Author Archives: funny

If You’d Asked Me: Long Wait at the ER

Just for you: a chapter from a book in progress. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. See the collected chapters so far, FREE online at If You’d Asked Me… For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.


Why doesn’t anybody coming to the “emergency room” seem to understand that an emergency means urgent?

Understood that ER workers are stressed to the max and that they have to make quick decisions about who needs care and when. But . . .

Back in the day before ACA, poor people here in the American Southwest used the ERs for medical care whenever their kids had a bad cold or flu and for conditions adults and children should have had treated in their GP’s office. Phoenix has a large population of working poor and unemployed, many of whom live, shall we say, very close to the bone. And in those days, if you didn’t have insurance, you couldn’t even get in to see most doctors. An ER, on the other hand, is not allowed to turn you away. So, when someone without insurance or cash needed to see a doctor, they would go to the ER and sit there until they could finally get in. This meant waits for everyone that extended for many hours.

It was Christmas time. A flu epidemic was raging. And conveniently, my body chose that moment to develop appendicitis.

In terrible pain and throwing up, I persuaded my ex-husband to take me to the ER at a large regional medical center called St. Joseph’s. It was late at night.

The ER was packed. The receptionist, overworked and miserable, was rude to me and gave me a dirty look when I threw up into the bucket I’d brought.

There was no place to sit down. The floor was truly filthy, so I didn’t feel I could sit or lay down on the floor. Three hours later, I found myself sitting outside on a concrete bench, in the cold, next to a woman who was miscarrying and who had been waiting over four hours. We waited another couple of hours without anyone caring whether we lived or died.

Finally, I gave up. I figured if I was going to die, I’d rather die at home in my bed than in that place. I called a friend, waking her out of a sound sleep, and persuaded her to come get me.

At dawn I was in agony. I called the Mayo Clinic, where my old doctor was practicing. They told me to call 911 and have them bring me there. I said I thought they would take me back to St. Joe’s and I couldn’t withstand another fruitless, endless wait. She said no, they have to take you where you ask them to take you.

That, as it developed, was wrong. They would not take me to the Mayo —the twenty-minute drive would take them out of their area. I sent them away and called another friend, who kindly took me to the Mayo.

The Mayo, being in a more upscale part of town, was not crowded with people who couldn’t afford to see a doctor. Within minutes after I walked in, they had me headed for surgery. By then I’d been suffering from acute appendicitis for over 13 hours. In the elderly, this may be life-threatening. Afterwards, the surgeons said the appendix was “a mess,” one of the worst they’d seen.

On the one hand, my feeling is that I wouldn’t be in the ER if I didn’t have an emergency. Obviously, I needed to be seen in less than four hours. Obviously, I needed to be seen when I came in.

On the other hand, I surely understand that when everybody and his little brother and sister use the ER for routine medical care and show up when they have a bad cold or flu, the staff is overwhelmed and the likelihood that they will fail to recognize a true emergency is high. I also understand that an inner-city ER staff sees not only the routine heart attacks, strokes, accident, and appendicitis cases, but a steady flow of knifings, gunshot wounds, and drug overdoses, and so of course they do not have time to deal with people’s colds and tummyaches.

With the ACA, this problem was somewhat relieved because more poor people could get insured. Once that goes away, though, we can expect those conditions to return. When people can’t get insurance and doctors turn the poor away because they’re uninsured and can’t pay, then ERs will fill up again with folks who need routine medical care. And the next time you have a serious condition that really does need immediate attention, you may not be able to get it.

Ella’s Story, Chapter 21. *FREE READS*

Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story


Much to be hoped it was, she thought, that this one would not remain a pain in the butt as long as she herself had.

The morning after Ella and Lohkeh’s visit to the mine and its hive of offices, Vighdi summoned her. Still feeling a bit dreamy after the satisfying encounter with her handsome co-conspirator, she entered Vighdi’s place in a good mood.

“Sit down.” Vighdi gestured toward a stool near the worktable that ran along one wall. “We need to talk.”

“Yes, ma’am?” No clue: so used to being congratulated on her good work was she.

Vighdi, her elbows on her desk, leaned forward and focused her attention on Ella.

“Where were you and Lohkeh yesterday?”

“Takrai, ma’am?” Puzzled, she realized the answer came out sounding like a guess. “I had a pass. You set it for me. And I’m sure Lohkeh had one, too.”

“Obviously. That’s not what I’m asking. Where did you go while you were there?”

Uh oh. Ella wondered: what did she know? People often said you were watched wherever you went. Maybe even on the toilet. But she’d never seen much proof of it. The car no doubt was connected. But…every wall? Really? “Uhm…we went to the mine offices first, ma’am. He left me with Chief Haidar while he delivered something to some other office. She showed me around the place and introduced me to staff in receiving and accounts.”

“And then where did you go?”

“Well, after Lohkeh came back, we…got some supper.”

“At the mess hall?”

“I guess.”

“You don’t know?”

Ella stayed quiet and aimed a steady gaze at her. In fact, they had paused briefly to pick up a couple of sweets at the company cafeteria as they headed back to Ethra compound.

“All right,” Vighdi said. “Let’s go over this more closely.” She passed her right hand across a hotspot embedded in the desk, and a diagram of the road system between Ethra Port and Takrai flashed up on a blank wall behind the work table.

“You went to the transit depot after first-meal, and you met Lohkeh there, right?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You got into an aircar and headed toward Takrai, which is the only way you can head. But you didn’t go there directly.” A lighted dot traced the car’s path over the map.

Oh, hell. “No, ma’am.”

“Here, you take the spur tunnel to Lake Jesiah. Correct?

“Yes’m. But…”

Vighdi gave her a look that silenced her.

“You stop there for awhile.”

“Yes.” Did the booze cabinet have eyes?


“Well. We were just sight-seeing, ma’am. There was no big hurry to get to Takrai.”

“Uh-huh. Did you get to see the geyser go off?”

Ella couldn’t help smiling. “We did, ma’am!”

Vighdi’s tone softened for an instant. “It’s an amazing thing to watch, isn’t it?”

“It surely is, boss. I never saw anything like that.”

“Well, I’m glad you got the opportunity. So…now you get back in the vehicle and continue on to the mines.”


“When you get there, you go straight to the business compound.”


“You go into a storage area, where you spend a short time.”

“Yes. We unloaded the stuff in the car. And helped Haidar and her assistant stack boxes where she wanted them.”

“Now Lokeh goes off in the vehicle, but you stay at the building.”

“Was I supposed to stick with him the whole time?”

Vighdi shot her a sharp look. “Yes or no?”

“Yes. Haidar gave me a tour of the whole business operation. And she introduced me to people I’ve been working with remotely.”

“That’s good. So now you can put faces to sign-offs, no?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Looks like you roam all over the building.”

“Pretty much, we did.”

“Eventually Lohkeh comes back. The two of you get into the car and drive off. And yeah, before you leave the mine, you do stop by the mess hall.”

“Yes’m. We picked up some sweet toasts and kekel tea. Hot.”

“All right. Then you came back here? To Ethra?”

“Well, yes…”

“See, the problem is, between here,” Vighdi stood and placed her finger on the map at the office buildings, “and here…” her hand moved to the site of the chow line, “you drop out of sight. You seem to stop about here,” her finger came to rest at a midway point, “and then you both evaporate. Where were you?”

So they were inaudible and invisible while they were enjoying each others’ company? This was good news, Ella thought. But how in the five goddesses’ creation had he pulled that off?

“We…had dinner, Boss Vighdi. It was delivered to the room.”

“The room?”

“Yes, ma’am. In that building. Right there.” She indicated the structure to which Vighdi had traced their passage.

Vighdi closed her eyes and, with the fingers of one hand, massaged her temple as though her head hurt.

“Mmm-hmm,” she murmured after a moment. “So you go off-grid, off-track, off-everything to go to this…room? Why?”

“To eat dinner, ma’am.”

“Ella…” Vighdi’s voice took on an edge.

“I didn’t…”

“Don’t ever do that again.”


“You do understand that I can make life very uncomfortable for you here, don’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am. But I didn’t know…”

“I don’t give a damn what you knew or didn’t know. It’s your responsibility to be where you’re supposed to be. And to see to it that the company knows where you are. All the time.”

“But…maybe something happened to the equipment. I had no idea – how would I know if it just went off?”

“It didn’t ‘just go off.’ If a contact goes dead an alarm will signal you. So you can call in to your boss or whoever you’re supposed be working for and let them know where you are and what you’re doing.”

“Vighdi, ma’am… Honestly, I didn’t know.”

“All the rooms in that building were and still are off-limits. The place is for the use of free staff and guests.”

“How would I have known that?”

Ask. You let this guy take you into a luxury suite in a building obviously not meant as slave quarters and it never occurred to you to inquire as to whether you were supposed to be there?”

“Well…was there any problem with our going into that salon at Lake Jesiah?”

“Of course not. The indentured property work there all the time. Don’t be disingenuous.”


“Don’t act dumb with me.”

“Oh. No, ma’am.”

Vighdi subsided into annoyed silence.

After what felt like endless minutes but probably was just a few seconds, Ella offered: “I’m sorry.”

At this, Vighdi emitted half a chuckle. “I’ll bet you are.” A skeptical smile broke through the shadow of her mood.

Sensing détente in the air, Ella added, “I’ll try to be more careful.”

“Do, please. Use some common sense.”

“I will, ma’am.”

Guessing the conversation had come to its natural end, Ella moved to rise and leave.

“Wait a minute,” Vighdi stopped her. “I have something else to tell you.”

Goddess, no! “Yes, ma’am?” She perched on the edge of the seat, hoping whatever was coming would get over soon.

“Look, sweet.” Vighdi’s voice mellowed. “If you want someplace quiet and private to spend time with your friend, all you have to do is tell me. I can arrange that for you.”

“You can?” Ella felt heat rise into her face. If she was turning red, was it obvious? For that matter, did these dust-gray Varns even know what that meant?

“Of course.”

“Would you?”

“I can find you a place that’s just as nice as Takrai’s guest hostel. Only not clinging to the side of a mine shaft. And I will – but you need to ask, that’s all.”

Ella suppressed a giggle. “Thank you. That’s…” astonishing, she thought, “…awfully nice.”

“Go on back to work now, please.” Vighdi waved her toward the door. “And don’t fail me, dear.”

“No, ma’am.”


There’s Been Some Changes Made Today…

So…the bright idea I had to post individual chapters of The Complete Writer here at the Plain & Simple Press blog and then consolidate them in a single web page dedicated to the book…how’d that go?

Fairly hilariously. As it develops, WordPress has its limits. One of them is book-length documents. About the time we got to chapter 19 — all told, only about 33,000 words, a mere third the length of a typical nonfiction book — WordPress set its digital heels in the sand and refused to proceed further. It would not accept any more links to chapters. And it slowed to the speed of a stampeding snail.

Being an experienced Cox customer, of course I assumed this was a connectivity issue. Cox does a number on you every time you turn around, unless you’re a multi-zillion-dollar corporation. Usually, in time these antics pass.

Not so, the Resistance. Finally I had recourse to our Web Guru, Grayson Bell. Aghast at what he found on the TCW page, he explained that there IS, after all, a limit.

So we had to dream up a workaround.

How’s about I post the stuff as a PDF? said I.

As one PDF? Not so much! said he.

Fortunately, the book falls into not one, not two, not three, but nine sections comprising 48 chapters. So, I proposed posting nine PDFs, one after another as each is completed, each PDF to contain one section of the magnum opus.

This seems to work. So far, anyhow. We now have three PDFs online at The Complete Writer‘s page, containing all the copy that had been published as 19 consecutive chapters. The page is un-choked, de-stalled, fully operative once again. Whether it will stay that way remains to be seen. But for the nonce: it works.

You could cause angels to sing, Dear Reader, if you would please go to the Complete Writer work-in-progress page, download one or more of the PDFs linked to the first three sections, and then let me know if they come over to you all right and if they look OK when you open them.

No doubt there are typos and weirdnesses in them. It took two and a half-hours to convert 48 chapters into nine PDFs, and of course during the process Word decided to get weird (as usual), adding still more hassle to a ditzy process of the type I truly hate doing. How any human being can make a living as a computer tech without being driven straight to the bourbon bottle or the meth pipe escapes me.

Presumably, the same thing will have to be done with If You’d Asked and Ella’s Story. But not now. Totally not now…

The Complete Writer: Writing a Nonfiction Book *FREE READS*

Writing Nonfiction: Magazines, Newspapers, Books, Blogs
Chapter 18. Writing the Nonfiction Book

The Complete Writer
Part III

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. To see all the chapters published so far, visit the *FREE READ* page for The Complete Writer. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

The Nonfiction Book

“Writing a Nonfiction Book”? I could write an entire book on the subject—as many others have, to ill effect.

Go to Amazon and search this string:

how to write a nonfiction book

Stay away from the ones that purport to teach you how to write a book in thirty days. There’s even one that claims you can write a book in twenty-one days! Avoid.

Make your way past the obvious frauds (sure, you can compile a book in a month: if your copy is already written) to texts that look like they make sense. There aren’t many.

Anything by William Zinsser is good. Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life is not a how-to but should not be missed. Stephen King’s On Writing is useful. Otherwise, well . . . My best advice is to learn by trial and error. Sit down, write the book, read it with a jaundiced eye, rewrite it, repeat.

You can apply most of the principles described in chapters 12 through 17 about writing feature articles, at least to chapters if not to the entire book-length document.

Of course, the nonfiction book is much more than just a long feature article. For that reason you need to think it through and map it out before beginning

Preliminary steps

First task is to consider who will read your book and why. What do you have to offer readers, and what might interest them most? This is where you need to lay your emphasis.

Consider who these readers are: What’s their reason for picking up your book? What is their reading level? In what context might they read your book—that is, would they read it on the job as something that will help them with their work? Or as a guide for a hobby, or as self-help to deal with a personal challenge? Are they looking for inspiration or facts or . . . what?

These and related issues will determine the content of your book, the kind of language you use to convey your content, and the book’s organization and slant.

Decide what information your readers need to know, and focus on that. Omit ephemeral material or, if you must, put it in an appendix.

Then organize carefully. It’s best to write an outline upfront, before you begin to write. True, some people don’t like to work this way, but with a book-length manuscript, it’s really not an option. You can always change the organization before your final draft. But at the outset, you need to know where you’re going.

Research carefully. Double-check your facts. Don’t assume it’s right just because you’ve known it half your life. The Internet puts the biggest library in human history on your desk, and Google gives you humanity’s most versatile indexing system. Use them.

Cite sources for everything that’s not common knowledge. Be careful to avoid accidentally plagiarizing someone else’s work—all words taken from some other source should be put in quotation marks and cited; any ideas that are not your own should be acknowledged.

If you decide to write a book based on your blog, bear in mind that blog posts are not book chapters. Much of the material in this book comes from posts on various blogs, but to make them fit, I’ve had to rewrite extensively. The language of book publishing, by and large, is not bloggish. Create a convincing voice and style for the book, and use it throughout.

Organizing your research

Research for a nonfiction book can be extensive. For a book in progress on DCIS and low-level noninvasive breast cancer, I have three huge three-ring binders filled with articles and notes. The information in those binders is organized and indexed on hundreds of index cards.

To get a grip on that much information, I use a fairly simple system:

  • Print out all source material, including interview transcripts, articles downloaded from the Internet, web pages, and everything else. Use three-hole punched paper, or get a paper punch and punch holes in the printouts.
  • Organize the printouts roughly by topic, trying to get the material in the order of the planned chapters, as best as possible.
  • Place the printouts in one or more binders.
  • Number the pages.
  • Reread the material from beginning to end, noting keywords relevant to the book’s planned content and organization in the printouts’ margins.
  • Get a large stack of notecards.
  • Go through the printouts again, from beginning to end. Enter each keyword on a notecard with a note about what is said concerning the topic. Also enter the page number on the notecard.
  • Organize the notecards by the book outline’s sections and, within those, by keywords.

Now you can use the notecards to guide you through your research material to write and organize your book’s content.

Budget time for the job

This is not something you’re going to accomplish in a month or (as one cheesy book on Amazon proclaims) a day. It will take weeks and probably months to write a book. Occasionally a writer spends years on a book. So don’t expect to toss it off in a short not something you’re going to accomplish in a month or (as one cheesy book on Amazon proclaims) a day. It will take weeks and probably months to write a book. Occasionally a writer spends years on a book. So don’t expect to toss it off in a short time.

The most efficient way to work on a book is to schedule a set time and number of hours per day or per week for the project.

Don’t let other people or distractions interfere with that schedule. The only way you can get the job done is to do it. If you’re not doing it, you will never finish the book.

If your family’s demands interfere to the extent that you can’t break free the time needed for the project, hire a babysitter for the little ones and take yourself, your laptop, and your research materials to a coffee house or a library. Many people find they work best when they’re away from home, even if “away” is at a park or a restaurant.

By the same token, however, don’t overdo it. Limit the amount of time and attention you dedicate to the project to your scheduled work times. Otherwise, the thing will expand to fill all corners of your life, and you will be come a very dull boy or girl. As you make time for your writing, also make time for your family, your social life, and some physical activity. Time spent away from writing is psychologically as effective for your work as time spent on the writing.

Keep publishability in mind

As you’re writing the book, don’t forget that you have to peddle it to a publisher and you have to peddle it to readers.

Bear in mind who your readers will be and how your book will differ from and improve on others on your subject. As you’re writing, keep thinking about what will engage your readers’ interest and reading skills. Never lose sight of your market.

Get someone else to read it

Consider feedback from the sort of people who might be your readers to be a non-negotiable part of the process. Your book is not finished until someone else has read it, told you what they think of it, and suggested what might make it better. It’s not finished until you take that advice into account and revise accordingly.

Hire or “volunteer” a beta reader, as described in chapters 7 and 9. Give this person some specific tasks to think about: don’t just hand over the manuscript and ask “whaddaya think?” Most people are afraid to hurt your feelings and so will answer “it’s fine! I love it!” This is not helpful.

Chapter 9 offers some strategies to help elicit useful feedback. Reassure your reader that your heart will not be broken if there’s something she or he doesn’t like, and that in fact, being straight with you will help you write the best book you can. Having made this promise, behave yourself professionally if the response contains some negative or disappointing commentary.

Hire a professional editor

Beta readers usually know nothing about the exigencies of publishing a book-length manuscript. You need professional editing help to prepare the manuscript for submission to an agent or for self-publication.

Many universities maintain lists of editors for graduate students completing dissertations and for faculty members who must publish or perish. Call the graduate college at your nearest university or, failing that, the English department or the university’s press office for referrals to experienced editors. There also are professional groups of editorial specialists, such as the Council of Science Editors; often they maintain lists of members looking for freelance work.

You can contact The Copyeditor’s Desk ( through the contact page at the website, or through the P&S Press contact page. We may be able to help with your manuscript, or refer you to someone with expertise in your subject matter.

If You’d Asked Me: How to Treat a Swollen Lip

22. What is the treatment for when you have a swollen lip?

Just for you: a chapter from a book in progress. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. See the collected chapters so far, FREE online at If You’d Asked Me… For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

How to treat a swollen lip? Depends on what caused your lip to get swollen.

Got a whack on the mouth, but no busted teeth? Make an ice pack (wrap it in a clean dishtowel or several layers of paper towels) and gently chill the injured area.

Ingested something you’re allergic to? Tongue showing signs of swelling? Betake yourself to an emergency room, now not later.

Got a cold sore? Too bad, so sorry: not much you can do about it. Refrain from kissing people, please. You’ll just have to wait till it passes, which it will in a week or ten days.

If you don’t know what caused it or if some other circumstance that you don’t understand well caused it, consider that it could be a herpes infection. Call your doctor.

Ella’s Story, Chapter 20 **FREE READS**

Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story


The yellow sun was dropping toward the distant Sky Hills that, blueing in the afternoon shadows, marked the estate’s west and north borders. Workers contracted out to the village or city were beginning to straggle back in. Children, their studies done and the teacher having left the grounds an hour or two before, were playing games under Fihr’s supervision. A couple of the women field workers came in a little early, checked in with Ella, and headed to the showers.

Another while yet, she reckoned, before the Kaïna returned from the Empire’s core, hovering over the government sector in the center of E’o Cinorra. Rysha would be tired, she expected, and probably irritable after a day spent dickering with a dozen self-important diplomats from almost as many far-flung planetary governments. She called Shaben, the front door porter, on her personal intercom and reminded him to be sure her Splendor’s private lounge was adequately stored with calming beverages.

Better look in on the new boy, she thought, before the dust started to rise again. Pretty quick the whole off-campus crew would show up and she’d be busy again, checking them in, listening to their reports and complaints and gossip, and generally riding herd.

The corridor down the men’s quarters was quiet. That was good, she supposed. She announced herself: “Woman in the hall!” And hit a button to turn on a small green light over the two doorways at either end of the hall. Some men from some cultures did not like to be surprised in the altogether.

Seven doors down from Dorin’s space, she came to Darl’s quarters. She knocked lightly on the wall and pushed the drape aside.

He was awake but quiet, seemed even to be resting. Apparently he’d learned to control the pain by staying still. That was something, she supposed. His eyes glanced her way and followed her as she stepped inside and parked her ample frame on the small chair near the bed.

She spoke softly, remembering that a turn through the cooker made every part of your body hurt, including whatever is inside the ears. “Hello, there. How are you doing now?”

Silly question. Good enough to sound like someone cared, though.

“Still alive, I think.” He tried to smile, weakly. “Unless I’ve died and this is Hell.”

Ella chuckled, a little surprised to hear a quip. “Not quite. To the contrary, come to think of it.” She pulled the edge of the blanket around his shoulders and saw that it covered his legs and feet. “Keep yourself warm, brother. You don’t want to get chilled. Because that makes it worse.”

“I know.” He winced when he tried to reach for the covering’s edge. “What did you say your name is?”


“Ah. Yes: Eliyeh’llya,”

He spoke with a distinct South Hemisphere accent. His enunciation was that of an educated man. That would make him a privileged man. Things were better in the south, at least for those with some tribe or some money. Chances are, she thought, this one had never gone hungry.

“No one here can pronounce it.” She shrugged. “So the Varns say ‘Ella.’ And so does everyone else.”

“Not many Samdi here, then?”

“Oh, there are a few. Dorin and me. Dita is Samdi – though she was born on Varnis. But we’ve got people from all over the Empire. Kanats and Tamehali and Gathrani. A Kraen. And a couple of men from Aravla. Even a Michaian guy. That’s why we speak mostly Varn. In fact, it’s kind of rude to speak your own language in front of someone who doesn’t know it.”

“Well. That makes sense.”

Also means I don’t have to listen to your snooty tone, she thought unkindly. Then corrected herself: Not his fault. Probably. If he could be persuaded to use Varn all the time, he’d be a lot less likely to get on the wrong side of the usual Samdi types who found themselves in service. At least, not the instant he opened his mouth. She made a mental note to encourage this…later.

He fell silent and closed his eyes. She let him rest briefly and then asked, “Would you like something to eat?”

“No.” His eyes stayed shut. “Thank you. I don’t think I can get any food down.”

“I could bring you a fruit or vegetable drink.”

“That’s kind. Thank you. But no, not just now.”

“Well. All right, then. Try to get some sleep.” She moved to get up and leave.

“Wish I could.”

“Did you not sleep during the night?” She settled back onto the seat.

“Not so as I could tell.”

How long had he been on the market floor? At least a day, maybe two. And this was his second day at Skyhill. Not good: he should have recovered enough to sleep at least a few hours. And had he eaten nothing?

She laid the back of her hand against his face. He winced a little, opened his dark brown eyes, but didn’t seem to be fevered. He must have gotten chilled, she speculated, when they put him out on the selling floor almost direct from the cooker. Theoretically that violated the rules – they were supposed to keep you in a heat-regulated berth for several days, until you could stand up, sleep, and eat. But the blacksuits warped the rules to fit their purposes.

Crime wave, indeed. Had there been another revolt? Michaia perennially incubated unrest. And she’d heard that Krae and Ilaema had a few nests of the dissatisfied and the disgruntled. Nice thing about working for a criminal syndicate: it didn’t leave you much time to raise rebellions.

The outcome was about the same, though…on an individual level.

“I’m going to bring you something warm to eat,” she said, not as a suggestion but as a fact. “You need to build your strength back up.”


“Hush. I’ll be back shortly.”

She left without giving him a chance to argue.

Down in the kitchen, she found Cook Lior’s wife Tabit supervising a clean-up of the freezers and cold boxes while she also tended a couple of large, steaming kettles.

“Do we have any comfort food?” Ella asked. Probably a pointless question: Tabit seemed to find all food comforting.

Tabit glanced up from her labors. “I expect we can find something. Feeling a little harried, are we?”

“No more than usual.” Ella chuckled. “It’s not for me. It’s for our new boy.”

“Oh.” As though morning’s light dawned. “Heard he was in a bad way.”

“Some. He’ll be all right – it’ll take some time, though.”

“Well. Take the weight off, sister,” she wiped her hands and waved a towel toward an empty stool at the work bench. “And I’ll see what I can hustle up. It’ll take a minute or two.”

Ella sat down, happy enough for an excuse to take a moment’s break, and watched Tabit rummage in a pantry. Quick enough, a pot went over a stove burner, filled with frozen stew, or, Ella thought, maybe a rich soup, and a generous dollop of hlann cream was added.

Tabit and Lior had all sorts of ethnic theories about the feeding and nourishment of slaves. One of them was that Samdi, all Samdi, loved the various flavors of hlann, a manufactured treat the creatures used as a condiment, a thickener, or a flavoring, depending on the context. Accordingly, a pitcher of hlann cream and a pottle of hot-spiced hlann sauce always appeared on the meal table. Ella thought she could take or leave it. But she usually took it.

“Tea?” Tabit lifted a pot to pour a mugful for herself.

“Sure. If you’re having some.”

Tabit set two full mugs and a pitcher of cream on the table, stirred the warming pot, and settled onto the seat opposite Ella.

“How’s your day going?” she asked. Her broad Gathran features made her look cheerful, even when she wasn’t. And like most of her kind, she was stoutly built.

Ella sipped enough of the tea to drop its level below the cup’s rim, then poured in cream to take up the slack.

“No crazier than usual, I suppose.”

“That’s not saying much.” Tabit chuckled empathetically. “That girl of yours was in here earlier today,” she remarked after some small talk.

“Bintje? That would explain where she was when she was supposed to be cleaning.”

“No doubt.”

“What did she want?”

“To get out of cleaning, I expect.”

Ella laughed. “We were never that young, right?”

“Not that I can recall.” Tabit got up to stir the rapidly defrosting soup. “I wonder if she’s all right – with the baby, that is. She was complaining that she didn’t feel good.”

“She has morning, noon, and afternoon sickness.” Ella took an appreciative sip of Tabit’s tea, always a league or two better than Dorin’s. “Besides, she complains all the time. If she didn’t complain, that’s when I’d worry about her.”

“Life’s a stage play, after all.”

“In some corners of the galaxy.”

Tabit set a napkin, spoon, and bowl on a tray she’d pulled down from an overhead cupboard.

“This new brother,” she asked, “what’s his name again?”

“Dorin says he’s called Darl.”

“He’s supposed to be a healer?”

“That’s what we’re told. Not by lore but by training.”

Tabit fell silent while she dished up the hot chowder. She snapped a lid onto the one-serving bowl and placed it on the tray.

“So… Why did they put him out for sale when he’s still in such bad shape?”

Love that gossip mill, Ella thought. “Apparently ran out of room.”

“Michaians had another bellyful, did they?”

Ella raised an eyebrow and brushed her left earlobe with a finger. “Sister, I have no idea.” She picked up the loaded tray. “It has nothing to do with us, hm?”

“No, ma’am. I expect not.” Tabit looked chastened enough to give Ella a brief twinge of guilt. Very brief: some things were unsafe to talk about. Especially inside a set of walls.

She took her leave and carried the light meal back toward the men’s quarters, there to try to coax it down Dorin’s new charge.

What a pain in the butt it was, she thought, to have to take on and train up a green new slave. Especially one in no shape to work. One who is, for godsake, still too hurt to drag himself off a cot.

The Complete Writer: Research Blues *FREE READS*

The Complete Writer
Part III

Writing Nonfiction: Magazines, Newspapers, Books, Blogs
Chapter 17. Research Blues

You do not want to have to explain yourself to these folks…

So you want to be a nonfiction writer. You think you’d like to be the next John McPhee, flying into the national consciousness astride a copy of The New Yorker. Or maybe you think you want to be a great investigative journalist, to see your byline on the cover of The Rolling Stone.

In that case, you need to contemplate the story of the Philadelphia writer who told The Rolling Stone a sensational tale of rape and mayhem on a college campus.[1] And while we’re at it, take a look at NPR’s report of the incident. [2]

Lest you’ve had your head under a bucket: that notorious journalistic scandal involved an investigative report in Rolling Stone that accused seven young men of committing a brutal rape during a drunken fraternity party at the University of Virginia. A great flap arose—the story quickly spread nationwide and around the globe, aided and abetted by the present widespread concern over sexual harassment and assault.

The source for this story was an unnamed young woman, discreetly given a pseudonym (“Jackie”) and otherwise left unidentified. At the woman’s request, the reporter, Sabrina Erdely, never attempted to contact any of the alleged offenders.[3] People “Jackie” claimed as witnesses were not named, nor (evidently) did Erdely speak with them.[4] In the ensuing uproar, the university suspended all fraternity and sorority activities, and the university came under intense federal scrutiny for its policies.

As it develops, it’s highly unlikely “Jackie” was attacked in the Phi Kappa Psi house on the night of the supposed party, because no party took place at Phi Kappa Psi that night. Reporting at Slate,[5] Atlantic writer Hanna Rosin reveals that the fraternity did not host a party on the evening of September 28, 2012, and that “Drew,” who allegedly took the victim to the party and joined in the assault, told a Washington Post reporter that he had never met “Jackie”—a statement that, if untrue, would be easy to disprove within the gossipy community that is a college campus.

This is serious stuff. You can see, even on the surface, the harm caused by inaccurate, careless reporting. Evidently Ms. Erdely was misled by a source who deliberately perpetrated a hoax. However, she—Erdely—made that possible by failing to do her job properly.

Whenever you do any kind of nonfiction writing, even if it’s reporting on a meeting of the town garden club, a single, overriding imperative dictates your actions:

Every time you encounter a fact that is in any way controversial, questionable, incendiary, or even just mildly odd, you MUST follow up on it by contacting all of the people involved and asking for comment.

This is not an option.

People dispense factoids to reporters all the time. Some of the information you get from sources you think are reliable is true. Some of it, alas, is not: it’s either mistaken or an outright lie.

I have had both of these happen to me in the course of a fifteen-year career. It’s not as easy to identify accuracy as you think. And, given an apparently reliable source, it’s unnervingly easy to get complacent.

Your job, as a writer of nonfiction, is to get the facts right. It means your job is always to question authority!

There’s no leeway in that.

Yes, I do know that one school of thought teaches undergraduate scribblers that “creative nonfiction,” also known as “literary journalism,” allows one to tweak the facts to fit the “plot,” “theme,” and characterization one is playing with. But, my friends, that school of thought is dead wrong.

There is never, ever a time that you are allowed to tweak the facts, to get the facts wrong, to withhold some facts to create an impression you wish to inflict on your readers, to rearrange facts, or to invent facts. That is not what creative nonfiction or literary journalism is.

It’s a firing offense to play fast and loose with the facts in pursuit of a lively story. I happen to know a reporter who was fired from The Arizona Republic for exactly that cause. And yes: he went on to teach “creative nonfiction” at the local university, where he persuaded students and at least one of his colleagues that adjusting facts was part of the technique of writing an entertaining story.

If anyone ever tells you this practice is acceptable, run away.

A journalist’s pen (or keyboard) is enormously powerful. You hold in your fingers the ability to destroy lives, to drive companies out of business, and to bring down governments. And so you are called upon to abide by ethical demands that far exceed the standard applied to most mere mortals.

Consider the potential harm the University of Virginia story could do:

  • You may be sure that within hours after Rolling Stone went to press, everyone on that campus knew the names of the seven alleged rapists. Their reputations were permanently compromised. Some probably left the university. But whatever they did, they may never outrun the calumny: their future careers may affected by what is evidently an untruth.
  • The university’s reputation was compromised and placed under a cloud. Would you send your daughter there?
  • The fraternity’s reputation, already a bit suspect,[6] was further compromised. Would you let your son pledge this outfit? My kid would be paying his own way through school if he made that decision.
  • Rolling Stone’s reputation was hopelessly compromised. If you ever believed anything that rag published before this happened, will you believe anything they publish in the future?
  • In a lawsuit, Rolling Stone was found liable for an enormous figure. The claims that were published, because they were false, are libelous. While a reporter’s duty is to check facts and confirm the truth of negative reports, the final responsibility to protect against libel rests with the editor. Because the reporter did not bother to track down the accused perps and ask for their side of the story—or even to confirm that a party actually occurred—the first thing a plaintiff’s lawyer would do is claim the story was concocted out of malice. And that is very much, very expensively a matter of libel. So, this put Rolling Stone at risk of huge financial penalties. Erdely, depending on her contract and whether she is an employee or a freelancer for Rolling Stone, may also be separately liable for huge claims. Each of those seven guys could bring separate suits, and so can the fraternity itself. We are contemplating more dollars than the human mind can conceive.

So, how can you protect yourself, as a reporter, from being taken in as Ms. Erdely apparently was? No reporter is 100 percent safe from our own errors and others’ deception. However, you can develop a few habits that will help:

  • Always confirm fact. Everything a source tells you should be double-checked through your own research.
  • When a claim is made about a person, call that person and ask for comment. If the person will not return calls or emails or accept visits, state in your article: “Boxankle did not return calls from a reporter from Rolling Stone.”
  • When a claim is made about a company or an agency, call the PR people or someone in authority at the company or agency and ask for comment. Again, if they refuse to speak to you, in your article explicitly state who you tried to contact, how you tried to contact them, and that they would not speak to you or they declined to comment.
  • Record every interview. If you write from your handwritten notes, listen to the interview to be sure your notes are correct.
  • Keep every recorded interview for at least six months. That is every interview, even those feeding some fluffy cheery little piece of froth. If anything even faintly controversial or technical is said, keep the interview permanently.
  • Unless your publication explicitly prohibits it, run the copy past people you interviewed and ask them to check it for accuracy. Do not accept editorial corrections; tell them you are asking only for confirmation of accuracy.
  • Never rely on an editor to check facts. Some publications do not hire fact-checkers.
  • Understand the law on libel and defamation; see chapter 31 for more on this.

All of these things are part of your job.

[1]Samantha Melamed, “Phila. Writer at Center of Controversy over Rape Article,” The Philadelphia Inquirer December 7, 2014.

[2] David Folkenflik, “Defining Narrative Questioned in Rolling Stone UVA Rape Story,” National Public Radio, December 5, 2014.

[3] Paul Farhi, “Author of Rolling Stone Article on Alleged U-Va. Rape Didn’t Talk to Accused Perpetrators,” The Washington Post, December 1, 2014.

[4] Hannah Rosin, “Key Player in UVA Rape Story: “Rolling Stone Never Talked to Me.” Slate, December 6, 2014.

[5] Hannah Rosin, “Blame Rolling Stone,” Slate, December 5, 2014.

[6] Wikipedia, s.v. “Phi Kappa Psi,” n.d.

If You Asked Me: Squeamish about Insulin Shots?

21. My coworker administers his insulin injections at his desk or at the lunch table in front of everyone. Is it appropriate?

Just for you: a chapter from a book in progress. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. See the collected chapters so far, FREE online at If You’d Asked Me… For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

To follow the progress online, click on the little orange icon beside the P&S Press feed, over there in the right-hand sidebar. ⇒ ⇒ ⇒

a) He is not harming anyone by taking a few seconds or a few minutes and administering a dose of life-sustaining medication to himself. If you don’t like it you can get up and go to the bathroom, where maybe you can comb your eyebrows until you figure he’s finished.

b) It’s none of your business.

c) Your remark reveals a great deal about you, and none of it is flattering. It is hard not to feel sorry for you.

I’ll say this, though I’ll bet it doesn’t apply to your case: When I was a little girl, my family and I lived in a Third-World country. We had to take about a half-dozen shots, and some of them were pretty painful—about every six months my parents dragged me, literally kicking and screaming, down to the clinic for another hurtful episode. In those days, cholera, typhoid, and typhus shots were very painful, and the rest were just not any fun.

One time a nurse threw me flat on the floor and put her foot on my chest to hold me down so she could jab me with one of those ferocious shots.

That experience along with all the lesser events left me phobic about injections. Whenever I have to have a shot or have blood drawn, I cannot look at the equipment or watch the procedure, or else I will have a panic attack or even faint.

Okay . . . so maybe you’ve had some traumatic experience that left you with the heeby-jeebies about injections. In that case, I take back my implication that you’re kinda pathetic. But even if that is the case, all you’ve got to do is say, “Excuse me, gotta go to the men’s,” stand up, and walk out of the room for a couple of minutes. How hard is that?

Ella’s Story, Chapter 19 *FREE READS*

Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story


The dinner he had ordered up was pure Samdi: foods she hadn’t tasted since the blacksuits had hauled her off a good two years before, foods she didn’t realize she’d missed so much.

“Where did you find this, brother?” She picked up a crisp-coated leaf of a richly flavored succulent, one of her favorites among the grilled and boiled and deep-fried treats sold in a market thoroughfare.

He lifted a piece out of the serving bowl and examined it skeptically, as though he suspected it was unripe or not cooked properly. Or maybe counterfeit. “You can get pretty much anything you want. If you ask right.”

“I didn’t even know the Varns had this stuff here, on their godforsaken moon.” She’d never seen the leaf, which rotted quickly off the vine, in the resort restaurant where she’d labored away her first months at Ethra.

“Oh, sure. Some of the tourists are Samdi bigshots.”

That was so. Samdi bigshots liked street-market food, too. Of course. Who wouldn’t?

She ate until she couldn’t stuff another bite into her face, so delighted was she with the spread that graced the table. After Lohkeh finished his meal – well before she did – he watched her sate herself, barely hidden amusement showing in his face.

When she succeeded in clearing her plate and every other dish in front of her, she sighed, leaned back in her chair, and looked up into Lohkeh’s deep blue eyes, so dark as to appear black most of the time. The garnet in his ear sparkled like a sly wink. And she realized she was hungry for something more than food from home.

She rose from the seat, stepped over to his side of the table, and stood over him, silent. She knew she wouldn’t have to say a word.

Beautiful. That he was, she reflected now, from the distance of many years.

He smiled, let her pull him to his feet, and then slid his arms around her. She felt his desire harden against her belly, and felt her own heart beat faster as his lips found hers and then followed the line of the jaw to her ear and downward. He drew her to the bed, settled on it, and nuzzled her belly while he tugged smooth fabric seams apart.

She sat beside him on the bed to pull his shirt open, slipped it off his back and arms, then paused to gaze. His muscled chest and arms, highlighted in the golden light from glow panels set to mimic the Varn sun’s colors, stood out as smooth and perfect as a sculptured figure.

This one, she wanted. She moved to kiss him again. His tongue danced in her mouth, and he tugged off first her leggings, then his own.

He lay back against a pile of pillows. “Come here,” he whispered. “Come on up here.”

The Complete Writer: Journalistic Research *FREE READS*

The Complete Writer
Part III

Writing Nonfiction: Magazines, Newspapers, Books, Blogs
Chapter 16. Journalistic Research

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. To see all the chapters published so far, visit the *FREE READ* page for The Complete Writer. You can buy a copy, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

The first step in research is at once the easiest and the most difficult: Think.

Any information-gathering project, whether it’s heavy on interviews, Google, and personal observation or whether it requires lots of legwork in public records, archives, and libraries, starts with a systematic, organized approach. Before you begin, you should consider where you will find your material and how you will dig it out.

The basic steps to journalistic research are three: first, gain a broad overview of the subject; second, learn about it in some depth, and third, find and interview knowledgeable people.

Before we begin discussing these techniques, here’s a caveat: this chapter reviews important, easily accessible reference works and information sources suitable for most feature-writing. Before you undertake an investigative article, though, you should take a course in investigative journalism and work on-staff with an experienced editor. Investigative reporting is not for amateurs.

Getting Started

Seasoned reporters will tell you the key to a successful interview is simple: do your homework first. Learn enough about your assignment to speak intelligently with your sources. Nothing turns an interviewee off faster than a writer’s total ignorance of the subject.

Thus, while the interview is the journalist’s most important research tool, it comes last. It’s the culmination of your research, undertaken only after considerable reading, legwork, and thought.

Be aware, by the way, that researchers divide sources into two broad types: primary and secondary. A primary source is a person who has direct knowledge of an event. Among primary sources are witnesses whom you might interview, letters or reports by people who were on the scene, and depositions or court testimony of witnesses. A secondary source is a report from someone who knows about the subject or event but did not actually witness it. Take, for example, an airplane crash. Primary sources are the survivors, the people who saw the crash, and data from the plane’s black box. Secondary sources are Federal Aviation Authority reports; comments from other aviation experts; writing about air safety in general; interviews with friends and relatives of the victims; and newspaper, television, and magazine accounts.

Does this mean that any one-on-one interview is a primary source? No! You could, for example, talk to someone who speaks from hearsay. If the individual was not at an event, did not witness it firsthand, then he or she is not a primary source. But if the person is an expert on a subject—say, a scientist explaining her experiments in killer bee biology—then she is a primary source. So, among interviewees, primary sources include witnesses, participants, and experts directly involved in an action or study. Secondary sources include gossips, people who know someone who was involved in the action, and experts speaking in general about other experts’ findings.

Beginners sometimes jump to the conclusion that anything printed is a secondary source. Again, the distinction depends on whether its writer is “on the scene” of the subject at hand. For example, an article on killer bees written by our entomologist and based on her research would be a primary source. A story written by a reporter, or even by an expert whose article is a reprise of other people’s research, would be a secondary source. Diaries, letters, and journals are largely primary sources. An autobiography is a primary source. A witness’s statement is a primary source; a report by a police officer who came upon an accident minutes after it occurred may contain primary and secondary material.

Often, you must weigh the credibility of your sources. Let’s say you need to understand the latest developments in superconductivity. That has something to do with physics. But because it is a specialized and fast-changing subject, just any physicist won’t do. You must be sure your physicist has real expertise about your subject.

How do you find out? First, ask! What is your specialty? What expertise do you have about this specific topic? What have you published about it, and where? Then verify the person’s credentials with colleagues: ask other physicists about his or her reputation. Remember, too, that most people have some ax to grind: try to identify your expert’s biases and keep them in mind as you consider what you hear.

Given a project about which you know little or nothing, you should first get the answers to a few key questions:

  1. Who knows about this subject and cares enough to publish an article or book about it?
  2. Where can I find these articles or books?
  3. Will this story have a local or a national slant, and how will that affect my choice of sources?

Who Knows?

The answer to this question may be less obvious than it seems. Suppose, for example, you’re asked to write a story about senior citizens who keep their jobs past the traditional retirement age. Your editor wants you to focus on two or three successful individuals, weaving in lots of solid information about who hires them and why; why seniors continue to work; the issue’s political aspects; and the advantages and disadvantages to the worker, the employer, and the larger society.

At the start, all you know about the subject comes from a McDonald’s television ad highlighting the company’s experiment with senior workers. You make a note to call someone at McDonald’s national headquarters, whose telephone number you may obtain from the company’s webpage.

First, though, you consider which organizations might be involved with the subject. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) comes immediately to mind. This group concerns itself with anything that affects senior citizens economically. You hazard a guess that something on older workers has already appeared in the AARP Magazine.[1]

Your state has a governor’s commission on aging: this will be a good source of local information. The National Council on Aging is another likely source, as is the Service Corps of Retired Executives, which has both national and local agencies. Naturally, you contact the Social Security Administration’s Press Office.[2]

Come to think about it, you recall legislation eliminating the mandatory retirement age. This means various government agencies have heard testimony on the question of whether older people should be permitted to continue working indefinitely. It also means the subject has some “hot” topics that probably have attracted academic sociologists and psychologists. And it means that at some point the subject surely has been in the news.

If the government started telling business it can’t force workers to retire, then various industries searched out ways to respond. Business and trade publications must have reported on their solutions.

Older workers may have higher health-care costs. This means group insurance providers will have a vested interest in your subject. You make a note to call several major insurers.

Speaking of health, folk wisdom tells you that people who stay active as they age stay healthier and happier. You wonder if that’s so, and if it is, what are the implication for America’s aging Baby Boomers, for industry, and for our society in general. This is the subject matter of sociology and psychology.

Now you have a good idea of where to begin:

  1. With national newspapers, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, or The Christian Science Monitor
  2. With special-interest consumer magazines targeted at older readers
  3. With business and trade publications
  4. With government publications
  5. With sociological or psychological journals

These are arranged in order of descending accessibility and ascending difficulty. To gain the quick overview you need before you begin speaking with sources, start with the first two or three sources. More detailed familiarity will come from professional journals and congressional testimony. For a light story, you may not have to dig that deep. If you’re doing a long, serious piece of a book, you’ll go to all these sources and more.

Later—after you’ve done your preliminary reading—you’ll search out:

  1. Executives or public relations representatives for companies that hire older workers, who may refer you to . . .
  2. Workers willing to let you highlight their stories
  3. Employment counselors experienced with older workers
  4. Spokespersons for senior citizens’ groups, such as AARP
  5. Other experts, academic, governmental, and other
  6. Spokespersons for insurance carriers, if you decide that aspect is relevant to your story

Finding Overview Articles

Magazine, newspaper, and journal articles are easily accessible through Google. Choose your keywords carefully, keeping in mind Boolean structure (“x and y” vs. “x or y” or “x not y”). Try to think from general to specific. Break the subject into several main concepts, and then come up with some synonyms for each. For example, “old” means “aged”; “worker” can mean “employee.”

For the story on working senior citizens, then, you might come up with these key words:

  • Age discrimination
  • Aged, employment of
  • Employees, aged
  • Employees, senior
  • Employees, older
  • Older workers
  • Senior citizens and work
  • Senior citizens and employment
  • Working in retirement
  • Mandatory retirement

A search of these keywords will bring up a bonanza of general-information articles, websites, and blog posts. Use some discrimination: try to identify sites and publications that are well established and likely to be fact-checked.


These are always good, Google notwithstanding. Take yourself to a decent library: a city, college, or university institution. Don’t be shy about talking to the librarian: helping the customer is their job.

Use the library’s databases to seek out your keywords, those that you’ve brought with you and any suggested by the librarian.

Again, look for books by experts. Those published by university presses are likely to be reliable, as are some that are published through mainline, traditional publishers. Look at the sources; check for endnotes or footnotes, and examine these carefully for credibility.

Scientific and Scholarly Research

Back to Google. You can cut out most but not all of the woo-woo that comes up in a Google search by using Google Scholar:

This search engine focuses, mostly, on articles in academic journals. Enter your search terms here and you’ll call up a number of scholarly articles in various relevant disciplines. The “older workers” keyword search, for example brings up things like “Job Loss and Employment Patterns of Older Workers,” by Sewin Chan and Ann Huff Stevens, in the Journal of Labor Economics.

Three problems with Google Scholar:

First, indexed articles tend to be out of date. The Chan and Stevens study, for example, is dated 2001.

Second, the most interesting studies tend to be stashed behind paywalls. This effectively makes them inaccessible for anyone who has to do a lot of research.

And third, you would be surprised how many phony academic journals are out there: fake studies are published all the time by ersatz or dishonest “scholars” in fake journals. These are known as “predatory journals.” Many of them are open-access, and the numbers of these frauds grow exponentially every year, increasing the chance that you’ll find yourself reading a phony study. You can find lists of these predatory publications in Scholarly Open Access’s List of Stand-Alone Journals[3] and in Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers.[4] It’s important to check on any title that is not obviously associated with a well-known publisher or university.

Important to know: The original Beall’s List was taken down when one of the crooks threatened its founder and operator with a lawsuit. A follower, however, downloaded contents that were current at the time and republished it in a wiki, adding more titles to the original and inviting readers to participate in the Wiki. Thus you need to go to the site published on Weebly to access this invaluable resource:

For serious, in-depth research once you’re beyond the first-pass stage, you’re best served by visiting a university or at least a good community college library, where you can obtain articles free of charge.

How to Find Experts

A convenient place to start looking for experts on topics large and small is, of course, the Internet. If your subject involves a service or a product, some company no doubt provides it in your area. Do a search for the product or service and simply call the president of a local firm and ask for an interview.

If your subject is a social issue, some nonprofit undoubtedly addresses it. Nonprofit directors are often more open to talking with the press—they like getting free publicity—so, they can be very helpful.

You may have to get past a gatekeeper. Explain who you are, what you’re doing, and what publication you’re writing for. Usually you’ll be directed to someone who knows the subject. If not, move on to the next company.

Trade groups bring together business people with similar concerns. Google “trade associations” or “professional organizations” plus your topic’s key terms, and you’ll often find a lead to an interviewee.

City, county, and state commissions are good local sources of experts on public policy issues. Call the mayor’s, county supervisor’s, or governor’s office for leads.

Elected representatives keep abreast of public issues that affect their constituents. Google a state, city, or county plus terms such as “governor,” “representative,” “senator,” “commissioner,” “mayor,” “city council,” and the like.

State or local governments staff certain departments with experts. Fish and game departments, for example, often hire ecologists knowledgeable in regional conservation issues. The highway department may have an engineer who can talk about safe bridge construction. Experts on corrections, child abuse, the handicapped, real estate, the environment, communication, transportation, education, tourism . . . name a subject, and you’ll find someone who knows about it somewhere on the public payroll.

Chambers of Commerce collect information on tourism, economic development, and various civic projects. They often have in-house specialists or can refer you to private-sector experts. Here again, though: watch their comments for bias.

Universities and colleges are full of people who know what they’re talking about. On controversial topics, you may get a straighter story here—scientists and other academics are less likely to speak from pure self-interest than are politicians, public-relations reps, and bureaucrats. But bear in mind that academics have their own hobbyhorses, chief among them concerns about promotion and prestige.

Find academic experts by calling the college’s press bureau or public information office. Explain what your story is about, who you’re writing for, and what specific information you need.

One expert is an excellent source of another: each time you interview someone, ask for a reference to someone else who might help you.

Watch local newspapers and city magazines for clip-and-save listings of consumer advocates, elected representatives, points of interest, and the like. Local business journals often run annual lists of the areas biggest companies, complete with officers’ names and phone numbers. Keep a file of such material in print form if it’s unavailable on the Web. If it does appear on the Net, bookmark it.

How to Find Manuscript Sources

Much unpublished material rests in state and national archives, university libraries, and various private collections. Historical societies invariably keep documents, letters, and memoirs that cast light on modern topics.

The Library of Congress publishes the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, which is online and largely searchable.[5] Tens of thousands of manuscript collections in hundreds of U.S. repositories are catalogued.

If you write regularly about your state or city, make it a point to familiarize yourself with the state’s official archives, local museums and historical societies, and university manuscript collections. Introduce yourself to the librarian, and if you don’t have a specific assignment, spend some time browsing.

Public records are by definition “public,” meaning you or anyone else can see them. Much of this material is online, though in some cases you may still have to go to a government office to view them. For a fee, you can do a pretty comprehensive online background check on just about anyone. Be careful, though: online results are not always accurate.

How Do You Know When You’ve Finished?

It is possible to get so involved with the research that you never get around to writing the piece. In reporterese jargon, this is called “over-researching the story.”

At some point, you’ll have to stop, if for no other reason than the editor’s snappish reminder that you have twenty minutes to deadline.

When people start repeating things you’ve heard elsewhere, you usually have done enough. When you’ve covered all the bases with an interviewee and he answers the final “is there more I should know?” question with “no,” you’re probably safe in quitting.

Think over your angle or focus and ask yourself, “Do I have enough material to cover this fairly? If the issue is controversial, have I investigated all sides? Do I know the most current developments?” If the answer is yes, you might as well stop.

You should finish with several times more material than you can use. Before you begin writing, you will sift and organize your notes, picking out the most germane points, while the rest serves as background that makes you an informed speaker.



[3] /