Tuesday, November 29, 2011

finishing a novel

I have no idea how, but I wrote 50,000 words in 28 days. I haven't written this much and this consistently since high school. I am thrilled and relieved to be done! But, as I've described to a few people already, I feel like I just birthed a really ugly, really sickly baby who needs lots of surgeries and things to survive...

It's gonna be fine. It just needs a little TLC first.

So, that's what's next. I finished mid-day yesterday, and I've just started reading what I did....I'm making a ton of editing notes, and hopefully in another month or a few, this ugly baby will be ready to be formally presented in one way or another.

Thanks for all your support!

Friday, November 18, 2011

being a journalist

Today is my last day as a writer/reporter at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and for right now, I suppose it's my last day as a "real" journalist. In my new job, I won't be able to technically tell people I'm a journalist anymore. Writer? Yes. I have always been, and will always be a writer. That kind of designation does not change with a job description.

But, since it's my last day working for the state-wide newspaper here in Arkansas, I thought I'd make a list of what I've learned here...

1. Ethics are still important
I started this job when I was 22, and now I'm 24. I've been a woman the whole time. ;) It's hard being a young woman in the South and staying ethical as a journalist. I had dinner with police chiefs and with city mayors who felt obligated to pay for me. Small town chamber banquets wanted me to eat their catered food, and as I got to know these people and take part in their community it got harder to resist.
In journalism school, I learned never to accept gifts... but what if they're forced upon you? What if the mayor grabs the bill before you can tell him he can't? What if people will be offended if you don't eat their home-made pie? What if someone mails you a really weird necklace made from a domino (true story...)?
It helped me to use the line, "I can't let you pay for that. It's company policy. You don't want to get me in trouble do you?"
But sometimes that doesn't even work.
I say, it's a judgment call. Be as ethical as you can all the time. But in the South, you do have to play the game a little differently, and I think that's OK.

2. Get out of your comfort zone
Some very uncomfortable things happened to me in this job. I had to say, "Hi, this is Caroline Zilk with the River Valley and Ozark Edition of the Democrat-Gazette," about 15 times a day for two years. That in itself is exhausting.
I had to talk to people who had lost their homes in natural disasters and mayors who hated my guts enough to kick me out of city hall.
Was it tough? Yes. Was it rewarding? Yes.
Push through the awkward feelings and hold back the tears. Get the job done.

3. Make friends
Sources are not on some kind of white pedestal. They can be your friends outside of work, and they will help things run smoothly.
I've written before about how I feel especially at home in Heber Springs. A lot of that is due to Melisa Gardner, the executive director of the chamber of commerce there. I learned a lot from her during my time here: most "importantly," I guess is what was going on in town & who the interesting characters were. More than that though, she is an example of the kind of woman I'd like to be someday. She is a strong, independent woman who runs a great organization and is always kind, and she's a great mom to three very talented sons. She is an encourager, a supporter, and I will miss her dearly along with all of the other people I've connected with throughout my coverage area.

4. Use your skills
To the convergence bunch who might be reading: I took this job to write, and only to write. At a big newspaper that employs photographers to take pictures and a web staff to deal with the online side of things. But, I did get to shoot a little bit, design a little bit and help out with the web a little bit. You can make it what you want. If you have the skills, find a way to use it. A good editor or supervisor will appreciate that you're talented and willing to step outside your box.

5. When in doubt, keep your head down
The top thing I wish Mizzou would have prepared me for that it didn't, necessarily, was the actual work environment at a media outlet. Or maybe it was just me being all inexperience and innocent. I thought doing what I like to do every day would mean that things were perfect. They aren't, and that's a big reason why I'm moving on. I have learned that there are problems in every work place - you just have to strike a balance and learn how to deal with it.
When things are bad though, sometimes the best you can do is keep your head down, try not to be noticed and look for the silver lining.

I'm so lucky to have had this opportunity to truly come home for awhile. I moved to Little Rock as a child not too long after the newspaper wars ended, and the Democrat and the Gazette became one, and I really did (for the most part) love working at my home-town paper and covering the beautiful, amazing and interesting people throughout the River Valley and Ozark area. I'm thankful for all of the great memories and stories I have to take with me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

starting a novel

November means NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which means ...a lot of writing, if I'm participating, which I've attempted to do for the past several years. November just seems busy, and, of course there are always a million reasons not to do something.

I'm baffled that some people are still just hearing about this project for the first time this year, and still baffled at other people who can't seem to make it past the first few hundred words ....people will silly mantras like, "the secret to writing is writing."

Um, I guess that's true. Sure....

I don't know what to say about it. You've got to want it. It's a "head down, power through," kind of deal.

I prefer to participate kind of on my own without plugging my words into the site. I don't tend to to thrive on support from others. Instead, I do my best to push myself, and lately, give myself the benefit of the doubt when I know I'm busy and just sick of writing all day anyway...

Monday, October 31, 2011


I love this holiday. I love candy & the TV specials ...especially "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!" Last week, we carved the pumpkin we picked out a few weeks ago at the pumpkin patch...

it ended up looking like this...

as a tribute to this:

Pretty good, huh? =]

Thursday, August 4, 2011

at home in heber springs

For the past 20 months I've been writing stories about some of the best small communities in the state of Arkansas. One of my favorites has become Heber Springs. I don't think saying that makes me a biast journalist.
People gravitate toward certain places. My friend Sasha has never been to Paris, but she believes it holds some kind of great magic for her. A coworker spent a year or so in Prague. It's like home for him. Several former classmates knew they would find solace in New York.
So, I guess for me, it's this little city on Greers Ferry Lake in north-central Arkansas. It's a beautiful place: a man-made lake created from flooded farmland. The long-time natives still talk about what it was like when they built the lake ...when former presidents visited to see the dam dedicated.
And the people that tell these stories are characters. Everyone knows everyone. We laugh at the mayor, shy away from Old Mr. Garner (only because he won't let you go once he's started talk to you), we roll our eyes at the boisterous bakers.
There are people there with real talent: Business men and women, artists, spiritual leaders and the best kind of politicians.
I've come to care about them, for some reason. They've made it hard not to.

I've felt the breeze coming off the lake. I can close my eyes and hear the songs of white trumpeter swans that find a home there in the spring. I see the pride in the faces of youth when they do things like raise money for a new library...

So...all that being said...I have no idea how or why I've never attended the World Championship Cardboard Boat Races. The annual event is what it sounds. People build boats out of nothing more than cardboard, duct tape and wood glue. Then, they man them and race them across the lake for ...kicks, bragging rights, trophies.

Aaron and I went on Saturday. He shot these lovely "fotes":

Yup, the "batmoboat" collapsed in that last one. That happens plenty. My friend Matthew's boat actually didn't make it past the starting line.

The event is just as quirky as the rest of the town is. The boats have to pass ice picks and metal detector tests. When the championship is finished, there's a Titanic Derby, to see which boat can last the longest in the lake while others crash into it. Some boats are used year after year. People think it's life or death sometimes.

I enjoyed Saturday. I wandered around ...snapped a few photos (mostly of Aaron snapping photos ...isn't he cute?)

I talked to my friend Gary, who was announcing the races. He let me talk over speaker system for a minute, and told everyone to read the paper! I was mostly just thrilled, as always, to take in beauty of the lake and the inspiring community that surrounds it.

Monday, August 1, 2011


It was a pretty fun weekend. I'll post more about it later. For now, just enjoy the adorable.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Monday, July 18, 2011

red pepper soup

I have so many talented friends. Rebekah has been blogging about her culinary efforts for the past few weeks now. Her blog has been getting lots of hits and comments, and I'm super proud of her.

Rebekah was one the girl who actually used the kitchen in our dorm freshman year to bake delicious pumpkin cookies for everyone. When I lived with her in London, she made amazing salads, pasta and couscous after confusing trips to Tesco and Sainsbury's. And now....well, you can read her blog for yourself.

I've always been jealous, not just of the fact that she can cook, but of the fact that she LOVES it. Generally, cooking makes me anxious. Especially when it's for other people. I'm terrified of something going wrong. The day I took Thanksgiving dressing to work, I thought I was going to have a panic attack when I had to go off on an interview without tasting it first. What if something had gone terribly wrong?

I came home to an empty pan, though. And people couldn't stop talking about it.

After a weekend out of town, I really just wanted to cook for myself this evening. I milled around the grocery store after work and googled some recipes. I came up with this one. And decided to adapt it...

It still seems ridiculous to me that this...

can turn into soup...

Unlike Rebekah, who, after years of friendship, I've decided must have super powers, I'm a realist. Yes, I have soup. But I also have a begging puppy dog and a mess to clean up.



Just back from a weekend visiting my best friend Kristen. She's such a great little blogger. So now that I'm here again, I'll try to take a page from her book and update regularly.

Some things I might be posting about include: what I'm reading, what I'm eating and what I'm inspired by.

As always, I'll try to make it interesting.