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

More Things to Be Thankful for In 2013 -Saint Louis and Simple Pleasures

Fall is full of simple pleasures here in Saint Louis, even when the Cards aren’t World Series champions. After all, Cardinals fans still got almost a full month of playoff baseball and, judging from history and statistics, can likely look forward to enjoying October games well before Cubs fans again experience the glory of post-season play.

The Gateway Arch - Morguefile PhotoBut I digress.

First off. I am truly thankful to live in a city. I grew up in a rural town that is now home to fewer than 3,000 souls. My town did not get a fast-food restaurant until the late 1990s, around the same time it got its first ATM. While those facts may make my hometown sound charming and Rockwellian to those who have never experienced the Arkansas Delta firsthand, I can assure you that it was not.

At the same time, Saint Louis is a city that showcases the seasons, something I rarely experienced in the Delta or in Dallas, a place that specializes in summer and the metropolitan area I previously called home. Dallas is city so short on trees that I believe most Dallasites have to take their seasonal cues from the Starbucks menu. After all, nothing says fall like a Pumpkin Spice Latte and highs in the 70s and 80s.

But, here in Saint Louis, a taste of fall can be found right outside my back door, no Starbucks necessary.Image

Billy Bob Thornton and Barry Markowitz on Picturing the South

Highbrow Magazine published the first in what might be a few stories from my interview with Billy Bob Thornton. Appropriately enough, I am in a hotel in Arkansas right now. And I will keep my cursing to a minimum because there are definitely some church ladies around: Hollywood Cinematographer Barry Markowitz Discusses Capturing the Soul of the South on Film