Monday, February 28, 2011

The Bow-Chicka-Wow-Wow of a Shared Story

In my first critique group, we'd write collaborative stories. I'd get something fairly vanilla and add a dead body over the side of the boat or a guy who stalks his house ninja-style to avoid looking at the crucifixes his dead mother hung in every room or two people who would instantly feel that bow-chicka-wow-wow. Inevitable, really, considering the direction my writing took.

I still love the freedom of a collaborative writing exercise. Apparently, I'm not the only one. The web has added infinite dimensions to those pass-the-spiral notebook days. Here's a list of some collaborative sites if you need that break from your work-in-progress or just want to feel inspired in the company of other writers:

LOVE this one. Storybird focuses on picture book collaboration which makes it a perfect way to connect with the little ones in a writer's life. Storytellers browse collections of artwork, select the art they wish to use and craft text for each page. Stories can then be shared publicly on-site or privately with friends and family online.

Protagonize is a collaborative writing community where you can fly solo and post installments of your story or invite others to branch characters and plot lines in new directions. Stories are grouped by genre, and if you create a log-in you can be sure to organize the site to follow your favorites.

Dedicated to the art of microfiction, writers can jump into anyone's story or begin one of their own in 1,024 words or less.

Bibliofaction champions the short story format and offers some great prizes for challenge winners. Find a short story by genre and "back cover blurb" or post your own and welcome feedback.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Elephant in the Vortex

I've been mulling this post since Nathan Bransford's February 16th post: Have Blogs Peaked? I suppose it took me some time to sort my thoughts from all the insightful and well-worth-the-time comments. Maybe I was diving for a deep well of honesty. While I don't have the most barn-burning, gut-busting or niche-perfect blog I know, I can speak from a fair amount of longevity: five hundred posts in five years. Not quite the three-per-week who-the-heck-made-this-a-blogging-rule rule, but a decent enough marathon.

What began as advice from my agent became an ancillary pay-off to the publicity-before-published theory. The Vortex did serve to promote my thus-far twenty-seven page tentative dip into the publishing pool, but it also became my primary outlet for immediate writing gratification in an industry that is glacial, at best. I tested my voice, gave myself permission to stray into humor and developed a network of blogger and writer and reader friends I wouldn't trade for all the hairs on Fabio's head.

Of late, I've let them down.

Disillusion as a blog writer set in. I wondered if readers favored content over predictable frequency. Did I lack "brand" focus? Were smart phones and feeds to blame for the serious drop in comments? Did I need to continue the bribes of gift cards and my "brand" of woo-woo DVDs to keep readers dedicated? Should I bother changing headers and sidebars when most readership is via feed and there's very little click-through? When a fellow author's blog became a public knife-throwing, the bloom was completely off that rose, as in flattened by a John Deere. In a double-gravity chamber.

Disillusion as a blog reader set in, too. My cost-time ratio shifted. I no longer delighted in blogs that seemed an endless string of promotion platforms. I grew resentful of captchas I couldn't decipher, hopping from blogroll to blogroll, pages that loaded any slower than, well, yesterday, and the disappointment of inconsistent posting. Stones, I know.

Disillusion doesn't end with me. Blogrolls are becoming boneyards of well-intentioned bloggers-past. Some think only in 140-word characters now. Some found the cost-time ratio too high. Some founded group blogs to share the burden. Some swore off blogging altogether. Websites such as Skribit even offer blog features that troll readership for content ideas. Have bloggers reached such a drought in fresh content they'd tap into the same hobknockers that Beiber-bash on YouTube for direction?

One theory is that we are nearing a saturation point with social media and wish to find balance again. I like this theory, though industry predictors indicate that future bloggers must incorporate multiple social media formats into their blog to thrive. Does this mean rainbow Alphabits-style icons after each post? After every comment prompt? How many different ways do we need to say, "Dude, you gotta check this out"?

The best advice I ever heard on social-media platforms for writers still holds true: pick one thing you do well and do it well. Twitter is for talkers. I'm quiet. I listen. Facebook is for social butterflies. I scan shelves at parties because antiques and books say so much more than small talk. Blogging is forethought and revision and unavoidably vulnerable. Even towing a tight line of platform, truth cannot hide. And if you've been around The Vortex for any length of time, you know it to be true of me.

If you haven't been here long, I'm glad you're here. Pull up a feed and stay awhile. I can't guarantee three posts a week; I can't even guarantee that kind of commitment to the Y gym. I can't offer flashy sidebars with the latest wikis; I'm too busy editing novels to learn the latest techie trends. I can't guarantee life-altering reading. What I can promise is that you'll be part of something honest and well-intentioned and completely me.

What is your opinion on the state-of-blogs? Have they peaked? What do you see as the future of blogging?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Non-Book Review and a Poor Sac

I'm sitting in a Starbucks, in the vast thickness of suburban pretentiousness, just to set the stage. The barista is Barbie with a chip. The ar-tist in front of me has a tie through his belt loops and a green John Deere stocking cap. Some poor sac next to me just snuck in here for the free wi-fi. And me? I have only thirty minutes, so my mood is somewhat dicey.

I desperately want to tell everyone about The Hunger Games, but I detest book reviews. Writing them, not reading them. Why should I give a summary when others before me have done it so thoroughly and eloquently? What can I offer that a hundred other gushers on Amazon haven't? Maybe this: I rarely recommend books here at The Vortex. The longer I travel down this writer's journey, the more disenfranchised I get with finding what pleases me as a reader. (Poor sac just relocated for prime plug real estate. Still, no drink, but a napkin run. Hmmm.) I want the romance of picking up a book, or, now, my plum colored Nook, and I want the language to whisper sweet nothings of brilliance in my ear. I want to be moved to tears and forget to eat a meal and sneak moments with it in an illicit affair of the mind. Rarely, anymore, does that happen.

So you'll forgive me if I don't give you a plot summary. It should be enough to tell you I had such an affair with The Hunger Games. Yes, I know I'm three years behind release date. Had B&N equipped the last page of my digital readout with a button that read "Buy the next book in the series", I would have been all up into that impulse buy. (Seriously, why don't they?) I didn't want the affair to end, so I Googled it. Maybe I wanted to make sure my judgement was good...that this love didn't have a baldy head or a visible booger. Maybe I secretly hoped there would be a movie that would forever ruin the perfection in my mind; but, hey, it would be something. (Poor sac now has a drink, a caffeine-free Dr. Pepper. Cheater.) Maybe it recaptured all I loved about The Giver and The Lottery and The Village and rolled them up into one spongy Little Debbie snack cake of goodness. Maybe you should just read it. (Poor sac now has Flaming Hot Doritos next to aforementioned Dr. Pepper.)

While John Deere Green Jeans sketches away and Barbie plays Cinderella with a broom and Poor sac licks residue from his fingers, click over and read a legitimate book review and decide if The Hunger Games is your cup of coffee. Or salted caramel hot chocolate (moi). Or Dr. Pepper. And if you are feeling a kinship with Poor sac and have a Nook, email me. My kindergarten teacher always said I shared best.

And, who doesn't love Suzanne Collins's pitch line: Gladiator meets Project Runway.

Today's Pomodoros: 7!! Holy Flaming Hot Doritos, she's on revision fire.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Love Overboard

It's been three months since I set sail from Romancelandia to Thriller Island. Sure, this time of year I miss the windswept coiffure and the temptation to wax nostalgic on my hero's corded forearms when I read other romance blog topics: Hump Day Hottie! Steam Up Your Valentine's Day! Hunky Cop Interview! It does not help that Fabio visits me during an episode of Cupcake Wars and says to the poor baker whose frosting slid off her too-hot cupcake, "What can I say?-a topless cupcake. I laaahhve it." Ask me if I'm kidding about this. It's as if Romancelandia has a stronger gravitational pull that I anticipated. Nevertheless, this ship's course is set for true north or true blood or true descent into-in my character's case-insanity, sweaty palms and all.

So this Valentine's Day I shall dump cargo from past satin-pillow-and-Barry-White Romancelandia-laced topics to make room for new body counts. With a well-documented tear plummeting my cheek I give you new booty. Less plunder, more psychological reaping.

Crate One: Fabio After Dark
I'm the first to admit I've probably gotten more mileage out of this than Fabio, but I can't hear things that go bump in the night if this Italian Stallion is reminding me he is a "chiiiild of laahhhve." Ciao, Fabio.

Gifts on Thriller Island are more likely to be a jar of human skin than a jar filled with love notes or poetry.

Crate Three: Love Letters
True, this one came packaged with well-wishes of love from Mr. Roarke and Tattoo, but on Thriller Island, they'd be from a stalker or a serial killer with an m.o. for copycatting famous lovers' deaths.

Or, more specifically, how men can learn them by paying attention to romance novel heroes. Thriller Island could not exist without secrets, copious and dark, but the talent to control body functions is not one of them.

Crate Five: Those Romantic Shorts
Films, not Bermuda. Let's see, there was Notte Sento and Post-It Love and A Thousand Words and The Quiet Man scene and for heaven's sake, the entire kissing scene series I did a few years ago, but on Thriller Island, the shorts will be much more in the vein of Fragments, still my favorite.

Cargo dump aside, I hope everyone feels love this Valentine's Day. And if you don't, the Vortex is full of it (and, secretly, always will be). Shhh!

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Whomp of Success

A few day ago, during revisions, I had the strangest whomp in the pit of my stomach. You know, that trapdoor, Holy Crap, Batman moment? This one I'd label Holy James Michener, Batman!

Old Mich can explain it better...

"Occasionally I come across one of my early books while waiting in the dentist's office. The first three pages, I see things that could be so much better. Then the next three pages will be so good, I can't remember that I did them. The ideas are not mine; they're more sophisticated, better phrased. I'm whipped between disappointment and exhilaration." ~James Michener

Most of my moments are of the former variety. I still have much to learn. But this whomp was entirely different. I had just read the best thing I'd ever written and I don't remember writing it. The whomp was filled with contracts and lists and reviews and opinions, some of them jaded. If you had told me before this moment I had a fear of success, I'd have said you picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue. And now? I'd say you might be on to something.

I've had a taste of that next tier not long ago. I remember the knots in my stomach, the certainty that I'd say the wrong thing to my agent and the knowledge that I had. On many occasions. I remember the betrayals and the games and the disillusionment. Mostly, I remember the joy vaporizing.

Is it any wonder I fear returning to that place?

So here I sit, the goals and plans I'm so adept at crafting before me, unmet, already behind though it has been a mere two weeks since I dropped them into a spreadsheet. Are the expectations too lofty? The excuses too valid? Maybe. More likely, these missed achievements are the product of a warm cocoon of endless revisions and outdistancing perfection. For if the words are still mine, they can belong to no one else.