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10 Spiritual Lessons You Can Learn From Your Cat

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Writing 101

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About Joanna Sandsmark

I was born in a small town in Wisconsin to two amazing people who shaped my life with love and encouragement

I was born in a small town in Wisconsin to two amazing people who shaped my life with love and encouragement. I have two brothers, Tim and Bill, who have grown into the kind of men one can only admire. I am so blessed to have these extraordinary people as my family.


As a young girl, I wanted to be an archaeologist or paleoanthropologist. I could barely say the words, but I knew what they did and it sounded like an amazing way to live. My aspirations changed as I got older, but I never lost my love for this fascinating branch of science.


Around age 11, I decided to become an actress. My mom had spent some time as an actress in her youth, and I had dreams of someday being on the big screen. In my teen years, I fell in love with directing and decided I would have to do both.


There was one constant in my ever-shifting idea of "what I should be when I grow up", and that's writing. From the moment I learned the alphabet, I dove into storytelling with passionate devotion. Writing was always there for me, regardless of what else was going on.


In 7th grade, a friend and I wrote a movie that we were going to send to Hollywood. We thought it was so amazingly good. I think those were our words, "amazingly good". Naturally, we had no one to send our opus to (40+ handwritten pages – oh my! Very ambitious for a couple of 12 yr. olds). We had typed it and everything!


In 9th grade I wrote a musical with a different friend. This one we performed in the basement, using our siblings as actors (our 'lead' went on to become a famous opera singer. Pretty good cast, huh?). I adored singing and writing lyrics, and my friend knew a handful of chords on the piano, so we were quite the prolific songwriting team. The musical was the culmination of over a year of tuneful collaborations.


In high school, yet another friend and I fell in love with making movies, and we made several films, including two epics of which we were inordinately proud. The first was "Children at Play", a moody black & white film noir piece about a woman being driven insane by her two evil children. The second was a "sweeping romantic epic", as we always called it, named, "A Handful of Time". Set in the 40's, it was the story of star-crossed lovers (and it had every romantic clich̩ in the book Рsomething we did on purpose. I have always had a subversive love of clich̩s).


I attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison and majored in Communication Arts: Radio/TV/Film. I had a blast making more movies, and taking screenwriting classes. I was accepted into an advanced screenwriting class. Professor Lawson accepted me based on the short story I'd submitted for consideration of admittance. I loved the class and was so sad when it was over. Happily, Prof. Lawson invited me to his salon – my very first writer's group! I was overjoyed – especially since I was the first undergrad he'd ever invited to join. I stayed in the salon for both my junior and senior years, learning a great deal and working diligently on a screenplay adaptation of the short story he had so enjoyed.


After graduation, I moved to Los Angeles with dreams of breaking into show biz. Instead, I pounded the pavement unsuccessfully, not even able to get hired as a secretary in one of the big studios. After running through my meager savings, I got a job at a photo duplication service that made 8x10 glossies for actors. Meanwhile, I moonlighted as a voice actress, something I discovered on a trip home when I was asked to do a series of radio commercials doing impersonations of movie stars. I didn't work a lot as a voice actress, but I got just enough work to keep me hopeful.


Eventually, I started doing temp work. It paid the bills and let me write two novels on the side. They are currently in my closet and will remain there for the rest of my life. I had no success selling any of my writing work during this period and gradually switched my focus to voice-over. In the arena of actually making a living, I ended up working as a technical illustrator for a large aerospace contractor. The illustrating was fun, but I felt as though my life had gotten off track. I'd never had any aspirations to be an artist. Continuing to chase my dreams, I joined a voice-acting workshop led by Joanie Gerber, one of the all-time greats.


In October of 1989, my father passed away suddenly from a heart attack one day after his 65th birthday. It was a devastating loss for all of us. Both of his parents lived until they were 94, so Dad always assumed he would have a very long life. It was not to be. A few months later, still dealing with my grief, I was invalided out of my job due to trigger finger & tendonitis in my right hand, the one that used the mouse and that had spent countless long hours drawing intricate pictures on the computer of rockets and engines for my job as a technical illustrator.


Now on worker's comp, I threw myself into my voice-over studies, making a demo tape and hoping to land an agent. I did get an agent, but I was underutilized and languished for far too long without any work. Just as the worker's comp was about to run out, I inherited some money from my father's estate and was able to continue working toward a VO career instead of trying to find a job that didn't require one to use one's hands. VO was hands-free!


I started my own VO workshop, and although I had stacks of ad copy, I supplemented it by writing my own. Even though my sole focus was on VO, I still couldn't escape the writer in me.


The best job I landed in those years was a guest character on Rugrats. I was Ilsa, the Swedish dog 'broomer', and I had a wonderful time voicing the character. It was one of those "dream come true" moments for me.


One day, several years later, I met a couple of my neighbors, named Sherri and Vogue. They were aspiring TV writers, writing partners and roommates. During yet another VO workshop I had begun attending, the instructor pulled me aside and asked me if I'd write a pilot for an animation series. He knew I was a writer and hoped that I was fast, because he needed it in a week. He had a contact at Hanna-Barberra who was looking for projects.


I said yes and then panicked. I didn't know how to write an animation pilot! I hurried over to Sherri and Vogue's and asked them to help me. They agreed. Over the next week, we worked like crazy. Well, Sherri and I worked. Vogue just sort of listened or went off to do his own thing. Amazed at how in tune we were, Sherri and I finished the entire project in a week. She was actually photocopying the pilot package when I went to class and she handed it off to me, still hot from the machines, during a break.


The animation series never went anywhere because the producer at Hanna-Barbera had been fired that day, but Sherri and I had found something even more important: we were a great team. I agreed to be her partner, but I didn't want it to be a three-way partnership with one member not pulling his weight. I loved Vogue; he was a dear friend, but in that situation, he wasn't working out. Sherri terminated their partnership and we joined forces.


After a couple of years of banging our heads into Hollywood walls, trying to get a break, we finally got one with the series, "Weird Science". We had a pitch meeting, wrote a freelance script and were hired as staff writers soon after. On top of the world, we adored working at Universal Studios, living that Hollywood lifestyle and doing work that we loved. But it was short-lived. We only had one season on the show.


Although we tried to get other jobs, Sherri's attention strayed to playing bongos and drums. She had decided to become a rock star. We split up when she joined a band. Soon after, she got married to one of the producers of "Will and Grace".


With Sherri and Vogue gone, I spent some time playing around in the fandom for the show "Xena, Warrior Princess". I wrote some fanfiction and was amazed at the enthusiastic support shown in thousands of emails. At the time, I worried that I was wasting my life, but in hindsight, I know I was really working on improving my fiction-writing and getting back the self-esteem that was lost after losing the job at "Weird Science" (they had down-sized the writing staff for the last season and we had been the last hired).


During this period I got the opportunity to rewrite Wonder Woman's origin for DC Comics. Yes, I'd loved comics as a kid and was reintroduced to them as an adult by my friend, Vogue. Getting the chance to write my favorite character was another "dream come true" moment for me. As an added bonus, my friend John Byrne named a character after me. He created a new Wonder Girl and named her Cassie Sandsmark. I was her "aunt".  Another big highlight for me.


Needing money, I decided to write an online class to get some steady checks coming. I pitched a class on comedy writing and it was accepted by Education to Go.


After starting the class, they put me on hiatus for a few months while they reorganized. It was soon after this that I lost my voice. Lost it entirely. I did very little during that silent year, as doctors tried to figure out what had gone wrong and I sank into a deep depression. My VO career was officially dead, of course. And worse than that, my writing voice had also died. I had nothing in me other than despair.


Eventually, I figured out that I was allergic to my blood pressure meds and I slowly regained my voice over the next few years. Meanwhile, I finished writing the class and then started selling off my possessions on ebay, to keep myself afloat. I did that for a year and a half, becoming a powerseller.


Through a friend, I was given the opportunity to write some nonfiction (good-bye ebay!). "10 Spiritual Lessons You Can Learn From Your Cat" and "10 Spiritual Lessons You Can Learn From Your Dog" were the result. When I finished them, I began work on a novel. The novel was my long-term plan. That's what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to write fiction and earn enough to be comfortable instead of poverty-stricken. I landed three more nonfiction books, with two different publishers, taught my online class, and started writing songs on the side. I love to sing jazz, so it's been a lot of fun indulging that side of me.


I now have two novels written and am in the market for a fiction agent. I also want to write more non-fiction, so I'll have to start looking for a non-fiction agent, too. The other books I wrote were unagented as both publishers were in the UK. I'm hoping my life is finally where it's supposed to be. Storytelling is what I was born to do. I know that down to my marrow.


Obviously, I strayed off the path a few times. I had some wonderful opportunities to do some things many people dream about, like being in a cartoon, writing a TV show, and writing for comics. But I've always known that I would have to come back to writing novels.


Living a creative life is never easy. There's often no security, times of severe poverty, and a path lined with rejections. But for me, it was the only choice. I had to be true to myself. Right now, as I look back, I can see the path that led me to this day. And with a final glance behind me, I look again to the future and the new adventures it will bring me.




|Welcome| |About Me| |Books at Amazon.com| |Explore Your Destiny with Runes| |The Wisdom of Yo Meow Ma| |A Girl's Best Friend| |10 Spiritual Lessons You Can Learn From Your Cat| |10 Spiritual Lessons You Can Learn From Your Dog| |Get Funny| |Favorite Links| |Music| |Writing 101| |Ilsa and Trace| |Memories| |Photos| |Other| |What's New?|