Wednesday, March 29, 2017

To Read or to Listen?

Last fall I decided to start listening to audio books while I sorted laundry, then it turned into listening while cooking or tidying up. I use a service provided by libraries to listen to the books on my tablet so I can take it around the house as needed. This has been a great way to absorb more books.

Last time I was choosing an audio book I realized there were some I didn't want to listen to.There are some I wanted to read. It was a strange realization and something I've taken time to ponder.

Audio books are the fastest growing book format as people try to cram more into their lives. It's convenient to have books to listen to while driving, working out, or doing tasks. When I listen to audio books, though I enjoy the story, I don't become as fully immersed in it since I'm buzzing around, doing whatever task while listening.

There's still something to be said for taking time out to read. We lead busy lives and sitting down to read is a treat, giving yourself time to focus on one thing, to relax, to let your mind wander and explore another life (if you're reading fiction).

I'm not putting down audio books, and I will continue to listen to them. I've just found the experiences between the two formats--audio and physical--more different than I thought.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the differences between listening to and reading books.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Always A Lesson To Learn

I'm stubborn and persistent, which means I don't give up on things easily. This includes reading books I'm not fond of. When I pick up a book, I usually finish it no matter what. It once took me a five years to finish reading an anthology. I have a friend who keeps telling me that life is too short to read books you don't like. While I do agree because there are so many books and never enough time, I find that I'm actually learning from those books as much as from ones I enjoy.

I don't want to call the books I'm not enjoying "bad" books because they aren't necessarily. Just because a book isn't for me, doesn't mean someone else won't enjoy it. That's why when I leave reviews for books I didn't enjoy I try to point out some positives.

Because I write and edit so much, I read much differently than I did before my brain became rewired to watch for things. I'm pickier about things, though I do forgive a lot when I'm reading for enjoyment as opposed to critiquing for a friend or editing my own writing.

But sometimes, there are things you can't get past in a story. Those are things I try to learn from so I don't do them in my writing.

I recently read a thriller that I didn't enjoy. It was mostly conversations explaining things. Mind you, it's better than just plain telling, but this one went over board. The story started with a murder (great way to get things off the ground) but the rest of the first hundred pages were mostly a conversation explaining things that could have been woven into the story better. The rest of the book was the same way, light on action, high on conversations explaining things. Lesson: Telling is telling, info dumps are info dumps, even if they are in a conversation and they slow your story. Hopefully I can note these better in my own work.

The same book also had graphic scenes, which I don't mind. Though when you're being graphic just for the sake of being graphic it stands out like a neon sign and is a turn off. Lesson: Make sure your violence, graphic scenes, etc. have a purpose and aren't there just for shock value.

If I don't like the main character, it's hard not to abandon the book. If I like the main character, I'll follow her/him through (almost) anything. I often try to figure out what about the character bothers me. Lesson: This one is really subjective but I think the lesson is to use beta readers. If you're hearing from lots of people that they don't like your main character, it could be time to tweak him/her.

I'm listening to an audio book that is an older fantasy and makes me realize how different story expectations are now. The backstory in this book seems to go on and on and I'm left thinking, Can we please get to the point of the scene? There are times where I've forgotten what the point of view character is actually doing. Much of the backstory isn't necessary, could be worked in more naturally, or could be condensed. This is probably why this audio book is about 20 hours long. Lesson: Backstory has it's place, but if it's jarring the reader out of the forward momentum, then cut it. We all love telling our characters' backgrounds, but too much will slow the story down and possibly lose your reader. If you have trouble judging in your own writing, this is again where beta readers and critique partners help.

These are just some things I've learned while reading books I didn't really enjoy. Though they may not have been my cup of tea, they've pointed out what doesn't work and how it affects someone's reading experience.

Do you often finish a book you start to read no matter what or do you put it down and move on?

Monday, March 13, 2017


Acts of kindness always inspire me. When my fellow Pitch Wars '16 mentee Tamara Girardi announced she was doing #KindWriters, I thought it was a great idea!

Tamara took time to answer some questions on how this idea started and its rapid growth.

Tamara, tell us about #KindWriters and how you came up with it.

#KindWriters evolved from a one-time Random Act of Kindness Day. On March 1, one of my best friends spearheaded the day to honor her daughter Gemma, who passed away at birth one year ago from complications of spina bifida. I was with her when Gemma was born, and the experience was, as expected, incredibly emotional. Throughout the Pittsburgh region, and more broadly around the country, people completed random acts of kindness in Gemma’s honor and posted about them on my friend’s Facebook page. The sense of community was strong, and everyone was so inspired by the power of kindness shared in the name of a small baby they never had the pleasure of meeting.

One of my random acts that day was to tweet that I would critique—for free—either the first five pages or the query letter for the first three people to respond. My Pitch Wars class retweeted for me, and within minutes, my Twitter exploded. I finally stopped at eight critiques, well beyond my plan of three, but I wanted to help everyone. When I got to the point that I felt I might not give them the best critique possible, though, I decided I really needed to end the offer.

However, the next day, I extended it for three more critiques. For a chance at them, writers had 24 hours to complete a random act of kindness and tweet to me about it. Nine authors participated, and their kind acts were amazing! Additionally, I received so much feedback and encouragement. People WANTED to hear more about kindness. They wanted to do good deeds. They wanted to spread love in the world—something we so desperately need in our political climate and especially on social networks where the negative tends to invade.

From there, I decided we needed #KindWriters. Everyone I’ve approached about volunteering or helping has been so supportive, which just goes to show, we truly, truly need this!

How do people participate?

So glad you asked! I hope a ton of writers participate. The more participation, the more kind acts being spread around the world! I haven’t decided on a regular schedule just yet. I think it will depend on how much time each round takes and how many volunteers we have, but I’m hoping to host once a month.

Writers should watch for the #KindWriters tag on Twitter. When #KindWriters is upcoming, participants should get their kind acts ready. Plan what they’re going to do and when. Have some fun with it. Or keep it simple. Whatever works. Really, to enter the contest, writers should complete an act of kindness that they might not have done otherwise. If anyone needs ideas, do some Googling. In the initial experience, one of the participants posted a web site with lots of ideas, so I know they’re out there (although that link escapes me at the moment…).

Every kind deed counts as a chance toward a critique. So the more kindness you spread in the world, the more entries you’ll receive in the contest. It’s really important that the entries include #KindWriters and also a preference for a critique. If you’d like your query critiqued, post #Q. If you’d like your pages critiqued, post #P in your tweet. This will help me match up the winners with the volunteers who are critiquing.

I’d love if the participants would also spread the word and encourage others to do kind things during the contest window (and all the time, really). The goal of this contest is to spread kindness in the world. Simple as that. I’m really excited about it!

How do the critiques work?

Winners will be randomly selected using a software program. Then, they will be matched with a volunteer from my database. Volunteers have designated whether they will read queries, first five pages, or both. Also, volunteers have noted how many critiques they’re able to do. I’ll match the winners with the volunteers on Twitter, and then they can coordinate the exchange of pages from there.

Volunteers will get feedback to the winners within three days of receiving their pages. The critiques should be honest and also encouraging, but so much in this business is subjective. I hope writers find that the feedback they receive resonates with them, but if they do not, they should disregard and chalk it up to subjectivity. 

Sounds like you have some great volunteers!

My volunteers are awesome. They are completing this act of kindness, too. It’s not about promotion for them. They’re just doing something nice for someone else, and that is so wonderful! :)

Why did you choose acts of kindness as the way to enter?

Service to my community is very important to me. I’m a Rotarian, and Rotary’s motto is Service Above Self. Rotary does so much good work in the world and has brought a lot of value to my life. Also, manners are crazy important to me. I find it frustrating when someone lets a door slam in another person’s face rather than holding it. Or doesn’t say thank you. Or, let’s face it, worse!

I realize that sometimes in life, we get caught up in all of the things, but I hope this gives people the time to pause and think about others around them. Kindness as a trait is undervalued and overlooked. I hope participating in #KindWriters reminds people of the unequivocal value of being kind to those around you.

Do you think it’s important for writers/authors to give back to the writing community?

I do! And writers do it all the time. Pitch Wars, which I was lucky enough to be part of, does this so well. But so do other online pitch contests—and there are several!

But more than that, I think it’s important for everyone to give back to their communities. It’s so, so, so important! I’ve been the recipient of kindness in so many ways throughout my life, which is probably a topic for a different blog post—lol—and it’s so touching when you realize someone is thinking of you, especially when you didn’t expect it.

People are frequent to say hate begets hate. I don’t disagree, but perhaps we might also want to remember every day that love begets love, and kindness begets kindness. So often, when someone does a random act of kindness for someone else, the recipient follows with his/her own act of kindness. And so on. Paying it forward is what makes communities strong.

This is the second round of #KindWriters, will there be more?

Yes! I have some great volunteers interested in critiquing as part of the contest, and I hope that list will only grow. I hope this is something that continues to grow and develop into even greater opportunities for kindness that I can’t even fathom right now!

Are you surprised with the reaction you received the first round?

I was, actually. I was most surprised with the kindness. In the first critiques, I explained why I chose to offer them, and the recipients, although not required to, all paid it forward in different ways. They told me about what they did and why, how my kind act inspired theirs. It meant so much to me, which is why I went back for more. :)

To spread love (and luck) for St. Patrick’s Day, #KindWriters will be held this week! The contest window will open Tuesday, March 14 at 8 a.m. and close Friday, March 17 at noon. Watch the tag for more instructions and other details!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Teenage Mind Blown

I've always been a big music fan. As a teenager my room was plastered with posters of the rock/metal bands I loved. I watched and made video tapes of music videos, award shows, interviews (which I actually still have tucked away somewhere). I'd run the the store each month for the latest issues of Metal Edge, Hit Parade, or Shout! I even traded with people around the world. I could tell you birthdays of members of bands, how bands got together...yup, that was me.

As time rolled on and other things took priority, I didn't collect quite so much. I sold off my collections, but I still tried to keep up with who was releasing new albums. Then kids came along and most of that stuff, along with my other interests, fell to the side.

Thankfully, in the last several years it's been coming back around. Not to the same point as when I was a teenager, I don't have that sort of time or head space anymore ;)

One things that's struck me is how much the internet has changed fandom. My teenage self would be in heaven. This morning I came across a radio station interview with Chris Cornell from a couple of years ago. This was the sort of stuff I traded for back in the day, but here I am, able to not only listen, but watch the interview! Music videos, appearances, it's all there for the taking.

What really floors me when I think about it compared to my hard core fandom days is the ability to interact with them. Like the day author Lilith Saintcrow responded to my tweets about her book, or the day this happened:

Yup. That's Chris Cornell retweeting my blog link and commenting on it. My teenage self still hasn't recovered.

Fandom really has changed since I was a teen. The communication gap has narrowed where people can reach out to connect with almost anyone or see pictures and videos that they wouldn't have been able to see before. It's pretty cool.