Last weekend (April 25-27) I attended the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA). I’m not a member, yet, but plan to be as soon as I meet the strict eligibility requirements for this professional society. My book, Tesla: Wizard of Electricity, is one credit towards being eligible, and I’m working on others.
Three-and-a-half hours on Amtrak and a 1.25 mile trek through Manhattan (with laptop and garment bags heavily strapped to my shoulders) brought me to the Roosevelt Hotel, the “Grand Dame of Madison Avenue.” I arrived just in time for the awards ceremony, where ASJA honors their own for excellence in writing, including Wendee Nicole for science writing.
As a first-timer I picked a range of sessions to get my feet wet. I started with “Building Your Business Through Travel Blogging.” As readers of this site will no doubt have guessed, one of my passions is to travel, so I must admit to being envious of the panel members who get paid to travel and write about their experiences. I was especially intrigued by Patricia Serrano, whose unique blend of travel writing and film-making is summed up well in her Fresh Traveler blog’s tag line – “off the beaten path adventures for a fresh mind, body and spirit.”
Next up was “Covering Your Assets: Personal Finance for the Independent Writer,” where I learned about retirement plans, insurance, and why you should NOT quit your day job. Then on to luncheon with featured speaker A.J. Jacobs. Jacobs is the author of three best-selling memoirs that include reading the entire 32-volume Encyclopedia Britannica, living a year by the rules of the Bible (Old Testament!), and his latest, Drop Dead Healthy. In short, Jacobs was both hilarious and helpful as he offered some great advice to writers. But Jacobs wasn’t the only person at the luncheon that gave out good advice – I had the pleasure of chatting with David Volk, an ASJA member and author of The Cheap Bastard’s Guide to Seattle. David was the one who reminded me to get photos of my meeting with the cast of the off-Broadway play, Tesla.
After lunch I couldn’t resist a session called “Spice Up Your Storytelling with Statistics.” Led by Laura Laing, author of Math for Grownups and the forthcoming Math for Writers, the session showed how statistics can help bring out the meat of the story. She also showed how not to use statistics, like pie charts of types of pies that total up to over 200%. The chart was confusing if not delicious. Next up was “Humanizing Esoterica: Turn Complex Ideas Into Great Stories,” by the inimitably named pairing of Barry Burd and Patchen Barss. Both of these afternoon sessions fit into my overall vision of communicating science in a way that is understandable and interesting to the general public.
But wait, there’s more.
As a winner of an ASJA scholarship to attend the event, I also had the chance to sit down for a mentoring session with an established author. I was privileged to spend a half hour with Tim Harper, author of 12 books as well as a freelance writer, writing coach, editorial consultant, and in his spare time, brainchild behind a new publishing venture at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Tim provided some valuable insight for putting together a proposal for my new book on Abraham Lincoln’s love of science and technology.
And that was just day one. A good place to stop. More on the second day in a later post.
More about ASJA.