Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sing, Ronnie Blue

Today, I interview Gary Wilson, author of "Sing, Ronnie Blue." Gary's also an instructor in fiction writing at the University of Chicago's School of General Studies. Gary knows a lot about the writing process - and shares many insights. He's also generously going to give a book to someone who asks him a question about the writing process sometime before 5 p.m. today. I will randomly draw a question from the comments section and Gary will answer it here on Thursday!

Tell us about yourself.

I'm a native Kansan. I was born in a small town near Kansas City and grew up in a small town about fifty miles from Wichita, on the western edge of the Flint Hills. My dad worked at Boeing Aircraft in Wichita, and he didn't want his kids to live in a "big city." I was a pretty good football player in high school, on a pretty good team. My coach had gone to McPherson College in McPherson, Kansas, and encouraged me to take a look the school. I did and ended up playing football there and graduating with a degree in English. I then went to Wichita State University for a master's in English, because my future wife was finishing her degree at McPherson and WSU was convenient. After I got my master's, we--we were married then--went to Peace Corps in Swaziland, Africa, for two years. An incredible experience I would encourage anyone to take advantage of. Following Peace Corps, we came back to the US and were in and out of graduate schools for a number of years, including one stint for me that resulted in an MFA degree in fiction writing from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. We enventually ended up for twenty years in Baltimore, Maryland, where my wife was on the medical faculty at Johns Hopkins University and I wrote and taught fiction writing at the JHU School of Continuing Studies. I also founded and directed a writing center at a Baltimore City public school. Eight years ago, we moved to Chicago. I now teach fiction writing at the University of Chicago School of General Studies. We have two sons--one a headmaster at a Baltimore school and one a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley.

Tell us about your new book, Sing, Ronnie Blue.

I suppose not surprisingly, Sing, Ronnie Blue is set in Bartlett's Junction, a small Kansas town at the foot of the Flint Hills. The story involves two young men--Ronnie Blue, son of the local junkyard owner, and John Klein, son of the president of the town's only bank--who were fast friends in high school but drifted apart after that. Five years later, on the Fourth of July and his birthday, Ronnie Blue, who has became an itinerant grease monkey, going from job to job, largely because of his foul temper, but always dreaming big dreams of who he might become, brings his girlfriend, Charlene, back to Bartlett's Junction to show her "the time of her life." There he crosses paths with his old friend, John Klein, who during that same five years has gone off to college and has come back to Bartlett's Junction, presumably to take over one day as president of the bank, just as his father did from his grandfather. At the time of the story, he is already vice president and active in the community and has a girlfriend, Linda, whom it is expected he will eventually marry. So here we have two men at opposite ends of the American Dream coming together on Independence Day for a reunion that has tragic consequences for them both. One reviewer said that from the first pages of the novel, you know there's going to be trouble; you just don't know how bad it's going to be. It's a tough book but is one that many people have told me they couldn't put down until they finished it. Music to any writer's ears.

You're a native Kansan now living in Chicago, how did you draw upon your background to build this story? Are there any characters based on real life people in your book?

I don't think you ever get the places that form you out of your system, no matter where you live at present. Kansas has always cropped up in my writing, just as Baltimore and Africa have. Chicago has already begun appearing in my fiction. But for Sing, Ronnie Blue specifically, a small town was the prefect setting for the story. When I was growing up, I don't think I appreciated the fictional potential of a small town. In fact, I found living in one downright oppressive in many regards. Everybody knew everybody and everything about them. I couldn't wait to get out of there and did eventually. I'd like to say I've never looked back, but that would be a lie. I've looked back a lot, as I've said, in my writing. As an adult, what continues to fascinate me about small towns is that they are really microcosms for society at large. In a place like Bartlett's Junction, you can find all the character types and economic and social pressures that you find in cities like Chicago or Kansas City or Wichita; but they are more observable in small towns, easier to get your head around, as they say. That doesn't mean, however, that John Klein and Ronnie Blue are less important than someone from a city. Not at all. My interest in having them act out their story in a small setting is so that story can, through its inevitability, transcend its setting to a more universal level that can be felt and understood by anyone anywhere.

The question about whether Ronnie Blue and John Klein and the other characters in my book are based on people from "real life" comes up all the time. The answer is no primarily but yes to some extent. Any writer's characters are based to some degree on people he or she has known or encountered. Writers by nature collect characters. Mostly, they end up being amalgams of lots of different people, which is the case in my book. Did I know people like Ronnie Blue and John Klein--sure I did--but I didn't base them or any of my other characters on any one person. They are a collection of parts, you might say, bits and pieces of people and ideas and emotions that came together as those characters in this book

Tell us how the writing process works for you. Are you a nighttime writer, do you have to be in a certain environment?

If I were left totally on my own, I would stay up until three in the morning and sleep till ten and get up and start all over again. But I have to live in a largely nine to five world, so I try to accommodate myself as much as I can. I get up at 6:30 or 7:00, have coffee and breakfast and read the paper. I try to be at my desk by eight and write until noon or so. I have lunch then and do errands and go back to my desk, usually to do work for my teaching. I make a point of getting in an hour or so of exercise at the end of the working day. Not very glamorous, I'm afraid, but it works for me.

I tell my students and believe firmly that it's important to be selfish about your time. You have to tell people that this is my writing time, don't bother me, and mean it. I was speaking at a writing conference one time and told the audience my selfishness theory, and a woman came up to me afterward, in tears, and said, "Thank you, you've just saved my marriage." I was a little taken aback, but I understood what she was saying--that I had given her license to tell her husband to bug off. But the second part of the idea is that once you have established "your" time, you have to make sure you use it. This is the discipline aspect. You have to make yourself go to your writing place and be there during your writing time, regardless whether you get anything done while you're there. Usually you will, but even if you don't, you've established the pattern. For me, this is important. I need time, space and emotional energy to write well. And I achieve that best in my own space, at my own desk, with my own routine.

How do you organize your research materials?

If I'm writing about something I'm interested in but don't know much about, I do lots of research. For instance, I recently wrote a short-short story about dressing Lenin's body in his tomb. I'd become obssessed with how this was done and started looking into it. In the end, I probably had two hundred pages of material on everything from Lenin the man to the cult of Lenin and, of course, how scientists changed his suit. When I'm doing that kind of research, I have a designated space on my desk for that project--my Lenin pile, so to speak. But in more practical terms, I usually research a single subject--the make of a car, the title of a song, who said what and when--and write notes to myself about it and keep them in another, smaller pile on my desk. Strangely, I know which pile is which. I've been doing better lately with file folders, but even that get cumbersome. Most of my research is topical, having to do with details that lend verisimilitude to my writing. For instance, you can't have a character reading a book that hasn't been printed yet or wearing clothes that aren't available, that sort of thing.

How did you find your agent/publisher?

In the beginning, I had an agent for Sing, Ronnie Blue. She was a wonderful woman, who believed strongly in my writing and in my novel. She tried hard to find a publisher for the book and ultimately, after many near misses, wasn't able to and turned the book back over to me. I began looking around on my own and came across Rager Media. I read excerpts from things they had printed or were in the process of printing and was impressed with their seriousness. I wrote them, asking if they were interested is seeing my novel. They said yes, and the rest is history.

This is your debut novel. However, you've had a long and prestigious writing career. How long has this book been in the making and why now?

Sing, Ronnie Blue took me three years to write originally. I've spent probably another two years putting the final-final prepublication touches on it. Someone told me once that you never stop tinkering with your writing until it's in print and then begin tinkering again when you get it ready for the second edition.

There are so many variables in placing a book for publication that it's hard to say why Sing, Ronnie Blue was accepted now but not in the beginning. The mood of the reading public may be different, the economy, people's political sense, who knows? Vibes, karma? Writing to Chris White at Rager Media at just the right time? Whatever happened happened, and I couldn't be happier about it. The book sold out of the initial printing in the first month after publication and rose to number three on the Small Press Distribution list of best selling fiction. It's been well reviewed. I've had lots of radio and print interviews. It's all been good. 8). You have an MFA in creative writing. It's something a lot of writers think about (including myself). I've talked to writers who want to immerse themselves in learning more - others say unless you're going to teach, it isn't worth the considerable financial investment. How has it helped your career?

I should preface my comments by saying that I don't believe you can teach people to write fiction. In the end, producing good fiction really is a matter of talent, and that's not something you can teach. On the other hand, you can teach skills and techinques to help make that fiction better. You can teach people how to read as writers, which any would-be writer simply must do. You can help people develop a better critical sense and vocabulary.

All of these skills can be accrued via creative writing classes in continuing studies departments at most universities or through more formal MFA programs. Having a degree in writing, such as an MFA, does give you a credential of sorts. It can help open doors to teaching or other writing-related jobs, but it doesn't guarantee a position anywhere. For teaching in particular, it's far more important that you have a strong publication record--usually with books but sometimes with a string of individual stories, poems, plays or essays, if they are in reputable periodicals. In general, I would say that the greatest benefits from an MFA are in the unfettered time you get to write, the community of like-minded people you talk with, and the network you form while you're in that community.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to aspiring novelists?

Read, read, read. Good writing, not hack work. Read the greats and those now on their way to greatness. Also, write, write, write. Know that eventually, if you're good enough, you will get noticed. You do, of course, need to let people know you're around by sending works out for editors to consider for publication. No one is going to come seek you out.10). What's next for you and where can people find your book? Do you have a website/blog where people can learn more about you?

I currently have one novel marinating, as I call it, in my files. I'll pull it out soon, tweak it and start sending it out--presumably first to Rager Media, the publisher of Sing, Ronnie Blue. I am also in the midst of writing another novel. I'm maybe half way through with it. I have a couple of collections of short stories in circulation as well. And many ideas in the hopper.

If people are interested, they can read more about me and the first chapter of my novel at http://www.singronnieblue.com/ There is a "how to purchase" page at that website with direct links to places where the book is available--at a local bookstore (ask them to order through Small Press Distributors) or online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders or http://www.ragermedia.com/

Gary's eagerly awaiting the 10th question...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

And the Winner is...

Thanks to a completely random drawing, audited by the Fearsome Four Auditing Company (my dogs, Emma, Molly, Dakota & Sade), Diana Lambdin Meyer was the winnter of Jen Singer's book, "You're a Good Mom (and your kids aren't so bad either)." Thanks to Jen for participating and for Diana, who is a travel writer, for playing - and for everyone who visited and asked Jen a question. When I told Diana she had won, she said, "You're kidding! The question was almost facetious! How fun."

Here's her question: "Where were you and your book when my son, now 19, was at home? Any advice for parents trying to keep their really smart, straight-A in high school, from just enjoying college's freedoms too much?"

From Jen: "I remember my very first weekend in college wondering just who thought I was grown-up enough to be on my own. I went to Boston University, a huge school that sprawls along Boston’s streets. (My grandmother saw the trolley and the Massachusetts Turnpike racing through BU and asked, “Where’s the campus?”) After my college at BU, the College of Communications, held a picnic to welcome freshmen, I wandered off, alone, feeling rather lost. It took me much of that year to find my way.

I’ll bet that high school offered structure and guidance that your son isn’t getting in college. Maybe he feels lost, too. Or maybe he’s simply enjoying the social side of college a bit too much. If it’s showing in his grades, and assuming you’re footing the bill for school, you can either a. Tell him you won’t pay for college unless he gets his grades up to a certain level or b. Let him take a year off to get a job and grow up. (Or threaten Parris Island – the Marines – as an option. It worked on my brother.)

Chances are, he won’t want to leave college, let alone for a job (or the Marines), so he’ll have no choice but to work harder. But give him the tools to find the structure he needs to be a good student. Check with his college to see if they offer guidance counseling, or suggest that he meet with teaching assistants to work out a study plan. Take a look at his living conditions, too. If he’s in a fraternity or if he lives in a “party dorm,” it’s harder to avoid the lure of a good time. Consider moving him to a quieter dorm or off-campus next year.

He probably just needs a push in the right direction – preferably away from the party down the hall."

Stay tuned on Tuesday. Novelist Gary Wilson will talk about his book, "Sing, Ronnie Blue." That book will make great summer reading for someone!

Freelance jobs:

Video Journalists, The Wall Street Journal Online:


Freelance Writer for Online venture (knowledge of Miami)


Bureau of National Affairs Inc. Seeks Correspondents in Berlin and Brussels


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

You're a Good Mom...and a Great Writer!

Today, I'm excited to have Jen Singer, author of "You're a Good Mom (and your kids aren't so bad either)." I'm thrilled Jen is the first author to be featured in the new book giveaway. Now, you, the readers, will get the last word by asking the author a question. Just click on "comments" and ask by 5 p.m. today. If I draw your question, you'll win a book and Jen will answer your question on Thursday. Jen is not only a very funny writer, she's an inspiration to many. Jen finished this last book while undergoing chemotherapy - and her humor is seamless throughout the book. In her interview, she talks about humor writing, how she built her platform and got a great paying blog gig, as well as her experience writing during one of the most difficult times of her life.

Tell us about yourself.
I’m the author of “You’re a Good Mom (and Your Kids Aren’t So Bad Either),” the creator of MommaSaid.net and the mother of two boys who talk to me through the bathroom door.

Tell us about your new book, "You're a Good Mom (and your kids aren't so bad either):
In You're a Good Mom (and Your Kids Aren't So Bad Either): The 14 Secrets to Finding Happiness Between Super Mom and Slacker Mom," I provide the tips to help raise perfectly good kids in that sweet spot between flash cards at breakfast and "donuts for dinner, kids!"

You've developed a niche in writing about parenting, tell us how that came about? The old adage “write what you know” came into play. I know all about trying to keep up with the uber moms and their jam-packed schedules, over-worked kids and oh-so-perfect figures. I also know about the moms who have given up on filtering out for their kids the rude and nasty stuff on TV and the Internet. They’re the ones who treat fine restaurants like a McDonald’s Playplace.

Your blog, www.Mommasaid.net has helped build your platform, was that the intent in the beginning?
MommaSaid was and is the foundation of my platform. Books lose their new-and-exciting status, but web sites grow stronger and stronger and more people log in. I can keep in touch with moms of kids of all ages through MommaSaid, thereby making me continuously valuable to reporters and producers.

How did you attract people to your blog?
In the beginning, it was all word of mouth. The viral nature of the Internet helped it grow. But dogged determination and relentless publicity made it what it is today.

How did you get the gig for Good Housekeeping http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/family/tweens/

My Good Grief: Tale of Two Tweens blog came from a tip from two fellow writers who knew what the editor was looking for in a parenting blog. I put together a detailed pitch, including samples from several years’ worth of blogs at MommaSaid. I needed to provide I could sustain an entertaining blog for a long period of time, and MommaSaid helped me achieve that.

As of a few weeks ago, Good Grief is now syndicated at Yahoo’s new portal for women, Shine:

How did you come up with the idea for this book and how did you sell it to your agent/publisher?
I had been blogging about the news as it relates to parents for some time, turning it into a regular weekly radio show segment. All those things that I wrote about, from the parents who were spending thousands of dollars on youth sports when the average college sports scholarship is just $2,000 to the moms who let their three-year-olds watch “Cops,” turned into the book.

You're a humorist, but you went through something not very funny while writing this book. How did your diagnosis of cancer affect your writing?
I had four chapters left to write when I found out I had non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I found it therapeutic to hide in the humor, so I kept on writing. I wrote the chapters out of order, and even I can’t tell which I wrote before my diagnosis and which I wrote on the oncology floor at New York Hospital.

What's next for you, Jen?
Next spring, the first two of my three-book series, MommaSaid’s Back Fence Advice Guides to Parenting, will be published by HCI, the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” publishers. I finished writing the toddler book, and, as soon as I’m done with the Good Mom publicity madness, I’ll finish writing preschool book. I’ll keep blogging along the way. Meanwhile, I had my second clean PET scan since January. I’m hoping to rack up a lot more of those, of course.

Now, readers, it's your turn to ask Jen a question!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Rewards for Readers

Every once in awhile, our lives need a little shaking up to keep things interesting, and every once in awhile, our blogs do too!
My author interviews are the most popular aspect of the blog. I've been told I have good interview skills - and I do hope these interviews inform you as writers, as well as entertain you as readers.
I try to come up with 10 questions for each author, some unique to their particular background and genre. Sometimes, though, I feel they sound too much alike.
That's where you, the readers will start coming in.
Beginning next week, I will ask just 9 questions of the author. You'll have an open comment section to ask the 10th question.
I'll draw one and ask the author to answer that one.
You may also get to win a copy of the author's book, or possibly another one of my choosing. You see, as a blogger on authors, I've been getting a lot of books lately.
And while I view every book as a treasure akin to gold, we live in a 480-sqaure foot cabin - and have decided to remain here (see my green blog on "living small" at http://www.goinggreenintheozarks.blogspot.com/).
That means I don't have room for every review copy that comes in the mail - or much of anything else.
As a friend of mine puts it, I'm going to have to thin my book collection, much as one has to delicately thin a garden - making room for more beautiful blooms - or something like that, you get the idea.
So, look for the new format on Tuesday and be ready to ask your burning questions of the featured authors.
You might just be rewarded with a literary treasure!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hitting Your Stride

Today, I interview Nan Russell, a writer I can definitely identify with as she also escaped the corporate cube to allow her inner writer to roam free - only she is in the mountains of Montana. Nan discusses her book, "Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way." Nan talks about writing a second book, her passion of helping others to find theirs - and of finding her own.

Tell us about yourself.
I write from the mountains of northwestern Montana, near Glacier National Park, with postcard views from a home office. But it hasn’t always been like this. Despite being born in Montana, I was raised in Southern California, college educated in Northern California, graduate school education in Michigan and career focused in Pennsylvania. Along the way of growing up, falling in love, raising a family and spending twenty-five years in the corporate arena, including as a Vice President with multi-billion dollar QVC, Montana was part of my life. In fact, when my husband and I fell in love in graduate school, we dreamed of moving here before we turned fifty. And we did. In July 2002, I left a successful career to pursue a dream to live in Montana and write. Fueled by twenty years in management and expertise in workplace cultures, my primary niche is career oriented, workplace, and business-life issues, although I write a life reflections column called, “In the Scheme of Things” and for fun am working on a psychological thriller.

Tell us about your book, "Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way."
Even a Stanford degree didn't protect me from being fired from my first professional job. Accepting a minimum wage position to pay the rent, I learned the hard way what it took to survive and thrive at work, eventually achieving sixteen promotions despite setbacks, failures, and missteps along the way. It is from that experience, and twenty years in management, that I recognized common sense but uncommon practices that impact futures and change results. The book offers insider tips, insights, and winning at working perspectives from one generation to the next, in the hopes that some may be helpful to those seeking “their work, their way” along with interesting work, personal growth, and financial gains. Sharing candid real-world, perspectives of what really does and doesn't work, Hitting Your Stride, helps you bring your uniqueness to your work, invent the future your want, and make a difference. More about the book at http://www.hittingyourstride.com/.

What made you decide to develop your writing business expertise in helping others with their careers?
My first writing goal post-corporate world, was to be a columnist. Little did I know that’s probably not the place to begin, but naïve sometimes works. Today, I write a life reflections column called “In the Scheme of Things,” as well as a career insights column, “Winning at Working.” It was this second column and the response from readers that led to Hitting Your Stride. The premise behind my messages is this: only when we’re all “winning” will we all “win.” But “winning” is not about climbing a corporate hierarchy. Rather “winning” means offering your unique talents and gifts through your work, whatever that work may be. My passion has always been helping others find and use their talents. Since my corporate work included management roles in human resources, human resource development, and communication, as well as senior line management positions with P & L accountabilities, I use those perspectives from both sides of the desk to help people within traditional workplaces find their voice and heart. And with a background which includes being the architect and influence leader for a culture transformation for 10,000 employees, I also focus energy through my company, MountainWorks Communications, to help organizations build winning cultures where individuals can be self-motivated and contribute their uniqueness at work, while achieving the organization’s vision or mission. In the process, my ultimate goal is to help change the workplace of today into a more soul-enhancing versus soul-depleting experience.

This is your second book. Was the process on the second book different from the first? Did you learn what to expect in the writing and editing process from the first?
I consider this my first book. This is how I learned to write a book proposal, find an agent, build a platform, understand a book contract, and work through the editing, publishing, and now promotion and marketing process. My other book was strategically self-published to leverage speaking engagements in order to build a bigger platform for the ultimate sale of Hitting Your Stride.

Were there things you did/didn't do during the writing or marketing of the first book that your learned from in the second book?
I joined a program called Quantum Leap, led by marketing gurus Steve and Bill Harrison (they do the National Publicity Summit, as well as Radio-TV Interview Report). It was Steve who suggested there be a self-published book, and who coached me to develop a speaking platform using the first book like a “business card.” With this impetus, I was able to develop over forty speaking engagements within a year. While my speaking platform enabled my agent to sell my "real" book, it also helped grow my biweekly e-zine, “Winning at Working,” along with my database and contacts. Now I’m lined up to speak at large conferences where my new book will be sold in the event bookstore or a book signing will follow a presentation. For example, last week, 200 people attended a signing for Hitting Your Stride after I spoke.

I've found having a business background has been very helpful in developing a freelance business. What lessons did you learn from your business background that you've incorporated into your freelance business?
Understanding the inner workings and protocols traditionally found in large organizations helped me maneuver quickly, accept layers of decision makers, recognize the importance of building relationships, and not take rejection personally. Writing is a business like any business. I also knew to apply the parallel path approach, i.e. several balls in the air at all times, at various stages. Plus a business background taught me that what appears simple, rarely is. Building a platform and becoming an author confirmed that. Beyond the persistence and determination and discipline, I found myself in unexpected arenas where resourcefulness was the critical skill. When I became a writer, I never expected I’d spend half my time as a marketer, but I do. Like any business, you must evolve to survive.

How did you find your agent/publisher?
Finding my current agent, Lisa Hagan, was a potholed path. I started by attending writer conferences where there were agent panels and reading books on the subject. Since I heard how difficult finding an agent was, I was surprised in just six weeks to receive an offer of representation. What I didn’t realize was it’s not difficult to find an agent; it’s difficult to find a good one. Fast-forward four months, and a few submissions and rejections from publishers later, and that agent announced in an email she was leaving the publishing business. My second agent search took six months and included three offers of representation, but this time I choose wisely. Lisa has been my agent now for two plus years, and is currently shopping my next proposal.

You say in your bio you always had the dream of living in the mountains of Montana as a writer. Is writing about business your dream writing goal, or do you have some secret aspiration of fiction - or something else?
The possibility seeds of being a writer were planted early by a teacher who helped me discover that a shy, spectator-in-life-child could find her voice through words. It is more who I am that what I do. Writing is how I find my thoughts (and my soul). I believe words can help change the world, can ignite the vision of possibility, and can be a catalyst for change. Much needs to be changed in the workplaces of today for businesses to thrive, ideas to flourish, and people to bring the best of who they are to their work, whatever that work may be. I hope my words can be an impetus to help. Having said all that, some day when I “retire” I hope to write a few novels and am slowly nibbling at one in hobby-mode. More about me at http://www.nanrussell.com/.

What value do you place on professional writing organizations/networking groups and how do you use them?
Before I ever traded my corporate role for a Montana wilderness one, I attended ASJA conferences for two springs in NYC, devouring the business of writing, enhancing my skill-set, and tapping into numerous resources. It was there that I heard about FLX (freelancesuccess.com), and through that resource took an online class to sketch my first book proposal. I continue to attend ASJA every other year, augmented by regional conferences every year since I’m always looking for ways to develop my craft, learn about the business of writing, and connect with writers who know a lot more than I do how to do the things I want to do. Attending writers’ conferences or workshops, or being involved in select online discussion boards are all personal development investments I find essential. By the way, speaking of networking, I host a weekly radio show on http://www.webtalkradio.net/content/view/58/30/ called “Work Matters,” so if you’re a workplace author or expert who’d like to be a guest on my show, just let me know.

Many people who have the souls of writers, but are stuck in corporate cubes or labs or wherever, have this fantasy of living on a beach, in the mountains or in a villa in Italy and writing. You and I have both achieved our dream lives in the mountains - what one piece of advice would you give someone with that dream?
Whether the fantasies of beaches, mountains, or villas are actualized, the soul-passion of writing can be. And there begins the question for each of us. Is it the idyllic writing life we seek (which I’m not sure actually exists), or is it the contribute through writing as a talent we may have that drives our dream? Writing is work. Building a writing business is work. I love my work, but I don’t write because I live in these amazing Montana mountains. I write because I’m a writer, and I wrote in all my corporate jobs, too. I didn’t start writing because I came to Montana. I came to Montana because the mountains nourish my soul, and I wanted in the second half of my life to make my work my writing. But I would never be doing the writing I’m doing now without the experiences, knowledge, and expertise I had before. As Oprah would say, here is what I know - my Montana dream was chunked into existence one step at a time over twenty-five years. So whether your dream is beaches or books or maybe a bit of both, take at least one step a year that moves you toward your dream, because as the line in FlashDance reminds us, “When you give up your dream, you die.”

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sorry for the late post today, we're having weather events again this morning and out of concern for my computer, I left it off this morning:

Ozarks Anthology Call for Submissions:

Goldminds Publishing, LLC will be publishing an anthology of essays, articles, poems, jokes and
recipes about camping in the Ozarks. We are seeking submissions from established authors and
outdoor experts. Desired submissions will be dramatic, humorous, adventurous, or educational,
􀂙 Essays from interesting, adventurous or extraordinary camping experiences.
􀂙 Articles or essays on camping history in the Ozarks.
􀂙 “How-to’s” of camping, i.e. camp setup, campfire safety, campground rules,
environmental or nature awareness.
􀂙 Camping poems or jokes with same subject matter.
􀂙 Camping recipes, from roasting to Dutch oven cooking.
􀂙 All submissions must be suitable for family reading.
Accepted essay or article submissions will receive $25 plus one (1) copy of published book.
Accepted poems, jokes or recipes will receive one (1) copy of published book per submission.
All authors of accepted submissions will receive 50% off retail price of all Goldminds books.
Deadline for Submissions: August 15, 2008
Submission format:
Essays or Articles: Cover letter, cover sheet with author contact information and article/essay
title. Essay or article body: double spaced, 1” margins, 12 point Times New Roman or Courier
New font. Pages must be numbered. Maximum word count 750 words. Only one essay or article
per author may be submitted.
Poems, jokes or recipes: Cover letter, one page, single column, double spaced. 1” margins, 12
point Times New Roman or Courier New font. Up to five poems, jokes or recipes may be
Send submissions to: Brenda K. Bradshaw
P.O. Box
Springfield, MO 65804
Or email submissions in Microsoft Word format to: brenda.bradshaw@goldmindspub.com.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Submarine Stories of World War II

Today, I interview Mary Nida Smith about her book, "Submarine Stories of World War II." Mary is an Ozarks based writer, who is also very passionate about the natural beauty of our surroundings. She's taught me a lot about living in the Ozarks and about native plants and trees.
In her interview, Mary talks about becoming a female military writer in a male dominated genre and balancing that with her garden writing. She also discusses her ever-positive outlook on writing and life. It's truly a treat anytime I get time to talk to her.

Tell us about yourself.
That would be a couple large books within its self. I have lived in the country, small towns and a couple of medium size cities. Because I have moved many times in my lifetime, I am like a busy butterfly, tasting the nectar of many flowers.
Since I was a young child I have written and drawn. I am self-taught in all I do. I have always wanted to write and illustrated children’s picture books. People with more knowledge than me said I couldn’t do both. After proving to myself I could illustrate and write one, I put it to the side. Then I concentrated on writing children’s books, poems and stories. I have received some encouraging words from editors, but I haven’t been steady in submitting. The doors appear to continue to open in regional magazines and newspapers where I started my writing career.
When the doors opened in the creative world I walked in. I wanted to write and be published so bad that I felt I could take the chances of them saying “no.” For every “yes” another door opened. I am on the hard-headed side, I don’t take no easily. I believe when you dream you must hack away at it until it comes true on a small or large scale. At least I know I tried.
I been a president of an artist guild, helped organized writers’ workshops and conferences, president, vice-president, board member and newsletter editor for writers groups and have taught creative writing to children.
I only wish I could stop getting ideas and settle down to being a specialist in one or maybe two fields. I love gardening, building, writing greeting cards, designing, inventing and creating something out of castaways.

Tell us about your new book, “Submarine Stories of World War II.”
It is about what is known as the “silent service.” A world very few outsiders know about; stories that needed to be told and experienced before the submariners carried them on their final patrol. Nine submarine veterans across United States who were teenagers at that time allowed me to write their stories of warfare below the seas. My husband who is retired from the Navy gave me permission to share his story of fear as he explored an unknown world and how he was given an important job with little or no training. It is written for ages ten and up. It is an exciting eye-opener to everyone who has read it. You can learn more about it on my blog http://submarinestories.blogspot.com/.

You’ve broken the gender expectations of a military writer, how did you get interested in this.
Long after my husband, Mel, retired from the Navy I came into his life. After we were married I was curious about his very interesting and diversified career in submarines and in the anti-submarine service where he earned his “wings.” Later, we joined the U S Submarine Veterans of World War II organization where today I am the newsletter editor for the Arkansas Diamond Chapter.
I knew of a small independent publisher who was publishing military books, so I queried her and the rest is history.

What have been some of the challenges of being a woman writer in a male dominated genre?
Getting the men to tell me their stories and when they did to get them to understand it had to be written for publication. They wanted every word, every sentence and phrase to be written as they told it, no matter if the reader could understand it or not.
Most men don’t believe women should invade their territory. A man’s story should be told by men. All I wanted to do is honor them, and allow the children and other people to know what they endured to attain the freedom we have today. From writing the book I feel have gained some special friends.

You also do some garden writing as well. How did you get interested in this?
I have always been involved in gardening from helping my mother in the vegetable and flower gardens, picking cucumbers for the factory, picking strawberries in the fields, and all aspects of canning. My first published article was about creating arrangements from roadside ditches and fields. My first book I wrote and photographed was on this subject. After dealing with a New York publisher for a year and then was rejected, I put it to the side where I never submitted it elsewhere

That’s quite a contrast to military writing, how do you divide your time?
I work very hard to meet my deadlines ahead of time. The time I am provided with between other duties I work on other writings and books.

I know you had some expectations about your publisher that weren’t met with your book. What did you learn from this experience?
To be more careful when the publishing company changes from the time you sign a contract. Ask more questions and have changes put in a contract. Beware of being asked to write articles for their newsletters and e-zines without being paid; to be strung along until they publish your book. Watch for publishers who claim they are traditional independent publishers when they are a subsidy publisher.

You’re carved out a special place in your home for your writing space. Tell us about your garden studio – what gave you the idea to put it where you did.
We live in an area with lakes and rivers where many garages have one area designed to fit a boat (an alcove). I thought it was wasted space that needed my attention since our boat was down at the marina. I designed it to be extended, enclosed with a window and a Dutch door where my two large book shelves would fit on each side. Electricity and heat/cooling duct from the house was attached. The garage is still a two car garage when my gardening items are out in the summer.

You also founded a writer’s group, for other writers who might want to do this, what advice would you give them.
Never listen to nay-sayers for you’ll never be able to please everyone. Include everyone’s thoughts on projects, and then go where your heart leaves you. Be professional at all time by not showing your disappointments, always be thoughtful and friendly. Keep on, keeping on as long as it doesn’t keep you from writing.

Where can people find your book? What’s next for you?
My publisher only did one small printing before returning all rights to me. People can send $12.00, plus $2.00 postage to Mary Nida Smith 162 Stamford Drive, Lakeview, AR 72642 and to learn more go to http://submarinestories.blogspot.com/ or http://marynidasmith.blogspot.com/.
I will be submitting all my children and adult books, articles and poems I have finished before returning to work on several non-fiction books for children and adults. I keep on dreaming and I hope everyone else will.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Comforting Outlet for Essays

This arrived in my in-box last night. For more information and writer's guidelines, go to

A Cup of Comfort for Military Families

It has been said that military life is “not for the faint of heart.” But neither is it without its benefits and blessings. One thing is certain: it is an experience like no other—for both the soldiers and their families. For this book, we want positive stories about how military life affects the personal lives of service men and women (enlisted and officers), how family affects soldiers’ on the job, and how military life affects family members (primarily spouses, children, and parents but also siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts/uncles, fiancés, etc.). Any situation or subject that is significant and/or unique to military personnel and their loved ones is acceptable. Our goal is to compile a collection of inspiring or uplifting stories that cover a wide range of topics and reveal a variety of perspectives, experiences, and emotions specific to military families. Stories may be written by the service man or woman or a close family member; military service may be current, recent, or past.

Military Families submission deadline: April 15, 2008 (last call)

A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers

Few experiences bring forth as many anxieties, blessings, challenges, wonders, and changes as having a baby—whether it’s your first child or fifth, your birth child or adopted child. And nothing is as miraculous as giving birth to or witnessing the birth of your baby. This heartwarming anthology will be filled with birth stories and newborn homecoming stories as well as a wide range of stories about the various experiences, emotions, and concerns involved in adding a new baby to one’s life and family. Potential topics include but are not limited to: nursing (or not), caring for a newborn, bonding/falling in love with infant, lack of sleep, relationship with spouse, how siblings respond, returning to work, balancing responsibilities, post-partum depression, self transformation, unexpected joys, life lessons, small miracles, etc. The majority of the stories will be about birth children, but the book will likely include a couple adoptive stories as well. Likewise, most of the stories will be written from the new mother’s perspective, but we are open to including a few stories written from the spouse’s or a very close family member’s perspective. All stories will be uplifting and positive, no matter how difficult the situation portrayed in the story might be. We do not want stories that simply recount misfortunes and sorrows and that do not clearly reveal a positive outcome or redeeming result (silver lining).

New Mothers submission deadline: May 15, 2008 (last call)

A Cup of Comfort for Adoptive Families

The primary purpose of this book is to celebrate adoptive families and to recognize the extraordinary and challenging experiences unique to “chosen children” and their adoptive families. We are most interested in stories written by adult adopted children and their adoptive parents and siblings, but the book will likely include some stories written by members of the extended adoptive family (i.e. grandparent) and birth family members. Virtually any topic relevant to adopted children and their adoptive parents is acceptable—as long as it is authentic, positive, insightful, and uplifting or inspiring. We do not want heartbreaking stories about adoptive or birth families that regret the adoption. All of the stories in this collection must reveal a positive aspect of adoption and must bring comfort, joy, or inspiration to those who have been adopted and/or to the families who adopted them—no matter how difficult the experience and emotions portrayed in the story might be.

Adoptive Families submission deadline: June 15, 2008

A Cup of Comfort for Fathers

The connection between father and child can be as deep as the ocean, as strong as a mountain, and as uplifting as fresh air. For all its rewards, though, fatherhood is not without its challenges. And for all the gifts dads bring to their kids' lives, dads sometimes falter and fumble. Yet, the father-child bond forms, holds, and grows. A Cup of Comfort for Fathers will feature inspiring and insight true stories about the life-defining and life-enriching relationships and experiences shared by fathers and their children. These personal essays will be of varying topics and tones (heartwarming, humorous, poignant, provocative, etc.); about fathers and children of all ages and varying circumstances; and written by fathers, daughters, and sons.

Fathers submission deadline: August 1, 2008

A Cup of Comfort for Parents of Special Needs

For this very special collection, we seek uplifting true stories about the ins and outs, ups and downs, blessing and challenges of parenting children with special needs. The stories will cover children of all ages (birth to adult) and a wide range of developmental, physical, and mental delays/disabilities. No matter how difficult the experiences/emotions conveyed in a story might be (we want them to be authentic, after all), the story must reveal a positive aspect, resolution, or outcome and must be of comfort to parents of children with special needs. Stories may be serious, humorous, insightful, heartwarming, or in spiring. The majority of the stories will be written by parents of children with special needs; we will also consider stories written by adult children with special needs. (No articles or commentaries by clinicians, please.)

Special Needs Children submission deadline: September 15, 2008

A Second Cup of Comfort for Dog Lovers

Oh, how we humans love our canine companions -- for so many reasons and in so many ways that one Cup of Comfort collection of uplifting dog stories just wasn’t enough. So we’re giving all you dog-loving writers another opportunity to share your personal stories of canine comfort with a growing legion of dog-loving readers. Thi s volume will feature both serious and humorous anecdotal stories covering a wide range of topics and perspectives and varying breeds of dogs. We do NOT want sad stories about a dog’s illness, injury, or death, though we will consider stories that weave a beloved pet’s illness or death into an otherwise positive story. The story should focus on the dog’s remarkable attributes and/or actions as well as on the special relationship between the dog and his/her human(s).

Dog Lovers 2 submission deadline: December 15, 2008

A Cup of Comfort for the Grieving Heart

When a loved one passes away, comfort is often fleeting and hard to come by. Yet, even a small comfort, like a personal story of how some one has faced a similar loss, does help to ease the sorrow. This volume will feature uplifting personal stories that reveal the special relationships and extraordinary experiences shared by the deceased and his/her loved one(s) immediately before, during, and after the loved one’s passing; it will also includes stories about the internal and external processes by which one deals with and heals from the loss of a loved one. The stories will vary with regard to subject matter, circumstances of death, and the relationship of the author to the individual who has passed away. The book will not include eulogies, profiles/memoirs of people who have passed away, or clinical depictions of death and dying.

Grieving Hearts submission deadline: February 1, 2009

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

It's About the History

If you've ever wondered who writes those history books the kids bring home from school, I've got one of those people here today! Daniel Casciato talks about his history book aimed at middle schoolers, "Expansion and Reform Presidents of the United States." Daniel tells us how he balances his freelance writing with authoring books and gives his perspective on male and female writers.

Tell us about yourself.
I’m a full-time freelance writer living in Pittsburgh with my wife Amanda. I’ve been writing since 1994 on a part-time basis, working mainly evenings and weekends. Because my work load began to increase, I was finally able to resign from my full-time job on my birthday last August. I write for a number of trade magazines in the United States and Canada. I also write copy for Web sites and other marketing collateral for various business clients. Most of the business writing I do comes from referrals from local ad agencies and my current clients.

Tell us about your book, "Expansion and Reform Presidents of the United States." The years from 1801 to 1860 were a period of expansion and reform in the United States. Throughout this era, the country would expand its territory either by buying land (like the Louisiana Purchase) or acquiring it through war (Texas, California and New Mexico). This book, geared to middle school students, covers the presidents in the Expansion and Reform era, from John Quincy Adams to James Buchanan, who guided our country during this time.

How did you find a gig writing a book directed at history for middle school students?
An editor of mine told me about it. I’ve worked with him on several other projects over the years and he’s always informed me of other opportunities.

How long did it take you to research/how did you go about doing this?
It didn’t take too long because it’s a short book--48 pages. I started the research at the end of last January and it took me three weeks, about 15 hours per week, including weekends. I spent a great deal of time at the library, reading various biographies of these presidents. I spoke to some historians, and also gathered information from some Web sites, like Whitehouse.gov which included biographical sketches and portraits of all the presidents.

How long did writing and editing take?
It took me about two weeks to write and edit it. I was still working full-time at the time, so I did most of the writing in the mornings before I went to work, evenings and weekends.

Was it something you would do again?
Yes, I actually put in a bid to work on another similar project for high school students and I’m waiting to hear back.

How did book writing mix into your overall writing business plan?
My goal is to work on at least one book per year – not necessarily finish it in that year, but at least be working on at least one new book every year. I feel as though I have a good balance of writing articles for trade and consumer publications, writing copy for clients, and working on a book.

Tell us about your freelance writing, you seem very diverse, do you have an expertise and how important do you feel this is to a writing career?
I’m attracted to a wide variety of projects, therefore I have developed a more generalist skill set than that of a specialist. However, in recent years, I have done significant work in emergency medical services, commercial real estate and residential construction, corporate law, and aging-related issues.

When you were doing your book, how did you balance your day between research/writing the book and taking on immediate paying clients?
Sticking to a structured schedule allowed me to stay on task with the book while cultivating relationships with potential and current clients. If I needed to put in extra hours, I did so. I typically work 50 hours per week, but if I need to work on a project or an article that will take me more time, I’ll work extra hours in the evening, or even work a full day on the weekends, just to make sure the work gets done.

Sometimes when women say they're a freelance writer, we get that glazed look that says, "Oh, I get it, you sit around eating bon-bons all day." Do you feel, that as a man, there's more respect for you when you tell people what you do?
In my experience, I have found that people respect good writers whether you are a male or female. What matters is the writing and meeting the needs and expectations of your clients or editors.

What's next for you and where can people find your book? Where can people learn more about you?
People can find my book on Amazon.com. Just type in my name and it’ll come up in the search results. By writing part-time last year, I equaled the salary I made at my full-time job. This year, my goal is to double that. I’m also working on a television script with my best friend, another freelance writer and an aspiring actor. For more information about me, you can visit my Web site at http://www.danielcasciato.com/.