Summer Classes in Iowa, with a literary Rock Star!


I was considering limiting the number of times a week I use the Heymarci Blog to promote a friend’s new book, new class/workshop/product, or overall fabulousness. But it’s my blog and that’s one of the beauties of being able to make the rules. So as long as my friends continue to do exceptional things, you’re going to hear about them.

In that vein, here’s the latest offering from one of my exceptional friends, Faith Adiele, whose award-winning memoir Meeting Faith, an account on her experience becoming a Buddhist nun in Thailand, should be on everyone’s summer reading list.

Faith is teaching a few workshops in Iowa this summer and it’s a chance to study with a real star.

For more about Faith, visit her site. Faith is also a regular contributor to O Magazine (you can read her most recent O story on her site.)

What We Talk About When We Talk About Food: Food Writing Weekend Workshop, July 14–15

Politics & Poetics: Writing Yourself Into/Onto The World One-Week Workshop, July 15–20

Travel Tales: Making The Foreign Familiar & The Familiar Foreign

One-Week Workshop, July 22–27

TO REGISTER, AND GET MORE INFORMATION,
VISIT THE IOWA SUMMER WRITING FESTIVAL SITE.

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Attention all Moms!

When I first started writing, I had an inordinate number of mentors. One of them, Tamara Loomis, was about a year ahead of me on the law-to-journalist train and I thought I would never catch up. Tamara treated me as a peer from the start, made time for all my silly questions, and inspired me by the way she quickly became a professional, and then by the ways she continued to reinvent herself — first as a legal reporter for The New York Law Journal, then as a freelancer/new mom. But now I think she’s found her calling, as a snarky, smarty pants daily columnist/blogger for Cookie Magazine, the hippest of the parenting pubs. Even if you’re not a mom, you’ll agree that First Feeding is good stuff.

So, in honor of Mother’s Day, I give you Tamara!

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Outing your slashes — Let’s talk about it.

As I go around speaking about the slash way of life, one theme that repeatedly dominates the conversation is whether, when and how to reveal your various identities. Of course, with any complex question, the answer is, “It depends.” Generally I find that people are more comfortable when they can be open about their various identities. The easiest cases are when one slash fuels the other — for me, writing and coaching other writers works that way. But when slashes have the potential to clash — like when you’ve got a corporate job and you’re starting your own business on the side, it’s a more delicate dance.

I am working on a longer article on this subject and want to hear your thoughts about openness and transparency in a slash life. I’m looking for examples of when it’s been helpful and when it’s been a disaster. I’m also looking for innovative approaches to bios/websites/blogs/business cards that reveal multiple identities. Send them my way and I’ll probably blog about them.

Malcolm Gladwell, one of the most well respected journalists around, does a great job of explaining how he is both a legitimate journalist and a highly paid public speaker on his
website.

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Why write books?

Every author with a new book and every writer with an idea for a new book should read today’s New York Times story, “The Mommy Flak: Books That May Generate More Buzz Than Buyers.”

It summarizes so much of what I’ve been pondering lately. And what my author friends and I talk about as we wonder about our future as authors in a time when people don’t need to read books to get the ideas within them. The references to sales figures for some well known books made me a little queasy. (Sylvia Ann Hewlitt’s “Creating a Life” only sold 11,000 in hard copy and 2,000 in paperback!) It’s as if these authors were shown naked in the pages of the New York Times. {As for my own book sales, I like not knowing those numbers. When people ask me how the book is doing, I say it’s like weighing yourself when you’ve just started a diet. I’m still not ready to get on the scale.)

I continue to wonder.

Is the goal to write a book that will sell thousands or hundreds of thousands of copies? Or is it to write books that propel us into places where we attract new and higher profile outlets to express our ideas? Or something else altogether.

Lately when people call me to ask about their nonfiction book ideas, I ask them to think about what they want to be after their book comes out.

Do you want to get more clients?
Do you want to raise your profile as a writer?
Do you want to hit the bestseller lists?
Do you want to expose people to a new way of thinking?
Do you want to entertain and amuse people?

If you don’t know what you want to accomplish with your book, it’s awfully hard to know if you’ve succeeded.

Whenever I get a note from a reader telling me that my book validates their way of life, I feel like I’ve done what I set out to do. Still, it’s hard not to focus on the numbers.

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The Confidence to Reveal Your Ideas

New freelance writers always worry whether someone will steal their ideas.
Whenever the question of how to protect against idea theft comes up in a class or a workshop, I always say some variation of this:

So what if someone steals your idea. If you couldn’t execute it better than anyone else, someone else should write it. And if you are really the best person to write it, you’ll still be able to write it. That’s why I loved this description (from The New York Times, Tuesday, April 3) of surgeon/author Atul Gawande’s sharing a bunch of his ideas for future writings with a reporter:

Pulling out his Blackberry, he said, “It seems like there’s a story in every nook and cranny of medicine,” and scrolling down a list of 106 ideas he’d saved, he picked a few. “Itching,” he said. “Nobody really understands what it is. Chernobyl. Twenty years on, what really happened there? Why weren’t there as many cancer case as once predicted? And here’s a good one: why, if we have so many health-policy experts in this country, do we have such bad health policy?”

Btw, I tried to interview Gawande for my book. He politely declined, saying that his slashes were just keeping him too busy.

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Finally, a byline

Lately, most of the writing I’ve been doing has been for this blog. So it was very nice indeed when I was asked to write an essay for The Penn Gazette, alumni magazine of my alma mater.

Since I’m headed to Philadelphia this week, it seemed fitting to post it now. You can read the essay, “Slash Talk,” here.

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Where inspiration comes from

This weekend the beau and I saw Dai, the latest theatrical/political project from Culture Project (producers of The Exonerated). If The Exonerated was more documentary theater, Dai was more theater with a weighty message. It was enthralling, enraging, and entertaining — and its biggest achievement was that it was balanced, an adjective seldom found lurking around the subject of the Middle East these days. Iris Bahr is the one-woman creative powerhouse behind the whole affair; she wrote it, and plays about 10 different roles in the course of the 80 minutes show.

I’m obsessed with people who find/create modes of expression for multiple talents. But Bahr is off the charts. She is an exceptional storyteller, a political voice, a natural performer, a well-timed comic, and most of all, an astute observer of human character. She has a book coming out any minute (March 6), Dork Whore: My Travels Through Asia as a Twenty-Year-Old-Pseudo-Virgin, which I can’t wait to read. Who says subtitles are useless?

After the show over a late dinner during which we analyzed every nuance of the show, I felt overcome by the urge to write something for the theater. I studied theater as an undergraduate and over the years had the occasional idea that seemed like a potential play.

Inspiration has never turned into a script (yet!), but the urge always returns whenever I see something really smart and moving in the theater. Reading a lot of books certainly helped me to write one. So it looks like I’ll be getting to the theater more.

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Using connections vs. pitching cold

When I pitch articles or event ideas, I always first look to see if I have a contact, or know someone who knows someone. Sometimes I defer pitching an idea because I’m waiting for that connection to arrive.

But when I just go ahead and pitch, interesting things happen. My first New York Times article was the result of a cold pitch. So whenever I need a reminder that cold pitches can work — as long as the idea and timing are right — I think about that experience.

Planning my book tour, I fell into the same old patterns. I quickly followed up on leads and introductions and dragged my feet when I wanted to approach a venue and had no contacts. And again, my fear was unfounded. The very first event I secured — and one I’m most excited about — is a panel discussion at McNally Robinson Booksellers my favorite bookstore in my neighborhood (Soho/West Village). All it took was walking in and introducing myself to the event coordinator and then following up with a well-tailored proposal. I’m proud to say that the event planner emailed the morning after getting my pitch offering me a slot — even though she told me they never do events for career books.

Michael Melcher (self-styled career coach to the stars) gave me an emergency coaching session on this very issue a few months ago when I was slipping into pitch avoidance mode. He showed me a pitch he’d used that resulted in a speaking gig at a business school in Milan — a great gig, and a great travel experience. Reading that pitch (and any successful one I’ve written) is another good way to remind myself that it can work. Thinking about traveling to Milan helps too.

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Sample pitch letter

Below is a sample pitch letter. I am pretty proud of it since it is the letter that resulted in my first article assignment for The New York Times. You can read the finished article here.
Notice that the first two paragraphs are identical to the pitch.


April 5, 2000

Dear Mr. XX,

You have had a bad week. After telling your wife you were laid off, she breaks the news she’s that filing for divorce. Then, driving away from the bar where you went to sulk, your car is rear ended by a taxi. When you get home, your teenage daughter tells you she was arrested for drunk driving. In your depressed, self-pitying state you gravitate to the computer where you find yourself cruising the web. Suddenly, materializing on the screen before you is some comfort, a site that actually addresses all the newly acquired legal issues in your life. You decide to do something productive with your time and educate yourself a bit.

While most of us will never face this many disasters at once, we all encounter times when it would be great to know more about the law – just enough to let us know when it’s time to get to a professional. With do-it-yourself sites like Nolo.com, Findlaw.com, and Lawyers.com sprouting up as quickly as you can say “billable hours,” lawyers may find those hourly rates harder to sustain.

I propose a roundup story for the Circuits section reviewing the handful of sites providing legal advice and resources for the layperson and small business owner. By way of background, I am an attorney with an expertise in consumer issues and have recently left the practice of law (after nine years) to pursue a career as a freelance writer. I am also an Internet junkie who spends endless hours doing research online. I have watched this space develop with keen interest and frequently use many of these sites to research issues both for work and for personal legal issues.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Marci Alboher

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Leveraging your slashes

My friend Ted has had a string of successful careers, starting with a bang when fresh out of Harvard he began writing for the David Letterman show, and within a few months won an Emmy. He left comedy writing to explore other corners of the world.

Legend has it that he’s driven a hack cab, worked at a hedge fund and researched suicide at an Ivy League university.

Now he’s back at comedy.

Recently we had lunch and started talking about the similarities between our careers: both of us working at home, writing by ourselves and then putting that stuff out in the world. Ted said that one of the challenges of comedy is that it’s a young person’s business (Ted is a bit out of his twenties). I suggested he see his age/experience as an advantage. At a comedy club, it will often be Ted and some twenty-something making jokes about sex and farts. But there are venues where Ted could capitalize on his many slashes, in a way that would appeal to sophisticated — and often high paying audiences.

I was imagining Ted at the partners dinner of a big law firm or hedge fund delivering jokes that no twenty-something sex and fart joke-teller would be able to deliver.

A few weeks later, I got this note from Ted:

I’ve developed a customized product for corporate events. If you’re
interested, let’s talk. If you’ve wanted to see me live and had trouble,
contact me and I’ll set up a club date to accommodate. In the meantime,
please enjoy my clip on myspace (TedGreenbergcomic) and on my website (TedGreenberg.com)
.

Bravo Ted. I can’t wait to see this act. But I probably can’t afford it.

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