Posted by: nancyisanders | April 22, 2011

The Writer’s Life with Children’s Author, Alison Kartevold

Welcome to day two of Alison Kartvold’s 6-day NWFCC April Author Showcase tour and venture into the world of Ken Karta.

What is a typical writing day like for you?

Alison Kartvold:
The typical writing day, hmmm… Well, to describe this I first have to clarify what type of writing you are asking about. If it’s for television, then what I consider typical writing conditions would be what many would call a farce. Here’s a fairly typical example of what I mean:

On a recent Tuesday afternoon I got a call from the Today Show, all they needed me to do was go to an Elton John concert, pick up some footage and arrange to have it fed by satellite to the west coast. As a TV journalist, writing is just one of the duties I am asked to carry out, so even though it would be a late night, I agreed to run the errand without hesitation.

As I prepared to leave my house The Weather Channel called asking if I could work for them the following day. A tornado had touched down about an hour west of me and they wanted someone on site in the morning to do live reports on the damage beginning at 6 AM. Now this requires a different kind of writing than what you are probably used to discussing here, but even if you don’t consider site location, research, and interviews as part of the writing process, stay with me, I’m getting to the writing.

To shorten what turned into a very long two days, let’s just say… I went straight from the feed point to the tornado site without going to bed. I arrived in rural Greensburg PA about 2 AM, located the areas with the worst damage, contacted emergency personnel for the latest updated information, arranged access for my crew and got them onsite by 4:30 AM. Shortly thereafter I learned that in addition to The Weather Channel appearances, I was now being asked to do a “live shot” at the top of the Today Show.

I proceeded to change my clothes in the bathroom of a nearby 7-Eleven and do my hair and make-up in a hand mirror in the back of a cold satellite truck, all the while “writing” how and what I would say about this natural disaster. At 6 AM I was standing in front of a camera in a freezing rain with uprooted trees, downed power lines and homes with missing walls and roofs behind me while I talked to Al Roker on Wake Up with Al. At 7 AM I was telling Matt Lauer and six million viewers that eyewitnesses thought the event sounded like a freight train was coming right up the street.

For the next five hours I continued to share a different aspect of the story every 30 minutes. I organized my notes in a reporter’s notebook before each hit and created a rough draft in my head before then going on to deliver the final copy verbally. After being up for 30 hours straight my “live” duties drew to a close, but I still needed to gather new interviews and write a package. I went to a 2:00PM press conference given by emergency management crews, searched for fresh b-roll, selected “bites” and wrote a 90-second script by 4 PM. It was all in a day’s work.

Reporting and writing for TV News is fast paced, chaotic and often exhilarating, but providing just the facts can be more than physically exhausting, it can be mentally draining as well. Maybe that’s why I found writing a fictional novel so freeing, relaxing even. When working on first drafts I love to sit curled up in a blanket on a soft chair in front of a warm fire. Only later when working on edits, do I prefer to sit at a desk. More times than not I only get a three to five hour window to write in, usually early in the morning while my family sleeps or while my kids are in school. I truly enjoy these quiet times when I can have a singular focus!

Follow Day 3 of Alison Kartevold’s tour tomorrow at Lori Calabrese’s blog.

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