A Light and stormy night

If the preponderance of stories opening with the line “it was a dark and stormy night” is any indication, this particular cocktail—traditionally made with ginger syrup and rum—should be a writer’s favorite.

But it’s not much of a springtime drink. So my friend Michelle, who writes Table Without Borders, brewed up a stiff adult bevvie we’re calling the Light and Stormy. Use what’s on hand and get creative with these decidedly inexact measurements:

3 oz. muscato or champagne

1 oz. rum

1/2 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced thin

Juice of half an orange

Dash of ginger ale, to taste

Ice cubes

Photo by Ruth Terry

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Down the rabbit hole: urban farms, Cory Doctorow and language construction

Today was a wonderful restful day that included a four-mile walk around the lake and a long fall down what Maria Popova has called the “rabbit hole of discovery.” In no particular order, here are a few of the items I encountered on the trip down:

  • Second Act’s piece on former basketball player-turned-urban-farmer Will Allen highlights the intersection of African-American history and agriculture—a truly refreshing departure from the white, 20-something hipster profiles that abound in slow food stories. (While you’re at it check out the vertical garden Allen’s nonprofit Growing Power is working on in Milwaukee.)
  • The “I Write Like” analyzer will tell you which famous author you write like. I plugged a few chunks of text in and came up as Cory Doctorow more often than not. I wasn’t familiar (but I was dubious), so I checked out his website. Doctorow is a blogger and journalist who (he says) doesn’t update his personal site as frequently as he should. He’s also into sci-fi. I’m no longer dubious about the analyzer.
  • I read a few reviews of Game of Thrones, an HBO series that I might like if every single female character wasn’t subject to actual or threatened rape, molestation or other sexual violence. (Oh wait, there is that consentual incest, so maybe all-but-one female character…) Here’s an alternative perspective from the Atlantic.
  • On a more positive but related note: the Language Creation Society site. Familiar with only three languages cited on the home page—Dothraki (from Game of Thrones), Esperanto, and Klingon, which is apparently an “artlang”—I was waaaay out of my nerd league here. Fortunately, there is a language construction kit for the unitiated like myself.

Photo by ecstaticist

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The Marketing hack I used to break into travel writing

Daunted by the masthead? Trying to break into magazines produced by a multi-pub conglomerate?

You could literally spend days researching yourself silly before you finally click “send” on your LOI or query. Or you could try this shortcut:

Email other writers who already have a relationship with the editor you want to write for.

This approach works for a few reasons. First, that writer has probably been where you are. They get how hard it is to break into a new market. Two: they may have inside info you don’t that will help you tailor your pitch. Finally, it’s always nice to email a query with a name your prospective editor will (or feels she should) recognize.

So far I’ve gotten nothing but positive responses. One writer wrote back with the email for her editor. Another let me know her website wasn’t currently hiring freelance bloggers (information that wasn’t on said website) but asked me to forward a résumé and clips instead for a internally posted gig.

The first connection landed me an assignment with a top inflight publisher.

And I think this will work in the future for other travel-oriented publications, markets where my story idea—most likely my experience of a particular destination—doesn’t present much competition for the writer I’m connecting with.

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No Impact Man, the movie

I just came back from a screening on No Impact Man. I read the book a while ago and loved it, and for once was not disappointed by a movie version. My big takeaway: no matter how low-impact or frugal I think I’m being, there is always room for improvement. Which is why I’m currently Googling natural hair care products I can make at home.

In addition to cosmetics, Colin (No Impact Man) and his wife Michelle were able to reduce the impact of their jobs by riding bikes to the office, eliminating coffee-fueled writing sessions and, later in the experiment, charging Colin’s laptop using solar power.

Now I get that it’s easier to green your workstyle if you’re writing a book about it. Still, as a freelance writer, I found myself a bit convicted. There are numerous ways that I could be more eco-conscious—or even just more conscious about the tools of my trade. I don’t think twice about the paper I use, the disposable pens, the batteries to power my mouse… Shame on me.

Work is probably one of the hardest areas to green, especially in a traditional office setting, because it seems to be the last place we question whether or not we really the things we use to do our jobs. If you’ve had success in this area, drop me a line in the comments and share how you’re reducing your impact at work.

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Put your pics to work: 4 Ways to spice up your site with photos

An unusual view of Sydney’s Opera House.

Since going premium, I’ve been exploring LinkedIn’s groups more—especially ones where I can get an inside view on the industries I write for and about.

I’m not exactly in every group’s industry. But marketing myself and writing about the green, travel and business sectors have given me unique insights to contribute, like ways to use images to jazz up, say, a travel company website—a question asked in one of my groups today. My comment got so unwieldy long (and I’m trying not to be one of those walls-of-text commenters) that I decided to blog it instead:

Here are four tips for travel professionals and other marketeers looking to spice up their websites with images.

1. Size—and alignment—matters
On the web, vertical photos, left- or right-aligned “above the fold” (the point where people have to scroll down to keep reading), are more effective than huge horizontal shots for websites and blogs, with the text below the fold. Every click and scroll matters and you want people to get to your text as soon as possible. This lends itself well to portraits, just make sure that your text wraps around the image. This slightly techy tutorial breaks down 90 percent of what you need to know about styling photos—from captions to code.

2. Take a cue from Beyoncé
In a recent Trip Advisor survey, 60 percent of travelers reported using travel apps. So travel companies, restaurants and hotels should definitely optimize their images for mobile device usage. This may require resetting your content management system preferences (WordPress, for instance, has a setting for this) and selecting an image that is large, uncluttered, hi-def and uses central composition. Fortunately we can look to Beyoncé for inspiration. Here’s an NPR story that talks about how the singer’s videos bring more thrills to mobile devices by centralized, uncluttered composition, close-ups and a minimal background. If it works for Beyoncé, it’ll work for you.

3. Use pictures worth 1,000 clicks
No one will thank you for boring images—even if they can see them on their phones. Here’s some inspiration for using color, texture and culture in photos. (I might pass on that Photoshop idea, but the others are solid.) Another idea: cut the text and tell your story through slideshow galleries with captioned images like the New York Times does.

4. Get with the Pingram
If you aren’t already on Pinterest, you should be—especially if you are in any way targeting women age 25-40. Brussels Airlines (full disclosure: I have a story in the May/June edition of their inflight magazine B-Spirit) has AWESOME pinboards chock-a-block full of travel tips, style and great photos of their “birds.” KLM also has boards dedicated to fan photos, vintage black and white images, a travel quiz and—my personal fave—package design. My Pinterest career started with a single pin—a garden planter or something equally lame. Within an hour, 40 people had repinned it. Now think of the exposure Pinterest could give your spectacular destination images. Or, because every pin tracks back to the site it was discovered on, your website. (You’ll want to make sure your images are pinnable.) Don’t have magical, expansive mountain views? Infographics are extremely popular on Pinterest.

You can find me on Pinterest here.

Photo by dicktay2000

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I'm a smart, sassy, globally-mobile freelance writer, content creator, brand journalist and nonprofit storyteller. The world is my office. Email me to find out more.
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