Friday, December 31, 2010

"A Lead is a Promise"

What is more welcome than a new piece by John McPhee, and on writing, of all things!

This article ("Writing a Strong Lead is Half the Battle"--the quote in my blog title comes near the end) is from the Wall Street Journal. It's short and to the point and everyone who writes should read it.

I don't consider myself a journalist; my degree is in history. But I love to write and want to write well. Like many, many freelancers these days, I find myself working for Patch a lot, so I'm learning to write a lead.

Or, as some purists would have it, lede. Thank you, Mr. McPhee, for spelling it "lead." That makes me feel less like an outsider. "Lede" seems to be the secret handshake that proves one went to journalism school.

McPhee is one of my heroes. I know little about hiim except that he writes great articles and books about the things he finds interesting. His writing is always exactly right--the pacing, the unrolling of facts, the subtle story behind the facts. If I set out to emulate him in everything I write--except the fiction--I would do quite well, I believe.

I'm not the only one who thinks he's a joy to read, of course. Everyone loves him--his book Giving Good Weight was passed around by engineers at the aerospace company I once worked for, and believe me, those guys don't normally read anything but schematics. McPhee won a Pulitzer Prize for Annals of the Former World.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Successful Writers Defined

In this most excellent interview, blogger and author Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen defines a successful writer as "someone who can make a living by writing." 

Fairly simple. Know anyone? Actually, I've met a few and their energy amazes me.

Pawlik-Kienlen does not query magazines, but makes her living from several successful, monetized blogs and by selling her ebooks. One of said ebooks is titled 75 Ways to Make Money Blogging--certainly something I'm adding to my Christmas list (it's only ten bucks!)

She gives a couple of tips in her interview--it's well worth reading, so go to. I could add more but I'm going to go check out her blog, Quips and Tips for Successful Writers.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Musings on New World Food

Here is something that makes me glad I didn't get a book published at 22, cuz this is exactly the sort of error I would have made: Inserting food like potatoes or tomatoes into a story set way before these products made it out of the Americas. Or inserting coffee or spices a few centuries before they were known.

Seriously. It is hard to write a scene of someone waking up during...I dunno, the 12th Century mini-Rennaisance, and not pouring themselves a steaming cup of Joe to get moving. How did people get up before coffee? More to the point, what did folks drink on a 12th century morning?

I keep thinking about that internet anecdote I read years ago, about a New Agey author who wrote a book on ancient Irish Druids. She based her text not on research, but on intuitive or channeled knowledge, and stated that the potato was quite sacred to them. When it was pointed out to her that potatoes were not introduced into Ireland until the 17th century, she wondered why everyone was being so mean to her.

So I look up every vegetable and condiment before I put it in a story. I hope everyone does. When I read a book, say Ancient Evenings by Mailer, I enjoy it that much more knowing that he invested years in the reseach. I don't want any anachronistic faux-pas to jolt readers out of the magic.

Mucho apologies for neglecting the blog once again, btw. Who knew I could get so busy?