Media Room

Happy Mother’s Day to the 1st Writing Instructor

For Mom, my first reading and writing instructor. Who was yours?

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Outgoing Writing Students Share Tips for Success

One of the challenges of teaching writing classes to college kids is that they all come in with different levels of interest and experience.

Here are three things I do at American University to help smooth the way.AU outside

1 – Before the semester begins, I send out a short survey. I ask my incoming students how much they’ve written outside the classroom, why they’re taking the class (no penalty if it’s simply to fulfill a requirement), and their toughest writing challenges. I find the kids appreciate being asked and are happy to respond.

2 – On opening night, I pitch like a used car salesman. I know most will not go on to writing or communications careers. I tell them to think of their time with me as cross training for whatever field they eventually choose. I point to studies that show employers place high value in employees who are clear and concise. I warn they will hear a lot from me about precision and clarity.

3 – On finals night, I offer a bonus. Sharing a tip for success with my next students earns two free points. Most remember they were afforded this opportunity thanks to the previous class, and include some lesson learned. I’m always surprised by one or two comments on the tip sheet, which you can find (unedited) here on the class blog.

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Free Webinar: Take 2 on the Secrets Your Characters are Hiding

Your characters have secrets to tell

Your characters have secrets to tell …

Please join me Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for the repeat of a free webinar on how to discover the secrets your characters are hiding. Click here to sign up and participate in an interesting and practical session with actionable tips you’ll be able to put to immediate use. What will we cover? Novelists know that our characters begin much like the little wooden boy began. They sit one-dimensional, quiet and unmoving unless – or until – we pull the strings. Only then do they start to move, talk, lie and grow big noses. But a funny thing happens the deeper you get into your story. Call it growth. As your characters develop and mature, they come alive. Your work at the keyboard is like the blue dust that turned the wooden boy into Pinocchio. Once this transformation takes place, your characters become more like sentient beings, full of the same needs and emotions that drive the rest of us.

Those of you with children will recognize this as a significant moment – the day when the kids begin expressing their own point of view, and when your words are no longer accepted as gospel simply because you are the parent. Yes, you can subdue or quiet your characters in a way that will not work with your children, but that is the wrong strategy, in my view. For if you look at the writing of a novel as a journey through uncharted territory – and with you as the leader – your characters, if you let them, if you talk to them, ask questions and listen to what they have to say … will steer you to fascinating and secret places that do not exist on any map. And that is where your stories will take off.

I hope you’ll sign up and join me this Thursday.

(To follow Steve’s Back Story blog, please click the green or orange icon on the blog homepage).

Free Webinar 10/1: Character Above All

Uncover your characters' secrets

Uncover your characters’ secrets

Novelists know that our characters begin much like the little wooden boy began. They sit one-dimensional, quiet and unmoving unless – or until – we pull the strings. Only then do they start to move, talk, lie and grow big noses. But a funny thing happens the deeper you get into your story. Call it growth. As your characters develop and mature, they come alive. Your work at the keyboard is like the blue dust that turned the wooden boy into Pinocchio. Once this transformation takes place, your characters become more like sentient beings, full of the same needs and emotions that drive the rest of us. Those of you with children will recognize this as a significant moment – the day when the kids begin expressing their own point of view, and when your words are no longer accepted as gospel simply because you are the parent. Yes, you can subdue or quiet your characters in a way that will not work with your children, but that is the wrong strategy, in my view. For if you look at the writing of a novel as a journey through uncharted territory – and with you as the leader – your characters, if you let them, if you talk to them, ask questions and listen to what they have to say … will steer you to fascinating and secret places that do not exist on any map. And that is where your stories will take off. I hope you’ll join this discussion in a free webinar Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

 

 

Think Before Condemning a Rudeness Born of Desperation

10 for a dollar, Mister.

10 for a dollar, Mister.

Siem Reap, Cambodia – She is perhaps five or six, with dark eyes, straight black hair that touches the back of her neck, and skin the color of teak. She dances up to the table with a white smile and 10 postcards of the ancient temples at Angkor Wat.Her sales pitch is short and achingly sweet. Though she could not articulate it, instinct tells her she has found an American abroad who cannot deny a poor Cambodian child this one small sale. Please follow this link to continue reading.

 

 

 

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Pinteresting Recipe: Travel, Photos and Books

Bootlicker in good hands

Bootlicker in good hands

If 80 percent of Pinterest users are women and women buy most of the books, authors need to be on Pinterest.

Problem is, authors traffic in words and Pinterest is all about photos.

Here’s one way to create a compelling board:

When you, a friend, or a relative are headed abroad, take or send your novel. You’d be amazed at the opportunities that come up to snag a photo of your book beside a famous landmark or in the hands of a colorful local citizen.

During a recent trip to Thailand, we visited a museum where two women in gleaming gold traditional outfits were posted outside. I asked one to pose with the book and she gladly complied. Could she read it? Does it matter?

Authors these days need to make a smooth transition from creative writing to creative marketing. Send your book on a trip and capture some photos you can use to reach prospective readers on Pinterest.

You might make some international friends in the process. Oh, and here’s the actual board: Travels with Bella and Bootlicker.

 

 

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Family Circle: Accident or Design?

Piacentes & Bellomos at Danielle Piacente’s wedding

Some version of this story occurs in all families, yet it is fascinating that seemingly random events occur and take root, drawing a rough outline of what will become the future. I think many of us wonder at some level if is indeed random or part of something bigger. The story of a week at the beach with my extended family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview Tips from the Self-Publishing Trenches

Interviews come in lots of flavors these days. Traditional print, radio and TV are still around, but you might also find yourself on an Internet

Interviews 101: Be positive, upbeat & courteous

Interviews 101: Be positive, upbeat & courteous

radio show, or being interviewed by Skype, or part of a teleconference. Some book bloggers like to ask questions over the phone; others prefer to email their questions.

No matter the medium, your core messages should remain intact. You must be able to explain your book, why you wrote it, and the big takeaways in a few short, engaging sentences.

At the same time, you should tailor your answers to suit your audience. While some crowds are most interested in plot, others want to know more about your writing process. When do you write? What do you do when you feel blocked?

A few tips to help you get organized:

- Interview the interviewer. Ask who reads the blog, watches on TV or listens to the show.

- Mine the comments. Most blogs and shows welcome comments. See which interviews drew the most interaction for clues about what interests the audience.

- Try for a second date. That is, your goal is a long-term relationship, so don’t treat the interview as a one-night stand. Make sure to talk about what’s on their mind as well as your top interests.

- Anticipate and be proactive. Especially when it comes to bloggers, be ready with materials they’re likely to want, like: photos, a well-written bio, links to trailers and social media pages, and press releases.

There’s more. Always be courteous and prompt. Watch your tone and body language. Don’t be dismissive. Learn to pivot. If you get a negative question, use a phrase like, That’s interesting, but what’s really important to me is … and get back to something you’d rather discuss. Don’t forget that you’re speaking through the interviewer to reach your real audience.

Last, always be positive and enthusiastic. You’ve probably talked about your book a thousand times. It may be getting hard to sound excited. You may even be getting bored with yourself. If that comes through in an interview, you’re sunk. Stay focused. Stay up. The cliché is true; the next interviewer hasn’t met you before, and you won’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

What else have you learned on the interview trail?

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Trayvon Verdict, Obama Remarks Stir Echoes

The Trayvon Martin verdict and President Obama’s remarks about race in America took me back to my early reporting days in Central Florida, and some stories chessabout the difficulty of change in towns where the old ways die hard.  Please check out the post and weigh in with any thoughts or questions.

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Has Your College Degree Paid Off?

What's the ROI for your college degree?

What’s the ROI for your college degree?

Statistically speaking, the return on my journalism degree is pretty low. But there’s more to life than statistics. Click here to read more.

 

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