Where’s the best place to find story ideas?

EDITOR’S NOTE: AS I GO THROUGH THE PROCESS OF MOVING, A COUPLE OF MY EXPERT (RE: SMARTY PANTS) FRIENDS — EXPERTS IN WRITING, MARKETING, PUBLISHING, AND SOCIAL MEDIA — ARE PITCHING IN UNTIL I GET BACK. ENJOY THEIR WISDOM AND VISIT THEIR SITES, WHICH ARE LISTED AT THE BOTTOM OF THEIR POST.

wine and more wine

Whether it’s the whiskey or the wine, some chill Bob Marley on the jukebox or the smoky air… I love a good bar. But probably not for the same reasons as most.

I see that tall stool and mahogany stretching before me as a sign of productivity. My editors would probably kill me if they know just how many of my stories and social media posts were written with a Gentleman Jack sitting in front of me, Marlboro dangling from my lips…

But no, that’s not it either. It’s my favorite place for source building and getting story ideas.

So why bars are the best? Here’s why.

1. Bars are a neutral-ground/happy place. This is the place these people want to be. They are not bound by obligation, nor are they there to discuss those obligations. But the conversation will inevitably turn to those obligations.

2. Bars can be discreet. Sources will meet you at a place they know their colleagues would never patronize. And in plain-clothes, you both fit right in.

2. You can tell a lot about a person by what they drink. Every attorney I have ever sat at a bar with goes for a good whiskey. Cops love beers and random shots. Businessmen go for a good vodka. (Avoid the guys drinking frat boy beer and wearing baseball hats with college logos – unless you’re working on a story about mud riding or guns.)

3. Bar conversations. Even if you’re not there with an actual source, the locals are there and they’re talking. Eavesdrop and don’t be afraid to butt in and ask a few questions. Pretend to be clueless if you need to. These people probably don’t know you and will be more likely to tell you their true opinions – which can be a great tip or lead to a big, juicy and sometimes just fun story. The most fun, though, is when you can correct them when they’re wrong because you have more than just second-hand knowledge from that guy who works with her roommate’s best friend.

4. It works for every beat – you just have to take the time to find out where. I spent a few evenings hanging out at the city council meeting late to find out where the “after party” was being held. All you need is that one to tell you when and where to be.

But there are some ground rules.

1. Bar chat is off the record. Always, period, the end. This is the place to build trust. I’m not advocating becoming BFF with anyone, but if you can build a source’s trust, they will tip you off on big stories and you will always be able to reach them when you need a second source on other stories. And having that “real person” relationship can also soften the blow when you do have to do the “ugly” story.

In one instance, my (separate) bar chats with a high-ranking city official and councilman ensured we had still had a good working relationship when a very ugly story about city finances came out.

2. Never bring paper, pen, recorder, etc. See rule #1. You are allowed to have your phone out, but only pick it up in dire emergency or to program said source’s personal cell number.

3. Do NOT bring up work – yours or theirs. This is “fun” time. They will bring it up eventually, I promise.

4. Paying the bill gets a little gray area. On one hand, there are those ethics rules. On the other hand, I am a woman, and here in the south, men get offended if they do not pay the bill. Use your discretion. I always offer to pay, but if he insists, okay then. I have yet to have someone threaten me over a few Jack and Diet Cokes.

Good luck and if you see and hear a crazy redhead sitting a bar, chatting up people and looking devious, feel free to butt in and say hi. You’ll probably learn something.

Kristi Martin is an award-winning breaking news journalist and blogger. She enjoys email, Twitter, and blogging

What is SXSW doing for Latinos this year?

Stephen Kaufer, Jeffrey Housenbold, Carley Roney, Michael Dell
Credit: The Associated Press

My first assignment for NBCNews.com was a great one — write about what SXSW is doing to attract more Latinos to the festival. 

Gotta say, one of my favorite freelance assignments so far.

So, what are they doing for Latinos this year? Lots with lots more planned in the future.  The festival, essentially, put all their Latino programming together in order to highlight it. It’s a start and depending on this year’s reception, this thing, SxAmericas, will grow. 

Read more about it and what Latino panelists at the festival have to say about it. 

PUBLISHED: Does being Latina exclude me from being Black?

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Thanks HuffPo Latino Voices for this image! Kinda wish I had her hair.

As usual, I’m really bad at telling people when stuff like this happens. You would think as a communicator, I’d be better. My Twitter and Facebook followers got a good dose of this yesterday, though. And of course those on the email newsletter list were among the first to know. 

Huffington Post’s Latino Voices published one of my pieces Wednesday.

The piece is actually a rework of one of my more popular posts on this blog with the same title — Does being Latina exclude me from being Black?

I decided to rework the piece a bit so that it was clearer and more focused. I’m excited that HuffPo decided to run it.

Check out the piece when you get a chance and kudos to their web team for the picture. It’s like my favorite today.

On Assignment: Publishing in a new world

Lloyd Francis
Lloyd Francis

Recently on my Facebook page, I asked my Facebook followers what’s the way to go — traditional, small press, or self-publishing?

It’s been a question I’ve asked myself for a long, long time as I get closer toward finishing the revision of my novel. Could it be too early to ask that question of myself? After all, I should be concentrating on the words on the page.

Yes, but knowing what I’d like to do will only help me determine how much MORE work I have to do — formatting, marketing, editing (finding one myself).

When I asked this question, one of my friends, Lloyd Francis chimed in. He just published his book, from Rum to Roots, and talked a bit about his experience through the self-publishing process and why he decided to go that way.  (He’s got some great reasons!)

We’ll be talking via Google Hangout this week about this topic and I suspect others.   I’ll put a post up soon after. Here’s a bit about him:

Lloyd was born in Oakland in 1961, a first-generation American child to Jamaican parents. As a child his trips to Jamaica in the 60’s and 70’s shaped who he became. Growing up in Hayward California he was steeped in the island tradition of reggae, Jamaican cuisine, and patois.

After studying engineering, Lloyd became a staff photographer for the San Jose Mercury News. He left newspapers to work for Yahoo Financial News Network and returned to journalism after 9-11. In 2001 Lloyd reported from Iraq for Newsweek Magazine, and went on to cover the war in Afghanistan. In 2004 he accepted a job with the Army Times Publishing Company and worked in Iraq intermittently for two years.

Currently he lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children.

So, what do you want to know about the self-publish processes? What do you want to know about his book? Let me know in the comments below.

On Assignment: Publishing Day!

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My noodle story in print

One of the most rewarding things for a writer is to be published.

I love it when things are published because it’s the fruit of your labor finally for all to see. It’s also a time of nervous second guessing. Did I write what I meant to write? Did it make sense? Are people going to take to it as I expected.

I’ve done this gig long enough to know the answers to those questions. It’s a rite of passage for all writers.

Publishing is another. Here’s what I published today.

The first is the Ramen Noodle story that I told you guys about a couple of weeks ago. It published today in my newspaper The Times (check out the top picture.  It was fun writing it and the picture turned out great. A big thanks to my coworker Henrietta Wildsmith.

The second one I actually wished I had thought about for a blog post first. I was asked by Ray Ruiz, who is the head of the EGMN at the University of Houston, to write my tips for student journalists to become master storytellers.  Here’s what I came up with.   It was a pleasure to write this for Ray and I hope to get to write another post soon. I also hope the students take some of these tips and use them for their careers, which I am sure will be wonderful.

So, in case you didn’t see the links in the post here’s where you can read both of these stories.

Dress up affordable ramen noodles with a few easy tricks.

Practical storytelling advice for the unstoppable student journalist

On Assignment: Eduardo Santiago

Reading (2)
Eduardo Santiago

This assignment is making me nervous.

During grad school, I had the pleasure of reading Tomorrow They Will Kiss by Eduardo Santiago. I was in a crucial part of my novel. I had a question to answer and I didn’t know what came next. It was not a writing block since I don’t believe in writing blocks. Nothing I was writing at the time felt right or genuine.

My advisor, Aimee Liu, assigned me this book to read since it was addressing some of the same topics I was writing about — the story of an immigrant and the burden of a big secret.

I devoured that book. It was the right book at the right time and got me through the slump in my novel.  It had everything — novelas (spanish soap operas), Cuban characters, the past, the present, and the big thing, the lesson I needed to finish my thesis.

Months later, Eduardo and I became friends on Twitter. He’s given me encouragement through my process and it’s been a dream to have him in my corner.  It also helps that he’s Cuban and just by being Cuban he is awesome. (Says the half Cuban girl writing this.)

Now, I get to use my blogging powers to ask him questions about his new book (which I’m excited to read) Midnight Rumba.

Here’s a bit about the book:

“MIDNIGHT RUMBA” TAKES PLACE IN CUBA BEFORE THE REVOLUTION AND
SPANNING THE YEARS 1940 TO 1959, WHEN FIDEL CASTRO CAME TO POWER.
THE NOVEL FEATURES SIX MAIN CHARACTERS WITH A SPECIAL FOCUS ON
ESTELITA DE LA CRUZ WHO WAS BORN IN 1940. “MIDNIGHT RUMBA”IS THE
SECOND NOVEL BY EDUARDO SANTIAGO, AUTHOR OF “TOMORROW THEY WILL
KISS”.

Interesting no? So, I’m getting some questions ready for Eduardo. What should I ask him? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

On Assignment: What is an American?

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One of the assignments I’m working on now is attempting to answer the following:

What is an American?

Actually, it trying to answer it in a round about way. As you know there are some assignments I can’t completely tell you about because I don’t want another taking it before it’s published. But this one trying to answer an aspect of this question.

What is the definition of being a citizen of what is the greatest nation on the planet? (Some of my British readers will disagree with that statement, I’m sure.) Is it military service, becoming educated, a constructive member of society, the pursuit of happiness?

It’s an interesting question to ponder in this age of NSA leaks and Edward Snowden. However, I want to focus more on the cultural aspect. What is the American culture? Who belongs in it and doesn’t?

Tell me what you think in the comments below.

Everyone has a story. Tell it.

Eva Piper
Eva Piper

Eva Piper will be the first person to tell you that she isn’t a writer.

She will say that she’s simply telling her story, one of overcoming challenges and holding fast to faith. The story has inspired people through their own dark times, a goal Eva says she’s always had for her book.

I had the pleasure of talking with Eva recently. She visited Louisiana as part of her book tour. I love talking to other writers because I learn so much from them. Eva wasn’t any different.

Book coverHer book, A Walk Through the Dark: How My Husband’s 90 Minutes in Heaven Deepened my Faith for a Lifetime, is the other side to an extraordinary story. When her husband died and was sent back, he saw heaven. Eva’s book is the other side of that experience, work, children, surgery, and the recovery of the accident.

I’ve been playing with more non-fiction lately so it was interesting talking to someone in this category. I wanted to hear how she approached writing something like this years after the incident. How does one put part of their life into words?

Here are some things I learned from our conversation:

1. Having an outline helped her structure her book. Also having a pre-plan before writing was a must.

2.  Writing is cathartic, this was especially true for Eva. “Everyone has something they need to get out,” she said. It may not be a published work but it’s something for you or your family members.  Lesson: purpose, purpose, purpose.

3. A life changing experience impacts more than one person, therefore there is more than one story to tell. Everyone has a story to tell. They need to tell it.

Not bad for a 20 minute conversation. Listen to the audio below. What are some suggestions you have for other non-fiction writers?

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On Assignment: How I made Ramen Noodles sexy

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Yummy! Chicken. Noodles. Stir Fry.

I wasn’t quiet sure if I knew what I was doing. When I pitched the sexy Ramen Noodle story, I thought this would be a fun assignment. But when I had to do some research and put together a recipe, well that was interesting. Putting together my own recipe wasn’t a requirement but how was I supposed to write about different ways to cook something, you have to come correct.

So, I decided on a stir fry because, well, who doesn’t want to cook something in a big pan.

What turned out was some awesome deliciousness!

Before it’s in the paper, here’s the recipe I worked on. There are two others I’ll be giving out in my article, which is scheduled to run mid-August. Those two you’ll have to read at Shreveporttimes.com

Teriyaki Chicken and Noodle Stir Fry

Ingredients

One pack of chicken tenderloins in strips

Two packets of Ramen Noodles (without the spice packet)

Handful of broccoli

One of side of a green bell pepper

One stalk of celery

Two green onions

Soy sauce

Teriyaki sauce

Handful of mushrooms

Handful of snow peas

Sesame seed oil

Cut the chicken into bite size slices and place in a bowl. Marinate with teriyaki sauce over night.

Cook Ramen Noodles (without packet) in a pot until al dente. Drain the water and toss with oil so it doesn’t stick. Place it to the side.

Pour some sesame seed oil (about once around the wok) and heat. When it begins to smoke, use tongs to place the chicken pieces into the oil.  Cook the chicken through then set it aside in a separate bowl.  Heat the broccoli until it’s soft. Set it aside in the same bowl as the chicken. Place the onions, green peppers, celery in the wok. Splash a bit of soy sauce and cook through until the onion is translucent. Place it in the bowl.

Now, pour the noodles in the wok and splash with soy sauce. Toss and brown the noodles until they are brown and delicious-looking. Next pour all the other ingredient from the bowl –chicken et al — into the wok and toss, warming all of it together. Just when it’s about done, toss in the handful of snow peas and cook through for about two minutes.  Take off the heat and plate up. Enjoy.

Now, who’s doing the dishes?

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Worst part of cooking is cleaning up.

 

Here’s how the cooking went.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

On Assignment: Eva Piper

Eva Piper

 

I love talking to fellow writers. It’s really a joy to talk to shop, it’s probably the nerd in me.

So when I saw on my Twitter account that Eva Piper would be making a stop in Shreveport, I obviously wanted to interview her.

She’s the author of A Walk Through the Dark: How My Husband’s 90 Minutes in Heaven Deepened My Faith for a Lifetime.  Here’s the summary.

One day Eva Piper was an elementary school teacher, the mother of three, the beloved wife of a strong, protective husband.The next day she stood at the bedside of a broken man who could do nothing but moan in agony and turn his head away from her.Later she would learn that he had died and actually experienced heaven before being prayed back to life–a true miracle. Don Piper’s testimony, told in the “New York Times” bestseller “90 Minutes in Heaven,” would one day bring hope to thousands. But all that was in the future. Despite family and friends who kept vigil with her, Eva Piper found herself essentially alone. Walking in the dark. And she had always hated the dark.


Though it parallels that of her husband, Eva Piper’s account is quite different from his. It takes readers not to heavenly places but through a very earthly maze of hospital corridors, insurance forms, tiring commutes from home to workplace and hospital, and lonely hours of waiting and worrying. This is the story of a woman learning, step by darkened step, to go places she never thought she could go and growing into a person she never thought she could be. Packed with hard-earned wisdom about what it means to be a caregiver, to open yourself to the care of others, and to rest in God’s provision, this book” “provides a dependable source of light to help you walk through the dark.

Interesting, no? I’m excited to talk to her about her writing journey, why she was compelled to write this book, and of course her experience with nearly losing someone she loved so dearly.  I’m hoping that she’ll also do a video.  I plan on checking out her reading.

Want to know more? Follow her on Twitter.