Do You Really Want a Skeleton?

By: Shannon Hames


As a freelance writer, I am often called to interview people who come to Atlanta for one reason or another. I speak to artists, musicians, actors, organizers, film makers and all sorts of other people about the things that they do. When I am going to do a particular story, I have a method that I follow that helps me to see the project through from conception to print. Here is how I approach my work:

  1. I pitch the idea to my editor. Often, she hates my ideas so she pretends she didn’t see any pitch and ignores me totally. Other times, she likes my ideas and she will give me the green light to pursue my idea.
  2. I contact the person that I want to interview, usually through their publicist. I get approval for the interview and schedule a time to call or meet them.  I write the date/time on a scrap of paper that I am likely to lose within the next 3 minutes.
  3. I do my research. I read everything I can on my subject. If it is an event, I read previous articles written about it. If it is a person, I read about them. I visit their website, I look (or listen to) their work. By researching, I start wondering things and writing those thoughts down. Those become my questions for the interview.
  4. I write my questions down on a scrap of paper that I am likely to lose within the next 3 minutes.
  5. I re-organize my questions in the order that it would make sense to ask them.  Often, this can follow a chronological pattern. Other times, they only make sense to me.
  6. I contact my subject and, in the course of the interview, they say something interesting that throws me off on a rabbit trail.  I then abandon most of my questions and start free-wheeling the interview in a totally organic way.
  7. I transcribe the interview.  That is, I listen to the tape, hate the sound of my own voice, hate the questions that I asked and type down the things that were said into a document.  Usually 13,000 words.
  8. I whittle those down to the 750 words my editor wants and feel like I’m killing my own children when I have to delete a fantastic paragraph because it is the least fantastic among many, many fantastic ones.
  9. Send my article in to my editor knowing that I will rarely, if ever, get a word of feedback from her.
  10. Rinse.
  11. Repeat.

Today, I was interviewing singer Steff Mahan for some upcoming shows that she is performing in Atlanta.  I had all of these good questions ready to go but when we started talking, we clicked.  It was like talking to an old friend.  I let her talk and, without trying to steer the conversation, I just let her take me where she wanted to go and asked questions as they came to my mind.  It went really well and I am excited to now take our thousands of words and turn them into a 650 word article about her upcoming show.  Should be fun.  Except for chopping out all of the wonderful, meaningful dialogue and then turning in what feels like a skeleton. 

Such is the life of a freelancer.


Sweet Brown Edit

By: Shannon Hames

I came across a news segment where a local television station interviewed a woman who had been in an apartment fire.  Her answers seemed uncharacteristic of someone who had faced a tragedy like that because she had a positive, pleasant demeanor..  As she related her story, she did it in such a charming way that you could not help but to find her adorable.  Apparently, others did, too.  Her segment went viral and people started to use it to create songs.  Here is the one that I wanted to discuss today:



The video shows the original news segment in its entirety, then it gets edited into an auto-tuned song.  They took her charming sound bites and put them to a catchy tune while adding other funny videos into the remix.  They took this really cute segment and made it into a fantastic, catchy song because someone knew how to edit.

The Great Disconnect

I was reading THIS ARTICLE today.  The headline, “Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco: Allowing gays to marry ‘is like legalising male breastfeeding’” caught my attention.  How in the world is a man breastfeeding a child related to gay marriage?  The headline absolutely reeled me in.  I understand why a writer would want to build an article around such an outrageous and misinformed statement.  Especially when it was made by someone in such a high position of authority as a Catholic Archbishop of a major city like San Francisco.  On top of all of that, San Francisco is known to be one of the “gayest” cities in the United States.

As I read, I was having trouble making the connection between gay marriage and men breast-feeding.  I read it and re-read it.  I was annoyed because the archbishop made a claim and then failed to support it.  There were 4 paragraphs.  The first is just quoting him as saying children should be connected to a mother and father and you either support that or you don’t.  The second paragraph, he shares how adoption by a mother and father can be a healthy alternative.  The third paragraph is where he warns people not to speak about gay marriage using theology because it can be logically argued against.  Instead, he uses language like “nature” and “mystical”.  The final paragraph is where he says that the term “gay marriage” should be used sparingly since it is a “natural impossibility.”

After reading the article, I could not decide if the writer purposefully omitted the quote that he used in the headline in the article to let the statement stand alone as a testament to the idiocy of the Archbishop or if the writer failed to support the claim that the Archbishop made by building the article around the statement.  To do this, the context would need to be introduced and any supporting quotes would need to be included in the piece, not just the headline.

Dr. Seuss: Learn From the Master

By: Shannon Hames

I often read quotes from famous people.  I derive inspiration from them and often, I let them lead my thinking for the day.  I believe if you surround yourself with successful people (either their presence, their books, their words, their art, etc,.), you can draw energy and inspiration for yourself.  I try to make a practice of learning from people who I admire and searching for quotes is one of my favorite things to do.

The other day, I stumbled across this gem and it made me think how perfect it would be to share on this blog:

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”
― Dr. Seuss

Isn’t that perfect?

Without ever leaving who he is as a writer, he offers his own brand of writing advice to his fellow writers and he does is while following his own advice about not being verbose.  It was adorable, timely, prefect advice.

When I read it, I immediately smiled.

I thought about how much I enjoyed his books as a child and then as a mother reading them to my own children.  I thought about how much his quote Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. meant to me as a gay woman.  I thought about how wise and kind and gentle he was and I decided to let his writing quote lead me for the day.

Authors Love Being Edited!

by: Shannon Hames

I was reading an article in The Huffington Post titled “The Big Reasons Indie Authors Aren’t Taken Seriously” (click on the title to go read the entire article).  One of the first reasons the author listed as why indie authors aren’t being taken seriously is bad editing or lack of editing.  To support his claim, he cited a blog post where “an anonymous letter sent by a group of successful traditionally published authors” begged their editors to do their job.  Here is what they had to say:

PLEASE EDIT MY BOOK. Even if you know it will sell and get reviewed because of my name and my previous books, even though you recognize the many good qualities in the manuscript I have turned in, if you think it needs a serious revision, please, please, ask me to do it…Please do not let me go out in public this time with my slip showing and parsley on my tooth…And while we are on the subject, please employ a copy editor who understands the basic rules of grammar and has a working knowledge of the subject of the book sufficient to make useful and necessary changes in the manuscript instead of adding egregious errors while omitting to find crucial mistakes and typos. I love our nice expense account lunches, and I love you, but above all, I really, really want you to edit my book…

The authors felt like their editors had been slack in doing their jobs.  And enough of them felt that way that they all stood behind the letter and the need to let their publishers know that at times, they had felt embarrassed to release work to the public that had errors, or as they likened it to, going out in public with their slip showing.  They didn’t want to feel like they were so perfect that nothing needed to be changed.  They wanted to be edited.  They recognize the value of a second pair of eyes.  And they know that anything that an editor does will only make them look better. 



The iTunes Editing Conspiracy

Last week, I was on the website of one of my favorite bands, Pierce the Veil. I saw that they had released a new video for a song called “Hell Above” and when I watched it, I immediately wanted to download the song from iTunes.

When I found the song on iTunes and downloaded it, I played it but an odd thing happened. The song lacked the first part. It just abruptly started in what seemed near the beginning. I was confused and thought I had downloaded the wrong song so I went back to the video on iTunes to compare and double check the name of the song. They matched.

I looked on iTunes again and saw that there was a short song in front of it. When I listened to the sample, I realized that this was the first part of the song in the video. They edited the song and made it 2 songs so that it you wanted the full effect of the song as presented in the video, you had to purchase both.

The second part without the first just didn’t seem right so I bought the first song (the intro) so that I could have the complete recording. The problem I now have is that when my music is on shuffle, one will play without the other. I either listen to one that ends abruptly or another that begins abruptly. I know it is about money but it has made it an inconvenience for me and I feel a small amount of bad will towards the band for splicing the song in half to charge twice as much. I would have gladly paid more to have them tied together but it isn’t even an option.

It was a huge disappointment.

The Salmon Pizza That Almost Wasn’t

Up until today, I had a Facebook account.  It was becoming a distraction so I deactivated my account.  But when I was on it, I had subscribed to Udi’s Gluten-free products page.  I enjoyed the gluten-free news, products and coupons they sent out.

One thing that came across my news feed was a recipe for gluten-free salmon pizza.  Here is a link to the recipe:

You may notice that this recipe seems complete.  And it is.  But when it came across my news feed, it wasn’t.  In fact, I scanned the ingredients list to take a mental inventory about what I had at home to make it with and what I would need to buy if I wanted to make this for dinner.

When I got down to the instructions, I read step #3 about removing the pizza from the oven and spread the cheese evenly over the dough. 

Cheese?  What cheese? 

I went back up to the ingredients list and saw nothing about cheese.

I left a message on the Facebook feed to Udi’s to ask them about it.  “Your instructions mention adding cheese in step 3 but I don’t see it in the ingredients.  What kind of cheese and how much should we use for this recipe?”

Within an hour, the recipe had been amended and the cheese was added to the ingredients list.  I was happy that I noticed this before I began to make the recipe and also that I brought it to their attention before other people started making the pizza without having everything they needed based only on the ingredients listed.

This made me think that editing isn’t only about removing what shouldn’t be there or changing what looks wrong.  It is also about noticing what is missing and adding it where it goes.  It didn’t take me much time to see, after a quick review of the recipe, that something was missing.  I would love to have a job where I could review things like this and catch mistakes before they go out to the public.