Monday, June 30, 2008

Writing through the thoughts

There's a reason why I've named my blog "I Breathe; Therefore, I Write." Writing is second nature to me. If there is something troubling me, I want to write it out. If I need to think things through, I write the thoughts. If I have to make a decision, I write out the pros and cons.

This week I had a couple of things that were weighing heavily on me. One was a comment made by a friend. It was the type of comment that if I had pressed the point, I wouldn't have gotten anywhere. But it bothered me enough that I had to write about it. Once I did, I stopped thinking about it almost instantly.

The other thing was one of my clients, my second longest client. Unlike any of my other jobs, this one caused me a lot of stress and the cons were beginning to outweigh the pros. I decided to talk to a group of my writing friends who would understand, for the first time really putting the details of the job out in front of me. I knew it was time to part ways, but there was that part of me that was saying "this is my security line for the slow times!" that didn't want to let go. But once I saw it on paper (so to speak), spilling all the thoughts from my brain, I had finally managed to convince myself.

Truly, if I couldn't write, I might as well not breathe.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Manic Monday

Ever have one of those Mondays when you wish Sunday just rolled over for another day? I'm having one of those days.

Don't get me wrong. I love my job and I usually don't mind Mondays. When I worked in an office for somebody else, Sunday nights would turn into a giant stressball, and I'd get a knot in my stomach about having to start the work week again. It was like that even when I was in a job I enjoyed. There was something about getting out of bed early, getting dressed in uncomfortable clothes, and having to spend my days following someone else's orders.

Freelancing has taken a lot of the stress out of Mondays. I know what's on my calendar and I have a good idea of what needs to be done. Most days I can come to my office at my leisure, be comfortable, and slide into my week.

But there are days like today, with a calendar full of interview calls, a to-do list a mile long (with more calls to make to set up interviews), lots of little things and a couple of articles to write to round off the day. But it didn't bode well when my 9 am -- early for me -- interview was busy and had to call me later (and didn't provide much information; not good), and my 10:30 interview for an article due today and already rescheduled from last week, didn't get back to me until 11:15, and well, it's been one of those days already.

Writing in my blog is my equivalent to a deep breath and preparing for the next thing on the list, hoping that will go more smoothly than everything else has so far.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Interview with Jen A. Miller

My fellow Phillies fan, Jen A. Miller, is the author of The Jersey Shore, Atlantic City to Cape May: Great Destinations: A Complete Guide, and we had a chance to chat about her book.

What's your connection with the Jersey shore? Besides writing the book, that is.

I've been going to the shore every summer since I was born -- literally. I was born in July and on the beach in August. My family had a trailer at Avalon Campground, so that's where I lived during the summer. Then, as an editor and then freelance writer, I covered that same area for the New York TImes, Philadelphia Inquirer, NJ Monthly and SJ Magazine, among others, so when it was time to pick a book topic, it seemed the logical choice.

Tell us about the book. How'd it come about, how'd you research it, all that fun stuff?

I saw on that Countryman Press was looking for more regional guides in their Great Destinations Series. I was doing a lot of writing about Atlantic City at the time and pitched them that as a topic. They said it was a bit too narrow, so I came up with the idea of writing about the South Jersey Shore. While there's been a lot of books about one shore town or the whole coast, I couldn't find anything that targeted just that region.

I researched the book in a lot of ways. I spent a lot of time in the library in the colder months. Then, when the summer season started in May 2007, I lived in Avalon, using the dining room table of a shore house as my base. Most of my information came from on the ground research. I'd park my car, walk into every place I saw, and go from there. I also spent a lot of time interview locals to find out those places tourists might not know about. In one cases, the regular patrons of a bar asked me NOT to write about it -- how could I not write about a bar with name that tune! (Owen's in North Wildwood, FYI).

I'd ask which is your favorite shore town, but you shouldn't play favorites. So I'll ask, which town was the biggest discovery for you? As in, things you didn't know before you wrote the book.

That's a great way to phrase it! I learned the most about Cape May. I didn't like it much as a kid, but as a grown up (I'd like to think), I found out why so many people rave about it. There's so much to see and do, whether your idea of fun is shopping or kayaking.

Growing up where I did, I know what you're talking about when you say you're going down the shore. After all, I spent my childhood going down the shore, but never went to a beach until I was in high school. But I say that to my Ohio inlaws, and they think I'm nuts. Did you ever discover why the folks in South Jersey, Delaware and eastern PA say they are going "down the shore"?

I still don't know. Since the book came out, I've learned that even Central and North Jersey people say "down the shore." I think it might come from when the easiest way to get to the shore was by rail. From Philadelphia, the train went south to Atlantic City.

Okay, so what's the dividing line between South Jersey and North Jersey?

For me? Cut a line through Trenton and then go south to Brigantine. Under that is South Jersey. But as I've talked about this -- and I talked about it a lot since I became a consultant on New Jersey: The movie -- I've realized that there is no set line. It depends on where you're from. It's like trying to say who has the best pizza or ice cream at the shore. Your opinion is going to be shaded by where you went as a kid.

And while this has nothing to do with the shore, a very important question -- how do you like the Phils chances this season?

Any time the bullpen sings like they do, yes. It's been a stunning season so far, and I'd be very disappointed if they don't get to the post season. I'm counting on Chase Utley as MVP, too!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mourning to Excess?

I guess at this point you have to live under a rock to not know political reporter Tim Russert died. I liked Russert, and he would have been my first choice of political pundits to watch during the upcoming election season. Well, no, actually, he was my second choice. My first choice was Peter Jennings, but he, too, is dead.

Some writers I know feel that the TV media have gone overboard in their tributes to Russert, and I have to agree. Russert was a man who did his job, but was also, by all reports, a good man. But that's all he was -- a man, doing his job, albeit on a larger stage than most of us do. In the grand scheme of things, Russert, nor his job, were all that important to mankind. But I also can't fault the media for their zealous mourning. These are media people. They lost one of their own. Hashing out the details is what they do. All professions mourn their own in their own way.

But I have to say, there were two other media deaths that touched me more deeply. Jim McKay and Charlie Jones. Sportscasters. Guys I spent my childhood listening to. Every Saturday with Jim McKay and Wide World of Sports. Sundays with Charlie Jones and football and my dad. I've missed Wide World of Sports for years. These are voices who haven't been around much lately, but that isn't to say that their permanent silence won't be missed.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Still Thinking About Books

It is deliciously hot and humid and I am taking a source-hunt break. The source hunt is by far the most stressful part of my job, but that's another story for another day. It's too hot to be stressed! (Although I love this weather and am enjoying it to the fullest.)

So back to books. Reading and writing go hand in hand, and I've no doubt that all the reading I do makes me a better writer. I read tons of magazines, but it seems like the past year or two, my book reading was focused on books for the group or books that I could share with friends to talk about privately. I realized it has been a long time since I jumped into books for no other reason than my personal enjoyment.

My other goal is to read more books this year. A fellow writing buddy did a book a week last year, but while I admired her efforts, I know that isn't realistic for me. Twenty-five or thirty books, however, is more than do-able, if I push up my reading time a little bit. I'm at 10 so far for 2008, again, all of them either book group related or loaned/given to me by friends.

So what I've decided to do is put together a reading list of books I want to read this year. I know there will be some I don't get around to, and others that will get added in for whatever reason. I'm going to take a notepad and pen and wander around my library and make a list of the books I absolutely want to read. It's a political year, so there are a couple political books I want to devour. Biographies. Some literature. And yeah, a couple of beach reads and one or two baseball books. It is summer, after all.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Networks in Odd Places

I've talked about the importance of networking before. At least, I'm sure I have. But the point of this post is to show that networking can come in ways and forms you might never expect.

This morning, I got an email from my husband. A guy he knows from work stopped by the husband's cube to ask if I might be interested in some writing work. He had a project and needed a writer. I was recommended to him by a person I used to work with and now freelance for. All well and good. I appreciated this editor's vote of confidence in me (it is the second time he recommended me for a writing job).

Later I found that while all of the above is true, it didn't quite happen in the order the husband thought. Apparently, the guy looking for a writer mentioned this to the staff assistant who works in my husband's office. She is someone I know, although not very well, but she is also someone who considers my husband a good friend. So she recommended me, and the guy then went to the editor I know (how that all fell into place I do not know), and voila, I have a new job on my desk.

The moral of the story is networking shouldn't be confined to editors and publishers and writers and those in your writing field. Networking can come in many ways: casual conversations, friendships, volunteering your time to help someone, etc. Being a good person with those people you meet can end up paying itself forward in the long run.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Books Continued

My book group met last night (The Shipping News will not be included on our list of favorites).

We read The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian in January or so -- perhaps the only book in the history of our club that everyone had finished and would be included on a favorites list. I'm a huge fan of Chris's books and am in the midst of Skeletons at the Feast right now, hot off the presses. One of the members said she'd like to borrow it and recommend it for her book next year, when it comes out in paperback. If I chose one of his books, it would be Trans-Sister Radio, which is fascinating. But if my friend wants to pick one of his books . . . well, I don't want overkill.

The person on deck picked a Jodi Picoult book, something with Hearts in the title, and sounding way too similar to Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler. Although, it might be interesting to compare and contrast.

I may write down a bunch of books on slips of paper, then have someone at book group pick a piece of paper out of a hat. Or maybe I'll pick it out of the hat myself.

Right now my list is including: The Age of Innocence, Wuthering Heights, The Glass Castle, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, A Magical Year of Thinking (or something like that), gods in Alabama, and so on.