All posts by Dana Smith

Author and Entertainer

Taking Our Seat…. drivers seat that is

Believe in Yourself...
Believe in Yourself...


         I ran across this little nugget from a blog that is written by Pamela Slim who happened upon my act with her son while attending Tempe Festival of the Arts in December 2008. And I’ll quote and then try and untangle my intention from her own insight.

Quote from her posting… “Are creative people doomed to scraping out a miserable existance?”

She writes….

“We went to the Tempe Arts Festival and a talented street performer named Dana Smith did a show in the middle of a huge crowd of people.

My three year old son watched with rapt attention. At the end of the show Dana asked for volunteers. My son waved his hand and stood up. After Josh’s “performance”, he told me he had to speak to the artist. “I want to work with you.” He said to Dana. Dana replied.

“If you want a life of driving around in a beat up pick up truck then come and join me. Otherwise, you might consider another job.”

It is so important to realize that we all are responsible to unblock and release others from our own limits, and to view our efforts as being boundless. Too many people, too often, approach while I am on the street and wonder about the income earning aspect of what I do. I move away from numbers and such and remind everyone that it isn’t a business that I operate, but rather a passion. If the motive is merely some earthbound craving of some kind then the work is much too hard and it would be wise to consider a vocation that compensates in some other way. Because the emotional efforts we make are not bound to tangible rewards, they are bound to an emotional journey and a life vision, and it is really the ride in that seat that is most interesting.

Street performing is a form that can remind people to reflect upon the aim of their lives. Because street is so ordinary, so not the big time, that it throws people back on their own ambitions and forces them to wonder about what they really want to do with their lives.

My journey is the same as that little boys with regard to publishing my book. It doesn’t matter how spartan or bare or rough or tough things might appear. All that matters is doing the work, writing the book, and being willing to ask the world to make a place out there for it somewhere. The world will decide how this fits and where. I’ll write another book and see where the next one might fit. The journey could be in a brand new pickup truck or an old worn out rig, the destination remains much the same, and enjoying the ride? Isn’t that a matter between you and your dreams? I couldn’t be happier with things…

“That half truth/half joke stuck with me.”    end quote from Pamela Slim.

Dream on dreamers, big fat ambitions, sky is the limit, heck why put a cap on it, make it as big as the entire universe…. and remember to bend down and lend a hand to those little dreamers in your midst, our world needs every one of those leaps of faith…it’s how it all gets done.



Plotting the Next Book…

Evenings Tide of Light ...Orlando, Florida
Evenings Tide of Light ...Orlando, Florida

Best not to sit idle and play the waiting game, write another book while trying to sell the first one. So, I’ve been on the road for the last week and will be on the road until October 9th… Today near Orlando at the Omni Resort about 10 miles west of Disneyworld. On my bed during the day I’ve taken to spreading out the plot of the next book. Large sheets of paper represent scenes/chapters and those little sheets of paper the sub-plot points. I can see the flow of each scene visually this way and don’t have to scroll up and down on the screen to “feel the flow” of the plan.


I have figured out the story. I can explain that in a few minutes and have it written down. However that isn’t a scene by scene decision of exactly what happens and in what order. And what is interesting about this part of the process is that it is one of the most difficult parts of the working toward another book. Why is that? What is hard about this? Writing a scene is kind of an answer to a problem. Deciding what problems to solve requires the author to access another entirely different part of your brain. The part that dreams and writes and flows is one part, and the part the plans and plots is an entirely different part. I can feel this and so I’ve taken to this method. Little sheets of paper with a scene written down on it. I include the action to take place, the time line, and the emotion I want the reader to feel, then I’ll hang on these sheets lots of post it notes of various specific details that are part of the story…

Orlando09 041


So, here I have a few pages written that tell the story. The outline of each scene and its sequence is happening now. Character sketches are being drawn up of each of the main characters. I write about what they look like, where they came from, what age and education and work they do. And keep it relatively compact, about one page.


All of this material once complete allows me to aim from the start toward the finish and knowing what and where everyone and everything is going, its why sometimes we feel the book is already written before we ever write it… But, once again surprise of surprises, when you actually get down into the detail and fabric of a characters situation we often discover fine details and the story takes us in its own direction, the circumstances dictate their own truth, and while we aim in one direction we can be hijacked and pulled into another…


And the photographs of clouds? At sunset in Florida? This is where I cast my eyes while walking and pondering the days plotting and imagining all kinds of possible twists and turns. Those illuminations in the clouds of sunlight’s golden twilight energize me, remind me of the spirit of the thing… that in these wisps of vapor are grand visions, if only you will look and see.


Hurricane Season Twilight...
Hurricane Season Twilight...



Getting There by Being There

Improbable Art
Improbable Art

Chicago this last weekend with my wife and daughter. We went to the Ravinia Festival to see Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Companies world premier of Fondly Do We Hope/Fervently Do We Pray… My daughter got to dance Sunday morning at the Joffrey Ballet School too.  We attended the gala dinner prior to the concert and the champagne reception for the company after the concert.

My daughter Alana Rose Smith is almost 18. She’s danced all her life. We had the chance at the reception to talk with Lamichael Leonard who now dances with Bill T’s company, but had been with Martha Graham’s company prior to coming to Bill’s company in 2007.  So, there we were standing and talking to a dancer who said he was 29 years old. Just eleven years older than Alana and suddenly the distance between where she actually was and where she could actually be was right there in front of her. Getting to where you want to go in your life requires many things, and of all those things we need to help is get to where we are going, the secret that matters most in my view is to realize that it isn’t something impossible whatsoever, that it is quite literally right there in front of you, all you have to do is be willing to see where you are going, and then work to that end, give it everything you’ve got, doesn’t mean you’ll get there, but it does mean you know how to aim and you know how to sustain your effort. That matters…

I’m trying to sort out my recording devices and get some of my book on MP3’s/podcasts and then I’ll put some of my book on my website for downloading if……..if you’ll leave me your email address. I’m working on that…it will happen soon enough…free samples of some of the first part of the book, and if you like that we’ll provide you a way to download the whole thing for a fee. And if you’ll play that game you’ll love a copy of the first edition… That’s one way to go from nowhere to somewhere… not the only way, there are many ways… remember the magic is in the effort! And the pizza too….

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza!!!!
Chicago Deep Dish Pizza!!!!

Chicago, Chicago….that toddling town

It's a cold cold world...unless your dressed for it
It's a cold cold world...unless your dressed for it

If you didn’t already know the digital revolution has come to publishing. One of my favorite bookstores in Berkeley, California…Black Oak Books is gone from the scene now. Amazon is pushing its electronic publishing. I was reading a story in the Financial Times about the biggest French publishing company suggesting that the digital publishers should restrain their rushing new books into ebook formats and allow the industry to still run hardcover first editions. Isn’t that kind of okay to allow a publisher to get a crack at folk who’d like a hardcover first edition before saturating the ebook market with copies at discount?

I have owned a few hardcover books that I prize. East of Eden is one. It is a first run as best I can tell. I love the whole experience of the book in my hands. I like the smell of the book. I like the size font and the texture of the paper and its color and sense of richness. I don’t need all my books to come in this way, but for favorites, the really grand books that have moved us and send us back sometimes to remember them by exploring favorite chapters…. And now its almost as if we hold them and wonder how long we’ll be able to continue to buy a book in this format.

We shall see what the world brings. I haven’t been part of the past and I’m jumping into the arena in the present. Alan Rinzler mentioned at a talk this summer what enormous pressure publishers are under. Every season, every four months, there are three in publishing, he needs new books and new offerings to bring to the market place. From his point of view he can’t wait to have manuscripts that tempt him come across his desk. From the writers point of view? Well, I don’t know about other writers, but I’m going to relish every moment of every day along this journey.

After working on a longer book over the long time horizon and bringing this thing in for a landing on the creative side, it is a relief in a sense to finally turn toward the industry and begin to introduce this new work to them. Everyone is so frantic and so jacked up and tense and stressed, but really a book is an experience and journey that requires time and attention from each individual reader. It doesn’t matter if they are a professional reader or not. There are all these time compression techniques and super fast pitches they want you to make. Everything turns into this odd terse, clipped experience, and we are lost in the frenzy of the mindless moment.

I’m going to take my time…I’m going to watch each part of this journey unfold and appreciate every part. Even the part where the person I’m submitting to is expressing a sense of burden, of being overwhelmed, that there time is short, and attention brief, and I’ve given it some thought, and the answer is? It is like love, only one person needs to say yes….I will love you, I appreciate who you are, and what you are doing. That one takes their time with you….why not? When it is love it is indeed something we never want to come to an end.

Dana in Chicago on a beautiful end of summer weekend

Another Milestone….

Maestro ready for the unknown...
Maestro ready for the unknown...

Teresa LeYung Ryan, an author and editing consultant has just been mailed the first fifty page manuscript. I included the synopsis which is a bit more revealing than the description on the website. You have about 500 words to explain what you have written in 160k words! Lovely little exercise I must say. She’ll read the first 50 pages and make her comments and edits. Those edits and comments will fuel discussions and any revisions we might make between myself and my editor Vicki Weiland.

The manuscript is off my desk now for a few weeks. I’ll turn my attention to my other novel that I am just getting started. I’ve still got a few more steps with this first novel to work out, but they are relatively simple. Teresa promises a 14 day turnaround on her evaluation.  Once we digest those comments, react, adjust any elements we deem wise we’ll begin plowing ahead with submissions.

Yesterday I spent most of the day going over the first fifty pages one sentence at a time. It was a very granular examination of the text, so slow and in such detail it was hard to really make much sense of the thing. As an unpublished author I have no alternatives. I have to give every buyer every chance to say yes, and not a single reason to say no. Maybe a few books from now I’ll face a different circumstance, but for now? I am still looking for someone to open the gate and invite me into the game. It is fun to be standing at the edge of the unknown…

Dancing with Each Day…

Wilderness in Alberta
Wilderness in Alberta


     Life is so precious. A member of my family came back to his room in Las Vegas last night and decided to take a shower before bed.  His beloved partner of the last 26 years collapsed and died in the hotel room while he was in the shower without so much as a sound. My Uncle Milton came out of the bathroom and found his life partner, his husband or wife, I am not sure they even knew, though I often guessed for fun and we’d laugh at that, but there without a chance to say goodbye went my Uncle Milton’s better half.

   It is so trite to say such things as this was the love of a lifetime, but it was. I was there when their love sparked its first clues. And so it goes the way this thing works, this life and way we have all found ourselves in. We get in a boat at birth and our instructions are to row off into the ocean of life where it is certain our boat will sink and we will finally meet our moments end. Do you welcome the rowing and this certainty into each moment of each day?

   It has been a weekend of unmasking trauma, deceit and warning signs. What to do?  A good delicious pint pulled from a keg in a pub in England seems so far away now. Steady as we go. Tomorrow a long day at the desk cleaning up those 50 pages, steady as we go, to the gym for juggling workout, steady as we go, make supper for my wife, steady as we go, keep our eye on the ball, row furiously, water is trembling with storms all around, and then it passes in the mind to wake up, take another deep breath and love with all your might as if it could come at any instant…

   Take care of those you are with. Keep an eye on each other. Work as best you can, but love with all you have. Who’ll find you in the end? Who will bend a knee to check for your breath?

   A writer and a juggler has somehow got to hold the real workings in life in some kind of tender embrace, some kind of cauldron of empathy, and wake up and work and love and be alive one more day…it is the ultimate fact as they say…to be alive.

   I’m grateful for one more day…and then one more day….who will bend on their knee for us at our end? Who will check on our fate? It is impossible to phathom the mystery…….. a Cooper’s Hawk soared past my window today and rocked on still wings around and just like that vanished from my sight. It all happened in an instant. Luck was I could be witness to the miracle. I saw a life soaring….on wings… soar winged hunter, soar dreams, dream big, live large as long as you can…. Take care of the wildest places inside of yourself, they offer the sweetest grasses, the most serene meadows, and pristine peaks. Be your own witness to how we are all bound by some common force…life. Sweet alive life.


Late Sunday Night from Telegraph Hill

Preparing the first 50 pages

Lacey living the good life in Oregon now...
Lacey living the good life in Oregon now...

The past weeks have been used to solicit reader comments from the entire 378 page/ 157k word novel. I’ve interviewed readers after and have sifted through all the various reactions and have a short list of adjustments I’d like to make after further discussions with my editor Vicki Weiland. Most of those adjustments happen beyond the first 50 pages and it is this chunk of the book that is being prepared for submission to various possible buyers. I am with the help of Vicki and another two readers am polishing the 50 pages a bit more. We are not altering the text itself just moving some punctuation marks, grammar and spelling etc… minor but important details. Over the next few days I’ll grind through the text several more times putting all those corrections into the pages. Next, both a one page synopsis and about one paragraph biography will be prepared. All of those materials are then sent as hard copy and on CD to another editor who is going to examine these 50 pages one more time. This is at my editors request and she wants this one final last looking over by someone she trusts before we actually begin submitting the book.

It is very hard to calculate how many passes I’ve made over these 50 pages, how many times I’ve read them, how many times I’ve rewritten them, and how I still have a few subtle details tangled up in a few words that I still feel concerned about whether they are precise enough and capture my intent. You just don’t want a potential buyer to fall upon an undetected error….

Writing a  short biography is hard work. The synopsis has become more fully formed and doesn’t drain me. The cover letter that goes out with each submission remains to be drafted, but one good drafting should do it. So, there it is. Clean up the first 50 pages, biography of half a page, one full page synopsis, and a cover letter. In short order we should begin to post not just the progress of these final details, but the results of the publishers and agencies that I’ll be submitting all this material to.

Dana from Telegraph Hill in San Francisco

New Show New Book…



Late Summer Telegraph Hill in San Francisco Late Summer Telegraph Hill in San Francisco


I’m just home this morning having left Liverpool, England after a few days off following the Shrewsbury Street Performers Festival. It has been a robust summer of travel and change. I was speaking by telephone with Jennifer Bain a long time friend and painter. We were both interested in the inner anxiety that comes with making a new piece of art. In her case it is a painting on canvas. In my case it is making new material for my show. The core inner experience we focused on in our conversation was fear. Jennifer said that it was a requirement of the creative process to be bound by some sense of fear, and that the feeling of fear is a sign that the creative process is underway. In the grip of this emotion we often lose our orientation and we forget that there is no other way to get from the old show to the new show without going through this emotion.

So, after 35 years of shows, after all this experience, once more I was there at the very infancy of the new, the birth of new material, and so it goes, from shows in the Napa Valley of California, to the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival in Alberta, Canada to Whistler’s Summer Performing Arts Series, in British Columbia to finally appearing in Shrewsbury, England at a busking festival over Labor Day…all this travel and experimentation, all the anxiety and fear, plotting and planning, all of this churning and driving and flying, finally landing home with autumn near I have made it! And the show seems in very good order! I drew good sized audiences, the material while in places coarse and unpolished is revealing itself to be headed more in the right direction than the wrong direction.

And I’ll leave it at that, but to say there is more material to be created, more fear to feel, and that’s as it should be. I am attempting to blend the narratives in my novels with the non-narrative challenges of variety show, that one might in some way inform and speak about the other. This is the whole of the task at hand, and it is my template going forward, to do show, to write book, to blend show and book, joke and soul, heart and mind, all this into something new! And I am scared because I am completely and utterly out on a limb, of my own making, wondering if I can interest my audiences who read my books in my show and those who see my show into exploring my books.