THE AUTHOR RECYCLES

New Creations From Old Work

 In past blogs I’ve talked about examining your previous work as a writer.  Not only does this allow you to measure your progress, it also provides a pool of sources for new directions in content and style.  I am a member of the National Writers Union and the local chapter recently asked me to be their featured speaker at a monthly meetingOften, their speakers read from current projects, but since I’d help to fill in the previous month with a reading of both the Prologue and Epilogue from PROSPECT FOR MURDER [the debut title of the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series], I decided to give a talk on how I’ve recycled parts of past projects.  While there’s nothing novel in this concept, I thought that in detailing how I’d used pieces I’d created during my years in Arizona, I might stimulate my listeners to consider the ways in which they might draw upon works in their own files…

Wordsmiths Don’t Fall into a Single Demographic Description

When you look around any gathering of writers, you’ll find that we’re: Young and old; formally educated and barely literate in the grammatical sense; gifted melodious speakers and hoarsely halting readers; technical prodigies and flawed yet persuasive explorers of every topic imaginable.  The breadth and depth of our compositions are as varied as we are.  And usually, if we’re old enough, such variety will be found spread throughout our individual bodies of work.  

In projects of both fiction and non-fiction, I draw on a background in business, education, and the performing arts.   As might be expected, there is no consistent pattern to my output—except for the decades of public relations, marketing, and design consultation I’ve performed for executives and their profit and non-profit entities. 

Forms from the Past…

In preparing for my talk, I looked over previous work I had drawn upon for recent print, audio, and Internet projects.  Not all were inspirational gems of form, content, or style, but each item I had chosen to re-purpose fulfilled a specific need.  With every new project, I contemplate how the assignment fits within the scope of my professional history.  Not only do I look for concepts, data, and text that may yield something I can reuse, but also the bits and pieces that should be moved to the recycle bin.

…Reshaping for Today and Beyond

This year’s springtime file pruning produced some of everything.  I found business cards, ads, and brochures that could be used for marketing workshops. As I continued my file and closet clearing, I eyed posters and signage that could be augmented with a large artistic label for some future event.  I quickly dismissed them as ineffective for a speech delivered from a podium.  There was, however, one item I could share:  a copy of Stephen Covey’s famous matrix of time and productivity management.  The gist of this true jewel of philosophy is that if we focus on aspects of both our personal and professional lives that are important but not critical, we’ll be better prepared for challenges that may arise.

After a brief introduction of this principle to open my talk, I noted how elements of past writing had been folded into my writer’s blog [for samples, please visit https://www.Blog.ImaginingsWordpower.com].  From project inspiration to background research, through the phases of writing and editing, production, and marketing, I discussed how I select issues that may be of interest to other authors and artists.  In addition to mentioning a few of those blog topics, I provided examples of material I’d chosen to use in recent book projects.

~  When I joined with five other authors to publish UNDER SONORAN SKIES, Prose and Poetry from the High Desert,  I contributed both fiction and non-fiction.  With new and as well as re-shaped pieces, we all expanded our repertoire.  Knowing that publication of  Prospect For Murder was approaching, I included its prologue.   I also featured historical articles such asThe Holidays in Tucson, 1878,” which I read at the NWU meeting.   

~  In  Murder on Mokulua Drive [the second book of the mystery series], I’ve drawn on notes from my studies in history, plus a series of oral history interviews I conducted many years earlier.  This has allowed me to mention the first woman registered to vote in the Territory of Hawai`i in 1920, and to place a major scene in the historic and ecologically significant site of Kawai Nui Marsh.  

~  The compilation of the oral history interviews, Conversations with Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox DeLima Farias has indeed proven to be an invaluable resource.  Carol was a dear friend seeking to preserve her family’s history, library and other artifacts.   Descended from Hawaiian nobility, her recollections of life in upcountry Maui in the early twentieth century and dancing hula in Waikīkī on December 6th, 1941, delight both readers and listeners.  In reshaping the layout for a book of the seven interviews and an audio edition comprised of the original recordings, I described how this resurrected project is benefiting from the comprehensive glossaries I’ve constructed for the Hawaiian and other non-English vocabulary included in the Hawaiian mysteries. 

~  Finally, I referred to the fourth mystery, A Yen For Murder, for which I examined promo materials I wrote for Highland Games and the Hilo International Festival on the island of Hawai`i during the 1970s.  This led to having Natalie reminisce about hearing a remarkable young woman play the Japanese koto at the Festival…and decades later having that woman, then a Buddhist priestess, become the victim.

In the future, I anticipate giving talks on the authorship process, for which many of these examples will be useful.  Of course, there will also be samples of flawed book covers, changing email addresses, and evolving reviews to reference.  How does all this relate to your work?  Well, I wonder what awaits you when you dive into your own files.  Will you choose to build on your dramatic successes?  Or will you determine that what was once viewed as a failed project may rise to the realization of full and positive fruition?

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

BALANCING VERBIAGE & SPACE

There have been many instances in my career as a professional writer when I’ve needed to alter text to maximize its appearance within the space allotted to it.  Sometimes this is disappointing, as the words I initially selected were ideal to the purpose and tone of the project.  Nevertheless, the goal in any written work is to create a product that is most appropriate for communicating with one’s target market. 

 As I generate promotional materials for marketing Prospect For Murder [the first book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series], I’ve frequently had to revisit this basic activity of editingsubstituting vocabulary to fit the available space.
Value of a Professional Wordsmith
One of the greatest values a professional wordsmith brings to a verbal project is their knowing when and how to adjust text to maximize readability.  This ability to edit within varied  parameters demands the flexibility as well as the skill to replace verbiage to accommodate the allowed space.

In the past, when a client decided my composition met their needs, they usually took the text to a graphic artist and I never saw it again—at least not before the final product was printed, uploaded to a website, or sent forth in emails.  Imagine my disappointment when I saw that the presentation of my work looked awkward because of justified paragraphing and/or the lack of breaking syllables at the end of paragraphs, which resulted in wide gaps or crammed lettering.

If I remained in close contact with the client, I sometimes had an opportunity to rectify the situation.  At a minimum, I could alert them to the problem which was bound to recur until their process of production was changed.  If I had the opportunity to work with the artist tasked with incorporating my text, I could suggest potential means for enhancing the overall layout by:

~  Changing words that were too long or short
~  Altering the paragraph structure
~  Adjusting the number of columns or their size
~  Repositioning and/or resizing artwork
Subliminal Influences

Harmonizing Product Packaging and Marketing Materials

Regardless of the sophistication of a project, balancing art and typography can truly maximize the sensory experience of your readers.  It is a vital key to synchronizing a product’s packaging and the marketing materials that accompany it.  As may be expected, this can help determine a reader’s initial response to the product being represented, thereby affecting whether it will be purchased or bypassed. 

Even the information presented in a dentist’s pamphlet should be designed to flow in an harmonious manner.  The next time you have an appointment at a professional’s office, glance through the materials in their waiting room.  If you find odd looking paragraphs, it’s probably because a graphic artist took the text and simply dropped it into their design—usually without the copy writer having the opportunity to re-edit their text.

Designing Promotional Materials & Websites
In my blog on the layout of books, I discussed the various issues I faced in the design of covers for the hardcover and audio book editions of Prospect For Murder.  All of the spatial challenges I’ve just explored in this blog were applicable in both editions.  I’m very grateful that my artist and typographer were the same person [you can visit www.yasaminejune.com to view her art].  This meant I was able to work with her to balance elements of concern.  Of course, working in this manner requires mutual understanding and sufficient time to accomplish the necessary edits.

Artwork & Titling in Secondary Projects

From Hardcover to Audio Book Format
Transforming the images and text of the hardcover book jacket into that of the audio book required more than re-positioning and resizing the many design elements.  Most notably, the mysterious moon above the apartment building had to be deleted to accommodate the resized and realigned titling.  In addition, the book synopsis and my author bio had to be shortened to allow for book reviews.

Postcards
Recently I reworked the 8.5 x 5 inch promotional postcard I am using for several purposes.  As I now have a growing number of positive book reviews I wish to highlight, I needed to edit both the book’s description, as well as my bio to accommodate snippets from the four reviews I wanted to feature on the front of the card.  And because I may wish to employ varied greetings, I had to allow room on the backside to place labels with personalized messages.

Letters
It may seem needless to mention that each letter that one sends out via snail mail or email is an entity unto itself.  However, writers are just as prone as other professionals to remain wedded to verbiage for which they have an affinity.  Generally, effective letters should be limited to a single page.  This means that the need to resize the length of one’s text arises quite often.  Sometimes simply reworking the size and location of a logo and decreasing the dimension of margins will suffice to reuse a favorite piece of composition.  At other times, it’s also necessary to:

~  Combine paragraphs
~  Reduce the size of the font used for text
~  Use left justified paragraphing without indentation
~  Use an even smaller dimension for line spacing between paragraphs

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

 

Book Promotion: Evolving Art & Text

May 2017 bring you health, happiness & prosperity
beyond your New Year visions!

 As I examine the months since the launch of Prospect For Murder [the first book in the new Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series], I realize I have not posted a blog regarding the art and science of writing for a long time.  I’ve started several, but details of the publishing and promotional processes have interfered with my sharing new author strategies

 Since addressing the topic of my artistic vision for the book layout for Prospect For Murder in a previous blog, it has been released in hardcover, downloadable audio and ebook formats, and a 9-CD audio book.  Preparing for the promotion of each version has required re-examination of artwork and descriptive text, as each format varies in size and may appeal to a different target market

successful advertising and branding
Unified Book Branding and Advertising

Authors may separate their work into categories of writing, publishing, and marketing, but each of these activities should unite under a shared roof of unified branding.  And while today’s book marketplace includes many self-publishing authors choosing to offer downloadable rather than printed books, such works must still be accompanied by attractive art and typography to maximize their appeal to the sensory experience of potential readers.  

There are many ways to make the appearance of a book pop within the massive listings of any genre.  As mentioned in my discussion of art for PFM, I have chosen to use an Island-themed gold frame based on Hawaiian heirloom gold jewelry to distinguish my book and the promotional materials with which I market it.  

Hardcover, Downloadable E & Audio Books, and CD Audio Book Art

Hardcover Books
Book jacket art for the hardcover edition of PFM was the first design project I undertook.  After the evocative gold frame was completed, I realized it could be utilized for the entire mystery series.  And, with changes in the metallic color, it will be ideal for other book projects as well.

9-CD Audio Book Albums
After I completed recording the 9-CD audio book, it was time to modify the book jacket art.  For the CD albums, my job was to shorten text describing the book and me, as well as the snippets of reviews.  My artist and typographer Yasamine June [you can view samples of her work at www.yasaminejune.com] then adjusted the size and proportion of her original artwork and dropped in my edits.

Downloadable Ebook and Audio Editions
The next task was designing website icons for sites offering the downloadable audio and ebook editions.  Our goal was to enhance a visitor’s recognition of the products being offered.  Therefore we created a conjoined image of the hardcover book jacket and a square edit resembling a CD case.  Wherever possible, this paired image is used to signify that Prospect For Murder is available in multiple formats.

Designing Promotional Materials & Your Author Website

The art of communication is one of the most vital skills a professional in any field can develop to help them in achieving goals and objectives in both their public and private living.  The following tools can be refined to maximize messages to colleagues, friends and the general public.

Artwork
I am using the iconic paired image of the print and audio editions of PFM as artwork for both printed promotional materials and my author website.  Without intention, the colors for Prospect For Murder and Imaginings Wordpower are nearly the same, which has greatly simplified my choice in color palette. I am still contemplating where and how I will utilize the gold frame.

Titling
I have used the Peignot font for my promotional business, Imaginings Wordpower [www.ImaginingsWordpower.com] for many years.  Therefore, I chose to use it for the titling of book jackets, my author website, and all promotional materials for the Natalie Seachrist series.  This decision is especially appropriate since many of the historical details used in the series predate World War II.  The Peignot font is an art déco [or style moderne dating from the 1920s], sans-serif display typeface designed by A. M. Cassandre in 1937 for the Deberny & Peignot Foundry in France.  While this font is too stylized for lengthy text, it makes a viable statement for titling and headings.

Author Business Card
Unexpectedly, I discovered that the standard size of a business card and the dark haunting color of the hardcover and audio book art was not suitable to my new double-sided author business card.  To resolve these problems, I created a new image.  I did this by overlapping the frame of the hardcover edition with that of the downloadable audio edition.   In the lower right-hand corner, I inserted the gold hibiscus found in the corners of the frames.  This has proven effective, since the image is always accompanied by text providing my name and the title of the book.

Author Stationery and Forms
With use of the paired image of the print and audio books, plus the Peignot font, there were few decisions to make in creating my author letterhead stationery.  For most purposes, I place the iconic art image in the top left hand corner of the page and all contact information centered at the bottom.  This layout works for both letters and business forms [such as invoices]. 

Communicating Through Emails
Every piece of communication you generate is a marketing opportunity.  And while you may not use an outgoing email layout paralleling your letterhead stationery, you can strategically position artwork, logos, and other information to draw the recipient’s eye.  I put the paired book image and purchasing information in the top left-hand corner of each outgoing email.  For the signature section for all outgoing emails, I have added a link to my author website [www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com] to listings of my Imaginings Wordpower website [www.ImaginingsWordpower.com] and this blog [www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com].

Logo Notecards
For many years I’ve used what I call logo notecards to extend invitations, express gratitude, and confirm appointments.  For both portrait and landscape layouts, I place a logo in one quadrant of an 8.5 x 11 inch layout, with text positioned diagonally and upside down from the artwork.  The printed result is a sheet of paper that can be folded into a 5.5 x 4.5 notecard that will fit an invitation-sized envelope. 

Postcards
After discovering that postage was the same for a couple of sizes of postcards, I chose a dimension of 8.5 x 5 inches for my author’s promotional postcard.  Beyond displaying recognizable book cover art, this ensures sufficient space for a synopsis and book reviews, plus purchasing options.  The art and descriptive text pop against a simple white background, with a high gloss finish on the front side for durability and flat finish on the back, which facilitates use of a pen for personal messages. 

Sadly, I discovered a typo after receiving an initial order of the postcards.  And having continued to receive positive reviews, I realized I should have printed a small number of the cards initially, to allow for subsequent corrections and additions.  As my publisher has declined to reprint book jackets with the latest reviews, I’m glad my second run of postcards allows me to send out books as samples, or for review or sale with up-to-date information.

Other Promotional Considerations

Websites Displaying Prospect For Murder
As the release date for Prospect For Murder neared, the number of websites featuring the book increased.  Unfortunately, some had received galleys displaying artwork devised as a placeholder for the book jacket art that was to come.  Without proper notification, these sites would continue to display the galley image as being representative of the published book.  Therefore, I suggest that authors releasing books through publishers or on their own, remain vigilant in cruising the Internet to ensure that the words and images describing them, as well as their work appear as they intend!

In addition, authors need to be aware that many popular websites selling and promoting books do NOT offer an easy means for having books reviewed or even displayed in categorical listings.  Most of the time, an author’s work is only visible if the visitor to a site knows the author’s name or book title.  Personally, I’d like to see Prospect For Murder displayed under the following categories for each of its several editions:  Hawai`i; Hawaiian mysteries; cozy mysteries; cat mysteries; female authors; female detectives; female sleuths. If you have any tips to help me with this situation, please drop me a note through the contact form on one of my websites…

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

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.

Book Production Issues

The art of communication is as varied as its practitioners.  The creative process varies with each writer’s inspiration and often reflects the perceived desires of their target market and the writing tips to which the author has been introduced. There are many comprehensive sources of writers’ guidelines available on-line and in print. Through this blog, I am attempting to share snippets of authoring strategies as they arise in my own wordsmithing

Many publishing houses restrict the amount of input an author may have in the printing process.  But as a writer, you should be able to express concerns you have about the production of a work that will carry your name.  As someone who has assisted in the process for other amateur and professional writers, and served as the art director on a collaborative effort, I am somewhat familiar with aspects of producing a high quality book.  Now, as a debut author of fiction, I am entering a new phase of professional experience.  While the following areas of concern may not be presented in the sequencing of a publisher or art director, they represent my thought process while preparing for the publication of Prospect For Murder, the first book in the new Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series.
branding program
Unified Appearance in a Series
Career longevity for a writer often rests on their successful book branding and advertising.  These issues bring us to the appearance of one’s product; in this case, books.  There are many design dilemmas facing authors and the people who will introduce their work to the world.  Personally, I enjoy reading a classic hardbound book, so my contemplation of quality book printing rests on my perceptions of what constitutes a fine hardcover edition.
the reader’s experience
While the design elements of a print or on-line artistic project may vary in several ways (sometimes because of the genre), some issues are common.  In general, the test of a book’s initial appeal is its cover.  Does it draw the eye of the potential reader?  I say the reader, rather than the buyer, because with the constant rise in the cost of hardcopy books, library patrons represent a large segment of the public that may read your book.  Of course, to reach that readership, you will first have to appeal to the buyers of books that line library shelves.

Book jacket design is one of the most important elements that concerns marketers.  Therefore, I encourage you to seek an artist whose skills in fine and graphic art (as well as typography) will meet the needs of myriad projects.  Fortunately, I have found this breadth of talent in the work of Yasamine June.  

I do not claim to be a specialist in color theory, but generally, bold colors and print in product packaging are believed to help maximize sales In book publishing, successful cover design does not rest solely on these elements, or even on the overall quality of the artwork.  In publishing, the book’s genre is also vital.  Prospect for Murder is clearly a mystery.  In this genre, the coloration employed in book art often features dark colors, sometimes enhanced with the use of chiaroscuro [the effective contrasting of shadow and light]. 

To facilitate communication with my readers, my artistic vision embraces continuing historical and cultural features within the content and artistic accents that unify the appearance of the books.  Because my stories center on Hawai`i, I am using Island-themed framing based on Hawaiian heirloom jewelry for each book’s cover.  This repeating image, plus ones that are pertinent to each story, will serve to meet potential readers’ expectations by unifying my branding, thereby increasing the public’s recognition of each new addition to the series.

In classic format, I have included a cast of characters, chapter aphorisms, and a notes and acknowledgments section.  In addition, because of the inclusion of considerable foreign language and historical references, I offer a guide for pronouncing Hawaiian words and a glossary of non-English and specialized vocabulary.  For emphasis, the aphorisms are presented in italic fonts and a distinctive hibiscus-based image frames each page number.
formatting tips
Empowering Your Words Through Readable Text
The next concern I have is readability.  Given the length of my books [PFM is 92,000 words], concerns about the cost of printing could lead to printing decisions based on saving paper: Margin size can be reduced; spacing after periods can be decreased from two spaces to one, blank pages between chapters can be eliminated, and the weight of the paper reduced.  Such choices might reduce the overall size of a book and conserve paper; but they would not enhance the sensory experience of the people reading the book. 

Beyond these general considerations, my target market is older, well-educated women and men who are as interested in character relationships as they are intriguing plotlines.  Many readers within my target market may wear eye glasses or contact lenses.  Nevertheless, I am told that with the lack of certain vocabulary and situational elements, the inclusion of historical references and multiculturalism, my series may be appropriate to students in advanced placement courses in secondary school.  These students may not be as concerned with the layout preferences of older readers, but they too will benefit from easy-to-read text.

Regarding my recently published book, I have agreed to a layout that includes single spacing following the end of sentences, despite the continuing use of two spaces by many publishers both here and abroad.  To compensate for this, my publisher has used a larger font that enhances the readability of the text of the hardcopy.

Cohesive Audio Books and Public Readings
With a trilogy of books already completed in the Natalie Seachrist series, I have already completed an audio edition of the first volume.  In general, I knew I had to employ a believable voice for each of the characters.  As the series is written in the first person, the most important voice is that of the protagonist, who is roughly my age.  For Natalie’s narrative, I have used a measured and calm voice; for her interaction with other characters, I employ tones and rhythms appropriate to each scene.  Other characters are presented to showcase their unique profiles.

In preparation for recordings and public performances, I recorded descriptions and samples of each cast member.  The text for each was printed in a distinctive color.  In addition, I utilized a 14 point font and 1.5 line spacing, plus varying spacing and marks to indicate pauses and emphasis.  For instance, I use: upward and downward arrows for changes in tone; ellipses for the trailing off of my voice; and long dashes for abrupt breaks.  For vocabulary or phrases about which I was concerned with correct pronunciation, I inserted underscoring and added hyphens between syllables.

In future blogs, I’ll report on the response to the decisions I have made in this phase of my practice of the art and science of writing!

 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

 

Author Appearances

Writers’ Guidelines
Regardless of whether you write fiction or non-fiction, you will need to consider elements of successful advertising and branding for authors.  The skills you have developed as a wordsmith will help you facilitate communication and networking with individuals and organizations that can help you increase your public visibility.

Author Appearances & Readings
You’ve completed a large project in fiction or non-fiction and it’s being published.  You’ve made great progress toward achieving goals and objectives.  As an author, you’ve reached a major milestone in practicing the art and science of writing: You may be thinking the heavy work was over.  You’re wrong.  Seriously wrong.  Neither your creative or editorial chores are complete.  You’ve simply turned the corner from building a product to marketing it in tandem with your publisher.  That is, unless you’re entering the world of independent publishing.  In that case, you’ll be responsible for self-marketing, and need to maximize a branding program that relies on dynamic but cost-effective authoring strategies and advertising messages. 

Regardless of how your work is being published, you’ll need to make promotional appearances.  That process should include opportunities for your readers to hear your words, as well as to ask you impromptu questions about yourself and your work.  Even if you do not have a strong voice or dynamic style of presentation, the public will want to get to know the mind and personality that has generated the material in which they are interested.

Venues for Author Appearances
In preparation for your work to the public personally, you can refine your oral reading skills by practicing with a voice recording device in front of a mirror.  You can also hone your skills at a writers’ group, where you could work on timing selected readings.  If you find yourself uncomfortable reading aloud, appearances at a small book club meeting may be ideal for warming up for larger audiences.  

Once you’re ready for general audiences, you’ll find there are many venues at which you might share your writing.  Some are directly related to publishing, such as book fairs and literary and artistic festivals.  Depending on your reputation as a writer, your local radio or television station may have programming featuring local writers.  This is especially true of public broadcasting in radio and television. 

Since your goal is to sell books in every form you are published—hard- or softcover print, Ebooks, audio books, or online websites and blog sites—libraries and bookstores [local and national chains]  are ideal for promoting current work and for attracting potential long-term followers.  Again, your personal reputation and the involvement of your publisher may determine the ease with which such appearances can be booked. 
Media Relations Dos and Don’ts
Expanding Media Relations
In previous blogs—and at https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com—I’ve discussed the importance of connectivity with the media.  With each public performance opportunity, I suggest you prepare an advertising message that can be adapted to public service announcement [PSA] messages.  These can be utilized promoting the non-profit organizations (i.e. schools and libraries) at which you might appear.  For while you may have expectations of selling copies of the work you’re promoting,
your authoring events may be deemed worthy of mention in the calendar of non-profit community activities within your local media outlets and platforms, as well as virtual communities.  They may also be of interest to followers of social media and blogs featuring interviews.
s
Cost-Effective Media Relations
As you expand your community relations and get to know your media, you may be surprised by the amount of free media coverage you can obtain.  It all depends on your practice of the art of communication, and I don’t simply mean effective wordsmithing.  Hopefully your writer’s inspiration will aid you in establishing strategic media relations.  Much of this will rely on pithy PSAs prepared as broadcast, print, and On-line media releases [you can find samples at

https://www.imaginingswordpower.com/media-release-samples.html].  You should also be prepared to attend business, social and community activities that will introduce you to members of the media, whose own work you may have been enjoying for years.
Empowering Your Words
Enhancing the Listener’s Experience in Your Public Performance
Let me again state that you have one opportunity to make a good first impression.  Remember that each time you appear in public, you’re making a statement about yourself and your work.  And although your written work may be inspired and employ a rich palette of words, you must now present it to people who will be judging you on their sensory experience!

Where you present your work should direct your preparation.  Will you be speaking in a large or small room?  Will you be standing or seated?  How much of your body will be visible to the audience?  Will you have a microphone?  Will you be introducing yourself?  Will someone be monitoring the time you’ve been allotted for speaking?  Are you the featured speaker at the event, or one of a group of presenters?  And how will you handle stage fright?  I encourage you to remember that stage fright is not a phenomena experienced solely by actors

~  The quality of your voice.  Once you know the size of the room and whether you will be utilizing a microphone, consider how well your vocal quality matches the venue.  Remember that unless you are providing your own Audio Visual equipment, there’s no way you can be assured that the equipment provided will work as desired.  Therefore, think about whether you have the vocal strength to project your voice throughout the designated space if you end up without a sound system. 

Although no one wants to give a reading on a day when they are not feeling well, you may not be able to cancel an appearance.  If you are unable to read your material, you may need to take a friend or colleague to actually present your work, but it would still be good for you to show up (as long as you’re not contagious).   When in doubt about your condition, check with your healthcare provider.  If you just have a tickle in your throat, you can always try drinking warm tea or munching your favorite fruit to produce a clearer sounding voice.  

Your appearance.  Many artists and writers feel there’s no need to be concerned about their appearance or their behavior.  But if you want to be taken seriously, I believe you should demonstrate respect for yourself, your work, and for the public who awaits you.  What you wear may be dictated by where you’ll be speaking.  If you’re standing on a raised platform, consider how your legs and shoes will look from the audience.  Women may want to wear a longer skirt length than they normally do, or even a pantsuit to ensure they aren’t sending the wrong message.  And don’t forget that use of makeup is not limited to women.  Men, (especially those who are bald), are just as susceptible to having a glowing face that detracts whether they are on stage or on video.  Also, the eyes are key to projecting a performer’s personality.  A touch of eye liner below the lower eye lashes gives your audience a sense of being closer to you.

As to style, the casualness of ragged denim, faded hoodies and unshaven portions of one’s anatomy may seem representative of the artistic world.  But ask yourself whether they best represent the work you are introducing.  If you’re beyond the first two decades of life, consider more sophisticated choices in attire and overall self-presentation.  Personally, I usually top skirts and dresses I wear to public events with a vivid Asian style silk jacket.  Not only is this in keeping with my normal wardrobe, but since the Natalie Seachrist mysteries features references to Asian culture, this choice sets the stage for the stories that I will be addressing.

Introducing Yourself
You should have several empowering bios by the time you’re launching a book.  [You’ll find a summary for writing one on my website at https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com/bios-to-empower-you.html]  You should have brief versions in one or two paragraphs in both first and second person voices.  If you’re lucky, there’ll be an MC or other person to introduce you, and hopefully they’ll read your bio without inappropriate ad-libs.  However, regardless of your advance planning, there will be times when you must introduce yourself.  And while it is important to have a well-written bio, it is useful to be able to speak off-the-cuff without any notes. 

Your Performance
That’s right.  I said Performance.  That’s what an author’s appearance is.  You must present yourself so that you are memorable and believable as the author of the work you have produced And just as there are many styles of writing, there are many ways in which you can present your work.  In my opinion, the top rung of professionalism holds those rare authors who memorize portions of their work and perform it like a play…that is, sans script. 

One of the most likely venues in which you’ll see this type of performance is Cowboy Poetry.  One of my favorite entertainers in this genre is Bill Black, whose warm vocal tones are accented with more than a hint of North Carolina.  From the moment he steps onto a stage with his cowboy shirt, hat and bolo tie, the audience is wooed by both the stories he relates and his personage as their author.

At the next level are presenters who place text within a folder.  This is where I fall in terms of performance.  I try to avoid treating my audiences to the rustling and flopping of loose pages that can separate easily and cause the reader confusion.

A Single Performance Among Many
At some time, you may be charged with scheduling a group of authors to read.  At a recent gathering of writers, I found that despite instructions to “read for about five minutes,” there was great variety in the lengths of the readings.  Even when a presenter has timed their work in advance, the pressure of public performance can produce variations in the actual length of a reading I believe that setting a measurable standard (i.e. three to four pages, double spaced).  While some will read faster or slower, the overall time of the readings should even out.

Does an Event Warrant a Media Release?
Event organizers will normally generate media releases.  That’s wonderful, especially if they follow the details of a bio you submit.  But there’s nothing wrong with sending out your own media releases if you’re a featured participant.  You should include general information about the occasion, your role in it, and other newsworthy persons who are involved, so that your effort does not appear wholly self-serving.  In fact, the sponsors should welcome your boosting the likelihood of media coverage.  For information on this topic, see earlier blogs, as well as sample releases on my website at imaginingswordpower.com/media-release-samples.html.

 In addition, you can send our post cards, letters, fliers or other announcements.   Recipients should include people you expect to attend, as well as those who may not be able to participate but should be aware of your involvement.  If event is open to the general public, distribution of your promo information via mail, email, and social media may add to the number of attendees. 

No matter how well you think you have prepared for an event, something can happen to derail a public appearance.  Once it is over, hold your own private event autopsy, if the event organizers do not have one.  And don’t forget to send out a post-event media release.  Again, make a point of mentioning any noteworthy persons or historical context who are of general interest in your community.  Finally, upload a sample of the reading you gave at the event on your website or social media, even if you have to record it anew.

 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

 

Energizing Descriptive Writing

Regardless of whether you’re a professional or amateur writer, the most challenging part of a day of wordsmithing may be facing a blank piece of paper, or an empty page on your monitor’s screen 
Writing Tips
The Art and Science of Writing
It may be surprising to you, but despite our electronic age, there are still writers who begin each project with hardcopy composition.  If this authoring strategy produces effective prose, it’s hard to argue with their writing process.  It’s all a question of the results that come from one’s practice of the art of communication.  In both fiction and non-fiction, when the writer’s inspiration produces a rich palette of words that maximizes their reader’s experience, their methods have been successful!

Regardless of your wordsmithing process, on days when you feel lacking in creativity and even editorial direction, I suggest you begin by capturing the images that first come to your mind as you contemplate the scope and goals of your project.  Work without concern for the structure of language, correct grammar, or the sequence in which the words emerge.  Within a short while, you should find yourself producing an unstoppable stream of verbiage. 

As your pace slows, you can pause to write a brief outline of your work to that point.  Confident that you will not lose direction, glance over your creative output for patterns within the images, dialogue, and activity that you have produced.  You can then begin empowering your words by strengthening the connectivity of fragmented text.

You should then be able to move back and forth between the creative and editorial processes fairly easily.  I stress the first category—creativity—because writers often lose images they have glimpsed by becoming too absorbed in initial self-editing.  Remember, editing can always be accomplished at a future time.  But if you lose your inspired thoughts, they may never be retrieved…or built upon as you initially envisioned.

Experienced authors often have an established writer’s voice on which they can draw.  This is true whether they are writing the fourth book in a series, or constructing a non-fiction piece reflecting their true voice and personality.  Whether you are in this position, or creating a wholly new voice, you may wish to take a few moments and reflect on the tone, sophistication of vocabulary, structure of language that is most appropriate to the current work, and images that will enhance the sensory experience of your audience.  [Pease note that I am referring to your voice as the teller of facts or a story, not the voices of any characters you may be creating.]

With these elements in mind, you can enter the realm of refining the vocabulary and organization of your piece.  As usual, I suggest you begin with the most obvious edits.  Personally, I have a tendency to employ overly complex sentence structure that begs immediate trimming.  Another pattern that many of us face is the need to flip first and last clauses, sentences, and even paragraphs.  Like everything else, practice makes better, if not perfect, form.  By the time you’ve reached the end of a couple of sections, your structure should have tightened with increasing clarity.
Writer’s Guidelines
My Editorial Process
Sometimes in the midst of mundane edits, I have a sense of the truly impactful changes I wish to make.  If working in hardcopy (often late at night in the midst of classic films or predictable episodes of television mystery shows), I’ll make marginal notes regarding a character’s appearance, vocabulary, motivations, or inner thoughts regarding other characters.  [This has proven especially important when working on books subsequent to Prospect for Murder in the continuing Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series.] And when at the computer, I may utilize small sticky notes to record my ideas.

With obvious adjustments to structure complete, I move within the piece to maximize its overall flow and tone.  I usually begin by modifying nouns and adjectives.  In a previous blog on color theory [see Design Dilemmas for Authors, Part 3:  Color, May 30, 2015], I discussed various words that might be used in place of the word blue to enhance your color palette

Facilitating Communication
Likewise, consider how you might embellish a scene referring to a red sofa.  While inappropriate for a children’s picture book (and most contemporary fiction), the author of a dramatic historical novel might say, “The heroine entered the study nervously and perched on the garnet colored velvet chaise lounge.”  Here I wish the reader to feel wooed by the distinctive color, texture and shape of a piece of furniture. 

In my own writing, I frequently draw on the breadth of my writer’s palette to concisely depict the ambiance of a scene.  For example, “She heard the sharp sound of a gunshot” became “She was startled by the sharp report of a bullet slicing the air.”  Here I turned a matter-of-fact incident report to a description of my character’s response, which allows the reader to join in the heroine’s frightening experience which will enable your reader to feel they are present at the scene…and who knows how that may prove useful if your piece were to be converted to a script for a movie or television show.
Impactful Advertising Messages
Altering Punctuation
Consider the following examples of shifting vocabulary, word sequence, and punctuation that can alter a reader’s interpretation of a passage within commercial as well as fictional text:

Experience the unique luxury of a journey to the Orient aboard the majestic RMS Empress of Britain.  [Advertising copy similar to posters for the ship’s 1932 world cruise]

I journeyed from Hong Kong to Honolulu aboard the RMS Empress of Britain.  [A matter of fact statement appropriate for any type of writing]

Truly…I did enjoy my trip aboard the RMS Empress of Britain.  [A plea to be believed; perhaps for the dénouement of a murder mystery]

I immensely enjoyed my sojourn from Hong Kong to Honolulu aboard the luxurious RMS Empress of Britain.  [An elegant, almost fussy statement, appropriate to a romance novel]

There are many ways to strengthen your writer’s voice for each project you undertake.  Reading other works in the same genre by authors you like and dislike will provide examples to emulate, as well as to reject in your own work.  There are also reference materials that will broaden your ability to describe people and occurrences in an articulate manner appropriate to your genre.  You might begin by perusing your own reference library to ensure you have:  A couple of grammar-cramming style books such as The Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook, which are standards.  You will also want to have a thesaurus or two, and a few dictionaries, including ones for foreign words or phrases you might use. 

Rich Palette of Images
Beyond these basics, consider how you can use Internet search engines and other materials.  One of the most interesting sources I’ve found is obituaries [see Shopping for Characters, May 12, 2015].  This is a great place to find physical descriptions of people, and to discover comprehensive biographic images and sometimes even the settings through which men and women of past generations walked.

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

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

Interviews & Oral Histories: No. 2, Research

Researching For Interviews 

The Art and Science of Writing
Today’s post is a recipe to help you prepare for any general or oral history interview you may conduct
.
  While the ingredients may prove dry for some of my readers, my intent is to simplify the process for those of you seeking to broaden your skills as a researcher, interviewer and writer.  For, like a piece of fine art, the strong interview will provide a complex layering of elements that leads to a deeper understanding of the interviewee’s life, their place within world events, and the experiences that have made them who they are. 

Relying on their charm and a heavy dose of luck, some interviewers claim that establishing a good rapport with one’s subject is all that is required for a strong interview.  But although creating a personal connection with your subject is definitely required, I urge you to consider that doing a bit of research will strengthen your credibility with the interviewee and boost your skills as a professional interviewer worthy of respect.

Although the following example falls under the category of art, it demonstrates how the lack of professional training can interfere with one’s work.  Many years ago, I met a gifted painter who employed the tiniest makeup brushes to create delicate lace, fine hairs on African wildlife, and complex patterns on silken fabrics.  Noticing flaws in the placement of shadows, proportion of objects, and the musculature of human bodies, I gently suggested she take classes in the foundations of art

When she responded that an art teacher had previously crushed her spirit, I suggested she study privately with an artist she could carefully select for compatibility.  Over the years she has achieved a measure of success, but the flaws I first noticed continue throughout the body of her work.  I can only imagine what the knowledge of an authoritative artist could have added to the depth of her art.

Where should you begin your research as an interviewer?  Like the ideal scientist, you will want to thoroughly research your interview subject, confirming basic facts you may have assumed were correct.  To establish a reliable foundation for the facts to be revealed in the interview (as well as to offer a concise expression of the interviewee’s viewpoint), you will need to conduct research that goes beyond the details of their résumé.  This work should be completed before formulating the questions you will ask in the interview. 

As you move through the process of gathering information, consider the following questions.  What is the purpose of the interview project?  What are the demographics of your target audience who will be accessing your work?  Also, what direction is suggested by the format and themes of the media outlet with which you are working

Regardless of the proposed thrust of an interview, information that the public may seek about the subject should be addressed.  In addition, if you wish to separate your interview from others the subject may have granted, I believe it is good to have at least one surprising fact revealed. 

Now comes what some will consider the boring work.  There’s no way around it, unless you want to rely on your great charm.  To organize the facts you have discovered effectively, I suggest you consider using several tools.

  1. Create a double-spaced copy of the interviewee’s résumé or curriculum vitae [CV].  Highlight each piece of information you need to verify.  Place a check mark beside each one you confirm.
  1. Working from either a list provided by the subject (or revealed in your research), examine the interviewee’s articles, books, previous interviews, and other expressions of their thoughts that may exist.
  1. As you proceed with your research, write out potential topics for your forthcoming dialogue.
  1. Create a timeline of the subject’s life.  Although you may be focused on their career and public persona, list highlights in both their professional and personal living as a guideline to help you respond to unexpected turns your dialogue may take.  Depending on what has made the person newsworthy, you may wish to look at a graph of historical events that intersect with their life.  

How will such timelines be useful?  If, for example, the interviewee was involved in the labor movement of the post-World War II era, the strikes of labor unions on the West Coast and in Hawai`i greatly impacted the general public as well as union members.  Consider also the arts.  If your subject is a composer of music or lyrics, you may find that their noteworthy pieces were created at times of considerable importance in history.  Sometimes their work will actually be named for such an occurrence or an entire era.  This was true of a symphony named for, and embodying the discordant notes of, the Chinese Cultural Revolution.  Depending on the flow of your interview, reference to an intersection of general history and your subject’s life may yield surprising insights about their career or personal living.  This can help you communicate with your subject, as well as with your readers or listeners.

  1. Prepare an interviewee survey.  Sequence your questions from the information they have provided to you.  You can simplify the process for your subject by filling in information you have been able to confirm through your research.  This could include:  Dates and descriptions of their degrees, certifications, accreditations, and other qualifications; institutions of affiliation; professional positions they have held; published works, community volunteerism and other involvement; names, ages, careers of spouse, partners, or children.  Remember that if you put in data you have not confirmed, you may be inviting errors—should their memory be flawed, or they actually wish to perpetuate dissemination of erroneous information.

To further your acquaintanceship—and to trigger your subject’s memories—you may want to offer blank space for them to fill in items such as:  Their nicknames; mentors and public figures who have impacted their life; programs and schools of thought that have shaped their perspective; adjunct and social organizations with which they may be associated; and, hobbies and interests.  Whether or not you wish to pursue topics such as political, philosophical or religious associations may depend on both what you have learned about your interviewee and the orientation of the media outlet with which you are working.

Despite the details I am suggesting you consider, keep the resulting survey as short and simple as possible.  I also recommend using a five-point Likert Scale for any questions you wish answered with a measurement of the subject’s agreement.  Hopefully, your subject will be able to provide you with a completed survey prior to the interview.  This will allow you to fold their responses into questions you are preparing for conducting the interview. 

If you do not receive a response to your survey, have a pleasant conversation with your interviewee about your preparation, so that they will want to participate fully in the process.  If necessary, try to reschedule the survey by a day or two to ensure you are fully prepared.  If you must conduct the interview without seeing your subject’s survey responses, you may want to take a few moments to try to write notes in the margins of your interview questions about issues you now feel you need to explore.

By the time you are nearing completion of your research, you should know whether or not the facts you have uncovered demonstrate your subject’s ability and desire to answer your questions fully and honestly.  In addition, you will have determined whether the facts revealed are in accord with the original goals of your project.  It is also important to determine whether the direction of the interview indeed fits within the thrust of the media outlet with which you may be working

It is possible that you will find there are fundamental conflicts within the facts revealed in your research, your initial perspective on the interviewee, and the boundaries of the planned interview.  If you are able to control publication of the information resulting from your interview, you are fortunate.  But if you are restricted by the media outlet’s direction, I sincerely hope you will discuss your concerns with their management team prior to conducting an interview that does not honor you or your interviewee.

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

 

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. 

Design Dilemmas For Authors, #3, Color

Rainbows of Color

There are many perspectives on the use of color in the art and science of writing.  But even if I were an expert, this short space wouldn’t allow a comprehensive discussion of color theory [the traditional theory for mixing three primary colors to derive all other colors] or colorimetry [analysis of human color perception]. 

Variables in Color Perception.  Most people can see three distinct ranges of color.  Due to genetics, some women [called tetrachromats] are able to see four ranges of color.   Sometimes a temporary inability to see some or all color is caused by illness, allergies, medication, or hormone replacement therapy.  Even sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] may notice a decrease in perception of color.  And, did you know that one out of twelve men and one out of two hundred women have color vision deficiencies? 

Choosing Color Palettes For Artwork to Accompany Text.   As discussed in my blog on engaging a reader’s senses, I believe that analysis of one’s genre provides the answer to many publishing questions and can help solidify authoring strategies.  Empowering your words as an author can take many forms.  One author I know brings a minimalist approach to her creative process in selecting art for a children’s book.  She believes that faint sketches without full form, shape, or color will encourage children listening to or reading her prose to bring images from their own minds to their reading experience.  This minimalist approach may be ideal for poetry and historical fiction.  However, it would be at odds with the hardnosed writer’s voice usually employed in a police procedural and would lack clarity for many non-fiction projects.
Art and Science of Writing
While minimalism is a specific art movement, the term may be used generically to describe the overall expression of modern art in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Beyond an escape from classic realism, modern art focuses on the artist’s desire to interact with the minds and life experiences of his or her audience members.

Consider More Than Personal Preferences When Selecting Color.  If you are new to wordsmithing, you may not be thinking about branding.  But you might want to consider establishing the foundations of the brand for which your writing will be noted someday.  And just as an effective editorial process dictates that writers carefully select modifiers to create a scene rich in sensory images, a distinctive color palette can be one element in a design aesthetic that harmonizes with and even intensifies the impact of text.
Writers’ Guidelines
Beyond technical research you conduct regarding coloration, there are several issues to consider.  Does the style of your writing reflect your taste in art?  Do you like the detail of classism or the sharp clean lines of modern art?  Are you drawn to bright primary colors or muted subtle tones?  Do the peach and aqua tones of a sunset in the Southwest reflect your taste and your work? 

Regional Coloration.  Differences in regional color can be indicated by the dialect[s] of your characters, as well as the scenes you describe.  Growing up in Oregon, I was accustomed to the dark green of Douglas fir trees and the mosses that grow on them.  The palm trees in Hawai`i are pale in comparison.  In Arizona the array of green is mixed, depending on topography, season and the amount of rainfall.  So which green would be most appropriate to your project?

The Juncture Of Style And Color.    In children’s books, hard-edged cartoon-like solid color images (like those a child might create) may be ideal.  But regardless of the style of art you select, the bright saturated colors associated with modern art are popular with and stimulating for young children.  Conversely, the sometimes dark tones of animè lend a sophisticated note to projects for both adults and older children.  For most genres, classic realism is appropriate.  To present images realistically, considerable detail and subtleties of color are usually required.

Articulating Your Artistic Vision is vital.  Since it is unlikely that you will be the artist shaping the images that will highlight your writing, you must be able to describe your desires to whoever is in charge of publication.  I suggest writing a paragraph outlining the specific elements you are seeking.  As with a journalistic endeavor, an inverted pyramid structure is useful.  Begin with an overview of the style you desire and then move on to specific issues like color.  If possible, use technical terms an artist or printer will understand.  For instance, consider specifying the tones and shades of colors you prefer. 

When viewed under varied lighting, a color’s tone [intensity of color] or shade [how bright a color is] will be perceived differently. Personally, I have found it challenging to use what I have termed a plum color in artwork for Prospect For Murder [the first book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series].  While my artist Yasamine June [view her work at www.yasaminejune.com] generated a wonderful color for the book jacket, subsequent applications for the audio book and some promotional materials have deviated from the color and/or tones she utilized.

Samples Of Your Preferred Palette and style will greatly aid the person executing your artistic vision.  These can be drawn from many sources:  websites; books and other printed material; fabric and clothing; pieces of art.  Consider offering the images of famous paintings.  Simply naming a type of art or an easily referenced artist will communicate your wishes.  Personally, I am drawn to the delicate images of classical Asian paintings, as well as the neo-classism of Maxfield Parish who was known for his use of saturated color.  Unfortunately, since his work ended mid-twentieth century, a young artist may be wholly unaware of his work.

You can also provide numerical descriptions of colors.  Paint Stores offer samples of colors, with numerical coding as well as alphabetical names.  Printers can provide numbers for the Pantone® colors of ink used in most hardcopy printing.  And remember that you do not have to access a graphic art program to provide the color model numeration of computer font colors.  Simply mark a section of text within a word processing program and examine the ranges of colors available under the drop down arrow for font color.

I should caution you that identifying a color is no guarantee of how a printed product will arrive at your doorstep.  Have you ever seen two editions of the same book, printed by the same company following the same instructions?  Even in hardcopy printing, variations in color can occur because of differences in batches of ink or toner, the moisture content of the paper used, and production executed on innumerable types and conditions of equipment.

A final consideration in our discussion of color printing is publication via downloading from the Internet.  If this is how your work will be published, you should consider using colors designated as “web safe.”  Again, there will be varied results in what is viewed by your readers.  If nothing else, variations in monitor settings can prevent uniformity in how myriad viewers will experience a color on your website or in your book. 

Before we leave the topic of color, let’s consider the historical and classical interpretations of color.  Some colors, like the royal purple from Tyre, Lebanon, were originally drawn from rare and precious sources.  To produce even small amounts of the Tyrian colorant, thousands of Mediterranean sea mollusks [scientific name, murex brandaris] were needed for the dyes with which luxurious garments for ancient royals were fashioned.  Another historically rare color was the crimson worn by Roman legionnaires and wealthy matrons.  Traditionally associated with power and wealth, this color was obtained from the kermes vermilio planchon, an insect that grows on the kermes oak tree [quercus coccifera] of southern Europe.  Although the means for obtaining and utilizing dyes and paints have changed dramatically through history, their inner meanings have remained linked to aspects of nature.

 Yellow and Orange – Associated with the sun and gold, these happy and bright colors are used for many attention-getting purposes.  Depending on their tone, they may be linked to base and deeply discounted items, or conversely, to the richest and most valued products.

Red – Traditionally linked to sunsets, fire, blood, Mars the planet and Mars the Roman god of war.  Red is now often associated with signature holidays like New Year’s, Christmas, and St. Valentine’s Day and certain nations like China.   This vibrant color calls attention to anything depicted in it.  It is sometimes associated with licentiousness and the concept of Satan.

Purple – Blending blue and red, this rich color is remains linked to the concepts and value of royalty, power and wealth.

Blue – In its deepest shades, blue speaks of clear waters and skies.  In many religious expressions, it is associated with holiness and purity.  This color is often utilized by financial and insurance institutions, as well as myriad industries dealing with healthcare that wish to be considered honest and dedicated to be wellbeing of their clients.

Green – Representative of health in nature, itis often used for health and environmental topics, products, and services.

White –  Reflects light and embodies the presence of all colors of light.  While many substances in nature are white, animals having pure white fur are rare, and therefore their pelts were historically associated with the power and wealth of royalty.  Once difficult to achieve in pure form, white colored clothing was often valuable regardless of the type of fabric.  The color is historically linked to purity, cleanliness, goodness, and perfection. 

Black – Absorbing all colors of light, it is actually the absence of color.  Obtained by the mixing of all primary colors, black is sometimes associated with darkness and evil in historical religious written materials.  It is an excellent background for both vibrant and subtle colors.

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

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

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


Creating Fictional Characters

Researching Fictional Characters
or Client Descriptions?

If you’re a writer—fledgling amateur or professional—you should not be surprised to spend a lot of time in research.  While much of this work can be performed on a computer, tablet or smart phone, some reference materials must be accessed in person.  If you’re lucky, the information you’re seeking can be found at a nearby library or university.

Otherwise, you may need to travel to complete your research in another city, region, or country to visit libraries, museums or archival collections.  Unfortunately, the cost of travel and time spent away from home may be higher than you wish to invest in a project.  Another option is hiring a research assistant.  While this scenario may save time and out-of-pocket expenses, be prepared for unforeseen complexities in working with someone you may never have met.  Even when you speak the same language, the manner in which each of you approaches research may be wholly different.

Whether you are an author seeking fictional characters, or a business executive writing descriptions of your target clientele, you may need to present snapshots of people that will grab your reader’s attention.  Writing succinct portrayals of people can be challenging to the most creative writer.  Fortunately, the answer to this research dilemma may be close at hand.

In addition to your visionary skills, consider people you already know and can easily depict.  While you may not want to author a description of someone likely to read your work, you can combine the attributes of several individuals so that no single person can take offense.   

In the weekly writers’ salon I founded a few years ago, one member has shared her use of newspaper obituaries as a source for biographic images.  Available online or in hardcopy, this resource is readily available at little or no cost.  Often accompanied by photos of the deceased in their prime, these simple paragraphs offer highlights of individuals from every variety of background, education, profession and economic level.

Due to the cost, writers of obituaries usually limit the number of words they use, often omitting physical descriptions of the departed if photos are included.  Despite the brevity, you will find a rich palette of words from which you can shape a dynamic biographic image.  To enhance the available descriptive text for your own project, you might want to draw on information from more than one entry.

Keep in mind that rules of plagiarism apply to any writer’s work, including obituaries.  This fact should not detract from your ability to draw inspiration from an obituary to develop biographical sketches for your work.  The effort you invest in this activity should minimize any assistance you may require from a professional editor.

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

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

 

Empowering Your Words with Effective Sequencing

For decades, I’ve shaped effective written materials for clients and myself.  At the end of assignments, clients often ask if there’s a definitive method for generating quality writing.  Unfortunately, while aspects of the pieces I write can serve as virtual templates, I have to report there’s no magic potion for guaranteeing effectual wordsmithing.  For anyone.  Amateur or pro, the key to quality writing is blending creativity with exhaustive editing.

Feeling nervous to launch your writing project?  Ask yourself one simple question:  Am I so focused on the final product that I’m inhibiting my ability to write?  Your honest answer might be a reluctant yes.  If so, merely facing a pen or keyboard can be traumatic.  In response, consider performing a visualization exercise.  Without committing yourself to serious meditative practices, you should be able to picture your target audience reacting positively to a large screen presentation of your message.  Armed with this optimistic image, you should feel better prepared to set your verbal vehicle on the path to success.

How will you reach your goal?  Regardless of the type of text you are composing, I’ve found that outlining is an invaluable tool.  I believe there are three essential steps to shaping a focused outline:

~  Write a mission statement summarizing your project’s purpose
 ~  List key points in a progressive sequence that validates your summary
~  Craft a closing statement summarizing how you’ve met the goals of your mission

You now have a recipe for determining the content and sequencing of the elements of your composition.  The exact position of the various components will vary, depending on the product you’re fabricating.  The key points on your list may yield paragraphs in an essay, article or speech.  They may also become individual pages in a website.  If you are seeking financial backing for a new business, they could become categories within your business plan.  And fiction?  Well, your list may be the plotline that yields the chapters of a prize winning novel.

Despite my assertion that such organization will aid every writing endeavor, do not suppose that good writers never experience confusion, indecision, or misdirection.  The writing process is a dovetailing of creative and technical activity.  As you plunge into the construction process of your project, you will need to alternate between capturing the essence of what you want to say and coldly editing what you have written.  The beauty of this double pronged approach is that you can let your thoughts flow freely, knowing that the structure of your work will evolve as you edit your way toward a harmonious conclusion. I certainly found this approach to wordsmithing invaluable in writing the first Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mysteries, Prospect For Murder.

This approach facilitates your remaining productive, even when experiencing writer’s block.  For if you feel your creativity as a writer has stagnated, you can turn to another aspect of the project.  Is there supporting material that requires your attention?  Perhaps you need to shape a bibliography or glossary, or a preface, afterword or acknowledgement section If you’re responsible for printing, broadcasting, or uploading the final product, you may also need to work on color, form, texture, and artwork to present your thoughts with dynamism to your readers or viewers.  And, of course, there’s always your personal bio or corporate mission statement to revisit…

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

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