Urban Legends, Loss, and Facebook

Last weekend, Walt and I went to see Company One’s production of Hookman by Lauren Yee. The synopsis, from Company One’s page:

“Being a freshman in college is hard when your roommate is weird, home is far away, and Hookman is everywhere! What’s Lexi to do when her old high school friend, Jess, gets killed…I mean – has an accident, a car accident, I think? Not even Facebook stalking the dead can calm the creepy feelings spilling out of the shadows in this existential comic horror slasher – a new play by Lauren Yee.”

I never watch scary movies, so I wasn’t sure how I’d like this play. It ended up being fantastic–a nice blend of comic and horror, matched with moving themes of loss, guilt, and growing up. The cast did a great job, especially since most of the dialogue was very grounded in the experience of being eighteen and just starting college. My favorite exchanges came from Lexi and Jess; they really felt like they were old friends who were trying to maneuver the fact that they were now in college on different coasts. Although this wasn’t a play for young adults, it managed to hit an almost YA vibe–it played with genre, wasn’t afraid to be funny, and focused on growing up. (Or maybe I can just connect anything with YA.) If you’re in the Boston area and are an adult/very mature teen, I’d check out Hookman.

Part of the play also dealt with how we find out about death via networks like Facebook. Like other life events, you can find out personal information about people even if you haven’t seen them for years. And if someone dies suddenly, you might find out that they’re gone (via lots of “we miss you, so sad you’re gone, etc.” wall posts) but find no information about what actually happened to that person. I think this is going to become increasing more common, especially for young people who don’t tend to experience the loss of friends very often.

At the Atlantic, there’s an interview with Patrick Stokes about death and Facebook. One part I found interesting was this mention of Facebook walls becoming online memorials:

“What’s interesting about it is that offline we physically create places, specially demarcated places, where we put dead people, but on Facebook these aren’t demarcated—they exist side by side with living profiles. So in that sense, what we have now is not so much like an online graveyard or cemetery; instead we just have these dead people among us.”

This reminded me of Hookman’s look at what it means to survive someone and how we connect. I’m curious to see how teens now and in future generations will deal with having these kinds of memorials among us. It can be a huge help in the grieving process, but I wonder if it would also make it harder to let that person go. Whenever you go online, there’s a reminder that you’ve lost someone. And not necessarily someone you were very close with, either. Are teens going to grow up in a world of virtual ghosts?

Pin It

If you’re on the internet, you’ve probably heard of Pinterest by now. If not, it’s a social network/media site in which users can create virtual inspiration boards by pinning and sharing images. People are kind of obsessed. Frankly. I prefer Tumblr because I think it offers more variety as a site and, since I already post pretty much everything there that I would post on Pinterest, creating a general account there would be a little repetitive.

But Pinterest can be more than just a fun social network. It can actually be a great writer resource. On her blog, agent Rachelle Gardner talks about things writers should know before they start pinning. One point I found interesting:

3. People spend significant TIME on Pinterest.
Users spend more time on Pinterest (average of 15 minutes per visit) than they do on Facebook (average of 12 minutes per visit) or Twitter (3 minutes). And by “people” I mean your potential readers.”

Part of me wonders if this is the novelty factor. It’s a very new experience for most users, so I wonder if there’s a lot of initial build as people create their boards, and if those people will gradually fade away, like most bloggers. Still, it’s a fun diversion with minimal downsides for the average user. (Unlike Facebook, you don’t have to put up with potentially obnoxious status updates. Stupid people on vacation while you’re stuck at work!)

As a writer on Pinterest, you can have boards for your favorite books or books you wish you’d written. For example, Raul Gutierrez has a board devoted to Gotta Get Kids Books–a fantastic collection.

Although I don’t have a generally public Pinterest account, I do use it. For me, it’s a great way to post images that inspire me for or remind me of whatever project I’m working on. I think it’s similar to creating a playlist for your novel–it helps create a mood so if you’re stuck, you can scan through the collection of images and perhaps get inspired. So I don’t share my boards or even invest that much time in them, but for me there’s a great writerly tool.

Do you use Pinterest? Or do you think it’s a passing online fad?

(image: Pinterest)

Sharing is Caring (and Blogging)

I stumbled across this old blog post at Kidlit.com about writers blogging. Mary’s advice, in very short: don’t feel like you have to blog. If it feels like a chore, don’t do it. Another interesting point she makes:

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Internet from actually working for it for all those years, it’s that users come to the Internet to see, “What’s in it for me?” They want valuable content that speaks to them. They Google: “How do I get this stain out of my white carpet?” “Is it okay that my baby is turning sort of purple?” (It’s probably not.) “How do I stop the hiccups?” “What’s a great summer BBQ recipe?” Most writing blogs — and most blogs in general — are about the writer of the blog, not about the user.”

Very true. I think this is also what stops people from actually blogging, too. I’ve seen friends start blogs with great enthusiasm and gradually blog less and less, and eventually their most recent post was from months ago. Part of it comes from lack of interest in the project, but I think part of it is also that people don’t really want to craft a post about their thoughts or lives. It’s hard work and doesn’t necessarily add much to the internet.

For me, blogging is about sharing. I don’t post a lot about what I’m working on or who I am. I blog because there are so many awesome things to share (here, mostly about writing and reading young adult/children’s literature), and it’s way easier to collect and share these things in one place. Hopefully that means something close to good content. If I can share these things with my friends, awesome. If I can also share them with people I don’t know but who have similar interests, even more awesome.

Social Butterflies

At SCBWI, there was a lot of talk about how writers can/should engage in social media and marketing. At one point, I was talking with a couple of women who balked at the idea of having to tweet/blog/be on Facebook. One of them said she saw it as a fad and didn’t want to waste that much time on something that would be worthless eventually. At the time I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to argue, but I actually enjoy the social media aspect of being a writer. I was blogging/tweeting/tumbling before I thought about it as a “tool.” It’s a fun way to connect with readers, other writers, editors, librarians, and book-enthusiasts. And even if the next big thing comes along in ten years, it doesn’t mean that what you do now is useless. Maybe everyone you used to be friends with on MySpace (flashbacks?) is now friends with you on Facebook and will follow you to the next online forum.

My advice for writers leery of of social media:

  • Assuming that having an online presence is a necessity for writers, it’s important to make sure you’re doing what works for you. Don’t start a blog if you hate writing posts. Maybe Twitter would be a better option since it’s only 140 characters.
  • Don’t worry about posting brilliant and astoundingly original content, or having to share all the intimate details of your life. (In fact, you probably shouldn’t share the intimate details of your life.) A lot of the internet is just about sharing and getting in touch with people who have similar interests.
  • Don’t feel like you need to have a million followers or commenters at once. It’s like writing fiction–sure, you could assume that maybe no one will ever read your work or you won’t win any major awards, so you might as well stop. But if it’s something you care about, you’ll do it anyway.

For more advice from actual professionals, make sure to check out the blog posts from the SCBWI Marketing Intensive:

Also check out this interview with Laura Barnes, MG writer and marketing consultant. Some of Laura’s tips for effective blogging/author sites:

1. Have your name in your title. Even better, have it in your address. Next best would be to have it in your subtitle.
2. Include your contact information. You’d be surprised how many people have blogs with no means of contacting the owner.
3. Have a message or a mission statement. I don’t mean to post this for people to see, but know what you’re blog is about. Are you giving authors writing advice? Are you sharing your love of books through interviews and reviews? Are you rambling your way through life? All of those are okay as long as you are consistent. This can be a confusing concept to grasp because it doesn’t mean that your writer advice blog can’t contain an anecdote about your Thanksgiving Dinner. It just means that a new visitor should be able to read one or two posts and be able to get what you are about.

#3 is very good to think about in particular. I like to think my blog is focused on writing/reading YA lit (or fiction in general), with a little random fun thrown in there.

What are your favorite social media tools? Least favorite? Suggestions for newbie bloggers?