Public Speaking II

All the World’s a Stage
The success of any branding program rests on harmonizing the look, sound, and feel of all of its elements!  That includes the setting in which an author appears. And while you may not be able to control every aspect of the physical environment of your presentations, you can enhance the positive impact of some aspects to boost the effectiveness of your overall book marketing program.

The Venue
If you have never spoken at the venue, you’ll be relying on the event’s organizers to provide the correct information regarding lighting, voice amplification, and projection of materials you’ll utilize to highlight your speaking points. In addition, they’ll be scheduling the podium, table, and/or chair from which you’ll speak.

If possible, visit the venue in advance of the event. While this may be easy in your home town, it can be impossible when you’re working in another city [let alone country]. Therefore, it’s good to arrive a day in advance of your presentation. If you’re lucky, you will be delivering your remarks at the hotel in which you are staying.  As this is seldom the case, travel with the basics you require to be effective.

From a Stage or…
Depending on your height and weight, and position in relation to the audience, you may need to modify your hair, clothing, shoes, and/or accessories to maximize your facial and overall visibility. Speaking engagements often occur in rooms with a stage that is at least a step above the floor on which the audience is seated. This enhances your visibility as a speaker, but it means you must look good from the top of your head to the bottoms of your shoes. And although many stages are carpeted, older wooden or tiled stages may have uneven surfaces, for which you will require sturdy and slip-resistant footwear.

Solo Performance
Sole presenters in a public venue usually have access to a podium. Free-standing or table top, it should offer sides that mask your script, notes, watch, and other items you may need to reference. Unless a free-standing podium is constructed of a tubular frame, it is probable that you’ll be visible only from your chest up. That gives you more flexibility in your stance and movement of your feet. If the podium is comprised of a hollow frame, or positioned on top of a table that has no tablecloth, you will not have that luxury.

Whispers to Screams
The quality of your natural speaking voice can be either an asset or detriment in public speaking. Depending on your audience, even the strongest of voices expressed in the wrong tonal range can be hard for some listeners to hear properly. Many podiums are set up with a microphone fixed in position. If you learn you’ll be using a hand-held mic, you may want to obtain a small stand in order to free your hands for gesturing, pointing to overhead projections, etc. Having said this, I must note some presenters like to speak off the cuff rather from written material and prefer a hand-held or wireless mic so they can roam freely—sometimes even moving within their audience.

Be aware that the effectiveness of the microphone you use [especially lavaliere or headsets] can depend on your neckline, arrangement of hair, and any chain or necklace you wear. Also consider that dangling earrings and loose watches or bracelets can interfere with sound projection.

Having a strong voice may lessen the need to provide your own electronic equipment. However, if you are embarking on a lengthy tour, you might consider acquiring sound equipment that can make you more independent of the facilities in which you appear—if it is compatible with the speakers to which your equipment will be connected. In making such a decision, you will want to seek the input of an electronics specialist.

Inviting Displays
Will you be able to set up a display that greets and enlivens your audience? At the minimum, you should be able to drape a banner over the front of a podium [using double sided tape, if nothing else]. I carry the banner from the release of Prospect for Murder, first of the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mysteries. I also travel with varied sizes of boxes on which I can place color-coordinated tablecloths to create heightened surfaces for displaying signage, products, and handouts. And I carry stands of varying proportions to maximize visibility across a room. Do be cautious about displaying valuable items which could disappear…

Enlargements of colorful book covers, pictures of previous appearances, and banners with both your image and the works you’re presenting make a wonderful background for highlighting sales sheets, future project descriptions, and business cards. Since Murder on Mokulua Drive has an embossed jacket front, I present it on a stand, as well as on the table top to invite people to pick it up.  If there is a theme to your work, you can add decorative items that reinforce that reference. As most of my work centers on Hawai`i, I display a shell lei or two, a golden fish business card holder, and tablecloths that harmonize with my book cover colors.

Ensuring You have What You Need
If you’re speaking in your home town and have checked out the venue, you’ll know what you need to carry with you. The one thing that may affect your preparations is a change in the size of your audience, thereby impacting the number of books and handouts required. When traveling to a long-distance destination, you may be able to send a box ahead to a friend, colleague, or the hotel in which you will be staying. Regardless of whether that is an option, strategize the items that you should carry personally, rather than check into a luggage compartment.

I recall my gratitude for arriving in Hilo (after flying back from the U.S. mainland) two days in advance of a performance of Scottish Highland Dancing, since my costumes remained in Honolulu by mistake. I now keep the following items with me personally when traveling to author appearances: memory sticks and a master copy of materials needed for display and distribution; one copy of pertinent books and project samples; one small tablecloth and a shell lei to personalize a display; one copy of a short biography; two 3 x 5 inch cards with an introduction of me and my presentation; a brass name badge and any pertinent professional badges; a beautiful artificial orchid for my hair; and, one elegant jacket to dress up even an emergency wardrobe purchase if my luggage does not arrive with me!

This is the second of three discussions of Public Speaking Engagements.My next blog will address the ways in which public speaking engagements can enhance your branding as an author, and will be featured at Hometown Reads .

Wishing you the best in your adventures as an author or other creative professional,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

Tips on research, composition, and marketing your work are available at Imaginingswordpower.com.

To learn more about my projects, please visit my author website at
JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.

 

 

 

Drawing on Sense Memories

Most of us think of the five physical senses as we are experiencing them. The toast looks and tastes all right, but it has a slightly burnt smell. I wish the kids would stop screaming, my ears are starting to hurt. I love this faux fabric, it almost feels like my cat’s fur…

The Creator’s Sensory Perception
As a writer, or other creative person, sensory perception can be an important element in preparing a stimulating picture via words or graphic images. One of the most effective devices for creating believable images is drawing on our own memories. This is because referencing something we’ve encountered personally provides a depth of authenticity to any work we are undertaking.

The Truth of One’s Experience
This does not mean that we have to reveal our personal circumstances in order to truthfully share a sensory experience…unless we are presenting a work that is a memoir or similar personal expression, for which we are obligated to reveal this aspect of our lives. The truth of our sensory experiences can be shared without revelation of the circumstances in which they occur.  In fact, isolating the experience from its original circumstances, can encourage us to revisit the specifics of what we saw, smelled, heard, touched, and/or tasted with greater accuracy.

For example, while we may wish to describe the beauty of a star-lit night from our honeymoon, we do not need to provide details of the circumstances in which we viewed it. Even when we need to describe something we have not experienced, it’s good to seek out the concrete memories of those who have. In describing Shanghai in the 1920’s for Prospect for Murder, I drew on images shared by people whose fascination with the city transcended the actual era in which they traveled. And despite their degree of positive or negative reactions, I was able to utilize their perspectives to provide images of the bustling streets and even the scents they encountered in their sojourns.

In Murders of Conveyance, the third book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mysteries, my heroine overhears a conversation in Chinese from outside of the building in which she stands. I’m sure we can all think of times when we’ve  accidentally overheard a conversation, whether in a language we speak or not. When I moved to Honolulu at the beginning of the 1970s, there were many occasions in which I heard languages I couldn’t understand, nor even identify. Because I needed my heroine to feel connected to foreign dialogue, I inserted phonetic sounds that allowed Natalie to guess the speakers might be referencing someone she knew.

Stimulating Vocabulary
Sometimes we are fortunate to be able to utilize vocabulary or pictures that effectively mimics the images we wish to share.  I find the following words and phrases can bring clarity to a description, sometimes reaching beyond a single sense: wispy; screech; a snapping branch; wrinkled; razor’s edge; staccato; fragmented; shrunken; glassy; whispered; fiery.

The perception of other words often relies on those who read or hear them. Reference to an Upscale dining experience may arouse the taste and ambiance of a five-star restaurant to one person, and a fast-food joint to another. While the phrase Opulent jewelry signifies a strand of synthetic pearls with rhinestones to one reader, someone else may envision weighty crown jewels. Vintage clothing could generate a disco scene from the 1970s for a millennial, whereas someone my age may picture a flapper dress from the roaring twenties—the 1920’s that is. Similar variances can arise with an author or artist’s use of color and shape, as well as a composer’s insertion of pauses, changing rhythms, and escalating tones.

I’m fortunate that many of the images I wish to share in the O`ahu setting of the Natalie Seachrist mysteries practically write themselves: the sparkle and whooshing sound of incoming surf on a moonlit night; the stickiness of teriyaki sauce on a barbecued chicken thigh; the fresh fragrance of a flower lei, the stench of rotting plumeria blooms beneath an aging and neglected tree. But although I bring personal insight to such images, I must avoid cliché verbiage that will bore the veteran traveler. 

Your Target Audience
This brings us to a brief discussion of one’s audience…one’s target market. If you’re working within a recognized genre of literature, art, or music, there may be standards to which the majority of your audience will expect you to adhere. If you are striking out on your own to create a variant or wholly new artistic expression, you can move in any direction you wish…keeping in mind that you will need to attract some degree of a following in order to achieve any degree of success.

Accordingly, I sprinkle snippets of pan-Pacific and world history across my mystery plot-lines.  And while I present a fair number menu items within each book, I place actual recipes on my author website, rather than completely bogging down a story.  As to the cast of characters, folio art framing page numbers, chapter aphorisms, and linguistically and historically detailed glossaries, the reader can choose to appreciate or ignore them…

Wishing you the best on your own creative ventures,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

Tips on research, composition, and marketing your work are available at Imaginingswordpower.com.
To learn more about my projects, please visit my author website at
JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.

 

MEA CULPA

Your book series is doing well!  This truly is an accomplishment to cherish!  What must you do to ensure your writing career continues on an upward trajectory?  Regardless of whether you have a publisher or self-publish, problems can arise during the complex process of production.

Publishing Errors

I’ve previously discussed issues an author faces in publishing a series—regardless of genre.  Fortunately, the process of publication is seldom the responsibility of a single person.  Of course, as the author, the quality of the final product reflects on you—for it is you who will be facing the public.

As a reader, as well as an author, I have not heard of a book that arrives in a reader’s lap without flaws of one type or another.  They may be barely perceptible, and actually may be a matter of choice rather than outright error.

Whose Fault?

In truth, no matter how much effort [and sometimes treasure] you invest in maintaining the quality of your work, unexpected flaws can emerge.  They can arise from both overt errors, as well as from actions you failed to take.  Most of my errors come from copying and pasting text and repeating favorite words.  Unless one closely and repeatedly reads the edited text, words may end up out of sequence, or can be wholly missing.

Discovering Flaws

The process of finding errors can be simple or complicated.  In writing a series, you probably have a written or mental list of flaws you’re prone to make.  As I prepare for the publication of Murders of Conveyance and work to complete Yen for Murder, I’ve found that the following errors appear frequently:

~  Repeated words and phrases
My favorites, myriad and R & R.

~  Overuse of prepositional phrases
Mine frequent the beginning of sentences. 

~  Complicated action
I’ve found scenes in which a character would need three hands to accomplish what I’ve described.  I’ve also struggled to explain how hidden compartments are accessed…

~  Character flaws
Misspellings of names, and their pronunciation in audio books can easily occur, and did in the audio edition of Prospect for Murder.  Titles of officials and their organizations can be misstated or may change over time.  Evidently my love of British police procedurals produced my mixing of the word detective with the ranks of police officers.  In actuality, most police forces in the U.S. [including Hawai`i], do not do that.  A sergeant with the Honolulu Police Department who becomes a detective is simply referred to as detective, with higher ranking officers being referred to by their rank.

Major Errors

You might think that writing fiction means that few errors unrelated to grammar will materialize.  But issues of consistency still need to be addressed.  My own inconsistencies have included changing the floor on which protagonist Natalie has a condo and the color of the truck of her boyfriend and detecting partner Keoni.  While regretting even these minor mistakes, at least they do not interfere with the reader’s ability to follow the story.  I’m not sure the same can be said for the two lines of crossed-through text in Murder on Mokulua Drive.

One thing that cannot be ignored or casually dismissed is the erroneous reporting of a historical fact.  I was particularly embarrassed to discover that in copying and pasting text in the Glossary of Prospect for Murder, I mistakenly dropped a sentence relating to Hawaiian Princess Ka`iulani into the description of Queen Kapi`olani. This is an obvious mistake to readers who are familiar with the lineage of Hawaiian royals and a serious detraction from my desire to share Hawaiian history with a global readership.

Making Corrections

Having determined the cause of a problem, you face correcting it.  This can be fairly easy with the publication of a digital book, and other on-line pieces…That is, if you are capable of altering the text within the template that generated it. If you cannot do so yourself, you may have to return to the typographical artist who originally laid out the book. If you are not able to reconnect with them, you will have to find a new source of help.  Fortunately, my publisher is working to correct the MOMD Ebook error regarding Queen Kapi`olani.

Matters are more complex in correcting flaws in printed editions. Unfortunately, the error regarding the Queen can only be corrected when further batches of the books are printed.  I wish I could send out errata labels to everyone who has a copy of the book…The one thing I have done is to publish a message of Mea Culpa on Facebook!

Avoiding Repetition of the Crime

Once you’ve pinpointed the sources of flaws, you can seek appropriate ways to dodge their recurrence. This challenge is exacerbated in the production of a series.  To keep my projects separate but harmonious, I’ve prepared and continually update detailed reference notes listing aspects of appearance, voice, attire, movement and behavior. I also have spreadsheets that pinpoint chapter elements [such as when Natalie has which vision] and the family trees of major characters.

I’m glad that most of my readers enjoy references to daily life in the Hawaiian Islands—especially food.  There are, however, some who would prefer little discussion of food, beverages, relationships, history and cats.  At this point, I don’t foresee removing these elements from my tales—nor would I detract from plot lines by inserting actual recipes.  However, recipes  that reflect Natalie’s life, local restaurants and menu items one might expect at an Island gathering, do appear on my author website.  This has necessitated my keeping records of the food and beverages I write about for review during the writing of each book.

Variations…Not Errors

As a series unfolds, it is to be expected that improvements in writing style and changes in book layout may occur.  This doesn’t mean that earlier editions of books are necessarily flawed.  Happily, my publisher opted to offer embossing on the vibrant cover of Murder on Mokulua Drive.  And, as I like reference material to be readily accessible, we are enlarging the font that introduces Glossary sections.  Similarly, we are inserting spaces before and after the hyphens between author birth and death dates in chapter aphorisms.

Fortunately, while outright flaws need to be addressed, developments in an author’s style of writing and the presentation of their work can be things of beauty!

Wishing you the best,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

Tips on research, composition, and marketing your work are available at ImaginingsWordpower.com

To learn more about my projects, please visit my author website at
JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.

 

BOOK SERIES ADVENTURES

This blog first appeared on the Hometown Reads website [https://HometownReads.com], which I highly recommend to both readers and authors seeking to learn more about the art and business of publishing books!  Just click https://hometownauthors.com to view a variety of articles from member authors…

You’ve published a book series!  A true accomplishment, regardless of whether you planned it or not.  But while you were promised great things would emerge at this point in your writing career, you are facing a few challenges.  Allow me to tell you about issues I’ve confronted during publication of Murder on Mokulua Drive, the second Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery

Elemental Consistency
Beyond avoiding copyright violation in the chapter-opening quotes I use, I guard against repetition.  During pre-publication review of Murder on Mokulua Drive, I discovered I’d reused a quote from Prospect for Murder.  My records of aphorisms now indicate when and where a quote is used.

Character and locale Parity
Initially, I had a male protagonist.  Whoops…my writers’ salon found that “voice” more appropriate to a woman.
Names, their spellings, descriptions, and pronunciation must all be checked.  Imagine my chagrin in realizing I’d changed a name’s pronunciation mid-way through PFM’s audio edition!
While my protagonist thinks in whole words, she speaks with contractions.  I now begin each book by reviewing my chart of persons, places, and their characteristics. 

Plurality
Promotional text highlighting aspects of a single book must encompass each title in a series.  Having multiple titles often means having different editions.  For PFM, I had hardcover, softcover, Ebook, and physical and digital audio editions. MOMD is currently available in only hardcover and Ebook. Softcover and audio references (like “Audible.com”) are omitted when describing the second book.    

Presenting Yourself
If you have a publisher or literary agent, they may have guidelines for presenting yourself personally, online, and in traditional and social media. If you’ve never been in the public eye, you may be grateful for suggestions about wardrobe, hair, accessories, and makeup [yes, men sometimes require makeup].

What you say and how you relate it will shift depending on the media or venue.  I’m not suggesting you become a shape-shifting chameleon, but envisioning each audience helps you see yourself as they will.

Marketing Yourself
Regardless of who directs your marketing, examine media kit samples to see what you should prepare.  This will include bios, photos, sample media releases, and relatable stories, covering:
~  Background [family, education, career]
~  Daily Life [home, work, writing locale, pets, hobbies]
~  Writing Methodology [research, writing, editing]
~  Influential People [affecting your work and life]
~  Author Experiences
~  Changes in Your Writing

Describing Yourself
Were you initially described as a debut author? That’s no longer relevant.  What other life changes will impact your self-description.  Are you in a new professional position?  Where do you live, or travel for research, sales, and presentations?   

Elastic Promotional Text
Periodically (and in varying length), you’ll need to restructure text for:
~  Media releases about books, awards, appearances
~  Bios for ads, event programs, introductions
~  Submission of your work for reviews and contests
~  Website discussions of your life and authorship
~  Social media posts, comments, and event announcements

Welcoming Images
Gather images to stimulate the interest of colleagues, readers, listeners, and the general public including:
~  You and your surroundings
~  Events in which you participate
~  Images attracting your interest
~  Organizational and community involvement
~  Images relevant to characters, scenery, and activity in your writing

Designing Inviting Websites and Blogs
Working alone or with a web master, there are many aspects to consider.  First, you may have a website from before becoming an author. Some elements may be recyclable.  With bios, book synopses, and pertinent images available, much of your material is ready for upload.  You just need to weave it all together to appropriately reveal you and your work.  Consider:
~  Styles appealing to your target market [realism, art deco, country kitch…]
~  Colors [you like and wear; those describing your work]
~  Shapes reflecting your style and work [linear or curved]
~  Textures, natural or man-made [wood, silk, metal, stone, plastic]

Final thoughts?  Well, there’s nothing final about the process of writing…or of marketing your work.  As with your compositions, keeping electronic and hardcopy samples of your promotional material, will help you shape attractive representations of your unfolding life’s work! 

Wishing you the best,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

 

 

A Birthday Review

In checking the date of my last blog, I realize how long it’s been since my last one. With all that’s taken place in the last couple of years, the conclusion of 2017 and the arrival of 2018 inspired me to examine the process that brought me to my recent birthday. 

Birthday Milestones
Have you found that for most people, birthdays are either super important, or nothing at all?  I guess I fall into the latter category…with a few exceptions.  At age eight, my grandmother baked a cake with a beautiful doll embedded in the center.  At 21, I was treated to gourmet French cuisine by a young man on a limited budget. I was surprised on my fiftieth birthday with a party planned by friends, colleagues, and clients.  

Near the end of 2017, I was honored when Prospect for Murder won first place for 6 x 9-inch cover art and was a finalist in the mystery and suspense category of the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.  At New Year’s, I was preparing for the publication of Murder on Mokulua Drive (the second Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery).  Almost daily, there were details of publishing that needed to be considered…The days passed quickly, and it seemed that I had barely signed my contract with Artemesia Publishing when the book arrived on my doorstep.  The colors of the cover were evocative and the texture of partial embossing delightful.

In my contemplation of how I have reached this point in my career as a writer, design consultant, and speaker, I focused much of my attention on one event…

An Opportunity for Public Speaking
In 2017, I was asked to read my work at a meeting of the local chapter of the National Writers Union [NWU].  However, I wanted to offer attendees ideas that might prove useful in their own work.  What would be the theme of my presentation?  I began by examining both completed and planned projects.

I soon recognized a pattern of recycling in much of my writing.  This reached beyond what was embodied in the anthology, Under Sonoran Skies, Prose and Poetry from the High Desert.  For this project, I joined fellow authors Bill Black, Susan Cosby-Patton, Kay Lesh, Patricia Noble, and the late Larry Sakin, in offering pieces spanning several decades.  Aside from serving as art director and indexer, my contributions included a series of historical articles on Tucson, Arizona, an essay of advice to entrepreneurs, and one poem.  The only thing that was wholly fresh, was the poem.

As I considered the Natalie Seachrist series, I saw the weaving of elements from the lives of people I have known, my own life experiences, pan-Pacific history, and the multi-culturalism of Hawai`i.  It may seem as though I’m speaking like an author with a dozen published books, so I should mention that the third book, Murders of Conveyance, is finished, and Yen for Murder is nearing completion.  Unfortunately, the publishing business almost always lags behind an author’s actual output…

Looking through articles I wrote for clients and non-profit organizations, I again found a fusion of aspects of fact and fiction.  Even the ads and commercials I have helped shape blended components from today and yesterday, as I sought to merge where we find ourselves today with our journey to arrive here.

Eventually, I opted to read selections of my work for the NWU, while sharing how each had developed from earlier pieces.   I also suggested that my listeners create electronic files with verbiage that had fallen to the cutting room floor during editing, as well as electronic and hardcopy folders with concepts for future projects.  This has helped me to outline several future adventures for Natalie and her colleagues to experience…

An Author of Non-Fiction as well as Fiction
At the juncture of 2017 and 2018, I was also working on a new book of non-fiction, Conversations with Auntie Carol.  This is a series of seven oral history interviews planned for presentation in both print and audio editions.  Dating from 25 years ago, Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox DeLima Farias told stories that delight audiences of many ages and backgrounds.  They range from episodes in her youth in `Ulupalakua, Maui, dancing hula awana in Waikīkī on December 6, 1941, and being a member of the family that includes Robert William Kalanihiapo Wilcox, a leader of the 1895 royalist rebellion to restore the sovereignty of Queen Lili`uokalani.

Becoming an Author
My birthday review began with remembering that NWU address, and then paused at the Auntie Carol and Natalie Seachrist projects.   Next, I moved on to a consideration of my overall life journey.  How had I reached the point of being an author of multiple books?  Today, students in college and even high school are urged to recognize that they will probably have multiple careers in life.  How does one plan for this?  Consider my own experiences.  I spent years in training, performance, and teaching in the performing arts.  I worked in marketing and public relations for decades.  I earned a bachelor’s degree and had advanced education in history.  How could I have planned a more appropriate background for eventually becoming an author?

What about you?  Serendipity may have played a role in your arrival at the point where you find yourself today, but careful analysis and planning can help you determine where you will go next…and where you may conclude your earthly sojourn.  What can you do to strengthen your chances of liking new directions?  Consider the following

~  Are there projects you need to complete?
~  Are there people with whom you should reconnect or disconnect?
~  Should you embark on a program of education and self-improvement?
[Are you aware that you can take college classes by audit rather than credit?]
~  Do you need to widen your daily experiences to enhance your well-being?

In closing, my recommendation is to give yourself credit for having arrived at the point where you are in life!  There is only one of you…and the world should be a better place by your very presence!!!

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about the first book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series, Conversations with Auntie Carol, and other projects, please visit my author’s website at JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com  For more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit: ImaginingsWordpower.com.

 

Dreaming Your Way to Success

Have you heard of lucid dreaming?  This is when a dreamer is fully cognizant of being in a dream state.  Some authors actually work at learning to control this form of dreaming as a means for shaping their projects, regardless of whether they are focused on fiction or non-fiction.

Dreamscaping or dream sculpting (as the process is sometimes called) allows the dreamer to actively contemplate the contents of a dream while asleep—and to question how these subjects may be relevant to their personal or professional living.

Dreamscaping Your Creative Project
Wordsmiths and artists are often encouraged to keep notebooks at hand for recording stray thoughts that can help them maximize future creativity.  This includes placing a pen and paper by your bed for capturing ideas that may materialize during the night. 

Regardless of your type of work, I’m rather certain that you have awakened on more than one morning (or the middle of a night) and thought, “Hmm, that was an interesting dream.  Now what was there about it that I wanted to remember?” 

For those of us relying on random ideas on which to build our shaping of words and images, it can be important to retain unexpected thoughts.  I can report that I have benefitted from vigorously striving to record the contents of potentially significant dreams.  And I’ve suffered the disappointment of having forgotten to have the implements for recording anything before falling back into a deep and dreamless state.  The mornings that have followed have been very frustrating.  Far worse than a simple hangover experienced by authors of yore!

My Methods of Directing the Dreaming Process
A simple Internet search will yield instructional resources for learning to implement Lucid Dreaming.  As I’m not a specialist in this field of study, I’ll merely share how I have approached the topic. 

After reading some background material, and discussing the concept with artists, I decided to delve into the process several years ago.  I began my sojourn in this endeavor by placing a retractable pen and small bound book for journaling on my bedside table.  Do note that having a pen without a lid has proven invaluable to my night-time note writing, since I’m rather clumsy and a bit befuddled when rising from a vivid dream.

Most evenings, I spend a few minutes before going to bed contemplating projects I wish to undertake the following day.  Often, this is while rocking in a chair and petting my cat, which I find soothing on several levels.  I then read a few pages of both meditative and mystery books.  After turning off my reading light, I review my to-do list.  I won’t claim that my contemplation of work goals is directly responsible for yielding inspirational ideas during the night.  However, these practices do serve as an off-switch for my overactive mind. 

As anyone attempting to call me in the a.m. will attest, I am not a morning person.  Some of my best work is born in the silence of nocturnal hours.  So prior to entering my pre-sleep routine, I’m already in a creative thinking mode.  The number of hours I spend in sleep varies, but when most people are rising to their own days of productivity, often I am entering my deepest dreams.  While most may seem unrelated to the work I envision undertaking, they are varied in topic and have a film-like quality. 

Results from My Dreamscaping
Having disciplined myself to interrupt the dreaming process, I can now report overall success in benefiting from dreaming with lucidity.  Records of some of my dreams make it into my journal.  Elements of others capture my attention sufficiently to be recalled for several hours after my waking. 

Perhaps the worst challenge that arises from the overall experience, is being forced to fold new concepts into work I may have considered complete.  Sometimes that means reprinting quite a number of pages of text due to a minor edit in their midst.  However, I’m thrilled to report that expanding a character’s role by having her play a bamboo flute has yielded a lovely audio element to that scene… and an interesting twist to the epilogue for Yen for Murder, Book Four in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series!

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about the first book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series (Prospect for Murder), Conversations with Auntie Carol, a series of Hawaiian Oral History Interviews and other projects, please visit my author’s website at www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  For more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, visit: www.ImaginingsWordpower.com

 

Interviews & Oral Histories: #4

AFTER THE INTERVIEW

You’ve done it!  Regardless of whether an interview is the first or the hundredth, I hope you will feel a sense of accomplishment while parting company with whomever you’ve interviewed! By this point, you should have an audio (if not visual) recording of the dialogue, plus notes you’ve composed prior to and during your conversation. You should also have a signed interviewee release that can allow you to draw from the experience indefinitely.

The Significance of Your Relationship with Your Subject
In my last discussion of general and oral history interviews, I noted that it is good to impress your subject positively.  Doing so includes: projecting a pleasing appearance and voice; demonstrating the level of your commitment, as shown by your research and organization of pertinent questions; and, your sensitivity to their physical, mental, and emotional circumstances.

That last issue is one that is often neglected by professional, as well as novice, interviewers.  Too often a sense of righteousness on the part of the interviewer as truth teller can prevent development of a significant rapport with the interviewee.  While it is important to maintain a professional relationship, the lack of a rapport with your subject may lead to a diminished level of trust and desire to reveal themselves fully.

Your Parting Words
As you prepare to depart from an interview, you will want to leave the door between you and your subject open to further communication.  After all, they’ve trusted you with a part of themselves and they want to know that you’ll value what they have shared with you. Even if you have not established a warm relationship, you will want to facilitate future communication and assure them that they will have an opportunity to view a transcript of the interview.

This does not mean you are relinquishing your role as the interviewer, nor does it imply you are going to change revealing the realities of your conversation. However, if errors are found by either of you, there should be a means for adding explanatory notes. This is especially useful in clarifying names, relationships, numbers, dates, and sequences, which may have been transposed or mistakenly described.   

Editorial Procedures
During the transcription and editorial process, you may need to communicate with your interviewee to gain clarity on numerous points. To maintain accurate records, it is good to receive replies to your questions by email or other written documentation

This is especially useful if there are conflicts regarding the meaning of a passage. After all, the interviewee is relaying answers to your questions through the lens of their point of view.  While you  may never agree with their explanation, the transcript and your notes will allow future readers and/or listeners to experience a close approximation of the event and draw their own conclusions.  This is why clear records of all your communication and notes are so important.

The method[s] of annotation you choose for your transcript can take several forms. This is where your creativity comes into play.   Personally, I try to avoid footnotes.  Instead, I employ bracketed statements for minor clarification and section endnotes for issues dealing with proper nouns and other facts that may stimulate a future reader to pursue answers to their own questions.

Although the interviewer should not remove actual dialogue, you can provide clarification of key points by including a glossary of foreign and specialized vocabulary, as well as an index. Some authors dislike the use of indices if they plan to publish via a downloadable vehicle that may render pagination inaccurate and irrelevant. However, readers of a work published on the Internet may be able to utilize a find/search tool to locate terms they wish to revisit and readers of a hardcopy edition will be pleased with the inclusion of an easy reference tool at the back of the work. 

Another means for heightening the usefulness of your final product is separating your transcript into sections. If the interview was conducted during multiple sessions, utilization of chapter breaks is quite logical. Even when the conversation was held on a single occasion, separating sequenced questions and answers provides natural breaks.

Such a layout should facilitate communication between you and your subject[s] as you review the nearly finished project. Once you have completed editing and annotating your transcript, you can proceed to shaping a final format to meet any requirements for publication. [See my previous blog, Interviews & Oral Histories #3, for the closing  discussion of interview publication.]

Future Interviews with The Subject
The potential for scheduling future interviews may depend on issues beyond a mutual desire to do so. For example, if the interview is part of a larger project controlled by someone else, you may be limited in continuing your relationship with your subject.  And, although the current publisher may express an interest in further interviews, shifts within their organization may preclude future publishing through them. Even when you are working on a wholly freelance basis, your ability to publish may depend on your finding a new source willing to take on the project. And if you decide to expand the initial work into a series of articles or even a book, the task may become even more challenging.

As I’ve noted before, planning, executing, and publishing an interview is a unique experience. Even without the permanency of the Cloud, an interview lives far beyond the event itself! The effort you put into researching your subject’s life and work may prove of interest to people far beyond your targeted readership.  The dialectical elements of the conversation, introductory remarks, annotations, and other explanations will serve not only to illuminate your subject, but also your own life’s work.

In my next blog about interviews, I will discuss the renewal and publication of oral history interviews I conducted more than 25 years ago with a dear Hawaiian auntie whose family history is very interesting…The title is, Conversations with Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox DeLima Farias.

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about Prospect for Murder,  Conversations with Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox Delima Farias, and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website, ImaginingsWordpower.com.  

Acknowledging Mentors & Consultants, A Key Authoring Strategy

There are so many aspects to the art and science of writing that it is easy to lose focus of mechanical details while completing a project.  Empowering your words fully means having access to technical experts for fiction as well as non-fiction.  Sometimes when we think of the people who’ve advised us about our work—or regarding life in general—it’s difficult to remember them all.  But the demands of book publishing eventually require authors to compose an acknowledgments section, which can be a key authoring strategy in gaining the respect  of those who help you, as well as your readership.

In my own experience, I have learned that it is not good to wait until the end to begin documenting everyone who has contributed to your final product.  The simplest solution to this aspect of the editorial process is to keep notes on the people and organizations that are of assistance to us as a project develops As I have moved from Prospect for Murder to Murder on Mokulua Drive, and from Murders of Conveyance to Yen For Murder, I have copied the Notes and Acknowledgment portion from one manuscript into the next.  After removing references that are not pertinent to the current work, I continue to make quick notes as I progress through each book.  By the end of a project, I may not have beautifully composed text, but I have complete references that will allow me to polish the section. 

The easiest citations to track are for people connected to a library, institution, or government agency.  Of course, such organizations often have considerable turnover in staff.  That means you’ll need to verify whether a person remains in the job you’ve cited. Strategically inserting a phrase like “at the time” allows you to recognize a person’s help, even if you cannot verify their position as you go to press. 

During a professional writer’s research, some individuals will provide meaningful counsel for several years.  In my case, this category of advisers includes both generalists and specialists. Having described my protagonist Natalie Seachrist as the widow of a naval officer, I’m fortunate to have a husband who is a retired Lieutenant Commander.  When unexpected questions about ships and naval protocols have arisen, he’s been able to answer them quickly at unusual times.

There are also people whose contributions move beyond their specific area of expertise. For example, Kevin C. Horstman, PhD (specializing in geological sciences and digital image enhancement) has shared concise knowledge of the realm of geology.  In addition, he’s provided understanding of geographical features and general scientific terminology.  This invaluable input strengthens my ability to write descriptively, and has inspired writing of passages I had not foreseen.

Through appendices and footnotes, an author can reference the contributions of such technical, scientific, or artistic professionals in non-fiction pieces.  Unfortunately, this is not appropriate to most works of fiction.  However, fictional wordsmithing can utilize prefatory remarks, or dedication of a book or other major work to recognize such people.  For even if you do not realize it, a reader’s expectations usually includes a desire to gain insight into how you have researched and shaped the work you are presenting to them. This is particularly true in the case of a series in which you will hope to gain a following from one book to the next.

Audio books require additional levels of attention to enhance the sensory experience of listeners.  As I prepared to produce the audio recording of Prospect For Murder, I remained alert to aspects of production that could fulfill a listener’s expectations. A major consideration was providing precise chapter breaks, so that listeners know where they are within an audio book.  It was also important to provide a distinct voice for each character.  As someone trained in the theatre arts, I know it is easy for a solo performer to become confused in presentation of multiple characters. 

Fortunately, I work with Jim Waters of Waterworks Recording. His experience in audio production positioned him to serve effectively as my director, as well as my recording producer and engineer.  One of the best formatting tips he shared with me for preparing recording scripts was ensuring each page concluded with the end of a paragraph and/or an individual character’s voice.  In addition I utilized various formatting to indicate how each passage was to be read.

As this first book in the Natalie Seachrist series reached its release date at the end of July 2016, I prepared Internet announcements through Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com, plus a new author website, Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com and a Facebook page designed as a simple billboard for announcements.  For these and other purposes, I’ve needed a professional photograph to accompany cover art and promotional text.  This task seemed straight forward.  However, on the day of the shoot, the weather was muggy, the activity took place in a space using evaporative cooling rather than air conditioning, and I was definitely having a bad hair day.

Perhaps I should have paid a cancellation fee and rescheduled the event.  But with deadlines looming, I proceeded.  At the end of the shoot I learned that the digital photographic firm could make image enhancements…at $35 for each element they adjusted.  By the time I would have had them amend several parts of the picture I’d selected, I could have spent as much as for the shoot itself.  Fortunately, a friend’s daughter, Lindsey Burlingame, offers graphic art fixes at a reasonable hourly rate.  While this valuable service does not fall within a normal range of publishing credit, in the future she may become one of my advance readers, and I’ll be able to acknowledge her professional services in my notes section.

In summation, there are varied means by which you can thank and give credit to those who help you present your thoughts to the public!

Wishing you the best in your endeavors in the art of communication, 
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

For more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website:  Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com

To learn more about Prospect For Murder and my other writing projects, please visit my author’s website:  Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com

Interviews & Oral Histories, # 3

Conducting the Interview

Few people willingly give up control of their personhood to allow a stranger to delve into their inner thoughts.  But those private thoughts are what an effective writer must access to produce a true facsimile of any interview they conduct.  For as a professional or even an amateur writer, your goal is to meet your listeners or readers expectations that they are sharing your sensory experience while gleaning the particulars of why the highlighted individual is worthy of their attention. 

There are four statements I can make about my perspective on the interviewing process:

~  The interviewer has one chance to make a good first impression
~  The interviewer may not get another opportunity to interview their subject
~  Despite a subject’s agenda, an interview should encompass a non-fiction record of fact
~  Regardless of the premise for an interview, the subject may become reluctant to speak about topics previously authorized for discussion

The Importance of Preparing for Interviews
In several blogs, I’ve stressed the importance of preparation to conduct both general and oral history interviews.  In contrast, there are some writers who feel that research and other preparation is unnecessary, or even unwarranted.  I strongly disagree.  I believe research is vital to empowering your words in the interview process.  It will also help with establishing your credibility as a wordsmith who has mastered the art and science of writing.  In short, it’s one of the best ways of demonstrating your skill at the art of communication and making your subject trust you.

Contrary to the theory that “winging it” in an interview demonstrates you are a “common man,” and therefore likely to establish a connection with your interviewee, I’ve observed the results of people who conduct interviews without appropriate research.  For when an interviewer demonstrates little knowledge of their subject, their interviewee may judge them inconsequential.  If that is the case, responses to the interviewer’s questions may be superficial.  In fact, the subject  may be thinking, “If you don’t care enough to do your homework, why should I care about your project?  So I’ll just keep the kernels of my truth to myself until the right interviewer comes along.”

Summarizing Your Research
By the time you’re ready to conduct a cogent interview, you should have completed a great deal of fact checking in several areas of your subject’s life, including:

~  The historical era of their life and the category of work they’ve performed
~  Their biography and career…as reported by them, and as available in public sources
~  Materials they’ve published, and speeches and interviews they’ve given previously
~  Comments their colleagues and other contemporaries have expressed about them

 Shaping Your Questions
The bulk of your questions will be determined by the purpose of your project. In some cases you’ll need to conduct interviews with multiple persons.  By asking parallel questions of each, you can compare and contrast their views of the primary subject, as well as one another.

Regardless of whether there’s any obvious controversy you must address, beginning your interview with general questions about the unfolding of the subject’s life, can assist in putting them at ease…if their mental processes are fully functioning and there are no hidden elements in their early life.

By delivering the early portion of your questions chronologically, your interviewee can mentally relive moments with which they should be comfortable. Additionally, taking them through the recognizable patterns of the decades of their life may trigger remembrance of small details.  This will not only enhance the interview itself, but also add color to your subsequent reporting of the event. This can, of course, lead to some sidetracking, but you should be able to steer the conversation back to the key points you need to cover.

Prior to, or during the interview, you may uncover facts about your subject’s life and work that are at odds with information the person has released in the past In this case, you’ll have to decide whether to directly question these inconsistencies. Of course, you’ll want to keep in mind that true or false, the opinions of others may have colored the public record.  Also, the perspectives of most people change with time and life experience.  And, whether we like to admit it or not, everyone has gaps in their memory, without necessarily being conscious of it.

Approaching the Interview
It’s nearly show time.  That’s right.  I said show time.  While serious scholars and journalists may dislike hearing me say it, an interview is usually a semi-public performance.  Unlike a play, the dialogue is not set in stone; unlike an evening at an improv theatre, it’s not without direction and form—for that’s your job.  But like a play on Broadway, it will be frozen in time, even if you conduct subsequent interviews.

Location of the Interview
It’s been my experience that interviewees often set and control the location of the interviews they grant.  This may not be the case for broadcast media and bloggers with sets in which the subject is expected to appear, but you are probably not working in these situations. Admittedly, it’s best to conduct an interview at a site to which you’re both agreeable, but sometimes you must accept interviewing your subject in their office, home or other location of their choice.  Nevertheless, there are things you can do to balance the situation so that you’re able to subtly declare your professional standing, while still putting the person at ease. 

There are many authoring strategies that can help to distinguish your work as an interviewer.  Establishing a good rapport can be the key to making the interviewee trust you with the information they’re imparting.  To do this, you might bring something with you to enhance the experience.  This could be an edible item, or, if you know they are fond of a particular author, you might obtain a copy of that writer’s work to share with your subject.  Please note that I’m not suggesting you spend a significant sum of money to buy your subject’s cooperation.  But small acts of kindness can help warm the atmosphere, demonstrate the thoroughness of your preparation, and make the entire experience positively memorable for both of you.

Interviewer Anxieties
Anxiety will undoubtedly arise, regardless of your preparation.  Despite previous contact you may have had with a subject, being in their presence (even by video conferencing or telephone) changes the balance of your relationship. There is another factor that may detract from your rapport with your interviewee:  If there’s an aspect of their lives that makes them suspect in the eyes of the public, they may be hesitant about granting you an interview.  They may be apprehensive about information you may have uncovered already…or what they might reveal in conversation with you. 

The Atmosphere of the Interview
Even when you have secured the location for holding the event, you cannot be certain of being able to completely control the environment.

~  Despite previous agreement, additional people may be present during the event
~  As recording devices can fail, carry a back-up unit, cordage and microphones with you
~  Regardless of their response, your subject may be distracted by ringing telephones and other interruptions

As you set up your equipment, be aware that recognition of the permanency of the record of their interview may be upsetting to your subject. Even if you have provided them with a copy of your primary questions, they may dislike seeing the list set out before them.  They may also have negative feelings about seeing any reference notes you’ve brought. But since such materials should be in easily read styles and sizes of fonts, you’ll be able to quickly reference pertinent facts, while maintaining eye contact and keeping the dialogue between you as natural as possible. 

The Ebb and Flow of Your Interview
Establishing and maintaining a smooth flow of conversation is a primary goal in the interviewing process.  Regardless of whether your personal views are in accord with those of your interviewee, it’s important to approach what they have to say with a calm, if not fully open mind.  This does not mean that you have to forfeit your role as the honest broker of truth.  However, you can adjust your personal style of behavior and other elements to maximize a positive atmosphere. After all, as in any natural conversation, your subject will periodically lead the discussion. That’s fine as long as they do not deviate greatly from the purpose of your dialogue, or delve into personal details of your life.

Be Prepared for Shifts During Your Interview
After opening pleasantries, you can help direct the flow of the interview by verifying the amount of time you’ll have with your subject.  This establishes a guideline for both parties and should make your periodic redirection of topic easier to explain.

Although you’re guiding the overall direction of the conversation, information will arise that may surprise you, or at least call for cursory examination. This may occur because the man or woman to whom you are speaking may have talking points of their own that they wish addressed.  If that’s so, let them express their concerns, and then try to deftly redirect them to the specific information you need in order to complete your project.

The Editorial Process
Sometimes an author feels stressed about the relationship between the creative process and editing.  As you review an interview, you will not only want to envision how you will shape an accurate account of the event that reflects truly inspired writing as well.  One thing that can help you achieve this dual pronged goal is to remember that the way in which you report your findings may be wholly different than the substance and sequence of the questions you posed. 

For example, if you’re part of an oral history project, there may be a specific format for you to follow.  This generates a record that harmonizes with the results of other interviewers within the larger body of work.  Typically you’ll prepare a transcript of the actual dialogue between you and the subject—often with punctuation or other markings to indicate accents, pauses, stresses, and other notable features of your conversation.  You may also write an introductory passage explaining your methods of preparation and your evaluation of the results you’ve achieved.

If you’re working on assignment for a media outlet, you might have the opportunity to write a personable article containing both dialogue and narrative prose. In this case, you may be allowed to offer your candid view of the person you’ve studied.  Be aware, if you’re working as a freelance researcher and writer, you may need to prepare multiple versions of your report in order to secure one or more appropriate outlets for its broadcast or publication.  I should note that there are situations when an interview will be available to only a select audience, or may be held in private for release at a future time.

As you finalize your work on an interview, you’ll want to remember that in this day of permanency in data recording and retrieval, the words you shape after the interview will live as long as the event itself.

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about Prospect for Murder and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website:  Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com

 

 

 

Taming a Writer’s Clutter: #1, Thinning the File Forrest

You may have stumbled into this blog without an apparent need to address the topic.  You may not be part of a group planning to generate an anthology.  And, regardless of whether you are an amateur or professional writer, you may not think you would ever wish to publish a collection of your individual pieces.  Yet over time, a number of works, large and small, may have accumulated in your electronic as well as hardcopy files. It’s simply part of the life of a wordsmith. And whether you realize it or not, handling your files is part of the editorial process!

Reviewing Previously Composed Works
It might be relatively simple to assemble a publishable collection of your work, if you find a repeating theme.  Sadly, it’s more likely that you’ll find disparate pieces lacking a common unifying thread.  In such cases, cobbling together a publishable piece may seem a remote idea. However, periodic and systematic review and notation of your existing materials may reveal something of publishing value.  You’ll never know unless you take the time and energy to explore the possibility.  Projects like this demonstrate the technical side of the art and science of effective writing and should be one element in your authoring strategies

Systematic Review of Your Files
Having a comprehensible writer’s filing system can prove to be invaluable.  As a wordsmith, there are many good reasons to revisit your electronic and hardcopy folders and files on a regular basis.  The first benefit is controlling clutter.  When you no longer recognize what a folder or file contains, it’s time to consider deleting it, or combining its contents with another.  Of course, it is not advisable to delete material, until you’ve looked at it closely to see if there are any hidden gems.  For if you discover something that generates an unexpected revenue stream, the entire process is justified, even if it means using creativity in your file naming After all facilitating communication should include you!

Another reason for looking over your work is to review your journey as a professional writer.  Like an artist moving through various media and periods in the body of their work, you may find definitive patterns in your creations.  And, the process may impress you with the distance you have traveled and the progress that you’ve made.  You may also find there are topics, choices in voice, vocabulary, and sensory detail that you would like to employ in the work you are currently generating…

Facilitating File Review
In order to examine your work effectively, you need a filing system that facilitates easy access. Regardless of whether you’re dealing with hardcopy or electronic form, you’ll want to organize folders and files in a way that will make sense to you in the remote future. That means ensuring that each one is both recognizable and trackable.

Formatting Tips For Hardcopy Folders
Being a visually oriented person, I use color coding, abbreviated naming, and alphabetical sorting for hardcopy materials—of course, that’s after designating separate file drawers by category.  For all reference materials I use the color yellow.  These folders include:

~  Historical Reference
~  Geographical Reference
~ Organizational Reference
~  Miscellaneous Reference

For easy separation, I use Burgundy colored filing materials to designate Imaginings’ operational information and records.  This section includes topics such as:  accounting; computer hardware and software reference information; current and past marketing materials; handouts for clients; public speaking information and tools; and, current and completed writing projects.

Current clients are differentiated by teal colored folders and files.  For ongoing organizational volunteer projects, I use blue filing materials.  The great thing about a hardcopy folder is that its name can be changed whenever necessary by simply changing removable labels.  And once I’ve completed a project, (or am no longer working for a client), I transform most files into categorical records stored in the Burgundy color I use for my own files

For example, when I was no longer writing historical pieces for Realtor X, I removed materials I deemed irrelevant to any future work with them, and placed samples of the work I’d performed for them into a general topic folder [in this example, Real Estate].  This allows quick examination of all materials I’ve written about land and real estate. And, by retaining electronic files regarding individual companies, I can revisit the particulars of my association with them when necessary.

Electronic Folders & Files
I find that creating and naming Folders is easy…since I base the process on titles composed of descriptive words and folder placement on alphabetical sequencing.  To prevent having excessive numbers of folders for related topics, I use subset folders.  For example, within a Chinese reference folder, I have subsets for Chinese art, funeral customs, history, jewelry, language and dialects, names, philosophy, and Shànghăi, And within each of these categories, there are further folders for specific topics such as dynastic history, types of jade, elements of Shànghăi deco artwork, and male and female names.

When I began the Natalie Seachrist series, I had one unnamed book and a nameless protagonist.  After a while, the original file named “Book” became “Prospect For Murder.”  By then, the protagonist was Natalie Seachrist, so some files in the PFM Folder bear her name in their titling.  Many other files begin with the abbreviation “PFM,” followed by descriptive words, and finally, a date—if the material is NOT reference information. And, as with hardcopy files, reference data for the three books I’ve completed have been migrated to a generic Folder labeled “NS Research.”

Aside from logical alphabetical abbreviations, I urge you to date electronic files that are not reference information.  This is because one of the most difficult aspects of being a writer is the number of re-writes required. I fought dating my files for many years, but after repeated difficulty in locating the files I sought, I have followed the example of more scientifically-oriented authors.  The dating format I use is two digits each for the current year, the month, and day For today’s Blog, I might title the file, I_Blog_Taming_Clutter_Pt_1_160421.

Other issues in naming electronic files are the use of capital letters and underscores between words or other elements In the past, techies insisted on never using capital letters and always using dashes or underscores—or simply cramming alpha-numeric elements together without spaces.  I haven’t noticed such definitive instructions recently.  So, I use cap letters for readability, with underscores between the elements of a file name, as in one I created for recording the audio version of Prospect for Murder, PFM_Chapt_1_Vision.

Determining Files to Delete or Save
I offer one cautionary note to all authors when it comes to the potential deletion of files:  Author know thyself! This is crucial for all of us to internalize in many areas of our work.  It is particularly important for writers noted for being too quick to delete something they may later need…as well as those tending to hoard every word they write, as if each were presented in a vision from a higher authority.

In general, I de-clutter files by removing as many as I can in both hardcopy and electronic formats.  However, I have mechanisms for saving favorite material: I maintain two hardcopy sample portfolios.  One is a master with published examples from my best work.  The second one is smaller, with basic promotional materials focused on me and the general scope of Imaginings WordPower and Design Consultation.  In the smaller binder, I’ve allowed space for inserting material from the master portfolio that might be appropriate to meeting with a specific person or organization.

For each major writing project, I create a file named “Unused Verbiage.”  It is the destination for words, phrases and passages that I decide are inappropriate to my current endeavors, but which might prove useful later or in another piece of writing.  These favored words can also facilitate your re-editing of a piece, such as when your editor or publisher requests insertion of some element you had deemed irrelevant. 

Through such files, I track snippets of my writing, without needing to save a large or duplicative file.  In addition, I rename files with differing presentations of material, such as PFM elements that were too detailed for inclusion, but contain potentially useful information, i.e. RMS_EmpressofBrit_Orig_Description or Pearl_Wong_Orig_Shanghai_Story. Both of these files reside beside the completed manuscript of Prospect for Murder.  I don’t know how they might help me achieve goals and objectives in the unpredictable future. Perhaps I might revisit those passages as I complete Pearl Wong’s story within the series’ fourth book, Yen for Murder. 

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about Prospect for Murder and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com.

The Value of an Index

Making Non-Fiction Text User Friendly

Empowering Your Words
In both fiction and non-fiction projects, there are many aspects of the art and science of writing that can go unnoticed in the creative phase of composition.  I heartily concur with the idea that as writers we need to focus initially on capturing our inspirational thoughts prior to addressing details of the editorial process.  Nevertheless, it is good to have the overall design of a literary project on the edge of our consciousness whenever putting pen to paper.  And, when we do don our editorial caps, writers need to be cognizant that that work empowers the words already set down.  Regardless of the target market, readers have expectations, and the skills of a wordsmith determine whether those expectations will be met.

During the publication of the anthology Under Sonoran Skies, Prose and Poetry of the High Desert, I was pleased to receive positive critical attention for my comprehensive index.  As the artistic director for the project, part of my authoring strategies was to ensure that future as well as current readers would find the work user-friendly, as well as an enjoyable read.  Despite my vision, some of my five co-authors have been less than enthusiastic about the value of indexing.  In fact, one of them was involved in another anthology for which an index was deemed irrelevant since including one would have reduced the number of pieces from one of the book’s prolific authors. 
Significance of The Lack of an Index
When I examined that book’s table of contents, I realized the work had frequent references to historical events and high-profile people.  Unfortunately, the lack of an index precluded a reader’s ability to analyze the work fully.  This was especially true if a reader wanted to compare text provided by multiple authors on a particular subject.  And, with the passage of time, even someone who has read the book and is familiar with its topics would find it difficult to re-access specific references—at least in hardcopy.  And it is true that reference searches in material in electronic format can be facilitated by utilizing a find or search command.  But to accomplish a comparison of various authors’ views, the reader would have to create a separate listing of those citations that pertained to their interests.

Since one can never know how a work will be used at a future time, I believe there is one simple argument for indices in non-fiction:  If it is logical that some reader may wish to locate a specific reference, there is a need for an index Even when a book’s contents are directed to a specific audience, future developments within the field under discussion—let alone the unfolding of history—may yield an unexpected group of readers for whom an index will be invaluable.

Structuring an index usually begins by listing proper nouns contained in the work—meaning all people, geographic locations, and events of sufficient worth to have been named.  Most word processing programs can help you gather and list such terms, even if they lack an actual indexing feature.  Another tactic for refining an index is analyzing terms included by other authors addressing a parallel subject.

As you delve into your indexing project, you may find topics requiring in-depth analysis.  In looking at the nouns you have initially listed, consider related names and topics that can be grouped under a general category.  For example, a discussion of lions, dogs and parrots suggests that a general topic of animals would be appropriate.  Of course, some words may not have such an obvious association.  One area of complexity is persons of varied professional accreditation.  If you lacked sufficient numbers of therapists, physicians and dentists to provide these individual categories, you might use a comprehensive term such as healthcare professionals.  Consider the terms highways, access ways, and trains.  While they do not all relate to forms of roadways, they might be listed under a general heading of transportation

If you tire during the indexing process, consider returning to your analysis of the work of colleagues.  For although you may have accessed the works of many authors during preliminary research, you may not have closely examined their indices.  This semi-final exercise may not only reveal an approach to indexing you have not considered, but it may also reveal gaps in topics or subtopics within the body of your own work.  Even if you decline to broaden the scope of your piece, you may wish to consider some additions to your afterword or bibliography.

Before I leave the topic of indexing, I should offer one cautionary note for avoiding a mammoth appendage to your actual composition:  When in doubt about including a general category, consider whether you have a minimum of three words to list within it…

The art of communicating with readers requires diligence in refining your skills.  It is as demanding an element in non-fiction as in a fine work of fiction.  So, beyond indexing, what other tools of wordsmithing could enhance your reader’s experience?

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn about Prospect for Murder [the first book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series] and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website: Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com

Media Relations For Authors

Part 1, Know Your Media

With today’s changing media, it’s nearly impossible to write a comprehensive and durable directive on the Dos and Don’ts of Media Relations for writers, or anyone. But with the intense competition for acquiring visibility in the public arena, it’s vital to make becoming a pro at your interaction with the media a vital element of your authoring strategies.

If you’re an effective wordsmith, you know the importance of both the written and spoken word.  Of course, in today’s electronically-driven world, a word is not necessarily a word.  With shortened forms of communication being perceived as ideal, varieties of abbreviations abound.  Unfortunately, these shortcuts can lead to confusion.  Not even acronyms can be relied on to carry identical meanings when used within the same language.  Consider AMA. While it is used for both the American Medical Association and the Arizona Medical Association, it also stands for Ask Me Anything.  Then there’s also COD, which in commerce means Cash on Delivery; in another context, it means Call of Duty.  So, when dealing with acronyms, you have to be clear about which meaning you are attributing to the abbreviation.

Regardless of whether you are writing fiction, non-fiction, or commercial text like ads and commercials, the key to effective communication can be found in determining the demographics of your target market.  Luckily, when we consider the demographics of media outlets, most are designed to appeal to a specific segment of the population.  This can save considerable time, energy, and money when you wish to gain the attention of a media outlet’s readers, viewers, and/or listeners.

In the twentieth century, media generally referred to newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and signage.  Today there are expanded versions of these media, as well as the Internet which has exploded across the globe with constantly evolving permutations.  Just examining today’s political campaigns demonstrates that effectively utilizing static, electronic and mobile vehicles of communication provides unlimited choices for embedding a branded messageas long as someone is willing to pay for message preparation, if not actual placement of the resulting advertisement or infomercial. 

But what alternatives are available to those who cannot afford to pay for research, graphic design, or advertising slots?  Fortunately, even an individual with limited resources can find opportunities for communicating with the public that are cost-effective, if not actually free of charge.  Today’s hottest communication outlets are in the realm of social media Like other media platforms, you must be savvy about your use of them…but we’ll leave that topic for another post.…

One of the simplest means of getting free media coverage lies in earning their attention After analyzing a media outlet’s format and demographics, you can shape text that will help meet their need to generate timely and noteworthy coverage of relevant persons and events.  Keep in mind that short and concise presentations of the facts and even articles receive preferential treatment.  If you capture their interest, a journalist can always request quotes and additional facts, but they will not want to edit material you send regarding a topic they may feel has little media value. 

When you’re not facing a promotional deadline, you can explore aspects of developing long-term relationships with your media contacts.  In short, you need to develop friendships that will prove beneficial to your marketing programs.  While this may seem simplistic, building bonds with the people who regularly communicate with the public continues to be a cost effective ways for writers and artists [as well as non-profit organizations] to stimulate awareness of their work.

If you meet someone in passing, you’ll want to make the most of the opportunity to get acquainted.  But when you have the time, you should perform at least cursory research of the person you desire to meetWhether they’re a columnist, commentator, or a department head within a media outlet, a brief Internet search should reveal details about where they attended school, organizations to which they belong, and personal interests you may share.  To maximize the results of your effort, you may wish to utilize more than one search engine.   Next, you can then strengthen your avenues of connectivity by researching their professional output:  Their articles, columns, or books; programs; videos, etc.

What is the current focus of their work?  What are their clients expecting?  Can you find a gap, current or recurring, in what they offer the public?  In newspapers, this is called the news hole If you’re lucky there will be a gap just waiting to be filled with your data.  If that is the case, your media contact will be truly grateful for your input and will welcome hearing from you in the future.

Once you have completed your background research, you can strategize meeting or expanding your relationships within the media outlets you are targeting.  If you’ll be attending the same function, consider sending notes or emails expressing your desire to see them.  Or, if you have just attended an event at which they spoke, you can send congratulatory messages commenting on your appreciation of their work.

The bottom line is that communicating directly with members of the media yields invaluable results:  Personal connectivity with people who may be able to quickly act upon information you share with them; opportunities for networking with outstanding members of your virtual or real community; potential for entering into partnerships that can help you achieve your goals and objectives.  And, by making the effort to demonstrate genuine care about their concerns regarding appropriate topics and meeting deadlines, you will not only attain increased public visibility, but you will end up participating in new and sometimes exciting events. 

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors, 
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

For examples of concise print and broadcast media releases, visit:  http://www.imaginingswordpower.com/media/media_release_samples.html
To learn about Prospect for Murder and other writing projects, visit my author’s website at Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  For ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website:  Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com

Interviews & Oral Histories, #1, Overview

The Art & Science of Writing
The Anxieties of Conducting Interviews

While many writers enter a new project by addressing its individual parts consecutively, I tend to begin by considering how it parallels other work I have undertaken.  That is why my discussion of business plans and grant proposals is offered in a single page on my website.  Likewise, I view the preparation for conducting both journalistic and oral history interviews as generally the same.  Before examining specific aspects of preparing for an interview, I should clarify that there are limits to this simplistic summation, for the research required for anything dealing with an historical topic is usually greater than that for a biographical feature in a newspaper or magazine.

However, in both instances, you need to begin by learning as much as you can about your subject.  For while time or resources may preclude your conducting in-depth research, there are two essential reasons for doing as much as you can.  The most obvious one is to verify facts that have purported to make the man or woman sufficiently noteworthy for you to undertake your project.  This fact checking ensures that even if the subject’s memory of specific elements in their personal or professional history is flawed, your reporting will be accurate. 

The second reason to perform research is to find commonalities that will help you establish a rapport with your interviewee.  This can be especially important if your interview is being done by telephone rather than in person.  Even with today’s connectivity via computer camera, the nuances of a personal meeting can be lost in electronic communication:  The brightness of your smile upon entering the presence of your interviewee; the warmth of a firm but nonthreatening handshake; the liveliness of your natural voice; the fragrance of memorabilia assembled for your meeting; the shared experience of a flavorful cup of tea or coffee.

Honing your skills in the art of communication is vital in conducting any kind of interview.  In the end, the results of failing to prepare properly for any interview are the same:  Poor quality dialogue between you and your interviewee AND poor quality of your authorship.

Good writing reflects a combination of science and art.  Empowering your words means investing the same amount of energy in your mental preparation as in performing your research, organizing the results, and outlining the questions you will ask during the interview.  What do I mean by encouraging your mental preparation?  There is little you can do to be certain of the attitude of your subject.  But, despite anything that may occur prior to the interview, you can adjust your own thinking to be as positive as possible.  In short, you need to be artful in your interaction with your interviewee in order to have a winning result for both of you. 

That last note is very important, so allow me to repeat it:  In order for your project to be a true success, both you and your interviewee must feel a sense of accomplishment when the conversation ends.  The interviewer is supposed to be in the driver’s seat.  To reach your goal of creating an interaction that will result in mutual satisfaction, you have to anticipate myriad issues that might arise in the interview.

I will admit that once you have completed your transcription, there may be points on which you and the subject will disagree…usually because the interviewee has doubts about the material they have disclosed, or they have misgivings about the manner in which they answered your questions.  In these situations, there is little that you can do about any disappointments your subject may feel—although you can offer to interview them again, or to make note of their after-thoughts in a way that honors both your work and their concerns.  However, as long as you have a signed informed consent and legal release form granting you use of the interview and its contents, you should be safe from future legal issues.

If you are a professional writer, you may have encountered circumstances in which you have turned to an attorney for counsel.  For as laws vary from state to state, and accepted interview practices may change over time, you must be careful to research the legal issues involved in the use of information obtained in interviews you conduct.  Also, you may wish to consider taking courses in journalism and oral history…at least have access to a respected journalist or historian who can advise you about interview standards. 

Should you find the thought of embarking on a round of higher education daunting, please know that you should be able to find a school that will allow you to audit a course.  This means that unlike a student taking the course for college credit, you should not have to take exams or write course papers.  However, as a sign of respect, even if the professor’s permission is not required, I recommend that you speak to them in advance of registering to audit their course[s].

How one handles the discomfort of an interviewee can be a difficult issue for anyone Following an interview with an elderly woman in Hawai`i, I was careful to recreate the full essence of our conversation.  I did this by indicating the subject’s cadence and pronunciation in the transcription.  At the time we were contemplating writing a partial family history, for which little of our dialogue would have appeared in the prose I would have composed for the book.  Unfortunately, that fact did not mitigate her displeasure at what she perceived as flaws in her use of the English language.

In another instance, during research for a master’s degree in modern American history, I conducted an oral history interview with a man who participated in the Allied Occupation of Japan following World War II.  As I had been trained in oral history courses, I had performed considerable research in advance.  The interviewee and I were the ideal combination of being opposite in gender and age, and we did strike a good rapport at the onset of our meeting.  In addition to this interview, I conducted subsequent interviews with former colleagues of the man, which also unfolded in equally harmonious ways.  Unfortunately, when I interviewed his wife after his death, I learned that the work of my subject had been undermined by the rise of McCarthyism and the prolonged witch hunt for anyone suspected of being a communist—or even, as in this case, being a supporter of freedom of speech in open dialogues between persons of varied political leanings.

I offer these examples of challenges faced by the interviewer to encourage you to conduct in-depth research prior to your interview AND to suggest that despite whatever due diligence you have performed, something unforeseen can arise.  I’m glad to say that in the aftermath of both of these challenges, I was able to retain positive relationships with my interviewees, although the projects did not come to fruition as I had planned.  In the long run, I recognized there is little I could have handled differently in the interview process itself, and I have certainly benefited from the experiences I had as a young writer.

This brings me to one of the most important points I wish to make on this topic:  All of your work as a researcher and writer adds to your credibility as an author.  And, without a few challenges along your path, you will lack the breadth of life experience that brings depth to the verbiage you shape into material that both a targeted and general readership will find of interest.

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website:  Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com.  To learn more about Prospect for Murder and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com. 

Communicating with the Senses

Sense Memory:  Words For The Eye and Palette

 The art of communication is largely reliant on visual and aural stimulation.
An author communicates with the written word.
~  A dancer creates a visual message with his or her body.
~  Actors and public speakers communicate with the spoken word and their bodies.

In the past, the sense of touch helped to share the message of written words, as finely tooled leather-bound tomes invited the reader’s fingers to trace the lettering on a book cover.  Even the sense of smell might be involved, as the carved leather fostered anticipation of the remarkable thoughts within. 

Today, all five of the senses of the writer’s audience may be involved through the communication tools of our multi-media civilizationBeyond the realm of streaming radio and audio books, there are audio messages being sent into space that may not be heard for thousands or even millions of years.  We are also at the brink of attempts at smell- or taste-athon forms of entertainment. 

The goal of any communicator is to ensure that their readers, listeners, and/or viewers will respond positively to their message.  Sometimes the process for achieving this is straightforward, even mechanical.  At other times, the gathering of ingredients for connecting with one’s audience seems happenstance if not magical.

A successful advertising campaign is an example of how this process can work.  Most of us are accustomed to extending our minds beyond a limited promotional image and message to the full experience enjoyed when actually partaking of the featured product or activity.  Whether viewed in a full-page magazine ad or television commercial, the sight of a glistening golden turkey on a platter is expected to invoke memories of holiday feasts shared with our loved ones…rather than the reality of a studio of near-strangers focused on taking pictures of an artificial bird glued to a platter and painted with an oily brown glaze.

Sadly, the perception of truth can be more important than truth itself.  For example, I recall being instructed about the art of opening doors, shaking hands and kissing on stage.  I quickly learned that the natural ways of performing these tasks were irrelevant. The actors had to adjust their movements to make the audience feel comfortable with the actions necessary to theatrical performance.

To ensure our audience will be accepting of the images we have created, the artful wordsmith must do more than employ accurate vocabulary.  This is one reason that translation of text from one language to another is so difficult.  In fact, in addition to being an editorial process, it is a fine artMerely selecting a word that correctly describes something does not make it a successful choice:  The descriptive word you eventually choose must evoke the most appropriate image to both your genre and your audience.

Consider how you might employ the following words and phrases:  Azure, blue, and sapphire; highlighted, revealed, and shone down upon; bright, luminescent, and sunny; juicy, moist, and succulent; boar, ham, and pig.  Depending on the scene being described AND your audience, the text you compose from these words will differ.  While the word blue may be appropriate for an advertisement, a children’s book and a romance novel, the same cannot be said for luminescent, azure, and succulent.

As adults with sophisticated English vocabularies, we may envision immediately the magical sparkle of a luminescent sky and the moist deliciousness of a pork loin described as succulent. However, these word choices would be inappropriate for a children’s book intended for a beginning reader.  Our creative process may draw on a rich palette of images within our mind’s eye, but it must be tempered by the realities of the genre in which we are working.

Refining our writer’s palette is one of the most important authoring strategies we can employ, regardless of whether we are working on fiction or non-fiction projects.  In my work as a practitioner of the art and science of writing, I seek to create a juncture between language and the sensory organsI do this by striving to balance carefully chosen nouns and modifiers within an appropriate structure to provide my targeted audience with a rich sensory experience that they will accept within the current genre.  

There is, of course, no right or wrong decision in the scenarios you create as a writerThe options are many.  The choices are yours.  But as you work on any project, consider the demographics, as well as the expressed responses of members of your audience.  In the end, your word selections should be guided by determining the effect you wish to create in each passage…

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

For more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower and branding, please visit:
Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com
For examples of sample color palettes, please visit:  https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com/color/plays_on_color.html
Additional discussion of the nature and impact of color is provided at:
https://www.imaginingswordpower.com/wearing/wearing_your_brand.html.

To learn more about Prospect For Murder and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit: https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com


Sidestepping Writer’s Block

The following is a commandment I often recommended for serious writersThou shalt set and maintain a schedule for daily composition—or other work related to the art and science of wordsmithing

Unfortunately, regardless of whether you’re an amateur or professional, any author can face Writer’s Block.   The term often conjures the image of a twentieth century writer of the great novel—rumpled, frazzled, and hazy from exhaustion abetted by alcohol or other drugs.  Seldom do we picture an elegantly clad person poised before a blank computer screen in a well-appointed office.

Surprisingly, today’s writer is more often focused on commercial or academic composition than fiction Stymied by the inability to produce the required verbiage, the valiant wordsmith in this scenario may continue to drill down in a repeating exercise of seeming activity…with the hope that it will produce a new dynamism.  But an episode of slugging away at wordsmithing without inspiration often yields the same result:  N o t h i n g  o f  V a l u e.

Is there an easy solution to the dilemma of low motivation and poor productivity Sometimes the answer is no.  At least for the time being, leaving the project alone may be the best answer.  But what options are available as an alternative to abdicating your role as a writer and hitting your head with the hammer of guilt? 

In the Southwestern desert, simply drinking water can restore one’s ability to concentrate, if not one’s creativity.  Another option is exercise .  Going for a run or walking in a garden will remove you from an atmosphere of defeat and inhaling fresh air re-oxygenates your bloodstream and enhances your brain function Recent biochemical research has shown the benefit of eating brain-stimulating foods.  But if preparing a meal of nut-encrusted fish with broccoli and tomatoes is not doable, you could consider taking a power nap, perhaps serenaded by Mozart or Vivaldi.

Beyond tangible physical benefits, these strategies provide Attention Distraction.  Wait a moment, you say?  Attention distraction is usually associated with magicians misdirecting audiences…or mystery writers dropping false leads into their text to confuse readers about the true direction of their plotline.

Regarding the quandary of writer’s block, consider that scientists exploring attentional focus and problem solving have discovered that too much mental focus can reduce one’s creativity, as well as the ability to solve problems.  Therefore any strategy that redirects your energies is indeed useful for refreshing your body and your mind.

For me, the key to my productivity is my frame of mind.  For even if I’m poised to bring form to a fully visualized project, extraneous noise like ringing phones, talk or even music can stall my work.  Sadly, I’ve found that food and water, or a change of scenery with heart stimulating activity, can only help to a limited degree.  

Attentional distraction via the dovetailing of the creative and editorial processes I mentioned in my first blog is my best method for sidestepping writer’s block.  If all else fails, cleaning house or playing a few games of solitaire allows me to return to productive writing for hours!  All of the techniques I’ve mentioned in this blog helped me through the myriad phases of writing, working with my publisher, and promoting Prospect For Murder, the first book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series.

Remember, the Universe will provide the answer…when you’re ready to receive it!

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors, 
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about Prospect for Murder and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website:  https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com