Tag Archives: fiction

Another step into the dizzying world of social networking

I woke up this morning and the first thing I did (after starting the coffee, of course) was pick up my laptop. I clicked the icon for my email, and more than a hundred messages were waiting for me to respond to them, even if that response is only to delete it. I’m finding that I have to spend a solid hour responding to emails in the morning before I can get down to what I really do: write. And limiting it to an hour means that ALL I can do is respond to emails; I don’t have time to read blogs or follow up on other interesting links that have found their way to me.

This morning, though, when I saw I had a hundred messages, all demanding attention, I just scrolled up and down the list and then closed my laptop and set it on the table. I’m a recluse by nature, even though I’m very loquacious in written forms of communication, like fiction, journalism, or just plain Facebooking.

But I’ve become more and more immersed in social media as I try to build some kind of presence among writers and readers in anticipation of my first novel coming out within a few months—or at least have the means to promote it to a large (currently very small) number of people.

So, I’ve been networking like a fiend, spending almost every waking hour on it (except for the time I spend writing). The social network monster is no longer the cute puppy it once was. I have a growing sense that social media is like an enormous cloud hovering head-level filled with millions, if not billions, of faces, all talking, singing, performing, ranting, educating, spreading hate, organizing protests, and everything else that so many different kinds of people do and say all around the world.

This morning, that cloud seemed to be pressing me down into the couch, threatening to slide down my throat and suffocate me.

So I closed the computer and did other things—fed the horse and the dogs, cleaned up the kitchen (I hate cleaning the kitchen after dinner. I always feel the house fairy should take care of that, but she never does), contemplated working on my novel all day and just ignoring all things social media today.

Then, I can’t remember exactly what happened, but my computer was open on my lap and I was looking at a blog site that apparently gets you lots of blog followers (and, as you can tell, I need them). Here’s the link, if you’re interested: http://sooozsaysstuff.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/write-on-wednesdays-wow-book-blog-hop.html. Let me warn you to read the whole set of instructions and then start over at the top and do things exactly in the order they recommend. Unfortunately, before writing this blog (should have done that first), I was filling in the form that would get people to come to my blog, so I did this all backwards. I hope they’ll forgive me.

Unfortunately, to take part in this, your blog is practically written for you. (So I’m rebelling by writing my own stuff first and then getting to the thing I’m SUPPOSED to write.)

To take part in this, you’re required to find eight evocative sentences in a book you’re reading right now. You then go to Amazon or someplace to find the image of that book and the copy that appears on the book’s back cover. You note the link that would get a reader to a place where he or she could buy the book. The goal is to help promote other writers’ work.

After writing out this information, you then do the same thing for a book of your own. Problem for me is that my book is almost, but not quite, complete. It should be out in a few months.

But, honestly, would this turn my readers off, my doing these kinds of blogs (interspersed with blogs on my original plan to examine ancient literary criticism to see what I, and maybe you too, can learn about the building blocks of fiction), or would they appreciate being turned onto a book they may not have read yet? I mean, I wouldn’t want to give space to a book that I didn’t honestly want to recommend.

I’d most love to help the promotion of some of the scores of writers I’ve gotten to know recently, but I’ve only read a few of their ebooks so far, and the ebooks I’ve read have either been riddled with typos or formatted improperly in a way that really messes with your ability to understand what’s going on. But I plan to read lots of ebooks and when I find one I really like, I’ll do one of these blogs on it.

Okay, enough explaining why I’m doing this. Please, please let me know if it turns you off. That’s the last thing I want to do.

What I’m reading now is, well, I’m reading several books. The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler, The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, The Girl Who Played With Fire (yes, I know I’m very behind times reading that one), and a book on Hypatia (one of  my all-time heroes) that so far is not good enough to recommend.

I’m also reading an ebook on how to develop a really popular blog (as I said, I’m not doing so well figuring that out on my own). Be forwarned that blogging success for this person seems to be successfully monetizing the blog, which means having ads on it, and doing product reviews, which I guess is what this is except that the product is not subsidizing my writing by placing an ad on my page, as this writer recommends in the book.  I don’t know that I want ads on my page. How is that perceived on a writer’s blog, I wonder?

Let’s do the ebook. Okay, here goes:

Teaser #1: Blogging for Pleasure and Money: A Shortcut to Blogging Profits for Beginners, by Lambert Klein

This being an ebook, it doesn’t have copy on the back cover. However, the product description reads as follows:

“Are you new to blogging and want to get off to a fast start? Been blogging for a while but haven’t found the audience and money you were hoping for? Stop trying to learn by trial and error. There is a better way to get up to speed quickly.

“Skip Right to the Good Stuff

“You can spend years figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Some testing and research is unavoidable, but why do more than you have to? Author Lambert Klein poured years of experience into “Blogging for Pleasure and Money” so you can avoid the pitfalls and go straight to profits.

“Increase Visitors, Visibility, and Earn More Profits

“The report is easy to understand and follow. Step-by-step instructions show you how to set up a blog and the critical steps that are commonly overlooked. With the tips and tricks included, you will quickly understand how to turn any blog into a highly profitable, money making machine!”

That’s not the whole product description, but you get the idea (it was too long to include the whole thing).

Sentences shared from page…well, this ebook doesn’t have page numbers. It’s 49% of the way through under the header “Just a Quick Review” (which you can find in the table of contents).

“You will need to find a domain name that is pertinent to your niche and that includes a key term. Consider the use of sub-domains for ease and cost-effectiveness. Choose a blog title that also uses the key terms or key phrase. As you post to your blog you will want to use the key terms in your headlines and sprinkle them throughout the content. But be careful not to overuse them. Your content should be reader-friendly and it should contain useful information. Keep in mind that you are establishing a relationship with your readers. The stronger a bond they feel with you the more likely they will be to trust you.”

Purchase for $2.99 on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/Blogging-Pleasure-Money-Successful-ebook/dp/B004C44ONY/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1328118393&sr=1-1#_.

Teaser #2: I have no book out yet to promote, so I’ll promote two short stories and two journalism articles free on my website kathleenlourde.com. Actually, for the sake of space, I’ll just review one of the two short stories: “Cow Chip Queen.”

“Cow Chip Queen” is the coming-of-age story of an over-protected small-town Oklahoma teenager who, after throwing cow patties in a competition, has won the title of Cow Chip Queen. She meets what the town considers a dangerous influence, is indeed influenced and likely changed forever.

The eight sentences (oh, dear; this story has long sentences) I’ll share are from the beginning:

I was Cow Chip Queen of 1981.

The Coweta Courier put a three-column picture of me on the front page, and my mother bought fifty copies and sent one to all our relatives, she was so proud, and as soon as she got me home she launched into plans for the Miss Oklahoma Pageant, and it didn’t matter how often I told her a beauty pageant is a sexist exploitation of the female body and I never would have run for Cow Chip Queen only Danny Childers put my name up and everybody called me chicken when I threw a fit, and, besides, I really didn’t think I’d win. And anyway, the Cow Chip pageant is different, not so sexist, seeing as how the contestants have to have a skill—tossing cow chips—and that’s my strong point. I just wrap my finger around the edge, twirl around a few times for show, and throw it like a frisbee.

But no matter how loudly I told her this, she never stopped saying how Miss America had to start somewhere and using words like strategy and career opportunities and scholarships; and somehow even though I’m so much against the male institution of beauty pageants, I couldn’t help catching Mom’s enthusiasm, falling into the excitement of winning and going up on stage in the frilly virginal dress my mother picked out to accept my crown and roses and seeing Dad in the hooting and hollering crowd with that soggy sweet look in his eyes that daddies get when their daughters do them proud.

Up there on that stage with everyone looking at me and my friends yelling and the crown slipping and my arm holding the roses trembling, I couldn’t help dreaming about a great destiny, a life always like that. And when we got home Dad brought out a bottle of champagne and a store-bought cake with The Most Beautiful Girl in the World written across it in pink icing, and yellow and pink roses all around the edges, and he said he bought it yesterday he was so sure I’d win. We all sat on the floor in the living room in front of the fireplace and drank the champagne out of the bottle and ate the cake right out of the box with our fingers

Available for free at www.kathleenlourde.com. Click on “Fiction.”

Thank you all for bearing with me as I try this experiment. If it works, I promise to do a much better job of finding good ebooks for people to read. I may have to resort to hardcopy books from time to time simply because I won’t have found an ebook I want to promote.

Please let me know your reactions to this blog. If it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, I won’t do it again. Talking with you is the reason I blog, so if you stop reading it I’ll just be talking to myself, and I do enough of that already. 😉

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Living the Story

I think all possible stories exist on a different plane, and we just somehow manage to slip our brains into that plane and see the stories. And some of us are compelled to write them down, maybe to try to save them or maybe to live them.

Does anybody else experience writing this way?

And, of course, the problems come in because the stories on that plane aren’t in written form. They’re in some kind of mind meld format, and as we try to translate them into writing we lose detail, like a really high resolution photograph that your outdated computer only sees as low res, and when you try to make it larger it pixelates (to use a really long metaphor). You color it in as well as you can, try to smooth the edges and fill in missing colors.

So the challenge is to see as much as possible about the story while you’re in that plane and then keep the memory vivid so you can refer to it when you’re not in that plane, because you can’t walk around immersed in it all the time and expect to keep your day job. I suppose an independently wealthy person or one whose books were earning plenty of money could be immersed in it 24/7, but then you’ve got a very unbalanced life, and isn’t it possible to have both the writing and the living?

But then writing is a kind of living, or should be. My problems come from the times I spend just watching in that plane and forgetting the details as soon as I emerge, so that the story’s really at my mercy out here in the real world. When I go there and step into the flow of the story, let it wash all over me—when I live it—that’s when I know the story well enough that later I can not just refer back to a photograph of a character but feel around in her pockets for all those critical details.

So the question is, as always, how do I not just get to that plane but let go of myself and feel the story happen?

I know it’s the same thing every writer thinks about, because it’s just not easy to do. Writing anything—a blog, for example, or a journal entry—helps me finger the edges of it, and sometimes I can slip in from that small hand-hold. But, I swear, other times I could use a jackhammer and get nowhere.

I know having the right food helps a lot of people, but it’s not enough. Music can help more, for me at least. Doing it in the middle of the night when everyone in the house is asleep helps a lot, especially when combined with a hot pot of coffee. But I have yet to find a sure-fire way to get there. I’d love to hear how other people manage it.

But even more than that, I want to know how people let go of themselves once they get there. My ability to do that is so fragile. The mere energy of another person awake in the house can destroy it. At the same time, sometimes the connection to the story is so strong that an actual interruption, like having to take the dog out, doesn’t weaken it. So, what do I do differently those times when it’s really strong and I’m fully there? I don’t have a clue.

Has anyone discovered the key to this? Or a lock pick? Credit card? Anything? How do you move beyond watching the story?

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The All-Important First Sentence

Joan Didion told the Paris Review in 1978, “What’s so hard about that first sentence is that you’re stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you’ve laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone.”

Hey, no pressure.

For me, writing first sentences begins with a state of paralysis and then becomes a creative joy. Once that first sentence forms out of the murkiness in my head, or wherever it is that writing takes place, honing it is a profound pleasure. But before that, when you know you’ve got a lot to say but you need to say it in a way that people will hear, which means the first sentence must capture the reader intellectually, emotionally, viscerally, or all of the above—that’s when I’m paralyzed.

Getting past that paralysis and forming the right first sentence, for me, requires sinking my mind down deep into my psyche and letting thoughts and images and colors all swirl around me until something begins to take shape.

An English professor once told me that the first sentence of a great novel lets the reader know what the novel is really about, underneath all those plot devices. That’s even truer of journalism, of course, and with technical writing; it’s just the writing style that differs.

I have to say, though: I just visited Amazon.com and read the first lines of a number of great novels, and while I can see that case being made for some of them—for example, in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, Hazel Motes is on a train, not sure if he wants to jump out or lean forward into the journey—most of the others I checked had much more to do with setting the emotional scene of a lead character as he or she is at the beginning of the novel, or even just setting the physical scene.

In my own novel, Voices, I tried to do as my English professor taught—to encompass the most fundamental theme of the book in the first sentence. Maybe that’s a mistake; somebody said that the more education a writer has the worse his or her writing is.

Naturally, in journalism, especially with the shorter pieces, the first sentence must get the gist of the rest of the story into those first few words. In longer pieces, you can take more time; use an anecdote to illustrate what the piece is about. If that progression is followed, a novelist should have the whole first chapter to make the basic theme clear.

Unfortunately, readers today have shorter and shorter attention spans. They want the goods immediately, and they don’t want to have to work for them—or, at least, that’s my perception. That first sentence is even more crucial these days to hooking your reader than it was in days past.

So, how to write that perfect first sentence for today’s reading public? Sources on the web recommend being “short and snappy,” introducing a question that the reader will want answered, and including a shocking or surprising element.

Maybe a more important question is this: are you just out to “hook up” with your reader, or do you really want to make love to him or her? Maybe taking a little time to build a reader’s desire to move further into your world isn’t such a bad thing. Or maybe that’s a surefire way to not get published.

I’m wondering what tricks other writers use to come up with the best possible first sentence. Some people just start scribbling and then delete everything except what really resonates and develop the sentence from that. Some people stare into space for an hour or more waiting for inspiration to emerge from the depths like a wavering light slowly approaching on a foggy night. Some people just write any old thing and come back and agonize over it later, once they know exactly what the whole piece is going to say.

What do you do? What are your favorite first sentences and why? How do you formulate your own first sentences? How do you get past the paralysis, or do you experience that at all? I would be fascinated to hear from you.

Never stop writing,

Kathleen

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