Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Closing a Chapter - and a Group Blog

I discovered not long after I began blogging three years ago that even though I intended to blog primarily about books and reading, I fit into another niche as well: I was a Mom With a Blog. I didn't see myself as a "mom blogger," really - the "typical" mom blogger seemed to have younger children and a more intimate approach to communicating on her blog than I wanted for myself - but I did want to share some of my personal life with my readers, and I've been a mom for my entire adult life, so I technically qualified.

Many of the other blogging moms I was drawn to weren't typical mom-bloggers either, as it happened...but I knew I wanted to connect to this community somehow. I also knew I was interested in making some off-line connections with the people I was getting to know online. When the Silicon Valley Moms Group prepared to expand its network of regional blogs into Southern California  in mid-2008, I was quick to apply as a contributor, and excited to be among those selected to launch the Los Angeles Moms Blog.

Los Angeles Moms

I've gotten a lot out of my two years of association with SVMG and LA Moms, including those "real-life" connections I'd hoped for; I'm not sure I would have gone to BlogHer'09 if it weren't for knowing people in those groups. I've also had a place to write about things that didn't really fit in so well here, and exposure to promotional opportunities I'm not sure I would have found otherwise. All the same, though, I've felt like a misfit among the mom bloggers for awhile, and deepening my roots in the book-blog community has only intensified those feelings, so I've been deliberating about my future with the LA Moms Blog for a few months now. But a couple of weeks ago, a decision was made for me.

On June 14, most of the 400-plus contributors to the 13 regional blogs in the SV Moms Group were stunned by an e-mail they received. The next day, an official press release confirmed the news:
Silicon Valley Moms Group, a leading independent blogging publisher for mothers, today announced that their 13-city mom blogging conglomerate plans to close its network at the end of July.

"Over the past nine months we have been analyzing the most effective way to rationalize this business. We have concluded that, considering the needs of our 400-strong writer group and those of our customers and advertisers, the business is not sustainable without additional financial support," stated Jill Asher, a co-founder of SV Moms Group. "It is anticipated that it will take approximately three months to complete the process of closure," stated Ms. Asher. Approximately 22,000 blog posts will remain public and available for the foreseeable future.

"We recognize these are very difficult decisions affecting our writers, their families and the blogging community as a whole," continued Ms. Asher. "We expect this elite community of bloggers to continue to thrive organically." SV Moms Group announcing that the brand will be wound down does not exclude the potential for an investor to purchase the company in the short-term. The privately held company is expected halt operations by September.
This is scheduled to be the final week of new posts on the blogs in the SVMG network, although many of its contributors are seeking new ways to continue collaborating, both nationally and in their local communities. My friend Donna Schwartz Mills blogs at SoCal Mom and was one of the charter writers for the LA Moms Blog, and I share her feelings on the end of a chapter in our blogging lives:
SV Moms was a wonderful experience for me, because prior to that, I felt like I was alone in my little part of the blogosphere.  I really envied the community of moms who blog up in Silicon Valley and really longed for some company down here.

We have that now. It may have occurred eventually (especially as Twitter heated up) – but SV Moms definitely hastened the process. I have “sistahs” down here now, and I really feel a lot stronger for it. Fabulous women like Marsha, Liz, Sarah, Amy, April, Jessica, Elise, Yvonne, Kim,and Laura...

I want to thank the SV Moms gang for helping me grow as a writer and letting me be a part of something that was truly special. I know there are more exciting things on the horizon for us all (and many of us will continue collaborating on other projects), but I can't help but mourn the end of a beautiful association.
(Chicago Moms Blog contributor Susan Bearman also has some reflections on the end of SVMG.)

I'll miss being part of this group, and I'll continue to value the people I've come to know and the things I've learned as part of it. I have sometimes linked to or posted excerpts from my LA Moms Blog posts here, but now that it's closing, I may be publishing some of them in full on this blog (especially while I have the one-handed excuse).

Thanks for the memories, and the opportunities, SV Moms Group, and I hope Donna's right about this not being good-bye to my fellow LA Moms Bloggers!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tuesday Tangents Watches TV

TV doesn't seem to have "seasons" any more. I grew up with the arrival of fall meaning the start of both the school year and the new TV shows. Shows that didn't last the full season were replaced in late winter, and summer was "rerun season," which was basically a good excuse to leave the TV off and get out of the house to enjoy the long evenings (or stay in and catch up on your reading).

It's different now. Between DVRs and TV series on DVD - and not even counting the places where you could watch streaming video online if you wanted to - you could almost create your own TV viewing seasons. Meanwhile, with more networks and channels than ever before, new shows can be introduced year-round. Some of my favorite shows of the last several years have been spring or summer starters.

At my house, it's officially summer when Burn Notice comes back - so it's officially summer now! We've been hooked on this show since it started three years ago, and reluctant ex-spy Michael Westen is finally learning the story behind who "burned" him and why. That's shifting the overall story framework of the series a bit making its tone a little darker, but at this point, it's the characters and their interaction that keep me coming back, and I think they'd quickly ensnare a new viewer too. Michael is still the accomplished, focused role-player whose soft spots are seldom revealed but whose loyalties are strong. Fiona is fearless and resourceful, Sam has the contacts and balances out the team, and Michael's mother Madeline is...well, still kind of annoying, actually, but necessary. (Yes, this is a USA Network show - "characters welcome.") The action is fast and so is the dialogue, and the Miami heat of the setting comes right through.

The setting of White Collar comes through in its own right, but here it's New York City. This show will be entering its second season, but it hooked me right out of the gate as well. The premise is admittedly a stretch - an art thief is sprung from prison by the FBI agent who put him there in order to be put to work as a "consultant" on white-collar crime cases - but again, it's the characters that put it across and make it all work for me. Neal Caffrey radiates style and charisma; it's not hard to imagine that his sophisticated tastes started him down the criminal path, and it's not always clear where his loyalties lie. FBI agent Peter Burke may bend the rules sometimes to get the job done - it was his idea to bring on the ex-con consultant - but his wife Elizabeth helps keep him grounded. I'm looking forward to seeing where these characters will go this season. We watch this one with Katie, and I can see Spencer joining us before too long - Jennifer Wagner at Connect With Your Teens recently posted about parents and teens watching this show together.  (BTW, White Collar will supposedly have a panel at San Diego Comic-Con next month - fingers crossed it'll be on Thursday or Friday! Please?)

Summer's a great time for TV on DVD, and we're using it to catch up with two shows we've missed up till now. Just before we left for vacation, we finished the first season of Mad Men. I'm loving it, and kicking myself for being so late to the party on this one. While the other two shows I've talked about here are fast-paced, Mad Men's story and characters are revealed much more slowly...and I appreciate that. The drama resides in and is driven by the characters, and it comes from ordinary life, not high concept. I like being able to immerse myself in a show, and this one unfolds in a way that allows for that. The look of this show is so utterly right for its time period - I swear I remember some of that furniture and those clothes from my own childhood. The tone is right, too - when we talk about what the characters are doing, my husband and I have to keep reminding ourselves that society and culture have changed a lot during our lifetimes, and that just 50 years ago was quite a different time. Mad Men will be starting its fourth season this summer too, but since we're still so close to the beginning of the series, we've decided this will be a DVD-only show for us - we won't watch it as it happens. (But I'm quite sure I'll read recaps.)

The other show we're playing catch-up with isn't on any more, so we'll be able to experience it in its entirety. My husband received Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series on DVD for Christmas, and we are remedying a serious gap in our Nerd Cred by watching it (no, we completely missed it the first time around - shocking, I know!). One reason I'd been indifferent to this show is that I remember the first Battlestar series, an product of late-1970s Star Wars bandwagon-jumping with a very high cheese factor, and just couldn't grasp why a remake was worth doing. The answer: it was worth doing because it was done so much better - this version is very low on the cheese, at least thus far. Again, we're only part-way through the first season, and our viewing time is a bit more restricted - Katie has been drawn into the show along with us, so we're only watching when she's at our house, but Spencer's not ready for it yet (thank goodness he still goes to bed by 8:30!). We're still getting to know the characters and the mythology, and both aspects are fascinating; making the character of Starbuck a woman was genius, and the always-lurking question of who might really be a Cylon remains a source of suspense. I also have to mention how much I like the music on this show - it really works to add to the intensity. Also, props must be given to BSG for coining the immensely useful word "frak."

Are you spending any time on good TV this summer - or do you just plan to catch up your reading?

Image credits:
TV Addict by Annalog85 on stock.xchng
Burn Notice and White Collar via USANetwork.com
Mad Men via AMCtv.com
Battlestar Galactica via SyFy.com

Monday, June 28, 2010

OOPS! and OUCH! Also, I am not left-handed.

I may look like I'm back this week, y'all, but it's a bit of an illusion. Most of the upcoming posts this week were written either while I was on vacation or before I left, and the vacation recaps will be delayed for a little while. It's hard to type with one hand, especially when it's not your good one, and I may be in that position for a few weeks.

You may have already heard about this via Twitter, Facebook, or Google Buzz, but if you didn't:
florinda_3rs: Guess who dislocated her right shoulder, spent Friday evening in the ER, and is now trying to type left-handed?
It happened two hours after we got home from vacation. I was bringing back two weeks' worth of mail from the mailbox, tripped and fell in the parking lot, and apparently the weight of the mail in the bag I was carrying wrenched the shoulder loose. The pain is mostly manageable - the sling on my right arm (to immobilize it) is a bit of an challenge, though. 

I have to follow up with my regular doctor this week, but until I get medical clearance, they actually don't want me back in the office, so it looks like I'll get a little extension on my time off!

I may not be as consistent about replying to comments and reading/commenting on your blogs because of the one-handed thing, but with luck I'll recover quickly and well - I'm anxious to share our DC and NYC adventures with you!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Seen on the Scene: Reading in Public, by Lisa (Lit and Life)

Lisa blogs at Lit and Life, and her title pretty well sums up the content of her "primarily but not exclusively books" blog. She's a married Midwestern mom of three (including a recent high-school graduate), book club leader, reading-challenge enthusiast, and columnist for Omaha.net.

Please welcome today's guest blogger to The 3 R's, as she shares what she's learned about the reading lifestyles of the rich and famous!

When I first talked to Florinda about doing a guest post, I had the idea to write a post about what famous people read.  The idea had come to me after seeing some old black and white photos of movie stars from the 1940's and 1950's reading.  It seemed simple enough for me to scout out similar photos and do some research to find out what those same stars liked to read. Not so fast!  Would you believe the star that I found the most pictures of with a book was Marilyn Monroe?  In one photo, she was actually "reading" James Joyce's Ulysses!  Wouldn't you have thought that the studios, who controlled the images of their stars, would want the public to think they were smart, that they spent quiet evenings at home reading, instead of out carousing where they might show up in the tabloids?  Evidently not.

Okay, I thought, surely I can find images of more current famous people reading.  Oh no--it's easier to find pictures of them grocery shopping!  But they do read.  This I do know because you can find lists of some well-known people's favorite books.  Well, at least they've read one book..or know the name of a book that will make them look good if they say it's their favorite! These well-known people appear to like the classics:

Alec Baldwin - To Kill A Mockingbird
Bill Gates - Catcher In The Rye
Steven Speilberg - Treasure Island
Pierce Brosnan - The Grapes of Wrath
Mel Gibson - 1984

A few were particularly fond of books from their childhood:

Nicole Kidman - The Chronicles of Narnia
Bette Midler - Alice In Wonderland

Among the lists there were several surprises:

Chevy Chase - Moby Dick
Jim Carrey - Crime and Punishment
Jerry Lewis - The Fountainhead

While I was looking for pictures of celebrities reading, I noticed something interesting.  There are an astonishing number of pictures out there of people reading.  Older people and young lovers in parks, mothers and children in libraries, commuters on subways (and can I just say that the people who are reading look so much happier?), and children in their bedrooms.  There are images of people reading in the U.S., France, Japan, and Jordan.  People reading magazines, newspapers, ereaders and books. 

Seeing all of those images made me happy.  Book sales are down, newspapers are folding but people are clearly still reading.  And seeing people reading seems to make other people happy--so happy that they want to take a picture of it. When it really comes right down to it, it doesn't matter what anyone else is reading.  As long as you are reading...and passing a love of reading on to the next generation.

*A note from me: I am an Amazon Associate. Book links in this post are provided by Amazon.com and will generate a small referral fee for me if used for purchases.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"Read It? Then Review It!", by Susan Helene Gottfried (West of Mars)

Rockin' author Susan Helene Gottfried has endeared herself to giveaway-hosting book bloggers by promoting their contests on her Win a Book blog. She's also made groupies out of many readers with her short fiction about the heavy-metal band ShapeShifter, which she has published on her main blog, West of Mars, and in two collections (so far). Susan is working to get her full-length novel about the band, Trevor's Song, into the hands of those groupies (and other readers!) as soon as possible, so stay tuned for the Trevolution!      

Please welcome today's guest blogger to The 3 R's, as she speaks her piece on why posting your book reviews is important to authors!

I need to start off here, before I (potentially) get all preachy on you, by thanking my friend Florinda for allowing me to come rock your reading habits with some of my thoughts. I hope you'll ponder them for (seconds, minutes) days to come.

Yeah, I can be this full of myself at times. Never fear; these habits don't last long.

With a new book coming out soon, I've been making lists of all the various things I can do to promote it and build a really good buzz. I can line up a million guest blog posts, interviews, and signings; and I can give away hundreds of copies; but when you get down to it, none of that matters without the help of a special group of people who grossly underestimate their power: the reader who reads for the sheer love of books and reading.

It's not just ANY power we've got -- and yes, even though I'm an author, I'm also one of these avid readers. That's how I'm able to see our power. Let me show it to you: we've got the ability to build an authentic buzz about books we absolutely love.

I know. I know. I can hear you saying you're nobody special. The people who review for the New York Times, they're the special ones. They get paid, and being paid gives them an authenticity you think you lack.

Not so.

I say this because when my book club is on the fence about whether or not we should choose a certain book, the suggestion is made to check the book-related social media sites. Check the online bookstores. Read the reviews that have been posted by other people. Let their views help us decide.

Now, of course, many of these reviews I'm looking up are written with an agenda. Friends often write glowing reviews. Some book bloggers, I've heard (I've yet to meet them), will only say good things about truly awful books, in the hopes that doing so will curry favor with the publicist who requested the review. And then there are the nasty people who trash books for the simple sake of being nasty. I haven't met any of them yet, either, and so far, I've been lucky enough to keep my books off their radars, as well.

Good thing we're smart people. We know the best reviews pick out the good as well as the bad. Dismissing a book for being formula isn't acknowledging the way the author bent the formula to work for her. Proclaiming every book you read to be the best ever isn't honest. You've got to hit a few clunkers every now and then.

That's why I'd like to encourage each and every one of us reading this post to take a few minutes whenever you read something you really like. Write a strong, balanced review. There is something good in every book, even if it's only that the author stopped writing it. Likewise, there's something that could be better, too. You could like a character more. It made you nuts that the woman who only wears dresses professes to be an avid bicyclist.

Go ahead and be heard. Write reviews. Post them wherever you can. Tell your friends about that great book. Talk to total strangers in book stores and at book sales. You are a reader, and that's something to be proud of. What you think about a book matters, maybe more than you know.

When you share your opinion, you're helping an author reach a new reader or establish a better reputation. Or if the book is a stinker, you're saving someone time and agony.

We authors can't do it without the help of our readers. So please, if you think your opinion doesn't count, think again. And then post it.

*A note from me: In order to encourage some of that review-posting she's talking about, Susan is offering readers of The 3 R's a special coupon code to download her second book, ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes -- Year 2, from Smashwords.com (in e-book only, for any e-reader format) - use code The Demo Tapes: Year 2 -- GT92A

If you can post a review of the book at SEVEN different online sites and send Susan the links, she will not only link from her website to the online bookstores and blogs your post appears on, she'll also send you an autographed print copy of either Demo Tapes -- Year 1 or Demo Tapes -- Year 2Fine print: You may post the same review at multiple sites. Posting a review on two different versions of the book at any site (such as GoodReads) will not count as two; each home site must have its own distinctive address. You may ask Susan to post something at her Rocks 'n Reads blog, be it part of this offer or another book entirely. Sites such as BookCrossing, Shelfari, and the online bookstores count, as do the sites that directly sell Susan's books (print and digital). Offer expires September 1, to give you time to read and post -- or whenever Susan runs out of copies of The Demo Tapes. Offer open internationally and yes, reviews posted previous to this offer count in your seven sites.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fact in Fiction, by Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

Kim Ukura
Kim blogs at Sophisticated Dorkiness, which is an awesome concept and one of my favorite blog titles. Kim is a recent journalism-school graduate and works as an editor. She's also the founder and co-host of the Blog Improvement Project and part of the Weekly Geeks team. One of the things I most appreciate about her blog is its focus on narrative nonfiction - and since it was shortlisted for "Best Nonfiction Review Blog" in the 2009 BBAW Awards, I'm clearly not the only one who feels that way!

Please welcome today's guest blogger to The 3 R's as she proposes a new literary category: "nonfictional fiction."

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m primarily a nonfiction reader and blogger. As I told a friend recently: I love well-written fiction and well-written nonfiction, but while I don’t like mediocre fiction, I tend to enjoy even average nonfiction.

But lately I’ve been reading a pretty even mix of genres, which got me started thinking what it is about some fiction that I really love and other fiction that I enjoy but don’t seem to take much away from.

I think the kind of fiction I tend to enjoy is fiction that borders on nonfiction, where an author has done careful research to create a sense of place or time or context, then used fictional characters to tell a story that has the possibility of being true.

I’m calling these books “nonfictional fiction,” which are the subject of this post.

Middlesex: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club)Take, for example, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. That book takes place over a specific time in history and focuses on the experiences of a specific immigrant group, the Greek community. The main family in the story, the Stephanides family, didn’t exist, but the experience of those characters is one that an immigrant could have had.

Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants is another good example. In an Author’s Note, Gruen explains much of the careful research she did about travelling circuses to tell this story, including which of the anecdotes she used were based most closely on real events:

The history of the American circus is so rich that I plucked many of this story’s most outrageous details from fact or anecdote (in circus history, the line between the two is famously blurred). These include the display of a hippo pickled in formaldehyde, a deceased four-hundred-pound “strong lady” being paraded around town in an elephant cage…

But not all books that are historical would count as “nonfictional fiction.” Last summer I read The Memory Keeper’s DaughterSearch Amazon.com Books for the memory keeper's daughter by kim edwardsSearch Amazon.com for the memory keeper's daughter by kim edwards by Kim Edwards, which is a family epic that includes a young girl with Down syndrome. In parts of the book, her adoptive mother is part of a group trying to petition for her to attend public school. This is a real event that happened in the early 1970s, yet when I finished the book I didn’t feel like I’d actually learned anything about the issue – it was more of a backdrop than a focus of the story.

In order for a book to really be “nonfictional fiction,” the research needs to be integral to the story and well-placed to advance the plot and impact the characters.

Another example of “nonfictional fiction” could be Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffeneger. The book takes place in and around Highgate Cemetery, and because of the detail with which Niffeneger writes about the cemetery, it becomes another character in the story. Although I didn’t love the book, I did leave it feeling satisfied with the story I was told AND feeling like I had learned something.

And those are the exact reasons I love to read nonfiction – to learn about something I wouldn’t otherwise know about, to expand my knowledge of the world and why things are the way they are, and (I’ll admit) to have some punchy stories to share when out with friends. My life isn’t that interesting, but the life I learn about through nonfiction (and now nonfictional fiction) helps bridge that gap.

Do you buy my idea of “nonfictional fiction,” or am I just being unnecessarily obsessed with genres? What books do you think might fit this category? 

*A note from me: I am an Amazon Associate. Book links in this post are provided by Amazon.com and will generate a small referral fee for me if used for purchases.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Shelves Full of Stories, by Kori (See Kori Rant)

Kori's blog is See Kori Rant...and that title is pretty self-explanatory, actually, but in a good way. This single mother of four is not afraid to put the personal in her personal blog, and to share the ups and downs of life. But when she's not experiencing or writing about those ups and downs, she loves to escape into a good book.

Please welcome today's guest blogger to The 3 R's, as she tells a story about telling stories.

 Some people make scrapbooks chronicling their children's lives or their own lives, pasting in pictures and newspaper clippings, saving locks of hair or baby teeth. Others have pile upon pile of picture albums, filled with all sorts of family gatherings and cutesy poses. While I have no issue with scrap-booking itself, I would personally rather have my nose hairs plucked out by a left-handed gorilla.  Not only am I not crafty at all, I am also not a saver.  I have not saved drawings the kids did when they were three, because to me they simply look like scribbles.  I don't save certificates of achievement or good report cards or misshapen ashtrays fashioned by small hands, no matter how cute they might be.  Call it cold-heartedness or simply lack of sentimentality, but I just don't see the point.  And maybe my children will grow up someday and feel angry and resentful, or unloved because I don't have a box for each of them packed lovingly with their childhood items, I don't know; I kind of figure that they will end up in therapy over something, right?
What I do have, though, are words.  I have shelves full of books in every room in my house save the kitchen, and every book that has spoken to me in my life has a place of honor on the shelf.  I have this to leave my children, my own story written in hundreds of different ways by hundreds of different authors, their own stories told in the pages of others, all of our histories intertwined together by the words of other people.  Anyone who wants to know me, to see my journey through life as child through my years of high school angst to being a young mother need only look at my shelves.  I have books that got me through childbirth and divorce and remarriage, through getting sober and working out family of origin issues, to having another child and going through loving and letting go of an alcoholic.  All this and everything in between, laid out for anyone to see on my shelves.  Robert Morgan wrote Gap Creek and reaffirmed to me that hard work can heal.  John Irving gave me the hope that no matter how messed up my family might be, there are still redeeming factors, and he made me fall in love with a young man called Owen Meany; it is no coincidence that my youngest child carries the name. Anne Lamott taught me that I can be crazy and weepy and neurotic but Jesus loves me anyway, and also showed me that it is possible to love your children so much it hurts while also contemplating killing and eating them.  Kate Braestrup wrote Here If You Need Me and put into words exactly how I feel about my faith and what I am supposed to be doing here.  I could go on for hours.
In addition to my books, those wonderful things that tell me I am not alone in the crazy world, I have my journals.  A full shelf detailing my life in a variety of shapes and sizes, written in times of great joy and great sadness.  In these, my children will get to know me, who I was and what I thought about and who I wanted to become.  These too are the pictures and scrapbooks of their own lives, the places I have written their birth stories and my love for their fathers, the ending my my marriages and all of the times in between.  They might not be able to flip through a photo album and see how we looked the summer we went on vacation to Seattle, but they will be able to hold in their hands the pages in which I wrote how it felt to travel across three states with these lovely creatures of mine, or be able to form their own mental images of the way the ocean looks at sunset, or even close their eyes and feel the sun on their face by the fountain.  I have written on my frustrations and my joys about being a parent, I have put down on paper how scary and wonderful and exhilarating it all is, and I think they will know how much I love them.  Not by the things of theirs I have saved, but by the words I have written.  And I haven't written only about my children, but about my own life, my own story, and that is the legacy I leave them-they will know who I was, what I thought about, how I felt at any given time.   
I don't know what comes after this in my life; I don't know who I will be tomorrow, what I will be thinking about, what choices I will need to make.  I don't know and won't predict what will happen to my children, or what kind of people they will turn into.  What I do know is that along the way, there will be more books that help me through, to inform me or comfort me of humble me.  I know, too, that whatever happens, I will write; to make a note of my own days and weeks, so that someday my words will help tell someone else's story.
*A note from me: I am an Amazon Associate. Book links in this post are provided by Amazon.com and will generate a small referral fee for me if used for purchases.