Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Lakes

The Summer Great Book Giveaway continues today. During a college trip to Minnesota, I brought home a t-shirt that read,"Minnesota: spring, summer, fall, winter, winter, winter." Minnesota really is a cool state - and I don't just mean in the weather sense. Today, I have Amy Rea, author of "Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Lakes." Read what Amy has to say about travel writing vs. travel guide writing. Click on comments today before 5 p.m. CST (U.S.) and ask Amy a writing related question. If I randomly draw yours, Amy will answer it on Thursday - and you'll win a copy of her book - now how cool is that!

Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a nearly lifelong resident of Minnesota (other than a brief stint in Vermont). I was born and raised in northern Minnesota, in an itty-bitty town called Tenstrike (don’t know it? South of Blackduck? Does that help?). I ended up in the Twin Cities, attending the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and pretty much have been in the Twin Cities, including St. Paul and suburbs, since then. I majored in English but knew I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher, so I wandered a bit, managing a maternity store and spending several years as a travel agent before finally putting that English degree to work as a freelance writer and editor. I went into full-time freelancing 10 years ago and love it. I’ve been able to write for a variety of publications and companies, with most of my work on the corporate side. Currently my biggest project is developing a curriculum for an afterschool health and wellness education program (www.sajaifoundation.org). I also write fiction. I had my first “professional” short story published last year (for pay!), and I’m currently working on my second novel. On a personal level, I’m your average married suburbanite, two kids (both boys, 15 and 12) and two very spoiled, overly pampered dogs.

Tell us about your new book, “Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Lakes.”
It sounds sappy, but I really do love this state. Having lived in both extremes—very rural and heart-of-the-city—I was ready and willing to look at all the different aspects of touring Minnesota. As the book editor explained to me once when I was having panic attacks about not being able to include Every Single Thing I could think of, this book is meant to help people with more money than time make choices about how to use that time. I guess you could say the book is designed to help travelers be the Decider. J I provide options, the traveler can choose among them and hopefully not feel too overwhelmed at all there is to do! I also had some latitude as far as tone went, and I worked hard to make it friendly (and occasionally a little sassy).

Do you think researching this book would have been more difficult if you weren’t a Minnesota native?
Absolutely. I went into the book knowing the geography of the state, some of its history, regional differences, what areas tend to attract the most visitors and why. And it’s a sizable state—it’s the biggest Midwestern state, and 12th largest of all the states. But there’s also an advantage in “knowing” the state as only a resident can. I read the local newspapers, the local blogs, I hear the “buzz.” I know what’s potentially hot, probably not, what’s causing controversy and consternation among the locals. The other helpful aspect of being a native and living here most of my life is knowing so many other people from here. As one friend said, he realized he was a full-blooded Minnesotan when I asked what some of his favorite spots were, because he could name so many and was so heartfelt in his response. You can do a ton of research via books, magazines, and the internet, but personal connections really make a difference. It was also helpful, from a cost perspective (since it was not an expenses-paid project, but a flat advance), that I live in the southern half of the state but have family in the northern half. I was able to keep hotel/meal costs pretty low. It’s much cheaper to take my parents out to dinner as a thank-you than to pay for several nights’ hotel!
That said, I put literally thousands of miles on my car last year, traveling for research. I’m thankful I’m not trying to log those miles this year, given the price of gas!

What did you find to be the most challenging aspect of writing this book? What did you find to be the easiest?
The most challenging: the overwhelming amount of things to do in this state! Frankly, it almost paralyzed me when I sat down to write. My office was buried in stacks and stacks of paper, newspapers, magazines, brochures, pamphlets, things I picked up on the road (LOTS of things I picked up on the road), things I downloaded. My camera’s memory card was bursting. There were times when I’d be sorting through hundreds of photos and stare at something and have no memory of ever having been there—but clearly I had, because I’d taken several pictures of it. It’s a big state, and there’s lots to do and see. Trying to condense it down into a book was difficult.
The easiest: The exact same thing—there’s so much to do and see. And while traveling the state doing that part of the research was tiring and demanding, it was also an extraordinary amount of fun.

How did you get involved in the Explorer’s Guide series?
I had done some writing about different areas of Minnesota for some travel websites (now sadly defunct). When I saw a market guide through Freelance Success that mentioned Countryman Press was looking for a writer for a Minnesota guidebook, I jumped at the chance to put together a proposal.

What were your motivations for creating a blog for the book?
Well, marketing, of course. But I also hope to start a conversation. My other blog, www.knitthink.typepad.com, has been running over three years, and it’s proven to be a great place to connect with people I might not otherwise meet or get to know. I’ve ended up learning a lot from the readers of that blog, making friends, finding resources I would never have heard of otherwise, and I hope the book blog (www.flyover-land.com) will grow and expand the same way. I’ll use the blog for updates (such as closed businesses or new businesses), for information that didn’t make it into the book, and to look at Minnesota and tourism in general.

You say you would like to publish a novel. I find it difficult to switch from reporting to fiction. How do you make the transition?
Very painfully. Two things that seem to help are: writing fiction first thing in the day, before I get to the paying work (which then takes over), or going somewhere else—coffee shop, library, etc.

Your first book faced many rejections. What was your motivation to keep trying?
The rejections were all personalized and encouraging, and they came from editors who had requested the entire book based on the synopsis and sample chapters. I know—pretty sad that simply not getting a form rejection made me happy! But throughout that process, I was continuing to write the novel I’m revising now, and I know this one is better. I’ve learned so much. That’s the best way to learn to write—sit your a$$ down and do it. I look at that first book as an apprenticeship. It may never be published, and that’s OK. I grew a lot as a writer while writing it. Currently that book is shelved. Maybe someday I’ll go back to it; now and then I have sparks of ideas that would improve it, but for the moment, I want to move forward.

How is writing a travel guide different from being a travel reporter writing shorter pieces?
It’s much more intensive. And it’s a much longer commitment. In some ways, it felt like writing a lot of shorter travel pieces, because the book is divided regionally, then subdivided within those regions. I had a different kind of reader in mind; instead of the Internet reader who’s trying to grab some quick info, a guidebook reader is going to be more invested in spending time in a location and wants more in-depth coverage. I’ve never done photography for any of my online work, but the book required me to provide photos, so that was quite a change. It forced me to change my Luddite ways and get a digital camera, which, of course, turned out to be wonderful. A final difference is that I didn’t think about marketing an online article; but with the book, I’m slowly becoming aware of the work involved in having a book in the marketplace, and what it takes to keep it there. It’s a whole new world for me.

Ok, Amy is awaiting your questions!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Camille Claudel Winner

Amy - You've won Camille Claudel, as well as having your question answered by Alma Bond. Congratulations! I'll need you to contact me within the next 7 days with your postal address so I can send you the book. Shoot me an email at fivecoat@ozarkmountains.com
Also, the winner of Kathleen Reilly's book, SHBuesche, needs to contact me by the end of the week, so I can send your book to you.

Here's the question and answer:

Amy: Have you ever considered writing a novel about Jackie O rather than a biography?

Alma: I AM writing a novel about her, not a standard biography. It probably will be called, "I, Jackie." I have done a number of such "autobiographies," and find I can best get into peoples' heads with that format.

Best wishes, Alma

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Camille Claudel, a Novel

Ah, the summer is on the downhill slide now. My summer writing project is ending next week and Correna, my assistant, is getting ready to start college. You can actually tell that it is getting darker just a little bit earlier. But never fear, the Summer Great Book Giveaway continues!
I still need to hear from last week's winner so I can send your book to you! If I don't hear from S.H. by next week, I'll draw another winner.
Today, I have Alma H. Bond talking about writing her book, "Camille Claudel, a novel." Alma took an interesting and unique approach writing about a real person by not writing a biography, but instead turning into a novel.
Read how Alma's research was affected in her decision and why she decided to write a fictional novel rather than a biography. How do you win a book? It's easy. Just click on "comments" before 5 p.m. CST today and ask Alma a writing question. You don't even need an id, or to even sign in. However, I do ask that you leave your first name in case you win. It's a little difficult to send a book to "anonymous." If I randomly draw yours, Alma will answer your question and you'll win the book!
This week, I will be traveling, without Internet access, so I will not post the winner until Monday, July 28.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a psychoanalyst who retired from a flourishing Manhattan private practice to write full time. Since then I have had 15 books published. I am the mother of three and the grandmother of seven, with a new one coming along in Sept.
2. Let’s hear about your book, “Camille Claudel: A Novel.”
Here is some PR that was sent out by Major about the book:

Women of the 1800s were often seen as second-class or rejected in the business world, and especially in the artist world. But, very rarely do the stories in history books expose the severe impact on the women of that day. Author Alma H. Bond's new book "Camille Claudel, a Novel" offers a close look into the heart of a woman who aspired to be an artist during the 1800s, but was ultimately rejected despite her amazing talents.

You must have conducted quite a bit of research for this novel. Did you encounter any difficulties in finding the truth of the events in Claudel’s life and was this the reason you chose to do a novel rather than a non-fiction biography? Not too much is known about her. I read everything I could find about her in both English and French, and visited her home town where she lived and the asylum where she died.

Did your background as a psychoanalyst make a difference in your research and writing? Was it beneficial?
It makes a tremendous difference to everything I write. I believe it distinguishes me from my honored literary colleagues. I try to hide the psychological truth in words that a layman can understand.

Why did you choose to narrate from Claudel’s point of view?
I thought I can best demonstrate in her voice what went on in her emotions.

As a female writer, have you ever encountered a situation similar to that which Claudel dealt with in a male-dominated world? Do you think this is still an issue in the 21st century?
As a young psychoanalyst I found it much more difficult to start my practice than men of similar education and ability. Once it began, however, it flourished, until I earned more than any other female analyst I knew.

Having written 15 books, do you find it easier to get books published and noticed?
I get reviewed easier, but it is still difficult to find publishers. Although many talented writers cannot get published at all.

What did you do to promote your novel?
I sent out postcards to every list of sculptors I could find, as well as to many artists. I checked out their websites, and personally contacted any I thought sculpted like Camille Claudel. I advertised in many newspapers, including the NYTimes, and in art magazines, and sent out at least 50 review copies of the book.

What advice do you have for authors preparing to promote their books? The marketing is at least as important as the writing. What good is your masterpiece, if no one but your mother knows about it?

What's next for you?
I am presently writing a biography of Jacqueline Kennnedy Onassis.
My book, Margaret Mahler: A Biography of the Psychoanalyst was just published by McFarland Press.

Ok, readers and writers, Alma is awaiting your questions!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

And we Have a Winner...

SHBueche is today's winner for Kathleen Reilly's book, "Planet Earth: 25 Environmental Projects You Can Build Yourself" Congratulations! I will need you to contact me at fivecoat@ozarkmountains.com so I know where to send your book. Kathleen says she would also like to answer the other questions posed today, so watch the original post and she will answer the questions on the "comments" section.
Visit the blog on Tuesday, as I will have Alma Bond as a guest. The Summer Great Book Giveaway is sponsored by www.freelancedaily.net.

Now, here's the winning question:

Hi Kathleen, I am a member of Freelance Daily and saw your posting. I am
also a dog writer (member of DWAA, dwaa.org) and a parent. I would love to
read a copy of your book and donate it to the school library.

My question? How do you combine your interest in rescuing canines with your
love of planet Earth?


From Kathleen Reilly:

Thanks for the question! I wish I had a really cool answer like "My dogs are
named Gaia, Eco, and Greenie" or "I taught my dog to pick up litter," but no
such luck (although one beloved dog who's no longer with us could clean up
all her toys and put them in her toy box when asked). To be honest, though,
I do think that it was my love of dogs -- since early childhood I was gaga
over them -- that initially gave me my love of the outdoors. Spending time
hiking, camping, exploring, and even just flopped down on the grass under a
tree with my dogs was my favorite way to spend my bachelorette years. From
there, it was natural for my interests to expand to encompass the
environment around us and care about its health.

What's more, well over ten years ago, I also started feeding my dogs a
natural diet, which led to *me* eating a more natural diet, which led to me
being more sensitive to the planet that provides that food to us. A funny
chain reaction, but true story. Which, if we wanted to get all philosophical
about it, is interesting because that's just like Earth: One big,
interconnected network of systems, a living chain reaction.

Thanks again for participating!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Planet Earth: 25 Environmental Projects You Can Build Yourself

Kathleen Reilly is the guest on K.C. Writer's Blog today, discussing her new children's book, "Planet Earth: 25 Environmental Projects You Can Build Yourself" a book with activities about the environment. Kathleen discusses writing children's books and how her love of environmental topics landed her this book deal.
The Summer Great Book Giveaway is still going on - and still sponsored by www.freelancedaily.net.
Click on comments and ask a question by 5 p.m. today (7/15) and if I randomly draw your question, you could win Kathleen's book - and have her answer your question on Thursday!

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I'm a mom of two boys and a freelance writer in North Carolina. Oh, and I'm
also a dog trainer, a master balloon animal-maker (although it still freaks
me out when they pop during production), a beginning guitar player, a great
pizza-maker, and I can juggle three tennis balls for five minutes straight
(but not in high winds). I've always been a real geek when it comes to
learning, so I've tried to find really fun, hands-on ways to teach my
homeschooled kids. As a writer, I channel my geekiness to tackle writing
projects (like this book) that let me learn cool subjects and write about
them. I've been incredibly fortunate to be able to pursue my interests.

Tell us about your book, "Planet Earth."

I'm really excited about this book. The first half explores the elements of
our environment -- wind, water, the sun, life -- and lets kids get hands-on
to really discover what's around them. There are projects like a
wind-powered bubble machine and a worm castle that my kids and I loved
creating. The second half of the book tackles some of the problems our
environment faces -- like pollution, global warming, and the thinning ozone
-- and offers projects about those topics. It's also got plenty of cool
factoids about our planet.

This is the first book you have written. Did you find the process
to be very different from writing articles?

Well, it's much longer, that's for sure! I'm pretty organized when it comes
to writing, so I just broke it down by chapter, then by section, and tackled
each section just like it was a mini-article. After a couple months, all
those "mini-articles" added up to one whole book!

What was your main motivation in addressing this book to children?

Richard Louv's "Last Child in the Woods" made an impact on me. The idea that
today's kids might not have the same curiosity and affinity for nature that
we did growing up is really hard to accept. My own kids love being outside
camping, hiking, and fishing, but I know not all kids have had the
opportunity to be exposed to the outdoors like that. I would be thrilled if
my book got a child excited or curious about the environment and got him or
her outside to explore a little. Our planet is so amazing and there's so
much for kids to discover while they're just outside, playing and getting up
close and personal with the environment.

Is it difficult to change your writing style when alternating
between adult and child audiences?

Not so much. I don't really write very technical stories for adults -- my
stories are usually pretty casual and my tone is fairly friendly, so it
wasn't too hard to make the switch.

Were there challenges with this book? Do you have any advice for
writers who find themselves out of ideas?

I loved the topic so much that it was actually a blast to research and write
-- so I guess the only real challenge was scheduling all my work and family
stuff. Writing a book is definitely time-consuming! As for running out of
ideas, I'd say get out and play! Channel *your* inner geek (you know you've
got one) and think about all the things you really love to do or even little
stuff that may have sparked your interest at one time.

How have you used your life experiences and interests in your
writing? Do you think that's important for an author?

Like I've mentioned, I've been really fortunate to write about things that
interest me. I've written on dog topics that let me tap into my dog training
and vet tech experiences. I've done stories on education that have allowed
me to share some of the super-cool teaching methods I've learned. And I've
even been able to interview a handful of celebrities that I've admired. I
think it's definitely helpful for a writer or author to be interested in
what she's writing about -- your enthusiasm and passion for the topic makes
the work that much better. (Plus you have more fun doing the work!)

There are many different articles and books relating to the
environment. Did you find it easy to break into the market with your own

I had a great time writing this book. I think it's different from other
books about the environment because it includes both basic elements of the
environment plus the problems the environment faces. And it's loaded with
some great projects that aren't just ho-hum experiments -- these are things
kids can have fun assembling and then go out and use (like one of my
favorites, the garbage picker-upper that also comes in handy to reach
runaway books that fall behind the sofa).

Your first book has been very successful, and you have two more on
the way. What else do you think the future holds for you?

Wow, good question. Right now, the future holds a date with the vacuum --
like many writers, when I go full steam ahead on writing projects, little
things like housecleaning seem to be forgotten. But you probably meant
professionally, eh? I've got a proposal for a fourth book making the rounds
right now, and I'm really hopeful that will get picked up because it's on
another one of my all-time favorite topics (sorry, I'm too superstitious to
share that info just yet!). And I'm really hoping the future holds a
completed fiction manuscript, because I've been working on one for about a
year now (a children's novel). But right now...I gotta tackle this messy

And, now Kathleen would love to have your questions!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Najua Takes on the Trust

And our winning question this week was posted by Najua! I need you to contact me at fivecoat@ozarkmountains.com within the next week Najua, so I know where to send your book!

Hi Steve,

How long did it take you to complete the research for the book and then how long did it take you to complete a first draft and the subsequent revisions until the final draft?

Thank you.

From Steve:

Thank you for the question, Najua.

Because I have chosen to earn most of my living as a book author and magazine feature writer, I usually juggle several journalism projects, with a book always in the mix. For most of my books, I need to receive an advance to make my life work financially. That means between six months and a year researching/writing the book proposal, with regular feedback from my literary agent. After I receive a book contract, my research, writing and rewriting generally take about five years. That is partly because I select topics that require depth and breadth, partly because I'm methodical (some might say "slow"), partly because I seek editors who will provide lots of valuable feedback, which usually means extensive rewriting bolstered by additional research. During those three to five years, some days are devoted mostly to magazine features and book reviews, to generate cash flow. Whenever possible, I propose magazine features and book reviews related to my own book in progress.

I hope this addresses your question adequately. Again, thank you.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Taking on the Trust

Today, I have Steve Weinberg, a University of Missouri School of Journalism professor and author of "Taking on the Trust, The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller," how an investigative journalist brought down Standard Oil.
The Summer Great Book Giveaway continues this week after a break for the holiday. Click on comments (you don't even have to sign in) and ask Steve a question before 5 p.m. CST today. If I randomly draw your question, you'll win a copy of Steve's book and he will answer your question on Thursday. Happy Reading and good luck!

Please tell us about yourself.
I started out writing for newspapers with a bit of freelancing on the side, then moved to magazine staff writing with lots of freelancing on the side, then became a full-time freelancer, with book writing in the mix. The common denominator: to gain time and word count so that I can tell in-depth narrative stories involving lots of complicated reporting. I have taught part-time at the University of Missouri Journalism School since 1978, with long intervals of not teaching at all. The students are superb and faculty colleagues are brilliant, but teaching has not been and never will be my primary calling. During seven of those years (1983-1990), I also served as executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, a 5000-member group physically housed at the Journalism School but independent in every other way. Even during those seven years, I continued reporting and writing. To me, it's akin to breathing.

Tell us about your new book, "Taking on the Trust."
It is a dual biography of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller, a female journalist and a male industrialist, charting the unexpected collision course that changed history about 100 years ago. Tarbell's 1904 expose in book form forever altered the previously positive views of Rockefeller, as well as leading to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1911 breaking up the gigantic, powerful Standard Oil Trust (think of the word "antitrust" to put the old-fashioned sense of "trust" into focus.)

Tell us about the research process.
Researching the book involved immersion in the Tarbell archives (primarily at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa.), the Rockefeller archives (primarily in upstate New York), and oil industry archives (primarily at the Drake Well Museum, Titusville, Pa.). Finding the material was generally no problem. Turning it into a compelling narrative with two main characters was a challenge.

What inspired you to write about the battle between Tarbell and Rockefeller?
I wanted to understand how Tarbell came to write her classic expose, The History of the Standard Oil Company, how she became the first modern investigative journalist while also overcoming gender barriers.

Is the market for the book limited? Who is your target market?
The market for the book does not feel limited. At minimum, it should appeal to those who care about general American history, corporate history, journalism, feminism, fame and the craft of biography.

In your book you make references to Wal-Mart and Microsoft. Are you hoping to inspire other investigative journalists to look into these corporations?
Of course I am. I hope I can find the time to do some of the necessary investigating myself. In general, investigative journalism is thriving at hundreds of newspapers, magazines, tv stations, radio stations and web sites. Unfortunately, hundreds of others do little or no investigating or even in-depth explanatory journalism.

What do you feel is the most important thing to keep in mind when writing a biography? Was it difficult to write about two opposite people and illustrate how their lives were intertwined?
The most important quality is to treat people as complex human beings, to avoid reductionism by understanding that no person is simple, is driven only by greed or love or whatever. Yes, portraying two lives in a parallel fashion is much more arduous mentally than focusing on one life.

Ok, Steve is awaiting your questions!