Awards, Benefits of writing, local author

An Honor That Really Matters To Me

Winner - 2016 Most Happening Author in Bucks County

There are many contests and competitions out there you can enter if you’re an author. Many of them are very tempting, and they’re usually expensive to enter and the odds are so great against one winning. Every once in a while, I’ll enter one of my books in one of those for independent “indie” publishers, but I’ve never entered one just as an author.

So imagine my surprise last year, when I looked in my inbox to find a post telling me I’d won one!

Of course at first, I thought it was just another spam scam, looking for money or to hack into my email account. But no, it was legit. Turns out there’s this area events-focused magazine—Bucks Happening that holds an annual “best of” type contest for any number of categories ranging from “Most Happening Nightspot” to “Most Happening Artist.” Because I live in Bucks County, PA—an area with a long history of embracing and nurturing the arts—there was even a “Most Happening Author” category, and that’s the one I won

So, big deal, right? Well…kinda, yeah. Because first of all, I didn’t even know about this contest. Second of all, I didn’t know I’d been nominated. And most of all, because this isn’t a thing where the hosting publication nominates you for its own self-promotional reasons; you get nominated by someone in the reading public. In short, someone who’d read my book actually thought enough of it to nominate me for this honor. And that, my friends, is the kind of thing an author lives for.

Sure, you can look on it as a flimsy popularity contest of sorts, and I suppose to some extent, that’s true. But since I’ve never spent one second of my life thinking of myself as a “popular” person, I choose instead to see this as recognition bestowed by someone who thought enough of my work to earn me the honor, with no reflection on themselves because it was done anonymously.

I’ll take that every time, and gratefully!

So, as nominations are again open for this year’s Most Happening List, I reflect on how thrilled I was to receive last year’s honor, and take this opportunity to say thanks to that person who nominated me, and to all those who voted and helped me win. I appreciate everyone who’s ever read my work, and hope you all enjoyed it and will take a look when my next book comes out.

Guest blog, the power of writing

Because I believe writers can change things

The Death of Democracy

This post is out of the ordinary for my author website, not only because it is primarily a guest post, but also because it is political in nature. If that bothers you, it’s probably a good idea to skip this one, but I don’t feel it’s inappropriate to post this material here. My writing to date — including, but not limited to, my books — has been primarily nonfiction and informative in nature. I have not kept my political views entirely out of it, but that part has been low-key.

However, I do believe strongly that published writers have the power to at least open, if not sway, people’s minds, and an equal amount of responsibility that comes with that power.

Today, I’m exercising both, because I am deeply concerned about the future of my beloved country, under a ruler (I cannot refer to him as a leader. Real leadership — in my mind — is not just bold, but noble. “Bully In Chief” is a more accurate descriptor) whose lack of experience, competence and, indeed, proper temperament to hold the highest office in the world, beggars belief.

What I’m sharing here is not a divisive screed against the man who will take office tomorrow. There is plenty of that going around, only adding to people’s angst and, yes, grief. Instead, I’m sharing—with his permission—a simple note from a father to his two daughters, who woke up the day after this past November’s election in disbelief and despair at the outcome.

It is the ONLY thing I have heard or read since the election that has made me feel one bit better, and I’m hoping it will have the same effect on those of like mind, who have been in distress.

[NOTE: I supplied the hotlinks for topics that may need more explanation for some readers. These are not Phil’s, so if you don’t like them, it’s on me.]


Phil Goldsmith is a former Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper writer, deputy mayor, bar association director, bank vice president, executive search consultant and city manager. He is a man who worked much of his career amidst the machinations of politics, but who kept his integrity and a healthy perspective.

AN OLD MAN’S VIEW

Phil Goldsmith

One of the few advantages of getting older is you gain more perspective on life. Or so they say. We older folks like to call it “wisdom.” My supposed wisdom was challenged when my daughter, Jill, emailed me in the early morning hours after Donald Trump, the 70-year-old developer with not an iota of government experience but with a surplus of misogyny, sexism, racism and nativism, was elected the 45th President of the United States, thwarting the former Senator, First Lady and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, from becoming the nation’s first female commander in chief.

“This is all such a colossal disaster. I am really sad and scared about all this…I don’t know how to explain to my boys how a man like him can come to be our democratically elected president in a country like this.”

She didn’t know how to explain it to her “boys” — my grandsons — and I didn’t know how to explain it to my two daughters, Jill and Michele. I didn’t want to blow it away with, “It will get better,” or, “this too will pass,” or throw oil on the fire of anxiety by saying, “It’s horrible; I, too, am fearful.”

Having hardly slept a wink that night — a night when our country took a U-turn — I was still tired when I spotted her early morning email on my phone. I wasn’t ready to respond; my eyes ached, my brain was as clear as if I were peering through a ball of cotton, and my heart ached.

But I didn’t want to delay in responding; there was such a tone of despair in her email.

Michele’s email was no different:

“I am just numb. It is hard to believe that so many Americans are so ignorant and so willing to give this important job to someone so blatantly unprepared and mentally unbalanced. It is difficult to explain to the kids.”

So I pecked away on my iPad as best I could with a response, as I lay in bed:

“I was hoping for a woman president for my wife, two daughters and my grandchildren. How neat it would be to have witnessed a Catholic, black and woman president in my lifetime after more than a century and a half of white male Protestants. But we got stuffed at the goal line.

“Sad and disappointed, yes. But don’t be scared. America is bigger than any one person. And Trump will soon find that out. 

“You will find the right words for the boys, who understand defeat and disappointment from all the sports they play. When I look at history, I believe Martin Luther King said it best. ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’

“That’s the best I can do.”

A few days have since passed, and I actually feel worse than the morning after. Yes, I accept the result and fully understand why it happened: First, every action has an equal and opposite reaction (Newton’s Third Law). In short, after having a black president and seeing a sea change in cultural and legal norms with gays, gay marriage and abortion, the body politic retreated. It’s not the first time and won’t be the last.

It happened after post-Civil War Reconstruction gave way to harsh racist Jim Crow laws; a conservative Warren Harding replaced a progressive Woodrow Wilson just as the New Deal liberal patrician FDR succeeded conservative Herbert Hoover.

The examples of yin and yang in American history are endless. If the pendulum swings too far to the right or to the left, it will in time, find its way closer to the middle.

The second reason for the Trump victory is my belief is that there is nothing worse than ignoring other people. You do so at you own peril. He who is ignored will end up biting you in the ass. In this case, white men — primarily blue-collar workers — felt ignored. And they ended up taking a good bite out of Hillary’s backside.

And, of course, there was the last-minute hand grenade by FBI chief James Comey, who raised the specter of more email problems for Hillary and then, of course, recanted after it was too late. Hillary was at the one yard line, about ready to punch the ball into the end zone, when the refs called a penalty, setting her back and stopping her momentum, only for league officials to later say the penalty shouldn’t have been made. (Excuse me for the sports analogy, but I do think it is quite apt.)

In short, every action has a reaction, and don’t ignore one group when trying to redress the injustices to others.

I can’t stand Donald Trump. Never could. His values are not mine. He has been, in the words of Wharton Professor Adam Grant, a “taker,” not a “giver.”

As for his qualifications, he comes to the nation’s highest office with no government experience, including military service. No other President has assumed office so ill-prepared. The crude running of his mouth during the campaign and his lack of credentials have set a new norm for eligibility for the Presidency and for the way political campaigns, already negative enough, are conducted.

No rhetoric — lies or demagoguery — will be off-limits in the future. And any citizen who is at least 35 years old will now feel qualified to throw their hat in the ring, his or her resume be damned. Walter Mitty, here we come.

America has always been a nation of celebrity worshippers, but now more than ever with the Internet. Whether it be actors, war heroes, sports figures, business moguls or even the Kardashians, whomever they may be, we no longer distinguish image from substance or reality television from reality.

We have elected a professional wrestler — Jessie Ventura — Governor of Minnesota, and a bodybuilder — Arnold Schwarzenegger — as chief executive of California. Donald Trump now follows in their footsteps, but on a much larger stage.

Saddened and disappointed in the result? Absolutely. But I do not despair. And this is where my longevity comes into play.

I was born on April 10th, 1945. Two days later, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, beloved by many, died suddenly after having been recently elected to his fourth term as President. We were still engaged in World War II, our commander in chief now dead. In his place came Harry Truman, a party hack from Independence, Missouri, with a checkered career in business, no college education and only a few months under his belt as Vice President. He had no clue what was going on inside the War Room. He had been kept in the dark.

People cried their eyes out as FDR’s body made its way by train from Warm Springs, Georgia to Washington, D.C. and then to Hyde Park, New York, where he was interred. People despaired about this relatively unknown, former haberdasher Truman fellow moving into the Oval Office. But soon, this disparaged new President presided over the surrender of Japan, desegregation of the military, the recognition of Israel as a new nation, the founding of the United Nations, the introduction and implementation of the Marshall Plan to rebuild war-torn Europe, and began the containment of Communism with the Truman Doctrine.

The nation moved forward. Life went on.

In the early 1950s, the nation, concerned about the rise of a Communist Russia, once its ally, now its Cold War foe, embarked on a witch hunt led by Sen. Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin. People were hauled before Congress to testify whether they were Communists or not, and who they knew who might be. The witch hunt also zeroed in on homosexuals who worked in government.

Our core values of freedom of expression and association were under attack, not from afar but from within. Within time, McCarthy took his act too far, as most bullies do; he fell from grace, the Red Scare came to an end and the nation endured long after McCarthy died.

I was a sophomore in high school when we elected the first Catholic President — John F. Kennedy. He was a debonair, young, war hero. JFK, his beautiful wife Jacqueline and two young children captured the nation’s attention and heart. Then the unexpected. The horrific. On November 22, 1963, as I was driving home from Penn State University — a sophomore — I heard the dreadful news on the radio. He had been assassinated in Dallas.

Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Texan who had none of the charm or charisma of the slain President, replaced him that day. Again people cried, as another President’s body and the cortege made its way up Pennsylvania Avenue. The nation was in mourning, in shock. The handsome Kennedy with a Boston accent, whose wit and poetic words were tailor-made for the new television age, was replaced by a crude Texan with huge ears and a Southern drawl.

So many despaired. Some didn’t accept his legitimacy. Some even thought he conspired to kill JFK. Less than a year later this manipulative, insecure Texan, who reportedly stole an election earlier in his career, used his oversize personality and legislative acumen to win passage of the most far-reaching civil rights law in the nation’s history. No longer could a person legally be denied access to a restaurant, a hotel or other places of public accommodation because of his race; the right to vote became more secure.

The nation survived the tragedy in Dallas. Indeed, it became a better home, though far from perfect, for millions of blacks.

In 1968, when I was in my second year in law school, civil rights leader Martin Luther King was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee where he had gone to show his support for striking sanitation workers. He was a bold, courageous leader, an unbelievable orator who was able to rally blacks as well as many whites to the cause of racial justice. But on April 4th, his voice was stilled at the age of 39, the same age as Malcolm X, another black leader assassinated three years earlier.

Only two months later on June 6th, my hero, Robert Kennedy, was assassinated in Los Angeles, having just won the important California primary in the race to succeed LBJ. He was 43.

Another Kennedy. Another leader. Another light of hope, snuffed out before it could fully illuminate the road to justice. What was happening to our country? We mourned once again and questioned the nation’s values, sanity and our future.

That summer, with the Vietnam War in full force, thousands of Americans dying in a far-off place and being returned home in body bags, the Democratic convention in Chicago was torn asunder, with protests in the streets with police whacking protestors with their blackjacks and spraying them with tear gas. Blood and tears flowed in the streets.

In the convention hall itself, chaos reigned. Civility was nowhere to be seen. The host mayor, Richard Daley of Chicago, took to the podium and screamed at U.S. Senator Abe Ribicoff, “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch, you lousy motherfucker! Go home.” It was all on television for the entire world to see and hear.

Still, a general election ensued and Richard Nixon — or “Tricky Dick,” as many called him—assumed the presidency. A peaceful transition of power had taken place, just as every other transition from one president to another, regardless of president or party has, since our nation was created.

Soon Nixon’s methods caught up with him, as he tried to undermine the Constitution with an array of tactics in what became known as Watergate. We were mesmerized by news accounts each day in The Washington Post, as we learned how the Constitutional fabric of our nation was under attack, directed out of the White House.

Justice eventually prevailed. Nixon resigned in disgrace.

The nation endured as Gerald Ford, Nixon’s appointed Vice-President, succeeded to the Presidency — the first President who was never elected to national office in a country that prides itself on being a country of the people, by the people, for the people.

He was a comforting, decent man from America’s heartland, but decency was not enough to win him election in 1976.

He was defeated by another decent man — Jimmy Carter. But decency wasn’t enough for Carter to be re-elected four years later, either.

Lo and behold, an undistinguished actor by the name of Ronald Reagan became president, holding high the torch of Goldwater conservatism. We were appalled — a B-movie actor, known for his role in Bedtime for Bonzo. (He was lucky John Stewart wasn’t around yet.) In our haste to disparage him, we glossed over the fact that Reagan had been governor of the country’s most populous state for eight years.

Today, history ranks Reagan as one of the nation’s most transformative presidents, though not all Americans agree; then again Americans don’t agree on lots of things.

Eventually, Bill Clinton became president—the second-youngest president elected in the nation’s history, married to a bright, assertive woman by the name of Hillary Rodham Clinton. He defeated the incumbent George H.W. Bush, a former congressman, ambassador to China, and head of the CIA, probably one of the most credentialed men to win the presidency. Bush, too, was a decent man, but only lasted a term.

Bright and articulate as they come, Clinton couldn’t control his testosterone. We learned not only about his pre-Presidential affairs, but also his relationship with a 21-year old intern that occurred in the White House; in fact, under his desk in the Oval Office. We were treated to all the tawdry details. Before we knew it, we faced a constitutional crisis. He was impeached, an overreach by a hostile Republican Congress, but acquitted by the Senate. His presidency survived and so did the country.

At the turn of the millennium, the nation elected Al Gore, Clinton’s Vice President, as president over George W. Bush, former President Bush’s son.

Or so we thought.

He garnered half-a-million more votes than Bush, but the margin in Florida was so razor-thin that the Electoral College hung in the balance. The final result teetered on the answer and a possible recount.     

We didn’t learn the result the next day or the day after, or even the next week.

Weeks went by without a definitive answer. We did not know who our next President would be—the one who won more votes, or the one who would win the court fight.

And so it was that one month after votes were cast, the U.S. Supreme Court intervened and by a 5-4 margin decided, along party lines, to make Bush our 43rd president. He became the fourth person to be elected President without winning the popular vote.

A decade and a half later, Donald Trump would become the fifth.

Democrats were outraged, blacks felt disenfranchised, the image of the once-hallowed Supreme Court became tarnished, the politics of its decision apparent to the naked eye. But on schedule, George W. Bush, whether we liked him or not, was sworn in as President. Once again, another peaceful transition of power.

Less than a year later, a relatively unknown Middle East terrorist group called Al Qaeda attacked the nation. Almost 3,000 people lost their lives, and the world hasn’t been the same since.

Our laws have changed to favor law enforcement. Indeed, I still remember Philadelphia’s police commissioner telling me law enforcement would never be the same. He was right. Tougher laws trumped individual rights; our easy access to public places became impaired; our privacy compromised. And we have been at war ever since, a seemingly never-ending war on terrorism.

To add insult to injury, the economy tanked in 2007. Wall Street crashed, trillions of dollars were lost, millions of people put out of work; all under the stewardship of a president whose election was questionable.

And then what happened? We elected a man who came out of nowhere. A black man. A man with the name of Barack Obama. Elected over a war hero named John McCain, who had been a prisoner of war for seven years in Vietnam.

And what happened next? We re-elected Obama for another four years. And there were other changes that spoke to the nation’s march toward inclusion, like gay marriage. It seemed to happen almost overnight, though we know it was a much longer struggle.   

Only in America.

But not really. Progress was occurring everywhere: Communism was defeated; the Berlin Wall came down, apartheid was eliminated in South Africa, warring factions in Ireland made peace. India was freed from the British yoke of colonialism, Eastern European countries from the draconian net of the Soviet Union, and Cuba from America’s embargo.

By now you get my drift.

During my lifetime, we have endured war, assassinations of promising young leaders, a deep recession, racism, sexism and disputed elections. I have had my heart broken so many times, I have donned an emotional shield. I have been awash at times with cynicism and despair. I have been filled with angst and anger, as I am now with the election of Donald Trump.

And yet, when I look in the rearview mirror of my history from 1945 to present, I marvel at what we as individuals, a people and a nation have been able to endure and change for the better.

And let’s not forget our much earlier history, when blacks were considered chattel; when one section of the country took up arms against another section, and more than 500,000 Americans died; when women could not vote; when we excluded the Chinese from our country; when we stole land from Native Americans, when the doors of immigration were slammed shut; when Japanese-Americans were interned; when blacks could not play professional sports, and when interracial marriage was illegal but sterilization was not.

It’s not a pretty picture, but America is a work of art in progress.   And in my lifetime, many of those blemishes have been erased—we are a far more inclusive and tolerant society than the one I was born into. That is beyond dispute, as is the fact that we still have far more progress to make, as this election has shown us. The great challenge is for us to be able to continue down the path of inclusion without having those already sitting at the table feeling they are then excluded.

Progress is not static; it needs to be tended to and nurtured like a garden, for there will always be some who will seek to up-end the new growing roots. Or as Isabel Wilkerson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for tracing the migration of six million blacks from the south to the north, says, “Our country is like a really old house; old houses need a lot of work and the work is never done. Just when you think you finished one renovation, it’s time to do something else.”

What is critically important to point out is that none of this progress occurred on its own. People fought, protested and died to repaint the canvas we call America. America, from its inception, has always been a contest between who is and who is not included in our society. And the fact that a particular group or individual is included does not mean it will remain that way. There are always those who are looking to put up roadblocks to hinder that inclusion—whether these be literacy tests or new voter I.D. rules or allowing big money into politics.

The challenge each of us has during her lifetime is to decide what role to play in this struggle to root out the weeds in our garden or, to use Wilkerson’s analogy, renovate another room in this old house.

We need not be Joan of Arc or Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks or Jackie Robinson; nor Branch Rickey or Lucretia Mott or Gloria Steinem or Mother Teresa.

I realize this may not be the time to dive in. Our scars may still be too raw. Some people’s initial reaction to a threat is to take flight; others to fight. We may need more time to process how, why and what happened.

But somehow, some way, we need to do something, using whatever time, skills and resources we possess.

All this will be made harder to stomach because we will now have to watch that narcissistic egomaniac take center stage. And we will watch many who spurned him a few months ago grovel and genuflect, now that he is in power.

But remember: the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Remember that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

In due course, we will find our voices, re-energize ourselves, and help our nation recapture the better angels of our nature.

In the meantime, let’s remember that more people voted against him than for him.

That’s a start.

Uncategorized

My narrative nonfiction writing process

Narrative Nonfiction Process graphic

A fellow author, who is about to embark on her own first narrative nonfiction book, recently asked me about the storytelling process I used for my book, Devastation on the Delaware: Stories and Images of the Deadly Flood of 1955. “You nailed it!” she wrote, and wondered how she could have confidence of doing the same.

Devastation on the Delaware cover, 3rd editionOf course I was flattered by the compliment, but I must admit, it was my first foray into narrative nonfiction, too, and I was none too confident myself before I began. But I know I’m a decent writer, and I knew I had a whopper of a good story to tell. In my mind, it was mine to screw up, and I’d have had to work pretty hard to do that. So I was surprisingly uncowed by the challenge.

As I tell people now, if I’d known how the project was going to eat my life for the next three years, I’d never even have started…so I’m glad I didn’t know, since that book changed my life in so many ways, all of them good. And one of them was coming to understand that the way I chose to approach the writing was spot on. In the ten years since the book came out, I’ve had exactly one person take issue with the way I chose to write it (you can find his comments in an Amazon review). And given that the book has sold in excess of 6,500 copies, that’s a ratio I can live with.

So, in the interest of believing that there are other writers out there who may be struggling with how to get started on their own narrative nonfiction projects, I’m sharing here my reply to my friend’s inquiry. Not that my way is the One Right Way (I don’t believe there is such a thing for any given effort), but I hope that perhaps knowing how I approached a narrative nonfiction book that has become a success will help you plan for your own successful new book. You may find some fresh ideas or—dare I hope?—nuggets of wisdom, or maybe just a different way of thinking about something that can help you move forward.

My writing process for “Devastation on the Delaware”

The Perfect Storm book coverThere was no big process, really. I had recently read Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm and Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm. I loved how they were done, and figured, why reinvent the wheel? If it works, copy it! So I did.

I knew I needed to write it in narrative nonfiction style to keep it from becoming boring, so I knew that I’d have to find certain people — real ones — who lived through the flood and had good stories to tell, but whose experience would also represent the larger experience of the folks in their respective geographic regions, and that I’d have to write them like characters in a novel. Hence the degree of background about each one, and pre-event lead-up. Yes, it took time and space, but it was necessary. And I was always mindful of not allowing that material to become an info dump and slow down the pacing of the narrative.isaacsStorm

As far as piecing them together to form a cohesive narrative, that part was unexpectedly easy and done for me — I simply chose people who were located at various points along the river, which was easy because I interviewed more than 100 of them. So that was Stage 1.

Then, once I had introduced them all and created their backstories, came Stage 2: I decided that the river’s natural history was such an integral part of understanding how the event unfolded, that I gave it its own chapter, the earliest one in the book after the introduction. I did the same with the cultural flavor and the meteorological and technological status of the mid-1950s, because these were also critical factors in how the response to the event unfolded. Then I proceeded to weave more of all of this in with the current situations/scenarios in which the “characters” now found themselves immediately prior to the flood.

Stage 3, though the longest haul, was actually the easiest. I just took the actual flooding event chronologically, which meant I started geographically with the northernmost point of coverage in the book, which was Port Jervis, NY/Matamoras, PA, and then followed the flood crest south along the river through Trenton, NJ. This was the perfect, literal “channel” through which to revisit the characters, who would in turn all be touched by the flood in one way or another.

I was careful at all times to keep it real and detailed enough to evoke the visceral emotions — terror, fear, confusion, excitement, etc. — without overwhelming the reader with too much information. That was critical to keep the pacing tight. My goal was to create the anti-boring historical textbook: I wanted it to read like a page-turning thriller. So one device I employed doggedly was ending each chapter on a note of impending action or doom earlier in the book, and with cliffhangers during the action part.

Probably the slowest section of the read was Part III – The Aftermath. Necessarily, the reader now sags along with the actual flood victims from post-adrenaline surge, and it was a challenge to get through all the post-flood politics, the blaming, the new anti-building in the flood plain zoning, the whole Tocks Island debacle, etc. without losing the audience. Once again, I turned to the emotional core of the story. I delved into the details of carefully chosen people whose personal experiences mirrored the larger zeitgeist of what others were going through. Again, very thoroughly considered, details carefully winnowed down to the essential, telling, emotional pith.

Damming the Delaware book coverAnd then the windup of the whole story: Again, I was blessed with the gift of Dick Albert (rest his soul)  having written his Damming the Delaware book, which I could essentially summarize in a few short paragraphs and simply tell those who wanted more detail to read the book for themselves. I was hyper aware of not getting derailed (which would have been SO easy!) by these other stories, which were really large enough to deserve their own books. I was disciplined about only mentioning them enough to provide necessary context for the end of the flood event. I had to keep in the front of my mind that I was ONLY telling the story of the flood itself. I provided lots of detail in the setup so that, during the action segment, I could just blow through it like an adventure sequence, and then at the end, I could wrap it up fairly quickly without losing my reader.

As far as my interview process in capturing the individual stories, I began with a very detailed list of questions of my own creation. I did have one question I asked every single interviewee, which was, “What’s the one thing you remember most about the flood?” (Incidentally, to a person, the answer was identical: “The smell.”) The rest I came up with by knowing where each interviewee was located at the time of the flood and how they could contribute to the telling of the story both insofar as how it affected their part of the river, plus how their personal situations were affected.

I also made use of any specialized knowledge they brought to the situation. For example: One guy was a bridge cop down in Bristol. One lady was a columnist for the New Hope Gazette. One lady’s late husband had been a captain up at the Tobyhanna Army Depot, which was so involved in search, rescue and recovery. I really went to town on the questions for these folks, because they had so much info others could not have had. I wasn’t afraid for my interviews to go past an hour, and quickly learned that when people were asked about this event, they weren’t afraid to keep talking for HOURS on the subject.

I did take written notes, but I mostly just recorded the interviews for later playback. I used a microcassette recorder back then, but today I’d just use either a digital recorder or my iPhone’s Audio Notes app. Having those recordings was not only helpful later while writing, to go back to listen to their intonations, pauses, sometimes the way their voices broke when telling a sad story; it is also of value now because I can use the recordings via social media and the book’s website to continue to promote the book, as well as use them as part of a DVD I’m putting together as an adjunct product to sell.

Important note: I anticipated using them this way, so when I asked each interviewee to sign off on usage permissions, I included these uses on the permission sheet. I also made sure to start the recording, remind them of how they agreed for me to use their testimony, and got them agreeing to it on tape, a good legal thing to do.

Craft, General Writing, Technique, Tips, Writing process

A Few Thoughts on Editing

red-pencil

During a recent course I was teaching on researching for historical fiction and nonfiction, we got to discussing a bit about editing, as I mentioned that as an author, you can dump in everything that you learn that fascinates you on the first draft, but that much of it will need to be removed during the edit, to keep the story from dragging because of an info dump.

Not for the first time, I encountered a student who seemed horrified at the very idea of editing himself at all. I tried to reassure him that, when an author does it on his own work, it’s not really considered editing but simply rewriting. “Writing IS rewriting,” I told him. “No one nails it on the first draft, not even Stephen King.”

He was crestfallen. Clearly, the whole idea of having to go back over his work with a critical eye was absolutely mortifying. And of course, he’s not the first writer to have this reaction, but it did bring home to me how many folks really believe that everything that flows from their fingers on the keyboard or their pen on the pad is sacrosanct as written; held dear and precious, as though graven on tablets and handed to Moses on the mount.

I admit that at one time, I was one of those people. But having minored in writing in college and worked as a professional writer at least part time since about age 25 (I’ve since doubled that lap around the block and more), I long since got over any notion of precious writing. So I always have to remember that my students haven’t usually had that much time to adjust their thinking and grow a thicker skin.

But that doesn’t change the fact that they will have to get used to the notion that rewriting (or self-editing) is a necessity for serious writers. I hesitate to use the term “editing” for this process, because I don’t believe any writer can or should perform final editing on their own work. It’s really impossible: once you’ve spent that much time with a piece of work, you just know it too well. You’ve seen it too often to spot the errors, and simply cannot be objective enough. So it MUST go to a second party with fresh eyes (and adequate skill) to be called a true “edit.”

Until then, I consider all secondary activity by an author after the first draft to be “rewriting.” And I consider it a requirement of anyone hoping to be published (or even to publish themselves with any measure of success) to rewrite at least one round. Yes, there may be the rare exception to this rule, but I’ve never seen one. I’ve never encountered a single writer in all my years whose first pass won’t benefit from a fresh look, either from themselves or someone else qualified to evaluate writing.

So, with that thought, I offer this link to a great piece by Anna Elliott from Writer Unboxed, on The Dos and Dont’s of Editing. I hope you find it useful in your self-editing/rewriting, before you submit it to a real editor. Because I believe that first draft writing is largely about the creative and the technical, but the real craft of writing is in the rewriting. It’s where we get out of our Creator mind and into our Critic mind. Both are necessary to produce excellent work, but generally they do not happily co-exist at the same time in any given piece of writing. Good luck!

Author Interview, Awards, Books, Inspiration

A visit with fellow author and pet lover, Barbara Techel

barbtechel
Author and indie publisher Barbara Techel

 

I’ve been privileged to know Barbara Techel since she and I were both relative newbies to indie publishing. I had just published Almost Perfect: Disabled Pets and the People Who Love Them, and Barb was in the process of publishing her first children’s book, Frankie the Walk ‘n Roll Dog through her publishing house, Joyful Paw Prints Press. Also a self-published author, she reached out to ask me some questions about promoting books about disabled pets, and in the ensuing years, she has become one of my favorite people on the planet.

Since completing her Frankie series of children’s books, Barb has gone on to write and publish a couple nonfiction titles. The first was Class Act: Sell More Books Through School and Library Author Appearances, which I had the honor of editing. It’s the only book solely on this subject, and is absolutely stuffed with useful information for any author trying to promote their book.

Barb’s latest nonfiction effort is Through Frankie’s Eyes: One woman’s journey to her authentic self, and the dog on wheels who led the way. It’s a courageous sharing of Barb’s personal story, about how her entire life was transformed by the love of a small red dachshund who lost the use of her back legs. Barb was inspired by her miniature dachshund, Frankie, who ruptured a disk in her lower back when she was 6 years old and was given only a 30% chance of walking again. This led Barb to have Frankie custom-fit for a dog cart to help her walk again. Through Frankie’s Eyes is a moving read she sent me at a time when I was going through some personal struggles of my own, and I found it inspiring and uplifting, at a time when I really needed that. So I’m sharing with you here a recent visit with Barb about this marvelous book, in hopes that perhaps it can do the same for you.

Through Frankie's Eyes book cover

Q. What was your initial reaction when your dog was given only a 30% chance of walking again?

I was devastated. I couldn’t imagine what Frankie’s life would be like if she didn’t walk on her own again. And just as I talk about my book and being honest, I share that I questioned if I even wanted to take care of a handicapped pet. How would my own life change? How would I do this? I was scared.

But I loved Frankie so much and I wanted to give her a chance. It changed me in a way I never saw coming, and I’m so grateful.

Q. Was Frankie’s injury the impetus to help other dogs with disabilities?

Very much so. I never had even heard about dog wheelchairs (also called dog carts) before this happened to Frankie. When I had Frankie custom-fitted for her wheelchair, I was amazed at how she could do pretty much all the same things she did before her paralysis. Her wheelchair was just a tool to help her live a quality life.

When Frankie became paralyzed in 2006, I didn’t really hear of any other dogs such as her who were in wheelchairs. It was part of the reason I wrote a children’s book, Frankie the Walk ‘N Roll Dog about her, to help spread a positive message and educate not only small children, but parents and grandparents who would read the story to their kids/grandkids and they could learn that dogs with disabilities can lead a great life if given a chance.

Q.  Your story, Cassie & Frankie Inspire a Writer, won an honorable mention award in 2007, in a contest sponsored by Linda and Allen Anderson of Angel Animals Network. Who is Cassie, and were you  inspired to help just Frankie when you wrote the book or article, or did it move you to help other disabled dogs, as well?

Cassie was my chocolate Lab, who passed away in 2005 from terminal bone cancer. She inspired me to become a writer. I was in awe of how she continued to be happy even though a tumor in her body was growing and would eventually take her life. It awakened me to go after what it was that would bring me more joy, and to live my own life to the fullest. Though cliché, it hit me over the head how short life really is.

Little did I know that nine months after Cassie’s death, Frankie would then become paralyzed. Though it was painful and tough at the beginning of Frankie’s ordeal, I knew I was being presented with an opportunity to spread a positive message.

FrankieLegacyQ. Has being the owner of a disabled dog made you more sensitive to disabled people?

You know, I’ve always been sensitive to disabled people. But I’d say my empathy and compassion deepened. Even more than that, my respect for them grew, as I realized even more what they are up against in their day-to-day lives.

Q. You are an advocate of the human-animal bond. What can you tell us about animal communication?

I’m very fascinated by the human-animal bond. I honestly believe if not for my dogs, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. I’ve learned so much from them and feel I’m a better human being because of having them in my life.

One thing that concerns me is that I don’t know that we take the time to really see and tune into our pets. I know it’s not always easy in our very busy, day-to-day lives, and believe me — I’m not perfect at this, either. But I truly believe they are trying to help us mortal human beings to live more consciously, and to awaken to living more fully in the present moment.

Q. What can dogs teach us?

The list is endless! For me, I’ve learned to appreciate nature. I’ve learned to live more in the here and now. I’ve learned to worry less. I’ve learned to be still more often. I’ve learned not to take life too seriously. I’ve learned to be positive and look for blessings in challenges. I’ve learned that it’s okay to take a nap in the middle of the day.

NWRDDlogoQ. I understand you created National Walk ‘n Roll Dog Day, which is observed annually on September 22. How are paralyzed dogs helped because of this day?

Yes, I am the founder of National Walk ‘N Roll Dog Day, which I launched in 2012. This special day is in memory of Frankie, created in honor of all dogs in wheelchairs around the world. Frankie touched the lives of thousands during her six years in a wheelchair, visiting schools in my state of Wisconsin. She even became a dog who visited schools via Skype! Frankie also touched many lives as a therapy dog visiting hospice, hospitals and nursing homes.

I was so inspired by Frankie and all the dogs in wheelchairs that I wanted to have this special day in their honor. It’s my hope to continue to shine a positive light on these dogs, who overcome adversity so beautifully. We can learn so much from their amazing spirits.

Along with this special day, I created The Frankie Wheelchair Fund. This fund grants wheelchairs to paralyzed dogs who may otherwise not have been able to have one, such as when their families are in financial stress, or the dog is in a rescue situation. To date, we have granted 32 wheelchairs to dogs in need.

Benefits of writing, Craft, Inspiration, local author, writers conference

Recharging Those Batteries

Since the economic meltdown of 2008, I’m probably not alone in saying it hasn’t been the best of times for writers and marketers and publishers — all of which I am, and that’s how I make my living. Still, I make it a point to find the means to attend at least one writers’ conference a year if at all possible.

I worked so hard to be able to call myself a writer, not so much for what it means to others as to believe it myself. I come from a family of writers, so it’s kind of in my genes, I guess. But being able to make a living this way is hard for pretty much anyone, unless you’ve reached those dizzying heights of bestsellerdom. And even then, there’s no guarantee the party will go on forever.

So we do what we have to do to be able to write, and for me, one of those things is recharging my writing “batteries” each year. I belong to several writing organizations, all of which offer great conferences. I usually find myself having to choose between them, so I try to rotate among them from year to year.

This year, I not only got to attend, but to present, at one of the finest regional writers’ conferences I’ve experienced: The Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group conference, “The Write Stuff.” And what a delight it was!

Not only were my sessions a blast, with engaged, interested audiences and fantastic questions, but I also got to attend a few sessions myself. My favorite, I must admit, was author Kathryn Craft‘s “Writing That Matters.” This seminar fed my writer’s soul in a way that I haven’t experienced in a while, and led me to finally purchase her newest novel, The Art of Falling.

The Art of Falling, by Kathryn Craft

I just finished that today — reluctantly, I’ll admit; as I neared the end, I had been rationing pages because I didn’t want it to be over. It turned out to be more than a book: It made my head explode with a simple yet profound insight on a personal struggle I’ve been facing; insight that’s been much sought and badly needed. I closed the book with tears of gratitude in my eyes. This…THIS is what writing is all about, folks.

Aside from the fantastic reading it provided, The Art of Falling reminded me of the powerful nature of truly engaging, compelling writing. Often, we as authors get so wrapped up in the work of it, the technique of it, the pickety-pickety nature of the writing and publishing process, that it’s easy to forget that what we’re doing is nearly always a labor of love, and that there was some reason that drove us to do it in the first place.

That reason differs with each person, but I daresay they all have one thing in common: We want our writing to leave a mark on our readers.

I left The Write Stuff having enjoyed the company of other serious writers, having spent time with delightful people such as keynote speaker Hank Phillippi Ryan (whom I was so happy to sit next to at the book fair—what a fantastic human being!) and the wonderful event organizers who worked their butts off to make the event the success that it was.

I floated on a cloud all the way home, reminded of why I write, and how lucky I am to be surrounded by so much real talent here in my little corner of Pennsylvania.

Books, Characterization, Craft, Creative process, General Writing, Genres, Plot, Promotion, Publishing Industry, Research, Setting, Technique

The Year of Teaching

Last year, after several years of being asked to consult with other authors and indie publishers, I finally formalized this part of my marketing business into a consultancy called The Indie Navigator. Since then, I’ve been pretty busy making appearances in that incarnation, helping my fellow writers become authors and indie publishers, and helping those indie publishers become better at the business of publishing.

Print

But I haven’t forgotten the whole reason we’re all doing this: Because we love to write, and want to get our work into the hands of as many readers as possible. So one of the things I made up my mind to do this year is learn more about the technical craft of writing for myself, while I help my fellow authors with marketing, promotion and self-publishing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To make that happen, I’ve been busy the first part of this New Year scheduling appearances as the Indie Navigator in venues where I can do both of these at once. I’m excited to announce that I’ll have the chance to do just that coming up in March, when I’ll be teaching two seminars at The Write Stuff annual conference, hosted by the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 5.38.51 PM

I first spoke at this conference back in 2009, and was so impressed by how professional and well-run it was, I joined the writer’s group that hosted it. I’ve been a proud member ever since. GLVWG (pronounced “GLIV-wig”) is a friendly, very active group, large enough to support many helpful and enjoyable activities and resources for its membership, but not so large you feel lost or insignificant. I strongly recommend joining for anyone in the Lehigh Valley area who may be struggling with living the writing life and needs some support. It’s a truly warm, welcoming organization wholly supportive of its members success, whether that be as a part-time amateur poet or a full-time professional author…and anything in between.

Author Mary Shafer speaks at the Cat Writers Association Conference

On Friday, March 21, I’ll be teaching a four-hour seminar from 1:00-5:00 pm, titled “Indie Publishing Intensive: A Quick-Start Guide to Self-Publishing.” The first half will be the “what-to” part – an expansion of my popular seminar, “Identity Crisis: What Is A Publisher, and Should I Become One?” It’s an overview of the book publishing industry, including a brief history of traditional publishing and how that background has shaped our current world of indie publishing. This helps potential indie publishers understand why things evolved the way they have (when so much of it seems not to make sense otherwise). Then it delves deeply into

  • What it really means to BE a book publisher vs. an author
  • Why it’s important to perform a reality-based “gut check” to determine if you have what it takes to be a long-term book publisher
  • The processes and paperwork you need to complete and for the appropriate agencies who can authorize you as legally recognized book publisher in the United States
  • Moving from manuscript to printed, bound book and ebook
  • Getting your book listed with the major online retailers, onto store shelves and into readers’ hands
  • The all-important promotional component

The second half of the session will be the “how-to” element. This seminar, titled “Switching Hats: Moving From Author to Indie Publisher,” gets to the gist of how to go about all the “what-tos” covered in the first half. It’ll cover all the nitty-gritty that’s possible in a single session, supported by a generous Q&A session during which attendees can ask anything they want about the whole indie publishing process.

I’ll also be offering on-the-spot critiques of first pages during the Page Cuts session on Friday evening. Then on Saturday, I’ll be leading a session titled “Narrative Nonfiction: Finding Freedom in Form and Function.” This session will cover the nuts-and-bolts of researching and writing true-life stories with a blend of journalism using fiction techniques in a format popularized by author Sebastian Junger. It’ll be a fast-moving, info-packed seminar on this increasingly popular writing style, now employed across nearly every genre you can imagine.

I hope you can join me, along with my colleagues Kathryn Craft, Phil Giunta, Scott Nicholson and many more, at this always-wonderufl event, this year headlined by keynote speaker Hank Philippi Ryan, bestselling suspense novelist!

Keynote speaker Hank Philippi Ryan enraptures her audiences.Keynote speaker Hank Philippi Ryan always enraptures her audiences.

Author Interview, Benefits of writing, Blog, Inspiration

The Fellowship of Writers

It’s been a busy couple of weeks here at the offices of The Word Forge (my marketing consultancy) and Word Forge Books, my publishing company.

CelebrateTheBookLast weekend, I attended the “Celebrate the Book” Festival in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I think it’s the fourth time I’ve done this show, and I always enjoy it. Not only does it give me an excuse to travel back toward my old stomping grounds of central PA—beautiful any time of year, but especially in the colorful fall, and even more so when the early morning drive usually provides a stunning vista of rolling farmland with a huge harvest moon hanging overhead (sorry, no photos — I was driving alone)–but it’s always a wonderfully produced show, with great floor staff and good organization. If you’ve ever exhibited at any kind of show like this, you’ll appreciate what I mean. And this year, it was held in a larger, more modern and more well-lighted venue, so that’s always fun to experience a new place.

Then yesterday, I christened my new author/publisher consulting business with its first exhibit table at the First Annual Pocono Writers Conference. That was also fun — got to participate in the day-long, multiple panel discussions with a nice array of professional writers, while introducing my new Indie Navigator consulting service to attendees. And for a first-time event, it was well put together and covered a lot of ground in writing-related topics. Thanks os much to fantasy author Michael Ventrella for organizing the event, and to the Eastern Monroe Public Library for hosting.

All this activity reminds me of one of the things I love best about being a writer: the fellowship. As with any group that develops around a common interest, writers are a varied lot, often with just that one thing in common. But writing is one of those pursuits that’s most often longer on intrinsic personal value than commercial remuneration, so those who heed its calling tend to be a passionate bunch. And I love that.

Writers have something of a reputation as egotists and poseurs, and to be sure, those people definitely have their place among our ranks. But my personal experience when meeting other writers at conferences and author events and book festivals is most often one of cordial give-and-take among a group of uncommonly kind and generous people genuinely interested in supporting each other. I have had the same experience among independent publishers, especially at large industry gathering like Book Expo America. I truly believe there is no more giving trade group than the people in indie publishing.

This may be true in other industries, I don’t know. I never really got that involved in such trade groups when I worked in advertising or graphic design. Or auto mechanics or law enforcement for that matter…but I digress.

My point is that, while writers necessarily spend a great deal of time working in a solitary environment that offers little opportunity for social interplay, writers’ conferences, workshops and author events offer that chance on an intense level. I have learned over the years to take advantage of such opportunities when they present themselves, because it’s not just a matter of catching up on the latest industry trends and other things I should be professionally aware of; it’s also a rare chance to interact on a social and professional level with others who’ve chose this solitary pursuit, as well. And that’s solid gold.

An excellent example is just such an author event I had the good fortune to attend, Local Authors Night hosted by the Barnes & Noble situated between Easton and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I got to gather with 50 of my regional scribbler brethren at the busy venue to sell and sign our books and to visit with those who purchased them. It wasn’t a boffo sales coup, but I didn’t care. I happened to have the good fortune to be seated next to bestselling psycho crime author Katherine Ramsland, whom I’d wanted to meet for years. We had a great time chatting and getting to know each other (she’s a weather freak, too — who knew?), and exchanged our latest books. Then, she graciously invited me to guest post on her fantastic blog!

RamslandBlog

So today, I’m sharing that with you here, with the reminder that all authors, however successful, started somewhere and are people just like you and me. And many — even most — of them remember that, even when they’re busy enjoying their rewards, and reach down to help the rest of us up to their level. Just one of the many reasons I love being a writer.

Tips

It’s that time of year again…

Fall Trees

5 TIPS FOR FALL HOUSECLEANING FOR WRITERS

Ah, fall…that most beautiful of seasons, bringing with it the bounty of the harvest, crisp days, frosty nights and abundant leaves swirling in autumn winds. And yeah, it’s also that time of year when many of us are looking ahead to the long winter, and having to spend more time in our offices because sometimes it’s just easier than going out in the snow to write elsewhere, or because we just feel more productive in our own spaces.

That means we also need to actually BE more productive there, and that means a bit of fall cleaning. One of the biggest areas where it’s easy to get behind is organization: clearing out unused clutter, filing, arranging and recycling. Here are five tips to help you get through this necessary task to keep you operating at optimum output for the closed-in months.

  1. Plastic File DrawersPILES FOR MILESDo you REALLY need all that paperwork that’s lying around in piles or stashed away in file drawers? Writers are, by nature, researchers, and that makes us all something of the packrat. But it’s amazing what you can live without if you just devote an afternoon to clearing out what you know you’ll never use again if you’re really honest with yourself. And if you can’t live without it, at least file it where you can actually find it when you need it. If you can’t afford the expense or space of a real filing cabinet, a carton of cardboard filing storage boxes is less than $20 delivered from most major office supply stores. Or, if you’re a visual organizer like I am, those see-through plastic drawer systems are available in either stationary or portable, wheeled “trolley” designs.
  2. FILING AND STORAGE – Many of us are left-brain thinkers and tend to be less than regimented in our filing and storage systems. But it truly does help to clear off the desktop and other surfaces in your office at least once a quarter. It’s a physical break from the day-to-day grind that translates into a mental break as well. So take a weekend every three months and file your papers, recycle any accumulated waste, and put things away. Do the same on your computer: back up your current files to an external drive, archive your old, completed jobs on CD or DVD (use good ones so you can depend on them and make a duplicate you keep securely off-site in case of an emergency or disaster), and get all those stray files off your cyber desktop. Not only does that visual clutter take its mental toll, the unfiled files lingering on your desktop actually slow your CPU down.
  3. BOOKS – How about all those books on your shelves? Are you really still using those “how-to” volumes you bought when you first struck out on your own? If not, donate them to your public library, especially if you live in a small town. These types of books might be the thing that helps another struggling freelancer on his/her way to success, and small libraries have very limited budgets, so may not otherwise be able to offer these titles.
  4. USER-FRIENDLY REFERENCE MATERIALS – If you haven’t already done so, arrange your reference books so that the ones you use most often are closest to you. It helps to have a desk with a few shelves for your thesaurus/wordfinder (and yes, the paper kind is still more thorough than the online versions), dictionary, usage/style guides, quotation collections, etc. right at your fingertips. And this may seem like a no-brainer, but it helps to have your research library arranged by topic if you write often in certain fields. I can’t believe how many people insist on an alphabetical or strict Dewey decimal shelving system. Shelve them the way you use them!
  5. Old CRT MonitorRECYCLING – Sure, you’re probably used to recycling your paper, cardboard, plastic and glass. Even the most rural communities now have some sort of public recycling program. But what about all those hazardous waste items you’re not allowed to send to your everyday recycling? Many communities now hold recycling events in September or October that include collection of toxic materials, though some also schedule these events in April to coincide with Earth Day celebrations. Now’s the time to get rid of the little clutter of expired batteries (you’re NOT putting those in your regular trash, are you?) and old aerosol cans; the medium-size clutter of empty paint cans and old cans and jars of solvents or other noxious chemicals you used to spruce up the office but that you’re not going to use anymore; and the large space-eaters like old computers and CRT monitors. If the latter are still usable, consider donating them to a local private school or church, or listing them on your local FREEcycle online group (freecycle.org, an independent network that promotes waste reduction and helps save our landscapes from being taken over by landfills). Though many places will accept a limited number of these items and substances for free during these public collection events, many are moving toward a small fee-per-item for things like CRT monitors and TVs, to cover the disposal costs of the heavy metals contained therein. In our area, it’s $5 each during these events and sometimes a bit more if you just can’t wait and need to haul your items directly to a local recycling firm between public events.

 

Uncategorized

Revisiting an interview with author Andrea Campbell

Before many of us were blogging, there were more author newsletters. I was fortunate to be interviewed by the author of one of these, Soup’s On!Andrea Campbell. In this excerpt from her New Year’s 2009 issue, Andrea talks with me about one of my “pet” projects (yes, pun intended), the 2008 genre-pioneering anthology, Almost Perfect: Disabled Pets and the People Who Love Them.

APFrtCvr72

The following material is ©2009 by Andrea. I’m posting it here because some of you may have missed it.

Andrea: Mary, you are editor of the new book, ALMOST PERFECT: Disabled Pets and the People Who Love Them. Can you tell readers a bit about your background and then how the idea came up?

Mary: Well, I’m a full time freelance writer who makes her living about equally in three different areas: marketing/commercial copywriting, editorial articles for trade magazines, and books. My last book was my first self-published effort, and I decided to do it right, launching a full-fledged publishing company with the intent to provide a forum for other less-well-known writers like myself. So that‚s how I came to be a book publisher. Almost Perfect came about because of a particular experience I had as a pet owner.

My partner, Shelly, and I have four cats, all rescues with special needs: I scraped Weaver off the highway just after he‚d been hit by a car. We got Winkie from an older woman who already had six cats and felt unable to take him after he wandered into her yard with his eye hanging out. Boo Kitty was a feral girl who’d been brought to the SPCA across the river, which wouldn’t keep her because she’d been bitten on the spine and they couldn’t guarantee potential adoptees that she wouldn’t develop rabies or some other such disease. But the critter who inspired the book is Idgie, who came to us through an adoption program at one of the big box pet stores. She was born without eyes and testing positive to feline leukemia.

I’ll let the book tell that whole story, but it was watching Idgie grow up and insist on living a full life despite all the odds against her that made me think other people must have similar stories to tell about how a supposedly “disabled” creature changed their lives through inspiration. So I put out a call for submissions via the Internet at a bunch of writing and pet sites.

Andrea: How did you choose the stories that went into Almost Perfect and how many submissions did you receive?

Mary: I received 42 stories in reply. Chose them first according to quality of writing and storytelling, then culled a second time according to what species were being covered. I didn’t want to have too many of one and not enough of something else. I would like to have had more variety, but of course most people own cats or dogs. I did chose one rat story, which is great.

Andrea: What can you tell us about Word Forge Books?

Mary: It’s a small, independent press that I formed in June, 2005. I have eclectic interests, so we have eight different imprints. Heavy on history, animals, weather and MidAtlantic regional topics. Our tagline is “Bringing You the World Through Words.” A secondary tag is “celebrating what’s wondrous about the world.” That’s my main goal: to inform with nonfiction and give people hopeful fiction, too. I don’t think we need any more nihilist or depressing stories on our shelves. One thing we try to do with appropriate titles is identify an organization that meshes with our subject and do a give-back. For instance, 25¢ from every copy of Almost Perfect sold goes to support Animal Welfare Karpathos on the Greek isles. One of the book’s contributors founded this pet rescue and still volunteers there.

Andrea: Is this book in other formats? and, what is your opinion on e-books or the future of e-books?

Mary: It‚s still just in print, but will very soon be available as a downloadable PDF. I’m working on getting our website ready for that functionality right now. We’re also looking into making it available for the Amazon Kindle and the Sony eReader. I’ll likely also make it available as an audio mp3, if not on CD-ROM.

As for the future of eBooks in general, they’re here to stay, no doubt in my mind. Especially as iPhone-type mobile accessories evolve, mp3s and eBooks will only get more popular. Commuters, moms waiting in the doctor’s office, students between classes˜anyone with time to kill, who‚d rather use it productively. Also great for business people wanting to improve their skill sets, and audiobooks are hugely popular with long-distance drivers and frequent flyers. But unlike many, I don’t believe any kind of eDevice will ever completely overtake traditionally printed books. There’s just a warm, tactile quality to the printed page that you can’t get any other way. And you don’t have to have any batteries!

Andrea: What would you like readers to know about Almost Perfect?

Mary: I’d most like them to come away from it with the idea that the next time they see a disabled animal, they think of the animal’s power to inspire first, instead of the disability. I want readers to think about animals with disabilities in a new way, instead of “Oh, poor Fluffy!” or whatever. I want them to marvel instead of feeling sorry. The book was intended to inspire and celebrate. And that they can order online at almostperfectbook.com or call 610-847-2456.

UPDATE:

Strange to read this and realize it was pre-iPad revolution. The book is now available for Kindle on Amazon.com. And the contributor who ran Animal Welfare Karpathos is now living in the United States, but still supporting that worthwhile organization, the only rescue on that Greek island. You can find Andrea Campbell on LinkedIn, among other places on the Web.

Thanks, Andrea, for a great interview!