Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The downside of email interviews

For a long time, I have been supportive of using email as a means of interviewing people for my books. Of course, I have made exceptions with this, using Internet relay to phone people who did not have time to answer questions through email. In such cases, it has gone well: I would explain that I am deaf and must use relay for phone calls. I would explain what a relay call was, what the person could expect upon receiving a relay call, and how it might take a little more time than your average phone call because you have to wait a bit to get a response from me because I have to type what I say. But in most cases, I use email.

I have found, though, that there is a huge downside to using email to interview people for books: The fact that email is easy to ignore. For some people, they think “book” and figure I have weeks, months or years to get a response from them, so there’s really no need to hurry with a response. I did not run into this problem when I was writing for SIGNews, because they knew I was writing for a newspaper and I had a deadline to get my article turned in. (I used relay for a lot of THOSE interviews!) But I have noticed this happening a lot when it comes to interviewing people for my books. And it’s starting to get really annoying.

When I contact people to interview for my books, I give them a timeline on when I’d need a response. This particular deadline is not my real deadline; I usually add a little wiggle room to give myself time to go over their response, ask any follow-up questions or check in with them about things which aren’t clear in their answers. So, yes, they do know that I need a response by a certain time, so that has not been an issue in hearing from them again. Sometimes, some of them have even asked for more time, and that was arranged. But the point here is that there was actual COMMUNICATION going on.

With other people I have tried to interview for my books, there would either be no communication at all, or some communication at first and then nothing at all later on. With those I never end up getting a response from, I move on to find someone else to interview. But for those who initially agree to be interviewed then drop off the planet, it’s hard for me to tell if they are still interested. Especially if weeks go by (with me sending a follow-up note) and I don’t hear from them anymore. I completely understand that things can get busy and that life happens. Got no argument there. But after 3 weeks of nothing, I have to wonder if I’ll ever hear from them at all ever again. There’s one person I’ve interviewed for a book and I haven’t heard from her for over a year!

When it gets to this point, that’s when I have to start considering the possibility that I won’t hear from them anymore. I can be very patient with my sources, but it helps to let me know if there’s something holding things up or just a schedule conflict keeping them from getting back to me. But after so many weeks and after so many months, that’s when I need to start thinking that maybe I need to drop this person from the book. I just can’t keep waiting and waiting and WAITING to hear from them again. As far as my personal life is concerned, I have a motto: “I put my life on hold for no one.” And I am beginning to seriously consider adapting that particular motto to my books, especially for the sources I never hear from again. I do have my own deadlines for the books I write. I have SO MANY books going on and so many waiting for their turn for me to work on them that I can’t keep holding things up with ONE book for ONE person I don’t hear from anymore. It just causes problems for the rest of my sources who actually took the time out of their very busy lives to communicate with me. And I’m not going to put my book on a back burner to wait until I hear from that one or more source to remember me and get in touch again. That’s just a waste of my time because chances are good they won’t remember me at all. Especially after so long of not communicating with me at all. And then the book will never get published. It will waste away. And all those people who invested time in it will have done so for nothing. So, no, I won't do that.

So, with this turn of events, I have decided that I will no longer continue waiting forever and a day to hear from people again. I just won’t rely on them anymore. I would’ve loved to include them in my book, but I guess it won’t happen after all. I will have to start dropping people if I don’t hear from them in one month’s time. One month. That’s how long I will wait.

The thing is, in light of these events, I am very hesitant of using email for interviews for future books. I may have to go straight out with relay calls. I may have to suggest it from the very beginning. Or I may have to just rely on quotes from other books to back up or support what I’m saying. (I am seriously thinking of doing this with my book on prayer.) Nevertheless, I am beginning to feel that email interviews are not as reliable as they once were, and that the time has come for me to start rethinking how to include people in my books without losing that connection to them. I really hate bugging people week after week, and I really don’t want to do that anymore. So maybe from now on, I need to come up with a different method of interviewing sources for books that will have more success.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Outline: Impossible

Because I recently lost a part-time gig, I spent a majority of last week trying to find (and applying for) a new gig. One other thing I did was constantly rework an outline for a nonfiction book I have been doing research on for some time.

Originally, this book was slated for an imprint of an indie publisher. I liked their books and felt this was something I could write. Unfortunately, they rejected my proposal, so I rewrote the sample chapters then left it alone for a while. However, I recently felt it was time to finish this book and get it out there, so I’m spending these last months of the year wrapping up my research for this book.

However, it would seem that the other idea I had for this new kind of book just wasn’t working anymore. It seemed like it was too complex of a book to capture the attention of a particular audience. I mean, the content I wanted to put into it was just all over the place. It was not really focused on one particular aspect of this particular subject.

So I spent some time revising and revising the outline with several drafts until I felt it was satisfactory. As I decided on what this book should cover, I considered two things: What was already out there about a particular chapter topic and, second, if I was the right person to write on that particular topic. I had to ask myself what I could bring to this book and what kind of research I could put into it that would fly with my readers. I am not prepared to pass myself off as an expert on a topic if I am not an expert – nor will I try to be. I have to keep everything in layman’s terms because, after all, I am not THE expert on the book’s subject or someone known for this time of thing. I also had to keep that point in mind as I revised the outline.

One other thing I asked myself as I revised the outline was this: What will readers hope to learn from reading this book? What will readers get out of it? I have to keep in mind what exactly this book is about, and what expectations this may spark in my readers.

The current outline I have for this book now seems to be okay. It’s not too academic and it’s more focused on the book’s purpose. Basically, it seems to have more appeal to the average reader.

I feel prepared to resume work on this book with the outline I now have. That may change later on as I write more of the book, of course, but for now, at least I have a good starting point to begin with.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Ghost on Every Corner -- my new book about paranormal investigations in haunted cities

What’s better than hearing a ghost story? Getting a story about a ghostly encounter straight from the mouths of people who make investigating the paranormal a big part of their lives, the paranormal investigators. That’s what I felt should be the heart of a book I started working on in 2009, which at that time had the title “Real Ghost Towns.” I got the idea for this book while I was doing research on an article for The Shadowlands. I noticed there were quite a lot of ghost stories coming from quite a lot of cities. The term “ghost town” was very present in my mind, and I started asking myself, What if there are cities out there that are really haunted? This thought was fueled by a comment another writer made on a message board I posted at, who noted that one town was indeed haunted. The whole town. I had already co-authored a book on haunted houses, so I guess it was natural that the next "haunted" book I write would be about haunted cities. As I often do with book ideas, I did some more research and discovered, you know what? This could be a book. I discussed this book idea with an editor at another publishing company and she liked the idea. From then on, I got to work on a book about real haunted cities.

But I had to figure out how to make this book different from all the other “ghost story” books that are out there. And, believe me, there are lots of them! It couldn’t just be “urban legends” or just stories. It had to have something that would give the case for a haunted city more credibility. And who better to do just that then the very people who investigate these stories? I knew of paranormal investigators through my work on other Shadowlands articles, so I pondered asking them if they’d be willing to share their stories of ghostly encounters in these cities. First, I put together a list of “haunted cities” through more research, and then I contacted investigators who have done investigations in those cities. (Fortunately, many groups do point out where they’ve done investigations on their websites, or I would learn about the investigations in newspaper articles.)  Many of the groups I contacted agreed to share their stories for the book. Looks like I was on my way in getting this book off the ground!

I spent a year working on this book, gathering stories as well as interviewing the investigators. I also spent time researching the cities included in order to provide some background information as well as claims of the paranormal these cities are known for. My original list dwindled down as I had trouble locating groups or investigators to contact about being included in the book. Many of the groups I contacted had not done investigations in that particular city (such as Boston) and other groups I contacted never replied to my emails or online contact forms they had on their sites (such as for Deadwood). I used every single resource available to find and locate either the paranormal investigators who worked alone or in groups: Google, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and even books on haunted encounters. I also used the site Help a Reporter Out (HARO). I also asked other investigators if they knew of groups I could get in touch with. A paranormal Meet-Up site was handy in helping me to find groups or investigators to interview. Finally, there was a paranormal-themed network site listing thousands of groups as well as investigators, as well as what cities they have done investigations in, and that became a valuable resource for me to find the people I needed to get in touch with. Unfortunately, there were many broken or dead links on that site, but I worked around those hurdles with a Google search. I am happy with the final list of cities included in the book and I was VERY LUCKY to get the opportunity to include some of them – such as Portland, Savannah and New Orleans. It took me YEARS to find a group who investigated Portland (in Oregon) and I found a group who had investigated New Orleans thanks to my connections on Facebook. One particular city that was not on the original list but ended up in the book was sprung on me through the urgings of a ghost!

As I put this book together, I kept one point in mind: This is supposed to be a book that allows these investigators to have center stage. They are the ones doing the dirty work so they should be the ones able to tell their stories themselves. This was their chance to share their experiences with the world. (Keep in mind, though, that not everyone included in the book is a paranormal investigator. Sometimes I had to interview witnesses or business owners to get their side of the story.) For this reason, I really wanted the investigators to have the chance to tell the stories themselves. I mean, they were there, I wasn’t. They knew everything that happened and I didn’t. And while some of the investigators did indeed submit their own personal accounts of what happened during some of their most memorable cases, others were not able to. In these instances, I interviewed them and wrote up the story myself. I then sent the story to the investigators for approval, asking them to correct any mistakes or make any changes where needed. While I prefer to interview people through email because I am profoundly deaf, and also because with email I can’t misquote anybody, some of the people, such as a business owner, didn’t have the time for an email interview. So I had to explain how I use Internet relay for phone calls (it’s a service through Sprint) and then made arrangements to call them for an interview. Thankfully, these relay interviews went really well. A bonus was that I was able to save the transcripts of the phone interviews so that I didn’t get any words wrong or forget anything.

Originally, I was supposed to get this book done and submitted to the original publisher in one year’s time. I got it to her shortly after that deadline. This publishing company later decided to not take on this book because the editor did not want it as it was originally written. She wanted me to rewrite the whole thing and change the investigators’ personal accounts as though I had interviewed them, just as I’d done with some of those included. She didn’t want them to be able to tell their stories themselves, probably because of legal implications that could result after the book was published and someone included wasn’t happy. Despite the possibility of a lawsuit in just such a situation, I refused to redo the personal stories. I stuck to my guns on this. Those people had taken the time to write up and send me their stories. This book was their chance to have their stories told in their own words and with their own voices. The editor did not want the book written that way so she canceled the contract.

But it actually turned out well. For one thing, I used this “downtime” from a deadline to make the book even better than before. I had not wanted to make this book a series, though the editor did, so I was glad I could now stick to this and make the book its own volume of stories. No series and no subsequent books. (This is actually a good thing because of the headaches involved in trying to find groups and then the very long waits I had to put up with before I heard from them again. So, no! No second or third book.) For another thing, I was able to keep the book exactly as I wanted it to be. The investigators still got to tell their own stories. Finally, another good thing that came out of losing the original contract is that I did finally manage to find the groups and investigators I needed in order to include cities I REALLY wanted in this book (Savannah, New Orleans and Portland). So, the extra time paid off.

So I went back to working on this book and resumed the search for groups for other cities to include. I didn’t stress out over it so much because now I didn’t have to worry about a deadline, but as the years passed, I started thinking, Hm, I really need to wrap this project up. It was just one year after another after another that I kept working on this book. (This is an unfortunate situation an author tends to fall into, spending YEARS working on a book without being able to decide when it’s time to stop working on it and start submitting the thing already.) At this point, I was with a new publisher and had a good relationship with them. A bonus was that they’ve been involved in paranormal investigations. I asked them if they might be interested in this book and they said yes. But before I could submit it, I had to figure out a new title. The title assigned to it through the original publisher was “Spook City.” I knew I needed a new title for this new version of the book. I brainstormed with my daughter (who is also a writer) for a new title. We both threw a bunch of ideas around and used ghostly images to help us come up with something. The final title we settled on actually came about from both of us: A Ghost on Every Corner. (Thanks, Jen!)

Eventually, I got to a point where I could call this book “done.” I submitted it to my publisher and they accepted it. Yay! I was so thrilled. What an unreal situation it was for me to finally be done with this book and get a new contract for it. I had spent so many years working on it and it was quite a shock that I was done AND that it was going to be published in the very near future. Unfortunately, the publisher was not able to include photos in this book, but you can see the ghostly photos for the chapters they belong to at this blog

But I was about to go through quite an experience in getting this book ready for publication. Wow, what troubles we had! First I had a hard time getting back in touch with everybody to ask them all to sign release forms. Some websites were no longer active, some had changed their emails (without letting me know – argh!!), and some were with different groups now. Boy, what a hunt it was finding everybody again! I used the usual sources – Google, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – and fortunately I found most of them. Those I had more trouble with I had to use what resources I could; I even had to call one of them up because he was not replying to emails or my Facebook posts/messages. (Yeah, I really tend to bug my sources. It’s that journalist in me. LOL) (“That reporter again!”) Then when I DID find everybody, there was the matter of updating bios or retouching stories. One investigator sent in an updated bio at the VERY last minute! Because of this, the manuscript went through several rounds of edits and updates. What fun that was!

Then the next hurdle was getting the final manuscript right. Somewhere in the chaos of updating everything, other things got lost. Argh! We were all beginning to wonder if this manuscript about haunted cities was haunted itself. When that was fixed and it was sent off to the printer, I thought we were finally out of the woods. But guess what? Even the FINAL file for the print book had some hiccups in it. Ugh! I told them I wanted to hold off on fixing anything because, at this point in time, I am not able to do so. But I also want to see what happens when the ACTUAL print book is in my hands and I can look at it to see if anything else had gone wrong. (Funny how we tend to notice things in print that we miss on the screen.) So, we’ll see how that turns out.

My book on haunted cities that I started working on so long ago, A Ghost on Every Corner, has finally been published! Hooray! I’m very excited and exceedingly grateful that this book was finally completed and finally published. It has definitely been a long journey and it is nice to see the creation of this book come to an end.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to be a part of this book: Hector Barragan, Jr., Rod Franklin, Mike Loop, Kathy Gereau, Paul Dale Roberts, Jen Mauricio, Marissa Sims, Shannon McCabe, Garry Patrick, Kathy Conder, Richard Senate, Jack Coulter, Moriah Rhame, Cathy Ramirez, Terry Rowe, Lena Townsend, Robert Florence, Dawn Rodriguez, SJ Baptista, Henry Steiner, Rob Feinberg, Angela Miles, Justin H. Guess, Gary Corbin, Kurt Page, Mitchel Whitington, Paula Hayes, Martin Leal, Roger Escobar, Pamela K. Kinney, Jason Gerrard, Martha Jette, Lisa Ghariani, Alec Arbour, Pat McCormack, Chad Griffiths, Charlie Rivero, Jerry Talbert, Kathy Shephard, Trish Popovitch, Robin Givens and Ron Fabiani. Thank you also to Cornelius Swart and Mara Grunbaum.

And, of course, thank you to Denise Bartlett and Charlotte Holley of Gypsy Shadow Publishing, who took on this book that was quite a ghostly adventure for us all!    

The book is currently available only as an ebook. Print coming soon!

Here is the blurb for the book:

There’s a ghost town then there’s a “ghost” town! A Ghost on Every Corner is a collection of stories from paranormal investigators who have done investigations in some of America’s most haunted cities. Read about the ghost haunting a restaurant in Galena, Illinois, or about a Gettysburg Battlefield ghost who follows an investigator home! There’s also Marilyn Monroe’s ghost haunting the famous Roosevelt Hotel, a ghost violently attacking an investigator at the Sallie House and the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe’s adoptive father angrily pushing an investigator down the stairs! You’ll also get to read historical (as well as ghostly!) information about places such as The Alamo, Myrtles Plantation and the famous BirdCage Theater. Walk with investigators located across the country as they gather evidence about ghosts and go where no other would dare to tread!

Buy link

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Saturday, September 06, 2014

Is it even worth it to write for the Internet anymore?

One of the things I have on my to-do list for the weekends is to update my website. That is, I should normally update the site on the weekends. Sometimes, my weekends get too crazy and I don’t have the time. But, time permitting, I make it a point to update the ol’ site.

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of time available for website updates. I’ve got other things on that to-do list I plan to tackle. Plus, like I said, things can get busy on the weekends. With this in mind, I dreaded the task of updating one page in particular on my website. This page has a ton of links on it and I knew many of those links no longer worked. Not too long ago, I spent some time giving my site a HUGE overhaul and got rid of a lot of old or inactive links and items. This page did not get an update, however, but I knew that still had to get done.

Well, today, I got that done. I knew I would have to remove a lot of dead links, but I was not expecting such a large number. All told, I removed the links to 34 articles, poems and book reviews. These sites are no longer active or the site owners just removed those particular items. Some were replaced with similar work written by other writers.

And while 34 may not seem very much to some people, it was more than enough for me. I take pride in having had so much of my work published, and now that’s 34 articles, poems and book reviews gone forever. (Believe me, I have removed A LOT more in the past after one site shut down.) I can no longer say I wrote over 80 articles for one site in particular, because now that number has dwindled.

And unfortunately, prospective editors I’d love to work with or agents or future clients may happen to notice. That number of active links to work online will get smaller and smaller in the future, and then it won’t seem like I’ve had much published online at all.

The fact that I had to delete these items does not bother me – I know that nothing lasts forever so I accept these disappearances. But it still would be nice if that article was still out there or that poem was still out there. In print. Forever. But because it’s on the Internet, it won’t be.

Nothing on the Internet lasts forever.

This made me wonder if it’s even worth it to write for the Internet anymore. I mean, if my work will eventually disappear, then why bother? Why go to the trouble? I would rather invest my time in writing and selling something that lasts forever. Not something that will disappear after a site shuts down.

I have several copies of the SIGNews newspaper, a newspaper I once wrote for, and they are in a crate in my garage. They may not be visible to everyone who might see them, but my articles are still in them. They are still there.

I also have copies of magazines my short story, poetry, essays and articles have appeared in. Their sites don’t exist anymore, but my work is still in the magazines. They’re still there!

The same could not be said of everything I have published on the Internet. All that stuff on that page will disappear at some point. Then I can’t really say I wrote all that stuff – unless I print it all out and actually show it to someone. Or I could save them all in one PDF file and keep it on my site. But even then, is it even worth the trouble to archive anything on my site? Will anybody even care anymore? Because, let’s face it: New stuff will be out there! This will all be old stuff.

This is why I prefer to write books over Internet content. Books have a stronger sense of permanency. They may be removed from the market at some point, but we have a way of getting them back out there again. Books actually last. The articles I write on the Internet won’t last, and the book reviews won’t last. But my books will. I’ll still have my own copies, anyway. My books will always exist no matter what happens. But the stuff I write for the Internet sure won’t.

Perhaps this explains my recent withdrawal from soliciting online markets. Doesn’t seem like I should go to the trouble of trying to write for online markets anymore if everything that I write is going to eventually disappear.

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