Writers Gather for 10th Regional Conference

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Yours truly and Kim Leigh Martin on the blogging panel on opening night.

This past weekend was the 10th edition of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference at Hollins University. I have been to most of them. Dan Smith is stepping down as director, but, as he told me in an email, he will still be on the scene when we gather at future conferences. That is good news.

Dan Smith.
Dan Smith.

Dan was honored on opening night for his vision and leadership. There wouldn’t be a Roanoke Regional Writers Conference without Dan. He felt the love. It even brought a tear to his eye.

“Dammit,” he said. The words got stuck in his throat.

The highly capable and affable Liz Long will take the reins from Dan.

Following are some of my notes and highlights from the conference.

In her class about how to make editors happy, Carol Alexander, editor of Shenandoah Living, encouraged careful listening in 2017–listening to clients (editors), to readers and to sources. She said, “Be a servant, not a diva.” She also said to expect corrections and make them cheerfully.

Author Rod Belcher had great anecdotes and tips during his session on science fiction and fantasy. “The biggest career skill is tenacity,” Rod said.

Cara Ellen Modisett led a class on travel writing and essays. “Chattanooga is travel for Chicago,” Cara said. She encouraged us to write about our hometowns. Personal writing (memoir and essay) is reporting on yourself. It’s a document of the individual mind at work and play.

Roland Lazenby had a slew of personal stories and observations during his session about not violating the trust of sources. “The deeper you dig,” Roland said, “the more you get to a truly human story.”

I also enjoyed sessions with Terry Maggert and Diane Fanning, and was sorry to miss others. Finally, I always love the conversations in the lobby and the hallways and at lunch, renewing acquaintances and making new ones.

I can’t wait until next year.

A Free Service to Help Writers and Their Books

By Dan Smith
Director of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference

My old friend and colleague Darrell Laurant, the retired journalist-turned author-turned writing magnate, is starting a free service aimed at authors who are having difficulty getting exposure for their books. This is something Darrell is good at. He was the founder of the late Writers Bridge, which helped get writers of all stripes jobs in their craft.

Did I mention the new service is FREE?

He had to disband WB when he moved to New York after retiring as an award-winning metro columnist (25 years) for the Lynchburg News-Advance. He had previously founded the Sedalia Writers Conference in Bedford County (on which the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference is based) and was a regular teacher at RRWC for several years. He’s always been there for writers.

His new venture is “Snowflakes in a Blizzard” (here), a free service for authors, which “arose out of my experiences trying to market [his new novel] The Kudzu Kid,” he wrote me in an e-mail the other day.

Darrell goes on: “As you know, the game has changed. With more than 12 million books (one and a half times the population of New York City) on Amazon, it’s not about getting published any more — given the advances in technology, anyone who really wants to can do that. It’s now about getting noticed.

“Very quickly, I realized that there was absolutely no reason why someone would randomly pick my book up off a shelf, or click on its Amazon page. The vast majority of people in the world have no idea who I am, and our tendency is always to go with what we know when money is involved. I get that.

“A fact that a lot of writers seem to miss (or ignore) is this: Everybody isn’t going to like, or be interested in, their books. .. Trying to market to everybody is a waste of time and a recipe for frustration. … The blog will run twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, I’ll take a single book — I accept both fiction and non-fiction — lift it out of the blizzard of books surrounding it, and give the author some ‘alone’ time with visitors to the blog.

The template we use is extensive, the idea being to allow the authors a chance to convey the background behind the book and about themselves. I send press releases to all the print media in the authors’ area about two weeks out, and e-mail a preview blurb to the blog followers a couple of days before that book appears.”I screen these books, because our collective credibility depends on it. I’m also looking for work that is different — I wouldn’t automatically reject a vampire tale or romance novel or serial killer epic, but I’d want the approach to that subject to be unique. … Every author is asked to send e-mails to friends, relatives, fellow writers, etc., announcing that he or she will be featured, and so each person will theoretically draw a different audience.

“Once we get up to 1,000 or followers, which I truly believe will happen quickly, media outlets will start printing those press releases instead of deleting them. Moreover, I can ask an indy bookstore in that author’s area to carry copies of that book, on consignment, for a month after the author is featured. In return for giving that book something of a prominent place in the store, I will run a brief article about that bookstore on the blog.”

Darrell believes word will spread quickly: “Getting what I call ‘micro-publicity’ for books is good for writers, bookstores and publishers — even Amazon. Meanwhile, other publicists can use it as just another arrow in their quiver.”

If you have a book out there, it’s probably struggling from a sales standpoint, because almost all do. Maybe Darrell can help.

Early Reviews: ‘Give It a Permanent Spot on the Shelf’

Here are early reviews of my new Ryder Cup book, DRAW IN THE DUNES: The 1969 Ryder Cup and the Finish That Shocked the World (cover image at right). The book, which includes a foreword by Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin, will be in bookstores on Tuesday (September 9). It’s also available online for pre-order, and come Tuesday, for order, as books will then be released from warehouses.

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1969 Ryder Cup press badge and other materials. (Paul Trevillion)

From Gary McCormick of San Jose Golf Examiner:

“In Draw in the Dunes, Neil Sagebiel has once again brought a significant moment in golf history to life, combining the results of exhaustive research and extensive interviews with his prodigious storytelling talent to paint a complete and very satisfying portrait of a complex series of events. In his skillful hands the events and personalities that comprise the story step off the page in a lively manner, and as he did in The Longest Shot, Sagebiel manages to keep the reader engrossed in events the outcome of which they are probably already quite familiar with.” Read entire review

From Ed Travis, published at The A Position, New England Golf Monthly and Bunker Shot Magazine:

“Stirring stuff to be sure and Neil Sagebiel in his new book, “Draw In the Dunes – The 1969 Ryder Cup and the Finish That Shocked the World,” recounts the times, the circumstances and perhaps best of all, the background needed for readers to put the 1969 Cup and Nicklaus’ concession into perspective….Bottom line—if you are interested in golf, the Ryder Cup, its history and its personalities, you will enjoy this book and give it a permanent spot on the shelf.” Read entire review

From Mike Southern at RuthlessGolf.com:

“Neil’s prose is never boring. Personally, I thought his decision to frame the story itself within another related story that happened 30 years later really made the importance of this event clearer. And if you want to know how the book is being received by the folks involved, consider that Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin themselves wrote the book’s foreword….I can tell you this firsthand: If you enjoy golf history, his book is definitely one you’ll want to read.” Read entire review

From Dan Smith at Valley Business FRONT:

“The event itself is at the center of the book, but it is Neil’s understanding of the period, the culture, the golf culture and the importance of the Ryder Cup that give the book its irresistible flavor. His first major non-fiction work was The Longest Shot, the story of Jack Fleck’s victory over Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open and like his newest, it was a sit-on-the-edge-of-the-chair read.

“Neil, who writes a nationally prominent golf blog, takes golf out of the realm of sport and into something more akin to anthropology with his works. The Longest Shot was named one of the best sports books of 2012 and my guess is Neil’s new work won’t be far behind that.” Read entire review (page 52)

Celebrating Dan Smith’s 50 Years in Journalism

BRBJ office
Dan in his office at the Blue Ridge Business Journal about 15 years ago.

(Dan Smith wrote this piece in late August and allowed me to publish it here.)

By Dan Smith

Copyright © Dan Smith. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Today marks my 50th year as a journalist. I walked into Asheville Citizen-Times Sports Editor Bob Terrell’s office Aug. 22, 1964 and asked for a job. My mama had told me to give it a try. I was working as a fry cook at King Arthur’s Roundtable.

I had no idea what the job would be, just that I wanted to work there, to become a sportswriter. He said, “Our copy boy left for the newsroom yesterday. Want that job?” I didn’t know what a copy boy did, but I lept at the opportunity and began work that night. The pay was $5 per shift. I was happy to get it.

1971 column pix
New to Roanoke, 1971.

It has been an often bumpy, always gratifying ride through embarrassing failure and soaring success and it has never been dull. I don’t consider myself to have been an exemplary journalist, or even an especially good one. When Casey Stengal was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he said something to the effect that his career was not a glorious one, but he always showed up and “when you do that, people notice.” I probably fall in there somewhere.

The fact is, however, that regardless of the quality of the journalism I have practiced over the years, I have loved the profession since that August day in Asheville. I have met and become friends with people who would never have been in my life without journalism. I have been presented opportunities to do some good, to influence the community, to help shape opinion.

Here’s how I remembered a day that would shape my entire life in my memoir Burning the Furniture:

“The first time I walked into a newsroom—a late August afternoon in 1964—I couldn’t see enough of it in my view shed. I turned around and looked at people and machines; listened to clattering, urgent noises; smelled cigarette smoke and coffee and paste and an asphalt- and oil-tinged breeze off the parking lot, as it wafted through open metal-framed windows. I wanted to touch something, and knew instinctively that a final level of stimulation would complete this sensual feast.

“As I sat in front of Bob Terrell’s editor’s chair in the sports department while he interviewed me for a copy boy job, my head continued to roam. His office had walls only rib high and above that I could see the activity at the city desk; I could watch reporters type and argue simultaneously on telephones; I saw the AP wire editor as he tore copy or watched AP Photos as they rolled out of their machine in magical fashion, making a screeching noise.

young sports writer
Front and dead center, covering a high school all-star basketball game in 1970s.

“At one point, I heard Bob say, ‘Dan, are you listening?’ and I realized I’d strayed from the interview. I said, ‘This looks like so much fun. I want to do it.’ I think the depth of sincerity of that innocent pronouncement from an 18-year-old who’d barely ever held a job got me a desk, a chair and a typewriter that I didn’t know how to use, starting that day, that hour, that minute.”

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Third from right. Virginia Communications Hall of Fame induction in 2010.

Q&A: Dan Smith, Author of ‘CLOG!’

Dan Smith is a veteran journalist, writer, editor and the founder and director of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. Dan recently answered my questions about his new novel, CLOG!, including his journey to publication and the decision to self-publish.

Q. Tell me about your new novel.

CLOG COVER
Available at Amazon.

DAN SMITH: CLOG! is the story of the adjustments a boy must make in his life as he faces a new school and all-new challenges. Eb McCourry has left his crumbling family to attend his final year of high school in a remote North Carolina mountain community, living in a children’s home. He is a good athlete and catches on immediately with the football team, but shortly he is recruited by a sharp-eyed square dance team captain trying to help fill the team’s mononucleosis-depleted ranks. The team is a state powerhouse and in the past has won three national championships.

Eb takes immediately to the dance team, working with polished dancers and developing something of a crush on the young woman who recruited him, his left tackle’s girlfriend.

He begins to take a leadership role on both the football team–where as the quarterback he helps develop a conference contender with his skill and leadership–and on the dance team, where he is learning in a backup role.

The square dance team faces a stiff threat to its dominance in the region from a huge high school in Asheville where the father of a dancer has brought in an accomplished ballet teacher from New York and she has recruited a team from the North Carolina School of the Arts, all to win the coveted Old Smoky trophy at the Mountain Youth Jamboree in Asheville for the daughter’s mantle. He has spent thousands of dollars creating a juggernaut, even as the small school struggles.

Meanwhile, Eb falls for the lovely and bright Lizetta McIntosh and a young love storyline develops.

Eb’s coming of age is at the center of the story, but the dual competitions (football and dancing) provide the core of the book and lead to a heart-thumping conclusion where both teams are playing for titles on the same day in Asheville.

Q. Why did you decide to self-publish? Take me through your process.

DAN SMITH: Initially, I went through the routine of making an attempt at conventional publishing. I contacted about 125 agents and, while I got some good feedback, nobody was buying what one derisively called “a page turner about square dancing?”

This took a few months and wasn’t the response I wanted from the book.

I went back to the beginning and thought about what I wanted from CLOG! and it wasn’t plowing through the field of agents, who’d then have to mine for a publisher, which would then have me do major re-writes (the book was re-written 10 times) before publishing two years down the road with a net gain in royalties of about 10 percent.

So, I thought, “Hell, publish it myself and get the book I want.” Since there is very little money in books anyway, and since money wasn’t my goal (I have enough), this seemed to be the right choice.

I have published five books, two conventionally, three myself, and I’ve had better experiences with the self-pubs every time, though the conventional books generally made more money.

CLOG! is a book that would have sold eventually had I been willing to put in the time and effort necessary to find an agent who believed in it. I think it is a book a publisher would be proud to publish, if I found the right company

Q. How did you decide to go with CreateSpace? Continue reading “Q&A: Dan Smith, Author of ‘CLOG!’”