Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Insomnia & A Brief Update

September 18, 2017

Over the years, I’ve suffered from a bit of insomnia.  During some occurrences, it’s not very bad.  I can usually get to bed by 1 or 2 am, and may have a little trouble getting up in the mornings, but can function throughout the day.  Other occurrences are worse, and I will be awake to see 3 am or later, and then be in and out of sleep for over an hour before I eventually get up. I often notice that I have insomnia on nights after I play basketball. My evening basketball run, a mainstay on my schedule since I started working with my current employer back in 2011, has been particularly sporadic as of late.  Even though I have had insomnia since I stopped my consistent attendance, it never seems to be that bad.  So, what might this have to do with reading and writing?  Well, a lot and a little. Writing takes a great deal of energy; even though I can crank out hundreds of words when I am half asleep (and sometimes rely on that half-asleep state to work through particular images), I usually do my best writing when I am well-rested.

Aside from the need to sleep well in order to write well, I find that I get most engaged with my reading when I’m well rested.  I’ve recently started reading a book that is somewhat appropriate for my off-again on-again relationship with a good night’s rest: Stephen King’s Insomnia. I feel like this 1994 novel is one of King’s lesser known works.  I’ve come across a buzzfeed list, or some other procrastination tool, which identifies Insomnia as King’s best work to not make a screen debut.  For this reason, it’s not Clocking in at nearly 800 pages, this novel would be the perfect book when you know that sleep isn’t coming any time soon.  So far, I’ve enjoyed the book, but it is still in the early going, and there’s only the slightest hint of anything fantastic or supernatural.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that Stephen King has a tendency towards an archetypal old loner.  Many of his works, and particularly those since 1990, have an older focal character.  InsomniaDuma Key, the Bill Hodges trilogy, and The Dark Tower series all have older protagonists who spend some significant portion of time alone (whether emotionally significant or significant in terms of duration). 11/22/63CellUnder the Dome, and Black House also have central characters who are generally loners.  This is just one of several parallels that I’m starting to see emerge from some of King’s more recent works.

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As for my own writing, my primary focus has been editing my current work-in-progress, Their Sharpest Thorns, but a new project is currently percolating on the back burner, and I am eager to start an untitled sports-related horror story when NaNoWriMo arrives in about six weeks.  Until then, I have a couple hundred pages worth of editing and amending.  I hope I can send a draft to my beta readers by November.  It all depends on how much energy I can muster in these next six weeks.  I suppose I could tie this all back into tonight’s theme of insomnia, but if I were truly an insomniac, wouldn’t that give me plenty of extra hours for editing?  Oh, well.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

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Retro Vibes

September 11, 2017

Culture depends on many different aspects, including space and time.  I’m not about to start talking about Dr. Who right now, but this timey-wimey stuff matters.  Today, my 22-year-old colleague stated that It (2017) was going for that Stranger Things retro vibe.  The problem?  Aside from the fact that the source material for It predates Stranger Things by 30 years, the original It split time between the late 1950s and the mid-1980s.  Stranger Things puts its characters in the early 1980s.  I have yet to see the recent It movie, and it has been many years since I’ve seen the TV miniseries.  Regardless of when the source material was constructed, Stranger Things and It should be similar in how they present the World, as they are taking from the same era.

It hits me more and more often about how different things are from my childhood.  There are so many details that young adults today wouldn’t remember, or even understand. The wide availability of cell phones and smartphones is one big difference. One thing that I find odd is that amorphous treatment of the past. This was an era before cell phones; heck, cordless phones and pagers were relative novelties when I was a kid.  It wasn’t that long ago that MTV was changing the way that teens consume television, and that Stephen King wrote about an era that was in the then and now.  Now, even YouTube is becoming passe, and Stephen King’s heyday is now a Stranger Things retro vibe.  The 1980s don’t seem like that long ago to me.  At the same time, I barely remember the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which is perhaps the biggest event of my youth.  When I turned 22, the same age as this young man, the year 1980 was further away than 2040 is now.  I am now (barely) closer to the year 2050 than I am to the year of my birth.

There’s many things that I can remember that hardly seem like nostalgia compared to the collective memory of our culture.  I remember a time when TV miniseries were the big media event.  I remember the nightmares that I had after watching It, and the fear I had of being pulled into the sewer by a stranger.  I remember scrambling to find a pay phone if I was ever lost on a bike ride or needed to get home from practice.  I remember the treat of going to the local library, and the joy I would find at picking up books at our school’s book fair.

What are some of the things that you remember from the pre-millennial era?  Feel free to leave a message in the comments section below, and don’t feel bad about feeling old.  You’re just thinking about a Stranger Things retro vibe.

Thanks for the read, and keep on kicking it old school with actual books!

Website Wednesday: Veronica Roth – Author of Divergent

August 30, 2017

Hello Friends.  It seems my Website Wednesday feature has not been so regular.  I hope to start that again.  Kicking off this latest round, Veronica Roth’s website has its good and bad qualities.  Like the website itself, this review is brief.

Veronica Roth

Those of you who don’t know who Veronica Roth is have probably heard of her work.  Roth, now just 29, published her first book in the Divergent series in 2011.  Now, more than six years later, her trilogy has spawned three feature films and an upcoming television series.  The series transformed Shailene Woodley from teen television star to big box office draw.  The books have sold tens of millions of copies, collectively, and the three movies based on those books grossed more than $750M.

While it is apparent that Roth has started her own blogs through Blogspot and Tumblr, her main website is clearly professionally done.  Her rotating banner and professional photographs clearly illustrate a web designer’s touch.  It’s possible that Roth did some of this herself, as her website clearly lets her personality (and her less professional blog and Instagram account) shine through.

The website was clearly designed with “responsive design” in mind.  The banner menu across the top becomes a “hamburger” menu when viewed through a mobile browser.  The menus are just about what one would expect.  Of the eight items, the only one that stands out to me as unusual is “classroom.”  This might be because she is one of the few YA authors that I’ve explored.  Everything else, books, bio, events, blog, and the rest, could come from anyone from E.L. James to George R.R. Martin.

The Good:

Roth’s site is distinctly her.  Her blurbs are very familiar and informal, and are mostly written in the first person.  She / the designer has a good sense of white space, and doesn’t overload you with text.  The graphics are stunning, and the photography is clearly professionally done.  The individual book pages focus on the book first, and then work their way down to the film adaptations and the various avenues for purchase.

I was particularly interested in the discussion guides.  They are professional done, and each provides more than a dozen lines of questioning for educators.  Many of these lines of question reach several different levels of questioning, from recall to predicting and hypothesizing.  These guides are particularly useful when reining in younger readers, but anybody can appreciate the method that goes into good questions.

The Bad:

In general, this is a good site.  It does everything it should.  The one issue that I have with it is that it breaks one of the few rules that I have: place the books first.  If not the books, then some discussion of writing or of the author’s journey would be reasonable.  Instead, this site has a huge rotating banner that includes glamor shots, action shots, and a beautifully rendered graphic.

The Verdict:

On its own, this site is not really exciting.  It does everything it is supposed to do and provides a nice aesthetic.  There’s nothing wrong with it, to be sure, but also nothing that sets it apart from the numerous other author websites.

For Greg

August 25, 2017

Hello Faithful Readers:

Now you know the pattern of the Summer of ’17: another summer month, and another long delay!  As always, things are busy, and I am procrastinating.  This time, it’s little things, including NBA Live (the one game I still play regularly). At this point, I have another good reason to write a post.  There’s a lot of changes going on in my professional life, and many other things going on around the homestead!  Here’s another tribute to a good friend who is on his way out!

Thank you for your patience, faithful readers!

~Jim

For Greg

For the second time in a matter of weeks, I’ve been trying to process a change in my surroundings.  First, my team’s editor left our company after two years.  That was tough, as she was the heart of our team.  Now, we’re losing a colleague who has been there since I came on years ago; if Kacie was the heart, Greg was the nerve center and the spine.  He’s been a relentless worker, a good friend, and one of my biggest champions.

For many years, Greg has been a friend and ally.  When frustrations would boil over, he was the sympathetic ear who let you talk it out. However, when interoffice politics came to a head, he wasn’t afraid to be level-headed and impartial.  The need for these characteristics was infrequent, as he would try to plot a steady course through uncertain seas.  He was the first to think of the team when our office would undergo turnover. When he was promoted to upper management, he never treated himself as being above the team.  He is even thinking of his teammates as he is in the process of moving on to a new endeavor.

For many years, Greg was the man with all of the practical coding knowledge.  Whether we were designing sites, or querying databases, or trying to figure out our dodgy CRM, we knew who to ask.  If we had any issues with our home hardware — such as when I smashed my USB drive — we knew who to ask.  If he didn’t know, he would work tirelessly to find the solution.  Speaking of tireless, the man would often be working until the wee hours of the morning to make sure that the rest of the company kept with its deadlines; there were even a few times where he was working off of just a couple hours of sleep and putting in a full day. Greg put himself in many unenviable positions, but we never heard him complain.  All too often, Greg would take his work home in the evenings, but we always knew that he would put in the hours there, as well.  Of course, there were always the times where his wife would bring him dinner; we knew that those were the nights where even sleep became a luxury.  We’d even call him when he was vacationing out of the country, and he would put in the hours to get things done.

Every year, when we put on our conference, Greg would be the first one up in the morning, already piecing all of the technical equipment together by 7am.  Whenever any speaker needed some technical assistance, he was there before they would even say the word, and when we needed an emcee in a pinch, he’d be the first to volunteer.  At the end of the day, he would gather all of our employees and make sure that we let off steam; he’d be the first to suggest bowling, or karaoke, or the Mediterranean place down the street.  First thing that next morning, he’d be ready to do it all again.  Things didn’t change when he became management; if anything, he managed to cram even more duties on top of those that he already had.

Outside of work, we would see each other about once per week, and we would play basketball in our regular games.  Greg, a lean man who is not of particularly great height, was the man who made the rest of us work harder just to keep up.  He was the first down the floor, and able to pick the ball clean from your hands as soon as it left the fingertips.  He was a gritty competitor, but was never so myopic as to put himself before the team.  If we needed someone to guard the 6’5″ former (German league) pro, Greg was the first to volunteer.  If we needed someone to guard the 19-year-old whiz kid, Greg was right there.  If we needed someone to play defense because the rest of us were too winded to make it past half court, Greg would take on all comers, even if they knocked him into the wall.  We’ve both stopped playing (at least, playing religiously, as we had for several years), and I miss seeing him on the court. Of course, I do not look forward to the day when he comes back to perform a chase-down block on me; if you can envision LeBron James blocking Yao Ming, then you know why.

Of course, there’s also the time that he helped me move.  I’d asked him to help, and he didn’t realize that he’d already committed to helping somebody else move; he ended up going right from helping one person move to helping another, and he even volunteered to do much of the heavy lifting.  I wish someone had snapped a picture of him crawling underneath a heavy metal desk so that he could push from the center and guide it through a narrow door.  Nobody needed to ask; he volunteered.

There are some key details that I’m missing here — aspects that I must keep private — but it nevertheless has been difficult to anticipate how we will manage his void.  We’ve delegated responsibilities, and scraped every last bit of knowledge out of our friend before he takes on future endeavors, but we will never be able to match his drive.

Ventriloquism: Or, Trying to Recapture my Early-Story Voice

August 14, 2017

I’m in the process of editing Their Sharpest Thorns, a horror book that is horror in the more traditional sense.  As I’ve written this novel, I’ve realized that this story will require a lot of editing — not just editing to provide more clarity of voice, but also to augment the initial tale.  That’s right, I’m editing in an attempt to add words.

It has been my experience that it is difficult to remove words.  I always want to keep my pearls, and always think that my novels show a cohesion that makes it difficult to remove any links in the chain.  Adding words is even more difficult, as I am trying to add something to my story without inherently changing the story.  The problem, more often than not, is that adding words does change the story — not necessarily because I’m adding plot, but because I’m adding a voice.  There’s two ways in which adding words adds voices.  Of course, added characters or expanded characters add voices to the voiceless.  Whether a TV show like Family Guy or a book like Game of Thrones, characters who were not so important in the early going become more important as the story goes on.  Beyond this, a person’s literary voice is always changing.  Yes, we all have our styles, but there are subtle changes that occur from project to project.  The deeper I get into a project, the more I tend to interject dialogue.  Action gets tighter, description gets sparser, and characterization becomes starker.  Now, months into a project, I am trying to add a character after the fact, and one of the most difficult things to do is to try to recapture my early story voice.  Thus, I am adding a voice to my story, while trying to recapture the early-story voice of my narrative.

I haven’t shared much about this story recently, in part because I’ve hit this voice-related block. I expect to share more this week, and will go Facebook Live at some point in the middle of the week.  Until then, faithful readers, thank you for the kind words and thoughts.

Website Tour: Gillian Flynn

July 14, 2017

Apologies for the delay, folks!  A few late nights at work have thrown my writing schedule off!  I am back with another website tour.  As you now know, I’ve discussed some of the best practices for author websites.  Along the way, I’ve taken a sampling of author websites and identified what works and what does not work about their sites.  The latest stop on the tour is acclaimed thriller author Gillian Flynn.

Gillian Flynn

You may have heard of Gillian Flynn.  Her Gone Girl book is just one of several critically acclaimed novels, and is her first work to be adapted into a motion picture.  Two of her other books have also been optioned into visual media, with Dark Places reaching theaters in 2015.  In 2016, Ms. Flynn released The Grownup; this was on Amazon’s bestseller list when I started my website critiques about a month ago, and is the next stop on this author website tour.

Ms. Flynn’s website opens under a large banner, one that takes up half of the screen.  Below that Flynn has a number of basic buttons and pulldown menus, followed by the image of her book, a brief list of its accolades, and her picture.  Her pull-down menus include a few interesting tidbits: a section titled “For Readers” and a button for contact information.  The remaining buttons / pulldowns, including “Home,” “Books,” “About Gillian,” and “News & Events” are everything I’ve come to expect from an author site.

The Good:

The “For Readers” section is a riot, regardless of whether she is trying to be sarcastic or trying to be serious. The section includes a short blog post that introduces her.  It’s riotously funny, and makes Ms. Flynn out to be someone that you wouldn’t want to invite into your home — or would you? She tells some personal details that some might find offensive, but she does it with a point.  If nothing else, it illustrates her sharp wit and frankness.

The other item of interest is a little box at the side, which includes book club questions for her first three novels. I love this idea, as Ms. Flynn has made the effort to help extend the conversation surrounding her book.  Some of these questions are softball questions, yes, but some of them are the type of questions that you would find in any undergraduate literature course – particularly the literary analysis courses. Here, you find a variety of reader response questions, but also questions about symbolism, themes, and other open-ended questions.  In essence, Ms. Flynn is doing what you see in a lot of websites for other disciplines: she’s supplementing her product (the book) with questions that help extend the book beyond the words on the page.

The Bad:

There’s not much to hate with this site.  It centers upon the books, helps you form a “relationship” with the author, and is generally pleasant in its aesthetics. There are two things that I don’t like, and they both relate to what you see above the fold.

First, the only description we get about her most recent novel, The Grownup, is just a list of Ms. Flynn’s other books and accolades.  The same can be said for information about her other books – at least eight bullet points each about sales figures and accolades, but nothing to tell you about the books themselves, unless you click on the books to go to the books’ separate pages.  As a sub-point to this, the only other information we receive about the book is a list of websites and brick-and-mortar stores where one can buy The Grownup. At least she’s fairly subtle about it, but it is still very much verboten in my mind.

The other item I don’t care for is the size of the banner. This is splitting hairs, yes, but the banner takes up a little less than half of what you see above the fold.  From the perspective of aesthetics, this makes the page itself less busy, but it also means that not much information exists on the page’s first screen.

The Verdict: With a few minor flaws, Gillian Flynn’s website does exactly what it is supposed to do.  There are a few nice additions, including the humorous essay and the series of questions for reading groups, but the website does what it sets out to do well.  It isn’t the kind of site that will knock you out with visuals or with features, but both form and function meet an author website’s needs.

To visit Ms. Flynn’s website, click here.

Once Bitten…

July 3, 2017

Hello writing fans!  I hope you’re enjoying your long weekend.  I wanted to send out a brief post, and share something that has come up out of this weekend.  On Friday, I went down to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and saw Great White run through their catalogue of hits at the Bands on the Beach.  I wanted to share some of my thoughts about the experience, as one “creative” admiring another.

Through numerous lineup changes, Great White has been making music together for 40 years, starting out as a band called Highway with former frontman Jack Russell and current lead guitarist Mark Kendall. Their current frontman, Terry Ilous, has been active in the music scene for 31 years, as a founding member of XYZ before joining Great White in 2010.  In 2017, they played their second consecutive Bands on the Beach event in Santa Cruz.  They were also advertising their June 2017 release of “Full Circle,” their first studio album in five years.  To reiterate, with the exception of a few year-long hiatuses in the 2000s, they have been performing together for 40 years. Truly, their tenure in Great White is not only a job, it’s a hobby.

Why does Great White do it, after all of these years?  Why do they continue to perform the hits that made them stand out (such as 1989’s “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”)?  It’s about the relationships that they have, for sure, but there’s more to it than that.  These are musicians, and they have been doing this through years of practice, and years of trying new things out, and years of trying to build from their catalogue of hits.  These are the moments that they are trying to recapture, but there are also connections that they’re trying to maintain with their fans and each other.   There’s a reason why they are still doing this — they must.  And there is a reason why people continually go and see them in concert, because they have such a strong attachment to the band that hearing the best cut, the album cut, or the bootleg cut, isn’t enough.  They have to see them live.

I am not a member of the Great White fan club (but I’d love to know what they call themselves).  However, I thoroughly enjoyed the concert.  I think that what I enjoyed most about the concert is that it was clear that they were up there having fun.  As my wife stated, it looked like drummer Audie Desbrow had the enthusiasm of a kid being told that they get to bang on the drums.  Lead singer Terry Ilous was up there cracking jokes with the crowd and making fun of himself, and Mark Kendall was shredding the guitar like a man a third his age.

Ultimately, if I take one thing away from watching Great White go at it, now 40 years in for some band members, it’s this: it’s their job, but they’re having fun doing it.  If you’re a writer, hoping to write for your career, be like Audie Desbrow – be like a kid being told that they get to bang out another novel on the keyboard.  Be like Terry Ilous, and have fun with it, be funny, be charming, and be self-deprecating.  Be like Mark Kendall, and let the writing move you.  You’ll thank them later!

Website Tour: Suzanne Collins

June 28, 2017

Over the past several weeks, I’ve discussed some of the best practices for author websites.  Along the way, I’ve taken a sampling of author websites and identified what works and what does not work about their sites.  A few weeks ago, I kicked this off with E L James, Author of the 50 Shades Trilogy,.  and I followed this up with popular Australian author Liane Moriarty, who will be visiting Santa Cruz later this year.  My next stop on the tour is renowned children’s author Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games Trilogy.  

Suzanne Collins

The next stop on our little website tour is that of Suzanne Collins.  Collins gained worldwide acclaim for her Hunger Games Trilogy, which was adapted into one of the most “tweeted-about” movies of all time and propelled Jennifer Lawrence to become a household name.  Her credentials are numerous, and are plastered all over her websites.  She became the darling of almost every major media outlet, and her books have a mass appeal that extends beyond her young adult target audience.  She hasn’t published any books since a picture book in 2013, but her books remain among Amazon’s top sellers.

Collins has a simple website, which particularly highlights The Hunger Games and The Underland Chronicles, two series that currently stand as her signature works.  With many reviews, including several on her home page, several more on a widget that rests to the right of each page, and oodles more that appear on each book’s individual page, Collins credibility as a writer is overwhelming.  What’s not overwhelming is her talent as a web designer.

The Good:

To borrow from Shakespeare, the books are the thing(s)!  If you live by this one mandate, then you’ll do well enough.  Collins and her webmaster provide ample space for the reviews, and these reviews are enough to attract any discerning reader.  To make a bad play on words, the website is a tribute to her abilities as a writer and as a story crafter.  These reviews come from a who’s who of newspapers and organizations, and each page starts with the numerous awards that her works have garnered.

Collins has personalized aspects of her site, such as humorous photos and an interview.  While her bio is written in the third person, I wouldn’t doubt that she was responsible for much of the content that went into her website.  Despite “the bad” below, that DIY, hands-on look appeals to me.

The Bad:

The general aesthetic of Collins’ website is dated.  No, it’s not dated in the sense that “that was 2013, this is 2017,” it’s dated in the sense that “that was Geocities circa 1999, and this is 2017.”  The website has a great deal of white space, but is packed along the right side, and most of the content on the main page is hidden below the fold.  The site generally lacks balance in that regard.  While technically there is nothing wrong with the site, and it is intuitive to navigate for most things, the lack of balance and the particular arrangement of white and peach make this site seem much older than it is.  Collins hadn’t emerged as a novelist when GeoCities was at its peak, so there is no reason why her site should have this GeoCities-like appearance.

This is a minor point, but there is not enough mention about what the books are about. I know, you’d have to be living under a rock to not know the general gist of the story.  Her works page provides a few sentences about each work, starting with When Charlie McButton Lost Power and moving all of the way up to Year of the Jungle.  However, these descriptions are, at best, the length of a description on the back cover.  Newer entrants in a given series receive fewer words and less concrete descriptions, to the point that the description for Mockingjay doesn’t really describe where the plot as much as it describes the general setting.

Verdict:

I am not for updating websites just for the sake of updating websites, but I think Collins could stand to improve her website and to bring it “up to date” with the present decade.  In terms of content, she has much of what she needs on the site itself, but the arrangement is lacking.

The one thing that I find particularly irksome about this site is that the site has outside links to websites that provide greater depth about Collins’ own content than what she has on her own site.  It makes me wonder if her publisher didn’t want her to have an in-depth site, so that people would be more likely to seek information about her books from other venues (such as the publisher’s site).

My favorite radio show describes things as either “hum baby” or “bum baby.”  Unfortunately, this site is very much a “bum baby.”

To view Ms. Collins’ website, please click here.

Website Tour: Liane Moriarty

June 21, 2017

Over the past several weeks, I’ve discussed some of the best practices for author websites. These are not without some help, as I’ve learned a lot through discussions with developer relations guru David I., but David doesn’t think about books every evening. He thinks about software. I, on the other hand, see the word “writer” and “editor” and think “NOVEL” and “AUTHOR.” This list, compiled sometime in late May, includes a mix of household names and writers that I’d never heard of before. As I look into websites, and if this becomes a regular feature, I’ll only explore well-known authors.  If you’re an independent author and would like some feedback on your website, I’d be happy to comment about it in this blog.  Last week, I kicked this off with E L James, Author of the 50 Shades Trilogy.  This time, let’s focus on popular Australian author Liane Moriarty. 

Liane Moriarty

Not that any of you would have any reason to have heard of somebody like me, so I can’t say much, but… I’d never heard of Liane Moriarty or her body of work prior to doing this research.  It’s funny, really, as she has a number of Hollywood’s A-listers working on adaptations of her two latest books, Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty.  She’s also admirable, and unusual, in the sense that she has had success crossing over from adult to children’s fiction.  Having read synopses of her two latest books, I’d imagine that’s quite difficult.  After all, lust, rape, and domestic abuse aren’t the substance of Newberry Medal winners.

Ms. Moriarty does a good job of having a dynamic site and fitting in several key aspects above the fold.  She has a simple, but aesthetically pleasing website design with a light blue and black over white.  She uses a rotating image to hit on some of the major features: new books, movie options, and the like.  The Reese Witherspoon tweet gives her a bit more credibility among a broader audience; it is pretty exciting, but it does nothing for me as someone who might be interested in her books.

Below the rotating image, she has a few short reviews from USA Today, Kirkus, and Entertainment Weekly.  These are pretty neat, and are compelling words from some of the major players in the review game.  I’m not quite sure if I would be pleased to be compared to a pink cosmo laced with arsenic (per USA Today), but it does make for an interesting image.

The Good:  I think Ms. Moriarty has done a great job of prioritizing her pull-down menus / tabs.  Home > Books > Children’s Books > About Liane > Appearances > Contact.  She keeps each of the tabs relatively simple, as it is easy to gather information about her books by clicking on images of their covers.

She provides a pretty thorough biography on her site, and includes some old photos.  This is particularly useful in humanizing her as a writer.  It is longer than what I would post about myself, but it isn’t off-putting in any way.  I also like the detail that she goes into surrounding her appearances.  She’ll be in Santa Cruz, CA (my hometown) on September 12th, for anybody who’s interested – and she’s supporting a small business!

The Bad: Her Twitter feed in the website is a bit much.  I’m not sure why it’s there.  Right now, there’s a picture of Blake Lively on a red carpet.  Sure, an attractive actress wearing a provocative dress will sell just about anything, but it doesn’t really tell me anything about her book.  The next tweet down, about Liane Moriarty’s appearance at the “Sydney Writer’s Festival” is of much greater interest to me as a fellow writer, and would be really cool if I lived in Oz and wanted to meet one my favorite authors (for sake of argument).

Another interesting item, and something that makes it clear to me that her publisher is responsible for her website (on some level), is the Subscription widget at the bottom of the page.  This widget, for “BookChat” is an email list for Liane Moriarty, Dianne Blacklock, and Ber Carroll.  It is quite possible that Ms. Moriarty is good friends with these two other authors; perhaps she’s also collaborated with them.  However, without her own personal touch and explanation of why she endorses these two other writers, it feels like something that her publishers have implemented for her.

The Verdict: In terms of website aesthetics, there are some things that I would change, but she covers most of the basics, and provides enough on her site to keep someone occupied for a while.  Her website doesn’t seem to promise any new content, and perhaps that’s for the best.  She’s a fairly prolific writer, and she has more than enough to keep her busy.  The website itself has enough to keep you busy for a little while, and places particular emphasis on her books – which is exactly what it should do.

To see Ms. Moriarty’s Webpage, click here.

Website Tour: E L James

June 14, 2017

Over the past week and change, I’ve discussed some of the best practices for author websites.  These are not without some help, as I’ve learned a lot through discussions with developer relations guru David I., but David doesn’t think about books every evening.  He thinks about software.  I, on the other hand, see the word “writer” and “editor” and think “NOVEL” and “AUTHOR.”  As I’ve been researching author websites for my own website, I took a list of contemporary novelists from “Amazon Best Sellers” and explored their books.  This list, compiled sometime in late May, includes a mix of household names and writers that I’d never heard of before. I tried to eliminate Romance, because that genre seems to play by its own rules.  However, a few of the well-known Romance novelists appear on this list, such as the one discussed today.

As I look into websites, and if this becomes a regular feature, I’ll only explore well-known authors, as I assume that these authors are not making their own websites, and are instead relying on professional assistance in their website development.  If you’re an independent author and would like some feedback on your website, I’d be happy to comment about it in this blog.  I’ll leave this little disclaimer: I’m not exactly out to snipe the indie author, who may be creating their own websites off of a Wix or WordPress template and have just about as much experience with professional web development as I have with professional lacrosse (i.e., none).

Without much further ado, let’s take a look at the official website of E L James, author of the Fifty Shades Trilogy.

E L James

The first person on my little tour of author websites is E L James.  She’s a fairly well-known name, in part because of her amazing story of going from a fan fic writer to one of the bestselling authors of the past decade.  Her brand isn’t my cup of tea, but I do applaud her for writing something that pushes the limits.  She makes no mistake about it when you read her website.  Right below her name on the banner, it says “Provocative Romance.”  Her website above the fold is pretty basic, with a simple banner, a series of pull-down menus, and then a welcome message with her photo.

It has a nice aesthetic, all told.  I wouldn’t put a welcome message quite like what she has on this site, but it has its own appeal, and it is far gentler (in terms of advertising) than some alternatives.  Aside from her picture and a short message, there’s a button inviting us to “browse the books.”  Immediately below that, there’s a YouTube trailer for her movie “Fifty Shades Darker.”  It isn’t until you tap the “page down” button a few times before you see her book covers, or anything of substance about her books.  This might be the natural evolution in her role as an entertainer, as the Fifty Shades Trilogy will likely generate much more as a series of movies than it ever has as a series of books.  At the same time, I don’t think I’ll ever see Michael Crichton (who has Jurassic Park and E.R. among his lifetime credits) as something other than an author, much as I don’t think I’ll see E L James as a Hollywood producer / entertainer.  The irony, of course, is that she is a former TV exec.

The Good:

Between her introduction and then her “About” page, I have a pretty good sense of E L as an artist who is living her dream.  Her “About” page is a glimpse of someone who was once a little girl, growing up in London, and dreaming about being a writer.  She shows humility and gratitude – both useful in reminding the rest of the world that she is, indeed, human.  I like the brevity (yeah, I know, yuk it up) and the sincerity here; in my mind, these are two difficult things to accomplish simultaneously.

She has widgets for her social media, including an interesting little film strip from her Instagram account that appears at the bottom of her site.  She includes several ways of contacting her or her representatives, including via snail mail and email.  My website drafts have some of this, but I’ve never used Instagram or posted anything onto YouTube.  I’ve also never created an email form (and actually deployed it).

The Bad:

Her blog only contains two posts, and hasn’t been updated since April.  The blog is more “news” than it is her thoughts on life or her thoughts on her writing.  Even then, there’s not much news here.  I probably spend too much time on my blog, particularly for someone who is moonlighting as a writer, but blogging twice weekly doesn’t need to be 500 words every time; it just need some sense of consistency.

Aside from her blog, she doesn’t have much other information surrounding appearances, reviews, an actual news tab, or FAQs.  She probably doesn’t need it.  However, I will definitely want to have these in place well before I have any semblance of success with my own writing.

Verdict:

There’s nothing wrong with her website.  It is clear a professional has created this.  At the same time, there’s just not much to keep people coming back to her website.  An author as big as E L James doesn’t need much to keep her audience engaged, but she’d be in a little trouble if she was someone in my shoes, hoping to build a following from the ground up.

To see Ms. James’ website, click here.