Archive for April, 2013

April 30, 2013

Podcasting 101, Part Two

by Larry Matthews

Podcasting is, in a real sense, a form of radio. By that, I mean that a podcast competes with all other forms of audio for the attention of potential listeners. I know that many people will dispute that with an argument that someone who is seeking out an author podcast is not the same as a guy pressing a car radio button for a sports talk station or a woman who wants to listen to All Things Considered. I disagree. Your podcast is in competition for those ears.

Podcasting is a form of “narrowcasting,” which means you are broadcasting to a small segment of the larger audience. Obviously, someone looking for a football game to listen to is not going to settle for an interview with a poet. This brings us to the “know your audience” part of this report. Broadcasters deal with this every day. They asked themselves, “Who are we going after?” You should, too.

My podcasts, to introduce another metaphor, casts a wide net in a small pond. I won’t attract the football fan, but I hope to interest readers and authors of all genres. I have poets and mystery writers, self-helpers and opinionators. Step right up and make your choice, folks.

Audio Quality

Podcasts are defined by two key elements: content and audio quality. I’ll talk about content issues in a future piece. Let’s look at the problem of audio quality problem — and I use that term advisedly, because it truly is a problem. Many surveys have shown that the average listener makes up her/his mind whether to go or stay in seconds, and if the quality of your podcast is not very good, you will lose listeners very quickly.

Now, we are not talking about studio quality interviews here. (That should be evident by my podcasts!) But it is important to get the best quality possible to make the listening experience as good as your equipment, the Internet, and the phone company will allow.

I use the audio from Skype calls in my interviews. It’s easy to do. If you are interviewing someone nearby, you can always meet in a quiet place and record the interview on your phone or other device and transfer it to your computer. But since that’s not always possible, Skype is a good alternative.

You have to worry about the audio on two sides of a podcast: the interviewee’s and the interviewer’s. Because t here’s not much you can do about the other end, let’s look at what you can do to improve the audio quality that you actually control.

Rule number one is to get a decent microphone. Do not use the mike that’s built into your laptop or desktop computer. You do not want to sound like you are doing the interview from across a public restroom, with hollow voice quality, a barking dog, someone walking around, and the air conditioner fan humming. It’s distracting and it drains attention away from what you are trying to say.

I have a small studio setup in my office. You don’t have to go that far. I have studio tiles on two walls and use an Audio-Technica cardioid condenser microphone with a USB plug into my laptop. The mike is highly directional and has a relatively small “sweet spot,” which means that its effective range is limited, which eliminates background noise. I use this mike for all sorts of audio production, not just podcasts. You can pick one up for about $100 on Amazon or elsewhere on the Web. You will probably also need a wind screen to place in front of the mike to eliminate the “popping” that can occur from pronouncing consonants like “p” and “b” when the mike is too close to your mouth.

If you don’t want to go that far, a $25 headset/microphone unit can be an acceptable substitute. I have a Logitech unit that is about half as good as the condenser mike but still much better than the built-in mike in my laptop.

These aren’t the only choices available. You can do your own snooping around the Web for other mikes. The point is to avoid the hollow, “Hello, I’m way over here” sound of cheap microphones on your podcasts — at least on your end of the conversation.

What happens on the other end is, of course, another issue. I have had authors who were more than willing to shell out a few dollars for the Logitech unit so that their podcast with me would sound better. Others have not been willing or able to spend the money, and their voices have a hollow sound from room noise and the problems inherent in a built-in mike that is two feet away from their mouths. Those types of mikes are fine when you’re talking to Grandma, but they don’t make for good podcasts! Also, make sure that your interviewee does not use a speaker phone.

A quick note about Skype: if you use Skype to call your interviewee, he or she doesn’t have to have a Skype account too. Skype lets you call regular phone numbers.

Next is the actual recording of a Skype call. I use a free program called MP3 Skype Recorder, but there are other similar programs out there that you might like better or that work better on your particular computer. MP3 Skype Recorder can be set up to automatically record your Skype calls from beginning to end. If you are in the habit of saying embarrassing things during these calls, the program lets you turn off the recording during the call. The recording stops when the call ends and produces an audio file that I send to a folder on my desktop.

The recordings will need to be edited. For that I use a terrific free program called Audacity, which is easy to learn. You can pay big bucks for such programs, but for my podcasts I don’t need all of the features that the expensive alternatives offer. Audacity is more than capable for my needs.

Open the Audacity program and pull down the “file” menu and select “import.” Find your recording and, in a click, Audacity will queue it up for editing. Once you’re done editing it, save the file, place it where you want it on your computer, and then it’s ready to be uploaded to Soundcloud, Podomatic, or any other site you choose.

If you’re new to all of this, it will be helpful to play around with your gear, recording and editing software, and podcast hosting options before you record something that matters.

Next time, I’ll talk about how to format your podcast.

April 25, 2013

Workshop to Focus on Legal Issues for Writers

Contracts and taxes and copyright, oh my — these are just some of the legal issues that writers face when publishing and promoting their work. MWA’s friends Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and the CityLit Project have teamed up to bring you the answers to your legal questions.

Join MdVLA President Cynthia B. Sanders, Esq. of Baltimore law firm Ober|Kaler and literary agent Laura Strachan of Strachan Literary for the workshop “Legal Issues for Writers,” Saturday, May 18 from 1:00-3:00 p.m. at the MdVLA offices at Union Mill, 1500 Union Avenue (Lower Level) in Baltimore.

Registration for the event is $20. For more information or to register, contact the CityLit Project at (410) 274-5691 or e-mail info@citylitproject.org.

April 23, 2013

Teen Writers’ Clubs Need Volunteers

The Teen Writers’ Clubs of the Maryland Writers’ Association, a growing network of after-school writing programs for aspiring writers ages 13-17, are looking for MWA members who are willing to volunteer a few hours a month to help launch new clubs in schools and libraries across the state. Diane Booth, the program’s coordinator, seeks people who can help organize new clubs, recruit and train organizers, spearhead publicity, work as library liai sons, and develop and maintain club websites, among other possibilities.

“I believe that there are many teen writers out there who feel isolated,” says Booth, a longtime member of the Maryland Writers’s Association. “Writing can be a lonely activity.” Inspired to find a way to bring them together, Booth — a freelance writer, author, and former teacher and tutor with the Baltimore County Public School’s Home and Hospital program — approached the MWA’s board with the idea of setting up writing clubs throughout the state. Today, with three active clubs and a new club about to launch, the Teen Writers’ Club program has begun to find its momentum. But to continue to grow, says Booth, more volunteers are needed.

The purpose of the Teen Writers’ Clubs is to provide teenaged writers with a safe and supportive meeting place where they can improve their skills under the guidance of writing mentors, get inspired by meeting guest authors, and make new friends with fellow young writers.

Booth says that volunteers are asked to commit just a few hours a month by visiting clubs and participating in periodic conference calls. Responsibilities for running clubs will be divided among committee members to help ensure that time commitments remain reasonable. Booth explains that the clubs’ Advisory Committee meets annually in person, but volunteers who live far from the meeting location can participate remotely via Skype.

If you are interested in volunteering or have any questions about the Teen Writers’ Clubs, please contact Teen Writers’ Club Coordinator Diane Booth at teenwriters@marylandwriters.org.

April 23, 2013

Hot off the Presses: Pen in Hand’s Spring 2013 Issue

The Spring 2013 issue of Pen in Hand, the quarterly newsletter of the Maryland Writers’ Association, is now available for download! The issue (PDF) is available here.

In this issue, you’ll find:

  • An interview with Gaithersburg Book Festival founder Judd Ashman by Larry Matthews
  • Jan Bowman on the perils of writing in the first person
  • Reviews of recent meetings and previews of upcoming speakers at MWA Chapters
  • Poems and short stories by Cathy Leaycraft, Mike Murphy, and Stephen Pohl
  • . . . and more!

Download your free copy of Pen in Hand today! Back issues are also available on the MWA Publications Page.

April 22, 2013

Find Your “Place” at the Baltimore Chapter with Dean Bartoli Smith

Come hear poet and short story writer Dean Bartoli Smith talk about the idea of “place” in his work and share his recent poems, stories, and prose about Baltimore at the April meeting of the MWA Baltimore Chapter on Monday, April 22, at 7:00 p.m. at Ukazoo Books, 730 Dulaney Valley Rd, in Towson.

Mr. Smith’s poems and stories feature the Baltimore neighborhoods of Druid Hill Park, Hampden, Loch Raven Reservoir, and Guilford, where he makes his home. His forthcoming book about the 2012 season of the Baltimore Ravens will be published this fall.

About the speaker:

Dean Bartoli Smith’s poems have appeared in Poetry East, Open City, Beltway, The Pearl, The Charlotte Review, Gulf Stream, and upstreet, among others. His book of poems, American Boy, won the 2000 Washington Writer’s Prize and the Maryland Prize for Literature in 2001. His fiction has appeared in Minimus, The Patuxent Review, The Loch Raven Review, and Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore. His prose has appeared on Patch.com, in Zocalo Public Square, The Baltimore Brew, Baltimore City Paper, Baltimore Magazine, Indiewire, and the Woodstock Independent. He received an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. Find out more by visiting his Facebook page.

For more information about the meeting, visit the Baltimore Chapter website. Click here for directions to Ukazoo Books.

April 18, 2013

Podcasting 101, Part One

by Larry Matthews

This is the first in a series of columns about podcasting, a form of “radio” that allows anyone with an Internet connection to make an audio production. I use the world “radio” without caution because that’s what it is. Let me explain.

I was in radio for over three decades going back to the days of AM rockers. My first radio job was as a disc jockey. I hated it. I wanted to be in news where at least the stories changed from day to day, unlike the tight playlists of the rock stations, where the top ten tunes were played over and over without mercy.

Over the course of my career I was a street reporter (my first love), a news anchor, a news director, a producer, and so on. I spent nine years in management, meaning I was responsible for “product,” or the sound that came out of the box. That forced me to learn the ins and outs of successful programming.

An old friend, a man with whom I began my career, went on to a distinguished career of his own and was one of the creators of All Things Considered on NPR. Today he’s an in-demand consultant for public radio stations because he understands how to make magic with sound. He believes that the word “radio” is outdated. He prefers the word “audio.”

Now we’ve looped back to the podcasts. Podcasts are nothing more than audio on demand, something like a thinner, pictured-free version of Netflix. The rules that apply to radio programming also apply to podcasts in that they either work for the listener or they don’t.

What does “work” mean? The old joke in radio is that something doesn’t work when you can hear the sound of people hitting their car radios to change the station. I suppose the same thing applies to podcasts.

Richard Salant, one of the old lions of the CBS News, believed that each broadcast needed what he called “a moment,” something that would hang in the mind when the broadcast was over, something to be remembered. Much research has been conducted into how listeners and viewers process audio and video. The most important thing, in my mind, is that most people aren’t paying attention, they’re thinking about something else. The challenge is two-fold: how to get their attention and how to get them to remember even a small portion of the audio or video. That’s why TV commercials yell at you and why all those live-shots on the local news use words like “shocking” and “horrific.” They’re called “power words.”

What does this have to do with podcasts? If you’re going to produce podcasts you must accept the realities of the medium. Here are some very basic rules:

  1. Keep it short. Most people will drop out after about ten minutes. Radio ratings are based on two things: AQH and CUME. AQR is average quarter hour listening. That’s how many people listen for at least fifteen minutes. CUME is total audience, even those who stick around for much less than a quarter-hour. CUME numbers are always much higher than AQH.
  2. Keep it simple. Stay away from detail. You are creating an IMPRESSION not an education. Research over many years shows that listeners do not remember details like numbers, prices, percentages, and so on.
  3. Interviews are to showcase the interviewee, not the interviewer. Many interviewers worry that their questions will show ignorance, so they ask long, detailed questions designed to show how much THEY know. Ask short, general questions that allow the interviewee to display how much she/he knows.
  4. Stay away from musical intros and theme songs. I’ve heard some podcasts that open with a full minute of music. Listeners make snap judgments about what to stick with and they’re not there to listen to music. If you’re now thinking,”What about all that music on All Things Considered? ” I’ll say this: You’re (or my) podcast ain’t ATC and the music on that show is there as a production device that also happens to be pleasant to listen to.
  5. Get a decent microphone. Don’t use the one that’s built-in to your laptop. My next column will explain how to set up an acceptable home recording system.
  6. Keep your expectations low. Podcasting is also narrowcasting, meaning you’re not going after a general audience. In my case, I talk to other writers or folks in the book business, a limited potential audience.
  7. Have fun with it.

You can go to my podcast page at larrymatthews.net/The_Podcasts.html and hear that I’m still working out the sound-quality issues, but I’m making progress.

April 16, 2013

MWA Welcomes the Charles County Chapter; Meeting Scheduled

This past Friday, the board of the Maryland Writers’ Association voted unanimously to grant a charter to the Charles County Chapter, MWA’s newest. Congratulations and welcome to the growing MWA chapter family!

Not wasting any time, the newly-established chapter will hold its first official meeting on Wednesday, April 24, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. in Room BI 124 of the Center for Business and Industry Building on the La Plata Campus of the College of Southern Maryland. The meeting will be dedicated to the election of the chapter’s first officers, as well as brainstorming topics and activities for monthly meetings. Topics that were discussed at the organizational meeting last month included offering group writing exercises and short critiques, and presentations on the business side of writing and publishing. There are also plans for several subgroups, depending upon interest, such as critique groups, reading groups and coffee/computer writing sessions.

For more information about the upcoming meeting, contact Edna Troiano at mwachc@marylandwriters.org.

April 8, 2013

Essential Free Screenwriting Resources

by David Joyner

I’m a beginner at screenwriting and far from an expert. However, I have spent a good amount of
time (okay, way too much time) on the interwebs and have collected a number of good resources for screenwriters of all levels.

Two of the best sites, in my opinion, are Go Into The Story (GITS) and The Black Board.

GITS is a very active blog by Scott Myers, averaging over 5 posts per day. The posts include interviews with screenwriters, writing advice, a daily post on examples of movie dialogue, a monthly script analysis, and more. My favorite feature is the weekly “Saturday Hot Links.”

Once a year, Scott runs a free program called “Go On Your Own Quest,” where he very generously guides writers over a period of 24 weeks (at no charge) through a start-to-finish process of writing their own scripts. Scott also teaches classes (which are not free), both online at screenwritingmasterclass.com and in person at the University of North Carolina. Scott also continues to write screenplays himself. (He is a busy man!)

One of his famous principles is “The 1,2,7,14 Formula:”

  1. Read 1 screenplay per week.
  2. Watch 2 movies per week.
  3. Write 7 pages per week.
  4. Work 14 hours per week prepping a story.

There are other great things I could say about this site, but it’s best if you visit it yourself. You can also sign up for a daily email summary of the posts that day.

The Black Board is a moderated screenwriting forum headed by Shaula Evans. It was founded with the support of Scott Myers and is now sponsored by Go Into The Story and The Black List as their official writing community. You can ask about plots, story ideas, characters, loglines, structure, formatting, genres, and more. There are a number of very talented screenwriters active on the site from whom you can get feedback and advice. You will even see me there, as I am honored to help Shaula out as one of the moderators. You do have to sign up and agree to some legalese (basically, “be nice and don’t steal ideas from others”), but if you have a Gmail, Facebook, or Twitter account, you can log in that way. The Black Board is a great site with a very nice and encouraging community of writers.

There are dozens of other good sites for screenwriters, but I’ll mention just one more:

  • The Script Lab’s screenwriting section ( thescriptlab.com/screenwriting/)

The screenwriting section of The Script Lab has multiple writers and lots of advice on all aspects of screenwriting. I’ll end my review with this quote I found there by North by Northwest scriptwriter Ernest Lehman:

One of the tricks is to have the exposition conveyed in a scene of conflict, so that a character is forced to say things you want the audience to know. As, for example, if he is defending himself against somebody’s attack, his words or defense seem justified even though his words are actually expository words. Something appears to be happening, so the audience believes it is witnessing a scene (which it is), not listening to expository speeches.

April 1, 2013

Life After Life in Me: Four Poets Check In With Keyboard in Hand

by Lauren Burke

April marks not only National Poetry Month, but also the two-year anniversary of Life in Me Like Grass on Fire: Love Poems, a collection of poetry by fifty Maryland Writers’ Association members and edited by Laura Shovan. Life in Me explores a host of themes related to love — first love, lost love, and the madness of love, to name just a few. To commemorate the anthology’s second anniversary, we’ve checked in with four contributors for an update on their writing lives since the anthology was published.

Barbara Morrison

Barbara Morrison

Barbara Morrison’s poems “You” and “Christine” appeared in the anthology’s “Love Floods the Senses” and “Friends and Family” sections, respectively. Barbara has been a member of MWA since 2003, when the Baltimore Writers’ Alliance merged with the association, and she is still a regular attendee of Baltimore chapter meetings.

Following the publication of Life in Me, Morrison published a memoir, Innocent: Confessions of a Welfare Mother, which won a bronze medal from the Independent Publisher Book Awards (the “IPPY Award”) in the Mid-Atlantic — Best Regional Non-Fiction category, received honorable mention at the New England Book Festival, and was named a finalist for both Autobiography/Memoir categories for the ForeWord Review’s Book of the Year and the USA Book News’s 2012 Best Book Award.

Morrison’s poem “Plight” won first prize in the 2012 Baltimore City Senior Citizens Poetry Contest. She is also the author of a poetry collection titled Here at Least, with a new collection, Terrarium, due out in May 2013.

Jane Cynewski Elkin

Jane Cynewski Elkin

A member of MWA since 2009 and founder of the Broadneck Writers’ Workshop in Annapolis, Jane Cynewski Elkin’s sonnet “Moving Day” appeared in the “Love of Family” section of Life in Me. During the past year, Elkin has had twelve poems accepted for publication including “The Red Umbrella, ” which appeared in The Poet’s Touchstone. She also won first place in the Poetry Society of New Hampshire quarterly contest and took second place in the Poetry Matters Celebration Contest for her poem, “Give and Take.”

Elkin will appear in an anthology forthcoming from PRA publishing and her poems “Mother Nature’s Last Fling” and “Demolition Day For Laura” will appear in the Spring 2013 issue of the literary journal Third Wednesday.

Other award-winning poetry, fiction, and essays by Elkin have appeared in Kansas City Voices, Kestrel, Off the Coast, Empirical, Crucible, Ducts, and the Harvard Book Store anthology Paige Leaves. She attends the MWA’s Annapolis chapter’s monthly meetings.

Dotty Doherty

Dotty Doherty

Dotty Doherty became an MWA member four years ago and she also frequents the Annapolis chapter. Since her poem “Rowing on South River” appeared in the anthology’s “Love of Nature” section, her poem “Trust” has been published in The Delmarva Review and her poem “Afternoons with Mom” appeared in The Healing Muse.

Dotty is currently working on a nonfiction story about a friend with a rare cancer entitled Pine Cones and a Fork: Traveling the Hard Road of Hope.

Vonnie Winslow Crist

Vonnie Winslow Crist

Vonnie Winslow Crist says that having her poems “Venus” and “Harpers Ferry” published in the “Love of Art and Work” and “Friends and Family” sections of Life in Me helped her reconnect with the local writing community and reminded her of her love of poetry.

No matter how many novels and short story collections she has published, poetry will always remain dearest to her heart. Crist attends and has spoken at meetings of several MWA chapters, where she enjoys socializing with other poets as well as writers of many other genres and styles.

To purchase your own copy of Life in Me Like Grass on Fire: Love Poems for $12.95, visit the MWA website’s Publications page.