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Arts & Literature

Tough-Love Teacher Preps NHS Drama Students for Stage and Life

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Makena Hilsmier, Gina Parrish, Claire Sauls and Ella Bullock.

Photos by Richard Phillips.

Gina Peverley Parrish, Norcross High School (NHS) Theatre Director, is the first to admit it. She’s strict. She doesn’t coddle kids. She would never hand out a participation trophy.

Her Thespian Troupe members must become familiar with all aspects of theatre, from lighting to sound. They make their own costumes and build next-level sets. They’re expected to show up for rehearsals after school and on weekends and to give every performance everything they’ve got.

“When a student who is thinking about auditioning for a show asks me if it is hard work, my response is, ‘You bet it is,’” Parrish said. “Nothing makes me more proud than when someone says after a show how shocked they were that they were watching a high school show. It seemed so much more professional than they had imagined. In class and at rehearsal, we want to have fun, learn about theatre, and always demonstrate a strong work ethic.”

Nunsense is about a group of nuns who are putting on a little variety show to help raise money for an important cause. They are putting it on in the church rectory where the 8th graders are putting on the play Grease. They promised the kids they would not disrupt their set while putting on their own show thus the Grease set.

For Parrish, now in her 30th year of teaching drama at NHS, this has been a recipe for success. The NHS Thespian Troupe slayed at Georgia High School Association competition this fall, taking first place at the Region 7AAAAAAA One-Act Play State Championships with a performance from the musical comedy “Nunsense.”

Claire Sauls, a junior, won Best Actress, and seniors Makena Hilsmier and Ella Bullock were named to the competition’s All-Star Cast.

Earlier this fall, Claire was cast in the 2022 All State Theatre Opening Number Production for the Georgia State Thespian Conference.

While sweet, these victories are par for the course for Parrish, who was inducted into the national Educational Theatre Association’s Hall of Fame in 2017 and who’s seen some of her students become professional actors.

“We’ve won our region many times, been to state many times. We won one state championship, in 2009. For me, once we get to state, to be honest, it’s not whether we win or not. It’s that the kids get there, and they do the very best job that they can do,” she said.

‘You learn how to command a room’

Claire plans to go into an arts field after high school and enjoys the competitive aspect of theatre troupe. “You get the chance to feel what a true competition is like … which will be really helpful in the real world,” she said.

Of the drama program, she said, “I love how many opportunities are given to me. There’s always a chance to do better roles and learn fundamentals like dancing and singing.”
Ella and Makena aren’t planning drama-related careers, but they say theatre education has helped them in many ways.

For Ella, the program has been a great way to make friends and she said it has boosted her organizational skills. “You take on a lot of responsibilities in drama and I think that really prepares you for the outside world,” she said.

Makena says the program “helped me come into my own as an actor, as a performer, and well, as just a person.”

Drama is also helping her prepare to become a teacher, she said. “You learn how to be confident with yourself. You learn how to command a room. I’m one of the co-presidents of our troupe, so I’m really working on my leadership, work ethic and team-building skills,” Makena said.

A family at school

The two seniors’ mothers, Kristi Bullock and D’Anne Hilsmier, are Drama Booster Club co-presidents. “For the last couple of years, we have been joined at the hip, planning and organizing the needs for the drama department and students,” Bullock said.

She credits the troupe’s success in large part to Parrish’s leadership, which she says goes well beyond what happens on stage.

“She’s like a football coach. … She can be very direct. There’s lots of tears and laughter and she doesn’t hold back criticism. She’s truly just trying to make them their best self on stage,” Bullock said. “So it can be challenging, but the reward is when they get the standing ovations and they win the region competition and all that kind of stuff.”

Claire appreciates the wealth of knowledge that Parrish, known by the nickname “Pev,” shares with her students. As Makena puts it, Parrish is “just all around an amazing teacher.”

After working in theatre in New York City and Virginia, Parrish decided she wanted to teach high school theatre and got her Master’s in Education from the University of Virginia.

She taught in Orange, Va. for three years, moved to Duluth in 1992 and then began teaching at NHS.

“High school is a last chance for a lot of kids to do a little bit of everything,” Parrish said. “I have a bunch of football players and water polo players that will be auditioning for our spring musical, ‘Grease,’ so that’s kind of fun.”

She’s proud of NHS Drama “and the many graduates who have moved on and become productive members of society.”

“Our theatre program, much like that of sports, band and others, gives students a family at school — an outlet and place to belong. For some, if it were not for their extracurricular activity, they might not have stayed in school,” Parrish said. “That is one of the things I am most proud of, being a part of an amazing group of teachers who care so much about their kids and give all they have to ensure their success.”

In Their Own Words

Actors Chandler Massey and Brad Benedict are both alumni of the NHS Thespian Troupe.
Massey, a three-time Daytime Emmy Award winner, is a regular on the soap opera “Days of Our Lives” and has appeared in several drama series. Benedict is an actor, producer and a regular on the prime-time series, “The Oval.”

Peachtree Corners Magazine asked the actors to share a highlight of their time in the troupe and tell us how the drama program and teacher Gina Parrish impacted their lives. We also asked them for a message for current students.

Brad Benedict

Brad Benedict

Participated in Norcross Theatre in the spring of 2003 and graduated from NHS in 2004.
The highlight of my time in Norcross Theatre was the spring musical my junior year, “Bye Bye Birdie.” I had no formal acting experience going in, and ended up being cast in the leading role, Albert Peterson, with several song and dance numbers. A memory for a lifetime.

Benedict with Gina Parrish. Bye Bye BIrdie (NHS) 2003. OVAL on BET

Norcross Theatre changed my life forever. It was the first, and only time, I ever auditioned for any acting role before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a professional acting career. “Bye Bye Birdie” gave me my first real taste of the stage and performance, and I immediately fell in love. It was one of the scariest things I had ever done to that point, but also one of the most rewarding and character building.

I was a completely green actor who Ms. Pev, as we called her during my days at NHS, was willing to take a chance on and groom and believe in. In doing so, she had a hand in changing my life forever for the better. Her gamble on casting me, and willingness to help me grow, instilled a sense of belief in my soul that, by putting myself out there, and with a lot of hard work, I could achieve anything. She ignited a spark that I have carried with me ever since that has led me to take chances, bet on myself, choose the path less traveled, and, in turn, has brought overflowing fulfillment to my life. I am forever grateful.

OVAL on BET. NHS Drama, Bye Bye Birdie (NHS) 2003.

I’m currently living my dream as a cast member on a TV show, created and directed by Tyler Perry, called “The Oval,” that airs on BET Networks. We just finished filming our fourth season last week. I also filmed a movie that will be released on Netflix in 2022 called “A Jazzman’s Blues,” where I play a small-town sheriff in the 1940s. ‘Jazzman’ is probably the project I am most proud to have been a part of to date.

To all those students with a big dream, I leave you with this quote by Theodore Roosevelt that has meant so much to me:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again; … who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Chandler Massey

Participated in Norcross Theatre from 2006-2009 and graduated from NHS in 2009.

Chandler Massey

My favorite moment would probably be playing the lead in the musical “Little Shop of Horrors” my sophomore year. It was my first big role and helped me gain a lot of confidence.
It feels weird to type Gina Parrish, so I will just refer to her as Pev from now on (we all called her that).

Massey’s time at Norcross High School.

If it weren’t for Pev, I would be a financial analyst (or something similarly dry) right now. She gave all of us misfit theater kids a home, a place where we felt we belonged and could contribute in a meaningful way. She was a drill sergeant, and she cared more about us as individuals than any teacher I have ever had. She transformed me from a child with crippling social anxiety to a young man who didn’t think twice about singing and dancing in front of hundreds of members of the community.

The Norcross Theatre wing felt like it existed on a different plane than the rest of the school, a consequence of the incredible environment Pev fostered. She demonstrated to all of us the value of developing a strong work ethic. She instilled in us a love of working together to create something bigger than ourselves. It wasn’t even about acting, or singing, or dancing. It was about us, a group that for the most part didn’t fit in anywhere else. She gave us a home, and thanks to her I had the resolve to pursue a career in the arts.

I’m not really good at giving advice, but I will say that at some point you will stumble upon something that makes hours feel like minutes. One sure path to a meaningful life is to pursue that thing despite the difficulties and obstacles that will inevitably rise up to challenge you.

Memorable Moments of Parrish

Richard Phillips was the photographer on this feature article.

Gina Parrish is a very accomplished Drama Director and pushes her students to be the best they can be. I’ve seen her frustrated with them, yelling at them and at the same time loving them and encouraging them fully. That’s the Gina Parrish I knew some 25 years ago when she did a Community Play inviting adult actors to be a part of the cast for “Fiddler on the Roof”.

I happened to be one of those cast members who was given the role of “Lazar Wolf the Butcher” while my 10th Grade Daughter played the role of my “Dead Wife”. Gina also cast some very accomplished local adult actors in that play along with parents such as myself. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

When I walked into that Theatre yesterday and spoke to Gina and saw what she had done with these High School Thespians, the awards and fame they have received was noticeable immediately. I also saw many of the theatrical techniques she instilled and directed into some very talented youth, so much like I experienced 25 years ago.

I came to tears yesterday when Gina asked me to critique the play. I told them how much I appreciated their talents and saw so much of what I knew to be Gina’s hand at making a memorable performance. I also told them that they will always remember their days at Norcross High School Drama and will always appreciate what Gina gives them in the way of encouragement to be the best they can be.

Support the Troupe!

A message from Kristi Bullock, NHS Drama Booster Club co-president

“First and foremost, come to our shows. We rely on ticket sales and there’s nothing that makes a better show and experience for the students than to have a full theatre. That is why they exist!

Second, when at the show, buy concessions including fresh popcorn! All proceeds go to NHS Drama and fund future shows — the bigger the budget, the better the show.”

The Booster Club also asks for donations to the Brady Bullock Memorial Scholarship Fund, which benefits NHS Drama seniors. The scholarship honors the memory of Bullock’s son and his love for the drama program. Brady lost his battle with brain cancer in his junior year.
For more information, contact Bullock at kbullock@tropicalsmoothie.com.

Upcoming productions

The NHS Thespian Troupe typically puts on four shows each year. Their One-Act play has already been presented.
■ The musical comedy “Nunsense” will be performed Dec. 9-12.
■ “The Wizard of Oz: Youth Edition,” runs March 3-6, 2022.
■ The musical “Grease” will be presented May 5-8, 2022.
Keep up with the troupe at nhs-drama.com and on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.

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Arts & Literature

Local Award-Winning Fantasy Author Ellie Raine Talks About Writing

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Ellie Raine is the award-winning author of the Adventure Fantasy series “The NecroSeam Chronicles.” Raine grew up in a family of book lovers, comic readers, and video gamers in the suburbs of Georgia and lives in Peachtree Corners where she attended Norcross High School.

In addition to writing, she has designed and created merchandise, art, and music related to her amazing fantasy series.

We talk about how she started, what inspired her and how she grew her craft and readership.

Resources:

Ellie Raine’s Website: https://www.ellieraine.com
Necroseam Website: https://www.necroseam.com

“Part of my process is kind of combining different arts into one unified piece. Because I like having the art with it and it kind of helps me think about and get a sense for who the character is, what their story is, what their personality is… There’s something about combining different creative things into one work that makes you connect with it more. It touches on all the senses.”

Ellie Raine

Timestamp, where to find it in the podcast:

  • Intro
  • Ellie’s Background
  • Art, Music, and Writing
  • Ellie’s Creative Process
  • Necroseam and Other Projects
  • Ellie’s Self-Publishing Journey
  • Marketing, Merchandise, and Community
  • Closing

Scroll down for the video podcast

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:30] Rico: Hi everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. We have a great guest today, a Peachtree Corners resident and author Ellie Raine. Hey, Ellie.

[00:00:39] Ellie: Hi.

[00:00:39] Rico: Thanks for joining. Glad you’re with us. Before we get into the interview and introducing Ellie further, let me just say thank you to our sponsor, our corporate sponsor, EV Remodeling Inc. And Eli, the owner. They’ve been a sponsor of ours now for over a year, both of the magazine and and our journalism, and these family of podcasts. So they’re here in Peachtree Corners, based out of here. They’re really well rated on Houzz.com, if you use that to plan your remodeling work and stuff. So check them out. Eli, great guy. He has a great website, so you should go there. You’ll be able to see a lot of what he’s done, videos as well as pictures. Better than most of these remodeling places. And he does design to build, so everything you need under one house. EVRemodelingInc.com is where you can find them. So thank you Eli. So Ellie Raine is an author, she lives here in Peachtree Corners, and just to give you a little background. She has nine titles, at least as of this past summer. Nine titles in her name, right? You have a series, a five book epic fantasy series with two prequels in it. You are a two time winner, recognized by the reader’s favorite in the International Book Awards, and first place in the fantasy division for Writers Digest self-published awards. That was 2019. You know what, I took, you have a personality quiz online to see what knight…

[00:02:01] Ellie: You took it?

[00:02:02] Rico: I took it, yes, and I am blade sworn. A nd the funny part is the author that wrote this Ivy Marie Clark, that interviewed you for our print magazine had taken that same personality quiz and she was the same knight. So must be the same personality, I guess. We’re nurturing people, it was cool. So thanks for putting that there, you guys should check it out. It’s funny because it’s a small world. I saw you at the Peachtree Corners Festival, you had a booth there. And that’s how I got to know you. I bought your book, you autographed it, thank you. The next time I saw you after that was at the anime weekend, Atlanta. You had a booth there at the exhibit and also I was walking that, yeah.

[00:02:43] Ellie: Yeah, it was very unexpected.

[00:02:45] Rico: Yeah. I know. I can imagine. But it is a small world and I was there doing interviews with three voice actors for my podcasts. But tell us, you know, how long have you lived in Peachtree Corners? Let’s start there, a little background about who you are Ellie.

[00:02:59] Ellie: Alright, that’s kind of an interesting question. I actually was born and raised in Norcross, Georgia. And then it kind of became Peachtree Corners sometime around my high school years, I think.

[00:03:14] Rico: Wow.

[00:03:14] Ellie: So technically I’ve been in Peachtree Corners since it existed, I guess.

[00:03:21] Rico: Okay. Yeah, you were probably incorporated into it when the city decided to become a city.

[00:03:27] Ellie: Yeah, basically. It was a very interesting change because there was a lot of questions about what do I put on my address for my mail?

[00:03:35] Rico: Yeah. Yeah. Some people still use Norcross, believe it or not. So even companies do that, so this field, no one knows Peachtree Corners even after 10 years.

[00:03:43] Ellie: Yeah. So, you know, I went to Norcross High even though I didn’t live in Norcross anymore, according to the new city.

[00:03:53] Rico: Well, Norcross is only like one block out of the city at this point.

[00:03:57] Ellie: Yeah. For my old house, well my parents are still there. So we just basically could walk to high school if we wanted to. We never did want to though, because you know, I’m not a morning person, so.

[00:04:11] Rico: No, I can’t imagine. You’re probably more of a night person I bet.

[00:04:14] Ellie: But yeah, I went to Peachtree Elementary, I went to Pinckneyville Middle School, and I went to Norcross High school. Went to college, got married. I think we, moved to Alpharetta at some point for a year. Went to Duluth for a couple years, and now we’re back in Peachtree Corners. And I’ve got a child now, so, it’s all fun. .

[00:04:36] Rico: Is it back to Peachtree Corners because of the Covid? Or did you?

[00:04:40] Ellie: We were looking around for a house and this was right before. I think it was before Covid, or maybe it was during Covid. Either way, it was right before the housing prices just skyrocketed and we found a house in Peachtree Corners right smack dab in the middle of where both of us used to live. Because my husband is also from Peachtree Corners.

[00:05:00] Rico: Wow.

[00:05:01] Ellie: Yeah, we went to high school together and we’ve been dating since then, so.

[00:05:04] Rico: So were you writing in high school? Where’d you get this bug? This, it is a bug, right? Deciding to do this, to write.

[00:05:11] Ellie: What’s weird is I never thought of myself as a writer back in school. I have dyslexia, I’m slightly autistic, and I was a slow reader in my viewpoint. But apparently I was comparing myself to my avid reading family. So according to all my friends no, no, no, you read a lot. But writing wise, yeah, I didn’t expect to be into writing. I think I took like a, some kind of contest thing in middle school for writing and I got like a judge’s award for it. But I didn’t consider myself a writer because it was just a thing I did for school and then I went to college.

[00:05:46] Rico: Okay. I was gonna ask.

[00:05:48] Ellie: Yeah, I went to college for game art and design. So I wanted to create this story into a video game originally.

[00:05:55] Rico: Okay.

[00:05:56] Ellie: And they had a creative writing course in the Art Institute of Atlanta while I was doing that. I didn’t know what to write, so I just started writing my video game idea into a book form and I absolutely loved it. Yeah. So like art is, I have a love hate relationship with it. I really love to draw, but what I really love is just creating the story and creating the characters behind it. So art tends to make me angry the more I do it because it doesn’t fully hit, the way that I want it to. So it makes me angry. But when I was writing, I was calm and I was happy with writing.

[00:06:40] Rico: Happy with writing, that’s good.

[00:06:42] Ellie: Yeah, so that’s when I switched gears and moved on to English and all that.

[00:06:47] Rico: Yeah, okay. That’s interesting. And the fantasy aspect of it?

[00:06:52] Ellie: I was raised on fantasy. It’s basically the main genre that I absolutely adore. I grew up with Terry Pratchett, Discworld series. I grew up with dragons all over the place. Yeah, my parents just have these giant bookshelves all over the house filled with fantasy books.

[00:07:11] Rico: Oh wow.

[00:07:11] Ellie: And science fiction. But I was more into the fantasy stuff because magic, dragons, swords,

[00:07:17] Rico: King Arthur, Harry Potter, Final Fantasy?

[00:07:20] Ellie: Oh yes.

[00:07:21] Rico: As far as games and stuff. And you played Zelda, I’m assuming, and stuff like that?

[00:07:25] Ellie: Yep. All the good classics I guess you would call them.

[00:07:29] Rico: Are you into Game of Thrones? Talking about dragons.

[00:07:32] Ellie: Yeah. I mean, I read the first book. I still need to read the rest of them. I watched the show and everything, but I know that obviously it diverts from the rest of the, the series. So I kind of want more dragons. But you know, that’s me. It doesn’t mean it’s bad. I still like it. Yeah, I still like it. I just wish there were more dragons.

[00:07:51] Rico: Who’s your favorite author today? Like new authors that you might have? Are you still consuming? Like, do you still consume fantasy? Do you still read a lot? So, who now are you reading that’s new maybe or new to you?

[00:08:03] Ellie: New, I don’t know if Brandon Sanderson counts as new.

[00:08:07] Rico: Yeah, he probably doesn’t. He’s been around for a long time.

[00:08:11] Ellie: Yeah. He’s not that new, but like, so Sanderson. Rachel Aaron is another favorite of mine. She’s done The Legend of Eli series and The Heartstrikers series. It’s about dragon shifters.

[00:08:22] Rico: Okay. Okay. But you know, I was gonna say, you, not to jump, but we’re gonna jump around here probably a little bit. You have something in common with Sanderson because when I got to reading some of his stuff, I realized through interviews that he had and blog posts and stuff that the author it’s not just the books. I mean, he makes most of his money, probably more than the books, but in merchandise. And it’s kind of interesting how people have gone to that. I mean, Star Wars with Disney World and Disney World with their merchandise. It seems like if you’re writing, at least today, if you don’t have merchandise that you’re just being a disservice to yourself. Because hey, if I can listen to an audible book and pay one credit for it, I keep wondering how much the author is making on that book. So you have a tremendous amount of merchandise. Do you design some of that yourself or?

[00:09:10] Ellie: I design most, if not all, of it.

[00:09:13] Rico: Okay, but you have necklaces, pendants, and all sorts of things going on.

[00:09:17] Ellie: Yeah, some of it’s handmade with the braided bookmarks and some of the jewelry. Because I just can’t seem to pick one. That’s why I need to, I need something to do with my hands, so I just do it.

[00:09:29] Rico: Is that because of the creative side that you have, the drawing? I mean, do you sketch them out before you do it actually?

[00:09:34] Ellie: Sometimes. It’s usually best if I do, but I don’t always sketch it out first. But it does turn out much better if I do.

[00:09:43] Rico: When you got into writing and fan tasy was where you started, obviously with this. You have five books and two prequels on that series or on your best series, I guess. Tell us a little bit about that. Necroseam, is that the way you pronounce that? Tell us a little bit about how that came to you and what that story’s about.

[00:10:00] Ellie: Yeah. So, it goes back to high school. I just started drawing characters and started creating stories surrounded by these characters that I would draw. And the first one started with the main character, Xavi er. So it’s what I would be doing in math class instead of equations.

[00:10:17] Rico: Okay.

[00:10:19] Ellie: So part of my process is kind of combining different arts into one unified, I guess, piece. Because I like having the art with it and it kind of helps me think about and get a sense for who the character is, what their story is, what their personality is. And I also am a musician. I really like creating songs. I like writing songs into the stories. And if you look at our audio books I actually have the narrators produce and sing. The songs that are in the books, so we’ve got that whole deal going on. I don’t know, there’s something, there’s something about combining different creative things into one work that just kind of makes you connect with it more. It kind of touches on all the senses.

[00:11:08] Rico: Do you have a Spotify playlist?

[00:11:10] Ellie: Actually we do.

[00:11:12] Rico: You do? Okay.

[00:11:13] Ellie: That’s because my bestie slash narrator Krista, kind of started that. And she was like, these are the songs I kind of feel like would go really well with the, like, reading the books. And I was like, this is really fun. So we just started randomly gathering music that could fit with the books while reading.

[00:11:33] Rico: Right. So do you start the process actually drawing a character? Like when you think up of a character, do you sit there and draw the character first?

[00:11:41] Ellie: Most of them, yeah.

[00:11:42] Rico: And do you do, I’m assuming you do some sort of, different writers have different ways of doing this, I guess. From the ones I’ve interviewed and read about. Do you create like a background, the backstory? Do you write that out at all? Do you like create who they are, where they came from? Pros and cons of who they are and stuff? Do you create any of that before you get into the writing some of it? Or does it expand as you write?

[00:12:04] Ellie: A little of both. It really just depends on the character. If it’s the main, like the main crew of the protagonists and their friends that are part of the party, you kind of need to know every single one of them first. Their backgrounds, where they’re coming from, their personality, all of it. When it comes to secondary characters, then it’s a little bit easier to kind of work that in as you’re going. You can just go back in the editing and make it line up earlier.

[00:12:32] Rico: Do you also plot the stuff?

[00:12:34] Ellie: Oh, absolutely.

[00:12:34] Rico: The story ahead of time?

[00:12:35] Ellie: Yep. Absolutely. So, I call it an acre point plotting where I have a master outline of events that I want to happen.

[00:12:45] Rico: Okay.

[00:12:45] Ellie: And I know always where I’m going to end. So I start with where it’s going to end. And I did this for the entire series overall. So I knew where I was going to end. Then I went to figure out how I was gonna begin, and then I had one major point for the middle, which would be book three.

[00:13:05] Rico: Okay.

[00:13:06] Ellie: And once I had those three down, beginning, middle, end. Or, end, beginning, middle, however you want to do it. Once I had those down, I would kind of go into sort of more of a micro bullet point anchorings for beginning, middle, end, for the beginning. Beginning, middle, end, for the middle. Beginning, middle, end, for the end, type of thing. Sometimes I had to change what happened and then I had to like move it around because I would get to a plot point that was supposed to happen like books later. But once I got to the point in the writing itself I realized, oh, I’ve gotta do this now. So sometimes you’ve gotta be a little bit flexible with it, because otherwise if it doesn’t feel natural while you’re in the story, then it’s probably not going to translate well for readers.

[00:13:55] Rico: Not surprising. It seems like every author, the book also is alive, right? So the book is actually guiding, almost like you’re living there. It’s almost like one author I know said they can’t wait to see where their character’s gonna take them. I mean, what’s your, as far as your process layout, let’s go there a little bit. Do you have a word count or an hour count? I mean, how do you pace yourself and where do you put yourself when you write your stories?

[00:14:17] Ellie: I try and do one sentence a day. Some days I can’t do anything because you know, administration. Gotta do all that social media work.

[00:14:28] Rico: Did you say one sentence a day?

[00:14:31] Ellie: One sentence. That’s the goal. So I set small goals that are very achievable.

[00:14:37] Rico: Okay.

[00:14:37] Ellie: And it’s actually a trick. It’s like a brain chemistry trick, loophole, creating productivity.

[00:14:44] Rico: Okay.

[00:14:44] Ellie: So one sentence a day goal. You do the one sentence. And because you have achieved the goal you set out to do, you get a hit of dopamine in your brain. Which you know is like, oh, I finished my goal and now you feel great. You’re feeling wonderful. And guess what? Now you feel so good that you can keep going.

[00:15:07] Rico: That is interesting. That actually, I can see that.

[00:15:10] Ellie: And the more you add onto it, the more sentences you do. It’s like, I got so much done today. I exceeded my expectations of what I was going to do today. And it kind of just tricks your brain into thinking that you’re, you can do more. And you did like such a great job that you’ve just gotta keep going. And it gets you excited about it. So it’s like a fun little trick.

[00:15:33] Rico: Yeah, I like that. I think I’m gonna use that on my daily thing. I have a to-do list that grows every day and sometimes there’ll be days where I’ve done a lot of work. But none of it is on my to-do list. And I can see that if I do one of those items on that, I’ll probably get that dopamine feel and keep going.

[00:15:52] Ellie: Yeah, it’s, it is a fun work around.

[00:15:54] Rico: Yeah. And so in the process then, how long does it actually take to complete your first draft of a novel? I know the rest of it could take long, depending on edits. But on your first draft of a novel, how long does that take?

[00:16:07] Ellie: Well, back in the day, it used to take three months to finish a first draft, then another three months of editing. So six months to basically come out with a book. But nowadays with a child, it’s been a lot harder and much slower. So, it takes a lot of time to finish something when you don’t have childcare. So, yeah.

[00:16:30] Rico: Yeah, I can imagine.

[00:16:31] Ellie: So. It’s, I don’t even know yet. I’ve been able to finish a couple short stories, but as far as book-books go, I don’t know yet. Because I’m still in the middle of like three of them.

[00:16:43] Rico: So are you doing, so the short stories that you’re doing, are you getting those published online? Or how are you doing, how do you handle that with your readers?

[00:16:53] Ellie: Well this recent one just got accepted into an anthology. But I can’t really disclose much of that, because you know, NDAs and all that.

[00:17:01] Rico: Sure.

[00:17:01] Ellie: But so that’s going through, not myself. That is for an anthology. The other short story I have, I don’t know what to do with it yet. It’s just kind of sitting there in the ether. Waiting for some kind of opportunity for it to have a purpose.

[00:17:18] Rico: Okay. But it’s good to keep writing though. And I didn’t even think about short stories being a good conduit. Have you ever done novellas?

[00:17:26] Ellie: Oh yeah. Actually I’ve done, let’s see, 1, 2, 2 novellas. I guess this one up here is more of a traditional novel, so yeah. So my novellas range about 40,000 to 45,000 words. And one of them is the prequel to the main series, and another one is actually the first book in a series of a paranormal noir.

[00:17:53] Rico: Okay. Are you using that to sort of jumpstart that series? I’m imagining it’s going to be a series of books.

[00:17:59] Ellie: Yeah. I mean, at first I actually wrote this for one of my publishers a couple of years ago. And it was supposed to be 30,000 words according to the contract, but I ended up overshooting to like 40, 42,000. And then eventually I just did a second version for myself.

[00:18:18] Rico: And we’ll have a link in the podcast for people to go check the books out. Now, you had an interesting way I think of going about this really. You got published in the traditional sense of the word, a traditional publisher. But then you decided to go the self-publish route after that. Do you want to share a little bit about that, how that worked for you? I mean, other people that might have an interest in writing or are writing might want to look at and listen to this to see what you did.

[00:18:43] Ellie: Right. So I did start with two traditional publishers for two different stories. And for the main fantasy series the first book, it was with a small publisher and things were great. And then the second book came. It came time to publish the second book and they came back saying that it was too big for them to afford to print. So, they had to make it an ebook only or I had to split it in half. And I tried splitting it in half, and then I realized that splitting it in half for the second book meant I would have to do that for all the other books later in the series because they were all as big or bigger than that book.

[00:19:28] Rico: Right, right.

[00:19:29] Ellie: So I tried doing that, splitting everything in half. And you know, trying to fill in the gaps of, you know, oh, well now this needs a conclusion. Now this one needs a beginning and things like that.

[00:19:39] Rico: Right.

[00:19:40] Ellie: And it just was not working. It kind of broke my excitement about the story. I basically fell out of love with it being broken up like that. Because when I outline each of the books, I’m very exact about where the arc is, where it’s going, and what is considered like the whole arc. And splitting it in half just kind of threw off the rhythm and it threw off the pacing and it just felt soulless. Because I kept trying to push in just this random, empty spacing of content to try and make it the right size for compensation and it just was not working. So eventually I asked for the rights back for book one and I just took it back and put everything back together and just did it all myself.

[00:20:33] Rico: Wow, okay. So now you’re self-publishing, but people can find your books on the traditional places, right? Amazon, you even have all your books, or a decent amount on Audible, I guess people can listen to them too.

[00:20:47] Ellie: Yes. We have two audio books out right now. We are more than halfway through the third one. So it should be out by the end of this year or January latest. I can’t properly describe how much I love these audio books. They’ve ruined audio books for me. Like, my narrators are just so amazing that I actually like the audio books better than the actual physical books.

[00:21:14] Rico: That’s funny.

[00:21:14] Ellie: So yeah, I cannot recommend the audio books enough. And you know, check out my narrators, they are amazing voice actors.

[00:21:22] Rico: Some of these, I mean, when I listen to audible books, I mean some of them are performances.

[00:21:27] Ellie: Yes.

[00:21:27] Rico: That’s what you have to look at them as. They’re not just reading the story, they’re performing that story.

[00:21:31] Ellie: Yeah. And for this story, which is very much action adventure, it really suits it.

[00:21:37] Rico: That is cool. So are you working along the same chronicles that you’ve started or are you looking to getting to a different storyline? Are you launching a new story?

[00:21:48] Ellie: Both. I’ve got some extra stories, different timeline in the Necroseam world. Different characters planned, ready to go. Some of them I’ve started. But I have other stories in other worlds that I’ve been kind of working on.

[00:22:03] Rico: Okay, alright. The writer never stops. And you’ve also written a book for young readers as well. So I think that’s called A Ballad of the Ice Fairy?

[00:22:13] Ellie: Yes, I also did the illustrations for that.

[00:22:15] Rico: Beautiful work too. I was looking at it. Very nice work. And that’s available as well on demand. I’m assuming you self-published that as well?

[00:22:22] Ellie: Yes. We actually had to go through a different printer other than KDP Amazon or IngramSpark. We didn’t like the quality of their images and their paper wasn’t really that good for children’s book illustrations. So we went with a different printer and right now you can only get it directly on our website.

[00:22:43] Rico: Oh, as a digital edition? Oh, you mean the book itself?

[00:22:46] Ellie: The book itself.

[00:22:47] Rico: Okay. When you publish by a traditional publisher they have a marketing department, but the author still has to go out, do book signings, do your own promotion. You have to cultivate your own followings too. The traditional publishers, I don’t think do that as much as they used to anymore. But so you’re actually also going to a lot of different events. We saw you, like I said, at Anime Week in Atlanta, and that was surprising. But not surprising because a lot of fantasy writers do those types of things. But it looks like you’ve been, since the summer, I guess you’ve been to places like Savannah Mega ComicCon, Key City Steampunk Festival, Multiverse Fandom Convention. I haven’t heard of that one. The Conjuration, which is November fourth and sixth, just passed. And people can listen, find you, follow you on most of the social media, I guess. TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube. Do you do trailers for your books?

[00:23:39] Ellie: Yeah I’ve done a couple trailers. I kind of prefer the audiobook trailers now to be honest, because they just, they’re more engaging.

[00:23:46] Rico: Sure. And people can go online to your store though. I mean just like Sanderson sells swords and other things for his stuff. Which is interesting because he does it out of, I think he does it out of his house or something, is what I understood. Or maybe the pick and pack of it is somewhere else. Do you find that’s actually helped you more?

[00:24:04] Ellie: Oh my gosh, yes. Man, having the weapons is one of the dreams, man. One of the dreams. Just need the, need a bit more funding for that, so.

[00:24:14] Rico: Yeah, yeah. It’s a lot different. But the jewelry part and some of the other stuff you do it’s kind of neat to draw people right into that story. I had seen someone else, I think it was a local Georgia writer that does novels. And she actually created jewelry specifically for each of the books that she wrote. So it comes actually with that piece of jewelry and the book packaged together which is kind of interesting. So do you want to share anything else with us as far as writing methods or other things that you do? Have you gone back to Norcross Highschool? By the way, the media center, if you’ve ever gone back to talk about your books to students there?

[00:24:48] Ellie: I’ve never considered that. Is that a thing I can do?

[00:24:52] Rico: Yeah. Yeah, you can. I’m pretty sure you can. I know.

[00:24:55] Ellie: I don’t even know who to talk to about that, to be honest.

[00:24:57] Rico: You probably go to the head of the media center, at Norcross Library. They had Mayra Cuevas I think. She was a CNN producer and she wrote a book, a series of books, I think. And there were young adult novels actually from the Hispanic, Latinx point of view. And she was one of the speakers a couple of years ago there. But they do sometimes do that. And I know the Gwinnett Public Library actually does, not only in person, but online having authors come in and stuff like that. It’s kind of neat. I think young kids or adults, I mean, 30% of young adult novels are read by adults. I think those are adults that want to get back into their young, into the youngness of where they were, maybe.

[00:25:35] Ellie: Yeah, I think it’s also because young adult books don’t take themselves too seriously. So they…

[00:25:40] Rico: Yes.

[00:25:41] Ellie: They know they can have more fun with it. So if the author is having fun, the reader’s gonna have fun.

[00:25:45] Rico: Right. For sure. I mean, I’m into, I have three kids and I’m into, we watch everything from Studio Ghibli, every movie. And because of them I’m into anime and there’s a whole variety of anime from light slice of life to the stuff like Death Note. I mean, they’re all different from American animation, that’s for sure. So what else can you share with us as far as maybe that we haven’t touched upon as far as writing style or what you do as a writer?

[00:26:09] Ellie: As a writer? I mean, I feel like we’ve kind of covered that pretty extensively, but I could talk more about why the merchandising is so important.

[00:26:17] Rico: Yeah, let’s do that. How did that start?

[00:26:20] Ellie: I mean, this is just my observation from it, but the reason why I think merchandise is so important is mostly because it’s an indication that there is a community or can be a community created from this work. And I think having a community around a series is what makes a series successful. It kind of brings people together, it gives them something to talk about it kind of helps them get into the immersive nature of that story and of that series.

[00:26:51] Rico: Interesting. One of my kids, she just finished her masters in psychology and she’s into fantasy books and stuff like that. What she grew up on was like the Warrior Books, these are cat warriors and stuff. And what she’s found is that she would go online and play some fantasy role games and stuff, even now, she’s 24. Because it’s fun it’s mindless sometimes. And as she’s doing it, she’s meeting people and she’s talking to them. Like there’s, could be like, she has a group of, I think six or seven people they have discussions unrelated almost to what they’re doing. It’s just a community they built around that. She’s starting an online discord book club to talk about some of the books they all have in common that they’d like to read. Which is again, social media, so and that’s where I wanted to get to. Social media is kind of an interesting platform place that writers did not have before. And I don’t even as it was coming in, I don’t think, I mean yes, Stephen King will be on Twitter and he has millions of followers and he can tweet stuff. But do you find social media is helping you? Which platforms do you find more beneficial to you?

[00:27:49] Ellie: Yeah. Social media definitely, I think is the only way that has helped any kind of visibility, online at least. Conventions are always going to be the top, like biggest visibility jumpstarters. But online social media is pretty necessary. I haven’t had too much success with Twitter, but I have had some people meet me from Twitter specifically who came to the shows to come see me because they followed me on Twitter and or TikTok or Instagram. So there are some individuals that I do actually only talk to in those platforms because that’s where they are. So I think as an author, you need to go where your audience is.

[00:28:35] Rico: Okay. Makes sense. Do you use Reddit at all?

[00:28:38] Ellie: I’m scared of Reddit. It terrifies me.

[00:28:43] Rico: Dark web. There’s an underlying layer in there somewhere.

[00:28:49] Ellie: Yeah. I used to go on there a lot to try and figure it out how it worked, you know?

[00:28:55] Rico: Right.

[00:28:56] Ellie: But, after learning about it, it just terrified me more.

[00:29:00] Rico: I thought NextDoor, which is one of these neighborhood apps was bad, but Reddit is really bad. It’s just like, my God.

[00:29:07] Ellie: Well, if there’s a lot of fireworks that go on around here, so you know, every time you see a post on a Neighborhood or something, or Ring, it’s just like, I heard gunshots. And it’s like, yes, those are really fireworks.

[00:29:23] Rico: That’s true. I didn’t think about Ring after, I just installed that and I didn’t realize I was part of a community all of a sudden. I’m getting ring messages like your dogs, some dogs missing or gunshots. Yeah. It’s unbelievable.

[00:29:34] Ellie: Oh yeah. No, it’s been super useful whenever our cats escape. It’s like, hey, we need our cat, have you seen him?

Right, right.

[00:29:41] Rico: You know the other thing that goes on, one of my other kids also, he’s 19, he actually has been writing since he was 16. So he goes online. He used to use, I think it was WhatsApp, was one of them, was one of these online writing communities, you could serialize chapters and stuff. And he’s still writing. He writes every night. He’s 19 and he hopes to be able to be a creative writer. To make a living at it, that’s the thing.

[00:30:02] Ellie: Yeah, I was about to say, it sounds like he already is.

[00:30:05] Rico: Well, he’s, I mean, he has 200 followers right now that are like his beta readers essentially. And he is into fantasy and sci-fi. I think he’s shifting a little bit more to sci-fi than fantasy. But it is a field that I think today, I mean, he looks at it and says can I make a living at this or not? If I can’t, what do I have to do to make a living to be able to still write regularly? How do you find that? How do you balance that? You have a child, I know it takes you longer now to write. Your child will get older, be in school at some point, preschool and stuff. So it will get easier a little bit. But how do you juggle life like that?

[00:30:40] Ellie: With much difficulty and defiance. Basically it’s one of those things where if you really love something, then you basically have to fight for that time. You have to fight to find time to do it. If you really love it that much and the things that are more important to you, you will find a way and a time to do it. But I can’t really give advice on how to go about that because everybody’s situation and brain chemistry is different. So I guess the best I can say is you’ve just gotta find what works best for you. Find the method that is uniquely perfect for you.

[00:31:25] Rico: I think you gave good advice before about that one sentence goal though.

[00:31:30] Ellie: It’s a good trick.

[00:31:31] Rico: Yes, and I can see people doing that. I can see, you get that one sentence done and you feel like, wow, okay, cool.

[00:31:37] Ellie: It’s worked for me so.

[00:31:39] Rico: Well, we’ve been talking to Ellie Raine. She’s a self-published author, that has nine books, I think, right? Nine books to your name. Merchandise. She’s going strong.

She’s already, well, third audio, audible book, coming out. We’re looking forward to seeing a lot more from you. I do appreciate the time you’ve given us. Why don’t you tell everyone that might be interested where they can find more. We’ll have these links, but where should they go to find more about you?

[00:32:04] Ellie: Sure. You can go to either EllieRaine.com or Necroseam.com. That is N-E-C-R-O-S-E-A-M.com. So we have a blog. You can find me on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. It’ll all be on the website.

[00:32:22] Rico: Great. And if you have any questions for Ellie, obviously message her through through social media or put comments if you’re listening to this on Facebook. You can put your comments in that in the spot on Facebook. Again, thank you Ellie. I appreciate your time. Good luck and have a great career. Looking forward to seeing more books from you.

[00:32:40] Ellie: Me too.

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Arts & Literature

Author Carole Townsend Book Signing for “The History of Peachtree Corners” Set for Dec. 1

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Peachtree Corners History Book

Georgia Author of the Year Carole Townsend, author of “Peachtree Corners, Georgia, The History of an Innovative and Remarkable City,” will be on hand to sign copies of the book on Thursday, Dec. 1, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The event will be held at Peachtree Corners City Hall, 310 Technology Pkwy., in the History Room.

Carole Townsend, Author
Carole Townsend, Author

Townsend was named 2022 Georgia Author of the Year in the history category by the Georgia Writers Association. She also was recognized as the 2022 Whitworth-Flanigan Author of the Year by the Gwinnett Historical Society and for her work covering the history of Peachtree Corners.

For nearly 20 years, Townsend has been a newspaper journalist and columnist in metro Atlanta. Her first book was published in 2011, and she has written and published five more since then.

In 2017, she was named a Georgia Author of the Year finalist in the detective/suspense category for her fourth book, “Blood in the Soil.” Her most recent book, “Major League Deal,” unravels the real story behind the Atlanta Braves’ move from Fulton County to Cobb County in Georgia.

Books are available for pre-purchase online before the event at cofptc.seamlessdocs.com/f/OrderForm_v7. Books are not mailed and must be picked up at Peachtree Corners City Hall, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. All sales are done online and cannot be done onsite.

Book signing attendees who have already obtained copies of the Peachtree Corners history can participate by bringing their copies to the signing.

Learn more about the author at caroletownsend.com.

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Arts & Literature

GCPL’s 2023 Student Film Fest is Opened for Submissions

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Gwinnett County Public Library Announces Its First Annual Student Film Fest for the 2022-2023 School Year

When it comes to bonding and quality time among students, nothing proves more effective than a premium film fest. In light of this, Gwinnett County Public Library has taken this initiative down in its playbook by presenting the first annual Student Film Fest for the 2022-2023 school year.

According to the GCPL media alert, the festival will be held on March 11th, 2023, and it promises to showcase a lot of film screenings, an award ceremony, and an after-party with possible networking benefits, especially for young filmmakers.

Everyone in and outside the county was pretty excited about the news, more so when the video and film production company and media group, East2West, was announced to be the major sponsor for the program. This news, coupled with the fact that cash prizes and awards would be in abundance at the festival, has kept students and spectators on their toes as they wait for the day of the film fest in unbridled anticipation.

Subsequently, invitations were spread worldwide to students around the age of 11 and above from every grade in middle school, high school, and higher education. For a landmark project, the Gwinnett County Public Library might just make this Student Film Fest the best of its kind yet.

GCPL’s Rules for the 2023 Student Film Fest

Following the announcement of this film fest, calls were made to students from reputable institutions around the world to submit films of any genre. These films will be arranged into their respective categories, and winners in each category will receive awards and cash prizes. Submissions will open on November 1st, 2022, and close on January 22nd, 2023.

For a much wider reach, the GCPL decided to include other members of the public by demanding a representative from each student group who would attend the awards ceremony. This would form an eligibility clause for students seeking to win prizes.

But the directives did not stop there as the GCPL proceeded to outline several rules of conduct for the Film Fest. Here are excerpts of these rules:

  1. Students below the age of 18 must submit a completed entry form and video release form duly signed by a parent.
  2. The name of the school and year of study must be submitted.
  3. Films must include credits and an opening title.
  4. Films should run between a minimum of 2 minutes and a maximum of 10 minutes.

For some semblance of order to take place throughout the Student Film Fest, it was paramount that these regulations be implemented thoroughly.

As for the prizes, GCPL stated that only the winners of the Best Picture award in each category would win $250. Trophies and certificates will be awarded to other winners, and the GCPL’s Learning Labs team will provide access to library resources for young filmmakers.

Additional information can be found at the library’s website.

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