Category: writing and technology

Out with the old, in with the new

publishing, reading, releases, writing and technology, writing life December 31, 2012

Happy New Years’ Eve to all my friends!

I finally convinced my webmaster to update my website. He’s still cursing over adding cover art, but he’ll get there. Or I’ll take his cookies.

2012 was a good year for me… books were completed, short stories written, submissions sent, my first professional writing contracts were signed. As I sit here with my trusty laptop and a cup of coffee, I think back on a year that wasn’t bad at all.

On the horizon is 2013. I’m so excited to move forward and see my projects in print and continue these fabulous professional relationships. I see many good things in the future, and I wish the same for all my readers and friends.

Twitching

agents, marketing, writing and technology, writing life March 19, 2012

No, not the muscular kind, although my left eyelid has been giving me fits lately. No, I’m talking about a Twitter-pitch.

Tweet, tweet.

The term “twitch” has been coined (as far as I can tell) by Kim Lionetti of BookEnds literary agency. Recently she held a “twitch” contest in which the winner was awarded a critique of the first three chapters and synopsis of their manuscript. Anyone interested pitched their novel to her in Twitter’s less-than-140 character limit.

Could you do it? Could you find the right few words to express the most basic element in your novel? Not only do you have to condense your novel, you have to find the “hook,” which means you really have to examine what makes your novel unique.

I used an ultra-short pitch for my thesis novel, Merry Meet: If you want to commit murder, don’t frame a witch. I was surprised and thrilled a few days later when Ms. Lionetti tweeted back that I’d won the critique. I’m very excited to get the professional feedback on my thesis.

My “twitch” is even shorter than what we would consider a classic elevator pitch. You can bet on getting 30 seconds in an elevator, during which time you could give a fairly good pitch. I’ve had agent appointments at conventions or seminars anywhere from three minutes to twelve (and it was the twelve minute meeting that made me sweat the most). Marketing is more challenging than ever, so we have to adapt to a variety of situations. Be ready for anything.

Take another look at your own marketing tools and be sure they fit a variety of situations… even if the situation calls for less than 140 characters. If writing a good synopsis is hard (and it’s one part of what we do that I’d rather skip), writing a good short pitch is harder. Boil that novel down to one catchy sentence. Ask a reader to help, because sometimes you get so invested in the details, it’s hard to leave them out.

There’s a valuable lesson here. The publishing world has become smaller in the current social media environment. Everything has to adapt, including pitching.

Follow Ms. Lionetti on Twitter @BookEndsKim and check out BookEnds, LLC.

Book review: World War Z by Max Brooks and a small rant about technology

angst, book review, writing and technology, writing life August 17, 2011

I have this program on my computer called MacJournal. I like it very much. I use it for basic journaling and for things like book reviews or idea management. It’s a handy little program. I also used it exclusively to keep a record of all my board posts in graduate school. We were required to post responses to various prompts or other assigned material several times per week, and I just copied and pasted all my posts– three years of work– into the MacJournal program.

I also used to use two user profiles on my computer, one for my everyday stuff and one for all my writing stuff, under the assumption that separating the two lives would lead to greater productivity in each. Imagine my shock when that didn’t work.

So my husband, who just so happens to be a software engineer *cough* geek, merged my user profiles into one. I was reunited with my evil twin! I’m just not saying which is which. Anyway, this morning I went into my MacJournal program to find a book review to post here and lo! It’s all gone.

Note there that I’m actually not panicking. The husband, whom I shall call my Geek God, will be home from work sometime today and he will find it for me. No biggie. I have every faith in his ability to restore what was lost, to find my missing words, to be the techie yin to my creative yang. Or something.

Many of you will have already seen this review, since I’m reduced to using one I posted on another blog for a class, but it merits revisiting. After all, Brad Pitt is currently filming this one somewhere in Europe, I think, judging from the photos we’re being subjected to of Angelina and the brood.

Here’s my review of World War Z by Max Brooks. Keep in mind that because this review was written for a class, an audience that I knew already read it, this contains some basic spoilers. However, in this book, spoilers don’t matter quite so much, since we know the author survived the zombie apocalypse to write the manuscript.

I have to give this book a solid 3 out of 5. Possibly a grudging 4, but that would be pushing it.

World War Z is a tough book to review. From the writers’ point of view, I have incredible respect for Brooks’ ability to make an old subject fresh. The format is new and unusual and I give him props for that, but it’s also what pushed my review of the book down from a 4 or 5. More on that in a bit.

From the readers’ point of view, I like the way he handles the zombies in this book– the mindless creatures can be compared to viruses destroying their hosts simply because it’s what they do to survive. There’s no malice in the zombies, we can’t be angry at what they’re doing anymore than we can be angry at grizzly bears for eating salmon. It just so happens we’re what’s on the menu for the zombies. That makes the zombies a bit scarier– there’s no reasoning with them, no intimidating them (the reason for the defeat at Yonkers), they just don’t care. Hunger is the only drive. This mindlessness, the sense of futility in the behavior of the zombies, makes them more horrific.

The only bit about the zombies that I took issue with was the arms raised, shambling, moaning stereotype. Many things about this book broke with stereotype and felt so new. When I encountered the behavior that also makes zombies so comical I was seriously disappointed. I get that they’re unthinking, unfeeling shells, but make them silent. Silent at least until they find the kill, then maybe some guttural noises. And lose the shambling. I don’t expect a brisk walk, but to describe it in just the way I associate with B-rated movies? Nah.

Isolation plays a huge part in the terror of this story. There are pockets of safety, shown particularly effectively in the interview with Colonel Christina Eliopolis (p. 168-186). The map hanging on the wall of her office shows a smattering of safe zones, “[i]slands in the Sea of Zack” (p. 170). These islands had to be resupplied. Colonel Eliopolis was an airlift pilot and does a good job of explaining the situation with the islands. Her own predicament, after having her aircraft crash in the southern US, is also a fantastic example of what happens to the human mind when isolated in a hopeless situation. Much of our isolation is involuntarily self-imposed, because of our dependency on technology and so forth. I could go on and on about Brooks’ depiction of our society being turned on its head. I loved this about the book.

We never find out what caused the zombie plague. That bothered me more than I thought it would. Brooks is the narrator of this book, which is a compilation of interviews with people who played varying roles in WWZ. The account was written on behalf of the “United Nation’s Postwar Commission Report” (p. 1) but was ultimately heavily edited because of emotional content. In my mind, if there’s a committee about the war and a record is being made, the cause of the war should be examined, not just the reactions. I wanted to see the reactions of the scientists either responsible for or who discovered the reason for the zombie plague. I understand that this is cursorily explained in Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide, but this is a stand-alone story. Some sort of word from the CDC would have been appreciated.

The reason for my lower rating of the book is the format. I know this is something that has been lauded in critical circles, and, like I said, I give the man props, but it just didn’t work for me. When I started reading it my first words to my husband were “this reads like District 9.” I really liked District 9, so this was a good sign. But we never get an intimate relationship with any of the characters like we do with Wikus Van de Merwe. District 9 really got moving for me when I started to relate to Wikus and see the story through his eyes. Unfortunately, because of the once-removed format of World War Z, the story just never gained momentum. I felt like I was watching a Discovery channel documentary and actually got kind of bored by the end of the book. There was no tension for me, nothing keeping me invested in the story. Bummer.

Bottom line, I will recommend with reservations.

Work cited:

Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Three Rivers Press: New York. 2006

And now I am off to bang my head against a wall and pray my MacJournal entries are not lost to the ether.

Research

research, writing and technology, writing life January 19, 2011

I love reading. I love writing. Most of all, I love reading about the things I love to write. In other words, I love researching my subjects. I can Google a subject and spend hours reading related articles, clicking on side articles (like a digital tangent), and just absorbing the information. I do believe this allows me to write with authenticity. One of my mentors in my MFA program told me it was obvious how much I really love herbs and gardening, since my writing comes alive when I write about it.

Actually, not so much. I generally kill plants. If you ask my mother, getting me to work in the garden as a kid was like getting my sons to do dog-poo patrol in our backyard. In my mind, weeding is a form a punishment, but for people who truly love gardening, weeding is therapeutic.

What I did love was researching the subject. The information is fascinating. Herbs have been used for centuries for medicinal purposes, for aromatherapy, for cooking… and for killing. I have several books on poisoning and poisonous plants. They tend to make my dinner guests nervous, but I digress.

This love of research presents a problem for me, since I am time management challenged. So how best to do the research I need without finding myself sucked in and suddenly three or four hours of my day are gone?

First and foremost, I set a timer. I have one hour to find the information I need, or at least to identify the source for that information. After one hour, I have to move on and start writing. Chances are I have enough to go on to write my word count for the day. (That’s the beauty of fiction, too. We can fudge a little.)

Best place to start? Wikipedia. I know it’s not good source material for truly academic work, but for general research it’s fantastic. Another novel I’m working on now features a woman (actually the ghost of a woman) from “somewhere in the South.” That’s all I knew. I could hear her voice and for some odd reason, she sounded Cajun to my inner ear. Fleshing out her backstory has been a blast. Starting at “Cajun” on Wikipedia took me to all sorts of interesting places.

I have an iPad (both a curse and a blessing and my children are constantly plotting to take it from me and play Angry Birds). Without doing individual reviews of each app, there are a few I find indispensible for efficient research:

Instapaper- allows you to search newspaper articles from all over the world

Articles- a Wiki search app

Wikihood- (my favorite) allows you to search for information on a particular location, anywhere in the world, and gives you interesting side info as well

When I’m in the market for a book on a particular subject, such as my poisoning books or a book on reading auras, I like to search Amazon. The customer reviews are incredibly helpful, and when combined with the “customers who purchased this book also purchased…” feature, nearly unbeatable for finding an obscure book with awesome information.

What works for you?

Happy New Year!

SHU WPF, voices in my head, Writing About Popular Fiction, writing and technology, writing life January 5, 2011

Happy New Year and all that jazz. We had a quiet holiday here at the casa.

Bad news… my Facebook account was hacked. If you got a chat message from me asking for money because I’d been robbed at gunpoint in London… yeah, no. That’s not me. I contacted FB immediately and my page is disabled for the foreseeable future. If you were unfriended (because they ninja’ed my friends list) please, please let me know. I can’t tell who all they deleted. Leave me a comment here and as soon as my page is back up, I’ll add you again. Stupid phishers.

I leave on Friday for my final SHU residency. Thesis defense on Monday the 10th, graduation Wednesday the 12th. If I would have graduated last year, before the advent of the F, I would have been sad to go. Now? I’m exhausted and ready to be done. Subjected to too many bureaucratic changes, oversights and general fuck-ups. I’m done, stick a fork in me.

What’s on the horizon? Major thesis revisions and then heavy submissions to get that puppy on the road to publication. I’m also actively working on the sequel to the thesis and a ghost story, with a thriller muddling around in my brain. For the next week, though, I’m all about graduation.

Introductions

SHU WPF, voices in my head, Writing About Popular Fiction, writing and technology, writing life September 16, 2010

I’m currently enrolled in Seton Hill University’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction. That’s right, delicate souls, I will soon be awarded a terminal degree in writing fiction. An academic award for the voices in my head. I am giddy with delight, but not so giddy that I can’t hear my characters cheering me on. Okay, some of them are laughing, but I’m not telling which ones.

This is my last term in SHU’s WPF program and I’m taking a class called Writing About Popular Fiction. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and it’s both gone beyond the boundaries of my meager expectations and laid me out completely flat with what it means to be a writer in this technological age. I’ll be blogging a fair amount about the course content and what it means to me, but one of the assignments was to write my author bio. Or bios, as the case may be.

What better way to introduce myself on my blog? I write about a variety of topics, so I’ve chosen to write two separate bios.

My “general” bio:
Nikki Hopeman still has a trunk full of spiral-bound notebooks of short stories in elementary handwriting. While she’s graduated to using a computer for writing, she still finds files of mysterious information saved for future writing endeavors and she can sometimes remember why she saved them. She lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, two sons, two corgis and one chaotic cat. She can be reached through her website at http://www.nikkihopeman.com.

And one bio more specifically for my pagan writing (my thesis and its sequel novels):
A lifelong pagan and practicing Wiccan for fifteen years, Nikki Hopeman has a passion for the Celtic pantheon, tattoos and skyclad ritual. When she’s not mumbling over her cauldron or invoking her muse, she can be found in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, two sons, two corgis and one chaotic cat. She can be reached through her website at http://www.nikkihopeman.com.

You can find me on Facebook and Twitter, as well.