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Writers Pen Plays,  Books, Family Diaries for Living


Freelance writers often struggle to earn a living, and a group of California authors, playwrights, and journalists provides moral support and job leads for fellow writers. Mike O'Sullivan spoke with members of the Independent Writers of Southern California about their passion for the written word.

Gary Young earns his living as a playwright, and admits it is not easy. He has been given grants by artistic and cultural organizations, including the Kennedy Center and Smithsonian Institution, to write and stage productions.

He has also performed as an actor in mime plays, where the action is conveyed through gestures and facial expressions.

"And we went into schools, a lot of good stuff," he said. "We did a lot of work by, with and for disabled populations. We did a jobs program where we trained inner city kids to do some of these things, and then we hired them. We trained them for free and then we hired them and paid them money to do these things - [it] brought back a lot to the community."

He has written about the grief and healing process of a spouse who loses a partner, and is now writing a light-hearted book for men called The Immature Male Handbook, with a companion play.

"The theme is guys," said Young. "You know, when did anybody say we ever grew up? Nor do we really want to, so what I am doing is, I am embracing that."

Laura Blumenthal is a personal history writer:

"That means I help people who want to pass their family stories onto their children and grandchildren for generations to come," said Laura Blumenthal.

She has a wide range of clients, from wealthy business people to middle class grandparents. She is sometimes hired by grown children who want their parents' story transcribed in permanent form.

"One of the great things about doing this is there is no typical book," she said. "They are all different. I just finished one that is 675 pages. That was the exception. I have done them with as few pages as 50. That includes copies of family photos, sometimes recipes. It is amazing what parents collect for their children."

Telly Davidson writes a film column, and has written a book called TV's Grooviest Variety Shows.

His says first love is popular culture.

"Ever since I was 13 or 14, when I saw a movie of TV show or a music artist that I was interested in, I wanted to know more about it," said Telly Davidson. "And so it was just a natural progression. I have been researching those things since I was a kid."

Flo Selfman is a Los Angeles publicist and copy editor, and she is president of the Southern California writers' organization.

She says payments range from a few hundred dollars for an article to thousands for books ghost-written for celebrities or wealthy business people, who then issue the books in their own names.

"They can be as high as $50,000," said Flo Selfman. "It is like any other business. You really have to have some sort of an estimate of how much time it is going to take you, how much your time is worth per hour, and then you can come up with an estimate of what the job is going to be worth, and that of course is all compounded by the kind or reputation you already have."

She says there are many ways to get books and articles published, including self-publishing, in which a writer gets a book printed and then distributes it. Telly Davidson, who is 32-years-old, says the Internet has also created new markets for his generation.

"From someone in my age group, in their late 20s or early 30s, they really cannot afford not to work in the Internet field and be somewhat literate in that because that is where a lot of the buzz about any books or novels, or certainly film and TV is going to be," he said.

With talent and resourcefulness, writers say they can earn a living as they pursue their passion.

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