Marketing Monday

Wednesday Writer’s Spotlight: Tom Walsh

For the next few Wednesdays, I'll be featuring writers I like and how they hone their craft, use the internet, get writing ideas from life, and rake in the dough.

During a journalism career that has spanned 40 years, Tom Walsh has worked as a front-lines reporter for newspapers and magazines in Chicago, New York, Dallas, Washington D.C. and, most recently, rural Maine. As an educator, he has taught journalism to both undergraduate and graduate students at colleges and universities in the United States and in Ireland, where he earned a master’s degree in science communications from Dublin City University in 2002. He's won numerous awards (34 actually) including some for his Ellsworth American investigative report series "Hard Look".
 
A native of the Midwest, Tom Wash now lives on the Maine seacoast, where he pursues his interests in astronomy, photography, sailing, kayaking, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, cooking and fiction writing.

 
 
You've been a journalist, a freelance writer, and now a communications person at a nonprofit. If people are considering any of these three careers (and the differences between them), what are the perfect traits/experiences of the kind of person who can work happily in these jobs?
 
All three fields require the basic skills of a journalist, including an ability to write clearly, concisely and correctly. These “three Cs” are the gold standard by which your work will be judged in any of these fields.
 
Front-lines community journalism requires two very different skills, and the best reporters do both of them well. First, you need to know how and where to collect information, which may involve research, interviews with knowledgeable sources, or, more typically, both. The second involves knowing what to do with the information once you have it, which includes mastery of grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax (Can you name the parts of speech? Hint: there are eight.).

All three of these career fields also require you to work under deadlines, sometimes very short deadlines. The best reporters do their best work under time pressure. A freelancer won’t get another assignment if s/he fails to meet an editor’s deadline (I always submitted my freelance assignments weeks or months before they were due). A public information officer at a non-profit often has to work to meet a reporter’s deadline.

All three career paths require the ability to work on multiple projects simultaneously. What appeals to me most about the work I do is that no two days are alike. As a news reporter, there are days (and nights) when no two hours are alike, as events (a plane crash, a drowning, a school board meeting) often dictate what you write and when you write it.
 
We're talked before about freelancing not being a steady job. How were you able to ride the waves of varying income?
 
Freelancing is a tough gig until you’ve endeared yourself as a writer to a few clients with deep pockets and an endless supply of assignments. I would suggest that, in getting started, you work a “real” job part-time and freelance part-time. Or, work a “real” job full-time and freelance as you can find the time before or after work.

As you build a client base, you can jettison your “real” job and freelance full-time, which I did for about three years, mostly writing health and travel pieces for a number of different magazines that paid very well — $1,000/story. T

he key to getting assignments is having great story ideas and presenting those ideas in queries that reflect your enthusiasm for the topic and your understanding of the publication’s needs (Don’t suggest a feature on growing roses if that topic was covered in last month’s magazine). Queries are bait, and, if the editor bites, you need to agree to an editorial approach that meets his or her needs.

Once you get buy-in, get to work. Do not write one word without reaching this consensus and agreeing to a deadline and the amount of compensation you can expect. Ultimately, the key to getting subsequent assignments is writing great stories and delivering them on time. As for the income roller coaster, it can be a scary ride. One year I made $18,000. The next year I made $135,000, which included $31,000 for one major project that required 250 hours of research an writing.

If $125 an hour sounds like a lot, it’s not. The U.S. income tax system does not provide any incentives to be self-employed (as most freelancers are). In fact, it penalizes the self-employed. Your basic federal income tax rate goes up by 15 percent, as you, not an employer, are required to make quarterly Social Security payments. When prospective clients would balk at my hourly rate, I would explain that only half of that money winds up in my wallet. The other half is consumed by federal and state income taxes.
 
What's the craziest thing you've ever done to get a story right?
 
Not only was it crazy, it was illegal. I did a five-year stint as a bureau chief for a daily newspaper in a college town. The University of Iowa in Iowa City was deeply involved in space physics research and had been since the early 1950s. When the space shuttle Columbia was brand new, this team of UI scientists built a payload that would be flown into orbit by Columbia. 

I wrote quite a few stories about their work with NASA, and they invited me to tag along for the launch and the real-time data collection they would be doing at Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The paper agreed to foot the bill, and I flew to Houston the morning of the afternoon launch. I stashed my bags at a nearby hotel, grabbed a camera and my notebook and arrived at Mission Control within an hour of the scheduled launch.

I went up to the security desk and told the armed guard there that I was a reporter who needed to link up with the University of Iowa team. Not a chance, he said. Reporters are not allowed within Mission Control, he said, pointing on a map where the press center was located. I was pissed. I had just flown 1,000 miles to be with these Iowa scientists and report on their reactions to the launch and the performance of their instrument, and I couldn’t do that from a half-mile away. I also couldn’t call my editor and say “Guess what? I don’t have a story. They wouldn’t let me in.” With about 10 minutes until liftoff, I went into the men’s room, took off my dress shirt and went back to the same security area in a T-shirt, this time wearing sunglasses. “Hi,” I said to the same guard. “I’m with the University of Iowa team. Can you point me in their direction?” Amazingly, he did.

I arrived in their pod within two minutes of the launch. I had, in effect, snuck into one of the most sensitive government buildings in America under false pretenses. Wrote some great stories, too.
 
You've had quite a rich work experience. What life experience has most enriched your ability to write well? 
 
Two things, really. I suffer from a chronic mental illness that I call “terminal curiosity,” which is essential to being a journalist. Everything interests me (except math). And I’m a voracious reader of all things non-fiction. Over time, journalists and other writers become generalists; they know a little bit about a lot of things. The trick is knowing enough not to be dangerous, in terms of writing pieces that are shallow or, worse yet, down-right wrong.

The other experience involved a very solid grounding in two of the three R’s (I don’t do ‘rithmatic). I attended an elementary school that was language-centric. I spent years diagramming sentences and learning the endless nuances of the English language. Like golf or tennis or playing the piano (I do none of those things, by the way), writing is one of those skills that gets easier over time. The longer you do it, the better you get. As they say, there’s only one way to get to Carnegie Hall. Practice. Practice. Practice.
 
At one point in your career, you taught journalism in Dublin. Out of everywhere you could have gone, why did you choose Ireland? 
 
Ireland chose me, in effect. I was over there researching a historical novel in old dusty courthouses and library archives in Northern Ireland and stopped in Colraine to visit an old college friend who taught graphic design at a university there. He and I later took the train to Dublin, where he introduced me to a friend of his who, at the time, was the only PhD journalist in Ireland. He ran a journalism school at a new university, Dublin City University. We had a few pints at his local pub and compared career notes.

Before I left Dublin, he asked me if I would be interested in a teaching position. I had taught journalism at the University of Iowa some years earlier, as adjunct faculty, and really enjoyed teaching students how to write. It took a while to work out the logistics, but I taught at DCU for a semester, teaching  an introduction to journalistic writing course to freshmen and sophomores and a news writing course to graduate students. When the term was over, I was offered a tenured position on the faculty, but turned it down.

Dublin has its many charms, but it’s a city of more than 1 million souls. It’s crowded, noisy, polluted, expensive and hard to get around – all the things big cities can be. By then, I had lived and worked in Chicago, Dallas, New York and Washington, D.C. I had had my fill of cities. I subsequently spent two years earning a master’s degree in communications from DCU on a full-tuition scholarship – 30 years after receiving my bachelor’s degree.
 



I know you've been working on a historical novel for a while. Do you see it being published in the future?
 
No, but who knows? Stranger things have happened. I naively thought writing this book would be the hard part, not getting it into print. Wrong. Researching and writing it wound up being the fun part. Getting published proved to be the impossible part. There seems to be a Catch 22 in publishing: You can’t publish a novel unless you’ve published a novel.

I’ve learned that it’s very much a who-you-know network, even to hook up with a skilled literary agent, much less an enthused publishing house. I had an agent for a while, but he turned out to be an idiot. I haven’t given up, but the book’s been gathering dust now 12 years now. I’ll get back to it eventually. I’ve invested too much time and effort to just walk away from it.
 
Got any advice for the people out there who want to be writers but don't know how or where to start?
 
Get grounded in language. Read and re-read the writers whose work you admire. Take courses that require you to do a lot of writing, either in college or adult education. Ask the editor of your local newspaper (if you have one) if there’s anything you can do for him/her, and mention that the first one’s free.
 
Wednesday Writer Spotlight with Mark Laflamme…
Wednesday Writer Spotlight with Melanie Brooks…
Wednesday Writer Spotlight with Carrie Jones…
Wednesday Writer Spotlight with Rhea Cote-Robbins…

Wednesday Writer's Spotlight: Tom Walsh

For the next few Wednesdays, I'll be featuring writers I like and how they hone their craft, use the internet, get writing ideas from life, and rake in the dough.

During a journalism career that has spanned 40 years, Tom Walsh has worked as a front-lines reporter for newspapers and magazines in Chicago, New York, Dallas, Washington D.C. and, most recently, rural Maine. As an educator, he has taught journalism to both undergraduate and graduate students at colleges and universities in the United States and in Ireland, where he earned a master’s degree in science communications from Dublin City University in 2002. He's won numerous awards (34 actually) including some for his Ellsworth American investigative report series "Hard Look".
 
A native of the Midwest, Tom Wash now lives on the Maine seacoast, where he pursues his interests in astronomy, photography, sailing, kayaking, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, cooking and fiction writing.

 
 
You've been a journalist, a freelance writer, and now a communications person at a nonprofit. If people are considering any of these three careers (and the differences between them), what are the perfect traits/experiences of the kind of person who can work happily in these jobs?
 
All three fields require the basic skills of a journalist, including an ability to write clearly, concisely and correctly. These “three Cs” are the gold standard by which your work will be judged in any of these fields.
 
Front-lines community journalism requires two very different skills, and the best reporters do both of them well. First, you need to know how and where to collect information, which may involve research, interviews with knowledgeable sources, or, more typically, both. The second involves knowing what to do with the information once you have it, which includes mastery of grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax (Can you name the parts of speech? Hint: there are eight.).

All three of these career fields also require you to work under deadlines, sometimes very short deadlines. The best reporters do their best work under time pressure. A freelancer won’t get another assignment if s/he fails to meet an editor’s deadline (I always submitted my freelance assignments weeks or months before they were due). A public information officer at a non-profit often has to work to meet a reporter’s deadline.

All three career paths require the ability to work on multiple projects simultaneously. What appeals to me most about the work I do is that no two days are alike. As a news reporter, there are days (and nights) when no two hours are alike, as events (a plane crash, a drowning, a school board meeting) often dictate what you write and when you write it.
 
We're talked before about freelancing not being a steady job. How were you able to ride the waves of varying income?
 
Freelancing is a tough gig until you’ve endeared yourself as a writer to a few clients with deep pockets and an endless supply of assignments. I would suggest that, in getting started, you work a “real” job part-time and freelance part-time. Or, work a “real” job full-time and freelance as you can find the time before or after work.

As you build a client base, you can jettison your “real” job and freelance full-time, which I did for about three years, mostly writing health and travel pieces for a number of different magazines that paid very well — $1,000/story. T

he key to getting assignments is having great story ideas and presenting those ideas in queries that reflect your enthusiasm for the topic and your understanding of the publication’s needs (Don’t suggest a feature on growing roses if that topic was covered in last month’s magazine). Queries are bait, and, if the editor bites, you need to agree to an editorial approach that meets his or her needs.

Once you get buy-in, get to work. Do not write one word without reaching this consensus and agreeing to a deadline and the amount of compensation you can expect. Ultimately, the key to getting subsequent assignments is writing great stories and delivering them on time. As for the income roller coaster, it can be a scary ride. One year I made $18,000. The next year I made $135,000, which included $31,000 for one major project that required 250 hours of research an writing.

If $125 an hour sounds like a lot, it’s not. The U.S. income tax system does not provide any incentives to be self-employed (as most freelancers are). In fact, it penalizes the self-employed. Your basic federal income tax rate goes up by 15 percent, as you, not an employer, are required to make quarterly Social Security payments. When prospective clients would balk at my hourly rate, I would explain that only half of that money winds up in my wallet. The other half is consumed by federal and state income taxes.
 
What's the craziest thing you've ever done to get a story right?
 
Not only was it crazy, it was illegal. I did a five-year stint as a bureau chief for a daily newspaper in a college town. The University of Iowa in Iowa City was deeply involved in space physics research and had been since the early 1950s. When the space shuttle Columbia was brand new, this team of UI scientists built a payload that would be flown into orbit by Columbia. 

I wrote quite a few stories about their work with NASA, and they invited me to tag along for the launch and the real-time data collection they would be doing at Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The paper agreed to foot the bill, and I flew to Houston the morning of the afternoon launch. I stashed my bags at a nearby hotel, grabbed a camera and my notebook and arrived at Mission Control within an hour of the scheduled launch.

I went up to the security desk and told the armed guard there that I was a reporter who needed to link up with the University of Iowa team. Not a chance, he said. Reporters are not allowed within Mission Control, he said, pointing on a map where the press center was located. I was pissed. I had just flown 1,000 miles to be with these Iowa scientists and report on their reactions to the launch and the performance of their instrument, and I couldn’t do that from a half-mile away. I also couldn’t call my editor and say “Guess what? I don’t have a story. They wouldn’t let me in.” With about 10 minutes until liftoff, I went into the men’s room, took off my dress shirt and went back to the same security area in a T-shirt, this time wearing sunglasses. “Hi,” I said to the same guard. “I’m with the University of Iowa team. Can you point me in their direction?” Amazingly, he did.

I arrived in their pod within two minutes of the launch. I had, in effect, snuck into one of the most sensitive government buildings in America under false pretenses. Wrote some great stories, too.
 
You've had quite a rich work experience. What life experience has most enriched your ability to write well? 
 
Two things, really. I suffer from a chronic mental illness that I call “terminal curiosity,” which is essential to being a journalist. Everything interests me (except math). And I’m a voracious reader of all things non-fiction. Over time, journalists and other writers become generalists; they know a little bit about a lot of things. The trick is knowing enough not to be dangerous, in terms of writing pieces that are shallow or, worse yet, down-right wrong.

The other experience involved a very solid grounding in two of the three R’s (I don’t do ‘rithmatic). I attended an elementary school that was language-centric. I spent years diagramming sentences and learning the endless nuances of the English language. Like golf or tennis or playing the piano (I do none of those things, by the way), writing is one of those skills that gets easier over time. The longer you do it, the better you get. As they say, there’s only one way to get to Carnegie Hall. Practice. Practice. Practice.
 
At one point in your career, you taught journalism in Dublin. Out of everywhere you could have gone, why did you choose Ireland? 
 
Ireland chose me, in effect. I was over there researching a historical novel in old dusty courthouses and library archives in Northern Ireland and stopped in Colraine to visit an old college friend who taught graphic design at a university there. He and I later took the train to Dublin, where he introduced me to a friend of his who, at the time, was the only PhD journalist in Ireland. He ran a journalism school at a new university, Dublin City University. We had a few pints at his local pub and compared career notes.

Before I left Dublin, he asked me if I would be interested in a teaching position. I had taught journalism at the University of Iowa some years earlier, as adjunct faculty, and really enjoyed teaching students how to write. It took a while to work out the logistics, but I taught at DCU for a semester, teaching  an introduction to journalistic writing course to freshmen and sophomores and a news writing course to graduate students. When the term was over, I was offered a tenured position on the faculty, but turned it down.

Dublin has its many charms, but it’s a city of more than 1 million souls. It’s crowded, noisy, polluted, expensive and hard to get around – all the things big cities can be. By then, I had lived and worked in Chicago, Dallas, New York and Washington, D.C. I had had my fill of cities. I subsequently spent two years earning a master’s degree in communications from DCU on a full-tuition scholarship – 30 years after receiving my bachelor’s degree.
 
I know you've been working on a historical novel for a while. Do you see it being published in the future?
 
No, but who knows? Stranger things have happened. I naively thought writing this book would be the hard part, not getting it into print. Wrong. Researching and writing it wound up being the fun part. Getting published proved to be the impossible part. There seems to be a Catch 22 in publishing: You can’t publish a novel unless you’ve published a novel.

I’ve learned that it’s very much a who-you-know network, even to hook up with a skilled literary agent, much less an enthused publishing house. I had an agent for a while, but he turned out to be an idiot. I haven’t given up, but the book’s been gathering dust now 12 years now. I’ll get back to it eventually. I’ve invested too much time and effort to just walk away from it.
 
Got any advice for the people out there who want to be writers but don't know how or where to start?
 
Get grounded in language. Read and re-read the writers whose work you admire. Take courses that require you to do a lot of writing, either in college or adult education. Ask the editor of your local newspaper (if you have one) if there’s anything you can do for him/her, and mention that the first one’s free.
 
Wednesday Writer Spotlight with Mark Laflamme…
Wednesday Writer Spotlight with Melanie Brooks…
Wednesday Writer Spotlight with Carrie Jones…
Wednesday Writer Spotlight with Rhea Cote-Robbins…

Fashion Forward Friday: Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap

Every Friday, I tackle an affordable idea of fashion or style in a fun segment I call Fashion Forward Friday.

That's right, I'm about to blog about soap. But since personal care falls in the realm of being fashionable and stylish, I figure I'm allowed. Now let me preach to you…

Drbronners I bought some Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap initially to go on a camping trip (wash me and my dishes with one bottle? Yes please!). I ended up, of course, with a mostly full bottle when I got back so I stuck it in my shower.

This $5 has been working for me since August and I'd like to make multiple cases for this lovely product:

1) Certified fair trade an organic. That's always good because normally there's all kinds of crazy stuff in your cosmetics.

2) Multi-use. This product has 18 uses according to the bottle including pet wash, mouthwash, body cleanser, foot soak, dish detergent and dentures. (Yeah, I know, I finally write something for you denture wearers out there! About time I'm sure.)

3) Clean minty smell. If this doesn't wake you up in the morning, I don't know what will.



4) Good for boys and girls. You don't have to put up with her girly flowery stuff or his boy musky stuff. One bottle for everyone!

5) A little goes a long way. I've had my bottle since August and yes, I do take regular showers. A dab will do you in this case.

6) Fun writing on the bottle. Read Biblical verses while you're hanging out in the shower. You know, because why not?

So if you are looking for a natural cleaner that'll leave you smelling nice at a great price, may I recommend this little bottle of fantasticness. Want to know more? Check out Dr. Bronner's website.

Happy Friday! Did I mention you smell fantastic today?

Other Fashion Forward Friday posts:
Fondue Makes For Cheap And Easy Entertainment
Finding Workable Vintage

Fashion Forward Friday: Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap

Every Friday, I tackle an affordable idea of fashion or style in a fun segment I call Fashion Forward Friday.

That's right, I'm about to blog about soap. But since personal care falls in the realm of being fashionable and stylish, I figure I'm allowed. Now let me preach to you…

Drbronners I bought some Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap initially to go on a camping trip (wash me and my dishes with one bottle? Yes please!). I ended up, of course, with a mostly full bottle when I got back so I stuck it in my shower.

This $5 has been working for me since August and I'd like to make multiple cases for this lovely product:

1) Certified fair trade an organic. That's always good because normally there's all kinds of crazy stuff in your cosmetics.

2) Multi-use. This product has 18 uses according to the bottle including pet wash, mouthwash, body cleanser, foot soak, dish detergent and dentures. (Yeah, I know, I finally write something for you denture wearers out there! About time I'm sure.)

3) Clean minty smell. If this doesn't wake you up in the morning, I don't know what will.

4) Good for boys and girls. You don't have to put up with her girly flowery stuff or his boy musky stuff. One bottle for everyone!

5) A little goes a long way. I've had my bottle since August and yes, I do take regular showers. A dab will do you in this case.

6) Fun writing on the bottle. Read Biblical verses while you're hanging out in the shower. You know, because why not?

So if you are looking for a natural cleaner that'll leave you smelling nice at a great price, may I recommend this little bottle of fantasticness. Want to know more? Check out Dr. Bronner's website.

Happy Friday! Did I mention you smell fantastic today?

Other Fashion Forward Friday posts:
Fondue Makes For Cheap And Easy Entertainment
Finding Workable Vintage

Wednesday Writer Spotlight: Carrie Jones

For the next few Wednesdays, I'll be featuring writers I like and how they hone their craft, use the internet, get writing ideas from life, and rake in the dough.

Girlhero Carrie Jones is an adolescent novelist based in Ellsworth Maine. She grew up in Bedford New Hampshire and was a political science major at Bates College (where I also attended). She graduated from Vermont College’s MFA program for writing. She has edited newspapers and poetry journals and has recently won awards from the Maine Press Association and also been awarded the Martin Dibner Fellowship as well as a Maine Literary Award.

Her first book, Tips on Having A Gay (ex)Boyfriend came out out in 2007. Her second novel Love and Other Uses For Duct Tape appeared 2008 along with Girl, Hero. Her latest book is Need. In addition to writing books, she's also a blogger.

Tips_on_having You write adolescent fiction, which seems to me like the toughest audience out there. How do you channel your inner 13 year old?

I talk about hot guys a lot and giggle at any jokes that have to do with bodily functions.
No. Seriously? My inner 13-year-old is really close to the surface. I'm one of those horrible people whose emotions are right there on the surface and I still believe in so many things that teens believe in. I think we all go through those adolescent struggles to find ourselves, our identity, our place in the world. It's easy to tap into that energy when you don't suppress it. I'm not good at suppressing things so it's an easy shift for me.

Plus, you know, adolescents are just people… no more, no less. I think a lot of adults forget that kids have emotions and needs and struggles and joys and ideas and wants just like we do. We need to acknowledge and rejoice in that.

When that doesn't work, I watch MTV and PROJECT RUNWAY.



Could you describe the process of getting your first book published? I've always wondered whether the manuscript comes first or the publisher…

For most people the manuscript comes first. There are some people like my friend Micol Ostow who started off as an editor in New York and she only works for hire. She never writes anything on spec.

I was in my first year at Vermont College of Fine Arts getting a Master's Degree in Writing when I wrote my first book, TIPS ON HAVING A GAY (Ex) BOYFRIEND. I hadn't shown it to any professors because I was working on other things. I sent it in on a total lark. I hadn't even revised it. A week later this happened:

Sweet Editor Man called me within a week of me mailing the manuscript. Seriously. It was wild.
The 30th, 2006

Okay. Here’s the big question of the day: Why am I so stupid?

Need I will work on the self esteem exercises tomorrow… but today! Today! Today I am allowed to realize the full extent of my idiotness.

Here’s why.

I get a phone call from a real live editor who says, “Um, is this C.C. Jones?”

“Yes,” I say while pouring out cat food.

He then proceeds to tell me he got my query, wants to see more of my manuscript, but his email requesting it bounced back.

“Really?” I say. “That’s weird.”

“Let me tell you the address,” he says. “cjonese at…”

“Oh,” I say. “Oh. Oh. Oh.”

“What?” he says.

“There’s no e on the end of Jones.”

“I didn’t think so,” he says.

I then apologize and berate myself for not even being able to spell my own last name! What an idiot.
 
He gives me an email address. I send him the rest of the manuscript.

Yeah, that baby’s going somewhere. Not.

Although, he was kind and he did say, “It’s the manuscript I care about, not your inability to spell your own name.”

What a nice man. Even when he rejects the manuscript. He’s still a darn nice guy.

So, despite the fact that I can’t spell, the nice editor man called me back a few days later and talked to me for 40 minutes and told me all the good stuff about my book and what he thinks could get better. It was like talking to a Vermont College mentor. It was really cool. He was brilliant and really, really nice.

And he’s starting the book through the acquisitions process at his imprint, which is really cool… But, I’m not getting my hopes up about it, until papers are signed.

Still, he had the best insight on the piece and I am so excited about working on it. So, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to go work on it. He only wants another 10,000 words. Geesh. Piece of cake. Ha.

A few days later, sweet editor man sent me an email, which I can not quote verbatim, because it’s somehow infringing on copyright. HOWEVER, he said that he wanted to let me know what’s going on, that the piece is heading to the acquisitions committee on Thursday and he’ll call me when they’re done.

On a positive note, I wrote 15,000 more words on it this week and I’m really happy with it. It’s done the Sarah A. rubbing thing, where the characters work off each other. I’ve put more setting in, which is good because I’m weak with setting. I’ve also changed the ending and added a couple of conflict scenes.

Days later, Sweet Editor man called and he continues to be Sweet Editor Man.
He talked to the acquisitions committee today and wanted to call me about it before he battled the snowstorm and drove home. He said they were all “very enthusiastic about it.” They liked the writing, especially the details and he said even the people who don’t like YA were hooked.
YIPPPEEEE!!!!

So, he’s calling me in the morning to give me contract details, etc… which is great except I know absolutely nothing about contracts because I never thought I’d get offered one. Oh, the stupidity of me continues….

A few days after this conversation, the JOHN WAYNE LETTERS (This became GIRL, HERO)- passed an acquisitions committee and is now officially wanted with an offer on the table. (Also Tips On Having a Gay (ex)Boyfriend also gets accepted.)

To what extent do you draw inspiration from your real life to create fictional characters and situations? Your daughter Emily (who is in middle school) must be really helpful in this whether she means to be or not.

Real life inspires me a lot. In all my books there are Ellsworth and Trenton landmarks and some familiar faces. TIPS was inspired by a hate crime I had heard about. Friends from high school can see some of their traits in characters in my books.

Em is really helpful when it comes to the language and issues that local teens are facing. Plus, she's a TOUGH critic. Seriously, that girl is mean. She's been known to rip books in half before. NOT MINE! I swear!

Writing full time must be a solitary profession. How do you get in those valuable social interactions?

I don't! I am terribly TERRIBLY lonely. I actually miss being a reporter and newspaper editor because it would get me out and about and learning new things.  I miss that constant interaction with people.
It's a really different lifestyle than sitting at a table with my laptop and my imaginary characters.

So, what do I do? I blog. I talk to other writers. I go out with friends for lunch. I try to be involved in things.

What is the craziest thing you've ever had to do to get a story right? (To give you an idea, my friend Mel joined a superconservative church for a year).

I don't know if any of these count as crazy, but here goes:
1. Get an MFA degree
2. Ride around with police officers in their squad cars (This is way too much fun)
3. Go white water rafting (This is also way too much fun)
4. I hope to hike the AT someday for a story, but… yeah… the family keeps vetoing that one.
5. Gone to a karaoke bar. This is crazy if you know me. I mean… it is seriously crazy. I tend to hunker down into a little ball whenever I go into a bar.

If someone were thinking about writing adolescent fiction for a living, what advice would you give them? (Maybe something you wish someone had told you going in)

I hate giving advice because everyone is different, especially when it comes to the craft of writing.

So instead of saying WRITE EVERY DAY or WRITE LIKE YOUR FINGERS ARE ON FIRE or USE ADVERBS SPARINGLY I'm going to say this: Respect your readers. Kids know when you're going all preachy. They know when you are just shoveling horse poop at them. They know when your heart isn't into your story. Give them the best story you can possibly give them because they deserve it. Kids deserve good stories.

You've recently finished a really tight race for political office which took a lot of your time. What's your next big project?

Um. Trying to forget that I ran for political office???

No, just kidding.

I'm trying to figure out some ways to bring some more opportunities to kids in the Ellsworth area – things that aren't sports related.

In the whole writing world, I'm working on a sequel to NEED, my book that just came out. I'm also working on a contemporary young adult novel about drinking, and a nonfiction picture book about Emma Edmonds, a woman who posed as a man during the Civil War and became as spy. Oh! I'm also collaborating with an author on a young adult novel that's about possession. Possession creeps me out more than anything else — the whole concept of losing yourself to something evil and having no control… Yeah. Sorry, I'm already shuddering.

Wednesday Writer Spotlight with Mark Laflamme…
Wednesday Writer Spotlight with Melanie Brooks…

Wednesday Writer Spotlight: Melanie Brooks

For the next few Wednesdays, I'll be featuring writers I like and how they hone their craft, use the internet, get writing ideas from life, and rake in the dough.

Currently an editor at Bangor Metro magazine, Melanie Brooks has worked at newspapers, magazines, and as a freelancer in New York, Boston, and Baltimore…and those are the ones I know about. In addition to her job at Metro, she's also a writer and professor of journalism at the University of Maine. Her blog What Mimi Read, is a fun commentary on media and pop culture. As a fellow blogger and writer (and friend), I asked her a few questions about her craft and, of course, money.

You've worked for newspapers and magazines and websites (and probably in other venues I don't even know about). How is the culture similar and different in these different types of publications? Which is your favorite environment to work in?
I attended NYU for the graduate program in magazine writing. I have never had any interest in writing for a daily newspaper. I did work for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J. while finishing my degree, and that only solidified my dislike for daily newspaper reporting. I'm a feature writing kind of gal.
I did enjoy working for Inc. magazine's website, where I wrote daily news on small business and entrepreneurship.
 
Mel At Inc. I worked on a very small team (there was only one other full time writer and we shared an editor) and we got to do more than just write. I created slideshows to go along with my stories and was on the pioneering team for the 30-Under-30 and Best Lemonade Stand competitions, which are now annual events.
 
At the Star-Ledger I had to share a computer and desk with a surly night copy writer and never had any professional interaction with my co-workers. It was very solitary.
Now I am the assistant editor for Bangor Metro magazine and I couldn't be happier. I work in a small creative team and get to put all of my skills to use. Not only to I manage and edit the work of freelancers, I also get to write feature stories, take photographs, work on the layout, and help decide our editorial calendar. I'm hoping to get a blogging feature up on our website this year so that we can write about current local events in a timely manner.

In addition to working for Bangor Metro you are also a professor of journalism. How does that break down, both in terms of time they take and percentage of income they generate for you?
 
I love teaching on the college level and I am so glad that I get the opportunity to do so. I'm lucky to work for a small company where the owner also teaches at UMaine. As long as I am making my deadline I'm ok to take a couple of hours off to teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays. While technically I have a 9-5 job, it's not uncommon for me to work late or to even come in on the weekend to work on the magazine. This is usually the case during the last week of production before we go to print.
While I love working with college students, the extra money teaching affords me  is another big factor in why I do it. I use the extra money I make wisely — paying off my car loan and putting some away in my savings.
Because I have taught this class before, both at UMaine and at the New England School of Communications, the time it takes me to prepare for class isn't overwhelming. I basically use the same syllabus and tweak out my class plans before each class. The first year was hard because I had to make a syllabus from scratch — now I just try to perfect it.



Do you think your teaching helps your writing? 

Not necessarily my writing but teaching definitely helps my editing. Each week I have at least 20 student articles to read! It also helps me with my public speaking and presentation skills.

What is the craziest experience you've had to get the story right? To give you an idea, Mark Laflamme from last week spent a lot of time in funeral parlors for his last book.
 
I was writing a very long (5,000 word) piece for my Journalism and Religion class at NYU. We had all semester to work on it. I actually joined a church in Newark, NJ and wrote about the parishioners. It was a historic church, and the parishioners were all in their 80s and there were only about 10 of them, so I stuck out like a sore thumb. But I went every week and became  part of the community. They even asked me to read scripture a few times and invited me to their monthly ladies luncheons. At the end of the semester, when I had decided to move back to Maine, it was hard saying goodbye. They were lovely people and I think about them every so often.
 
Does your work as an editor blend in with your writing, or do you work to keep the two jobs seperate?
 
Since I edit for the magazine, I know what we look for in a story. It helps me with my writing. That's not to say that I don't have someone else edit my stories — because I do. Everyone needs an editor in my opinion. Many times when I have been working on a story for a while I become so close to it — it becomes hard for me to step back and critique my own writing. I always have someone else read it over to make sure it makes sense.

If someone reading this is thinking of doing freelance writing, what's something you learned that may help them make a go of it?
 
Do your research and start small. If you don't already have published clips consider writing for free at first. That's how I started in Boston. I found my first freelance writing gigs on Craigslist and the only compensation I got was seeing my name in print. It wasn't my full time job and I did it for fun — and it WAS fun! That's how I decided to go to grad school.
Know  your subject and be familiar with the publication you would like to write for. Write a good query letter to the editor telling him or her why your story idea would be a good fit for their publication. I can't tell you how many times we get freelancers pitching us ideas that we would never publish in a million years. That not only wastes my time but it wastes the writers time as well.
You can read Mel's blog and follow her at Bangor Metro.
 
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