Part I: A Q&A with Chris Rodell

This is part I of a two part Q&A with Chris Rodell. Chris has written for everything from the National Enquirer to Esquire. Part II is coming soon, but for more about Chris now, see below, check out his blog, Eight Days to Amish or visit his website.

Jargon Writer: What was your first freelancing gig? How did you land it?

Chris Rodell: I come from a newspaper background (Nashville Banner 1985-88, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ’88-92). But in between those jobs, a friend of mine put me in touch with editors at the National Enquirer. They flew me to Florida and showed me the operation for two splendid weeks. I took the job back home in Pittsburgh and thought it would never be anything more than an odd memory.

Then one day in 1990, the National Enquirer called me up and asked me to do a story on America’s Cheapest Hamburger in Dunbar, Pennsylvania. My boss said it was okay. The Enquirer paid me $720 and I was off. I soon found all kinds of fun, offbeat stories that they paid me to write for up to $1,000 per piece. So I shed the newspaper career and long, boring nights covering municipal authority meetings to chase the wildest stories in the world.

JW: When and why did you decide to become a freelancer?

Chris: As I was doing Enquirer stories (as many as four a week), I wanted to ensure I could eventually return to the mainstream and use all these great stories for other venues. I maintain that a great Enquirer story is a great Wall Street Journal story is a great Esquire story. In fact, stories I’ve seen in Wall Street Journal eventually became stories I wrote for Enquirer and then, years later, Esquire.

I remember one story about America’s longest serving bartender, a Pittsburgh gentleman I saw in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I eventually wrote about him for Pittsburgh Magazine, Playboy, Enquirer, Maxim and about four or five others. But to get to that level from a tabloid, I started by pitching smaller magazines to get good clips. It’s like climbing a ladder. For me, one of the early and satisfying freelance gigs I had was a charming little publication called PetLife. I think the stories paid about $450, but yielded wonderful clips.

JW: How do you measure your own success? Do you set goals for yourself and if so, what goal(s) are you currently working toward?

Chris: Right now I’m concentrating on pitching book proposals and keeping my humor blog, www.EightDaysToAmish.com, lively and fresh. I’ve had golf and humor books published, but nothing substantial. Getting one of these big high-concept books published is a goal that is near, yet remains elusive. But I can’t stress how much fun and how rewarding it is to tend a blog and watch it grow from zero to a fun and feisty readership. Pittsburgh Magazine named it one of the five best blogs in the ‘burgh and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has three times in the past seven weeks cited it in its Sunday Forum page, “Cutting Edge” column, as a must-read. I love that something with “Amish” in the title is considered cutting edge!

I encourage every writer to start and maintain a blog. Stephen King says writing is like lifting weights. Do a little bit each day and you’ll get stronger. I get a real kick when I hear some flattering feedback on a blog item (like the sort Melissa’s been kind enough to share).

Chris Rodell is a Latrobe, Pa., based freelance writer who’s been published by many of the most prestigious magazines in America and been rejected by the rest. He teaches creative non-fiction at Point Park University in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter at @8days2amish.

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