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Archive for September, 2008

Back a few years ago, I quit writing articles. I was burned out, feeling like a hamster-writer on a wheel of articles that changed from month to month. Something needed to change, but I wasn’t sure what. All I knew was that I’d lost the passion.

I wrote a few articles between then and now, but nowhere near the volume I’d been at. This year, though, as I start to build my business back up, I see what was missing: human connections.

Previously my model was this: have an assignment, research and contact potential sources, stress when I didn’t hear back, follow up, sometimes find new ones. From month to month, it was lather, rinse, repeat.

Not until I reconnected with my now-collaborator did I start to get a clue. It wasn’t just because he’d kept in touch with me over the years and we’d built up a rapport. As he connected me with his contacts, I started to see how he incorporated humanness into his work.

It only starts with doing a good job, being someone whom everyone else can trust with work. The rest of it is about being a good person: asking about other people’s lives, sharing values. That’s how we came to be friends. And it’s a key component of Chris Brogan‘s advice about building professional networks.

As I move forward with my revitalized freelance career, I’m focusing on relationships, seeking out people with whom I can have long-term contact. I didn’t think about this before, but when I was dating – and even as a friend – I was, and am, extremely picky. I don’t want to waste time trying to bond with people who will end up being transient in my life, about whom I can sense this transience right from the get-go.

I’m sure I’ll continue to talk to people who will indeed be short-term contacts, but they won’t be the bulk of my business anymore. My core group, my collaborator(s) and their close connections, will be the people I’ll turn to first, the people I trust and – I hope, at least eventually – can use for a sounding board. As a freelancer, this might be the most important change I’ve ever made to my business model.

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I was supposed to talk on the phone today with one of my sources, who has expressed interest in collaborating with me (in addition to the first guy). But he never called, and this afternoon he sent me an email explaining why. In short, he’d been up to his neck all day with various media outlets because he was the lead investigator on a brutal capital murder case, the defendant in which is scheduled for execution very soon.

I may be a dark crime and horror fiction author, but I won’t go into details here. I don’t feel that it’s my right to do so. That’s because it was striking to me that this officer (who barely knows me) trusted me enough to vent a little about his day. And, as my collaborator has also done, he barely skimmed the surface of what he was really feeling–but it came through.

I’m trying to develop a new way of doing business wherein I develop relationships with prospective clients and regular sources. I’ve never really done this before; I’ve moved on from articles and their sources when all was said and done, so the idea of “bonding” with people was exciting. Today I’m sobered. Like a beat reporter, I’m finding that even the most professional of trust relationships involve both joy and pain, happy and sad–that the reporter/source boundary is blurred when it comes to human experience, and that sometimes you have to be a friend to your sources when they seem to need one, even if you can’t say you’re “friends.”

Maybe I’m overthinking this. I do that a lot. But after seven years of work that now seems somewhat superficial, it’s a real wake-up call. I know that only time, two children, and heartache of my own can have matured me enough to develop these relationships and do the kind of work I want to do. However, I don’t think professional relationships with cops can be anything like those with, say, PR people representing companies. I might commiserate with other working mothers, for instance, or sympathize with someone just returning from a family emergency. But cops bring a certain rawness to the table, an understanding of human experience that many reporters don’t get to access because most cops don’t trust them.

So when a cop does trust a reporter? It means there is something there, at the very least, enormous responsibility. Responsibility for the reporter not to say something stupid, or to exploit or misrepresent the story (or this side of it), or to walk away claiming you can’t deal with what you’re hearing. I don’t enjoy hearing it, no, but whatever I’m feeling pales in comparison to what the victims and investigators did. So I listen and accept. And whatever comes out of it–work I do, or just someone else’s lighter heart at the end of the day–I can only hope will be good.

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I’m shamelessly stealing this from my friend and fellow Shroud writer Kevin Lucia, in part because he gave permission to do so and in part because he knows more about the following two publications than I do. But the main reason I’m posting here is that, as a dark crime/horror fiction writer of faith, I want to make sure that these two publications continue to have their chance to do what they’re trying to do. Check ’em out, and if you like what you see, please buy or do whatever else you can to support them:

One topic that seems to get tossed around a lot these days is the difference between magazines that start up and eventually fold because of one reason or another, and the ones that have the staying power to stick it out and become something big. A lot of times, quality is an issue. Sometimes, quality’s not the issue, though – especially in today’s tough economic times.

Anyway, if you want the full story – read on. If not, please: visit The Relief Journal and consider lending a hand somehow – be it getting a subscription, buying an issue, donating what you can, and spreading the word. Their first ever speculative fiction anthology, Coach’s Midnight Diner, is on sale from their website for only $10. Over 200 pages of some solid speculative fiction, with a faith-twist: but written to entertain, not preach.

About The Relief Journal:

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A full picture of Christ involves a juxtaposition of life and death, this moment and eternity, crucifixion and resurrection. Death and heaven and hell are only half of the picture. Many examine life only through a lens of death, as if life is only valuable as a tryout for the afterlife. Christ did speak to what would happen when we die, but he was also extraordinarily concerned with what can happen when we live. He focused often on the here and now of life, teaching that he came to give us life, and life abundantly.

The goal of The Relief Journal is to pursue a complete picture of Christ and life — real, gritty, painful, wonderful, this-side-of-heaven life. Relief seeks to bridge the gap between mainstream fiction and Christianity. Christ’s goal was never to keep us sheltered and comfortable. He did not pull his punches. The primary measuring stick for good Christian writing cannot continue to be safety. It must be skill – the ability to expose what is real, express it eloquently, punch the reader.

For authors who cry out for a venue and readers who long for stories that don’t make them gag, we present Relief.

Coach’s Midnight Diner

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A hardboiled anthology of horror, mystery, and paranormal fiction, Coach’s Midnight Diner is the faith-based anthology readers have been waiting for. With full allowance for artistic freedom, Diner authors pull no punches.

Entrees of Jesus Vs. Cthulhu Fiction by Chris Mikesell, Kevin Lucia, Neil A. Riebe, and Jens Rushing highlight in the first edition of Coach’s Midnight Diner, but there’s so much more on the menu. We’ll serve up horror fiction by Editor’s Choice Award winner Robert N. Jennings, J. Mark Bertrand, Melody Graves, Nathan Knapp, and Caroline Misner.

Side orders of Crime, Mystery, and Detective Fiction by Charles Browning, Suzan Robertson, R.M. Oliver, S.J. Kessel, Michael Medina, and Mike Dellosso will have you guessing who the culprit is until the very end.

We’ll quench your thirst for Paranormal Fiction with stories from Mike Duran, Robert Garbacz, Matt Mikalatos, and Paul Luikart. And for dessert, Jennifer J. Edwards and Linda Gilmore bring stories from That One That Happens in A Diner.

Coach’s Midnight Diner will satisfy your appetite for thrills and quench your thirst for something a little deeper than your average fare.

Thanks, all.

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Well folks, I finally got around to updating my links as well as my presence in other online locations, notably LinkedIn (my resume). Check ’em out at your leisure (everything is over there on the right) and please let me know if I’m missing anything or anyone. Thanks!

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Slow work week this week, so in between entertaining Puck (who actually is much better at entertaining himself than his brother was/is), I’ve been researching freelance work. I’ve been negotiating with a second source who is interested in collaborating with me on articles, and I’ve found a couple of websites on freelance work. I’ve generated ideas and been given leads (totally out of the blue in one case). And I did sign up on Twitter, though it remains to be seen whether that does what I’m hoping it will do (put me in touch with potential sources, give them an idea of how I work).

The thing is, none of this feels as if I’m swimming upstream. A year ago I would never have dreamed of it, but this year? My career feels like it’s happening again. I’m being cautious, but I’m not closed to opportunities. And that is a very good feeling indeed.

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The New York Times Magazine has an article this morning about social networking, especially “ambient awareness” sites like Twitter. It’s an interesting read, and it has me wondering three things simultaneously: 1) how could I leverage this kind of contact for my business, 2) could people really be that interested in a freelance mama who specializes in public safety and horror fiction, and 3) where the hell would I find the time, anyway?

I mean, the article is full of anecdotes from people, even moms, who say it actually takes less time than they would have anticipated. But email is hard enough for me to keep up with… and I can’t help thinking that most of the people I want to stay in touch with are either very private, or with their own time issues, or both.

I know Bryon uses Twitter, and so does Poynter’s Al Tompkins. From a newsroom standpoint it makes sense. How about from a freelancer’s standpoint? Any ideas?

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Why I write dark

Because I need something to do with the storm of emotions that begin to swirl when I hear all the district bus drivers come in over our driver’s radio with, “No [Hamlet] Miller on my bus” and all I can think of is my little 5-year-old child wandering around some lookalike bus stop totally confused because he thought it was his stop, but he doesn’t see his mother and brother, and….

Actually, he fell asleep on the wrong school bus. Several things went wrong today, but not the emergency protocol itself, and he was found after about an hour. Still: do not be surprised if you see a story of mine that contains this incident….

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