become my hero.

He is because he started out as a regular guy, no particular knowledge of writing or publishing, but just determination, a message that was important for him to get out, and an unwavering commitment to completing his mission. When a literary agent suggested that his first book could sell “about 10,000 copies,” Jack’s reply was, “I expect to sell a million by Christmas.” And he did.

He is also my hero because I am going to be in attendance at a writing conference he’s giving next week in Philadelphia along with other writers who have a book to pitch. Not only will I have the ability to learn more about properly marketing a book, how to get a book deal, get on TV and radio to promote it, and all that, but I will be able to make a 3 minute pitch to 30 literary agents.

It’s a very exciting time, and I am going at this with all I got. Like Jack, I have determination, have a message I want to say, and right now, there is no stopping me.

And, lastly, my message is one that will be helpful to many who hear it: that writing is therapeutic, and that we should be writing about the joys of our lives, whether for ourselves, our kids, or perhaps a memoir down the road. The most important part: there is no experience necessary. Coming soon: MJ’s fun “joyful writing” workshops!!

More to come as I continue on this journey!!