Author Archives: Charlene Oldham

Failed Queries: Take it from turtles and keep truckin’

Here is yet another entry in the Failed Queries category. Good thing I take the same approach as turtles. We may be turned away at times, but slow and steady really can win the race.

Dear Ms. Editor:

Turtles haven’t changed much in the last 210 million years, and their genes prove slow and steady sometimes wins the race when it comes to evolution.

“They may be slowly evolving, but turtles have developed an array of enviable features,” said Richard Wilson, director of Washington University’s Genome Institute and senior author of a recent study that analyzed the genome of the western painted turtle. “They resist growing old, can reproduce even at advanced ages, and their bodies can freeze solid, thaw and survive without damaging delicate organs and tissues. We can learn a lot from them.”

Turns out turtles are experts at activating genes many vertebrates – including humans — share, but don’t use, allowing them to survive for long periods of time without oxygen while hibernating in ice-covered ponds. Scientists are also studying the turtles’ genes for clues about why they live so much longer than most animals their size.

Would you be interested in a story that explains what the western painted turtle’s genes tell us about its unique abilities and addresses the question Can Turtles Someday Help Humans Live Longer or Survive Without Air?

As a former middle and high school teacher and experienced journalist, I feel I could do this in a way that would be both entertaining and interesting to your young readers. I have a decade of experience as a writing teacher as well as years of reporting experience as a freelancer and staff writer at publications around the country, including The Dallas Morning News. Most recently, I have been working on stories for publication by magazines, books, newspapers and blogs including SUCCESS, Eating Well, Organic Gardening, Poets & Writers, DRAFT Magazine, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2014 Songwriter’s Market, Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers, The FruitGuys Almanac and WOW! Women On Writing.

Please let me know if this idea is of interest and what angle you might like to take with a story so I can provide more details. Meanwhile I have included a link to my resume and some writing samples in case you would like to take a look.

Best,
Charlene Oldham

Free Photo from MorgueFile

Free Photo from MorgueFile

When Do I Get a Personal Assistant?

This week, I’m faced with the task of transcribing at least two interviews with executives in order to write profiles about them for an online magazine. I can say without qualification that transcribing recorded interviews is my least favorite aspect of freelance writing. In fact, I rarely record interviews, relying on real-time note taking unless I know I am writing a personality profile or anticipate the interview to be extremely technical or fast paced. One reason is that I am painfully slow at transcribing audio recordings. At best, I probably type 45 words a minute, and this rate probably slows to the single digits at times when I am stopping and starting a recording to catch that last few words that will make or break a quote.

This brings me to the question posed in the title of this post. In scheduling interviews with executives, I often deal with personal assistants. These people tend to be efficient, effective communicators who handle everything from booking appointments to maintaining meeting minutes. And I’m almost sure ever single one of them types faster than 45 words a minute.

So when do I get a personal assistant?

And I’m not talking about a souped-up smartphone that can cross-reference your calendar and transit schedules to immediately alert you about train delays  (creepy and cool in equal measures) or even a real person somewhere in the virtual world who promises to transcribe five, 10 or even 20 minutes of video or audio for the low, low rate of just $5 (as suspiciously priced as the $1.19 pineapples at ALDI). I’m talking about a real personal assistant who can solve problems and take on tasks I’m not great at or just don’t want to tackle.

Would a personal assistant increase my efficiency? I’m not sure. For all my grand plans, I might use the extra time to pet my cat or play a few extra games of Words With Friends. But I sure would love having the luxury of laziness or the promise of productivity ahead of me. And I promise I’d pay more than $5.

Which tasks do you outsource or wish you could? I would love to hear from you in the comments section.

She's cute, but not a very good typist.

She’s cute, but not a very good typist.

Failed Query: Timely Research Can Kill a Query

This failed query illustrates the dangers of using research (in this case, a survey from November 2012) that may be considered time sensitive as the crux of a pitch to a monthly magazine that could have a six-month lead time.

Dear Ms. Editor:

A survey released in November shows an increasing number of shoppers are willing to pay a premium for American-made goods, even if those consumers call China home. Indeed, more than 60 percent of Chinese consumers said they are willing to pay more for products made in the U.S.A., and 80 percent of American consumers agreed according to recent research from The Boston Consulting Group. These taste trends and other factors lead BCG to estimate the U.S. could add 5 million new jobs in manufacturing and related services by the end of the decade.

Patriotism and cache aren’t the only factors behind those findings. Consumers who buy brands made in the U.S. know more about the wages and working conditions of the people who sew their clothes. And locally sourced clothing carries added benefits for the environment since it doesn’t have to be shipped as far from its factory to store shelves.

I would like to propose a story for XX that examines the resurgence in U.S. manufacturing. I could also provide readers with five to 10 brands that make fashion-forward clothes and accessories domestically. Some suggestions include Prairie Well, Barbara Lesser, School House and Red Ants Pants. I would be happy to provide a longer list of brands depending on what types of clothes you’d like to feature. I can also give you an idea of length, art and sidebars once you decide on a specific angle that best fits your needs.

As for my professional credentials, I have a decade of experience as a writing teacher as well as years of reporting experience as a freelancer and staff writer at publications around the country, including The Dallas Morning News. Most recently, I have been working on stories scheduled for publication by national magazines and blogs including SUCCESS, Eating Well, DRAFT Magazine, Poets & Writers and WOW! Women On Writing.

To avoid clogging your inbox with attachments, I have included a link to my resume. You can also find some writing samples at: http://charleneoldham.com/writing-samples/ should you be interested.

Best,

Charlene Oldham

Free Photo from MorgueFile

Free Photo from MorgueFile

Guest Post – Why You Need Flash Fiction In Your Life

I am excited to announce today marks my first-ever post from a guest blogger. Since my writing is almost exclusively nonfiction, I wanted to expand my content with posts by creative writers I admire. I hope you enjoy this post on writing flash fiction by J, creator of  Don’t Delete Me and fellow Blogging 201 alum.

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Free Photo from MorgueFile

Free Photo from MorgueFile

I have tried and failed at writing a novel more times than I would like to admit. With what I am hoping are the right intentions I set out, armed with caffeine and that innocent feeling of determination to write a novel. To my initial surprise I can quickly get on paper about 800 words. But then the inevitable happens; the writing stops. I can’t think anymore. My brain shuts down. And I begin to go back, to edit, and to scrutinize those 800 words. More often than not I come to find that that novel I thought I was working on is actually not a novel at all. It had all the good beginnings of a novel, but it didn’t really have that extra little bit of oomph it needed to become it. Maybe it was because I stopped and looked back, maybe it was because it truly wasn’t an idea great enough to form a novel; I’ll never really know for sure. But in all likelihood, it was probably a bit of both. I didn’t plan well enough and I didn’t spend enough time thinking on and broadening that idea I had. Luckily, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have started writing.

Those 800 words have a beginning, middle, and a definite end. It’s a story, through and through. But at 800 words, it was no more than what most would call a flash fiction. And what good, you may be wondering, would a super short, barely a story, story be when I am trying to write a novel? A surprisingly great amount of good it turns out.

Maybe you are in the same position as me; getting stuck writing accidental short stories while struggling with attempts to write a full-fledged novel. Maybe you are actually halfway through writing that breakout novel of yours when all of a sudden that all too familiar block hits. Both of these situations are where those little flash fictions can come in handy. If you think of flash fiction as diet writing, it starts to make more sense. It’s not easier to write because really, what diet is easy? For that matter, what writing is easy? But flash fiction is, unlike most diets, easy to enjoy. There aren’t many rules to writing flash fiction, there is just the one; it has to be 1000 words or less. Any more than that and it starts to turn into a short story.

As a writer who is working on a novel I can assure you that there will be many days that you will have where ‘working on your novel’ actually means writing something else entirely. Yes, you may not be adding to your word count, and your deadline may be inching closer and closer without you getting ahead but if you are writing, you really ARE getting ahead, even if it’s not on your book. But with all those ideas in your head swirling and jumping around, barely settling down for a break and all that thinking you do; you can start to feel pretty bogged down. Sometimes so much so that you forget why you ever enjoyed writing in the first place. You may even start to wonder if you are actually a masochist because for some reason, through all that dissatisfaction, you keep working, keep trying, and keep writing.

Well, don’t ever even think of changing those masochist habits of yours, however frustrating they may be, and especially if you want to get that novel completed. But remember that you can take a break, you can have some fun, and you can work on something else. Something short, just a flash.