Category Archives: Writing Updates and Links

Functionally Literate

functionallyliterate

(Hope to see you there! Super-stoked about this, especially because it might very well be the last reading at Urban ReThink. So come. Be part of history.)

Clutter Returns

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If you’re an avid reader of All Things Holic (there might be someone out there who fits under this description…maybe? seriously, does anyone want to step up and be a Holic-aholic?), you might have noticed that my serialized graphic novel “Clutter” went on hiatus sometime last Fall.

It’s okay. Don’t worry. The project wasn’t abandoned. The publication, Smalldoggies Magazine, just underwent a major renovation (<—-that’s a metaphor that seems to fit within the world of “Clutter”). Actually, it might be more accurate to say that Smalldoggies Magazine was demolished so that a new building could take its place. Matty Byloos, the co-founder of the magazine, created a new online publication called Nailed Magazine; all of the content from the old magazine was transferred over, and now they’re starting to publish new material.

So anyway. “Clutter” has just resumed. It feels a little weird to pick up the pencil and pen again after so much time off, and it will likely feel weird to read this single new installment of the series (since it takes place within the very short time span of the overall series, and assumes that you just finished reading Part 13), but hopefully that weirdness doesn’t last.

Get set for more “Clutter” soon. Until then, maybe it’s time to get a refresher, and to reread some of those old installments, right? Just click on “Publications” on the menu bar up there, and then “Graphic Narratives,” and there are links to every single episode.

The Adventures of an Elderly Couple…

With all the hoopla surrounding my book release, I forgot to post this quick writing update a few weeks back.

My story, “The Adventures of an Elderly Couple Unseen  in the Avengers,” appears in the awesome magazine Barrelhouse, as part of their online superhero issue.

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This story is part of an ongoing collection of fictions I’ve been writing in which I focus on a throwaway disposable character in a horror/ B-movie (usually someone who appears in a movie solely for the purpose of dying), and try to actually re-create that person in an empathetic and meaningful way.

In the world of the Hollywood horror film (and action film, in the case of The Avengers), people exist as props. They have no back stories. No one cares about them, except as interesting “deaths” or whatever. We watch them appear on-screen, and then we watch them die, and aside from a quick shudder (or a laugh, if the movie is especially bad), we forget about them.

In the fictional world I’ve conjured, though, every human life has value. Every horror movie death is a tragedy, even if it isn’t the A-list lead actor/actress. In fact, the death is made all the more tragic if it isn’t the lead actor…if it’s someone who did not die heroically…if it’s someone whose death meant nothing. That’s some sad shit.

Anyway. Most of the stories I’ve written involve horror movies. This is the only one that takes place in a superhero movie, but The Avengers was definitely a big-budget B-movie, a monster film in the Godzilla tradition, where buildings fall and get knocked down and blow up  and we are asked to not think about the human lives lost in each explosion…Check it out.

Marketing My Writing Part IV: Blurbs

It is with great pride that I submit to you the following statements about American Fraternity Man, written by authors for whom I have tremendous  respect:

The culture of Greek life is both skewered and embraced in this take-no-prisoners coming of age novel from debut author Nathan Holic. Here, you’ll meet one character who has reached the conclusion that goodness is just and that evil is easy to spot. But for Charles Washington, the dynamic hero of this compelling story, right and wrong are slippery things. In the end, it’s a pleasure to tumble into Charles’ world, even as we watch that world pulled out from under him. American Fraternity Man is, at once, satire and seriousness itself. But, more than anything, it is a compulsively readable book, a thrilling ride, beginning to end.

David James Poissant, author of The Heaven of Animals

Nathan Holic writes with the precision and confidence of a true badass. Hide your valuables and DIG IN.

 –Lindsay Hunter, author of Daddy‘s and Don’t Kiss Me

In a transnational tour of the college scene, it’s Man versus the Fraternity World, and even the parents are too drunk to drive. Nathan Holic offers a fast-paced and multifaceted look at campus Greek culture and what it might take to effect change from within.

Alex Kudera, author of Fight For Your Long Day

Three simple statements, and they appear unassumingly enough on every press release for my novel, tucked into a corner or a margin or a final paragraph; they appear on the book itself, one on the back cover and the other two just inside the front cover; they appear on the publisher’s web site, and they appear on the web site’s of booksellers, and they appear (just one, or maybe all three) on posters and flyers for release parties and readings and appearances…

Three simple statements for which I am incredibly grateful, and which I share endlessly, and boast about loudly, and yet collectively they constitute (for the first-time novelist…you know, me) one of the greatest sources of anxiety in an emerging writing career.

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These types of statements, known in the writing/publishing/editing industry as the genre of the “blurb,” feel–to readers–as commonplace and simple as the book description itself. Perhaps they’re borderline invisible, taken  for granted in the same way that we often take for granted excerpts of movie reviews on DVD boxes. “Of course there’s a critic out there who liked the movie,” we say, and our eyes glaze over the quote.

But–to writers/publishers/editors–the blurb genre is not something to be glossed over. It’s a genre that evokes strong feelings, and it’s endlessly complicated and (maybe I’m just a nerd here) endlessly curious.

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As unassuming as the blurb seems, many find it to be absolutely vital to establishing a book’s credibility. It is an ethical appeal (ethos, they say in the composition classroom), with the blurbing authors lending the totality of their brands to this newly published book. Sometimes the reason is obvious: Peter Straub (an esteemed and celebrated horror author) writing a blurb to endorse newcomer Benjamin Percy, authors of similar content or subject matter speaking just a few sentences and propping one another up (a la Bill Clinton and Barack Obama).

Sometimes the connection is not always obvious. Looking at my bookshelf, the spine of Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End (a humorous but deeply empathetic look at lives in an advertising office) shows a quote from Nick Hornby (“Terrific,” he says, and it’s easy to see why his endorsement is so important, since Hornby writes humorous but deeply empathetic novels) and also Stephen King (“Hilarious,” King writes). But wait…when was the last time you picked up a Stephen King novel and thought “This one is going to be a laugh riot!”? In this case, perhaps the publishers were looking to reach a new audience; perhaps the Stephen King crowd could be convinced to step outside their boxes.

Examining the blurb more closely, though, we might also ask further questions: was this blurb for some sort of mutual benefit? Stephen King, after all, began his quest for “literary” (and not strictly “horror”) recognition in the early 2000s, editing The Best American Short Stories and publishing regularly in The New Yorker. He wanted to be known as something more than just an easily dismissed horror writer, and in fact, in his book On Writing he dedicates an appendix to his “reading list” of the past several years…a list that includes a wide variety of genres and shows King as being well-read not just in thrillers and horror novels, but also in literary fiction. Does this blurb help King’s growing reputation as a literary writer? The blurb might have been genuine, but it was a statement that bolstered the brands of both writers.

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This type of thinking, of course, leads you down this dark and difficult path whereby you start imagining “mutual benefits” everywhere, strings pulled, favors called upon, authors weighing whether to lend support based upon whether said support will boost their own brand. There’s an essay by Rachel Donadio from The New York Times a few years back called “He Blurbed, She Blurbed,” which calls into question the “business” of blurbing. This article shows us something far more disturbing than just a favor, though: she highlights a company called Blurbings LLC, which helps authors to find blurbs. Donadio’s discussion of the intricacies of the blurb business are far more nuanced than my own ramblings here, as she interviews editors and agents to get their take on whether blurbs are truly “worth it,” with some of them answering wearily that a moratorium should be placed on blurb-hunting. Destroy the genre!

Brad Listi, on his Other People podcast (which I listen to religiously, and which–strangely–seems to touch on topics just as I’m dealing with or pondering them in my own life) spoke at length about his own experience in blurbing. For his debut novel, Attention. Deficit. Disorder., he was honored to receive a blurb from poet-junkie Jim Carroll of Basketball Diaries fame. Listi allowed himself to imagine a life in which he became friends with Carroll, and (his mind drifting to fantasy) the two of them hanging out in LA with Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg (from the film version of the book), a whole new life stemming from Carroll’s blurb that Listi’s novel was “a perfect book.” Listi, however, never met Carroll…and now doubts that Carroll ever read the book at all, the blurb instead the result of Carroll’s editor giving a favor to Listi’s editor. The realization (on the podcast) is depressing, especially since Carroll is now dead, and really there’s no chance to ask and to learn the truth.

Clearly it’s a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t proposition. Get a blurb, and there will be some inherent distrust over why the authors are listed on your book cover (just a favor?); there will be questions over whether they even read the book, or whether it’s all just marketing and advertising and branding, and whether there’s any honesty whatsoever in the entire blurbing game. But if you don’t get a blurb? Well, now your book looks barren. Now it looks as though you have no one who will step up and endorse you. You are a resume without references. You are a movie that has “not been screened for critics.” You could have the best book ever written, but somehow the omission of the blurb–the unassuming, innocuous blurb–is a glaringly obvious reflection of your book’s terribleness.

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So anyway. These were the thoughts on my mind as I imagined the blurbs I would seek, the authors I would ask.

My publisher actually told me that I didn’t need blurbs. “I’ve never bought a book based on a blurb,” he said.

Maybe that should have been encouraging? Maybe he was trying to relieve my anxiety? I don’t know. All I could think, though, was that some readers do put a lot of stock in the blurb. For a first-time novelist, at least. Nobody’s buying Philip Roth based on a blurb, probably, but if a reader is intrigued by my book, my first novel, and then they see Stephen King’s “Hilarious!” on the cover, maybe that pushes them over the edge and the reader gives me a chance?

(No, Stephen King did not call my book “hilarious.” But you’re free to believe it if you want!)

So I had to have blurbs. Really, it wasn’t even a question. If they helped me to reach new readers, then I needed them. It took me seven years to write and publish the damn novel, so I wasn’t going to skip out on this one last little step.

But blurb requests (no matter what) are favors, a request for someone else to read and evaluate your work and then (potentially) offer a statement, and I hate asking people for favors. When I ask a favor, I feel like I’m basically saying “Your time is less valuable than mine,” and/or “I want something from you for free,” which I know isn’t always the case…but that’s what I’m always thinking, at least…I’ve spent a lot of time over the past decade (ever since I started grad school) building relationships with writers I appreciate and admire, getting to know other authors and becoming a part of a larger literary community where we lend support and share advice and commiserate, etc., and when you start asking for favors, you can put a lot of strain on those relationships. You can come across as a “user,” someone who takes and takes and builds up a ridiculous credit card debt but never makes a payment. I mean, my novel is 450 pages: requesting blurbs meant that I would be asking someone to read a brick-heavy book that would consume several weeks of their lives, and to then write really nice things about it so that I could capitalize off their name/work.

Not to mention: what if I started asking other authors to read and blurb my work, and they responded simply with “No thanks, I don’t really like your work.” (Or something more polite, but still equally deflating.) That was a devastating thought, to be rejected once again even as I was about to be published.

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I still find it remarkable that I found three authors–David James Poissant, Lindsay Hunter, and Alex Kudera–who think enough of me to not only read my work, but also to have written blurbs for me that are so perfect that I can nearly recite them all by heart.

I’ve never met Alex face-to-face, though we’ve corresponded for awhile because I’ve been (for a couple years now) enamored of his novel Fight For Your Long Day. I only worked one semester as an adjunct instructor (the subject of his book), so I’m not completely immersed in the lifestyle his book describes, but still, it’s a piece of social commentary about our university culture that needed to be written, and he rendered it perfectly.

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And Lindsay Hunter? She’s emerging as one those “voice of our generation”-type writers. And she had her own new book to worry about (it should be released in the next couple of days), and she just had a baby (she read my book and wrote the blurb in the weeks before her delivery; her blurb labels me a “badass,” but seriously, Lindsay’s the true badass here).

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And I’ve written enough about David James Poissant in my “Reading Books While Burping My Baby” column that he probably thinks I have a creepy man-crush on him, so I’ll hold off on further praise here…(except to say that I can’t wait for his short story collection to be released next year).

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All the arguments over blurbs. All the anxiety. All the nervousness, the internal/external debate. The articles I’ve read, the spines and dust jackets I’ve studied. The fear over asking for favors. And what, in the end, am I left thinking? What am I left feeling?

Happiness. Seriously: I complicate and over-think everything, but I feel only happiness of the most uncomplicated sort. Gratitude that these authors lent me their names and their talents, yes, but every time I read those blurbs and see those names: just pride and happiness. Poissant read my book twice, in fact, and remains the only person to have read the original draft (my MFA thesis, which he checked out of the UCF Library) and the final manuscript. And–knowing that I really have no return favor I could possibly offer him–he said amazing things about my book, and then made it a point to send another email to reassure me that he meant every word. How can that not make you happy?

I have a feeling that, should I become further immersed in the world of publishing, blurbing might eventually take on the slimy, you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours feeling outlined in the article I shared. It might feel ickier and ickier, and maybe dishonest, with each new book or each new publisher or each new blurb or whatever. Maybe in twenty years I’ll wonder whether an author actually read my book before I blurbed. But right now, no matter what any reader/writer/editor/publisher thinks of those statements on my book, those blurbs make me feel like I’ve made it…like I’m a real author, with a good book to share with the world…who wouldn’t believe it, after all? Those are some incredible authors who have told you so.

The Drunken Odyssey

Just prior to my book release party this past Saturday, I sat down with John King, host of the literary/writing life podcast “The Drunken Odyssey.”

It’s a fun conversation. We talk about my book American Fraternity Man, and fraternity life in the state of Florida, and hazing, and alcoholism, and road trips, and mixed-media literature, and–best of all–I sing the praises of the clever Rebecca Martinson (the now-famous “deranged sorority girl” whose email has since been read by Michael Shannon, Gilbert Godfried, Morgan Freeman, and countless others, perhaps making it the single most talked-about piece of “fraternity/sorority literature” since Animal House). Don’t you want to hear me say the word “cunt punt” just once? I mean, seriously. If I said that while Heather was around, I’d get punched…but with a glass of wine, and sitting in John King’s studio: let the curse words fly!

Here’s the link. You can download the single show, or–better yet–you can subscribe to John’s excellent podcast through iTunes.

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When you visit his site, do him a favor. Click on the “Audible” link and get a free audiobook download. It’s also the easiest way to support the show financially (and costs you nothing!).

Goodreads

American Fraternity Man is now on Goodreads.

Help a brother out, and add it to your “want to read” or “currently reading” (or whatever) shelves. And whenever you’re finished, just give it a little rating and/or review. There are a few things that make me truly sad in this world: an empty playground in the middle of winter, a silent birthday party, and a book on Goodreads with no ratings, and no one reading. Oh man, that’s sad stuff.

And if you don’t have a Goodreads account, start one up. It’s free and easy, and since they’re now owned by Amazon and collaborate constantly with Facebook, they’ll soon be taking over your life anyway…so might as well be proactive about it, right?

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Release Party

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Be there.

Marketing My Writing: Part II

The following is the second essay in a series (that I might or might not continue to write) exploring my own curiosity and dread at having to market my first novel.

“Like-Watching,” and Facebook Givers/Takers

Back in the day, there seemed to be only one real use for Facebook: the term “social networking” was broad, but it pretty much covered all the bases. You started an account for purely social reasons, whether that was to meet new people, or re-connect with old school friends, or keep in contact with those you barely see, or (somewhat nefariously) keep tabs on the social activities of others.

What drew so many people to Facebook originally (and what continues to draw them to the site) is that “pure social function” that I mentioned in my last post. Facebook really does have the potential to be an amazing force for good. How often would I talk with my cousins across the country if not for the social network? How  else would I be able to share pictures of my son with so many people who actually do want to see him grow, but who live states away?

Seen through another lens, however, Facebook also has the potential to be an impressively destructive force, one that produces crippling anxiety because you see it as revealing only emptiness and absence and disinterest and hate. The function for users is less about connection, and instead about personal revelation, the speaking of one’s mind, the sharing of ideas/ information/ life details that the user hopes the world will see and/or read. I won’t spend this post talking about how people share “hate” on Facebook: once again, just close your eyes and picture election season, or the gun control debate. Yeah, we know what hate looks like. (See Hello There, Racists for a visual.)

But what do I mean by “emptiness” and “disinterest” and “absence”?

When we see the function of Facebook as journal or autobiography, and our friends as our readers, we no longer care about connection, but instead about consumption and reaction. In other words, when I post something to Facebook (a status update, a photo, etc.), increasingly I have begun to measure its value by the number of comments that I get, or the number of likes. As I mentioned in my last post, these features allow us to see the tangible and immediate reaction not just to our writing (if, say, we write something funny about the Oscars) but to our very lives (if we post a major announcement). And here’s the rough part: too often, I measure value not by the accumulated comments and likes, the positive glass-half-full view, but by the number of comments and likes that I don’t get.

Yes, sometimes you’re too busy living your life to care about such things. When my baby boy was born and I uploaded my first photo with my son, I didn’t give a rat’s ass who liked it. (Hell, I was too exhausted to think about something like that!) Over a hundred people wound up liking the photo, or commenting on my wall, or whatever, and I genuinely appreciated it all, how much the world seemed to care about this milestone in my life…but I was immersed in the moment itself, and the posting of pictures and updates was an uncontainable outpouring that had nothing to do with audience reaction. I just wanted to share because I was happy.

But milestones are not a daily occurrence. If they were, then they wouldn’t be “milestones.”

So what of the times when you make a Facebook contribution and you’re not “too busy to care” how the world will react? When, say, you post a status update and a photo of your new haircut, and the “likes” are thinner than you’d expect? When you get zero comments? Maybe likes and comments are not intended to be validating votes, but that’s our current culture: we vote on American Idol and The Voice and a thousand other shows that I don’t watch, and—despite having zero credibility as critics—we write reviews on Goodreads and Yelp and Untappd and Flixster and imdb.com and Amazon. On Facebook, where there are no true “reviews” of a status update or photo, no real judges and no polls, isn’t the “like” our unit of measurement, our vote about what we find to be valuable/ important/ funny/ heart-warming/ etc.? All these status updates, and I chose this one to like.

The more you consider a tepid response to something you find important, the more you find yourself thinking about all of the people who could have commented or “liked” a comment and yet did not. You think: did my wife not see this? Did my brother not see this? Is the entire world “too busy to care” about looking at Facebook right now? Is the world more consumed with important things, and I alone am worried about the status of my status update? Do they all hate it? Oh God, what have I done to offend [Insert Name]?

When this becomes your state of mind, you start “like-watching.”

Some updates and photos and comments carry heavier weights than others, of course. If I post via Untappd what beer I am currently drinking, I really don’t care what sort of response I get (it’s usually an accident anyway, a failure to turn off the “post to Facebook” button on the application). Some postings might need only a single like to make you happy, a sign that someone in the world cared when you typed “Oh man, I’m tired. Rough day at work.” The “like” becomes the equivalent of a back-pat, or a hug, or a high-five, just real (albeit virtual) acknowledgement of your shared humanity.

For other postings, though, only the sheer volume of “likes” from across multiple target audiences will satisfy you. (i.e. “I posted a comment about my most fervent belief, and I stated it as eloquently as possible! Must get agreement, or I will think I didn’t get my point across!”) The more important your update, the more you need the approval…the opposite, after all, is disapproval (in your own mind, at least)…and when you being to suspect that the world has disapproved of you, you begin to experience regret: man, was it ever a mistake to post that comment about how bored I am! The world thinks I’m pathetic! The world thinks I’m frivolous! AHHHH!

You start setting mental goals for what you hope will happen: how many likes will it take to make you happy, how many shares, how many comments, and whose validation do you care about most, whose approval are you trying to win, whose goat are you trying to get? You start comparing your own update to those of friends and family and acquaintances: how is that [Insert Name] was able to type simply “Ugh. Traffic!” and get 78 likes, and yet you typed an update about losing fifteen pounds and only got 17 likes? Does this say something about you, about how little the world thinks of your weight loss, or maybe about how they all think you’re a liar, or maybe that they all think you should’ve lost that weight a long time ago so just shut up already! You like-watch, because Facebook is your stage and the world is your audience and no one wants to take a bow in silence.

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Over time, the more you like-watch, you also start to realize that Facebook is a world of “givers” and “takers.” We all fall somewhere on a broad spectrum here.

On the one end, there are the givers, the Facebook users who are always quick to leave you a comment, as if they are constantly plugged in and waiting for the opportunity to interact and serve as the world’s counselor. From the giver, nearly every status gets a like, and as a result, scores of Facebook friends are affirmed in their beliefs, or their sense of humor, or their general satisfaction with existing, or whatever. God bless the givers.

On the other end, though, there are the Facebook “takers,” the friends who never respond to wall comments, to messages, who never drop you a like, but who still manage to consistently update the world on their own lives. The taker soaks up all the praise, all the affirmation, but never pays it forward; this is the person who fills his pockets at the “give a penny, take a penny” dish…

I can’t say whether givers “like-watch” more than takers. I’d like to think that they don’t, that they’re just generous and caring and understanding, that they’re not looking for everyone to reciprocate the gesture, that they are truly acting selflessly. I’d like to think that. I’d also like to think that I’m a decent friend to the digital world. But how many status updates and photos do I view each day, even if only casually as I wait in line for a Diet Coke and scroll through my phone to occupy the time? How many? And how many do I like? How many comments do I leave? Some, sure, scattered here and there whenever I feel compelled to action. But what’s the proportion? And am I fair? Here I am, making sweeping conclusions about what a certain number of likes means for my own value as a human being, and yet I slide past someone’s photo of their newborn.

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All of this to say: lately, I’ve been confused about whether I’m a giver or a taker.

And obviously, this all comes back to the novel, and my concern at how to market the thing.

I’ve got a book that will be published in less than a month, and its success depends upon my ability to spread the word about its publication. Say nothing about it to friends/ family/ colleagues/ etc., and no one will buy it or read unless they stumble upon it. So boom: Facebook is perfect for marketing purposes! However, use my Facebook as a constant sales and marketing tool, and it not only clouds the once-pure function of the social networking utility (I’m no longer using Facebook to keep connected, but instead to sell, which feels dirty), but also pegs me forever as a taker. An obvious one.

And I’ll be honest here: I never wanted to be the guy who uses social media to market his shit. Like, everyone else is posting about the NCAA basketball tournament, and this guy is posting Stephen Covey quotes and links to his business, and telling people to sign up for webinars or whatever. This taker never comments on anyone else’s postings, unless it’s to offer his services for something you didn’t even know he did (“Well, I see that you’re in the market for a new car! Give me a call, buddy!”). It’s like getting sales calls from friends who you thought were calling to catch up.

When I start “like-watching” a status update about my book, I pay careful attention to the reaction, thinking: okay, cool, this person now knows about the book, and now this person too. I start thinking: maybe this will translate into sales; maybe each of these “likes” represents someone who will buy/read the book! I start thinking: but wait, only three fucking people liked this comment about my novel, so does that mean I’ll only sell three total copies? Holy shit, I’m a failure.

I start to see my world of Facebook connections as consumers rather than friends.  Each is a potential book-buyer, so have I posted enough about my book to reach them all? Have I approached the book from the proper angles so that these friends can be interested, and then these friends, and then these friends?

And oh crap, do I post too much about the book? Have I started to lose friends because it’s the only thing I post about? Should I vary my content? All right, so I’ll post only baby pictures for the next week, not another word about my novel! But oh crap, I’ve posted so many baby pictures and have received so few likes: is the world getting sick of the baby?

I worry about what time of day I post a status update. Will it be lost in the crowd if posted too early or too late? Before noon? After 6 PM? The last time I posted an update about my blog on Facebook, Boston suddenly went on lockdown and the world was atwitter over the cinematic search for the second bomber…needless to say, zero people were interested in my unrelated update. So: do I wait for moments/ days when nothing is happening, and hope my updates are read?

And—as a general rule—what day of week is best for a posting? Certainly not Friday, right? But wait, Friday is the day to slack at work…so Friday, right? That’s when everyone will be on Facebook the most. And man, I just thought of a great status update to post, but I just made that last post about my novel an hour ago, and so…am I contributing to my own posting’s quick expiration if I post again too soon? Better hold off, better hold off. Time it just right, Nathan.

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All of this, I admit, is ridiculous. A real writer—a serious writer—would not worry about such things.

A real writer would write. A real writer would tackle the necessary marketing tasks with professionalism rather than doubt. And then a real writer would go back to writing.

Can you imagine Norman Mailer like-watching? Cormac McCarthy? All those “men’s men” authors I mentioned in my last post? Can you imagine Hemingway considering whether he is a giver or a taker, or even making a status update about his new book, worrying whether anyone bought it? (Side-note: I haven’t read a biography of Hemingway. Maybe he was super self-conscious? Maybe that’s why he killed himself? Hmmm. Reconsidering.)

And yet here I am, on the morning that Beating Windward Press has revealed to the Facebook world the different cover concepts for American Fraternity Man. Typing this blog post, then checking Facebook. Back and forth, back and forth, like-watching, examining who has commented, who has said what, then silently admonishing myself for caring, for reducing friend to consumer.

And then, of course, wondering what my next update will be, and when.

It’s enough to get me fantasizing once again about the sweet freedom of deleting my Facebook profile…But then, of course, how would I update the world about my novel?

Previous Essay: Facebook Anxiety

Daddy Cool

Just got my copy of Daddy Cool in the mail.

What’s Daddy Cool? It’s an anthology of writing by fathers…for and about kids.

It’s an interesting book, edited by Ben Tanzer (who’s got two other books about fatherhood that are in the publication pipeline), and it represents a trend that I hope will continue: an interest (in the world of small-press/ indie literature) in reaching young readers. This book isn’t just intended for a middle-grade and YA audience, though many of the stories are; it also attempts to reach dads themselves, and to be a collection that fathers can read alongside their kids. In other words, I can read Story #4, about fatherhood, and then my son can read Story #6, a middle-grade story about a boy’s adventure.

The problem, I suppose, is that it might wind up being too all-inclusive for some readers. You’ll have to do some internal shape-shifting to become a member of the different audiences being addressed and invoked here, and the difference in voice from one story to the next can be a little awkward. But then again, that’s actually a problem that all anthologies face; it’s just that most anthologies are meant only for adults, and the differences in voice generally appeal to different genders, or to different geographic/educational/socio-economic segments (i.e. I might love Story #1 of Best America Short Stories, because I am a Florida male reading a story about a Florida male, but I might be really out-of-it during Story #7, which follows some literary tradition of which I am completely ignorant).

But Daddy Cool is definitely worth checking out, and 100% worth supporting. We need more anthologies like this one, and we need more small-press publishers who are willing to go out on a limb and produce YA and middle-grade work. Sometimes we get so comfortable with being readers, and so caught up in our literary/academic texts (which pay off only because we’ve read so much, and because we’ve been part of the literary/academic conversation for so long) that we forget the very real need to produce work that can create readers. Daddy Cool can do this, and it’s awesome to see Artistically Declined Press take on this challenge.

I should add, as a side-note, that my story “The Sketchpad,” appears somewhere in the thick of the anthology. It’s a mixed-media story, text and image (a la Roald Dahl), and it was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to write. Seriously. I don’t know how YA writers do it. I was so worried about writing something fun and engaging, while also not coming across like I was trying too hard, and not coming across like the old dude trying to write something “young,” and also not condescending to the younger audience and…well…the story is in there, and I hope it’s a worthwhile piece. Someday, I really hope I don’t have to watch Jackson read my story and make a stink-face (the “Dad, your story kinda sucked” face).

Order here. Great gift for fathers and sons alike.

Marketing My Writing: Part 1

The following is the first essay in a series (that I might or might not continue to write) exploring my own curiosity and dread at having to market my first novel.

“Facebook Anxiety”

Every time that I hear of someone deactivating or deleting their Facebook profile, I give a silent “whoo-hoo!” and/or “you go, girl!” (depending on gender). The thought of untethering myself from the world of social networking, allowing myself to float free and to drift away from constant phone and iPad monitoring, is exciting and liberating: a life where one portal has closed, and where my energy can now be directed at things that matter. When I hear that someone else has successfully accomplished this, it’s akin to hearing that someone has sold all their possessions and moved to Alaska, or that someone has given up Diet Coke and coffee.

Just imagine the beauty of your world without Facebook…never again scrolling down your “newsfeed” on a Friday night to see how much more fun the entire world seems be having than you…never again witnessing real-time photos from friends who seem to be on constant honeymoons while you work under fluorescent lights all day…never again getting bombarded by pictures of what everyone else is cooking at any given time…never again suffering through another election season (do I need to describe this?) or seeing another fucking Willy Wonka meme.

Imagine this world. This has got to be one of the most common first-world, middle-class fantasies these days (and therefore deserves some sort of hashtag, whereby I register my complaint with my frivolous issue, but also mask it with self-awareness at my frivolousness…the hashtag offers a nice balance).

But it’s fantasy. For each of us who still logs in to Facebook regularly, there’s something keeping us there. Maybe it’s the pure “social” function of the site, its ability to connect you with a friend from high school, or with an old family member. Maybe it’s the creepy ability to keep tabs on an old ex-boyfriend, or a co-worker or subordinate, or to learn more about those you only barely know in person, to see their lives in ways that you never imagined…Maybe it’s become your newssource, and how the hell would you know what’s happening in the world if you didn’t follow the feed, follow the reactions, and follow the story links?

And ironically, it is for this reason that Facebook has become a hotspot for many writers. Like, literary writers. Yeah, I know. Sounds weird. The stereotypical writer who boards herself up in some cold cabin and pounds out a manuscript on a centuries-old typewriter and refuses visitors and barely even knows what it’s like to have a conversation with a living, breathing human being anymore because she’s, like, deep into the world of her poetry…well, she’s got a Facebook page. And man, it’s crazy the things she “likes”: Amazon, The Loft, Taco Tuesdaze at Tijuana Flats.

Facebook has allowed me to connect with more other writers than I ever thought possible, many of whom I’ve never met in person but whose work I read and follow, and who—in turn, maybe?—follow my own work. I’ve become familiar with the journals they edit, the schools at which they teach, the new stories and poems and essays they publish. I spend too much time following links to sites I’ve never heard of, reading work that I never would’ve known existed…and I’ve bookmarked what seems like a thousand stories and articles that I know I’ll never get a chance to read.

More on this in another post. It deserves to be talked about, the way that Facebook has opened up my reading habits to new authors and to great online reading…For now, though, it’s only important to know that—for writers—this sort of interaction and connection (and this ability to share our work, and to develop readers in a truly intimate way) is pretty much what we’ve always wanted. How amazing to know that you can post a link to a new published story, and someone can read it on his/her lunchbreak, and then comment on your link and say “Awesome stuff! Love that story.” Immediate reader reaction. Immediate knowledge that someone else out there actually read your work, that you didn’t just publish a piece in some magazine or journal based out of New Hampshire that (for all you know) no one has or will ever read. I can’t overstate this: it’s incredible.

So why the hell does it also make me so anxious? It’s incredible, yes, but why lately do I feel paralyzed with Facebook, nervous about every single posting I make, about who comments, about who “likes,” about when it’s all right to make another posting, and when I should vary my subject matter in my status updates…? Why, these days, do I spend more time worrying about my contributions to Facebook than actually reading or contributing?

*

Maybe this question is easy to answer.

My novel, American Fraternity Man, will be a physical object in just a month.

And lately, I’ve been terrified not just at the prospect that the thing will soon have real readers, people who will take issue with Page 5 and Page 35 and the entire scene from pages 67-90, and the acknowledgements page, and the author photo, and…shit, do all writers feel this way? I’d like to think so, that ours is a shared anxiety at reception…But anyway, I’ve been terrified not just at the prospect of readers, but at the soon-to-be-constant Facebook postings I’ll need to make about the sale of my novel.

readings

I know, I know. We need another hashtag about White People Problems or something. Life is soooo tough for poor little me, and why don’t I go back to my beautiful baby and hot wife and mold-free house (and fantastic Florida weather) and just drink my craft beers and watch an episode of Mad Men and just shut up? And, like, seriously, it must be so rough to have a book coming out, right? Poor me. Etc.

But when one considers that I spent nearly seven years writing, revising, then submitting this book to publishers and literary agents, then writing, revising, and re-submitting, etc., it’s at least a little understandable that I might be anxious and/or apprehensive about the book’s reception, right? It’s not like I pooped this thing out over the weekend, and it’s no big deal what happens I hit flush. (#bestmetaphorever) Seven years of work, and ultimately, what if it’s received with the sound of one hand clapping? The book doesn’t sell. And my readings and “release parties” go sparsely attended. And all of the friends who I’d thought would support it—from family to groomsmen to colleagues to former students to fellow writers—ignore me and get upset at my annoying postings? (And side-note: does this make me “not a real writer”? When I publish something, should I have some sort of Hemingway “I’m too good for the world, and fuck the readers if they don’t appreciate me!” type of literary lion toughness? Somehow I don’t think Cormac McCarthy or Richard Russo have these sorts of worries.)

But hell, I worry about this crap all the time. Last Fall, I created a Facebook event for my “32th birthday.” (An irrelevant birthday needed a grammatical error in order to feel fun.) I took the self-deprecating route in order to not really care whether my birthday was a big deal or not: I’m gonna go drink beer and eat bratwursts at my favorite German restaurant, so, like, come to celebrate my irrelevant birthday if you want…if not, whatever…I mean, it’s 32…who cares, you know?

But the book is not an irrelevant birthday: the book has become this lofty object, this symbol of my own writing career, a surefire litmus test of whether I’ve got any readership, any audience interested in my work, any reason to continue. It’s become a confirmation or denial of the seven years spent working on the project. Should I have just taken up golf lessons instead? Should I have learned how to draw caricatures, or tended bar and made a boatload of cash? Should I have used those seven years to instead finally paint the scratched door to my office? Oh man, the possibilities.

Because here’s the problem with Facebook, the reason it causes me to worry so much (even with my 32th birthday, to be honest). And it’s the exact same reason that writers love the site so much. Once you create and post something on Facebook, from a status update to a link to an event, it records the tangible reaction to that creation. And that shit can sting. Put another way, it offers hard data about how much the world cares about you. Write a status update about a life event (marriage, new job, first attempt at cooking beignets), and it will tell you how many people “like” it. Better yet, it’ll tell you precisely who liked your update. Did your wife find your update funny? Did your best friend? Or did you only manage to cull the favor of those whose own updates you’ve never really liked? Oh God, my only “like” was T—— or R——-. NOOOOO! Time for a divorce, or time to quit the new job, or whatever.

Next Up: “Like-Watching,” and Facebook Givers/Takers