Here, have my notes from AWP.

I’ve been on about last week’s AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference since I got back home on Sunday. I promise this will be my last blog post about it.

Today I finally organized my notes from the panels I attended last week. Because I used Twitter for this (because it lets me take and pass notes at the same time which would not have been okay in high school but which is okay at a conference), I decided to compile the notes online, with Storify.

If you want those notes, you’re welcome to them. They are here.

They are a work in progress. I still haven’t mined my handwritten notes yet. I will be doing that and adding to the Storify story at some point when my eyes aren’t whirling from organizing my Twitter feed chronologically.

Go on a Beware the Hawk scavenger hunt with me!

This blog is at least 70 percent better when when my readers participate and send me stuff.

So, in that spirit, I’m announcing a contest. Actually, it’s better than a contest. It’s a scavenger hunt to celebrate the release of Beware the Hawk, as a physical book! From tomorrow, March 10,  until the release of Beware the Hawk in physical form, I will be assigning “missions.” And I will be posting (I hope daily) the best submissions.

Here’s how it works: Each day, I will log on and give you a mission. Complete the mission by going on twitter, and tweeting your find with the hashtag #bewarethehawk. Or, if you hate Twitter, post your submission on my Facebook author page for all to see. The best submissions will end up on this blog.

Sometimes I will ask you to take a photo. Sometimes I will ask you to post some information. Sometimes I will ask for a clever bit of writing.

All the missions will be listed on the Scavenger Hunt! page on this blog, so if you’re behind and you need to catch up, you can. Where is this page, you ask? Look at the top of this blog. See the tabs up there? There’s one that says “A.J.,” one that says “Beware the Hawk,” one that says “The Blogroll” and so on? It’s up there.


In some cases these missions will be easier if you live near Boston and New York, because that’s where the book takes place. But if you folks from other areas get creative, I know you’ll be able to participate.

The first person to complete all the missions will win a signed copy of the book and another prize: If the winner has an iPhone, he or she will get a Beware the Hawk skin for his or her phone. (I will post the image when I finish designing it.) If not, I will offer the winner a tee shirt of his or her choice from my store. Including the forbidden Lonely Mountain tee, which you can’t see anymore, although it is there. I’m also planning some more tees, so there will be more of a selection.

The first five people to complete at least nine of the missions will get signed copies of the book.

Anyone who submits is highly likely to have their submissions featured on this blog. Especially if those submissions are clever. Why? Because I love to madprop my homies. That’s why.

Stay tuned folks. The first clue will be posted tomorrow!

You can’t read a review of your book when you’re standing in front of a class.

On Mondays, I have kind of a crazy schedule.

I do a lot of work from home during the day, and then I teach a three hour class in the evenings, so I almost forgot to look for  this review of Beware the Hawk from Brooke of Books Distilled.

Truth be told, I didn’t even see the tweet that announced the review until I was standing in front of my class this evening, teaching them how to use Twitter.

I clicked over to the Twitter’s Interactions page to show them the @replies function, and voila! There was this tweet from Brooke:

I saw that tweet and I was so excited,  but I couldn’t express that excitement just then, because I was trying to teach the finer points of hashtags.

It was torture not to click the link and read the review right there, because I’ve been nervously awaiting this review since the beginning of January, when I attended my MFA program’s alumni day .

This was just after my publisher told me that my release date would be Jan. 17, and that I’d better get cracking, and talk to some reviewers. I instantly thought of Brooke,  a grad school classmate, whose site, Books Distilled, has been posting reviews at a terrific pace since last April. At alumni day, I accosted the poor woman at dinner time, as she was headed to the salad bar, and asked if she’d be interested in reviewing Beware the Hawk.

I was a little nervous about asking a classmate to review my book. It’s always hard when you ask someone you know personally to do something like this, but luckily everything worked out. She agreed to review the book, she enjoyed the book and she even did an interview with me last week.

Please head over to Books Distilled and check this out. And then check back on Thursday, when Brooke posts our interview.

In which the author is confused by Linkedin

Early this morning, I got my latest invitation to join Linkedin.

I get a lot of these, because I’m not on Linkedin. The very first request came a few years ago, when I was working at a newspaper and an old source sent me monthly requests to join Linkedin. I got one every month for at least a year before either he stopped trying to invite me or I left my job and lost access to that email account. I can’t remember which happened first. Anyhow, since then, I’ve received Linkedin requests from all sorts of people: former co-workers, current co-workers, students, family members, people I’ve met once, people I haven’t seen in years and friends of my family.

It seems like everyone’s on LinkedIn, and since I’m a sucker for groupthink, I’m beginning to wonder: Do I need to be on Linkedin? And if so, why?

I have checked out the site. It looks like a non-scandalous, grown-up version of Facebook, where people use phrases like “communication skills” and “can-do attitude” in lieu of “OMG” or “LOL.”

And although I realize the site is used to network professionals, I can’t figure out if it is useful or not.

It’s not as if I don’t love social media. Those who suffer my Facebook status updates and my Twitter feed can attest to the fact that I love The Network. It’s ridiculous. I’ve been waiting for it all my life:  I write words and people react to (or fail to react to) those words almost instantly. It’s instant gratification. Sometimes it’s instant mortification. And it’s done wonders for my writing — Facebook has honed my comedic skills by teaching me that 80 percent of everything I say is not funny.

Same thing with Twitter, which has allowed me to gradually connect with other writers, and which has also taught me how to craft very, very short sentences while including hashtags and replies.  And these two sites are really just the latest in a series of social media innovations that I’ve loved and abused. Before Facebook, I was on Myspace. Before that, Livejournal. Before that, I was on Friendster. And before that, there were various messaging and file-sharing groups that I can barely remember. ICQ and Hotwire (I think it was called HotWire. It could have been HotLine. Livewire? I don’t know. The software I’m talking about is from 1995. It’s been lost in the mists of time.) Also, AIM and unsupervised chat rooms, and even the old Apple chat software Broadcast.

All of them were useful in their own way, just as Facebook and Twitter are useful to me now, as I build a reader base and follow what’s going on with my friends and in the world. But LinkedIn? How is that useful? Isn’t it just a way to get my resumé online?

And so, because I have no answers of my own, I end this blog with an obnoxious crowd-sourcing series of questions. Are you on Linkedin? Is it useful? How? Have you obtained a job or gained contacts by being on Linkedin? Please, corporate types. Help a sister out.


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