Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Straight From the Mouth of 'The Birr Elixir' Jo Sparkes

A well-known Century City Producer once said Jo Sparkes “writes some of the best dialogue I’ve read.”

Jo graduated from Washington College, a small liberal arts college famous for its creative writing program, forgot about writing totally, until she had a chance to study with Robert Powell, a student of renowned teachers Lew Hunter and Richard Walter, head of UCLA’s Screenwriting Program.

She has written feature film scripts, scripts for Children’s live-action and animated television programs, a direct to video Children’s DVD, and commercial work for corporate clients. A featured writer on several websites, she was a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and (very unofficially) the first to interview Emmitt Smith when he came to the Arizona Cardinals.

Jo served as an adjunct teacher at the Film School at Scottsdale Community College, and even made a video of her most beloved lecture.

Her book for writers and artists, “Feedback How to Give It How to Get It” has received glowing reviews.

When not diligently perfecting her craft, Jo can be found exploring her new home of Portland, Oregon, with her husband Ian, and their dog Oscar.

Her latest book is the fantasy, The Birr Elixir.

You can visit her website at or connect with her at twitter at 

Thanks for letting us interrogate interview you!  Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?

Honestly – I’m not all that sure I do!

Truth is, writing is more an addiction for me. I’ve done it all my life – and it’s not always easy. I’ve been rejected, abused by directors, and had some deep wounds from editors. Harsh criticism, snide comments, and actually run over (well, serious foot-stepping on) by an NFL linebacker.

And while I’m a professional – let’s just say I don’t eat a lot of steak.

For me, it’s an addiction. I swear off it, and literally have broken a pen in half with my bare hands. (I don’t recommend that by the way – it’s very messy.)
But then the next morning, or next week, I’m back at it. Because nothing else is relevant.

Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be?  I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?

I love talking to people, for interviews or for research. I love hearing their stories, and finding out what makes them tick. I love sharing that with others.

I dearly, truly love weaving a story and catching someone’s interest with it. If you can touch someone, even just a tiny bit, you’ve really accomplished something.

Demands? For me, the biggest is spinning wheels sometimes, feeling like you’re doing a lot of work and seeing absolutely no progress. But if you keep at it, eventually a wheel will ‘catch’, and the story takes off.

Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?

Self-published. The great news is you’re in control – you’re the decision maker. The bad part is you actually have to make all the decisions. Even the boring, not too fun parts, the technical aspects, the marketing push. It’s all up to you.

You can pay for portions, which is great. But that usually means proper budgeting. Ugh!

Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?

My family is proud of me, though heaven knows why. But there is a tiny bit of startled surprise at how long it all takes. Writing is fast for me. Rewriting, ruthless editing, and elbow-grease polishing takes a lot of time. That’s the part they don’t understand.

This is for pet lovers.  If you don’t own a pet, skip this question, but do your pets actually get their food on time or do they have to wait until you type just one more word?

Oscar (the dog) is one of my biggest supporters and biggest critics. He doesn’t suffer in silence. If he’s hungry, he lets me know. Just as he makes sure I don’t miss walk time, play time, or any other time he feels he must share.

He’s a lesson to me in many ways.

This is for plant lovers.  If you don’t own a plant, skip this question, but if you do, are they actually still alive?

I once killed a plastic plant. Too near the stove, you see. I don’t like to talk about it.

In writing your book, how did you deal with the phone ringing, your family needing dinner or your boss calling you saying you’re late?

I got rid of my land line. And use the off-switch on my cell phone.

What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?

I wrote a non-fiction book, Feedback  How to Give It, How to Get It. It’s a book about turning feedback to real gold, to help writers, actors, and artists. We get a lot of it, you see.

Anyway, it was sent out to certain people for review and endorsements. Most came back with some wonderful comments, but one individual sent it back with some absolutely mind-blowing criticism.

It was very fortunate, really, as I got to practice what I preached. 

How about the social networks?  Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?

I think you need to be true to yourself.

If you wish to tweet, or blog, or Facebook-act, do so. But if you think you ought to, and all you can come up with to say is, ‘buy my book’, then resist the temptation. Wait until you’re moved to say something useful. Useful to others – not to yourself.

Book sales.  Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)?  How are you making the sales happen for you?

First, I haven’t actually made the New York Times Bestseller list yet. I haven’t exactly figured it all out.

Marketing seems to be about letting people know you’re there. Be honest, be yourself. And trust that whoever will enjoy your work will eventually find you.

Play with it, read up on it, and even put money into it where you think it makes sense. But don’t freak out if you don’t make a mint the first day. And don’t try to hype yourself with gimmicks or false advertising.

I’ve watched a few films come out where they would over-hype it, trying to claim it was something they thought audiences wanted instead of what it really was. In the long run I think it actually hurts, because people go to see it with one expectation, and when it fails to meet it, they pan it. And the people who would have liked it never go.

What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?

Measuring success with dollar signs.

If you’re only doing something to make money, do something else. Do whatever it is you’d do if you had all the money in the world. Because when you’re doing that thing, you’ll feel satisfied. Happy.

And being happy, now, is the greatest of riches.

Okay, too much sugar for you today!  Here’s a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in.  Now…can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?

One thing rises above all else.

When someone comes up to you – online or in real life – and says, “I know you! I like your work – it actually touched me.”

Instantly all your fears and frustrations melt. And you know – you know to the core of your being – that you’re on the right path after all.

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