Antisocial or No?

Here we are, at that place when we realize the 4th of July is next week and we feel like summer is already half over. It’s a false perception. We still have all of July and August. Really September, too, though emotionally that feels like fall, not summer.

Anne Lamott, a writer I’ve liked for some years, wrote an essay recently on finding time. I’m usually a huge proponent of making time for the important stuff and I often agree with Anne’s take on things. However this time I found myself disagreeing.

Oh, yeah – don’t watch the news. It just makes you sad. House-cleaning isn’t important in the grand scheme, sure. But she makes a basic assumption that meeting with a “close friend” for a couple of hours is more meaningful and nurturing than all the Twitter and social media “noise.”

Frankly, I’m getting tired of hearing this.

If you read this blog at all regularly – and I know many of you do, which means a great deal to me – then you know I greatly value my online community. I believe these online contacts are indeed real, actual friends who play meaningful and nurturing roles in my life.

And *now* I have data to back my opinions up!

I know – we should mark this date on the calendar.

A recent study of Facebook users shows that they “are more trusting, have more close friends, and are more politically-engaged.”

So there!

I absolutely see this. Social is social and the idea that one on one physically present interaction is the only “real” kind is just splitting hairs. Would it be nice to spend one or two hours a week with my close friends? Sure it would! But with KAK and Laura off in icky Ohio, Kerry and Tawna up in the Pacific Northwest with Marcella sailing around god knows where, that gets a little difficult. That only scratches the surface. I went to Memphis last weekend partly to see my friend Karen, who was my sorority sister in college and is one of my oldest friends. When I can’t do that, I talk to her on Twitter and Facebook. I talk to Kev, another lifetime friend, on IM.

I won’t even try to list all the people on Twitter I chat with day in and day out, whose insights and feedback form the watercooler of my days.

Please don’t tell me that’s not meaningful or nurturing, that communications with these people is noise to be eliminated. How poor and silent my life would be without them.

One of my college friends, Felicia, commented on Facebook that she doesn’t know how she would have coped for the last year, facing breast cancer, without her Facebook community. This is someone I would have long fallen out of touch with, if it wasn’t for the online interaction.

Yes, make time for what’s important, but make it wisely. One person’s noise is another person’s lifeline.

Social Huh?

A while back, this publicist for one of the Big 6 contacted me.

Not about me, alas, but about her client, Ms Thing, a big name author who had an Exciting New Book coming out. I happened to be president of a special interest chapter of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) that is especially interested in the genre Exciting New Book was in. Publicist Gal asked if we’d just love to put up an ad on our website for Ms Thing and her Exciting New Book. In exchange, she’ll send us a copy of Exciting New Book, so we can read it and talk it up.

Now, RWA is a big writers organization. Upwards of 10,000 members last I checked. One of the rules for all RWA chapters is that, as a non-profit organization, we can’t be in the business of selling books. This is an IRS thing and no one messes with the IRS. So we can’t post book covers or ads for our own members on our chapter website, so as to avoid the appearance of being a mall or bookstore and thus competing with for-profit businesses. Ms Thing, incidentally, is not a member of our chapter.

This might be somewhat arcane, but I kind of thought a publicist wanting to use social media like a chapter website or blog hosted by an RWA chapter, and where RWA is pretty much synonymous with romance in publishing, would know this kind of thing.

Okay, no. So, I’m a nice person. (Oh, hush up. I try to be a polite person.) I explain this to her, but I make her an offer. Our chapter has hundreds and hundreds of members (somewhere between 500 and 1,000, last I checked), who read and write in this genre. I offer to host a special chat for her on our site. Ms Thing could hang for an hour, answer select questions, talk up her Exciting New Book and give a copy away. This would really be the idea way to expose her to a whole bunch of people at once, who would then buy and talk up her book.

This would be an effective use of social media, to my mind.

Alternatively, I offered that Ms Thing could put something up on our chapter blog, a short article or what have you.

Publicist Gal emails me back and informs me that Ms Thing is Far Too Busy to do either of these things. It was a fairly snippy thanks, but no thanks. She says maybe she’ll send me a copy. If she had, our blogmistress could have given it away there at some point.

But no.

I really wonder if Ms Thing ever even knew about this conversation. Was she really Far Too Busy to spend an hour chatting with a potential audience of hundreds online? People who, if won over, would likely talk it up to hundreds more? What struck me most was that this professional publicist was attempting to use social media in such a ham-handed way. I know it’s a rapidly changing world and it’s not easy to keep up, but Publicist Gal was clearly still thinking in terms of billboards and magazine ads.

Now, maybe Ms Thing is bigger than that. Maybe she didn’t need us, which would be lovely for her.

Still, I think the lesson is, even if you are lucky enough to be Mr or Ms Thing, and you have a Publicist, I would be looking pretty carefully at how they’re handling social media. Really, the whole idea of social media is personal contact, not interaction via your publicist. I realize not everyone is good at this, but having your publicist engage in personal contact on your behalf is, um, not really the point.

That’s it for today. I’m afraid I’m Far Too Busy for any more of this bloggity stuff.

Jumping Up and Down


I’ve never been all that good at parties.

Oh, I sometimes have fun. And I like them, I really do. Love to host them.Hand me a glass of wine or champagne and a few snacks and I’m a happy kitty cat.

But I don’t do well with competing conversations. Part of it’s because I’m a Western girl. The pauses in East Coast conversations go by so fleetingly that, by the time, I’ve heard the opening, someone else has taken the reins and run with the topic. By the time I get a chance, the moment is gone and my comment no longer relevant. It’s like I’m forever running behind the big kids, jumping up and down, shouting wait for me!

It’s a funny thing, because I’m generally an assertive person. I think it’s more that I don’t like competition. I don’t like struggling for the conversational ball. If someone talks over me, I’ll back off rather than fight for it. I easily fall into my preferred writerly habit of listening and putting together the stories behind the people.

It only occurred to me the other day that I have a lifelong pattern of avoiding competition. David and I were talking about our childhoods and how we were both kind of sensitive kids who were shocked to hit the bigger world of school, where people yelled at each other and did mean things. We grew tougher hides over time, but I realized that my dislike of sports (please don’t yell at me because I ducked instead of catching the ball) all the way up to my avoiding the rest of the Pre-Med crowd in college (no, I really don’t want to tell you my grade on that exam) reflect that I don’t like competing.

I’m sure many would say this is a fear of failure.

But it feels more like I just don’t like being in the mosh pit.

I’ll hand you the conversational ball before I elbow you in the eye-socket to keep it.

Sometimes the social media world feels like this to me. It’s a great big cocktail party and I love the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made. The support network is a fundamental part of my life. But sometimes the party gets really loud. Some people are trying to stand in the middle of the room and talk over everyone else. Others are gathering people around them, relentlessly counting how many there are, yanking them back when they try to wander off. Some spend the whole time trying to get people to go off to their private blog-party room. Have you been there yet? Lots of people like it. Go there and see!

I find myself standing on the edges of the room, retreating to the comfort of listening. My mother taught me how to make social conversation by asking people about themselves, but then I sometimes get trapped near the potted plant with the guy who wants to tell me how much money he’s made self-publishing.

I think the trick – as with all parties – is to mingle freely and find the people you want to talk to. I find myself avoiding the loud talkers, the big groups, the ones running around, flailing their hands in the air yelling Look at Me! Look at Meeee!!!! I want people to read my books because they enjoy them, not because I talked them into it. I don’t want my writing to be about competition, any more than I want the rest of my life to be about it.

Yeah, I know this means that the bigger boys, who throw the ball hard and sneer at my timidity will rule the game. This is why the James Frey’s of the world not only get away with their shit, they profit from it. Nice guys might not finish last, but they don’t necessarily finish first either.

Still, what it comes down to me is not that I have a fear of failure, but that I don’t think winning is all it’s cracked up to be. It certainly isn’t worth sacrificing happiness or what I believe to be a generous and loving way to treat other people.

If you want to find me, I’ll be over on the sofa in the corner, sipping my wine.

Freedom!

No, this really isn’t about George Michael’s Freedom 90 anthem. That’s just the earworm that springs to mind when I think about Freedom.

That and “the Iraqi people don’t love freedom,” but that one irritates me.

I started using a program this week called Freedom. You can get it for Windows or Macs for $10. Basically it shuts down your internet access for as long as you designate – from 30 minutes to 8 hours. If you *have* to get to the internet, you can reboot.

I thought, oh, I don’t need this.

I read my emails, do my blog post, send the notice out on the social media waters, then shut everything down to write. That works.

Pretty much.

Until I pause to think. I get these impulses, not unlike the emotional eating ones I’ve talked about with fasting, where I think, oh, I’ll just see if anyone commented on my blog.

Or replied to my tweets.

Or sent me an email.

Or commented on my Facebook status.

Before I know it, I’ve lost 15 minutes.

Turns out, I really did need this.

Freedom gives me a level of relief. Maybe it’s like a heroine addict taking methadone, but whatever it takes to break the habit. Now I think, oh, I should check the weather forecast, but I can’t, so I keep writing. Or I think, I should Google that, but I can’t, so I keep writing.

I’ve even extended the time now, which is funny to me. The window pops up saying I’ve completed my session and do I want to quit or extend. Twice I’ve extended. As soon as I quit, the email icon pops up and I can’t not look. I extend and it’s like keeping the door shut.

It’s true: I’m weak and pitiful.

I’m Jeffe and I’m a webaholic.

Thank goodness I was granted the wisdom to get Freedom. Offline I go!

Left Turns


This morning, as I ran on the treadmill, I saw a woman step out of the Spin class in the shop next door. She’d bundled into her parka, had her hat and gloves tucked under her arm and held her smartphone in the other. Reading some message on the phone, she smiled, pleasure suffusing her face.

I like that about seeing people texting and tweeting and messaging on their various handheld devices. It’s kind of replaced the old pastime of watching people greet each other at the airport, the hugs, squeals and laughter. People’s faces respond to the messages, making the same expressions they’d use in a face-to-face conversation. They grin. Sometimes they laugh out loud.

It’s not always the frowning and blankness detractors like to cite.

Marcella taught an online class recently on using acting devices in writing. She asked me to read over a description of a “left turn” that she wanted to use as an example. Here’s her lesson:

You’ve gone out for the evening, you and your spouse. It’s the first nice dinner you’ve had since the birth of your child. Dinner was relaxing. You actually got to have a glass of wine. You engaged in adult conversation. It was lovely. When you get home, the babysitter greets you at the door with a smile saying everything went fine. The baby is asleep. Looked in not ten minutes ago. You pay the sitter and she hops in her car for the short drive home. You sigh, content, as you and your spouse make your way upstairs to look in on the baby before getting ready for bed. Except, the nursery is still. Silent. Your heart stutters. You reach down to touch the infant. Cold. No breath. No life.

How do you react?

This was an acting scene set up. It isn’t real. Not here. Not today. Shake off any residual emotion, then come back with your response. When I asked, “how do you react?” What was your first, gut response? To scream? That impulse is the most common response to this exercise. It’s expected, which means it’s also a little trite as far as emotional reactions go. This is the point at which a director yells, “Take a left!” meaning, don’t go for the easy reaction. Do something fresh.

We’re not? here to talk about how to find the unexpected actions and emotions in scenes, but actions and emotions that ring true on a gut level for you and for your reader. In the scene set-up above, the actress playing the part turned to the man behind her, all the breath rushing audibly from her lungs, and began pounding her fists against his chest as he stood staring at the crib.

I’m Marcella Burnard. I write science fiction romance for Berkley Sensation. I also spent three years in the acting conservatory at Cornish College of the Arts, which resulted in a BFA in acting. It was there that one of our teachers gave us this scene as a way to introduce text analysis so that we could break down a scene, moment by moment, identify what the people in the scene want (their objectives) and then decide how each person goes about getting what they want (their tactics).

This idea stuck with me, that it can be fruitful for characters to behave in an unexpected way, to take a left turn instead of a right. (A recurring conversation during Christmas was that UPS and Fed Ex drivers are instructed to use only right turns, never left – urban myth or no?) I loved this example of a left turn – a simple thing that instantly enriches the characters and deepens the story.

It’s easy to write about people frowning at their Blackberries, to describe the unsettlingly blank expressions of teens absorbed with the iPhones. Seeing that woman’s smile this morning gave me ideas for ways to show all kinds of character from the one-sided silent conversations people have all around us.

Also? We followed a Fed Ex truck and it totally turned left. It’s all around us.

Release Me


According to the Blogging Handbook for Writers, since today is release day for Petals & Thorns, I must blog about that and only that.

Which means I have to save the story of my psycho eye doctor for tomorrow.

Some of us were getting a bit punchy on Twitter yesterday, reviewing the “rules” for how to behave on release day.

1. Must blog about it. @nwfoodie cited the Blogging Writer By-Laws, paragraph 291, sub paragraph J, section Z.

2. I should “SQUEE” on twitter every thirty minutes, the equivalent of squealing in excitement.

3. Tweet OMG! every hour, on the hour. (For Oh My God! if you don’t know.)

4. Use ALL CAPS for the ENTIRE DAY. Preferably with the phrase BUY MY BOOK!

5. Generally drive everybody nuts.

Okay, maybe somewhere in the middle of that is some truth. I’ve actually unfollowed people who were this bad. I kid you not.

So far, though, today is really fun. Lots of Twitter friends are wishing me Happy Release Day and announcing how they just bought it. I’ve decided not to mention it on Facebook, since I have clients on there and this one goes beyond the pale. Now I get to be nervous, wondering how everyone will like it…

Thus, with no further dithering. Here’s the official Loose Id plot summary. (Look! I’m on the home page! SQUEE!)

In exchange for her father’s life, Amarantha agrees to marry the dreadful Beast and be his wife for seven days. Though the Beast cannot take Amarantha’s virginity unless she begs him to, he can and does take her in every other way. From the moment they are alone together, the Beast relentlessly strips Amarantha of all her resistance.

If Amarantha can resist her cloaked and terrifying husband, she gains his entire fortune and will be allowed to return to her family and a normal life. But the Beast seduces her at every turn, exposing, binding, tormenting, and pleasuring Amarantha until she no longer knows her own deepest desires.

Increasingly desperate to break the curse that chains his humanity, the Beast drives Amarantha past every boundary. But her desire for a normal life may jeopardize the love that will save them both.

Yes, it’s Super Sexy. Don’t feel like you have to read it if this kind of thing is past your own boundaries. In fact, Loose Id includes a little Reader’s Warning on there, just so you know what you’re getting into.

However, should you wish to read, I know a little secret: I don’t see it on the site, but Loose Id’s Editor-in-Chief, Treva Harte, recently posted that all July customers at Loose Id will be entered in a drawing to win an iPad.

SQUEE! OMG!!!

Creepy

She grabbed the microphone back and started clarifying that she really, really, really is a brand and brands are awesome . . . and the more she went on, the more I thought: I am not a brand. I wanted to whisper it, but that would have been creepy.

That quote is from Maureen Johnson’s most excellent blog post on how she feels about social media.

She says something I’ve tried to say several times here, only she says it far better. If I could get away with it, I’d just post what she says here and point at it. So, that’s essentially what I’m doing. I’m assuming you all clicked and went to read it already.

Though I confess my favorite part is when she wants to whisper to herself that she’s not a brand, but decides it would be creepy.

The interwebs have their decidedly creepy aspect. People behave in odd ways, act aggressive or just plain nutty sometimes. Enough so that I’ve researched a few to try to determine if they’re really as nutty as they seem or if it’s a communication issue. That said, I’ve met far more really great people, some of whom I’ve gone on to meet in person. Which is really the point of the whole social media thing.

I confess I started using both Facebook and Twitter to pimp my blog. I know, I know – but if I was going to write the damn thing, I wanted someone besides my mother to read it and that seemed to be the way to go. It worked, too. But, to my surprise, I found I really enjoy the communities I’m now part of. There are people I talk to every day and who miss me when I’m gone – which is always comforting in a someone-will-find-me-before-the-pets-totally-consume-my-body kind of way.

But Maureen is dead-on about the shysters, the shills, the snake-oil salesmen. One author I unfollowed after less than a day because he tweeted, in all caps, to buy his book, every hour, all day long.

No no no.

It’s no fun to be friends with a brand. That’s what it comes down to, really. I might like Burt’s Bees, and expect a certain quality in the products that pleases me with its consistency and nice scents, but I don’t expect to interact with my Beeswax Lip Balm. Beyond keeping my lips kissable, of course.

Authors are different. When we love their books, we want to talk to the people who wrote them. We have this odd tendency to feel like they’re friends because we spent time wrapped in their view of the world. And man authors – certainly not all – like to interact with their readers because, well, otherwise we never really get to be part of that experience.

Storytelling is intimate. Personal. It’s not like selling lip balm.

I am not a brand, she whispered quietly to herself.

Every Quail Is Sacred


I’ve been trying to explain social media to people lately.

Yeah, you laugh.

And you should, because I am more often the luddite than the gal in the know. And I’m so not the generation of social media — though I notice that mine, the Generation Jones, if you will, has cheerfully glommed onto the concept. Perhaps because we’re all so determined not to become technologically obsolete before we absolutely CANNOT keep up any more. After all, we learned computers when you had to do everything in DOS, dammit. The younger people don’t know what it was like, creating graphics designating the color for each pixel, uphill, through six feet of snow.

Okay, I’m over it now.

I do, however, go to writing conferences where they talk about online marketing. And I go to those sessions, because I’m hopeful of one day having a new book to market. And do a better job of it this time. Though, granted, I used the tools I had at the time.

So, folks in the generations before mine, the Boomers and the Silents, (They all want to be Silent Generation now, have you noticed? No one wants to be a Boomer.) ask me to explain what social media is.

I tell them, it’s about creating networks of people, primarily online, and you share information about the things you like and use. And they say, oh, advertising and I say, no, because this isn’t controlled and it isn’t full of tricks. It’s about honest communication. Stuff you happen to buy is just one part of that.

They don’t get it.

I’m probably not explaining it well.

Penelope Trunk, one of my favorite bloggers (for the record, she does not pay me to say that; she barely knows I exist), does a better job of explaining it, though I can’t find the exact post I’m thinking of. She says the younger folks, the Ys, don’t even think about this. It’s just how they are.

What I suspect is, everyone heard in the early days of social marketing how people were paid to talk to their friends about products. Doing the Oh! I’ll have a Beerweiser! I lurv the Beerweiser, don’t you? Maybe this still goes on and I just don’t know about it.

Of course, we all thought this was really icky. Like stealth advertising.

But the thing is, we all do this all the time anyway; we’re just not paid to do it. Which makes it honest. My aunt says she wants to pick my brain on MP3 players — I’ll tell what kind I bought and why. My mom asks which brand of vitamins is the most trustworthy; David has researched it and we can tell her. They don’t know it, but it’s social media.

All of this comes to mind because on yesterday’s post, I mentioned that my internet was slow and carelessly cast blame on either Qwest or Google. (Relax Qwest social media team — you already contacted me!) And, as you can see from my parenthetical comment, someone from the Qwest social media team commented on my blog post offering to check my internet line for problems.

Totally cracked me up.

And then I thought, very cool of them, that they have a team that picks up on mentions of their services and responds. How smart of them to pay attention to honest, if flip, assessments of their service.

I took them up on the offer, too. The ‘net has been slow at our abode lately. I would love for them to fix it. I like Qwest’s service either way and I don’t mind saying so. No, they don’t pay me either.

What’s more interesting to me? Both my mom and aunt reacted to the comment from Qwest as a corporate intrusion. A Big Brotherish “they’re watching you” kind of thing. My mom even said to me (on Yahoo IM, if we’re quoting brands) “Now even I have to watch what I tell you. God only knows who is listening!”

I say, hey, I threw myself, my words and opinions out there. I made my thoughts accessible to the web crawlers. They’re smart to listen. In fact, I think they’d be fools not to.

The best part of social media is it’s FUN. It’s like a big party. Those Gen Y kids knew what they were doing when they started MySpacing and Chatting and FaceBooking and we, the grown-ups, all thought they were nuts.

David asked me how the photo of our Christmas quail figured into my theme tonight and I said it hadn’t come together yet. But you know, if the quail had a way to post “found a great feeder tonight — they’ve got the BEST seed!” — wouldn’t they do it, too?

Hell, maybe they do!