Archive for May, 2013

May 26, 2013

Craft Your Writer’s Bio with MWA VP Carolee Noury at the Howard County Chapter’s June Meeting

Career counselor and MWA Vice-President Carolee Noury will lead a talk and workshop on crafting your professional writer’s biography at the June meeting of the MWA’s Howard County Chapter on Thursday, June 20, 2013, from 7:00 to 9:00 p. m. at Sunrise Senior Living, 6500 Freetown Road, in Columbia. A well-written biography will sell you and your work to agents, editors, readers, and reviewers; Ms. Noury will show you how to prepare a biography that makes your audience notice and remember you. Learn about what to include, even if you feel like you don’t have any worthwhile experience, and how to get the kind of experience that you can include in your biography. During the workshop portion of the meeting, attendees will have the opportunity to identify the components of their own winning bios. So be sure to bring pens and paper, computer, or tablet with you, and your writer’s resume if you have one.

At the meeting, as it does every month, the Howard County chapter will collect new and gently-used books for the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County. Bring a book and you’ll receive an extra door prize ticket. Due to the nature of their services, the Center requests that book donations contain no mention of violence against women or children.

About the speaker:

Carolee Noury earned her Master’s Degree in Counseling at George Washington University and practices career counseling in Rockville. She is the Vice President of the Maryland Writers’ Association and Secretary of the MWA’s Montgomery chapter. Ms. Noury has completed courses in creative and business writing and is currently working on her first young adult novel, tentatively titled Favored. She enjoys reading stories with strong characters and layers of adventure. She also loves anything worthy of recording in her collection of notebooks — character name inspirations, weird (and often true) moments, story ideas, and funny conversations.

Learn more about Ms. Noury at her blog and follow her on Facebook. Her article “Tips on Applying Servant Leadership to the Workplace” appeared in the May 2013 issue of Voice of Leadership magazine, and her article “Living in the Procrasti-Nation?” appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of Keyboard in Hand.

For more information about the meeting, visit the Howard County Chapter website. Click here for directions to Sunrise Senior Living.

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May 26, 2013

Podcasting 101, Part Five

by Larry Matthews

In the second installment of this series, I explained that you should think of your podcast as a form of radio. The reason I chose that analogy is because, like music and programming that is broadcast on the radio, your podcast is competing with every other public form of audio for the ears of potential listeners.

Some people feel that terms like radio and broadcasting sound antiquated in this age of broadband wifi, subscription-based streaming services, and smartphone apps. A good friend and long-time public radio guru, for instance, has dropped the word radio from his vocabulary and how advises his clients, mostly radio stations, to use the word audio whenever they talk about their products or programming. But no matter what word you use to describe it, as a podcaster you are competing with everything else out there. Let’s look at some research and numbers from sources that have some credibility, such as Edison Research:

  • What’s popular in the podcast world? Music and comedy are on top. My author interviews are not, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience for them.
  • The most popular podcasts on iTunes are shows from NPR. In 2012, This American Life held the #1 slot, and radio shows represented five of the top ten most popular podcasts on iTunes.
  • Recent surveys have found that about half of the people surveyed have either heard of or listened to Internet radio, however that is defined, and about half of those people have either heard of or listened to a podcast. About a quarter of those people listen to podcasts on their car radios — or, as they are called now, “vehicle audio devices” — every day. Intriguingly, over half of those people report that they don’t listen all the way through to the end, however.

There appears to be a huge overlap between audio-only podcasts and video podcasts, however one describes those. Furthermore, users do not appear to make distinctions between the two in terms of their listening/viewing habits. A listener who plays a podcast over a car radio may well describe the experience as listening to the radio. A viewer watching a YouTube video may well say she’s watching television. And who is to argue? Does it matter whether she’s watching on her laptop or home TV? She still has as many choices as she ever had. More, actually. Today, YouTube videos are competing with network broadcasts and streaming-service original series for our attention, just as the podcast producer of author interviews is competing with NPR for ears.

The issue here is not the delivery platform. The issue is whether the product — whether audio or video — offers listeners and viewers a worthwhile experience. If not, they’re gone. Audience research over many years has made one thing very clear: To the audience, it’s either good or it isn’t.

Know your audience, produce the best product you can, and hope you connect.

Happy listening — and viewing!

May 23, 2013

MWA Annual Meeting and Young Adult Author Wendy Higgins at Montgomery Chapter June Meeting

by Carolee Noury, MWA Vice President

The MWA Montgomery Chapter invites you to our June session for the annual MWA Meeting. MWA President Paul Lagasse will provide updates on what the board has been up to and will answer your questions. Immediately following the annual meeting, there will be a presentation by Virginia author Wendy Higgins.

Wendy Higgins, author of the Sweet Trilogy: Sweet Evil, Sweet Peril, and the forthcoming Sweet Reckoning, will share her journey to publishing with one of the “Big Six” publishers — including some surprises she encountered along the way — at the June meeting of the MWA’s Montgomery County Chapter on Saturday, June 1, 2013, in Room PE 116 in the Physical Education Building on the Rockville campus of Montgomery College, 51 Mannakee Street, in Rockville .

The title of Ms. Higgins’ presentation is “An Untraditional Path to Traditional Publishing.” She was discovered by HarperCollins/HarperTeen in an unconventional way the summer of 2010. While searching for possible critique partners online, she stumbled across the now defunct teen writing site, Inkpop, owned by HarperCollins.

Not only did she meet writers who would eventually become trusted critique partners, but it was this website that led to networking for her first agent, and catching the eye of Alyson Day, an editor at Harper who brought her debut novel to acquisitions. Nearly all of Ms. Higgins’ journey has taken place via the world wide web, including her own massive self-marketing efforts, which have surpassed her dreams and expectations.

Guests are asked to please park in student parking as designated by the white lines.

About the speaker:

After earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing from George Mason University and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Radford, Wendy Higgins taught high school English until she became a mother. Writing Young Adult (YA) stories gives her the opportunity to delve into the ambiguities of those pivotal, daunting, and exciting years before adulthood. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, daughter, and son. Sweet Evil was her debut novel. Visit her on the web at Wendy Higgins Writes

For more information about the meeting, visit the Montgomery County Chapter website. Click here for directions to the Physical Education Building of Montgomery College’s Rockville campus.

Meeting Schedule:

10:00 Welcome and introductions
10:10 Chapter Announcements
10:20 MWA Updates from President Paul Lagasse
10:40 Guest Speaker Wendy Higgins
11:40 Book Signing, Networking
12:00 Adjournment

May 22, 2013

Screenwriting, One Step at a Time

by David Joyner

Consider the following sample scene from a screenplay:

INT. JONES ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, CLASSROOM – DAY

School is in session and students are working at their desks. First grade teacher MRS SMITH (40) is looking over the shoulder of JANE (6) who is drawing something.

MRS SMITH

That’s lovely! What are you drawing?

JANE

I’m drawing God!

MRS SMITH

Oh but deary, no one knows what God looks like.

JANE

They will in a minute.


 

In the beginning . . .

Odd formatting aside, the child Jane is drawing a picture in Mrs Smith’s classroom. Pretty clear isn’t it? Yes, the formatting is funny at first, but don’t worry about script format. Simply put, the basic idea is to tell a compelling story in a visual medium, and the formatting is there to efficiently give the cast and crew necessary information on how the scenes should be set up and performed.

Suppose you are interested in learning about movie scripts. The way I look at it, reading and writing a movie script is, in the end, not much different than reading or writing a short story or a novel. You need (a) a compelling story and (b) some knowledge of the genre you are writing in. If you are really new to this, the format might look strange at first, but you’ll get used to it. Writing the story down is the hardest part, and besides, there are lots of computer programs out there that will help format it for you as a script (for example, both Trelby and Celtx are free).

How to start? Scott Myers, a very experience teacher and screenwriter, whose blog Go Into The Story is one of the most popular screenwriting blogs on the planet, has a recommendation that he expresses succinctly as “1-2-7-14”:

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

You all know how to write and prep, but how do you find scripts to read? You would be amazed how easy it is to find good scripts for free on the internet – just google “(movie name) script”. For example, if you google “Casablanca script” you will find the script that the Writers Guild of America voted as the best script of all time. Sadly, not every script ever written is on the internet but there are plenty out there to learn from and enjoy. Check out dailyscript.com or imsdb.com and try to find your favorite movie or TV show there.

Homework: watch a movie!

Here is an assignment: pausing as necessary, watch a movie while reading the script! If you want to get started, here are two movie and script suggestions:

Scene from the movie His Girl Friday

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday (source)

1. His Girl Friday, by Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant and Rosiland Russell. The film in public domain in the United States and can be watched online or downloaded to your computer, and the script is available online as well . All free, no hassles with registration or anything like that.

Logline from imdb.com: A newspaper editor uses every trick in the book to keep his ace reporter ex-wife from remarrying.

Scene from the movie Charade

Audrey Hepburn in Charade (source)

2. Stanley Donen’s Charade, starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Like His Girl Friday, this film in public domain in the United Stattes and can be watched online or downloaded to your computer, and the script is available online as well. All free.

Logline from imdb.com: Romance and suspense in Paris, as a woman is pursued by several men who want a fortune her murdered husband had stolen. Who can she trust?

Interesting story about Peter Stone’s script: Apparently, he and Marc Behm had tried to sell a script to Hollywood executives, and failed. They gave up and Peter Stone rewrote the script as a novel and sold it to Redbook (a women’s magazine which still is published today), where it was serialized. Someone in Hollywood who reads Redbook liked it. They bought the book rights, from which Peter Stone wrote the script!

Loglines and The Quest

Note the two “loglines” above. A logline is essentially a very concise description of the story and plot. Lots more examples are given in the Script Lab’s Logline Library, as well as the BlackBoard’s Logline Workshop (go to The BlackBoard, but you must register – it’s free and easy – to see the logline workshop webpage).

I mentioned Scott Myers already. He has a exciting contest called The Quest. If you have a screenplay you are serious about, and you are not already a professional screenwriter, I urge you to check it out, as the rewards of winning are huge (basically, six months of one-on-one mentoring, and more . . . ). The contest starts Wednesday, May 22, 2013, and runs through Saturday, June 8, 2013. Entrants may submit up to three loglines to enter. See the GITS announcement for all the details.

Finally, there is at least one MWA critique group for screenwriters, including one started by past MWA president Scott Morrow. If you are serious about screenwriting, join one or start one yourself!

Happy writing!

May 18, 2013

Podcasting 101, Part Four

by Larry Matthews

Over the course of a thirty-five year career as a broadcast journalist, I interviewed thousands of men, women, and children. Some interviews were conducted on the street following horrible tragedies; others were conducted in a studio where I was hosting a talk show. Still others were a complete waste of time no matter where they were! Over those years, I learned some helpful interviewing basics that have been useful in my podcasts too.

The first lesson I learned was: It’s not about me. Everyone has seen or heard interviewers ask sixty-second questions to get five-second answers. Such questions often begin with an assumption followed by an extended (and unsolicited) opinion, and concluding with an invitation for the interviewee to simply agree with the interviewer. Lawyers call this “leading the witness.” Instead of leading your interviewee, ask concise, open questions that encourage the interviewee to share their opinions and expertise in response.

The second, closely related, lesson I learned was: Know your interviewee. There are several categories of interview subjects. At the top, so to speak, are the professionals who are well rehearsed and aggressive, and who take delight in humbling the questioner. Politicians are a classic example of this breed. They have a message to deliver, and they want to drive it down your throat. On the other end of the spectrum are the “newbies” who have never been interviewed in a public forum. These folks need to be brought out of their shell and reassured that they won’t be eaten alive in front of your audience. Aspiring and emerging writers often fall into this category. Because authors tend to be introverts (why else would we spend endless hours by ourselves making up stories?), most of the time the gentle approach works better with them. Someone like Ernest Hemingway, however, would be an exception — given that he might be loading a firearm during the interview!

Don’t laugh; that actually happened to me (not with Hemingway, though; I’m not that old). I was once interviewing a physician who was being charged with drug crimes, and as I set up my recorder and microphone, he pulled out an Army .45, set it on the desk pointing at me, and said, “Now, what would you like to know?”

At that moment, what I really wanted to know was how long it would take me to get out of his office.

Fortunately, most author podcasts are much less dramatic. I prefer to start with opened-ended questions to allow the interviewee to go where they want and to have time to get comfortable talking with me. “Tell us about your book” is a good opening. “How did you get into writing?” or “Where do you get your ideas?” are also good. The goal is to get the interviewee to talking about him- or herself and their writing process, their books, their philosophy, and so on. If, along the way, the author says something provocative like, “And then I shot my third-grade teacher,” I’ll focus on that and pursue it.

The important thing when conducting an interview is to actually listen to what the interviewee is saying. How many times have you seen or heard interviewers miss an opportunity to explore an interesting or provocative point, only to follow up with a completely unrelated — and utterly trivial — question? Your mind should always be a little bit ahead of your interviewee, but never so far ahead that you miss a golden opportunity to ask a question that would “make” the interview.

As a reporter, when I was interviewing someone who I suspected was probably lying or misrepresenting an issue, I would challenge them on certain points. In my podcasts, I don’t worry about that, however. If I ask an author to tell me about their book, I assume that the author is not lying, so I can relax. I don’t have to challenge one point or another in an effort to prove that I know more than they do.

Finally, it’s important to make an interviewee feel comfortable and relaxed. Tension leads to stilted answers and misstatements.

And even more finally, the purpose of an interview — whether in a podcast, on the radio, or on television — is to sell the author, not the book. Let the back-cover blurb sell the book. The author is there to sell the person behind the book. You are doing a service to the author by helping that person express and present him- or herself in the best possible light.

May 10, 2013

Podcasting 101, Part Three

by Larry Matthews

In previous installments, I compared podcasts to radio. All radio stations have, in one way or another, a programming philosophy and a particular purpose for the station. In radio parlance, this is called the format. In Washington, DC, for example, WTOP is an all-news station. Other stations are sports or talk or music. Within that designation are smaller elements of the format that are like the trim on a house. What kind of music? What age group is being targeted? How many commercial minutes per hour? That kind of thing.

In this installment, we’ll be talking about the importance of choosing a format for your podcast.

When it comes to program formats, podcasts are no different than radio. My podcasts, for example, are basic interviews. That’s my format. Other podcasts have fancier formats, featuring more “production” elements. For example, author CM Mayo has a podcast series called Marfa Mondays about a small town in West Texas. She treats her podcast like a radio show with a musical introduction, an announcer, and lots of gewgaws of sound.

Formats are subjective. There is no “right” way to format your podcast. I have a few suggestions and I will back them up with my experience as a radio programmer.

My experience goes way back to the glory days of AM rock radio, with its jingles, slogans, short songs, top ten, reverb on the microphones, the whole magilla (as they used to say). I once worked at an all-news station in Cleveland that had so many production elements — jingles, sounders, time tones, traffic themes, you name it — that the Plain Dealer, the city’s leading newspaper, called the station “a penny arcade.” That didn’t bother me, though, because at the time we were the top rated station in the market.

On the other end of the spectrum are NPR stations, whose announcers have a non-professional sound that evokes an image of the earnest neighbor who volunteers to read announcements at school. No jingles, no sounders, no time tones, no theme songs.

After years of ginning up the jingles, I now prefer a basic, clutter-free format for my podcasts. No musical intro, no theme songs, no announcer, no fancy editing. Why? I believe it’s easier on the ear. If I were twenty-five again I might think differently.

There is one overriding consideration as you format your podcast, and that is the listener. Production elements can be distracting if they are not done well and, in some cases, they can overwhelm your message. Too much production and the topic itself can be lost. I have listened to podcasts that had thirty-second musical intros, as though the opening music WAS the podcast. Trust me on this: almost no one will endure that much music while they wait for the show to begin.

If you want to use some kind of musical theme or intro, make it short. Ten seconds is about as long as you’ll get away with. Five seconds is better. The listeners are there for content, not production. Back in the days when the rock stations played jingles they were in that range. How long does it take to sing “WABC?”

You may point out that NPR’s All Things Considered has music between stories, which radio people call bumpers. Here’s why: the bumpers you hear are really there to provide technical aid for radio engineers. Stations across the country are breaking into, our out of, the show’s segments at designated points on the clock. But not every station hits the cues on time, so the music provides them with a small buffer.

The Basics of a Program Format

The basic elements of a format are show name, host name, guest name, and first question. One, two, three, and so on. You would be surprised how often podcasters miss these most basic elements, even though they see and hear them every day. Consider: “The Tonight Show starring Jay Leno with guest Kevin Bacon.” Show name, host name, guest name.

Once the introduction is done, bring your audience into the topic quickly. Forget long intros or stories about your day. Forget telling your audience your philosophy of the podcast, your background, how you hope they’ll enjoy it, and anything else not directly related to your guest and/or your topic. Keep it basic.

I run my own podcasts on a very basic format. “Welcome to the podcast. I’m Larry Matthews. Joining us is author James Patterson, who’s sold a hundred billion books and is now the richest person on Earth. Welcome. (Nice to be here) Tell us about your latest book.”

Boom, we’re off and running.

In other words, get to the point. Listeners will leave or stay within seconds. If they are there to hear James Patterson, they sure don’t want to hear me talk about how much I hope they like the podcasts or why I’m doing them. They get why I’m doing them; that’s why they’re there, after all.

There’s one other key bit of advice that has served broadcasters well for decades: program from the outside in, not from the inside out. Another version of this advice is, “Don’t broadcast to management.” Format your podcast from the point of view of the person who clicks on the “play” link, not from your own point of view or what you personally find interesting about either your guest or yourself. Many broadcasters have learned the hard way that programming to yourself is the route to a very small audience.

In a way, we’re really talking about customer service. Keep it short, keep it basic, and keep it focused. And even though it’s your podcast, it’s not about you. It’s about your guest.

I’ll say more about that in the next installment.

May 9, 2013

Historian and Author Christopher T. George Speaks at the Annapolis Chapter’s May Meeting

Baltimore author Christopher T. George, a historian whose specialties include the events and personalities of the War of 1812, is this month’s featured speaker at the MWA Annapolis Chapter, Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 6:30 p. m. in room 205 at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase Street, in Annapolis.

Mr. George will discuss his writing career, particularly his book Terror on the Chesapeake: The War of 1812 on the Bay.

About the author:

A native of Liverpool, England, Mr. George lives in Baltimore near Johns Hopkins University. He is the editor of the Journal of the War of 1812 and a co-editor of the Loch Raven Review, an online quarterly literary magazine. He was featured on the History Channel’s program First Invasion: The War of 1812. He is working with Dr. John McCavitt on a biography of Major General Robert Ross. He is historian for the Havre de Grace Bicentennial project and is an advisor to both the Maryland and Baltimore County Bicentennial projects. He regularly gives talks on the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake Bay region. Chris tweets at hashtag @cthompsongeorge.

For more information about the meeting, visit the Annapolis County Chapter website. Click here for directions to Maryland Hall.

May 9, 2013

Discover Hot Fiction Markets at the Howard County Chapter’s May Meeting

Find out what’s selling in the middle grade, young adult, and new adult fiction markets when author LM Preston speaks at the May meeting of the MWA Howard County chapter, Thursday, May 16 from 7:00 to 9:00 p. m. at Sunrise Senior Living, 6500 Freetown Road, in Columbia.

Ms. Preston, author of the middle grade (MG) series Explorer X and the young adult (YA) series The Pack, will present “The BOOM of the Short Story: the New Markets in YA, MG, and New Adult. ” She will also discuss how she became an author and how she creates surreal and fantastic worlds of fiction.

About the speaker:

LM Preston is also author of the YA novels Bandits and Purgatory Reign and the owner of her own publishing company, Phenomenal One Press. Active in social media marketing, Ms. Preston has a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a YouTube channel, and blogs on WordPress and Blogger.

For more information about the meeting, visit the Howard County Chapter website. Click here for directions to Sunrise Senior Living.