Category Archives: Resources for Writers

At the Nancy Drew Sleuth Convention

Amy and Nancy, acting all 1930s!

Amy and Nancy, acting all 1930s!

This June, I attended a fun and frivolous fan event in San Diego for readers of the Nancy Drew Series. The Nancy Drew Sleuth Convention had exactly the right mix of nostalgia, mysterious clues, a surprising amount of education, and several opportunities to dress up in period clothing—what more could a girl want? Add in about 75 nice folks who like reading books, a few experts and some celebrities, and it was all I could hope for.

Highlights included a 1930s murder mystery, a tour of the Keeline Family’s private collection, a mystery scavenger hunt at the San Diego Zoo, a radio program performance, and a 1970s night celebrating the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys television show. Actors Pamela Sue Martin (Nancy Drew) and Parker Stevenson (Frank Hardy), along with show producers Joyce Brotman and Arlene Sidaris were the guest speakers.

Amy with Parker Stevenson who acted as Frank Haredy on the Hardy Boys television show in the 1970s.

Amy with Parker Stevenson who acted as Frank Haredy on the Hardy Boys television show in the 1970s.

They discussed details about the show, especially fan reactions, and how the Hardy Boys episodes received higher ratings than Nancy Drew because, as Joyce said, “Girls want to watch boys on television and boys want to watch boys.”

Readers of the books, who had certain images in their heads about what the characters should look like, didn’t always agree with the producers about the actors who were selected for the show—especially the secondary characters (Ned looked too nerdy, George wasn’t pretty enough, etc.).

Amy with actress Pamela Sue Martin, who played Nancy on the 1970s Nancy Drew television show.

Amy with actress Pamela Sue Martin, who played Nancy on the 1970s Nancy Drew television show.

According to Arlene, the fans sent them so much feedback that they did affect change. Time and budget also dictated the show’s direction. The actors worked a straight 24 hours just to film the show’s “Haunted House” pilot, shot on location at Universal Studios, on the set of Psycho. Hannah Gruen’s character was hired, but then cut in order to give fans more time with the main characters.

Ratings spiked when Shaun Cassidy, as Joe Hardy, started singing on the show.  Parker mentioned that the two of them instantly clicked, and that Shaun was fun to work with and “his timing is wonderful.” When Pamela and Parker were asked if they would consider filming a 40-year reunion show, Pamela said no, Parker said yes, and Shaun no longer makes appearances and instead, focuses on his career as a writer and producer.

Amy with Arlene and Joyce, producers of the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys television show.

Amy with Arlene and Joyce, producers of the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys television show.

During the autograph session, I had a few moments to speak with each of them. To Pamela, I mentioned that I had watched several Nancy Drew episodes while deciding on a 70s costume to wear—and in all the scenes she wore neck scarves. She showed me a publicity photograph of her favorite green scarf that she kept for years. She was pleasant, although during the Question and Answer session, she very obviously didn’t want to talk about the negative aspect around why she left the show, stating that, “I don’t make a habit of looking back.”

Hanging out with the Hardy Boys!

Hanging out with the Hardy Boys!

Parker seemed genuine, polite, and unchanged from his television personality. As he and Pamela entered the banquet hall that night, the event coordinator verified their seating accommodations, and Parker was overheard saying something to the effect of, “Where would you like me to sit, Ma’am? This is your event.” He came across as a true gentleman. Parker also said he might consider acting again now that his kids are older, and he wouldn’t be as constrained by the long hours.

The celebrity visit was notable and worth documenting, but I also enjoyed the three days of lectures offered by 20 experts. This particular year, Nancy Drew shared the spotlight with other mystery series books, including Tom Swift, Fighters of Freedom, Connie Blair, Judy Bolton, Penny Parker and modern-day Jex Malone. The session featured a surprising range of topics, including a visit with the designers of the Nancy Drew gaming software, producer notes about a recent Nancy Drew play, and a profile of actress Bonita Granville, who played Nancy Drew in the 1938 and 1939 movies.

Again, I must comment on the enjoyment-factor of this convention. The coordinator, Jennifer Fisher, put so much detail into every aspect–from the custom-made table decorations to thoughtful gifts and door prizes. Jennifer, who has over 4,000 Nancy Drew collectibles herself, began Nancy Drew Sleuths as an online forum http://www.nancydrewsleuth.com in 2000 on the 70th anniversary of Nancy Drew. In 2007, she published the book Clues for Real Life: The Classic Wit and Wisdom of Nancy Drew. In San Diego, she shared her expertise about Mildred Wirt Benson, the original Carolyn Keene.

I will mention that my nostalgic feelings from reading the yellow-spine Nancy Drew books as a child was not my only reason for visiting San Diego. During the zoo scavenger hunt, I treasured a nice visit with my former zoo director from Oklahoma City, Dwight Scott, who recently took the post as San Diego Zoo director.

Amy with Gayla Peevey Henderson.  Photo by Cliff Henderson.

Amy with Gayla Peevey Henderson. Photo by Cliff Henderson.

I also spent a day with Gayla Peevey Henderson, who sang “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” as a child in 1953, but who has become a dear friend of mine over the last few years. Dwight and Gayla made my trip complete.

If you are a Nancy Drew fan, consider going to next year’s sleuth convention. I gained a new perspective about the books, the on-going legacy of Nancy Drew, and my own feelings about reading mystery books.

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Words of Wisdom from Best Selling Authors

Keep writing and keep rewriting was the unintentional theme expressed by multiple published authors at the Rose State Short Course on Writing, hosted by William Bernhardt on September 15-16, 2012. Here are few highlights (along with the fact that I won an award for my young adult manuscript, The Wedding Thief):

Phillip Margolin is a former crime attorney who has 16 New York Times bestselling legal thrillers. He said that empathetic characters and surprising plots are the two reasons a story works. Full outlining assures that he has a thorough plan for his book before he begins writing—but no Roman numerals, just writing notes about what will happen next. During his final read-through, he “reads it as if he’d paid money for it.”

Mel Odom is the author of 150+ novels, including tie-in novels for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Tomb Raider. In his humorous style, Odom shares that “funerals are the best place to go for entertainment and story ideas.” On a serious note, he said that the greatest gift from a writer to a reader is to let them know they are not alone and that all hurts have been experienced before.

Jim Tharp’s young adult novel, The Spectacular Now, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and is currently being filmed as a movie. Tharp shared his philosophy that “writers are scouts that make a trip into the unknown” and bring that information back to the reader; whether traveling into history, into the future, or into the intricacies of the heart.

Michael Wallis, a three-time Pulitzer nominee, is known as the historian of the American West. His 15 books include the topics of Route 66, Billy the Kid, and David Crockett. His distinctive voice is heard as the sheriff in the animal film Cars. He shared his childhood story of winning an essay contest about being the crossing guard. He won a dugout seat at a St. Louis Cardinals game—which led him to decide, “This writing is not a bad thing.”

Lauren Zuniga is a nationally touring poet. One line from her performance that spoke to me was, “cover the earth with your purpose.”

J. Madison Davis writes fiction and non-fiction novels, and is the president of the International Association of Crime Writers. He said that all books must fulfill the promise to shock you or change you. Unfortunately, real history doesn’t always tie together nicely with a good lesson in the end, therefore, “fiction is much more moral than history.”

William Bernhardt is the bestselling author of 29 books and founder of HAWK Publishing Group. He specializes in writing workshops, in which his skill and encouragement have resulted in many published authors. It is his belief that people read the newspaper for reality; they read novels to escape reality. Novels are “life-like,” but they have a storyline and closure.

Bernhardt offered suggestions to make characters likeable, such as an undeserved handicap or the ability to be kind to children, pets or elderly people. Of course, not all characters are likeable, but they are really good at what they do (example: Sherlock Holmes had many bad habits, but a genius for crime solving). In his closing remarks, Bernhardt reminded authors that writing is hard work that only succeeds with commitment: put in the time, expect rejection, take care of your health, and write an outline!

——————

I was honored to interview Bernhardt at the release of his 2009 Novel, Nemesis William Bernhardt: Lawyer, Author, Crimesolver,  (Distinctly Oklahoma Magazine/May 2009)

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Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels

    Truthfully, romance isn’t my genre, aside from my reading the occasional regency novel to satisfy my Pride and Prejudice thirst.  But romance writers have much to offer when it comes to successful plot structure, characterization and book marketing.  It’s a thriving billion-dollar-a-year business, and 2010 alone saw the release of 8,240 new titles!  (http://www.rwa.org/cs/the_romance_genre/romance_literature_statistics

    I still have much to learn about writing—so I just read Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell (c2010).  This is not an instruction book on the grammar rules of love.  Instead, it offers the reasons romance books have so much appeal and reader loyalty.  The overriding theme is that romances teach people about relationships.  By reading about the trials of other men and women who are seeking happy dating or married lives, we learn to navigate our own love lives.

    According to Wendell, ideal romance characters demonstrate traits of honor, courage, and respect.  The modern leading-lady may endure mistreatment in the beginning, (no conflict, no story) but she will never settle for an abusive relationship in the end.  “Romance specifically creates a sense of hope,” writes Wendell. 

    Wendell, a romance writer herself, sprinkles in quotes of wisdom from other writers and readers.  For example, “You can experience between the book covers what you might not quite be ready to try underneath your own covers.” 

    She also pokes fun at the genre: A male romance hero must acquire a mullet. He must also think obsessively about the color of his lover’s hair.  And frequently use the word “perfect.” 

   Everything I Know About Love I learned from Romance Novels was an amusing, insightful (and sometimes blush-inducing) book.  One of the final chapters brings home the main point: reaching the happily-ever-after takes work. 

 *For writers it is a reminder that people read for many reasons, but essentially to find hope. 

 *For readers, it’s a reminder that treating people with decency is the only way to live, both in fiction and in real life. 

 *For wayward dukes, vampires, and rogues, it’s a reminder that they must put away their past and become faithful to one woman if they want to achieve happiness.  And always, always be fascinated with her hairstyle! 

 

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Treasure Hunters: Early Female Archeologists

Book: Ladies of the Field

Does archeology peak your interest?  Is it fascinating, even though you know it’s hot, dusty work?  Maybe you are an avid fan of the National Treasure movies; still hopeful that you, too, will encounter a treasure hunt some day?

I also crave such adventure, and so I found my kindred spirits in a new non-fiction by Amanda Adams called Ladies of the Field; Early Women Archaeologists and Their Search for Adventure (c2010 by Greystone Books). Adams writes essays on seven fascinating women from the Victorian era.  Each blazed her own trail and contributed significant research in a relatively new field, dominated by men.

In a nutshell—each was a character!  Many of them were prolific writers, highly educated, and strong-willed.  Most of them stumbled into archeology later in life, after successfully pursuing other endeavors.

*Amelia Edwards traveled the Nile River and founded the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1882 and recruited the well known archeologist Sir Petrie.

*Gertrude Bell dressed prettily as she romped through Middle-Eastern desert ruins (such as the city of Petra, later the backdrop to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).

 *Parisian, Jane Dieulafoy, mimicked her husband’s style of dress (to a Charlie Chaplin effect) as they tackled the treasures of the Orient.

 *Zelia Nuttall purchased a plantation in Mexico atop an Aztec ruin, and started a school of archeology in South America.

 *Harriet Boyd Hawes left America for Greece, managed hundreds of men at a massive site in Gournia, and still published research while raising children.

 *Agatha Christie, famed mystery writer, spent thirty years assisting her husband’s work in the Middle East—while squeezing in the occasional book, such as the archeology-based Murder on the Oriental Express and Death on the Nile.

 *Dorothy Garrod, a quiet, single woman, used carbon dating in her Paleolithic studies in Jordan, and often employed exclusively female field workers.

 According to Adams, Victorian-era archeology began to turn “from treasure seeking and toward data gathering” as the field became more science-based and less travel log.  Despite changes in research methodology, all seven of these women ensured that their work not be in vain, by publishing, speaking, or establishing schools and museums to further their studies.

I thank Adams for researching and writing this book, which also includes great photos.  I like to think that I share a bond with these ladies, since I also like to write, educate, and uncover forgotten history.  Maybe my treasure hunt (and yours, too) is still out there, waiting to be discovered.

P.S.  I recommend this book for readers of Elizabeth Peters’ fiction books based on Egyptian archeology, in which Amelia Peabody blazes a rightful trail alongside her archeologist husband, Emerson, in the early 19th century.  No doubt, Amelia’s character is based on the real-life examples from Ladies of the Field.     

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Interviewing Celebrities–Pt 2. Writing Questions

     After interviewing dozens of people—I’ve figured out my basic formula for writing questions.  Interviewing a celebrity requires more up-front homework and carefully crafted questions than interviewing a local businessperson, but the progression of questions is much the same. 

      Writing questions for a celebrity profile is much like writing a story outline.  It must have a logical order, not randomness, to allow for a comfortable flow of conversation. 

      I don’t write my questions using numerals and indentations, nor do I follow my questions exactly—but after reviewing past interviews, I found this general pattern has emerged.

Order of Interview Questions

  1. Beginning
    1. Their “agenda” first
    2. Their successes
  2. Middle
    1. The Most Important Question
    2. Current career and lifestyle
    3. How they got their start
    4. Back to childhood
    5. Getting Personal

                            i.      Address any controversy

                           ii.      Misconception

                           iii.      Private Family Life

  1. The End
    1. Reinforce the angle
    2. Verify information
    3. Open the floor

      Generally, 10 to 15 questions makes for a comfortable 30 to 45 minute conversation. I decide ahead of time which questions are most vital and which can be left out, depending on the speed of the interview.  Most celebrities have strict time limits, but because they are quite practiced at interviewing, they are pretty concise.  I usually have time to ask every question, whereas non-celebrities spend a lot more time chatting and sharing details.   

 1.      Beginning

             Carrie Underwood taught me a valuable lesson about starting an interview.  I knew I had exactly 20 minutes, so I made sure my most important questions were at the beginning.  Logical, right?  Wrong. 

            A formal interview is a conversation.  Like any conversation, rules of etiquette should be followed.  Small talk about comfortable subjects (“What do you do for a living?” “How’s the weather where you live?”) is the best way  to warm up for any discussion with a stranger.  Also true with celebrities. 

         Instead, I went right into my agenda with Underwood.  “How have you been  supported by fellow Oklahoma musicians.”  It wasn’t a bad question, and she answered it well, but it felt abrupt.  I hadn’t started with the niceties.  We had no rapport yet.

Start with Their Agenda 

      Of course, the weather is irrelevant and everyone already knows what the celebrity does for a living, so the opening question I ALWAYS use is, “What are you promoting right now?”  

      That’s their agenda.  It’s why they granted the interview in the first place.  And they know exactly what they want to say. 

      To paraphrase Oprah in her recent television interview with Barbara Walters, “Celebrities are always nice in interviews, because they all come in with an agenda–the latest thing they are trying to promote.”  

      Underwood wanted readers to know about her upcoming tour and the Elvis Christmas duet she’d recently recorded.  I made the assumption that I could easily find out that information from other sources and not waste my precious Carrie Underwood time with such a general question.  (A good point if you are in a situation where you only have a minute or two).  But she needed to talk about those, so we did.       

      Actually, I’ve found that the opening question, “What are you focusing on right now?” works well with non-celebrities interviews, too.  It breaks the ice as an easy topic that’s fresh on the person’s mind.

Their Successes

            Follow up the promotion with a question about why or how they became so successful—which is another “comfort zone” discussion for them, and provides generally useful quotes for the article.

            So, start the interview with “their agenda.”  It sets a comfortable tone for the interview, and will make your celebrity feel good about the time they are spending with you.    

2.      Middle

      Whatever the celebrity is promoting will undoubtedly be included in your story, but the information that makes readers feel like they “get to know the celebrity on a personal level” comes from your middle questions.  These questions reveal the person: their preferences, their favorite quirky phrases, their accidental admissions, their flaws and their lifestyle. 

The Most Important Question:

            Now that niceties are out of the way, you have to ask your Most Important Question.  Whatever the angle of your story is—this is where you get the answer that you need to write your story.  If it’s a fashion magazine, talk about clothes.  If it’s an article about the celebrity’s hometown, ask about their favorite hangout.  You can’t risk the interview being cut short before you get this important question answered.          

      I recently interviewed Ruth Rickey, a master sugar artist who has won multiple awards on shows like The Ultimate Cakeoff.  My story angle revolved around the fact that Rickey had made a dramatic career change; from attorney to baker.  Although I was anxious to hear about her television appearances, the “attorney” part of her life had to come first, or I wouldn’t have been able to write the article my editor needed.      

Current Life

            Readers want to know the “latest.”  Good revealing questions might be, “Describe your typical day,” “How do you relax?” or “What is your favorite hobby right now?”  You never know what direction the answers will take you. 

            Singer and actress, Kristen Chenoweth, embellishes her own clothing.  “I’m a bedazzler.  I don’t use a bedazzler machine.  I have my own system with fabric glue.”   

            Comedy actress, Megyn Price, wants to own chickens, but they aren’t allowed in her California neighborhood.  Mystery writer, Carolyn Hart, rites five pages a day in an old pottery studio behind her house.  

            Who knew?

How They Got Their Start and Back to Childhood   

Leona in Concert. Photo by Amy Dee Stephens

      Don’t underrate a celebrity’s past as old news.  Readers value the journey it takes for a “regular person” to become a star.  Sometimes this information is common knowledge, like Underwood’s rise to fame on American Idol, but not all celebrities are as well know during their formative years. 

      Opera fans are well acquainted with the name Leona Mitchell, an internationally-known singer who performed with each of the “Three Tenors.”   The average person may be unaware of the accomplishments of this now-retired, African-American woman who broke boundaries and made sacrifices.

      “I was singing for five thousand people without a microphone, 330 nights a year,” Mitchell said.  “Every night at ten o’clock I had to become absolutely quiet to save my voice–even when I came home to visit family.  My mom said, ‘My goodness, Leona, you’ve gotten eccentric.’” 

      This glimpse into her past revealed Mitchell’s character and the reason her voice retained its strength after 30 years.  When readers learn that she was one of fifteen children, raised in a small town, and had never heard an opera until her high school years, they appreciated her as a “regular person,” despite her whirlwind years touring Europe and singing for four different American presidents.     

Getting Personal

            Many celebrities have an ugly secret that’s become public.  Few can claim, as does Megyn Price, “I’m a nice person to work with, I take my job seriously, and I’m not a drug addict—these are all positives.  Boring, isn’t it?”

            I don’t write exposés, but sometimes it is impossible to ignore the skeleton in the closet.  For example, I interviewed a former NFL football player who was indicted for drug use.  Year later, he has become a role model in the community—but everyone knows about his past.  I couldn’t ignore it in my story. 

Addressing Controversy

            Asking controversial questions seems like no fun for an interviewer, but the celebrity knows it’s coming.  Don’t worry—they’ll have an answer prepared.  Ask it in a very matter-of-fact way.  “How did such-and-such change your life?”  “How did you overcome the backlash?”  “What is your advice to teens battling this same problem?”

            Handle it professionally and the interview will continue to flow.

Misconceptions Question

            Barbara Walters suggests a question that helps ease the celebrity’s tension after a public disgrace.  She asks, “What is the biggest misconception about you?”  This allows the celebrity to “save face” in his or her own way. 

            Private Family Life

            And finally, each celebrity has his or her own boundaries regarding their private life and the lives of their children.  I choose to be an interviewer who respects that choice.  I phrase those questions carefully.  “Would you be willing to reveal how your children reacted to….?”  They can choose to decline or not.                   

3.  Ending the Interview

      I believe that ending the interview on time is my job.  Five minutes prior, I let the interviewee know I’m wrapping-up by saying, “We’re reaching the end, so I have one last question and some verifying questions, and then you can add anything we missed.” 

 Reinforce the Angle

      My final questions always refers back to the angle of my story.  Maybe I didn’t get quite enough from their answer to the Most Important Question.  Maybe the middle of the interview revealed new insight into the angle.  I rarely repeat the Most Important Question word for word—but it’s something similar.

Verify Information

      Next, I verify any information I felt unclear about—because once they are off the phone, it’s too late.  I’ve occasionally left great information out of a story because I wasn’t sure I was describing or quoting it accurately.  This is also the time to ask the spelling of their dog’s name or their favorite teacher’s name.  

Open the Floor

      Then, I open the floor to them to make final statements.  They often realize during the course of the interview that they wanted to address something further, forgot to mention a sponsor’s name, or want to rephrase a quote. 

      I thank them for their time, and suddenly, it’s over. 

      This person, who has revealed a good deal of personal information about his or her life, is suddenly gone forever.  They may never give me another thought—but I will spend hours dissecting the interview, researching further, and writing their life’s story. 

      Interviewing a celebrity becomes very personal.  Every time I see him or her on television, I relish the fact that I had a special half-hour of their life to myself.  I will forever feel like I know them personally. 

      And it is up to me, the interviewer, to craft questions in a way that reveals the angle, the content, and the character that will shape the best story.

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Interviewing Celebrities, Pt. 1 Preparation

I can’t say that I’m an expert at interviewing celebrities—but I’ve done it enough to offer some advice.  Certain questions have succeeded.  Certain patterns have emerged. 

I probably learned the most from Carrie Underwood, because she was my first “big time” celebrity interview in 2008.  Of course, I was super nervous.  To top it off, a construction crew started hammering away in the office next door, just 10 minutes before our scheduled phone call, so I had to relocate to an unfamiliar office and reset all my recording equipment–leaving me with 30 seconds to catch my breath before the phone rang.  Whew!     

Since then, I’ve found that interviewing celebrities isn’t much different from interviewing business people, local experts, or average citizens.  The biggest exception is that I have to dig deeper to get past their overly-practiced answers and find that nugget of information that zillions of fans don’t already know. 

 SO, my number one advice on preparing to interview celebrities is….Do tons of homework first!

Yes, this seems obvious–but winging it doesn’t work on a celebrity.  Remember, he or she is constantly interviewed—it’s become part of their job description.  Don’t bore them with the “usual” questions.  Plus, it will be embarrassingly obvious if you are unaware of this person’s current tour schedule, latest award, or most recent break-up. 

 Know Your Story Angle

You must have an outline of questions.  Don’t hope the celebrity says something relevant to your storyline—guide them down your path. 

Megyn Price

Most of my interviews highlight celebrities who grew up in Oklahoma, so I’m looking for the “down home” information that will help Oklahomans feel like they “know” this person.  Actress, Megyn Price, grew up in Norman, Oklahoma, so I asked her where she liked to visit when she returned home. 

“I always go back to Van’s Pig Stand,” Price said.  “It’s my favorite.”

Well, this is a well-known local BBQ place.  Readers thought it was pretty neat that she eats where “we” eat.  And Van’s Pig Stand didn’t mind the free advertising either. 

That quote would never show up in Entertainment Weekly, but it was unique to my reading audience.  It made her more real.  

2.  Skip the Facts, Go for the Feelings

Don’t waste precious time asking a celebrity to rehash well-known information—ask them how they felt! 

Barbara Walters, in her 2008 autobiography, Audition, wrote, “Interviews with politicians and world leaders are about issues, but interviews with celebrities concern their lifestyle and their emotions.” 

Walters relies on the questions, ‘What do you mean by that?’ ‘How did you feel then?’   

Everyone knew Carrie Underwood had won American Idol, so I didn’t need to ask her about that.  That year, they wanted to know how she felt when she sang at her first Country Music Awards ceremony. 

“I’ll always remember the first performance of Jesus, Take the Wheel,” Underwood said.  “And we had to kind of beg for me to be able to sing it on the CMA because I wasn’t an established artist.  I didn’t have an album out or a major single, or anything on the radio, or no name for myself, so it didn’t make sense for me to perform, but it was like, ‘Please, just let me perform.’  So I got to sing half of the song.  I was so nervous, but it went really good.”

That’s what people wanted to know.  And her “brand new celebrity” personality really came through. 

 3.  Search for the Unusual Tidbit…

In 2009, I interviewed Reba McEntire.  What a challenge!  Try to think of a unique question to ask a mega-celebrity who’s been in the music business over 30 years and interviewed by Oprah multiple times.         

I again borrowed advice from Barbara Walters—who frequently found herself in this same quandary.  She tells the story in which she startled Julia Roberts with the statement, “You write poetry.”  

Roberts asked “How do you know that?”

“By reading, reading, reading, and then talking to anyone who might have some personal insight into the particular star I am talking to.” Walters said.

My unique Reba question came from an unusual source.  I had been writing plant articles for a national gardening site, Learn2Grow.com.  I mentioned my upcoming Reba interview to the editor, Mark Miller, who said, “Did you know there is a rose named after Reba?”   

I didn’t!  But Reba did.  She said, “Yeah.  Got ‘em back here in the back yard.  They’re really pretty.” 

Which led to a rare conversation about Reba’s attempts at gardening while keeping her tour schedule.  

In fact, I ran with the rose theme throughout the article, entitled, “Reba: Oklahoma’s Rose.”  I was able to pull in phrases like “McEntire’s career is still in full bloom,” and subtitles included “Everything’s Comin’ Up Roses” (her successes) and “Every Rose Has Its Thorns (her failures)

…Or Unusual Talent

Kerry Robertson, a well-known Oklahoma television personality and news anchor in the 1980s and 90s, recently shared her own “unusual tidbit” story with me.  Robertson described that when celebrities came to town, media interviews were often set up in a hotel room.  Media was hustled in and out in 10 or 15 minute intervals.    

Faced with the same old challenge—“What can I ask this person (don’t know who it was) that all the other news stations haven’t already asked?” Robertson searched for an obscure fact, and found a hidden talent.  When she entered the hotel room, she had 3 pieces of fruit in her hand.  She said, “I understand you used to juggle when you were younger.”  She handed him the fruit.  He was surprised, and even though he hadn’t juggled in years, he was able to pick it right back up. 

Robertson had her unique angle, and it was a fun walk down memory lane for the celebrity. 

 …And Make Sure It’s True!

Granted, sometimes those unusual tidbits aren’t well known because they aren’t true!  I had this happen with Carrie Underwood.  I’d read that she’d gotten her musical ability from her father, who used to sing country music himself.                  

When I asked her about this, she burst into laughter. 

“No! No, my dad honestly has zero musical ability!”   

I was a little bit embarrassed, but I explained that I’d read it on the Internet. 

“There’s such a strange thirst for celebrity knowledge, and it’s getting ridiculous,” Underwood said.  “I read stuff every day that is so blatantly untrue; that someone made up just to make a story interesting.”

We had a good laugh together and it broke the ice for the rest of the interview.  Up until that point, she’d sounded fairly rehearsed.    

But, yes, try to use reputable sources!

 

That’s Part 1 on preparing to interviewing celebrities.  Check back to read Part 2, which will cover the “order” and “style” of questions to ask.     

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Nature Writing: Use “Reality Research”

Writing about nature?  Don’t sit at your computer and remember how trees look or sound.  Get outside!  Going to the source delivers fresh descriptions and vivid details that your memory has dimmed over time.  Those “rustling” leaves may take on the fine-tuned sound of “rhythmic crinkling.”    

Sea lions smell like fish! Believe me, I know.

Nature writing has a distinct advantage over most forms of writing; it’s easy to include the five senses.  Here are examples of ways to add realism by using your own five senses:

Smell/Taste

Writers throw out smell and taste words easily.  But close your eyes and actually smell a rose or a chocolate chip cookie. Distinct scents and taste will emerge.  You will detect an array of flavors that go beyond “sweet.”  Try it and you’ll see!

 Sight

1.  Camera Use: Photographs that you have taken yourself produce greater recall of details. As with your favorite vacation pictures, the images transport you back into that place and time. 

2.  Seasonal Attention:  Winter is so much more than “cold.”  View or take pictures of a location in different seasons.  You’ll notice subtle changes–even month to month—that escapes mere memory.     

3.   Focusing Tools: Binoculars, the view from a car window, even a toilet paper tube are all useful in focusing your attention on a particular tree, bird, or cloud formation. 

 Sound      

1.  Can’t get to the rainforest?  It’s easy to listen to sound bytes of nature these days.  Listening to birds, bugs, or howler monkeys will help you describe a setting with exacting accuracy. 

2.  Children’s books are a great source for using “sound” words.  In the oldie, Blueberries for Sal, berries are dropped in to a bucket with, “kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk.”  And who can forget the three billy goats gruff “trip trapping” over the bridge?

  Touch

Think it’s impossible to know what a tiger or a rattlesnake really feels like?  Think again–because the educator at your local zoo or nature center will be happy to let you feel of the pelts or skins from their collection.  

Mom and baby zebra. Photo by Amy Dee Stephens

You’ll be surprised to see that zebras aren’t really black and white, but chocolate and cream.  That seals feel furry, not slick.  And that beaver hair is complex, with a layer of pale matted fleece underneath for warmth and multi-colored bristles on the surface that are oily to repel water. 

 Your reader will be surprised too!        

 If you are writing about nature–don’t rely on memory.  Don’t rely solely on photographs to tell the accurate story, either.  Use Reality Research!  Experience the five senses first hand, and you will write more intense, radiant descriptions. 

 Your fall leaves might even start to crackle-crunch.

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