Wednesday’s Author Interview: “Jurnalist” Ned Hickson
My Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
I’m so pleased to have Ned Hickson with us today for our Wednesday Author Interview. I’ve been following Ned’s blog as long as I’ve been on WordPress, and know for a fact, it’s the perfect way to start the day. Of course, Ned’s laugh out loud sense of humor has caused me to spew Earl Grey all over my keyboard on numerous occasions, but that’s something he and I are still addressing. (You owe me for THREE now, Big Guy!) 😉
Welcome to Bookin’ It, Ned. It’s great to have you here today. Can you tell us a bit about how you became a writer?
NED:I am frequently asked how I became a writer. Mostly by my editor here at Siuslaw News. Except when she says it, the words sound more like an accusation than a question. I can honestly say I’ve been a storyteller since as far back as I can remember, back before I could actually write words. My mom used to record my spontaneous stories on cassettes, which she lovingly kept, knowing that someday I would want them and be willing to pay any price to keep them from falling into the hands of someone like Jerry Springer. By the time I was in middle school, I was writing regularly and exploring storytelling through making my own comic books, stories on cassette with background music and sound effects, and eventually movies with a Super 8 camera. Yeah, I was that kid. After graduating from high school, I drove to Texas and found work as a busboy before eventually making my way into the kitchen. A few years later, I was promoted to head chef then regional chef in Atlanta, Ga. But even while pursuing that career, I continued to write short stories and a mystery novel in hopes of writing full time someday. In 1998, after returning to Oregon with my family, I was hired as a sports editor and columnist at Siuslaw News here in Florence, Ore. That’s really where my “professional” writing career began. Clearly, I’ve always been a late bloomer.
BI: Wow! Like me, you started young. Unlike me, you have your tapes and movies to prove it. Also, unlike me, you didn’t wait until you were ancient before settling into the career you were obviously meant to pursue, for which I, like all your readers, am immensely grateful! Can you tell us a bit about who inspired you? What authors did you enjoy growing up, and in what ways?
NED: I didn’t actually read much as a kid. * An audible hush fills the blog-o-sphere * However, my grandmother introduced me to the short stories and novels of Stephen King when I was in my late teens, which inspired me to try my hand at horror-themed short stories. It wasn’t until several years later, during my first marriage, that my horror writing really evolved and I found some publishing success. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Haha! Just kidding! *cough cough*
Anyway, on the advice of my grandmother, I read The Client by John Grisham, which inspired me to write my first — and only —mystery novel, No Safe Harbor. By that time, I had just settled into my job at Siuslaw News and turned my attention to learning the ins and outs of journalism and becoming a columnist. I had no idea what I was doing and it took me a while to find my voice, which began being compared to Dave Barry and Art Buchwald. I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea who they were. When I eventually found out and read their work, I was flattered. But more importantly, it gave me a lot of confidence in the voice I was developing.
BI: Okay, finding out you didn’t read much as a kid is startling, I admit (though it would take more than that to cause an “audible hush” to fall over ME, you understand)! But finding out you didn’t know Dave Barry made me gasp out loud! Art Buchwald, I can almost understand, since he may have been a bit before your time. But Dave Barry? I think I still have the shrine I built in his honor a decade or two ago, when he was saving my life through his humor. Tsk. I’m glad you have now been enlightened, and yes, you were being complimented, for sure. And you have definitely earned the comparison, though you certainly speak with your own voice these days. Can you tell us about your reading habits today? (Asks she, crossing her fingers that they have broadened a bit). Do you have a favorite genre that you head to as soon as you enter a bookstore? Do you even ENTER bookstores? 🙂
NED: Admittedly, I still don’t read as often as I’d like to or should. The last book I read was two years ago. But when I DO read, I gravitate toward mysteries, horror or sci-fi. Someone once said horror is the flip-side of comedy, and that the same essential elements apply to both in order for them to be successful. Unfortunately, the person who said this was murdered by a gang of clowns.
BI: I believe that absolutely. Clowns are intrinsically evil, if you ask me–or your past idol, Stephen King. But I think it’s time to move on from your reading habits…since you don’t seem to have many. 🙂 How about we concentrate on your writing habits? I know for a fact, you have developed that one a great deal more. Do you have a dedicated workspace and writing routine?
NED: I’ve always been a firm believer in having a writing routine and dedicated space. Granted, at times that routine has been during laundry loads with my word processor on top of the clothes dryer (I tried the washing machine once, until the spin cycle began.) Even before I was fortunate enough to write for a living as a columnist, I realized the importance of setting aside writing time on a regular basis, whether it’s once a week or once a day. The truth is, working full time and raising a family, there’s always a reason not to write. And unless you make time for it and it becomes part of your scheduled routine, chances are you won’t write. Establishing a time and routine helps prime your creativity to be ready for you when you sit down to write. We make time for grocery shopping, cleaning the house and other things, and your writing deserves the same consideration if you’re serious about it. If you take it seriously, so will others.
BI: (Repeating to self, “I DO take my writing seriously, I DO take my writing seriously) Ahem. Back to our guest! I think you are exactly right with this one, Ned. And I think it has paid off for you, as you have certainly honed the craft of writing to make people laugh, and often to make a valid point on one issue or another. I see those hidden pearls of wisdom in your columns! (One of which is don’t try to write with your word processor on the washing machine. Got it.) Now I’d like to know if you use any kind of visual aids while you work, and what types of reference material do you refer to on a regular basis?
NED: As a columnist, my “visual aids” often consist of newspaper clippings or photos, or maybe a phrase I scribbled down. For example, I have a Post-It on my computer monitor with the word “Manopause” written on it, which is an idea I have for a column on male menopause. I also keep a folder with ideas — articles, photos, phrases — that I can draw from if I don’t already have an idea when I sit down to write my weekly column. I try not to overthink things before I sit down to write, and prefer to let things “play out” in my mind as I go. When it comes to humor, a sense of spontaneity is important. In many ways, it’s not much different than those early days when I was telling stories to my mom into her cassette recorder. Except I don’t get a cookie when I’m done. Unless my editor’s in a really good mood. As for novel writing, I definitely utilized a map of Seattle to plot the action and make sure things made sense geographically. I also used several reference books (Barbara Norville’s Writing the Modern Mystery and the Crime Scene Investigator’s Handbook, among others), and a general plot outline to keep things on track while still allowing room for the characters to grow and take some unexpected directions — again, allowing for spontaneity.
BI: I’d love to stop by your newsroom one day and check out your Post-It notes…and the infamous Door of Shame, et al. (You folks who read Ned regularly will know exactly to what I am referring. You others need to get on over to his blog and see for yourselves.) Thanks for the info on how you plotted your mystery novel, too. Which I plan to read, for sure! And speaking of that, tell us about your published books. We need to know exactly how to get our hot little hands on them! Or, as the case may be, our hot little eReaders.
NED: This past December, my first book — Humor at the Speed of Life — was published by Port Hole Publications. It is essentially a collection of award-winning humor columns gathered from my last 15 years at Siuslaw News. Or put another way, “An award-winning book 15 years in the making!” It’s available at Porthole Publications, amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at any Target parking lot where our family van is parked. Just look for the dark blue Chevy Venture and the guy with a big pile of books. It is now available in both print and eBook format, and makes a great Father’s Day gift! (Results may vary).
BI: Congratulations on your newly released eBook version of Humor at the Speed of Life. I’ll be getting that one, too, as my paperback is getting very well worn. Folks, take it from me, this is a very funny book, and since it is made up of individual columns, it’s great for when you only have a moment to read, and want a quick dose of fun. Ned, are you working on any new books? What have we got to look forward to next?
NED: For the past year, I’ve had a weekly feature on my blog called Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing, in which I dole out writing advice and tips gathered from my 15 years as a columnist. It has been heralded by Publisher’s Digest as “Required reading for anyone serious about a career writing ingredients labels.” So as you can see, it’s gotten its fair share of accolades. I am currently assembling an eBook version that will be available Aug. 16. I’m also working on the final draft of No Safe Harbor, which I hope to find a publisher for in 2015. And by “finding a publisher,” I mean get them to stop hiding from me.
BI: Being a life-long fan of ingredient labels, I’ll be looking forward to your eBook version of Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing. I can honestly say, in absolute seriousness, that it has been one of my favorite regular features of your blog, and I WILL be downloading the book as soon as it goes up. I’m also looking forward to reading No Safe Harbor, when you manage to chase down that elusive publisher. I have handcuffs, if you need ’em. (Don’t ask.) Now, I know we addressed your pathetic…I mean, completely understandable…lack of regular reading habits earlier, but I’m still wondering if you prefer eBooks or print, and why. Pretend you read constantly, and tell us. 🙂
NED: There are clearly merits to both. For example, when a character you really like suddenly gets bumped off, you can’t throw your tablet or Kindle across the room without coming up with a really good explanation at customer service. But in today’s fast-paced and wi-connected world, I can see why so many people prefer to keep all of their reading material in one cyber library. Personally, given a choice I’ll always prefer the feeling of a book in my hands rather than a monitor.
BI: Good point. Take it from me…they won’t buy your lame story about the tree you were sunbathing under falling down and managing to land directly on your eReader, somehow leaving you completely uninjured. This is one of those questions that I’ve never understood the need to make an either/or thing. I love both eReaders and books equally well, for different reasons…not the least of which is the ability to enlarge the font to the size that works best for older eyes. Moving on, though, I’d like to know what you consider the best thing about being a writer? And the worst?
NED: Without question, the best things about being a writer are the prestige, fame and ridiculous amounts of moneyyyyyyzzzzzzzz … Huh? Wha? Sorry, I must’ve been dreaming! All joking aside, a writer isn’t defined by any of those things, nor are they a true measure of success or ability. The best thing about being a writer is that being one requires nothing more than a love of words and the need to express that love on the page. I’ve met and talked many people who hesitate to call themselves “writers” simply because they aren’t published or have an established readership. The truth is, if you toil over finding the right words to express your thoughts or feelings, welcome aboard! You are a writer. And what’s the worst thing about being a writer? Realizing you haven’t saved for the last 30 minutes when the power goes out.
Marcia, thank you so much for having me as your guest!
It was absolutely my pleasure, Ned! You know how much I enjoy your blog, and your book, so there is no way I would have these Wednesday interviews without inviting you to share with us. Thank you for taking the time to make us smile, and let us learn a bit more about how you approach your craft. Long may you reign in the Blog-O-Sphere, and in your real job as our favorite Humor Jurnalist.
NOTE: ALL COMMENTS APPRECIATED, AND QUESTIONS WELCOME!
Follow Ned on his blog here: Ned’s Humor at the Speed of Life Blog
You can buy Ned’s Book, Humor at the Speed of Life, at these locations: