My Mediabistro alumni interview with Claire Zulkey for Mediabistro Toolbox. I took Mediabistro's first media program given by creator of the series, Victoria Rowan, in 2005.
What course did you take, how did you hear about the boot camp and why did you decide to take it?
I took Parris Island Journalism Boot Camp with Victoria Rowan, Fall 2001, eager to reinvigorate – and focus — my writing career after being laid off from a trade magazine editorship.
I wanted to make the shift from writing for others to writing for myself.
Also, like many writers who have not explicitly studied journalism or the business of writing, I knew I could benefit from a more professional approach to the craft.
Did it lead to any assignments, connections or jobs? What did you learn?
Yes. One week we interviewed newsworthy acquaintances and tried to sell the profiles. With that material I published a profile/book review/event announcement in the Village Voice — the managing editor’s hybrid idea when I emphasized the curating work my multimedia poet interviewee was doing at St. Mark’s Poetry Project, and an upcoming performance there of a new Brion Gysin book.
Thanks to Victoria’s pragmatic ‘so-what, why this audience, why now’ coaching, emphasizing these elements of my pitch set my subject at the helm of an upcoming event where avant garde artworld legends would be appearing. The right story for the right audience.
I also understood from Bootcamp that I had a time hook most appropriate for a weekly newspaper like the Voice. The editor’s suggestion entailed a lot more work but Bootcamp taught me that if an editor was gracious enough to tell me exactly what he could use all I needed to do was accept the challenge. As Victoria explained, “We’re here to eliminate the reasons an editor has to reject your work.”
MB’s Bootcamp offered operable information about writing and selling in seven genres (personal essays, travel, op-ed, business features, profiles and reviews and tone-dependent pieces like the New Yorker’s Talk of the Town).
The bootcamp also underscored the importance of astute portfolio building to get a writer where she wants to go.
I benefited most from Victoria’s deconstructive clarity about composing and selling nonfiction writing — and today it is appreciable how much I learned about piloting a writing career.