Working the Contacts (Sierra)
Sierra landed her first magazine writing job when she was twelve. I was traveling overseas at the same time that the Falmouth Goat Races were being held in Pennsylvania- a crazy fun event that I was to write a story on. Since the daughter was not only going to the event but participating in it by running with her own pet goat, I figured she was close enough to the experience to be able to report accurately on it. “Take my camera and document the event too.”
My editor, Matt Holliday, at Pennsylvania Magazine, where the story was slated to appear, is an easy guy. If the story was not up to snuff, he knew I would rewrite it and raise the bar to the level he expected. But she done well.
Sierra entertained the idea of being a writer early on and so I began to work my magic and nudge her down that road by creating opportunities for her. Pennsylvania Magazine was easy. I had his trust and he had my history. I was also able to help her publication list grow by funneling other stories to her from other magazines.
We began by co-authoring pieces. My name first, her name second, like she assisted me; then her name first and mine second, so it looked better on her pub list. I would hand the stories in and ask my editor if the copy was okay. After they said it was great, I let them know that Sierra wrote it, not me. They did not care.
When her senior year of homeschooling was wrapped up and she was accepted into Temple Honors and had all her scholarship applications in, she didn’t know what to do with her energy and time.
So I had an idea. The kids were involved in the Democratic Youth Group that previous fall and had canvassed for Obama’s first term. Sierra became very disappointed in her peer’s apathy and wrote a letter to the Editor of Allentown’s The Morning Call, the third largest newspaper in the state discussing it. They printed it, and the next one she wrote.
Because of this, she was invited to an appreciation evening where she was recognized along with others and given a tour of the newspaper behind-the-scenes. The editor of the editorial section greeted her and thanked her personally, gave her his card and said if she was ever interested in serving an internship at the newspaper, to give him a call.
“Call him!” I encouraged.
“Really?” she asked.
And so she did and he made an appointment and he offered her a job and even paid her and got her a parking pass and an ID card to get through security, like she was a real newspaper writer, because she was.
But the coolest thing was every week she would meet with the publisher of the whole newspaper and the editor in chief and they would discuss current topics of interest and decide what that week’s editorial content would be. Then Sierra, little eighteen-year-old that she was, would research the idea and write the piece herself and it was called “The Editor’s Opinion” which was her!!!
She entered Temple University’s Journalism program with twenty-four published stories on her publication list, which I think amazing. Unfortunately, she became very disillusioned with the program and switched to anthropology. Since the Honors program is writing intensive, I felt confident she would learn to be a good writer regardless of her designated major.
“You just want me to be a writer like you,” she accused.
No, I just wanted her to be a writer like her. I knew where her heart lay before she even did. That’s our job.
Sierra always wrote. She kept a dedicated journal for years. She spent all her home schooling years reading my stuff and editing it. Since I get between 40-50 pieces published a year that is a lot of editing skills to build. She read voraciously, the second most important thing necessary in becoming a great writer. She wrote articles for Temple University’s newspaper on environmental topics, had a job at the Writing Center on campus, helping undergrads and grads craft term papers. She graduated with a degree in Anthropology and a Minor in Geography of Urban Studies and hopes to go to graduate school and get a Masters in Conflict Resolution and work with the National Park Service or the U.S. Forest Service over land/water rights.
So when she calls from China where she is teaching English for a semester and realizes the tremendous amount of material she has absorbed from living in this strange country and the overwhelming need to share it with the world and announces to me that she is going to be a writer, I simply said, “I knew that.”
I did. All along.
When she is home only a week from her travels to Cambodia, (where she went for a vacation after her China teaching stint was over), I funnel her my editor contacts and helped her craft queries, so she could start to rock this travel writing quest that she has acquired a taste for.
Then she gets an e-mail from my editor at JAXFAX Travel Marketing Magazine with a green light to write a story on Cambodia, and I am startled by the feelings that arise inside me and bubble out.
I am not jealous. I am not resentful. I purposely gave my daughter my editor’s contact and said, “Query him on Cambodia.” And so she did. And so he said yes.
But then it hit me. Because I just had a conversation with another editor friend who was helping me try to figure out a way to become more dedicated to writing my new book. He looked at what was taking up my time and said, “That travel magazine that sends you around the world for stories, you traveled to eight different countries last year for him. Maybe you should tell him you are not going to go any more and you have decided to stay home and write.”
And I cut him off quickly and said, “NO! ALL MY LIFE I have waited to get to this point. To be able to travel around the world, have it comped and not have to struggle for one second to sell it. To know I am already able to pay the tourism board back who sponsored me before I leave JFK. I only landed this contact last year. I am not giving it up.”
I love my travel marketing magazine editor, Doug Cooke. He does not pay me much in monetary ways but pays me extremely well in life experiences, and is so damn nice and easy to work with. That is just unheard of in these tough travel writing times.
So when Sierra excitedly announced that Doug gave her the go-ahead for the Cambodia story, I suddenly realized that she could also write the China story that he already asked me to write, and she could now travel anywhere in the world for him too!
This comes on the heels of yet another contact that I just gave to her- to write editorial/opinion news service pieces on conservation/environmentalism for The Bay Journal News Service. This pays tremendously well. I adore that editor too, Michael Shultz, and we have an excellent working relationship. I got a story idea from the Washington Post and suggested to Sierra that she research it and pitch it to Michael and he too said yes. I could have kept that story idea for myself and made a handsome amount of money, especially since I could use the money after recently stretching my budget by bringing the family to China to see her, pay for an expensive broken tooth and a surprisingly large tax bill.
Sweet Sierra said she would give the editorial story idea back to me but I laughed and said, “No. I’ll just live off your father. It’s almost time for us to think about retirement anyway (NEVER!) and begin to live off you kids. Just don’t compete with me to travel the world! I am not ready to give that up, especially after attaining it so recently!”
“I can’t give you the Cambodia story,” she said, “because you haven’t traveled there.”
“I could have- for free,” I laughed. “Tourism would have brought me but now they won’t because you traveled there and you are writing about it!”
My God, some parents are freaking about their recent graduates working at Target!
Travel writers covet their contacts. The only way you ever share them is if your writer friend is in absolutely no competition with you, or it is your daughter. For there are only so many pages, so much space and every story that appears means that another few dozen could not go in. My editors might not have given Sierra the job had I not referred her to them, had they not loved me and my work and trusted my opinion but also, if Sierra wasn’t already a really good writer in her own right.
I was just surprised and amused at my flustered reaction. Realizing that she is only 23 and I have waited 57 years to get here and have only arrived at this point in the last year, startled me.
But I firmly believe in the quote, Any time you have the opportunity to accomplish something for someone else and you don’t do it, you are wasting your time on earth. Roberto Clemente
I think we are here to help our children get as far along in life as they can. This is our job. And I want them to be better than me. I want to actually observe the evolution of the species and see my children become better writers, better artists than myself. I have admitted for years that Bryce is already a better artist than I ever was and ever will ever be and Sierra the same for writing. And I think that is how it should be. I just needed a few minutes to make the adjustment.
Posted in: Book Blog- Modeling a Life
Meeting and getting to know Cindy Ross and Sierra has been a tremendous, serendipitous joy. Reading what they write is a journey and a pleasure I would recommend to anyone with a thirst for learning about the world and themselves in the process.