Archive for the ‘writing’ Category


The Sweet Season of Change

The fall — the literal season of change — is the perfect time to take even one small step toward whatever new habit, hobby, activity, or whatever you’d love to pursue.

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Acqui Terme, Italy

You Can’t Steal Second Base with Your Foot on First

“Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first base.” – Frederick B. Wilcox

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For All Goat News, Subscribe to Goat Berries!

I love writing about my experiences as a goat maaa because I find myself learning something new every day, especially as we’ve gone on this goat pregnancy journey.

From your comments here, I know a lot of you love to read about our goats. On the flip side, I do realize that not everyone cares *nearly* as much about them as I do or understands my obsession, so instead of interspersing goat posts here (not as often as I’d like!), I’ve done up a new site — just for goat news from our pen and elsewhere.

Some of you already know about my new website, Goat Berries, but for the rest of you who care to read about the kids, do head on over because woooh boy, there’s some big goat news around these parts lately.

And be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss a single post! You can also follow @goat_berries on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

And in other “new site” news, you can also now find me at, my professional writing website with samples, testimonials, and more; if you know anyone who needs a writer or editor, feel free to direct them to!

Yes, I’ve been *very* busy with CSS lately…and I’m not done yet. If you’re a Bleeding Espresso fan on Facebook, you may have noticed that my logo has changed. Or maybe you’ve noticed the new favicon in your address bar? Hmm….

Have a great week, and as always, thanks for reading!

How to Launch a Debut Novel in the US from Abroad

Oh don’t I *wish* I was the author of this post and writing from experience? Someday!

As it were, you’re about to read the outstanding advice from Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, author of Thirsty and an American who has been living in Shanghai, China since April 2006. This post is part of the WOW Blog Tour, but, to be clear, I’ve received nothing in exchange for giving Kristin some time here. I just like to show new authors who happen to be from Pennsylvania and live abroad (ahem) some extra love sometimes.

More on Kristin:

Kristin Bair O'KeeffeAside from being a debut author, Kristin is also a voracious reader, a happy mom, an engaging teacher who believes in “telling the best story you can…believing in your writing…and working your arse off,” a fierce advocate for the end of domestic violence, and a writer who spends as much time as possible in writerhead.

To find out more, visit or Kristin’s blog at


How to Launch a Debut Novel in the U.S. from Abroad

When I signed a publishing contract with Swallow Press in 2008, I (like most first-time authors) was over-the-top excited. I yelped…did a jig…and wore a sh*t-eatin’ grin for weeks. At some point (between jigs) I realized, “Holy schmoly! My debut novel is going to be published in the United States while I am living in China.”

This sobered me up real quick (temporarily, at least). Anyone who has published a novel knows how hard it is to get their book into readers’ hands if they are actually living IN the United States and are able to communicate easily with bookstores, publicists, editors, and most importantly, potential readers. How the heck was I going to do it from the other side of the world?

Good question.

First, let’s look at my challenges:

GEOGRAPHY: Now, pull out that globe you used in high school geography class. That’s me in Shanghai, over there on the east coast of China. I’m waving! “Hello! Ni hao! Ni hao!”

And over there…yep, spin that globe…all the way on the other side of the world in the United States…that’s where my debut novel Thirsty was published on October 1, 2009.

ThirstyTRAVEL: To get from Shanghai to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (where Thirsty takes place), I have to take a 13.5-hour flight from Shanghai to Newark. Then a 3.5-hour flight from Newark to Pittsburgh. That’s 17 hours in the air, PLUS an endless number of hours spent taxi-ing on runways and eating awful food in various airports. That doesn’t even count the time spent getting to and from airports. Total travel time? With no glitches, at least 24 hours. (Tired yet?)

CHILDREN: I have a 21-month-old daughter who goes everywhere with me. She is energetic, chatty, stubborn, hilarious, prone to kicking the seat in front of her on an airplane, and at the age when all she wants to is RUN. Enough said.

TIME ZONES: Right now (as I write) it is 6:35 a.m. on Friday, November 13 in Shanghai. At this same moment, it is 7:35 p.m. on Thursday, November 12 in New York City. (Yes, it’s the day before. Weird, huh?) We are 13 hours ahead of the east coast.

INTERNET ACCESS: Because I live in a country that does not allow free access to the Internet, I am blocked from all the sites I need in order to interact with potential readers, including Facebook, Twitter, my own blog, YouTube, and many other writer-related sites. (Gggrrr…grumble.)

Hhhmmm. That’s a pretty comprehensive list of the challenges I faced. Here’s how I managed them:

STAY AWAKE! In the months leading up to the launch of Thirsty, I had to set up readings and book signings in the United States. To do this, I had to talk to events coordinators and bookstore managers from Shanghai on U.S. time. That means I was calling them at oh, say, 11:00 AM their time, which was (while Daylight Savings Time was still in place) 11:00 PM my time. Inevitably three out of four would say, “Oh, I’m interested, but can you call me at 2:00?” Yes, that meant 2:00 a.m. my time. (And I did. How did I stay alert? By hopping up and down and chomping into a lemon slice just before making each call.)

CLOSE THE GAP: Early on I decided that the only way to properly launch my debut novel was to be in the United States at the time of publication. So despite the cost, the debilitating jetlag, and the time spent, I (along with my husband and daughter) flew to the U.S. in late September.* My daughter and I stayed for about six weeks; my husband flew back to China after two weeks.

SAY YES! While in the U.S., I did as many events as possible. I attended a convention of independent booksellers. I did readings, book signings, and radio interviews. I even spent two days at my high school alma mater (shout out to Bethel Park High School!) chatting with the creative writing students about writing, publishing, life in China, and other cool stuff. My motto? If someone offers an opportunity, say yes.

HELP? If you can, hire a publicist. I did, and it gave me a voice in the U.S. I wouldn’t have had otherwise. This can be expensive, but it’s worth it.

SHARE THE CULTURE: When I hosted an online giveaway of cool bookmarkers created by a Shanghai artist, I got loads of visitors to my blog and to the Thirsty website. It was a great way to share Thirsty and a bit of China.

“HI! I’M WWW._________” Have you heard? These days an author needs a strong Internet presence no matter where she lives, but because I live so far from my target readership, it’s even more important for me. By using a VPN (Virtual Private Network), I’m able to access almost all sites from which I am blocked in China. (Of course not all VPNs work here…I’ve been through a number of them.) Check it out:

BLOG At “My Beautiful, Far-Flung Life,” I write about Thirsty, writing, my path to publishing, motherhood, wacky things in China, cool things in China, and more.

THIRSTY WEBSITE: I found a terrific website designer in the U.S. and together we designed a pretty cool site. (TIP: Writing copy—good copy—for a website takes time. On each page, you are telling a story—about you, your book, etc. Give yourself loads of time to write before launching the site.)

TWEET, TWEET: Via Twitter @kbairokeeffe I’ve connected with lots of readers and writers. I’ve made friends, hosted giveaways of Thirsty, and built up a fun community.

VIDEOS: Guess what? People love to watch stuff. Luckily I love to create stuff. Thus far I’ve done a video interview, created a book trailer, and said yes when the books editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asked to do a webcast interview with me.

BEST FRIENDS FOREVER: Yep, I’m on Facebook, too. (Are you catching on to the theme here? Connect, connect, connect.)

Whew. I’ll stop there. Yes, there are lots more ways to get your novel noticed (Good Reads, Jacketflap, blog tours, etc.), but you get the picture. My final bit of advice to writers launching books from overseas? Do the celebratory jig, get ready for a hell of lot of wonderful work, and keep the lemons close.

Now…off to recover from jetlag.

*I’d like to offer a formal apology to the man who sat in front of my daughter on the flight from Shanghai to Newark on September 26. I realize that she kicked the back of your seat at least 2,858,367 times over the course of the 13.5-hour flight. Good karma coming to you for only scowling, not yelling or throwing your shoes at us.


Thanks Kristin, and best of luck!

If you have any questions or comments for Kristin, please leave them here!

Travellers Calabria Contest: Q and A with Travel Writer Lara Dunston Part 5 of 5

Travellers Calabria by Lara Dunston and Terry CarterWelcome to the final day of our Q and A with Travel Writer Lara Dunston! Previous installments:

Remember that I’m giving away FIVE copies of Lara and Terry Carter’s new guidebook, Travellers Calabria. See details here, but essentially you can comment every day this week for a chance to win Lara and Terry’s book.

And don’t forget to go back and comment on Sunday’s post for a chance to win a Calabrian CD by the group Marasà.

Hurry, today’s your last chance to comment on all the posts!

Now, the final part of my interview with Lara (all photos provided by Lara and Terry; remember you can hover over the photos for their descriptions):

9. Can you share some advice for aspiring travel writers?

Learn to write, learn to travel, and learn about people and places – these are the most important things.

Skills and qualities that come in handy are organizational abilities, especially trip planning, scheduling, budgeting and creating itineraries – you have to think of what you’re doing as a small business otherwise you’ll never be successful, time is money and all that; research skills, of course; language skills or an ability to mime and a mimic accents at least (!); and people skills, especially skills of diplomacy, because while most people you’ll deal with, especially those in hospitality, are absolutely delightful, you will meet the occasional jerk (trust me!).

La Cattolica in Stilo, a Calabrian must-seeThe most important qualities a writer needs to develop, however, is what I call skills of discernment, that is, the ability to judge whether a meal or restaurant is good or bad or why one hotel is better than another. This has nothing to do with taste, that is whether you like a place or not, but it has to do with form and function and all the many elements that comprise them, and you need to consider these things very objectively and critically.

And then – yes, there’s more! – there’s a tonne of knowledge writers need to develop in all sorts of areas, from the travel industry and airlines and hotel companies, to transport and telecommunications and health and weather, to history and politics, arts and culture, archaeology and anthropology, food and wine, fashion and music, you name it!

You need to read as much as you can about a place before you go, while you’re there, and when you’re writing up, and that’s why research skills are so important.

I always encourage writers to hone their writing skills by using other quality pieces of writing as models to aspire to, whether it’s a longer magazine narrative piece or a guidebook you really liked. They should always keep the reader in mind – don’t write for yourself (so forget the corny jokes) but think about what it is that your reader wants from this text, do they want to be inspired, do they just want practical information? Some books require both.

You also need to learn to pitch, because it’s the pitches that get you the writing commissions in the first place. And there are certain etiquettes and protocols to learn, such as keeping in mind that editors, especially magazine editors, are very busy people, so take care when writing your pitches, don’t waste their time, think about what it is that they might need to know to make a decision as to whether they’re going to give you a story or not.

Develop a relationship and stay in touch but try not to be a pain in the butt by annoying them too much. Although to be honest, I often wonder how busy some editors really are, especially when on a Friday afternoon I get an email that ends with “have a good weekend” because they’re at least going to have a weekend – I’m not!

In this economic climate, I wouldn’t advise any aspiring writer to do what we did and quit their jobs and take to the road. It’s a tough time for the media and publishing industries, as it is for everyone.

Peperhoney from TropeaTerry and I no longer have a year’s worth of work lined up as we did for a few years running.Guidebook publishers are “slowing” their schedules, and books that aren’t bestsellers are getting “postponed”. Fees are also declining. Magazines and newspapers are cutting their freelance budgets, so that means they’re buying less content from writers who are in the field and more editors are writing stories researched from the desk.

My advice would be to start to develop your portfolio while you have a more secure job or are freelancing in a more lucrative area, and don’t take the leap into full-time freelancing just yet, not until you have a portfolio of clips and you are on a roll and the offers are coming in.

On the other hand, I think there are a lot of opportunities in the digital feed, but unfortunately most simply don’t pay well enough, some pay well below the industry rate, and I don’t think anyone should be writing a thousand word story for $50!

10. What’s up next for you?

We’re in Mallorca now. I’m updating a book for AA Publishing and Terry has a huge photography contract, shooting pics for a few of AA’s Mallorca books. We’re hoping to take a couple of weeks off to spend in Barcelona and Madrid, two of our favorite cities in the world, and yet we’ve just realized we haven’t visited them in about six years!

Then we head to London for a few days, the Veneto for a few days, then Dubai, Syria for a magazine story and meetings about a book, then Thailand to do a book.

We’re currently developing a few books with a publisher on the UAE and Syria that we’re hoping will come off but it’s hard to get projects off the ground in this climate, so we’ll have to see where the work takes us next….

Well we can’t wait to follow you two.

Thanks so much for sharing such valuable information and insights with us, Lara!

Remember you can keep up with Lara on Twitter @laradunston and at her blog, Cool Travel Guide; Terry can be found @terencecarter on Twitter and at his blog  Wide angles, wine and wanderlust.

Be sure to leave your comment and tweet or post to Facebook to maximize your chances of winning a copy of Travellers Calabria! See contest details here. Ends tonight!

Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time. 

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Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake