Friday, June 27, 2008

The Writing Porch Author Q and A: Linda M. Fossen

Editor’s note: Author Linda M. Fossen names her abuser in her book. I have deleted specifics of his identity here, but it is revealed in her book.

Author: Linda M. Fossen

Book: “Out of the Miry Clay: Freedom from Childhood Sexual Abuse” Self-published, 2008, 199 pages, paperback

Author Bio: Linda Fossen’s horrific account of 10 years of childhood sexual abuse is riveting. “Naturally, this polluted my whole concept of God, father, love and trust. I grew up trying to love God but always feeling such ambivalence towards Him. As a child I had prayed so many times to be rescued from my horrible situation and when those prayers went seemingly unanswered, I felt complete betrayal not only from my abuser but from God,” she said.
Linda’s accused abuser remains in children’s ministry. “We confronted him about the abuse and although he admitted to the abuse, he did not apologize. His only response was ‘Who are you going to tell because you could ruin my ministry?’” she recalls.

“This is not a ‘get even’ book but a frank and compelling look at a dirty secret that has been hiding in the evangelical churches for years. I want to open up a dialogue and make it okay for people to come forward and talk about their abuse within the church setting,” Fossen said.

Full disclosure: I attended high school with Linda, and we have recently reconnected. I am amazed by her candor, and found her book difficult to put down. Read it and weep.

What the book is About: This is the story about the carnage that sexual abuse leaves in the heart of every child. It is a story about a preacher’s daughter in search of a loving Heavenly Father who would give me the courage to forgive and trust again. A Heavenly Father so unlike my earthly father that the difference would literally baffle me for years.

Why did you write this book? I actually wrote the book quite by “accident”. I never intended to write a book – these were the secrets I was going to carry with me to the grave. After years of stuffing the pain, I had a “crash and burn” experience after a work injury ended my 23-year career. Within a matter of months, my whole life was turned upside down. My heart shattered into a million pieces and I had no place to stuff the memories or the pain any longer.
I went through severe depression and the full extent of my abuse came back to me in full force as I began to have flashbacks and relive the trauma of my abuse. I could see no way that I would ever live a normal life again and thought that I would end up in a mental institution. I wanted to die because life had ceased to be worth living.

My therapist suggested that I journal and I resisted because I did not ever want to chance anyone reading my most private pain. When I finally did journal what came out was not in diary format but in story form. I was perplexed but still did not ever dream that I would publish a book – that was preposterous!
The book was literally born out of my pain and my journey towards my freedom. When I finally was able to let go of my abuse and realized that I could not longer fix my dysfunctional abuser, I found the ability to forgive and find my freedom. Once I experienced this freedom, I simply could not keep it to myself. I had to share my story – matter what the cost.

This book is very personal -- what was it like to get so personal? This book is extremely personal and it was very painful to write. I was literally putting my pain into words and it was the most gut-wrenching experience of my life. When I was so desperate to find peace from the tormenting pain of my abuse, I read every book on sexual abuse I could find.
So many of them were written from the standpoint of the child who grew up with alcoholic parents and broken homes with physical violence.

Although I found the stories to be inspiring, I could not relate to them because my family was nothing like this. We were the “perfect family” – the one where abuse is never supposed to happen. Because my abuse was so severe it was frustrating to read books that just said “I was abused” and then the author would not go into any detail of their abuse. They really did not offer a blueprint on how to get rid of the pain. I would always think to myself, “This book can’t apply to me because they don’t know what I went through.”
I wanted to tell the story the way it really happened with enough graphic detail to let the abused person who read it know that they could relate to me. It was very important for me to use my real name and my family’s real names.

I had lived for decades in shame and for me to hide behind a pseudonym would not allow me to walk out in freedom. My abuser told me that if I told the secret God would send me to hell and I want other victims to know that they can tell their stories of abuse and live afterwards without the fear of repercussion from God or anyone else. In order to do that, I had to get real with the story, the details and the names.

How did you get this book published? We pitched the book to several publishers and got a lot of rejections. Some felt that this was a topic that did not apply to the evangelical Christian community (like what rock did they crawl out from under?).

Others wanted me to do it anonymously and wanted to protect my abuser’s reputation and I was unwilling to do that. So we ended up self-publishing and I am happy with the decision because it gave me complete freedom to write the book exactly the way I wanted to write it.

It was quite ironic that the people who helped me to publish the book were friends of my abuser for many years. The woman is a professional editor who has seen many of her books become NY Times Bestsellers. She was impressed with my writing ability and recognized that the book had the potential to reach millions of hurting people who suffer in silence. She is my greatest fan and mentor in this unfamiliar territory of being a first-time author.

What was the biggest challenge for you about this book? Being willing to publish it. I had already written the story as part of my healing process but I had to overcome my fear of publishing the book when my father is still alive. I had to overcome my childhood fear of breaking the promise that I made to my abuser never to tell the secret. My abuser scared me within an inch of my life never to tell the secret. I vowed to keep the secret and felt it was my duty.

As a child, I feared him and that childhood fear kept me silent for decades. I realize that I have nothing to gain and everything to lose by publishing this book but I simply could not keep silent when there were so many other millions of people who suffer in silence. Knowing that my book might help even one person made it worth the personal cost to me.
What's your favorite kind of writing and why? Up until this book I did not do much writing at all, I considered myself more of a public speaker than a writer. I am a novice when it comes to writing and I never considered the idea of being an author. Because of my injury, I am unable to work a “normal job.” I have now figured out “what I want to be when I grow up - and that is an author.” I find a certain enjoyment in being able to tell a story and make the reader feel as though they are experiencing it with you. I am most content when I am writing.

What advice would you give other writers? Write straight from your heart and your gut. In order for a book to be authentic and real, you have to have lived it. It has to be something that you give birth to so to speak. It is the sharing of your innermost thoughts and feelings that will make the reader feel a part of your experience.

What projects do you have coming up? I am actually working on a follow-up to this book, which is my husband’s amazing life story. He was one semester away from becoming a Junior High Social Studies teacher and instead ended up serving 20 years in prison for triple murder.
I married him in prison and spent 18 years waiting for him to come home. I want to tell the story of what it was like behind those walls.

Prison is unlike any place on earth. It left an indelible mark on my heart to have come to know and love some of the most heinous criminals and understand that in the eyes of God, I was no better than any of them. It rocked my evangelical upbringing to its core and made me come to realize that my whole belief system was so shallow and full of platitudes. Things that I thought I believed were challenged when I was face to face with life and death situations.

Linda's question: Why would I out my abuser at this late stage in his ministry? Would I be doing more harm than good to the evangelical community? I know that I run the risk of offending some Christians because of my forthrightness in bringing to light a subject that has long been taboo within the evangelical church. When the Catholic Church scandals broke, I saw how so many evangelicals smuggled viewed the issue as “not affecting us.” I want to blow that myth to pieces.

The research shows that a child is much more likely to be sexually abused in a rigidly religious home than in one in which there is no mention of God. I think there is something wrong with this picture. Unless people come forward and blow the whistle and say “enough is enough” the statistics just keep growing.

I have forgiven my abuser for what he has done to me but that does not mean that I am required to keep his dirty secret. I will no longer carry the shame and guilt that was never mine to carry in the beginning. I want to show others by my example that there is nothing to be ashamed of in admitting that you were abused as a child. The thing that is shameful is that someone would do such hideous things to a vulnerable child.
What are the statistics on abuse? It is estimated that there are 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in America today. Statistics estimate that 30-33% of boys are sexually abused and 38-40% of girls by the time they reach 18. The statistics show overwhelmingly that the abuser is not the stranger down the street but a person the child trusts and is close to.

The Writing Porch's J. Louise Larson interviews authors for other writers to watch, listen and learn from. To be considered for a Writing Porch Q&A, contact J. Louise Larson at jackielarsonwrites (at)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Writing Porch Author Q and A Steve Martini

The Latest Book: Shadow of Power, 400 pp hardcover, William Morrow

About the Author: Best-selling author Steve Martini was born in San Francisco and grew up in the Bay Area and Southern California. An honors graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz, Martini’s first career was in journalism. He worked as a newspaper reporter in Los Angeles and as a correspondent at the California State Capitol in Sacramento, specializing in legal issues, before taking his law degree at the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in 1974. During his law career he worked as a legislative representative for the California Department of Consumer Affairs, the State Bar of California , and served as special counsel to the California Victims of Violent Crimes Program. He has worked as an administrative hearing officer, a supervising hearing officer, an administrative law judge, and for a time served as Deputy Director of the State Office of Administrative Hearings.

In the 1980’s Martini began writing fiction as a hobby but with an eye toward a second career. His first attempt at a novel, THE SIMEON CHAMBER was picked up by an agent and sold within two weeks of its completion. It was published in 1987. COMPELLING EVIDENCE, his second novel introduced the character, attorney Paul Madriani, and was published by Putnam in 1992. A national bestseller, that novel earned Martini a critical and popular following. New York Times bestsellers PRIME WITNESS (1993), UNDUE INFLUENCE (1994), THE JUDGE (1996), and THE ATTORNEY ( 2000) each featured the series character Madriani.

THE LIST (1997), and CRITICAL MASS (1998) were departures from the court room, legal-thriller genre. CRITICAL MASS addressed issues of terrorism and the threat from weapons of mass destruction. These were followed by THE ARRAIGNMENT, DOUBLE TAP, and most recently SHADOW OF POWER, all within the Paul Madriani series and all bestsellers.
To date, two network mini-series have been produced and broadcast based on Martini’s works, UNDUE INFLUENCE on CBS, and THE JUDGE on NBC. Martini makes his home in the Pacific Northwest.

What made you pick this book to write? The Idea for Shadow of Power came as a result of research I had been conducting for another work. I noticed that the original language of slavery that had been crafted by the founding generation remained in the Constitution still visible even though it had been repealed following the Civil War and was dead letter law. I began to think about this over a period of months and years and ultimately the idea for the novel came to me.

What do you love about this book? Perhaps my favorite aspect of this book is its realism set against the political backdrop of a Presidential campaign and a Supreme Court that is badly divided with the high stakes of future nominations to that Court hanging in the balance. It is here that fiction meets reality.

What are you hoping readers find interesting about this book? Without question it would be the trial process. This is true as regards all of my novels in the Paul Madriani series. It is the trial and the legal strategy that propels the story and invariably leads to the twists and turns and ultimate resolution.

How do you make your characters come alive? Through dialogue; you must develop a good ear for the spoken word. Unless your characters speak with authenticity they will not achieve the realism necessary the carry the story. The goal is to bring the reader to the point where he or she is reading your novel with the air of plausibility one my employ when reading the daily newspaper. The difference is that dialogue in the form of direct quotes in newsprint is often dead. In fiction the illusive ability to breath life into these words on the page is the secret to crafting good fiction.

What writers do you like and why? Elmore Leonard for his ability to write the best dialogue in the business; Scott Fitzgerald for his artistic and literary masterpiece The Great Gatsby; Scott Turow for his wonderful characterizations and John Grisham for his good story telling and generosity in recognizing my novel “Compelling Evidence” at a critical stage in my career. Apart from novelists I would be remiss not to mention the new generation of wonderful historians all of whom have given me wondrous hours of reading and enjoyment, from the late Stephen Ambrose to David McCullough and Joseph Ellis.

What advice would you give to writers hoping for success? Continue to hone your craft and to learn early on that the art of good fiction is to be found in revision and rewriting. Develop a good ear for dialogue. If you need direction in this area, some of the best dialogue is to be found in early novels, even some mysteries of the early 20th Century. Also screen plays written by notable screen writers are rich sources of information on how to write good dialogue and how to develop character from strong dialogue.

What projects do you have coming up? I am contracted for one more Madriani novel, after than I have several projects currently in mind and on which I have begun long term research. Beyond that I would not be prepared to disclose this information.

See more about Steve Martini on his website:

The Writing Porch's J. Louise Larson interviews authors for other writers to watch, listen and learn from. To be considered for a Writing Porch Q&A, contact J. Louise Larson at jackielarsonwrites (at)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thanks, Jackie. Nice to meet you, too, Jackie. Likewise, Jackie.

I remember learning at the age of 12 or so that the secret of success was using someone's name in conversation. We're in love with our own identities, so it stands to reason we love to hear our name.

Right? That's how it went?

Only not. I'm encountering a trend in young writers -- overeagerness to overattribute.

The Larson Dictionary & Stylebook definition of overattribution: To hammer someone over the head with their last name, repeatedly, within the confines of a story. Ouch. OUCH!

A woman I reported with in my early days said her college journalism prof told her to imagine she was being whapped with a quirt across her knuckles every time she overused someone's name.

"It was great," Schlmiel said.
"The first thing we did was have tea," Schlmiel said.

The extra name usage is generally slipped in in the note transcription process. No one sets out to use the same name in every paragraph. But believe me, it happens. Now, imagine you're the subject of the article, only you HATE your last name, because it sounds like slang. So how much more do you hate the rhythmical insertion of your last name at every opportunity?

Make changing up attribution one of your closing routines on a piece. There's spell-check, length-check, fact-check, sound-check.

Now there's duplication-check. Look for repetitions (and remove them!). And if Schlmiel is going around and around in your story's head, get it out. Sub in "he said." or "the Harvard grad said."

And probably if there's this big a ring to it, you need to de-quotize some of the interview and serve it up as fact.

And I haven't even talked about the quaint but irritating use of Mr., Ms. and Mrs. at evey turn, like the Dallas Morning News insists upon.

"Mr. Lecter escaped custody this morning. He had been jailed - and muzzled - for seven serial murders." See? Doesn't that sound odd?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille!

Everyone knows free publicity is invaluable when it's time to promote a book. Magazine and newspaper writers get interviewed occasionally as all the media mix together. There's radio, TV, the internet, newspapers, magazines. And parties! And forums!

So how ready are you for your close-up? (My apologies for botching the classic line written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, from the fabulous movie, "Sunset Boulevard.")

I spent a few years in public relations and have become something of a student of promotion. In the book I co-authored, "The FabJob Guide to Become a Party Planner" (FabJob Publishing, 2006) I spent the lion's share of my effort on how to promote a fledgling business.

Additionally, I once spent time in radio and TV while dreaming of a broadcast career like Oprah's, so I spent some time learning how to interview, and have hosted some of television's most lacklustre interviews on record, as my friend and former producer Susan Baker can attest;)

A book, or a writing career, is a business. No matter how much we DON'T like sales and promotions, the publishers are less and less taking the lead on publicity. Take advantage of every shred of help offered, naturally -- but also take responsibility for your own work's success.

That means being ready to answer questions in such a way that your book sounds fascinating, you sound interesting, and both are worth reading.

Here's a few tips on being ready to be interviewed:

  1. Talk in sentence form. Have a little story. Be ready with point form outlines that can lead you to paragraphs. Practice on your sister, your mom, your dog.
  2. If it's an audio interview, and you want people to like you (this can be helpful), put a smile on your face. It will show in your voice, and make you sound warmer. If your material is serious, there's no need to be jolly, of course.
  3. If you're asked questions about facts, give the listener added value by telling what's important about that, or what you love about that, or why that's terrible, or challenging, or surprising, or relevant, or why people should care about that.
  4. But don't go on and on and on. Make what you say count, so if they want more, they can ask for more. Look for cues that it's someone else's turn to talk. This can be particularly important in casual conversation.
  5. Remember what else you want to promote -- your blog, the stores that have your book, where to find your columns on line, the papers you write for.
  6. Make a picture of you available (put some effort into this, but a pic taken by a friend will d0 - natural light helps with amateur photography, so take it outdoors if you need to.)
  7. Have a scanned JPG, low and high resolution both, available of your book cover.
  8. If you're going to be on TV, don't wear white. Be impeccably groomed. Avoid nervous or unconscious gestures. (Get a friend to do a mock interview and tape it -- find your Achilles heel.)
  9. Study other peoples' interviews, so you can see what looks/sounds good and what doesn't. Feel free to use them for practice.
  10. Work on a press release, and have it available to tuck in sample books or online and in MS Word format for emailing. With permission of my friend, author Cheryl Moeller, I'll share a before-and-after of one with you soon.
  11. Put links to your work/website in the signature of your email. Unbelievable how many people have checked mine out.
  12. And that thing about we all stand on the shoulders of giants? I believe it, so remember to thank the giant! Be grateful, out loud, to those who got you where they are.
  13. Read something from the Writing Porch list of book promotion books. See the link here:
  14. Have a cocktail blurb available at any moment: this is two or three sentences about you, your book, your work, in a nutshell.
Here's mine.
The Writing Porch's J. Louise Larson is a Texas-based writer whose work has appeared in major magazines and newspapers. She is the author of The FabJob Guide to Party Planning. She is the editor of The Ennis Journal and a contributor to The Waxahachie Daily Light.

The Writing Porch Author Q&A: Brie Hart

The Writing Porch's J. Louise Larson interviews authors for other writers to watch, listen and learn from. To be considered for a Writing Porch Q&A, contact J. Louise Larson at jackielarsonwrites (at)

Author: Brie Hart is a nontraditional student studying communications in New York City. She’s also the founder and editor-in-chief of the Web magazine, – The Ultimate Resource Guide for Nontraditional Students.

Book in progress: An untitled memoir about her experience of going back to college over 30 years old. "The memoir is about the challenges I faced when I decided to go back to college three years ago at 32 years old, both in my home life and school life," she said.

"This book started out as a journal to 'tell' someone what I was going through; it was like therapy. My husband didn’t understand my challenges and I didn’t know anyone who was in the same situation as me."

Even though she had read over 50 books to prepare herself for college as a nontraditional student, many of the books were not written for older students because they didn’t address the issues that many nontraditional students face (i.e. socialization, juggling family life and the effects of an academically dormant brain). "I want to show not only the brightside of college, but also the downside, to eliminate the element of surprise," Hart said.

"The most challenging thing about this book was when I realized that the world would know the inner workings of my mind. My actions don’t always represent the internal struggle that I may have before coming to a decision or making a choice. Since I’ve put my thoughts and actions on paper, my friends may finally get to know the true me," she said.
"I’ve always loved to provide people with information, and what better way to provide information if someone can live the past few years of my life while I’m in a classroom? A reader can take what they need from it," she said.

An outgoing person who loves to meet new people, she said she's looking forward to meeting potential readers via book signings and speaking engagements and the Web magazine she started,

She kept a journal with her on the way to class, so she could write things down as they happened. In between semesters, she’d incorporate the entries into a manuscript.

"I’m glad I did this because, oftentimes, my emotions were raw as I wrote them down," she said. "By the time the entries made it to my manuscript, I had made peace with the moment, so the journal entries kept me on the right track."

The best writing advice she's been given? "To embrace my voice and writing style. At first, I wasn’t confidant that people would 'hear' my voice and style because it wasn’t Joan Didion’s, although I admire her style. My writing style and voice were me, however eclectic that may be," Hart said.

Advice to other writers: "I always tell people I did my best writing when I didn’t know how to write because I shot from the hip. I’ve had to unlearn some of the techniques that creative writing and journalism writing classes taught me because I felt my writing became too stilted and lacked personality, as it once had," she said. "My advice? Learn the basic rules of writing, character development, pacing a novel and descriptive phrases, showing not telling—although sometimes telling works."

The Writing Porch's J. Louise Larson is a Texas-based writer whose work has appeared in major magazines and newspapers. She is the author of The FabJob Guide to Party Planning. She is the editor of The Ennis Journal and a contributor to The Waxahachie Daily Light.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Writing Porch Author Q&A: Yvona Fast

The Writing Porch's J. Louise Larson interviews authors for other writers to watch, listen and learn from. To be considered for a Writing Porch Q&A, contact J. Louise Larson through the Comments feature:

Author: Yvona Fast

Book: Employment for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome or Non-Verbal Learning Disability: Stories and Strategies.

Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2004, 272 pages, trade paper

Other publications: This book was recently translated into the Polish language; Yvona Fast's articles have been published in E, the Environment Magazine; Adirondack Daily Enterprise; Lake Placid News: American Small Farm; Vibrant Life: Home Cooking; Woman's Touch; American Health & Fitness; Health and Home; Equal Opportunity: Adirondack Explorer; OpEd News; Miami Family; ATA World; Asperger's Journal; Minority Engineer; Lifeglow; Advance; Christian Single.

Bio: Yvona Fast is an author, freelance writer, food columnist, editor, researcher and speaker living in northern NY state. For more information see her web site,

About Employment for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome or Non-Verbal Learning Disability: Stories and Strategies: My book is a career guide for individuals with Asperger Syndrome or Non-Verbal Learning disability. There are personal stories of people grappling with work issues as well as practical advice on dealing with these issues.

Why this book? I was driven to write this book. I saw the need through a listserv I was on for people with these disorders. They kept saying 'there is nothing out there for adults.' Now there is.

How did you get a book published? I sent out query letters to publishers, and got a response from Jessica Kingsley.

What was the biggest challenge for you about this book? For my writing and speaking, my biggest challenge is the marketing part of it.

What's your favorite kind of writing and why? I enjoy writing essays and articles. I enjoy doing the research. My wiring is fact-based. Writing fiction is much more difficult. I don't have the imagination and I find it very difficult to create scenes.

What advice would you give other writers? Networking is key. As in everything in life, it's not what you know but who you know that matters.

What projects do you have coming up? I write a weekly food column which I'm trying to syndicate to more newspapers. I'm also working on a cookbook and a memoir with my mom.

The Writing Porch's J. Louise Larson is a Texas-based writer whose work has appeared in major magazines and newspapers. She is the author of The FabJob Guide to Party Planning. She is the editor of The Ennis Journal and a contributor to The Waxahachie Daily Light.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Writing Porch Q&A: Author Chris Fabry

Author: Chris Fabry is an author and radio host who lives in Colorado with his wife and 9 children. [This is not a typo.] His daily program is Chris Fabry Live! on Moody Radio.

Most Recent Book: Dogwood - Will returns from prison to the small town of Dogwood, West Virginia, and faces more opposition than he can imagine. The town, family, and the past catch up with him. Ruthie Bowles, an aged sage, helps him try to make a breakthrough. The story is also told through the character Danny Boyd, who lost his sisters in a tragic accident. Tyndale House (2008) Softcover/350 pages

Why this book? This story has been with me ever since I had the idea to write an adult novel. I've written in different genres, but never adult fiction. My friend, Jerry Jenkins [The Left Behind series], always says, "Write what will bring you to the keyboard every day." This is the story that did that. In fact, Jerry offered some time at his cabin in the mountains and it was there that I wrote a lot of this story.

What was the biggest challenge for you about this book? Keeping the truth veiled throughout the first 3/4 of the book. There are some pretty big reveals as you reach the end.

What do you love about this book? The way this book shows the persistent love of God in the face of indifference.

What are you hoping readers find interesting about this book? I hope readers fall in love with the area that I grew up in. West Virginia is a gorgeous state with wonderful, funny, and complicated people. It's not the caricature you may have seen in the news.

What advice would you give other writers? Persistence is the key. Write as much as you can. Find ways to get published that will be stepping stones. I wrote a column for our small, local paper and got much of my ideas on the page every week. Also, find a friend who is a published writer who can answer any question you might have. And read lots of books from Writers Digest.

What projects do you have coming up? The non-fiction book this year is The Winners Manual, written with Ohio State head football coach, Jim Tressel. I'm also working on the second of three novels written around the setting of Dogwood. That should be out in 2009.

Other books by Chris Fabry: The Winners Manual (With Jim Tressel), Left Behind: The Kids, Spiritually Correct Bedtime Stories, Red Rock Mysteries, The H.I.M. Book, At the Corner of Mundane and Grace, The 77 Habits of Highly Ineffective Christians. (More than 60 books published.)

The Writing Porch's J. Louise Larson is a Texas-based writer whose work has appeared in major magazines and newspapers. She is the author of The FabJob Guide to Party Planning. She is the editor of The Ennis Journal and a contributor to The Waxahachie Daily Light.

The Writing Porch's J. Louise Larson interviews authors for other writers to watch, listen and learn from. To be considered for a Writing Porch Q&A, contact J. Louise Larson through the Comments feature:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Getting it all done

It occurs to me as I try to engineer, rather than just NAVIGATE, my checkered writing career, that sometimes the problem is the solution.

I know, it sounds all zen and "Here's how it is, Grasshopper" - but something I discovered while beating deadline tonight resounded with some sort of eternal truth. There's not much of that to be had on deadline, usually - just a grinding of glass under the stone wheel of time as all sorts of things are made to break (or at least reduce) -- including my expectations.

So there I was, hammering away, checking my e-mail as is the custom, and a flitting phrase caught my peripheral vision. It was a google alert -- a quote from Immanual Kant, of all things. "To do is to be."

Wow, I thought. That's deep. Especially when I'd been fretting about how I was ever going to finish my book when I can't even get this week's calendar done. I have no extensive staff. No assistant, no associate. It's pretty much just an army of one. And some very nice people sharing a bit of their week with me at head office.

Work some more, fret some more. Another quote jumps off my laptop screen and sits, perched, on the bridge of my nose, just beyond my glasses, waving its little letters at me.

This time it's Paul Valery, admonishing me: "The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up."

So, in other words, Paul, what you're saying is: To do is to be.

And yes, I've heard the joke, and I know that Frank Sinatra said "Do be do be do." Which, in context, is pretty stinking brilliant.

So the dilemma of how to accomplish all these objectives? how to do it all? What someone wise and calm told me recently when I was feeling neither: Spend part of your time doing one thing, and part of your time doing the other.

Like one of my favorite children's books suggests (you know the one, about Homer or whatever his name is, and the red shirt?) Cut a little from here to put a little bit there.

I don't know why, but at 3:04 in the morning, I'm of the belief that I can do this. I can achieve this duality.

In this case, turning the problem inside out reveals the solution. In the seeds the problem sheds, a new solution springs up.

Do. Be. Do. Be. Do.

How do you balance your life? I'd like to know.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Country mouse, city mouse: Miserable relocation?

'Tis a tale oft retold, in any number of variations: the country mouse and the city mouse. They swap places for greener pastures, looking forward to the exotic OTHER - only to find that, like the old-fashioned embroidery sampler says (and Dorothy found out with a click of her Ruby slippers) "east, west, home's best."

So the question remains: if you could only have the job you wanted by relocating to some far-off berg, as opposite from what you're accustomed to as a Hawaiian volcano is from an Iowa hayfield, would you do it?

Some of us have done this - left behind the familiar in search of that first rung (or the next one up) on the employment ladder, in journalism or some other field.

This topic comes up often on mediabistro, and it evokes a lively discussion, pitting experienced journalists who have made geographical and other sacrifices to make their way against newbies who were really hoping for an entry level something-something at Hearst or Conde Nast.

One writer's observation that most ads on are "for rags in cities I never heard of. So, after hitting I learn the majority of them are unsafe, poor housing options, and no entertainment nightlife."

That poster's interesting question was: "Would you knowingly move into a bad neighborhood and risk losing $ and your safety in order to get your start? Would you risk knowing full well that you would be isolated and unhappy and still make the trek?"

I admit to having been a little hard on the poster. My poor attempt at reality therapy went like this:

Good luck getting a job at a rag in an unsafe hood with poor housing options and no entertainment nightlife. For one thing, the smirk is audible from here (in some distant city you've never heard of) so if you apply, dust off your 'tude.

Also, I wouldn't just write them off based on Unless you're talking about Flint, Mich., which I understand has a high crime rate, you might be surprised when you get there -- which you probably won't (get there) because you think the sun rises and sets on whichever unemployment-infested berg YOU live in.

And who knows what poor housing options mean? My definition of poor housing is unaffordable housing, which sounds like NYC to me.

If entertainment nightlife is what you're after, though, definitely best to stay in some great capital of entertainment. Please don't come to my delightful small town (with a big city just half hour away) and whine about the lack of social whirl.

If you want to work, go where there's a job or two. If you want to play and remain unemployed, you won't need to budge an inch.I wish employment for every writer, and it's always best if you don't have to move a muscle to do it. But you might need to relo to work, is all I'm sayin.

And to the question -- "Would you risk knowing full well that you would be isolated and unhappy and still make the trek?"

My question back is, what makes you so sure that you know "full well you would be isolated and unhappy"?

Don't move a muscle! If you already know that, ALREADY, sight unseen, that you'll be miserable, I double-dog guarantee you you will. Be. Miserable. Foregone conclusion.

It's possible you are very change-averse. My suggestion would be to get a job where routine is guaranteed. Toll-taker on the turnpike? Obit writer? Tax preparer?

But you might want to re-examine your comfort zone, and make a mental note to yourself, like Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets, to try someone else's silverware instead.

It might be fun.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Auspicious beginnings: An exercise for writers

I'm working on a sort of fiction lab. Let's call it ... genesis.

As a newspaper editor, I'm acutely aware of the importance of the lead. It has the capacity to put your reader to sleep -- or at least to turn them away from the page in search of coffee, ANYTHING, to keep them awake.

A writer once told me she'd been instructed never to start a sentence with a boring little word like a, the, it. I have tried to live by that idea and to write by it, but more and more I'm noticing that great beginnings can have humble words leading the charge.

I am born. (David Copperfield.) It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. (A Tale of Two Cities.)

The lead sentence or paragraph functions as the door in. If you don't like the door, you probably won't go in. Make your door as austere or beautiful or ornate or breathtaking as you hope the story will be.

But remember this: while some writers can write unless they have the lead, I feel it's often best to let the lead "bubble up" after the research/writing is substantially done. It's like letting the beauty of a grain of wood tell you what a carving wants to be.

In search of the best of beginnings, I have started reading the first paragraphs of books I admire, and then the first paragraphs of their chapters.

Try this. Take a book you like and read all of its beginnings, just a paragraph or so. If the writer has genius, it starts there. This will tell you -- well, VOLUMES, about their style.

I did this with James Russo's Nobody's Fool, and found myself getting into the book in a way I hadn't before.

Here's another "beginnings" exercise, one that editors do, day in and day out: Take a so-so story and give it a face lift by rewriting the lead concept.

Here's a toast to auspicious beginnings!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Which publisher offers the best publicity for your book?

Want to find the publisher that offers the best publicity for its authors? Interested in a book tour?

Don't count on it, unless you're a celeb.

In today's marketplace, the more responsibility you assume for publicity and promotion of your book, the better.

You can hire your own publicist -- or become your own publicist.

Up front, it looks like no publicity leads to poor book sales leads to no money for publicity -- a downward spiral where it's not the book's fault, or the author's fault.

Instead of assigning blame, the proactive author takes responsibility for book publicity.

Press releases, book interviews, win-and-cheese book signings, author's tours. Blogs, small newspaper/radio interviews.

I know a writer who got a big advance for her novel, but then was crushed by a lack of promotion, and went somewhere else with her next books.

It sounds to me like it is now expected that, outside of blockbusters, writers will do much of their own promotional work -- and publishers are expecting them to. I love this one: Jump Start Your Book Sales: A Money-Making Guide for Authors, Independent Publishers and Small Presses by Marilyn Ross and Tom Ross (Paperback - Mar 1999)

I also have the Guerrilla Marketing Guide for authors.

I also found these ones online but haven't read them: The Savvy Author's Guide to Book Publicity: A Comprehensive Resource Guide -- From Building the Buzz to Pitching the Press by Lissa Warren (Paperback - Dec 9 2003)

Publicize Your Book by Jacqueline Deval (Paperback - April 1 2003)

The Complete Guide to Book Marketing by David Cole (Paperback - Feb 28 2004)

1001 Ways to Market Your Books, 5th Edition by John Kremer (Paperback - May 25 2000)1700 Ways to Earn Free Book Publicity: Don't Pay to Market Your Writing by Anne Hart (Paperback - Feb 2006)

Selling the Book: A Bookshop Promotion Manual by Sydney T. Hyde and Sidney T. Hyde (Paperback - Sep 1986)

The Web-Savvy Writer: Book Promotion with a High-Tech Twist by Patrice-Anne Rutledge

Author 101: Bestselling Book Publicity by Rick Frishman (Paperback - May 31 2006)

Have Book - Will Travel: A Guide to Book Touring Out West by Dorothea Fuller Smith (Paperback - Nov 2003)

The one by Tom and Marilyn Ross knocked my socks off, it was that good. The other thing to remember is to apply other marketing strategies, the kind that apply to the promotion of almost any business.

The problem for many writers (and this will continue to be more and more of a problem as publishers demand more and more PR work by the writers themselves) is that they only see themselves as writers, not as marketers. They don't want to have to do something as crass as shill their books.

That's what sales tools are for -- even something as small as putting a link to a place to buy your book in your email signature. I designed and ordered postcards to promote the career guide book I co-authored. I did this even though it was a work for hire and I would receive no royalties, not a drop more cash from that publisher. I did it in an effort to brand myself as an author.

Every email that goes out on every regional story I work on for regional mags and papers has a signature promoting my book, articles, website, radio commentary. Hopefully, next time a book comes out (that I DO get royalties on), regionally, people will say "I heard of her ..."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Short writing jobs on your resume?

Asked for advice regarding a checkered resume, I drew on my own employment history and time spent in the 1990s doing a lot of resume writing and consulting.

Oh yeah -- and writers? This can be a very cool sideline. The advantage of being able to express yourself (or some other candidate) in addition to being able to design a nice LOOKING resume is a good one to have.

Anyway -- if your problem as a writer is a bunch of shorter-term jobs (this industry being what it is) here are some things to consider.

First, consider framing up your resume in terms of contract work: state in your cover letter you'd welcome either contract or permanent work, as you do an excellent job of making a difference for a company on a short term difference. (Cite examples).

I think the chronological format is okay. However, make your summary at the top (a paragraph about your strengths, I favor this approach) lists what you can do; focus on bullet points or swift summary of what you accomplished at each post.

Then at the bottom, where references are usually available on request, I might put a reference from each of several of the companies, to reinforce right there and quell fears: you didn't burn bridges, people would recommend you. (

For what it's worth, those are some ideas that might help. Also, be prepared to deal with questions about the short tenures. The best book on this that I've ever seen (and I've read a pile) is Martin Yate's Knock Em Dead - The Art of Getting the Job (he has a bunch, so be sure to get the general job finding one) as it has the 100 toughest questions prospective employers ask and how to ace them.

Also, if you can consolidate jobs, do so. For example, I have 2 media companies on my resume that I have worked for three times (!!!!) and one that have worked for twice. I'm not sure who that makes the glutton for punishment, them or me!

Instead of listing that as 8 jobs, I list it by company, with most recent responsibility first, and state the years I've worked there.

Also when you cull through old jobs, get rid of ones that took less than a year, if you can. So: Nov. 2006-present : McDonalds June 2006-Oct. 2006 : Burger King Feb. 2003 - December 2005 : Jack in the Box might end up looking like: 2006 - present: McDonalds 2003 - 2005: Jack in the Box

I know there are employers who feel disgruntled if you don't report EVERY job you've had, but if you had to support yourself with a second job waiting tables at Rudy's Lounge, you might not list it. It's your resume. Some employers ask for month and year on application form, which you fill out as needed of course.