Blog Tour: Tag You’re It, or Hide and Seek?

Marion Beaman of Plain and Fancy graciously invited me to participate in a Blog Tour. Participants are supposed to discuss their own writing and writing techniques and then “tag” others. I am truly honored that Marian asked me, and if you are not familiar with her blog, you should be. Marian is in the midst of writing a memoir, and her blog is filled with wise thoughts, witty and profound quotes, and photos—many of which are from her childhood “Plain” life in Pennsylvania. I’ve never met her offline, but she is kind, gracious, and intelligent, and her blog reflects this. Through her blog, I’ve been recently introduced to the wonderful blogs of Traci Carver, Judy Berman, and Laurie Buchanan.

1. What am I working on now?

I am going to have a busy summer of writing and editing. My current book project is an encyclopedia, The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia to be published by ABC-CLIO. My deadline is imminent. The book should be out next spring, assuming I survive the process of getting it finished. The project has proven to be much more exhaustive–and exhausting–than I anticipated. As with other encyclopedia projects, rounding up and keeping track of contributors has been a constant problem—even more so than in other projects I’ve worked on for some reason. As a result, I have had to rewrite several entries, and I’m writing many more than I expected to write.

Any second now, I expect to receive the copyedited manuscript for another encyclopedia project that Marian mentioned, a Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast, which should be out in September.

I also work as a freelance test-writer for ETS (Educational Testing Service), and during the summer, I always have more of this work. Then there is this blog—which I consider my “fun writing.”

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?

For many reference books, and certainly for the encyclopedias, there are formats and guidelines that have to be followed. I think what might make my work different is the subject matter that I covered in several of them—rape, sexuality, women’s roles, and breasts! Most of the reference books I’ve done, I was asked to do by editors at the various presses. The book formats and subject matter were already approved. For my recent History of American Cooking, I was told what topics should be covered, but what I think made it “me” was the touch of humor and pop culture references I included—at least I hope that comes through. My first book, Breaking the Bonds: Marital Discord in Pennsylvania, 1730-1830, was an original work, and I think groundbreaking for its time. When it came out in 1991, historians had not written very much on the subject, and some of the sources I used had not been explored at all.

One has to follow very specific guidelines in writing test items, but there is some flexibility and creativity in the types of situations one can imagine. I always have little scenes in my head—even if it is only for a fill-in-the-blank grammar sentence. I could probably give you the whole back-story on some person mentioned in the sentence. I don’t know if this is typical. Probably not.

3. Why do I write what I do? 

Well, it’s a combination of love and work. Writing academic works is definitely hard work. On good days, it’s a labor of love. On bad days, it’s just work. The same goes for the test writing. Blogging is just fun.At some point, I’d like to work on something else—perhaps a memoir or novel.

4. How does my writing process work?

It’s kind of controlled chaos. I tend to write from notes scribbled on legal pads and sticky notes (yes, backs of envelops, too—hey, if it worked for Lincoln, why not?), and half-outlines that usually change as I go. I keep various folders on my computer desktop, too. And because I’m usually working on multiple projects, there are many notepads, many books, and many folders. But somehow from all that disorder, I usually manage to submit a decent product.

I usually work at my kitchen table with books and papers all over the place. I don’t like to be closed up in a study, and I like to be able to stir a pot of soup or bake something while I work. That’s my idea of multitasking. My workspace usually looks like this:

My Faithful Companion rests on the morning newspaper

My Faithful Companion rests on the morning newspaper

Coffee is a must--usually in a mug with my older daughter's play logo

Coffee is a must–usually in a mug with my older daughter’s play logo

Sometimes this happens.


An additional trick--he also pulls bookmarks out of my books.

An additional trick–he also pulls bookmarks out of my books.


Now for the rest of the tour. I should have remembered how bad I am at playing tag. I dutifully contacted several people “behind the scenes” to see if they would like to participate, but all were busy or for various reasons declined. Did I mention that not only am I bad at tag, but I also get bored with games? People are hiding, but I don’t feel like seeking. I tend to just go off to do my own thing–probably why I’m at home writing a blog post, right?

So instead of officially “tagging” people, I’m simply going to mention a few blogs I enjoy, and if the bloggers want to pursue the “tour,” they can, and if not, oh well, I guess the tour stops here. But don’t unfasten your seat belt until we come to a full stop. We’re not there yet.

Cynthia Bertelsen’s blog, Gherkins & Tomatoes is filled with exquisite musings on food and history, along with gorgeous photography. She is the author of Mushroom: A Global History, and is now working on a history of cookbooks, which should be amazing. Her posts always make me think about the history of food in new ways. Shanna Koeningsdorf Ward is not working on a writing project, as far as I know, but her blog, Curls and Carrots, is always filled with photos of delicious dishes she has prepared, often with the help of her two adorable children. I am curious how she pulls it all off—constant cooking and baking, photography, and keeping two children amused and photo-ready—perhaps she’ll tell us how she does it.

OK. Now we’re done. I hope you enjoyed the tour.  Watch your step as you exit–you never know when a crazed blogger might jump out to tag you.

12 thoughts on “Blog Tour: Tag You’re It, or Hide and Seek?

  1. Enjoyed the insight into your work, Merril! And it’s good to know that in this digital age that I’m not the only one who still scribbles on a legal pad.
    As for that feline, I also had one that would pull out any bookmark he could get his teeth on. I always imagined him chuckling diabolically as he cast it aside 🙂

  2. Thanks, Traci! My daughters and I all have obsessions with office products. I love legal pads.
    We have two cats–this one is my baby. He likes to chew on odd things, but not a diabolical thought in his head. He probably thinks he’s helping me somehow–you know, by making me focus on him instead of my work. 🙂

  3. I enjoyed reading more about your writing process and what you write about. It’s interesting that American Food History is becoming very popular and in vogue, just as you are expanding your writing niche. Will your focus on American food history be on the cooking, the farming and procuring of the food, or both? Food preparation was once a “women’s” role but has expanded to men; I see how this topic can be fascinating from a sociological perspective. As for legal pads, I love them. They are a necessity for any writer! I am even know to (gasp!) send frequent, hand-written notes to friends. The power of the (literal) pen is still here in a technological era. You are clearly a very accomplished professional. I appreciate you sharing your work with me, and I am deeply grateful for the generous mention. Enjoy your day, Merrill. I hope it includes: chocolate, red wine and (of course) some legal pad action.

    • Thank, Shanna. The History of American Cooking was two books ago–I don’t have any plans to write anything else on that subject at the moment. The focus was on cooking methods because the book specs were already determined before I started working on the book. I didn’t have any wine today, but I did get in a dose of chocolate, and “legal pad action,” too! 🙂

  4. Meril …. It was interesting to learn more about your work … I loved your image of controlled chaos … I do outlines and change them … do drafts and change them … rearrange pieces and paragraphs constantly. It’s always a bit of surprise when it finally comes together. Good luck on this latest encyclopedia!

  5. Merril – Oh how fun to get an insider’s glimpse at what you do, and how you pull it off. I especially loved: “It’s kind of controlled chaos.” That made me laugh! And your feline cohort in crime is adorable.

  6. I love your paperweight (your Faithful Companion, the cat). My cat loves to “help” out, too. He sits by the corner of the screen, blocking part of the left side and watches as the arrow moves on the computer or when different photos scroll by.

    It does sound like you have a busy, productive writing life. Some of your writing traits are similar to mine: scribbling notes on legal pads, sticky notes and the backs of envelopes. In a pinch, I write on grocery and store receipts, too. 😉 Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. I enjoyed your blog tour.

  7. Thanks for stopping by and reading and commenting, Judy. Yes, I often use grocery and store receipts, too. Often I use them as bookmarks.
    It’s funny when a cat notices the cursor on the computer–or not, if you’re really trying to work. I often work when my cats are napping, just like I did when my children were little. That’s not weird, is it. 🙂

  8. I love reading the comments, some I hope from folks attracted to your blog from my tour last week. And I LOVE seeing your work space. Now I can visualize you with your catty comfort and culinary aromas stoking your writerly endeavors. Gherkins & Tomatoes and Curls and Carrots sound appetizing to me too. I’ll have to check them out.

    Great lines: “People are hiding, but I don’t feel like seeking. I tend to just go off to do my own thing–probably why I’m at home writing a blog post, right?” You’ve found the perfect niche, doing your own thing. I’m in awe of the breadth of your talents, Merril. And I’m so happy others have discovered you too.

  9. Marian–once again, thank you so much for your very kind comments. You always give me such a boost of confidence! My “catty comfort and culinary aromas” do surround me. I’m not certain that they necessarily stoke my writing, but they do add to my sense of well-being. Perhaps that’s one and the same. 🙂

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