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From Child Prodigy to Self-Publishing Expert: A.G. Billig’s Amazing Literary Journey

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series on author/entrepreneur A.G. Billig, and how she is bringing her vast media, publishing branding experience to thousands of authors through SelfPublishingMastery.com. Here, she discusses her professional background, writing experiences, and her vision for the world’s most diverse self-publishing online platform.)

She wrote her first short story as a child. At age 13, the Romanian media dubbed her a child prodigy. Three years later, she was writing professionally for a popular national newspaper on teen issues. Then, at 17, she became a radio host — which led to producing a TV show for an independent Romanian network. Finally, when A.G. Billig entered her twenties, she became editor-in-chief for a variety of teen magazines.

Author, self-publishing and branding expert A.G. Billig

How’s that for the start of a writing career? A career seemingly predestined at birth? What happens if you add to that a Master’s Degree in public relations and communication and a sharp, incisive entrepreneurial mind?

Now, this captivating, multi-talented author, and international media and branding expert has established herself in the U.S., imparting her knowledge and insight to benefit thousands of authors. She is the creator of SelfPublishingMastery.com, a multi-channel platform that brings writing and business tips, consulting, books, writing and editing services, resources, online summits, professional referrals, the best writing instructors, a publishing imprint and much more. In 2017, it was named one of the Top 100 self-publishing blogs online. It’s only going to grow.

In an announcement I’m very proud to make, the editorial services wing of my company, Word Journeys, is shifting to SPM in a new partnership agreement.

As a writer, A.G.’s work is extensive in the journalism world, and growing in books. Her two books, Four Doors and Other Stories and I Choose Love, are award-winners. Her deep, thoughtful soul and incisive mind merge in her works to provide delicious prose that informs as it invokes feeling and thought, giving us insight into ourselves. Interestingly, that is what the greatest mentors do: show the way, often without stating it in those terms.

A.G. Billig presenting a workshop on branding and marketing for self-published authors at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference. Branding and marketing are central themes _ and features — of  SelfPublishingMastery.com

A.G. is a mentor to authors throughout the world, and has caught the attention of writers conference directors. She has presented at the Greater LA Writers, Genre-LA and Digital Writing & Self Publishing conferences, and recently conducted a Master Workshop on author branding. In this two-part interview, she unveils the full scope of SelfPublishingMastery.com, a huge author asset in a self-publishing market that saw an estimated 900,000 titles published last year.

WORD JOURNEYS: Let’s start at the beginning. What inspired you to begin writing?

A.G.Billig: When I was 8, my parents bought a brand new car. My excitement about the prospect of future summer trips across Romania translated into a short story, the first in a long series. My father, an avid reader and aspiring author, loved my writing and encouraged me to pursue it. By 13, I was winning national literary prizes for short stories. I wrote my first novel, a teenage love story, at 15 —and then took a break from writing fiction until 2012.

WJ: What was one of the biggest takeaways of your early journalism career, when you had years of top professional experience by the time you reached your twenties?

A.G.: It was a beautiful way to meet extraordinary people and share their amazing stories with the rest of the world, stretch my comfort zone, and learn new skills. It felt good whenever someone would stop me on the street to tell me they enjoyed my shows.

WJ:   What books did you read as a teen and young adult? How did they inform and shape the stories and book ideas you wanted to pursue?

A.G. Though Romania was still under Communist rule in my early years, I was fortunate to grow up in a house filled with books. My father was born in Paris. He loved French culture as well as universal literary giants. The moment I learned how to read, I started devouring writers such as Honore de Balzac, Emile Zola, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Lev Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Giovanni Boccaccio, Jane Austen, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name a few. These authors and readings shaped my literary tastes and taught me how to write. I learned how to use description, write dialogue, and build solid characters from them. I also learned the type of emotional and cognitive experience a book is supposed to create for the reader, that essential element that stands the test of time. Although I never wanted to be like these authors, I always aimed at giving my best in my writing. We can all do that by being authentic and passionate about what we do.

WJ:   When did you start considering working with self-published authors? What need did you perceive?

A.G.: In 2015, at the London Book Fair. It seems like this event changes my life every three years — I wonder what’s going to happen in 2018! I attended as a journalist (I was a contributor to the Romanian edition of Playboy). I was already following podcasts on self-publishing and wanted to know more about it. The free talks and panels proved to be of great help. The success stories of self-published authors such as Mark Dawson and C.J. Lyons, making six-figure incomes on their books, gave me an A-HA! moment. I realized that the publishing game was changing and self-publishing opened a global market for authors, provided they had the necessary skills. Since I have an entrepreneurial mind, I seized the opportunity, not only for myself, but also for my fellow authors. I realized that they needed support with branding and marketing their books. They would needed resources, information, and education. “Why not use my passion for journalism to serve these people?” I asked myself.

Early in 2016, just about the same time I self-published I Choose Love, Self-Publishing Mastery was born.

WJ:   Let’s go back to your creative love – writing books. First, tell us about I Choose Love – certainly a timely read in this day and age.

A.G.: I never thought I would write a non-fiction book, but a lot went on in 2015 — terror attacks, natural disasters. The world was (and still is) governed by fear. The only way out was choosing love, again and again, every second of our life. At that point, I Choose Love came to me as what some would call a “download”. It took about a month to complete. It was easy for me, because it stemmed from my heart. I also had a clear structure from the beginning, and a thorough knowledge of the topic based on seven years of spiritual practice and personal experiences. It offers practical tools for overcoming fear and attracting love into one’s life.

WJ: Can’t think of a subject more purposeful! You also mentioned you shelved your teenage love of fiction writing until 2012. Typically, when we leave our story writing youth, we rarely find that thread again, but you did. Tell us about Four Doors and Other Stories.

A.G.: This book shows what can happen when we are in the flow. It marked my return to writing fiction, and it brought me a contract with a U.K. publisher.

I created this short stories collection about love, because love represents the foundation of who I am and everything I do, including helping other authors become successful. My vision was to portray love as our true essence, which can be expressed in so many different ways. Once I had this concept clear in my mind, I just allowed the inspiration to flow in.

WJ: What is your vision with SelfPublishingMastery.com? What are the features? How do you, and the platform, assist writers in their journeys?

A.G. My original concept for Self Publishing Mastery was to be the Billboard magazine for the global self-publishing industry. My vision was to support and empower indie authors from around the world to self-publish, and help them master the publishing process.

We began by (and are still) covering book marketing, the writing craft, the right mindset for success, writers’ conferences, success stories, writers Facebook groups, podcasts, and book blogs. After the past year of getting a chance to talk to authors, we decided to add an educational component. Now we will also have workshops, online courses, books, and an online academy. We’ve just further expanded the range of our services for authors through the full-service portfolio, twenty years’ standing, that Word Journeys is bringing in. We have evergreen content, constantly refreshing. We’ve also got some goodies for those who subscribe to our newsletter such as “The top 20 Amazon book reviewers list” and “The successful book launch checklist.” Authors can and will find all that they need for successful self-publishing on our site. Please stop by!

(NEXT: A.G. Billig breaks down SelfPublishingMastery.com, and the particular challenge self-published authors face with branding, distribution, and lifting their work above the growing mass of titles and voices — and how to reach their world of awaiting readers in the process.)

 

 

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Book Lovers: The L.A. Times Festival of Books is Here!

One of the most enjoyable parts of being an author is participating in book signings — and few are better than the L.A. Times Festival of Books.

Desiree Duffy of Black Chateau Enterprises and yours truly at the 2017 LA Times Festival of Books.

For the third straight year, I will be signing books at the USC Campus on Sunday, April 22, from 3-5 p.m. It also happens to be my sister Karin’s 50th birthday, so getting from USC crosstown to Encino for the birthday dinner afterward will be interesting, but the afternoon is all about books, and my sister understands… I think…

I digress. On Sunday, I will be signing Voices, Backroad Melodies, Writes of Life, When We Were The Boys and Just Add Water at the Black Chateau Booth #912 in the Black Zone. I will be part of a two-day author collective put together by my publicist and fellow author in the 3-5 slot, Desiree Duffy, the owner of Black Chateau Enterprises.

            The L.A. Times Festival of Books is huge, and awesome. Up to 150,000 people come for the two days to see a collection of bestselling authors, new authors, and entertainment ranging from panel discussions to live bands and very lively public question-and-answer sessions. The festival is the third largest of its kind in the U.S. It’s a book buyer’s and reader’s dream – and, for authors, a rare chance to talk with so many readers.

“I find that consumers like choices, so having several authors and books for them to chose from at a book fair, means that you are more likely to have something they’ll like,” Desiree says. “Book fairs can be exhausting. Authors signings can be draining. Doing an hour or two signing is much easier than committing to running a booth for an entire fest. It gives authors time to walk the fest, check out panels, and network.”

Since Desiree walks the delicate creative and time management tightrope between being a publicist and author (she’ll appear under her nom de plume, Vanta M. Black, to sign her novel Oubliette: A Forgotten Little Place on Sunday afternoon), she also understands the dual existence we writers lead. Often, we prefer to tuck ourselves into our offices and write, not connecting so much publicly — but books don’t sell if we don’t go public. Contrary to the beliefs of many, online presence alone does not beget success. The group signing helps even the shiest authors interact with their audiences.

“We are social beings. When we connect in person, that bond is stronger than it could ever be online,” she explains. “Being an author means being a brand. You are connected to your writing and being able to talk to people, share stories, learn about them as readers, and make connections helps strengthen your brand.

“Plus, what you do in the real world needs to translate to the online world. As an author at an event, being able to promote and post online about it gives you valuable content. Whether it is social media, your author newsletter, your blog or website, your book fest experience should be featured online. Online and offline exposure leverage one another, making each stronger.”

I’d like to introduce you to the other authors at the Black Chateau Booth (once again, #912, in the Black Zone), the works they’ll be signing, and their signing times:

Saturday, April 21:

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Susanne Bellefeuille, author of Path of Lucas: The Journey He Endured

Autumn Doerr, author of Baker’s Dozen: A Lexi Fagan Mystery

1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Christina Cigala, author of XXvXY: The Final World War

Bobby Goldstein, creator of XXvXY: The Final World War; and the TV show Cheaters

3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Mark J. Rose, author of Matt Miller in the Colonies Series

Lon Varnadore, author of Mostly Human: A 4Pollack Novel

Sunday, April 22:

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Sean Patrick Traver, author of Wraith Ladies Who Lunch

Raye Mitchell, Esq, author of How Women Negotiate from a Position of Strength

1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Michael Priv, author of The Fifth Battalion

Laurie Finkelstein, author of Next Therapist Please

3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Robert Yehling, author of Voices and Just Add Water

Vanta M. Black, author of Oubliette: A Forgotten Little Place

The booth will also feature books from Nanishka Torres, author of Fenrir Chronicles: The Prince; and Magda Ayuk, author of Blue Bird.

Each appearance at the L.A. Times Festival of Books has been a thrill: discussing pro surfer Clay Marzo’s life with autism in Just Add Water in 2016; and launching Voices to the world in 2017. This time, I’ll also be previewing Crawl of Fame, the memoir of Ironman triathlon legend Julie Moss, which officially releases on October 2.

As for Desiree? She well remembers the thrill of her first L.A. Times Festival of Books signing gig. It’s like runners feel about the Boston Marathon; I know I never get tired of that feeling when we arrive on the scene! “I had a booth the year I released Oubliette—A Forgotten Little Place. It was my dream to be there, and seeing it happen, was amazing,” she recalls. “I checked off an item on my bucket list. I think a lot of authors feel that way. There is something special about the L.A. Times Festival of Books. It is iconic. A must-attend.”

On that note, we’ll see you at Booth 912, Black Zone this weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

           

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On Clay Marzo, Stevie Salas & Our Coming New Look

JUST ADD WATER by Clay Marzo and Robert Yehling copyIt’s been a busy and frenetic last two months in my personal writing world. This includes promoting When We Were The Boys, the memoir on which I collaborated with musician Stevie Salas; doing final caption touch-ups and proofs for Just Add Water, my biography of autistic international surfing star Clay Marzo available for pre-order on Amazon.com now and coming in Summer from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; pumping out proposals for books on which I am collaborating and/or writing (details forthcoming); and editing Innovation & Tech Todayone of the hippest and most diverse new magazines on newsstands and most digital magazine services.

Music. Surfing. Innovation. Three of my favorite things. Now for those books on running and fitness, a memoir, and the book for business, book, journalistic and personal writers that’s made it through some brainstorm sessions…salas cover low res

My webmaster and former Ananda College student, Chitra Sudhakaran, and I have also been overhauling the WordJourneys.com website — and our mission. Part of that will be our new-look WordJourneys.com blog, which will be unveiled Monday (3-2) featuring a fantastic conversation with author and international speaker Kevin Hines. His book, Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving A Suicide Attempt, offers one of the most painful, difficult, and ultimately inspiring and redemptive memoirs I have ever had the pleasure to edit. When a man jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge and is served up his greater life and soul purpose during the four-second plunge into frigid San Francisco Bay… well, you do the math. It’s an incredible book,  in its 20th printing just two years after its release. You are not going to want to miss this interview.

You’ll also see excerpts from Just Add Water and my long-awaited novel, Voices, which will release later in 2015.ITTodayWinter2014 cover

On our new-look blog, we will be incorporating a few new things, a stylistic reflection of my 2009 book, The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Expand and Fulfill Your Writing Life:

1) Inspiring quotes from writers, entertainers, artists, musicians, and other creatives

2) Resources for further exploration

3) Spot interviews with authors, thinkers, educators, and leaders

4) Book reviews

5) Perspectives on technology, fitness, health, the arts, education, STEM, and other subjects of interest to writers and creative artists

6) Excerpts from my books, as well as clients

7) Links to pieces and special service offers on WordJourneys.com, and client websites

8) Social Media services of the month (not only the Big Five — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube —  but many other sites)

9) An expanded blogroll

10) More opportunities for you to comment and/or guest post

11) Prompts, exercises, and tips from well-published authors, and creative and leadership

achievers

We’ve always had an eye out for our clients and other writers and creatives on this blog. Now, we will expand that, as part of our mission to showcase the lifestyle of writing and insight of the authors, as well as the final product.

Back to you on New-Look Monday!

MGH_4477

 

 

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15 Common Points Between Writing & Running Marathons (part 2)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the conclusion of my two-part series that compares 15 points in common between the writing process – particularly book and extensive projects – and running marathons. Actually, it’s 18 points in common, but who’s counting?)

“The race begins at 20 miles”: Years ago, a friend, journalist and veteran marathoner said this to me. While most people might crash and burn at 20 miles (or before), serious marathon racers dig in the final 10K. So it is with book writing. The last leg is often the hardest. You’re tired, you’ve lived with the subject for months or years, and you want to be finished. But this is the most vital part of the book, next to the first chapter. Focus more intently than ever, tap emotional and creative reserves, and power through to the finish.

Enjoy the solitude: If ever four groups of people know and understand solitude better than the rest of the population, they would be runners, writers, artists and monks. We spend countless hours alone with our words. Enjoy the quiet time; enjoy the ideal atmosphere it provides you to create, think deeply, and work. Not everyone gets this chance. Ask someone who works in a cubicle or workstation all day. The material percolates in solitude. The more you can enjoy it and immerse in it, the more you can produce – and the more cohesive it will be.

Push the hills: One of the best road racing strategies is to push hills hard – and then surge for 30 meters or so at the top. All authors know there are many uphill climbs in the long course of writing a book – struggles with scenes, characters, getting the right information, fluid narrative description, etc. Some days, we feel like we can write anything; on others, our sentences feel like back roads clunkers. We all hit them; we all wonder how we’re going to get to the top. The answer: one word at a time. Push past the obstacles, while holding to the greater vision for your work. Write hard to keep the momentum going.

Increase focus as the race progresses: The same thing has happened in every marathon I’ve raced. For the first eight miles or so, runners talk to each other, compare strategies, talk about favorite runs they’ve ever taken, maybe shoot photos of the crowd (if they carry smartphones, which many do — not me!) and truly enjoy being out there. For the next eight miles, the focus tightens, paces become locked in, and the talking lessens. For the final ten miles, there is very little talking and very deep focus. Good authors take us deeper and deeper into their stories, a reflection of their increased focus as they deliver the goods. Focus, focus, focus.

Don’t hit too many aid stations: One of the myths (and, actually, physical dangers) of long races is that it is important to drink at every aid station. NOT SO. When I run marathons, I only drink six times – roughly once every 4½ miles. Everyone has their number, but point is: don’t take too many breaks. This applies directly to writing. Momentum and rhythm are everything; when you’re on a roll, stay on it. If you must, take only small breaks when writing books to recharge, but never more than a week or two. Long breaks are a no-no, unless you’re between drafts.

There will be pain: To borrow from a surfwear manufacturer’s 1980s ad campaign, Every marathoner knows the feeling. It starts at about 15 miles, hits fully at 18 to 20 miles, and envelops you the final 6 miles. PAIN. We know it’s coming when we toe the starting line, but we know how to handle it – by reaching down and taking the race one stride at a time. Likewise, book writing can be (and often is) emotionally painful and mentally taxing, especially tell-all memoirs and novels with characters exhibiting emotions that grab you from the page. When you read scenes like this, you know the writer is feeling it. Embrace the pain, and turn it into your ally. Use it to drive more deeply within yourself, opening new thresholds of possibility for your writing – and greater perspective as a person. The more you can work with writing pain in all its forms, the more deeply touched readers will be.

Head down; one step at a time: This extends from the last comment. I ran the 2009 Boston Marathon with moderate plantar fasciitis. In other words, the last five miles were hell. However, I nearly held my earlier race pace because I pulled my cap over my eyes like I was in the ‘hood, looked down at my toes, and took it one step at a time. That’s exactly how I write books; by adopting that technique, I’ve gone from being a good starter to a good finisher. Keep your head down and write one chapter at a time, one paragraph at a time – and one sentence at a time. This approach becomes especially important when revising and self-editing, when you make sure every word fits and every word counts.

Finish strong: One of the best ways to ensure good race results is to finish strong in each training run, picking up the pace at the end. Likewise with book writing. Good final chapters sew up the story or subject, and leave readers feeling: a) like they want more; b) wholly satisfied; or c) Googling you for more books, or for more perspectives based upon the great book you have given them. Reach down and give it everything you’ve got in the last chapter – just like a good racer.

Celebrate!: When we finish something as monumental as a book, or a marathon, it’s time to celebrate! Then take at least a week off from writing of any kind … your batteries will definitely need to be recharged.

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Well-Edited Manuscripts More Important Than Ever

(Note: This is the first of a three-blog series on editing. In this blog, we focus on the importance of self-editing — and finding an outside editor — before sending off your book manuscript, short story or article)

The digital publishing revolution and the continued decline of publishing houses (in their willingness to take on new authors as well as their overall influence) have created a boom in self-publishing. Now, you can write a manuscript as quickly as your fingers can move on a keyboard, either format it as an e-book or send it off to a self-publishing service provider, and within days or weeks (or even hours!), have yourself a book on the market. At that point, your marketing and promotional abilities will determine to a large extent how the book sells.

All of that is well and good, but what about quality control? How well do you tell the story or convey the chief points in your book? How important is it to you for your readers to receive an informative, enriching or entertaining experience that is delivered with your very best, most polished writing? What priority do you give to making your narrative as sharp, fluid and error-free as possible?

Whether or not you choose to self-publish or take your best shot at traditional publishing house channels, your ability to build loyal readers beyond family, friends and colleagues will ultimately come down to the quality of your writing and ability to present your story or subject. If a reader buys your book, but can’t get past the first few pages due to loose storytelling, shoddy grammar or punctuation, underdeveloped characters, inaccurate facts or lack of compelling, page-turning writing, then you will have trouble finding an audience. After all, for all the advertising and marketing you might do through traditional means and social media, the power of reaching wider audiences still has an old ally: word-of-mouth. As one literary agent told me years ago, “Make it perfect. Then polish it one more time. Remember that readers are setting aside everything else in their lives to read your book. If they like it, they’ll tell their friends.”

This is where editing comes in. We’d like to think that the authors of all great novels, memoirs and topical non-fiction books laid down the final polish of their seamless narratives themselves. We’d like to believe that we can write every chapter, paragraph or sentence so perfectly that our readers will resonate and experience the words as deeply and passionately as we did when the thoughts and feelings flowed from our minds and hearts onto the page. We’d like to assure ourselves that, after writing and revising our manuscripts a couple of times — or a dozen times — we still maintain enough perspective to make a final, objective pass over our work to find those last irritating awkward sentences or misspellings.

For more than 95% of all writers, bestsellers and newcomers alike, this scenario strikes them as grandiose fiction. Nearly every writer I’ve met in my three decades in this business — myself included — turns to outside help when polishing the final drafts of manuscripts. I’ve been fortunate enough to edit 130 of those manuscripts, in all genres — the vast majority of which were published.  Others hire editors to take them through all phases of the editing and revising process. Those authors who land book deals turn over their manuscripts to the publishing houses, which assign an editor specifically for that book. After that editor is finished, another editor polishes the manuscript, then the proofreader takes over. In 2009, when I was ghostwriting The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Risk Management for Annetta Cortez, we worked with four different editors at Alpha Books.

So, if your manuscript is going to land in the hands of editors you don’t know, why not send them the very best work you can possibly produce? Why not learn and master the finer points of self-editing? Why not also hire an editor you can get to know and trust with your words and your voice? If you can self-edit well, then you will polish your manuscript to such a fine shine that every sentence and word vibrates with the larger spirit and plot of what you are conveying. If you then find a good final-draft editor, he or she will work from within your writing voice, fixing paragraphs or sentences with words and phrasings you would use, sharpening your voice and the cohesiveness of your story along the way. If you choose to have an editor work with you from the beginning, you will eliminate weeks or months of the agony that results when you learn, 200 pages down the line, that your story or narrative lost its structure, focus and direction.

In the next two blogs, we will talk about the basic and fine points of self-editing, as well as what an outside editor should do for you. Meantime, as you work to finish the book you know the world can’t wait to read, and prepare to hit the “send” button to your agent, publisher or e-book formatter, do yourself a favor: slow down, take a deep breath, and read the manuscript over one more time. Aloud. Then make all the fixes to the glitches that your speaking voice catches.

Learn to love editing and polishing as much as you love writing. When you do, the reading world will be far more likely to embrace your work.

Next: Why Self-Editing Is Your Second Most Important Skill (and maybe the most important)

(Word Journeys serves writers through manuscript evaluation, editing, ghostwriting, platform building, and development of book proposals and materials for literary agents and publishers. Since 2000, we have edited more than 130 books and e-books in all genres. Email bobyehling@gmail.com or call 917-826-7880 if your manuscript is ready for publish-level editing.)

 

 

 

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Meet “Quest for Justice: Defending the Damned” author Richard S. Jaffe

On February 1, Word Journeys client Richard S. Jaffe celebrated the national release of his first book, Quest for Justice: Defending the Damned (New Horizon Press).This book culminated 2 ½ years of organizing, writing, revising, re-writing and editing by Richard and me, one of the most meaningful projects with which I’ve been involved. Lisa Maine, our senior graphic designer and right-hand person, designed his official website as well.

For those who don’t know, Richard is one of the top high-profile defense attorneys in the nation. He is especially effective when it comes to murder cases when the death penalty option is on the table. His tireless work has led to the exoneration of six innocent and wrongly convicted men who spent from five to nearly 20 years on Death Row before their verdicts were reversed. That’s the most successful such record of any attorney in U.S. history. Furthermore, only one of more than 70 capital murder cases Richard has defended from the beginning resulted in a death sentence.

From his offices in Birmingham, Alabama — the epicenter of the Civil Rights movement — Richard has defended men and women from the internationally notorious (1996 Olympic Games and family planning clinic bomber Eric Rudolph) to regional celebrities and local businessmen. He has saved some of his best work for those who needed him most: impoverished men who either made bad choices or were in the wrong place, and had nowhere else to turn.

That’s where Quest for Justice hits its spiritual and narrative stride. Richard’s passionate discussion about the inequities of the death penalty, direct relationship between available money and legal options, and his sharing of the intimate details of several cases (to the extent client-attorney confidentiality allows) offers a rare, inside look at the criminal justice system from the trenches. It also spotlights a deeply caring, brilliant, spiritual man who started off his legal career not knowing it would become what it is today: a platform for his larger purpose, to make sure everyone is treated fairly and respected for their right of innocence until proven guilty.

Richard Jaffe (L) with Gary Drinkard, one of the innocent Death Row inmates he helped to exonerate.

The stories are riveting, written in Richard’s charming, detail-rich Southern style that makes him so endearing and indomitable in the courtroom. However, what I found most appealing about Quest for Justice was that it’s a compelling story about how we relate to each other — and how simple caring can go a long way. He hopes the nation’s compassion rises to the level where we do away with the exorbitant financial and emotional costs of the Death Penalty and replace it with life imprisonment for the worst offenders.

What follows is Part 1 of an interview I conducted with Richard in July 2011, after we finished principal work on Quest for Justice and New Horizon Press purchased the manuscript through the efforts of literary agent Verna Dreisbach. In it, I trust you will see the compassion, drive, gentle relentlessness and storytelling savvy of one of the most high integrity and successful attorneys practicing law today.

Question: First of all, Richard, you grew up in the heart of the Civil Rights struggle, in Birmingham during the late 1950s and 1960s. How did the events you witnessed and heard about, and the struggles of blacks to achieve equal rights, shape you as a crusader for justice?

RICHARD JAFFE: I and almost all of my friends grew up in Mountain Brook, the relatively affluent “over the mountain” area of Birmingham. Our parents shielded us from the tumultuous and violent civil rights hosing, beatings and jailing that occurred daily and especially the lynchings and killings. But the manner in which people of color were treated could not be hidden. The separate bathrooms, restaurants and drinking fountains in public places also were plainly in sight as was the unearned deference showed whites by those of color.  We observed the humiliation and disrespect constantly and I knew there something inhumane about it. By contrast, my father treated everyone the same, regardless of the color of one’s skin. These observations and experiences profoundly affected my view that the majority will must be questioned and that truth to power is essential to a free society and the rule of law.

Q: How much did To Kill A Mockingbird influence you in not only your career choice, but the drama and stagecraft of the courtroom?

RJ: To Kill a Mockingbird took place in a fictional town of Macomb, but the author, Harper Lee, grew up in Monroeville, Alabama. The racially motivated false conviction of Thomas Robinson for raping a white woman, who clearly could not be believed, influenced me and most criminal lawyers in the country. Atticus Finch did not hesitate to heed the call to defend Mr. Robinson. His passion, eloquence and character served as a role model for me as an attorney who defends death penalty cases in the Deep South. My sister, Sandy Jaffe, was also significantly influenced. Her documentary Our Mockingbird (soon to be completed) highlights two of the individuals I write about in Quest For Justice.

Q: You started out as an Assistant DA and Assistant Attorney General, then switched over to become a defense attorney. What was it about defending the accused that appealed to you? Anything in particular?

RJ: Due to my background and experiences, including watching Perry Mason as a child, I always desired to defend those who the government accused of serious criminal offenses.  The state has all the resources and lawyers it needs. Well-trained and devoted defenders area always needed to protect and defend someone who cannot defend himself, which often entails also standing up for their invaluable and sacred constitutional rights upon which our country was founded.

Q: In Quest for Justice, you talk early and often about cases that appear won, only to be lost — and vice-versa. It’s an unpredictable side of trial law we don’t often see on TV or movies or read about. Could you share a couple of the misconceptions we receive about trial law that simply don’t square with the real thing?

RJ: Trials, especially jury trials, have fascinated people since ancient Greek and Roman times. Trials by a jury of twelve were an intricate part of the Magna Carta in 1215. Before T.V., the criminal trial was the hottest show to attend. Now, with the advent of social media, people feel they know the characters and are a part of the drama. Yet, the outcomes of jury trials are often unpredictable. Jurors must decide the trials through the prism of age-old legal principles. The outcome of a trial is only as good as the evidence presented. We know that 138 people have been exonerated from death row. We do not know how many innocent people have been executed. We also know that sometimes, someone who is probably guilty gets off due to a lack of evidence or some other breakdown in the system. Because human beings investigate, bring and defend the charges, human witnesses offer evidence and twelve people decide what is credible or not, trials will always be unpredictable. But one thing is for sure: the only way to have a valid view is to sit on the jury that decides the case.

Q: An interesting point you make along these lines concerns the definition of “winning a case.” Society looks at it in black-and-white — an acquittal is a victory for the defense lawyer, a conviction is a defeat. Yet, you see it in layers, relative to the nature of the charge and potential worst punishment. How do you weigh “wins” and “losses” with your clients — and your own high standards?

RJ: Winning is a relative term in any context. The Government may bring over a hundred charges, but if it wins in one, the punishment can be severe. On the other hand, as in the Casey Anthony case, the jury found her guilty of lesser charges and thus the defense won. In a death penalty case, the defense lawyer may know that a life verdict is a win – saving the clients life. The prosecution may feel it lost. The defendant may also feel he lost.

(Part 2 of the interview with Richard Jaffe will post on Monday, February 13)

 

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Readings, Teaching Workshops, Going Online

To purchase The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life

To join Writing The World Workshops

During the Southern California Writers Conference, I met the associate editor of Toastmasters Magazine, Beth Black. We talked for a few minutes, and continued the dialogue during the past week. Our conversation pertained to the way writers and teachers of writing have migrated online to conduct all parts of their businesses.

This is a monumental week for me in that regard, in three ways:

• I have joined Harvey Stanbrough and Chris O’Byrne in presenting the Writing The World Workshops membership-based website, with its writing courses, articles, tips and video classes;

• The 7-minute social media and networking tutorial I delivered at the end of my “Your Journal, Your Goldmine” workshop at the Southern California Writers Conference is now available on You Tube and my newest business website;

• Which is the third major development: I’ve joined my longtime friend, John Josepho, in forming Millennium Media Masters — which is all about print and online publishing, platforming, media and affiliate marketing development for entrepreneurs, artists of all media (including filmmakers), musicians and writers who want to get their stories, messages and brands out to their audiences in a variety of different forms.

So when Beth asked me a couple of Toastmasters-type questions pertaining to the online migration, and reading publicly, I obliged. Thought I’d share the answers with you:

Q: If you can give me a quote or two on what it’s like going from the quiet of writing time to presenting in public (or pitching to an agent or publisher), that would be great.

A: Writing alone is very solitary and insular, almost like being in another world — especially when writing fiction, when we should be in another world, the world of our story and characters. Everything happens between the creative and thinking minds. When presenting workshops or talking about writing, we have to carry all this information outward and be crisp and confident when doing so, because attendees are seeking to apply your experience and knowledge to their work. I find it easiest to approach this like a storyteller, weaving together information with anecdotes that best illustrate the point. Pitching to agents or publishers is different yet: I have 60 seconds to interest them and another 60 to 120 to summarize my book — making the ability to communicate verbally and with good expression a must.

Q: Also, if you’ve done any public readings of your work, what’s your take on that?

A: I’ve read from my poetry and essay collections all over the country — Boston, New York, Chicago, LA, New Mexico, Tampa, the South, San Diego, plus a few European cities — Munich, Venice, Florence. I love interacting with the audiences, seeing which poems or essays draw them most or provoke strong responses, and telling the back stories behind the works. It is a great way to see how your writing impacts people — and a reminder that all writers should read their works aloud, to hear their voice.

Next week, we’ll post the three-part series on Platform Development.

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