Tag Archives: blogging

Inspiration from an author’s real-life fairy tale

My mom introduced me to Jean M. Auel‘s Earth’s Children series of historical fiction. She and I both have enjoyed reading the first five of Auel’s novels. So when I saw a story about Auel in Thurday’s Arizona Republic, and realized the sixth and final novel in the series is out, I couldn’t wait to call my mom.

I had other family news to share (my son David just accepted a new job!), so that of course came first. And she had to get to an appointment, so we didn’t have a whole lot of time to talk. But just before we said goodbye, I started jumping up and down, finally remembering that I’d wanted to tell her  The Land of Painted Caves is out.

I love Auel’s stories, which are based in the European continent during the Ice Age. Her heroine, Ayla, is independent, resilient and resourceful. The series begins when she is a young child who is separated from her family, and her tribe, during a terrible earthquake. Her journey to survival and self-discovery is filled with adventure and fascinating, detailed descriptions that illustrate the tasks Earth’s earliest human beings had to perform simply to exist.

Auel did a staggering amount of research to bring a sense of authenticity to her writing. Getting inside the heads of characters from more than 25,000 years ago couldn’t have been easy.

But it’s Auel herself who captivates my imagination. She was 44 when she published the first book in her series. She had never written a book before that. As she promotes her sixth book, traveling around the country to speak and autograph copies, she is 75.

When I read Randy Cordova’s interview, I was enchanted by the audacity of Auel’s creative effort. She writes for herself, doesn’t worry how her books will be received and doesn’t bother with blogging, email, social media or “building a platform” for selling her books, which is what all the industry experts say you need to do. As I struggle in my own writing to bring dimension to characters who are living, breathing and actually telling me their stories, I am awed by the leap of faith and courage her effort required.

Her story is itself a fairy tale — of the very best kind.

Post-a-day angst and the Weekly Photo Challenge: Light

Discipline is good. Obsession is not. I know this. Yet the message from The Daily Post at WordPress yesterday still had me tied up in knots.

“You’ve now completed 25% of the challenge!” it cheered, applauding the thousands of bloggers around the country who (like me) are trying to meet the challenge of writing a daily blog post. Three months down, nine to go. I should be feeling great. But I don’t, because I’ve already failed to meet the challenge. Two 24-hour periods escaped my attention, consumed by fatigue or other priorities.

Then came the April Fool’s Day prank. I wonder who thought it was funny to exponentially inflate the site stats? My tiny moment of hopeful elation was quickly deflated when I realized it was all a joke.

The hardest thing about blogging daily is finding the audacity to believe that you have something valuable to contribute to the universe. Many, many days I feel like that is far from the case. But I’m going to try again, starting today Maybe I’ll do better in my next 25% of the challenge.

So here’s my submission for the Weekly Photo Challenge, and my revenge on the person who suggested the April Fool’s Day joke: I spent part of my day taking pictures along the Batiquitos Lagoon Trail in Carlsbad, Calif. I’ll bet whoever inflated my site stats did not.

How to sell a book: Step 1? Be famous.

In late January I signed up to take a Writer’s Digest webinar called “3 Secrets to Selling Your Nonfiction Book.” A few days after I paid for the session, I was invited to observe an open heart surgery scheduled the same day at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center.

It wasn’t a tough choice. The chance to stand in the operating room watching cardiac surgeon Brian deGuzman, M.D. do a double valve repair and maze procedure on a 60-year-old Valley wife and mom was a once-in-lifetime opportunity and an experience I will never forget. (Find related blog posts here.)

At one point during the six-hour surgery, Brian looked up at me and said, “Bet you thought I was kidding about all this heart surgery stuff!” It was certainly a different look at his life. Six months earlier, I was riding around Ethiopia in a white Toyota Land Cruiser with deGuzman and his wife Keri, who had just adopted their two youngest children. (I wrote about that experience, “An Ethiopian Adoption Story,” for our December magazine.)

I knew the audio transcript of the webinar would be available after the event, but it wasn’t until this past weekend that I found time to listen to it.

Continue reading

Want to impress an editor? What NOT do to…

After nearly 30 years of work in the publishing field, I’ve decided it’s time to polish my own writing skills. So I’ve been buying books about writing, signing up for webinars and taking some classes through the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

I entered this process as a wide-eyed student, eager to learn from others and apply their insights to my own work. Sometimes I forget how much I already know.

In November, I took a Piper Center class taught by Jana Bommersbach, one of Arizona’s most acclaimed journalists and authors.  The class was called “Making Your Story Sing: How to Write a Great Magazine Piece.” When I introduced myself to the small group gathered in a cozy front room of the historic Piper Writers House on the Arizona State University main campus, I expected — and saw — a few raised eyebrows. I could almost hear the thoughts: What is a magazine editor, someone who buys magazine articles, doing here?

So I explained. I told the group that after 21 years of publishing Raising Arizona Kids, of telling other writers how to improve their writing, I needed some juice. I wanted ideas to help me critique and coach other writers. And I craved inspiration for my own writing projects, including a book I am working on about my experience with a Paradise Valley couple who adopted four children from Ethiopia.

Jana is a gifted writer; she’s also a natural and effective teacher. I found myself hanging on her every word, scribbling notes to help me remember her very practical tips of the trade. Toward the end of the class, as we were about to run out of time, someone asked her to speak about the toughest part of writing: selling your work.

And I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I found myself jumping in, adding examples of what not to do when sending a query to an editor. I don’t think I realized, until I got started, just how passionately I feel about this topic. I got so involved “contributing” my perspective that I stopped taking notes. So I can’t really remember which of the following suggestions were mine and which were Jana’s.

Top 10 Terrible Ways to Pitch a Story

1.) Tell me why I should publish your article. Any variation on the theme of “you should” is a turn-off. You don’t get to tell me what to do. Your job is to grab my attention and curiosity — quickly — by sharing something fascinating about your story idea in the very first paragraph.

2.) Write to impress. I don’t care how big your words are or how proficient you’ve become with the thesaurus app on your iPhone. Do you have an interesting topic or a compelling human-interest angle? That’s all I care about.

3.) Make a pitch that’s blatantly self-promotional. Don’t offer to write a story about your own business/product/self-published book.

4.) Include a five-page resume. I’m not going to read it and I don’t care. If you can’t tell me who you are and why you’re qualified to write this story in a sentence or two, then you probably aren’t even sure yourself.

5.)  Send an email query with all the forethought you would put into texting your spouse about whose turn it is to pick up dinner. While email is many editors’ preferred method of contact, it is disheartening for us to see anything less than a well-thought-out, professionally crafted and somewhat formal message. Don’t use abbreviations, don’t try to sound like my best friend and please don’t let me see emoticons or “LOL” in your query.

6.) Hit “send” before you self-edit. Please don’t risk my snap judgment that you are sloppy, lazy or uneducated. Make sure your spelling, grammar and punctuation are correct. Make sure you’re using the right words. One writer wanted me to publish her story of someone who’d gotten ” a bad wrap.” Rough day at the gift-wrapping counter? When you’re trying to impress someone with your writing ability, this kind of sloppiness is a big no-no.

7.) Call to check on the status of your query. No one likes being put on the spot — especially editors, who base much of their decision-making on experience and instinct and can’t always quickly summon the words to communicate reasons why an article doesn’t appeal. If I inadvertantly answer the phone at work and realize it’s a writer, my back goes up immediately. Always respect the editor’s stated preference for communication. I don’t know any editor who encourages phone conversations — except with established contributors.

8.) Don’t read my published guidelines for writers. Do I really need to explain this one?

9.) Pitch a story idea for a topic we have covered in the last year. The beauty of online archiving is that a quick keyword search will show you if your topic already has been covered. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that tool?

10.) Make it painfully clear that you don’t really “get” my magazine. I can’t tell you the number of article queries I’ve gotten that have absolutely no relevance to my publication’s target audience. We are not a magazine for children. And we don’t publish fiction, poetry or crossword puzzles. The absolute worst thing a writer can do is try to market a story idea to a magazine he/she has never seen or read.

Wielding the unwelcome power to wound

Empathy is the ability to understand what someone else is feeling — to take a few steps in their shoes. I have a lot of empathy for writers lately.

As I enter Day 6 in the WordPress Post-a-Day Challenge, I am plagued by a gnawing anxiety. It goes way beyond “What should I write about today?” It speaks more to “Who the heck do you think you are? What makes your words so important? Why should anyone care?”

In the verdant field of joyful creativity, such doubts are land mines.

If doubt is a writer’s worst enemy, editors certainly come next. I should know; I play both roles. I despise the power I have as “the decider” when it comes to the dozens of queries and freelance submissions I receive each week. I abhore the license it gives me to bruise egos, albeit unintentionally.

I tend to respond quickly to queries that are fresh and exciting, relevant to our mission and described in full sentences with proper spelling and grammar. Dispatching the others is excruciating. I waffle and delay and wring my hands about how to respond. Sometimes, when I can’t think of anything encouraging to say, or when I am simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of queries, I don’t respond at all.

There is no easy way to let someone down. And no easy way to be the person who does it.

Tomorrow: The definition of a terrible story pitch.

Stepping up to the “post a day” challenge

It’s Day 5 of the WordPress Post a Day Challenge. The enormity of what I’ve undertaken is starting to sink in.

On Jan. 1, when I first signed up for this, I was home. The holidays were effectively over. My sons, who live and work in Washington, D.C., had been and gone. My brother from Seattle and my mom and her husband (who live in Green Valley, Ariz.) also had returned home. The house was empty. The refrigerator was full of leftovers, meaning no need to cook or plan meals. My typically overloaded email inbox was eerily empty.

Conditions, in other words, were perfect. And remained so for the next two days.

I reveled in the down time, taking hours to reflect upon, write and rework my first four posts (“When life and work merge,” “No more excuses,” “Fighting doubt and personal demons” and “A part of me you’ve never known”).

These topics were deeply personal. Delving into them was therapeutic — initially distressing but ultimately calming. For three days I quietly rediscovered who I am without the stress, responsibility and distractions of running a small business.

And then I returned to work on Tuesday. The bubble of writing bliss burst with an audible pop.

No matter how much I lectured myself as I prepared for work yesterday morning — trying to compartmentalize and keep things in perspective — I couldn’t escape a stifling sense of gloom.

When you run a small, chronically under-resourced company, time is your enemy. The “to do” list grows exponentially with each conversation you have. The moments where you feel like you’ve “got a handle on it” are rare. Frustration and fear of failure are common companions. For small media companies like Raising Arizona Kids, creating content in the digital world is an endless task with fleeting successes. It’s like trying to appease “the beast who can’t be fed” (my husband’s phrase).

So there is already enough pressure. Why would I undertake the additional task of trying to write a blog post each day? Where, in the endless drain on my time and energy, will I find the resolve? Am I setting myself up for disappointment and failure?

I’ve thought of myself as a writer for as long as I can remember, pretty much since the first time I experienced the joy of reading. But with few deviations, my life and career choices have kept me on the fringes of a writer’s life. This year I’ve drawn a line in the sand. To be a writer you have to write. So I’m taking this challenge personally.