Is blogging still a thing?

BloggerIt was not so long ago that I could lose an afternoon writing a 2000-word blog post about a video game I was playing. Another 1400 words on why a TV show annoyed me. (Yes, Game of Thrones I am looking at you.) 2500 words about a musical group that feels like family to me (Paul McCartney and Dave Matthews never show up though or call me). A blog post with writing advice (I did a lot of those). And how about one about a strange thing that happened to me, or something that made me the person I am today.

That was my life for years! And for a while, I was averaging a few blog posts a week. It was a fun time with likes and shares and comments and followers. But now something has shifted and nothing feels the same.

The thing that shifted is not just about me, it’s about the world. I think we as a collective consciousness decided to all move away from blogging together. An itch was scratched, we all sighed, and then forgot about it. (How many of you just scratched your arm because I wrote “itch”? Weird, huh? Mind control!)

I have some theories and thoughts on what has happened to the artform of blogging (and, yes, I used the word “artform”). It’s not a graveyard scenario yet. We are not pouring wine or throwing a rose on a casket while Boyz II Men plays on a stereo, but it is definitely a major hospital visit and there is a machine that makes a “ping” noise every time its heart beats. But remember what the nurse said when we entered the room- talk to the patient. Even though the patient doesn’t respond, it does make a difference.

“Hi blog, it’s us the writers. We just wanted to stop by and see how you’re doing. Are you feeling okay? Do you want to wake up now?”

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The Importance of the Writing Heart

Writing HeartThere is this truth around writing that we all can’t put our finger on. It’s enigmatic, elusive. But this “thing” can make a story or destroy it; it can change a letter from something that is thrown away or kept; and it is what makes an e-mail readable or spam.

Let me break this down in a different way.

As a book reviewer, I’ve had the pleasure of reading a lot of contemporary literature. And many times, these works will be by academics with amazing degrees and resumes. No one can deny these books are well-written, with a well-developed vocabulary and well-crafted plots. Yet, as a reader they don’t stick. I have no emotional attachment. It is like finishing a dry work assignment, not a work of art.

Recently, I had the same feeling reading Purity by Jonathan Franzen (you can read and hear my review here). No respectable reviewer will deny that Franzen is a good writer. He is, but his writing always misses something for me. And while I can respect the talent, I rarely remember anything after that last page is turned, almost relieved I got to the end of another gigantic tome.

So what do the academics and authors like Franzen miss?

Technically, they would argue nothing. They checked all the boxes that should make a work successful. Critics and publishers will agree. I might even agree! But it doesn’t change the fact that something was lacking and it is something behind the words.

I’m talking about heart.

Heart is the one thing that truly can’t be taught in an English or writing classroom, but it is also the most important thing a writer will need. And if used right by a writer, it can change opinions, stir a reader to act, and even make people cry or laugh. It is what takes a jumble of words and turns them into a message.

When writing has heart (be it in fiction, nonfiction, or even in marketing or business writing) it can move mountains. It can stir donations, create movements, and make art that truly will live after a writer has shuffled off this mortal coil.

Heart is the one thing all great writing share in all genres and styles. And yet, while we all have emotions, why is it so difficult for so many of us to call upon this organ? Continue reading

Banned Books Week (Sept 27 – Oct 3)

BBW-logoWe are in the midst of Banned Book Week, that time each year when readers and authors alike scan articles and essays about attempts to ban books from libraries and schools over the last year and wonder “What the heck is going on here?”

I’ve had the pleasure for the last three years of doing the book reviews for my local NPR station (WKAR) as part of their show Current State, and each year I try to take on another book that has faced the always surreal argument for censorship.

  • This year I reviewed The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. You can listen to my discussion or read my review via this page.
  • Last year, I reviewed Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. You can check that our here.
  • During my first year as part of Current State, I discussed the importance of this holiday and why we need to reflect on it via this audio essay.

I’ve also snuck in over the years other authors that have faced censorship, including (with links) Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Judy Blume, Harper Lee, and J.K. Rowling. In the future, I will be reviewing Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie, so this is not slowing down for me anytime soon.

I hope you enjoy checking out some of these book reviews and try to read something a little controversial this week.

My Time in Richmond: Jane Austen, Writing, and the James Rivers Writers

PoeThis was a truly memorable week for me.

On Tuesday, I was flown into Richmond, Virginia, to be part of a panel on writing and Jane Austen. It gave me a nice chance to get some writing in and to explore a very cool town… and visit the Edgar Allen Poe Museum!

One of the things I really enjoy doing is checking out the handwritten manuscripts of authors, and I was able to do that there (and his handwriting was exactly like you would have expected). Poe was a big influence on my novel Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare (here). He even was the quote at the front of the book (well, him and Snoopy).

Picture 2Besides a statue of a muse in the museum that freaked me out (I was sure it moved, making me jump like you wouldn’t believe), it was a nice detour. Okay though, on a side note, why doesn’t the gift shop sell pens? Writers… books… You think pens would be an obvious thing, as compared to the stuffed toys of a creepy pale guy with a mustache?

Picture 1Back to the much more important stuff! I was one of four panelists at the event. There was also Dr. Catherine Ingrassia (from VCU), Leighton Powell (from the Jane Austen Society, Central Virginia), and our moderator Mary Chris Escobar (author of How to Be Alive).  I have included some pictures from the event. They were taken by Richard Bailey (you can find him online here).

Richmond is really lucky to have a writing organization like James Rivers Writers. It was great to be there and to meet fellow writers, readers, and even followers of this blog!

Picture 3I want to thank JRW for this opportunity, as well as a big thanks to historical fiction author Karen Chase (who has a website here) who arranged my attendance. She also had the fun task of driving me around. Thanks Karen!

I hope you will check out James Rivers Writers website, and maybe try to attend an event in the future.  You can find them online here.

Thoughts on Book Reviewing

BooksI’m coming up on the year anniversary since I started doing the book reviews for my local NPR station. Soon my twentieth appearance will be on WKAR’s Current State. (You can check out links to them here). I really love doing them, and I look at each of them as not just as an opportunity to share my opinion on a book, but to also educate the listener of how to read a book or what to look for. I have even been known to throw in facts about literature and its vast history.

What can I say? I love the artform. Books are my passion.

I’ve written quite a few posts on this site about book reviews today. The good, the bad, what not to do, the questionable things, the author experience. I thought I would share the links to four of those writing posts below and give some updates as well since when I wrote them. Enjoy!

The Thin Muddy Line of Online Book Reviews. All the problems I discuss in this article still happen all the time. And I still get requests to “exchange” reviews. It makes me so uncomfortable and I am surprised how many writers are okay with it. As an NPR reviewer, I could never, ever consider such an enterprise since it would put all of my reviews into question. But I wouldn’t have considered it even before I started this great gig! Whatever the case, whenever I get an e-mail or a tweet asking me to do this I get a sick feeling in my stomach and a little angry.

The Troll Under the Bridge: How to Write a Good Bad Book Review. Trolls don’t go away. But you know, I think a lot of people don’t realize that is what they are doing, or the impact it has on other people. It reminds me of the time when I was a kid and with a friend we called a 1-800 number on a milk carton asking what color their cows are that give chocolate milk (we were 8). It’s like that mentality.

Charging the Melancholy Dragon. A lot of my heart as a writer is out there in this post. I really discuss in some spots on the difficulties of writing and dealing with reviews (good and bad).

goodreads-buttonLoving Goodreads (And Some Reviewing Suggestions).  This is my most recent post on the subject. I still love the site, but I don’t know how it could be improved without some reviewers hired to review the reviewing (say that five times fast), or to “star” certain reviewers as being more “legitimate” and their reviews given more girth in the grading.  That last point is definitely something to consider.

 

Is Historical Fiction a Good or Bad Thing?

HistoryI have a few writing posts on my site that are a little bit controversial.

One of those posts is my discussion around fan fiction, which you can read here. Every time—and I do mean every time—I share this article on Twitter or on a site it generates a response. (This is not surprising because people that read and write fan fiction come from a place of loving a story or an author. The debate is really around how best to show their love, what is appropriate and what isn’t, and who owns the story.)

On Saturday, I decided to re-tweet some of my writing articles, and just like clockwork I was getting responses to my fan fiction piece. One responder, Vanilla Rose (@MsVanillaRose), asked if that was not the same thing I was doing with my novel A Jane Austen Daydream. I quickly replied that my novel was historical fiction, a re-imagining of Jane’s life as one of her romantic and literary adventures.

It was after a few more tweet exchanges that Vanilla Rose said this, taking my breath away:

“…I think that inventing stuff about a person’s life is more problematic than playing with their work.”

Whoa… Continue reading

Loving Goodreads (And Some Reviewing Suggestions)

Good ReadsI am addicted to Goodreads.

I visit the site a few times a day and I can lose hours (hours!) just scrolling through the home page, looking at what readers are reading and saying about books that they had just finished. It’s almost like a sport as I moan and then cheer.

Yeah, I can get depressed by how few classics are being read by the population (I’ve never been one of those people who believe reading something is better than reading nothing), but it is always a thrill to see this immediate literary data. People always like to claim that literature is dying, but I see breath and heartbeats on this site everyday.

Right now, I have over 4,300 “friends” and over 80 fans. Some of this is related to my Twitter account, but I think it’s also because of my books, my blog (Hello!) and the book reviews I do on my local NPR station (you can check them out via links on this page).

The thing about book reviewing is that in many ways it is an art onto itself. Yet, ever since Amazon so long ago allowed customers to review products and books, that special door controlling whose voice is heard in the market has swung so far open that the hinges are broken. That door will never be fixed, and everyone is now welcomed in.

I know someone who will never give a book 5 stars. Never. Her reasoning, nothing is perfect. Case closed. I also had one person give my novel A Jane Austen Daydream only 4 stars with the comment that she would give it 5, but she wanted to encourage me to write more. I still don’t know how I feel about that. (Does that mean I am encouraged? I don’t feel encouraged, only a little confusedly sad.)

So yes, anyone can review on Goodreads, and, yes, anyone can review how they want. But I would love to give some suggestions for my fellow Goodreaders. Consider these my recommended new ground rules before you join this new literary sport.
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“Nightmares and dreams” Part one of an interview with Nancy Christie

Jane AustenHappy New Year faithful readers! 

Last month I was interviewed by novelist Nancy Christie as part of her “One on One” series. It was quite a long and fun interview, and she has turned it into a two-part series for the site!

If you ever wanted to get really into my writing head, meet the wizard hiding behind the curtain, this is that interview! The first part of her interview was released today; you can read it here.  In this excerpt is my answer to the most challenging undertaking I have had as a writer:

A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM was easily the most difficult book I have ever undertaken, because I had to be true to Jane. In other words, I wanted her to be alive on the pages, which means her own dialogue and spirit had to be part of the narrative.

So first, I had to research her life and her books thoroughly. I used to be able to quote entire passages of her novels! (Not anymore, now that space is taken over by cute kid songs from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood thanks to my young daughter’s obsession with the show.)

Then I had to decide what of her life I wanted to keep and what I wanted to use for the book. See, I wanted the plot to be influenced more by her own stories than her actual life (it is a daydream).

After the plot was in place (with some very notable surprises and literary twists included), I then had to write a book where her voice would feel natural, but not too dated to scare off a contemporary reader.

Yes, it was a slow process, with each sentence and chapter written and re-written numerous times. By the end, I felt like I had run a marathon (or at least what I assume that would feel like). But it was all very worth it.

You can read the rest of the interview here. Part 2 of the interview will be on Nancy Christie’s site on January 15. Thanks Nancy! 

A Jane Austen Daydream

My latest novel, A Jane Austen Daydream, can be purchased in print ($13.46) or as an eBook for the outrageously low price of $3.99 for Kindle. You can find it on Amazon here (http://amzn.com/B00CH3HQUU).

Charging the Melancholy Dragon: The Down Bits in Writing Today

Bugs Bunny in CasablancaBeing a writer can be… depressing.

This is really not surprising and most that work in the arts feel this to a certain degree, because you are putting a piece of your soul out there for the world to see and judge.

And everyone judges.

Yet, for an author there is something about writing that makes it seem so, so much more personal.

It’s probably because a story begins in one’s mind and resides there for months to years, until that fateful moment when a writer finally hits “print” on their keyboard or “send” in that first e-mail. And when you consider that most authors are introverts to a certain degree to being with.… Well, it just spells depressing doom, doesn’t it?  Yes, this all seems completely explainable, so why does it affect all of us so much?

Because creativity is all illogical! It’s on a completely different side of the brain from logic! Creativity resides with emotion and once I am ready myself to show or talk about a book, I usually expect to be disappointed and a little down. This is not me being a glass-half empty kind of guy; it’s just the nature of being a writer, especially in today’s overly-congested market of authors peddling their wares.

Yes, we writers when we are young to the field all dream of accolades and awards and long lines of readers desiring autographs at the local bookstore, but that doesn’t always happen. The chance of that happening to any of us is the equivalent of winning the lottery. Maybe three lotteries… back to back… in one day… and then getting hit by lightning while picking up the winnings.

These are the two most important lessons that get me through the rough authoring patches… Continue reading

A Jane Austen Daydream in the Best of 2013 Blog Hop Giveaway! Win a Signed Copy!

A Jane Austen DaydreamI was recently honored to have author and blogger Kathryn Chastain Treat pick my novel A Jane Austen Daydream as her selection for the Best of 2013 Blog Hop Giveaway!

So very cool!

Because of this selection, on her site she has shared an interview with me about the book and is giving away a signed copy of it to one lucky reader. You can read the interview and enter the contest here.

Here is a selection from the interview where I discuss my research into the writing of my little daydream:

I knew that if I was to do this book right, I couldn’t only dip my toe in. I had to do this fully, live in the deep end of the pool, underwater. Her books, a few biographies, her letters, her unpublished works, I even visited some locations back before I began the book looking for inspiration. Everything I could get my hands on plays a part in the work.

My goal was not just to write about her, but to have her be a part of it. So references and quotes from her classic works are sprinkled throughout it. The trick for me was though writing a book that could work for the casual fan as well as the obsessed reader. Again, it all comes down to planning, which means I had to find a narrator voice that was between Jane and my own. If I did this right, there is something for everyone in this book and it is readable even for those not used to reading regency novels.

A Jane Austen DaydreamYou can read the rest of the interview and enter the contest by visiting Kathryn Chastain Treat’s website hereGood luck!

A Jane Austen Daydream can be purchased in print ($13.46) or as an eBook for the outrageously low price of $3.99 for Kindle. You can find it on Amazon here (http://amzn.com/B00CH3HQUU).