Blogging 101, Day Nineteen: Try a New Posting Style

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It’s important to try new things so that we don’t become stagnant. Many people think of a blog as just walls of written text, but they can really be so much more. That’s why today’s assignment is to build your storyteller’s toolbox by publishing a post in another format or a style that you’ve never used before.

Michelle W. tells us that trying new things is important because it keeps our readers interested, and also helps us to learn the best ways to effectively share a story. You should always be learning, after all.

For example, a post doesn’t have to be a written wall of text. You could post an interesting quote, a funny video, or the link to a cause you care about. You could share a photo album, write out a favorite recipe, or scan in some of your artwork. You could take a break from the written word and record a vlog instead. Have some fun!

Personally, I stick mostly to written stories and thoughts from my own mind because it’s what I enjoy the most, but every now and then I’ll share a video I enjoyed, or a recipe, or something else a little different, mostly to take a break from writing endless walls of text. So in the spirit of the assignment, I’m going to do something a little different from my usual. I’m going to share one of my favorite writer quotes and let you think about it yourselves (hint: feel free to share those thoughts in the comments).

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” – George Orwell

Dear Marvel: Please Leave My Poor Thor Alone

About a week ago I came across a headline on Twitter that made me do a little bit of a double-take: “Thor is Now a Woman!” I didn’t click on it at the time because I was on a bus that was driving into a cell service dead zone, but I assumed that the claim was one of two things: either a new storyline where trickster god, Loki, casts a gender-bending spell on his hero half-brother…or a joke. Imagine my surprise when my husband texted me the following day to say, “So…Thor is a girl now,” and, “Also I think Cap might be going black.”

I’ll admit right now, at this point I still thought that it was some kind of joke. And then I actually took a moment to look it up online.

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Meet the "Avengers Now!"

Let me go ahead right now and say that it’s perfectly fine – awesome, even – that Marvel wants to be more diverse.  But I really, really don’t think this is the way to go about it. Taking existing, well-established, well-loved characters and changing their gender or skin color does not feel like a progressive move to me. By making these changes I do not feel that Marvel really gets the point behind equal opportunity and diversity. I feel like, instead of putting in the time and effort to make great female and multi-cultural characters that we grow to love, they’re taking the cheap and easy way out. I feel that instead of genuinely trying to convince me that woman and minority superheroes are awesome, they’re trying to force the idea on me by screwing with characters that I’m already invested in.

Let’s get one thing straight. I do not think that making these changes in any way diminishes the core of the character. A black Cap isn’t any less American, and a female Thor is not any less a kickass warrior. What I’m getting at is that it’s unnecessary, backward, and quite a little bit confounding. This move feels to me like an employee firing two perfectly qualified white guys and replacing them with an equally (no more, no less) qualified woman and black man, just to be able to say that their workplace is diversified. The woman and the black guy might be pretty happy with the arrangement, but it’s a hell of a crappy deal for the two white guys and their families.

I’m having a hard time expressing myself on this one because it’s such a baffling concept to me. But I guess what I’m really getting down to is that sure, more women superheroes would be awesome, and sure, more racial diversity in comics would be awesome, but I feel the need to point out that there is also nothing wrong with being a white, male superhero. Does anyone get what I’m saying?

Plus, Thor Odinsdaughter doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, I’m just sayin’.

Fiction Fragment Fridays: What Will You Write? Ed. 5

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The most recent “What Will You Write?” over at I Read Encyclopedias was put on hold shortly after being announced to allow for the fact that a lot of people are pretty busy during the month of July with things like Camp NaNo. However, July is almost over, so in anticipation of the challenge reopening I decided to share my entry a little early.

This prompt, offered up by former winner Tara Southwell is a little different than the previous ones. Instead of writing the beginning of a scene and having us finish it, Tara has offered up this concept:

Just write a story, 1000 words or less, which includes one character taking a small object out of their pocket and saying, “It’s time to shake things up a bit.” Any genre, any character, as long as they have pockets.

So with that strange and wonderful idea in mind, I present my entry for the 5th “What Will You Write?”

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Jeremy yanked hard on the stiff collar of his brand new black and white suit. He glared at his mother out of the corner of his eye, and although she couldn’t possibly have seen him with her eyes fixed on the road in front of her, she immediately clicked her tongue in disapproval.

“Don’t you give me that look, young man,” she said in her frustratingly high-and-mighty tone. She removed one hand from the steering wheel to smooth her silk floral dress, and then glanced in the rearview mirror to make certain that her perfectly coiffed blond hair was still in place. The look she gave herself indicated that she saw perfection in the mirror. Jeremy saw only a cruel devil woman.

“You’ll be the model son tonight,” she commanded in what only she thought was an authoritative voice. “Or else.”

Jeremy glowered at her and yanked at his collar again. “It would have been easier on everyone if you’d just let me stay home,” he whined. “No one is going to give a damn if I’m there or not.”

“You watch your mouth,” mother hissed as she pulled the car into the hotel’s front parking lot. “This discussion is over. I’ve already told you, this is a very important business party and my boss insisted that families attend.” She chose a parking spot, turned off the ignition, and turned to give Jeremy the meanest glare she could muster. “So you will smile, and you will be polite, and you will prove yourself to be the most well-behaved child here, or so help me!” Here she whipped around with a huff and exited the vehicle, having apparently made what she thought was a point.

Jeremy moved as slowly as he could while still technically following. He frowned as they entered the huge old hotel with its twin lion statues on either side of the front doors. He frowned as the desk attendant greated them cheerfully and directed them to the confererence room where the party was being held. He frowned all the way down the long hall with the super-fancy, super-ugly old antique rug. He smiled as they entered the party, smiled as his mother proudly introduced him to her stuffy, grotesquely overweight boss, and then frowned all the way over to the table that had been set aside for the children in the far corner of the hideously-decorated room.

Jeremy was the fourth child to join the table, alongside a pretty dark-haired girl about his age, and two younger twin boys who were fighting over what appeared to be a parent’s cellphone. Jeremy sat next to the girl and together they stared grumpily out at the room full of adults in their fanciest clothes, talking and laughing quietly while sipping wine and listening to horribly boring music.

“I’m Jeremy,” he offered to the girl.

“Stephanie,” she answered back.

“You bored yet?”

“Dear God, yes.”

Stephanie turned to Jeremy with an expectant look and he couldn’t help but smile. He reached into his pocket – the bulging one that he had been careful to keep out of his mother’s line of site since she’d hustled him into the car. Inside was something coiled into a tight little ball.

“What is it?” Stephanie asked, excited, seeing the look on his face.

Jeremy grinned, and his gaze landed on his mother, chatting it up with her hideous boss. These were the two women whose fault it was that he was sitting here in this ridiculous party instead of playing street hockey with his friends. With a look of elation on his face, Jeremy pulled the object from his pocket and showed Stephanie the snake as it uncoiled and flicked out its tongue.

“It’s time to shake things up a bit.”

Blogging 101, Day Eighteen: Plug into Social Networks

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There’s no doubt about it…particular sites may come and go, but social networking is here to stay, and it can be a very useful tool for accessing new readers. Appropriately, today’s assignment is if you’re active on a social network, set up Publicize to link the account to your blog or widget highlighting your profile. If you’re not, explore your social options to see whether one might be helpful.

Let’s face it: websites that allow us to interact with each other socially have become a huge part of life on the Internet. Chances are that almost everyone you know has a Facebook or Twitter account, if not both, Even work mates and employers have created an enormous network out of LinkedIn. In the world in which we live today, everyone wants to be connected to everyone else all the time.

So how does that help a blogger? Well, let’s look at it simply. Do you have a Facebook account? Yes? Okay, how many “friends” do you have on your account? Let’s modestly say 100? BAM! 100 potential readers. Every person attached to your social account is a potential reader if you allow your blog to be showcased on that account. All you have to do is share your blog posts the same way you would share anything else on your social feeds, and bada bing bada boom, you’ve made your blog accessible to tons of people who may otherwise never have come across it.

It’s as simple as that. If you connect your blog to previously established social accounts, you’ve opened yourself up to a whole other world of viewers who may see your post and decide to check it out. And WordPress makes this even easier with their Publicize options, which allows you to link all of your different social accounts to your WordPress one, thus allowing WordPress to automatically post status updates/tweets/etc for you whenever you publish a post. Awesome, right? So what are you waiting for? Get out there and publicize!

Accountability Wednesdays: Week 29

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Please believe me when I tell you that I haven’t been this exhausted in a long time, and since I’m tired most of the time anyway, that’s really saying something. I’m a little over halfway into my shift and I’m genuinely wondering how I’m going to make it to the end without going completely wacky. This morning I almost left for work with no shoes on, no lie. Fifteen-and-a-half-hour days, man…mental.

But life presses on and somehow – miraculously – I’ve been managing to keep up with a few things. So, without further ado…

Goal #1: Lose ten pounds and become healthier overall.

On the weight-loss side of things I have nothing to really report because – as I’ve mentioned before – I have no way to weigh myself when I’m out West. One thing that I can tell you is that I’ve been making a major effort to forgo pop and juice for water and tea (without milk or sugar). I’m still eating like a pig because goddamn, the camp food here is actually really good, but at least I’m cutting out empty calories. Now if only there were enough time in the day to cram in some exercise.

On the general health side of things, my guts have actually been pretty kind to me lately, so maybe those meds are actually working. Go figure.

Goal #2. Be more active on social media and work hard on my author platform.

I took to Twitter earlier this week to complain about Marvel giving my beloved Thor a sex change. That counts, right?

In all seriousness though, things are going well. Likes, follows, comments, retweets, favorites, and subscriber notices have become a daily occurance for me in past weeks, and I’m loving it. On Monday StumbledUpon even featured my blog post and caused my normal traffic to more than double. Keep it up everyone! I love you all!

Goal #3: COMPLETE my zombie apocalypse novel, Nowhere to Hide.

As previously mentioned, this goal is on hold while I’m out West, but I set myself a mini-goal of getting enough blog posts scheduled so as to be able to focus on this goal during my days home. I’m happy to report that said mini-goal is going swimmingly. I’m still working on it, but I already have almost my entire time home planned out. Yes, for once I’ve actually done precisely what I said I was going to do. Huzzah!

Goal #4: Write 500,000 words.

I can honestly say that I have no idea how I did it while working fifteen-and-a-half-hour days, but I kicked ass this week. I wrote what felt like about a million blog posts this week and it all added up to 9290 words. I am beyond exhausted, but very proud of myself, and I know it’s all going to be worth it when I have significantly less to do during my days off. I can almost feel the waves of relief now.

Come on, end of shift. Mama’s waiting for you.

Blogging 101, Day Seventeen: Increasing Your Commenting Confidence

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What do bloggers crave? Recognition. Bloggers want to know that someone is reading what they’re writing.

What is the best way to show bloggers that you’re reading what they’re writing? Engage. Comment.

If you’re a public blogger, chances are that one of the best parts of blogging for you is when that little notification pops up to let you know that someone has commented on one of your posts. What can be better than knowing that someone has read your post and decided that they just had to say something about it? Consequently, what better way to show your appreciation for your fellow bloggers (and help lead potential readers back to your own blog in the process)?

For beginner bloggers commenting on other peoples’ blogs can feel a little intimidating, and that’s why day seventeen’s assignment is to read six posts written in response to yesterday’s prompt, and leave comments on at least two of them.

I’ve previously mentioned that The Daily Post does daily prompts to keep us writing. The idea behind this assignment is to participate in one of those daily prompts, and then comment on the posts written by other bloggers for that particular prompt. The reason Michelle W. suggests commenting practice in this manner is because it is much easier to comment on a shared experience, and it helps exercise your brain to see how differently other people react to the same topic.

Another excellent way to “increase your commenting confidence” is to participate in blog hops. I’ve never commented so much (or received so many comments) as when I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Again we see a shared experience bringing people together, starting conversations and eliciting friendships.

So what I’m saying is to get out there, meet people who have similar interests, and start some conversations. Chances are, other bloggers and readers will turn around and do the same thing for you, and boom…community. :)

The 21 Steps of Death

It may be a difficult thing to remember when you’re older and the genuine fears of the real world are always somewhere in the back of your mind, but it’s been well-studied that humans enjoy being scared. The rush of adrenaline and the ability to laugh about it later (assuming, of course, that the fear wasn’t justified by something horrible happening) is a wonderful rush and is the reason why horror movies/novels/video games/etc are such a big industry. It’s fun to be scared. It’s even more fun to be able to laugh and reminisce about it afterward.

When we’re young it’s even more fun because our imaginations are truly outrageous. As an adult we might get creeped out by a movie about ghosts, but afterward we’re pretty set in our beliefs that ghosts don’t really exist. As kids, we can go for years believing in a particular ghost story because we have amazing faith in the improbable. We’ll even make up stories and convince ourselves that they’re true. My friend and I used to spook ourselves silly with stories about how my house was haunted by the ghost of a previous owner, despite the fact that the house had only ever had one previous owner and he was still very much alive. It’s an amazing (and sometimes hysterical) trait that children have: the ability to completely make something up and then convince yourself that it is absolutely true.

I can remember tons of stories that used to be passed around when I was a kid, but one of the silliest was a tale we referred to as “the 21 Steps of Death”. You see, I grew up right along the Atlantic Ocean in Nova Scotia, Canada, and along the shoreline of my hometown are several “barracks” locations…that is, the old stone installments that were used by soldiers during the war. One particular area includes a three-story stone building that has been widely used by graffiti artists:

Photo taken by my father, Daniel G. Clarke. Awesome shot, dad!

 

…and the accompanying underground bunker which is set off to the side of the building. The bunker section of the barracks is visible from the ground only by an open rectangle through which two sets of stairs can be seen. Unless it is high noon, with the sun blaring down on top of you, looking down upon those two sets of stairs shows you only darkness below. A frightening image for a child.

And so there were the tales. Those steps, they said, were haunted by the ghosts of dead soldiers. Whichever staircase you took, there were 21 steps in total, and as soon as your foot touched the 21st step you would be whisked away by the ghosts, deep into the earth, to join them in their eternal watch for enemy ships approaching the Nova Scotian cliffs. Every kid I knew growing up believed in this tale. Many times I can remember standing next to those stairs, looking down with my friends, everyone double-dog-daring each other to go down.

What’s really funny about this story is that the main plot point, the number of steps, was complete and utter nonsense. First off, how did we even come up with that number when no one was willing to try going down? Who decided that the number was 21? I’ll never know, but when we finally became old enough and brave enough to actually try going down the steps, we found that there were…18. 18 steps. Even if you counted the ground at either end of the steps, that would still only be 20, and if you counted both sets of steps it would be 36. So where did the number 21 come from? Who knows. Presumably the first kid who came up with the story thought that 21 sounded spooky, somehow. In the end it doesn’t really matter; the point is that for a while, before we became brave enough to debunk the myth, we had a creepy story to keep us mystified.

A kid’s view of the world can be literary gold, should you only take notice of it (or make the attempt to remember back that far). I can remember so many scary stories we had; stories about dark paths in the woods, stories about monsters on the cliffs, stories about what was buried in the empty lot behind my grandmother’s house. We had a story for every locale, every imagined fear, and every misunderstood circumstance. And that made childhood all the more awesome.

What scary stories did you and your friends have when you were kids? Were they in any way based on truth, or were they the completely made-up insanity of kid brains? If you have kids of your own, what kind of crazy stuff have they come up with? Please share!