Friday, October 15, 2010

Great pictures on the radio!

Confession: For years, I was a free-loader.

I listened to Georgia Public Radio for a huge chunk of my childhood and all of my adulthood, and I never picked up the phone and called in a pledge.

And it wasn't as if I wasn't getting something out of it, either. I can't tell you how many ideas I've gotten off National Public Radio programs like All Things Considered or Morning Edition. Wait -- I can tell you one thing: the idea for my book WHERE LOVE GROWS? Yep, it came to me in a lightbulb moment after I heard two programs at two different times on NPR. One was about crop insurance fraud (who knew?) and the other was about a weird parasitic vine that had no leaves (eww! Stuff out of B-Movie plots!).

Yeah, I know, you're thinking NPR really stands for Nerdy People's Radio, and sure, you could be right. But don't turn your nose up at it before you take a listen. It's a great resource for writers.

Number one, it's got a wealth of information, and much of it is available on-line in archive format. Whether it's info to help you flesh out your research or warm and fuzzy human interest stories which give you insight into what makes people tick, NPR is terrific. I get story ideas there all the time -- the latest one after I heard a profile about a guy who works for the FDIC and comes in to take over failing banks. Did you know that bank takeovers almost always happen on a Friday? So if you see a lot of strange suits in your bank on a Friday afternoon, get really suspicious.

But more than the info, it's the delivery that will help you improve as a writer. Radio has to rely on creating word pictures, even in this digital age where you can go to the website and look at an accompanying picture. I've learned more on showing and not telling from NPR stories than almost any other kind of writing. The writers create such strong images, and I examine those images to see what makes them work. Then I try (very hard) to use those techniques in my own writing.

Back to my confession. Even with all the value that I got out of NPR -- a book deal, for gracious sakes -- I'd never plunked down my money. Don't get me wrong. I always INTENDED to. Somehow, though, I never did.

Then just before last Christmas, The Kiddo was watching GPB TV, our state's public TV station, in the morning before school when a fund-raising drive came on. Apparently, the network was short on funds because people like me sat on their hands.

The Kiddo looked up at me and said, "What's that for?" in response to the fund-raising drive. So I explained that public didn't necessarily mean free, and that it was folks like us who made it possible for her to watch CURIOUS GEORGE in the morning.

"You mean WE give them money?" she asked.

Color me embarrassed. I hemmed and hawed until she got out the basic info that I was a free-loader. And then color me twice over embarrassed because she announced:

"That's what I want for Christmas, Mommy! Can we give money to them like we give to the ASPCA?"

So I did. It wasn't much, my pittance of a donation, and this year's donation during the Fall Membership Drive wasn't much, either. But hey, when I see or hear "brought to you by viewers like you," I know that it really is me and The Kiddo who help out.

This is my state's time to do the Fall Membership Drive. So be better than me and don't be a free-loader. Go to GPB's website (or your own public radio/TV network) and give what you can. Who knows? What you hear on NPR might give you the idea that will turn into a sold book!


Kelly Breakey said...

This is how I felt about the local programming when I was growing up. We didn't have cable. There was a cost so I only got to watch MTV when I went to a friends house. You know, back when MTV actually played music videos? Anyway, I got a lot of story ideas just from the local programming so know exactly of what you speak.

Cynthia Reese said...

Yay! I'm not the only person who does this! Cable's great, but I love the variety you get from NPR.

Sharon Axline said...

A woman after my own heart. It's OPB here and I listen to it going into work (morning edition) and coming home (BBC world service followed by Fresh Air) and thanks for the reminder! I have to renew my membership!

Cynthia Reese said...

Sharon, glad to know that public radio speaks to folks like it does me -- maybe NPR actually stands for Neat People's Radio!

BillRicksofSoperton said...

The only time I listen to radio is in my car, and 99 percent of the time it's tuned to WMUM Cochran-Macon. No screaming auto commercials. Good stories. Timely, unbiased news. I like the public TV and internet, too, such as the outstanding "God in America" series.