It Happens: Newspaper…Book…National Column.

A story:

Back in 2000, as a freelance writer I was retained by Newsday for a year-long series that was to run in the paper every day.  They were calling it “Names of New York.”  It involved research and history — a perfect love match for my interests.  Newsday provided me with a long list of New York-based streets, landmarks, bridges, highways, and my job was to research and write about their name origins. The articles, which you can find under “Pages” here, looked like this:

Solomon R guggenheim MuseumIt was a sweet gig and you know what made it even better?

One day, while the “Names of New York” series was running, I received a call, out of the blue — an offer to write a book.  On Queens, where I grew up.  The publisher?  Yale University Press.  Seriously.  That turned into an amazing, interesting and grueling four-year project but the result was my first book and two nods by The New York Times — once when it was released in hardcover and later when it came out in paperback.  

The Neighborhoods of QueensFast forward to 2013 and many great assignments in between — I’m now on another fascinating research/writing project, this time for Parade Magazine’s website, Parade.com.  Expanding on my much earlier “Names of New York” work for Newsday, I’m now writing a weekly “Names of America” column.  Research…history…love!

ParadeAnd so kids, the point of this story is clear– yes, freelancing is often a biatch, but once in a while, one plum assignment lays the foundation for future work.  You won’t know it at the time, but it happens.

Parade ContributorAnd now back to your regularly scheduled querying and kvetching.

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My Romance with “Google Alerts”

I’m not ashamed to admit it — I am madly in love with the content change detection and notification service otherwise known as “Google Alerts.”

In case you’ve just landed from planet Zork, get a load of this:  Google Alerts is a web service that automatically notifies users when new content from news, web, blogs, video and/or discussion groups matches a set of search terms the user has requested.   These notifications are sent to me via email, and it’s completely and totally FREE.  (Note to Google: don’t even think of it!).

As a journalist, I’ve set up (and removed) all kinds of alerts — many are based on topics I’m researching at any given time.  So if I’m writing about the planet Zork, for instance, I’ll set up a Google Alert for any web content with the word “Zork” in it.

Of course, because I’m extremely vain, I have alerts set up for my own name, “Claudia Gryvatz Copquin,” so every time my byline appears somewhere, I receive a notice in my mailbox.  These emails take priority over everything else.  So I was thoroughly delighted when I opened one such Google Alert the other day, to find a review of my book, “The Neighborhoods of Queens” (published by Yale University Press in 2007)  in a publication called “The Long Island History Journal.”

The review begins as follows:

“The Neighborhoods of Queens offers an astonishing array of surprises in its descriptions of all 56 neighborhoods in Queens. Queens Village, we learn, had long been “an oasis for shooting enthusiasts,” which explains why certain streets there—Springfield and Winchester boulevards, Musket Street, and others—are named for rifles (151); the “moniker” Utopia, given both to the community and the parkway, originated in a land scheme to develop a “cooperative community for Jewish families then living on the Lower East Side” (75); and the “first kerosene refinery in the nation” and “first modern oil refinery” were both enjoyed by Maspeth (139).”

OK, so the book covers 99 neighborhoods, not 56 — but Dr. Ross Wheeler
the acclaimed Queens College reviewer, is clearly enthused.  Thanks, Doc!

And thank you, Google Alerts.  You complete me.