By Jackie Houchin
A journalist among published book authors…what am I doing here?
I’m a “Writer In Residence” in a book emporium with only a pencil and pad and a rampant curiosity about everyone and everything around me – all of them possible subjects and mysteries to write about for the weekly (daily) news readers.
My newspaper articles (back in the day) were flashes in the night. Written fast, submitted, run through processors onto newsprint, placed in supermarket stands, picked up by semi-disinterested shoppers for a quarter, a buck, or even for free. And then gone; in the trash can, recycle bin, as puppy papers or to line a bird cage. (Does anyone have birds in cages anymore? Hmmm…. I must research and interview someone and write about that!!)
Today, my daily (hourly?) posts are on Facebook – yes, I know, that gobbler-of-time social media outlet that most people have a love/hate relationship with. I love it. I enjoy posting a variety of things on my “timeline page.” I share tips (how to make cookies either crisp or chewy) & fun facts (12 million adult coloring books were sold in 2015). I talk about people who do marvelous things (like my fellow writers), post upcoming events (Baskin & Robbins 31st-of-the-month discounted ice cream), and tell my friends and family what I am doing that is ho-hum or adventuresome.
And if you know me well, you also know I post a lot of things that I learn in my Bible study reading. And photos…. whoa, do I post photos. (Throwbacks from my photographer and photo-journalist days.)
But again… flashes in the night. Sure, you can scroll down to see former Facebook posts, but any more, about 10 days is all you can see without major effort.
My fellow fish in the sea of writing, Writers In Residence in particular, have finished products that are enduring; books bound in soft or hard covers, given as gifts, re-read, treasured, shared among friends, and at the very least, end up on Friends of Library book shelves or even at yard sales at discounted prices to be bought and re-read again.
Flashes in the night versus beloved tomes held erect by sturdy bookends. (Sigh) But we are all valuable, as I discovered recently.
Our Writers In Residence (formerly Wednesday Women Writers), had a brainstorming lunch-meeting about our blog. (I was taking notes, figuring in the back of my mind what kind of articles could come from it.) The others were discussing how to promote their books, encourage reading in general, and inspire others to write and write well. And entertain. We all want to entertain in some way – to inspire, enlighten, and make readers ponder… or laugh.
Hey… did you hear the one about why the French like to eat snails? It’s because they hate fast food! Get it? FAST food, SLOW snails?*
Or… How many cars does it take to fill a mall with shoppers? Why, a whole lot, of course!
About being the odd man (woman) out…I actually feel comfortable among my book writing and selling sisters. And if I can promote them, inspire them, write about them or their books, I will. (Look forward in the next months for some blog posts in which I feature these WWWs, or WIRs – you know, the talented, passionate, fun, interesting friends in our little lake of scribes.)
Well, if you will pardon this stream of consciousness post, I promise to do better next time. Meanwhile….
1) Check out my fellow writers (here and on their websites)
2) Buy and read their books (Amazon or other places)
3) Write reviews about their books (Amazon or Goodreads, etc.)
4) Tell your friends about them and this blog
5) Link our posts to your Facebook or Twitter page
6) And comment, oh please comment, on our posts (it’s how we know you are out there!). And it will delight us so much!
Okay, time for a swim among all the other amazing and eclectic fishes in the sea. SPLASH! Notice that we are all swimming in the same direction.
(Can you find me? Color me different, but blended in.)
*Joke submitted by Richard Pool.
(PS: If you don’t see a comments box, or an icon to Facebook or Twitter or a “like” and “follow” us button, GO TO THE TOP OF THIS PAGE (or any of the posts), click on the title (it will change to blue for a fraction of a second), and then………… Voila! All those possibilities are right here below.
Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter. Her debut novel, Mending Dreams, was published by Champlain Avenue Books.
Science and I have never been good friends—except for high school physics, which was very cool because we learned how to make a hydrogen bomb. And lest this set off any Homeland Security alarms, I write “learned how to make” very abstractly here. It’s not like they gave us a recipe; the teacher merely explained the difference between fission (atom bomb) and fusion (hydrogen bomb), but my 17-year-old brain found it fascinating.
Flash forward several decades and I began work on a new novel, about a woman who suddenly and inexplicably begins growing younger. This has nothing to do with hydrogen bombs, but rather than writing the story as a fantasy—a gigantic case of wish fulfillment—I started asking questions. Could such a thing happen? How?
And this, inevitably, led me back to science.
Full disclosure: I did not find the Fountain of Youth in my travels, but I did learn more than I’ll ever need to know about genetics and cells and chromosomes. I’m not going to lay all that out for you, but I will share a few of my research techniques. Sooner or later, most writers will find they need knowledge, scientific or otherwise, that they don’t yet possess. Here’s how I went about getting it.
- I did some general reading first
I began my quest by reading several articles about the work doctors and scientists are doing to slow the aging process and extend our healthy lifespans. I noticed several names popping up over and over. Googling these names, I discovered contact information for several scientists—at places like Harvard and the National Institutes of Health.
2. I was audacious
I sent emails to several of these doctors and scientists, explaining my project and shamelessly asking for a few minutes of their time to review the initial premise I’d constructed and tell me if it seemed totally preposterous.
Most of them never replied, but three did, and I learned something from this exercise: Scientists are really nice! They like to be helpful and to share their knowledge, and they can talk in plain English when they want to!
The first scientist I spoke with—via Skype, at his suggestion—reviewed my premise, diplomatically explained it was, in his words, “too specific and too unbelievable,” and sent me on a quest to learn about epigenetics (for the uninitiated, this is “the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.” Got that?) He felt the clue to my premise lay in this area.
- I then read more specific material
My next stop was Amazon, to buy a book called Genetics for Dummies. Yes, there actually is a book by that title. I understood little of what I read, but it gave me the vocabulary I needed to comprehend the technical articles I encountered as I chased down epigenetics and followed the threads that spun out from there.
- I was flexible
One of the scientists I contacted responded that she didn’t work with writers as a general practice, but she gave me the name of another scientist who was not on my initial “hit list.” This kind man turned out to be a goldmine of information and enthusiasm and not only gave me notes on my story’s outline, but also offered to read the narrative once I get to the point where science enters the picture and tell me if I got the jargon right.
- I was respectful of my sources’ time
This goes without saying, of course. Experts are busy people, so if one of them suggested a time and a method of contact (both Skype and teleconferencing seem popular), I was prepared to cooperate, and I was punctual.
- I expressed my gratitude often
There are not enough words in the language to thank these fine people who generously took time from their work to help a struggling novelist. I did thank each of them copiously during our discussions, and of course I will include a big, gushy acknowledgement in the book when it’s published. Because I was dealing with scientists in government and academia, I made sure to get their permission to mention them, because this won’t be the usual place where their name appears. And of course they will all get signed copies of the book, because without them it would have been banished to that box in the garage with all my thwarted projects.
Now I have to write the darned book, of course, and as we all know that’s a long and winding road itself. I have extra motivation on this particular trip, however, because I want to apply the knowledge I gained from my new scientist friends and prove their time wasn’t wasted in talking with me.
Has anyone else out there ever tackled a subject way beyond their area of expertise? How did you go about it? How did it turn out?