Saturday, February 28, 2009
A JURY OF MY PEERS
I won another NC Press Association award last week. This was for Investigative Reporting. The story (as you can see from the photo) was about the drought.
I'm not the kind of person that cares much for awards. Mostly they feel like popularity contests that the same basic people win year after year. It's a lot like being picked first for softball when you were kid. You always knew who'd be standing there looking stupid after all the popular people were chosen to play.
People I've interviewed in the past 3 1/2 years of my journalistic career always say the same things when I ask them about winning an award. "It was humbling to be chosen." "It was an honor to be chosen by my peers for this." "I never really expected it." When I interview them, I always wonder of they were chosen first for softball too.
So winning three press awards in 2007 and another one this year makes me feel uncomfortable. I KNOW I'm not one of those first softball choices yet here I am holding these awards. Hmmm . . . wonder what a shrink would make of that???
It's kind of exciting to win, at first, like many things, but then it all comes down to the day-to-day stuff again. The woman who called me last week about people dumping trash in her yard and the farmer who wants me to interview him don't really care about my award. They have a story to tell and can't tell it by themselves. They need me to tell it for them.
In the end, it all comes down to telling the story for me, whether it's with my books or the articles I write for magazines and the newspaper. As long as I can tell the story (and make a little money!), I'm happy. The popularity, the awards, can all belong to someone else if they will let me keep telling those stories.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Our guest blogger is Mark Phillips who wrote
The Resqueth Revolution
What makes writing worthwhile for you?
By training I am a philosopher. I am convinced that the Great Philosophical Debate is now taking place in fiction rather than formal philosophy. I learned as much genuine philosophy from reading Heinlein’s works as from my classes in college. Even in genre fiction, philosophical world views, aesthetic arguments, ethical dilemmas, and political debates collide in fascinating ways, made pragmatic, meaningful, and personal by the profound magic of narrative structure. I’m addicted to reading and analyzing fiction for these insights. But I’m also incapable of sitting silent while the most important issues of the day are debated—I have to get my two cents in. Philosophical discourse is more fun when you actively participate.
Are you an early writer (wrote as a child) or a late bloomer (didn't start until an adult)?
I still have all the various attempts at fiction that I wrote as a child. I didn’t attempt to get published until high school and still have some very nice rejection letters from that period. In college I minored in film and thought that my future lay in filmmaking. But I’ve always wanted to be a creator of fiction.
Are you a plotter or a character writer?
I try to do both well. They are different sides of the same coin. Getting my characters to react to situations and influence events with meaningful, realistic, and philosophically interesting motivations requires a great plot that forces the protagonists into the kind of inescapable moral dilemmas that advance the Great Debate. On a more prosaic level, when I write in the detective and science fiction genres, I spend a lot of extra time on plot—if the plot doesn’t logically hang together, no one will read long enough for the philosophy to come across.
Do you write every day?
My day job is as a high school teacher. I teach precalculus and political philosophy. I try to write every day, but my most sustained creative writing occurs on weekends, holidays, and, of course, summer vacation. During the school year I’m more effective at research and editing. For The Resqueth Revolution, I spent nearly six months researching. When summer vacation started, I wrote the entire first draft straight out in about six weeks of marathon, twelve-fourteen hours days, seven days a week.
Have you ever had writer's block?
I’ve definitely been afflicted by writer’s block, but I rarely beat myself up over it. I have a great deal of faith in my subconscious writer, my muse, my daemon, whatever you want to call it. I research, ponder, and when I sit down to write and nothing good comes out, I figure that my subconscious writer isn’t done processing the problem. I go read, watch movies, take a nap. When I’m ready to, the prose comes out in unstoppable torrents of words that are just right (in terms of content, certainly not in terms of spelling, grammar, or style). The goal of schedulable creativity is a perverted ideal of our over-mechanized, over-commercialized world. Writers are not factory workers. I can schedule editing and research, but writing follows its own dictates. What I would like to do is keep several works going at the same time, so that if I’m in down time with one I may be more successful with another. But that would cut into my reading, movie watching, and nap time, so maybe not.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Run for Mayor? I think not!
It seems hard to believe that some people where I live think I would make a good mayor. I don't know if it's because I work for the newspaper or if they just don't know me. I'm a far left leaning anarchist who could never agree with all the compromises and crap that mayors put up with. Not to mention that the mayor of my town doesn't even have a vote! That's SO not going to happen!
I suppose I appreciate all the people who have offered to finance my campaign (you know who you are). My editor, (SH) tells me that those people mean well. They think they can trust me to do what's right for the town. I don't know. Most of the mayors I know are a little shifty, to say the least, and some are downright irritating. What does that say about me that they think I would make a good mayor? (Sorry, SH!)
Anyway, I prefer to write about mayors in fiction and non-fiction. I understand that and I can handle it. I thought people were joking when they first started asking but now I see that there could be a write-in campaign. I just want to say that I would not welcome that, nor would I serve if elected.
Now now anyway. Maybe someday! ;-))
Thursday, February 19, 2009
How do we know? We know because writers write, they don’t talk about it happening in the future. Their future is now. Writers don’t wait until they have all the free time in the world. They don’t wait until everything is perfect around the house. They don’t keep putting off sitting down at the computer or typewriter or even with a pen and paper. It takes writing to be a writer and people who do this are the writers.
They’re writers because they want to write. They need to write. They have to write. Therefore they will make time to write. They get up an hour early and write. The stay up an hour late and write. They block out time on the weekend to write. They write on their lunch hour. They write when they have a few minutes anytime they get the chance.
Don’t get me wrong. There may be detours along the way in a writing career. You may get sick. A loved one may die. A job may be lost. A marriage may fail. Or a million other things can happen. If you’re a writer, you’ll continue to write through these detours.
Oh, it won’t be easy. Nobody ever said it would be. But what in life worth having is easy?
Is it worth all the sacrifice, the work, the effort and the pain? Oh, yes! If you’re a writer, when you hold your first book in your hand or see your first article or story in print and your name is displayed on this work it is worth everything you went through to create it.
So if you want to be a writer, the only thing you have to do is write - and keep writing.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
The Carolina Conspiracy Guest Blogger for today is author Jacqueline Seewald.
Tell us about yourself.
I took an early retirement so that I could write fulltime. I taught creative writing, expository writing and technical writing at Rutgers University.
I've also worked as an academic librarian, an educational media specialist, and a high school English teacher. I have two graduate degrees. I have two sons and a terrific husband who is very supportive.
Tell us about what you're working on now.
I've just completed several new novels that I've submitted for consideration. One is another romantic suspense mystery thriller entitled DEATH LEGACY. It's a novel of international intrigue and espionage, romantic and sexy with a strong mystery plot.
What are your work habits? I get up around six a.m. every morning and start to write while it's still dark and quiet. I'm very focused. I try to get out and do other things every afternoon.
Tell us a funny story about being an author.
I suppose what I find amusing is when people ask me how my "hobby" is going. I don't bother to tell them that writing isn't my "hobby," it's my life's work. I do put my heart and soul into my work. I write and rewrite until the work is as perfect as I can make it.
I'm excited about THE DROWNING POOL coming out and hope to reach a great many readers. I'd ask you all to look for the novel, check it out on Amazon. Two excellent brand new reviews just came out from Midwest Book Review and Crimespree Magazine.
In these hard economic times, I'm suggesting that readers request that their libraries order THE DROWNING POOL so they can read it without laying out for the cost of a hardcover book. And I'd love feedback!
The Drowning Pool Author: Jacqueline Seewald
ISBN 13: 9781594147555
ISBN 10: 1594147558
Product number: 243771
Published/Released: February 2009
Monday, February 16, 2009
A woman at an event last week asked, "Do you Twitter?"
I know what she meant but I was surprised she was asking. This wasn't a 20-something author but rather a middle-aged author.
When I confessed that I had never Twittered, she laughed. "You know,dear, you can't market effectively unless you Twitter."
I don't know. I have a Face Book page. I blog when I can. I send out tons of press releases, read and write on various lists of mystery writers. What would make Twitter so much better?
Of course, no one really knows. I guess it's the idea of doing whatever you can. Shortly after the woman had gone back to her table to sell books, another woman came by and asked if I had a trailer for my new book.
"You know, dear, you can't market effectively unless you have a trailer."
One thing I DO know and that is you can't market effectively if you don't have a book to market. All the Twittering, trailers and everything else is only as effective as your next book. You can lose yourself in doing all the things there are to do that ornament your book. I know writers who have had to give back advances because they forgot they had to write too!
Of course, sales are important. It's always tough to say when you should write and when you should market. Sometimes, I feel like you have to do both all the time, kind of like juggling.
I guess I'll go find out how to Twitter.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
The only nice thing I can think of about the economic mess we find ourselves in is that people have rediscovered their local libraries. As they have, they've likely found that their branches have changed with the times...in a good way.
Some of my earliest memories involve going to the branch in Anderson, SC, to the children's section there. We'd walk in past a huge grandfather clock, turn a corner, and then I suddenly had a tremendous number of books at my disposal. The library was there for me as I graduated from Encyclopedia Brown to Nancy Drew, and on to Agatha Christie.
Even back in the 1970s, the children's programs were good (film festivals in the summer, summer reading programs that promised treats with the return of a full reading log.) The program offerings now are close to phenomenal. I've taken my babies to Mother Goose story times where we sat in circles and watched a puppet hand us a nametag and sing songs and read nursery stories. As the children grew older, they've had story times that integrated themed crafts and stories. My second grade daughter now goes to an American Girl book club that offers her a snack, craft, and discussion on girls in different historical periods. My son, as late as 5th grade, participated in a book club at the library that discussed a book each month (and introduced him to books outside the fantasy genre he usually reads.)
Have you cut your "extras" to the bare bones to save money? You can find many of the things you had to eliminate from your budget at your library branch. Many libraries offer Wi-Fi access for online research. You can check out CDs ranging from classical to pop and jazz. There are DVDs to lure you in, too. You usually can't keep them checked out as long as Blockbuster, but unlike Blockbuster, the movies are free. If you've cut back on your magazine subscriptions to save money, you can find them all at the library--children's as well as adults.
Libraries are good for authors, too. They invite us to speak there, offer reference books that would be expensive for us to purchase, buy our books for their shelves, and provide us a place to write where laundry and unvacuumed floor aren't calling us away from our manuscripts. You can't beat that.
Mysterious Matters delves into the controversial topic: World's Best Mystery Novelist
BookEnds Literary Agency on synopses.
The Blood Red Pencil discusses internal monologue.
A Newbie's Guide to Publishing talks about convention etiquette.
Mystery Fanfare has a list of Valentine mysteries.
Monday, February 9, 2009
1. Q: Can you tell us about your book?
The book was a great fit for me because I'd been teaching "Breaking Into Freelance Writing" for about eight years. In the workshop, I covered a lot of what is in this book: writing query letters to get articles in magazines, to land an agent, or to get a book deal with a publisher. Since I'm a full-time freelance magazine writer and editor with two previous books, this was incredibly fun to write because it didn't require tons of research. I was lucky enough to receive lots of great sample query letters from writers and authors that I use as "good" examples in the book. I wrote all the "bad" examples myself because I didn't dare ask for contributions that I knew I'd be ripping apart!
In addition to the ins and outs of what makes a good query, the book covers things like why (or why not) to get an agent, where to find one and how to choose one; writing a synopsis or proposal; selling different rights to your work; other forms of correspondence; and what editors and agents look for in new writers.
It was really important to me that the book not be a dry, boring reference book, but rather an entertaining read (while still being chock full of information). I was thrilled that Writer's Digest let me keep all the humor.
2. Q: Why are query letters so important?
Breaking into the publishing world is hard enough right now. Unless you have a serious "in" of some kind, you really need a great query letter to impress an agent or acquisitions editor. Essentially, your query letter is your first impression. If they like your idea (and voice and writing style and background), they'll either request a proposal, sample chapters, or the entire manuscript. If they don't like your query letter, you've got to pitch it to another agency/publisher. Unlike a manuscript, which can be edited or reworked if an editor thinks it has promise, you only get one shot with your query. Make it count!
I see a lot of authors who spend months (or years) finishing their book, only to rush through the process of crafting a good, solid query letter. What a waste! If agents/editors turn you down based on a bad query letter, you've blown your chance of getting them to read your manuscript. It could be the next bestseller, but they'll never see it. My advice is to put as much effort into your query as you did your book. If it's not fabulous, don't send it until it is.
3. Q: You're also a magazine editor. What is your biggest gripe regarding queries?
Queries that show that the writer obviously hasn't read our publication. I'll admit that I did this when I was a new writer too – submitted blindly to any publication whose name sounded even remotely related to my topic. One of the examples I use was when I submitted a parenting article to a magazine for senior citizens. Oops! A well-written query pitching an article that's not a match for the magazine isn't going to get you any further than a poorly written query.
4. Q: There's an entire chapter in the book about agents. Do you think all new writers should get agents?
Probably 99% of new writers should get an agent. There are lots of reasons, but my top three are: 1) Many of the larger publishing houses won't even look at unagented submissions now; 2) Agents can negotiate better rights and more money on your behalf; 3) Agents know the industry trends, changes and staff better than you ever could.
5. Q: You've been a mentor, coach or editor for many writers. What do you think is the most common reason that good writers don't get published?
Poor marketing skills. I see so many writers that are either too afraid, too uniformed, or frankly, too lazy, to market their work. They think their job is done when the write "the end" but writing is only half of the process. I've always told people who took my class that there are tons of great writers in the world who will never get published. I'd rather be a good writer who eats lobster than a great writer who eats hot dogs. I make a living as a writer because I spend as much time marketing as I do writing.
6. Q: What are some of the biggest misconceptions that writers have about getting a book deal?
That they'll be rich overnight, that they don't need to promote their book once it's published, that publishing houses will send them on world book tours, that people will recognize them at the airport. Still, you can make great money as an author if you're prepared to put in the effort. If it wasn't possible, there wouldn't be so many full-time writers.
7. Q: What must-read books do you recommend to new writers?
Christina Katz (author of "Writer Mama") has a new book out called "Get Known Before the Book Deal" - which is fabulous. Also, Stephen King's "On Writing" and David Morrel's "Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing." Anything by Anne Lamott or my Dad, Steve Burt.
8. Q: What's the biggest lesson you've learned as a full-time writer?
Seize every opportunity - especially when you first start writing. I remember telling someone about a really high-paying writing gig I got and he said, "Wow. You have the best luck!" I thought, "Luck has nothing to do with it! I've worked hard to get where I am." Later that week I read this great quote: "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity." It's absolutely true. And writing queries is only about luck in this sense. If you're prepared with a good query and/or manuscript, when the opportunity comes along you'll be successful.
9. What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Writing the "bad" query letters. I've read – and written! – so many horrible ones over the years that it was a little too easy to craft them. But misery loves company and we ALL love to read really bad query letters, right?
10. Q: What do you want readers to learn from your book?
I want them to understand that while writing a good query letter is important, it doesn't have to be overwhelming. You can break it down into parts, learn from any first-round rejections, and read other good queries to help understand what works. I also want them to remember that writing is fun. Sometimes new writers get so caught up in the procedures that they lose their original voice in a query. Don't bury your style under formalities and to-the-letter formatting.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
I uh-hooked my computer on January 9 and moved from Kernersville to High Point on January 10. I'd called Time-Warner to transfer my account. I thought it would be a simple thing. WRONG!
It was 1/17 when they finally came out and hooked up my basic cable, my telephone and NOTHING ELSE. I was told they would have to come and dig in a cable to put cable into my office for my computer. They promised I'd have it in a couple of days. WRONG!
A week went by and I decided I'd call them and ask what the hold up was only to find out I wasn't on the schedule. I kept my cool and made an appoint for two days later. When they arrived I was all excited. I'd told several people I'd have my computer back in two days. WRONG!
They did come out again, but they told me the city wouldn't let them put in a cable because of having to go under sidewalks and such. They told me to call the company and check on wireless and left without doing anything. I thought they'd at least go ahead and put in the wireless for me. WRONG!
I called again (I'll have to give them this much. They gave me a number which would go directly to a person and skip all that push this and that number.) and ordered the wireless thinking they'd send the people right out. WRONG!
Almost another week went by and they finally arrive. It took almost half a day, but they finally got me hooked up. I almost fell over when I learned I had 1,461 emails in my box. (I'm still trying to sort them out.) I've missed reading posts, missed emails, missed everything that a writer uses a computer for. But at last I'm all hooked up and ready to go with my wireless.
Talk about the dark ages, for almost a month I felt I was there. At least now I can get back to some sort of normal existence. WRONG! I still have rooms full of boxes which have to be opened and I have an idea for a new book swirling in my head. I have to make some plans for promoting and I do need to sleep now and then. I don't know which of these to takle first. I guess there are sections of a writer's life which will never be normal.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Can is, of course, the operative word. It’s possible to spend drop a ton of money buying books, taking classes, attending conferences (see Joyce’s previous post on writing-related courses and conference costs), and purchasing expensive software.
But it really all comes down to you and a piece of paper.
Cheap paper. Spiral notebooks and post-it notes. Dollar store stuff. Several pencils and a couple of decent pens.
You don't need an expensive gym or club membership to write. You don't have to rent an office or storefront to write. You can write anywhere. You can write when you’re stuck in a long line at the DMV. You can write in the doctor’s office waiting room. You can write in the car (especially if someone else is driving!) You can write when you’re waiting on a friend. You can write when you’re dining alone. You can write whenever you have a few extra minutes.
It’s cheap. It’s portable. It exercises your brain in ways that few things can.
And writing can be squeezed into a jam-packed day.
Have five minutes? Make a list of the top things you want to accomplish in the chapter you’re writing.
Have ten minutes? Do a little background sketch on a secondary character you don’t know very well.
Twenty minutes? You can write half a page. Or a page. Or edit a page you’ve already written.
The only thing is---there’s really no excuse not to do it. It can be squeezed in. It’s not something you have to cut back on because of the horrible economy. It can be done. And, if it’s really important to you, do it—the pleasure it can bring to you (and others who read something well-written) is one of life’s greatest rewards.