Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I'm Really Not Boring, Honest!

Actually, perhaps that title should have been "I'm Really Not a Devil-Worshipper, Honest!" Maybe it's just me. Has anyone else on this list ever been contacted by a teacher/librarian/PTA person to ask what your program is and what you charge for an author visit? And you responded promptly with all the information, already rubbing your mental hands together in glee at a chance to talk to your target audience? And then had the rug yanked from under you because 1) no one ever got back to you on your response; 2) someone acknowledged your response and then never contacted you again, or (my favorite); 3) someone found your website and decided that what you write about is "inappropriate" for their students. AAARRRGGHHH!!!

I write stories of the supernatural so I write about ghosts and sometimes psychic abilities. When I come to a school to speak, and some of them have actually allowed me to do so, I talk about writing, about ideas, about publishing, about rewriting, about story construction, and then I take questions. Depending on the age and size of the group, we sometimes swap ghost stories.

I do not, however, light black candles, conjure up demons, or sacrifice goats on the teacher's desk. I don't advocate strange chants, blood-letting, or ceremonies that involve fire, knives, or even face paint.

But my area of published work still seems to make people nervous. I noticed on this we site that quite a few of us are working in the same field, be it spirits, vampires, shape shifters, or psychics. Do you have this problem, or is it just me? I don't think I'm a boring speaker. Kids stay afterwards to talk to me, if that's any indication, and some places have talked about inviting me back, although that's yet to happen.

So I don't think I'm boring, but somehow I'm scaring off potential venues. I hope it's not because they think I'm scary.

On the other hand, maybe I would rather be scary than boring.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Picture books - Reading to children

Having now very young grandchildren ages three and four, and grandchildren who speak little or no English has been interesting. They are interested in books and I've done some digging and trying to find books that were my children's favorites. I began to wonder if my children had odd tastes when they were young.

My oldest loved Gerald Mc Boing Boing. And I wore out a book with that in reading it again and again. The second son never selected any single story that he liked. He liked them all. The oldest daughter became enamoured of Never Tease a Weasel. I can still recite parts of it today. The youngest daughter's favorite was Where Is The Keeper? I can still recite parts of that book.

How many of us remember picture books from our childhood and continue to recite parts of them in our heads? Did all of those on this group remember being read to or reading to our children.

I remember my grandfather reading to me. His choice wasn't any picture book but the poetry of John Donne. There was something mesmerizing in hearing those words and reading them over. I also wonder if that has influenced my writing style and choices. How about you do those memories trigger words you want to put on paper? Do the choices your children loved also influence you as you write?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Another Brick on the Page

There were times in grade school that I was bored with the subject at hand. It happens to every kid. You day dream. Mind wonders. You throw paper balls. Whisper to your buddy in the desk across from you. Or, if you are a writer, you WRITE. On the sly.
I wrote tons of stories in grammar school, my notebook hidden under my math or history book. My mind would drift from the notes scribbled on the black board- the teacher's voice morphing into nonsensical dribble like an adult in a Charlie Brown cartoon.
I was a huge comic book geek (and STAR WARS geek, and mythology geek, and magic geek, and model rocket geek) so my first stories I wrote were often based on the heros of Marvel Comics. It's funny, but when you are an eleven year old boy you are either a Marvel Comics fan or a DC fan. Like baseball in NYC- it's either Mets or Yankees. Never both. So I would sit and write my own adventures for Spiderman or Captain America and suddenly a boring day in school became an adventure.
I created a character called AGENT 21. I still to this day have the original folder filled with yellowing pages of the dozen or so handwritten spy stories. Stories with uber-melodramatic titles like, "The Sound of the Waves Means Death", or "Diamonds are a Thief's Best Friend" and "Thou Art Stolen". Tales filled with pubescent-boy violence fantasies, fun-filled gadgets and questionable grammar. All lots of fun.

Teachers need to understand the value of nurturing the natural talents of their students. This is how the educational system should be changed and geared- allowing the kids to discover their bliss. On one mid winter day, as I sat hunched over my notebook deep in the excitement of Steve Power's latest attempts to save democracy from international lunies, I sensed a sudden silence.

I looked up to find dozens of eyes on me - two of them (or actually four) the eyes of my teacher (who shall remain nameless). He stepped up to my desk and lifted the history book I was using to cover my stealthy, literary attempts. What unfolded was right out of a Pink Floyd song.

"So - Michael is writing the Great American novel!"

The class erupted in laughter. Red faced I glanced around the room. It was as if in slomotion. The jerks were laughing. My good friend Howard wasn't. He was always a great guy. He looked down at his desk (probably writing his own story!) There was a sudden pit in my stomach. Was she laughing? The girl who would later reject me when I asked her to the prom (in a scene right our of Freaks and Geeks!) was indeed getting a chuckle. Great, I thought to myself, my face getting redder. Her sister, who was always a good friend, was not laughing. You know your friends when the times get tough.

I tried to babble an excuse but really had nothing to say. The genius went on: So Michael will be the next great American novelist! Hey everybody! We have a future celebrity in our class!

I can hear his accent becoming English and hear the opening chords of Another Brick in the Wall starting to play. I could only sit there and take it. For a couple of days I was called "The Great American author" by some of the future brain surgeons of the class. I began to wear it like a badge of honor.

So as my second novel is prepared top be published I wait. My first (Milky Way Marmalade), aside from GREAT reviews, did not sell to great American novel levels. My next- a middle-grade exciting tale called RUPERT STARBRIGHT: THE DOOR TO FAR-MYST (book 1) will be available soon. You can all help me get the best kind of revenge to that dimwit teacher by buying a copy and making me- finally- a GREAT AMERICAN NOVELIST!

Keep writing kids. Keep painting. Keep making music. Keep dreaming the good dream

Monday, August 22, 2011

SNF: Social Networking Fatigue

When Google+ launched recently, I confessed: “I have SNF – social networking fatigue.”

I know I’m not alone. But it’s not cool to talk about it. My New Year’s resolution was to use Facebook and Twitter more. I failed miserably. After Letters to Juniper was released I vowed to have more of a presence on Facebook and Twitter. Well, here it is, four months later and I have failed yet again. Then there are Goodreads, LinkedIn, Branch Out, and MySpace. There are social networking sites I have never heard of and I’m failing at those, too.

I’m not a hater. I actually like Facebook and Twitter – even better than all the others. They just don’t rank very high on my priorities list. I am part-time babysitter for my 2½-year old grandson and 9-year old granddaughter. I’m writing a book. I’m promoting another book. I manage four blogs plus I contribute to this one. I review books. Somewhere in between I cook, eat, shop, do laundry, garden, walk dogs, blah, blah, blah … and sleep.

For more than a year I have tortured myself about my lack of facebook-ability and general twitter-lessness. I envied twitter butterflies and facebook fanatics. I wondered if I had a social disorder. I thought there might be something wrong with me.

An article at WebProNews caught my eye last week: Study Says Social Media Sucks at Driving Traffic. Outbrain, a marketing company, conducted a study to see which sites directed the most traffic to publisher content (such as articles and blog posts). Google came out on top. Social networking sites were dead last, accounting for only 11% of traffic to content pages.

My own effort to drive traffic to my website or blogs with Facebook and Twitter has fallen as flat as the study indicates. When I post a link at Facebook and Twitter to a book review on my Advice from a Caterpillar blog, I get some traffic from Facebook, but not Twitter. If someone else posts a link to one of my blog posts, I similarly get Facebook traffic, but nada from Twitter. All of which has led me to conclude Twitter is a bust for book buzz. Facebook is better, but not as good Google or a direct link from another blog, as the study illustrated.

Based on the Outbrain study, I’m probably spending the right amount of time on Facebook and Twitter, or any other social networking sites. I am officially letting myself off the hook. No more self-recrimination. Self promotion and its aliases – branding, marketing – are necessary albeit challenging aspects of the publishing landscape. I’m old enough to remember what life was like before the internet. I appreciate the exposure it has given to my work and the expansion it has afforded me in my career. But it all comes down to the writing and that has to be my first priority.

Peggy Tibbetts

"I was shocked at how it all ended." -- The O.W.L.
If you would like to review Letters to Juniper, contact Peggy at:

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