Writers: Don’t Get Trapped By Social Media

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For the last few years, at every writers’ conference I’ve attended, the hottest topic has been social media.  Writers crowd these sessions like medieval pilgrims seeking miracles at a shrine. They seem convinced that with just the right piece of information, they can use social media to promote themselves into writing stardom.

Any why shouldn’t they be? Session after session, book after book, writing blog after writing blog all seem to promise that if you figure out the way to use Twitter or Goodreads or Tumblr or Instagram or Facebook or Amazon algorithms and SEO you’ll hit the jackpot.  Just read X’s blog or book and see how she did it…… Your books will be in the Top 100, you’ll have tens of thousands of followers and customers–if not more.  Hell, you might even develop your own lifestyle brand.  You won’t just have a platform, you’ll have a ziggurat.

But it’s not possible for every writer to score big, is it?  And just like all the other other promotional fads of recent years–like blog tours and Skyping to book groups–this heavy focus on social media might end up wasting an author’s time.

Americans love quick fixes and snake oil, they always have.  It’s not surprising, then, that so many writers are following what’s going to be a false lead for most of them.  It’s really tempting to imagine yourself just a hashtag away from fortune and fame.

Colorful fireworks lighting the night skyWriting is intensely competitive. It’s hard to have a writing career of any kind and not compare yourself to other writers–that’s endemic in the business.  You’ll always find  someone else selling more books, appearing at more venues, winning more prizes, making more money than you are, getting better reviews (deserved or not). But things have only gotten worse now that publishing is easier, and more and more people just like you, it seems, are getting rich because they have the secret.

According to the New York Times, “A small but growing body of evidence suggests that excessive social media use can lead to an unhealthy fixation on how one is perceived and an obsessive competitiveness.” We writers have enough ways to make ourselves miserable without even getting out of bed–hell, some of us probably can do that in our sleep. Honestly, who needs more help?

Do you feel pressured as a writer to be engaged with social media? How do you deal with the pressure?

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books in genres from memoir to mystery to historical fiction–and beyond. His web site is levraphael.com and you can find his books on Amazon.

Fifty Shades of Wut?!

Now that E. L. James has published Grey, which tells the events of Fifty Shades of Grey from Christian’s perspective (without any shades, it seems), it might be time for you to catch up to the film version in case you missed it.

People often complain that movies don’t live up to the books they’re made from.  But let me assure you, Fifty Shades of Grey is very faithful to the original material. It’s a stone dud, too.  I finally caught up with the movie myself recently and can tell you that the first ten minutes perfectly set the stage.  There’s a piss-poor, logy version of the classic “You Put a Spell on Me” on the sound track that sounds as if Annie Lennox were embarrassed to have her name associated with the project.  But hey, it must have been a hefty paycheck.

Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-soundtrackThat stinker sets the mood perfectly for Dakota Johnson, who’s the embodiment of the novel’s unreal nebbishy Anastasia.  It’s totally unbelievable that she’d dress like a schlump for a big-deal interview, that she hasn’t read through the questions beforehand, and that she stumbles when she opens a door into Grey’s office.  Just as his attraction to her defies belief.  All of which makes the book idiotic from the get-go and the movie a good clone.

dakota_johnson_3Once those ten achingly long minutes of the film are past, a desert of inanity stretches ahead of you. You lose the novel’s atrocious prose, but in its place there’s atrocious acting which is a reasonable substitute.  And since there’s no real erotic chemistry in the book, the fact that the leads seem to be sleepwalking through the film even when their clothes are off totally fits. What’s strangest of all is that Jamie Dornan seemed much sexier playing opposite Gillian Anderson in The Fall.  He was a psycho in that series.  Go figure.  Maybe the beard helped.

TV STILL -- DO NOT PURGE -- Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dorman from "The Fall" season 2. Photo courtesy of NetflixIn the film, he comes across as a pretty accessory like the ties, cufflinks, and watches in his dressing room we see at the beginning of the movie.  That was a highlight, cinematically speaking, if you’re into luxury goods at least.

Best moment of the movie, though: the trashy Victorian porn peacock feather.  My spouse hadn’t read the book and muttered sarcastically when it came out, “Oh, dear.”

That pretty much sums it all up.

What I’d like to see is RuPaul’s version: Throwing Fifty Shades of Grey.  Now that could be fun.

Lev Raphael is an avid movie goer, having been raised on classic films of the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties.  You can find his 25 books on Amazon.

 

 

 

“Am I In Your Book?”

I once heard a rumor that someone thought they were “in” one of my mystery novels and was really pissed off.  Well, it was a bizarre situation because this person wasn’t remotely in my book, not even near my book.

On the other hand, a fan once jokingly said, “You should put me in one of your mysteries” and I walked away smiling.  Because this fan–a lifetime academic–had apparently read them all without realizing I’d used a dramatic incident from the fan’s life as a plot point in one of the books.  So you could say that fan made a phantom guest appearance.  Sort of.  Or a contribution?

business-woman-thinkingThe thing is, nobody gets shoved into my books from real life.  Ever.  And each one of my characters is a composite of fact and fiction.  Sometimes more of one, sometimes more of another.

Take Juno Dromgoole in my Nick Hoffman mystery series.  She’s a luscious professor of Canadian Studies who’s beautiful, foul-mouthed, and intemperate.  By making her over-the-top, I was playing with the American image of Canadians as quiet and well-mannered.  How was she born? She was actually inspired by several different women I met at a mystery conference.  But the more I worked on her, the more she became sculpted by the storyline and interactions with other characters and the further away she grew from her “sources.”  I don’t even remember anymore who those women were exactly, but I did finally imagine her as having the glamor of Tina Turner at her best.

Tina-TurnerCuriously, I did once run into a woman who looked and dressed just as I envisioned Juno did, when I was staying in a German hotel on a book tour–and she was Italian.

The smallest thing can inspire me: a look, a gesture, an outfit, a snarky line, an accent–and suddenly a grain of sand is on its way to becoming a pearl.  So people do make their way into my fiction, but always through shards, fragments, bits and pieces.

Even if I had wanted to put that angry person mentioned above in my book, I wouldn’t really have been able to.  For me, people are just models, no even less: inspiration.  Fiction sculpts them into something completely different from what they were until they become unrecognizable. If it’s good, of course.

Lev Raphael is the author of The Edith Wharton Murders and 24 others books in many genres which you can find on Amazon.

Abs, Death, and Femjep

Characters in thrillers–especially the women–live in a parallel universe, don’t they? A universe where they’ve never read a thriller or seen one on TV or in a movie theater. Because otherwise they wouldn’t behave like idiots even now, heading past the middle of the decade.

Take Jennifer Lopez in this year’s erotic thriller The Boy Next Door.

She plays a high school teacher of classics–that’s right, and in a school that offers a year-long course in Homer. The poet, not Homer Simpson. It’s one helluva well-paid job because she drives what looks like a Cadillac SUV.

lopez my blogOf course, who cares since you’re either ogling Lopez looking gorgeous in every scene or drooling over ripped Ryan Guzman, the sociopath who moves in next door, befriends her nebbish son, displays his body for Lopez at night in a well-lit bedroom across the way, seduces her and then stalks her in escalating scenes of nightmarish threat and violence.

ryan-guzman-step-up_0It all ends with bizarre family togetherness, but before that, Lopez goes dumb in major ways aside from having humped a high school sociopath. Her bestie phones Lopez to come over right away because she’s in trouble. When Lopez pulls up and the house is totally dark, is she cautious? Nope. Does she call first? No again. She rushes inside. When the lights don’t work, does she back out and dial 911? Well, you guessed it. She proceeds alone and unarmed into the large dark house, calling out her friend’s name.

And in her final confrontation with the psycho hunk, when she gets a chance to take him down, she clunks him on the head just once. Duh! When he’s knocked out, she doesn’t finish the job or even kick him a few times to further incapacitate him, despite knowing how dangerous and twisted he is. He’s tied up her husband and son, threatened to kill them both, killed her best friend, and was going to turn the barn they’re all in into a giant funeral pyre. So of course she turns her back on him.

And of course that one blow doesn’t do the trick. He predictably rises up and attacks her again. More mayhem ensues…and Lopez shrieks enough to win a Yoko Ono Award.

You’d think after Scream had eviscerated this kind of plotting years ago (pun intended), writers would be embarrassed to have their characters behave like dummies, but Hollywood keeps churning out femjep films. Sadly, this one was co-produced by Lopez herself.

Lev Raphael is the author of The Edith Wharton Murders and 24 other books in many genres which you can find on Amazon.

5 Things *Not* To Do At Your Book Reading

I’m just back from reading from my memoir/travelogue My Germany in Windsor, Ontario.  I was at a fundraising event for BookFest Windsor and people asking me to sign books afterwards said they enjoyed it especially because most authors read from their books so badly.

I tend to avoid author readings myself because I’ve seen too many authors make basic, embarrassing mistakes.

istock_microphone_curtainHere are five things to avoid if you’re going to read from your book, whatever the genre:

–Don’t apologize in any way.  You may feel nervous, but you’re a performer and you have an audience.  You need to exemplify sprezzatura: the art that conceals all art.  Your reading should be smooth and practiced and not feel like you’re trying too hard.  The seams should never show.

–Don’t  read anything you can’t emotionally control.  If a part of your book might make you cry for any reason or even get misty-eyed, avoid it.  A reading isn’t a psychodrama.  And don’t announce that something often leaves you teary and go ahead anyway.  That can make an audience cringe.

giphy-facebook_s.jpg–Don’t keep your eyes on your book.  This may sound impossible, but it’s not.  You need to study and rehearse your reading enough times so that you’re familiar with it–almost as if you were an actor.  Then you can maintain good, consistent eye contact with your audience.  If all you do is look down, you’ll be dull.

–Don’t get over-specific about how you and when you write, or how you wrote that book before your reading.  People do like detail and do like to get to know the person behind the book, but they don’t need TMI.  The book is the centerpiece, not the really gross flu you had when you were researching it.

disgusted-mother-in-law–Don’t hog the stage if you’re on the bill with other authors.  Time your reading more than once at home, and then trim it.  If the organizer gives you twenty minutes, go for fifteen.  In situations with multiple readers, less is usually more because someone else is likely to run over.

Remember, the event isn’t all about you: it’s about your audience first and foremost.  Think about them, plan for them, respect them, connect with them.  They deserve your best, whether five people come to hear you, or five hundred.

interested audienceLev Raphael has done hundreds of readings on three continents, in more than one language.  He is the author of  Writer’s Block is Bunk (Guide to the Writing Life) and 24 other books in genres from memoir to mystery.

When Motives Miss by a Mile

I started reading crime fiction in high school: Agatha Christie, the Swedish writing team Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, John Creasey, and the comic work of Phoebe Atwood Taylor.  I wasn’t great at solving puzzles, but I was always fascinated by what would actually drive someone to murder.

phoebe atwood taylor

That fascination took a different turn when I started reviewing crime fiction for The Detroit Free Press in the 1990s and continued to do so for about a decade.  Motive now wasn’t just something to study, it had to to be convincing, it had to fit perfectly into the entire clever construction of plot–or the carefully-built edifice buckled and sometimes even collapsed.  Reading crime novels where the motive for murder or mayhem was weak made me determined to ensure that my own mysteries never fell short that way.

And because I watch a lot of crime drama on TV and crime movies, I’m often thrown when a motive just doesn’t seem believable.  Case in point.  In a recent episode of Forever, whose sleuth is a medical examiner, a ballerina’s foot was found at a theater.  She was initially presumed dead until it was forensically determined that the foot had been surgically removed so as not to kill her.  Weird, right?  The suspects narrowed down quickly to her ex-surgeon brother and all the evidence was discovered in his home.

But why?  Jealousy?  That didn’t add up.  They’d escaped Cuba together so she could have a great career and she on the point of stardom, about to be dubbed a prima ballerina (the show actually got this wrong, mistaking a prima ballerina assoluta for a prima ballerina)

prima ballerinaThere’s a good chance in crime fiction that the “least likely” suspect is the one who did it, and when she was was found alive, I couldn’t imagine why she would have had her brother do it.  But she did, and here’s the bogus motive the writers came up with: 1) she had a degenerative bone disease and 2) she had only a year to dance and so 3) she wanted to go out in glory and be remembered forever that way.

I’ve known dancers and I thought this was ludicrous.  What dancer would consent to having her foot cut off even if she wouldn’t be able to dance again?  What person would consent to such horrible mutilation and be left crippled for the rest of her life?  Nothing about the character made her seem unhinged enough to do something so radical.

Sometimes crime writers of all kinds try so hard to be original or surprising that they end up just coming off as ridiculous.  This was one of those times.  She was still able to dance and she could have danced with the title and then retired for whatever reason and remained legendary.  Now she’s a legend in a freakish way (and is missing a foot!).  Why would any dancer want to be remembered like that?

Lev Raphael’s 25th book is the Michigan bestseller Assault With a Deadly Lie.  You can read about his other mysteries at his web site.

Word Count Tyranny

You’ve all seen it before on Facebook: the jaunty post from a writer of some kind who says, “Guess what, dudes?  Today I wrote 7500 words!  How did y’all do?”

There’ll be a chorus of praise: “Wow!”  “I’m impressed! “Awesome!”  “You rock!”

And a few people will admit to feeling inferior: “I only wrote 500.”  Only?  Why is that something to apologize for?  What’s wrong with that?  It’s only “inferior” when compared to 7500 words, which is suddenly the new Gold Standard for daily production.  Why should anyone apologize for writing any amount?

You can be sure that there are other people who won’t post at all in response to the Word Count Wiz because they feel really embarrassed.  Maybe they weren’t able to eke out much of anything that day, and a total of 7500 words feels like mockery.  But they shouldn’t be embarrassed or put off.

word-pileCrowing about how many words you’ve written may feel super in the moment (and Facebook is often about moments), but think about it.  A post like that could have the unintentional effect of shaming people who are blocked, or write slowly, or who don’t write every day.  These might be writers who’re just starting out, or who’ve suffered traumatic rejections of their work, or were dropped by their publishers, or who for any number of reasons just don’t produce a lot, or write fast–or both.

But even if if doesn’t, and even if you did write those 7500 words in a day, so what?

Who says writing fast and copiously is a guarantee of anything?  Those 7500 words could be 100% crap.  Writing that much and that quickly only proves you can type fast, nothing more. Remember Cold Mountain?  Its National Book Award?  The millions of copies sold?  The movie?

slow writerWhy is the on-line writing world so obsessed with churning out words every single day, day after day–and tons of them? Why should it matter unless you have a contract and you’re under deadline? Why should you measure yourself as a writer by the number of words you write per day?  And seriously, why should other writers care?

What about revision?  Experienced authors know how important revision is to a finished work.  But revision isn’t necessarily about how much you get done–it”s more about what you get done, how you re-shape your project, whatever it is.  A major revision could ultimately involve very few words but make a huge difference.

Why don’t people post more about that or about the work itself? Whatever happened to caring about substance?  Like honing dialogue in a scene?  Deepening a character’s motivation?  Or building the arc of your narrative?  What happened to caring about anything other than how many words you spew out in a day–and then posting the total in some kind of victory lap?

scowell-smug-ross-kingsland-how-to-deal-with-hatersLev Raphael is the author of Assault With a Deadly Lie, a novel about militarized police.  You can find it and his other books on Amazon.

Don’t Spread Bogus Quotations!

Someone on Twitter recently pointed me to a book called How To Gain 100,000 Twitter Followers: Twitter Secrets Revealed by An Expert.

Well, who wouldn’t want a vast horde of followers? I know that gave Jesus  some trouble, but on Twitter you just have to feed them content, with no miracles involved, right?

So I sampled the book on Amazon and here’s what I found right at the beginning, obviously meant as inspiration: “Learn the rules like a pro, so that you can break them like an artist.” It was attributed to Picasso. The dial on my bullshit meter went into the red zone and the meter melted down.

946848-pablo-picassoWhether he supposedly said it in Spanish, French, or English, I just couldn’t imagine Picasso using the word “pro.” And the whole quotation just sounded too flashy, informal, and fake–why would a renowned artist put it like that?  It reeked of being a t-shirt slogan, not something one of the world’s great painters would say.

So I did some checking and quickly discovered that despite the quotation being attributed to Picasso across the Internet (and probably across the universe), there’s no citation whatsoever proving that he did.

It’s distant origin might possibly be Life’s Little Instruction Book which has a similar line: “Learn the rules then break some.” Add the bit about the artist and Boom, you’re viral!

But Picasso isn’t the only one who gets credit for the line. A different version was attributed to the Dalai Lama, too, if you can believe it.

Well, even if you can’t believe it, plenty of people have. Snopes has disproved the Dalai Lama attribution, tracing it to a viral email chain.  Oh, and there are also versions attributed to comedian Lea DeLaria and that prolific dude Unknown, who I guess is a cousin of Anon.

So did I read further in the sample on Amazon to learn some fabulous Twitter secrets that would change my life? No.  Because I figured if the author was sloppy in his epigraph, why should I trust him with my $9.95–who knows what else he got wrong?

jon-stewart-huhLev Raphael is the author of 25 books in genres from memoir to mystery which you can find on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Picasso had nothing to do with any of them.