Call Me Trawler Trash

Once the urge strikes to compose a novel, I draft a rough outline and launch into research. For my third novel this meant learning about boats–specifically Trawlers. Part of the story takes place on a trawler, so I needed to understand how they operate, navigate, smell, sound, look, and where to hide a body on one.

Using online research helps only up to a certain point. Cost, size, models, speed, and other performance facts about boats are readily available online. To fully capture the experience of being on such a boat, my BFF and her husband invited me to ride along. Meet hosts Caryn and Paul Frink. (South of Justice, book 1 of the Compass Crimes series, is dedicated in part to my BFF.)

Trawler Hosts Caryn and Paul Frink

Seeker

RESEARCH

For five days and four nights, I bunked in their guest cabin. The perfect hosts, they introduced me to life aboard the Seeker, a 37-foot, 22,600 pound, diesel-powered Nordic Tug 37. Aboard the Seeker, I learned the difference between seawater, fresh water, grey water, and black water (eeew). Captain Paul also explained the navigation equipment, maps, and the basic systems that keep the boat running smoothly whether powered by the engine or powered by the giant yellow power cable used while docked.

There are many key differences between piloting a boat and piloting an aircraft. The boating maps are huuuuge and very detailed. Navigating canals and waterways means watching for red and green signs with numbers, called markers. The markers guide boats through the deeper areas so boats don’t run aground. “Red, right, return,” became my mantra. Binoculars in hand, I tried to help find the markers as the horizon pitched up and down. The Seeker chugged along at a top speed of 8 knots. The Cessna 210 I fly cruises at about 175 knots, so yeah, boating is slower. More leisurely.

The trip began in Naples, Florida at the city dock made of wood. At lunch in Tin City, we saw a pelican try to swallow a beer can. Other pelicans even tried to steal it from him. Not the brightest creatures. I think they’ve become accustomed to human handouts. We traveled an inner passage of waterways south to Marco Island which had a floating cement dock. From there we headed into the Ten Thousand Islands between Marco Island and Everglades City.

Marker 44

The constant rocking meant learning how to walk differently. At first, I staggered like a drunk, but by the end of the week walking around became easier and less bruising. Paul and Caryn helped me resolve a few key issues with the plot of my next book. It involves a kidnapping, a trawler, and a navy brat who refuses to be a victim.

Unnamed island

Not only did my hosts help me find the perfect spot to use in my book, but they took me there and we anchored overnight. The term ‘dead calm’ has new meaning for me. We found a remote spot that turned pitch black at night. The only sound at night was the glub-blub of water against the hull. Creepy quiet. It would have been peaceful if I had not been thinking about the book. Eventually, the boat rocked me to sleep.

We saw dolphins playing on the ride back to Naples.

Bow candy or Trawler trash?

LOOPERS

Since we “crossed our own wake” on a mini loop, Caryn dubbed me a mini-looper. There is an entire society of Loopers, complete with a newsletter, blogs, and harbor hosts. They too, will play a part in the third book in the Compass Crimes–West of Famous.

The best part of the trip was spending time with Caryn, my dearest childhood friend. Thank you, Caryn and Paul, for putting up with a pesky stowaway who asked lots of questions and took notes and photos of all kinds of places. West of Famous is richer for this research.

Hubby calls it a vacation. I’m still calling it research. Ignore my tan.

Types of Articles

Editors categorize articles by type, so it helps to know these types by name so you speak the same language as the editor. The types are: Hard News, First Person Article, Opinion Piece, Informational or Service Piece, How-To Article, Personality Profile, and Think Piece. Since most Hard News articles are assigned to full-time staff, we will skip this type of article. Let’s examine the characteristics and differences of the remaining types of articles for freelancers to use to break into the market.

FIRST PERSON ARTICLE

First person articles come from personal experience and are traditionally written in first person. They can be sold as feature articles or as essays, depending on their length and newsworthiness. Characteristics of a first person article with high market value:

  • 750-1500 words
  • setting-specific sensory details (taste, touch, smell, sight, sound), history
  • characters are vivid, newsworthy, memorable, interesting, odd
  • dialogue clearly reveals the unique character of the author
  • details a turning point-realization, discovery, or change in one’s life
  • voice is fresh, audacious, trustworthy, accurate, funny, or full of attitude
  • states its purpose in first line or paragraph to hook the reader. Example: I had to teach my child to rebel and to question authority for his own safety.

Sources of first person articles and essays:

Memory

What unusual, unique experience or perspective can you offer? How did this event affect you? What recently triggered this memory? How can you relate your experience to others?

Skill/talent

Do I have a skill or talent that isn’t common or do I lack a skill everyone else seems to have? Examples: a male nanny, a woman pilot. The art of doing something well sets the skilled above the rest and this essay will explore the tell-tale signs that separate the novice from the expert. Or it could go the Dave Barry route, as a humorist who commentated on the Olympics, and show a klutz attempting something far out of his league.

Comparison

Why does everyone (speak Spanish, wear a size 5, whatever) but me? If only I had known then what I know now…. Compare the before and after of an experience, training, or change.

Opinion

Take a topic or event in the news and present the unpopular or neglected point of view. Example: Why does the media accept male bashing as funny but would scream like monkeys if the same joke were aimed at women? What makes you mad? What makes you laugh? What do you value? Dig deep to explore your answer. The reasons for your particular opinion need to be anchored and detailed from your personal experience. Are you an expert on this topic? Get to the WHY factor of your opinion on the topic.

Observation

Trends, behaviors, fashions. Go non-politically correct in the politically correct world. Go against type. See from a new perspective. Example: What happened when I took my daughter to a hockey game when neither of us understood the sport. What details capture the subject? What is the first impression? The second?

My all-time favorite first-person article is Rick Reilly’s “On a Wing and a Prayer” that appeared in Sports Illustrated. In it he describes his thrill ride in an F-14 Tomcat. I double dare you not to laugh as this civilian, non-pilot describes his ride. Take a few minutes to read this masterpiece by clicking on his name above.

To get ideas for essay and first person articles, try this exercise: write as quickly as possible at least 5 things you do well, 5 things you have strong opinions on and 5 memories from childhood. Pick something from this list and write. Now.

The following example sources buy First Person Articles from new writers:

The Christian Science Monitor seeks “upbeat, personal essays from 300 to 900 words” and pays $75-$160 on publication. Aim for humor and heartfelt personal stories. See their guidelines: http://www.csmonitor.com/aboutus/guidelines and read online archives for their tone and subject matter.

Underwired is a website that seeks women’s personal essays of 800-1200 words. See their monthly themes so your submission suits the theme. They pay $100 per essay. See their guidelines: http://uwmag.com.

OPINION PIECE

An Opinion Piece or opinion essay is less personal than the First Person Article, but the piece still needs a tight focus. Writing about an entire industry will not set your writing apart from the bulk of writing on the topic. Find your niche, your sub-category. Narrow your focus by asking the journalistic questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How? To that, I add one more question that my editor in college always asked—“Who cares?” If the topic is interesting only to you, don’t expect editors to mail you a contract. Look at your essay or article from the reader’s point of view.

The main question in the reader’s mind is—why are you qualified to render an opinion? We all have opinions, but why should anyone read yours? If you’re an expert on this topic, be sure to state it up front for the reader. Let’s say you want to write an opinion piece on weight problems in America. Are you a dietitian? A physician? An athletic coach? A chronic dieter who has tried all the fad diets? Give your opinion the weight it deserves by showing your credentials.

If you plan to write often on a particular topic, and build a readership, consider syndication.

Essayists can become syndicated and sell their work in multiple newspapers. Whether you write etiquette advice like Miss Manners, humor like Dave Barry, or political analysis like Charles Krauthammer, syndication means you write one essay per week and collect checks from multiple sources. The key is to find your true topic and voice and spread the word. Though Pulitzer-Prize winning humorist Dave Barry was employed by the Miami Herald, his essays were published simultaneously in newspapers around the country because the papers did not have competing readership. Perhaps in time, blogs will replace syndication, but many writers continue to profit from syndication in print media. It takes time to build a readership or following, but syndication multiplies the income you receive from every piece you write.

Among the highest paying markets for individual essays and opinion pieces are:

  • Contests. There are a few online directories of contests. Here is one: Poets & Writers
  • The Smithsonian’s last page. (Quirky contemporary culture.) You have to read back issues to understand what they buy.

INFORMATION OR SERVICE PIECE

An informational or service piece builds the reader’s knowledge on a specific subject. Always interview an expert or two to get a broader view of the subject. Consumer Reports magazine, for example, is all about comparing different brands of a product so the buyer can understand which features are available and how to price each feature. Which features are gimmicks? Which ones make the product valuable in the short run, in the long run?

Consider writing for industry specific publications or publications devoted to a specific organization, club or group. Many of these smaller publications yearn for writers. They might not pay as well as the national magazines, but they can help you build readership and clips. Clips are basically examples of your published work. Start a file of them.

Characteristics of an Information or Service Piece:

  • Tend to be fact-driven and educational.
  • Present quotes from experts. If controversial, present experts from opposing views.
  • Inform readers about things that will affect their lives. This series is Informational—“10 Things You Need to Know About Writing for Magazines”.
  • Show a fact or trend.
  • Dispel rumors and misunderstandings.
  • Revisit history with a then/now comparison.
  • Have catchy titles like: Myths about ___. Secrets of ___. An Insider’s View of ___. Six Ways to___.

Always relate statistics or any enormous number with an image or put the number in human terms. For example, how can a writer make a number like a billion memorable or describe it in simple, human terms? A billion minutes ago, Jesus was alive.

Pick up a copy of Reader’s Digest and just read the titles of the articles. Just so you know, Reader’s Digest pays well, but they buy all rights. This makes reprints impossible and can strangle your ability to write similar articles on the same topic.

Lest the gentle reader believe that these types of articles are cut and dried and must forever remain separate entities, please note that the types can be, well, combined, mixed, or crossbred. I published a humor essay “Rocket Mom: Dreaming of the Right Stuff” that presented a comparison between the Space Shuttle and the average SUV in terms of mileage, features, speed and such. The structure of the essay mimicked a service piece, but the tone was purely first person. Here’s the link: https://jonimfisher.com/Rocket-mom/.

HOW TO ARTICLE

How To Articles present a step-by-step explanation of a process, like wiring a home theatre. An entire series of books is built around the concept of explaining processes and topics to industry outsiders–Electronics For Dummies, SEO For Dummies, etc. Again, if you are an expert or quote an expert, show the reader your credentials.

  • Assume the reader does not speak the special language of the trade or industry.
  • Assume the reader is inexperienced and reads at the high-school level. Even if you write for an adult, educated readership, your readers will come from a variety of backgrounds, and some may read English as a second language. Also, keep in mind that people read comfortably four grades below their last year of formal education.
  • Break your subject into its main points, explaining what each is and how it is accomplished.
  • Note any points of common misunderstanding and mistakes to avoid.
  • Use a breezy, straightforward, conversational tone.
  • Make special terminology clear and memorable. My husband is a surgeon and a pilot, but if he decided to take up sailing, he wouldn’t know his aft from his halyard.
  • Use anecdotes to illustrate points. Some How-To articles organize the steps with acronyms.
  • Include charts, graphs, or artwork to illustrate your points.
  • Narrow the focus of your article and give it an inviting title. Example titles: 7 Ways to improve your skin, 30 Minutes a Day to Ward Off A Heart Attack, or You Can Learn Magic Tricks at Home.

The How To approach can be hysterical when applied to a complex subject. Have you read the book 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter? You could also write a How-Not-To article.

PERSONALITY PROFILE

A personality profile should balance facts with an interview of subject to show this person’s character and personality and explore public image versus up-close impressions. To be accurate, it also requires interviewing friends, colleagues, family—those who know the person best. What has this person done to merit attention? Is this a future Nobel Laureate? Unsung hero? Political candidate? Sports figure? Nail down why readers would find this person interesting or notable.

Be careful about choosing an anti-hero, a criminal will be likely to use publicity for revenge or to attempt to sway public opinion against the facts.

Celebrities get jaded and tend to avoid journalists who want to interview them unless they have a new project on the horizon. They will want to deflect attention from themselves and promote their project. They will also tend to avoid unknown interviewers/writers. Say, for example, you want to do a profile on an actor. Rather than focusing on his life in film and television, how about focusing on why he became the spokesman for a charity or why he took up flying as a hobby? People are more open to discussing what they love than who they are.

THINK PIECE

Investigative in tone, the think piece often shows the downside of a popular trend or hobby or sport. It might also explore the ‘why’ factor of a topic in the news. Political analysis, scientific inquiry, a think piece digs deeper than most feature articles. Interviews with experts or being an expert are a must to establish credibility to write a think piece. For example: a physician’s view of medical malpractice insurance and how it affects patient care.

After you publish in smaller magazines and newspapers, you can list these ‘clips’ in queries to bigger, better paying magazines. Keep copies of the magazines in which your work appears. You may need to photocopy the pages and the cover to submit along with queries. You might later want to use the covers or the pages as graphics on your website as samples of your work. If you rework an article for another magazine, the editor might ask for a copy of the original to see what percentage of the article is new material. More on reprints later.

So how do you discover who buys writing? Become familiar with the marketplace for selling your stories. Start with the magazines you read. Why do you like these? For a complete list of magazines and the types of articles they buy, consult The Writer’s Market. It comes out each year in print and online for less than $40. Your local library might have a copy. This book also has a vast list of annual contests.

To receive similar articles by email go to www.jonimfisher.com

Book Hoarding Made Easy

Family dragged me into the digital age of reading books on a screen. I wasn’t really kicking and screaming, more like whining. At first I balked that the screen didn’t have the heft, the tactile knowledge of nearing the last chapter, the smell of ink and paper, and the visual reminder of a world once explored. And then how could I get a copy signed by an author? Okay, and I also harbor a general leeriness toward fad-of-the-moment technology. What if digital book technology was like the Sony Walkman, pagers, Betamax, Super 8/8mm video cameras, laser disc players, floppy discs, or 8-track type players? Why bother deciphering the user manual if the thing would soon go the way of the manual typewriter?

All whining quieted after Hubby bought me a Kindle. A generous soul by nature, hubby gave me this device for a thoughtful reason and a selfish one. The thoughtful reason catered to my voracious appetite for reading. The Kindle enabled me to buy books instantly, and who doesn’t love instant gratification?

INSTANT AVAILABILITY

The selfish reason hubby bought the Kindle was to satisfy his longing for more order on the bookcases in our home. Stacking books two deep on shelves didn’t appeal to his aesthetics. He often urged me to read the books we own before buying more. But honey, I said, when I go to writers conferences they GIVE me books…and the used bookstore in town takes trade-ins. Supply and demand remained in balance for the most part. Fine. I’ll admit that I spend money on books as fearlessly as congress spends our tax dollars. Not on that scale, mind you, but with equal abandon.

HOARDING

Could I be a hoarder? My name is Joni. I am a book hoarder. Wait, no. Let’s call it collecting. Hoarding books isn’t as frightening as say, hoarding broken clocks, or mismatched china, or human teeth. Right? The signs of hoarding include:

  1. keeping things most other people don’t value.
  2. being unable to use parts of one’s house for their intended purpose.
  3. having so much clutter that it causes distress or impairment.

Like good manners, I suppose many people these days don’t value books as they once did. I can’t use the sofa in the study because of the stack of books on it. And–uh, oh–hubby is distressed by the stacks and I’m too embarrassed to show photos of the worst of the overstuffed bookcases. Egad. I’m three for three. My daughter might be dialing a reality tv show producer at this moment. So many it’s time for a Kindle.

FREEBIES

The first major selling point on the Kindle was the vast collection of freebie classics! Free! Like a kid in a candy store, I think I drooled  as I scrolled through pages of freebies. I’ve lost so many books over the years from lending them out to moving from Indiana to Louisiana to Florida that uploading classics felt like reclaiming long-lost friends.

MAGIC

The second major selling point on the Kindle was the promise of magic–being able to pack HUNDREDS of books in my purse. Like Mary Poppins’ carpetbag, or Hermione’s magical handbag carrying a tent and supplies for Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley, the Kindle contains worlds. In the mood for a hilarious romance? Click on a title by Kristin Higgins. Horror? Stephen King and Dean Koontz’s works are a touch away. Various versions of the Bible at the ready and word searchable. Sort your collection by title, by author, or by most-recently uploaded with a Midas touch. Honestly, I couldn’t find which room, let alone which bookshelf a particular fiction book might be in my house. This magic slab of plastic and metal will keep all nineteen–soon to be twenty–of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books together in one place instead of migrating from house to car to suitcase to friends. Organization and instant access, the device is my personal librarian, or a genie at my command.

ACCESS

The third major selling point on digital books is that oh-so-handy Kindle application that can connect me to my digital library from my laptop, a tablet, a smart phone, or my Kindle. Never again will hubby and I have to wrestle over the only copy of Dan Brown’s latest book. If the house blows away in a hurricane, my digital book collection will be safely stored in the cloud.

 AUTHOR SIGNATURE

The fourth major selling point, the one that obliterates my last objection, is that authors can digitally sign books. I have amassed signed books from over 100 of my favorite authors. These books reside in a glass-enclosed bookcase in the study where children cannot play with them. Meeting the author adds more meaning to the book. Each book signing marks the bond between author and reader. Even though I am an author, I am first a reader, a devourer of stories. Though I haven’t asked for a digital signature from an author yet, the time will come. And who knows when an author might sit beside me on a plane? It will be easy to have a copy of his or her work on hand.

So when pastor sees me looking down into the glow of my device during service he might suspect I’m texting, or trolling the internet, but I’m following along in King James, New American Standard, and New International Version. Because I can.

So there. Let book purists weep over me. I’ve gone to the dark side, gone to digital for the freebies, for the instant access, for the ease of finding one book among hundreds, and to prevent buying a fourteenth bookcase. Now only Amazon.com and I will know how many books I’ve hoarded. Hehehehe. And no, I’m not getting rid of the cloth, leather, or paperback bound books filling our bookcases. Sometimes I still need the feel and smell of them.

The Writing Tribe

Over a decade ago my husband begged me to work in his medical office for a year to help straighten out the past due accounts. The past due accounts were in shambles. Patients were angry, the insurance companies were denying payment on old accounts and the both business partners were getting nervous about the potential losses.

The other physician and the office manager Sherri double-teamed me when I stopped in to the office to get Hubby’s signature on the back of his check for deposit. Sherri asked, “What would it take for you to come work here for just a year to straighten out the accounts while we hunt for a replacement collections specialist?”

I told them that I would have to think about it because the weird dynamics of working with my spouse would cause friction. I had to consider the salary and conditions that would make the situation tolerable for all of us. The last time I worked in the office was as a consultant when they switched from manual bookkeeping and billing to a computerized system. Then, the ladies in billing and accounting kept dropping hints to me that the office really really needed a new facsimile machine and a new copier and would I please pass the word along, maybe whisper it in Hubby’s ear while he’s asleep?

The office manager knew both the business of running a small business and the way to coach the best out of employees so that they worked happily and efficiently alone and in teams. So when she asked me to work for the office I knew she was prepared for the odd dynamics of having the boss’s wife around.

It took me a few days to wrap my future plans around the idea of spending almost every waking and sleeping moment with my spouse. I love my husband but just as absence makes the heart grow fonder, full-time, non-stop twenty-four hour daily togetherness practically guaranteed conflict. I would be subservient in his domain.

I would have to treat him as a boss and not as a lover and husband and father of our child. No hugging, kissing, flirting, or expecting him to open doors. At the office I would have to address him as Doctor Fisher as if we were barely friends. The situation demanded that I become and behave as just another employee. On the totem pole of authority, Hubby and his partner were the top, Sherri supported the top, beneath Sherri came the rest of the employees. In order to avoid even the appearance of favoritism from anyone I would be that part of the totem pole beneath the ground.

In my previous experience working at the office as an outside consultant I had the luxury of treating the business owners and the office manager as equals. We each had our area of expertise and mine was in creating the perfect fusion of computers and processes to maximize profit and minimize overhead. Sherri was the subject matter expert in operating the medical clinic from greeting patients to sending accounts to an outside collection agency. She understood basic business law. She knew business practices and standards. She knew medical billing and file management and equipment repairs and purchases and all the daily bits and pieces that make the whole shebang run smoothly. The other business partner recognized that I did not want to spend eight hours a day in a windowless cubicle chasing numbers around on a page.

Tropical beach scene on a sunny day in Oahu, HawaiiI presented my offer with a high hourly rate for the position. I did not need benefits like retirement and health care insurance because I was already in Hubby’s health care plan as a dependent and I had my own retirement account as an independent contractor. In addition to the rate, I wanted a bonus at the end of the year equivalent to the tuition and expenses needed for me to attend the ten-day Writer’s Retreat and Workshop in Maui, Hawaii. I submitted the brochure with my proposal and left the office so the two business partners and the office manager could discuss whether or not it was worth this amount to bring me in for a year. I included the Maui trip as incentive to face cubicle walls day after sunless day. I am a lover of words, not numbers. I can handle working with numbers, but it isn’t pleasant or soul-satisfying for me.

Hubby came home that night and told me that the company had agreed to all my terms. Gulp. I had asked for such a high hourly rate that it amazed me that they accepted it. This told me two things. The first thing it told me was that they believed and trusted that I was up to the task of straightening up a huge stack of past due accounts. The second thing it told me was that they had waited so long that the problem was snowballing on them and they feared monstrous write-offs.

Hubby asked if I could start the next day. I agreed. Every day meant more accounts were passing their deadline for refilling, and once passed, the insurance companies had no obligation to pay or even to negotiate.

I borrowed a pair of scrubs to comply with the employee dress code (that as a contractor I had helped write). Scrubs felt as comfortable as pajamas with pockets and they went well with sneakers. I soon learned that the combination of loose clothing and junk food would conspire to pack twenty unwanted pounds of blubber on my frame. Parts of me jiggled when I walked that had not jiggled since pregnancy.

The worst part was that when we were at work we talked about work. When we got home at the end of long tediously repetitive work, we talked about work. I wanted to read a book to empty the numbers from my brain. I started dreaming of numbers, account numbers, ICD-9 codes, insurance company codes, referral codes, supply codes and all the various information translated into codes that simplified billing into what would fit on the forms. I researched the accounts and rebilled the past dues that had been rejected for lack of a secondary form or code or proof of a procedure, such as a copy of the dictation or the operative report. I rebilled insurance claims that were on the care of children because the original claim failed to include the name or policy information on the guarantor or parent. I rebilled claims that showed no proof of having been billed.

I argued with insurance companies day after bloody day until I wanted to reach through the phone line to slap a few offensively ignorant clerks who failed to follow their own company policies and the law. The game playing of the insurance companies drove me to drinking. Coca cola all day and wine at night kept me buzzed with caffeine and crashing at night. Sleep happened occasionally but it wasn’t restful because I spent my dreams on the hunt for numbers.

My eyes were sore at the end of the day from staring into computers and struggling to read blurry, poorly photocopied documents and crappy handwriting so it wasn’t fun to read a novel at night. I watched the most vacuous television shows just to crowd numbers out of my consciousness before I went to bed.

After a few months, I had memorized the voice mail menus of Medicare. I knew that Blue Cross Blue Shield’s voice mail purgatory system never ever allowed access to a live human and that rebilling with a letter of explanation only meant that the claim and the letter would be separated at the Blue Cross Blue Shield billing office no matter how many staples were used to secure the two papers.

Sherri taught me how to process insurance checks so I could read them well enough to find underpayments and rebill the claims based on the explanation of benefits form that arrived with the checks. I learned how to handle all the tasks in recovering past due accounts from the various screw ups that caused them to be rejected by their insurance companies.

To my shame, I never learned how to transfer a call on the office’s new telephone system. The problem wasn’t in my brain. I understood the procedure. The problem was that each employee’s phone required a transfer code. To forward a caller to Doctor Fisher I was supposed to press the key labeled TRANSFER and then press the 1 key on the phone because doctor Fisher’s phone was phone number one. Well, days before I arrived at the office to work, the phones had been upgraded.

The codes posted on the cubicle wall over my phone were the OLD codes. Every phone had been issued a new different number and the list of new codes had been typed up and posted in every cubicle but mine. I wasn’t hired to answer the phones, so it was expected that calls would be transferred to me not from me.

Patients expect that one call to an office should be enough to connect them to anyone in the office and that that one call could be transferred to another employee within that same office without an ordeal or a disconnection. So here I was telling people to pay up on their copays and deductibles and when they asked to schedule their next appointment I was accidentally disconnecting them. Not great customer service if you know what I mean.

I became known among the veteran patients as that new kid in collections, the one who could not handle the phone equipment. I was the new kid for twelve miserable months.

writing tribeIn late August, at the end of my one year sentence in the four by four by five foot cubicle, I was released to my own recognizance. Freed at last, amen and amen. I packed my novel manuscript, pens and steno pads with a laptop and printer. There was a little room left for clothes and toiletries. I flew to Hawaii for the second time in my life and this time I was on my own for ten glorious days.

I was so hungry for the world of writing, the world of words and story that I ached for it. It took three connecting flights from Orlando to reach Maui and each served breakfast. I read a book on each flight.

In Maui I shared a cab with man who said he was going to the conference. We struck up conversation. He was one of the instructors for the workshop, he said. He would run the daily workshop for a class of screenwriters and was I a screenwriter? No, I admitted that I had signed up for the fiction workshop class for help on my first novel. I handed him my business card. Under my name was “writer, pilot” and my website listing.

He handed me his card. Jeff Arch. The Jeff Arch who wrote the screenplay for Sleepless In Seattle. He admitted he was very excited to be at the conference as an instructor not just because it was a paid trip to Maui, but because the solitary of life of writing wore him down. He said he gets renewed at conferences, where people speak his language and share his love of the craft of storytelling.

His confession nearly brought me to tears. It was exactly how I felt. That is the reason I chased numbers on a paper for a year, to be with my writing tribe, that peculiar group of people who love words and stories. The retreat and workshops fed my writer’s soul. After ten days among my tribe, the numbers left my head.