Vodka, Vice & Collaborative Writing

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Two Amazon indie authors, Angela J. Conrad and Kathy Hesser Skrzypczak, have never met face to face. That hasn’t stopped them from leveraging their mutual passion for storytelling to co-write Vodka & Vice, a romantic comedy book series set in New York City.  The initial story takes readers into the lives of NYC couple, Naomi Swanson and Bradley Dobrov, as they go from happy lovebirds to heartbroken ex-couple against the backdrop of hidden speakeasies, luxury high rises, Russian dance parties and winter blizzards in the Big Apple.  As a cast of colorful characters gets in the way of them getting back together, the two soon realize that their break-up is no accident.  I found the story a fun, easy read, with characters and situations that were laugh-out-loud entertaining.

I belong to the same Facebook writing group as these two wordsmith collaborators, and am delighted to talk to them about writing as a team and what it takes to be part of a creative duo in today’s ever-changing independent publishing world.

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Q.  How did your newest series, Vodka & Vice, come about?

Angie: I’d been on Facebook a few years, to be connected to family and friends.  I wasn’t promoting my books on blogs or author pages.  My illustrator suggested I join a writing group, so in early 2016 I joined Write Life.  I’d started a story in the group, with each writer adding a paragraph.  It was hilarious, witty, and showed me what other author’s styles blended with mine.  In a few months I’d made numerous friends, started three of my own groups, and met Kathy.  I was finishing Body Double, Million Dollar Legs, and Kathy read it, we talked, I sent her an idea I had for my next series, and somehow we just decided to write a book together.  It was a mixture of perfect timing, her NYC knowledge for the story’s location, and complementary styles.

Q. What has been most surprising aspect of collaborating with another writer on a book?

Angie: How wonderfully easy it was.  I’m in northwest Arkansas and Kathy’s outside NYC.  We did everything through email, Dropbox, and inside our co-author Facebook group.

Kathy:  For me, it was the way it sharpened my writing.  Once I found Bradley’s voice, the story developed so naturally, it was almost as though it were writing itself.

Q. What was the process like? How did you two divide up writing responsibilities?  What about book promotion?

Angie: I had the first chapter idea already written.  In my last ten books, I’ve written in several characters’ POV, bringing the reader inside each character’s head.  So in this one, I started as Naomi, sent it to Kathy and she became Bradley.  We used each other’s strengths.  I’d already published 22 books/boxed sets on Amazon.  I knew their formatting, rules, could design the front/back pages, and had an illustrator and a cover designer already in play.  Kathy was a professional copywriter and worked on ads in NYC.  She writes cleaner, and is a strong editor.  Kathy knows the location; she also took the pictures for the interior of the book.

I write fulltime — usually 12 to 14 hours a day.  Kathy and I are both character-driven writers.  We don’t do a plot and know the ending in advance.  We become the characters and they tell the story.  It flowed so well, we turned Naomi & Bradley’s story into the series Vodka & Vice and wrote four cliffhangers.

Kathy:  I would have never had the courage to publish on Amazon without Angie’s expertise.  Every step of the way, she had advice and methods she had used before that led to her previously successful books.  Originally, we had planned on releasing the first book in around five months, but the chapters flowed so easily, we were able to finish the entire four volumes in a little less than that.

Q. I felt that you both were very much “in tune” from a voice perspective. I couldn’t tell that two different people wrote this book. Did one of you gravitate to the voice of one of the characters more than another?  

Angie: Thanks, several readers remarked on that and it’s wonderful that the story flows and there are no breaks or different styles to interfere with the story.  For both of us, it’s all about the story.  I think Kathy had the harder job being a cocky, gorgeous Russian male.  She did it superbly.

Kathy:  Ha!  I completely disagree.  Angie had it harder because her character was a strong and passionate woman.  She actually had to delve into the complexities of female thought and emotion.  And she did it beautifully.  All I had to do was be a guy, which is as easy as I’ve always suspected it is.
Q. What I liked about Naomi & Bradley besides the story line and sexual chemistry, is the lively dialogue and pacing of this story. Any real-life people that you based these characters on? If you got an option for the story to be adapted to film, who would you envision playing Naomi and who would play Bradley?

Angie: Not for me.  All my characters develop inside my head before I actually start typing.  I give them dimensions, a past, a personality, maybe even an elevator phobia, I want them to be real people.  We used the same models for our four covers, and we studied hundreds of other photos picking those four.  Their faces are so ingrained inside me that I guess I’d hope they could act, because to me, they are the real Naomi & Bradley.

Kathy:  Great question!  Angie wrote the first chapter and sent it to me, so that’s when I met them both, already formed.  Some of the other characters who introduced themselves to me during the writing process do have elements of people I’ve known, but not one of them is a straight up homage.

Q. What did you learn about yourselves from this experience?  Would you do it again?

Angie: As an author, my main focus is to give the reader what they want, and we asked at the end of the book, if they would enjoy more of Naomi & Bradley.  If they want more, Kathy and I agreed to continue.  We already have ideas for the secondary characters.

Kathy:  I learned that I don’t have to sit and labor over each and every word.  I was writing “serious” stuff that felt laborious.  Writing with Angie felt more spontaneous.  Also, when you know someone you respect is waiting on your chapter so she can move on to hers, it really lights a fire under your desk chair.  No procrastinating!

Q. Any advice for other writers who might want to team up on a novel?  Is it best to establish yourself on your own first before collaborating with another writer, or does it matter?

Angie: I don’t think it matters, but it doesn’t hurt to have a following first, know Amazon’s twists and turns.  Join a writing group, make friends with other authors, write a short story together, and see how you mesh.

Kathy:   I agree.  I knew from writing our improvisational stories that Angie and I would work well together.  I had a little trepidation at first because I’ve never thought of writing with another person.  When I worked in advertising, occasionally my art director would come up with the headline or I would create the visual, but I wrote all my copy alone.  I think you have to have respect for your partner’s opinions and writing style, which we certainly do.

Q. As of this writing, have you two met in person? Any plans to? 

Angie: We’ve never met in person, and have no plans to right now.  We are far apart in geography, but in spirit we are joined.  We’ve talked on the phone and daily in our group.  We speak through our characters and a funny thing, when I’m Naomi and Bradley is with another woman, I actually found myself getting angry, even jealous.  It was super to be so into a story.

Kathy:  Although I would be delighted to meet Angie in person, I don’t feel I need to in order to continue our partnership.  We already know each other’s strengths very well and of course the writing speaks for itself.  She makes me a better writer.

Q. What’s next for you two either individually or as a writing team?

Angie: If we don’t continue with the series, we can always begin another one after a short FinalBook_BradleyNaomibreak.  All options are open.  We’re also both working on other books.  I’m usually working on two at once, overlapping.  As I waited for Kathy’s chapter, I’d work on my next book, Gillian, Go Away.  Oh, and book 4, Bradley & Naomi …What’s True will be released in early July.

Kathy:  I have another completed novel and I’m in the process of querying publishers right now.  So much ‘hurry up and wait’ that it was wonderful to be able to create and produce work in the interim.  I had started a third novel just before meeting Angie.  It’s a paranormal novel about all the ghosts trapped in a single building in Gettysburg, PA, and their relationships to each other and to the physical world around them, titled “The Corporeals.”  I’m also working on a script for an animated film.  Of course, all this will come after I put “Bradley & Naomi…What’s True” to bed.

Check out the first three books in Vodka & Vice at these links:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01F6BXGV2

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01F7GH5TA

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01GQV96JW

 

About the Authors

Angela J. Conrad

AngelaConradAngie writes fiction full-time, creating characters “who live colorful lives, people who often need redemption, and one more chance while facing pivotal moments in their lives.” She has published 18 books, four novellas, and boxed sets, and over 125 short stories on Amazon, internet sites, and news magazines.  Her books have been downloaded in thirteen countries totaling over 9.8 million pages in the last eighteen months.

She considers full-time fiction writing another great adventure. She has crossed the US and Canada alone, taken extreme chances in the stock market, bet often in casinos, and yet balanced it with serious jobs in managerial finance.  “I’m kind of an adrenaline junkie,” she says.

Connect with Angie on her Amazon page:    https://www.amazon.com/author/angelajconradaceshigh11, or on Facebook:     https://www.facebook.com/authorangelajconrad.

 

Kathleen Hesser Skrzypczak

KathySkrzypczakKathy was born and raised in Pine Grove, PA.  A small town girl with big city dreams, she moved to New York City with two-hundred dollars in her pocket and a degree in English Literature from Gettysburg College to pursue a career in advertising.  After winning awards for clients like Penthouse Magazine, Tanqueray Gin, and Johnnie Walker Black Scotch, she left the glamorous life of the city to live in New Jersey with her husband and raise her three awesome kids.  Her most recent success was publishing a popular blog about a family RV trip to Nova Scotia.  Her latest adventure is a romantic comedy book series she’s co-authoring with accomplished Amazon author, Angela J. Conrad.  When she’s not writing, Kathleen loves to dance, sing, and cook, sometimes all at the same time.

Connect with Kathy on her Amazon page: amazon.com/author/kathleenhesserwriter, or on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/authorskrzypczak/.

 

 

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A Question of Self-Defense: Woman Turns a Would-be Attack into a Successful Psychological Thriller

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Today on The Writing Well I am delighted to feature debut novelist Liz Lazarus of Atlanta, whose new psychological thriller, Free of Malice, is generating a lot of buzz, especially among book clubs.

In her author bio, Liz shares that her novel was inspired by an actual foiled attack when she was a college senior at Georgia Tech nearly two decades ago. She was living off campus when she was jarred awake by the sound of her bedroom door crashing open. She fought back before this would-be-rapist eventually fled. Though Liz physically survived the attack, emotionally, her sense of security was shaken. As a means to heal, she began writing about that night and the changes to her life.

At a time when college assaults are at epidemic proportions (a recent Association of American Universities survey of 150,000 female college students found that 23% had experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact),  the timing has never been better for this story. Free of Malice poses the question of whether shooting the would-be attacker as he was fleeing the property would be deemed self-defense in today’s criminal justice system. In her gripping novel, which is half who-done-it, and half hypothetical courtroom drama, Liz takes the reader on a suspenseful journey of self-discovery and empowerment of the victim even as readers second-guess who is behind the attack.

“As a long-time courtroom and Law and Order junkie and major fan of Perry Mason, I could not put this book down,” writes one book club fan. Another early reader called it “a gritty, intense, engaging Southern “courtroom” drama with gripping suspense.”

Below, Liz shares more about her process writing the book and her experience navigating the many publishing options available to new writers.  I learned a lot from her insights and her incredibly detailed and highly effective marketing approach to get the book in the hands of readers most interested in the psychological issues of violence and gun ownership as well as  the often murky area of what constitutes self-defense in today’s justice system.

 

Q. As discussed, your novel, Free of Malice, was inspired by an actual incident. What made you decide to write this book 20 years later?

Liz: Writing this book was always on my “bucket list” but I had some great career opportunities that I chose to pursue first. Just a few years after the incident, my employer offered me an expatriate assignment in Paris, France, so I moved overseas for three years, which was a fantastic experience, both professionally and personally. When I returned to the states, I had the chance to pursue my executive MBA at Northwestern, which was another great opportunity that I didn’t want to pass up.

My career continued to flourish, but didn’t really allow me the time to do the research I needed for the book. At one point, I wondered if the story would still be relevant, but the truth is that it has only become more newsworthy over time. I finally decided to take a leave of absence from work to write the book which finally allowed me the time to put the thoughts that had been swirling in my mind to paper. It also led to my career transition, as I became a partner in a consulting firm once I had completed the novel. The best description I can give is that this book was a calling, and I feel like it unfolded at the right time. There have been a few coincidences, or “G-d-winks” as people say, that have led me to believe that I choose the right path.

Q. Your story tackles the legal questions about self-defense — whether you can legally shoot an intruder if you are not in imminent danger (i.e. they have backed off). What was the most surprising aspect of the law that you uncovered while researching this question for your book?

Liz: I learned so much about the criminal justice system during my research and had the great Scales of Justicefortune to consult with a few criminal defense attorneys regarding the story. I’d have to say that one of the most interesting parts of my research was the whole jury selection process. It’s almost more accurate to call it de-selection as both sides do their best to rule out jurors who would be damaging to their case.

I was able to gain a “fly on the wall” view of the process as I tagged along with one of the attorneys and found it fascinating. For example, one of the questions they asked the potential jurors was if anyone was a supervisor. At first, I couldn’t understand why that would matter until my lawyer friend explained that they were looking for people with leadership experience as they would likely be nominated as jury foreman.

Q. I heard you say that it was easier to get your pilot’s license than to navigate book publishing. What made you decide to self-publish? What are your top 2-3 tips for new authors thinking of going down a similar path?

Liz: Yes, getting my pilot’s license was one of the other “bucket list” items I completed, and it’s true, it was easier. The reason I say this is that there is very clear instruction when learning to fly a plane, both in textbook application and in maneuvering in the air. There are steps to take and my flight instructor guided me along the way. For traditionally published authors, once the galley is complete, the publishing house takes over. They have a “flight instructor” to steer the content editing, copy editing, layout, cover design, printing, distribution, etc. but because I self-published, I had to learn all these steps myself.

Would I do it differently in the future? There are pros and cons to both. The biggest pro to traditional publishing is that you are “pre-qualified” meaning that the quality of your work is not put into question. Because there is large variation in quality in the “Indie” or self-published world, I’ve had to make an extra effort to prove my work is of high quality, even though I paid for rounds of professional editing and layout.

I wrote a blog called “The 12 Steps to Self-Publishing” that has a lot of useful tips I learned – it’s on my website if you’d like to read more. Since you asked, my top 3 are (1) buy your own ISBN so you control the distribution (2) pay for a professional editor – it’s worth it, and (3) print on demand with a source like CreateSpace so you can make corrections because there will be more typos than you can possibly imagine.

Q. I love your author website and your marketing approach to reach readers. What elements of your marketing have been most effective? How important is it for independent authors to know who their readers are and reach them online?

Liz: Goodreads has been a great source. Early on, I ran a few giveaways, which increased exposure for my book and provided some advance reviews. And, the support staff at Goodreads could not be more helpful—they are top notch.  I’m a strong believer in knowing and segmenting your target audience. I would tell all authors to ask these questions:

  • Description – who is your target audience?
  • Passion / Motivation – what are their passions, motivations?
  • Messaging – what do you want them to know about you and about your book?
  • Influencers / Leaders – who are the people who speak out for this group? How do you reach them?

Per your question, reaching readers and influencers is key. I choose my books by referrals and I assume most readers do, too.

Q. What has been the response to your book so far? What audience segments are most interested in your story? Any surprises there?

Liz: The response has been humbling. I joke that you can’t tell if your baby is ugly and I had no way to measure my own work. But, when strangers write such positive notes on Amazon and Goodreads, I’m really blown away. Right now, we’re at 80+ reviews on Goodreads with a 4.5/5.0 stars, which is amazing. There are a few groups that have really “taken” to the book.

  • Book clubs – I’ve had a few book clubs tell me that they had the most vigorous debates after reading Free of Malice. Here’s one quote, “Our book club read this first novel by Liz Lazarus and this was by far one of the BEST discussions that I have ever experienced!!! The twists in this book will have you second guessing until you get to the end.”
  • Attack survivors – because part of the book is based on a true event, when I was attacked in college, I wrote about the after-effects to heal. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was writing the beginning of my book. I’ve had several rape survivors tell me the book was cathartic, that they felt more normal after reading my book because some of the neurosis they felt was shown in the Laura character, too.
  • Women interested in guns & self-protection – I’ve spoken to several groups in this category and they have been so receptive and supportive, particularly when I share tips I’ve learned about self-protection and gun safety.
  • One group I expected to hear more from was the EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapists since this unique therapy is depicted in the book. That said, we haven’t diligently approached that group yet so maybe it’s just a matter of time. One of my favorite endorsements does come from an EMDR therapist, “Utterly absorbing! Integrates state-of-the-art psychotherapy techniques with all the elements of a classic thriller.”

Q. One of the more interesting features of your book marketing is that you actually have a song that you co-produced which is the theme song to your book. How did this come about and do you think it has added another dimension to your story for your readers?

Liz: I absolutely love that my book has a theme song and it was always my intention. You see, thomasbarnnete-600x600the young, black lawyer character in my book is loosely based on my best friend from college, Thomas Barnette. We met our first day at Georgia Tech when we both got lost trying to find the civil engineering building and we’ve been close ever since. Back then, I had no idea that Thomas was such a talented signer—he kept that part of his life hidden.

One day after we had graduated, he played a CD for me in his car and the man’s voice was amazing, kind of a Seal meets U2. I literally didn’t believe it was Thomas so he had to sing to me to prove it. From that day on, we talked about producing a music CD. Ironically, right after I took my leave of absence from work to write my book, a check arrived for some salary I had deferred and it was the exact amount we needed for the CD. So when you asked earlier, why so long to write the book, co-producing Thomas’ CD was another worthy diversion.

In my novel, the lawyer character takes the stage at Eddie’s Attic, one of the many Atlanta locations that I feature. Here, readers can either pull out their QR app and hear the real Thomas singing Let Me Breathe or go to my website, www.freeofmalice.com and hear it online. To me, it adds another dimension to the book, to hear the character’s voice. Thomas also sang at my launch party and we are planning a few joint events throughout the year.

Q. What’s next for you? Do you have plans to write another book?

Liz: Free of Malice just launched in late March, so I’m still promoting the book – doing radio shows, podcasts, visiting book clubs and other groups. I do have an idea for another book that is alluded to at the end of this one (no spoilers!). I’ve received quite a few comments from readers like, “can’t wait for Liz’s next book.” I didn’t expect that reaction at all but take it as a huge compliment. Now the challenge is live up to those expectations, right?

 

About the Author

LizLazarusA native of Valdosta, Georgia, Liz Lazarus graduated from Georgia Tech with an engineering degree and went on to a successful career at General Electric before joining a consulting firm.

She lives in Atlanta, is engaged to fiancé, Richard, and is a partner at a consulting firm focused on strategic planning. When she is not working, Liz enjoys reading, traveling, and spoiling Buckwheat, their cat. Follow her on Twitter @liz_lazarus.

 

Talking Story with Flight of Dreams Author on the Anniversary of the Hindenburg Disaster

Flight of Dreams

By Anne Wainscott-Sargent

Seventy-nine years ago today the German passenger airship the Hindenburg disintegrated in a fiery crash in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

The disaster killed 36 passengers and 61 crewmen, and became the stuff of legend due to gripping newsreel coverage, photographs, and Herbert Morrison’s radio eyewitness reports from the landing field.

But, it’s Ariel Lawhon’s 2016 re-imagining of the doomed airship that has put a fresh lens on the story and with good reason: Lawhon knows how to blend real events into a compelling tale of what might have caused the explosion. It kept me turning pages well into the early morning hours.

Flight of Dreams tells the story of the Hindenburg from the vantage point of three actual crewmembers — a navigator, stewardess and cabin boy — and two passengers –a journalist and businessman. “At every page a guilty secret bobs up; at every page Lawhon keeps us guessing. Who will bring down the Hindenburg? And how?” writes The New York Times Book Review, while People Magazine described Flight of Dreams as “an enthralling nail-biter…[E]verything points to the inevitable disaster – but you’re still on the edge of your seat.”

Below, Ariel shares her journey recreating the last moments on board the Hindenburg, her love of history, and the one thing every aspiring writer needs to do.


Anne: As a lover of historical fiction, I am a big fan of the subject matter for both your first book, The Wife, The Maid and The Mistress, and Flight of Dreams. What is it about historical events that appeals to you as a storyteller?

 

Ariel: Oh thank you so much! I’m always glad to find another fan of historical fiction. I think that The Wife the Maid The MistressI’m drawn to those moments in history that remain unsolved. Whether it’s a missing judge as in my first book, or a disaster like the Hindenburg. I’m looking for those moments that have settled in the public consciousness but still have lingering questions. I enjoy exploring those events and coming up with my own theories as to what really happened.

 

Anne: What research sources did you draw upon to give your story authenticity and to put people in the time period of the Nazi Reich’s rise in the 1930s and to feel as though they were on board the Hindenburg?

 

Ariel: I primarily looked to survivor accounts (almost all of the people who survived that crash Hindenburg An Illustrated Historywent on to write about it at some point in their lives), biographies like HINDENBURG: An Illustrated History, and hundreds of pages of biographical information about the passengers and crewmembers. With a project like this, the key is to immerse yourself fully in the subject as you work. I have to become a short-term expert. The good thing is that I love this type of work. I love to learn about different time periods and moments in history.

 

Anne: Point of view and characters are really critical components of telling a powerful story. Which character (and point of view) do you think is the most compelling in Flight of Dreams and why?

 

Ariel: That’s a great question! And while I don’t think any of the five points of view in Flight of Dreams is more important than another—I put them all there for a reason and they each have a purpose in the story—I can say that I related most to Gertrud Adelt. She was a bright, young, brash journalist who had just lost her press card. She was a mother. She was scared. She was madly in love with her husband. I understand all of these things and developed a deep affinity for her in particular.

 

Anne: In a previous Writing Well interview, you talked about plot and pacing, saying that the key to effective story pacing is to ask a question and as soon as you answer it, ask another so the story doesn’t sag and the reader will be motivated to keep reading. You also said that the little questions also have to support the “big” question. Do you think you did a good job following that approach with Flight of Dreams? What is the big question thatHindenburg_burning underscores your story?

 

Ariel: What a great memory you have! The central question to Flight of Dreams, the question asked on the very first page is “What caused the disaster?” Every scene in the entire book builds to answering that question. Was it sabotage? Was it accident? Was it simply a tragic mistake? I want the reader to ask that question over and over in different ways as they read the novel. And I have to admit that I’m very satisfied with how I answered that question in the end.

 

Anne: How was Flight of Dreams easier/more difficult/different than your first book?

 

Ariel: Every book is so different. But I can say that this was the first novel I wrote under contract. And somehow knowing that the book would be published gave me a confidence that I didn’t have with my first novel and I do think that shows on the page. That said, writing under contract also brings a great deal of pressure and if you don’t learn to set that aside in the morning when you sit down to work it can stomp out your creativity. Also, this subject is so well documented that the research was easier.

 

Anne: The buzz for your book has been phenomenal. Are you getting interest from Hollywood to option your book for film? 

 

Ariel: Flight of Dreams has been shopped widely in Hollywood but so far no one is interested in making it into a film. To me the reasons behind the disinterest are fascinating. I wrote a novel about the people on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. But producers have universally rejected the idea because they want no part of telling the story of an infamous German airship. Even though, in reality, the story is not about an airship at all. It’s about the people who were caught up in one of history’s most well known tragedies. Oh well. You win some, you lose some.

 

Anne: What advice do you have for other authors, who are looking to tackle larger-than-life historical events in their novels? Any advice?

 

Ariel: The same advice I always give. Write the book. There is no agent without the book. There is no editor without the book. There is no career without the book. I find that most people get caught up in the small things like research or plot questions or an agent search. In reality all of those things sort themselves out. Having a finished book that has been revised and edited and rewritten countless times until it sparkles is the only important thing.

 

Anne: What’s next on the horizon for you — next book or other creative projects? Are you still blogging?

 

Ariel: I blog when I can. But with four children and a very busy life I often skip the blogging in favor of working on my next book. Which, in this case, is a novel tentatively called, I Was Anastasia. It’s a dual narrative about the last days of Anastasia Romanov and the woman who became her most famous imposter.


About the Author

Ariel Lawhon2Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She’s the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (Doubleday, 2014) and the upcoming FLIGHT OF DREAMS (February, 2016). She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus) and a black lab who is, thankfully, a girl.  Follow her on Twitter @ArielLawhon or on Facebook.

Read her tips on premise, plot and pacing on The Writing Well shared at the 2013 Decatur Book Festival Writers Conference.

The ‘Atlanta Beltline Guy’ Talks Future of Cities in Where We Want to Live

Where+We+Want+to+LiveToday, The Writing Well is celebrating Earth Day a few days late with this insightful interview with Atlanta urban designer Ryan Gravel, author of Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities, a book that will inspire anyone who has grown up in the sprawl of America’s suburban areas where communities were designed around cars instead of people.

I first met Ryan while researching my own book, Moving to Atlanta: The Un-Tourist GuideI couldn’t write about living in Atlanta without quoting the “Atlanta Beltline guy,” as he’s known around town. The Beltline today is a $4 billion infrastructure project that will add 40% to the city’s green space by converting Atlanta’s abandoned 22-mile-long freight rail corridor into a  transit greenway.  It’s also, as I was to learn while researching Atlanta’s many intown neighborhoods, a cultural phenomenon that is redefining the fabric of the city, bringing people and institutions together and fueling economic growth.

“The Beltline has its own culture,” Eric Champlin of AtlantaTrails.com said, and his enthusiasm for the Beltline was echoed by dozens of other residents I interviewed.  For Ryan, it was his graduate thesis while an architecture student at Georgia Tech, and his vision of what he would love for Atlanta to be, inspired by what he’d seen firsthand after living for a year in Paris.

“His book is part memoir, partly an argument about what’s wrong with suburban sprawl and partly an argument about how infrastructure shapes our society and how – from roads to rivers – it can be thoughtfully repurposed,” writes Alex Bozikovic in his March 18th review of Ryan’s book in The Globe and Mail.

I am inspired by Ryan’s passion for Atlanta, but I agree with The Globe and Mail reviewer that Where We Want to Live has a much broader perspective, with examples of what other cities here and abroad can do to make their communities more livable, more equitable, and more sustainable.

Ryan holding both our books.

Ryan holding both our books.

In my book, he credits the people for Atlanta for making the Beltline happen, saying, “The only reason we are doing this is because the people of Atlanta fell in love with a vision for their future.” He predicts Atlanta will be a very different place in 20 years — “redefined.”

Our books’ were published a month apart, and we exchanged signed copies last month at his office in Ponce City Market, a short walk from the Beltline’s Northside Trail. During our meeting, I asked him about his writing journey, including his goals for Where We Want to Live and what he’d like to be doing in five years. Here’s what he said.

Q. Why did you write Where We Want to Live?

Ryan: There were several things I wanted to accomplish — one, I am fascinated with the role of infrastructure. It is the foundation of our culture, our social life,  I am fascinated with that relationship. I see it as an under-the-radar kind of tool for social and cultural change, which is exciting. The other thing is I know the reason it [the Beltline] is happening is because the people in Atlanta fell in love with this vision for their future. They empowered it and made it. They obligated their political leadership to build it. They made it happen — people did it. But if you’re 25 today, you were barely a teenager at the time we were doing that. So you might not see the Beltline that way. I wanted people to see it that way. We’re still in the very early stages of it. Its successful implementation requires them to remain involved to maintain that sense of ownership of the project.  I think that’s the only way we’re really going to be successful.  It has to be done well and right and be done for everybody  — it has be done in a way that fulfills the vision.

Q. Were you surprised by how residents of Atlanta have embraced the Beltline — did it become something much bigger than you thought it would ever be?

Ryan:  Yes. I was just a kid [when I first envisioned and began working on getting support for the Beltline].  I understood this from a technical side and an architectural side of what it would do.  It is doing that but the degree to which people have fallen in love with this thing has been just insane. It’s great. I’m in love with it because they’re in love with it.

Q. How is your book different than other books in your genre?

Ryan:  I think it’s different because it’s a narrative — it’s a story. Most books about planning and cities are bulky technical books. They’re sort of case studies and best practices. They’ve got a catalog of ideas outlined that are helpful but are more technical. This really tries to tell the story of the role of infrastructure in our lives and that it matters,  and that we might want to think more carefully about it. I think people could fall in love with infrastructure more broadly. If people fall in love with the places that they live in, they would be much more careful with some of the decisions we make.

Q. How has the Atlanta Beltline fueled your passion for reclaiming infrastructure? Did it happen before that?

Ryan on the Atlanta Beltline's Northeast Corridor. Photo by Anne Wainscott-Sargent

Ryan on the Atlanta Beltline’s Northeast Corridor.       Photo by Anne Wainscott-Sargent

Ryan:  Our success [with the Beltline] has definitely fueled my fire. The other thing that it’s allowed me to do is travel and share our story nationally and increasingly internationally. I see that not only are people fascinated by what we are doing, but they also are doing some pretty interesting things themselves. The Beltline is part of a much larger story. Another thing I wanted to accomplish with the book is to put the Beltline in a much larger context– that this kind of change is happening everywhere. Atlanta is definitely a leader in this space, but it’s happening everywhere. This is part of a much larger cultural movement — in 30 years, we will have completely reshaped the way that we build cities.

Q. What are some other cities nationally or internationally you’ve been inspired by?

Ryan: The one we’ve had some real success with is the LA River.  It started as a grassroots  movement in the 1980s to reclaim this concrete channel as some kind

A new generation of Los Angeles residents have rediscovered their river and is fighting to reposition it once again as a central part of a more sustainable future for Los Angeles. Photo by Ryan Gravel.

A new generation of Los Angeles residents has rediscovered their river and is fighting to make it part of a more sustainable future for LA. Photo by Ryan Gravel.

of life-affirming waterway. And they’ve been working at it a long time, but just within the last few months they’ve made enormous progress. The Army Corps of Engineers, which channelized the river in the 1930s, literally paved 80 percent of a 50-mile river with concrete just to approve a $1 billion restoration of one short short section of the Glendair Narrows  [along the Los Angeles River], so it’s not just the physical transformation, which changes not only people’s lives, but changes the way agencies, organizations and businesses relate.

If you look at urban sprawl — it wasn’t some big conspiracy; it was millions of people over an extended period of time making the best decisions that they could for their families with a lot of unintended consequences.  It also was a cultural momentum and, in the process, it fundamentally changed the way we built the world around us. For one, it created entire forms of bureaucracies and business models for new types of housing and new types of food was completely revolutionized.  It was part of the cultural transformation in the 60s.  People separate it out but it was very much tied together in the same way that this is the beginning  of a similar cultural shift that is going to have both intended and unintended consequences.

I’m excited about what is happening — this kind of change — but we also have to be thoughtful, deliberate and intentional so that it supports everybody — that everybody gets to be a part of it.

Q. What do you want people to get out of this book at the end of the day?

Ryan: I would love for people to see the role of infrastructure in their lives. We have a lot of

The Beltline in Fall by Linda Coatsworth

The Beltline in Fall by Linda Coatsworth

conversations with the Atlanta Beltline Project around equity, affordability, environmental justice, mobility and all these things, and it’s great and it’s right and we should. I think we have those conversations around all the infrastructure that we build — all the big highway interchanges, all the things that we do — the big chunks of projects we spend money on.

You look at all the big highway projects — we are spending billions of dollars on massive interchange reconstructions and highway widening and managed lanes, and all those are only for people who drive cars. They are not for people who walk or ride trains, or ride bikes or move around in other ways. They are very limited in their impact and there is no dialogue around affordability. There is no dialogue around what it will do economically to communities. It will support some communities — it will expand economic development in some communities but it will do the opposite in others. I would like to shift the public dialogue so when we make these big public investments that we would have that dialogue. I think it would change a lot of the decisions we make.

Q. What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book? 

Ryan: The book was a real discovery. I knew there was something to be discovered and I didn’t know what it was. There was a lot of figuring it out. It was my first book. I can tell when I read it that the first two-thirds of the book has been reworked — a lot of chapters shifted around.  Between first pitching the book and the final format a lot of those pieces have been moved around a lot to frame this larger story. The last five chapters were not conceived until all those decisions were made. They were written much faster and read much better — they make more sense. It was a learning experience for me. I became a better writer in the process.  I had a book outline but it kept changing. The transition between things and the logic had to be rewritten several times and it was painful, but I think it was the right thing to do. It made a better book. For example, the Beltline is in the middle four chapters but previously it was told more piecemeal across the book.

Q, What did you learn during the process that will help other writers? What would you advise other non-fiction writers?

Ryan: I had a good editor at a high level and she helped me edit — we cut a good 100 pages out of the book. It was really redundant — partly because I was shifting things around and saying things twice. I would advise writers to get a good editor — someone who can see your story with a broader perspective. I was so in the weeds I couldn’t. I had a couple of readers who gave me different feedback on different topics. One of them helped me with the Beltline section — I wanted to tell an honest story because I wasn’t the only part of the story. 

Q. Have you been surprised by the reception to Where We Want to Live?

Ryan: I was blown away by the launch event. I didn’t know how many people were going to show up. The Carter Center had seats for 470 people, and I thought there is no way we are going to fill it up but we had people sitting on the steps, which was pretty amazing.

Q. What’s next for you? Do you have another book planned?

Ponce City Market, photo credit: Sarah Dorio

Ponce City Market, photo credit: Sarah Dorio

While I was in the middle of it I said there was no way I would write another book — it was so much more work than I ever thought it would be. But, I learned a lot and I became a better writer so I think the next book would not be so torturous.  I love the idea of writing a children’s book. Obviously the key to that is finding a good illustrator. I also have an idea to create a more of a coffee table kind of image book. I have a ton of images from all these other projects around the world. It would be sort of a visual addendum to Where We Want to Live.

I also would love to do an Instagram book of other people looking at infrastructure in a similar way or targeting these projects. That would be a cool way to organize people who are into the future of city-building and graphically hold it together across a lot of different photography.

I have talked to people about doing an online show about infrastructure where we would share stories — such as the work going along the LA River and talking to people who can envision what that space might become. I think that would be a lot of fun and I think you could do it in a way that would be really interesting for an audience.

Q. What’s your ideal job in five years?

Ryan: I want to research the future of cities. I want to pitch ideas for what that means and host forums and discussions about everything from storm water to automated vehicles — that is, start a real civic dialogue around the infrastructure that we build and that it matters.  One of the projects I am doing is called the Atlanta City Design for the City of Atlanta. We are figuring out how they are going to grow — to become something they want to be. The City of Atlanta is only a tenth of the regional population and they are going to more than double in size in the next 20 years so where is that population going to go?  How do we protect things like the tree canopy and neighborhoods so that we become more of who we are and not less, and we still like it at the end of the day? We are just now starting this — it’s going to roll out over the course of the spring,summer and fall.

About the Author

RYAN GRAVEL is the founding principal of Sixpitch and creator of the Atlanta Beltline, the reinvention of a 22-mile circle of railroads that began as the subject of his master’s thesis. A designer, planner, and writer, he is increasingly called to speak to an international audience on topics as wide ranging as brownfield remediation, transportation, public health, affordable housing, and urban regeneration. Gravel lives with his family in Atlanta, Georgia. Visit Ryan’s author page at: https://ryangravel.com/ or follow him on Twitter @ryangravel.

Susan Crawford’s The Other Widow Confronts Dark Side of Love, Marriage, Infidelity

the-other-widow

Atlanta suspense writer Susan Crawford has a knack for putting her readers inside the minds of her troubled characters. She also knows how to grab readers and keep them hanging in her genre of literary mystery/suspense. I found these observations true when reading Susan’s debut novel, The Pocket Wife, and just as true after devouring The Other Widow, where Susan explores the dark side of love, marriage, and infidelity.

The Other Widow opens with Joe telling Dorrie, a married co-worker with whom he is carrying on an affair, that “it is no longer safe” —moments before their car skids off an icy road in a blinding snowstorm and hits a tree. Desperate to keep her life intact—her job, her husband, and her precious daughter, Lily—Dorrie will do everything she can to protect herself, even if it means walking away from the wreckage.

The story unfolds in the aftermath of Joe’s death through the vantage point of Dorrie, “the other widow,” his wife Karen and Maggie, a troubled war-veteran and insurance investigator, who is dealing with her own demons after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course a hallmark of this author is her lyrical prose that sweeps you into the minds and hearts of her characters, even as the tension in the story builds and takes you closer to a shocking conclusion.

Below, Susan discusses The Other Widow, including her writing process and how she tackles surprise endings, which her latest book certainly delivers. If you are a fan of thrillers that are both character-driven and incredibly well written, you won’t want to miss The Other Widow or Susan’s book launch next Tuesday at Eagle Eye Bookstore in Decatur, Georgia.

Q. The Other Widow is your second novel in the thriller /mystery genre. You have three strong female characters — and plenty of intrigue given the opening chapter and death of the cheating husband. How did you come up with the storyline?

Susan: I thought it would be interesting to write a story that deals with a shattering event and the results that follow – like a broken window with fractures running away from the break. The accident in the first chapter is the catalyst for the rest of the book, the incident that eventually brings to light things that had been traveling under the radar.

Q. What do you consider the best part of the writing process in this type of story — what element or aspect is the most challenging but also the most gratifying when you get it right?

Susan: What I enjoy writing most in this type of story is the characters and developing them in such a way that they almost have to do the things they do in the book. Edward, for example, has expensive tastes and likes to live big – he wouldn’t easily adapt to changing his lifestyle to accommodate a flagging economy and a failing company. Joe’s widow, Karen, has no illusions when it comes to either love or marriage. She’s invested over half her life in a relationship and will ignore the obvious when it comes to her husband’s infidelity. Samuel’s secretive nature and frequent absences become more suspect in light of the recent death of his wife’s lover. These three as well as all the other characters are likely to react in certain ways to obstacles thrown in their paths. I only have to plant the hurdles. They do what they will do.

Q. Of the female characters, which one do you most relate to or feel sympathy toward? Which one do you think had the most memorable voice?

Susan: I relate most to Dorrie. She wears many different hats. She is many things to many people – mother, wife, employee, actress, and friend. She empathizes with everyone, which makes her conflicted because she’s always pulled in different directions. She’s juggling all these aspects of her life, but because she’s ruled by her emotions, nothing is exactly secure. She was drawn to Joe because he saw her not in terms of what she was doing, but of who she was; he touched her on a deeper level. She . . . can almost catch the moments whistling by, quick, shimmering, like skirts on a dance floor, or wind blowing through a jacket in a field. Joe, with his voice like music. Kiss me, like the words to an old song or a curtain flapping in a breeze or sun on a tiled floor. Like a memory just out of reach.  I think Maggie has the most memorable voice because she is a veteran struggling with PTSD.

Q. Writing a thriller with a surprise ending (in this case a couple of twists at the very end) cannot be easy, no matter how creative you are. How do you piece together the ending in a way that keeps readers guessing?  What is your own process?  Do you find beta readers a helpful tool to check your story line and make sure that the plot is doing what you envision?

Susan: I try to keep possibilities open – to have characters who aren’t all good or all not good, so the reader will think, Hmm. Maybe it was him, or possibly her . . . It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle, although I don’t like to wrap things up too neatly at the end, so there are usually a couple of pieces out of place. For me, first readers are very helpful. I love my critique groups. They give me honest feedback and suggestions. And of course my editor and my agent have brilliant ideas!

Q. If you were going to describe your writing style in a phrase, what words come to mind? With these two books under your belt, what kind of brand are you building in the literary world?  What authors do you most admire and why?

Margaret Atwood

Ottawa native Margaret Atwood

Susan: Maybe Shakespeare’s quote, Past Is Prologue. The brand – I would say Literary Mystery/Suspense. Favorite authors – Margaret Atwood because she always hooks me right away and pulls me into whatever she’s writing. I admire her versatility. I also love Susan Minot. I think she writes the most beautiful prose. And Kate Atkinson because she really knows how to craft suspense. Also Liane Moriarty, Ann Patchett, Wally Lamb. . .  I have lots of favorite authors!

Q. Your first book dealt with mental illness in that your main character suffered from bi-polar condition. This book the insurance investigator is an Iraqi War veteran with PTSD. What is it about psychological issues that you are drawn to write about in your stories? Why is that compelling for you as a storyteller?

Susan: It’s almost impossible to get through life without some kind of psychological issue unless you live in a box, which would create even more psychological issues, actually! I think many mental illnesses are the result of horrific experiences – normal reactions to abnormal situations that change the lens through which we see the world. Maggie, for example, has PTSD because she nearly died, because she was in a war zone, because she couldn’t help her friends. People are often judged for being different, for seeing things differently, so basically they’re stigmatized for having difficult lives.

Q. Place figures into The Other Widow in that it takes place in Boston during the dead of winter. What is your connection to Boston and what aspects of the city did you most enjoy bringing out into the setting of the story?

Susan: I lived in Boston many years ago. I enjoyed writing about the area around Beacon Hill because I lived there on Myrtle Street and I worked at Blue Cross/Blue Shield, entering snowy-bostoninsurance claims from some of the areas mentioned in the book. The accident that sets the stage for the story happens on one of my favorite Boston streets, Newbury, and, as Dorrie stands in her living room, staring at her husband in the middle of the night and wondering who he is, I picture my old friend’s house in Jamaica Plain. A pivotal scene in the book takes place in the Park Street Station at the corner of the Boston Common, where I used to catch the train, and when Dorrie’s friend confesses to meeting Samuel for drinks, they are in the Copley, a hotel where I’ve stayed on occasion.

Q. What do you most want readers to leave with after reading The Other Widow?

Susan: Apart from a compelling, overwhelming urge to read more things I’ve written,J I’d like readers to leave The Other Widow feeling a little less judgmental, a little less inclined to label people. Everyone has a story that’s put them where they are.

Q. What’s next for you in terms of books? Do you have plans to feature Atlanta since that is where you live?

Susan: Yes. I’m currently writing a novel set in Georgia, partly in Atlanta and partly in the country. It begins with the investigation of killings outside midtown bars. An anonymous letter links these deaths to the murder of a man who dies in the driveway of his North Georgia Mountain home as his pregnant wife dresses for a neighbor’s surprise party.

Goodreads-Logo

Buzz on Goodreads for The Other Widow

  • Susan Crawford, author of the psychological thriller The Pocket Wife, does it again with her new novel, The Other Widow. With a complex cast of characters—featuring the perspectives of three strong women brought together by a tragic accident—Crawford captures the very essence of grief felt by a widow and the other woman, haunting love, and obsession. Though the story moves at a slower pace than her first novel, it’s just as absorbing as it steadily examines the psychological impacts of deception, vulnerability, and desire.
  • The Other Widow is a visceral read that will keep readers on the edge of their seats, yearning for the next page right until the very startling end. I guarantee that you won’t put it down.”
    – Emily on Goodreads
  • “A surprising novel; not only a thriller/mystery, but an emotional exploration of feelings of grief, loss, discovery, rage, and forgiveness for both the wife and other woman who must grieve alone. I generally steer clear of mysteries because they are often littered with bad language and explicit sex. The author that can write a sex scene without having to spell it out is the more talented. Crawford is the talented writer.” – Nancy on Goodreads
  • “A terrific thriller/drama! Maggie, Dorrie, and Karen are all very real complex characters dealing with a uniquely awful situation. Crawford has written a great second novel and I’m looking forward to more from her. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC- I really enjoyed it. HIghly recommend if you like plot driven page turners with female protagonists (all around in this case!) Also (and don’t discount this) this was a great travel book as it kept me engaged and entertained. Thumbs up!” – Kathleen on Goodreads

About the Author

SusanCrawfordBioPhotoSusan grew up in Miami, Florida, where she spent her childhood reading mysteries in a hammock strung between two Banyan trees. She graduated from the University of Miami with a B.A. in English.

She later moved to New York City and then to Boston before settling in Atlanta to raise three amazing daughters and to teach in various adult education settings. A member of The Atlanta Writers Club and The Village Writers, Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband and a trio of rescue cats, where she enjoys reading books, writing books, rainy days, and spending time with the people she loves.

Susan’s first novel is The Pocket Wife.

Keep up with Susan via her  website, susancrawfordnovelist.com, Twitter @crawfordsusanh or on Facebook.

 

Experiencing SpaceX ‘s First Launch of 2016 Live with NASA Social

LaunchPad

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket sits on its launch pad on Friday awaiting liftoff at Cape Canaveral.

The Writing Well celebrates storytelling in all its forms, and I am thrilled  to post a unique blog  with some of the social media “storytellers” invited by NASA to observe and report online during the April 8th SpaceX  launch of its Dragon Falcon to the International Space Station, SpaceX’s first launch of 2016.

Of course, it was SpaceX’s experimental drone ship landing  of the first phase — a feat that had been attempted before but succeeded for the first time last Friday — that created just as much excitement and with good reason: it paves the way for developing reusable, lower-cost spaceflight since future missions in deep space will depend upon a sea-based landing.

“It’s another step toward the stars,” said SpaceX founder Elon Musk during a post-launch press conference at Kennedy Space Center.

For those of you who are not space enthusiasts, take note:  NASA and private-sector space innovators are entering into a new and exciting chapter, one that fosters collaboration and hopefully successful outreach beyond low earth orbit to Mars and beyond.

Anne_SpaceX_Clock - Copy

Here I am at the countdown clock a little over an hour before launch.

Vehicle Assembly Building

Inside NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building, which is 520 feet high.

I was one of several bloggers and tweeters invited to take part in a “NASA Social,” a special behind-the-scenes opportunity sponsored by NASA’s social media team to experience the launch, tour key facilities and talk to some of the space agency’s best and brightest.  On Friday afternoon we found ourselves on the NASA Causeway  a little over two miles from the launch pad as the Dragon rocket roared into a perfect blue sky – and made history minutes later with the historic landing at sea of its first phase.

View 5 Stories High

A breathtaking view of Cape Canaveral and the launch pads from the roof of the VAB.

Before the launch we had the opportunity to tour Kennedy Space Center’s famed Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, where engineers assemble large space vehicles. We headed several stories up to the roof where we enjoyed a breathtaking view of Cape Canaveral and took video and pictures of the launch pad.

NASA Crawler

NASA Crawler

We also got up close and personal with NASA Crawlers, the 50-year-old giant transporters that have carried shuttles and rockets since the Apollo era from the VAB to the launch pads at Launch Complex 39. We learned how they are being upgraded to handle the additional weight requirements of future launches.   We also heard from scientists, engineers and astronauts who are shaping NASA’s next chapter and the future of space exploration.

We gained a richer appreciation of the agency’s focus on supporting private partners like SpaceX to build the capability to support space exploration beyond low earth orbit. Who can’t wait to see the first launch of Orion in 2018 and follow its mission to take human exploration to Mars?

Below is a snapshot of a some of the bloggers, tweeters and YouTubers from across the country who I met and who are helping tell the new story of NASA and SpaceX to an increasingly excited public.

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Accuweather sponsored Brian's attendance at the NASA Social event.

Accuweather sponsored Brian’s attendance at the NASA Social event.

Brian Lada, Meteorologist and Journalist for Accuweather

City: State College, PA

Social platform of choice:    Twitter  / @wxlada

“I loved space as a kid. Growing up I wanted to be an astronaut. I loved watching all the rocket and shuttle launches on TV, but when it came time for college, I decided to go for meteorology because my other passion is the weather.  Fortunately, I can pursue my passion for astronomy as well. I help to manage our astronomy Facebook page and I talk about space all the time on my Twitter. Down here I am fulfilling my childhood dream of seeing NASA, meeting NASA, watching a space launch while still being in my weather world. I was sponsored by Accuweather and am reporting live from the ground for the company.”

“The one message I want to leave with my social media followers is Just how much weather can affect launches. I’ve been nervous the last few weeks about the winds and the probability of postponing the launch. Everyone is down here for this one day and if the weather is wrong, a lot of people are going to miss out. Fortunately, it is looking good.”

 

Matt2 - Copy

Matt plays video games for a living. Here, he’s streaming live on his Twitch channel during our briefing at the VAB.

Matt Anderson, Live Broadcaster, Twitch Interactive, Owner, Bad News Gaming

City: Dallas, TX

Social platform of choice: Twitch   @thebadnewsbaron

“What excites me most is seeing people get excited about space.  It’s been amazing. There’s been so little energy around the space program for a long time in the U.S. and it seems like that’s starting to come back again. SpaceX is starting to kick that into gear again a little bit, and a lot of entertainment media has brought that back, and what we saw with the Orion project I think will be absolutely astounding when it’s finished.”

“The one message I want to leave with followers is that the future of the space program is so incredibly bright – there is so much to look forward to with the technology that they are working on.”

KelleyRowe_MadisonChildrensMuseumKelley Rowe, Data Integration Specialist, Madison Children’s Museum

City: Madison, Wisconsin

Social media platform of choice: Facebook

“The most exciting part about being here is just getting to see the rocket launch in person and also I’ve heard that the roar from the engine you can feel even at this distance is kind of indescribable and can’t be experienced in any other way than seeing and feeling it for yourself.  That being said, everything we’ve done – the exclusive access to  the Vehicle Assembly Building, everything we’ve seen on our tour,  getting to go on the rooftop, getting to see the crew module being worked on for Orion, how can I pick a favorite from these really incredible and amazing experiences?”

“My one message to my followers is that I hope that they become aware of what’s out there – of the opportunities that especially STEM presents of what the U.S. and our space program is capable of, what they are capable of.  We’ve had some amazing interviews with NASA staff people who talked about dreaming of being involved in the space program since they were 5, 8, 10 years old. I hope our followers who are children are exposed to maybe something that they didn’t realize existed before, or hadn’t understood the scope of before and that somehow galvanizes or inspires them.”

 

Kayla, 19, has always dreamed of being an astronaut. Her tattoo by Martin Buechler includes the Neal Armstrong quote: "Humanity is not forever chained to this planet."

Kayla, 19, has always dreamed of being an astronaut. Her tattoo by Martin Buechler includes the Neil Armstrong quote: “Humanity is not forever chained to this planet.”

Kayla Robinson, College student majoring in engineering /insurance agent

City: Virginia Beach, Virginia

Social media platform of choice:  Instagram  @kaylajdr

“My dad had me into space since I was a kid. This is what I want to do. It’s been great, meeting different NASA workers, getting the inside scoop on what it takes to work here in the future.  For the past few months I’ve been thinking about going to school around here. Just being in this area and around this kind of environment makes me want to come even more.

“It’s really important for the general public to get into space and science – the American people are the ones who will be funding the federal program and will support all the private industry efforts—and that kind of broad support is going to get us to where we want to go.”

Jake Counselbaum

Jake Counselbaum, social media consultant

City: Chicago, Ill.

Social media platform of choice: Twitter /@jakecbaum

“What excites me most about space is the thought that we are not alone! Being at the SpaceX launch was an incredible opportunity to see the next generation of space travel, sustainably, reusability and exploration.”

“The one message I’d leave with my followers is this: keep using social media to impact people, not to just impress them.”

 

Brandon carrying a model of a Dragon rocket sent to him from a former engineer with SpaceX.

Brandon carrying a model of a Dragon rocket sent to him from a former engineer with SpaceX.

Brandon Thonen, Photographer, Disney Digital Marketing

Orlando, Fla.

Social platform of choice:    Twitter   /  @HipeRFin

What excites me about space is [the idea that] we have yet to reach the farthest we can go. There’s always going to be a further point.  The best part about being here today is being the closest I’ve even been to a previous launch. I usually watch from the crew ships.”

“My one message to social media followers is how impressive and massive every different part of NASA Kennedy Space Center truly is – no matter how many photos I take, it will never make up for it.”

Ashley Demers - Copy

Ashley, a NASA software developer and new hire, is spending eight weeks with groups outside her department. She was lucky to be assigned to the social media team and be part of the NASA Social on April 8th.

Ashley Demers, Software developer, Application Development Branch, IT, NASA Kennedy Space Center

City: Titusville, Fla.

Social Media Platform of Choice: Twitter /@ashley_demers

“What excites me about space is the ability to inspire and the ability to do research that you can’t physically do on the ground, the ability to learn more about our universe – there’s nothing you can’t love about space exploration.  I am very excited to be a part of this group, see the launch and go on the Vehicle Assembly building roof. Going on the roof is not something employees can easily do.

“The message I want to leave with my social media followers is that NASA is active, alive; we’re doing amazing things and all the science that’s going to be accomplished on this payload is going to be amazing. We’re doing really cool things.”

JeffDunn_Google

Jeff Dunn, Education and Outreach Manager, Google

City: Mountain View, Calif.

Social platform of choice:   Google+ / @googleforedu

“The best  part about space is it’s our future whether we like it or not, and there are both for-profit companies and governments working together to develop an actual future that we can all live in and keep us safe and not extinct.

“The best part of being here is that I got to meet a lot of interesting people both from NASA and via social media — I look forward to keeping that conversation going. Just seeing the passion from everybody has been overwhelming…you see it on webcasts, you see it on hashtag chats, but it’s nothing like seeing it in people jumping up and down as a rocket blasts off in front of you.

“My one message to social media followers is to get excited about the new opportunities for invention and exploration.”

Carter, 18, hopes to study computer science in college.

Carter, 18, hopes to study computer science in college.

Carter Dempsey, High school senior

City: Orlando, Fla.

Social platform of choice:   Twitter /@carterdemp

“What excites me about space is Just the idea of people living there every day and the possibility of being to another planet and just being self-sustained and getting to the point where there’s constant missions back and forth.  The commercialization of space is really cool — seeing people get more interested in space.

 “My one message to my social media followers is that I hope they would be more interested in the future of space – and just in science in general.”

 

Scott with his telescope equipped with a custom software program he developed for closed-loop tracking of moving objects, including satellites and rockets.

Scott with his telescope equipped with a custom software program he developed for closed-loop tracking of moving objects, including satellites and rockets.

Scott Ferguson, Neuroscientist, software developer and astronomy hobbyist

City: Tampa, Fla.

Social platform of choice:   YouTube

“I grew up in Titusville and saw a ton of launches.  I’ve seen some bad launches and some good launches.  I was sitting on my front lawn when Challenger exploded. That was a bad day, but today was a great day. It was the best launch I’ve ever gone to.  Another highlight was getting to stay on top of the VAB – I’ll probably never get to do that again. That was an incredible experience.  That was just an amazing view – words can’t do it justice. 

“In terms of social media, I hope to inspire young people to pursue math and science, and show what human effort can accomplish – and what we can accomplish when we work together. I think [the launch shows how far America can push the space industry and push forward with new innovations – when we unleash unbridled capitalism into the space program. What’s SpaceX is doing is really incredible and [their latest launch] proves they are really leading the competition in lowering space costs and that’s going to change the whole ballgame, I think, for spaceflight in the future.”

____

NASA Social Group

The April 2016 NASA Social Group (photo courtesy of NASA Social)

More Reading

Check out my blog Q&A interview with “Orphans of Apollo” filmmaker Michael Potter.

Read my Via Satellite article on the ‘SpaceX effect’ in the launch vehicle market.

Check back with The Writing Well for more insights from my time at NASA Kennedy Space Center.

Storm Storyteller: A Q&A with New York Times’ Bestselling Author Kim Cross

 

Kim Cross Book Cover

The day I spoke with Alabama author Kim Cross, it was on the one-year anniversary of her first book being published. The Alabama native and contributing editor with Southern Living Magazine wrote What Stands in a Storm, her riveting New York Times’ bestseller published by Atria/Simon & Schuster.

The book captures the true story of love and resilience in the worst superstorm in history – a three-day storm  in late April 2011 that unleashed 349 tornadoes in 21 states, destroying entire towns.  Alabama was ground zero for the disaster, where on April 27 alone a total of 62 tornadoes raked the state. The storm also claimed 324 lives, most of them in Alabama, which now leads the nation in tornado deaths.

Kim Cross, her son in the background, at the Roswell Reads Literary Luncheon held on March 12.

Kim Cross, her son in the background, at the Roswell Reads Literary Luncheon held on March 12.

Kim and I spoke by phone as she was driving to Roswell, Georgia, where today she was honored as the featured author for the Eleventh annual Roswell Reads Community Read program.  Having finished her book in two days, I can attest to its power. The story was impossible to put down – it pulsates with tension as I experienced the love of friends and neighbors, parents and children, in  the tension-filled moments leading up to the storm and its aftermath.

Ron Powers, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and coauthor of Flags of Our Fathers said it best: “…the terse dark poetry of this debut book explodes from every page.”

As a Dayton, Ohio, native who remembers as a child hearing the tornado sirens from neighboring Xenia, Ohio, in 1974, I was keen to talk to Kim. I also have been working on my own disaster story – the retelling of a historic flood that destroyed Dayton 100 years ago, I found reading her book and learning her writing process incredibly helpful and inspiring as I edit my own work.

What Stands in a Storm is Kim’s first book, but it doesn’t read like it.  Her narrative was born from a magazine story she wrote with Alabama native son Rick Bragg for Southern Living.  Rick, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, was living in Tuscaloosa at the time. He and his family made it through the storm, but their street was hit “really bad.”  Kim asked him to write something from the heart of what it meant to be in this storm and he agreed.  His intro paired with her reporting along with fellow staffer Erin Shaw struck a chord in people. According to Kim, “We got hundreds of messages from readers, who said, ‘That it was the first time I ever cried while reading Southern Living.’ I realized it was touching this emotional place inside of people… I felt like that story needed to be told.”

Isaac's StormThe Perfect Storm“I started to look around and I realized that we have epic bestselling books about hurricanes and floods and Nor’easters (The Perfect Storm), but we didn’t find a book like that about tornadoes that really did it well. I wanted something like Isaac’s Storm and The Perfect Storm. I don’t know if I was aiming too high but that’s what I was hoping to do,” she said.

I think Kim met that standard of excellence and exceeded it with her phenomenal storytelling. Below is our expanded conversation.

 

Q. Where were you on April 27, 2011?

Kim: My husband and I were sitting on our couch [in a suburb of Birmingham] with our son who was 4 at the time, watching weatherman James Spann as the tornado went through Tuscaloosa.

It was awful. We knew the town so well. I had gone to college twice in Tuscaloosa and we had lived there. There is this moment where you watching it and it feels like a movie. It reminded me when we were all watching TV and the Twin Towers fell. I remember feeling, ‘Is this real?’ Then you have this moment when you realize, ‘I’m watching people die right now’ and it’s a horrible feeling.

Then the Tuscaloosa EF4 started making its way toward Birmingham and it actually got a little bit bigger as it came. From what we could tell we were right in its path. At some point the power went off and we lost TV. I watched live Twitter feeds from my phone, watching Jim, who knows the neighborhoods so well. At one point he called our neighborhood and that’s where it got really scary. My husband is an Eagle Scout – he’s Mr. Prepared. He was the one who had us put on bike helmets before it was widely done.  Studies show that a helmet would have saved a lot of lives because of flying debris.

Waiting out a tornado is one of the few times in life where you have time to think about impending death.  Usually you get a lot of time to think about it because you’re sick or there’s no time to think because it happens so fast.   When the tornado passed – we didn’t see much of anything in our neighborhood but seven miles away a neighborhood of Birmingham was just flattened. It came within two or three miles of downtown Birmingham.”’

Q. I always thought that tornadoes mostly struck the central of the country – Kansas.

Kim: People think of Oklahoma and Kansas having a larger volume of tornadoes, but  Alabama and the South – the so-called Dixie Alley — has more of the big ones, more of the EF4s and EF5s, so the numbers are a little deceptive. The other thing is Oklahoma and Kansas are flat, there aren’t a lot of trees and it’s not real humid so you can see the tornadoes and get out of the way. The chasers go there and that’s where they get filmed. Tornado chasers don’t generally chase in the South because we have a lot of hills and a lot of trees, and the roads are windy — they don’t go in a grid. It’s really hard to see the tornado across the landscape.

Q. I was impressed with the degree of research you had in your book. How important was research in writing What Stands in a Storm?

Kim: It was everything. I probably spent 80% of my time on research and 20% of time in an outright panic trying to get words on a page. There was so much research that went into it because it wasn’t this straightforward narrative in the sense that the central characters are all victims… There are so many stories that deserved to be told but you can only tell a few without confusing and losing the reader.

I started by getting the weather reports and the tornado tracks and see what towns were hit and then I went to all the newspapers in those towns to look up who was lost and who they were and who was left behind. I felt pretty strong from the beginning that Tuscaloosa was going to be one of my focused towns — one it’s the one people remember. People outside Alabama know Tuscaloosa because of Crimson Tide. It was well documented and also because it was one of my hometowns – I knew it very well.  But I also wanted to tell the story of a small town and a volunteer fire department — a community that didn’t have the well-funded, well-equipped fire department / rescue squads that a town like Tuscaloosa would have. That represents most of the towns in Alabama and most of the towns in the country. They are saving people just the same as people who are paid a full-time salary.

Q. You did an amazing job introducing readers to some of the Alabamans whose lives were forever changed by the storm. What story resonated most with you on a personal level?

Kim: The story of the three college students — Danielle, Will and Loryn. I could relate to all of them in a different way. They were all working so hard to get through school and they were from a small town and close to their families. I felt a great emotional investment in each of them. When I look at my son I think of Will – Will was a brunette little boy who loves his mom. I think about Danielle and how much she just busted her ass to put herself through college, to work, and to fight for her grades. I liked her feistiness and her pragmatism.  She wasn’t going to let anyone bully her sister. I like Loryn’s spirit and the fact that she was just wide open – she had a great head on her shoulders and was the kind of girl who was comfortable in a dress or cowboy boots.

I wanted you as a reader to not know who lives or dies until it happened  for the reason that if you know who is going to die, you keep them at arm’s length and you don’t allow yourself to care about them too much. I wanted you to paint your own faces on these characters.  That’s why there are no photos in the book so that when you did lose them, you really felt like you lost someone you cared about.  My editor was the one who insisted on no photos.

Q. Your description of the destruction from the storm was almost its own character. How were you able to do that so vividly?

Kim: I got my hands on every video I could –so I could feel like I was there. There were some riveting videos. If you go on my website there is a little playlist I created. I read fictional accounts – including Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. She did a wonderful job of describing a hurricane. I studied the heck out of her verbs. I tried to figure out “how did she do that? What did she do there?” I read and re-read The Perfect Storm and Isaac’s Storm.

Q. How did you get your book published by a major imprint?

Kim: I had an agent, Jim Hornfischer, who I met at a literary non-fiction conference in Dallas. I always wanted to write a book and had gone to grad school and wrote a book about two nuns. It just wasn’t the right first book [I didn’t want to be pigeon holed as a religion writer]. I met Jim and I just knew he was the one — a straight shooter. We started batting ideas around for a book. I said, what about this [a story about the storm]? A lot of magazine stories evolve into books. I feel like the emotional response from readers in Southern Living shows how much people needed this story.  When something horrible happens (like a tornado), you’re in just one little spot. I thought it might be helpful and healing for people to understand the magnitude of what happened but also the beautiful things that came from the brokenness. I think it turned out to be the perfect first book. I love science – taking something really complicated and esoteric and trying to make it come alive and be understandable for a lay reader.

Q. If you were going to advise someone who is writing that first book, what pearl of wisdom would you share that you learned from this experience?

Kim: To study structure in other books. Structure is the hardest thing. I didn’t understand structure when I wrote my earlier [unpublished] book – I’m going to have to go back and rewrite it.  I also didn’t understand how book publishing worked. If you are a fiction writer, you write the book and then you find an agent who likes it and the agent helps you revise it and get it into shape and he or she sends the entire manuscript to publishers.

With non-fiction, you don’t write the book – you write a proposal, which is a 60 to 70-page document that lays out a blueprint of your book, including why this book is different. It has a 35- or 40-page chapter outline and you have to explain who your audience is and what your marketing plan is because it’s not enough to write a good book, you have to sell it. Publishers want to know if you have a platform and social media followers. The harder you work on the front end to get the proposal great, the easier it will be on the tail end to both write the book and sell it. You have to chip at it every day. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Also, you never feel done and you can never fact check it enough. I didn’t realize …magazines come with a staff of fact checkers who go behind you and they call your sources and make sure everything you’ve written about them is correct.  Book publishers don’t have that, so if something is wrong, it’s all on you. I actually sold a beloved a mountain bike so I could pay for a National Geographic-trained fact checker.  I ‘m glad I did it.

Q. How many places did your agent send out your manuscript?

Kim: I think my agent sent it out to 10 to 12 big New York imprints of publishing houses. I had two bid on it, including an imprint of Simon & Schuster. The rejections were so nice – they said we love the writing; we love the idea. The flaw they saw is that they didn’t see the characters [because I hadn’t fleshed them out yet], or they said that the story was going to too many places.

Q. How has the book done?

Kim: So far no one has come forward to come forward with a correction. Regionally it’s done well but I can’t get it on the national radar. The other thing I’ll say – this whole NY Bestseller List is a lot of smoke and mirrors. It did well enough in the first two months that it got on one of these narrow sublists of The New York Times – adventures, disasters and expeditions. The Perfect Storm and Isaac’s Storm are still on that list so I imagine it is not that big of a category. But, when that happens you get to put it on the paperback.

Q. How important is social media if you want to reach readers for your book?

Kim: I feel it’s an evil I have to deal with. Honestly it’s one of the hardest things we as authors have to deal with because most authors are introverts and in order to promote a book, you have to put your extrovert hat on. For social media – so much of it feel not very authentic… I’m torn about it.  I feel like you can’t afford to not be on them unless you are Rick Bragg who has never been on them and people don’t expect you to be on them. I enjoy Instagram – I think that’s my favorite of the social channels.

One positive [aspect of Twitter] is you get to dialogue with readers. It’s an interesting reporting tool. You want to hear how people are interacting with your work.  I put out something on all the social channels – where I’m looking for people who had a certain kind of Schwinn bike when they were a kid.  People are posting pictures of their bike. The other way I use it is to put out some of my process of writing. When I went on a writers’ residency where I had to churn out 1,000 to 2,000 words a day, I shared that with my followers. Some days it came easy other days it didn’t. I think people need to see that writing is a lot of work. This is what the process looks like – it’s messy; it’s hard.

Author Bio

Kim CrossKim Cross is a contributing editor for Southern Living and a feature writer who has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of American Travel Writers, and the Media Industry Newsletter. Her writing has appeared in Outside, Cooking Light, Bicycling, Bike, Runner’s World, Parade magazine, Popular Mechanics, The Tampa Bay Times, The Birmingham News, The Anniston Star, USA TODAY, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, and CNN.com. She lives in Alabama.  Connect with her at kimhcross.com

 

 

 

 

Book Launch a Success – 4 Ways Authors can Build a Platform & Engage Readers

Wave of Books

The last seven months spent researching Atlanta’s amazing neighborhoods and the entertainment, economic and environmental drivers of the metro area culminated yesterday as we celebrated my book launch at Atlanta Movie Tours in Castleberry Hill, an up-and-coming artist loft neighborhood and popular filming spot in south downtown. More than 40 people made it to my event, in spite of light rain and the Donald’s appearance at a rally at the Georgia World Congress Center less than a mile from our venue.

The story of this book project and the way I approached both writing and marketing it are probably worth a few words on The Writing Well — at least for the benefit of other writers.  First, a bit about the book.

Moving to Atlanta: The Un-Tourist Guide is the seventh guide book published by Newt Barrett of Voyager Media based in Estero, Fla.  His other books have

My publisher Newt Barrett from Voyager Media was on hand to celebrate the book launch.

My publisher Newt Barrett from Voyager Media was on hand to celebrate the book launch.

spotlighted medium-sized cities such as Charleston, Tampa, Sarasota and Naples.  Atlanta is by far his most ambitious city to tackle based on its sheer size and diversity. It was a big challenge to capture the story of Atlanta in 152 pages.  I felt strongly that I needed to quote actual residents, who knew Atlanta’s diverse neighborhoods the best, and that’s what I did.

  • For the chapter on education, I talked to two Atlanta moms who have navigated Atlanta’s public and private school systems in meeting their children’s learning needs ,and an academic dean of continuing education who briefed me on the many adult continuing education courses available to residents.
  • For the chapter on entertainment, I talked to the editor of Creative Loafing Atlanta, the president of Atlanta’s Lawn and Tennis Association, and the founder of AtlantaTrails.com.
  • For the chapter on choosing where to live, I quoted realtors and residents in 18 intown neighborhoods and six suburban communities.

SpeechcroppedIn remarks to guests at my party yesterday, I thanked all the people who have contributed to my book. I said, “You’ve made Moving to Atlanta something more than a typical guide book …you’ve helped present an authentic picture of what it’s like to be a part of this amazing city. Your input, I’m sure, will help people decide if Atlanta is right for them. They’ll be able to begin to narrow down which neighborhood or community they could call home.”

I hope it will meet the needs of prospective new residents, but I also hope it is an enjoyable narrative for Atlanta natives. That’s why I was so happy to read this comment from an early Amazon reviewer:

“As someone who has lived in this wonderful state and city for almost 35 years… I have to say I’m impressed. ‘Moving to Atlanta…’ is up to date… contemporary with a wide range of information and tidbits about the city… its politics, people and culture. Spending 20 years here as a journalist has given me a unique perspective and access to all of the city and its neighborhoods… both inside and OTP (outside the perimeter, as they say..) The author covers the good and the bad (traffic and rush hour!!). But anyone contemplating moving to our city will soon learn the ebb and flow of the city and its interstate. Recommending the Wayze App is a good start.”

Writing a book as good as it can be is only the start of what we as authors must do. Marketing is when the real work begins! Here are 4 tips that I took to heart when developing my own marketing plan and author platform:

#1 Partner with people, brands and businesses that can help elevate your book.

Carrie_Anne_photobyPam Sabin

With Carrie Burns, founder of Atlanta Movie Tours.

For Moving to Atlanta, I ended up aligning myself with Carrie Burns of Atlanta Movie Tours, the center of Atlanta’s film tourism movement. I interviewed her for the Hollywood of the South chapter and learned that she was president of the Castleberry Hill Neighborhood Association, so was able to tap into her insights of having lived in that community for 15 years in my “Choosing Where to Live” chapter. Carrie not only offered to host my author party, but also brought in The Smoke Ring, a hip BBQ restaurant nearby, and both of these businesses contributed gifts to raffle at my party, and are now active on social media promoting my book by retweeting highlights of the launch.

#2 Don’t just post or tweet your book, engage people on social media. ScreenShotQuiz                               

  • Share your journey along the way – I posted milestones as I was writing key chapters and shooting photos around the city on Facebook. Photos are a great way to engage followers to envision your book coming to life and feel invested in its success.
  • Do a contest – I asked Facebook followers to weigh in on the top 10 reasons to move to Atlanta for a chance to win a free book.
  • Embrace trivia  surveys – I created a survey to test people’s knowledge of ATL – the answers found in my book. I incorporated humor into the summaries where people are ranked based on how well they answered questions. They could be an “All-knTriviaShot_All-knowingowing Atlanta Insider” or a “Soon-to-be-Undead” in homage to the zombie-hit TV series, “The Walking Dead” filmed here.

#3 Build relationships with journalists, PR influencers and bloggers.

They are powerful allies to get word out on your book because these folks already have a platform and readers! In a sea of so many other books being published, this is one way to be strategic and position your book that can really help boost your profile.

The key here is to target outlets that fall into one of these categories: (a.)  they love your book topic — it ties to what their readers care about (b.) they are looking to feature local residents doing interesting things (especially a publication more local or hyper local focused such as the Patch) or (c.) they want to help you succeed because they know you and your capabilities as a storyteller, interviewer and writer. I find featuring other authors on my blog, The Writing Well, creates a lot of goodwill and willingness to blurb and blog about your book to “pay it forward.” I know at least one 11-time fiction book author who says a major factor in him being able to attract 50,000 Twitter followers is engaging with other writers.

Travis Taylor, founder of the tourist blog, wanderlust Atlanta, getting his signed copy of Moving to Atlanta.

Travis Taylor, founder of the tourist blog, wanderlust Atlanta, getting his signed copy of Moving to Atlanta.

Some of the blogs and news sites that are either covering Moving to Atlanta in editorial, or are promoting it on social media include: ALTA’s Net News magazine; Vinings Lifestyle Magazine; Points North Atlanta magazine; wanderlust Atlanta, a blog exploring some of Atlanta’s most popular tourist destinations; AtlantaTrails.com; and “Mitch’s Media Musings,” an Atlanta Media blog by Mitch Leff, who is interviewed in my book on what the media environment is like in Atlanta.

In late March, I will be featured on BlogTalkRadio’s show, “Write Books that Sell Now,” where I will talk about Moving to Atlanta and other book-writing projects that cross genres. One of the hosts of that program, Anita Henderson, known as the “author’s midwife,” is a respected colleague who has been interviewed on “The Writing Well.”

#4 Get your book reviewed early on Amazon…and don’t forget to secure a few book blurbs.

Advance Reader Praise Advance Reader Praise_Eric Advance Reader Praise_Grant Heath

This is important, and it means thinking strategically  about who would be the best person to blurb your book. In my case real estate agents who know Atlanta and executive recruiters who are focused on attracting talent to Atlanta as well as new residents or people thinking about moving to Atlanta. I was fortunate to secure all three for Moving to Atlanta, with two making it on the book jacket.

One Final Thought

Finally, the hardest thing about marketing is turning it off so you have time to write…I am still working on that as I carve out time to finish my novel this year while continuing to market my current book. There’s no question that being an author today is not just about great writing and research skills. It’s also about being strategic with your time, and finding ways to get your network of connections to work with you to get the word out.

I wish all writers the best in their efforts on both fronts — don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for people to support you. Believe it when I say, it takes a village to be an author.

Let’s Get Social!

Follow Anne’s new book adventure on social media or visit her book website at these links:

Website: www.MovingtoAtlantaGuide.com

Twitter: @MovingtoAtlanta

Facebook:   http://bit.ly/M2AFacebook

Amazon: http://bit.ly/M2AAmazon

Moving to Atlanta Trivia Quiz:     http://bit.ly/MovingtoAtlantaQuiz

 

 

Writing Becomes…Jeffrey Herrington (Eaton)

 

JeffHerrington_MBMiami-cover-500          JeffHerrington_MBManhattan-cover-500

Great storytellers are my favorite people – they have energy and a curiosity for life; they are students of human nature and what drives behavior; and they have a gift for crafting a tale that keeps one transfixed.

That’s probably why Jeff Herrington is one of my favorite storytellers. The first time I met Jeff, I was a twenty-something corporate communicator working for NCR’s Employee Communications team in Dayton.  Jeff had flown in from Dallas to do a writing workshop that was filled with practical examples and best practices on how to reach and keep the attention of our readers. Jeff, even then, was at the top of his game, having done amazing projects for Fortune 500 clients like Whirlpool. His session kept my co-workers and I completely engaged. He knew the way to communicate with impact was through story.

It was no surprise to me that he has applied his considerable writing chops to the realm of novel writing, penning two mystery thrillers, Murder Becomes Manhattan and more recently, Murder Becomes Miami under his pen name Jeffrey Eaton.

The books are branded as “A Dalton Lee Mystery” – in honor of his quirky main character, a highly astute architect with a past. (By the way, Jeff, an architecture buff, has filled his books with wonderful insights on some of New York City’s and Miami’s most famous buildings).   I found his premise and plot compelling – and the characters fun and very real. His details on the setting were so authentic that I was transported into the middle of the Big Apple. (In fact, readers can get acquainted with not only the murder scenes in his book, but also the detectives, victims and suspects on his well-crafted book page, http://www.murdermanhattan.com.)

I reached out to Jeff to find out more about his books, what he’s learned on the path to published author, how to build audience and whether his corporate communications career has helped or hurt him along the way.  His responses, provided lightning fast after I shot the questions over to him, will enlighten the veteran and the virgin writer. Thanks for generously sharing your gifts, Jeff!

Q. What sparked your idea for your mystery thriller series?

Jeff: For some reason, I have always been drawn to stories of intrigue. I was a big fan of The Hardy Boys Mystery Series between ages 7 -12. After that, I got hooked on Agatha Christie’s novels. So writing mysteries has always been lurking in the back of my mind as something I’d like to do.

Then, a few years ago, I was in a bookstore and saw Sue Grafton’s series using the alphabet (A is for Alibi) and I thought, “What a gig!” It got me to thinking about how I might create a similar but different series and the idea of having each novel set in a different global location, but all starting with the letter ‘M’ was born.

Q. What was the most challenging and gratifying aspect to seeing your idea become a published book? What would you like to have done differently the first time (publishing or writing lesson to share with other aspiring authors)?

 

Jeff: The most challenging aspect was (and continues to be) finding the time to market the books. Although I enjoy marketing, I’m not terribly comfortable with guerilla marketing but these days you really have to do that to get noticed in a crowd. It pays off — we spend a week marketing heavily and see sales climb as a result, but then they drop flat again the minute you stop. It’s relentless.

The most gratifying thing is seeing the reviews. Both “Murder Becomes Manhattan” and “Murder Becomes Miami” have average ratings above 4.0 out of 5. And some people are really really hooked on the series. That’s exciting — to know I have created something people really cannot wait to read on the airplane, or once they get to the pool at their hotel in Cancun.

Q. I know you are an accomplished corporate writer and lecturer who has traveled extensively. How has your career as a corporate communicator served you well as you crossed into the realm of book author?

Jeff: Great question. The downside is that, in corporate PR, we mostly write to the AP Stylebook. But in the world of fiction we write to the Chicago Manual of Style. Thank heavens I have an editor grounded in that!  The positive affect is that corporate communication emphasizes a need to get to the point quickly. I have adopted that in both books. You are very much dropped into the action from the get-go. Many readers have told me they find the books exciting in that way. They are ushered into the book pretty quickly and have to hold on from there.

Q. I noticed that you opted to not use your real name for your novels. What made you go in that direction?

Jeff: Three factors:  A) The desire for privacy and the opportunity to write other more serious books later under my real name if I choose B) The name Eaton fits on a book cover much more easily than does Herrington.  C) My father was a dancer in vaudeville and motion pictures back in the 1930s. His stage name was Jerry Eaton, so I chose Eaton as my ‘stage name’ as an homage to him.

Q. Who is your favorite character in each of your books and why?

 

Jeff: There is a team of architects/detectives in my books who work on solving the murders. However, my readers overwhelmingly seem to gravitate toward Dalton Lee, the head of the architecture firm and the main detective in the books. However, he has also become my favorite as well. Poor Dalton is 40ish and already grappling with the early stages of mid-life crisis. He has such a great heart but he is such a social oaf at times. Then there is the fact that statues, department store mannequins, even taxicab ashtrays have conversations with him. I think people find his quirkiness appealing, especially since, despite all of his goofiness, he is the genius who always solves the crime.

Q. Do you think writing a series is the wave of the future for authors? Do you find it’s an effective way to build audience?

 

Jeff: Certainly in the mystery genre it is. Most people are telling me they like the Miami book more than Manhattan, but mostly because it is like reconnecting with old friends and seeing story lines that piqued your interest in the first book evolve in the next, and so on.

From an author’s standpoint, it is a wise thing to do, for the maxim is you always sell more of your first book when the second book comes out, and so on. That has been the case for me, and on those days when we sell just 2 books, invariably it is one copy of one title and one copy of the other, which tells me one person likely bought both. Series build income, a following and back sales in a way individual stories don’t.

Q. What city or cities will you be tackling next for a setting to your thriller series?

 

Jeff: The next book is set in London. “But London doesn’t start with an ‘M’, Jeff” you say. You are right, however the entire book will be set in London’s most posh neighborhood, Mayfair. So there you go. The other cities and their order are a secret (the next location always gets revealed at the end of a current book), but I can say that places/events like Madrid, Milan, Malibu, Myanmar, Monte Carlo, Moscow and Mardi Gras are all in the running.

 

Q. What has been the most surprising reader feedback you’ve received to date?

Jeff: One person who REALLY did not like Manhattan said I had completely lost her when she hit the part that said the identities of certain hostages were made known to their family members when the captors sent those family members small body parts of the person.  “Yeah right,” she said, or something to that effect. And yet, that plot line is straight out of the headlines, has happened in real life many times over the past 10 years. I guess it is good that we don’t want to believe the world can be really that gruesome. But it is reality, and I’ve been surprised by a few people (very few) who haven’t been able to believe some of the very real things that take place in my books.

Q. How important is it to build audience via social media? What tactics and platforms have worked best for the type of readers you are trying to attract?

 

Jeff: Social media is tough. I have a cohort who is a master at it and he knocks things out all over the place all the time. We get lots of likes, followers etc. But getting that to translate into sales is not easy. To be honest, I find personal appearances to be far more helpful than social media right now. I give a talk at a book club or a bookstore and the books fly off the shelves.

That said, all it takes is one key connected person raving about your books to their friends on social media and the next thing you know you are a smash sensation. There are certain days where we sell 3, 5, 8 copies of the books and I know someone on social media somewhere must have said something to prompt those sales because I haven’t made a personal appearance that week.

About Jeff Herrington

JeffHerrington_AuthorPhotoJeff Herrington is the author of two novels, Murder Becomes Manhattan and Murder Becomes Miami under the pen name, Jeffrey Eaton. He is also the founder and president of Jeff Herrington Communications, a Dallas-based writing coaching and consulting company. He offers a wide range of workshops, training communication teams on their writing and their ability to come up with innovative content approaches.

A few of his workshop offerings include:

  • Writing for the Web
  • Effective Feature Articles and Case Studies
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As a writer, Jeff has traveled to more than 45 countries on five continents as a writer for the internal and external publications of IBM, AT&T, Whirlpool, Baxter Healthcare and John Deere, among many other companies. Learn more about Jeff Herrington Communications at www.jeffherrington.com.

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A Day of Renewal, New Friendships & Writing Connections

 

HeronHouseMainImage

Heron House in Mountain Park.

Counting my blessings today.  My book, Moving to Atlanta: The Un-Tourist Guide, went to press today and I should have plenty of copies for my Feb. 21 book launch party.

Writing Group

I also met with a great group of women as we kicked off a new Writer’s Group. Heron House, a nearby venue, in Mountain Park, is  a 501-c3 non-profit center for sacred studies nestled in a wildlife refuge on the dam between Lake Cheerful and Lake Garrett in the City of Mountain Park. Upon walking into the space it immediately feels restful and spiritual, and definitely lives up to its name as a “Sacred Earth Sanctuary.” 

This is just the setting I’ve been hoping for to return to writing and editing my debut historical novel, Torrential.  I’ve missed immersing myself in my characters, including Kieran, a traumatized Irish sailor who must confront his past when a massive flood threatens his life and those he cares about.

My group includes old friends Mari Ann and Carolyn, who I’ve known from our writing group days HeronHouseDoorEngravingwith Jedwin Smith, and three new friends:  Kathleen, June and Marla.  Our group’s philosophy and approach honor writing mentor Rosemary Daniell and her Zona Rosa (meaning the “Pink Zone,” or the “Women’s Zone” in Spanish) workshops. In fact, Rosemary plans to offer a one-day writer’s workshop this spring in the Atlanta area (I will provide more details on my blog once the workshop date is firm).

A writer and a teacher of writing, Rosemary is known for her provocative poems and personal memoirs. Rosemary’s book, The Woman Who Spilled Words All Over Herself: Writing and Living the Zona Rosa Way, grew from her teaching

Rosemary Daniell

Rosemary Daniell

and writing experiences. “Support, stimulation and standards of excellence are the three attitudes that make Zona Rosa work,” Rosemary writes. “Make sure that you receive all three in any writing group in which you participate and in any discussion of your work. Insist that your strengths be supported, your weaknesses, while you are still conquering them, be treated with respect. Remember that what is commonly called criticism can be positive, and experienced as support.”

Each member of our writing group brings  different life experiences and is at a different phase in our writing journey. We all, however, share a common hope — to HeronHouse1connect and grow in our craft while making a genuine connection. The quality of the readings today bode well for our group. I’m going to learn a lot and am thankful to once again have a supportive circle to share my writing with, especially as I tackle the hardest part of my manuscript revisions around voice and pacing.

As we finished our first session, I asked each person to share one word that most describes how she felt about being here. Here’s what each woman said:

  • Marla – Courage
  • Anne – Sacred
  • Carolyn – Inspired
  • Mari Ann – Peaceful
  • Kathleen – Flying
  • June – Leaping

These are powerful sentiments and are indicative of feelings of friendship, acceptance, growth and excitement that can lead to transformative writing! As Kathleen notes, referencing a Walt Whitman quote from the movie, “The Dead Poet’s Society”:  “The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.’ What will your verse be?”

I can’t wait to see where we go from here  and the stories we will share.