I’m embarrassed to have such a prolonged absence here. I seem to get sidetracked by life in general and work in particular. Not a bad thing! But it does seem a pity that we have to interrupt living with getting a few hours leep. Such is life.
You’ll be happy to know, however, that the Author! Author! series will resume in September.
Meanwhile, I’m involved in researching/writing several stories throughout Atlantic Canada.
I’ve also taken on the role of Managing Editor (Atlantic Canada) for a travel website titled Chichaku. I’m currently setting up content for Atlantic Canada and expect that we will be launching this part of the Chichaku site in August.
The two photos that you see here were taken at Birchdale, one of my favourite places on earth. Top photo is first cabin close to lodge. Second photo is from my canoe on a stillwater enroute to Second Carrying Lake. If you look closely, you may be able to see the beaver house on the upper mid-left of the shot on the right.
Just completed a 5-day wilderness paddle into “the Barrio” which is close by (above Birchdale), and will be returning for our annual Birchdale women’s get-away September 26-30. Birchdale is located about a 1-hr. drive from Yarmouth, N.S. We stay in log cabins (no electricity). Heavenly! Great paddling and fellowship. Oh yeah … we take turns cooking and the food is always beyond wonderful. In fact, I’ve heard it said that this trip isn’t about paddling at all. Rather, it’s all about eating. Contact me for information.
Woohoo! I’ll soon be doing one of my favourite things (delivering a travel writing workshop) in one of my favourite places (Fredericton NB). The workshop will be on April 28, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. at “The Station” on York Street.
Here’s a quick recap of the focus and workshop outline. Pass the word around!
Focus: travel writing for print publications (newspapers and magazines) as well as online publications and blogs. Participants will explore and be exposed to different kinds of travel writing (trade, commercial, advertorial, service, feature, books etc.) Samples will be provided. We’ll also discuss expectations of clients and editors, the importance of taking decent photos, the value of networking and all about press trips.
• who buys copy or hires travel writers? (where are the outlets/ opportunities?)
• putting your interests to work for you; specialize or diversify?
• how to analyze a market and understand editor/client needs
• how to write an appropriate query/pitch
TRAVEL BOOKS: Which way to go? Publisher, agent or self-publish? Resources?
• writing content for public and private sector (e.g., advertorial, content for brochures, interpretive panels)
• what do editors/clients expect?
• the art of taking great shots (10 tips for “wow” photos)
• how to send/present photos to editors/clients
MARKETING and NETWORKING
• professional writing organizations e.g., TMAC and PWAC. How does it “work”; what are the expectations? Benefits?
• importance of having your own website or travel blog + business cards + social media
• building a portfolio + testimonials
• travel-related websites that you should know about
• getting to know your destination; mining for story ideas, developing angles
• finding experts (and locals) to interview
• press trips vs setting up individual itineraries (pro’s and con’s of each)
• who pays? How arranged? What’s expected?
• protocols and trip etiquette
• bibliography of travel writing books
• discussion/suggestions how to improve narrative writing skills
FEE: $125 (inc. HST). For more information or to register, send me an email at email@example.com
Wendy Kitts is a freelance writer who’s penned stories for magazines and been a regular reviewer of middle school and young adult literature for several years. As you’ll discover in this interview, she’s learned a lot about going out on a limb and saying “yes” to the Universe.
Wendy lives in Moncton, NB. She’s also the author of Sable Island: The Wandering Sandbar (Nimbus 2011). With its singing sands, wandering dunes and wild horses, Sable Island is one of the most magical places in the world. Yet very few people are ever allowed to visit the vulnerable island recently designated as a Canadian National Park Reserve. Full of photographs, science, and history, Sable Island is an exciting look at a truly untamed part of the world and brings young readers up close to this beautiful, fragile place.
Now, on with the interview!
Where did the idea of doing this book come from?
This book was 50 years in the making. Seriously. I wanted to go to Sable Island ever since I saw a news story on CBC TV when I was six (in the mid-sixties). The horses were starving at the time, and the government was doing a hay drop. I’ll never forget that grainy black and white image of emaciated horses running through the sand dunes. One paused and looked up at the camera.
Lots of people dream of going to Sable Island. How did you pull that off?
Sable Island is protected; the government currently allows 50-100 visitors per year with written permission from the Coast Guard (although that may change with the recent announcement that the island is becoming a national park reserve). In 2009, I heard about a week-long artist’s retreat to Sable led by Richard Rudnicki and Susan Tooke (book illustrators). They were looking for 8 other artists to join them and it was sort of a test project to see how “regular” people could respect the island’s fragile ecosystem.
I responded immediately but it cost a small fortune – $5500 – with most of the money going towards the chartered flight. I managed to get the $1000 deposit but had no idea where I would get the rest. Most of my family, especially my mother, said the money could be better spent on food or rent. As a single freelance writer, I didn’t disagree, but there was something about fulfilling a life-long dream that I couldn’t ignore. Just before the cut-off date to pay for the trip I received an unexpected tax refund. Still gives me chills. I was expecting only $600 that year but received $3500! To me that was a sign from the Universe to go.
My family started their campaign about better uses for the money but a writer friend [Wes] told me the trip would be an investment in my soul. That still makes me tear up because not only was it an investment in my soul, it gave me my first children’s book—another lifelong dream.
But I didn’t go to Sable Island with the idea of writing a book. The book came to me the night before I left the island. I sat up in bed with the idea that I would write about Sable in an ABC format, especially as I had the perfect words for X and Z – letters traditionally a challenge to fit such endeavours. X was for “xerophyte” the type of plant that holds the island together and Z was for “Zoe” the naturalist who has lived on Sable Island for almost 30 years. I quickly scribbled notes for the rest of the letters and went to sleep.
How did you go about finding a publisher?
I knew from my children’s book review days, that Nimbus publishes books on regional subjects, especially books about Nova Scotia. I also knew they did beautifully illustrated ABC books for older children on Nova Scotia locations so I thought they would be a great match for this; luckily they thought so too.
Tell us a bit about what was involved from signing the contract to getting the book published.
Although Nimbus was immediately interested, they asked me to consider a format change and if I could write in a similar style to another book on their list, The Children of Africville. So I checked that book out of the library, studied it, did a formal non-fiction proposal with sample chapters and suggested images and sent it back. It was accepted right away.
Of course, writing it took much longer than anticipated once it became a non-fiction chapter book for 7-9 year olds. But everyone at Nimbus was great to work with. Not much changed as far as the text (although if I had known I was going to be a writer, I would have paid better attention in English class!)
Nimbus used a lot of my own photographs but I had to get images to fill in gaps for subjects I didn’t have pictures of, as well as obtain historical photographs. I was very pleased with how the book turned out and extremely excited when I saw they had chosen one of my photographs for the cover shot.
Advice for folks who have a book roaming around in their heads?
To quote Nike,” Just do it.” It’s roaming around there for a reason – it needs, it wants, to be expressed. Get it out of your head and on paper and let it have a life of its own. As my friend Wes said, say “yes!” Just say yes and see where it takes you.
Questions or comments? Fire away!
Finally, Author! Author! is back on track and I’m pleased to introduce Barbara Florio Graham, the managing editor of a dynamite book titled Prose to Go: Tales from a Private List. The book contains 34 first-person stories from 18 contributors in 14 locations across Canada, from the NWT to PEI. The contributors are all professional writers; many have won awards. The interesting thing is that they all belong to an email list of writers that Barbara created five years ago. (There are 23 in the group; 18 submitted stories and the rest acted as cheerleaders.) It’s also interesting that none of the contributors paid anything to get the book published.
Before we jump into the interview, here’s a thumbnail sketch of Barbara’s professional life: she’s worked both as a writer and a broadcaster, taught English, handled public relations for various clients, served as a contributing editor to several publications and taught workshops in writing and media relations in both the public and private sector. An awards-winning author of three books, Barbara also has extensive experience as a mentor and publishing consultant.
You said that none of you paid anything to get this book published. How so?
I meant that literally. We invested only our time and effort. Bridgeross is a mid-size publisher with more than a dozen titles published to date. The owner is Marvin Ross, a colleague and good friend, which is why I approached him. I told the group I wasn’t willing to consider an anthology until we had a publisher lined up.
Marvin offered us his standard contract, which I modified slightly (one of the services I offer to authors is contract review, so I know what is needed to protect authors). We’re receiving the standard royalty of 10% of retail sales (not net, as some publishing contracts state!). We worked out a formula for dividing the royalties among the editors, designers and contributors.
We asked for up to three submissions of first-person stories between 500 and 1000 words. We rejected a few, asked for significant editing of a few others, and didn’t slot the pieces into the five categories until close to the end (Misadventures, Rear-View Mirror, What In The World, Love And Loss, Exit Laughing). That was actually the most difficult part of the editing process!
We were amazed at how few challenges we faced. The three editors (Irene Davis, Fred Desjardins and I) worked together beautifully, and became really close in the course of communicating with each other almost every day for four months. Some days there were many messages flying back and forth! Humor helped.
Since the list is mine, I set some of the parameters, including that there would be no communication behind anyone’s back. Everything was transparent, with all three editors copied on everything. And if we disagreed (which only happened a couple of times) we were strict about majority rules. That was why I insisted there be three editors.
How did you dole out the tasks?
Irene is the best editor and grammarian I know, so I asked her to be primary editor, with the last word on grammar, punctuation, etc. Fred was our Acquisitions Editor, coaxing list members to submit stories, and he was also our second proofreader, as that’s something I know I’m not good at.
All three of us read every submission, sent comments back and forth, and sent several pieces back and forth several times.
I handled the format and design of the book, liaison with Marvin (although I copied Irene and Fred on everything), came up with the cover design concept and asked Steve Pitt if he could provide a photo. He also added to my concept. Then Julie Watson’s son, John, a brilliant photographer who does her book covers, executed the actual cover. I designed and wrote the copy for the back cover.
The 18 contributors were all thoroughly professional, with no one objecting to having a piece rejected or to editing suggestions. I think this is because we all know each other very well and have become close friends. All list-members had a say in the title and sub-title. Many ideas were submitted, I eliminated some by checking to see if they were already in use, and then we voted on the finalists.
What’s the response been from authors and readers?
Contributors and other list members love the book, and feedback has been extremely positive from everyone. We’ve had great reviews, including many five-star reviews on Amazon, libraries have purchased copies and there have been launches, book-signings and readings in most of the contributors’ locations.
The book is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Chapters/Indigo, and on Kindle and other e-book formats, as well as at independent bookstores in the U.S. and Canada.
What an amazing project. I’m sure that Barbara (and the rest of the authors) will be happy to field questions and respond to comments. Below, I’ve posted the blurb that appears on the back cover which includes the authors’ names and gives a sense of what to expect. You can see that it promises to be a delicious read!
Tales from a Private List
DRIVE through the Northwest Territories with Helena Katz as she brings a herd of alpacas to their new home in her back yard.
JOIN Trudy Kelly Forsythe at the Rolling Stones’ Big Bang Tour, and Barbara Florio Graham in her encounter with actor Peter Falk (aka Columbo).
WATCH award-winning humorist Steve Pitt deal with cherry-stealing kids, and award-winning cookbook author Julie Watson wrestle with a lobster on TV.
CLIMB inside a Santa suit with broadcaster/humorist Gordon Gibb, and see a Christmas tree from Helen Lammers-Helps’ vantage point.
EXPERIENCE birth from an infant’s point of view, in a mesmerizing piece by Elle Andra-Warner.
SHARE household hilarity with Lanny Boutin and Joanne Carnegie, while Debbie Gamble deals with body issues and Lorri Benedik with unwanted compliments.
CRY with Barbara Bunce Desmeules Massobrio as she describes My Life Now, and with Hilda Young as she comes to terms with her son’s suicide.
DISCOVER Canadian trivia book author Mark Kearney’s secret to winning prizes at fall fairs, while Irene Davis deals with a vanished voice and Fred Desjardins with growing older.
Saturday October 1, in Halifax, NS
Saturday November 5, in Saint John, NB
These are full day workshops. The one in Halifax will focus on freelance opportunities for various venues (corporate world, business writing, writing for magazines and trade journals etc.) The Saint John workshop will focus on travel writing. For complete workshop outlines, fees, locations etc., please send me a note via the comment box here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
As photography is vitally important to a freelancer, part of each workshop will focus on selling photos to editors and clients. It’s all about composition (and relatively easy to learn with practice, even with a point-and-shoot camera). The shot included here was taken at the National Car Show in Moncton, NB and was a full page photo featured in Saltscapes Food & Travel as part of story titled “Rev up your engines” in this year’s edition.
OK. Gotta ‘fess up. I’ve been negligent. Funny how life gets in the way sometimes. But I’m getting back on track. Before the new moon makes an appearance on August 29th, you can expect to see a new/improved version of this site. By that time I will also be back in full swing with the Author! Author! series and a new travelogue featuring a three-week trek from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia up through New Brunswick and Quebec, across the Trans-Labrador Highway then over to the northwest part of Newfoundland, down the coast and back home. Over 6000 km. Whew. Can’t wait to tell you all about it. The photo is my other half (Barrie MacGregor) with a guard at the Petit Sault Blockhouse in Edmundston, New Brunswick. In case you’re wondering who’s who, Barrie is the guy with the white beard.
Johanna Bertin is a licensed medical social worker in Fredericton, NB who would love to spend more time writing but isn’t ready to give up her love affair with her day job. She’s working on a way to incorporate the love of one into the other, but in the meantime has written five books. Her latest is Don Messer: The Man behind the Music (Goose Lane Editions) where she shares anecdotes, rare photographs, and the recollections of family, co workers and fans revealing the inner complexities of the man who warmed the hearts of millions of viewers of Don Messer’s Jubilee.
Check out Johanna’s site, “Meanderings,” here at www.johannabertin.com
What inspired you to write a biography about Don Messer?
I was intrigued by this man who grew up the youngest child of eleven on a marginal farm in Tweedside, NB and made it to the top of radio and television stardom in Canada—having the top rated show several years in a row and a viewing audience of 2.5 million in the 1960’s. There were many talented fiddlers in the Maritimes at that time (the early 1900’s) and I wanted to understand what it was about Don Messer that made him stand out above the rest. He obviously had talent, but there had to be a great deal more to his story. His biography was in essence the search for the man behind the music—the search to understand the musician whom other writers had declared unfathomable. The 100th anniversary of his birth gave me a time goal to work towards, as well as a good marketing opportunity for the book.
A writer friend told me that Goose Lane did not publish popular literature, but they published literary works that they hoped would become popular. I felt that the Don Messer story was worthy and that I had the skills to ferret out the personal story behind the man so many loved.
I wrote an outline of the book, and submitted it together with a draft chapter that demonstrated not only the depth of my research into the subject, but also the very personal approach that I was going to take in telling the story. I also submitted an extensive list of the people whom I intended to interview for the book and demonstrated that I had the co-operation of Don’s family.
Goose Lane was highly professional. The day I submitted my manuscript I was given a time line starting that day and continuing week by week to the day of publication. Neither they nor I missed a single deadline.
For others wanting to pitch a non fiction book, be prepared to explain why you think your topic is worthy of 80,000 words. Is your approach original? What unique skills do you have that will make this book a success? Can you demonstrate that you will provide reliable research?
What kind of things can help “sell” your book idea?
I had an innovative approach and material that no one else had had access to and I was passionate about the need for Don’s story to be told. I really believe that Don Messer is as important to Canadian music as Helen Creighton is to Canadian folklore and I was determined to show that.
I have excellent interviewing skills because of my profession and I am easy to work with – always meeting deadlines and open to feedback, both positive and critical. I am also very comfortable with media interviews, so they knew I would be able to promote the book.
It’s important to be polite. You may have a great book idea but you need to court the publisher if you want them to invest time and money in your project. Do the research; be good to work with, appreciate your editors; don’t harass; and always meet deadlines. Deliver what you promise.
Timing is important. The anniversary certainly helped draw attention to the book. I might have had a different response if I had proposed the book at a different time, so be conscious of external influences that will affect a publisher’s interest in the book.Tell us about pulling this book together. What was the toughest thing you had to do?
I spent months doing research at the archives, both paper and audio/visual, and I didn’t stop doing research and fact checking until the book had gone to print. All told, I spoke with more than 100 people and transcribed about forty of those interviews. Every reference was double and triple checked for accuracy. I spent a month getting proper consents for the photographs I used.
I was very fortunate in that I had access to video archives and written transcripts of interviews Don had done. Because of this I was able to quote Don, something that really made a difference in my understanding of Don and something that made the sections of the book in which we see the world through Don’s eyes, believable.
The hardest thing was divulging highly private information: that went against all my professional ethics as a social worker. There were tragic and painful situations in Don’s life, and to ignore them would have been untrue to the man. He was an intensely private individual and he would not have been happy with some of the story I disclosed but I was judicious with my use of personal information and I did have the blessing of the family to tell the story as I found it.
Advice for writers who want to write biographies?
The complexity of the material I collected re-enforced for me time and time again the importance of recording every interview. No matter your memory, you cannot possibly hope to remember quotes word for word, and that is essential for an accurate rendition, especially when you are writing about a time past.
Never dismiss a source. They may not have good information, but they may point you in the direction of an invaluable source.
Work on your photo permissions from day one. It took me up to a month to locate some copyright holders.
Don’t underestimate the work involved. Be cognisant of the huge responsibility you have taken on in being presumptuous enough to write a book about someone else. Include nothing that you can not substantiate, do not make assumptions, and don’t pretend to think that you understand motives unless you have a great deal of material to back up your suppositions.
Enjoy the adventure. I loved researching and writing that book.
What great insights Johanna. Let’s open the floor to questions and comments.
This is a bit of a departure. Below you will read The End of My Sunday Column by Silver Donald Cameron. It is sobering. “Silver Don” is one of Canada’s most respected journalists; he’s penned 16 books including two novels; won innumerable awards; owns/hosts The Green Interview; and for 13 years had a column in the Sunday edition of the Chronicle Herald. But, as of yesterday, April 30, his voice will no longer grace those pages. Here’s why.
The End of my Sunday Column
by Silver Donald Cameron
In 1998, when the Halifax Chronicle-Herald invited me to contribute a weekly column to their new Sunday edition, I wrote a simple one-page contract that said, essentially, that the Sunday Herald would publish my columns before anyone else, and that I would retain all other rights to the works. And thus began a happy association between me and the paper – and its readers – that lasted 13 years.
The secret of freelance survival is to make many different uses of the same research, so I wove the column in and out among my other assignments. Some columns were built on my work for foundations and other associations. Sometimes I sketched out ideas in the column and developed them elsewhere. When McClelland and Stewart commissioned a book about sailing from Nova Scotia to the Bahamas, I sent columns to the Herald from ports all down the coast – and then stitched the material into my book Sailing Away from Winter. The Herald never paid a nickel of travel costs or expenses, but it received columns from every province of Canada, from England and India, from the Bahamas and Bhutan.
And then in mid-February, management wrote to all freelancers directing them to sign a new contract, ASAP.
The contract was atrocious, and its central feature was a sweeping claim to all rights in a writer’s work, worldwide and in perpetuity. The paper could reprint our work, re-sell it, combine it with other material to make other products, sell these rights to others, and so on. True, the writers were allowed to do the same thing – but our title to the rights would be seriously impaired, and we might conceivably wind up competing against the Herald for additional sales of our own works. I couldn’t continue to swap material back and forth between my Herald column and my other work. And – although these secondary rights are valuable intellectual property, which is why the Herald wanted them – the paper wasn’t offering a single penny for them.
You can read the contract for yourself – and also our plain-language description of it – at www.HoweNow.ca, along with all the other source documents in this saga. Faced with this awful contract, the Herald’s freelancers gradually got in touch with one another, and with the Canadian Freelance Union. Eventually we assembled a group of 34 writers, not all of them immediately active. We weren’t – and aren’t – all members of the CFU, but the CFU was extremely supportive.
The CFU’s lawyers created a revised contract that would protect our interests while still giving the Herald what it needed, and CFU President Mike O’Reilly tried fruitlessly to talk to the Herald’s management. The paper insisted it would only deal directly and individually with its own freelancers, and not with any group – a classic stance of high-handed employers since the labour movement began. And by now the paper was insisting that everyone had to sign the contract by April 15 – or else.
Dan Leger, the paper’s Director of News Content, asked to talk with me. We talked. I stressed that the freelancers wanted the Herald to succeed; we wanted it to make a successful transition into a new digital world; we wanted to continue writing for it, and we had no objection to selling it the rights that it really needed. I asked for two things. First, lift the deadline. Second, instead of demanding all rights, specify the rights that you actually need, and let’s work out a deal that gives you those rights.
To their credit, the Herald’s managers delayed the deadline till April 30, and improved the contract substantially – but they left the rights clause unchanged. After conferring with the freelance group, I wrote again to explain why the all-rights clause was unacceptable, and asking Leger once again to specify the rights that the paper actually needed. He didn’t reply. Instead, his assistant sent an ultimatum to each freelancer: if you want to keep working with the Herald, sign by April 30.
Twenty-one writers then signed yet another letter with a further request to negotiate, but this time we set our own deadline: we wanted the paper to commence serious negotiations on the rights clause by April 29, failing which we would take it that they had chosen to sever our relationships with them. You can read that letter on the Union’s website too. The Herald did not reply.
By now, news of the dispute had leaked out to other media, who then interviewed the Herald’s editorial leaders. Talking with the CBC, Leger referred to the new contract as including “a few small changes that would reflect the current reality out there in the digital world.” But “we have to proceed in a businesslike manner. It’s a business. It’s not charity. It’s not a social program. It’s a business.”
Talking to the online news service allNovaScotia.com, Frank De Palma, Leger’s assistant, was even more inaccurate and disrespectful.
“Cameron and a handful of others, literally, are holding out. If they want to continue with us, we need that contract, and he knows that. They don’t want to play ball.” He was surprised at the resistance, he said, but “there is nothing like a writer with a cause, right? We’ve had a number of columnists since 1998 come and go, and he has a good voice – and has had a good voice for a long time – but columnists can come and go.”
Indeed they can. And they have, along with a lot of other industrious stringers, feature writers and reviewers.
Imagine this: I sell an apple to Dan Leger once a week. After 13 years, he comes by and says, I need three or four or five more apples. Fine, I say, tell me how many and I’ll give you a deal on them. No, he says, I can’t figure out how many I want, so I’m taking the whole barrel. Whoa, I say, that’s going to be expensive, and I’ll have nothing for my other customers. You don’t understand, he says. I’m paying you for one apple, but you’re going to give me the whole barrel for nothing. Hand it over.
If that sounds like hot, steaming nonsense to you, you have achieved a perfect understanding of the Herald’s position. They don’t seem to understand that their writers are not charities, either.
The sad thing is that none of this bluster and melodrama was necessary. The problem is not intractable, not even particularly difficult. Tell us what you want, be prepared to pay at least some modest price for it, and let’s figure it out. If we don’t get it precisely right the first time, let’s re-negotiate it later. But alas, the concept of negotiating like adults is apparently too deep, and too modern, for this management team’s antebellum attitude to business relationships.
And for that reason alone, everybody loses – the writers, the paper, and the readers.
* * *
This is a sad, sad day for Silver Don and freelancers at the Chronicle Herald. Do drop us a line.
Deborah Carr has been a freelance writer for over a decade, with articles published in newspapers, magazines and other special publications. Her genre is creative non-fiction, her passion is Atlantic Canada, and her specialties lie in nature, conservation and people profiles. Often, her own photography accompanies her articles. Her freelance website is www.deborahcarr.ca; her writing workshops and blog can be found at www.natureofwords.com.
Sanctuary was released in October 2010 by Goose Lane Editions. It’s a story about Mary Majka, one of Canada’s great pioneering environmentalists. In this amazing story of determination and foresight, Deborah Carr reveals a complex, indomitable, thoroughly human being — flawed yet feisty, inspiring and inspired. Sanctuary is now entering its second printing. The book has been shortlisted for the Atlantic Independent Bookseller’s Award, along with Sheree Fitch’s Pluto’s Ghost and Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists, this year’s Giller Prize winner.
Clearly you spent hours and weeks interviewing Mary (and others) in order to flesh out her story and build her character. Tell us about the process.
Yes, it was seven years from the time I started. Mary and I set aside Thursday afternoons for the interviews. On some days, it was a cozy talk with a wise old friend. On other days, it was frustrating, as Mary has a dominant character and is used to assuming control of any given situation. As a freelancer on a deadline, I’m used to managing the flow of an interview, so this was a difficult adjustment for me. However, once I dispensed with my own agenda and timetable, then made myself ready to receive and accept whatever the day brought, I received remarkable stories and insights. Sometimes, I came home after four hours with a half page of typed notes. Other days, I came home with 16 or more.
As well, interviews might be interrupted by a phone call, a flock of cave swallows, or visits from some of her many friends. When these interruptions came, I spent that time logging details about the day: what she was wearing, the room, the weather, my thoughts and opinions, etc. At the time, I didn’t realize how valuable this information would become in helping recreate the short vignettes from our interviews at the beginning of each chapter. With her permission, I also took photographs of the house and surroundings, to help call back necessary details that I might otherwise overlook.
People often ask about my methods of note-taking. I’m a very fast typist and this has been a tremendous asset as an interviewer. I was able to transcribe most of my interviews with Mary as she spoke, with a digital recorder for backup. I didn’t have to spend time later transcribing and also, reading them over (and over and over), I was able to pull Mary’s speech patterns into my head, which allowed me to recreate dialogue in her authentic voice.
I love the way your book is structured. Starting each chapter with first person account as you are interviewing her then sliding into her past is seamless. It’s downright brilliant. How (and why) did you decide to structure the book this way?
Much of Mary’s early life in Europe could not be corroborated; she lived her teen years separated from her family and most people from that time in her life are dead now. So, I needed the reader to be clear that these were Mary’s memories. I also wanted to reveal the Mary who I witnessed during our interviews, who ran the gamut from gracious to pugnacious within minutes. How could I bring these differing points of view together seamlessly? The vignettes also allowed me to pull the reader into her story, so they could experience something of what I experienced being there with her, and also to fill in valuable details that couldn’t be shuffled into the main narrative flow.
What were the biggest challenges you faced along the way?
Maintaining my perspective. I struggled for a long time because I just couldn’t seem to ‘get her’. There just seemed to be parts of her character that didn’t make sense to me. In the end, I realized that it wasn’t my responsibility to figure her out and tie her all up into a nice clean package. I just had to tell her story with all its complexities and contrasts, leaving it up to the reader to draw their own conclusions. Once I stopped trying to be a psychologist and concentrated on being a storyteller, many of the pieces did fall into place for me and I ended up with a remarkably rich story that had much wider universal appeal that I originally imagined.
Mary’s life is a tremendous example of how, by following her heart and using her own unique gifts and acquired skills, she was able to lead a satisfying, purposeful life. And it was particularly meaningful for me, as she was 38 years old when she started her new life on Caledonia Mountain…when she first began following her desires of her heart and crafting a life for herself on her terms, without succumbing to what society expected of her. I was 38 when I resigned from a career with the federal government and started pursing a writing career. There were actually a number of remarkable parallels between Mary’s life and mine and when I consider all the life lessons I have gained from entering Mary’s story and writing the book, I am awed and humbled.
I think the most important lesson was to simply write. Regardless of whether you think your words are good or not, just write. Second, make time to dream. We are raised to believe that dreaming is frivolous, a waste of time, but writers and artists need to make time to dream and not feel guilty doing it. My best lines, most profound thoughts and my most ambitious ideas come to me when I’m in the bathtub, eyes closed, toes relaxed, mind drifting. Or on a stroll through the woods. And my greatest breakthrough in how to structure the book came on a ferry ride across the Bay of Fundy (on my way to visit Sandra Phinney!), when I had nothing else to do, but let my mind drift over the story.
Deborah, Sanctuary is one amazing read. I’m sure readers will have questions and comments for you so I’m going to step aside and encourage them to have their turn! It’s simple folks. Simply click on comment and let your fingers fly.
An award‑winning environment, science & travel writer and photographer, Hans Tammemagi has written seven books and his articles appear in newspapers and magazines across North America. He also writes a monthly ecotourism feature for Singapore Airline’s in-flight magazine. Hans is an adjunct professor in environment at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.
His book, Winning Proposals, describes how to write a proposal—a vital tool today. Many companies and organizations would falter without the ability to write proposals for funding, venture capital, or grants. This book goes beyond formulas and templates and shows how to transform a proposal into a winner. In particular, it explains the powerful art of persuasion, which can also be used in virtually all facets of life.
Winning Proposals. You first published this book in 1995. What inspired you to write a book on this topic?
Over the years I worked for many consulting firms in the environment and engineering areas. We were constantly writing proposals to get contracts—a vitally important task—and I became frustrated that no books and few guidelines were available to help us. Checking book stores and libraries, I found only a few books on this topic, but they were all lousy. So, never having written a book or article before, I naively and foolishly jumped into the task of writing a book that would actually help people write winning proposals.
After I finished the book, I sent copies to the five largest Canadian publishers, which I found in the yellow pages. All five copies returned within a few weeks, rejected. I then had the bright idea of consulting the Writers’ Guide and found two publishers that specialized in this kind of book. Amazingly both accepted, but I selected Self Counsel because they were bigger. After that it was pretty straightforward. Although they paid no advance, royalty cheques have been coming in for 15 years. Nice.
How much work was involved doing the second and third editions? Were there changes in content, format and style?
The first edition had very little Internet information, so the second edition corrected this and added info, data and sources related to the Internet. The third edition expanded the persuasion aspects and made the book more motivational. After all, persuasion enters almost every aspect of human interaction, and one’s persuasiveness plays a huge role in whether one is successful in life or not. It also increased the sections on how to deal with non-traditional proposals. The great thing is that persuasion and human psychology always remain the same. Thus, Winning Proposals will always be current; it should need only minor updates. But, all in all, the second and third editions were far simpler and quicker to do than the first. No comparison.
For folks who are interested in writing a how-to book, what are the most important things to consider?
First, check the library, bookstores including Amazon, and on-line sources to ensure your proposed idea is not already well covered. That is, make sure there’s a niche for your topic. Second, be prepared for the long haul. It will take a year or more to research and write your book. And even then, you have no guarantee your book will be accepted by a publisher. Third, it really helps if you are an expert in your proposed topic. Fourth, don’t expect to make much money. It will be a labour of love, something you do largely for self satisfaction. Just the same, try to figure out some financial angles. For example, I taught proposal writing courses for which I was paid. Also, my book was a required text.
A book is tangible and lasts forever, and a book author is respected. In contrast, articles are forgotten tomorrow and free-lance article writers are a dime-a-dozen. Perhaps pursuing a book isn’t such a bad idea?
Great stuff Hans. I’m hoping readers will have questions for you! Fire away folks. Simply hit the “comment” button and get your questions (or comments) from brain to keyboard. Hans is on standby!
Welcome! This is where I occasionally pluck and post recent Stories or put notices of upcoming Workshops, such as memoir or travel writing. Author! Author! is a by-weekly series of interviews with authors about the writing life, and getting published. Anything else lands in Odds & Sods. Enjoy your visit and come back often. Better yet, subscribe!