1/31/09

Putting my keyboard where my mouth is

I wasn't going to do this. I was watching my step, trying to stay away from places that might contain rabbit holes. I know I blogged about PixelVixen707 and I think I mentioned it is part of an alternate reality game that is part of a novel that will be released in June -- Personal Effects: Dark Art by J. C. Hutchins. But I had no intention of getting involved in the game.

Why? Because once I get hooked into things like that, they nag at the back of my mind until I solve the problem. I can't put them down. That and I'm more into romance than thrillers.

So what changed?

I read PixelVixen's blog because she's a great writer and she posts links to articles that she considers great writing. So last night I was unwinding from the work week, thought I'd look over her new feature: Pix Vix Picks.  Only there was a new post up and just skimming through I got caught up, and I wound up reading to the end where she talked about some weird interaction between her and her boyfriend's brother. It was one of those oddly out of place things, like a cat toy in the home of someone allergic to cats. I just kept wondering why that post was there.

It crawled into the back of my brain and throbbed. I tried to make it go away with mindless web surfing. Then I tried to ignore it and answer email. When I finally logged off and put the laptop away, I knew. It always happens that way. After you sign off you know what you have to do. It took ten minutes to fire up the computer and log on the net and aim the browser at the website for the hospital where Zach Works. I'd seen something there and that little out of place cat toy was the answer to how to get in.

I had a moment's creepiness when I got to the site. It's pretend breaking and entering but it still feels a little weird sneaking in. It feels even spookier when you get in and find ID cards, and pictures with labels that indicate they are of a dead body. I didn't look at those pictures. I'm trying to talk myself out of trying the emails and telephone numbers I saw.  I didn't look at much because I'm barely running dial-up speed from home. I might look more from work. I'm not looking at that body. I need to find someone to look at those pictures for me.

But now I'm hooked. I'm down the rabbit hole and I know I can't pull back. I put myself on the pre-order list at Amazon, but the book won't be released until June. After looking around in a few more places, it appears the ARG is in place. There's plenty to to sort through until the book comes out.

There is something about this kind of storytelling that empowers you. You can have an impact, figure things out, solve problems, be a burglar and not get arrested. That's addictive.

I want to make clear, that while I've blogged about this ARG, I am not associated with the author or anyone working on the production. I'm just a writer who likes the genre and has a bad habit of falling down rabbit holes before the game is meant to start.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

1/27/09

The unreal are among us

How carefully do you read the profiles of bloggers when you stop by their page? If you're like me, you're focused on what they have to say and occasionally you'll dig further to learn more about them. Maybe we should rethink that. Here's why:

Name : Tatum McGarland
Age: 32
Gender: Female
Occupation: Grief Counselor

Blog: Under the Bridge

But not really. She's a character in an online Serial: A Timely Raven

Or this one seems sweet and tragic:

My name is Alyse Hanssen, I’m 30 years old, and I need help finding my brother. On December 7th, 2007 my kid brother Teddy Hanssen disappeared.
Missing Teddy Hanssen


Teddy and Alyse aren't real either. This is one of the character blogs used to promote the movie Cloverfield

Over at Teach Me Tonight there was a post on Fictions and Reality this week that mentions the difficulties of distinguishing fiction from reality:

"So what is fiction? Simply stories that do not pretend to be about real events. That's the easy answer, but of course there is more to it than that. The relation between fiction and reality is not a straight-forward one. The two have a peculiar way of getting mixed up together; distinguishing the two is not quite as easy as one might think, or hope." (Talbot 5)

Fiction, then, is selective. It can take elements of reality, but the particular elements which are chosen, and how they're placed together to form a whole, reflect choices made by the author, both consciously and subconsciously. What of reality? To a certain extent, all of us construct that too...
Teach Me Tonight: Fictions and Reality


 I would add that reality can take elements from fiction and use them to form a more interesting if not improved reality.

We already discussed Pixelvixen707. She's not real, but she's doing a fantastic job reviewing games. She's vocal about the industry's neglect of female gamers. She provides a real service. There's a dimension in the fiction and reality blend that we're just starting to explore.

Character blogs have been around for a few years and maybe just long enough that it's time to test the limits and see what we can do with a character blog. Or better yet, why confine characters to their blogs?

 Kelly Jamieson and Pixelvixen haven't. A character from Kelly's Sexpresso Night story, contacted PixelVIxen about her prior employment as a barista. Juliet (Kelly's character) and Rachel (Pixelvixen's "real?" name ) chat about coffee, gaming, men, and work.

You'll learn about "tantric coffee consumption", characterization, and secret code words for lets go have sex. Have a look.

So now characters are stepping out of their stories, crossing genres even, to get to know each other.  It's like those fantasies I had as a kid about the toys in the toy chest sneaking out to have fun after everyone went to sleep.  What's next? 

Blogging Tips for Beginners: Best tool for the job

To be a fiction writer is to be a blogger. Not all writers are as enthusiastic about that new aspect of our profession as I am. I love geek stuff. I love playing with new ways to express myself, and I really love the possibilities blogging can bring to stories.

So why isn't every writer enthusiastic about blogging? I think the biggest barrier is a technological hurdle. So that's the blogging issue I'm going to address first. You need more than a web browser to get this job done right. If you are trying to muddle along with Internet Explorer or Firefox, with no enhancements for blogging, you are wasting too much time trying to put your posts together. And that is one of the biggest complaints I hear: Blogging eats too much time.

While you can install add-ons that will improve the blogging experience with IE or Firefox, I'm not even going to waste your time trying to describe how. It's better to use the browser that was designed for blogging: Flock. All the tools you need are built in and they are fantastic.

I have been using Flock since the first release and I started mainly to see how it functioned as a browser. Flock made a blog reader out of me and then a blogger. Here's a snip of a five-star review for Flock at CNET (snip made automatically by my Flock browser).

Flock is designed to streamline and emphasize how you interface with social networking sites, RSS and media feeds, and blogs. Because it's built on Firefox 3, its behavior will feel familiar and it supports most--but not all--Firefox extensions. And yes, the "awesome bar" is part of the latest version.
Flock Browser - Free software downloads and reviews - CNET Download.com
 

Over the next few weeks, I'll be going over the basics of blogging for writers and I'll explain how to implement these techniques with Flock. If you're already using a blogging tool, you're ahead of the game. If not, go download Flock. It's free.

Get ready to love your blogging.


Blogged with the Flock Browser

1/18/09

Why mess with a good thing?

Mention reading ebooks and most people give you a dill-pickle face reaction. Then they take a deep breath and I know what's coming. Before the first vibrations cross the space between their vocal chords and my eardrum, the words they will say reverberate like a stuck loop in my brain:

"But I love the feel of a paper book, of turning the pages. You can't get that from electronic books."

I'm reminded of my grandfather's arguments about the superiority of horse over horseless carriage, and how the horse instinctively knew every stop along his mail route.

"You can't get that from a car," he said.

My grandmother had a similar argument against the telephone: "Why would you want to shout at each other through a contraption when you could sit down with a nice pen and pretty stationary and write out a lovely letter. You get something beautiful that you can keep. You can't get that on a telephone."

[Author's note: I'm not as old as this makes me sound, but my parents (like their parents), believed in waiting as long as possible before trying something out. That included having children.]

They weren't early adopters. They were the last hold outs. They were right. And yet, cars replaced horses because they evolved and provided services you couldn't get from a horse. Phone calls replaced letter writing because they provided qualities that couldn't be delivered on paper.

Take this ebook conversation a step further, beyond "e" to "I", into immersive fiction. Imagine books that do more than lay in your lap, books that do things, books that make you do things, books you could do things to, books part real and part virtual. Imagine a book where the reader is part of the story. Imagine chatting with a character about the way they could solve their problems. You can't get that on paper.

We're still at the crossover stage, trying to make books that fit both forms. Here are three ebooks that experiment with providing more than a story and in the process serve up material delivered by fiction that you could use in your real world.

Casting Spells by Barbara Bretton

This was a funny paranormal with plenty of suspense. While I'm completely inept when it comes to knitting, I enjoyed reading all the added knitting content included at the back of the book.

Summer by the Sea by Susan Wiggs

The recipes included in at the beginning of various chapters of the book looked delicious. The extra content blended nicely with the story. I liked the way they dropped the recipes in between chapters.

Unmasked by Nicola Cornick

This is an historical romance. I've read a few historicals, but never felt particularly motivated to search the meaning of terms like ton or to look up White's. Thanks to links provided in the book I was able to learn some of the history behind standard terms and places found in historical romance novels. A great story about "a female Robin Hood."

The last in these three examples is the only one that couldn't be delivered as efficiently in print, but the other two stories motivate readers to take something from the book and create something beautiful with it in their life. All three stories straddle dimensions between real and virtual. As these stories demonstrate, a story turns immersive when it motivates a reader to: act, create, learn.

I love these experiments. I love watching what books become. I believe as another innovative publisher has said:

Exploring What Digital Books Can Be: We believe digital books can be a larger canvas from which immersive experiences explode.
Sourcebooks

Why mess with a good thing? Because that is how you get something new and something challenging. I wouldn't say I'm an early adopter. I'm not a last hold out. I'm one of the pioneers. So let's explore. Let's find the next dimension.


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1/11/09

Who I am

I'm an erotic romance writer.  Being a writer used to mean typewriters and paper and a year or more to write a book. As recently as the 90s I made most of my submissions on paper. And not so long ago, being a romance writer meant you spoke about sex in terms of manhoods and womanhoods, or seed and loins.  Writing and romance stories have changed. Those of us who write erotic romance are still defining who we are and what we write, a task further complicated by the fact books are undergoing an evolution and so is the job description.

This quote sums that up in a number of ways, not all of them immediately obvious:
Life was so simple in the ’90s, when all we had was an e-mail address. I keep track of a blog, a Twitter feed, avatars, jobs, a boyfriend, a secret post office box in Boise that nobody - and I mean nobody - knows about. We all have to make and manage dozens of ourselves. And clearly, the easiest way to do it is by paring ourselves to the bone.

User-Created Users » PixelVixen707

I'm asking myself how she managed the '90s with one email address. But she's right, we aren't who we used to be. I go to log in at a site or to check email and I have to stop, hands poised over the keyboard and say, "Who am I here?" I have 3 phone numbers for the different roles in my life, more email accounts than I want to think about, and avatars, and twitter feeds, and blogs. I can't decide if that makes me too divided or if it makes me whole.

I'm not who I was in the '90s.  Books aren't what they were in the '90s, but I can't help thinking books aren't all they could be. Technology and new media have handed us the power to make books something more, to add new dimensions, in the same way it allows us to add dimensions to our lives.

While I figure out who I am in this virtuality that is my writing life, I'll explore what an erotic romance can be and what a book can become.

And just to get things started, PixelVixen707 is a game review blogger, and if you peruse her site I'm sure you will agree she is an excellent writer and game reviewer. You really have to read a couple of her posts to get the full impact of this next bit: she isn't real. She's a character in a story that is being written to sell another story. She is so good at what she does that real game bloggers link to her and comment at her site. She was good enough at the game to fool gamers. Have a look at her site and see if you can find the clues that reveal she isn't real.

While this isn't an erotic romance, as far as I know romance books don't exist in this dimension. Yet. It does involve her relationship with her boyfriend, so I'm considering it close enough to qualify for discussion about what this type of story means for romance writers.

I'm ready for the adventure. Are you?