Saturday, April 30, 2011

not-so-social media

here i go again, over-analyzing social media.

i've been trying to decide whether to create an author page on facebook, and it occurred to me how interesting it is that so many people keep separate pages on FB - a professional/public one and a personal/private one. why the separation? could it be because there are varying levels of sociability?

i know, for me, there's a difference between what i would consider social behavior in, say, Las Vegas with my college buddies vs. maybe a conference with business colleagues.
i tend to lump online social media into the latter category and think of it as a professional conference.

the various social media can even represent conference "parts."

- keeping a blog is like hosting a breakout session. people will come if they are interested, and you control the flow of the conversation.
- facebook author pages are showcase displays. people can cruise by and see what you’re up to in a quick glance.
- message boards are round-table discussions. everyone gets a chance to speak, but they have a minute to think about what they want to say, and when they have the floor, they get some space to say it.
- twitter is the cocktail hour free-for-all at the end of the day.
- and personal facebook pages are like coming home to your family at night and telling them what you really think.

of course, we all use social media our own way, so your breakdown may be different.
but whether you tumble or tweet... or stick to facebook and forums, you probably have a different audience in mind for each - and possibly a different set of rules for what is acceptable "social" behavior.

as for me, i'm trying to loosen up a little online and stop worrying quite so much about the etiquette. i hope i'll be able to bring a bit of Vegas to this online conference.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

why YA?

a fellow writer and friend of mine recently asked me about the boom in young adult literature.
now, i haven't been around these parts long enough to know if we're seeing a boom or just a trend in media attention or what. but i do think the reason he asked is interesting.

he writes adult historical fiction. one agent flat-out asked him if he'd consider making one of his stories YA. another agent encouraged him to read an author with a similar writing style, and at the end of that author's book, there was an ad letting the reader know said author was about to debut a new YA novel, after years of writing adult fiction.

so this writer friend of mine asked me, in so many words, why YA is so hot.

here's my two cents:

1) Harry Potter.
i really think that series did something that transcends other popular children's book series. instead of being the kind of story that adults remember fondly and pass down to future generations... it was the kind of story that made adults feel like kids again themselves. it had us waiting in line at midnight release parties and staying up late to read just-one-more-page, even though we had to get up early the next day. and there was no stigma. no one blinked at an adult reading a children's book in a coffee shop or on the subway, because it was Harry Potter, and everyone - even the non-bookish - knew Harry Potter was an exception.

i think what HP did was give people permission to read books aimed at younger audiences. (and by people here, i mean the casual reader - not book nerds like us who have always read across all age groups.)

2) Universal Experience/Appeal.
after HP paved the way, adults started opening up a few more young adult and middle grade titles and found something in those pages they could relate to. we're not teens anymore, but FUN FACT: every single adult on this planet was once a teenager. no exceptions.

YA lit taps into memories, fond or not-so-fond, of our own teenage experience. we can relate, even if we no longer walk the halls of high school or stress about who's going to ask us to prom - at one point, most of us did. and we can empathize with young adult characters.

3) Pace.
i have a theory that YA lit is gaining momentum in part because of the fast-pace society we now live in. we want information now, and we want it in 140 characters or less. we can't wait for the reporter to spend a full minute and a half telling us a story on TV. if we see something interesting, we open up our laptops and get the story immediately.

we, as a society, are devouring and processing information faster than ever. and i think books are no exception. the casual reader looking for a little literary enrichment may be turning to the YA section of the bookstore, because there's a good chance any book they pick up will be a fast-paced read they can finish in a few days. (exceptions abound, of course, but i'm speaking generally. i find more "fast" books in the YA section than the adult section.)

those are just a few of my thoughts.
i also think YA books focus on that very small window of time when we transition from childhood to adulthood. it's a time period kids can't wait to get to and many adults wish they could relive. there are only a few precious years when we get to be teens, and those years being so few makes them more valuable.
finally, i believe series like Twilight and Hunger Games have kept the momentum going - kept the media tuned in to YA lit, and kept the publishing spotlight on YA a little longer.

but here's what i DON'T know:
i don't know whether YA will remain a hot commodity. is it just a trend/fad that YA is getting so much main stream attention? or is it a permanent shift? will YA lit go from being thought of as books "for" young adults to books for everyone but "about" young adults?

what do you think?

Monday, April 25, 2011

a mystery in my own back yard

there is a boy in my neighborhood who never smiles and is always alone.
i see him at least once a week, walking up and down the street, eyes trained on the sidewalk.

in the three years i've lived in this house, the boy has become a bit of a mystery.
i often see him taking his walk at a time he should be in school. (he looks to be about high-school-Freshman age - tall and filled out, but with a young face.) and i rarely see him with a backpack, though a few times i have, so he MUST go to school somewhere.
i'm not creepy enough to follow him, and i'm too shy (too scared?) to say hi. he looks so focused, staring down at the street. what if i interrupt his concentration? what if he can't speak to say hi back?
so i just observe him and wonder about him, like i do most strangers.

also, in the three years i've lived here, i've had more than one frightening incident of seeing someone walking on the back wall of my yard, like a tightrope, at night. the first time, i hid in the dark, waiting to see what the shadowy man on the wall would do. the second time (after i had been burglarized and become neurotic about keeping people off my property), i shouted for the stranger to go away, and they did.

today, those two mysteries collided.

i was outside with my laptop this morning, catching up on the interwebs and enjoying perfect 60-degree sweater weather and a nice hot cup of coffee, when i heard a rustle in my palm tree. i looked up, and from the palm fronds, out pops the boy, walking my wall, one foot in front of the other.

as usual, he was focused on his feet, so he didn't notice me, standing right there in broad daylight on my patio watching him. i stayed still like a hunter until he got all the way to the end of the wall and spun around. that's when he teetered, the toes of both feet gripping one sharp edge of the block wall, his arms making huge circles as he struggled for balance. he was about to face-plant right into my brick fire pit.

so i did what anyone would do. i shouted, "Whoa! WHOA! Careful!"

i surprised him right back onto his heels, and when he was balanced again, he gave me the biggest grin and two thumbs up. then he went right back to walking my wall, like it was no big thing.

it was a good moment for three reasons. 1) i am no longer afraid of the shadow walking my walls at night. 2) i saw the lonely boy smile for the first time. and 3) i decided to write a story about him. i just don't know what it is yet.

Monday, April 18, 2011

best lines and borders

so this is it - my final final word on Borders.
it has to be final, because as of today, the doors are locked.
i checked in on the neighborhood store a few times during the going-out-of-business sale, just to take mental snapshots as the stock thinned and the prices dropped. i was thrilled to see the YA section was among the first to sell out, even before the steepest price cuts. and i've been happy, too, to see more cars parked outside of the nearby Indie and to see my favorite local Indie store as crowded as ever.
but every time i walked into Borders and saw the dark cafe, i wondered about the people who used to fill the tables - especially the ladies who got together every weekend to play Mahjong.

finally, this weekend, i spotted those ladies. our neighborhood grocery store is an experiment in luxury. it has a wine bar, cafes and even a book nook with tall dark shelves and ladders and cozy tables. step into the book nook, and you don't even know you're in a grocery store. AND - step into the book nook on a Saturday afternoon, and that's where you'll find my ladies, crowded around one of those tables playing Mahjong. i knew they'd find a place to play, but it did my heart good to see they still play in a place where they are surrounded by books.

time marches on and all that.

now for a round of "best lines."
warning! foul language ahead! ...well, really just one naughty word, and i didn't even write it, for once!

this line is from a book i just finished, Bill Carter's The War for Late Night (When Leno went early and television went crazy):

But the "People of Earth" letter - the manifesto, as NBC came to call it - changed the tone. This wasn't just Conan saying no; it was Conan saying no, and you're wrong, and, by the way, go fuck yourselves.

these lines are from a book i'm reading now, Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves:

Kit was elder, after all, and as hardheaded as a statue - once she set herself on a path, dynamite couldn't blow her off it.


"Trying to understand Daddy is like trying to nail jelly to a tree."

i have a feeling i'll have some more "best lines" from Slice of Cherry by the time i'm done.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

this porridge is too cold

how long does it take to write a novel?

i'm posting that question right at the top, because it's an uber-common google search term, and i'm hoping some of those searchers will be directed here.

it's a question i've googled myself, in fact. i googled it after my first finished book took me a year to write, and i thought, Ack! That's too long! i googled it again after my second book took me barely a month to write, and i thought, ACK! That's too SHORT!

here's what my searches inevitably turned up:
-- authors A,B,C - who all write books in 15, 10, even 6 days! and they're published, so those books must be good! this, of course, made me think - I'll never be a success if I can't churn out books that fast. I must be doing something wrong.
-- i also found authors X,Y,Z - who took two years to write first drafts and another 3 years to revise. and their books are masterpieces! so, naturally, i thought - I'll never write anything that special unless I take my time and spend a week laboring over every sentence.

those google searches made me feel like Goldilocks tasting everyone else's porridge. This author's method is too short. This author's method is too long. and for the record, i'm still searching for the method that's juuuuust right.

but when i turned off the internet and turned on my laptop, i learned some things google couldn't tell me.
If I wrote a book in 10 days, it would be shit.
If I took 5 years to write a book, it would be shit.

there are success stories on both ends of the spectrum and just as many in between.

right now, i'm averaging one month to one year to write a solid first draft. my sweet spot is somewhere around 3 months. but the key word in that sentence is "MY." MY sweet spot - how long it takes ME to write a novel. but people who google search "how long does it take to write a novel" are looking for how long it takes ME to write one. they probably want to know how long it takes any author on average to write one. unfortunately, any average would be skewed by those folks on the extreme ends of the spectrum. there might be a median length of time, but i don't know how you would figure it out short of contacting every published author on the planet and drilling them about their writing process. and it doesn't matter, because chances are you don't land on the median anyway.

but don't lose heart. there IS an answer to your google search! it is a simple answer that is true for me, for you and for every other writer who ever lived.

how long does it take to write a novel?

it takes as long as it takes.

everyone's process is different. everyone's path to publishing is different. and every writer works at his or her own speed.
i don't know how long it takes the average author to write a novel, but this much i can say for a fact: i wrote mine a lot faster when i stopped searching the internet for how everyone else does and started just doing it myself.