Long Story Short: Past Lives

The March installment of Long Story Short was out most successful yet, with more than 100 people coming out to 3S Artspace. As an organizer who also has a full-time job, a small child and freelance writing pitches to craft in my spare time, it’s been a bit of a challenge organizing and promoting Long Story Short. Thankfully I was approached by Patrick Gale, who was interested in recording the event and putting it out in the form of a podcast, called Long Story Shortcast. You can listen to Episode 2 here, which features Erin Laplante, Larry Clow, Rachel Forrest and Laura Cleminson, or go to Soundcloud for all the episodes.

The next Long Story Short will be on May 16 at 3S Artspace. The event will be a joint storytelling night with Portsmouth Community Radio’s True Tale Radio, with the theme, Find Your Voice. You can get more information and tickets here.

2016 Freelance Writing Workshop: notes from the professionals

The final person on my list of freelance writing advisers is Larry Clow. Like me, he got his start writing for a local newspaper and is moving on this spring to pursue freelance writing for real. He has worked as a reporter and newspaper editor and has a memoir in the works. I emailed him about his thoughts on writing and editing. Here is what he sent me.

Larry Clow, author, editor of The Sound, freelance writer

What kind of stories does The Sound look for?

The Sound is always looking for Seacoast related stories — that’s the first question I ask writers, in fact: What’s the Seacoast connection.

Generally, our focus is on arts and cultural events, and a lot of our stories preview upcoming events — shows, film screenings, author readings, plays, etc. But we also print news and feature stories, too, and so I’m also always looking out for topical news-y features about things happening in the region, or maybe national topics that could have a local angle.
Does it accept stories from writers just starting out? If so, how do you like to be approached in that case?

We do accept stories from writers who are just starting out! I like new writers to send a brief pitch describing their plan for the story and some potential sources, and I also like to see one or two writing samples, so I can get a sense of the writer’s abilities. Email is always the best way to send pitches to us; since we’re a small staff, there’s not always someone in the office.

What are you looking for in new writers?

I’m looking for writers who know whatever topic it is that they want to cover, or, at the very least, know who they need to talk to so that they can know about their topic. Not everyone is an expert about whatever they want to write about, but I at least need to see that a writer’s willing to do the necessary research for a good story.

And, of course, I look for reliability and consistency — meeting deadlines, responding to emails, turning in relatively clean copy, that sort of thing.

What are some ways writers can show they are serious (have ideas for art, name possible sources when approaching you, etc)?

Emailing me with a decently fleshed out pitch, with some possible sources and details about art/photo opportunities is HUGE. That alone automatically sets a writer apart.

Another big factor: If the writer demonstrates in some way that they’ve read The Sound and are familiar with the types of stories we publish. One writer recently pitched me a story that was (A) about an event he was organizing — already a big no — and (B) was taking place on the other side of New Hampshire — another clue that he hadn’t seen that we only write about events in the Seacoast. Conversely, another writer recently sent me an email with 4 short pitches; each pitch included a brief description of the story, why it was locally relevant, why it was timely, a handful of possible local sources, and, in two of them, a reason why this writer was the best person to write the story. Needless to say, I immediately accepted one of the pitches (it was for this story: http://soundnh.com/taking-root/)

What are some of your writer pet peeves (turning in stories late, spelling errors, etc)?

My number one pet peeve is emails that I call “non-pitch pitches.” Basically, emails/messages/phone calls from writers who don’t have a specific pitch, but are just contacting me because they’re interested in writing. This drives me a little crazy, and it’s something that, when I was first starting out as a writer, I thought was a totally jerky thing that editors would say. “Why wouldn’t editors want extra help?!” I thought. Now, I see why — it’s extra work for me to come up with story ideas for writers I don’t know, when it’d be far easier for me to simply assign stories to writers I know who can do them. I appreciate the intention, but it drives me nutty.

As a writer, do you do any freelance work? If so, what kind?

I do! Right now, all my freelance work is for the University of New Hampshire, where I write features for The College Letter, a monthly publication from the College of Liberal Arts, and the UNH Magazine. I’m hoping to expand that soon — I’d like to start pitching stories to some larger regional and national publications.

How have you been able to build relationships with editors to get published?

I have, and it’s largely been through personal networks. My UNH jobs came by way of a professor I worked with in the English department while working on my MFA. For three years or so, I did regular work writing policy stories for Child and Family Services of NH’s quarterly newsletter, and I came to that job after meeting their communications coordinator at an open house event.

I stay in touch with my two UNH editors regularly, either pitching them stories or checking in to see if they might have a story that needs to be picked up. (That’s another good reason to know the publication and it’s schedule — for example, if my editor at the magazine passes on a feature pitch, I know that she still assigns some short, 600-or-so-word alumni profiles for each issue.)

Do you ever submit pitches to editors you don’t know and if so, how did that work?

I do, though not as much as I’d like. I’ve pitched a couple times to Dispatch, an arts/lifestyle magazine in Portland, Maine and was successful, but I haven’t had much time to pitch them lately.

My most ambitious pitch was a feature for Yankee Magazine. In that case, I wrote my pitch and got some feedback on it from a friend who’d recently sold a story to Yankee (she also tipped me off about which editor reads the pitches, so I made sure to send my pitch to that person and not the general editorial email account). The editor passed, unfortunately. I’ve got another idea I’m working on a pitch for, though, so maybe this one will be successful.


2016 Freelance Writing Workshop:more notes from the professionals

I like to interview a few freelance writers and editors each year for my workshop to give me a more comprehensive view of what’s happening in the freelance universe. I’d come to know Erik through a mutual friend and his excellent Instagram account. He is an editor for ZEST Magazine out of Portland, Maine and has ample freelance writing experience. I emailed him a few questions about his roles on either side of the editor’s desk. Here are his answers.

Erik Neilson, editor ZEST Magazine, freelance writer

What advice would you give to freelance writers trying to break into a new publication?

Take as much time as you can to internalize the publication through and through. Read back copies, pay attention to what they’re doing on the web etc. This is the only way to be sure that the pitches you structure will be a good fit; otherwise, you’re throwing darts blindly and hoping something sticks.

How much success have you had pitching editors you don’t know personally?

It’s always harder at first, but once you actually get in the door with a piece, you have the opportunity to establish that personal relationship with an editor and maintain it over time. Persistence is a big part of the initial push, as is having a portfolio that will make the person do a double-take on you.

How much of your publication is written by freelancers?

ZEST is entirely freelance; we don’t employ any staff writers.

What are editor’s looking for at your publication?

Our editorial calendar is pretty far out; we’re working on September/October now. We always ask that writers keep this in mind when pitching and also look at the sub-sections that tend to be static throughout each issue. As our niche is fairly specific (Maine Food and Drink) but also open, we’ll hear any pitches that fit the format.

How much does a story pay at Zest?

For seasoned writers, $0.50/word.

2016 Freelance Writing Workshop: notes from the professionals

I like to interview a few freelance writers and editors each year for my workshop to give me a more comprehensive view of what’s happening in the freelance universe. I met Nick at my storytelling event, Long Story Short, where he told a fantastic story of a woman he met working in an Alzheimer’s unit. Hearing that he had done some freelancing, I shot him a few questions. Here are his answers.

Nicholas Conley, author of novel Pale Highway and has written for Vox and Alzheimers.net

You have published a novel and written some freelance writing pieces. Did the novel come first or the articles?

I’m a novelist, first and foremost, though my first writing publications were actually short stories, which allowed me to get a better idea of how the publishing process works. Writing articles really began when I was first getting ready for the publication of Pale Highway, a novel which deals with Alzheimer’s disease. Because this is a subject that I have real life experience with, I felt a strong desire to write articles relating to the subject of Alzheimer’s care in order to spread more awareness about what it’s really like. After having success getting these pieces published, my article writing work branched out into a general interest in writing about topics that I feel are important and worth discussing, with an emphasis on healthcare.

Once you had written the novel, do you feel it was easier to get the interest of editors?

Absolutely. Having a list of publications to my name allows editors to look me up, see what I’ve published, and have a pretty good idea of what I’m about. In addition, it demonstrates a proven track record.

How important is it to have a niche, would you say? For instance, you write about alzhiemer’s disease and can show you have first hand experience with patients. How important is that to an editor would you say?

It definitely helps, especially when starting out. Editors want to know not just what the article is about, but why you are the person who should write it. In addition, when getting future pieces published, it helps to have demonstrable evidence of your expertise in a given subject, as you can include clips of prior articles with your query.

Do you write pieces first and then shop them around? Or do you pitch ideas to editors and write based on their feedback?

I do both, depending on the length and complexity of the piece. I personally prefer to write pieces first, because then I know exactly what I’m working with, but I often do pitches as well. If one is pitching, think the biggest priority to keep in mind is having a strong idea from the outset about exactly what one is going to write about, how one is going to write it, and a general idea of how long it will be.

How successful have you been in regards to pitching stories? I would say I have a 75% success rate with editors I know and a 0% success rate from those I do not. How about you?

Great question! It really varies depending on the subject. My success rate has gone way up in this last year since the publication of Pale Highway, and since my articles appeared on Vox, Alzheimers.net, and so on. However, back when I was just pitching short stories, I had a long list of hundreds of rejections. It’s really all about perseverance; pretty much every other writer I’ve met has more rejection stories than I can count, and it’s those rejections that will act as the building blocks of your future success.

NOTE: My most amusing rejection to date was back when I was 18, when I accidentally pitched a story to one magazine’s submissions address… while in the query letter itself pitching it to a different magazine. The editor made a point of mentioning that he was pretty sure I’d submitted to the wrong publication — but that “even so, this story is not what we’re looking for.” Quite embarrassing!

Freelance writing workshop 2016


It was another successful year at the Nackey Loeb School of Communications for me. On April 9, I was joined by 21 writers looking to break into freelance writing. I tried not to be too much of a downer when I told them how hard it is. Hopefully they walked away with something helpful that will get them to the next step.

Below is my PowerPoint presentation. I told them I only use PowerPoint once a year for this class, so please bear with with cheesy swipes and bad layout.

I’d also like to thank Rick Broussard from New Hampshire Magazine and Nancy West from InDepthNH who sat on my panel of editors and gave great advice. Of course thanks always goes out to Dave Tirrell-Wysocki, one of the best newsmen I know, who helped facilitate the whole thing.

Freelance Writing Workshop2016


A Story to Tell


I don’t know why I decided to sign up for A Winter’s Tale storytelling series a few years ago. I was out of work and trying desperately to get published anywhere. I guess I thought forcing myself on stage, to come up with words that create a fluid flow of thought, well, I hoped it might just make me a better writer.

It’s been a while since I’ve taken the stage to tell a story about myself. More recently I’ve been trying to master the personal essay, which I’ve found is very different than telling a group of people something funny or awkward or horrible about yourself. Storytelling is something I’ve always wanted to dive back into, but wasn’t really sure about the best way to do it. When I attended the 3S Artspace opening in March and saw the facilities, I knew this would be a great spot for such a storytelling event.

I brought it up to Executive Director Chris Greiner when I bumped into him late night out for drinks. He said the idea was great and that I was in charge of making it happen.

It looks like it’s happening, folks.

Long Story Short is a non-fiction storytelling series featuring writers, performers and regular folk from across Northern New England. Held every other month, on the third Wednesday of the month, each Long Story Short event puts six storytellers on the stage at 3S Artspace to share their tales of a strange, sad or significant moment from their lives.

We’re still looking for speakers for the November and January events. Email blh@gardnerstate.com if you are interested in speaking or at the very least spreading the word.

And also a special shout-out to the amazing artist and designer who put this poster together, Amy Jane Larkin.

The Ups and Downs of Vegas

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I love the heat. I’m happiest when I’m enveloped in a blanket of hot air and beaming sunshine. Since I moved back to New England from Florida many years ago, I’ve never once complained about the heat here. It may get hot, and in some cases make me uncomfortable, but it’s a happy warmth I prefer 1,000 times over to the bitter cold of winter. When I heard my husband’s annual work conference was in Las Vegas…in July…I was very eager to go and experience a new and extreme level of heat.

For a thick-blooded New Englander like myself, the July heat of Las Vegas is absolutely wonderful at night, pleasantly toasty in the morning, and down-right mean in the afternoon. Hot sidewalks left my sandaled feet scorched and the sun from a few hours by the pool made me feel like every ounce of liquid from my body had evaporating into the desert air.

There was plenty to hate about Las Vegas: The mall-like atmosphere, cheesy Broadway knock-off shows, the constant casino gaming assault on your senses, the massive crunch of people everywhere you go at all hours of the day. But the heat was something I loved.

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I also loved the Neon Museum, an off-the-beaten-path gallery of retired Las Vegas signs preserved by a group of locals looking to keep alive the memory of what the city was before the mega-casino complexes ate everything up.

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Our tour guide was a wonderful old Las Vegas native who wore a T-shirt adorned with kittens and had dirt on all the old casinos, how they came up, and when they were torn down.

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I’m not usually one for selfies, but I couldn’t help myself.

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For anyone who loves mid-century modern style, the glitz of Old Hollywood or just the outrageously gaudy, there’s something for you in this small, but thorough museum.

The Other Portland

Winter in Portland, just as nice.

Winter in Portland, just as nice.

I’ve loved Portland, Maine for a long time. It’s where I got engaged and where I’ve spent nearly every birthday since. It’s a city I visit with friends and go to visit friends. I walk the waterfront and the Eastern Promenade. I eat and drink and repeat. It’s almost criminal how many great places there are to get a beer, a cocktail you’ve never tried before or a dish that will leave you licking the plate. When my friend and editor of Market Watch magazine asked if I wanted to write a profile about the city’s beer, wine and cocktail scene, I didn’t have to think about it for long.

I contacted dozens of restaurants, bars, distilleries and breweries. The ones featured are places I love, but I easily could have included more. It’s a story that helped me make some great contacts in Portland and one I hope leads to more profiles of the city.

“The Other Portland” is only available in PDF form, so please click through if you’d like to read the rest.

The Other Portland

Craft beer and an emerging cocktail culture define Maine’s largest city

Walk into Pai Men Miyake, a noodle bar in Portland, Maine’s Longfellow Square, and one of the first things you see is the craft beer list. On a prominently displayed chalkboard adjacent to the front door, guests can scan the list of 12 draft beers when they walk in. Half of the venue’s taps and six of its 12 bottles are reserved for regional craft beers, which are regularly rotated, offering patrons an opportunity to try the latest local expressions.

Steaming bowls of ramen, such as the Kimchee Beef with braised short rib ($13), are commonly ordered with a Mainebrewed draft like Bissell Brothers’ The Substance ale ($7 a 16-ounce pour) or Oxbow Farmhouse pale ale ($6 a 12-ounce pour), says bar manager Jack Van Paepeghem. The menu also includes Japanese beers, such as Sapporo, which is $3 a 16-ounce pour during happy hour.

A casual Japanese restaurant may not be the first place Portland visitors look to find a robust craft beer program, but Pai Men Miyake is considered a top spot for sampling local beer and was on Eater.com’s 2013 list of “14 Essential Maine Craft Beer Bars.” Van Paepeghem says customers usually look for locally made beers, whether it’s a Pilsner or a darker brew. “My responsibility is to keep a balance,” he says. “I could have 10 IPAs if I wanted, but that’s not my style.”

Heather Sanborn, co-owner of Rising Tide Brewing Co. and president of the Maine Brewers’ Guild, says Portland residents expect a well-curated craft beer menu stocked with Maine products at local bars and restaurants. “New places in the Portland area need to have a significant beer program,” Sanborn says. “They’re not so much putting Bud Light on tap, but instead building a strong regional craft beer plan. It’s become as important as having a good wine list—or maybe more important.”

To read more, go to: Market Watch, “The Other Portland”

Beer into Spring

Spring beers come out when we're all still wearing these.

Spring beers emerge when we’re wearing these.

If you lived in the Boston area during the first three months of 2015, you surely weren’t drinking “spring beers.” Buried in more than six feet of snow left most of us New Englanders sucking down heavy winter beers deep into the season, despite what the seasonal beer calendar said. I’m sure spring happened somewhere in the United States and I hope they enjoyed my take on the role spring seasonals play in craft brewing industry — which I wrote last fall.

Spring Forward

Brewers use spring seasonals to audition innovative beers

Winter may mean snow and ice for the northern half of the country, but in the world of seasonal craft beer, spring has begun. Typically launched in January, spring beers have the poorest sales performance of the seasonals, but brewers say that’s no reason to ignore the opportunities they offer. Craft beer producers often use spring to come up with interesting and innovative brews.

Beer drinkers have become accustomed to expecting certain products during the year. The end of summer brings pumpkin beers and malty Oktoberfest brews. Winter and the holiday season highlight darker, flavorful beers, and when the days are warm, drinkers can choose from a wide selection of lighter summer beers. But there are no expectations with spring beer styles, which may be part of the reason for sluggish sales. Craft beer sales dip during the first three months of the year, rebounding just as summer beers hit the shelves, according to Nielsen Scantrack data.

“Historically, brewers would make lighter beers in the summer and heartier ones for sustenance in the winter,” says Jennifer Glanville, brewer and manager of the Samuel Adams Brewery in Boston. “They also used seasonal ingredients they had on hand, such as fruit, herbs and spices, to enhance their brews. Although nowadays we have the ability to make beers with a variety of ingredients year-round, there’s still something special about celebrating a certain time of year using seasonal ingredients.”

To read more, go to: Market Watch, “Spring Forward”

So you want to be a freelance writer? 5 important tips to get you started


You want to be a freelance writer? It's cold out there.

You want to be a freelance writer? It’s cold out there.

Being a freelance writer in New Hampshire is a lot different than New York. The pool of editors and publications is small and breaking in anywhere with a national circulation is almost impossible. That doesn’t mean you can’t do at least a little freelance writing on the side, especially if you have good ideas and you know how to package them.

Last weekend, I taught a one-day freelance writing workshop at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications, and this message was one to which I kept returning. The Loeb School is a small non-profit focused on fostering an interested and spreading knowledge about all things media, so the students ranged from high schoolers to retirees. All were very interested in writing and incredibly engaged, bringing great ideas with no clue how to get them in front of an editor. Here’s what I told them:

  1. Be able to write

This seems obvious, but I can’t tell you how many people underestimate the importance of high-quality writing, even those who aspire to be one. All you need to know about writing for a publication comes in two books. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and the Associated Press Stylebook. When editors say use AP style when formatting your story, this is the book that will tell you how to do it.

  1. Know how to identify a story

“Why should I care?” If you even get to talk to an editor, you’re likely to hear one say this when you first start out. A story worthy of publication should be something that affects a significant number of people, not just you and your friends. It should reveal new and interesting details about something people are doing, not something we’ve read 100 times. It is something out of the ordinary, even stunning, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be something we look at every day. A story should have a new way of looking at that thing. I also believe a good story provides a glimpse of humanity, whether it is joy, struggle or loss. Some people are gifted storytellers, while others have to practice. I had to practice.

  1. Network like crazy

This is the most important step. No freelance writer making a living today doesn’t network his butt off. NH Writers’ Project, NH Creative Club, and NH Media Makers are good places to start. The people you meet in those groups can help you find other ways to meet editors and writers, plus give you their own tips. Get cards and contact information. Follow up. Invite people for coffee and drinks. Hate doing it? You certainly aren’t the only aspiring writer with an aversion to the social sphere. If you really want it, you’ll do it.

  1. Practice pitching

My workshop focuses a lot on writing pitch letters, a subjective craft to be sure. There are online templates for query letters out there, but so much of the pitch format has to do with what the specific editor wants that all you can really do is keep throwing darts at the board and hope one lands on bulls eye. What you should be thinking more about is how to make the story sound interesting, keeping it short, and showing the editor there’s a great way to package it in her publication. If you send enough pitches, an editor might even take pity on you and spend a few moments telling you what you’re doing wrong and how they can be better.

  1. If you do get an assignment, be perfect

I got fired from one of my first freelance writing jobs because I couldn’t deliver a quality product on time. That’s the last time I did that. Make your deadlines. Deliver exactly what the editor wants, no more, no less. Punctuation, spelling, correct names, titles and quotes – these should be perfect, or as close to perfect as you can be. Having clean copy is my own personal white whale, so I get how hard it can be, but if you want to get hired again, putting in the effort is worth it.