Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Yet Another Day One (or This Time, I Mean It)

Once again, I find myself starting over. For those who have been riding the constant cycle of “lose weight, gain weight, wash, rinse, repeat,” I’m sure you know what I’m dealing with here. You’re always on the lookout for the one plan that works the best for you, and once you get to a comfortable number on the scale and size in your clothes, you relax, you loosen the chains, and before you know it, you’ve gained some – if not all – of that weight back.

I’ve been on this ride more or less since May of 2003. I joined Weight Watchers and was delighted to see the weight come pouring off. By November, I was literally 15 pounds away from my set goal; I hadn’t looked that good since my junior year of college. (The weight I lost that summer almost immediately came back on once I was back at school.) At my peak weight loss period, I was down 38.6 pounds, and through most of the next year, I was able to maintain a loss of about 30 pounds. Not bad at all.

But then, the weight came creeping back. By 2009, it was all back on, and my confidence took a very big dip. (This was the same time that I was laid off at Hadassah, so that didn’t help much either.) I would try Weight Watchers a couple more times before we left New York City in 2011, but I felt like I couldn’t get my momentum going.

Jump ahead to 2012. Cheryl & I are in St. Louis, and we decided to give Weight Watchers another shot. This time, everything felt a lot easier and I dropped over 20 pounds. I was able to maintain that loss for about a year, when we made the transition from living with my mother-in-law and not having a job to getting our own house and having a job to pay the mortgage. But as my weight has a tendency to do, it found its way back to me.

In July of 2015, we were introduced to Paleo, and after a few days of adjusting to the new kinds of food and eliminating what was piling on the pounds, the weight started to steadily come off once again. I added running to my week thanks to the C25K app, and that helped even more weight come off. By September of that year, after being on Paleo for just two months, I was approaching a 40-pound loss! On the last weekend of that month, I competed at the annual Meet Me in St. Louis West Coast Swing Dance Championships wearing a shirt I couldn’t fit in since 2006. Take a look!

I looked pretty good, right? Well, what a difference a year makes.

Turns out that Paleo is very much akin to the Mafia. It’ll give you everything you want, but as soon as you betray it, then your life becomes – as Bill Murray said in Mad Dog and Glory, “a raging sea.” Once I loosened the chains a bit and re-introduced a lot of the food I used to eat before Paleo, the weight came back so rapidly, it scared me. My confidence bottomed out and, as of Sunday evening July 10th, I now weigh more than I have ever weighed before.

So, what happens now? Well, as I mentioned at the beginning of this, I’m back on Paleo as of yesterday, July 11. We have our menu figured out, we did our grocery shopping, and outside of some more eggs that I need to pick up on the way home for breakfast, we’re both mentally ready to re-capture the success we had last year. Plus, for Day One, I got to make dinner and I slept better than I had in weeks. This definitely helps me mentally as well as physically. And after my first couple of weeks back in the program, I’ll be incorporating my running back into my mornings. (During the time when I ran with our dog Eli, he dropped four pounds, so I’ll likely be bringing him along.)

Am I upset that I gained all the weight back and then some? Of course. But I know I have what it takes to do it all over again and do it right this time. Doesn’t matter how many Day Ones it takes, as long as I have these days to use.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Excelsior: From the Page to Your Ears, Part III

Remember when I said last month that the price for lessons at Voiceover St. Louis was $1100? And I didn't have a job at the time? How was I going to get past this? Was I just going to let this opportunity pass, or was I going to find a way to get it done?

The answer came with an idea. I was going to crowdfund this dream into reality, and I was going to put my resources into action: my fellow writers.

In mid-September, I started a campaign on Kickstarter to rais the funds necessary for the lessons. I gave it a simple title - "Let George Sirois Narrate Your Short Stories" - and reached out to my friends and fellow authors on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For $10, I would narrate 500 words from their story for them, and for $20, I would narrate 1000 words. This way, they would have something to use as a promotional tool for their website or social media use, however they wanted to use it. Not long after the campaign was launched, I got an unexpected bonus from fellow author, cover & book trailer designer, and all-around awesome human being Rachel Bostwick. She offered up some custom-made trailers (with narration by me) to the campaign, and those got snatched up very quickly.

With just a week to go, I reached my goal and informed Clayton Studios that I had the money for the class and was looking forward to signing up. There was just one little problem: classes require a minimum of three-five students to be put in the calendar, and I was the only one at the time who was signing up for that particular block of dates. Thankfully, I had something in mind to get around this. Clayton Studios let me come in for a series of one-on-one lessons with local talent and vocal coach Jim Singer, with a demo production afterward. And the timing couldn't have been better since a possible job prospect was gaining momentum.


Thursday, June 9, 2016

It’s Excelsior Weekend! (or Let’s Party Like It’s 2010 or 2013!)

There’s a lot going on in the world of “Excelsior” this weekend, June 10-12, 2016, and I’m so excited to share this news with you guys.

For starters, from Friday to Sunday, the eBook of “Excelsior” will be on sale for just $1.99 on Amazon.com! The normal price is $4.99, so this is a discount of over 50%. If you’ve been curious about this story and character, this would be an ideal chance for you to give it a read. Or at least keep it in your TBR queue. (A special shout-out to all of my friends who participated in the Thunderclap campaign alerting people of this sale. Because of you, the social reach for this campaign has passed 220,000 people.)

Now, why did I ask my publisher to go with this date? Because everything is coming together for the audiobook of “Excelsior” to be released on Audible.com. It’s being uploaded as we speak, and if all goes well, it will be available for all of you, my friends! It’s just about seven hours long, and – as mentioned in my previous blog posts – is narrated by ME! Yes, put on your headphones, turn on your Audible app, and let me whisper sweet somethings into your ear… for seven hours… for about $20.

So the digital and audio versions are put in the spotlight, but what about the paperback? Well, I’m glad you asked. (I know, I asked, but just go with it.) If you’re keeping your eyes on Barnes & Noble, you may be aware of this weekend’s nationwide Teen B-Fest that introduces teens and children to the wonderful world of reading by heavily promoting young adult books. This Sunday, June 12, Rocking Horse Publishing will be very well represented at the West County Mall’s Barnes & Noble with a signing by RHP authors Debbie Manber Kupfer (“P.A.W.S.” and “Argentum”), Rebecca Jaycox (“The Other Inheritance”), and George Sirois (“Excelsior”). Our time starts at 12 noon and goes until 2pm. It’s going to be a blast, and if you’re in the St. Louis area, I can’t wait to see you guys.

As much fun as the two launches for “Excelsior” were in August 2010 (self-published 1st edition) and November 2013 (RHP re-release), this weekend looks like it’s going to eclipse both of those times combined. There’s a real high level of excitement going on, especially with the progress I’m making with “Ever Upward: Part Two of The Excelsior Journey.” (Oh yeah, that’s another fun thing to celebrate. I have been given a deadline by my publisher, and if I can stick to it and deliver the finished product in time, the book will be released before the end of this year.) So whether you’re in the St. Louis area or not, this weekend’s going to be really special and I’m so excited to see how it all unfolds. Hopefully you are too.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Excelsior: From the Page to Your Ears, Part II

During the time when my wife & I were living in Queens, NY, there was way too much background noise for me to even consider doing any kind of narration at home. And since the only other option would be for me to rent studio space, the idea of getting involved in any kind of voiceover work was sent to the back of the line while my concentration on marketing my finished novel “Excelsior” increased.

A year and a half after making the move to St. Louis, I discovered Rocking Horse Publishing, and they decided to take a chance on re-launching “Excelsior” under their umbrella. In November of 2013, the new-and-improved version of this novel was sent out into the world, and I couldn’t be happier with how it connected with a new slew of readers. I also had no idea that St. Louis had such a growing and thriving community of writers, men and women of all ages who took me in and welcomed me as one of their own. It’s been a wonderful time being involved with the Missouri Writers Guild (more to come on that), the St. Louis Writers Guild (more to come on that too), and the local conferences and conventions (again, more to come).

But before all of that happened, which I’ll discuss in the near future, let me take you back a bit to September 2015. I was unemployed – my time at First Congregational Church came to an expected, but still abrupt, end – and I was bouncing back and forth between working on my latest draft of “Ever Upward: Part Two of The Excelsior Journey” and job hunting. One night, while watching one of my now-favorite documentaries on Netflix, I Know That Voice, I started looking on Twitter for any kind of voiceover opportunities in the St. Louis area. And all of a sudden, I saw it! Someone based out of St. Louis sent out a tweet about her time taking lessons at Clayton Studios. Now, that name turned on a HUGE light bulb for me since I used to drive past Clayton Studios all the time going to and from work, and I never even thought to ask if they have any lessons there. (In 20/20 hindsight, I should have asked much earlier. This area already surprised me with showing the amount of resources available to writers. What would have been the harm of asking about voiceover lessons?)

It turns out that Clayton Studios has a special curriculum called Voiceover St. Louis, which includes lessons with a prominent voiceover professional, time behind the microphone, a recorded and produced commercial demo, and placement on the Voiceover St. Louis website for a full year. The price for all of this: $1100. If I was employed, that would have been a bit of a stretch. Since I was NOT employed, it looked like this wasn’t going to happen. At least, not yet.

But then I got an idea…


Monday, April 4, 2016

An Evening with the SModfather

I was all set to dive into Part II of my little mini-series “Excelsior, From the Page to Your Ears” (For those of you who are new to my page, I’m going through the different steps I took to make the audiobook for my novel “Excelsior” into a reality – with myself playing the roles of narrator, editor, and producer), but then I remembered what I have coming up on April 10th. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to take a detour in preparation for this big event. But if you think about it, it may not be such a change after all.

This Sunday, Kevin Smith is coming to town, and Cheryl and I will be in attendance to see him.

Now, for those of you who are sick to death of hearing about Kevin and are just rolling your eyes at the mention of him, you may want to just stop reading now. I won’t blame you. I know he’s an acquired taste. I’m sure he knows he’s an acquired taste. I happen to admire him very much. He’s made me laugh for over 15 years since I sat down and watched Dogma, becoming a fan at that very moment, and I’m excited about the possibility of making a statement to him and asking a question.

What do I mean about “making a statement?” Well, in recent years, during his Q&A’s that take place around the time when he made and self-distributed Red State (which is awesome, by the way), he made a point to talk about artists in general. Being a content generator (movies, television, internet radio, books, etc.), he’s very much aware of how difficult it can be to stay inspired in a time when people go out of their way to discourage you. What he said has been repeated in his appearances, on podcasts, and in his book “Tough Sh*t.” Someone was nice enough to make a meme out of it, which is below…

Kevin also talked about how there’s so much “why” in this world. “Why would you do that?” So go out and find someone who will say “why not” to you instead. “Why not do that?” He remembers the feeling of validation when Scott Mosier was onboard with his idea to make a small movie taking place in a convenience store. And he wants every artist to feel that same validation when it comes to their own ideas.

My “why not” is a two-parter. The first was the rewrite of “From Parts Unknown.” From the average perspective, that story looks like a failed project because it came out in 2002, sold a few copies to friends and family, and then faded away into obscurity. (Well, there’s no “looks like,” it WAS a failed project, but looking back on it, I’m happy it was. If more people knew of, bought, and liked that 2002 version, I may not have felt the need to revise it to the extent that I did.) Anyway, by the time “Excelsior” was re-launched by Rocking Horse Publishing and looked like it was going to be a modest success, I was encouraged to write the sequel as soon as possible, but I had an un-finished project that I felt was worth completing - the re-write of “From Parts Unknown” – and it was Kevin’s ordeals with writing his project “Hit Somebody” that inspired me to turn this new-and-improved story into a five-part serial. By January 2015, I was finally finished with Part 5, and the complete serial was released as an eBook by Rocking Horse Publishing in November 2015. Finishing it and giving it a home were huge victories for me, and I was able to move on to the “Excelsior” sequel not long after that.

The other “why not” in my life was my decision to narrate my own audiobook of “Excelsior.” Obviously I’ll get into the finer details in later blog posts, but this was something I had been kicking around in my head for years, and when I got the green light from my publisher to proceed, I knew I was on to something.

RHP – my literary home – had become my “why not” champion. They took on “From Parts Unknown,” they let me narrate my audiobook, and who knows what else they have in store for me in the future?

The main thing I want to tell Kevin when I see him on Sunday is this: We all have the potential to be the Wayne Gretzky of our own lives. We can score big goals and we can assist others with scoring theirs. But every now and then, we all need a Walter Gretzky to give us some much-needed advice, to steer us in the direction to be what we want to be in life, and that’s where Kevin comes in. His success has inspired me to seek out my own passions, find what drives me, and not give up when I’m feeling discouraged. That “if I don’t do this, I’m really gonna regret it” feeling is normal for an artist to feel, and his words consistently remind me of that.

So yeah, if you’re reading this, Kevin, hi. And hope you don’t mind the spoiler alert for what I’m going to say on Sunday night. I obviously have no idea how this will all play out until it does, but whatever happens, I’ll let you guys know.

One more thing. Back when he announced he was going to self-distribute Red State, Kevin felt the need to have a totem in hand to give him the strength to make this turn in his career. His totem of choice was the last hockey stick Wayne Gretzky used as an Edmonton Oiler. When I see him on Sunday evening, I’ll have my own totem on hand when I tell him basically everything I said here: my copy of “Tough Sh*t” on audiobook.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Excelsior: From the Page to Your Ears, Part I

In the early 80s, when I was in first grade, my cousin Matthew (who left us in 2005 and who inspired the creation of Matthew Peters in “Excelsior”) was undergoing cancer surgery. To keep his mind off of what was happening, his mother – my aunt Helene – asked me to put together some books on tape that he can listen to while he recovers. I had some children’s storybooks of E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the Star Wars saga, and she wanted me to just copy the cassette tapes that came with them. I, however, had a different idea.

I wanted to read them myself. I knew I’d do a good job with it, and I thought it’d benefit my cousin to hear a familiar voice. So while I was at my grandparents’ house, I set up a tape recorder, found a quiet space, and read three different books. I even put in a little noise to prompt him to turn the page (even though he wasn’t going to have the books themselves on hand).

The feedback from Matt and his family was beyond expectations. I was told that he listened to the tapes over and over, and they helped him keep his spirits up while undergoing chemotherapy. That kind of reaction stayed with me ever since, and it gave me the confidence to perform in Drama Club during grade school, take Drama I, II, and III in high school, and study Theatre in college.

After college, I made the transition from acting to writing, eventually self-publishing two novels – “From Parts Unknown” and “Excelsior” – in 2002 and 2010. But one nagging question stayed in the back of my head during all of this: “Wouldn’t it be cool if you got to narrate your own audiobook?” Just like you did for Matt back in the day? Unfortunately, while living in New York City, I wasn’t able to pursue that venture. I knew my equipment in our apartment wasn’t going to be adequate (especially since our building didn’t have the thickest walls, so we would have to deal with noise from our neighbors above and below us), and even though I had studied acting, I knew I would need some real vocal training to see if I was good enough to even try something like this.

Who knew that, when we made the move from New York City to St. Louis in 2011, I would have access to everything I ever needed to make this a reality?


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Now, Where Was I...?

You wouldn’t know it by looking at my blog, but it’s 2016 and quite a bit has already happened this year. A new job, new responsibilities, new exposure, new projects. If you’re following me on Facebook (and if you’re not, you can find me HERE), you probably already know a lot of what’s happening. But just in case, here’s a brief recap:

My last blog post was in October, and during that time, I was searching for a new job after my position at First Congregational Church was changed to require someone with a pastoral background. The day after my wife and I celebrated our 8th anniversary, I got the call from CHAN Healthcare, offering me the Sr. Administrative Assistant position. I’ve been at CHAN (a subsidiary of Crowe Horwath LLP) since November 11, and it’s been nothing but a great time, especially now that our finances have stabilized. Am I making as much as I did at the church? No. But my stress level is far below what it has been since 2012, and I’m feeling so much better about myself and my abilities.

You might recall that I reached my Kickstarter goal to raise money for voiceover lessons. I had the lessons in October, and they were a dream come true. It felt wonderful getting behind the microphone and learning how to improve myself in that field, and one day before I started working at CHAN, I recorded both my animation demo and my commercial demo. Cheryl brought it to my attention that the space in the basement that’s directly under the staircase would make for a great sound booth, so our big project in the next month will be setting it up and purchasing new equipment that would allow me to stand up and narrate. Whether it will be an audiobook, local commercial, whatever the case, having this will allow me to do so much more than what I’m doing now.

So what am I doing now? Well, a LOT. Throughout February, I’ve been using my smaller setup in the home office to record my own audiobook narration for “Excelsior.” I’m also working with my editor to pump some extra dimension to the world of Denab IV as we prepare “Ever Upward: Part Two of The Excelsior Journey” for submission to my publisher. Hopefully, in the next couple of months, we’ll be in a good position to send it in. Once the audiobook is finished and edited – when the soundbooth is good to go – I’ll have a better understanding of when I can really sink my teeth into starting up my life as a voiceover artist.

Oh yeah, there’s one more thing. Remember when I said that I’m feeling much better about myself and my abilities? Well, my completed five-part serial “From Parts Unknown” now has what “Excelsior” couldn’t get: a five-star review from ReadersFavorite.com. This 550-page story has been called “very entertaining and thrilling,” and I couldn’t be happier to get this kind of validation. I understand this is a very niche story, but I also believe in it very much and I hope you’ll feel the same about it when you pick it up on eBook from Amazon. You can read the complete review HERE.

Told you there’s a lot going on, and there's much more to come. Looking forward to filling you in on the STL Rebels and a big event with the Authors of Jefferson County...