Category Archives: Inspiration

Newspapers Not a Dying Business in Southwest Florida – A Journalist’s Mecca

Tablet Smartphone News_001

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
                         – Thomas Jefferson

Not long after moving to Southwest Florida last November, I ran into a gentleman in front of Publix selling subscriptions to the local newspaper, The Naples Daily News. A journalism grad who had just relocated with my family from Atlanta, I was keen to sign up. I’d always loved printed papers, and mourned the decline of print journalism – a byproduct of the online revolution.

I asked him how sales were going, fully expecting to hear the same depressing outlook. He smiled, telling me that Naples has one of the best demographics of newspaper readers with its influx of affluent retirees. He predicted his community will always have a thriving newspaper, even as much of the rest of the world embraces online sources for staying informed.
I was excited to learn that sentiment echoed on Tuesday when two area newspaper publishers talked about the news business at the Gulf Coast chapter luncheon of the Public Relations Society of America.

Publishers Talk State of News Biz

 

L-R Bill Barker and Mei-Mei Chan, publishers of The Naples Daily News and The News-Press. Photo courtesy of PRSA/Gulf Coast Chapter

L-R Bill Barker and Mei-Mei Chan, publishers of The Naples Daily News and The News-Press. Photo courtesy of PRSA/Gulf Coast Chapter

Bill Barker of The Naples Daily News and Mei Mei Chan of the Fort Myers News-Press were both upbeat about the health of their newsrooms and advertising base in remarks made to a room of professional communicators.

Chan, who joined the Ft. Meyers paper five years ago from Seattle’s news market, kicked things off with a video marking her paper’s 130-year anniversary that culminated this past November with an open hFtMyersNewsPressouse at the paper.

Describing the complex processes that come together to get a paper out 24×7 as “The daily miracle,” Mei-Mei admits that how we access news has changed since the early days of newspapers. Some readers remain loyal to print papers while others have evolved to e-editions, usually through their iPad.

Storytelling  that Resonates

“How can we reach this very fragmented world? How do we keep ahead of it and don’t leave behind the legacy of the printed world?” she asked the group. Her answer: storytelling.

“Storytelling makes the difference – it’s what drives us every day,” she said.

Mitochondrial Disease sufferer Gavin Lawrey.  Photo by Sarah Coward/news-press.com

Mitochondrial Disease sufferer Gavin Lawrey. Photo by Sarah Coward/news-press.com

The challenge for news reporters is to find the stories that need to be told that can’t be told any other way such as the story of Gavin, a five-year-old Cape Coral boy who was diagnosed with an incurable disease.

The human interest story told online and in print detailed his family’s financial struggles and spirit, including his sister’s super hero comic-book writing to give her brother hope in fighting the disease. The series on Gavin earned an Edward R. Murrow Award. More significant, the story touched readers, resulting in the family receiving $40,000 in aid within a week of the initial piece running.
“That’s the kind of love and outpouring great storytelling can inspire,” Chan said.

She considers the emergence of social media and new technology as a positive development because “we can compete as never before with our broadcasting brethren.”

Reporters today have to wear many multimedia hats — not only interviewing sources and filing their stories on deadline for the print edition, but also shooting video so that the story can be told across channels.

Newspapers need to Engage, Report the Good and the Bad 

Bill Barker agreed with many of Chan’s points, acknowledging that “we are in a big transition.” NaplesDailyNewsBarker was appointed publisher of The Naples Daily News in October 2013 after serving as publisher of The Tampa Tribune and president of Tampa Media Group Inc.,

“Engaging content is the key today,” he said, adding that newspapers today must report both the good and bad news in a way that is “engaging, deep and meaningful.” “Our role is to tell stories in a way that grabs you…enriches your life and helps you be a better person.”

Barker told the group he loves coming to work at his paper’s new headquarters and seeing the community engaging with the paper. “We open our building all the time to community events.”

Sunday News Readers Eclipse Super Bowl Viewership Every Week

Even as many papers around the U.S. have shut their doors or gone to “web only,” the E.W. Scripps Co. invested $95 million in the new 186,000 square-foot facility in 2009. In addition, both publishers reiterate that Sunday remains a huge news day for their readership. In total,  more people read the Sunday paper each week than tune in to the Super Bowl.
Barker said papers need to once again embrace their editorial voice – and take a stand on issues, noting, “Isn’t it great that we’re having conservations on Facebook about issues?”
He contends that newspapers don’t have “an audience problem” – “we have a business model problem.”

The news media’s biggest challenge:  to leverage content and distribution to challenge how people think about issues.

“Newspapers still set the agenda nationally and locally. You should expect your newsrooms to be accountable – to have a voice and to have a reference to debate,” Barker concluded.

 

A Look Inside the Craft of Humor and Satire Writing

Laughter

By Anne Wainscott-Sargent

Georgia writers Jameson Gregg and Roy Richardson share three things in common: they love language, they love Mark Twain and they love to make people laugh.

I recently sat down with these two talented wordsmiths over lunch to talk about how they go about the craft of humor writing. And in the next week, I will be featuring excerpts of their writing here on The Writing Well.

Jameson Gregg

Jameson Gregg

Jameson, a North Georgia attorney of twenty years, left the law profession to write full time a few years ago. He recently celebrated the launch of his debut comic novel, Luck Be a Chicken, a tale of a redneck southern family trapped in generational poverty and facing a gut-wrenching crisis of how to raise money for their baby daughter’s operation.

Roy Richardson

Roy Richardson

Roy, a lifelong Georgian, has spent three decades as a writer/artist for Marvel/DC/Darkhorse Comics. He collaborated with his wife, June Brigman, inking, lettering and coloring the Brenda Starr comic strip for 15 years. Roy continues to juggle his freelance art assignments with his writing, a constant challenge.

Currently, he is compiling a series of short stories, titled, Hillbillies Prefer Blondes, which in addition to seeking a publishing home, he intends to record as an audio book. His writing is inspired by his own life —coming-of-age in Georgia in the 70s. I’ve gotten to know Roy through our writers’ group, and I can tell you that his readings are always a comedic highlight of our group’s gathering.

Check out our conversation below:

Q. How would you describe your unique writing voice? What inspired it?

Roy: I read a column by Stephen King recently where he stated his belief that voice is the single most important factor in keeping a reader engaged. I agree, and I always try to use voice in a way that will make the reader feel that I am telling a story just to them. As for describing my voice, it’s more of an instinctual thing rather than an intellectual process. I’m afraid if I analyze it too much, I won’t be able to do it anymore…

Jameson: I would define my voice as the ability to a) recognize the potential for humor in a situation, b) add to, expand, and embellish with imagination, c) write it with clarity. What inspired it? I think the desire to deliver humor, writing or otherwise, is either in one’s DNA or it’s not. Every child I’ve known loves humor. I think as we grow, that interest in humor becomes less important as other serious and complicated issues cloud our lives. Every adult I know also likes humor and likes to laugh, but few have the inclination to pursue it as a living. That’s where the DNA comes in. Personally, my humor DNA comes from my (now deceased) mother and grandmother. They would both go to great lengths for a practical joke.
Q. What things do you draw upon to bring humor to your writing?

Roy: I find that stating the obvious in the most obtuse and pseudointellectual manner possible is usually funny. And if that doesn’t work, then I try the exact opposite approach, presenting the obscure as though it should be completely obvious to all. Also, having my characters stress out and bluntly spill some of the really stupid things most people secretly believe is usually good for a laugh.

Jameson: It’s important to be alert and on the lookout for it because it’s all around us and usually unintentional. Sometimes it’s putting two ideas together. For instance, when Dahlonega was hosting the latest Big Foot Conference, I saw a huge dude in Walmart and it resulted in the attached Sasquatch article. Another time, I was at the local farmers market and noticed a couple of old-timers hanging out in the shade. I wondered what they talk about, so instead of continuing to wonder, I sat down and made up what I thought they may be talking about. It appeared in a column I periodically write for the Dahlonega (Ga) Nugget.

Q. What writers and works inspire you?

LuckBeaChickenJameson: Picaresque novels. Ever heard the term? I hadn’t until after I wrote one. When fellow Georgia author George Weinstein wrote a blurb for my novel, Luck Be A Chicken, he called it a picaresque novel, the first I ever heard the term or the genre. How about that – write a book in a sub-genre without even realizing the existence of the genre! Examples of this type of writing include Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, who is kind of my hero. Also, anything by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson or Richard Brautigan. As for living authors, I read Tim Dorsey and Bob Morris. Carl Hiaasen is the king now.

I like Mark Twain’s tall tales. His work inspired me to write American History 101, attached, published this year in Stonepile Writers Anthology III, by the University Press of North Georgia.

Roy: Though I’m writing fiction rather than memoir, Mary Karr and Rick Bragg, as great Southern writers, have both informed my stuff. I also think that Michael Chabon writes some beautiful sentences. There’s some Twain, Poe and Harlan Ellison in the mix as well. What I get from Twain is to write about something absurd in an extremely serious and intellectual sort of way – the way he uses language, sentences and phrases like a puffed-up college professor.

Q. What would be your top piece of advice to other writers looking to inject humor into their writing?

Jameson: I think the most effective way is to write situational humor – where you get your characters into a situation that is funny – like we all do sometimes.

Roy: What I do is use language – taking an absurd situation but talking about it in a very serious analytical way, which makes it even more funny. I have a lot of dialogue and try to simulate how people talk – using accents without laying it on too thick – “daaang, little boy.” I’m working with a friend to record some of my stuff. I’m a little bit of a ham with southern accents.

Jameson: I try to capture the vernacular of my southern redneck characters in my novel. But you have to be careful – if you go too far it can make it unreadable. You have to hit a balance. One of my favorite nuances of the southern vernacular is the double negative: “I ain’t done nothing.”

Roy: It’s very hard to interject humor into something – I never liked the concept of comedy relief, which was something that John Ford would do in his films when all of a sudden the characters would stop and decide to have a fun fist fight. Comic relief, unless it’s done really well, takes you out of the story. It has to grow more organically with the characters – you have to set it up.
Q. In closing, can you share some favorite sayings, quotes, or words of wisdom?

MarkTwain“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
– Mark Twain

“I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”
– Winston Churchill

“What does it take to be a writer? – An indifference to money and a willingness to take risks.”

“Re: twisted people – it’s the cracked ones that let the light in.”

“Last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” – T.S. Eliot

“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” – Oscar Wilde

Paraphrase from the movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild: If I ever get too old to drink beer and catch fish, put me in the boat and set me on fire so they can’t plug me into the wall.

 

 

 

Memorial Day Post: Author of ‘Dear Mark’ Honors Brother’s Sacrifice in Vietnam

Susie_DM COVER

Today in honor of Memorial Day, The Writing Well features Susan Clotfelter Jimison, whose book, Dear Mark, has just been published in time for this holiday honoring our fallen servicemen and women.

Forty-five years ago, Susan was a 14-year-old Florida teen preparing for her sister’s wedding when she lost her only brother, a pilot in Vietnam. She has mourned him ever since, and over many years, has pieced together a beautiful tribute to his life. Susan shares her journey uncovering her brother’s final months through the men Mark served and sacrificed with four decades ago.

Susan at her book signing pictured with her writing coach Jedwin Smith (L) and husband Mike Jimison (R), a Vietnam pilot.

Susan at her book signing pictured with her writing coach Jedwin Smith (L) and husband Mike Jimison (R), a Vietnam pilot.

I met Susan when I joined Jedwin Smith’s writers group. It’s been an honor to come along on her courageous journey — the group has shed tears along as we’ve come to know Mark and his fellow Pink Panther pilots, who risked their lives daily to save others in harm’s way.

Jedwin, who wrote Our Brother’s Keeper, about losing his own brother in Vietnam, put it best in his note on her book jacket: “Courage—that’s what it took to fly those fearsome Cobra gunships into the hellfire that was the Vietnam War, and it’s what author Susan Jimison calls upon as she opens her heart and reflects on her heroic aviator brother Mark, who died piloting his Cobra along the Laotion.”

God bless all our soldiers past and present, and God bless Susan for the gift of this story. 

__________________________________

Mark Clotfelter

Mark Clotfelter

When I began to write Dear Mark I struggled with my writing to not sound like I was trying to tell a war story—a war I was not in. It wasn’t until someone in my writing group suggested I tell my story and Mark’s in letters instead of traditional chapters that I finally began to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Epistolary Style: consisting of letters

Susan reading an excerpt of Dear Mark at her May 18 book launch.

“Write him just like you did when he was in Vietnam,” and when I did, it felt natural. And I saw such progress where before I struggled with every chapter. The more progress I saw, the more inspired I became to finish my memoir.

I was able to write about the dangerous missions Mark flew in an attack helicopter, I merged the past and the present, and I “told Mark” about future plans of my next book. Sometimes the writing was tricky with past and present tenses. Occasionally, there were tears even though it’s been forty-five years.

Going forward, I feel a tremendous amount of pride to have written a book to honor my brother who was so brave, so young, and missed so much!

I’m enjoying the letters I have received from people who have read Dear Mark. But as any author will tell you, the real work begins after it’s printed. Marketing has become my full time job for Dear Mark.

Stoicism in the Face of Unspeakable Loss

In the late 60s and early 70s no one talked about the war in Vietnam. Not the neighbors, not

The Clotfelter family.

The Clotfelter family.

the schools, not even family. Almost as if we didn’t talk about it—it wasn’t happening.

In 1997 I tracked down the men who flew in Vietnam with my brother. A true band of brothers who have never forgotten the fallen or the sacrifice of the families.

During my discovery of learning about my brother as a adult and a warrior, something unexpected happened. You never know where the roads in life will take you. I met and fell in love with one of Mark’s comrades in 1999 and we were married in 2006.

In a letter to Mark:
“…So the guys know my story—which is really your story. From day one they understood. They get it. There haven’t been many places I’ve been since 1968— back when you deployed to Vietnam— that people “get it.” If the subject of Vietnam came up, and it was rare if it did, people didn’t really understand it.

These guys do. They understand your courage. They understand your missions. They understand your sacrifice—and they understand mine. Their understanding is like no other.
It isn’t just that these guys all get it. I get it too. I know they look at me and know how different it could have been. I could be their little sister.”

About the Author

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASusan Clotfelter Jimison resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Mike and the best dog in the world, Dude.  Her book debut entitled Dear Mark, is the culmination of a ten-year project to piece together her brother’s final days during the Vietnam War. Jimison is currently working on her second book Letters from John (projected completion date: April 2015) Historical letters and pictures from her cousin, John Donovan, provide a personal lens to glimpse the final days of the officer-turned mercenary life of the world-renowned Flying Tigers. Jimison’s work aims to shed light on the far-reaching effects of the loss of family members in war and the profound insight John had of the present and the future he was shorted.

Visit Susan’s author page to purchase her book and learn more about her book research and work with Vietnam Veterans groups.


Spring Mini-Blog Tour: Four Writing Qs Answered

Today on The Writing Well, I’m taking part in a mini-blog tour! It’s fun to share a little bit about my writing process and to recognize three other writers.

Thanks to Dr. Carol Cooper, a talented London “chick-lit” writer and The Sun’s newspaper doctor, for inviting me to be on her blog, , last Monday. Her blog is filled with wonderful tidbits about parenting, health and her journey writing romantic women’s fiction.

The tour involves each of us answering four questions about writing. The same questions are then passed on to three new writer-bloggers. Be sure to check out the blogs for Sharon, Megan and Shane, who I introduce below, and who will carry the blog torch forward next Monday. Now, it’s my turn!

Blog_Header
Q. What am I currently working on?

I’m in the editing phase of my debut historical fiction novel, Torrential. Set in Dayton, Ohio, in 1912, Torrential follows Irishman Kieran Gregor who survives the Titanic’s sinking paralyzed by guilt. He begins a new life in Dayton, taking a job with his uncle and letting a room in a downtown boardinghouse. There, he meets Hannah, the beautiful 17-year-old daughter of the house’s proprietors. He denies his growing attraction for Hannah, who is expected to marry Dayton’s youngest city engineer. Soon, Kieran must confront his past and his feelings for Hannah when a horrific flood hits Dayton and puts the boardinghouse’s inhabitants in peril.

My book is now with a professional editor, who will help me refine my manuscript in preparation for pitching it to agents and publishers this summer.

Q. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Rendering of the Titanic sinking.

Rendering of the Titanic sinking.

Two things come to mind – first, the story line. I believe I’m the only author to bookend a novel around two disasters that struck within a year of each other – the RMS Titanic’s sinking and the 1913 Great Dayton Flood.

Second is the degree to which I intermingled my fictional characters with historical figures in Dayton. These men, including John H. Patterson, the controversial yet brilliant founder of N.C.R., played heroic roles in the disaster and the city’s remarkable recovery.  I was able to draw upon a rich reservoir of historical research to recreate Dayton in the early 20th century, as well as the flood and its aftermath.

Beyond just the usual newspaper archive material, I interviewed a journalist who has covered the flood for 30 years, two family members of Arthur Morgan, the engineer who designed Dayton’s permanent flood control system, a national weather historian and Dayton’s chief water conservancy engineer. I believe all this research lends a level of detail and authenticity to my novel.

Q. Why do I write what I do?

I love history, I love place and I love stories of heroes who overcome adversity and triumph.  If I can bring all these elements together, then it’s a win-win for me and my readers.

Q. How does my writing process work?

I begin with an idea or a spark that gets my creative juices going. For Torrential, it was my

My grandmother and great-parents in Dayton, circa 1911-12.

My grandmother and great-grandparents in Dayton, circa 1911-12.

grandmother’s stories of her family surviving the flood when she was a small child. They lived in and operated a boardinghouse in downtown Dayton. Her recollections included the heroic role of the carpenters at the nearby National Cash Register Company, who built boats that saved trapped residents. She witnessed one of these boat rescues of an elderly neighbor from an upstairs window.

From there, I sketch out my main characters and the supporting figures who will move the story along, and the key plot line. Then I just pour the story onto paper. After a while, my characters become real and they speak to me. Two years into this, they sound like part of the family. The editing phase of my writing is the hardest. It’s difficult to cut, and that’s where a good editor and advance readers come in.

* * * * * *
Introducing Three Dynamic Writers

Now, here are three fellow authors, who will showcase their writing process next Monday.
Megan HeadshotMegan Cutter is a professional writer, editor, and social media strategist with over 18 years of experience in the field. Her expertise includes manuscript and article editing, as well as copy writing for websites, newsletters, magazines, and social media campaigns.  Together, Megan and her husband Barton, published their first memoir, Ink in the Wheels: Stories to Make Love Roll, highlighting their relationship as an inter-ability couple.

Her newest memoir, Leaving Traces: Diving from the Nest, will be published in 2015.

A. Shane Etter, a supernatural thriller writer, has penned two novels, Bottom Dwellers and Mind ShaneEtterDwellers. Both books follow a team of talented individuals as they battle a global community of powerful mutants who can read their minds and communicate telepathically.
Shane is a native son of Mississippi. He is proud of the great literary heritage of his home state and that some of the finest 20th Century authors, like William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, John Grisham and others have called it home. Shane has taken a number of writing workshops and classes by such noted authors as his mentor and two-time Pulitzer nominee Jedwin Smith, author/literary agent Nancy Knight, Mary Helen Stefaniak and Kaylie Jones, daughter of the great James Jones (From Here to Eternity),

Shane is a member of the Atlanta Writers Club and he makes his home in Warner Robins, Georgia.

KD HoskinsSharon KD Hoskins has been a communication specialist for more than 20 years. Her first novel, To Handcuff Lightning, was a 2010 Eric Hoffer Award finalist. She is currently working on her third book, Polishing Up Heaven. All her stories are told with humor, candor, and the expectation that love will eventually show up.

She is a member of the Atlanta Writers Club and enjoys reading literary and historical fiction, contemporary humor, and mysteries solved by a cat. Read her blog here.

 

The Intersection of Slavery & Freedom: One Man’s Journey Finding his Family Story

Got Proof Book Cover 5-1-13Today, Michael N. Henderson has reason to celebrate. On this day 234 years ago, his fourth-generation great-grandmother gained her freedom.

Below is a fascinating story of Michael’s 30-year journey uncovering his French and Creole family roots that played out during the American Revolution. The creative culmination of his work is Got Proof! My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation, released in May 2013.

Michael’s research into his own ancestors, as well as other people of color in Louisiana, has gained national attention. In 2010, he was featured in a segment of the nationally televised program “History Detectives” titled “The Galvez Papers,” and in that same year made history as the first African American in Georgia inducted into the National Society, Sons of the American Revolution.

GotProof_authorThis past October, Michael’s book earned the coveted James Dent Walker Award by the Afro-American Historical and Genealogy Society (AAHGS). The Society bestows its highest honor on someone who has exhibited “distinguished accomplishments through a significant and measurable contribution to the research, documentation, and/or preservation of African American history.”

My colleague and friend Anita Paul, known as “The Author’s Midwife,” assisted Michael in getting his book published and promoted. She tells me, “A big part of what has helped make Michael’s storytelling journey successful is his willingness to share what he knows. He is an example and an inspiration to other genealogists who desire to become the scribe and the storyteller of their own research journey. He demonstrates that you have to have a healthy dose of confidence in yourself, assurance in your research methods, and connection to your ancestral story. After all, who better to tell the stories of ancestors than their descendants?”

The Writing Well is honored to share Michael’s insights below.

Q. There is a huge interest in people discovering their genealogical roots. What was unique about your journey?
Michael:  My genealogical journey was unique in that I found the intersection of slavery and GotProof_Nellie2freedom in the lives my ancestors in Louisiana during the American Revolution. My 4th generation great-grandmother, an enslaved woman named Agnes, gained her freedom on December 16, 1779. Her French consort, Mathieu Devaux dit (alias) Platilla, served in the Louisiana militia during the Revolutionary War. So, while Agnes was fighting for freedom from slavery, Mathieu was helping the American colonists fight for freedom from Great Britain. Agnes and Mathieu had a 31-year relationship and produced seven children, all of whom were born free prior to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
In my book, Got Proof: My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation, I explore Louisiana’s participation in the American Revolution, something I’ve found many people are not aware of, particularly because Louisiana was not one of the 13 colonies. The book takes readers along my journey of uncovering the relationship between Agnes and Mathieu, and how the family they created became the roots of my Louisiana Creole ancestry.
Having located evidence of Mathieu Devaux dit Platilla’s participation in the American Revolution, I later joined and became the first African American in Georgia inducted into the National Society Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).
Q. What do you hope people glean from your book, Got Proof!?
Michael: I hope that readers are inspired to accomplish the same or similar achievements as I have. I believe every genealogist goes through three phases when researching their family history. The first phase is becoming curious about your family and its connection to the past. The second phase is becoming the historian; learning about the people, places, and events that helped shape the lives of your ancestors. The third phase is becoming the storyteller; sharing your discoveries so others can appreciate them.
In Got Proof, I share how I evolved as a genealogist through each of these phases in discovering my ancestry in colonial Louisiana. If readers glean just a smidgen of how I, as a genealogist, journeyed through history using documents, then turned those facts into a story, the book will have accomplished what I intended.
Q. What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
Michael:  Narrowing down nearly 30 years of genealogy research was, by far, the most challenging aspect of writing Got Proof. I wanted to be careful not to overload the reader by regurgitating facts found in documents, but rather to tell the story of my journey and discovery of Agnes and Mathieu. Once I decided on the theme, I developed an outline, and the story unfolded from there.
Q. Can you share 3-4 best practices around research into genealogy that other family biographers could learn from?
Michael:  Anyone interested in researching their genealogy should first start with themselves and work backwards in time. Gather documents that paint a picture of your life: birth certificate, school records, marriage certificate, employment and military records, etc. Then, develop a pedigree chart showing your direct descent from ancestors. Also, create a family group sheet showing the relationships between generations (parents, grandparents, children). As you research, determine 1) what you know; and 2) what you want to discover.
Remember that genealogy research takes time, patience, and diligence.

The pleasure for me is in the hunt for information. I love solving mysteries and finding documents to support theories. Finally, writing the story based on documented evidence will help you craft the narrative of your family for future generations to appreciate.

 Q. A big part of writing books is marketing them, which you’ve done very well with your writing partner Anita Paul. Any advice on how to get the most out of your outreach if you are writing about genealogy?

Michael:  Anita is an amazing author’s coach. One of the primary things she instilled in me very

Anita Paul

Anita Paul

early was to develop a clear platform that could expand into a brand for myself.

I realize that success for me is bigger than the book. My platform is based on the foundation of my genealogy research and my being the first African American in Georgia inducted into the SAR. In addition, I was featured in a segment of the PBS program “History Detectives” called “The Galvez Papers,” which tells the story of Agnes and Mathieu. These events happened before the book was produced, and added significantly to the visibility of my story once the book was released in May 2013.

Another critical element in marketing Got Proof was my early development of an online presence. Through my blog and Facebook page, I have shared many of my genealogy discoveries and successes, and have grown quite a loyal following.

Finally, being visible to my target market is critical for me. I speak to historical, genealogical, and lineage/heritage societies nationwide. Giving presentations about my research success further inspires audiences, allows them to connect with me, and encourages them to purchase Got Proof.

 

 

 

The Writing Well Honors Veterans: Most Memorable War-related Posts

Band-of-Brothers

Today, as America honors those who have served their country, The Writing Well revisits this blog’s most poignant posts with veteran themes over the last four years.

Published on U.S. Memorial Days, the 4th of July and other dates of significance to the nation, these entries are examples of storytelling that underscore the power of words to move and heal. They include interviews with memoir, fiction and non-fiction authors who served or lost loved ones during times of war, an Army chaplain researching how a family member tended to the physical and religious needs of Civil War soldiers, as well as memorable war-time speeches and books worth reading.

Pulitzer Prize-nominated Author Jedwin Smith Talks about the Re-release of His Family War-time Memoir, Our Brother’s Keeper

Jedwin Smith’s memoir, originally released in 2005, details the loss of his younger brother, Jeff, the family’s “peacemaker,” during the Vietnam War, and his journey to find out who killed him. Since its release, Our Brother’s Keeper has been widely used by the VA and by the Wounded Warrior Project®, serving  to heal many veterans and bring closure to families still reeling from the sacrifice of their loved ones.

Lost Art of Letter Writing: One Sister’s Tribute to her Brother

Fellow writing group member Susan Jimison talks about her experience crafting her up-and-coming memoir about her brother, Mark Clotfelter, a pilot who died in Vietnam when she was only 14 years old: as a series Jimison_Mark_Suan_Wallof letters to him. “Writing about my brother’s heroic feats during the Vietnam War felt very unnatural for me. It was almost like I was trying to tell a war story. A war I was never in,” recalls Susan, “So, at the suggestion of fellow writer, Mari Ann Steffaneli, I tried epistolary style. Writing letters to my brother is exactly what I had done forty-three years earlier. And so, I continued writing to him, to tell his story, in letter form. It felt natural and that showed in my writing.”

Healing Soldiers: Civil War Devotional Back in Print 

Dr. Bill Nisbet, a retired Army Reserves chaplain who serves on the pastoral staff of my church, http://annewainscott.com/wp-content/uploads/blogger/-CAl993Uu9sY/T_MKAFoH1GI/AAAAAAAAA6g/iMmZ7OAheFg/s1600/Charles_Quintard_-_Brady-Handy.jpgshares his journey re-publishing The Confederate Soldier’s Pocket Manual of Devotions, a 1863 book compiled by Nisbet’s great-great-great grandfather, a medical doctor and chaplain of the First Tennessee Regiment, who cared for the physical and spiritual needs of soldiers as a hospital field surgeon.

 

 

Revolutionary Speeches to Rememberhttp://annewainscott.com/wp-content/uploads/blogger/-v3dX8-J7af8/TeI25IE0gGI/AAAAAAAAASg/266em4UipOI/s1600/fdr_congress.jpg

From American presidents FDR and Abraham Lincoln to esteemed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, these famous orators delivered patriotic speeches that have inspired generations, and made a lasting impact on the public during times of trial and times of healing.

Three Must-Reads of the War-time Experience

These three books — two works of historical fiction and one non-fiction work– memorably captured a soldier’s struggles and experiences in wars past and present. They include my all-time favorite historical novel, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.

The other books featured are: A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin, and WAR by Sebastian Junger.  Helprin’s book focuses on an elderly Italian professor and veteran of the Great War, who is moved to tell the story of his life to a young, illiterate Sicilian industrial worker, as they take a long walk from Rome to a village in the mountains. Junger, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, recreates the experiences of an American infantry platoon he spent months shadowing in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2008. The story chronicles the 15-month deployment of a platoon in the Korangal Valley, considered the most hostile and dangerous valley in the country. The valley, the author explains, “is sort of the Afghanistan of Afghanistan: too ­remote to conquer, too poor to intimidate, too autonomous to buy off.”

Transformation & Redemption: A Conversation with Civil War Storyteller Robert Hicks

Book_WidowoftheSouthI relished this in-depth interview with Robert Hicks, acclaimed author of two engaging historical fiction books about the Civil War and its aftermath. The first, The Widow of the South, is the tale of Carrie McGavock, a headstrong wife and mother who, in November 1864, finds her plantation home turned into a field hospital during the devastating one-day Battle of Franklin (widely considered as among the five bloodiest hours in the entire war).

Robert’s second novel, A Separate Country, takes place in New Orleans in the years after the Civil War, and focuses on the life of John Bell Hood, arguably one of the most controversial generals of the Confederate Army–and one of its most tragic figures.

Books for Heroes – A Worthy Cause

No soldier should be without a book — that sentiment formed the inspiration for creating this charitable foundation that ships books to soldiers free of charge. Thanks to the generosity of numerous book publishers, bookstore customers and trucking firms, Books for Heroes has shipped thousands of books to armed forces in Afghanistan, VA hospitals, and U.S. military bases. The charity got a major boost when bestselling author James Patterson donated  200,000 of his own books to the cause.

 

The Lost Art of Letter Writing: One Sister’s Tribute to her Brother

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In a box in my closet, I have letters from my mother, who passed away nine years ago this past August. I also have letters from my grandmother and a beloved aunt, no longer living, who wrote me for more than 20 years.

These letters are precious, among my most prized possessions. The creased pieces of stationary and cards represent time capsules from their lives. I still hear my mother’s and other loved ones’ voices in my ear as they convey their thoughts about everyday events, their concerns for the future, and above all, their love for me.   

There’s something about a letter that is so much more personal than receiving an email. Maybe it’s the time it takes to craft a letter – and the fact that it’s a form of storytelling.  That’s why I love the technique fellow writing group member Susan Jimison is using to Jimison_SusanPortraitwrite her memoir about her brother, Mark Clotfelter, a pilot who died in Vietnam when she was only 14 years old: as a series of letters to him. It’s powerful, touching, and gives a personal authenticity to her story that I don’t think would have been achieved through a traditional narrative.

Susan paid tribute to her brother on The Writing Well in May 2012. She also was featured in a nationally syndicated AP story that ran last Memorial Day about how family members are remembering loved ones lost in war.  Below, she shares her journey writing “Dear Mark,” which is now in the book-proposal stage with potential publishers.

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Q. Why did you decide to write your memoir of your brother in the form of letters?

 I began writing a traditional memoir and struggled. I had never done anything like it before. Writing about my brother’s heroic feats during the Vietnam War felt very unnatural for me. It was almost like I was trying to tell a war story. A war I was never in. So, at the suggestion of fellow writer, Mari Ann Steffaneli, I tried epistolary style. Writing letters to my brother is exactly what I had done forty-three years earlier. And so, I continued writing to him, to tell his story, in letter form. It felt natural and that showed in my writing.

Q. How old were you when you lost him?

Jimison_MarkI was fourteen when Mark was killed in Vietnam. He was the only boy out of the five of us kids.  Our family was never the same since the summer we lost him.

 Q. What is it about letter writing that is personal, enduring compared with today’s more common form of communication – email? 

Jimison_Letters         Emails are not personal. Dear at the beginning and Love at the end is nonexistent. That is not to say that the emails to our loved ones couldn’t have those endearments but as a rule they are not used.

But that isn’t all. I have a box full of letters under a bed — letters from an aunt in Alabama that used to write me every month until she died at the age of ninety-nine. I wondered the other day why I saved all those letters so I began reading them. I soon realized they were full of family history. In one letter she told me about her mother dying when she was very young and how her “Daddy let little Stella, too young to go to school, but she went because he had to work in the field. She wrote about being thankful she was still able to live on her own and walk across the street to church ever Sunday. Her handwriting got worse as she went from eighty-eight to ninety-eight but it amazed me every time I opened to mailbox and found another letter. When was the last time you opened your mailbox to get a letter from a ninety something year old?

I still have letters from my mother, father, sisters, husband, friends and yes, priceless letters from my brother.  Recently, I have decided two things though. I will begin writing my grandchildren regular, old fashion letters. They don’t have to be long. And I can add photos or an occasional five dollar bill for an ice cream cone.  My other decision is to burn personal letters that will serve no purpose to anyone when I am gone. Aunt Effie May’s letters? Mark’s? No, those are priceless. Letter with family history will be passed on to the next generation. My goal is to scan them into Ancestry.com.

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Q. Who are you targeting with your book? When do you expect to have it published?

The people who I feel will most be interested in my book will be anyone who has been affected by a war or perhaps was too young during the Vietnam War to understand. Present- day military and perhaps military buff will read it. I hope it will help those who have lost someone to war when they realize we had similar thoughts and fears — from my lowest level in grief to finally reaching the stage of understanding and acceptance.

 My memoir “Dear Mark” is in the book proposal stage and while I wait to hear back from those proposals I continue to write the final chapters. As you know, if I received a book offer today it will be at least a year before I will see it in print. It is such a long process.

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Learn more about Susan Jimison’s memoir about her brother on her author page, http://susanclotfelterjimison.com/.

Death of a Bookstore

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Today, The Writing Well features local Atlanta author Stephen R Drage, an entrepreneur and award-winning public speaker. Stephen is a gifted storyteller, who is working on the second book in his Mud Lane series, which he describes as “comedy nostalgia about growing up in England.”

A member of my writing group, Stephen wrote the following short story right after Atlanta independent book retailer Peerless StephenDrageBook Store closed its doors earlier this year. The news of the store’s demise hit the Atlanta writing community hard and our group especially hard. Peerless’s owners, including fellow writing group member Susan Jimison and her husband, Mike, were advocates and friends to Atlanta’s author community.  Losing an enclave that supports indie and established writers is always distressing, especially since Peerless was a gathering place for both writers and readers who love good stories. It makes one wonder what is to become of local bookstores when even big chains such as Barnes and Noble are struggling to survive against the might of Amazon, so well articulated by economics writer Megan McArdle in an article posted last February in The Daily Beast.  I leave you with Stephen’s eloquent and haunting goodbye to a very special place.

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 Peerless_closeupA somber cloud of doubt and despair settled like a layer of dust on the shelves at Peerless Book Store. With several other of the store’s hardcore devotees, I stood in shock – as if at a small graveside gathering – mourning the passing of what had become a second home.

The shop had been the community cornerstone, a retreat for writers and readers and the lucky ones able to step into the stuff of imagination and build worlds. But tomorrow the vultures would come with padlocks and red closure signs. Accountants’ practiced eyes would then perform their dubious calculations, and the soul of the bookshop would be auctioned away.        

I found myself choked with sadness  by the image of the shop’s owners, their normally cheerful countenance surrendering to a hopelessness that their brave exterior couldn’t quite mask. It didn’t feel real. I had been absorbed into one of a thousand stories that lined the shelves.

Chance might have assigned me a home in yellowing, adventure-filled pages where I could assume the role of a pirate captain, a daring explorer, or a brilliant detective. Instead, I had silently slipped between the leaves of a tale of loss and unwillingly accepted my part as the awkward bystander, unable to find words of consolation or encouragement. I wanted to frantically turn to the end, to discover wrongs had been righted and the shop was open for business the next morning.

But the unforgiving rules of time trapped me in a painful now.    

A small boy shuffled in. Only 10 or 11 years old, yet I’m sure he sensed something was wrong. After a cursory lap of the store, he approached one of the owners, George, unaware of the mental geography that separated them.

“Er…do you have any good books about zombies?” the child said hesitatingly.   

Good books about zombies?” replied the bookseller, emphasizing the word good and demonstrating that, despite the aching avalanche of circumstances, his sense of humor remained intact.

“Well…they don’t really have to be good,” replied the boy.

There was a long uncharacteristic pause from the owner, where it seamed to me he was forming about half a dozen replies simultaneously. I know George, and I knew what he wanted to say was;

“Yeah, kid. You like zombies? Hang around here for a few hours and you’ll see some. They’ll be here in the morning. Dead inside, uncaring and unfeeling as they dismember and consume this store. A business that has absorbed its share of sweat and tears and struggle, yet it was still able to provide joy and entertainment to thousands. They’ll come and unmake all that, driven on by a column of numbers and the need to destroy, as they tear this place apart book by book, to be parceled and packaged and sold off to the highest bidder. You want monsters, you’re in the right place.”

But maintaining his dignity, all George said was, “No, not really. Sorry.”

The boy ambled out.

The owner continued boxing up some rare used books.

And then it struck me that this was just another story, a mere thread in the tapestry of life’s elaborate unfinished script, the end of which had not yet been written.

I could but hope this was merely the end of the eleventh chapter.

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Celebrating Milestones as a Storyteller

Fourteen years ago this month I took a chance on being my own boss. Having worked in the corporate world as media relations and eAnneWainscott_FinalAuthorPhotomployee communications manager, and briefly in the agency world, I was eager for independence.

Like any rational person used to a weekly paycheck, the prospect of finding clients and managing a business on my own intimidated me at first. Securing a part-time consulting gig with an aerospace company made it a little less overwhelming. That company would be a key client over the next decade.

While not all clients had that kind of staying power, I’ve been incredibly fortunate. Venturing out solo all those years ago turned out to be the right choice for me — giving me freedom to guide my own destiny and find what I most liked to do. In my case, that’s storytelling!  Print

In my time as a strategic storyteller to organizations, I’ve met amazing people and helped them tell their organization’s story. A few highlights include:

– Developing and launching a PR strategy for the world’s most respected U.S. high school robotics competition as it made its debut in Georgia.

– Interviewing public health’s most celebrated ‘disease detectives’ over the last 50 years.

– Communicating how leading business schools are educating the next generation of business leaders.

– Interviewing visionaries at NASA, the DoD and the private sector who are opening up the full potential of space for exploration and communications.

On a personal level, I became an author and connected with other writers and storytellers:

– Writing a memoir after losing my mother to lung cancer that paid tribute to the bond of mothers and daughters in the face of devastating illness from tobacco addiction.

– Researching and drafting an historical novel set in my hometown of Dayton during a catastrophic  flood, a project I hope to complete this year.

– Showcasing other writers and storytellers on The Writing Well, the blog I launched in October 2009.

Special Storytelling Feature in October

In celebration of my blog’s “birthday” and my company anniversary, I will feature my clients’ own storytelling journeys every Thursday in October. Those featured encompass a diverse range of industries and communication challenges. They each have redefined their own communication styles to reach and engage their audience.

Also, on Monday, The Writing Well welcomes author-blogger K.M. Weiland, who will talk about common pitfalls of story structure based on her book, Structuring Your Novel.

To conclude, I would encourage anyone who has ever dreamed of guiding their own destiny and pursuing a creative venture to do it. Make it happen.

JoeyReimanPhotoAs purpose visionary Joey Reiman told me during a blog interview last year, ” purpose drives everything…it engages, enlightens and enlarges one’s capacity to live a genuine life.”

So, above all, pursue your passion. Doing so in my life has given me so many blessings. While I embarked on my entrepreneurial journey before marriage and motherhood, being independent has allowed me to be more present in my children’s lives and to get closer to the elusive goal of work-life balance.

I leave you with the final quote from Vitaly Tennant’s  “My Time Matters Blog” post about the 15 greatest entrepreneur quotes:

“Experience. Dream. Risk. Close your eyes and jump. Enjoy the freefall. Choose exhilaration over comfort. Choose magic over predictability. Choose potential over safety. Be Bold. Be Fierce. Be Grateful. Be Wild, Crazy and Gloriously Free. Be You.”

 

Duke University Couple Delves into ‘Genius of Dogs’

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Brian signs our copy of The Genius of Dogs during the 2013 Decatur Book Festival.

Ever wondered how smart your dog is? As a proud owner of a rambunctious golden doodle, I have, and that’s why my family and I stopped by Brian Hare’s recent appearance at the Decatur Book Festival, where we heard him present and received an autographed copy of his 2013 book, The Genius of Dogs.

Brian, an associate professor in Duke University’s Department of Evolutionary Anthropology, co-wrote the book with his wife, Vanessa Woods, a research scientist in Duke’s Department of Evolutionary Anthropology and an award-winning journalist.

According to a 2010 interview in The New York Times, they met in 2004 when Vanessa was volunteering at a chimp sanctuary in Uganda. Brian was there, examining chimpanzees’ capacity for cooperation and sharing. He was invited to continue his work in the Congo with bonobos, humanity’s closest ape relations and unique in the animal kingdom for not killing one another. Newly engaged, the couple went to the Congo as a research team, and the culmination of that adventure was Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo, named to Scientific American’s Top 10 books for June 2010 and recipient of the Society of American Travel Writers Lowell Thomas Award 2011.

The Genius of DogsIn his opening remarks at the festival, Brian credited his wife’s writing abilities with the book being an engaging read.  Since its publication earlier this year, The Genius of Dogs has garnered widespread praise:

  • Richard Wrangham, author of Catching Fire, applauded Hare’s “game-changing research” into the canine mind, which has illuminated ‘the natural history of all intelligence.”
  • John Grogan, author of Marley & Me and The Longest Trip Home, said this: “Thoroughly researched and written in the likable voice of a brainy scientist sitting at your kitchen table, The Genius of Dogs is a fascinating look at what goes on between the ears of the animals we share our lives with.”

Two years in the making, The Genius of Dogs included reviewing more than a thousand studies. It pulls from research at the Duke Canine Cognition Center, which Brian founded to better understand the flexibility and limitations of dog cognition. The couple work at the center together — a place that “offers the cheapest tuition and best acceptance rate at Duke,” they joke on the website.

Dognition-Two-CupsRecently, Brian and Vanessa joined other experts in dog cognition to launch Dognition.com, a website that thousands of dog owners have accessed for a fee to download tools to measure the intelligence of their dogs, who are “astoundingly good at reading our gestures and learning words,” Brian told WIRED science writer Greg Miller in a feature published in February 2013. Dog owners report their results online, which gives researchers like Brian broad-based data to better understand and help dogs.

Today, The Writing Well asked Vanessa and Brian to share highlights of their hare-woods129colorwriting collaboration and what they hope comes from their work in dog cognition summarized so well in their book.

Q.   What prompted you to write The Genius of Dogs? What makes this book unique in the literature of animal intelligence/cognition?

Never has there been a more exciting time for dog lovers. The research over the last decade has been so exciting that we want to share it with everyone. Before now, there has not been one place where people can find out the latest in dog research – they would have to rely on media reports or read the scientific papers. We wanted to synthesize the research and organize it in a way that people could get the most out of it.

Also, although there are a lot of dog lovers, most people don’t realize how important dogs have been for thinking about our own evolution, and how we became humans. We wanted people to know that their best friends are not just cute pets, they are part of a much bigger picture. Dogs may help us understand ourselves.

Most of all, we wanted to give dogs credit. They have developed their own unique genius that is unparalleled by any other animal on the planet. Finding out how dogs got their smarts has been a fascinating journey, one that we want to share. We hope both ends of the leash will benefit from what we’ve discovered.

Q. This was a collaboration between two scientists who happen to be husband and wife — how did you complement one another?

Brian’s strength is definitely the science, while Vanessa’s is writing about the science in an entertaining manner. Our editor did not know how a married couple could write a book together (and whether we would survive). Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter famously said writing a book together almost ruined their marriage. The biggest conflict we had was Brian’s love for superfluous adjectives and Vanessa’s delight in deleting large sections of Brian’s work.

We tried sitting together and writing, but that didn’t work. Eventually we came to an arrangement where even though we were both using the same computer and working on the same chapters, we were never at the computer at the same time, and we would email the versions back and forth. As to if we would do it again? Ask us in five years.

Q.  What one finding from your book surprised each of you the most?

Brian: While we are occasionally advised to be the ‘top dog’ and dominate our dogs in order to win respect and obedience, it seems that dogs don’t follow a leader who acts like the big bad wolf. While some feral dog groups (dogs who live without human interference) have a dominance hierarchy that predicts priority to resources such as food and mating partners, this hierarchy is not as strict as in wolves. In feral dogs, the pack does not follow the most dominant dog, instead they follow the dog with the most friends.

Vanessa: It’s a battle that’s been raging since Garfield first pushed Odie off a counter top – how could dogs possibly be smarter than superior felines? Crafty as cats may be, they have yet to out- compete a dog in a cognitive experiment. As one example, a dog or a cat watched while an experimenter hid a reward in one of four boxes. Dogs remembered where the food was for four times longer than cats. But dog owners shouldn’t be too smug. Dogs were outsmarted on a similar memory problem by rats.

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Our family dog, Missy, the newest recruit for Dognition.

Q.     What do you hope happens as a result of your book’s publication?

One of the most important things we hope people take away is that their dog is cognitive. This means they aren’t mindless learning machines, or slaves to our every whim. Dogs have the ability to flexibly and spontaneously make inferences, something far more impressive than a trained trick. Some people might get frustrated with their dog’s disobedience. We hope after reading our book, that they might realize that sometimes it is because their dog is too smart, not too stupid to obey them.

Also, we hope they take away that there is not just one type of intelligence. We hope that people will be motivated to find their dog’s unique intelligence, and perhaps their own unique intelligence. What is true for dogs should be true for people too.  Most of all, people should know that is their dog is a genius!

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To learn more about Brian and Vanessa’s work understanding man’s best friend, visit the Dognition website.