Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I'm Free

Today is my free day, it's fitting it's on my favorite holiday. I celebrate it every year by leaving my desk midday, just because I can. Nine years ago today, I walked away from a minimum $50,000 a year job, 4 weeks vacation, 9 paid holidays, 3 personal days, 12 sick days a year, relatively inexpensive full healthcare for me and my husband, 401K and the financial ability to stop at a travel agent on a whim and walk out with tickets to anywhere for the weekend. I also walked away from a 40 minute commute, gray pod walls that surrounded my gray desk, an online timeclock that would drive anyone mad, an environment that told me when I could eat, what I could have at my desk to drink, what I could decorate my pod walls with, the pressure of making quotas, a job that was turning the creative side of my brain to mush, the need to wear a nightguard every night because I was grinding my teeth so hard I would literally break them off in my sleep (I lost 2) and a prescription for anxiety and depression.I walked into the most amazing world where I learn something new everyday meeting interesting people. How can I forget the day when I got to wear a lab coat, booties and hair net to watch fertility specialists actually create human life in a petri dish? Or, the night we spent in Jesse James’ boyhood home in hopes of catching his ghost (my husband even got to come with me on that one!) I have the ability to take a day if I need to without a doctor's excuse and a brand new life in our dream house on a mountain because I can do my job from virtually anywhere. Instead of corporate awards, my first paid published piece still hangs on my wall with the copy of the $25 check I got for it (yes, I cashed the actual check and paid about 3 times that to have it framed). But it is my reminder that money doesn't always buy happiness and if you're not happy doing what you do, it will never buy you peace of mind.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Grave Matters

Just in time for Halloween, I interview Mark Harris, author of the new book, "Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial." Mark tells us about his own journey from environmental journalist to book author and just how unnatural modern funerals have become.

Tell us about yourself.

I’m your typical college English major who -- after stints in high school teaching, graduate school, and book publishing -- found his way into freelance writing. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of writing, but as much as anything prefer working on my own (and not having a boss to pull me into yet another endless meeting).
I focused early on environmental issues, out of a love for the outdoors instilled by Boy Scouts, spending summers on my grandfather’s gentleman farm in southern Virginia and from devouring all those Foxfire books as a kid. I’ve since chosen to live in an in urban environment and have taken a lot of interest in trying to live more sustainably here. Shortly after the big Earth Day in 1990, an editor at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate saw some of my magazine and newspaper stories and offered me a weekly column on environmental issues, which I wrote for some dozen years. It was in the course of keeping my ear to the ground for column ideas that I heard about a woodland cemetery in South Carolina, where the unembalmed dead are wrapped in cloth shrouds or laid into basic, pine caskets and lowered into vault-free graves. I went down to visit and came away with the germ of what became "Grave Matters. "

Tell us about your new book, "Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial."

The book examines “green” burial, a form of disposition that allows, even invites, the dissolution of one’s remains and seeks to return them to the natural elements, as directly and simply as possible. Each chapter follows a family that conducts a green sendoff for its deceased, from a home funeral and burial at sea to cremation and burial in a woodland cemetery. I also profile a retired meatpacker who purchases a plain, pine coffin from a local carpenter, and a Virginian who buries his wife in a cloth shroud on his own, rural property.

By way of contrast, two opening chapters examine the standard, funeral home affair. The first describes a typical arrangement conference with a funeral director and then shows step-by-step exactly what happens to a corpse in the embalming room. The second chapter considers the environmental impact of modern burial. Those chapters make for tough reading but, I hope, encourage readers to press on to learn about the natural alternatives that follow.

You're an environmental journalist, so this seems like a natural fit for you. But I just did a huge project related to grieving the dead and death in the U.S. has become such a taboo topic, were you afraid that a publisher wouldn't buy your proposal? How did you find your agent/publisher?

I felt the demographics were right for a sale. The leading edge of the 78 million-strong Baby Boom Generation is slouching into retirement and, as I argued in the proposal, will bring a do-it-yourself, earth-friendly attitude to bear on end of life issues, just as it has at every other stage of its existence (as in natural childbirth). Not many marketers saw it that way, frankly. A number of editors liked the proposal but were overruled by the number crunchers, who contended that few people would want to read “a book about death.”

The wonderful exception was Scribner. The green burial movement was just gaining ground when the proposal landed on the desk of my eventual (and outstanding) editor, Beth Wareham, who “got” it and convinced the higher-ups to sign on. My agent, Russ Galen, has a deep interest in natural history/science and, as it turned out, was keen on the idea of green burial. I found him via Publishers and Agents (, which sent out a mass e-mail describing the book to editors around the country.

My mother passed away this year and I looked into not having her body embalmed. However, we were told that state law required it if we were going to hold a wake or viewing. Does your book give ways families can get around these laws if they're interested in a more natural burial?

I’m sorry to hear about your mother’s passing.
I’m surprised by the funeral director’s demand. Embalming is almost never required by law, and then only when the deceased died of a contagious disease or is being transported across state lines. (If neither applied to your mother and she passed away in your home state of Arkansas, for example, state law says your funeral director could have refrigerated her remains and presented her for viewing.) It’s more likely the case that the funeral home itself has a policy against holding wakes/viewings of unembalmed bodies.

In Grave Matters I review various laws that families must consider when pursuing their alternative burial of choice. Many states, for one, require a day or two-day waiting period before a body is cremated (in order to give authorities an opportunity to investigate any question about the cause of death); most regions prohibit whole body burial on one’s own urban or suburban property.

In general, however, I was surprised to find that families have much more control over the remains of their deceased than they think. The vast majority of states, for example, still allow families to lay out and wake their dead in their own homes as in days of old (with the aid of dry ice now, in many cases). You don’t even have to buy a casket from your funeral director. It’s perfectly legal to buy one from a local carpenter, an Internet discount broker, even the Costco retail giant and have it delivered it to your funeral director. By law, he must accept it and may not charge you a handling fee to do so.

(Kerri's note: My mother didn't pass in Arkansas, and she did have MRSA, the super bug staph that is considered a very contagious disease).

Did you find the subject, at times, a little depressing? I know I had to keep reminding myself on the project I did on grief that I was supplying information to help others, but at times, it was just very sad.

I don’t find the subject itself sad or depressing. How we bury and memorialize our dead in this country is actually pretty fascinating, the natural alternatives even more so. Interviewing the families I profile was certainly tough, though. They shared these heartbreaking stories about the decline, passing and burials of their loved ones, usually while crying or struggling to control themselves. I was often crying myself. The toughest part was then having to step outside myself during these emotional encounters and work as a journalist to get the story, to ask the still-grieving man in front of me just what happened the moment his wife slipped away, or question the mother about what she was thinking when the funeral directors wheeled her son out to the waiting hearse.

Their losses were devastating, of course. The funerals and burials, on the other hand, I found uplifting. In part, I think that’s because they were just so personal and celebratory. Also, they recognized death as a natural part of the cycle of life – of growth and decay, decomposition and rebirth -- that sustains all life. To walk the woodland cemeteries where some of the deceased are buried is to see that they literally live on in the trees and flowers and other wildlife abounding there. And that itself is a positive end to a life.

How did you find the experts for your book and conduct the research?

I turned up organizations, experts and companies that offer the alternatives I profile in the book – i.e., a home funeral “midwife,” a coffin builder, a boat captain who conducts sea burials – and asked them for leads to clients who might be willing to talk with me. I conducted initial interviews with those clients over the phone. Once I settled on the families I wanted to profile, I sometimes traveled to their homes and interviewed them at length in person.

Many of the burials/funerals I ended up writing about had already taken place. For a single burial, say, I’d interview a number of participants to get a fuller view of what happened. Families also gave me a wealth of tremendously helpful resource material, such as photographs and videos of funerals, death certificates, eulogy scripts, etc. I attended a couple of the burials I write about, including one scattering of ashes off the coast of San Diego and the deployment of an ashes-containing “reef ball” in the waters off Ocean City, New Jersey.

What is the writing process like for you - when is your best time for writing?

With two young daughters – one in fifth grade, the other in ninth – I schedule my working hours for when they’re in school. Generally, it’s writing in the morning when I’m freshest, research in the early to mid afternoon. I take a run every afternoon through a forest preserve to clear the cobwebs and move my generally hidebound hindquarters. I run to escape writing, but that’s often when I get my best ideas for whatever I’m working on. I work out of a garret office in our home and sometimes return to it at night, though that’s getting harder to do the older I get.

I love the idea of an outline but tend to make one only when working on complicated, detailed sections (as in the case of the embalming chapter). I hone constantly as I work. I’ll bang out copy to new section and then return to an earlier passage to smooth and re-smooth it, working my way down. By the end, the copy’s pretty clean.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?

The interviews, as I note above. Also, leaving the book behind when I was done for the day. This project was engrossing, challenging, fun – the most satisfying endeavor of my writing career – and I had a hard time keeping it from occupying my waking hours. Of course, the year deadline helped keep it there. My wife was not thrilled with my emotional absence.

Were there any surprises in the research process - anything you never knew?

Hands down, the biggest surprise was learning about the embalming process. I thought I understood the basics, but I had no idea how invasive and gruesome the process really is. The book focuses on the natural alternatives to standard burial, but it’s the embalming chapter that readers comment on most.

Where can people find your book and what's next for you?

Like most authors, I’d love to think they can find it in any bookstore. A more certain venue is my web page, where I have links to on-line booksellers:

Right now I’m speaking at colleges, senior centers, churches, and memorial societies about natural burial and the funeral industry. I’m also trying to maintain a weekly blog on the topic (

And I’m thinking about the next book project. Later this week, in fact, I’m presenting a bunch of ideas to my writers group. These accomplished, talented, funny, and irreverent writers saw Grave Matters from inception to birth. They’ll prove just as vital to the next book.

Did you know that the 20th century term "living room" that replaced the old-style word "parlor" was actually coined by a popular ladie's magazine who thought the term should be used in place of parlor because of the association with old-time wakes in the parlor?

Monday, October 29, 2007

An Early Treat

I'm posting job listings today as I have something else in mind for Halloween Wednesday:

The Association of Healthcare Journalists needs a project manager in Columbia, MO:
The Association of Health Care Journalists - with its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism - is seeking a Special Projects Manager.

In less than 10 years, AHCJ has grown to more than 1,000 members in 19 countries. It provides a growing number of services to its members and, through the Center, presents numerous well-regarded training events, publications and online resources aimed at improving the state of health care reporting and editing. We have several projects on our plate and more are expected.

The position will serve in a leadership role on specific grant projects and event programs as assigned by the Executive Director. This will include planning educational content for conferences, securing presenters and instructors, working with writers and editors on AHCJ publications and collaborating with outside organizations on joint projects.

We prefer a candidate with at least seven years of print, broadcast or online journalism experience, preferably in covering health or health care. We need someone with well-honed organizational skills and the ability to work in a team setting. Some management or project leadership experience is desired.
See the full listing at

Free Lance News Writers
Location: Washington, DC - all free lance work is done on site in the Central News Division.

Voice of America is seeking contract writers for its central news service, which produces brief stories on international and national events for VOA broadcasters and international audiences. Central News requires at least three years experience in journalism, must have experience in writing news for broadcast. Ability to work quickly and efficiently under deadline pressure is essential. These are freelance positions, for work on an “as-needed” basis. Pay rates vary with experience. Must be willing and available to work overnights. Applicants will be required to take a writing test to qualify. Send cover letter, resume (with references) and three writing samples to

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened....

when I met up with some writers in a forum.
We were all chatting away, exchanging information and someone we didn't know walked right in and asked for editor information from us without introducing themselves.
Ok, writers, this is going to be a lesson in online networking today.
Those of us who either started in business, or have some business background, learned in our former lives about the value of networking. It used to be that we would attend sometimes stuffy, and oftentimes, boring mixers. There we would be, trying to balance a plate of appetizers and a drink, while fumbling for business cards - if we met someone we wanted to exchange them with.
Today, however, more writers find themselves mixing in online chatrooms and forums and exchanging contacts on linkedIn. I'm usually casually drinking my coffee in the morning or eating my lunch while reading what my fellow writers have to say, and chiming in when I have something to contribute.
But more and more, I'm seeing people who obviously don't know the first thing about networking or manners, for that matter.
It's become a pet peeve of mine, especially, to be in a writers forum where I've long become comfortable, and have someone no one knows pop in with a question - especially if it pertains to obtaining contact information on an editor.
"What's the biggie?" you ask. "Isn't this why someone joins a forum?"
Well, yes.
And no.
Imagine this scenerio. You're at one of those stuffy networking functions in the prehistoric 1980s, before anyone knew what the Internet was.
You're standing around with a plate of those appetizers, talking with a group of colleagues you know.
Someone no one knows walks up to the group and without even introducting themselves, says,
"Excuse me. But I would like to write for xx publication. Will someone hook me up there?"
Get my point?
In the worst case scenerios, it hasn't been unheard of for a complete newbie on these forums to obtain information from a seasoned writer and start their query by saying,
"I know you work with XX and she referred me to you." The seasoned writer only learns of this when the editor makes an assignment on the seasoned writers "recommendation," only to find out when the assignment goes sour that the seasoned writer didn't "refer" them at all, they only were trying to be nice and shared an email address.
Networking is an art. It requires you getting to know people, and people getting to know you. Once you introduce yourself and you are getting to know each other, then networking is also about sharing. And that means you also giving your knowledge - as well as obtaining information. And, even if you are new to the biz, you can always find something to contribute.
The same rules applies on online forums as they did back in the day when we met in person. So, if you show up to an online forum expecting to just receive, don't think we're the jerks when we don't give.
Look in the mirror, and learn some networking manners.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

My Schedule

I'm finishing up my work today so I can go and meet another writer for lunch tomorrow. That couldn't have happened in the corporate cube unless I had taken a precious vacation or personal day.
That's what I love about the freelance life today.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Freelance Job if you Love Football

I personally loathe professional sports, especially football. But I know I'm in the minority, so this might be the perfect opportunity for someone:

Red Line Editorial is currently seeking freelance writers in all NFL cities to provide feature stories on NFL players for our clients. Writers should be professional journalists with midweek credentialed access to the training facility for an NFL team. Stories will be quick-turn features and the work will not conflict with your existing deadlines or assignments. If you are interested, please email your resume and/or links to current NFL clips to:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Straight Talk

Today, I interviewed Daylle Schwartz. She talks about her journey from "Recovering Doormat," to music executive, to author and speaker. She also tells us how her new book, "Straight Talk with Gay Guys," which she describes as advice for straight women, fit into her journey. Questions for Daylle? Post them in the comments section.

Tell us about yourself.
I’m a speaker, self-empowerment counselor and music industry consultant and author of 9 books, including Start & Run Your Own Record Label (Billboard), All Men Are Jerks until Proven Otherwise, How to Please a Woman In & Out of Bed and Straight Talk with Gay Guys. After being a People Pleaser due to low self-image, I reinvented myself into a dual career. I began as a teacher and took a dare from students who said a white woman couldn’t rap. That led to me being the first white female rapper and one of the first women to start a record label. Now my music business books are some of the top sellers in the world. My music industry fans buy my self-empowerment books and subscribe to my Self-Empowerment newsletter and blog. Since starting, I’ve been on hundreds of TV and radio shows, including Oprah, Howard Stern and Good Morning America.

Tell us about your book, "Straight Talk With Gay Guys."
I interviewed 33 fabulous gay men—from gossip columnist Michael Musto to PETA activist Dan Mathews (also known as Pamela Anderson’s gay husband) to hairstylists from top salons—to advise women about straight men and self-empowerment. Their advice is very insightful and practical, presented with a mixture of humor and honesty.

Tell us how you developed two distinctive platforms in writing.
After recovering from DoorMat Syndrome and getting divorced (I married at 20), I vowed to never do anything I didn’t love again and burned my teaching license. I began teaching music business seminars that I put together myself. While running my record label I learned some good techniques for navigating the male dominated music industry and getting taken seriously without having to be tough and loudly assertive. My self-esteem increased dramatically as I worked on me. Women kept asking me how I was able to succeed the way I did. So I began my Nice Girls on Top workshop, and then one for guys. My platforms cross over. Women in the music industry see me as a role model as I’m one of the few females to reach my level in my field. The music business is about building relationships. I bring the lessons of one side of my career into the other. It works well for me, even though it gets a little confusing at times.

Fascinating. How did you come up with an idea for gay guys and what made you think this book was needed?
When I first left my husband, I had good professional confidence but was still a wimp with men—the old need a man to complete me mentality. So I let men get away with a lot, until my gay friends straightened me out. Their advice was much better than my girlfriends, who often spoke from the same point of desperation that I felt so they encouraged me to hang in, or were jealous and encouraged me to dump him so I’d be free to go out wit them. My gay friends pointed out my worth and taught me to value myself. I got a life and since then feel in control of myself with men. I wanted to share that kind of advice with more women so I wrote the book.

What were some of the challenges of writing a book for gay guys from the perspective of a straight woman?
It’s the other way around. For women. It was a totally delightful experience. I fell in love with each guy’s charm, and wished they were straight. They were so caring. You can see some of them in the videos for the book. ttp:// I wanted to bring the book to life because the guys have such great personalities. It’s one of the most viewed book videos. The music side of my career taught me about YouTube. I interviewed their marketing manager, who convinced me to do the videos.

How did you research your book? I asked around to find gay guys who women recommended and called hair salons, asking the women who worked there if they could recommend guys. Then I interviewed all 33 of them and wove their advice in with mine.

Your business is a mix of writing, consulting, speaking and teaching. How do you determine what falls into your business plan?
Every month is a crap shoot. I tell people that faith gets my bills paid. I never know where my income will come from but it always comes. I just got a speaking agent for the higher level gigs so I’ll see if that proves lucrative. I love it all so I keep my options open. I do book doctoring for others too and also write for magazines when I have time.

What kinds of things do you like to read?
I rarely have time to read books as when I do, I tend to keep reading till I’m finished and time doesn’t often allow for that. I love historical fiction and also Clive Cussler types of mystery action novels. But mainly I read magazines – a lot of health and fitness ones. For me, part of self-empowerment is nurturing your well-being. I read everything I can about how to be healthy. I sometimes write articles about alternative medicine.

Do you have one quirky writing habit that no one knows about you (yet?)
I love to sit propped up in my bed with my laptop and write. And I like to take my laptop out to diners for brunch and to coffee shops. The noise and energy motivate, not distract me.

What's next for you and how do we find your book?
I’m putting a lot of energy into my blog, Lessons from a Recovering DoorMat and I greatly enjoy writing it. I make observations about things in every day life and about celebrities and others in the news that are examples of self-empowerment boosters or busters. I also talk about things I learned on the road to self-empowerment and give constructive advice. I’m writing my next book, Nice Girls on Top and researching another music business book. All my books are in stores or they can be ordered from my website.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Tapping Our Creative Energy

Short post today as I have a lot of work to complete.
Browsing my favorite writing forum gave me the topic for today's post - tapping into our creative energy.
Fellow writer Jody Mace has a silly contest on her blog today for anyone who has ideas about how her husband can remember their neighbor's name.
Sometimes we need to step out of our boxes a little to get our creative juices flowing.
See the post here:

Friday, October 19, 2007


When I was growing up, children referred to their parents good friends as "aunt" and "uncle," but this wasn't a title bestowed upon just anybody, only special people.
My parents had two such friends close enough for that designation - Aunt Grace and Uncle Virge, and Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Bob. All of them played a significant part in my rearing in a time when a village still did indeed raise a child.
I've thought a lot about my Aunt Grace, Aunt Myrtle and my mom this week, as I have about Nick Gallo, a travel writer who died a few days ago while on assignment in Greece.
My Aunt Grace, Aunt Myrtle and Mom all died within 16 months of each other - my Aunt Grace - probably the most boistrous of the "old gang" - characteristically lead the pack two years ago yesterday.
I have good childhood memories of their coffee klatches in our living room on weekday mornings while their husbands were at work. Although I wasn't allowed in on most of the conversation - their voices and laughter mixed with the smell of coffee and cigarettes are a piece of my being. They serve not only as just good memories, but it was those relationships that act as a model in my life for lasting friendships. As in any relationship, their friendship wasn't all laughter and good times, they had their issues. But they always found their way back to the ties that made them "aunts" to each other's children. Role models indeed.
I didn't know Nick Gallo, with the exception of interaction with him on a writers forum to which we both belonged. But I took the time to read two of what I'm sure are the first of many tributes to come, and one of his articles, a moving letter to his son who was growing up as they do - way too soon. The solem anniversary of my losing my Aunt Grace, and loss of such a seemlingly all around good guy and writer made me think of love and loss and the sadness their absence leaves us.
But when we can see past the pain, we then can see the legacy they leave us too.
Nick not only touched his friends and family, he was able to touch people he never even knew, even after his death, with his writing.
My mom and her old gang touched me - in ways they probably didn't even realize.
Their legacy will be with me until I'm gone, and hopefully the model they showed me will be passed on to my own good friends.
And maybe, just maybe, I'll someday be able to write about how they touched my life in the same beautiful way that Nick wrote about his feelings to his son.
I can't think of a more positive way to honor the old gang, or leave my writing legacy.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

An Introduction

We attended a community meeting at our local volunteer fire department last night. I had met one of the women there by shopping in her antique store and she introduced me to a group of women.
Having the introduction that I'm a writer always brings questions and is a good ice-beaking topic. I feel it allows me to break out of my naturally introverted writing shell and helps me to know people.
That's what I love about the freelance life today.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An Essay Contest

Atlantic Monthly is celebrating its 150th anniversary and has invited readers to submit a short essay - 200 words or less - on "the American idea, its future, and the greatest challenges it faces." They will publish the best of the essays in a future issue. For more details go to and scroll down to "Essay Contest."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Scent of God

Today, I interviewed Beryl Singleton Bissell, author of "The Scent of God," a truly fascinating memoir about two religiously devoted people who fall in love with each other, leaving them to choose between their life calling and their life together. Beryl talks about the challenges of writing such a memoir and winning the Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors award.

Tell us about yourself.
I should have this down pat by now, but each time I’m asked that question I wonder where to begin. Perhaps I’ll just say that I’ve packed several lifetimes into one – I’ve been a nun, a wife, mother, widow, single parent, divorcee, and grandmother (8 precious children). My work experiences are almost as varied. I’ve worked as a nurse, cook, manager, set designer, picker in a clothing distribution center, jeweler, office manager, development director.
I have lived in New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and Italy and despite my yearning for warmer climates have moved progressively further north – returning to New Jersey from Puerto Rico before moving to Minneapolis and from there to Minnesota’s beautiful North Shore of Lake Superior, freezingly close to the Canadian Border.

Tell us about your book, "The Scent of God."
The Scent of God tells of the search for God that led me into a cloister at the age of 18 and the unraveling of that vocation 15 years later in Puerto Rico when I met and fell in love with a handsome Italian priest. From New Jersey, to Puerto Rico, to Italy Padre Vittorio and I wrestle with the seeming contradiction between our growing love and our desire to remain faithful to our religious commitment -- a journey through doubt to acceptance, from guilt to redemption, from life through death.

Why did you decide to write a memoir about this time in your life?
I actually began writing this memoir 10 years ago when I overheard my son tell a confidant that he thought he was damned. God had it in for him because his father had been a priest and his mother a nun. I realized that I needed to tell my children the story of the events that led to their birth and to resolve for myself the doubt I’d kept hidden until then – whether Vittorio’s death from cancer while the children were babies was punishment for our exodus from religious life.

What were the challenges of writing this memoir?
Digging for the truth concealed within the story through draft after draft. The book went through 10 different drafts altogether, at one point becoming an unwieldy 800 pages as I moved from present to past and back again. I had to pare the story down to under 300 pages – which meant cut, cut, cut! Every word, phrase, or event that did not move the story forward had to be eliminated. Finding the right structure to support the narrative was the most challenging literary problem. Bringing my dark side to the light was the most painful creative effort. I thought I’d finished writing when an agent sent the manuscript back and told me that I had a great story and the skill to tell it but that I hadn’t told the story yet. I hadn’t gone deep enough. I’d danced around huge issues that I didn’t deal with. She was right. When I reread the manuscript after putting it away for a period of time, I saw what needed to be done and did it. Not an easy task when it meant bringing secrets to the light.

You are now remarried, did you worry about the affects of the book on your current marriage and family?
No. I went forward because they had prodded me to tell this story, my husband especially who moved me to the North Shore so I would write this book. What he found difficult was hearing me talk about Vittorio before audiences. I did a lot of interviewing for this book, so almost everyone in it knew that I was writing about events in which they figured. My beloved sister nuns, however, who provided me with much support and information found the book distressing – primarily because I identified the monastery and the nuns by name.

How do you remain true to a story knowing there might be something someone in your life may find hurtful, offensive, etc?
This is proving more of a difficulty in the work I am now writing which deals with the events that led to my 24-year-old daughter’s violent death six years ago. Many of the persons in The Scent of God are now deceased so I was able to speak of those incidents without such concern. Having experienced the nuns discomfiture with the book, however, I will need to change names and places in this one. Many persons that will be included in this book are alive and as some of the topics I deal with are dark I am weighing the possibility of taking this memoir into fiction. Fiction can give the writer the opportunity to get closer to the truth.

You were named Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors, how did you win this award and what was your reaction?
I had no idea I was even a contender for this title and didn’t know about it until a writing friend wrote to congratulate me. The news quite stunned me and I lost no time in checking it out. It must be remembered that this was not an award per se (though it felt like one) but a decision made by Minnesota’s largest newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Have there been things you've learned about yourself in this process?
I discovered that in exposing what we are inclined to hide, confronting what we’d rather avoid, we learn that our failings are gifts. We realize our limitations and thus become more compassionate and loving toward others. It is in this sharing of our humanness that others find gifts for themselves. “We tell our stories because they are your stories,” the director of Tsotsi said and judging from others’ responses to The Scent of God this is true.

What kinds of books do you like to read?
Memoir is my favorite genre, followed closely by books on spirituality and literary fiction. I am crazy for books coming from other cultures, and love a good mystery now and then.

What's next for you?
I hope it is a lightning strike of creative inspiration that will launch me into a series of books. As I mentioned earlier, I am working on the sequel to The Scent of God, and remain busy with ongoing marketing and publicity efforts for The Scent of God. I am also boning up on my Spanish which has become very rusty and is easily confused with the little Italian I managed to acquire in Italy. I’d like to speak it well and then bring the same effort to the study of Italian.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ozark Festivals

I was very excited last week to attend the Turkey Trot Festival in my new adopted hometown of Yellville, Arkansas. I was more excited when I started researching the origins of the festival, which began in 1949 as a way to bring attention to the fact that wild turkeys were being hunted to near extinction in Arkansas at that time. The festival is the longest running annual festival in Arkansas and boasts the largest turkey calling contest in the country.
I had visions of pitching the festival, with different angles, to a magazine that highlights such festivals and a birding conservation magazine.
That is, until I discovered that during the festivities, they drop live turkeys from planes to "fly, glide, or plummet to the ground" (in the local newspaper's words). If the birds are lucky enough to regain their senses after being dropped from the sky, they are chased down by local children, caught and brought back to a cheering crowd on the square looking "confused, if not somewhat relieved."
To be fair, the practice hasn't been sanctioned by the local chamber for 13 years, but someone still does it and someone still pays for the barbaric practice - something that I'm sure the magazines wouldn't appreciate (and neither did I).
Just goes to show that the biggest lesson in writing I've learned is that you don't really know what the story is until you get there - or if there will even be one.
So, my querying goals changed before I even made it to Monday morning and now I have to find other stories to pitch.
I did hear a hoot owl hooting this morning in our backyard when I took our dogs out in the pre-dawn hours.
There must be at least an essay in that.

Friday, October 12, 2007


I posed a very specific question to a writing buddy yesterday - What in the world do you do with asignments that the editors tell you can be turned in "whenever."
I have four of these - a collection of ideas editors loved, but told me they don't give deadlines. "Just get them to me when you get it," or "Whenever I get it is fine."
That's like a death nail for the idea coffin. Some of these have been on my "to do" list so long, it's embarrassing. In a deadline driven profession, for people who take as many assignments as they can so they can meet or exceed their income goals, these "whenever" assignments get placed to the bottom of the pile each week. They are replaced by assignments that *have* to be done.
I was glad my writing buddy told me the same thing happens with her when she gets these types of ambiguous assignments.
But she did have a good idea that expanded on setting my own personal deadline and that's to email the editors and let them know when the article will arrive.
I'm going to try that next week. Hopefully, that will help clear my "to do" list of these ideas that once upon a time, I thought were good.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Early to Rise

My husband has to be to work at 6, which means traveling dark mountain roads dodging deer and any other wild animal that decides to go for an early morning run.
This also means getting up by 4:15 so he has time to get fully awake and eat before he leaves.
Thursdays are trash days and in the country, that means hauling it to a designated spot. In our neck of the woods, that's the volunteer fire department.
Of course, this is at least 10 minutes in the other direction of his job.
"I don't want to be late for work at least in the first 10 years," my husband joked at the first of the week.
To be on the safe side, he left the house with the trash by 4:45 this morning.
At 5:30, he called to report he had made it to work already (so now we know he doesn't have to leave that early).
Now he is punching his timeclock and I'm heading back to bed for some more zzzzz's.
That's what I love about the freelance life today.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Double Header Today

I couldn't resist posting this one as well when I found it. 10 pages? Short book, and the reason why every story does not a book make.

Writer Needed (Comp: Send rates) I'm working on a story that I'd like to have published as a book (not sure how to go about doing that yet). It's a great story that I think would really be a good seller- true story about some stuff that happened to me. I'm looking for someone to re-write my story for me. Please email me with your rates. I'm working on my rough draft now.. shouldn't be more than 10 pages when I'm finished. I need someone that's really creative who can help me with this. Contact if interested with your rates.

Wanted: Someone with Novel Experience to Write Non-Fiction

First, for my friends in KC:

Freelance writers Needed in KC - Contract (Comp: $75-$150/story, depending on experience and the size of the story) (Wyandotte County, KS) : The Kansas City Kansan and GateHouse Magazine are looking for freelance writers for upcoming issues of GateHouse Magazine. We are interested in experienced freelance writers from the Kansas City area ONLY to write light, colorful human interest features for the magazine. Residency in and/or extensive knowledge of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., will push your resume to the top of the pile. We're looking for writers who can recieve an assignment and turn around an 800-1200 word feature story - along with 1-3 photos to accompany your story - over the course of a week or two. We're willing to pay in the $75-$150 range per story with photos, depending on the size of the story and experience. E-mail resumes to, attention Matt Kelsey, managing editor, The Kansas City Kansan/GateHouse Magazine. If you've applied for this freelance position, I encourage you to apply again - my e-mail server got trashed and I lost all the resumes that were sent in about a month and a half ago for this same position.

And now a riddle. What is wrong with this post?
Ghost Writer for True Story Crime (Comp: Will negotiate) Looking for a ghost writer for a true story crime novel involving drug cartel, kidnapping and murder. Would prefer someone with novel writing experience. Will negotiate price.

At least he's paying, but for what? Does he want someone who can write true crime or someone who writes novels?

And this one just makes you wonder exactly how much fun a cocktail writer could have:

Cocktail Blogger Needed Part Time Do you have an interest in writing about cocktails and drinking? We are looking for someone with funny, creative, hip, and interesting creative writing skills to post weekly blogs on our website. To view existing style and content go to this link. . Interested? Work from home? Email Eric at

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Love, Nancy

Today, I interview Ruth Haag, author of "Hope all is well there, Love, Nancy: Letters from a Friend with Breast Cancer." Ruth talks about compiling a book through letters on a difficult topic.

Tell us about yourself.
I write books that help people to understand life as it is, rather than how they think it should be. Most of my books are written for managers and employees to understand the dynamics of the work environment. I am the CEO/CFO of Haag Environmental Company. Haag Environmental Company remediates hazardous wastes.

Tell us about your new book, "Hope all is well there, Love, Nancy: Letters from a Friend with Breast Cancer."
The book is a collection of letters that Nancy wrote to me, and a few that I wrote to her, during the nearly four years that Nancy had breast cancer.

This seems like such a deviation from your management training books, or is it? It is, and it isn't. All of my books look at life, and how people relate to one another. The management books talk about those relationships at work. This book looks at those relationships at home.

When you and Nancy were corresponding, did you think you had a book there? If not, how did you know to save all those emails and letters?
Nancy and I had been corresponding for more than 15 years. I had written several books by the time that Nancy found the breast cancer, and it immediately seemed to me that there was a book in it. Of course I had envisioned that Nancy and I would write a book together, that would describe her full recovery, but that is not what happened.

Did you have to obtain permission from Nancy's family to publish the letters, if so, how did you approach them?
Yes, I did obtain permission. I simply E-mailed all of them, described the book, and asked if it would be all right. I also asked them if they had any letters to add. Her husband, Jason, provided the letter near the end that she wrote to him on their 25th anniversary.

I know my students ask me about my own memoir, if there were sensitive family secrets or things about my brother I left out. I imagine there are some things in every true story that may be left out to protect privacy, etc. Did you talk about this with the family or make any of those decisions on your own?
I did a little of both. There were a few items that I was unsure of, for which I sent the direct quote to Nancy's husband, Jason. He made the decision to exclude them. Nancy wrote a few things in motherly frustration with teenagers, so I had my daughter look those over and take out anything that she thought would be embarrassing if it were said about her. All in all, there are about three phrases and five words missing.

How did you find your agent/publisher and how did you approach them about the book?
Luckily for me, I own a publishing company.

Tell us about your marketing plan, who is your target market and how are you reaching them?
I have found that all types of people like the book. My very conservative male banker read it and said he got a little teary eyed at the end. I just took it to a store here in Sandusky, Ohio, and later that day the owner called and said, "All right, I didn't get anything done today. I picked up that book and couldn't put it down." An 80+ year old friend of mine said, "I wish Nancy had been my friend." The appeal of the book is that you get to become friends with Nancy. It is being marketed through interviews in print, radio and TV. I have one publicist who figures that part out. I have a second publicist who promotes my work on the Internet.

What kinds of books do you like to read?
I like mysteries best. My favorite mystery authors are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rex Stout, Ed McBain and Robert Parker.

What's next for you and where can we find your book?
My next book is entitled, "Help Your Boss Gain People Skills." It is a guide for workers. to help them learn how to communicate with their bosses. My books are available on my own Web site:, through, or can be ordered at any bookstore. They are also available in Sandusky, Ohio at "Our Place by the Bay"located at 186 East Market Street, Sandusky, Ohio 419-621-1169.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Back to Normal

I never thought the routine of getting ready for a new week on Sundays would feel so good. Last night, for the first time in more than 3 months, we tidied up the house, finished laundry and got my husband ready to start his new job this morning - and we did it knowing he wouldn't have a 6 hour commute!
The uncertainty of our life change had spilled over into every aspect of our lives, including my writing.
When I thought of the assignments I need to complete this week, there wasn't the sense of not knowing where we would land. It's amazing how much chaos in other aspect of our lives can affect the creative process.
We still have a lot of adjusting to do (we have yet to find our winter clothes, which it looks as if we'll need by the end of the week), but there's a comforting sense of at least knowing where "home" is - and that we are once again in the same state.
Happy Writing!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Making Decisions That's Best for Your Writing Business

Editors, like companies I do business with, earn loyalty from me if they treat me with respect, first presenting a negotiable contract (or better yet, a perfect contract from the start); assistance if I have questions about the assignment, and finally, honoring the terms of our contract by paying me on time.
Likewise, I hope I earn loyalty with them by delivering good customer service, fast responses to their questions and clean copy.
People who are in business for themselves know we have to deliver good customer service to get repeat business.
And if we don't, word will eventually spread and our work will dry up.
But sometimes, good customer service isn't enough. Sometimes something just isn't working right or a business relationship just isn't clicking.
This happens with editors and with companies we do business with to run our businesses.
Take for example, my relationship with my now former cell phone company. We've had Verizon since 2004, when my mom had a heart attack and I had to switch from Sprint because our cell phones wouldn't work at all when we spent weekends on the lake.
Verizon worked on the lake, but we quickly realized it didn't work here at the lake house in the mountains.
No worries then, we had a land line in case she needed to reach us while we were home.
But that became a big problem when we moved, especially when my husband was spending days at a time away from the house. We could have used no minutes and free long distance had he been able to call me from his cell phone, but I couldn't get a signal if I was here.
For my business, there's been many times I needed to be online (we have a horrible dial up service here while I wait for satellite installation) while on the phone, but couldn't be unless I paid for yet another land line.
I had been happy with Verizon's service for years and really didn't want to change providers.
I called Verizon, hoping they could do something, but after a conversation with a nice gentleman, who did everything he could think of to help us improve our service, he finally admitted that there was nothing more the company could do.
"We hate to lose you, but really, you probably would be better off with a company who has a tower that's closer to your location," he told me.
They continued to earn my loyalty even as they were telling me to switch providers. I appreciated their honesty.
Getting good customer service reminds me of how important it is for me to give it as well.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Real Job

No matter the writer, sometime during our careers, people will usually ask us when we are going to get a "real job."
Yesterday, while driving through the mountains with my husband, he said, "We've been gone so long today, the dogs will know what it would be like if we both had real jobs."
I, of course, took offense. "I have a real job, it helps pay our real bills, doesn't it?"
He smiled and looked at me. "Getting to sit in your pajamas all day isn't really a real job."
Well, I guess when I look at it that way......
That's what I love about the freelance life today.
And yes, it's mid-morning and I'm still in my PJ's

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

One Serious Job - The Other Not So Much

Ok, I have two this week. The first one appears to be a legitimate gig:

Do You Write about Security Issues? (Comp: Per word, for words used. We need minimum 1,500-2,000 words per issue) (Northern Virginia) : Security Analysis and Risk Management Association (SARMA) is a growing non-profit association based in Virginia. We are seeking freelance writers for our bimonthly online newsletter on an ongoing basis, paying competitive rates. We will be needing writers who specialize in terrorism and homeland security issues, and would prefer those who have some familiarity with commonly accepted risk management principles and approaches (i.e., those relating to threat analysis, vulnerability analysis, mitigation, etc). Please respond directly to this ad (do not send an email to SARMA at this stage) with pertinent information about your background and qualifications. Also attach copies of, or links to, two or three of your published writing samples. Meanwhile, please check out our website at

The next one? Well, sounds like they are looking for the next Ann Coulter.

Writer/Editor with Split Personality We seek a writer/editor to work with us on our business and humor websites. Warning: Humor site satirizes politics and Hillary and the Left Wing (including GW) are our favorite targets. If you are Liberal, overly sensitive or too well-mannered this may not be a good gig for you. Aside from a mean-spirited and zany sense of humor, you must be an accomplished writer and editor with a serious side. (We said we're looking for a split personality.) This is an independent contractor 1099 gig. You must be able to attend meetings from time to time at our Carlsbad office.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

If Computers Do Not Compute for You.....

Today, I interview Helen Gallagher, author of the new book, "Release Your Writing." Helen's book is excellent if you want to self or POD publish - or if you're just having trouble as a writer navigating the computer.

Please tell us about yourself.
After a 30 year corporate career, I became a computer consultant in 1996 to get out of the downsize, rightsize, outsize world. My primary business, as a sole proprietor, is helping clients with software and technology challenges, so they can regain productivity, manage their time, and stay on top of tech issues that let them do more in less time. I've been a freelance writer for almost ten years, and assignments fill the gaps when I'm not with clients. I write for consumer and trade pubs, including the dearly departed PAGES, Writer's Digest, and many trades, covering business and technology. I've enjoyed success with travel articles and essays, including one in a nice Lonely Planet Travelers' Tales book. I published my first book, Computer Ease, in 2005 in response to client requests.I've always thought myself lucky that I put myself in a position to do something and it works out. Not that I don't have to struggle, but you know, you do something because it feels right and you receive acceptance and support, and it nurtures you both intellectually and financially. I started by walking around the corner to get business cards printed and never looked back. It's been eleven years and the blend of services I offer keeps me challenged, and having time available to write is a very nice mix.

Tell us about your book, "Release Your Writing, Book Publishing Your Way."
In three parts, Release Your Writing covers publishing options: traditional, self-published, and print-on-demand. Then, I focus on computer techniques, shortcuts and tricks to make writing easier, and take the stress out of interacting with technology--like a trick to avoid the Oops of sending an email before you check it. The third part covers the unending marketing needed to ensure a book succeeds in the marketplace. This includes over 50 pages on promotion, and the important and growing online markets for author visibility.

How did you come up with the idea for the book?
Shortly after I wrote Computer Ease, I had an idea for Computer Ease for Writers. But listening to the issues presented on the forums at FLX and ASJA I found the depth of issues to be greater than I could address. And writers are very proprietary about their favorite tools, techniques, socks and pens. I wanted a book that would make a writer's job easier, but it lacked focus. In March of this year, I gave a presentation and titled my talk "Release Your Writing." As soon as I entered the room, connected my laptop to the projector, and saw that title on the screen, I knew I had the book's focus. A few weeks later, at the ASJA conference, I noticed the palpable excitement over self-publishing: with packed sessions on the topic, self-publishing firms present, and self-published authors on panels.So, I went up to my hotel room during lunch and bought the domain name
Everything fell into place after that. I knew I had a solid idea: One book that explains options in publishing, technical aspects of coping with technology, dozens of shortcuts to write better and faster with your computer, and an entire section on book marketing, targeted specifically to those of us who do not have agents, marketers, and publicists steering out books toward an audience.

Why do you think self-publishing is a good option for some writers?
It's a reality in the publishing world that a first-time author has a hard time getting noticed. But lacking an agent and publisher advance doesn't mean you have to remain unpublished. If you own the rights to an out-of-print work, or you're a first time author with a topic and a target audience in mind, it's the perfect vehicle for successful publishing, especially for non-fiction. In the book, I lay out an author's reasons to choose POD and list ten of the firms offering service at different levels of price and quality.

Is there a difference between self-publishing, vanity publishing and POD publishing?
Vanity publishing has pretty much died out. Forty years ago, if a person wanted to publish, the vanity press was happy to take a large fee, and then get books printed. The trail went cold at that point, with a publisher keeping any profits, and an author left holding the books. It's a different, digital world today, self-publishing can be a lucrative enterprise with the author controlling writing, production, and cover design, as well as balancing expenses and profit in the process. Most experts say this is the most lucrative publishing avenue, but you have to know you'll sell a few thousand books to turn a profit. The downside of full self-publishing is ownership of all the decisions, meeting with printers, designers, distributors, finding warehouse space, and paying upfront for a print-run that might last years before recovering the initial costs. Many people don't want to handle all those roles.That's when print-on-demand (POD) starts to look good. An author can control the book's design and layout, but contract with a POD firm for set-up, production and distribution into mainstream outlets. More on that in a minute. Because books are printed to fill demand for orders, the cost may run $400 for an author to become a published author, with no further cash outlay. You then have a book professionally bound, by the same firm used by most traditional publishers, and it never goes out of print. POD authors purchase their own books at a discount, likely 40-50 percent, and keep 100 percent of the selling price. Compared to an average ten percent royalty for a good book deal with a traditional publisher, it is profitable and rewarding. The downsides are big though: no national distribution and no marketing budget. The typical extent of POD distribution is to make the book available online to all major retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, WalMart, etc., and in the important Ingram database for bookstore sales and Baker & Taylor for library orders. Bookstores dislike self-published books because there is no marketing or co-op fee from a publisher, and self-published books are generally not returnable. But as Dan Poynter says, "Bookstores are a lousy place to sell books." That's because they require 40-45 percent of sales. The mainstream publishing world runs the same way it did over 100 years ago, but the internet age offers vastly more outreach for authors. Authors are generally well received, though, when they offer their book to stores, on a consignment basis, and are quite welcome for book signings and in-store events.

If you gave just one piece of advice to authors wanting to self publish, what would it be?
There is nothing stopping you from being a successful author. Write a good book, believe in yourself, and work your way through the sales channels that suits your need. As publishing horizons blur, there is no stigma in being a self-published author. Remember, ASJA has a partnership with iUniverse, which is owned by Barnes & Noble, and ASJA broadened its membership requirements to accept some self-published authors. Just last month, iUniverse merged with AuthorHouse, and Amazon started a self-publishing venture called CreateSpace, that competes with its own subsidiary, BookSurge. Here's a recent quote from Bob Miller, president of Hyperion: "We try to keep a book in print as long as possible, and print-on-demand now makes that easier than ever."

What kinds of books do you read?
Oh, you know, writing books of all kinds. Other reading, usually at night, is primarily non-fiction, essays, the Best American Series every year, biography and memoir.

Tell us about your writing process, where do you write and what time of day is best for you?
I write exclusively on my notebook computer, day and night, but I most enjoy a free morning with a specific task or assignment in mind to get started. I think multi-tasking is one of the toughest intrusions for a writer to deal with, so I do close my email program and turn off the phone to give writing the attention it deserves. There are few professions that tolerate the things we do as writers: Think about dentists, pianists, and lawyers. They are very focused on their task and stay with it until its done. Exercise is a better outlet for our restless minds than the distraction of gadgets. When I must use a spiral notebook, at a lecture or writing while waiting somewhere, I transfer those notes to the computer as soon as I can, so everything is in one place. I might have 48 articles and queries in process, but at least they're all in the computer, in a writing folder, subdivided by categories.

What's next for you?
I've morphed into a publishing adviser in the past year, but it wasn't a deliberate effort. After my first self-published book, Computer Ease, I expanded my speaking gigs beyond my core technology focus to include talks to writers on the publishing process, including blogs and writing for the web. As an outgrowth, many people asked for advice on publishing. So, along with Release Your Writing as a vehicle to help people, I've added publishing adviser to my long list of titles, since I'm helping one or two clients per month get their book structured, and help them make the decision to self-publish and choose a POD firm. I don't have another book in mind at present, so I'll focus on marketing and selling articles to share key points of these books.

Please give us your website and where your book can be found.
Since I'm a business technologist, I integrate everything through my web sites and blogs, like you do, Kerri. The new book lives online at, is available through major online retailers and through the publisher, My other book and work reside at

Monday, October 01, 2007

Go With Your Gut

Last week was enough to make me wonder if I should even get a flu shot this year. I think I've already had it. Whatever this stuff is going around, it's wicked - a combo of severe cold symptoms and stomach flu.
However, I think I'm finally to the point of saying, "I'll live."
As bad as I felt on Friday, there was a query nagging the back of my brain that I just knew I had to get out.
Early last week, I saw a story about a wild animal in one of the local papers I read online. The more I thought about it, the more I knew it would make a good brief for an editor I had worked with in the past.
The FOB section (Front of Book) section of this particular magazine has quirky, weird news type little features, and this one fit the bill (pun intended).
However, by the time I even felt I could get to it on Friday, the national news had picked up the story and I figured someone else had already pitched it to "my" editor. I almost crossed the idea off of my list.
I went with my gut anyway (another pun intended since I was at the stomach phase of my illness by now), made an initial call for a quick interview with the human principle in the story, and wrote the quirky brief as a query to the editor and hit send.
Within 2 hours, he replied with "This is just too whacky to pass up," and outlined the terms of my contract.
It was the highlight of my week. I love writing for this magazine, and its just not the great pay. I really enjoy working with this editor.
"You can do that?" my husband asked when I told him about my assignment, referring to taking the idea, completing my own research and interviews and pitching the story myself to another publication.
"Sure," I told him. "There's no copyrights on ideas. That's where writers do get most of our ideas - from news stories and other people."
Of course, we count on each other for the honor system when we're participating in writers groups or on professional forums - as well as editors we query - not to steal our ideas for themselves.
As for life here in the Ozark Mountains. It is good. Going with our gut to move has proved to be beneficial for us too. My husband made our self-imposed deadline of September 30 for being here full time (he arrived at 5 a.m. yesterday) and instead of packing him up for another week long commute to KC last night, I was able to unpack him for good.
We laid in bed last night and listened as the thunder rolled across the mountains until it was right on us. The rain and rumbles made us sleep even better, I think.
A fitting first night knowing we are finally "home" after weathering the storm.