Friday, May 31, 2013

BEA Day 4: Blogging ethics: Loyalty lessons from journalism

  I know bloggers are not journalists and the “rules” are in flux. Most bloggers are not professionals, and many of them don’t want to be.
To that I say Yeah!
That should be liberating.

 Still, one carry-over question I value from years as a professional journalist and critic at a small newspaper: Who are you writing for?  Who is your audience? As a journalist I knew my audience. I was writing for my readers, not the guy who sent me a book or wrote it.  My primary loyalty was to my audience, not to a publicist and certainly never to an author or theater company (though I was respectful, and knew I needed to maintain a relationship or I would be out of a job).
I was not giving director’s notes or writing lessons.  I was not giving “feedback.” That was someone else’s job. If someone was getting money for a book, the book became fair game.  As paid professional writers, they wrote for their audience; I wrote for mine. 
 I think the best blogs have a focused sense of loyalty. Those that attract many followers often have a conversational voice and a real sense of a blogging community. They have blogging friends they are faithful to.  Their readers, in turn, are faithful back.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Armchair BEA Day 3: Literary Fiction

 I love literary fiction, but I’m not sure what it is.
 I came of age in a different era, before the explosion of genres – there was no YA --and in a different environment, when casual reading seemed to mean Leon Uris and James Michener.
 It seemed to my adolescent self that real reading meant serious reading. For me there were only two kinds of books, the ones in the downstairs library for children and the ones upstairs that I was finally allowed to look at, for adults.  I loved reading mostly for the comfort it gave me, so I as a serious adult-like person, I was determined to read and read very seriously.
I doggedly read books that were way beyond my understanding  Pride and Prejudice at 11, Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth at 14, Ulysses, all by myself in a summer lawn chair when I was 19. I got an MA in English, taught a little and was a journalist. Somehow I learned to read literary fiction.
I learned that not understanding an element of a book was a way into it; if I could frame a question, I could perhaps discover an answer.

I developed my own way to have a conversation with a book. What question does the book ask me? Mostly that involves what seeing what pops ups and asking why this, not that?  Sometimes it’s what delights, startles, surprises or perplexes me. I love discovering layers and connections, allusions, literary conventions turned on their heads and the architecture of a book. I love the playfulness of literary fiction.
Hey, wait! Playfulness? Yes, not so serious after all, or rather serious play.
Maybe that’s an element of literary fiction?
What books have you read this year that would fit into this category?
 I would include John Green’s The Fault in our Stars, Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square, and Jane Gardam’s Old Filth, Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth.

Is there anything coming up that you're particularly excited about?
 Having read one of Gardam’s book, I’m looking forward to the next two in the series and writing about them.

Gotta go to work. Bye.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Armchair BEA Day 2: Blog Development and Genre

Blogger development and me

I would love to work on blogger development. I’ve been pretty much doing the same thing – over and over again – since I began. Reading. Writing. Posting.
I even know some of what I need to do:

 Add photos. Add graphics. Write shorter. Write snappier. (Many of the blogs I like best do this.)

Find someone who knows something about blog design and get some help. Explore blog design on my own.

But blog improvement is a little like changing habits. I know what I need to do but I don’t do it.  I just keep doing the old, the familiar and the most comfortable.
I am a little selfish in this. I write in order to have a small conversation with the book.   Writing, I tell myself, is the place I go to think, kind of like going for a long walk with a friend – and the book is the friend. I post so others can listen in on that conversation.
That’s different than writing for an audience of other bloggers. When I ask who my audience is, I come up blank. So I just keep writing the way I’ve been writing for years.

On genres
I don’t think it’s true that genres don’t get the attention they deserve. Over the past 30 or so years, genres have gone beserk -- growing, changing, subdividing and subsubdividing. Mysteries. Thrillers. Police Procedurals. Detective stories. Armchair detectives. Noir. Etc.
And I like that.
They’ve also been crossbreeding and you see wonderful examples of that in truly great fiction like Cloud Atlas. Wow what a book!

While I favor literary fiction and mysteries – old habits die hard -- I’ll read anything that’s multilayered and really good.

 This year I’ve read historical fiction, YA and biographies – but I’m reading off the top of the genres I’m least familiar with – already established greats like Hilary Mantel, John Green and David McCullough.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Armchair BEA: Introduction

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? 
About three years ago, my husband pulled the rug – along with our Maine house out from under me, and moved us to central Virginia. So, without thinking much about it, I was suddenly semi-retired, looking for part-time work (which I found nearby) and community. In my Maine life I was a journalist for 20 years and then an English/special education teacher. I missed reading and writing. So I began to blog. My second year blogging anniversary is coming up at the end of June. I still don’t know what I am doing. I still write and act like an old-fashioned journalist. I’m learning.
2. Where in the world are you blogging from? Tell a random fact or something special about your current location. Feel free to share pictures. 
Cicadas are humming outside my house. Is that the noise of them having sex for the first time in 17 years? I don’t see many but hear them. My dog, Riley, found one the other day, tossed it about in his paws, moved it to a better location and dined on it.
Pictured above is Riley torturing a second cicada, one that somehow made its way indoors. 
3. Have you previously participated in Armchair BEA? What brought you back for another year? If you have not previously participated, what drew you to the event? 
 This is my first Armchair BEA, and I just signed up late yesterday. I already feel behind. But I am going to give it a shot because I want to be more active, and have a lot to learn. That means going out of my comfort zone and doing something other than writing long responses to reading.

4. What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2013? 
    I’m reading – a few pages to go – Jane Gardam’s “Old Filth”, and I am very taken with it. It may be my favorite book this year so far, but I’m not good naming favorites. I think too much. The best books, for me are a little like family that way. I love each person, each book, for different reasons and I would rather write about those reasons than grade, rank or select a favorite. Not so great books are like acquaintances -- soon forgotten. Awful books like irritating people --  hard to shrug off.
 I do have a batch of lifetime favorites, but not one for the year yet.
5. If you could eat dinner with any author or character, who would it be and why? 
     Hester Prynne. I love what she did to her scarlet letter. She made it into a piece of art and wore it over her heart. (We would not dine on cicadas with Riley).

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sunday Salon update, May 26, 2013

 Good morning Saloners,
The cool weather has set in. It is perfect for working outside and spreading the 10 yards of mulch I had dumped in the front yard.  My method, at my age, is to do a little at a time, alternating with reading online and my new book, Jane Gardam’s Old Filth, which I am finding delightful. The mulch will likely take me all week. The book, just one more day.
This method accomplishes two things. It gives me both exercise and prevents excessive couch sitting.  Sitting, I read this week somewhere, is the new smoking; it will take years off your life.  Oh well, I guess I’ve already done quite a bit of that damage – reading and working in offices.
I posted my review of Solea, the third book of the Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy this week and I am ready to move on to something other than noir for a bit, though I’m not sure what. 
I’m in the gathering ideas stage. Next book, after Old Filth, needs to be a newish one. (I am sure I will be returning to Gardam to read the next three in that series – but I want to interrupt this Europa pattern for a while.)
Time for a library visit.