Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Can a Story Save Your Life?

I read just such an intriguing post today by LuAnn Schindler. She recounts a friend asking, “Have you ever read a story that saved your life?” Schindler notes she’s read many books that resonated with her and believes the answer to her friend’s question may lie in how you define the word “save”.

To Kill a Mockingbird Schindler argues saved her from spreading prejudice and injustice; The Great Gatsby from greed and misplaced love; Macbeth from using ambition in the wrong way. Still, she’s unsure whether those works saved her rather than simply relating to the ideas within a book’s pages and applying them to our lives.

As an author and recovering alcoholic, I thought about Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace. I do think it’s possible for a book to at least begin the process of saving an individual from something such as alcoholism if the reader is willing to acknowledge the existence of the problem. And quite frankly, I hope that story within the novel does save someone from the ravages of chemical dependency.

So in response to Schindler’s musings, I believe a story at least has the potential to save someone, but as she notes in her examples, a person must be open to a story’s message.

Friday, June 26, 2009

LIFTing People Out of Illiteracy

The statistics are staggering:
• 42 million American adults cannot read at all; another 50 million read at the level of a fourth or fifth grader.
• The number of functionally illiterate adults increases by 2.25 million every year.
• 20% of high school seniors are functionally illiterate at graduation.
• 70% of prisoners in both the federal and state systems are classified as illiterate.
• 85% of all juvenile offenders rate as functionally or marginally illiterate.
• 43% of those who literacy skills are lowest live in poverty.

As an author such statistics cannot be ignored. For that reason when Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) contacted me about promoting the importance of literacy I was more than happy to oblige. Leslie Clay, Director of Community Development says, “We are very proud of the fact that more than 7,000 adults learned to read at LIFT this year. When you factor in children whose parents learned how to read to them through our Family Literacy program, the number of lives LIFT touched is closer to 10,000. It is both an amazing and sad fact that 49% of Dallas county cannot read better than a 4th grader and Texas now holds the distinction of being the #1 state in the nation with regards to the number of high school dropouts.”

I also developed a LIFT page on Squidoo that highlights the topic of literacy as well as the Annual Champions of Literacy Luncheon sponsored by LIFT on September 17, 2009. The page include resources on literacy, illiteracy statistics, and other Squidoo Pages dedicated to this increasingly important topic.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Write It Now, Post It Later

With all the talk about having a strong social media presence when promoting your book(s), blog, articles, etc. there is a great tool available I recently discovered.

Called PostLater it allows authors to schedule blog posts in advance. So when an author is unavailable, say on a book tour or vacation, your blog is still posting for you automatically. Twitter has a similar service called "tweetlater".

Because of the immense power of correctly managed social media, scheduling posts in advance is a great idea that helps authors be more organized as well. The key is consistency (posting at least twice weekly) over the long-term vs. a short blast of activity that have little or no lasting effect.

Do note, however, that the service is not free. It costs any where from $19.95 per month to $149.95 a year.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What Does This Title Mean?

In a recent review of Shades of Darkness, Shade of Grace, a reviewer noted she never figured out what the title referred to. It actually references two things, which most anyone can relate to.

First, it makes reference to the internal struggles we all face, recognizing there are shades of darkness (sin) and shades of grace (goodness) within each of us. In other words, we experience degrees of grace as well as degrees of sin. What we do with that sin and grace is up to us. As Kay notes towards the end of the book, “Goodness and evil each present us with choices, and they are never as simple as they might appear”. In those choices we make through our own free will, some will contain the darkness of moral ambiguity and sin, while others move us closer to the beauty and goodness of grace.

Second, the Shades of Grace in the title is a reference to the saving grace of sobriety that both Kay and Paul experience and any addict can relate to. It is after all, sobriety that saves us from destroying ourselves and those closest to us. Again, there is the idea of the degrees of goodness the clean and sober existence in reclaiming our lives and making amends with those we have harmed.

In a nutshell, that’s what Shades of Grace, Shades of Darkness means, at least to me. There is no right or wrong answer, and because meanings are subjective, I invite readers of the novel who have different interpretation to e-mail me with their thoughts at: catherinejohns58@yahoo.com.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

In Praise of Royalties and Patience

Book royalty checks are always nice, even if they’re smaller than you’d hoped for. On the one hand, it means people are buying your work, which every author should feel good about. And secondly, at least with checks for Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace, the amounts are increasing, which gives me hope that word about the novel and all those terrific reviews is finally getting out there.

I’ve heard more than one author note to be patient after publishing because writing your book was the easy part. Keep steadily promoting your work, always on the lookout for new promotional avenues such as book fairs, blogs, and social networking sites. The reality is unless you have a major publisher behind you, most authors find themselves helping out with the marketing aspect. The good news is it gives you, the writer, more control over how your work is perceived or the target audiences you want exposure to.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Who's Talking About You?

It’s a good idea for authors to keep track of what’s being said about their work on the Internet, or what’s not being talked about that should be discussed. New tools are always being developed and there are two I’ve found beneficial.

As Google continues to increase its dominance, most writers are probably familiar with “Google Alerts”. The alerts are e-mail updates on a certain topic, be it a developing news story or information on your latest book or you, the author.

The second site is “Who’s Talkin” a social media search tool, again monitoring the blogs, reviews, articles, etc. regarding your latest work or activity. Of the two, www.whostalkin.com currently works better than Google Alerts. Here’s why.

If I enter “Catherine Johnson author of Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace” as a Google Alert, I receive every alert containing any one of those words. So I can get a completely unrelated alert regarding Catherine Watson, author, simply because it matched my first name. The same is true of the title – I receive matches for any book title having any of the words in the title.

Using the same information, Who’s Talkin’ appears to synthesize information better providing more relevant results. For example using Who’s Talkin’ I’ve discovered blog post regarding Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace in French and Spanish, and discovered my own postings written on topics relating to the novel disseminated across the web.

Both options are a good way for authors to monitor the Internet activity their work(s) are generating.