Things I’m learning from my first foray into serial fiction.

I posted a little while ago about DinoLand, my sci-fi novel which will be serialized, starting this Sunday, over at Geek Eccentric.

photo credit: Scott Kinmartin via photopin cc

photo credit: Scott Kinmartin via photopin cc

Well, it’s almost dinosaur time and I’m as nervous as an attorney staring down a T-Rex in the rain. Since this is a brand new  process for me, I thought I’d write a little bit about what I’ve been learning so far.  Here are some of my first take-aways:

 Starting out with a lot of material doesn’t necessarily mean you have less work to do.

I started this project with more than 200 pages of DinoLand, written over a period of two or three National Novel Writing Months, including a ridiculous amount of backstory. When I started importing all that into Scrivener, I realized that unless I write a prequel, I’m not going to use all of this material. Also, the work that I am using needed several rounds of edits. So while I have six months of DinoLand written and outlined, months 3 through 6 still need edits and work. (Chapter 2, for April, is already edited and turned in to the artist.) Speaking of which…

Working with an artist is an incredible experience. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by that.

Working with Max Farinato has been my favorite part of the DinoLand project so far. It’s amazing to watch his sketches develop, and even more amazing is the way I’ve seen the world I invented taking shape in his art. Every time Max sends me a sketch, I gush uncontrollably about how much I love his work, which is true, but maybe not helpful to him.
There should be some sort of guideline for working with an illustrator, because I suspect that I haven’t been easy to work with. For example, I probably should have sent him rough ideas of what my principal characters look like so that the art and my prose will match. I forget that I haven’t described everyone on page one of chapter one. I should probably also ask more often what he needs from me to make his job easier.

Oh my god. The comment section. Oh my god, the comment section.

Despite the fact that I’ve been blogging for a long time, it has somehow just occurred to me that people will be able to comment directly after reading my chapter. It’s not like I haven’t gotten comments on fiction before — short pieces of mine have been published in journals with comment sections — but I think of novels as something that are put out to the public as a whole. If a novel receives criticism, it’s in the form of a review on another site, not in a comment section. So despite the fact that I consider myself a Big Damn Progressive Child of the Internet, I’ve still been thinking about fiction and novels in a very old-fashioned way.

And lastly, Does serial fiction work differently from a novel? I’m not sure.

While comment sections are relatively new, serial fiction is not. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last two years reading novels that were originally published as serial fiction: Anna Karenina, The Count of Montecristo, Bleak House, Great Expectations. I don’t know if anything was changed before they were compiled into novels, but it seems to me that there has to be some repetition if a novel is released serially. If you’re releasing a chapter every week or month, you need to remind your readers of certain things that they can’t just flip back and check if they’re holding the book in their hands. Of course, now we have links – I can just link chapter two to chapter one – it’s the one thing I can do that Dickens could not, Still, every chapter should be able to stand alone, right? That way, if someone stumbles on chapter three before reading one and two, the reader won’t be totally lost. How do comic writers do this? How do television writers do this? Am I overthinking this? I might be overthinking this.

Those are my thoughts so far, at least until Sunday, when the fictional dinosaurs stampede out of the gate at Geek Eccentric. I’m sure I’ll have more to say then.

Evite is Dead, or, Why My Husband Should Join Facebook.

My husband refuses to join Facebook.

That’s his choice, and I’ve been supportive, but man,  I wish he would join. Not because I think he needs to bond with Internet friends, or because I think he should communicate with long-lost buddies and ex-girlfriends, or even because I think the online world should be exposed to his unique brand of humor.*

It’s because Facebook has eclipsed Evite as a way of inviting people to events.
There was a time when my email inbox was cluttered with Evites. Evites for parties. Evites for work events. Evites for things I needed to cover for work. A long time ago, I got one Evite a week.

Alas, the golden age of Evite is over. An informal survey of my inbox reveals that in 2009, I got nine or 10 Evites. In 2010 I got three. Last year I got six – which is so many that I’m afraid I’ve miscounted.

You know how many Evites I’ve gotten in 2012? One. That’s because everyone is sending Facebook event invites instead. And that is why my husband really needs to join Facebook.

Let’s take this week for example. One of my husband’s friends is hosting a Depends-themed party.

I can’t make it to this event. I will be hanging out at the other end of the maturity scale that day, dispensing spatulas and marital advice at a bridal shower. So no Depends for me.** My husband, however, is going. (To the party. Not at the party. Although you never know, the invitation promises that anyone not in a diaper by dusk will be voted off the island.) The problem? I am the one who has all the details about where and when and who’s providing the pack of Depends, because I’m the one on Facebook.

This has happened with other events. I believe I once got a bachelor party invitation on Facebook. I’ve occasionally gotten communication for him through Facebook, because apparently Facebook’s sneaky tactics are working and FB  messages are also eclipsing traditional email.

You may think that my objections to my husband’s Facebook boycott stem from the fact that I don’t like being his secretary. That’s only 20 percent true. Yeah, the part of me that’s a hairy-legged overalls-weraring 1970s second-wave feminist objects to taking messages for my husband. But that’s not the real problem.

The real issue goes a little something like this: I don’t even look at my event invitations on Facebook.

I get so many random invites from bands and local organizations I covered when I was a local arts journalist, that I don’t register events anymore. When I see I have event invites, my brain blocks them from view as it does with junk mail and spam. They are invisible, and I wouldn’t have even noticed the Depends party invitation if the host hadn’t accosted me in person last week:

“Are you guys coming to my party?”

Uh-oh. “Party?”

“I sent you an invite.”

I panicked  and racked my brain. What invitations have come through my inbox? Have I looked? It must be on my phone, right? Luckily, his party has a pretty distinctive title.

“Was the word ‘poop’ in the event title?”

He grinned. Another Facebook event crisis averted.

So what’s the moral of this story? That Facebook is taking over all kinds of Internet services, from email to evite to the sort of social networking once provided by Friendster, I guess. Or maybe the moral is that if you’re married to someone who refuses to Facebook, you might end up being his Facebook receptionist. Or maybe it’s that you should always insert words that stand out in the titles of your Facebook invites. Like “poop.”

*It should.

** At least not yet.

Twitter failures/Twitter ninjas

A few months ago, I began spending a lot of  time on Twitter.

Part of the reason for this was that my mother joined Facebook, and I started being a little more careful about my posts there. (Sorry, Mom.) Part of it was that I’d attended a conference that made great use of the micro-blogging site, and I wanted to explore the many uses of Twitter. Part of it was that Facebook was beginning to annoy me. Why? The Oatmeal has a great cartoon, How to Suck at Facebook, about that.  I thought Twitter might be less abrasive. I was wrong. You can suck at Twitter, in 140 characters or less.

All kinds of folks are bad at Twitter. Random people who take part in giant, misspelled hashtag-driven conversations like #thatswhyyourmyex.  Celebrities who use the medium to feed their own bloated egos, and who use the RT feature to trash the fans who disapprove. People who blatantly use the medium to promote their businesses without giving their followers anything extra for following them. People who have decided to start repeating their tweets, just in case we missed them the first time.

I was tempted to prepare a list of actual people who are failing at Twitter, but that’s not fair, or helpful, to anyone. So I thought it might be better to point to five people (and organizations) who are really skilled at using the site. These tweeps are advancing their personal agendas, of course. But they are also giving an added value to their followers. I enjoy following these people because I feel like I’m getting something out of their tweets. Either I’m getting to know them, or I’m laughing, or I’m learning something. And because they clearly care enough to put some thought into their tweets, I care about reading them. Is this a complete list of all the talented Twitterers out there? No. This is a list of five users I admire.

NASA - NASA has many, many Twitter accounts. The Mars rovers are each on Twitter. The Cassini mission is on Twitter. The Hubble Space telescope is on Twitter and I get something from following each of them. I get updates on the space program. I get pictures from Saturn. Several months ago, when the current Mars rover was still operational, I got updates from the surface of Mars every day. That’s just awesome.

Kevin Smokler - I don’t know exactly why I enjoy following the founder of BookTour on Twitter. I just do. It could be the fact that he seems to be on Twitter 24 hours a day. It could be that he’s always sharing some fascinating piece of information (Bob Marley has 106,000 followers on Ping; more than half the houses in Venice, Italy aren’t occupied; there is an iPhone app that reminds men to groom themselves. What doesn’t the man know?) Or it could be that every tweet is written with such a genuine voice that I can’t help but read his feed. Follow him (@Weegee). It’s worth it.

Electric Literature – Electric Literature had me at “Rick Moody.” Last year in an experiment that I don’t think they have ever repeated, Electric Literature spent a week tweeting 140-character installments of a short story Moody had written for them. Every few minutes, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. , for five days, someone tweeted part of the story. I’ll be honest. It wasn’t a great story. And I can see how tweeting a whole short story can be wildly impractical and labor intensive. But the experiment made me so happy. I had something to look forward to every few minutes. I was able to read short installments  when I was stuck in traffic or at work. It was like being on a morphine drip, except instead of getting morphine, I was getting original fiction. So even though the editors may never do it again, and although the magazine’s feed has not been very exciting of late, I’m including Electric Literature on this list.

George Takei - Who is better than George Takei? And what’s better than a 73-year-old man who wields Twitter as Mr. Sulu once wielded his fencing foil? Sure, George is using Twitter to advance multiple agendas: Gay marriage equality, an end to bullying, aid for Japan, and, of course, his own career. But he’s not an agenda-advancing machine. He also uses Twitter to get his fans to send thousands of Valentines to little old ladies, and he’s just funny. George, I will read whatever you tweet. Even the shameless self-promotion posted below. And not just because I had a crush on Mr. Sulu as a kid. (File that one under the hastag #brokengaydar.)

Susan Orlean - I think, for an aspiring writer, author Susan Orlean is the most inspiring person I follow on Twitter. She’s also funny, personable and uses hashtags the way some writers use parentheses. In the last year, I’ve read her tweets as she worked on her book about Rin Tin Tin.  We’ve never communicated directly, yet I’ve felt united with her as we’ve tried to make our daily word counts. I’ve watched her procrastinate online, take pictures of her pets instead of writing, and finally finish her manuscript. And I’ve identified with her every tweet. Well, except for the tweets about chickens. Apparently she shares her home with chickens and the occasional waterfowl.

Why I Tweet

It seems like every time Twitter comes up in conversation, at least one person wants to know what it is and why it’s important to be Twitter-literate (Twitliterate? Twiterate?)

Why, when there are so many ways to communicate, would you join a service that allows you to write only 140 characters worth of text at a time? My husband, who is new to the Internet, has referred to it as “texting the world.” Who wants to do that?

I’ve had some doubts of my own lately. But then the last two weeks happened and I witnessed a variety of things take place on Twitter. These events ranged from the historic (the unrest in Egypt) to the adorable (watching Rupaul learn to tweet) to the personally relevant (The Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Washington D.C.) After all that, I’m in love with Twitter again. Continue reading