Happy Birthday, Blog!

One year ago, I started up this blog with the intention of getting some of my writing out there, where it might gain some constructive criticism (and, I hoped, approval).

Now I’m sitting with 155 awesome blog followers, many of whom have been active commenters on this site. I honestly didn’t expect so many people to be interested in my opinions as a writer, and the feedback I have received has helped alter my views on writing and publishing. I’ve picked up lots of tips and tricks that have already served me out in the writing world. So thank you so much!

For the one-year anniversary of this blog, I thought I’d go over some of the things I learned regarding blog content, social media, and interaction.

Content

I started Forging Shadows as a place to put my poetry, short stories and eventually a serial or two. It was my aim to get people interested in my writing and to get feedback that would help me improve.

There are a number of blogs out there devoted to posting fantasy novels, section by section. I don’t know how it works out for them, but I found pretty quickly that people often weren’t too interested in what I posted. Maybe that says something about my writing (uh, oh), but I prefer to think that it says something about the way blogs work.  I got a lot more traffic when I discussed the writing process, or even posted an apology for procrastinating and not posting new content.

I think that unless you’re big in the world of blogging, a lot of people won’t read every single post you make. That makes a serial hard to pull off. People also like to weigh in, which is harder to do when you read a piece that is supposedly finished. And I can see why people wouldn’t want to put out full-blown critiques in the blog comments.

I also found that any writing I put out between non-fiction posts got more attention. A hybrid blog worked better than just a fiction blog. Of course, this is only my experience. Others may have fiction blogs with thousands of followers, and I’m glad it’s working out for them.

Social Media

Everyone in the writing world is currently concerned with the social media craze. Which one is best? How do you use them properly? Are they worth it? I decided to take a look at my stats page to see what’s working best for me.

One of the things that I noticed as I was preparing for this blog post was that I haven’t been participating in a lot of the social media that writers are supposed to engage in these days. I don’t have facebook, I barely use twitter, I’ve been trying pinterest but it really just feels like a personal bulletin board that happens to be online, where others can stumble across it.

I found that I just didn’t have time to give each of these social media outlets enough attention to make it worth looking over by someone else. I’d rather work on this blog, or a work in progress.

Twitter is quickly becoming my nemesis. To be honest, I have a hard time seeing why it’s so great. I’ve seen just a few interesting conversations, and just a few witty remarks. I’m in love with the TNG Season 8 twitter account and I like other accounts with similar concepts. A lot of the news I get on twitter revolves around book promotion, but with just 140 characters it’s hard to make a sell or even generate much interest. I’ve even unfollowed some people because all they do is tweet about themselves (ahem, Mike Wells).

Of course, this makes me a raging hypocrite. These days, I pretty much only tweet when I’ve put up a blog post. And I only do that because wordpress tweets it for me automatically.

Of course, we’re not just here to talk about twitter. Here’s a list of referrers to my blog:

WordPress Reader: 158 views
Search Engines: 94 views
Other Blogs: 57 views
Twitter: 19 views
Fantasy sites and Forums: 10 views
Writing sites and forums: 2 views

I think I’ll save a full breakdown of this for later, particularly the analysis of writing sites. The stats may not be stellar to some of you, but I was just shocked that some people might want to read what I have to say.

Interaction

WordPress advises us to read other blogs and comment on them, and it wasn’t until I took that advice to heart that I started getting more traffic to my own blog. It also meant that I found some awesome people out there who have taught me a lot about writing.

One thing I have really enjoyed is reading the comments that you all put up about writing. It has been really lovely to hear from you all throughout this year. You’ve given me a lot to think about and I have always felt better after reading a comment that someone put up. No one has ever left a nasty or even particularly negative comment on my blog. Plenty of people have disagreed with me, but always in the most civil of terms.

Thank you everyone, for making forgingshadows’ first year a great one. Hopefully next year will be even better!

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The Experiment: Chapter One

A couple of weeks ago, I was about to dip my toe into the strange, self-publishing experiment Leanpub. The motto of Leanpub is, “publish early, publish often,” and the basic idea is that you publish a book as you write it, and people who buy the book can influence it in terms of what happens next and what changes you need to make to the existing manuscript.

I’m not going to recap my doubts and fears regarding this kind of assembly-line publishing. But I am going to discuss my thoughts regarding leanpub now that I have published the first chapter of Predestination.

1. User Friendly? What’s that? Leanpub seems built more for people who want to buy books than those who want to sell them. The site doesn’t have obvious tabs from which I can access my work in progress. If I go to the dashboard I can see my earnings, the books I’ve bought, and the books I’ve sold, among other things. At the moment, that means nothing to me – I haven’t even published my first chapter yet! Every time I’ve tried to access my work in progress, I’ve had to go through a maze of other tabs until I have finally stumbled upon the tab I want. In short, the website’s design is poorly thought out. It’s true, I’m slightly technologically illiterate, but let’s be honest: web sites should be made with the knowledge that idiots like me will be trying to navigate them.

2. All those text editors you’ve got? RUBBISH. Leanpub has put all its chips behind the text editing program Markdown. They claim that all other editors are insufficient. I have to say, I don’t think it’s very clever to back only one horse, and a horse that doesn’t seem too popular, at that. As far as I understand it, Markdown is intended to be a platform that helps people publish e-books in a way that means they don’t have to spend as much time formatting and messing around. Which brings us to the next point:

3. Our auto-formatting is AWESOME! No, wait…It’s not. After following the instructions on the leanpub page regarding the publishing of my first chapter, I previewed it. I ended up with three superfluous sections that I hadn’t asked for in my book. After tweaking it, I ended up with the content I wanted, but under the general heading ‘contents’ and an extra page that said, “CONTENTS” and nothing more. I finally got it to do what I wanted by copying my manuscript into Markdown – though of course, it didn’t format correctly and I had to go through it again to make paragraph changes.

4. Fiction is Fiction, Right? I was more than a little surprised to see that there are no subgenres of fiction. No romance, fantasy, sci-fi, comedy, thriller…As a reader, this seems like a really bad idea to me. It’s like handing someone a basket full of books and saying, ‘see what you want to pay for.’ If leanpub wants to cater to a large market, then they need to sort their fiction section so that we can look for what we want. It’s also annoying that they don’t list prices.

So far, to say that I am unimpressed is rather an understatement. I put Predestination up on Wattpad and it took me ten seconds. My suspicion is that leanpub, which sells a lot of books on navigating various computer languages, is striving for an audience that it doesn’t fully understand. If the company is going to make it with this novelty publishing method, then they’re going to have to make things easier on us. Otherwise, their writership will never grow.

Of course, I will love you forever if you go check it out – this is an experiment, after all. Or if you prefer, you can find it on wattpad.

I’ve Found My First Procrastination Tool

Okay, it’s not really my first procrastination tool. There was the rest of the internet, and other writers complaining about plot lines, and thesis, and about a thousand other things. But this is cooler than cat gifs, George Takei, and those horrible television shows that I hate to love (I’m looking at you, Once Upon a Time and Vampire Diaries).

A shout out to Graham Edwards, who wrote about something called Wordle on his blog. Thanks, Graham. Now I’ll never get anything done in November. After writing every fifty words, I’ll stop to see what my wordle looks like.

Wordle is an application that turns text into word cloud. You can put in as much or as little as you like (as far as I understand it) and see how often you use certain words in your writing. You can also play around with the font, color and orientation of your cloud.

To experiment, I took the prologue of a work in progress and put it in to Wordle. The piece is 3,695 words long. I was utterly convinced that it was going to be dominated by the word water.

Wordle: prologueOh, how wrong I was.

It took me a fair while to even find water on there. I figured goddess would play a prominent role. I was a bit surprised to see that Doge had taken the top slot, since that character was only in around half of the prologue.

This application is interesting to see what we think we are writing about, and what we are actually putting down. Of course, the words don’t mean a lot without some kind of order to them. But all the things I thought were major or minor themes didn’t seem that important when crunched via the Almighty Method of the Wordle. Perhaps if I were less tired, or smarter, I would be able to figure out how the themes I’ve tried to incorporate do manage to show up in the word cloud.

But alas, I have been giving tours all day and all I want to do is be a mindless zombie and drink my chai. And play around more with wordle.

If anyone else feels like making a word cloud, feel free to post the results up here. It will be fun and colorful!

Just for fun, I put this post into wordle, too.

What I Have Been Doing Lately, and a Call for Artists

So, first off:

I realized today that I have missed the last two or three posting deadlines. I wanted to put up another chapter and maybe another book blurb. I in fact have something vaguely chapter-like written up on my favourite writing site. But I don’t want to post it without giving it a good look-over. And I haven’t had time to do that.

On Friday I will by flying to Sofia, Bulgaria to give a presentation on ancient Egyptian mortuary texts. The presentation will be less exciting than it sounds, I assure you. I have  been hectically preparing it all week, in addition to the thesis preparation I have been doing for my advisor. I am happy to say that my presentation is essentially ready, and my thesis pages will be sent off first thing tomorrow morning.

So now you all know what I have been doing rather than engaging in more entertaining pursuits. Real life is so tedious when you’d rather be writing. And I haven’t even got to real life yet. I’m still stuck in the student life.

Regrettably, I don’t see myself posting prior to about a week from now. If I’m overwhelmingly bored in Bulgaria, I may find the time to concoct a book blurb or spare piece of prose.

And now, to the second part:

I don’t think my blog has enough art.

I like art, of just about any variety. It inspires me. It’s fun to look at. It breaks up long lines of prose.

I can’t do art.

So if there’s anyone who would like to have their art put up on a blog, feel free to contact me. I’ve added a page over in navigation with details on what I’m looking for.

Nanowrimo Book Blurb # 3: Predestination

Samantha Goodwin has always known the shape of her life. That’s what you get when you grow up in the most powerful witch clan in the entire country. She knows when she’ll be sick, she knows when the frosts will kill the harvest – she even knows the day she’ll die. Everyone in her family knows it. It doesn’t make life terribly exciting, but then, what can you do? Everyone is content with (or at least resigned to) their lot in life.

At least, until he shows up.

A scruffy, scrawny boy on the run in a parallel universe somehow breaks the barrier between worlds and ends up in Samantha’s lap. Literally. The witch clans of his world insist that he must be executed. He is predestined to, after all. But Samantha finds herself helping him cheat fate and forge a new destiny, one that defies the power at the heart of her clan.

And if he can make his own choices, why can’t she?

***
I scribbled this one out on a late night train to the little town north of London where I’m staying. I just spent a full day at the British Library so my mind was in need of a thesis break and some creative output.
The idea didn’t spend long months fermenting in the back of my mind. It just rushed out. It came out of nowhere and will probably go nowhere.
Because I basically opened my brain and this story fell out, it’s not big on crazy metaphors or complicated, slightly creepy relationships. In my mind it’s a simple action/adventure/urban fantasy/parallel universe kind of story. No confusing, swirling narrative technique – just a straightforward, linear story line about a girl and a boy and the fabric of the universe.
That makes this much better nanoing material than the last book blurb, or the last novel I tried to actually write for Nanowrimo. Nothing needs a lot of deep thought, not at first. Things just have to happen. They don’t have to be terribly complicated.
I’m considering a love triangle aspect. Considering it. Love triangles are tending towards the overrated these days in terms of subplots, and so many stories have them. It would probably depend on what happens when I start writing, whether I can keep the excitement going or find myself flagging.
Is there enough material here to keep me going for 50,000 words and 30 days? What else does it need?

Publication Update: Snow White

What is the best thing to see when coming home from five hours of herding drunken, beligerent tourists from pub to pub in Copenhagen?

Well, aside from a warm cup of coffee.

An awesome email, of course. I just finished tonight’s Copenhagen Pub Crawl and slogged my way home to find a lovely email in my inbox: my poem “Snow White” has been published on the fairy tale e-zine, Enchanted Conversations.

I have always loved fairy tales. I have loved twisting them and turning them into something different, and I have loved reading twisted fairy tales by other authors. So Enchanted Conversations is an e-zine that I have enjoyed reading ever since I discovered it (which was, let’s be honest, not that long ago).

Of course, I was really excited when Kate asked me to be an honorable mention  for the month of July. I have so far enjoyed all of her selections, and it is always wonderful to feel vindicated by someone whose tastes you admire.

Kate’s site includes poetry, short stories and articles, so she has a selection for anyone with an interest in the world of fairy tales. Go poke around her site, I’m sure you’ll find something cool!

Searching for Reality in an Artificial World

I have returned from my trip to Venice and Florence with a camera full of pictures and a belly full of gelato, just the way such trips ought to go. I didn’t get as much writing done as I would have liked, and I didn’t get to update my blog – in fact, internet was so scarce on the ground that I couldn’t even write to tell my boyfriend I had landed.

I went to Venice to enjoy myself and see an old friend, but I also went there to gather inspiration. I’m working on a story about a city with canals instead of streets, gondolas instead of carts, doges instead of princes. I wanted to walk around Venice and soak up the atmosphere, see how this bizarre city works, and try to inject some of that magic into my writing.

But, to be honest, I don’t feel like I got to see the real Venice. I don’t even know whether there is a real Venice. It’s all mask shops and paper shops and glass shops punctuated by restaurants with overpriced tourist menus. Even when we tried to avoid the more tourist-populated areas and visited places like Cannaregio (where the Jewish Ghetto was built), we couldn’t escape the tourist-trap feeling.

The entire island was sinking under the weight of visitors. Every time I looked at the houses above the shops, or the little side areas that appeared to hold residents, I wondered: Can people actually live here?

I wouldn’t be able to do it.

The Venice I wanted is probably the Venice that everyone thinks of when they set out. Something darkly romantic, full of secrets exchanged in gondolas and hidden behind carnival masks. Whispers in the night. Secrets the day does not quite manage to conceal.

This is no more the real Venice than the city I saw. But I was hoping, in my travel, to find some kind of truth that I could work into my prose.

All I saw was a city so heavily gilded that no one could pass by without stopping. Full of light and sound and colour and shape – the city is full of the appearance of substance, but the meat of it eluded me completely.

So, after traversing the islands on foot for four days, we moved on to Florence.

Maybe living in Venice would give me a different perspective on it – but I wouldn’t really want to move there to find out. I will keep looking for my great metropolitan muse. In the meantime, there’s plenty of other stuff to write.