Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Value of Meeting Editors

I haven't had the opportunity to meet many editors since I started freelancing, so when the chance came up to attend a conference for trade publications, I jumped at it. Even if I don't get a single assignment from it (and I'd be a pretty poor self-employed writer if that happened), the experience was totally worth it.

None of my editors was at the conference, so I got to meet new-to-me folks. I listened to what they needed, listened to what they didn't need. The seminars were being addressed to me as a freelancer, but it was handy to see how publications are being run from the inside.

I think the most valuable part was the roundtable where I had the chance to talk to editors about working with freelancers. I learned how they feel about writers who ask for too much money. We all want to be paid what we're worth, of course, but it shouldn't be at the expense of hurting other writers or eating an entire budget. I think a lot of freelancers forget about the budget issue.

I admit to being a little put off by one writer who had no qualms about interrupting a conversation in order to hand her business card into the hands of an editor. When I first got there, of course I wanted to meet as many editors as possible. Then I realized that I wanted them to remember me in a positive way, not as a blur or as rude and pushy. I tried to have a few conversations that had nothing to do with writing. I went to the baseball game that was part of the conference, and, as I tend to do at baseball games, I took score. This got noticed by the others and it started conversations.

All in all, it was a good learning experience for me. I'm anxious to go out on the road again. Editors beware :-)

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Big Read

I found this on my friend Teri's site. Apparently, The Big Read, an initiative by the National Endowment for the Arts, has estimated that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books below.

As you can see, I read a few more than 6. A lot of those books I read in my literature classes. A lot I've read for fun. A lot I have no intentions on ever reading because I don't like science fiction or fantasy. Some of the books on the list I question: Bridget Jones's Diary? The Mitch Albom book? And interestingly, none of the books listed below are on The Big Read's current book list. The Big Read is a community reading project, and there are about a dozen or so books currently promoted for discussion (I read most of those, too, like Age of Innocence and The Death of Ivan Illych).

Anyway, I've read a few of these books. I'm pretty sure my life will continue just fine without having read Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings.

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE. (I've added a * to the books I loved)

1 Pride and Prejudice* - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird* - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights *- Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women* - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I read some Shakespeare. Does that count?)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch* - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell (I have tried to read this book and failed)
22 The Great Gatsby *- F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House* - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina* - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield**** - Charles Dickens (This is my all time favorite novel)
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion* - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers* - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare (Uh, is there a reason this isn't included with the complete works of Shakespeare?)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Little Brag

If you wander over to the Washington Post Style section, you'll see my essay there, my ode to my popcorn popper.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

When the Walls Close In

I learned something very important about myself when I began freelancing. Well, actually I kind of suspected it all along but freelancing put the exclamation point at the end.

I prefer to work alone.

For the most part, this has worked well for me. I'm not a morning person, and you just can't be that mean grumpy person in an office (unless you want everyone to hate you). We all have quirks we can't stand, and one of mine is listening to people eat or chew gum with their mouths open. The worst was the woman who sat less than 2 feet away from me and slurped her oatmeal every morning. What surprised me was how little I missed the practically mandatory office social obligations. "I don't care if you can't stand the boss; you will go to lunch for his birthday and you will kick in to the cost of paying for it." Oh and we won't even go down the road of office lunch meetings with the ever present boxes of pizza.

Working at home, alone, has increased my production ten-fold, and my stress level has dropped a million points, at least.

But I learned something else about me this summer. Even if I don't miss the office overall, I miss some of the social aspects of the job. The impromptu lunch with coworkers I'm friendly with, or with friends who work in different offices/buildings. Somebody stopping at my desk on a Friday afternoon to say, "A bunch of us are going to the Grill for happies. Wanna come?" Or someone else saying that they were having some friends over for a bbq, and I'm invited. Heck, I even miss when I'd sit out in the sunshine with a book and someone I know would stop for a chat. I still get included in these things sometimes, but that means planning and no one I know plans these things.

I didn't realize how much my world had shrunk until I was at happy hours with two girlfriends, who chatted on about their days and the things they did with others. Not quite the same to say, "I had an interview with a guy who builds luxury horse barns today!" I felt totally left behind in every day life. Heck, with my kids grown and gone, I don't even have them to shake up my daily routine anymore.

So I made an executive decision. I looked at my calendar and decided that I can spare the time to be flexible, even if it means writing at night once in a while. I can block out a few hours to get out of the office; I'll just do so on days without deadlines. So I signed up for a photography class on Tuesday mornings, and already discovered that one of my classmates is a freelance writer, as well. Maybe I'll arrange a bi-weekly lunch with friends. Or maybe I'll put in a few hours to volunteer somewhere or take another class.

How do you keep from feeling isolated as a freelancer working from home?