Monday, October 31, 2011

The Muse Reviews: National Novel Writing Month

Another quick and dirty review for your Monday morning...

In case you haven't heard, November is National Novel Writing Month. Starting tomorrow, some of your friends will be racing to write at least 1,667 words a day for the next 30 days, to reach a total of 50,000 words by midnight on November 30.

This is the equivalent of running a marathon in about two hours. If you hit 50,000 words or more in a month, you deserve to win a prize. It's not easy.

But it can be fun. And that's part of the goal of Nanowrimo (as the insiders call it, because we don't have time to write or spell it out and write our 50,000 words too; some of us even call it Nano). If you're participating in Nanowrimo or thinking about it, go in with a plan to have fun. You can do that by writing something outrageous, like a woman I spoke to yesterday. She wrote a 50,000 story about a lost sock. The story ends on a cliffhanger: Her main character literally is hanging off a cliff at the 50,000 word mark. She hasn't finished the story, but she clearly had fun!

You can also have fun by participating in your local Nanowrimo group. My group has write-ins where we all gather together with our computers and kindly guilt each other into writing. We also have a character graveyard, and when you kill a character off, you get to make their headstone and put it in the graveyard. That's popular. Morbid, but popular.

And if you want to be serious about it, Nanowrimo is a good way to develop a daily habit of writing if you don't have one. It's also a way to challenge yourself to write more than you usually do. This will be my third year doing it, and I've gotten better at it each year. This time around, I have an actual plot line. It's sketchy, but it's complete from start to finish, with climax and epilogue planned too. I know the characters. I've got themes and imagery in mind. Oh, and it's a trilogy so I'm starting with book one. I am more than ready to write. 

I think Nanowrimo has helped me to get to this point. It's not the only factor. My determination, my friends, and my writers critique group have all helped too. But Nanowrimo is the tool I've used to help myself write, and keep writing, even if the writing goes off track or gets muddy. It's helped me beat some of the fear I feel about writing something that may not be great.

If you're interested in participating, visit the Nanowrimo website and get started. There's no fee (though they encourage donations), and there's no prize except for the pride you feel at writing more words in a month than some people write in a lifetime. And the camaraderie you have with people like me, who are in with you and will encourage you all the way.

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

Friday, October 28, 2011

Don't Pout at Klout (Not Too Much, Anyway)

I'm still investigating ways to reach readers, and I have full plans to post more on that when I can. In the meantime, let's tackle a small explosion that burst into Twitter this week: the revisions to your Klout score.

What is Klout? It's a software program/website that analyzes your Twitter and other social media accounts to tell you how much clout you supposedly have. Do people listen to you? Do you have influence? Not sure? Let the computer tell you, with a number on a scale of one to 100 so that you can feel wildly better than your peers (like GetGlue, which I've never heard of but which has a K+ score of 92). Or so you can feel completely inadequate with your lowly 42 or 52. You mediocre person, you.

This week, Klout changed how they calculate the score, which they said will mostly move people up in the rankings, although everyone I know has reported their K+ score has gone down. Many sad writers out there today. But I'd like to remind everyone to keep things in perspective.

First of all, Klout suggests ways that you can improve your K+ score, and frankly, it's like having your mom standing behind you and telling you to get to work. Mom... I mean, right. I don't get online often enough some days. I don't make conversations as much as I could. But Twitter, et al, are "social" media. I hear Klout saying, "You're not being social enough!" Guilty as charged. Working on it.

Second of all, Klout is useful in its own way, but it's not almighty. When I look at my personal score results, it turns out that Klout thinks I'm influential over 11 topics. Some make sense, like writing and spirituality, because I talk about both. Others make no sense. Klout says I'm influential on the subject of Prince. Prince? When is the last time I've tweeted about Prince? I think I might have tweeted about him once. Once! That tweet didn't go global. Weird. Even weirder is that Klout thinks I'm influential about skiing, and I don't even ski, so if I tweeted about it, it must really have been in passing as some kind of a joke or metaphor or something.

As far as I can tell, there is no way to tell Klout, "Whachoo talking about, Willis?" A phrase which seems highly appropriate here. I don't know what Klout is talking about. But if it can't figure out that I am not influential about Phoenix because I never talk about it and I don't live there, then maybe its score isn't exactly that accurate either.

Bottom line, don't stress too much about this. Yes, Klout is important. But real clout is more important. And you have more control over that than a computer can tell you. Keep doing what you're already doing....connecting, chatting, making new contacts, providing useful information, being funny or charming or whatever it is that makes you you. Klout will catch up to you, if you just stick with your commitment to keep reaching out to the world on social media.

If you're interested, here's a link to Media Bistro's coverage of the Klout changes. Or read about it from the horse's mouth: Klout's blog.

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Love-Hate Relationship of Art and Faith

If you've followed me on this blog or on Twitter for a while, you know that I'm a writer - an artist. You also know that I'm a Christian - a person of faith. I don't consider those two pieces of me to be in diametrical opposition, though sometimes it seems I'm in the minority for thinking that way.

For many people, there seems to be a war between art and faith, particularly art and Christianity. It's an odd struggle, given that God is nothing if not the most creative artist ever seen. Don't believe me? Take a walk in a garden and study the flowers and their leaves. The effect is even better if you choose a botanical garden, because you have more samples to examine.

It'll strike you at some point to wonder: "Why are these leaves fuzzy? Those leaves aren't. But these are. And why is this color on this type of flower, but not on that one?" The more you focus on the variety of the flowers and the leaves, the more you'll appreciate just how wildly talented an artist God is. And how extravagant. He went over the top in designing the world; there's no denying it.

Maybe you'll follow up by wondering, "If there's so much variety in creation, why not have plenty of variety in the arts?" The answer is, of course there should be variety! It's the spice of life, and God loves a spicy meal, as far as I can see.

Art, and specifically the art of writing, is meant to entertain and communicate. There are as many ways to do that as there are people in the world. Not everyone is going to follow the same route. And if there are those of us who choose to bring our faith to the artistic table in a way that doesn't fit the narrow Christian bookshelves, then so be it.

Perhaps it is fear or denial that makes it hard to express faith in an art form that can trust the reader to make up his or her own mind. Perhaps it is hard to reconcile the black and white absolutes of faith with the areas in that faith, or in our world, that are grey. It's an uncomfortable place, to be sure. But sometimes discomfort is necessary to spur change and action.

Art has the great ability to make you see something in a new light, or in a deeper way than you previously have. Sometimes you have to take a risk and let your beliefs be challenged. If they are based on truth with a capital T, they'll withstand the testing. If they don't, maybe you're not as rooted in that belief as you thought you were. That's a valuable lesson too, though an uncomfortable one.

I wonder how many of us struggle with finding ways to express our art and our faith in honest ways, without fear of people who may judge either our art or our faith and declare it lacking. I wrestle with it every day. But I won't give up the fight to deepen my Christianity or develop my writing. The tension between art and faith keeps me reaching forward for more out of life. That's a good thing.

How about you? Do you ever feel a tension in balancing your art with your beliefs? Is there a tension between what you do with your art and what others consider "proper" spiritually? How do you approach the divide and bridge it? I'd love to know what you think.

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

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Muse Reviews: Cowboys &Aliens

What do you make of a film that seems too serious for its premise? That's the problem I had with Cowboys & Aliens.

It's usually a problem when there are a lot of names associated with a project, and Cowboys & Aliens is no exception. Jon Favreau directed (same guy who did Elf and Iron Man). The list of producers includes Ron Howard and his partner Brian Grazer, Kurtzman and Orci (the team who did the updated Star Trek), Damon Lindelof and Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. If you've lost count, that's six people. There are five writers credited, none of them the writers of the graphic novel the movie was based on.

Eleven opinionated people equals a big pile of box office crap, apparently. All I can do is wonder if somehow the fun implied by the movie's title got lost in translation somewhere.

As an action film, the movie is meh. The battle sequences weren't much to look at. The special effects were average at best. The scenery was beautiful, I'll admit, but the costuming was average. Visually, the movie just didn't work.

In a case like that, you hope that the plot and acting will take up the slack, but that didn't happen here. The acting was dull and labored. Harrison Ford stood out as especially bad. He's not the kind of actor you expect to give an Oscar to, but he is normally okay in action films. Here, his stilted, humorless delivery seemed to underscore the movie's inability to decide what it was doing and why it was doing it.

The writing was also sadly lacking. Spoiler alert: The aliens have come to steal our gold, because gold is rare in their world too. Does that mean they use it for money? For fuel? For snacking? I don't know. They also rustle people, to study humans, although they don't really need to do that. All they need to do is park their spaceship above a supply of gold, heat it to melting, and vacuum it up with their alien technology. So, their kidnapping of people makes no sense and serves no purpose except to get the plot going because the cast is attacked, people are stolen, and the remaining people set up a posse to find their missing kin. Again, meh. Who cares?

What's worse is that nearly every stereotype in the book is thrown into the movie, but without any commentary whatsoever. That makes the film seem unimaginative. You get the frontier preacher, the easterner who can't shoot, the fat Mexican, the mean cattle rancher who fought in the Civil War, his no-account son, Indians who can't speak English and pass around the hallucinogens, the pretty woman who knows more than she is telling, and the criminal being hunted by the law. 

The only thing you don't get is a black slave. In fact, there are no people of color at all in the movie (except the fat Mexican). It's true that a lot of old Westerns didn't use black actors either. But is it all that hard to imagine a black man in a frontier town, especially after the Civil War? Or an Asian, given the immigration of the Chinese into California and other parts of the West in the 1800s? 

But the excessive use of stereotypes without commentary makes the exclusion of minorities stand out. It's as though either the filmmakers were so racist as to ignore minorities altogether, or -- and perhaps this is the worse alternative -- they did include a scene or two, but it was so racist that even the studio heads who greenlit this project objected to it. Either way, the lack is noticeable and embarrassing for the filmmakers.

Cowboys & Aliens could have been funny. It could have been clever. It was neither. If you want to see a real satire of a genre movie that also has some good action and good acting, see Shaun of the Dead, which has the intelligence to ask the question, "What's the difference between a normal day of your life and a zombie apocalypse?" The answer in Shaun is, "Not much." Everything about the movie plays to that answer, and the film is very funny.

Cowboy & Aliens doesn't seem to be asking a question at all. Even if the question had been, "How can we make this idea cool?" and the answer, "Here's how," I might have bought it. But no. There's nothing to buy here. It's all garage sale junk. Spend your money elsewhere, and don't bother wasting your time on this load of trash. You can do much, much better.

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

Friday, October 21, 2011

Developing Your Craft Through Writers Communities

Today, I want to look at writing in a community. This relates to my Connecting with Readers series, though at a tangent. Ultimately, our writing has to be at its best to attract and keep readers coming back. So it is a good idea to learn how to write better. And when I say better, I don't mean simply more polished. I also mean adding to our writer's toolbox (aka, our skill set). The way I see it, the more tools you have, the better off you are. Kind of like the more weapons you have, the more advantages you have in a fight with ninjas.

Ninja Gaiden from
I know. Gratuitous ninja reference. I just wanted to put in a cool picture and call myself a Writing Ninja Assassin, because I'm reading Brent Weeks' The Way of Shadows right now. Humor me. Now back to the subject at hand,

One way to learn to use the tools we have and also to get new ones is to spend time talking with, sharing with, and giving feedback to other writers. You probably don't need to be convinced to join a writer's group, though if you're new to writing you may not know how to hook up with other writers. And if you've been burned, you may be reluctant to put yourself out there again. Or maybe you just haven't made the time to get involved.

Okay, here's why you should find a group: Other writers will sharpen your writing skills. Much like a sparring match against another ninja will help you learn to survive when you have to fight a real battle. No, I'm not comparing a night with other writers to a sparring match (though it can be). I just wanted to continue the metaphor and maybe throw in another picture. (I'm a fantasy nerd. What can I say?)

But seriously, you will learn a lot from listening to the writing of others. You can benefit from the input of others. And writers groups are easy enough to find. You just have to find the right fit for you. Here are a few places you can try:

* Meetup - This website is a source for starting meetups of all kinds, and if there's a writing group in your area, it may be listed on Meetup. I found a great local science fiction/fantasy writers group this way. And if you live in some godforsaken location without a writers group, you can use Meetup to start one.

* PubWrite - This writers group is a great community of friendly writers who support one another. The group has a website and is on Facebook and Twitter. Check out the #pubwrite hashtag and follow @SteveUmstead to get started and see if PubWrite is right for you.

* Story Dam - This start-up writers community is run by @BrandonPDuncan and his wife @DuncanBrandi. I'll post again about Story Dam in a few weeks when it's officially launched, but the goal is to encompass a positive community through link-ups, feedback done right, support, writing prompts, and more. Get on the email list for updates that will tell you more.

* MyWANA - WANA stands for We Are Not Alone, the brainchild of @KristinLambTX. Like PubWrite and Story Dam, MyWANA emphasizes positive writers community. Kristin knows a lot about using social media and she shares what she knows in a lighthearted way. And the MyWANA people welcome newbies, so join in on the fun.

* Write Campaign - This is a platform-building project run a couple times a year by Rachael Harrie. I'm participating in this campaign now, and even with a low level of participation (due to my extra-busy schedule these last two months), I've made some great new friends and even participated in my first flash fiction contest. I wrote the piece in about 20 minutes, which just goes to prove that if I'll be a little more serious about plotting and thinking out a scene's goals before I write it, I'll be able to write faster than I do now.

Turtle power!
Naturally, there are a lot more writers communities than these. But the ones I've mentioned are ones that have worked for me, and I want to share them with you. Try them out and try others too. Be a good community member, not a troll. And enjoy the process. You'll learn a lot and meet some cool friends too. What's better than that?

Next week, I'll be back with more to share. In the meantime, have you tried any of these writers communities, or do you know of others that you think are great? Share, share, share! And thanks for stopping by!

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Strange Vacation

Today's post is a little fun with fiction. As a Write Campaign participant, I get to visit lots of new blogs, meet new writers, and play around with some of the Campaign Challenges. In this challenge, we're supposed to write a 300-word scene about two people on a beach, with a bit of a twist. Here's my entry. Enjoy!

            Jen’s nose wrinkled as she sniffed the air. She eyed Eric, who slouched easily in the chair next to her. “How long are we staying here?”

            “We just got here.”

            She wrinkled her nose again. “I know, but…”

            Eric shaded his eyes as he looked east toward the low-hanging sun. Then he pointed toward the waves, breaking the emptiness of the cool air with their lazy susurration. “It’s beautiful. Enjoy it.”

            “But there’s so much to do.”

            “And we’ve got all day to do it. Relax.”

            Jen drummed her fingers on the armrest of her lounge chair. “How about I head back to the hotel and catch up with you later?”

            Eric gave a little hmph. “What are you going to do there that you can’t do here?”

            “Enjoy myself.” She wrinkled her nose again. “Besides, something seems a little off…”

            “It’s fine. Everything’s fine. And you’ll be fine too, if you just relax and enjoy yourself.”

            Jen straightened in her chair. “First of all, I will not be fine. And second of all, everything is not fine.” She inhaled deeply, then starting coughing. “Ugh. Eric you can’t tell me that you don’t smell…”

            “Jeez, Jen. I have everything under control, you know.”

            “I don’t see that you do.”

            Eric gestured for her to stop.




            “Shh.” With one finger raised in caution, Eric reached down toward the sand with his other hand, and slowly raised a book of matches. He lit it, whirled, and threw. Jen turned just in time to see the rotting zombie behind her fall to its knees, burning to oblivion.

            Eric turned around, slouching easily once again as he watched the waves. “I’m not letting zombies ruin my vacation.”

            Jen slumped, arms crossed. “We’re never going to get off the beach,” she muttered.

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

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Muse Reviews: The Apostle Murders by Jim Laughter

If you've ever walked through the Christian fiction shelves of a bookstore, you've noticed that the majority of the books are romance novels. Usually historical. I don't know why. But as I've said in previous blog posts, I don't usually read much romance. I prefer sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, action.

For those reasons and more, I was excited to pick up Jim Laughter's recent serial killer thriller, The Apostle Murders

The Apostle Murders tells the story of a new FBI agent, George Benjamin, as he helps track down a serial killer who is repeating, to the best of his ability, the martyrdom of the original apostles. The concept is a great one. Jim Laughter is Oklahoma born-and-bred and he knows the Bible belt. He also knows the Bible and early Christian tradition, and he weaves it all into an interesting story.

The beginning of the novel starts out strong. Chapter one hooked me right off the bat. And as the story continues, I kept reading without losing interest. It's true that the plot follows a somewhat predictable trajectory, but that is part of the nature of this type of story. After all, it's about a serial killer and the feds who are trying to track him down. You can see where that's going to lead. The question is, how well was the plot executed?

The answer: It was executed well enough to keep me reading. But there is room for improvement in future novels.

The scenes involving the victims and their deaths were particularly poignant and tense. In fact, that's where the story really shined for me. And that's a good thing, because the heart of the story is the killing that drives all the action forward. The killer is committed to killing, of course. But he's also conflicted. That was fascinating.

The characters were mostly believable, although they might have been developed a little further. As it was, there were some character interactions that seemed unlikely to me. George Benjamin is black and young, and he works with an older, white southerner who seems just a bit too casually prejudiced to be a respected FBI agent. But it's possible I'm looking at this with a northerner's eyes. Bottom line: I wanted to know more about Benjamin and the other agents, and I wouldn't mind reading a sequel that tells me more about these men and women in more depth.

I found the serial killer more believable, although I had a few questions about his motivations, wondering how a man of his age suddenly commits such brutal murders. The apostles were not killed in gentle ways. Their deaths were ugly. And so are the deaths of the serial killer's victims. The only explanation offered is that the serial killer feels he is being called by God to do it. Yes, I can believe that, if it is a sign of mental problems.

But serial killers usually start killing at a much younger age than this character does, with signs of sociopathy presenting in childhood. We don't get a picture of the serial killer's childhood. We do know that he is unhappy with contemporary Christian churches, and we know that his wife recently died. Is he suffering from a dissociative disorder due to his wife's death? Does he have a form of dementia that leads to violence? Perhaps he has a brain tumor. It just seems hard to believe a former pastor, even an old-fashioned, judgmental one, would go off the Christian wagon to such a drastic extent that he not only kills, but kills in the most horrific ways. I wanted to know more about what was driving him.

My only other pet peeve is that the point of view switches from character to character within the same scene. That's a no-no. Point of view should be tight on one person from start to finish of a scene. When you write that way, it forces you to convey what is in the heads of the other characters through more creative and sensory means, such as how a character tilts his head when angry, or the crinkling of his nose in distaste. This helps put the reader more immediately into what is happening.

Still, Jim's writing is good enough, in itself, to keep a reader reading. He knows how to end a scene on a cliffhanger. And he works his concept fully, which is the thing that really sells this book. A crazy Christian serial killer, being tracked down by a Fed who knows his Bible. Clever. You want to read it, don't you? I did. And as I said, despite the issues I noted, I wouldn't mind reading more about Agent George Benjamin. I hope to see more books like this from Jim.

I also liked the way Christianity and the Bible are woven thoughtfully into the book, rather than being forced or preachy. Rather than focusing on converting someone to Christianity (which seems common in Christian romances), Jim's characters are who they are, and they live out who they are. Their spirituality (or lack of it) feels natural and believable.

On a closing note, Jim is a great guy. Think about sending some money his way, and support a self-made author. I know he'd appreciate it. If you don't like reading about serial killers, don't worry. You can read his other works, which include science fiction, the story of the Nativity from the point of view of the animals (great for kids), and a nonfiction account of Steven Stayner's heroic act to free himself and a potential new victim of the pedophile who kidnapped Stayner when the boy was just 7 years old.

For more about Jim or to order his books, visit his website,

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

Friday, October 14, 2011

Connecting with Readers, part 5: Who to Follow on Twitter

Today's installment of connecting with readers takes a slightly different turn. I want to talk not about followers, but rather on following. And since you're probably reading this because you're a writer or another type of artist who wants to build a platform, I want to look specifically at who you might want to follow on Twitter to make that happen.

This topic may seem like a rabbit trail off the path to finding pure readers (your audience), but it's not, and I'll tell you why. It's because you won't get there on your own. None of us will. We need to learn all we can learn from those who know more than we do. (News flash: A lot of people know more than you. But that means more opportunities to learn, if you look at it right.)

Also, we are going to need some acts of kindness on the part of others willing to help us along. So it's a good idea to find and build relationships with people on Twitter who can help you out.

You'll notice I say relationships. Those are two-way streets, right? You've got to give as well as take. I can't make you do that, of course. But I can say that Twitter is, right now, one of the great equalizers. Many, many people are genuinely willing open up, connect, and share useful information on Twitter. If you can be just as generous and thoughtful in return, it's going to come back to you in good ways. (That's called karma in some belief systems, the law of sowing and reaping in others. And it's true. You get what you give.)

So... In reading what I'm about to tell you, keep in mind that the goal is to give, not just take. Please don't be a selfish user. There are too many people like that already. Dare to be unlike them.

That said, here is a partial list of people I recommend following for the purposes of learning to build your platform and connect with the publishing world and ultimately with readers. (There are lots of other great people to follow, too. I'm only mentioning a few of them here.)

People who know a lot about publishing

Donald Maass (@DonMaass) - Yes, this is THE Donald Maass, the literary agent and the author of Writing the Breakout Novel... He's an excellent source of fundamental tips on making your writing better, and he actually talks about genres too, like SFF. Yup, he's cool.

Jevon Bolden (@JevonBolden) - A developmental editor at Charisma House, Jevon is a spirited Twitter user who offers good advice, asks good questions, and encourages great Twitter chats. And she always, always thanks me when I give her a shout-out, no matter how busy she is.

Nathan Bransford (@NathanBransford) - A former literary agent with a middle grade book now out (Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow), Nathan is also a genuinely nice guy. He's the one who sent me an invitation to Google+ before it opened up to everyone. Just because I tweeted and asked if he would.

People who, at this very moment, are actually doing what we're talking about (building platform)

Moses Siregar (@MosesSiregar) - Moses is the author of The Black God's War, an up-and-coming ebook, and also a member of the Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing podcast. What's great about him is that he is currently exploring e-publishing with what is an amazingly solid book with excellent writing. He deserves a traditional publisher and an awesome contract, and I hope he gets one.

Tee Morris (@TeeMonster) - Tee is the author of what I personally consider THE BEST podcast novel ever. It's called Morevi. If you haven't heard of it... Well, remedy that by finding it and listening to it. Right now. When you're done, keep this in mind: Tee is also the author of All A-Twitter, a great guide to using Twitter. He's a social media and podcasting pioneer who has gone boldly into online frontiers. And he recently got signed with HarperVoyager. Yeah. He knows of what he speaks. (So does his writing partner, Pip Ballantine, aka @PhilippaJane. Follow her too.)

People who are a wealth of information because that's who they are

Robin Sullivan (@rsullivan9597) - Small press publisher. Author of the Write2Publish blog. Wife of author Michael Sullivan, who sold nearly 40,000 books in four months with her PR help. She styles herself as someone passionate about helping authors. That's an understatement. She is amazingly helpful. Catch her podcast interviews on The Dead Robots Society, and check out her blog and Twitter feed. You'll learn a lot. She follows back, and she chats back too.

Chuck Wendig (@chuckwendig) - Check your internal Mom at the door, because Chuck swears a lot. And by a lot, I mean it's hard to find a paragraph in his blog posts that doesn't have a curse in it. But you'll overlook the F-bombs because his advice is incredible, brilliant, useful. You'll wish you were him. (It's called Chuck Envy. Everyone who reads him has it.)

People who have been generous with me, and practice generosity as a rule on Twitter

Les Floyd (@lesism) - Les is the author of the very popular Lesism blog ( At today's count, he has over 40,000 followers on his Twitter account. Can you say, Klout score? Actually, Les isn't just popular. He's another genuinely nice guy who took time out of his schedule to email me a thorough answer to a platform-building question I had. This attitude of generosity is no doubt one major reason why he has so many followers. Something to think about.

Now, as I said, this is just a partial list. There are so many great people on Twitter. People who like making new friends and want to share what they know. Go find them. How do you do that? Well, I'll tell you what I do. I tweet new followers of mine and say hello, nice to meet you. I do the same with people I start following. The ones who are open to chatting...well, they chat. They self-identify. So if you do nothing else, start by saying hello and seeing if you can have some conversations. Lots of good things can come out of simple social skills and genuine interest in other people on Twitter.

Go out and have fun with it. And if you have any great Twitter people to recommend following, let me know. I'd love to be introduced to people I don't know yet!

Feel free to read the other Connecting with Readers blog posts too:

The Value of Email Lists
Hashtags for Readers
Hashtags for Writers
Overview of Making Connections

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Little Creativity

I thought I'd do something a little different today. I'm going to give you a glimpse into how my mind works. (Prepare the warp engines, just in case you need to speed away. Hahaha!)

Creativity Is Boundless, by pixelnase
Seriously, sometimes I get the most interesting ideas for first lines of stories or poems. I'll show you an example. The phrase "black storm" came to mind. I'm thinking of using it sometime. So I decided to free write and see what came up in my imagination based on the question: "What is a black storm?" Here's my creative writing answer:

A black storm is the worst kind of storm there is. Clouds rise up tall and dark as smoke from a fire, and just as wild. The wind whips around so strong, it's a terror. Folks say it's the thundergod, trying to wrest power from the Lord of Peace. He strikes madly, left and right, up and down, the thundergod does, looking for the weak, the fragile, the hopeless...them as he may kill. To survive the thundergod's wrath? That's the mark of a great one indeed. It's the mark of a survivor, one what's called to bring hope in the midst of midnight. One what's called to bring the sword into battle and fight for light at the world's end.

What do you think? I'm not sure why I felt the need to use the voice of someone a little uneducated perhaps, or with a regional dialect for his part of whatever fantasy world he lives in, but it seemed right at the time.

My question for you is: Do you ever do this too? Do words, phrases, and sentences pop up in your head, and if they do, do you explore them to see what ideas are lurking in your subconscious? It's a good exercise to try now and again. It pulls on your creativity in ways that conscious thinking maybe doesn't. If you'd like to try it yourself, let me suggest a few options for you. Try one. Or try one of your own making. And share the results with me. I'm curious to see what others come up with.

Writing prompt: Start with one of these ideas and phrases and see where it leads you.
  • A black storm is...
  • They say the dark god is evil...
  • The trees crouch small and low to the ground...
  • The man was tall, with a hawk's nose and a greying beard...
  • I can't wait for the Apocalypse.
Have fun! And don't forget to share what you write, either here in the comments or on your own blog. Give me a link and I'll check it out!

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

Friday, October 7, 2011

Connecting with Readers, Part 4: The Value of Email

I'm taking a break from hashtags this week to share a little about email and why I think it may be the best tool to reach your readers and build your writing platform.

Courtesy of
According to am August SmarterTools blog post on The Value of Email,  email is now "the most common unique identifier an individual possesses," even more so that social security numbers. Digital age indeed.

Why am I sharing this with you, a writer who wants to connect with readers to sell your books? Because the most powerful online resource you can have to market yourself is an active, genuine, ideally long email list. The SmarterTools blog will convince you that email blows all other online communications ships out of the water. Here's the link to the comparison chart so you can see for yourself the power of email.

When you look at the chart, you'll see that email traffic outweighs Facebook and Twitter activity by 99.8%. It outweighs pageviews by 75%. In other words: there's no contest. If you want to build your writer's platform, the best thing you can do is build a genuine, unique-to-you email contact list. If you can get your readers to sign up for an email newsletter or give their email address as a part of their login on your website, you will be ahead of the game.

First Contact by
Monsit Jangariyawong
Of course, you have to use email responsibly. You can't spam others, even by accident. (That's why you might want to use an email service like MailChimp.) Give people a way off the list (an unsubscribe option). Don't sell the list. Offer something of value when people give you their email, like a newsletter, a survey with results provided, or a contest.

True, you have to make "first contact" with your readers before you can get their emails. But if you plan for your "first contact" to include a request to stay in touch with those readers by email, then as I said earlier, you'll be ahead of the game.

What do you think? Do you have a plan to stay in contact with readers after you've made first contact? Share your thoughts here.

Next Friday: Back to more on finding those readers in the first place.

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Your Brain Is Shrinking: Congratulations!

Just wanted to share the news. Humans are still evolving. And the sign of this is: our brains are shrinking.

Wait... What?

Perhaps it's just me, but somehow evolution sounds like a positive, while shrinking brains sound like a negative. I'm not sure we should be popping open the champagne bottles over this.

 It's not a big leap from shrinking brain to computer overlords taking over the earth and ruling mankind with an iron fist. Get it? Iron fist! Hahaha! (When  the robots take over, I plan to survive by making them laugh.)

What I love about modern science is how it puts a positive spin on things that are probably problems. You know... like a shrinking brain. The experts don't know why our brains are getting smaller, but they suggest it's because we are able to relax and specialize our knowledge in today's world, so we don't need to think as much.
I agree we aren't thinking much these days. But I personally take that as a sign we are devolving. We're going backwards, and soon we're all going to look and sound like Homer Simpson. We won't be all that bright anymore. But we'll really, really, really enjoy our doughnuts. Mmm. Doughnuts.

Actually, we'll end up spelling it donuts. Because our brains will be too small to remember how to spell doughnuts. This is a sad future for spelling. But it's a sign of evolution, nonetheless, so we might as well be happy about it. Stupidity is the future!

I think that could be someone's 2012 campaign slogan...

In the meantime, I leave you with the sage words of Homer, who will be like Socrates once our brains shrink enough:

"All right, brain. You don't  like me and I don't like you, but let's just do this and I can get back to killing you with beer."

Words to live by, when your brain is too small to do anything else.

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

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Muse Reviews: The Prestige (film version)

The Prestige is a 2006 film based on a book written by Christopher Priest in 1995. Today, I'll be reviewing the film.

The IMDB website summarizes the plot of The Prestige this way: "The rivalry between two magicians is exacerbated when one of them performs the ultimate illusion." It's hard to say more than that without giving the plot away, but I would suggest the plot summary should read more like this: Two magicians, spurred on by a grudge that grows worse with the years, play a vicious game of tit-for-tat retaliation until one performs the ultimate illusion.

The story is a mix of reality and fantasy, with just enough science fiction in it to move it beyond a typical history piece. But the use of fantastical scientific inventions is actually quite limited, and it serves only to help bring the plot to a logical, though tragic, culmination.

The energy that drives the plot forward in this movie is the unforgiving nature of the rivalry between these two men, Robert Angier (played by Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (played by Christian Bale). They continue escalating the war between them by embarrassing one another, sabotaging each other's acts, and damaging their relationships with others. Thus, the rivalry reaches beyond them to affect many other people, including those they love, as rivalries like this usually do.

By the time the movie ends, you feel sorry for these men but you also feel disgusted by the lengths to which they are both willing to go, for a less than noble cause. It's a cautionary tale of the dangers of obsession and pride, the power of unforgiveness to ruin lives, and the futility of retaliation as a means to bring peace and closure to painful situations.

The acting is solid, with Jackman and Bale putting in the expected leading men performances. Supporting roles are played nicely by Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Scarlett Johansson, Andy Serkis, and David Bowie. The movie was directed by Christopher Nolan, and you get his signature touches on the film. Dark, moody sets. Angry men. Christian Bale sounding like Bruce Wayne/Batman at times. If you like his other work, you should enjoy The Prestige too.

The strength of the writing in this film isn't necessarily the dialogue (which is realistic and serviceable, but not exceedingly artistic). Rather, the strength is the way in which the plot and structure of the story illustrates the movie's themes.

I was reminded of another classic science fiction story that uses science to examine the motives of human beings: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It would be hard to believe that Christopher Priest didn't have Shelley's book in mind as he wrote his novel because she, too, wrote about the way our weaknesses can create our own worst monsters. That concept is present well enough in the film adaptation to make the story speak to those, like me, who study literature. And it echoes the themes in Nolan's other movie made around the same time, Batman Begins. No surprise there.

Bottom line: If you haven't seen The Prestige, you should rent it or borrow it from the local library. It's definitely worth seeing.

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