A Way With Words is Growing Up

father and infant

Having just celebrated the birth of A Way With Words about a month ago, I feel somewhat like a first-time father when his child comes home from the hospital.  I want things to be perfect (or at least as good as I can make them).  I never know what to expect.  Sometimes I dress her up in a new outfit only to watch her spit up and require a change.

Now we’re heading into our second month, some patterns are developing.  Nothing quite like a fixed schedule or format.  There will no doubt be interruptions, but there will also be things you can look forward to, some things you can count on.

Here are some of the features I anticipate you will find in A Way with Words this coming month…

1) Author Interviews: We had a good response to my interviews with Matt Robb and Rob Diaz II.  I have since arranged an interview with author Molly Tinsley whose new book Entering the Blue Stone is a memoir of caring for her parents at the last stages of their lives.  More information about Molly and her writing can be found at Fuze Publishing.

2) Book reviews: It is my hope to publish a review of Entering the Blue Stone after my interview with Molly Tinsley.  I just picked up a copy of Light in August by William Faulkner.  Also, I will continue to post periodic reviews and writing exercises inspired by Writing Well: The Essential Guide by Mark Tredinnic.

3) Creative writing: I have been privileged to get in on the ground floor of the start-up collaborative blog Today’s Authors.  I plan to respond to their “writing prompts” as often as I can.

There will be more.. spiritual reflections, John Prine, humor, best blog posts features…  Who knows what this growing child will get into as it explores the world and learns to toddle about and discover what life is all about?

(image “Happy Father’s Day” from Insight Imaging: John A Ryan…, some rights reserved)

Interview with Author and Playwright Rob Diaz II

rob diaz

I first encountered Rob Diaz when he commented on one of my posts.  I’ve since come to know him as one of the masterminds or partners-in-crime (actually, contribuing editors) of the community blog Today’s Authors that has publically opened the day of this writing.  I did an e-mail interview with Rob which resulted in the following –

What is one piece of writing (book, story, play, essay) that has changed your life?

     The phrase “changed your life” makes this question pretty difficult for me to answer.  My initial gut instinct was to say that the book that changed my life was actually a math book given to me by my fourth grade math teacher when I was bored with the regular curriculum and wanted more challenging work (math was and continues to be a passion of mine).

But math books tend to be boring prose, so what my real answer to this question will be is:  Foundation by Isaac Asimov.  I read this book for the first time when I was in fifth grade, about ten years old.  It is the first book in my memory which made me want to read another book.  And then another (and not just the books in the Foundation series, either!). It was also one of the first books I ever wanted to read a second or third time (I’ve probably read it a dozen times now).

The book focuses on the math involved with Psychohistory and its predictions of the downfall and rise of the Galactic Empire.  As I said, math was a passion of mine from an early age and to see it have such a prevalent role in a masterful book such as Foundation, it changed my outlook on reading and, in turn, on writing.  I would certainly be a different person today if I had not become as much of a lover of words as I am a lover of numbers.

How is seeing your plays produced different (and/or similar) to producing other forms of writing?

     Scripts have a special place in my heart and in my writing.  It’s not that I prefer them over other forms of writing, it’s just that at the time I wrote my first script (when I was a freshman in high school), I had been on the verge of giving up on writing at all.  A teacher of mine encouraged me to participate in a Playwrights Workshop that was being held in my school and despite my hesitations I did so.  And I loved it.  The positive feedback and interactions with the other writers and the instructor were so amazing that it rekindled my passion for writing in many ways.

The first script I wrote was horrifically bad (though it was incredibly funny at the time).  The second one I wrote, Bad Impressions, was produced on stage at my high school when I was 16 in a series of one acts (mine and four or five professional scripts were done).  It was incredible and nerve-wracking.  I’ve had two more scripts produced since then and the feeling has been the same: super levels of excitement to see the words and stories transposed onto the stage coupled with lots and lots of anxiety about the audience reaction.

I think the difference for me is simply that when I have a story published in a book, the audience is disparate.  Readers can be anywhere and everywhere and for the most part they are not in one place, reacting at the same time.  A script that is being staged, however, has an audience of many, sitting and experiencing the story together for the first time and at the same time.  For me, I find myself worrying when something I found funny in the script doesn’t get the volume of laughter I expect or something I found dramatic doesn’t get the collective intake of breath that I expected.  Does the audience not like it? Do they not get it?  Do they regret their investment of time and money to see it?

Similarly, I feel energized when they do laugh or catch their breath or applaud.  Honestly, I have all the same fears and excitement with other forms of writing. I suspect the reason it feels different with plays is just the fact that there are so many more people reacting at the same time and in the same place.  The reaction is more real and more direct, if that makes any sense.

“Today’s Author” is now officially launched.  What are your biggest hopes and greatest fears for this blog?

      My hope for Today’s Author is probably much like the hope of everyone else involved with it: that it can be a safe place for writers and readers to interact, that it can be a source of inspiration and entertainment and that it can be a place to share our collective knowledge and experiences with the written word.  Honestly, if we can inspire even just one person to take a chance with words – to tell their story and let the world see it – then I’d think Today’s Author is a success.  I think the openness of the editors and contributors on the site to share their successes, their failures, their hopes and their fears will lend itself to encouraging our readers and participants to do the same.

On the flip side, I think “fear” may be too strong a term for my feelings but I do worry. I worry about making sure that we at Today’s Author are providing content and prompts that are relevant to our readers and useful enough to keep readers coming back.  Readers and participants of the site should drive the direction the site takes as time goes on, so I worry about making sure we read and understand the feedback we get to make sure we react and anticipate the needs of the community we are building.  Ultimately, if we don’t build an engaged and vibrant community, we won’t have the success I hope to have with Today’s Author.

Thanks, Rob, for devoting some of your New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to conduct this interview.  Look for more of Rob and read a generous sampling of his work at his blog Thirteenth Dimension.

(picture of Rob from Today’s Authors, used by permission)

Interview with IT Business and Creative Writer Matt Robb

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A few weeks back, I did a story inspired by a writing prompt from a newly developing blog entitled Today’s Authors.  One of the contributing editors there, Matt Robb, commented –

I chuckled reading about Thomas’ confessional app and “The Virtual Vatican.”  Nice job.

My first thought was gratitude for his chuckle and kind compliment.

My second thought was – “This guy appreciates humorous writing.”

My third thought (after visiting his blog) was – “I want to interview him about his inspiration as a writer, some of his preparation, and what he’s doing at Today’s Authors.  The following was our exchange –

Who (author/teacher) or what (book/other writing) first inspired you to become a writer?

Without a doubt, the book that inspired me to become a writer is a small, soft-cover publication titled The Creative Writing Guide by Candice Schaefer and Rick Diamond.  I came across this book in my final semester of college, 1999.

I needed a three-credit elective course and, at the time, was still exploring whether writing as a hobby was something that interested me.  I enrolled in the course titled Creative Writing: Poetry, and The Creative Writing Guide was the supporting text for the course.

I was hooked on the book just after reading chapter 1: “Writing as a Journey”. To me, the narrator’s voice was a familiar and encouraging one.  It really helped open my eyes to using the five senses to strengthen my writing.

What did you do (studies/work experience) to prepare you to do business/technical writing?

Interesting question.  To be honest, nothing explicitly on my part.  However, I suppose my chosen career path and studies within the field of Management Information Systems was integral simply by affording me multiple opportunities to practice business and technical writing.

In junior college I enrolled in both a speechwriting and business writing course.  These courses helped me practice writing to persuade, inform, debate, etc.  Later while attending university, core technical courses required me to write sample business cases, product documentation guides, etc.

In my early to late-twenties I worked as a software developer, and that included many opportunities to write end-user documentation for software products within the reinsurance and industrial and environmental hygiene industries.  Now in my mid-thirties, my business writing is instead focused on writing business cases and writing to persuade.

Looking back, as a student it appears I was subconsciously taught that volume was more important than substance:  write x pages of this, write y pages of that.  But today when writing in the professional world, it’s really more important to minimize volume while maximizing clarity.  This is especially true when writing emails to people who may receive upwards of 100+ email messages daily and you want to maximize the chance of your message actually being read. (more on that topic here: http://wa.emergent-publishing.com/2012/11/feedback-separating-the-message-from-the-delivery/)

3)   You describe yourself as an “entrepreneur”.  Do you mean you spend a lot of time marketing your work or coming up with solid plans to turn your passion for writing into a (financial) living?

When describing myself as an entrepreneur, I’m referring to my interest in creating, organizing, and running businesses and organizations.

For ten years I assisted my wife with managing her small business—a dance studio—before selling that business four years ago.  In the past I also created and managed a small software development business, and I co-founded a non-profit community theatre organization.  And, my career path in management has me working toward leading teams, departments, and eventually larger companies.

4) You’re one of the founding editor/contributors for the developing blog Today’s Authors.  What will be your role in this enterprise and what can we expect to see there in the coming year?

My role, like all the editors and contributors you’ll find at the site, is simply to encourage writers to push forward through their own personal journeys of creating writing.  We’re akin to spectators on the sidelines of a marathon race course—only we’re here to cheer on participants as they slog through the course of completing their stories or novels.

Today we plan to “cheerlead” primarily by ensuring a comfortable, safe environment for writers. Though the coming year visitors will find articles and prompts focused on the “nuts-and-bolts” of writing, I’m most looking forward to community dialogue via comments where writers feel comfortable to request feedback, and to give constructive, positive feedback in return. How the site evolves beyond that will be largely driven by the site’s community of visitors.

Thank you, Matt, for participating in the interview, for your writing, and for encouraging other writers in what you do.

(photo of Matt from his blog, used by permission)