Writing About the Writers
A writer once summed it up so well: “The easiest part is finding topics and the hardest is facing the blank screen.” That writer is our own John Gee, whom I like to call the Andy Rooney of the Old Northeast. John, along with twenty-some other salt-of-the earth wordsmiths, are considered family here at the Northeast Journal. Whether they are brand new and you haven’t read their work yet (look for Josh Keeler’s Palladium article in the next issue), or they’ve written for virtually every issue since the Journal’s inception – thank you Will Michaels – we appreciate each and every one of them.
As the NEJ copy editor, in the midst of searching for rogue punctuation and ensuring consistency, my job is to read each and every article. In the beginning, I thought Will’s history articles might not interest me since I’m less than a history buff. On the contrary, I find perusing the roots of St. Pete one of my favorite reads. Through this assignment, I’ve enjoyed getting to know my comrades a little better, and I hope you do as well.
Rick Carson sums it up perfectly: “I think the NEJ and the HONNA newsletter – both print documents delivered to your front door – still have a place in our rapidly evolving world of digital communications and social media. There is something to be said for plopping down in your easy chair and picking up a copy of these publications, and just paging through it until something catches your eye and you read on. Stuff on our computer screen can have a short shelf life and is easily subject to the delete key. A Journal or HONNA newsletter on the coffee table or night stand might sit there awhile and gather some dust, but they are a good friend a short reach away when you’ve got a few minutes to invest in keeping up with what’s going on right around you. It’s all about community and neighborhood.”
And Sara Hopkins has the perfect voice to communicate the Journal’s vision. “I love a good story and finding the human connection, the relatable and universal elements of the story, that make it poignant and bring it home to the reader.”
What Josh Keeler says also illustrates an NEJ tenet: “I like to focus on basic truths. Whenever I write I try to give my readers a reason to trust me.” That, mixed with his philosophy that “knowing that the words, sentences, and paragraphs all end up being pieces of a whole that someone else will inevitably enjoy” make us look forward to Josh’s stories.
When asked how she got involved with the Journal and why, Linda Dobbs expressed, “I saw the first copy and knew I wanted to be a part of it!” She was assigned the Rehabulous article, writing about people and their rehab projects. She then wrote on that topic for every issue for about eight years.
When Mary Hampton was asked the same question, she repled, “I volunteered to write an article for a publication in Vermont which is published by Jen MacMillen who also publishes the Northeast Journal. In the article I described that my residence is in Florida, and that I spend lots of time doing research regarding the topics of recycling and sustainability. I mentioned I lived near Tampa. Jen called saying she had been thinking of establishing a ‘green column’ for the Northeast Journal, and might I be interested in writing the column? I answered, ‘yes!’”
Process, inspiration, and education
Our writers’ inspiration is as varied as their education and their process of writing. One of our newest writers, Samantha Bond, attended the University of Maryland’s School of Journalism and has a BA in mass communications from USF. “My style tends to be conversational, so I like to think I’m among friends and telling them what I’m writing, like a conversation in my head.”
Bob Burns, an avid book reader who wrote the Journal’s Panther Page for six years, was greatly inspired by a high school teacher and a professor at his alma matre, Notre Dame.
Rick Carson received his BA in political science at Denison University, and MA at the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill. And his inspiration: “My interest in creating communication vehicles goes back 30 years when I was drawn to using newsletters as a way to share information, be it with employees, volunteers, members, or whomever. As a result I’ve created newsletters for a variety of entities over the course of my professional life as well as in retirement: political, corporate, college, charitable and religious.”
Sara Hopkins went to New York University and studied communications, drama, dramatic writing, and film. What inspired Sara to write for the Journal? “Prior to moving to St. Petersburg, I worked in the publishing industry and also did a brief stint at Condé Nast, so I always love an opportunity to write. I started shortly after I moved here about 3-4 years ago. I began writing first for the HONNA newsletter and transitioned to writing for the Journal.” (Thank you, Rick Carson, for sharing Sara with us.)
And, paying it forward, Sara introduced us to Josh Keeler whom you will meet in the July/August issue. Josh graduated from Eckerd College last May with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing. His muse: “I’m interested in the human experience and history. My main focus for writing is poetry, but I like to break out and work on personal essays or journalism every once in a while.” And speaking of muses and the arts, Josh is also a talented dancer with a surprising twist (literally, as seen on YouTube).
John Bailey started writing professionally writing and producing radio and television commercials in Iowa. He studied English and film and television production at the University of Tampa, and later as a mass-communication major at University of Iowa. All his life, he’s made a living “showing and telling” in words and pictures. John wrote his first story for the Journal in July 2005, and approximately 32 stories later, his last one appeared in March 2012. “I tend to communicate best in front of a keyboard or with a kindergarten-sized #2 pencil in my hand. Sometimes, that #2 pencil is the primary muse. ”
Linda Dobbs, majored in English at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC, and then continued with journalism classes at the community colleges in New Jersey. She tells of a story that was near and dear to her heart. “Several years ago I wrote about my neighborhood October Fest which was a fundraiser for children needing donor organs. Who could not get passionate about that? But, it was a yearly neighborhood event which all of a sudden that year had more meaning than just fun with the neighbors, because it specifically helped a neighborhood child. It was a great success, it was fun, and the organizers were way over the top in praising my writing of their story. It’s really fulfilling when you know that someone actually reads your article and that somehow it made a difference. That’s the whole point of writing it!”
FSU graduate and 31-year elementary school teacher, Candy Lenderman, tells of her time with the NEJ: “I had the honor of writing for the Journal for 10 years. My usual assignment was visiting and describing the wonderful variety of gardens and natural sites in the Old Northeast. Being invited into so many outdoor personal spaces by so many gracious neighbors was such a treat. I love meeting people, being outdoors, plants, and playing with words.”
Rebekah Lazaridis – also known as Eugenia Woods and the daughter of the Journal’s Susan Alderson – went to the School of The Art Institute of Chicago and studied painting and drawing. She was one of five people chosen nationwide to join USA829 local NYC scenic painters guild in 2009. Very much a young creative with her finger on the pulse of the budding arts scene in St. Pete, Bekah has a fun perspective. “I love using an Instagram-inspired style of photography.” And she continues, “Writing uses a different side of the brain for me. I’m a visual artist by trade so writing is a fun exercise for me.”
Passion is key for Livia Zien. “Any topic is interesting to me if the person or organization I’m writing about has passion.” When asked what she enjoys about writing, she says, “It’s a creative process – I like putting feelings into words, and trying to make the abstract more concrete. I think of our Old Northeast community as a patchwork of thousands of mini-worlds… working individually, yet simultaneously together. Some are aware of the other ‘worlds’ around them, but mostly each is just trying to do the best they can. Writing for the NEJ gives me a chance to enter a few of those mini-worlds, so to speak, and experience, even if briefly, the force that keeps them going. It’s an amazing feeling.”
“If randomness can be considered a process, then that is mine,” says Livia. “I’m not a writer by training, so I worry that this will just make real writers cringe!” After that comment, lest you think Livia’s education might be shabby, let us set the record straight.
Livia went to MIT as an undergrad, and the University of Maryland for graduate school, and studied electrical engineering. She worked as a chip designer for space applications for 20 years at IBM, Lockheed Martin, and insyte. She switched gears after getting married and went to culinary school in Seattle. Now she works at St. Pete College teaching math. With the calibre of Livia’s writing, we’ll let it slide that she’s not classically trained as a writer.
Will Michaels studied government and anthropology at George Washington University and USF. Describing Will’s process, “I usually first try to review the written records: earlier histories, newspapers, original written sources. The I try to find people connected with the story to interview and usually they offer new information and perspective.” As for putting ‘pen to paper,’ “Sometimes I play Rossini, sometimes I prefer just quiet.” What’s the hardest and easiest part of the writing process? “Hardest: gathering the information; easiest: weaving it together.”
John Gee has “an odd and unspectacular educational history, but I was able to receive a BA in history at New Mexico State University – the Harvard on the Rio Grande.” Thinking about why he likes the writing process, John muses, “At the risk of sounding too pompous, I enjoy the transcendent power of creativity.”
Have you always been a writer?
Samantha Bond: “Yes. I asked for and received a typewriter when I was 9. It was an Olivetti manual machine with a matching grey vinyl case.”
Mary Hampton: “Finding out that I can write was a surprise to me. I received a compliment about my writing from my college freshman English professor. Initially, I thought his compliment was a joke. I now love to write. My favorite part of writing for my personal purposes, includes the ‘surprises’ I discover from the text of my writing.
Josh Keeler: “I did not come from the womb with a pen in my hand. I started treating writing as a hobby when I was in tenth grade. Then, when I attended college, I took my writing seriously and treated it as an art.”
Rebekah Lazaridis: “Creative writing was my favorite class, besides art. I’ve managed a blog on my website as well.”
Livia Zien: “It started by keeping a journal.”
Linda Dobbs: “Yes, since 10th grade when I took a journalism class and started writing for the school paper. Then I wrote for my college paper and it has never stopped. Well, maybe briefly when I had three children!” She started writing for The Islander News in Key Biscayne when her youngest was three years old and has never stopped. Of all of the many publications she’s been associated with, “Writing for the Northeast Journal is the most fun because I focus on people!”
What do you like to read?
Will Michaels: “History, biography, current events, foreign affairs, mysteries. I have read all the great cowboy and western novels.”
Sara Hopkins: “As a former literary agent, my tastes range wide and far. Literary fiction is my favorite, but I’ll devour anything with a strong story that’s told well. I just read Lean In, which was marvelous, and Enchantment by Orson Scott Card who is a notable favorite. (I’m Polish, so I’m enthralled with anything about Baba Yaga.) I read a lot of screenplays, too.” (Sara studied screenwriting at NYU.)
Josh Keeler: “I enjoy reading poetry and essays, but my favorite author is Christopher Moore. His books are hilarious and insightful.”
Rebekah Lazaridis: “Biographies!”
Livia Zien: I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t taken the time out to read very much lately, but my favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, and my favorite contemporary author is Jodi Picoult. I love how she writes about an event from the perspective of all her characters. It reinforces the fact that what I see and feel is so limited.”
John Bailey tells of a favorite story
“One of my favorite stories had to do with the Pier, when HMS Bounty was here in March 2009. She was due to sail away in April – as it turns out to never return. That was a fun story covering Bounty Captain Robin Walbridge, and Joe and Nina who ran the bait shop at the pier. Oh, and meeting Henrietta the pelican. Bittersweet memories, to be sure, considering Bounty’s demise that cost Robin his life along with the loss of the Bounty in October 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy.”
Write to the writers
Linda Dobbs shared a great thought and we’d like to pass it along. “I wonder why readers don’t call us or email us, or even approach us personally to give us ideas for articles – tell us about someone or something that is interesting, unusual, or important. They can certainly tell us about something they have done – it’s not bragging, it’s sharing! And, it can inspire others!”
So well said. With that in mind, please note that the writers’ bios now include some of their email addresses. Feel free to suggest an idea, give feedback on something you read, or just tell them thanks for sharing their heart and soul with the Journal. For the writers who don’t list an email address, contact managing editor, Susan Woods Alderson, and she’ll pass your correspondence along to the writer. Email Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So glad we had this time together…
Alas, we must bid adieu to John Gee – part-time musician and full-time traveler – as he moves on to his next adventure. In typical Gee fashion – wry, observant, and tongue-in-cheek – here he illustrates his thoughts about the Journal.
“One day we were walking our dogs and two strangers asked if they could take our picture. One of those two people was Jen MacMillen, the Northeast Journal publisher. After a short conversation, I asked if she needed any writers, she said yes, and here I am.” That was 10 years ago, when the Journal first began.
“I enjoy writing about the minutia of life. I have considered writing about our travels, but few people would be interested, and I don’t want to make travel too much like work.”
When asked what he likes to read, John says, “Dense history books, lists of contraindications of my medications, and noire mysteries filled with dark streets, cynical detectives, and dangerous women.”
That’s why we’ll miss you, John. Amidst the truths and observation is that self-deprecating humor we love and will miss… as if a wacky older brother has gone off for a summer abroad.
Happy trails, John. And to the rest of the Journal writer family past and present, we extend a heartfelt thanks for your time and talent and your steadfast dedication, and we wish you the very best that life has to offer. We appreciate you!