Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fathers and Essays

Ok, I'm going to shake the week up even more with a Tuesday call for submissions instead of my own ramblings:

Seeking Stories about Fathers and Fatherhood (Comp: $100-$200/story, although writers can suggest another payment amount) (boston) : 2007-05-30, 4:54PM EDT The story site Common Ties has been publishing personal stories on a wide range of topics since October. Among its themes, Common Ties is seeking stories about fatherhood. Stories are due by June 12th and writers will be notified on June 14th if their stories have been selected for publication for the week starting Father's Day June 17th. TV has portrayed fathers as people we can admire (Ward Cleaver, Reverend Eric Camden, Cliff Huxtable, Steve Douglas / My Three Sons, Jim Anderson / Father Knows Best ), as well as men who have issues they need to work out (Homer Simpson, Archie Bunker, Tony Soprano, Al Bundy, Ozzy Osbourne, Peter Griffin). There are even TV dads who, depending upon the episode, have both positive and negative qualities (Raymond Barone, Sandy Cohen / The O.C., George Lopez). Whichever kind of father you had/have or are, you probably have a few great personal stories that exemplify the best and worst of fatherhood. Stories can be about yourself or a father you know well and can be written using your real name or a pen name. You can also write about someone who has been a father figure to you. The stories can be serious or humorous or both. Typical payment per story is between $100 and $200 although writers can suggest another payment amount. We now prefer stories between 750 and 1,500 words. For more information check out the about page and the submission guidelines. We review both new stories and reprints. We will be running turning point stories beginning Monday June 4th. Future themes (and due dates) include: moral dilemmas (June 19) weddings (June 26) honeymoons (July 3) suicide (July 10) break-ups (professional or personal) (July 17) the Holocaust (July 24) We are always looking for new stories on the following themes. We respond to stories on these subjects within four weeks. Click through to browse and comment on our stories: addiction, adolescence, autism, bipolar, cancer, camp, chance encounters, confessions, crime, dating, dementia, depression, family secrets, gay and lesbian, the Holocaust, humor, lucky breaks, marriage, mental disorders, mothers, pets, religion, schizophrenia, sex abuse, teaching, travel, quirks, war.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

This Writer is a Renegade

Diana Burrell, co-author of "The Renegade Writer" and "Query Letters That Rock" is a renegade when it comes to what she loves about the freelance writing life:

"For me, it's all about the control. Working on projects I think are interesting and valuable,versus having to be a "team player" on a project that's clearly a waste of time. Getting more choice about the people I work with. Feeling like I'm creating something worthwhile. Knowing there's a whole host of things I can do to boost income versus hoping for the 3 percent annual increase and a free turkey on T-day."

Diana is a Boston-based freelance writer and author who blogs at

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

On Writing Humor

Today, I interview Judy Gruen, humor columnist and author of the new and very funny "The Women's Daily Irony Supplement." She talks about her secrets to writing humor and lets us know that real humorists never lose their funny side.

Tell us about yourself.
Wow, that's an open-ended question if ever there was one! I'm the mother of four great kids, now ages 13, 15, 17 and 18, and have been married to their equally wonderful father for nearly 20 years. I grew up in the LA area and haven't strayed much other than school in Berkeley and Evanston, Illinois, where I got my master's degree in journalism. My values are quite old-fashioned, but I still think my humor feels very current and worldly, at least that's how I try to make it. I'm also Jewish, and much of my life and values revolve around that spiritual guidepost.

Tell us about your book.
So glad you asked! I've been writing my "Off My Noodle" column for five years now, and it's sent to email subscribers around the world. About a year ago, I compiled the "best of" those columns into a book. This is always a dicey proposition, as the conventional wisdom is that essay collections don't sell, unless you are Nora Ephron or some other very big name. But I felt many of these columns were true "keepers," not dated or likely to feel dated any time soon and of high enough quality that they deserved to be in a book. I chose about half of all the columns I had done, plus wrote a few new pieces, and then reworked every single one of the original columns till they shone and were as tight and funny as I could make them. I also organized the book into six themed sections, including "A Woman's Home Is Her Hassle," (domestic humor) "Reading This Warning Label May Kill You," (societal observations) "Just Wait Till You Have Stretch Marks of Your Own" (motherhood), and more. So I didn't just throw in everything I had done between two covers and say, "Voila! A book!" I really put enormous effort into reworking and revising so that the project was worthy of being published and worthy of the huge investment of time involved in creating and promoting a book. The book also contains a few more sentimental, serious pieces, which I think adds a layer of depth beneath the humor.

Have you always been funny, were you one of those people considered the class clown?
Some days I inadvertently became the class clown, such as the time in 11th grade when I went to sit down in math class and the wooden chair split underneath my fanny. Can you say "mortification?" I think I always had a quick wit but didn't try to show it off; it came naturally when I felt comfortable with friends and family. But even now, some of my kids' friends who hang around the house say, "Mrs. Gruen, if I hadn't read your books and known you were funny, I never would have guessed you had a sense of humor." I find that a riot.

What are the secrets to writing good humor?
Oooh, secrets. I don't think there are secrets as much as old fashioned rules to work by, and they are, in my opinion, reading who you consider great humorists. Look at what they did, how sharply they focused each story, what kind of language they used, look at the pacing of the material. I also think that in general writers today (except perhaps for some literary writers) grossly underutilize the incredible English language. Read S.J. Perlman. His vocabulary is astounding, and he uses words that even sound funny. I love using words that are old-fashioned sounding but are still terrific and bring a surprise to the reader. "Miscreant" is a great word, and it even means what it sounds like. "Gobsmacked" is one of my favorite words. Read writers from earlier eras to refresh and enrich your vocabulary. Avoid cliches, both in phrases and in topics. Also, as with any craft, keep working to make your work better and better. Although I published my first humor piece 23 years ago, I still love the challenge of making each column better than the one before. I just love it.

Give us a sample of some daily irony.
Oh, I love that Paris Hilton is going to jail, the most un-Hilton-like setting imaginable. And how will she cope with a drab gray jumpsuit? And no parties at night? I think I'll do a column on that. Other ironies: that sex is everywhere in movies, music, billboards, and TV, but you can't refer to anyone's "sex." It has to be "gender," a word so clinical sounding it's absurd. We talk about sex everywhere except when it comes to saying whether one is male or female. I find that ironic. One more? How about the irony of universities that claim to embrace diversity but where professors who are openly politically conservative have a hard time getting tenure? Our society is very selective about who gets to spout off their views with impunity.

You say on your website that you're a Bikram yoga dropout. Give our readers a quip about that.
The deal with Bikram yoga is that they keep the room so hot that the teacher warns that dizzyness and nausea may be "normal" for some newbies. Doesn't that sound appealing? One of the contortions they expect you to get into is called "heart attack on a stick," which just shows that you must be very young and perhaps have prior experience as a circus acrobat to do this kind of thing and not kill yourself. Once was enough for me!

Your books target women and mothers. How did you develop an expertise and platform in writing for them?
The "expertise" was on the job training, having been a stay-at-home mom for nearly 2 decades. The platform building is very tough, as writing for moms is already a crowded market. In the past few years I have focused less on motherhood and more on issues relevant to where I am now: a 40-something woman who is somewhere between being carded for alcohol and hip replacement surgery. Consistently looking for outlets for my work has helped to build that platform, and fortunately I see good growth there. Eventually editors find you and approach you, which is very gratifying.

Tell us about your writing habits. When does a humor writer lose her humor?
If you are really a humor writer, I don't think you'll ever lose your humor. It's there, it's in you and needs self-expression. I work as much as possible each day, but have always done so around my family's schedule. I'm still a traditional mom, carpooling, grocery shopping, cooking dinner, taking kids to appointments. But as the kids have gotten older I've clearly had more time in the day to write and market my work. But often, I still need to work at night, since so much of my other job as wife and mother can consume most of a day. That's why sometimes I feel like I need a wife, too!

How did you find your agent/publisher?
I found my agent through another writer, but truthfully, he was not able to sell "The Women's Daily Irony Supplement." He shopped it while it had another name, and acquisitions editors told us that the writing was great but my platform was lacking, the platform was good but the writing was lacking, they already had another mom humorist on their list, you name it. This went on for maybe 7-8 months. Then we realized it was time to move on, and I spent several months researching self-publishing options. I had self-published before and knew there are many, many serious arguments against self-publishing, such as getting distribution, it's much harder to get reviewed and to be taken seriously. There is still a bit of a stigma against self-published books, though that is changing. The rise of POD companies that allow anyone to publish anything is great in the democratic sense but it also lowers the overall quality of a self-published title.

Still agonizing over how to get my book published, one day, nearly in despair, I picked up a magazine that had been collecting dust on my desk. It was published by an association of small, indie publishers. I said to myself, "What the heck," and called the association, told them I had this great little humor book, and did they have any member publishers whom they might recommend I contact? The man immediately recommended a small company called Beagle Bay, and I emailed them, and I signed with them.

What about book launches, do you do anything special such as having a party?
For my last book, "Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout," I had a book launch party at a friend's house, but I haven't done that this time. I've been so busy with book promotion and keeping up with other writing obligations that I didn't put much effort into this. But if anyone wants to throw me a party, I'll bring the chips!

Check out Judy's website at:

Friday, May 25, 2007

From 19th Century Asylum to 21st Century Book Shelves

Today, I interview Alma Bond about her new book, "Camille Claudel, a Novel" a historical novel about a real woman. Read why she decided to write the book in the first person:

Tell us about yourself.
I received my Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at Columbia University, went on to get psychoanalytic training, and subsequently became a psychoanalyst in private practice for 37 years. Since my “retirement”in 1991, besides Camille Claudel, a Novel, I have had 12 books published. My latest book, Magnificent Monster: The Story of Margaret Mahler, is presently in publication with McFarland Publishers. My play Maria, about Maria Callas, was presented off-off Broadway a few years ago. The widow of Rudy Bond, stage and screen actor and published author, I am the mother of three children, all of whom have published books. I have seven young grandchildren, none of whom have been published yet. (It shouldn’t take long. My 11-year old grandson Jason says when he grows up he will write a book called My Life as a Professional Hockey Player.

Tell us about your book, "Camille Claudel, a Novel."
Camille Claudel, a Novel describes real-life events behind a façade of fiction. Camille Claudel was a great female sculptor whose produced most of her work in the late 1800's. She was a fascinating woman not only because of her genius, but because she was the student, lover, and confidant of Auguste Rodin. Because of her rejection by Rodin, her terrible relationship with her mother, and the insurmountable conditions women artists faced in the last century, she became insane and spent the last thirty years of her life in a mental institution. The book describes a magnificent love story in all its details, as well as a history of the lack of recognition faced by women artists at that time. Because I am an experienced psychoanalyst, I believe I am uniquely qualified to understand the origin and development of Camille’s mental illness. As I also am an experienced writer and the author of 12 previously published books I feel able to tell Mlle. Claudel's story in an intriguing and informative manner.

This is a book based on a real woman, but you chose to write it as a historical novel in the first person instead of a Biography. Explain that decision process.
I decided on an intuitive level that is how I could write it best. I have never regretted the decision.

How did you conduct your research?
I read every book and article I could find about her, including some in French. The research itself took over two years, including a trip to France to visit the important places in Camille’s life, including her birthplace, Le Geyne, and the asylum. The actual writing took perhaps a year. Since I thought about Camille all the time, the actual writing didn’t take long.

What was the most interesting fact you uncovered about this woman?
In the novel, we hear the story through the eyes of Camille herself. One of the most engrossing, disturbing aspects of the book is Camille’s gradual transformation as she becomes more and more insane. My knowledge of the human being came to me through my years of psychoanalytic experience, and underlies every book I write. In particular, with this book, I wouldn’t have been able to write the last chapter and ending, which has been described as totally original by Southern Review, without my psychological background. I think of everything I have ever written, that chapter is the most insightful. I may have written the book without my experience as an analyst, but it certainly wouldn’t have been the same book.

How did you decide which facts to blend with fiction?
The facts are all historically correct. The thoughts and feelings I attribute to Camille are fictitious.

What do you think this story reveals about how mental illness was treated in the 19th century?
It reveals how primitive the treatment was, with the exception (from time immemorial) of highly gifted and intuitive healers.

How does that blend with how women, particularly artists, were treated during that same period?
Women artists were highly discriminated against during the 19th century, and still are, to some degree. Lack of recognition no doubt contributed to the prevalence and intensity of mental illness.

When is your best writing time and where do you like to write?
When I am writing a book, I always write from morning to night. When asked where I get the discipline to write, I always say that I need discipline NOT to write. I write wherever I happen to be, so long as I have a computer to work on.

What is next for you?
I am writing a play called “Bella!,” about the great activist and Congresswoman, Bella Abzug. A first reading will be given (today) May 25, at Hunter College, where Bella was president of her class.

Alma's Web Address:

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Building a Platform

I'll start out this morning with great news - we sold our house! Although we had an offer in 4 days and 4 hours, we actually came to terms we all could live with in 7 days and 5 hours! And my griping about what a waste of time television is will stop for awhile....We have the series "Sell This House" to partially thank. Now, I can worry about packing while writing and then finding everything I need to set up my temporary office in our weekend cabin when we arrive...

Now, for some more good news. I blog for two reasons - it gives me an outlet for some of my pent-up thoughts my editors usually don't want to hear. Just as important, it also helps me build a platform for my business. Be it a writing blog to entertain and help writers, and maybe gain a few students for my online classes or writing about my current book or caretaking of my mother.
Well, it was that blog ( that this week landed me a gig with a website. I've been listening and reading a lot of discussion surrounding blogs this past year. From "the blog is dead," to "it is alive and thriving." People who believe blogs are dead use the rapid growth of MySpace at the same time the number of new blogs are decreasing as their argument. The experts in the pro-blog camp use the fact that a really high number of new blogs are still appearing daily. As a matter of fact, one expert told us in a blog workshop this spring not to set up MySpace pages or pages on similar "networking" sites because those do not have the legitimacy factor.
I can see two points. I know of a young adult author who uses MySpace to build her platform, but she's building her platform and catering to her audience.
Still, I don't think the blog is dead or even dying. I think more people are realizing the power it has to help build a platform. And while I wouldn't want this particular platform subject to be the majority of my career, the assignment I secured will only add to my package as I pitch the book about me and my mother.
And it's pretty gratifying knowing that at least one editor has read my pent-up thoughts and thinks their worth paying for.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Children Aren't the Only Reason Writers Love to be at Home

Gina Roberts-Grey, a freelance writer who has contributed to AARP, Glamour, Parents and SELF, as well as more than 160 other regional, national and international publications, has a great reason for loving her freelance life:

"Freelancing from home makes housetraining two new puppies much easier than if I were working out of the house 6-8 hours a day. It made deciding to get a second pup three months after getting the first, an easier decision."

Gina's website is

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Law of Attraction Attracts a Paid Gig

True Stories Wanted about Law of Attraction (Comp: $50-$100 depending on length) (telecommute) We are looking for your stories of intention/manifestation where you used the Law of Attraction (as seen on the Secret) to receive the good that you desired. All stories will be considered for use in upcoming series. All stories must be true. If chosen, you will be paid via paypal within 15 days of receipt. Write for more information.
See the full listing here:

Monday, May 21, 2007

From Kabul to New York Times Best Seller

Today, Kristin Ohlson, New York Times best selling co-author of Kabul Beauty School tells us what kind of story it takes to make that list - and reveals that best selling authors also need to keep their hands in writing articles to make a living.
And, if you have any questions for any of the authors featured on the blog, post them on the comments section and I will ask the author to answer them for you!

Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in a very small town in California where we had nice little library but no bookstores. My mother signed me up for all sorts of book clubs (fiction, science, and some others) through the mail, and these arrivals were always the highlight of the month. Most of the earliest pictures of me show a book splayed across my lap, so I've always been a reader. My first experience in journalism wasn't until I wrote for my college newspaper, but after that I continued writing articles. I began to write fiction when I was a little older. Somehow it had never occurred to me that an ordinary mortal like myself could write novels.
I now live in Cleveland.

Tell us about the new book you co-authored.
My agent called one day and said, "Do you want to write a book for this hairdresser who's running a beauty school in Afghanistan?" I told her no, that I had no interest in writing someone else's book and that I really wished she'd get around to selling my novels. She said, "But this woman is really really interesting, and I think you'd be a good person to tell her story." So I listened and agreed that Debbie's story was interesting--amazing and interesting. I finally asked my agent if I had to go to Afghanistan to work on this book. When she said yes, that was it-- I decided to do it.

How did you meet Deborah Rodriguez, why did she want a co-author and how did you both know you were the right person?
It turned out that Debbie was in the states with her Afghan husband (called Sam in the book, because there were and remain some concerns about security for anyone connected with the book) for a short visit. So a few days after I spoke to my agent, I drove from Cleveland to Holland, Michigan to meet Debbie. Mapquest did me wrong, and I drove in circles around the city for about forty-five minutes. It wasn't so bad, because I decided at some point that Holland, Michigan had probably been the setting for The Bobby Twins in Tulip Land--a favorite book from my distant past. When I finally arrived at the Applebee's (or something like that) where we were going to meet, I found Debbie and Sam in the parking lot. We sat down for coffee and Debbie began her stories-- about her first visit to Afghanistan in 2002, about getting the idea to help Afghan beauticians, about the women who have come through the Kabul Beauty School. She's a born storyteller, and I was transfixed. Then her husband walked outside to smoke and Debbie leaned across the table with a wicked smile and said, "He doesn't know this, but---." I'm not going to tell this secret and it's not in the book, but it was really funny. I thought it would be a great adventure to work with anyone who had this combination of candor, humor, boldness and charm.
Debbie wanted a co-author because she's a hairdresser, not a writer. She especially wanted a co-author who hadn't been to Afghanistan before, so that this person would look around with the same kind of astonishment and wonder that she had when she first arrived. And she said she wanted someone who could tell a story and who was funny. Other people had approached her about a book, but she wanted a different kind of writer. She read Stalking the Divine and liked it.

Why is this a memoir, with most of the reviews giving credit to Rodriguez, rather than an as told to story?
At first, Random House wanted this to be ghostwritten book. They later changed their minds, but--I assume-- the Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) that went out to reviewers had already been printed and they didn't mention my name. So I don't think most of the early reviewers knew there was a co-author. Even though the writing is mostly mine, I still consider this Debbie's memoir. She had written many emails and blog entries during her years in Kabul and had tried turning some of her stories into chapters for a book. When we started working together in Kabul, we'd sit for hours and she'd tell me her stories and I'd type furiously, often shouting at her to stop so that I could catch up. She had a hard time stopping (she's silence challenged). I stayed in Kabul about three weeks that first time. Back in the states, she and I would email 4-5 times a day while I was writing so that I could plumb her for more details: "What did this person look like, how exactly did she or he do X, what were you thinking at the time, why was this important to you" and so on. I think this was probably like being in confession for her. I think it probably forced her into a new kind of introspection.

You have your own memoir, Stalking the Divine, what are the challenges of helping to tell someone else's story?
I have a terrible memory, but that didn't really affect the writing of Stalking the Divine-- it focuses on two years in which I got to know some cloistered contemplative nuns and explored some ideas about faith, but I was writing the book as it was happening and didn't need to rely much on memory. So it was fun to work with someone who has such a great memory, especially for visual details. The challenge was being able to imagine myself as Debbie so that I could write a first-person narration. It helped, of course, that I was using many of her own words. It also helped that I lived with her and Sam for nearly six weeks, so that I could see how she behaved in different situations, and so that I could see all the places where different stories in Kabul Beauty School took place. I think being a fiction writer made this process easier, too. I think that living in the mind of a character comes easier to fiction writers than to nonfiction writers.

Why did you feel Kabul Beauty School was an important story?
Debbie has a really unique perspective on the lives of ordinary Afghans. There are lots of other westerners living in Kabul as aid workers, journalists, missionaries and soldiers, but very few have the relationships and the daily experience on the street that she does-- many of the westerners live in compounds and rarely get out. And she herself is unique-- big, bold, unafraid, boldly plunging into situations that any sensible person would avoid. She doesn't always make the right decisions, and I don't think many people could live the life she's made for herself. Still, I found that all my preconceptions about what is possible in a life were challenged by being around her. I think readers will feel that, too.

Your memoir, Stalking the Divine is about your conversations with some elderly nuns about why they gave up their lives for their religion. How and when did you know you had a book? What makes a good memoir?
Some of them would bristle at being called elderly! They may be nuns, but they still have a little vanity!
This might seem weird, but I felt I had a book the first time I walked in the door of St. Paul Shrine. I came because I had read in the paper that the nuns (called the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, which I said in the book sounded like something from a Saturday Night Live skit) were going to be singing carols at a Christmas mass. The church was shadowy and silent when I arrived and I kept looking around for the nuns. Then they started singing from behind these carved wooden screens at the front of the church, and I suddenly realized they were cloistered. I was struck by the mystery of why these women would give up life on the outside. I had been an atheist for years, but one with a growing wistfulness for faith, and I just knew I wanted to write about these women.

How did you find your agent for Stalking the Divine?
When I was writing Stalking the Divine, I gave part of it to a friend--a well-published author-- to read. He liked it so much that he sent it to his agent, without even telling me. I got a letter from his agent telling me she didn't think the book was right for her, but that she loved it. She gave me some good suggestions for light revision and later, when I was finished, suggested some other agents for me to try. I think the fifth or sixth was Marly Rusoff, who took it immediately.

How did you feel when Kabul Beauty School made the New York Times Best Seller list?
Amazed and excited, of course. I told my husband that for the rest of my life, I could tell people I was a New York Times bestselling author. Then, when he started telling everyone who walked past the house, I was mortified.
Frankly, I don't think that much about it now. It really is Debbie's book, not mine. I'll be very excited if my next book--with MY name only on the front-- makes it to the NYTimes bestselling list.

What is your next project?
I'm working on lots of articles, because that's how I make a living. I have an idea for a nonfiction book about cows, but that's not too well developed yet. I also have an idea for a novel set in Kabul's expat community, not based on Debbie but rather on the visions that I couldn't help having of myself (or someone like me) moving there and starting some kind of aid program and getting caught up in all the political intrigue and taking up with some dashing, difficult man. Sort of Graham Greene meets...oh, I don't know...maybe Alice Munro and Diane Johnson (in my fondest writing dreams).

Visit Kristin's website and blog: and

Friday, May 18, 2007

This Dog Lover is no Dummie

Today, I interview Susan McCullough, author of several dog titles in the "Dummie" series. She tells us how another writers book helped her and how she met her editor at a specialized conference for pet writers.

Tell us about yourself.
I live in Vienna, Virginia, just outside Washington DC. My husband works for the federal government. We have an 18-year-old daughter who will be starting college this fall.
I've been a working writer all my adult life, but have specialized in pets (especially dogs) for only the past 10 years or so. At the time, I was a work-at-home editorial consultant to agricultural trade associations based in Washington DC. One day, as I was receiving a fax on one of those old, loud, paper-cutting fax machines, my overzealous Sheltie puppy apparently decided that he had to protect me from it. He began to bark at the machine, and he grabbed the fax and proceeded to shred it. I literally had to call my client and ask them to please re-send the fax "because my dog ate what you just sent." (Even better than "my dog ate my homework," don't you think? ) I started wondering how other people share their home offices with their dogs and voila! an article idea was born. I borrowed Lisa Collier Cool's wonderful "How to Write Irresistible Queries and Cover Letters" from the local library, and used her sample letters as templates to fashion my own query, which I then sent to a national pet magazine that has since, alas, folded. I heard from the editor the very next day, and got the assignment. From that point on, I did more and more articles on pets, and less and less consulting.

Tell us about your books.
I've written four books: Housetraining For Dummies, Senior Dogs For Dummies and Beagles For Dummies (all, Wiley) and Your New Dog: An Expert Answers Your Every Question (Capital Books). They all deal with dog care.

How did you get involved in the "Dummies" series?
At a pet writers' conference I became acquainted with an editor from IDG Books, which owned the Dummies brand at the time, as well as many other pet care imprints. I expressed an interest in writing books for them. A few months later, when I saw the same editor at the Westminster Dog Show, I brought her a proposal. She passed on it, but in the meantime she had seen some rather unorthodox articles on doggie bathroom issues that I'd written for (now, regrettably, also no more). Apparently those articles (e.g., how to teach a dog to potty on command -- and what to do if your dog simply won't do that) at convinced her and the publisher to offer me Housetraining For Dummies. I wrote that book, and it has sold very well. A few years later, another editor at the company asked me to write Senior Dogs For Dummies, and a few years after that someone else asked me to do Beagles For Dummies.

Why dogs/do you have a background in training?
Because I adore them!!!! I am not a professional trainer -- I'm a writer who happens to specialize in dogs and other companion animals. I have, however, trained my own dogs -- including my current canine companion: a larger-than-life Golden Retriever named Allie, who has taught me more about the canine species than any other dog.

How did you develop your platform?
I haven't done that consciously. I've just kept writing about the subject I love most. The platform has kind of developed itself!

One of the books is on Beagles, tell us about your history with these dogs.
I cannot tell a lie: I have no personal history with this breed. Wiley asked me to write the book. But I do know how to research (obviously) -- and that's how I put the book together.

What is the most often-asked question to you by dog owners?
1. Do I have to use a crate when I housetrain a dog? 2. How do I know when it's time to put my dog to sleep?

Senior dogs are special, they have special needs and all the while, as a dog owner, you know that whatever you do, the outcome will always be the same. What is one piece of advice in your seniors dog book that helps people cope?
On the very last page of Senior Dogs For Dummies, I wrote that an owner should do as much as possible to help a senior dog feel loved and cherished. By doing all you can to brighten your dog's seniorhood, you'll be giving him gifts that brighten the rest of his life, and you'll create memories that brighten the rest of yours.

Do you have anymore books planned and if so, how did you come up with the topic?
I almost always have ideas percolating around, but I haven't developed any of them yet ;-)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Movin On

Times have changed. I know that as we get older, our lives become less "pop culture," we start to lose touch with the latest music and fashion trends (who wants to see a 40-something, overweight woman dancing to Brittney while wearing hip hugging jeans?) We start to look at the list of celebrity birthdays and say, "Who is that?"
Well, I'm pretty out of touch with the trends of house selling as well. When my husband and I bought our house, a grand piano ate up most of the square footage of our living room - it was clearly too big a piece for the space; hideous wallpaper hung (badly) on most of the wall surfaces; the carpet needed replacing; a dresser blocked the entrance to the master bath, which also could be entered from the hall; I didn't like the kitchen flooring or countertops and two Great Danes - along with the homeowners greeted us and our real estate agent upon one visit.
But I could visualize the house as mine. I loved the curved fireplace; the rounded windows overlooking the entry; the vaulted ceilings and the size of the kitchen.
Icould envision......
Ours is starter home and with that in mind, knowing it would probably be another young, first time homebuyer who also likes our house, we had to cater to that demographic when prepping our house for sale.
According to our real estate agent, today's buyers can't visualize the space as their own.
"Your house has to be model ready the day we put it on the market," he said to us.
Now, with the clutter in storage (or in the trash), new carpets, paint, flooring and appliances, it feels like we're living in a model home, rather than our home. We only have the minimum it takes to live - in every room, including my office - and that has to be put away if the house is being shown. On top of that, homebuyers don't want to see any photographs, animals or us - which means I have to pack up 2 cats and three dogs, roll up carpet remnants that is protecting the brand new carpet from a hint of dirt, hide a litter box and leave the house with the animals each time a potential homebuyer comes along. And we won't even get into my husband's beat up 1979 work truck that the real estate agent didn't even want in the same state, much less this neighborhood. Unfortuantely, we don't have a bush large enough to stash it behind when he's not working....
This all makes for a chaotic work life. I only know one hour in advance when they want to show the house. In the past two days, I've learned to get my work mostly done before 9 a.m., leaving only phone calls I can make from the cell while sitting in the park with my menagerie.
If you're working from home and planning a move, here are some more tips from two other freelance writers on juggling a house sale with your assignments:

Jennifer Willis, who endured the sale of her home with a home full of animals three years ago. "For those with dogs, one idea might be to ask the realtor to schedule as many showings as possible on specific days, and then take the dogs to day care on those days. Then you'd only have to worry about getting yourself out of the house (and head over to the library or coffee shop with wifi)," she said.

Diane Benson Harrington offers these tips:

  • If you don't have kids and dogs, get a cigarette lighter adapter for your laptop, make sure your phone is charged, and you can do work from your car (as long as your car is running, if you need the laptop plugged in). Or go to a B&N or something and work from there.
  • For last-minute stuff you need to "put away," (magazines, mail, dirty clothes) just toss it in your washer or dryer. No one looks in there when buying a house. Just remember to take it out when you get home!

Karen Queen, who has had several offers on her house in just 10 days says "Sometimes the showtime is negotiable." For example, if she has an appointment at 3 and the agent asks for a showing at 2:30, she just asks if they can reschedule. And, she says, she blocked out time from the show listing, as are the times she teaches piano on her home.

Reading these tips gave me more ideas on how I can still be productive while we go through this process. Hopefully, though, my agent is right and he will see an offer by the weekend. And then I will be trying to figure out how to be productive - and find my computer - after moving 300 miles away.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Hey - I Interviewed That Guy!

What's great about the freelancing life? Apryl Chapman Thomas had this to say:

"Seeing an expert source you have interviewed on Fox News, etc and telling everyone around you, that yes, you the little freelancer interviewed that same person for an article. The source I interviewed is an expert on airline/traveling safety post 9-11. He was a former secret service agent - great credentials and I happen to have snagged him for an article about traveling in a post 9-11 world for a regional publication. I was watching Fox News one day, and one of their guests happened to be him. He was plugging his new book and talking about a whole host of things. It took a moment to connect - I knew I heard the name and then it came to me. I was so ecstatic!"

Apryl Chapman Thomas
Read my column, "Have Children Will Travel" at
Check out my travel blog at

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Cure All

That's what my mother always said about chicken soup. Here's another new title announcement from the mega-publisher. I'll repeat my disclaimer that these anthologies serve a purpose to get essays into a paying market that you haven't otherwise found homes for. In this case, as very visible market:

Story Call Out--Chicken Soup for the Father and Son SoulThey're our fathers, brothers, husbands, boyfriends, friends and sons. They are fathers and sons and we are their mothers and daughters, wives and sisters. Chicken Soup for the father & Son Soul is collecting stories on all aspects of the father son relationship, but we want to ask women to write about this relationship from their unique vantage point for our chapter, 'Through Women's Eyes' .For more on the book visit www.fathersonsoul and submit any stories you have to Thanks for helping making this book a huge success! Dorothy Firman and Ted Slawski, co-authors.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Building a Career Through Kids Activity Books

Today, I'm interviewing Kris Bordessa, an independent writer and author of "Great Colonial America Projects You Can Build Yourself," an activity book for kids. This author, who has written about a safari and packed her entire family up for a move to Hawaii for the adventure, tells us how she still manages to never miss a deadline (many times while writing in her jammies):

Tell us about a little about yourself: I've been freelancing seriously since 2001, writing for various regional and national magazines. I have three books out, all of which have a publishing date of 2006. My next book, Great Medieval Projects You Can Build Yourself, is due out in 2008. Personally, I'm a wife and mother to two boys, 11 & 14. The boys are – and have always been – homeschooled. I'm a California native, but two years ago my family decided it was time for an adventure. We put most of our belongings in storage and moved to the Big Island of Hawaii. We are living very simply and doing our best to absorb the culture while we are here.

Tell us about your book: Great Colonial America Projects You Can Build Yourself is for kids ages nine and up. The book is an introduction to colonial America, from the founding of the first permanent British colony at Jamestown until the start of the revolution. In sidebars, kids can read about famous colonists like Captain John Smith and Benjamin Franklin, and event such as the Salem Witch Trials. With more than forty activities, the book gives kids the opportunity to experience some colonial style activities first hand.

This looks like a fun book, how did you come up with the idea? Actually, I didn't come up with the idea. It's part of a series put out by Nomad Press. The Build It series covers history and science for kids, and includes hands-on activities, which I think is the best way for kids to explore and learn. In a strange twist, I had pitched my first book Team Challenges to Nomad Press, but they passed on it (it was ultimately published by Zephyr Press). I learned that Nomad Press was looking for authors for this series, so I contacted the editor, reintroduced myself, and landed Great Colonial America Projects You Can Build Yourself.

Did you test all of the projects out yourself? Actually, my kids act as in-house project testers! When I'm developing new activities, I'll work out the rough details, and then I work with the boys to test the different projects. They are pretty patient with me, and having them available has definitely helped me to work out a few kinks.

Which in the book is your favorite? Hands down, my favorite activity is the pump drill. Long before I wrote the book, I made a wooden pump drill for my kids to use. When I was developing project ideas for Great Colonial America Projects You Can Build Yourself, I thought it would be a fun activity to include, but the whole premise of these books is that the activities should be made with common household items and be easy enough for kids to make with little or no adult supervision. Wood and electric saws don't fit very well into this plan, so I worked out a method to create a pump drill using cardboard, an old CD, and a few other materials. It's not quite as sturdy as the wooden version, but I've been impressed with how well it holds up. And kids love to use it! My publisher has been kind enough to let me include the pump drill activity on my website. You can link over to a PDF excerpt from here:

Your website says you've been on safari as a freelance writer, is that the most exciting assignment you've had and how did you get that? Well, the safari that I wrote about was part of a travel story I did for FamilyFun. Safari West is an exotic animal preserve that allows visitors to tour the facility in lumbering, open-air vehicles. The facility is located in Sonoma County, California , where I grew up. I pitched a travel story about the area, and included Safari West as a possible location; the editor liked the idea of including it, so I found myself learning about gemsbok, cheetahs, and giraffes. It was great fun, and certainly one of the most exciting assignments I've had.

How did you develop your specialty in writing for and about families and kids? By accident! Actually, my first published piece was an essay for FamilyFun. I wasn't even writing regularly at the time; I submitted the essay and then promptly forgot about it. Two years later (yes, two years!), I had a phone call from an editor who wanted to run the piece. I knew that while I had the editor's attention, I should pitch her something else and with FamilyFun, that meant something crafty. With that focus, I pitched ideas until I had another sale, and slowly built clips and contacts from there. But, while I do write a lot about activities for kids, that's not all I write!

Your website says you've never missed a deadline. I'm now worshipping at your feet. How do you schedule your time? There's nothing to worship - I'm actually a very poor manager of my time! It's something I'm working to improve. But, it is important for me to get my work in on time; if I've promised an editor that I'll have a piece done, it will be done. I think that my editors know that if I take on an assignment, I'm committed to finish it on time.

Tell us about your perfect writing spot and writing time. My perfect writing spot would be outside, under a tree with a nice breeze blowing and a glass of iced tea by my side. Unfortunately, I'm still waiting for that perfect situation. Instead, I write in the early morning while my kids are still asleep (often in my jammies) and in between all of the kabillion other commitments I have as a mom. I've learned to work in five minute increments – it's not ideal, but it's reality.

Tell us one fun or quirky habit you have as a writer. I work best when I have a couple things going at once. For instance, in between answering questions for you, I've been researching a couple of different article ideas. I do the same thing when I'm writing an article or working on my books. Every few paragraphs, a take a mental break and escape to a different project, even if it's just for a few minutes.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Southern Charm

Today, I interview Annabelle Robertson, author of "The Southern Girls Guide to Surviving the Newlywed Years: How to Stay Sane Once You've Caught Your Man," the book that replaced Margaret Cho on the 2006 USA Best Books in humor (and no, it's not a book for southern girls, its a book by one - and its not just a book for newlyweds). Confused? Read on:

Tell us about yourself.
I practiced law for several years before joining the staff of a weekly newspaper in Atlanta, where I won some awards from the Georgia Press Association. After the birth of our first child in 2002, I opted to freelance from home and now write for a number of publications, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta Woman Magazine. My husband spent eight years as an emergency room chaplain before joining the Air Force in 2005. I often help with the weddings he performs (choreography, premarital counseling), and I found myself giving the same advice, over and over – namely, that about four months after the wedding, things could get difficult. That’s the end of the honeymoon period, and it hits hard – especially if you’re an oldest child (or an only child) married to another oldest child, as I am. That’s like two monarchs trying to share the same palace. I also come from an all-girl family raised in the South, whereas my husband comes from an all-boy family raised in the North. So trust me when I say that I understand marital conflict.

Tell us about your book.
Well, despite the title, it’s not just for newlyweds. It’s for anyone who has ever been driven a little crazy by a man. I cover all the problem areas that nobody tells you about before you’re married – like tips for helping your husband distinguish between date nights and football games; acceptable vacations (a trip to Hollywood) vs. unacceptable vacations (a trip to Dollywood); teaching a man to apologize (works best while he’s asleep); the difference between “Destructive Waiting” (jingling your keys, saying ‘Hurry Up,’ honking the horn) and “Constructive Waiting” (checking email, shooting hoops, scrubbing toilets). I list the Top Ten Mother-in-Law Tormentors and the no-fail method for motivating a man to do housework. I also have a lengthy questionnaire for the boys that I like to call my “How to Tell If Your ‘Gift’ Is Really a Gift” (first question: is it diamonds, fur or a new car? Congratulations. It’s a gift. You may stop the questionnaire).

How did you come up with the title and do people think it is a book only for Southern women?
This is definitely an issue. I’m always saying, “It’s not FOR Southern Girls, it’s written BY one. Moi! I’m the Southern Girl. Which just means I tell it like it is, with a lot of humor. Think of me as Dr. Phil, in pearls and high heels, with a few gin and tonics under his belt, okay? I’m not Oprah, but I’m not Jerry Springer either. As for the title, it was a marketing decision. I wanted something that would lend itself to a series, in order to interest agents and publishers. You’ve got to think that way these days to get published. Plus, the South is hot. It’s also allowed me to “write what I know,” which is always good.

Do you have an agent, if so, how did you find him/her? And how did you get your publisher?
My first agent offered to represent me at a writer’s conference, during a one-on-one session. It wasn’t an overnight thing, though. I’d spent years laboring over a novel then trying to find representation, without success. After I switched to non-fiction, the magic happened. My writing had also improved tremendously (no small thing), and it was a marketable product. I still had to write the proposal, though, which ended up being 150 pages and took me five months. I switched agents, thanks to an introduction from an author friend, and she sent it out. The book sold at auction, with three major publishing houses bidding for the rights.

That was pretty exciting, but still, it’s not like it made me rich. A friend asked, “Did you get six figures?” which sent me into fits of laughter. Even though only one in 25 books sells at auction, you’d be surprised at how little advance money that can mean. They bid in very small increments. Also, your advance is doled out over the 18-24 month period between signing the contact and publication. Then you have to earn back all that money in royalties before getting any more checks. It’s a tough business. Nielson Book Scan reported that 95 percent of the books published in 2004 sold less than 1,000 copies. I’ve sold far more than that, in less than three months. We went back to print after only three weeks, but I still have a long, long way to go before I see a royalty check. Suffice to say that I’m keeping my day job. However, I spent a lot of time on publicity. It’s a never-ending vortex.

Is writing a humor book as fun as it seems? What are some of the challenges? The Southern Girl’s Guide is a relationship book, but I deliver my advice with a heaping dose of humor. And yeah, it was great fun to write. My husband gives me lots of material. He’s an aggressive Alpha male who got bored as the chaplain of one of the largest level one trauma centers in the country, if you can believe that. He joined the military and just returned from the Middle East. Worse, he can’t wait to go back – which sends me around the bend, especially since we have two small children. But every time he makes me mad I say, “Okay! That’s going in the book, Bubba!” (That’s a Southern thing, to call men “Bubba.”) Of course, if I get TOO mad at him I get writer’s block and can’t produce a thing. But most of the time, I’m just annoyed, which seems to translate extremely well into marital humor. There’s a fine line between anger and humor, though, and you have to tread it very carefully.

Another challenge is targeting your audience. Even though my book makes a great gift, women who’ve been married the longest actually laugh the hardest. However, I had to be very conscious of brides and newlyweds, who are my primary audience – and they don’t quite understand that feeling of wanting to strangle a man with their bare hands, the way the rest of us do. Not yet, anyway. They’re still having sex 24 hours a day and bragging that they’ve never had a fight, right? So again, I had to walk a very fine line.

You just completed a book tour. Tell us how that was scheduled and explain to our writers how they work.
Well, one of the things that apparently sold my book was my “platform,” which consisted of all the publications I write for and all of my media connections. I still had to send myself on book tour, though – because no way do they do that for a first-time author, unless you’re Paris Hilton. So I arranged as many speaking engagements as possible around the South then had my in-house publicist set up book-signings and pitch the local media. Here’s what I learned:

a) You don’t have a prayer of getting local media coverage without a pre-arranged book signing. They need a local event to consider you.

b) Even with a local book signing, however, you probably won’t get media coverage, unless you know someone. Sad but true. Newspaper staffs are shrinking and space is limited. And way too many authors are pitching those overworked reporters. Teresa Weaver, book editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for example, receives 200 books per day. She has an assistant who does nothing but open packages all day and label them. I was fortunate to land some local television shows around the South, but I have a good hook and a timely topic. Radio sells the most books, anyway – and that’s easier to land. You can do it from home.

c) Get ready to round up your friends and relatives, because hardly anyone else will come to your booksignings – even with media coverage. Media sells books, but it won’t get more than a few people, at most, to a signing. And don’t be disappointed if you feel a bit like a beggar at your little book table. It’s rough, lemme tell you. But even bestselling authors experience this.

At the end of the day, am I glad I flew cross country with two small children, rented a furnished apartment and drove my fanny all over the South for two months, on my own nickel, to schlep my book? Absolutely. But next time, I’ll do it differently. I’ll arrange more speaking engagements, which do sell books, and I’ll avoid those towns where I don’t have significant numbers of friends and relatives. It’s just not worth it.

Your book won the 2006 USA Best Books Award in the humor category, replacing Margaret Cho. Congratulations! Did you enter it or was it chosen from a list of books?
My publisher sent off the book, after a serious nudge from me. I had to pay the entry fee, though. The marketing budget for books is pretty small.

Tell us one of the quirky things in your book that men do to drive women crazy.
Lord! Where do you want me to start? Well, how about the concept of Learned Helplessness, which I explore throughout the book – since men tend to use it to get out of everything from chores to feeding themselves. They learn this from their mamas, who should have stopped the business long ago, if you ask me. And they’re very adept at getting us to play along. “Ummm…that sandwich looks good,” your husband will say, licking his lips. “Can I have one?” “Sure. Roast beef is in the fridge.” Pause. Pause. Pause. “Where?” “Deli and cheese drawer,” you answer, reading your book. “Which one is that?” You look up from the book, blink a few times. “Top one. Where it always is.” You go back to your book. “Ah,” he’ll answer. “I see it.” Pause. Pause. Pause. “Now where’s the mustard?” You grit your teeth and answer. “What about the lettuce?” he’ll say, and so on and so on, until you get up and make the dang sandwich for him. Learned Helplessness triumphs again. It’s very smart, and we fall for it every time. I coach women on how to get out of this vicious cycle, though. One strategy involves a kitchen map, which I suggest placing on the fridge. Of course, you’ll need to remind him it’s there – several times – and he’ll still need to find it. Try calling it a treasure map, though, and offer a reward, if he finds it. Like dinner.

What is one piece of advice you would give to writers wanting to write humor. People have told me all my life that I’m funny, and after years of not understanding that, I’ve finally realized it’s because I tell the truth. How many people do that, when you think about it? We’re conditioned to talk around topics, not go straight to the heart. So that would be the first piece of advice. Always tell the truth. You also have to look for the humor in life, no matter how challenging that may be. My husband makes me feel as crazy as a sprayed roach, but I channel that into my writing. Because, let’s face it, when a man goes to the grocery store for butter and sour cream and comes home with Butterfingers and cream cheese, what else can you do but laugh? Either that, or go look for your daddy’s shotgun – which believe me, I’ve considered. But prison green is really passé right now, you know? I’ll stick with the writing.

Where can we find your book?
Visit my website at, where you can watch a video of me and download the first chapter then click through to Barnes and Noble to order the book.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Secret Confessions

I couldn't resist posting this ad today for the Common Ties site. If you ever dreamed of confessing something in public, under an assumed name and getting paid for it, here's your chance:

Seeking Personal Confessions (Comp: $100-$200/story and in exceptional cases can reach $1,000) (telecommute) The story site Common Ties has been publishing personal stories on a wide range of topics since October. Among its themes, Common Ties seeks confessions. Confessions should be written in the first person and can be written using a pen name. The tone might be either serious or funny, or a little of both. Submissions are due Tuesday, May 22, and will be published the week beginning May 28. Late arriving submissions will be considered for future publication.

See the full job posting here:

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

What I Love Most About the Writing Life: Seeing My Kids Grow up

From writer Jeff Wuorio, The author of eight finance and business books, including the upcoming Complete Idiot's Guide to Retirement Planning:

"I think the best thing about freelancing is that I've been able to watch my kids grow up. So many friends now regret the hours spent away at an office and the resulting loss of contact and involvement with their children. I think it's been freelancing's greatest blessing to me. When my son was about 4, we took him to a park where he hooked up with another little boy. As they were playingtogether, my son suddenly asked him: "Where's your dad?", to which the kid replied that he was at work. My son looked at him as if he had just sprouted antlers. The thought of a father working somewhere other than home was incredulous to him. That's one memory I know I'll never lose."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Writer Wanted for Life Change Topics

Before I post this one, let me make a disclaimer: I don't have time to check out all of the ads I post here. I can be scammed just like the next writer. However, I will only post ads that appear to be on the up and up, i.e. they will list the name of their company and they say they pay. If any of my readers knows something I don't, I would appreciate it if you drop a line.

Here's the ad of the week:
The First 30 Days (, a New York City-based media company focused on helping people through the crucial period following any life change, is looking for some experienced freelance writers to join our team. You will be responsible for writing and researching all the content surrounding complete life change topics (expert interviews, a feature story, email tips and resources) and adhering to specific site guidelines.

See the full ad at

Monday, May 07, 2007

A Redbook Book of the Month Club Pick

Today, I talk with Allison Winn Scotch, author of the new fiction novel, "The Department of Lost and Found," which is Redbook's May Book of the Month Club pick and also a Literary Guild pick. Allison tells us how she did it:

Tell us about yourself.
Well, I’m a full-time writer and live in New York City with my husband, two kids, and our dog. I grew up in Seattle, however, and would leave NYC in a minute if I could get my husband to agree to move to a beachside community and raise naked babies on the beach. I’ve been a freelance magazine writer for about seven years, and transitioned to fiction about two years ago when we sold my first novel, The Department of Lost and Found. When I’m not working or hanging with my kids or walking the dog (which, combined, is nearly always), I like to go running and well, this is embarrassing to admit as a writer, but also tune into the boob-tube. I’m a huge pop culture junkie, so the DVR is my friend.

Tell us about your book.
The Department of Lost and Found is a story of an ambitious 30-year old go-getter who is diagnosed with breast cancer and discovers that the life she’s been living might not be the one she should be living at all. Which sounds maudlin and all of that, but it’s not. Really, it’s just the story of a smart, savvy young woman who hasn’t quite found her place in the world, and her diagnosis is a catalyst for change. A lot of readers have told me that they don’t feel like the book is about cancer, rather, it’s really a universal story that so many of us can relate to: that we’re struggling to figure out the path we should be on, and sometimes, we take some faulty steps before landing on that right road.

Your book is based on your close friend and her losing the battle with breast cancer, why a novel instead of a memoir?
Yes, I lost one of my best friends, Lizzie Prostic, to breast cancer over two years ago. I actually never considered writing a memoir. I mean, cancer was Lizzie’s story, and it wasn’t mine to tell. Sure, I could have told it from an observer’s perspective, I suppose, but I’d already lived through that…I didn’t want or need to rehash the pain or anger that comes from losing a friend at 31. Again, that never occurred to me. What I was more interested in doing, I guess, was retelling a cancer patient’s story, only this time, with a more uplifting outcome. Writing a memoir wouldn’t have allowed for that, obviously. I wrote the novel very quickly – three months – and in doing so, I purged a lot of my grief over the situation, and really felt like I had experienced cancer in a whole different way than with Lizzie, which was very cathartic and healing. I still think of her daily, but the writing process numbed the pain a bit and made the wounds feel less fresh.

Why was it important to you to get her struggle in your book?
Well, I should point out that Natalie, my protagonist, really isn’t a reflection of who Lizzie was. So while Natalie struggles with figuring out her life, Lizzie, in many ways, already had. She was a new mother, wildly successful at her job, going to law school at nights, happily married…well, you get the point. She had a pretty clear idea of who she was. Sadly, Lizzie lost her battle with cancer just six months after her diagnosis, so even if she had wanted to make changes to her life, the horrible truth of the matter is that she simply didn’t have the time to. But, when writing the book – and from interviewing cancer survivors in the past – I did want to give Natalie (and I guess, vicariously Lizzie) that chance to reinvent herself after she came so close to losing it all. Not many of us are afforded second chances in our lives like this, and hopefully, maybe the book will inspire people to take a closer look at their lives and assess whether or not they’re really the lives they want to be living. In an ideal world, it doesn’t take cancer to issue that wake-up call.

Is your main character a composite of several people you know?
Yes and no. In some ways, Natalie is obviously a reflection of Lizzie, in that they were both strong, dynamic, accomplished women who were diagnosed with breast cancer. But Natalie is much more flawed than Lizzie ever was, which goes without saying, I suppose, since she was one of my closest friends. I think the inspiration for Natalie was really some of the worst traits I sometimes see in other people who are perhaps focused on the wrong things. And to be honest, many of us harbor some of those characteristics. I mean, certainly, I can admit to being self-centered at times or neglectful of my family or whatever. The difference is that ideally, in real life, you have many more positive characteristics to outweigh those negatives. In the book, Natalie’s scale is tipped too far in one direction, however, and cancer helps her rebalance both her priorities and her life.

As your character grew, did you learn something about yourself or your friend's struggle as well and what do you want your readers to take away from the book?
Definitely. As I’ve partially already touched on, working my way through Natalie gave me some insight into my own life – my shortcomings, my strengths, my priorities. What I really love about Natalie’s journey, (and with apologies to Seinfeld), is that she comes to realize that she’s the only one who is the master of her domain. And what I mean by that is that she recognizes that she always has a choice in how she lives her life – what happens to her might be out of her control: she gets cancer, her boyfriend leaves her, her job deteriorates – but how she responds to those situations, whether she tramples over them like a bull or whether she learns that it’s okay to lean on friends and look for help, well, those are all within her own grasp. And that really becomes an underlying theme for the book: that you always have a choice, even if you didn’t choose the situation that you’re in. And certainly, this applied to my own life when I lost Lizzie. Everyone mourns in his or her own way, and it would have been entirely easy to get bogged down in the grief and the misery of it all. But, as I’ve said before, you can choose to sink into your misery or you can choose to find a way to crawl out of it, and I try to choose the latter, regardless of the situation. I hope that after reading the book, readers might choose to do the same.

You write articles for magazines as well. How do you "turn off" the non-fiction writer and go into fiction mode?
Well, I find that writing fiction is much more difficult than writing magazine articles. Probably because with magazines, I’m already given a standard set of parameters – word count, general story idea, etc – and I just have to adhere to them, whereas with fiction, I’m on my own! The best way that I’ve found to get into fiction mode is to simply dive in. I have a real tendency to completely procrastinate working on my novel, so every morning, I tell myself that at, say 11AM, without fail, I have to start working on it. Trust me, I eye that clock with dread. But it’s almost like going to the gym: you make the time, and once you’re there, it becomes a lot easier. So I start by rereading a few of the previous pages, to sort of rev my engines, and then I require that I write or attempt to write (on a bad day!) for an hour. >From there, I’m free to go about my day!

How did you find your agent?
Dumb luck! No, seriously, I blindly queried her, and just completely lucked out. I wrote what I think was a pretty strong query letter, emailed it off to a bunch of top-choice agents whom I’d researched on Publishers Marketplace and, and she wrote back to me within an hour requesting a full. By the end of that day, she asked me not to accept an offer anywhere else until she finished, and when an offer did indeed come in the next day, my agent finished reading that night, and called me the next morning. I was smitten, and even pulled the manuscript for other agents who were still reading. I just knew instinctively that this was the agent for me, and I’m happy to say that I was 100% right. Sometimes, you just have to trust your gut (along with writing a kick-ass query letter), and I’m so grateful that I did. I couldn’t love my agent more, and I’m certain that it will be a career-long partnership.

Your book has received a lot of buzz. Was that work on your part, the agent, the publisher or a mixture of all?
It really has been a collaborative effort. Certainly, I’ve tried to work every last contact and angle that I had, but truly, that will only get you so far I’ve been very, very fortunate to have a lot of support from my publisher, and while a lot of authors complain that they don’t get adequate attention from their in-house publicist and marketing team, I really feel like I have. Maybe part of that is because yes, I do have connections, so my publicist has more enthusiasm for the project…I don’t know. But the Morrow team really has been getting the book out there and trying to garner great press. As has my agent. I mean, she’s so enthusiastic, she might actually be the biggest cheerleader of us all! Of course, some of it comes down to a bit of luck: that of the hundreds of galleys that land on an editor’s or reviewer’s desk, that they happen to pick up mine…some things you just can’t control. Of course on the other side of the coin, there are plenty of places where I’d die to have the book reviewed, like EW, but that were no-gos. So…eh, that’s life.

How did it feel to be named Redbook's Book of the Month Club pick for May. You're also a Literary Guild pick - a writer's dream come true. How did it happen for you?
Oh, I just about peed on myself. Seriously, when that Redbook email came in from my editor, I seriously went bananas. It happened via Morrow – they pitched the first serial rights, and I guess Redbook read the ARC and thought it was a winner. The same thing with the Literary Guild. It’s pretty amazing: there are all of these people behind the scenes working for the book’s success, and I get to reap the glory. I’m really just pretty grateful for all of it, and for all of them. I guess this is what a movie star feels like: they have their make-up artists, their hairstylists, their agent, their publicist, their manager, and then they land the Oscar. J No wonder their speeches are so long! Because at the end of the day, yeah, I wrote the book, but a lot of other people helped get me here.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Lots of Attention with Press Releases

My writing buddy and a reader of the blog, Heather Larson submitted this gem:

"A brand new atlanta print publication is looking for some of the best freelance writers around. Yes there is pay. Here's how it works, I give the topic, you submit an article if it's chosen as the cover story you get paid. Pay is $50 for cover story. All other articles are not paid. The publication will also have a website attachment where your work will be published as well. Not to mention all the attentiion the editor will give you in press releases. "

Wow....this is like a writing contest and those who win get the cover AND $50!? Woohoo!

Dear Readers....
Beginning Monday, the format of this blog will change. Readers seem to love learning about writing from other writers and the author Q&A has become quite a popular event, so I'm extending that to Monday and Friday. Tuesday, I will still try to locate legitimate paying writing opportunities. On Wednesday, I'll be posting anecdotes from seasoned freelancers on how great the writing life is. Thursday will be questions from readers or my own musings.

Don't worry Craigs List Curmudgeon is still outing scammers at and I'm sure he/she would be happy to take any leads you send. As well, the irreverent freelancer at is still saying "Screw You" to scammers and bad clients.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Ideas Don't Have a Copyright

Reader Debbie Moose sent me this email this week:

"A friend of mine who is a freelance writer (as I am) has confronted an issue that concerns me both on her behalf and for my own future work. I would welcome your advice and experience.My friend suggested a story to a publication where she was a frequent contributor and which her editor liked. They discussed plans at length. Then the editor said that when the idea was presented at a staff meeting, the department liked the idea and would likely assign it to a staff member. My friend would be given a "kill fee."It's my understanding that a kill fee is offered when a work is not published at all rather than when it is appropriated.Thanks in advance for any clarification or advice you can offer about this type of concern and how my friend might follow up with (and preferably not alienate) her editor."

I advised Debbie that no, this wasn't actually a kill fee unless the idea had actually been assigned and a contract signed. For some reason, the editors decided that the particular story would be better handled in house, or maybe a staff writer had presented a similar idea and felt slighted it was going to a freelancer. Who knows? While I know it's a disappointment to the writer, they should look at the positives. At least the publication was honest enough to pay the writer something. More importantly, this writer should know their ideas are hitting the mark for this publication. My suggestion: keep on querying these good ideas. My bets are that you'll have an assignment before you know it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A New Low Writers Wanted for 2.5 Cents a Word

One of our readers, Allie Johnson, replied to an ad on and received the following response:

"Job pays $10 per article (no less than 400 words each, with length determined by topic) plus $1 per topic title that is accepted by the client. (Client will approve your titles before you write, so that you will know in advance if the article will be acceptable to the client.)"

As is usually the case, this scammer lists an amazing amount of job qualifcations a writer would have to meet to make this princely sum....oh, and they're a start up. Well, of course they are...writers are usually asked to finance someone elses dreams with their words.

Allie blew 'em off, but told me it was nice to have some place to send these types of emails, rather than just fuming over them!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Bloggers Wanted to Write About Home Improvement

I'm listing this ad today because I just attended the SPJ Regional Conference in which one session was devoted completly to podcasting and blogging for dollars. This is a relatively underpaid area of writing, but may help people develop a platform in an area of expertise. The thing I liked about this ad is that the lister says the writer can retain all rights to his work:

"Do you like to write or blog about home improvement? Would you like to earn some extra money each month from your writing? I am looking for people who can contribute excellent articles about home improvement for a website. You will retain full rights to any writing you contribute and you must have a PayPal account to receive payment. "

For the full ad, go to: