Friday, October 31, 2008

'Haunted' Libraries
Help Mark Halloween

Okay, so what's at the intersection of Halloween and the act of reading and writing, we asked ourselves? Almost before we could finish forming the mental question, we happened upon this interesting little tidbit from the blog. State-by-state, it lists midwestern libraries that, according to local folklore, have been haunted for one reason or another, including the 105-year-old Carnegie library in Ashtabula, pictured here. If you happen to live near one or more of them, perhaps you can check them out and report back to us on this crucial question.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Writing Out Loud

'No columnist or reporter or novelist will have his minute shifts or constant small contradictions exposed as mercilessly as a blogger’s are. A columnist can ignore or duck a subject less noticeably than a blogger committing thoughts to pixels several times a day. A reporter can wait—must wait—until every source has confirmed. A novelist can spend months or years before committing words to the world. For bloggers, the deadline is always now. Blogging is therefore to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out loud. You end up writing about yourself, since you are a relatively fixed point in this constant interaction with the ideas and facts of the exterior world. And in this sense, the historic form closest to blogs is the diary. But with this difference: a diary is almost always a private matter. Its raw honesty, its dedication to marking life as it happens and remembering life as it was, makes it a terrestrial log. A few diaries are meant to be read by others, of course, just as correspondence could be—but usually posthumously, or as a way to compile facts for a more considered autobiographical rendering. But a blog, unlike a diary, is instantly public. It transforms this most personal and retrospective of forms into a painfully public and immediate one. It combines the confessional genre with the log form and exposes the author in a manner no author has ever been exposed before.'
--from "Why I Blog," an absorbing essay in the current Atlantic magazine, by the writer Andrew Sullivan.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How the Financial Meltdown Has
Affected One Articulate Teenager

'I've had an NYU flag on my wall for almost as long as I can remember. It's where I always imagined myself going to college. But this global economic crisis situation thing has forced me to rethink my plans. About two months ago, my mom lost her job from Citigroup, one of the largest financial companies in the world, where she had worked for over 21 years. We all just assumed that she would work there forever. My mom's been the sole breadwinner for me and my two sisters ever since my dad died when I was just five years old. So now a lot of things are changing in my house. Like sushi, for instance. We love it and used to go out for it all the time, but now the four Abdullah woman aren't out enjoying miso soup and spider rolls together. Sushi has become a delicacy — just like college.'
--from a touching NPR on-air essay by 16-year-old Mia-Sarah Abedullah. You can read (or better yet, listen to) the entire thing here. Then, rather than feeling powerless about things, why not head over to the excellent investment advice site The Motley Fool, and graze among these good suggestions for how to react to the Panic of 2008. I especially liked the suggestion to ignore the TV circus barker/stock market commentator Jim Cramer, a Harvard graduate-turned-fixture of the idiot culture.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Half Hour Till the Start of a New Cavs Season...

We're hunkered down, armed with all the requisite elements for full hoops enjoyment mode. It helps that the weather has suddenly turned cold, so we have our heated blanket fired up. We've disconnected the home phone line so we won't be bothered by the usual annoying electioneering robo calls. We've got our assortment of favorite comfort foods arrayed nearby (don't ask), and we've just done a quick read of's NBA preview , in which columnist Bill Simmons, after drooling over a TV starlet, predicts the Cavs to win it all, and for Lebron to win the league's MVP trophy.

If you lack the time or interest to read it all, here's the payoff passage: "We will see LeBron's first MVP season. Remember, the Cavs came within a couple of plays of toppling the Celtics last spring. They were damned close ... and that was without Daniel Gibson. Assuming they jump a level with Gibson, Williams and Whoever They Get For Wally, and assuming LeBron submits a career year (something like a 31-9-8), and assuming the media gets behind him (and not Chris Paul), LeBron will take the trophy home. He's due. We will see LeBron win the Finals MVP as well. My pick: Cleveland over New Orleans in the 2009 Finals. You will remember it as the first LeBron/CP3 Finals some day, a seminal moment in the league's history, the season when a new generation of stars symbolically moved the previous regime out of the way. The NBA...where rejuvenation happens."

Lousy Books to Avoid & Embrace

In the past, we've talked about great overlooked novels and also traded lists of books we're embarrased about not having read. Now, the Times of London invites readers to think about ten books they'd just as soon avoid reading. says readers have tagged these two works as "lousy books," and a book publishing veteran maintains in this article that lousy books are the result of soulless conglomerates having slowly taken over book publishing. There's even an official home on the web for Bad Books Month. But we also enjoyed how writer Joe Queenan had some fun here with the whole notion of bad books. And way back in 1946, the incomparable George Orwell set the bar high with this soaring ode to "good bad books," in which he observed: "Perhaps the supreme example of the 'good bad' book is Uncle Tom's Cabin. It is an unintentionally ludicrous book, full of preposterous melodramatic incidents; it is also deeply moving and essentially true; it is hard to say which quality outweighs the other." So we ask you, which books would make your lousy list?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Despair Not, Baby Boomers (& Older):
It's Never Too Late to Begin Writing

These two articles should serve as reminders that it's never too late to give writing a try.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Lebron as Global Icon

As the Cavs begin a new season, the advertisting industry's bible, Ad Age, takes a look at the progress Lebron, Inc. has made toward their previously stated goal of transforming their guy into a global sports icon, on the level already reached by Muhammed Ali, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. To review previous mentions of Lebron, go here, here, here, here, here and here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Strategic Amnesia

So which painful memory would you delete if you could? An old love, a stupid mistake, a thoughtless remark that ruined a friendship? Perhaps all of the above? We'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What's In a Middle Name?

My friend Dave Budin, the musician and writer whom I've mentioned briefly in the past, has come up with an interesting new way to support his favorite presidential candidate. In an email, he explained how the site came to be. "Last week I sent a message jokingly suggesting that we all change our middle names to Hussein until November 4. I mean, I thought I was joking. Then a lot of people e-mailed back and said they were actually doing that -- and they were forwarding my message to their friends, etc...Visit the site -- and, if you want to, sign in. And pass it along to anyone else you know who might be interested. It's not so much that it's pro-Obama (which it obviously is), as it is -- to quote Mark Mothersbaugh's description of his group Devo -- 'anti-stupidity.'" This Sunday, he and his brother will be participating in The Audacity of Votes: A Concert for Change, at the uniquely wonderful Beachland Ballroom, owned and operated by another old journalism comrade, the saintly one, Cindy Barber (scroll down to review all our past mentions of Cindy).

A special welcome to any new visitors/readers from the COSE small business conference. I'll post some wrap-up comments about that in the next couple of days. I met some extraordinary folks on the first day, and will no doubt meet some more on the second and final day of the conference. If you missed it, no problem. As soon as they're available, we'll post a link to the podcasts of all the sessions, including ours. We were tickled (and humbled) by the standing-room-only crowd and the quality of the questions and audience participation. It was just a wonderful event. Thanks, COSE.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Here's a Preview of Tomorrow's Presentation
At the COSE Small Biz Conference at the IX

Blogging & Social Networking for Business

In Tough Times, Maximizing Free Resources is Crucial for Any Business.
A good blog is free (expect of course for the opportunity costs of the time spent writing), and a great way to market one’s services. It’s not, however, a short-term proposition. And if all you’re trying to do is market, save yourself the trouble. First, add value.

Search Optimization Tactics Are Fine. But a Good Blog is the Ultimate SEO Strategy.
Done properly & over a long time, blogging builds “organic search” results, the best kind.

It’s a Great Tool for Executing a Thought-Leader Strategy.
It helps if you actually have some interesting thoughts to share & know your field well.

It Radically Increases Your Likelihood of Serendipity.
You’ll have more “accidental conversations” that will help you grow, learn and maybe, just maybe, attract more business. People will find you, rather than you always having to find them. Isn’t that an easier way to do it?

Out of These Conversations Will Come Great Relationships, Some Virtual, Some Not.
This sets the table for leveraging social networking tools, especially (my fav) Linkedin, to steadily expand & deepen your network of business friends, allies & champions.

A Great Companion & Complement to Online Social Networks.
They’re many things: third-party marketing tools (recommendations) & favor banks (introductions to your network) are just a few ways people use them. Just make sure you’re using at least one of the tools, and experiment in ways that make sense and feel comfortable for you. Don’t simply do it to follow a trend. That’s a sure recipe for failure.

Markets Are Conversations & Blogs Are a Uniquely Effective Way to Take Part.
Whatever you might have heard about how people no longer read, don’t believe it. Humans still crave stories and narrative, especially those emanating from an interesting, knowledgeable & authentic voice. Consider adding yours to the mix.

(for a look at the entire conference lineup, go here. Our panel begins at 2:45 in room five. Hope to see some of you there.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Good Advice from The Atlantic:
In General, Avoid Fancy Words

'Last June, the Los Angeles Times published a complaint from a reader named Grant Nemirow about all the obscure words that had appeared in a single article, a profile of director M. Night Shyamalan: phantasmagoria, bucolic, aesthetic, soupçon, diminution, schadenfreude, contretemps, and vicissitudes. “Ask people if they know what these words mean,” Nemirow wrote. “They don’t.” Other Times readers all but hooted Nemirow down. But maybe he was right?...Oscar Wilde, of all people, once wrote, “It is perhaps a dangerous thing for a country to be too eloquent.” William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White put it differently. In their classic Elements of Style, they advise, “Avoid fancy words.”'
--From the In a Word column in the current issue of The Atlantic, whose print and web versions have just received a major redesign.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Photo & Video Day

It's Sunday, so we don't want you to have to work too hard today. So rather than make you read, you can just look at images today.

We've always gotten a kick out of the silly photos that routinely accompany stories about the stock market's gyrations on any particular day. You know the kind we mean--photos of people looking visibly worried or even shaken when the market plunges, and looking celebratory when it goes up. So we found this gallery of market-reaction photos by the German news mag Der Spiegel especially interesting. Meanwhile, to mark the magazine's 25th anniversary, Vanity Fair brings you their 25 top news photos.

Meanwhile, here are a few videos that we've found interesting recently. Actor Matt Damon thinks the Sarah Palin candidacy "is like a bad Disney movie." You've no doubt heard and read about the infamous "Joe the Plumber," but may not have seen the original videotape of his encounter with Obama. One frustrated and articulate young Northeast Ohioan has a plan to secede from the rest of the state. And in our favorite video of the week (courtesy of our old JCUer friend Ann, whom we thank for flagging it for us), we're encouraged to consider who's acting like a...well, just watch it.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

You Saw it Here First

We got wind of an unusual bipartisan method for blowing off steam from the tough election campaign, and decided to go have a look for ourselves. What we found--Obama and Palin going through a number of remarkably precise dance routines--took us by surprise. So we snapped this picture before the Secret Service hustled us away.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Abundance That Comes From Chance

'Chance is always powerful. Let your hook be always cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be a fish.'
--Ovid. You can learn more about the ancient Roman poet here. Have a splendid weekend, gentle readers. And may chance--or skill--bring the Cleveland Browns another victory on Sunday.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rove's Handiwork in McCain Campaign
And the Nauseating
Line of Succession
In Republican Party Slingers of Sleaze

'Ever since the nomination of Sarah Palin, Washington has been abuzz with rumors that Rove has been invited to help plot campaign strategy for McCain. His rise from the ashes is the scariest story of an already scary campaign season. Presidents come and go; they sit in a place where the law can still touch them, and they're subject to the vote once every four years. But Karl Rove is a revolutionary, a man who can't be stopped by anything except death and maybe — maybe — prison. Rove is trying to finish the work of Nixon and Bush: to achieve the supremacy of a peculiarly American form of Leninism, one that involves the drowning of the electoral process in idiot witch hunts and dirty tricks, the handing over of all policy to anyone with a dollar more than the next guy, and the total aggrandizement of incumbent power at the expense of an entire system of checks and balances. With Rove back in the mix, there's now a hell of a lot more at stake this November than there was when a batty, battle-scarred old poll-chaser like John McCain was the darkest figure on the ticket. Not to sound too alarmist, but Election Day now becomes a referendum on democracy itself.'
--Matt Taibbi, writing in the current issue of Rolling Stone. He notes the central irony: that McCain has handed over his campaign strategy to the same slimy folks who only eight years ago slimed him out of the presidential race. Meanwhile, the New York Times takes note of the tarnished but still active Rove legacy. Steve Schmidt, the man who has been leading McCain's campaign into a ditch, is a one-time acolyte of Rove's (Schmidt & Rove absurdly argue he's not a Rove protege, but no one takes that seriously). Even more interesting is the godfather of it all, the first generation of Republican sleaze operatives: the late former Republican party chairman Lee Atwater, who spawned Rove. A devastating documentary of good ole boy Atwater's life is now playing at the Cedar-Lee, and I recommend you go see it. Its appearance on the scene, just a few weeks before the election, is a bit of exquisite timing. As long as you're at it, please consider reading this splendid, recently published Jeffrey Toobin New Yorker profile of Nixon dirty trickster Roger Stone, who also makes an appearance in the documentary. We hope you'll find all of this germane when you step into the voting booth next month.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Real Sources of Writer's Block,
According to One Veteran Scribbler

'The fear of writing badly, of revealing something you would rather keep hidden, of losing the good opinion of the world, of violating your own high standards, or of discovering something about yourself that you would just as soon not know--those are just a few of the phantoms scary enough to make the writer wonder if there might be a job available washing skyscraper windows.'
--From Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer--A Guide for People Who Love Books and Those Who Want to Write Them. Not long ago, we featured Ms. Prose here. To review earlier explorations of writer's block, go here, here, here, here, here and here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Rooms With Views of the Past

In this week's Cleveland Scene, the cover package looks at various hidden jewels of Cleveland. The paper asked a couple dozen writers and people about town to talk about their favorite hidden jewels of Cleveland. I contributed the following essay about my three favorite old Cleveland rooms. You can read the entire feature package here.

When I think of lesser-known Cleveland gems, I come back to three awe-inspiring rooms, each of which serve as vivid reminders of the immense wealth this town once enjoyed.

The three-story interior of the Huntington Building at the northeast corner of East 9th and Euclid was the world's largest when it was built in the early 1920s (the building itself was then the second-largest office building in the world). Even today, the immense scale of the place can blow you away. As you take in all of its architectural gigantism, you'd be forgiven for thinking you had somehow been momentarily transported to New York, London or some other international banking center. For me, the interior always brings home, in the most palpable way, how far the city has fallen in the decades since the booming 1920s.

My personal favorite is the library of the Union Club, a study in Edwardian-era elegance, but with a touch of old-money restraint. I know many people avoid this building out of a reflexive and understandable revulsion for what it stands for. In fact, this very room once served as the segregated holding pen for the "ladies," the only such room in this once male-only club, which didn't admit women until 1982. Nevertheless, I suggest you somehow get past all that and just enjoy the place for what it is today--an exquisitely beautiful room that provides a visual feast. Whenever I find myself in the neighborhood, I make sure to budget an extra 10-15 minutes to just sit and admire the place.

The English Oak Room, an art deco wonder in the bowels of the old Union Terminal complex, later to be called Terminal Tower (sorry, it'll never be Tower City for me), is the last of these vivid throwbacks to an earlier era. The stately dining room served the dwindling passenger train crowd, or at least the wealthiest slice of it, until it closed in 1975. It's since gotten a facelift and is available for special events. If you've never caught a glimpse of it, I suggest you do so (by appointment, of course).

I liken these rooms to the still-graceful remnants of a proudly aging dowager princess. Or perhaps they're collectively the municipal equivalent of the faded move star Gloria Swanson in the movie Sunset Boulevard, decrying how she hadn't gotten small, only the "pictures" had. That former world, in which booming Cleveland was such a central hub, has vanished forever. But I still love revisiting it momentarily in the form of this trio of venerable rooms. With the right pair of lenses, faded beauty can be just as compelling as the other kind.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Some Things Are Worth A Second Look:
Roldo's Pointed Reminder to Reporters

My friend Roldo Bartimole discontinued his blog a couple of years ago, but these things live on forever on the Internet. And so I decided to have another look at it all. I found this small but pointed reminder especially worthy of being reprised. It's doubly germane these days, given the ever-winnowing number of fulltime professional reporters.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Best Lead of the Month

'The eyes were blue. Cornflower blue, steel blue, ice blue. They smouldered through the soft-focus foliage in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” as he swayed on a bicycle with Katharine Ross on the handlebars. They stared beautifully in his middle-aged lawyer’s face as, in “The Verdict”, he was handed an enormous cheque which he refused to take. They were so blue that they registered even in black and white. As he stepped out of the ranch door in “Hud”, casually buttoning his shirt, or as he woke himself up in “The Hustler” for another frame with Minnesota Fats after 25 hours at the pool table, you could have sworn they glowed with the colour of some deep, distant sky.'
--from an obituary in The Economist. The rest of it is pretty good also. You can review past best leads here and check out an earlier item on Newman here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Back to Basics

'Too often, man has tried to ignore or legislate out of existence this fundamental truth – that one must plant before he reaps, that one must earn before he spends, that one must learn before he understands. Cause, and effect. And the greatest teacher in such matters is the earth, nature, life itself.'
--from Hill Country Harvest, a book published in 1967 by Hal Borland. A special thanks to the wry & learned bunch of creative rascals who pointed me to this timely bit of wisdom, the sublimely named Wooster, Ohio-based Monkey Mensch Gang.

Friday, October 10, 2008

As Always, Columnist James Wolcott
Sums It All Up in a Brilliant Little Riff

'Journalism used to perform a higher civic function than it does today, so spanked up is it with gaffes, gotchas, spin-doctoring, celebrity pimping, crisis-mongering, minnow-brained punditry, drama criticism practiced from under the troll bridge (usually at the expense of Democrats—Al Gore’s sighings during the debate with George Bush, Hillary Clinton’s “cackle”), and instant amnesia. To watch archive footage of TV reporters from the black-and-white era with their measured intonations and ashen visages—before everybody burst into Michael Kors orange—is to crack open the crypt on a more responsible, somber, and, yes, duller era, when journalists still conducted themselves as a priestly caste serving the needs of an informed citizenry, as opposed to catering to cud-chewing dolts. Those days are gone and there’s no point in mourning them, the Walter Lippmanns and similar wise men (and women) having proved worse than useless when the Vietnam War sawed the country into two with its lies and delusions. But the intelligent drone of old-school journalism served to extend a support bridge through national trauma, the term “anchorman” symbolic of the media’s role in securing coverage of the news with weight and authority, a fixed point in a sea of raging foam. Now it’s all raging foam, a steady, indiscriminate diet of excitation to keep us permanently on edge.'
--from Wolcott's column in the November Vanity Fair. You can review earlier mentions of Wolcott here, and sample his blog here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

This Needs No Comment From Us
(special thanks to our friend RTA for spotting it and sending it along).

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Self-Proclaimed Poet

'It's difficult to call yourself a poet. It's kind of like calling yourself a saint. You have to wait till thousands of people accuse you of being a poet."
--Poet Billy Collins, interviewed today on the Diane Rehm show. You can learn more about him and sample from his poetry here.
UPDATE: On his blog Writing for the Ear, my friend Mike Quinn posts the audio he originally captured of a presentation Collins made at John Carroll five years ago. We'd label this a must-listen.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Deanna Marks 25th Annual Lakeland Fest
With Touching Salute to Her Writing Roots

For many years, my friend Deanna Adams has organized a twice-annual writers conference at Lakeland Community College, picking up the torch from its founder, and her mentor, the late Lea Leaver Oldham. At this year's 25th annual event, held last month, Deanna marked the occasion with a touching tribute to all the things that helped make her the writer she is today. We thought it was a particularly moving evocation of the many sources of support, inspiration and encouragement that go into the formation of a writer, and so we bring you her entire presentation. If you enjoy this half as much as we did, we hope you'll consider stopping by her site and sending her some love.

In September of 1983, I was a newly married 29-year-old (my own 25th anniversary had been two months ago), just beginning to realize my dreams of being a “real” writer. Ever since I was a kid, I had visions of sitting at the typewriter cranking out fascinating prose, writing dramatic stories, and imparting wonderful bits of wisdom. I wrote little plays and children’s books in elementary school. And dreadful poetry in my teenage angst years. And then, in my early 20s, decided I need some real guidance. So I enrolled here at Lakeland and signed up for a Creative Writing class and met my first mentor, Mr. Gene Dent. He taught in an interesting manner, and boy, he knew his stuff. He then encouraged me to take the journalism classes he was also teaching. So I did.

Now, to back up a bit, I must confess - I was not a good student in high school. As a matter of fact, my mother often said I must really like my initials, DF, because she saw them so often on my report cards. That of course was partly due to my “rebel stage” but it was also because I never had a teacher who really encouraged me to do better. Most wrote me off as someone just getting by. Probably won’t amount to much. And I began to believe that.

But then I took Journalism 101 with Mr. Dent. And that’s when my writing life changed. When he handed back that first assignment, I was thrilled to see I got a B- on it! But then there was a note at the bottom where he wrote “See me after class.” Oh-oh. (I wasn’t unfamiliar with that phrase). And this is what he told me. “You really have a way with words,” he said. “And I know you can do better than this. So I want you to do it over. I want you to polish up the lead. Give me a little more detail about the subject. And watch your run-on sentences (which, incidentally, I am still known for – and interestingly, many of the great contemporary writers do it all the time now, so it appears I was simply ahead of my time). Mr. Dent then told me he’d re-grade it.

Wow. Here, I was really happy with the B-. But he thought I could do even better! And because of his faith and confidence in me, I wanted to prove him right. I did it over, paying attention to everything he’d told me. When he handed it back to me the second time, I saw a big red A. And in his class, and under his direction, I saw many A's after that. And while taking all the required courses for my Associates in Arts degree, I continued taking creative writing courses each and every semester. And of course, joined the staff on the Lakelander, the college newspaper. Soon Mr. Dent suggested I apply for an internship at the News-Herald. And that’s when I met my second mentor. Janet Podolak, who was then, and still is now, the best writer that paper has ever had. And I don’t care if someone tells that to Jim Collins . . . It’s true.

As my editor, she took me under her wing, and while I first had to write up a lot of dry pieces like “Tip of the Hat,” the events calendar, and I think an obit or two, Janet began assigning me real features. And just about a month later—after telling her I was going on vacation—she told me to take notes, and photos, and I could write about my experience in a feature for the Sunday edition. Are you kidding me? I’d never written a travel piece, and with all those details and description you need . . . I didn’t think I could pull it off. But again, she thought I could. Soon as I got back, she and I worked on the piece together. I learned so much. And I tell you, seeing your words in a big Sunday feature on the front page of the travel section - or any section - is absolutely thrilling - and addicting. It had been a lot of work. But I couldn’t wait to do it again. And again. I stayed at the News-Herald writing pieces for free, long after the other interns had left.

My first piece of advice to those of you just starting out: If someone gives you an opportunity to write for publication, even if it’s a church bulletin, do it! Don’t ask how much they’ll pay you. You’re getting paid in experience. And the more you do it, the more confident you’ll become, and the better writer you’ll be. And you’ll also, then, have writing clips to show future editors who will pay for your work. That internship was in 1981. In the winter of ’82, I met my third mentor, Lea Leever Oldham, the founder of this conference. Now she was a real pistol. I’d never met anyone like her before or since. She had the confidence, the wisdom, and the gumption (and dramatic flair) I could only dream of having. I took a couple of her classes, and one day, she came up to me at the end of one and said, “You’re coming to the writer’s conference I’m having, aren’t you?” Now anyone who knew Lea, knows that tone of voice she often used. It was not a question.
I was going to the conference.

I’m often told by aspiring writers how lucky I am to have had not one, but three mentors in my career. But this was no lucky accident of fate. I made myself be at the right place, at the right time, with the right people. You can’t meet mentors in any business without being where those mentors - those teachers – are. So go to where writers hang out. Be it in a classroom, an author reading, or coffee shop. I’ve also had aspiring writers say, “Well I love to write, but right now, I just can’t afford to take any writing courses, or go to a conference or workshop.” Believe me, I know where they’re coming from. As a young divorcee in my late 20s, I was working two jobs and still struggled to pay the rent, and all else that goes with making a living. But there are ways to get to where you want to be if you want it badly enough, you don’t have to have a lot of money to do it.

But you do have to have determination, and you must be willing to sacrifice for it. I wanted to be a writer badly enough.

So I decided I didn’t need a new blouse or earrings, and I could make do with those old shoes (just shine ’em up a bit), and bought a lot of generic products. And I saved up a couple dollars each week for the next class I wanted to take. And I practically lived at the library – after all, it’s FREE. I read all the kind of books that I wanted to write. And I studied them – paying attention to how they began, how the stories – Fiction or Nonfiction - connected, how they were organized chapter by chapter. And I read - and studied - tons of books on writing. I took out all the writing magazines available – like those out there on the conference table. (Which, today, is also Free). And I went to that conference – Lea Oldham’s First Western Reserve Writers Conference, 1983. And I went to nearly every one after that. Including the Spring ones, which she began later.

This leads to my second piece of advice. Invest in yourself. No one cares more about your future than you do. No one cares more about you becoming a writer than you do. No one will help you become a good writer more than those who have been there, right where you sit today. But you have to be Determined. You have to Sacrifice. And You have to Get A Little Help From Your Writer Friends . . . If you don’t have any writer friends, it’s because you haven’t yet been to a writing class, a writers’ conference, or a local book signing. You haven’t been to where writers - and their mentors - hang out.

But you are today. So I know every one of you has that determination. And probably more than a few of you had to sacrifice a bit to be here today. Be it by saving up a little money, or getting your husband, mother, sister or brother to watch your kids. (Been There!) But trust me on this: By the end of today - The First Day of the Rest of Your Writing Life as you rejoin me in this room for refreshments and the Q and A Panel, you will agree with me that it has been worth every penny, and a few sacrifices. And that this is still the best deal for writers in town – or probably anywhere. Because thanks to the founder of this conference, who knew what it’s really like to be a writer, you will gain concrete and useful information, insight, inspiration, and yes, a new writer friend or two.

Along the way to my writing life, I worked hard at developing my skills, and soaking up as much information as possible, so I could be a GOOD Writer (as opposed to Being a BAD writer, and believe me, just because you are published, doesn’t always mean you’re good), and so I made sure I learned from the best. I accumulated Literary Heroes. Great writers who, by merely reading their work, I learned so much from. Like William Zinseer. And Mary Karr. And David Sedaris. Frank McCourt. Anne Lamott. Susan Issaacs. And Elizabeth Berg. Even old guys like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, E. B. White, and Sherwood Anderson. And of course literary women of long ago: Willa Cather, and Flannery O’Connor, Katherine Mansfield. I know a few on that list, some of you may never have heard of. You see, not all the well known “great” writers have done it for me. Their work didn’t touch my soul, for whatever reason. You have to read a lot to acquire your own personal literary heroes, and they don’t have to always be the best sellers.

This is just MY list – You go get your own.

And there is also My Local Literary Heroes List - and that keeps getting longer and longer - which gives you an idea how lucky we are to be living in the Greater Cleveland area, where I swear there must be something in the water when it comes to the Arts – any of the Arts. To add to my Literary Heroes, I don’t have to go any further than my own hometown. There is Connie Schultz and Regina Brett, and Joanna Connors – all in one newspaper! There is Michael Ruhlman, and Sarah Willis, and Les Roberts. There is Michael Salinger, and Erin O’Brien, and Michael Heaton and Scott Lax. There is John Ettorre and Ray McNiece, and of course my old mentor, Janet Podolak.

I am so proud to call each and every one of these talented writers who produce such great work in Northeast Ohio, my friend. And whenever I happened to be mentioned in the same breath as them (ok, not all that often, but it has happened!) I feel so honored, and so humbled. And it makes me want to work hard enough to have actually earned that mention.

And that’s why we need a Little Help from Our Writer Friends. They help us aspire to be like them. To strive to write even better than them. So there’s a chance that someday, we can be mentioned in the same breath as them. And be as supportive of them as they are to us. Because they are actually willing to help us by teaching us. Or merely by taking the time to talk to us at their book signings, about how they do it. We need these writer friends. We need them when we, finally, get our work published. We need them when we receive that 100th rejection letter. We need them in the beginning of our career. And in the middle of our writing trenches. And certainly at the end, when we’ve completed that long project of writing a book and are, finally, the ones sitting at that book signing – praying someone will buy our book, or at least not ask us where the latest Stephen King novel is – Because they think we work there (oh, yeah, ask any author, it happens!).

I have indeed learned from the best. My writing mentors. My writing colleagues. My writing friends. This is what I’ve learned from them:
1) Don’t FIND time to write – because you never will. You have to MAKE the time to write.
2) Learn the art of writing by:
A) Taking Classes, workshops, and conferences such as these.
B) Learn by doing. Sit in that chair and write as if your life depends on it. You’ll be amazed what comes through if you just sit and write and write, and keep at it.
C) READ. READ. READ. Not just for pleasure, but to see how it’s done!
Stephen King said it best: If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” Those are key words – TIME. TOOLS. The Tools are seeing how the writer makes sense of it all. How the prose comes together. How it all WORKS.
3) Support other writers – After all we’re in this together. Go to their book signings, attend their workshops. Go see them when they give a Presentation. Ask them questions. Tell others about them and their work. Read a Good Local Book Lately? – SPREAD THE WORD!
4) And finally, make writer friends. This is why, as of today, I’m reintroducing something that my mentor, Lea, always did at her conferences. These little stickers to put on your name tags – Yellow for Fiction, Pink for Nonfiction, Green for Poetry and Children’s Writing? This way you can see immediately what those next to you are writing. Seek out those whose writing interests are similar to yours. Talk to them, discuss your craft, commiserate over your rejection letters (and I believe you’re not a real writer until you’ve received your share of them b/c that means you’re at least sending your stuff out). Exchange emails with them, meet them at coffee houses. Form your own writers group.

Because we need each other. We are each other’s mentors, co-conspirators, and yes, friends. Because those other people out there? The NON-writers? They don’t have a clue what we writers have to endure. The Blood, Sweat, and Tears. And Fears – oh, most certainly that!

Those ones, the ones who aren’t writers? They think we do it because “We like to write” and “It’s such a nice “Hobby” and “You’re so lucky to be able to just sit at home and write in your pajamas . . .” They just don’t get it. We don’t do it because we like it or merely because we want to – though there is that. We real writers do it because we have to. We really have no choice. And only you, the real writers here, know just what I’m talking about.

So Folks, Here’s to another 25 years of Learning How to Do It.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Our Favorite Headline of the Week

Wired Mag nabs it with "The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Terrorists." You can review earlier FHOTWs here.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Save This Date: Afternoon of October 22nd
Join Me at the COSE Small Biz Conference

If you're a Northeast Ohioan, I hope you'll consider taking in at least part of the COSE small business conference in three weeks. By all accounts, it gets bigger and better each year. This year, I'll be on a panel talking about blogging and Web 2.0, and how people in business and the arts can better harness the tools to connect to more and better opportunities. But I'll let my friend Roxanne, who I mentioned briefly last year, tell you first-hand about its benefits. In this brief video, she talks about the energy boost she got from attending last year's conference. Hope to see some of you there. Meanwhile, we'll be silent over the weekend, while we're taking part in the weekend writing retreat in Lakeside, Ohio. If anyone wants to join us for a last-minute Saturday-only portion, just buzz me at, and we'll be glad to accomodate you. Talk to you again on Monday. Enjoy your weekend, everyone.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

It's Time to Hear From Poets & Comics
About the Financial System Meltdown

Okay, we've heard enough from the politicians and pundits about the near-meltdown of the financial system. Now it's the poets and comedians turn to take a whack at it. My friend the poet Amy Sparks, she of the luminous smile and even more luminous pen,
had this to say about it. Meanwhile, Fortune Magazine's resident wise guy Stanley Bing (actually a pen name for a guy who's a top PR person at CBS) weighed in with this, while Shaker Heights native Andy Borowitz had this to say. Not feeling like poetry or jokes are going to help? Then you might try this handy page on the Wall Street Journal's recently upgraded website, which provides links to their comprehensive coverage of the still-unfolding financial crisis.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Can Writing Be Taught?

Veteran novelist Francine Prose doesn't think so, even though she's taught creative writing off and on for two decades. On the other hand, she tells the Washington Post, "'reading can for sure be taught,' she says. And in her view, close reading, combined with constant writing, is the only way a writer really learns." We'd second that opinion. How about you?