My Story–The Ups and Downs of Life as a Journalist

Smokey, AKA the Klepto Cat

Smokey, AKA the Klepto Cat

Thank you for following my story. I’ve enjoyed bringing it to you. To continue…

As you may know you can’t make a living as a freelance writer—or so you’ve been told and you’ve read and many of you have even learned first-hand. I’m glad I didn’t listen to naysayers; I might have ended up working in the corporate world, living the dreams of others, dreading the coming of each workday dawn when I had to leave my cats behind and trudge off to a cubicle.

Instead, I eagerly faced each day—so much so that still, I find it difficult to wait for dawn to start my work. Often, you’ll find me tapping away at the computer with a cat on my lap hours before daylight, excited to tackle a new chapter, revamp a scene, or pursue a fresh avenue of promotion for one of my books. And it has been that way throughout my writing career.

People ask me how I came up with ideas for the hundreds (maybe thousands) of articles I’ve written. I tell them, it’s a matter of being aware. There are stories and articles in your thoughts, in the queries and actions of others, in your interactions and observances, in what you read and hear. It’s simply a matter of paying attention. Once you have a snippet of an idea or a wisp of a topic, you can tweak, sculpt, and massage it into something useful or entertaining.

Some of my most memorable story-discovery experiences occurred quite by chance. While visiting the Denver Zoo, I happened upon an unusual cat called a Pallas cat. I was intrigued and thought the editors of Cats Magazine might be, too. They responded almost immediately to my snail mail query (remember, this was in the 1970s-80s). “Yes, bring us a story with photos.” So I returned to Denver and got permission to go inside the cage with the cats before hours and photograph the shy and beautiful Pallas cat. Now that was a thrill! Because of my “journalist” status, I was invited behind the scenes of many interesting sites and became up close and personal with some fascinating individuals. It was because of my numerous articles appearing in The Toastmaster Magazine that I was invited, all expenses paid, to Dubai as the keynote speaker for their Toastmaster Convention in 1996.

I seemed to have a knack for creating a viable article from a germ of an idea, and I got a lot of attention from magazine editors. Thus, I became an expert on many topics. You see, once you’ve written about something, you’re considered, by some, an expert. If you so choose, you can use this expertise to land additional assignments, a publishing contract, speaking engagements and so forth. But still, it’s rare when someone seeks you out. Still, you, the writer, must pound the pavement, beat the bushes, and continue to woo the editors with your grand ideas. A freelance article-writer is constantly pitching, which means he or she must constantly create. First comes the idea, then the slant. Then comes the tricky part: You must approach the right editor for the right magazine at the right time with the right pitch. It’s easier to get the acceptance if you have a reputation for being reliable and pliable (easy to work with), but even this doesn’t guarantee a contract. A freelance article-writer must have her fingers in many pies in order to keep the money train coming her way.

Early in my career path, I made a decision that gave me an unexpected boost. I landed a job as a stringer for a very small local newspaper. What a gift. I created a business column. Not only did I get tremendous experience interviewing people, but I learned how to meet strict deadlines and word-count requirements. AND I was meeting people with great stories appropriate for some of the magazines I was writing for.

By 1998, I’d been writing for publication for twenty-five years. I had maybe a dozen books to my credit and my own publishing company. Yes, I established Matilija Press in 1983 before it was fashionable or even convenient. My books ranged in topic from horsemanship to local history to grandparenting to a metaphysical adventure and even how to present a Hawaiian luau on the mainland. I continued to write about what I knew or was interested enough in to research. Late in the 1990s, people started seeking me out as an expert in the publishing field. I hadn’t thought of myself as an expert in anything—I was simply doing what I love—following my passion. I was stunned to realize that I had answers—credible answers—to the questions hopeful writers and authors were bringing me. And it felt really good to be able to help those who were serious about their own writing/publishing careers.

That was another of three major turning points for me. To be continued…

Watch for additional segments to this story, which began January 6, 2015. Learn how I became a published author. Discover what prompted my reputation as a key player in the publishing arena. Find out what inspired me to shift gears completely and start writing fiction—the Klepto Cat Mystery series, in particular—and why they’re selling so well.

If you have any questions along the way, please direct them to me at You can now leave your comments here, as well.



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