It’s an honor to have Sylvia Forbes, editor and publisher of Snowflake Press and the award-winning Bylines Writer’s Desk Calendar, as my guest blogger today. I’ve known Sylvia through the Missouri Writers Guild for about eight years and continue to be impressed by her enthusiasm and hard work as a freelance writer, photographer and publisher.
Part I of the interview will focus primarily on Sylvia, her background and writing philosophy. Part II will focus on Snowflake Press and Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar. Everyone who posts a question or a comment for Sylvia will be entered in a drawing to win a copy of the 2010 Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar (shown on the left). One winner will be announced on Monday.
SF: Actually, it happened by accident. I moved to a small town to be able to help my parents, who had retired to their home town and were ailing. It was difficult to find ANY jobs in town or in the nearby area, much less good-paying ones. So I thought about what kind of work I could do while living in a small town and came up with the idea of freelancing. However, from thinking about it to doing it is a big leap. My first step was to contact my local newspaper, and ask if they needed freelancers. I wrote my first article on spec for that newspaper, and have been writing ever since.
DV: What are some notable writing assignments you've had or publishing credits you've achieved?
SF: I have a degree in botany, so my articles about plants are some of my favorites. I wrote about a "living wall" for the Christian Science Monitor, and have written several articles for Herb Quarterly, a magazine specializing in growing and using herbs.
Also, I live in a very historic area, where the Santa Fe Trail started, Kit Carson lived as a boy and Daniel Boone's sons lived and worked. Lewis & Clark spent a couple nights here on their famous journey. The first steamboats up the Missouri River stopped here and eight Missouri governors lived in this area. I have written dozens of stories about local history for our newspaper. I find it exciting to uncover some piece of history that isn't well-known, or to combine several related facts to put together a better picture of earlier times.
No matter what I'm writing, my favorite part of the writing process is interviewing other people. I really enjoy meeting other creative people and learning what they have done with their talent and skill, from artists to scientists.
As far as credits, most recently I had two features place in the top 100 in the features category of the 2009 Writer's Digest Contest. I've won awards in the Missouri Writers' Guild contest in each of the last nine years in a variety of categories, even though the judges change every year, and hopefully that's good measurement of the consistency of my writing.
DV: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received? The worst?
SF: The best advice I ever received was when I wrote my first article. I was worried about word count and style and interview techniques and many other things, and the editor said to me, "just tell the story." I think that's so important. You can edit for length, or style, or add quotes, or other things later, but first you have to get the story down.
The worst is "write what you know." I've written about a lot of things I don't know, from tool collecting to vintage jewelry styles to yodeling. I think what is important is that you acquire the research skills to be able to gather information about a topic, and the interview skills to ask questions of experts. Also, fiction writers have to have a wonderful imagination. Because the whole field of science fiction and fantasy, and much of the romance and mystery genres are based on "what if," not "what you know."
DV: That's some good advice and a unique way of looking at the "write what you know" philosphy. I guess it would be safe to say through research and asking "what if" a writer should "know what you write." Next question: You have received many awards as a writer and publisher. The Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar has been honored in the Independent Publishers Association "Book of the Year" Competition and as a finalist for the Walter Williams Award by the Missouri Writers’ Guild. That’s so impressive. Is there any award that stands out among the others?
SF: The "awards" that mean the most to me are when writers e-mail and say that they love Bylines and use it every day. That was the whole reason for me to take on publishing it - to help other writers.