Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jennifer Weiner responds

So I sent the previous post to Jennifer Weiner via Facebook, and with her permission, here's what she had to say in response:
It was a tough call -- be myself or be polite? In the end, I acquiesced to the bookstore's request because it was an afternoon event, and because there were little kids there, and as a mom of little kids myself, I get that you don't want to innocently wander into a store on a Sunday afternoon and hear NC-17 material. But it hurt to swallow all those effbombs...and in the future, I will know to insist on either reading after 7 p.m. or reading offsite, where the seating isn't right next to the Curious George display.
But you got it right -- no easy answers.

And she hopes to see me in Raleigh -- open invitation, Jen!

The post has prompted some interesting comments, both here and on Facebook. Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts and opinions, and if you haven't, please do! And thanks again to Jennifer Weiner for taking the time to read the post as well as respond to it. I'm honored!

what would George Carlin do?

Here's one George Carlin would've loved:
Bestselling author Jennifer Weiner, while on tour for her newest book, Best Friends Forever, was recently asked by a Massachusetts bookstore to refrain from using profanity. The author obliged (and her fans asked her to compensate by signing personal profane inscriptions in their copies), but it's got me wondering if the bookstore has the right to make such a request, and if it's in an author's best interest to deny it.

I've discussed (and defended) my use of profanity in my novels as a matter of word choice. As a writer, I am conscious of every word I put on the page. Every word needs to have purpose. Not some. All. If I use a curse word, I question its purpose: Does it suit the personality of the character? Does it lend something to the emotion or action of the scene? Does it generate a bigger laugh? Does it plain sound better? There's a difference between the words "crap" and "shit" even though they're synonyms. Ditto for "screwing" and "fucking". What makes me choose one over the other (or neither) has nothing to do w/ decency or possibly offending my reader.

An editor requesting an author to make changes during the drafting process is totally different from a bookstore asking an author to make changes after the book has been published. If a bookstore asks an author to censor him/herself at a reading, they are, essentially, asking that author to change the meaning of a character, thought, scene, etc. How can this be? It reminds me of Ed Sullivan asking Jim Morrison or The Rolling Stones to change their lyrics when they performed on TV, or shooting Elvis from the waist up because his dancing was "too sexual". They obliged (although Jim Morrison demonstratively rolled his eyes in front of the camera and deliberately defied the request). We've come a long way since Ed Sullivan, or so I thought.

But perhaps the real issue isn't one of censorship but money. Why book these authors in the first place? Jennifer Weiner is an extremely popular author (I'm still waiting for her to come to Raleigh!). She packs a bookstore. Best Friends Forever hit #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list. If a bookstore denies her appearance because of her book's content, they lose money. If she refuses to censor herself, she stands to lose money should she choose to refuse to appear otherwise, or the bookstore refuses to let her. Both could stand to lose customers either way.

To defend the bookstore for just a moment, I can understand them not wanting to do anything to potentially lose a customer. They need their customers desperately. And I can understand Weiner wanting to please her fans by being there (and they got what they wanted in the end).

I once did an open mic reading at a bookstore where we were asked to "keep it clean" in case little kids came in. I changed one curse word, and I can't tell you how much I regretted it, how much I cringed when the different, less effective word came out of my mouth. The moment didn't impact the reader the way it was supposed to as a result. And it was a key moment. worse stil, it made me feel and seem like a bad writer who made a bad word choice. If I could've done it over, I would've kept it intact and taken my chances.

And yet, if my novel broke wide open and I started doing readings across the country, and someone asked me to censor my work, would I cave? I'm a new author, itching to sell books and make a name for myself (not to mention make money)? Is that sacrifice worth it? Or such a trade-off akin to selling my soul?

What's the answer? Should bookstores have the right to ask authors to change content due to political correctness? Should authors refuse to do so? What would Geroge Carlin do?

What would you do? As a bookseller or author?

Monday, July 27, 2009

a radical approach to education

I typically don't use this blog as a forum for the teaching part of my life, but lately fall course prep has been dominating my time as well as my thoughts. I lost a lot of sleep this weekend reading two completely different texts. Not that either of them were lengthy, but they gave me so much to think about, and I thought perhaps they were worthy of some public discussion too.

The first is an article called "The Age of Educational Romanticism" by Charles Murray.

As part of our curricular responsibilities in the First Year Writing Program, teachers assign students a complex text on the first day of class and a written response to the text (the prompt and choice of text is at the discretion of the instructor). Naturally, we're always looking for new and challenging texts. So my colleague (and good friend) and I met last week and, while participating in the pleasures of gelato, managed to focus long enough to discuss possible new texts and prompts. She recommended the Murray article on the basis of its controversial nature.

Murray has some strong, non-partisan opinions about public education and education reform. He defines "educational romanticism" as:
"the belief that just about all children who are not doing well in school have the potential to do much better. Correlatively, eudcational romantics believe that the academic achievement of children is determined mainly by the opportunities they receive; that innate intellectual limits 9if they exist at all) play a minor role; and that the current K-12 schools have huge room fro improvement."


He concludes with:
". . .it is enough to recongnize that educational romanticism asks too much from studnets at the bottom of the intellectual pile, asks the wrong things from those in the middle, and asks too little from those at the top. It short-change all of them."

I'm sure this is procisely what propelled me to finally pick up a book that was put into my hands last October at a workshop in Asheville that had absolutely nothing to do with public education but quite a lot to do with synchronicity. I think it took me so long because I was rather skeptical. Most of what I hear in terms of educational reform is not that impressive to me, truth be told. And, after reading Murray's article I think I understand why. But I was looking for an alternative, an answer to the dilemma.

Free at Last, a book about the groundbreaking Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, MA, was unlike anything I've ever encountered and haven't been able to stop thinking about since reading the book cover to cover in one 3-hour sitting.
According to the website, SVS students
". . .from preschool through high school age explore the world freely, at their own pace and in their own unique ways. They learn to think for themselves, and learn to use Information Age tools to unearth the knowledge they need from multiple sources."

That's an understatement.

There are documented stories about kids not learning to read until age 8 or 9, when they finally decided they wanted to (and leaving the school functionally literate and beyond). About learning basic arithmetic in a fraction of time that it takes matriculated students. About students spending three hours of "class time" fishing, or painting, or cooking, or learning physics. Their choice. About 6-yr-olds playing soccer or learning wookworking with 15-yr-olds, and teachers only providing instruction when asked. Not a single classroom (gasp!). Not a single grade (AMEN!!). Not a single standardized test. (AMEN!!) Not even a single transcript.

This is truly the most radical thing I've ever heard. And yet, success story after success story. Students get into the college/univeristy of their choice (emphasis on the word choice), fully prepared, graduate, move on to successful careers 9some w/out college, but with years of apprenticeship under their belts).

I asked the same questions some of you are asking. What about learning American History? What about Geography and Chemistry and all the other things you're "supposed" to know? Then I wonder how many people can name the 44 US presidents in order of succession? How many people can locate Iraq on a map? How many people know any chemical equation beyond water and table salt?

What's more, I can't help but wonder if this was the answer to the problems posed in the Muray article, and couldn't help but wonder what Murray would think about such a school. On the surface, it might seem to look like more educational romanticism, but dig deeper and you'll see that it's anything but.

In fact, what makes SVS truly fascinating is how much it models American democracy in its truest forms. And wasn't that radical in its time? And how many of us really know what that is? How many of us have read Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and Payne? Not about them, but their writings and ideas? What has our education given us? It certainly doesn't give students the desire to learn. It squashes rather than feeds curiosity. I've already discussed how it kills reading as a pleasurable act.

The more I read, the more I was envious of these students. And teachers (until I saw their salaries. This was written some 20 years ago, however; I have no idea what compensation is like today). Additional research showed how schools all over the country (and abroad) are appearing that follow the SVS model precisely (including one in nearby Apex, NC)

So it's got me thinking about the university system. We have standards. We have learning objectives. We have rigidly scheduled class times and rooms and rules. And, god help us, we have to give them grades. Heck, the first-year writing course is the only course required of every single incoming freshman.

And yet, I find myself yearning to make it more autonomous. Make it a class they want to come to as opposed to have to come to. That's always been my goal, really. But now I want even more. I want to make it less like root canal and more like... fishing? a walk in the park?

Let's be clear: I don't mean easy or entertaining. I don't mean lacking challenge, responsiblity, or accountability. What makes SVS work is the responsibility and accountability between students and teachers. There is a deep respect for time. And yet, at SVS, time is timeless.

I have some ideas, though. We'll see. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your opinions.

Friday, July 24, 2009

what would you do if you had a million dollars?

Pay close attention to the question. It's not asking what you would have or buy or own with a million dollars, and it's not asking what you would do with a million dollars. If you had a million dollars, what would you do?

The common answer, I suppose, is "quit my job."
Ok, so you'd quit your job. Then what? What would you do in its place?

What I'm really getting at is, are the dreams and goals you've set for yourself at the mercy of a belief that you need money to manifest them? What's really keeping you from doing the things you want to do with your life, and what do you need to do to make them happen? What are you willing to risk, sacrifice, struggle with, do differently?

As for myself, I find that for the most part, I'm already doing exactly what I want to do. But there are some things that either aren't coming quickly enough, or aren't quite what or where I want them to be. And when I ask what's in the way, the answer can almost always be traced back to fear once the superficial layers of excuses are peeled away.

Now, consider these two quotes:
"Knowledge is only potential power. It becomes power only when, and if, it is organized into definite plans of action, and directed to a definite end."

"Knowledge will not attract money unless it is organized, and intelligently directed, through practical plans of action."

I'm a notoriously poor planner and organizer. I jokingly blame it on my Italian heritage, but I'm much better at coming up with all the ideas and then finding someone much more focused, detailed-oriented, and organized to make the idea happen. I wonder if my writing career would really take off if I was better organized in terms of publishing and selling.

What do I need to do to make that happen?

In the age of bailouts and expectations of being provided for and taken care of, I can't help but wonder if we're missing something. What's the plan?

So, what would you do if you had a million dollars? And what's your plan?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

what literary agents' blogs can teach us

I've been following a lot of literary agents' blogs lately, like this one, for example (and not just agents who represent my genre), and am fascinated by how much I am learning about the query process. I am especially learning what not to do when querying an agent.

Some things are instinctive; for example, it baffles me that some writers actually say things in their letters like, "it's probably not as good as other stuff you've read" or "it picks up by the fourth chapter". Another agent recently tweeted "It's a good idea to make sure you spell 'query' correctly."

Oy vey.

Other things require practice, such as how to show your story vs. telling about it. (I teach this stylistic technique to my freshman students all the time, but putting it into practice with a query letter -- especially when you've got to knock an agent's socks off in a nanosecond -- poses a far greater challenge.) And there's a big difference between a fiction-genre query letter and a nonfiction-genre query letter.

Many agents are posting actual query letters that won their hearts and discussing why these were so successful. One thing that really stands out about all the winners: brevity. That's right, conciseness is key. These letters are so finely tuned that I can't find a single word that doesn't belong or serve a purpose.

Most of all, the number of queries agents read in a day, and rejected, is astounding. I suppose this supports Sturgeon's Law, which postulates that "Ninety percent of everything is crap." My twin brother is fond of reminding me of this. And yet, agents admit to rejecting good work all the time for various reasons. I conclude that the goal for querying an agent is the same as breaking through the self-publishing stigma: make my work stand out. And frankly, that means the writing has to be better than good enough. It has to knock their socks off.

I take my hats off to agents. It has to take quite a bit of energy to read so many queries, and being an instructor who often deals with problematic writing, the temptation to start turning your attention to the bad over the good is great. Likewise, when you get a good one, it really does stand out. What's more, I understand the intuited "I'll know it what I see it" in response to the question "What are you looking for?" that happens to so many of us when making an evaluation on a piece of writing.

Getting a literary agent used to seem to be such a mysterious process. I think I've de-mystified it, but that doesn't mean that there's still not an X-factor to contend with. You just never know who is going to like what, and when. You never know at what point in the day an agent is going to read your query, or (if you're lucky), your manuscript. You don't know what mood they'll be in. You can't control the marketplace. You don't know whose manuscript came before yours and whose came after.

Familiarizing yourself with the query letter craft, the market, the agent to whom you're querying -- all these things are positive steps that should be taken and can only help you. And of course, make your manuscript the very best it can be. But in the end, I can't help but wonder if it's all a game of chance.

What are your experiences with querying agents? Do you feel stymied by the process? What have you learned?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

guest blogger Peter Jurich

I’m starting out the week with a guest blogger, Peter Jurich. Peter has an interesting story, and he tells it in his book Typing with One Hand, available at and Peter has learned quite about the writing process, and himself. Here’s what he has to say:

Sometime last year, I met a very successful author -- as in internationally bestselling successful. I excitedly blurted out that I had written a book and wanted advice. "You can't be older than 21!" he told me, albeit being two years off. "Your job right now is to be sleeping with the wrong people!" I was bitter about this for a long time. I was not discouraged, but disappointed that a true author -- one who has really made it -- would try to dissuade young writers from chasing their dreams. I was angry that he would be so narrow-minded as to assume that no good could come out of the mind of a 23-year-old

Only a few days ago, though, it hit me -- while I'm very proud of the book I published through Lulu, I can't stomach reading it. Not because it is bad, mind you, but every time I open it up, I squirm over passages that I would now have written much differently. Even though it is being very well received by many readers and I'm still selling copies, it feels to me like it is written by a completely different person. I suppose that is what happens when you start writing your memoir at 19.

Typing With One Hand is a coming of age story with a twist. When I was three years old, I was diagnosed with three brain tumors and two strokes. Surgeries went well, but I've since had limited fine motor skills in my left hand and an odd little gait. The story addresses issues that every boy deals with in adolescence to young adulthood, coupled with a unique disability. The narrative follows me from first grade in a private Catholic school that made me both hate my first name and question my faith, to high school where hormones explode and bullies run amok, to college where I moved into my first real apartment... and then moved home again.

Writing the memoir was oftentimes a very frustrating experience for me. Not only was it my first book (so I was in over my head right from there start), but I began writing it at a time when I was still trying to develop my literary voice and find myself as a person. How is it that anyone can write a memoir when they aren't even sure who or where they are yet?

Harper Lee once said that there's a difference between people who want to write and people who have to write. I suppose I was the latter because of my determination, but I was going against all odds because of my age. I never set a schedule for myself; when I did, I wouldn't stick to it; I wrote without purpose; and I wrote with no specific audience in mind ("A book for everyone" is really a book for no one). The results reflected the technique I'm sure, as the first draft was 120,000 words of incoherent nonsense.

The book was finished in two and a half years. The second draft was 80,000 -- one-third the first -- and far more focused. My routine was still pretty sketchy, but I had at least decided it should be a YA book seeing as I'm a young adult myself. Those who had read it online at -- most of whom were total strangers -- proved that the book had marketability, so I self-published using Lulu in January.

Even today, I get a strange feeling when I see someone with my book. It is a strange feeling because, while I know I wrote it, it was written by someone very unlike myself. Someone who was more undisciplined, unorganized, and unhardened by the pile of rejections letters that did not yet exist in his desk drawer.
But, oddly enough, that is also what I like about the book. It's totally representative of the person that I used to be. I understand now what the author was trying to tell me because he had probably been there himself -- determined to write a book while changing hormonally and chaotically as a person. Sure, he could've been a little nicer about his message, but that's OK; I assured him, in the meantime, I can BOTH write and sleep with the wrong people.

What do you do when you read old work that is different from your current style? Do you go back and rightfully correct it, or do you accept that it was written by who you were at the time and proudly let it be? What is the better choice?

Friday, July 17, 2009

what would you blog about for one year?

The movie Julie and Julia is coming out soon, based on the book, which is based on the "the Julie/Julia Project" completed on Julie Powell's blog.


For those who don't know, Julie Powell decided to go through the entire Julia Child cookbook (for all those under the age of 35, if you don't know who Julia Child is, then you don't deserve to watch the Food Network), and make at least one recipe a day for an entire year.

I cannot wait to see this movie--not only because the wonderful Meryl Streep plays Julia Child, but because the screenplay was written (and directed) by my beloved Nora Ephron. And it compasses two subjects/activities close to my heart: food and blogging.

Mind you, I don't cook very well. In fact, if it wasn't for the Food Network, I wouldn't have gotten past Spaghetti 101. (But I make the best damn peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Ever.) Food Network, and my fab NC apartment kitchen (you should've seen the one I had in MA), got me to like to cook. Sometimes. Most times. Truth be told, I'm still not crazy about cooking for one. (And please don't read into that as my missing a relationship -- I just find cooking for one boring.)

Baking, on the other hand, is another story.

And of course, I don't have to say anything about blogging.

But here's the thing: I absolutely love the idea of the Julie/Julia project for its tenacity, for Julie Powell's commitment, and for the buzz that it created. On top of that, it just seems plain fun (although I'm sure that wasn't always the case, especially when you're dealing with the Julia Child cookbook). So it makes me wonder what kind of blogging project I (or you) could (or would) take on in a similar vein.

* Read one book per week? (during the semester? good luck getting through a book per month!)
* Watch one episode of The West Wing per day and blog about it? (don't I already do that?)
* Bake one cookie recipe per day? (too copycat, although my students and colleagues would love it)
* Learn to play every song in the Beatles catalogue on the guitar? (I can see Day 10's post: I GOT BLISTERS ON ME FINGERS!!)
* Something humanitarian?

Something fun, for sure.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your ideas, either for you or me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

a challenge

I'm working on a piece right now for a contest in which the object is to write a story using dialogue only -- no narration, no attribution tags (he said, she said), no direction of any kind. Maximum 3000 words.

I'm using a previously written scene from an unfinished manuscript. Took out all the narration and attribution. It was really interesting to see everything stripped away, leaving just two voices. I gained insight into these two characters and noticed things I hadn't previously noticed.

For one thing, these two characters don't listen to each other (this was pointed out by someone who read the dialogue). For another thing, they're reluctant to let the other person in, to be vulnerable. That's something I already knew about them, but it reveals itself in this scene.

But something is missing at this stage. In any story, characters have to want something. It's not clear yet what these characters want. In fact, they are more telling of what they don't want.

The challenge, then, is to balance showing with telling. The dialogue can't be forced ("telephone dialogue," I call it, which annoys the crap out of me -- a way to let the audience know what the person on the other line is saying, "Why yes, Mrs. Peterson, Scotty did leave thirty pizzas at my doorstep... No, I don't know who's going to pay for them.... Yes, he most certainly is a little shit." and so on), but it also needs to give the reader everything he/she needs: what's going on, who are these people, what do they want, and what's stopping them from getting it.

In this case, I need to approach it as if the reader is sitting in a diner, and this couple is in a booth behind her, and she's eavesdropping on them. She can't see them. I've got to show emotion by inflection, which means I've got to use stylistic tricks (italics, elipses, em-dashes, etc.). I've also got to make each voice so distinct that the reader knows who is saying what, just as the eavesdropper would. And this eavesdropper needs to be riveted. It can't just be another argument between a couple. Like I said before, these characters need to want something. That needs to be made clear to the reader. And the reader needs to root for them.

I'm not there yet.

But I hope to be. It's a fascinating exercise, really. I'm not sure if I'm gonna use the scene I've chosen. There's another scene that comes before it that is more exciting (and poses a bigger challenge) because it takes place at a dinner party with seven characters -- wouldn't it be cool to master that!

So, I'm posing some questions to you, dear reader. What would be compelling dialogue to you? What would you write about? How would you meet this challenge? And what would you, as "the eavesdropper" want or need to know?

Monday, July 13, 2009

writers block in action

I'm having a bout of writers block. Right now.

I'm staring at the screen, and it's staring back at me. I hear this voice in my head nagging, "write something witty, write something witty, write something witty... write something good" but I got nuthin'.

So I go to MS Word, and I open up my manuscript file. And it's staring back at me too.


This is what it's like.

My writers block is born out of a desperate need to please others, and a deep fear that anything and everything I write is and will be crap. Beneath that "write something witty" nagging is the thought: I want to make you laugh today. I want you to think, Ah, that Elisa. Such a witty one. So talented. So good at what she does.

But I fear you are really thinking, Where did I put my keys?

It's already noon and I haven't done a damn thing yet. (Ok, so I didn't get up until after 10:00. I had a little trouble sleeping last night.) What kills me is that the moment is going to come when I'm so busy I don't know which way to turn, and yet I'm going to be bursting w/ ideas, itching to drop everything and get it all down on the page.

But right now, I've got all day.

And I got nuthin'.

Friday, July 10, 2009

from pain to pleasure: an opportunity

Next week I get my head back into academic mode (reluctantly) and prep my fall semester courses. I like to do this in July so that when August comes I can relax and not spend my remaining vacation time stressing over last-minute prep, which really does affect my stress levels well after the semester starts. This time I'm also determined to do a spring semester prep as well for the aforementioned reasons.

I'm constantly trying new things in the classroom -- new assignments, new texts, new peer review approaches, you name it. This is partly to keep the class fresh (and avoid plagiarism cases) and partly to keep trying to make it better. It's easy to fall into a rut, especially in the wake of budget issues and the lure of the novel. Teaching always presents an ocean of opportunities, though, which is one of the reasons why I still love being in the classroom.

I finally got Emma Walton Hamilton's book Raising Bookworms. It's a must for any parent or teacher. For those who don't know, Hamilton is a Sag Harbor resident (which means I already like her) and daughter of Julie Andrews. She's done quite a lot for the Sag Harbor community. And while she explicitly states that she's no reading specialist, she offers some excellent suggestions for parents and teachers alike to foster reading as enjoyment as opposed to a chore.

And for the overwhleming majority of students, unfortunately, it's a chore.

Raising Bookworms doesn't address the college-age student (the book stops at "middle school and beyond"), but I think it's not too late to reach out to the college student. Obviously, there's no getting around the fact that academic reading is indeed a chore, and much of it is tedious, sometimes even exasperating. And some of it (I'm talking about the scholarly writing, not the student writing) is not well written. I can very easily comiserate with my students when it comes to the pain of reading thanks to academia (and I'm lumping K-12 in that term at the moment). Despite teachers' passion and parents' well-meaning intentions, reading is taught and fostered as anything but pleasure. All too often, my students use violent metaphors like "tortured," "forced", "drilled", "grilled", and "shoved down our throats" to describe their reading experiences throughout childhood and school. But I've been trying to figure out how to reverse the trend. Hamilton talks about counterbalancing what kids read at school with what they read at home. In other words, balance the pain with pleasure.

This I get.

I get reading as a chore because reading (more specifically, evaluating) student writing is quite a chore, and can be especially tedious when students are all writing the same thing, more or less, or the writing is problematic. And while there are some days where when I come home all I want to do is sit in front of the boob-tube, usually I find that reading even just a few pages of a novel -- something light, usually, actually relaxes me. And audiobooks count, by the way! I almost always have an audiobook to keep me company during my commute to and from school. (Makes a great companion on road trips, too!)

And so, as I plan my fall courses, I'm thinking about proposing a semester-long extra credit project: The Pleasure Reading Project (or something like that). Students would keep a reading journal (filled w/ more than summaries -- I'm not interested in reading book reports -- hated them as a child, hate them now) and explore ways of counterbalancing their rigorous academic reading chores with more pleasurable alternatives.

The goal is not simply to get them reading for reading's sake, but also to use that pleasure reading to augment what already interests them, and make connections to what they're already learning. For example, if one of my female students tells me that she loves shopping, might Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series be something she'd like? Would my student-athletes enjoy sports journalist Mike Lupica's sports novels? Would a set of mystery books appeal to engineering students' problem-solving skills?

An opportunity for research exists here. Part of the project involves going to bookstores and the campus library, interviewing booksellers and librarians, peruse shevles, observing patterns of behavior (when looking for a book that interests me, do I judge by cover? title? genre?), etc. Or, conversely, learning about how some authors use the research process when writing their own novels.

I also want them writing, of course. In grad school, I was a staunch advocate of journals in theory, but never quite got them to work in practice. This, however, might do the trick. This kind of reflective, meta-cognitive practice will not only make them more aware of their reading and writing habits, but will reveal other connections as well, I believe. Like sports and music, writing is practice. And being exposed to more writing styles can influence their own.

Ultimately, the outcome of the project is to produce better thinkers. I'm not looking for total conversion here. At the very least, I'd like students to see that reading doesn't have to be a chore -- not 24-7, anyway.

My intention is to persuade them to do the project not for the grade but for the oppotunity. It's also an opportunity to really think about what they're doing in college. My guess is that we take education more for granted than any other abundance in this country. And yet, for all the talk about how great and important education is, we are a country with an aversion to education. Maybe reading is the key.

Am I being idealistic? Probably. But hey, I can try.
Why? Because I've been there.

Monday, July 6, 2009

why I tweet

It took me awhile to "get" Twitter.

I didn't wanna do it at first. I already spent way too much time on Facebook and figured I'd lose half my day if I added Twitter to the mix. I also found it a bit boring. For example, as much as I love John Mayer's music, I discovered that I'm really not interested in knowing what he's doing every five minutes. And the first people I was following didn't know me from a hole in the wall. Following your favorite celebs on Twitter also thins the veil of deception in terms of feeling like you actually know these people, and as a result they want to know you. I was feeling pretty good about myself when I started following Hugh Jackman, for instance. Until I discovered that I'm one of 400,000 followers, and he's tweeting things like "Just met with Mexico's President Felipe Calderon and First Lady Margarita. They were both incredibly interesting, warm and inviting." while I'm tweeting things like "The pop tarts... oh, the pop tarts!"

On the plus side, I do have actor and fellow Aaron Sorkin devotee Josh Malina following me, although he never RTs (re-tweets) anything I write, or replies to any of my tweets.

Something cool happened along the blog tour, though. Writers and publishing companies started following me, and vice versa. This is not necessarily because I'm all that. Another thing I've learned about Twitter is that it's keyword sensitive. For example, when John Mayer posted a photo of his guitar, I tweeted a reply: You do realize that I'm more in love w/ your guitar than w/ you. Seconds later, I received notice that LA Guitar Academy is now following me. I don't wanna tall you who started following me after I used the word "bubbles" in my tweet, just to see what would happen.

The point is that over the course of a month, I found myself becoming part of a specific community, one that I had nevr felt I'd belonged to before.

The cool thing about finding other writers and publishers is some of them are RTing what I post. One day Luludotcom plugged my appearance on Writers Inspired, and traffic increased both to the blog and to my storefront on Another time, randomhouse quoted me after I responded to their tweet "What did you read this weekend?" Best of all, so many of these tweeters have blogs of their own, or they find blog articles and other useful sites all related to publishing, books, writers, etc. I can hardly keep up, there are so many.

My point is that agents, editors, publishers, authors, and booksellers are all using Twitter now. You never know if one of them is going to click on the link to your blog, check out your book, or read something you've written in response to someone else's post. It's like being at a convention and introducing yourself. Hi, I'm Elisa, and I'm an author. Here's my card. Granted, they've met a gazillion other authors, but who's to say they won't remember one of them, namely me? Or you?

The biggest advantage to Twitter is not the increase in sales, but traffic. That's just as important. People like to browse before they buy. You want them to keep coming back.

So I guess I can say that I "get" it now. And from a business perspective, I like it. It works for me. Now if you'll excuse me, I've just been informed that duranduran has "New vid on official youtube channel:"

Ok. So sometimes it's not all business.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

can we tawlk?

I've decided to start my own Blog Talk Radio show.

This may have come on the heels of my little platform anxiety attack a few posts ago, but it's actually something I've always fantasized about doing. Well, maybe not exactly a podcast, but when I listen to Click and Clack on Car Talk, for example, I think, Hey, I'd love to do that. Just sit in a studio and laugh for fifty minutes.

I'm not the only one to think so. My friends used to tell me that I could have my own talk show. Complete with desk and couches and bookcases in the backround. Had I lived in ancient Greek times, I'd have been a sophist, I'd tell my friends. The non rhet-comp ones would look at me funny and walk away.

What I'm working out right now is content. What will my show be about? How long will it be? Will I have guests? My finding things to talk about for a set period of time doesn't worry me -- I was vaccinated w/ a phonograph needle, as Groucho Marx used to say (man, is that joke dated). But how will I make it meaningful?

By doing what I always do -- make it about me.

I teach the class I would want to take. I write the books I would want to read. Am I writing the blog I would want to read? Sometimes I'm not so sure. But why not do the show I would want to listen to?

This seems like such a selfish MO, and I suppose it is, but it somehow works. The minute I start trying so hard to make it about what everyone else wants, it becomes nothing more than "product". Making it personal makes it authentic, and rather than going out to find the audience, the audience finds me.

My twin brother affirmed this when I asked him what kinds of things would interest him. As usual, he had a story told by a brilliant author: "Kurt Vonnegut once said that anyone who tries to make a movie from a Hemingway novel will fail because the movie will always be one character short." He meant Hemingway, of course.

I get what he means. We go see every Robert DiNiro movie because it's DiNiro. Or we listen to everything Eric Clapton does because it's Clapton. I watch or read everything Aaron Sorkin has ever written because it's Aaron Sorkin.

Artists make their mark by their style, but also by their persona. It's unfortunate that in most cases it's a media-distorted persona, but it's a persona nonetheless. My twin brother's suggestion was to be me -- whatever being me is all about -- and that will make the show good.

But first, practice. I have a newfound respect for radio personalities who make it seem so effortless. I did two mock shows using Audacity, a recording software that you can download for free, and realized that I have a ways to go before I post my first podcast show. And yet, I think it's gonna be fun. Heck, I've already recruited my brother to write theme music -- I promise you, that'll be the best part of the show.

In the meantime, I'm going to ask you, readers, what kind of show you would listen to if I were the host. Oh, and if you've got any suggestions for the name of the show, let me know that too.