Guest Blogger: Freelance Copywriter and Nonfiction Writer Faye Rivkin

FayeWhat do you write, and what, specifically, are you working on now?

As a freelance technical copywriter, my work is pretty much 100% non-fiction. I take highly technical concepts and turn them into more accessible pieces using language appropriate for a specific audience. That means I might take information from a product’s data sheet that only an engineer or scientist would understand, and turn it into web copy, using completely different words, tone and voice to deliver the message.

Much of my work is covered by non-disclosure agreements, or is ghost written, so if I showed you anything, I’d have to kill you. But, I can tell you that I’ve written and edited web copy, marketing materials, white papers and books for organizations ranging from technology start-ups and mature software companies, to hospitals and universities, environmental companies and the MTA.

In addition to my day job, I find time where I can get it, to write those pieces that are important to me, and tell those stories that needed to be told, such as those I wrote late last year for the Wharton Healthcare Quarterly about discrepancies in healthcare.

What do your first drafts typically look like?

A mess, unless it’s a topic I’m intimately familiar with.  If I’ve taken the time to develop an outline, which I prefer to do, the draft isn’t quite so ugly. I try not to censor that first draft; almost anything is fair game. Think about it. Who reads the first one but the author?

What is your revision process?

I used to do everything online but a while ago I started to feel like some of the pieces weren’t getting the detailed revision attention they required. Now, an online edit – both high level thought and line by line editing – is followed by an edit of the hard copy.

Where do you like to write? What tools do you use?

I can write pretty much anywhere. I do well with music, so if I’m somewhere loud, I put on my headphones and turn on Pandora. I usually write on my laptop, sitting at the desk in my office, but sometimes you’ll find me typing while sitting cross-legged on my bed, dog at my side. I’m writing this sitting at my desk. The TV on in the next room, and my dog is asleep behind me on the floor. It works best if George the dog is close to me, snoring away. His snoring is often the best sound to write to.

Who is your favorite author and/or what is your favorite book, and why?

I think to be a good writer you have to read a lot of different writers, in a variety of genres. I can’t say I have just one favorite author; although when I was in my 20s I read everything by Stephen King. Now, many years later, I’m part of a book club and we read all kinds of books, both fiction and non-fiction, some of which I never would thought to read otherwise. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is one of my recent favorites, and the web site Goodreads is a great source of titles, ‘cause I get to see what my friends are reading.

What was the first piece you ever wrote, and what made you decide to start it?

It wasn’t so much something I wrote but rather something I edited. I was a sophomore in college, and my roommate was a nursing major. I’d often come in and find her in tears as she worked on a paper for one of her electives classes. I became her editor, which was pretty unusual, considering I was a chemistry major, and it’s a known fact that most scientists can’t write. The rest of that semester and the next one went a whole lot smoother, and there were a whole lot less tears.

That was, I think, when I first realized I wasn’t the typical scientist. It took me another 15years to realize that my role was to help scientists and others who’d rather not write become better writers.

Where can we read more of your work?

The online journal Outside In Literary Magazine, the anthology Whereabouts:  Stepping out of Place, a manufacturing journal called Industry Market Trends (A publication of ThomasNet News) and the Wharton Healthcare Quarterly, an online newsletter. For links to other pieces, check out my web site (www.writefayewrite.com) and find me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Oh and I have a blog (http://write-faye-write.blogspot.com) but I’ve been very, very, very, lax about blogging.

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Faye has been turning thoughts into finished products since 1999. With an MA in non-fiction writing from Johns Hopkins and a BS in Chemistry from the University of Delaware, she writes, edits, tweaks, rewrites and revises, stringing together the right words to describe everything from the exact shade of red on an embarrassed woman’s cheek to the complex technology used in 3D printing.

 

Guest Blogger: Frances Carden, “Location: A Portal into the World of Inspiration”

Frances

Location: A Portal into the World of Inspiration

Opening a book is like calling a Phoenix from its ashes. A beginning, a new world to discover, complete with a middle devoted to adventure and then the end, a final farewell to a world with places and people burning brighter than reality. Ever since I can remember, this is the siren song I responded too. As a child, my father would bring home towering heaps of mainframe paper, all bound together at perforated edges like a giant book. The mystery language of computers printed on the back and a tantalizing front page blank and ready for the scrawl of a childish hand. I made my first “novels” in this way, even setting up pretend book stands in my room, a fake Barnes & Nobel where my parents dutifully shopped. Playing outside, in the pine forest behind our house on humid Memphis days, I was never myself but some character in an alien world where anything could happen. Reality never touched me in those magical times.

Already in love with books, my love for Africa preceded even these early days. Even my parents do not remember when the obsession began. Before I was even eight I had already watched a movie that would change my life – I Dreamed of Africa. At fifteen, with a little cash and access to my mom’s Amazon account, I discovered the movie’s predecessor, a book by Kuki Gallmann which tells a story of a woman who defied the odds and did what she loved. Locations are just unwritten novels, each place on the earth recording the history of the people who move like ants over the landscape and then disappear, each tale precious and separate under the sun but a mystery contained only in place – that final shaper of what we are and will be. The love of all things Africa and the obsession with reading had captured my soul. But it was incomplete. I wanted to be like those that I so envied. I wanted an even closer vantage point into this world of god-like beings – authors.

I had many failed writing attempts as a teen caused by a short attention span and no idea where to start – the idea of a novel simple until a blank page stared back at me. Patience wasn’t  my thing. What place didit have in my magical kingdom? Translating imagination onto paper is not nearly as easy as it was in the days of mainframe printouts and pine forests.

But the urge nagged and from time to time returned with a fever soon destroyed by panic. Writing is a process of love/hate. Frustration. How to translate grand feelings onto paper, especially if those feelings are of any length? My ideas only stirred ocassionally, a smoldering flame that soon died. I just didn’t know how to accomplish it. Africa rescued me.

After graduating college, I only ever submitted one graduate school application (Johns Hopkins) with the vague idea of a Masters in Writing. I got a job as a technical writer and figured that grad school and pursuing creative writing was really a waste of time, but on the spur of a moment and the prodding of parents, sent in an application anyway. I was accepted. And so, it seemed, chosen to poke at that flame bird again.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) spoke to my soul, visions of undiscovered places, impenetrable forests, and dark caves never fully explored kept speaking to my soul. I wanted to write about that place with all its ghosts and haunted rainforests, its turbulent history. The geography instills respect and fear, many places undiscovered, never seen by a living human. The people, each with their own tragedy in this place of feral beauty, also began to call to me, and it seemed as though their story was not told. Around the setting, a seedling of an idea sprang. A woman, similar to myself, an outsider discovering a place she loves and the disillusionment when imagination and magic is killed before the pedestal of harsh reality. She must deal with her awakening, the conflict between loving a place and hating what it does. Enter Sudan, another discovery, all from a long ago Michael Palin show depicting the Nile Valley Express. More travel manuals, more books on complicated politics and histories of assassination, religious warfare, starvation, colonialism. Stories of fear in yet another place made beautiful by the landscape that is that blank page upon which we collectively write a terrible history. These stories need to be told, these places exposed not romantically, but with a glint of steel in their beckoning hands. A place you love and hate. Like writing.

From there, the characters called to me, these alien people who don’t belong in the world to which (like me) they are placed. Hours of research, the landscape guiding the creation. Sometimes these places spoke to me and the Phoenix bursts into flames. Other times I become frustrated, not writing for months, feeling that old despair: This project is far too grand. How do I ever tackle it?

I want to just get on a plane, see these places. I can’t. Sudan is in warfare (South Sudan having recently and justifiably succeeded). Congo is not as dangerous, but not a place you just hop on a plane to go either. And so, I let the research guide the pen first, and once the place is alive in me, my characters take over and I am typing quickly, shocked by the events unfurling, never expecting or planning what I will write. At other times, I wrestle to discover their secrets, barely getting anything written and throwing it all away the next day.

I do come down to earth, to reality, more now than as a child. But often, I’m consumed with my own Phoenix wanting to be born, her stimulus Africa which has so many stories that she has always longed to tell. Congo, Sudan, Kenya. They are calling: Charlotte, Charlie, Eli. My characters discover my world for me.

Want to hear more writing from me? Check out my posts on 20 Something Magazine, my Epinions profile, and my somewhat defunct (but soon to be risen) blog.

Guest Blogger: Journalist Jeff Craven

394134_625532971881_1362035168_nWhat do you write, and what, specifically, are you working on now?

I am a full-time journalist who writes articles about studies published in medical journals or presented at medical conferences.
In the past, I have been a general assignment reporter for several Philadelphia newspapers and have written everything from crime stories about a gentleman who was convicted of running a Russian prostitution ring out of a publishing company to human interest pieces about a pipe club losing their clubhouse and taking refuge in a private journalist bar in Philadelphia that still allows smoking indoors.
Right now, I am just starting a new job as a staff writer for a reproductive endocrinology clinic in Delaware (think in vitro fertilization) where I will be telling the stories of patients through not just writing, but radio broadcasts, video and social media.
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What do your first drafts typically look like?
As with fiction, any good news article is well-researched. There is a lot going into understanding a subject not just so you can wrap your head around a certain topic. but so you can ask targeted and intelligent questions of your sources.
With that said, my first drafts are usually a mess. I transcribe my interviews, so if I am writing a 3500 word cover story on hip replacements, for example, I could have as many as six different multi-page interviews laying on my desk on top of journal articles as background and references on a given topic.
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What is your revision process? 
 
I write my first drafts straight through, then revise. At that point, it’s unbalanced – do I have enough experts or references on a topic? Does the science match what my sources have said? Do I need to go back and ask follow up questions? All this is taken care of before an editor even sees my story.
I’m lucky in that I have always had excellent editors behind me and my work. To be a great editor, you must first be a great writer and communicator. My revisions are usually based around suggestions my editors make, and through our relationship I will learn what aspects of my writing need work.
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Where do you like to write? What tools do you use?
 
I like to write anywhere quiet, but in a pinch I will use headphones and music to block environmental sound out. One thing I can’t compromise on is having a desk and a hard keyboard. Try as I might, I can’t write freehand or on a tablet because my ideas are usually so scatterbrained. Everyone has a different method for turning out copy, and I am a visual learner. I need the freedom to be able to delete or move ideas around in an article on the fly to see its place in a piece.
The tools I use to get my stories done are my audio recorder, laptop, Microsoft Word or OpenOffice, my research materials and interviews, my mp3 player, and a good pair of headphones.
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Who is your favorite author and/or what is your favorite book, and why?
 
It’s hard to pick a favorite! I suppose Hunter S. Thompson is a great inspiration to me, and in terms of fiction I like off-the-wall guys like Vonnegut and Bukowski. Right now I am reading a few books: 1Q84 by Murakami and The Wizard-Knight series by Gene Wolfe.
I tend to read anything because it’s hard to say where inspiration will come from. Specifically, I like to read books in styles that are completely different from my own so I will gain a new perspective to round out my own style.
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What was the first piece you ever wrote, and what made you decide to start it? 
 
The first journalism piece I ever wrote was for Metro, one of Philadelphia’s daily newspapers. It was an easy tech story on the iPhone 4 and it wracked my nerves pretty bad just finding the courage to pick up the phone and talk to a source on the subject.
I wrote the story because I was comfortable with the subject and knew I had to focus on developing my interview and research skills before I moved onto tougher assignments.
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Where can we read more of your work?
I let my hosting lapse on my personal site (jeffcraven.org) because I’m currently redoing it from scratch to include some of my newer multimedia projects. For now, you can read some of my articles on orthopedics at Healio.com/Orthopedics. My work at Reproductive Associates of Delaware (http://ivf-de.org/) is not yet live yet but should start to trickle in during the rest of 2014.

Guest Blogger: Fiction Writer Shelby Settles Harper

shelby_profile

What do you write/working on now?

My main project is a novel in progress about Sunnie, a mid-thirties woman haunted by her tumultuous childhood with alcoholic parents, who escaped her small Oklahoma town as soon as she could and has been on the run ever since, floating between odd jobs in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.  Her life among other ex-patriots is upended when her aunt Brenda urgently calls her home to help locate Sunnie’s missing father, Woody.  There have been a string of racially motivated killings in northeastern Oklahoma, and Brenda is worried that Woody, a half-blood American Indian, has become the latest victim.  Once home, Sunnie is confronted by her half-siblings, who are barely out of their teens and already in a world of trouble, and very much in need of the sister they feel abandoned them, as well as her own long-running questions about her identity.  The return to the landscape that shaped her and the people she left behind, including her first love, Andrew, forces Sunnie to choose between finally facing the long-buried tensions that surround her family, or continuing to run.

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Where do you like to write?

I’ve got three children, ages 7, 5, and almost 2, and I prefer writing away from them and our house, because there’s always laundry or toys or dishes that need attention. Right now, though, we don’t have a babysitter, so I’ve claimed a room for myself in this house that I share with four other people, and that’s where I write, usually during naps, early mornings, and late evenings.  It’s a beautiful room, with hard wood floors and a view to the backyard.  It’s filled with art, books, and fresh flowers, and there’s always a cup of tea on the desk.  Sometimes, though, I have to make the writing fit into my life, and that means writing in school carpool lines, at Chuck E. Cheese, or at the neighborhood park.

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Favorite author/book?

I don’t have a favorite author or book, but authors I return to again and again include Sherman Alexie, Zadie Smith, Anne Enright, Louise Erdrich, and Jhumpa Lahiri.  Authors I’ve recently discovered and love include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Stephen Graham Jones, Matt Bell and Amber Sparks.

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What is your revision process?

I love revision, both the big-picture and line editing.  I’m not sure that I have a process, although I’ve found it useful to loosely follow the instructions found in “The Weekend Novelist Re-Writes the Novel,” by Robert Ray. With line editing, I prefer to use a green pen. It’s somehow less depressing.

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My work can be found at…

Outside In Literary and Travel Magazine (March 2013), Bethesda Magazine (July/August 2013), So to Speak: a feminist journal of language and art (November 2013), Defying Gravity: An Anthology of Washington, DC Area Women (January 2014), and Gargoyle Magazine #61 (forthcoming, 2014).

 

 

Guest Blogger: YA Novelist J.L. Powers

J.L. Powers headshot

What do you write, and what, specifically, are you working on now?

I write young adult novels, picture books, and some nonfiction for adults and young adults. My first novel for young adults was realistic fiction that involved a murder, a kidnapping, and a race riot. My second novel was considered an alternative fantasy, set in South Africa. My third novel is realistic, about a girl graffiti artist.

At the moment, I am working on two books, both of them with my brother—a fantasy and a sci-fi. They are dramatically different from my previous books and I’m enjoying it.

What do your first drafts typically look like?

They are very messy. They are not finished. Usually, you’ll see a hundred starts. I will save the book under its title, e.g., TITLE, and then when I abandon one attempt or realize it’s too messy or I’m going to go in a new direction and don’t want to lose the old stuff in case I ever need to go back to it (this never happens, by the way), I save the new attempt under the same name with a number. So TITLE2. TITLE3. TITLE4. And so on. By the time I have a completed first draft, there are usually 14 or 15 of these incomplete drafts saved in the folder. Then I start the revision and it’ll be called TITLEFINAL. If I progress through several drafts of that, it’ll be TITLEFINAL2, TITLEFINAL3, and so on. By the time I have a completed book that is ready to send to my agent, I have dozens of documents saved in the folder for that novel. It’s kind of embarrassing, actually.

What is your revision process?

I revise constantly as I write.  I’ll write a few pages, print it out to read and make corrections, then correct on the computer before continuing with new stuff. I do this continuously every few pages. I always print out the entire document and revise the entire document each time, after every few pages added. So it’s a laborious process but it works for me. Those first few pages even of my very first draft always sound really polished to people, even if they aren’t remotely related to the first few pages of the completed, published book.

Where do you like to write?

Typically my office in my house—I’m lucky to have one—but these days I write anywhere. At the moment, I’m writing in my 3-year-old’s bed while he sleeps beside me.

What tools do you use?

Just my laptop and a basic word processing program.

For research, I travel, talk to people, and read a lot. I use books, articles, blogs, whatever I need to. Since two of my books are set in African countries, I’ve used a lot of blogs, message boards, internet radio, video clips, and other things to get speech patterns down, as well as spending lots of time talking to people with a tape recorder going so I could later go back and figure out speech patterns, cobble together things that are commonly said and how they are said, etc.

Who is your favorite author and/or what is your favorite book, and why?

I am a huge fan of Benjamin Alire Saenz and my favorite book by him is Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood. I think it’s the best young adult book written in the last ten years. I’ve read it and taught it a dozen times and I always cry in the same spot.

What was the first piece you ever wrote, and what made you decide to start it?

I don’t remember the very first piece I ever wrote as my mother started finding stories around the house when I was six years old that I had apparently written—I remember none of those. But I wrote my first novel when I was 11. It was about an escaped slave heading north on the Underground Railroad.

Where can we read more of your work?

My books can be bought in bookstores or online. You can find my titles at www.jlpowers.net. You can also read my blog postings there and at www.motherwritermentor.com and book reviews & interviews at www.thepiratetree.com.