Archive | May, 2012

Sneak Peek of the Burning Furiously Beautiful Cover

31 May

Here’s a sneak peek of the cover design for Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, which I am co-authoring with critically acclaimed Kerouac scholar Paul Maher Jr.

Award-winning designer Igor Satanovsky created the cover.  Igor also happens to be a poet in his own right and studied poetry under Allen Ginsberg at City University of New York-Brooklyn College.

Can’t wait to share more with you!

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Writing Wednesday: You Are King

30 May

 

I have a lot of friends who work in book production.  When the publishing industry began to change and ebooks grew in popularity, putting some people out of jobs, they looked at me, the editor, and said, you’re safe.  You’re on the content side.  Publishers will always need editors, writers, and people working with content.

As I simultaneously entered the blogosphere, I became more disenchanted.  Most blogs weren’t writer-centric.  They weren’t generating new content, they were rehashing—“aggregating”—content.  Any new content provided was mostly in the form of criticism.  Obviously that’s not all blogs, as today there are many blogs that feature fascinating stories that cater to niche readers, but if you follow the rabbit hole long enough you tend to see the same material linked over and over again.

In “Content Is No Longer King,” Ben Elowitz makes a very interesting and valuable point: “Content isn’t the goal.  Audience is.”  He explains that distribution needs more focus today.  Packaging and delivery are just as important as what you have to say.  In the end, advertisers—the people who pay your bills—care about how many readers you have, not what it is you’re actually saying.

Okay, that’s true, but it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg scenario.  Which comes first, the audience or the content?  You need to have content to draw an audience, right?  Well, yes and no.  Here are two different stories:

A while back, a bunch of my favorite blogs mentioned a new food blog.  Because of their lovely posts, I trusted their opinion on this new blog and clicked to check it out.  It was indeed an adorable blog with pictures that made my mouth water.  Unfortunately, there were only two or three posts.  I went back a while later and there was maybe another post or two, but nothing too substantial.  Now I no longer remember the name of the blog.  My point is, they had beautiful packaging and a built in audience, thanks to all the hype, but without significant content they failed to keep me as a reader.

On the flip side, I’ve read many blogs that have great content, content that has informed and inspired me.  However, these same blogs appear to have no following.  Perhaps they get many hits, but no one leaves witty remarks in the comments section.  So great content obviously isn’t enough.  These bloggers are failing to reach an audience, perhaps because of their distribution or lack-thereof.

Elowitz gives a few tips on distribution.  He says:

Put someone in charge of audience development

Adopt an audience development strategy

Systemize it

Under each of these headers he explains the tips.  They’re valuable tips, but they’re also vague.  What are some audience development strategies?  Elowitz says “know your audience segments, and what each one will like.”  I’d like to expand on that a little because it’s an important point.  Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself:

  • What can you do to make your blog stand out from other blogs on that subject?
  • Is your content too broad?
  • Who is your dream reader?
  • Would you read your blog?
  • What ideas can you “steal” from other blogs?  Don’t literally copy and paste content or do the exact same thing as another blog, but think about what your favorite blogs are doing right and use it as inspiration.
  • Is your voice consistent?
  • Are you blogging often enough?

Now as far as getting your content out there, Elowitz mentions disseminating content through social media.  I’ve definitely found Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest to be useful means toward promoting and distributing work.  However, you have to an audience on these social media platforms for it to work.  So, again, it all comes back to finding and developing that audience.  How do you reach an audience on social media?  Here are some questions to think about:

  • Do you sound like an advertiser?  Buy this! Read this! Click here!
  • Do you sound needy?  Like me!  Follow me!  Share this!  Subscribe!
  • Are you only disseminating your work or are you promoting other bloggers’ work too?
  • Are you only posting or are you interacting with your any followers?
  • What time of day are you posting?
  • Can any of your older posts be redistributed?
  • Are you following people who have the same interests as what you blog about?
  • Are you leaving comments on other people’s works?
  • Is your social media voice consistent with your blogging voice?

It’s important to be patient and consistent.  As in the example above, it’s not always a good thing to have an immediate following.  You want to grow with your audience.

Think of it this way:  Content and audience aren’t king.  You are king.  You rule your corner of the blogosphere, making important decisions about content.  The diplomatic aspect of being ruler is developing relationships with your subjects (your audience) and other rulers of the blogosphere.  If you’re a benevolent king, spreading good will (content) and cheer (promoting and encouraging other bloggers), more people will want to visit your kingdom.

The Story of Turning My Thesis In

29 May

You already saw the picture from my reading, but here’s the story of completing my theses.  Oh and what an adventure it was.

One of my best friends was getting married on the Sunday before my thesis was due (why don’t people plan their lives around my writing schedule?!) so I had to put the finishing touches on it, print it out, and get it professionally bound that Saturday.  Well, let me tell you, finding a company that does vello binding is not as easy as it sounds even in New York City, where most things are at your fingertips.  I was rushing around New York, being turned down by one place after the next.  Finally, I found a FedEx in Chelsea that could do it, but they were so packed that they told me to drop off the manuscript and then they’d call me back once it had been printed on high-quality paper and bound.  I don’t live in that area so of course that meant lots of time traveling back and forth on the subway.  But the guy who helped me had the name of one of literature’s most fascinating characters and was so helpful, giving me special coupons for when the time comes to mail my manuscript off to publishers.

It felt kind of anticlimactic turning my thesis in on Monday.  I ran down to the Writing Program’s office on my lunch break and thought the office would be abuzz with friends from my workshops.  I only ran into one other person turning her thesis in at the same time as me.  I was in and out pretty quickly, after indulging in a piece of delicious chocolate from the office’s basket as my reward.

Since I was in the area I decided to go to Argo Tea.  One of the women from the writing program introduced the Chicago-founded company to me, and I’m officially obsessed with their Red Velvet Tea.  It is insane how delicious that tea is.

That evening I saw a bunch of writers from my graduating class post that they had submitted their theses.  It’s so exciting!  There were so many great writers in the program, and I can’t wait to see their theses turned into books.

Memorial Day: Kerouac in the Merchant Marines

28 May

Picture via Across an Underwood / Sketches on Kerouac

Jack Kerouac was in the Merchant Marines during World War II. You can read about his time on the S.S. Dorchester, which ultimately was torpedoed, here.

Kerouac made it out alive, but two of his Greek American friends from Lowell did not: Johnny Koumentzelis and Sebastian Sampas.

Today we remember all of those who selflessly gave of themselves to make our world a better place, and we think of the many families who lost loved ones.

Not Hunting the Grizzly

25 May

On this day in 1975 the Grizzly bear was classified as a “threatened” species.  Even though President Theodore Roosevelt wrote Hunting the Grisly, he actually worked with John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, to protect America’s wildlife and landscape.  I address this in my introduction to the reissue of this classic book, which is available in both paperback and ebook format.

Sadly, there are likely less than 1,000 Grizzlies in the United States today.  Find out more about Grizzly bears and other endangered animals at the Wildlife Conservation Society, where you can even send letters to Congress about protecting animals.

Accidental Speed Dating

23 May

Being a writer means spending a lot of time by yourself in front of a computer screen that just blinks back at you, waiting for you to make the first move.  Even when you’re a gainfully employed freelancer you rarely go into an office and meet your editor.  Interaction comes via emails, sometimes snail mail if you’re not linked up to PayPal.

A couple years ago, I was working as an arts writer for a hipper-than-thou New York blog that actually sought to foster their community of writers through social events.  The first time I got invited to an event, I still had never met my editor or any of the other contributors in person, and had no idea what anyone looked like.  The first time I got invited to an event, the bar where we were meeting also happened to be holding a speed dating event.  I’m sure you know where this is headed: I got a little confused, and almost ended up accidentally speed dating.

All of this comes to mind because I just read Frank D. Santo’s “Waiting for a stranger to roll her eyes: My adventures in literary speed dating” for NY Daily News.  Apparently, literary speed dating exists.  A book seems to serve as a great conversation starter, a little peek into a person’s interests—and reading level.

Chloris and the Greek Myth of the Rose

21 May

 

The Greek myth of the rose is one of my favorites.

Chloris, the goddess of the flowers, was in the forest one day when she tripped over a beautiful nymph lying lifeless.  Chloris was so overcome by the nymph’s fate that she reached out to the other gods to transform her into a flower.

Aphrodite gave her beauty.

Dionysus, the god of wine, gave her nectar for a sweet-smelling fragrance.

The three Graces—the Charites known as Thalia, Euphrosyne, and Aglaea—gave her charm, joy, and brilliance or splendor.

Roses from My Father

17 May

When I was a little girl, my father used to surprise me with roses.  Most of the gardening my father did was of a practical nature: cucumber and tomato plants, the occasional “karpouzi” (watermelon) if the raccoons didn’t get to it first (they always got to it first).  He had grown up on a farm in Greece, and gardening was not a hobby so much as a way of life and a means toward putting food on the table.  There were very few flowers in our garden in New Jersey.

In our backyard, there was a tattered fence that separated our yard from a little brook.  It was here that he planted roses.  In the spring, the thorny bushes climbed up the fence in a tangled mess.  Then one summer morning, while I was still asleep, they bloomed pink, yellow, white, and red, opening their petals up to the blue, blue sky.  My father would cut these beautiful roses and present them to me.  He told me I was a delicate flower.

I’ve been swirling in these memories of my father out in the garden, as I’ve been writing my memoir.

Picture of Me at My MFA Thesis Reading

16 May


That’s me at the podium!  Thank you all for coming out to my reading at The New School last week!

Tasty Tuesday: Pindar Pythagoras Wine, Greek American Wine from Long Island

15 May

 

Since my thesis was due on a Monday, there wasn’t much opportunity for celebrating.  Instead, I went home after a normal day of work, ate leftover spaghetti and opened a bottle of wine I’d been saving.

Last summer I had gone wine tasting at a couple vineyards on Long Island and picked up a bottle from Pindar Vineyards.  I’d been saving it for a special occasion and thesis submission seemed as good as time as any to crack it open.

The bottle I had picked up surprisingly wasn’t one that I had sampled at the vineyards so I didn’t know what to expect.  I picked it out for its name, Pythagoras.

Pythagoras (ca. 570 BC – 495 BC) was a Greek philosopher and mathematician from Samos, an island in the eastern Aegean Sea.  He later moved out of Greece an into Calabria, in southern Italy, where he lived in a Greek colony called Croton, by the Ionian Sea.  He is, of course, the founder of the Pythagorean theorem.   He set up a school in which music, sports, and diet were important elements.  This would go on to influence Plato.  There’s also a religion associated with Pythagoras, who believed in reincarnation.

The Pythagoras Pindar wine is a Greek wine, but not in the traditional sense.  It is not made in Greece but rather by Greek Americans on the North Fork on Long Island, New York.  Pindar Vineyards was founded by Dr. Herodotus “Dan” Damianos, who was born in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen.  He began buying farmland in Peconic, North Fork, Long Island, in 1979, and started planting grapes the following year.  Today, seventeen different varieties of grapes grow on Pindar Vineyard’s 500 acres.

One of the special aspects of Pindar Vineyards is its commitment to environmental stewardship.  The vineyard practices sustainable agriculture.  You can read about its green initiative on its website.  It’s really quite impressive.

Dr. Dan drew his inspiration for winemaking from the Robert Louis Stevenson quote “wine is like poetry.”  It seems fitting that I should enjoy a wine inspired by literature as a celebration to turning in my thesis.

The Pindar Pythagoras is a red table wine.  It is light with a deliciously spicy bite.  While some reds coat your tongue with sinewy grapes, the Pythagoras has more of a white wine texture.  Delicate and effortless, it’s a good summer red.  Its buoyancy does not mean it’s watery though.  It’s flavorful, with a bit of a kick to it.

Here’s how Pindar describes the Pindar Pythagoras:

This special red was first crafted to celebrate our 20th anniversary. It has the round and full characteristics of Merlot with the slight herbaceousness of Cabernets. This award-winning blend has been named “Best US Red Blend” by the Beverage Testing Institute in Chicago and “Best Red Vinifera” in Vineyard & Winery Management’s “Best of the East” competition. Sure to please a wide range of palates.

It’s a good wine to round out a pasta dish with olives in it or some sinfully dark chocolate.

If you’re here in New York, you can purchase it online, but why not take a day trip to Long Island?  You can rent a car or take the Hampton Jitney bus.  It’s a great getaway from Manhattan.