NOTE: There is a wrong link in the email issue. If you are looking for the Ask The Expert Column, the URL is: http://www.writersweekly.com/ask.html.
Angela Hoy stated in her recent article in Writers Weekly, Press Releases Are Boring – News Is Not. At Writers Weekly, like just about every journalist and periodical editor, Angela receives countless press releases by email, fax and mail. Though WritersWeekly doesn’t publish press releases, they are inundated with them on a daily basis. it is very rare that I receive a new book press release that keeps me interested past the first sentence, Hoy wrote.
While I’ve had a fair amount of success in placing press releases when I titled them as such, the release would often be buried somewhere in the publication where few people apparently found it, fewer yet read it and none responded. Following Hoy’s advice, I tried linking news with incidents that take place in my memoir, Jep’s Place: Hope, Faith, and Other Disasters. I did *not* label the article as a Press Release.”
My “news” story about outhouses (it’s included in its entirety below) ended up on the front page of a local weekly. Soon after it hit the streets, a woman called to buy a signed book, and returned in half an hour to buy another. Other people called or stopped me on the street or in the supermarket to comment on the article with a laugh, and spoke those wonderful words, I just love your writing-where can I buy the book?
Flushed with the success of following Hoy’s instructions, I dashed off A Dynamite Story. I had been on a photo shoot of a company blasting ledge for a condo development and had a dramatic photo of a dynamite charge exploding rocks, dirt and dust as it had, years ago, on our farm, Jep’s Place. Connecting that “news” to my book once again put me on the front page.
I found other publications to send the news to, in addition to the weekly that gave me front page coverage. It is too early to tell if the others give the stories as prominent a place, but I’ll be happy just to have someone read the article and get enough of a chuckle to inspire them to buy a book.
In the meantime, I wrote an article for a construction publication (for pay) about a job held up by concern for turtles possibly crossing the road, until engineers designed a suitable underground turtle crossing. I took photos of a group of school kids who had painted a turtle-crossing sign, as well as the sign itself. I ran the disguised press release as a sidebar to the construction story in addition to sending it off to local periodicals. I closed the latest news article with Ogden Nash’s quatrain. Some papers ran the “news” but not the poem. Some paid, some didn’t.
The turtle lives twix plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile
The outhouse story has had a ripple effect. A reader wrote a letter to the editor saying he liked the story, but wanted to set the record straight about the king and the spider legend. The king, being a Scot would not have pulled up his pants; he would have pulled down his kilt.
After reading the outhouse story, a columnist for a large daily and Sunday paper, emailed me with a request for an interview for a column he wants to write about my outhouse story and book.
Angela Hoy knows what she is talking about. I am pleased to say, following Angela Hoy’s press release article in Writers Weekly paid off. It not only got my press release into print, but it produced results.
Outhouses by Joseph A. Parzych
Outhouses are in the news. John Hanson of Jefferson, Md., has designed a composting toilet. He calls it a Clivus Multrum. I don’t know what Clivus Multrum means. There’s no definition in the dictionary.
On Jep’s Place, our farm, we had an earlier version of a composting toilet. We called it an outhouse. While the Clivus Multrum model has a fairly sophisticated system of controlling decomposition and odor control, using wood shavings to add bulk for aeration, we used wood ashes and sawdust for the same purpose. A refinement that our system lacked is Hanson’s addition of an exhaust fan. Living on the farm with manure from all manner of animals, the smell of an outhouse was largely regarded as just another easily accepted earthy aroma of farm life and we hardly noticed the lack of exhaust fan. Often there was enough of a cool breeze wafting by the exposed posterior to more than satisfy the desire for a fan, especially in winter.
Hanson considers his composting toilet an improvement over sewage treatment plants and septic systems that allow pollutants and nutrients to get into ground water and waterways. A composting toilet is a safe way to recycle nutrients into the food chain, according to Hanson. His version of compost produces a product that has no odor and is safe to handle. Our more primitive outhouse system could not always lay claim to that.
Despite that drawback, there apparently is still a place for the earlier outhouses. In a news report, the city of Greenville, Ill. held its first Outhouse Festival with a competition of outhouse basketball. Competitors riding golf carts and lawn tractors circled an outhouse shooting rolls of toilet paper into a five gallon bucket. They had an outhouse stuffing contest, reminiscent of the country fair car-stuffing act when a dozen clowns and a donkey climb out of the back of a sedan. There were even outhouses for sale at the festival.
Outhouses held a valuable use in the past. One could sit in contemplation in blessed solitude, browse through the Sears & Roebuck catalogue that served as entertainment as well as toilet paper, or ponder on problems, undisturbed. Legend has it that a king once tried defeating an enemy a dozen times. He was about ready to admit defeat when he spotted a spider trying to weave a web. The spider failed, time and again. Twelve times, the spider failed. But on the 13th time, he succeeded. The king was so inspired that he pulled up his pants and went out to launch his army on their 13th and finally successful attack.
After reading an account of our outhouse and the use of a Sears catalog for toilet paper in my book, Jep’s Place, a reader sent me a ditty.
My father was a frugal man
He did not waste a thing
Our outhouse had a corncob
Suspended by a string.
Joe Parzych is a former writer and photographer for the Town Crier. He is the author of Jep’s Place: Hope, Faith, and Other Disasters, a vivid memoir with its share of humor and woe, available online or at your local bookstore. You can read an excerpt at: http://www.booklocker.com/books/2537.html