Newsletter 2023-09

For ASJA members in
Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon and Washington
September 2023

In This Issue

From the Prez, Epic Wins, M. Carolyn Miller, ASJA PNW President
Get Paid for Your Work. Always, Fred Gebhart
Gracia, Barcelona, James Carberry
Sharpen Your Trend Vision, Bruce Miller
Member News and Announcements

Join us for our September meeting!

M. Carolyn Miller is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.


Time: September 20, 2023 01:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 815 3315 9297
Passcode: 809320

This newsletter continues to publish the first day of each month and welcomes article submissions and photos. Please email the ASJA PNW Newsletter Editor, Maxine Cass, at

From the President

by M. Carolyn Miller

ASJA PNW Chapter President

Epic Wins

I recently completed a client article on artificial intelligence (AI). My research did not convince me that AI will replace us as writers and creatives. Indeed, even the experts are not convinced, with half of them saying it will be a force for good and the other half saying it will be a force for evil and annihilation. It is the mythic battle of darkness vs. light.

Farhad Manjoo, an opinion columnist and creative, agrees. In his recent New York Times post, he cites all the times a new technology has impacted a creative field and, in fact, improved it. Electric synthesizers enhanced musical instruments. Photography expanded, rather than replaced, paintings in the art field.

I didn’t play around with AI tools like ChatGPT when writing the article, but Manjoo did. He discovered that while AI can replicate, it cannot replace truly groundbreaking creative work. I agree. Indeed, as I do research for a book proposal, and scan Amazon’s database, I can pick out the books whose ideas are truly groundbreaking from those that are variations on a theme. This observation forces me to re-examine my own work in light of that.

In online gaming, there is a move called an “Epic Win.” Epic wins are genius moves after multiple (failed) attempts that enable a player to win the game. This is the challenge AI presents to writers and all creatives: to rely on intuition and invention rather than imitation and, in so doing, create epic wins that will ensure the artist’s value.

M. Carolyn Miller, MA, spent her career designing narrative- and game-based learning. Today, she consults and writes about narrative in our lives and world, the inextricable link between the two, and the critical role of self-awareness in transforming both. www.cultureshape.comI

Black-tailed deer buck at dawn, Gold Hill, Oregon © Maxine Cass

by Fred Gebhart

Get Paid for Your Work. Always

Science fiction writer Harlan Ellison is remembered as much for his volcanic personality as for his 1,700 short stories and articles, 100-plus books, and dozens of screenplays and teleplays. The New York Times quoted Ellison as calling writing a “holy chore.” And his prime directive for writers was to get paid. Every time, for every word.

“I don’t take a piss without getting paid for it,” Ellison famously ranted in an interview excerpted in the 2008 documentary Dreams With Sharp Teeth. “There are so many goddamned writers who have no idea that they’re supposed to be paid every time they do something.”

There’s an unspoken corollary: There are so many goddamned writers who have no idea how much they’re supposed to be paid every time they do something.

As a long-time writer for film and television, Ellison was covered by Writers Guild of America contract provisions. WGA sets base pay rates for members, a luxury most of us work without. It’s too easy to take whatever an editor offers without too much negotiating.

No surprise then that the latest Author’s Guild member survey in 2018 put annual median earnings for full-time writers at just $20,300. ASJA’s latest member survey (2021) found that about 20% of members made less than $25,000 and another 20% made more than $75,000.

You can make more by working longer and harder than last year. But putting more time into work means less time for the rest of life.

Or you can make more by working the same number of hours at higher rates. If you aren’t getting pushback from at least a few clients, you aren’t charging enough. It’s one of the rare financial lessons I learned the easy way.

A former biotech writer turned public relations guru hired me to provide media training for early-stage biotech clients making their first pitches to industry conferences and business media. And promptly demanded that I at least double my $45/hr rate so she could mark it up enough to be credible to industry insiders.

I went for $105/hr—it seemed more thoughtful and precise than $100. And when, with great trepidation, I quoted $105/hr to other clients, no one complained.

When I joined the American Medical Writers Association in the early 1990s, another member suggested that I check the latest member compensation survey. I checked and promptly raised my rates.

The latest AMWA compensation survey (2019) pegged the median freelance writing rate at $113/hr, topping out at $150/hr for biotech writing. AMWA charges nonmembers for compensation survey results, but you can get ballpark estimates for multiple writing specialties from,,, and other workplace and compensation consultants. And with 2024 on the horizon, it could be time to tell editors and clients that your rates are going up.

Fred is in Oregon’s Rogue Valley trying to make out the business future of writing through banks of wildfire smoke. The view isn’t great.

Story and photos by James Carberry

Gracia, Barcelona

It rained all this Sunday morning in Barcelona, a welcome relief from a drought that has persisted for 30 months here and throughout much of Spain.

The city of Barcelona has put business and industry on water rationing. So far, residential households have been spared. It could be only a matter of time until we, too, are told to limit our water consumption. I’m already there. I read recently that our tap water partly consists of treated and recycled sewer water. Just thinking about that has inspired me to cut back. I could buy bottled water, but there’s the expense, and the plastic bottles to recycle. And who knows where that bottled water comes from.

Last Sunday, August 20, was the final day of the annual La Festa de Major Gracia festival in our Gracia neighborhood, where my wife Gail and I live, two blocks from our son and daughter-in-law. This year, gracias a dios, there were not the usual deafening fireworks that start in late afternoon and continue until the early hours of the morning. But there were a lot of loud people celebrating from sundown to sunrise. Barcelona is a noisy city. If there were a world competition for noisiest city, Barcelona would win, hands down.

During the festival, the plaza next to our apartment building, like other plazas in our neighborhood, featured entertainment for the five nights of the festival. A singer doing renditions of Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday songs was marvelous. The only drawback was that she didn’t come on stage until midnight, past my bedtime, and finished at 1 a.m. But I hung in there, listening until the end.

It reminded me of the annual Fillmore Jazz Festival. Gail and I once lived in San Francisco, a block from where the festival was held. In the days before the festival, we’d sometimes get a call from someone we hadn’t seen in years, or weren’t sure we even knew, asking if they could crash at our place during the festival.

Now, we live in Barcelona, and we love it. Among Barcelona’s neighborhoods, Gracia is exceptional in that it has managed to preserve its old housing stock – many of its buildings were constructed in the early 1900s or even earlier. We live in a modern apartment in a building constructed in 1896. In many other neighborhoods, new housing has replaced the old. But these neighborhoods don’t have Gracia’s vibrancy. We have the best of the city’s coffee houses, restaurants, bakeries, fish markets, butcher shops and…well, the list goes on.

If the Gracia Chamber of Commerce wants me to come out of retirement and help promote the neighborhood, I’ll be glad to help. I just need to work on my Spanish.

In his professional career, Jim Carberry was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, a Singapore-based newsletter correspondent, a corporate editor, a book author and the owner of a small business. He’s now retired and living in Barcelona, Spain, with his family. 

by Bruce Miller

Sharpen Your Trend Vision

Sharpen Your Trend Vision

Google offers many different free services, such as email, online documents, and photo storage. One free service that might not be as well-known is Google Trends (GT).

Google Trends allows you to see the topics people are—or aren’t—following, practically in real time and over a period of time. Journalists can use this information to explore potential story ideas and can also feature Trends data within news stories to illustrate a general level of interest in, say, a political candidate, social issue or event. Content creators can use GT to help determine the best website wording that matches what people are using in searches.

Additionally, GT can help you compare words or phrases used in topic searches.

The place to start is the GT home page:

There’s a lot to GT. Here’s a brief summary of the benefits followed with a concrete example using the comparison feature.

Insights into Search Trends

Get insights into search patterns and trends over time, such as seasonal fluctuations.

Geographical Insights:

Explore search trends in different regions or countries. Learn where your target audience is most active and craft marketing strategies accordingly.

Content Planning

Identify trending topics and popular search queries in an industry and then create content around the topics to attract more website traffic.

Market Research

Analyze search trends related to products, services, or an industry.

Ad Campaign Optimization

Analyze search trends in relation to your target audience for best time and place for ads.

Comparative Analysis

Compare the popularity of different search terms or topics.

Comparing phrases can be fun and informative. Let’s consider the marketing of my in-progress short e-book on free or cheap internet. Think about which phrases are most likely to be used in searches, which in turn suggest phrases to use in copy on web pages. Let’s compare these two phrases:

cheap or free internet

free or cheap internet

Go to this URL for Explore:

At the top of the page enter “cheap or free internet” without the quotes and press enter. The result for this phrase is “Hmm, your search doesn’t have enough data to show here.”

Now try “free or cheap internet”. Same result! This result means not many people are using those phrases in search. So, let’s try these two phrases:

cheap internet

free internet

“Cheap internet” shows data (blue) and “free internet” shows even more data (red) as shown in the resulting line graph:

The results suggest the preferred phrase to use is “free internet” rather than “cheap internet.”

Google has more in-depth instructional information to help you dive deep if you want.

Seattle resident Bruce Miller likes data that informs.

Fall color, Medford, Oregon © Maxine Cass

“All the months are crude experiments, out of which the perfect September is made.”

— Virginia Woolf, A Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals, 1897-1909

Member News and Announcements

Howdy, I’m Rachel Phelps An– (pronounced ‘on’), an ASJA member. I live in Maple Valley, WA, with my family and two kitties.

I am a freelance writer and am working on my proofreading and editing skills by taking the Certificate in Editing course at the University of Washington this fall. I brushed up my proofreading this summer at UW too. I love writing about suburban modern homesteading and am currently into all things fermenting – kombucha, pickled everything, and sauerkraut.

In the last few years, I left my job at Farmers Insurance where I handled injury claims for over 15 years and while I wouldn’t mind writing about insurance, it’s not something that excites me. I substitute teach during the school year and that’s mostly fun. I’m happy to chat about cookbooks, modern homesteading, and so many other things. I love learning, and I think that freelancing is going to give me that opportunity for years to come. I’m looking forward to getting to know all of you wonderful writers! 

L.M. Archer wrote Cambium Napa Valley Biodynamics Masterclass series hits the US and ‘Unity is our power’, say major players in Washington wine for The Drinks Business in August. For Wine Business Monthly, she did Gamay finds its groove in Oregon and Rhône Rangers Ride to New Regions. She also has an article, “Put a Cork in It: Natural, Sustainable, Renewable, Recyclable – There’s A Lot To Love About the Mighty Cork” in the September print issue of Full Pour Magazine.

M. Carolyn Miller will be attending Writer’s Advance, a writing retreat focused on individual time to write, November 2-5, in Eagle Creek, OR (45 minutes east of Portland). She found the retreat by accident and loves its focus and price. (She may also be a co-facilitator, depending on the size.) If you have a project that needs focus, or simply need a respite, please, please join her.

Maxine Cass was inspired by this successful author after reading her 2019 book, Gods of Jade and Shadow. “Silvia Moreno-Garcia ignored the experts and trusted her instincts. Now she’s a bestseller,” was the title the Los Angeles Times Books section gave her September 19, 2022 essay on identity evolution and the challenge of being assigned multiple genres for varied book styles.


EDITOR: Maxine Cass
ASJA PNW monthly meeting coverage: Darlene West
PROOFREADER: Catherine Kolonko

*All stories are copyright by their respective writers.
*All photographs and illustrations are copyright by their creative makers.
*All rights are reserved to each of them for their own material.