Friday, September 30, 2011

So Many Hashtags, So Little Time: Connecting with Readers Part 3

I'll tell you right up front: This post is barely scratching the surface of using hashtags to find readers. But don't stop reading. I'm continuing to investigate, and dig up all the dirt I can, to bring you the best information. Just call me "Bones." But tell me I'm better looking.

(Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Okay, let's move along.)

Seriously, finding out which hashtags are going to effectively get you what you want and need is a lot like digging up a crime scene. You weren't there to see things when they started. You probably don't have a video of it. There are some scattered clues lying around, and probably some witnesses who saw a little something here and there that might help. But you've got to do the hard work of piecing it all together and making sense of it.

I'm not kidding when I say that there is a long list of reader-related hashtags. This is an overview with some beginning tips. I'm going to dig down deeper into them as I have time and report back. But for starters, here is something you absolutely need to know:

Some hashtags connect back to websites. Sometimes, hashtags can seem random. But two of the popular hashtags for readers, #goodreads and #fridayreads, are not random. You can visit their websites, GoodReads and FridayReads, and follow them on Twitter (@goodreads and @fridayreads). Fridayreads is also on Facebook and Tumblr, and Goodreads is on Facebook.

This is important, because both of these sites are truly geared around readers. But since they are meant to allow readers to share, your shameless self-promotion of your book may backfire in this hashtag. However, there are a couple of things you might do to fit better in those hashtags:
  1. Ask your existing readers to post about your book through the Goodreads and Fridayreads hashtags, Facebook pages, and websites. They'll immediately fit in, because they're readers. See?
  2. Post an offer to give the first of your books for free to GoodReads and FridayReads readers. You can only do this if you've got several books done and ready for purchase. And you'll have to define how many books you want to give away. Or chapters. Or short stories.
  3. Promote a contest of some kind. You can really get creative. Maybe the first reader from goodreads who posts about your book through Twitter wins a signed copy from you. Or the first Facebook mention on Fridayreads wins a free copy of your newest book.
  4. Clip art illustration by Pamela Perry
    created for Acclaim Images.
  5. Find out which of your friends and family readers is already on Goodreads or Fridayreads, and ask them to post about your book after they read it. (Of course they're reading it! They're your family and friends. They have to read it.)
I'll mention a third reader site, LibraryThing, separately. It's smaller than the other two:  4,000 followers to GoodRead's 188,000+ (the big ape in the room) and FridayRead's 4,300 (small but scrappy). Author Moses Siregar recently tweeted about giving away 100 free ebooks through LibraryThing. So, you can see that a giveaway or contest is a good idea. And smaller sites like LibraryThing and FridayReads are still capable, regardless of size, of getting your book and your name out there.

Bottom line for today's advice: Go where the readers are. And then treat them the way you would want to be treated if you were a reader. You wouldn't want to be spammed, would you? But I'll bet you wouldn't mind getting to know people, finding out about books other people have read and liked, and winning contests. So give them what they want (that is, what you'd want if you were in their shoes).

Next Friday, more on reader hashtags, and how to make use of them. In the meantime, if you have tips, suggest them. Want me to hunt something down? Tell me. And if you've tried one of the approaches mentioned on today's blog and it worked (or didn't), share what happened.

See you again soon!

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door

I know. I know some people don’t seem to have any brains. But I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to you. You have plenty of brains. But you live in a world that tempts people daily to check their brains at the door. Thousands upon thousands of people give in to that temptation. Don’t let it happen to you!

Copyright (c) 9-2007 by wmackie
Case in point: The message about Facebook charging a fee. Don’t play dumb. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve seen the same, copied messages in your friends’ status updates probably a hundred times in the last week. Maybe a thousand times. Maybe a million times. This number is not as far-fetched as it sounds, because some of your friends posted it at least twice or three times. Mine did.

Like any chain letter, Internet rumor, or fake email scam, these Facebook messages get great circulation for one reason and one reason only:  People read the message, accept it at face value, and then forward it instead of checking it out for themselves first to see if it’s accurate.

That’s why you’ve seen so many of your friends and family warning you in CAPITAL LETTERS that Facebook is going to start charging you a fee for its service. First of all, it’s not true (here’s the real dope).

Second of all, if it ever becomes true, let me remind you of this simple economic truth: You can’t have everything for free all the time. Other people have to make a living. If Facebook ever charges you for its services and it doesn’t fit in your budget, then go ahead and leave Facebook. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just an online software program. You’ll be okay whether you use it or not.

Unlike water, which you actually do need every day to survive. And you willingly pay for that at an average of $2 a bottle, right?

By the way, what’s with the idea that if you pass on the message, your profile is going to turn blue and Facebook will be free for you? That makes no sense. There’s no profit in it. But you have to think about it to see that…which is why I say, don’t check your brains at the door. Instead, use them. It’s good for your brains to do some work once in a while.

Enuff Z Nuff: the one band I never
listened to in the 80s. Photo courtesy
When your brains are at work, you can figure out when something is actually useful, and how exactly to make use of it. Case in point: Hovering your mouse over the name of a friend on Facebook and deselecting "Comments and Likes." When you do this, it doesn't protect your privacy, even though that's what the messages being passed around by your friends might suggest.) Here's how to protect your privacy better, courtesy of Naked Security.)

What it does do, though, is it makes your home page more manageable and pleasant for you. It allows you to choose what you do and do not what to see in your news and timeline. So if you're tired of seeing it every time your spandex-loving friend clicks "like" on a post by 80s rockers Enuff Z Nuff, then go ahead and uncheck "Comments and Likes" for that friend.

Now, when you use your brains instead of leaving them at the door, you can work out the truth behind a lot of these rumors and misconceptions. But if your brains need help (mine do sometimes), you can always do a Google search to find out more information. Or visit the Help page on Facebook. Or you can follow computer experts like the people at Sophos to see what those in the know are saying. There's always help out there. So go get help from people qualified to give it. (That's probably not your third cousin who is a nice guy, even though he was inbred.)

Bottom line: Don't be tempted to pass along information unless you've checked it out first to see if it's true. You'll save yourself a whole lot of trouble. And you'll look as brilliant as Einstein compared to the people who don't think about what they're copying and pasting and forwarding. Remember, a mind is a terrible thing to waste...especially if it's yours.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Muse Reviews: Treasure from the Storm by Ellen Sherrill

A delightful Christian historical romance written by a talented author/friend of mine.

Apart from Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, which arguably is partly science fiction/fantasy with its time travel elements, I simply don't read many romances, no matter what kind they are. I am not the typical romance reader. But I do like a good book with characters that stand out and impress themselves into my memory. And that's what you get when you read Treasure from the Storm.

Ellen Sherrill is one of those authors who comes up with characters that leap off the pages. And that makes reading Treasure from the Storm a delight. From the moment you see heroine Sugar Magnolia in action, you will fall in love with her. (So will Noah, the man she tends back to health, but more on that later.)

One of the challenges a romance author faces is that it's not easy to write heroines who stand out. The more unique the heroine is, the harder it may be for readers to imagine themselves in the heroine's shoes. But a heroine who is too bland can turn off people who read for more than just a casual fantasy. This is why I don't read romances much.

But Sherrill masterfully pushes aside this dilemma by creating characters, like Sugar, who are so likable and relatable that you end up rooting for them. It's like watching a good friend in a happy relationship. You just root for them to win. Sugar becomes that kind of a friend to the reader: she's a hard worker; she's a fighter who has faced hardship but is determined to rise above it; she is kind to people that society normally tosses aside. Like I said, you'll just like her.

When she finds a man washed up on the shore during a terrible hurricane, she risks herself to rescue him and nurses him back to health. He finally wakes, and discovers he has amnesia. This is a common trope, but in Sherrill's hands, you won't mind, because Noah (as he decides to call himself) is also likable. He's polite and caring; he engages with everyone on the staff, playing no favorites; and he is clearly a gentleman. (What female reader wouldn't love that?)

In pursuing their interest in each other, Sugar and Noah have to contend with the possibility that he'll recover his memories and discover that he is not free to pursue her, for any number of reasons. And if he doesn't recover his memories, what will he do for a living? In his "Noah Doe" state, he has no money, no prospects, and no idea what to do with himself. After his memory starts to return, other complications arise. Sherrill manages a nice sense of rising and falling action to keep you reading.

The Christian element is present, but not overdone. It's easy to see and believe that faith is a part of the characters' lives, though Sugar has some doubts that arise from her troubled past. And the local pastor does give two short sermons, but they are not overly preachy. 

A nice element to the book is the look at what it is like to be a member of a minority (specifically African-American) in Biloxi, a southern stronghold, over a century ago. The subplot ties nicely back into the main plot, and it enriches the overall experience of the novel.

My only criticism is that one of the subplots, featuring an old flame of Sugar's, seems to drop off rather than being tied up neatly. But Sherrill is a growing novelist, and her work stands far above many other Christian novels I've read. So I can overlook this one small flaw.

It needs to be said that Sherrill is a friend of mine. We attended the same writers group while she worked on this novel, her fourth. She is a great person, and I want her to do well. But it also needs to be said that if I didn't like her book, I wouldn't be reviewing it here. With all sincerity, I can highly recommend Treasure from the Storm.

Bottom line: Treasure from the Storm is one of the best Christian romances I have read. I'd read it again for the delightful characters who are so lifelike that I wouldn't be surprised to run into them in the local Walmart. (Or wherever characters from novels hang out.) If you like romances, Christian books, or historical fiction, this one is worth reading. Order it through Westbow Press or Amazon.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Connecting With Readers Part 2: The Twitter Hashtag

The hashtag. It has nothing to do with illegal drugs. Or childhood games (you're it). Nope, it is more humble and yet more powerful—it's an essential tool on Twitter. And if you want to network (who doesn't?) with other writers, agents, editors, and publishers, or reviewers, or bloggers, or—you guessed it, readersthen you have to master the art of using hashtags.

Believe it or not, this is a skill that a lot of people haven't figured out. I know, because I've seen it a million times. And you have too. The tweet with about three relevant words, a link to who knows where, and every hashtag that can fit within the 140 character limit.

That's not the way to do it. Here's why: Networking online is largely about getting to know people, developing relationships, being social. A single tweet with too many hashtags in it is not social. It's like taking a bullhorn into Times Square and yelling, "Hey, if you're male, female, straight, gay, local, and from out of town, I'd like you to come over here." 

First of all, no one worth his or her salt is coming over to you in Times Square if you shout at them like that, because they know you want to talk at them instead of with them. And second, the ones who do come over... Let's just say you probably don't want them around. In fact, don't even make eye contact. Sneak away while you still can.

In other words, it's not a good idea to tweet like you're shooting scattershot. Instead, focus your tweets to a specific group of individuals. Think about them. What do they need? Want? Like? Then share that with them. Meet them where they're at. You know what I mean?

Even if you have tweets to share with every hashtag on the planet, you can phrase the idea differently and send it to a different group during different times of the day. You're more likely to figure out which hashtag groups fit you best, and you may also learn what times of day are most likely to get you the responses you want. That's valuable information.

Consider sharing certain ideas only with one or two hashtag groups. I take this approach on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Sometimes I communicate the same thing on all three channels. Sometimes on two. Sometimes, one channel gets something unique. That's my way of making relationships special. I don't always say the same things to all my friends. And I don't always say the same things on all my social networks. I think this can apply to hashtags too. Try it, and see what you think. It may or may not work for you. But at least, it can get you thinking about how to dialogue on Twitter instead of giving a monologue.

Before you go hunting for readers, practice building online relationships with other writers. Other writers like to share information that you may need. That's why you're here reading this blog, right? To see what you can learn. And that's cool with me, because that's why I'm writing it. We're in this together. Bottom line, writers do like to talk to one another. And there are a lot of hashtags to facilitate conversing and talking craft. You may know them already, but here's a short list for reference:


I know there are others. Search them out and use them. But here's a BIG tip: Get to know the people who use that hashtag, and get to know how they use that hashtag and why. Example: the #pubwrite people like to use their hashtag for conversation (to foster relationships). They're not too keen on people fouling up the #pubwrite pipeline with endless self-promotions. That's probably true for all the writer hashtags, although other groups may simply ignore you instead of telling you to quit it. Either way, though, you won't build many relationships if you only talk about yourself. (Save that for Facebook and phone calls to your parents.)

Let the relationships evolve naturally, and be genuine. That's my approach because it's my conviction that it's best for everyone if they see the real me, but I think it also makes sense to build your platform around the real me. So, when you follow me on Twitter, when you read my blog, you get me. Not the packaged brand me. The person me. 

You'll recognize the people who take this same approach on Twitter through these signs: They talk about more than just themselves. They respond to your comments and questions when they can. They pay attention to others. They engage in give and take. They don't take a bullhorn and shout.

Which leads me to tip #2: When you connect with others on Twitter (friends, fellow writers, industry people, readers), the responses you get are going to vary. Be flexible and vary with them. Some people prefer direct messages, and that's okay, as long as they're doing more than asking you to follow them on Facebook. Some people won't ever respond back. But if they have useful information to share, follow them anyway and forward their tweets sometimes. Other people will respond to your tweets with a long conversation. Personally, as long as it's not a weird conversation, I chat as much as I'm able, because it's a chance to build a friendship. If it's weird though, all bets are off. (Tip #3: don't be weird.)

And there are a priceless few who work hard to get to know others, share information, answer your questions, and otherwise show willingness to help you out, even though their networks are huge. But remember, they're still people too. They have needs, wants, ideas of their own. They have demands on their time. So, don't bombard them. Respect them. Treat them like good folks, because they are. 

Use the writer hashtags to meet people, to gain knowledge about the writing world, to learn how to master Twitter, and to practice being yourself. Consider it necessary preparation for how you're going to connect with the readers you want to buy your book. If it helps, think of it like this: Your online presence is like the cover of the book you want to sell. It is the first thing potential readers see, and they will have a visceral reaction to it, the same way they react to a cover by picking up the book or putting it down. 

Next week, I'll be posting on hashtags that can help you connect with readers. In the meantime, if you have other hashtags for connecting with writers, I'd love to hear about them. And let me know if you agree or disagree with the ideas I've offered in this post. What's working for you? What do you think?

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ten Random Things About Me

I'm participating in the Write Campaign, and we're playing a little game with our fellow bloggers. I've been tagged as "it" by Barbara McDowell, whose blog can be found here.

Joe Elliott playing guitar. Sigh!
In the spirit of playing along, I'm using today to list ten random things about me. I'm not sure what this will reveal about me, beyond the fact that I'm definitely unusual. Here goes.

#1 - I am a huge rock chick. I love Bon Jovi. I love Def Leppard. I love Heart, Pat Benatar, Tom Petty, Kansas, The Cars, The Police, etc., etc., etc. But Def Leppard is my favorite because I have had a crush on their bass player, who has the body of a god (or a really active soccer player), since I was about 13 years old.

#2 - I wrote an essay on vampire myth and folklore that got published in the American Mensa Journal. Because I like finding ways to merge my scifi nerddom, my braniac tendencies, and my love of writing. Who wouldn't?

Mark from Battle of the Planets
#3 - I was a huge fan of the anime series, Battle of the Planets, when I was growing up. I still love anime as a result. (It's kind of a coincidence that one of the cartoon characters was tall and lean, with shaggy hair, kind of like Def Leppard's lead singer. I insist that this does not make me predictable, although it probably does.)

#4 - I had an audio tape recording of Star Wars that I used to play over and over. It was adapted and edited from the original movie, and was not an exact word-for-word audio. This is why I can quote Star Wars dialogue at about 75-80% instead of 100%. If it had been word-for-word without edits, I think I'd be able to quote that movie perfectly.

#5 - I used to do homework for other classes during my Honors Chemistry class because the chemistry class was too easy, and I was bored. (This changed when I took AP Chemistry and actually had to work at it.)

#6 - I've had the chance to fly in a prop plane over Angel Falls, Venezuela. Angel Falls is the highest waterfall in the world. While in the air, I saw a circular rainbow reflected in the clouds, I guess because there was so much mist in the air to reflect the light.

#7 - You know that game where you have to figure out what one food you'd want with you on a desert island? I can't answer it. I like food too much. Maybe I'd want provolone cheese. Or chocolate. Or spaghetti with bread crumbs and anchovies (which is a hugely popular dish in southern Italy and Sicily). Or cannolis... You can see my problem.

#8 - I love The Lord of the Rings novels. I also love William Faulkner and Shakespeare. I think this makes me a more versatile reader than many people I know. Ooh, I also like Tales of the Teen Titans. What can I say?

#9 - I am a Christian, and I love God. I think He's very cool. This proves that not all intellectuals are atheists. In fact, I think God is way smarter than I am, and this fact impresses me.

#10 - I like to engage in what I call "happy dancing." This is when you don't worry about how you look when you dance. You just dance however you want, moving however makes you happy. because the music is great and you want to have fun. I think everyone should engage in happy dancing because it would take the pressure off looking cool, and allow everyone to have fun. I know a lot of people are reluctant to do this. Even I usually do it only at home, when no one's watching. But it is a blast. I encourage you to try it sometime. 

Now, I know I'm supposed to tag other bloggers to do this. Haven't had time to ask anyone in advance of this post if they'd be willing to participate. So let's just say that if you want to do ten random things about you (or even five), go ahead and do it on your blog and include a link to your post in the comments here.

Copyright (c) by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Muse Reviews: Heat Wave by "Richard Castle"

An interesting piece of cross-marketing by ABC. And a beach-read good time.

Have you seen Castle? I'm referring to the TV show on ABC starring Nathan Fillion as a writer who shadows a NYPD detective as research for his mystery novels.

I mention this because we are now in a new world of publishing. We've got ebooks, enhanced ebooks, self-publishing, vanity presses, print-only books, e-only books. We've got Twitter feeds that try to write a novel, one tweet at a time. (That's 140 characters, or about 20 words at a time.) We've got Twitter feeds that turn into sitcoms (as in S&*!$ My Dad Says). In this new world, cross-pollination is necessary. The seeds of your work have to reach far afield and morph into all kinds of entertainment forms.

Even TV shows are no exception, which is why ABC is taking advantage of the new world by publishing the novels that fictional TV character Rick Castle is writing. Heat Wave is Castle's first novel based on his police department ride-alongs. And to fill in the illusion even more, the novel even has Mr. Fillion's picture on the back, and a little author bio that reads as tongue-in-cheek as any other real novelist's bio ever has.

As an aside, I hope the ghost-writer has a good payment deal going. He's not getting credit, which for a tie-in novel is rare. So if he (or she) is smart, he (or she) is getting a higher paycheck than the typical tie-in novelists, who get paid partly in credit for their own work.

But I digress. The real point is this: Is Heat Wave worth reading? I'd say yes, but it's a qualified yes. If you're looking for something similar to the TV show, you'll get it. But you'll also be a tad disappointed. There's just something that Fillion and his co-star Stana Katic (who plays Det. Kate Beckett) bring to the characters that is missing from their novel counterparts.

However, if you can put aside the comparison between novel and TV, and just enjoy the novel, you'll be okay. Heat Wave is a decent beach read. It moves fast. It's lively and easy to follow. It's a good mystery. But it's not the kind of series I'd come back to if it were just a novel series. It's actually the TV show that makes me consider reading the next novel in the series, Naked Heat. (Wasn't that the one with the sex scene that Kate sneakily tried to read in the bathroom stall, only to get caught by Castle?)

My point is that it's the TV characters and their reactions to the so-called Nikki Heat novels that make me want to read the novels. Not the novels themselves. It's not that the novels are poorly written; they're good. But something about Heat Wave just doesn't rise above good to become great for me. I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it just suffers by comparison to the TV show.

But Heat Wave moved up the bestseller charts when it first came out, so what do I know? I think that's a sign that finding as many ways as possible to reform and resell your novel is the way to go in the new publishing world. Consumers want more. If you give them more, they'll buy it. And maybe, just maybe, your offerings in every entertainment stream will be satisfying. Either way, it's worth a try.

Bottom line: Go ahead and get Heat Wave at your local library. They have it. See what you think. If nothing else, it's a good book for that beach read or that plane ride. Fun enough, fast enough, without needing too much thought.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Connecting with Readers: Part 1

What do I mean by "connecting with readers?"

To explain, I have to begin at the beginning. And when I come to the end, I'll stop. (Thank you, Lewis Carroll.) The beginning is a little "get-to-know-you" project called the Write Campaign. That's what this little badge is on my blog for. 
If you're interested, visit the Rach Writes Blog 

The campaign is about more than getting to know other bloggers and writers.It's intended to help you build your platform—otherwise known as building an audience and a plan to reach that audience so that when you have books to sell, you already have people who want to buy. A lot of people, ideally. This makes publishers happy, since they won't have to do as much work or take as much risk in putting out your work, yet they'll stand to make more money in the bargain, because you already have lots of readers lined up to spend their cash on your books. A strong platform/built-in audience is good for business all around.

I'm learning how to build that platform, so I'm participating in the Write Campaign. And as I've been getting to know other writers, it occurred to me: Even though we're all networking—and that's great!—we still need to do more. We need to connect with readers. Pure readers. Not writers who will read our stuff if we read theirs. (Not that this is bad. I like connecting with other writers and helping them out by buying and reading their work. But it's still different than finding a pure reader.) A pure reader is someone who reads purely because he or she wants to read. It's the person who browses the bookshelves and sees a new book that looks interesting, so they take a risk and buy it. It's a reader who has no agenda to connect with writers others than the fact that they like reading. Pure readers are worth their weight in gold. Or worth their weight in every book they buy with your name on it.

This begs the question: How do we writers find pure readers? Especially in a publishing world that is changing, and an online world filled with 99-cent ebooks by everyone who wants to have something in print, whether it is good or not?

And more importantly, how do readers wade through those 99-cent ebooks to find the good stuff? That's what they deserve, anyway. It's what I would want as a reader. The best books. How do readers find the best of the books that have flooded the ebook market?

Well, these little questions have turned into a big research project. It's bigger than I realized,as many things are. So, to really answer these questions, my planned one post is going to become several posts over the next several Fridays. If you're interested, keep stopping by for more information as I get it.

I'm still putting together my ideas, but here is what you can expect over the next several weeks as I explore this topic of finding and connecting with readers:

  • Twitter people that might be worth following as you build your platform
  • Twitter hashtags to help you get in on the conversation in areas where your potential readers might be
  • Websites that offer a higher quality approach to ebooks and connecting writers and readers
  • Bloggers and blog posts that give good advice for finding readers, building your audience, and sifting through the ebook glut to find the gold nuggets (the best of the best ebooks)
  • Interviews, if possible, with people who have built their own platform and what they did to do it (this part will take some time, I expect, but be patient; I'll find people willing to talk and share their ideas)
  • Podcasts and podcast episodes that you need to be listening to if you want to learn as much as you can about getting your books to stand out in the marketplace
  • Literally anything else that I turn up that might be useful to writers looking for an audience
  • Literally anything else that I turn up that might be useful to readers looking for good new writers whose work is good enough to spend money on
As I gather this information and share it, I definitely want to hear from you. The good. The bad. The ugly. The disturbing. The beautiful. Anything you have to suggest that will help answer the questions I'm seeking to answer. Any additional questions you have that you'd like to see me investigate and address. We are going to rock this casbah to the ground! Stay tuned, and expect good things here. I promise to do my best to get you the best. Why? Because you're my reader, and you deserve it!

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Alien-Hunters: Not What You Might Expect

Sometimes it's hard to be a science-fiction fan. Sci-fi fans want the future now. And we want it to look good. We're so excited about it that even the most innocent of headlines can create a little too much excitement.

So you can imagine that when I went online to MSNBC this morning, I was incredibly surprised and pleased to read the headline:

Alien-hunters add new super-Earths to their list

Who doesn't want this guy at their party?

How thrilling! I mean, there are more alien hunters out there? More predators? And they're making the morning news round-up? That's what I call "fun, fun, fun!"

And just think... They like the Earth so much that they are looking for new "super-Earths" to hunt on.

That's right, baby! The Earth is rocking the top of the A-list in places to visit for extra-terrestrials from faraway galaxies looking for a little fun, a little relaxation, and a little hunting. Kind of like E.T. Club Med. That'll help the economy. Sweet!

Then, of course, I had the natural crash and burn that comes with realizing most of the world doesn't live in an imagination filled with Skywalkers, Starbucks, Kirks, and Captain Mals.

I clicked on the headline only to realize that sadly, it's just reruns on our SETI program. The alien-hunters are only human, like me. And the super-Earths are just some postulated planets that may or may not exist around gas giants. What a let-down.

I suppose the headline Facebook 'If I Die' app kills your computer doesn't have anything to do with Transformers or Terminators either.


Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Muse Reviews: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

One of the best serial novelists of our time. And he's an urban fantasy/mystery writer. Go team sci-fi!

If you're a science fiction/fantasy fan, then you know there are two Harrys. One is the ultra teen heartthrob, Harry Potter. (Kind of like Justin Bieber, only with wands.) And then there's the Harry that adults love...the inimitable Harry Dresden, the famed wizard detective of Chicago.

Now, I've heard a lot of buzz about Harry Dresden over the past few years. But the Dresden Files is a series of books, so I was reluctant to pick them up. Series take too long to read, and it often seems you, dear reader, will never get to the end. But thankfully, author Jim Butcher makes each Harry Dresden novel a standalone book. If you need to stop after book 1, you can. If you want to pick up book 5 before reading book 4, you can. I wouldn't recommend it, but you can do it.

Yet the story of Harry Dresden builds and builds, and by the time a reader gets to Ghost Story, which is book 13, you'll be glad you read the books in order.

You'll also be glad you kept reading through the entire series of books. It is amazing that Butcher can keep Harry Dresden's life and experiences interesting, even after all this time. He's created a rich, urban fantasy world in which the magical world of fairies, vampires, werewolves, and wizards overlap with the Chicago us normal humans are familiar with.

And when you think Butcher can't figure out anything more clever to amaze you with, or more dramatic to keep you reading, he pulls off another hat trick and one-ups himself. (Just wait until you read book 12, Changes, and you'll understand. After that book, I couldn't see where Butcher would go next, and then Ghost Story came along and blew me away.)

Butcher is terrific at writing scenes and drama that keep the story moving forward. It's hard to get bored reading a Dresden novel, that's for sure.

Harry himself is a great character, very endearing, especially as it seems to take him forever to realize just how powerful and therefore intimidating a wizard he can be. He's kind of a nerd too. And he's smart and sarcastic. And he'll do the crazy things others wouldn't do, precisely because he believes in taking care of other people. He's the kind of guy you'd want to hang around with.

And that's one of many reasons I keep coming back to these books as a reader. Maybe I'll get tired of Harry one day. But I doubt it. In fact, I'm now caught up and finished with Butcher's most recent Harry Dresden book (Ghost Story), and I can't wait for the next one to come out.

In other words, I'm addicted.

You will be too. The Dresden Files are a great series of books, entertaining, heartfelt, well-written, and a blast of a good time. Definitely worth your investment, and highly recommended.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Routine and the Writer: A Good Match

I've been thinking about the idea of routine as an aid to writing this week, thanks to fellow writer and blogger Hektor Karl's blog post this week, Is Writing Less More Difficult?

Hektor recently switched his schedule from daily posting to posting only 2-3 times a week, and he noticed that the change in his routine made it harder for him to commit to writing, even though he wrote less than before. I know what he means. There is something about having a daily routine that really helps a writer to be productive.

Being committed to something daily (whatever it is) has a way of creating forward momentum. Doing that thing every day means doing it today. And isn't that the greatest battle we face? Consistency. Man, consistency is a hard trait to master. It is so easy to say, "I'll do that tomorrow. It's no big deal." Until you keep putting it off to some tomorrow that never seems to become a today for you.

Procrastination is one of my enemies. And it's a clever one. There is always a good reason to put something (like my writing) off until tomorrow. I'm tired. Or I'm busy. Or I'm not sure what to do. I've got writer's block. Or I really need to make that call. I'm hungry. Thirsty. I need to exercise. I need to get the laundry done. I need to get to the store, run that errand, finish that unfinished task. That crooked picture has to be straightened. Right now. It's too late to write. Too early. Too near lunchtime. Too...

You know what I mean. The reasons are innumerable. But they're there. Some are silly, but others are quite rational. Yet they are all still excuses to keep us from writing, or whatever other habit we're trying to develop.

This is where a set routine really comes in handy. Especially if it's daily. Especially if it's set in stone. Especially if it's set at a specific time and specific location. If we know we need to show every day at the same time and same place, we tend to do it. Perhaps that's why writers guides always suggest setting up a time of day and a place that's all your own to do your writing. It's a way of establishing that unbreakable routine you need to be consistent.

I have routines for other areas of my life, like exercise. But my routine for writing is...well... Okay, I don't have a routine. I fit it in when I can, which means I don't do it as often as I might if I just started an official routine. So, I'm giving this idea some thought and trying to come up with a routine that will work for me. I think it will help.

How about you? What are your writing routines? What works best for you? Do you struggle with consistency, like I do, or have you found a way to master that trait? As always, I'd love to know what you have to share. Thanks for stopping by!

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Creating Waves: Remembering My Brother's Influence

Our lives are so greatly touched by the people around us. It is as though every human being we know is like a boat passing along the sea of our lives. Their passage leaves a wake, affecting us. A boat's wake moves the sea around it, stirring things in its passing. And that's how other people affect our lives.

It is more than a year and a half since my brother Mark passed away, untimely, unexpected, unfairly. Death is never really fair, of course, but when it shows up for one who is young and apparently healthy, it is almost sociopathic in its behavior. Sick. Unfair.

My brother was a powerful influence in my life. He taught me how to love. He taught me the power of overcoming, since he had a lot of uphills to climb. Sometimes he'd get tired. Sometimes cranky. But he kept persevering. I admire that. I miss it.

I also miss his impressive ability to understand and sympathize with other people. While he never liked fools very much, and never liked people who behaved dishonorably, he also had a terrific capacity for listening to others and learning from them and speaking into their lives. That's probably why he had so many people on his Facebook page, all offering their condolences and going out of their way to help my sister-in-law and the special needs son he left behind.

It's impossible not to think about Mark at holiday time. From Labor Day on, I expect I'll have a bit of a roller coaster ride. That's okay. I wouldn't have it any other way, because I accept that the death of a person who is special to you creates very large waves. It takes time for them to wane. And it's okay to miss people, isn't it?

I normally don't say much about my personal life and family on the blog, but I wanted to take time to write about my brother today because of another blogger, Raine Thomas, who wrote a powerful blog post about the loss of her brother a year ago. I invite you to check out what she had to say. It is a beautiful post.

Unlike Raine, I haven't published a novel yet. But I'm working on one right now. And one reason I want to finish it and get it into print (even if I must self-publish) is to include the dedication I've written: To my brother, who asked. You see, he is the first person who officially asked me to dedicate a book to him. That's the faith he had in me. He trusted me to finish what I've started. So I will.

And I encourage you to think a little bit about the way your life has been influenced by those who have a special place in your life. Take a moment to look at those waves they have created on your sea, and if it's good, say a quiet thank you to the universe for that gift. It really is a good thing. And it stays with you long after the person is gone.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved. And dedicated to my brother, because after all, he asked first. Smart man!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Muse Reviews: The Hole in Our Gospel

A provocative book about Christianity that will make you take a good look at how you live and whether you are truly living like Christ in this world. And yes, it is a must-read.

If the title The Hole in Our Gospel isn't enough to grab you (and I don't know how that could be, but you never know), then maybe the subtitle will provoke you: The Answer That Changed My Life and Just Might Change the World. With words like that on the cover, you're either going to pick up this book immediately or you're going to turn away from it wholeheartedly.

But isn't that the way it is with the Gospel? Jesus Himself said, people are going to take it or leave it. Not a lot of riding the fence in His way of doing things.

If you have a chance to pick up this book, then do so. Don't be deterred by its provocative title. The book is well worth the time and effort, for Christian and non-Christian alike. Do be prepared, however, because more than this title are going to challenge you. The chapters, one by one, are going to make you think about how you live and what you value.

The author, Richard Stearns, has been president of the charity World Vision for ten years. He wrote this book based on the lessons he has learned about the way we often live our Christianity in America, versus what the Bible says. His point is simple but profound in its implications: We often try to live as Christians, but we fail because we keep stumbling over the hole that we've allowed to exist in our Gospel. There's a key thing we haven't been doing, and because of it, we are not able to fully embrace all that Jesus teaches us to do.

What is the hole? It's summed up in a verse from the book of James: Pure and undefiled religion is feeding the widows and orphans, and keeping ourselves clean. We struggle with the latter part, and maybe that's because we're spending too much time on ourselves, rather than doing the first part.

The statistics in the book are staggering: Only 5% of the world's Christians live in the U.S., yet we own 50% of the wealth. Over a billion people worldwide live below the poverty line (defined as earning at least $1 a day, enough to feed themselves daily.) It would take $65 billion to feed those below the poverty line daily, relieving them of all the problems that come when they don't eat regularly. Americans only give an average of 2.58% of their income to our churches, but if we gave an average of just 10%, we'd raise an extra $168 billion a year.

That's enough to feed the poor ($65 billion), and still have over $100 billion left over to do other things too!

So, what's our excuse for not making this kind of difference in our world? Stearns challenges us all to consider where our money is going. Where our time and talents are going. And whether we might want to do something that will change people's lives and free them to live. To really live.

The needs of the world seem overwhelming if you think you need to fix them all. But if you simply choose to be reasonable and do the little bit you can do, coupled with the little bits that everyone else can do, then together we could literally make it possible for people around the world to step up from subsistence to enough stability that they can begin to reach for their own dreams, make a difference in their communities, and share their talents.

Stearns believes that is what the Gospel is all about. Helping people live...body, soul, and spirit. You may not be as sure about it as he is. But his book will go a long way toward convincing you. If he provokes even a few people to do more than they are doing now to help others, he will have accomplished a great deal. But hopefully, he'll do even more... He'll provoke a revolution that radically influences how we live and how we interact with the parts of the world we may never visit, yet have the potential to change through our giving, our time, and our sharing.

Jesus did it in His time. Now, we can do the same.

For more about The Hole in Our Gospel, visit the book's website.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.