Failed Queries: Here’s one that worked — after a few tries

Since this month boasts five Tuesdays, I offer a query that actually worked in place of the usual Failed Queries feature — albeit not at the first publication I pitched. So, don’t trash a query after the first rejection. And, for freelancers who are curious about how a query might translate into a full-length piece, here is the resulting story. Happy Holidays!

Free photo from morgueFile

Free photo from morgueFile

Dear Ms. Editor:

Although the Man in Black is one of Arkansas’s most famous natives, little more than a roadside sign marks the site of Johnny Cash’s boyhood home in Dyess. Today, there are no attractions or interpretive sites open to the public in the Mississippi County town of 410, but that won’t be true for long. By combining state funds, private donations and proceeds from its first Johnny Cash Music Festival last year, Arkansas State University has raised approximately $1.4 million to restore the Cash family home, renovate the historic Administration Building and rejuvenate the Theater Building in the Dyess Colony Center. As part of its Arkansas Heritage Sites Program, the university will also reconstruct the outbuildings at the Cash farmstead, provide visitor services, install historic markers throughout the town and build a walking trail linking the Cash home and town center. The first phase of the project, including opening the Cash home and Colony Center Administration Building to visitors, is expected to be completed by June of next year.

In addition to its role as a country music pilgrimage site, the Dyess Colony represents a unique window into Depression-era America. The colony was one of the nation’s first agricultural resettlement communities built by the Works Progress Administration and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration to move families from failed farms into model communities. The colony’s Greek-Revival Administration building, dedicated by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1936, lay at the hub of a wagon wheel of farmsteads for 500 colonists. Those early colonists included Ray and Carrie Cash, who relocated from Kingsland, Ark., with three-year-old J.R. Cash and their other children that same year.

As a native of Northeast Arkansas, graduate of Arkansas State University and consummate country music fan, I feel uniquely qualified to write about this new heritage site, which I think would make an excellent subject for a travel feature. If you are interested, I could also expand the story to highlight the other Arkansas Heritage Sites, which include the Lakeport Plantation and the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center. Upcoming events, including this year’s Johnny Cash Music Festival and a creative writing retreat at the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum, would also provide some excellent photo opportunities to complete a story package.

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 and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Most recently, I have been working on stories scheduled for publication by national magazines and blogs including SUCCESS, Eating Well 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: should you be interested. Finally, please contact me if you need any additional information or samples to consider this idea.

Charlene Oldham

Bachelor’s Degree Bargain

To riff on a bestselling book title, everything I needed to know, I learned in undergrad.

At Arkansas State University, my humble alma mater, I received all the essential knowledge I needed to become a successful journalist. I also had the opportunity to serve as editor in chief of the student newspaper, work with many other talented students who are still professional writers and editors today, and — with only one exception — attend small classes taught by full-time professors, many of whom had recent real-world experience in their fields of study. What’s more, I got all this for a paltry $975 or less in tuition and most fees each semester.

It was a great  value, even in those days, and seems more of a steal when you consider the average annual in-state price tag for tuition and fees was $8,893 for public four-year institutions in 2013 according to The College Board.

All this doesn’t discount the value of my master’s degree from Columbia University in New York, where I learned how to physically and psychologically navigate life in the city, gained insights from some of the best reporters in the nation, landed a paid internship at Newsday, and was matched with a mentor who helped me get my first real job.

But I have no doubt that I would still be thriving as a professional reporter, writer, and teacher today if I had ended my educational career after earning my bachelor’s degree — and all for less than $1,000 a semester.


Free morgueFile Photo

Free morgueFile Photo

To read the college newspaper news story and editorial I wrote about tuition in 1995, please click here (and ignore the fact I use the words fewer and less interchangeably).

To hear Sen. Elizabeth Warren talk about the great undergraduate education she got for $50 a semester and how the American dream is 300 percent more expensive today than it was a generation ago, check out this CBS Sunday Morning interview.

To post your own thoughts about being a student, teacher, or both, respond to The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge.