Donna Andrews Revises Books into Hits

Between Thanksgiving and the New Year I read a mystery series by Donna Andrews. The books, starring Meg Lanslow, were a fun, quick read. Imagine my delight when I discovered Donna would be speaking to the Sisters in Crime Richmond chapter.

Donna Andrews

Donna Andrews, photo by Joe Hensen Photography

She is always asked how she goes about writing but before she shared her process she stressed that it differs from author to author. Donna uses an outline as a starting point. “Then I challenge myself to write something even better,” she said.

She begins with a seed. “It could be a unique way of killing or someone who needs to be killed.” From there she looks for humorous situations that also have tension.

An outline enables Donna to not write sequentially. That way if she is ready to write a particular section or has the dialogue ready to go, she can work on that.

She moves from the outline stage to draft mode when one of two things happens:

1)      The outline is great

2)      She is nervous about the pending deadline.

Sometimes she gets stuck and on those days she will read something on craft, such as Robert McKee’s “Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting,” which is often referred to as the screenwriters’ bible.

Donna also creates a spreadsheet determining how many words she needs and how many days she has to write it. Then she’ll figure out how many words she needs to write each day. She’ll discover that she has to write 1,000 words each day for the next three months, for example. “That’s doable,” she said.

She does this because at the end of every day, she said, “You can spend so much doing things that feel like writing but aren’t.” This includes research or finding the right word.

Her goal is to finish her book two months in advance of when it is due to the publisher so she can share it with her critique group. “I write okay books and I revise them into good books.”

Trends Driving PR Growth

Fundamental trends are driving the growth of public relations, says John Paluszek, APR, Fellow PRSA and chairman of the Global Alliance.

 He recently spoke to senior practitioners during a morning coffee before speaking to the Richmond PRSA.

 The three trends are

1)      Growing demand for PR services

2)      Providing a wide range of services

3)      Growing global demand

John Paluszek

John Paluszek discusses public relations trends with senior practitioners.

Paluszek, senior counsel with Ketchum, has counseled on corporate social responsibility and sustainability for severaldecades. He said that the demand for PR services continues to grow. “Almost all institutions now recognize the need for PR,” he says.

This is critical, he says, since PR professionals help to manage the interaction between the company and its stakeholder. 

PR once focused only on media relations, but today Paluszek says there is more specialization and a wider spectrum. Two areas that have implications from social media are issues management and crisis management. “Today it’s about how to get ahead of threats,” he says, “and what to do when the crisis hits.”

The messaging evolution has gone from delivering the message to what should the message be to a company asking what it should do.

The demand for PR services is happening all across the world. He cited MEPRA or the Middle East Public Relations Association as evidence of the need for PR services. His firm has six offices in China, which he said he could not have imagined 10 years ago.

“The world is changing and PR people are a part of it,” Paluszek says.

‘Uninteresting Life’ Leads to Many Novels for Owen

Author Howard Owen does not live an interesting life given that he’s about to publish his 10th book.

He cited a comment by writer Alice Munro, “If you live an interesting life you don’t have time to write.”

Howard Owen

Howard Owen signs a book for John Ward.

He chuckled as he shared the quote and said he draws the details of his characters from others in real life. “There’s always someone out there I can draw from,” he said during a recent book talk. “There are psychopaths, thwarted lovers, ex-baseball players and guilty baby boomers.”

Although he was 13 when he said he would first be a writer, it wasn’t until he was 40 that Owen published his first book, Littlejohn. He cited laziness, fear and not having lived an interesting life as his excuses.

Writing, he said, takes discipline to do it every day. He also feared failing. “It’s much easier to have a pipe dream,” he said. “But at 40 I realized the worst thing would be to not try at all.”

So Owen began making up characters, settings and finally stories. He found, “You pick things up like a suit picks up lint.”

He doesn’t have a difficult time starting a book, but he said everything takes planning. He’s currently reading and signing his ninth book. His 10th is with his editor, and he’s writing the 11th.

When he’s not writing novels, Owen is business editor at the Freelance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va. He writes a daily blog and quipped, “Every day I floss and blog!”

He confessed that he’s “old school” having more respect for what shows up in print and is still adjusting to social media. “I think I’m the last write in America without a website.”

He acknowledged that he has to be present on social media platforms. “You have to be on Facebook or LinkedIn whether you want to write a book or overthrow a country.”

Ultimately for Owen it comes down to one thing: “All I want to do is write.”

Profiling Your Colleagues

Have you ever asked your colleagues how they like to work? What about asking them how they like to process information?

My team just did this, although we used a formal system called the Team Management Profile, which “reveals critical dynamics to enable the development of high performance in the workplace.”

My “ah-ha” moment in the meeting was that I have never asked my colleagues these questions — at any job. And yet, I know  there are different work styles because I find some easier to work with than others.

While not everyone can participate in TMP, everyone can ask their colleagues about their preferences.

My colleagues and I were asked to share three ways that we want to link with others. Mine are

  • Allow me to have processing/thinking time that is uninterrupted so I can stay in the flow/rhythm of my work (mornings)
  •  Stick to agendas and, if there is deviation, there needs to be a reason (additional action item, for example)
  •  Be punctual to meetings

 How do you like to work? More importantly, have you shared that with your colleagues?