At least, the storm driving has begun. I started Friday afternoon in Florida, and now I’m in Norman, Oklahoma, missing my dogs and hubby but enjoying the Mexican food.
I should admit that I’m a little bit obsessive. If I want to get something done, I’ll dive in until it’s done. If I want to get to storms in northern Nebraska, I’m willing to get up before dawn to drive there. And it looks like that’s what I’ll have to do to get into play, possibly near the South Dakota border, in time to catch whatever might fire. And, as always, I hope whatever fires gets into the juicier air before dark. A lot of ifs, as usual.
I’ve already had a lot of alone time in the car and caught up on some of my “This American Life” podcasts and listened to Tina Fey’s “Bossypants,” a funny, quirky memoir that convinces me I have a lot of her neuroses and southeast Pennsylvania background, minus the mostly gay theater camp, but only 1 percent of her success. I also came up with some ideas for the novel I’m writing and took some audio notes. But I can’t really write that way. I need a chauffeur so I can write while he is driving. Meanwhile, I’ll stockpile ideas and hope I still have the inspiration when I have more than five minutes to sit down and write.
My friend Steve Sponsler spotted this video on YouTube. Give it a minute. The tornado emerges between the buildings, and its power and speed are incredible. I’m not just talking about the wind speed … the land speed is stunning. This thing was racing across the city.
As more and more writers self-publish or, at least, find themselves pushing their own books more than their publishers do, writers are getting creative about promotion. GalleyCat highlighted some of these means of promotion today, and it sent me looking for the Amazon forum where that blog found lots of good tips. Writers are posting Craigslist ads, doing serious networking on writing and reading sites, paying for targeted ads on sites such as GoodReads, and selling their e-books cheap.
Some are even promoting their books the old-fashioned way – by telling their local newspapers about them. As a very recent graduate of a couple of decades in newspapers, where I did a lot of writing about books, I can say that it’s always a good idea to contact your local newspaper or other media outlet (magazine, TV station, etc.). At the same time, you need to be professional about it. So much of what is self-published is still, let’s face it, bad. Simply presenting yourself professionally, and having a professionally edited and designed book, can set you apart from the guy who waited 50 years to publish his handwritten book of poems about alligators and the woman who has penned a scintillating memoir about washing the dishes.
I have a lot to say on this subject, and I’ve spoken on the topic, but let’s just start with one bullet point: the initial contact. First, make sure you are contacting the right person at the media outlet. It’s OK to send your press release to more than one person, but “spamming” everyone is frowned upon. Call and ask for a newsroom office manager or editorial assistant and find out who writes about books, and who covers the topic your book may concern. For instance, you’ve written a biography of a tennis star. The books editor (if one has survived) and the sports editor, or even a sports columnist, may be interested. A cookbook might be directed to the books writer, a food reporter and the features editor. And anything with a local topic can be directed to the person who covers that beat, too. Have I mentioned that it’s a good idea to have at least looked at the publication first? That’s a wise way to discern your targets.
Make sure your press release – whether sent by e-mail (which most journalists prefer these days) or on paper – has contact information for you or your publicist, including a phone number and an e-mail that you actually check. The e-mail should not have a spam filter that will make the editor fill out a form in order to speak to you. I hated that, especially when I’d taken five precious minutes to pen a response. Also, use spell-check, uppercase when appropriate, and write in full sentences. You are not in an AOL chat room.
As for content, if there is a news hook appropriate to your book (for instance, you’ve written a book on tsunamis, and tsunamis are in the news), make sure you spell it out in the press release. Include a paragraph of biographical information that emphasizes your local ties. And if you can be an expert source on anything relevant to the book, offer yourself up as such. Even if you don’t get a big feature written about you and your book, you may find yourself being called upon to be quoted in an article about your area of expertise – a great way to get a plug for your book and to cultivate a relationship with the editor/writer that will pay off in more mentions or even a feature later on.
Last tip for now: Have an online press kit on your web site. (You have a web site, don’t you?) Include a summary of the book, bio, and good, high-resolution JPG photos of your book cover and you that the editor can download. This doesn’t even have to be a public link (though that would help), as long as you include the link in your press release. Don’t send giant files attached to the e-mailed release. They fill up editors’ mailboxes, and some attachments never get opened because of virus concerns.
That’s just for starters. Then there’s that other trick, finding time to write.
I recently had the chance to take some photos of my friend Heidi and her beautiful little boy, Ryan, who was on the cusp of his second birthday. It’s fun finding that moment of joy and capturing it on camera, but I love all the expressions that cross a child’s face, including the grumpy ones. I wonder what I was thinking at that age. Probably, “Can I have a cookie?” I added a few photos to that gallery this weekend when I dropped by Ryan’s birthday party.
At another party, at a lovely location along the Indian River Lagoon, I shot a few photos of friends and their kids. We have furry children (dogs), so it was fun to see the real kids playing among the rocks, stalking one another with Nerf guns and making s’mores. All of that marshmallow-roasting is enough to make a girl nostalgic.
The weather has been gorgeous here in Florida, but I’m waiting for the pattern to change out west so I can hit the road for my annual storm-chasing trip. After last week’s violent tornadoes, the atmosphere seems to be taking a breather.
I could only watch in horror and amazement yesterday (April 27) as tornadoes ripped through the South – particularly Alabama – on TV and on the ABC 33/40 station’s live stream. This is one of the more stunning videos to come out of yesterday, posted by ‘jason835a’ on YouTube. It was shot from the University Mall parking lot in Tuscaloosa – and it is an ample demonstration of the point that if you see a tornado apparently sitting still and getting larger, it is coming right for you. Incredible stuff. I have a feeling I’d be freaking out just as much as the driver here.
I can’t emphasize enough that everyone needs to have a plan for where to go for shelter, and a weather radio. Have the radio on whenever there is a potential for severe weather. There was a fair amount of warning for the killer Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado, but many lives were lost. I’m sure that’s partly because shelter was inadequate in some cases – this is the kind of tornado that will destroy anything above ground – but it’s so essential to get those warnings. They give people time to find shelter. My thoughts are with the victims and their families today.
I am disturbed and amazed at the wave of tornado onslaughts … and now flooding, too … all in the same area. People keep asking me why I’m not there. Many chasers are seeking and finding the storms, but many tornadoes are occurring in what is referred to as “the jungle,” because of the hills and trees. In other words, visibilty is low, making it extra hard to track the storms. And of course, the people who live there can’t see them coming, either. If you are in the danger zone, leave your weather radio on. It will give you the best and fastest warning.
Much wiser storm chasers than I have said, “Live by the models, die by the models.” But one must live a little by the computer models in order to figure out when to make the (ideally) two-day drive out to Tornado Alley. I’d much prefer chasing storms in the lovely, flat, empty expanses of the Alley than in the trees and hills and populated areas where tornadoes have been wreaking havoc for the past few days. When I live as far away as I do, it becomes somewhat of an expedition to get all the gear ready, load up the car, and get the heck outta Dodge. Or to Dodge – I’ve passed through Dodge City, Kansas, almost every year of chasing, it seems. It smells like cows.
That said, I’ve ordered a rental cell modem so I can get data while mobile. It’s a long way from the days when I had to plug into a phone jack at a truck stop and sign on to the Internet that way to get data – and that was awesome. Granted, you can’t get mobile data everywhere, but it’s amazing where you can get it.
Anyway, I’m starting to get everything ready. I’m working my last few days as a full-time newspaper reporter this week, as I begin a freelance career. And I’m trying to find a missing camera battery. You haven’t seen it, have you?
I drove slightly out of my way this evening to get about 10 raindrops on my windshield as a front pushed through the area. I was hoping for a little more excitement, especially after I saw some, you know, clouds. I talked with my friend Steve Sponsler, who writes a great forecasting blog that focuses on Florida. He feels his forecast verified, because, after all, there was rain.
This time of year, it’s easy for storm chasers to obsess about the weather. I haven’t been, because I’ve been busy trying to finish up things at my job so I can start working for myself. But the obsession is about to begin, since storm chasing is just a few weeks away. I have a lot to do in terms of getting gear in order, and just getting in the mode of daily forecasting, too.
Well, tonight’s “chase” was rewarded at home, when this ambitious little turkey tower, complete with a few mammatus, pushed east overhead at sunset. It wasn’t powerful, but it was pretty.