Monday, March 30, 2009

TWITTERING AWAY MY TIME, writing a ... novel?

By Claudia Ricci

Here it goes: the opening lines of my new novel:

"Unbeleivable find -- the way he sits here staring back at me. He hasn't said a word and yet, I know exactly what he is thinking so SCAR..."


OK, OK, so what did you expect from a novel being composed tweet by tweet on Twitter?

Apparently, there is a growing demand for these books. Swarms of people around the globe are reading novels composed as text messages, on cell phones.

One such novel, called "The Last Messages," by Finnish writer Hannu Luntiala, hit the streets, or the cell phones, a couple of years back and became quite the instant success story. Within a week of its being published, it had appeared on 22,000 websites! The reason for its success? Perhaps the NOVEL-ty of this type of NOVEL. Or, maybe it was just the fact that Luntiala spun a good story, a mystery about a guy who goes AWOL from his life as an IT exec, with no explanation. He roams through Europe and India, posting text messages back to his friends.

In Japan, the cell phone novel has become a huge new fad. According to a December 2008 article in The New Yorker, the cell-phone novel, or keitai shoshetsu, "is the first literary genre to emerge from the cellular age." A cell phone novel website called "Maho i-Land," has more than a million titles, all available for free.

Maho i-Land reports that the site receives three and a half BILLION visits per month. Move over Huffington Post!

According to the figures provided by the company, the site, which also offers templates for blogs and home pages, is visited three and a half billion times a month.

One novel, "Eternal Dream," published in December, 2006, was ranked among the top ten best-selling literary hardbacks the following years. By the end of 2007, according to the New Yorker, "cell-phone novels, all of them by authors with cutesy one-name monikers, held four of the top five positions on the literary best-seller list.

Many of these are what we might otherwise call romance novels. Writes The New Yorker: "In the classic iteration, the novels, written by and for young women, purport to be autobiographical and revolve around true love, or, rather, the obstacles to it that have always stood at the core of romantic fiction: pregnancy, miscarriage, abortion, rape, rivals and triangles..."

As for my novel, I won't tell you much, except to say, it's a mystery.

To me, as much as anybody.

And oh yes, the first word of the novel -- unbeleivable-- is misspelled intentionally.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring Flowers Grace Mount Vernon in March

The flowers are blooming in Virginia. And not just the cherry blossoms (which peak this week). Get a load of these early bloomers, at Mt. Vernon.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Now here's a blogger making BIG BUCKS!!!!

By Jill Yaworski

Dirty Diapers and Irreverence.

Heather Armstrong is celebrating an anniversary. It’s been eight years since she was told to pack up her things in a little brown box and get the hell out of the office where she worked as a Web designer.

Her offense? Writing about her boss and coworkers on the Internet.

“It’s not a good idea,” Armstrong warns. “But I’m almost kind of grateful that it happened because of the success that has come afterwards.”

Success indeed. The day Armstrong was fired, traffic to her blog,, quadrupled as people flocked to her site to offer support or criticism. Since then, she has continued to take the Blogosphere by storm. The 33-year-old stay-at-home mom’s cheeky and comical (albeit occasionally profane) writings on commonplace topics from dirty diapers to temper tantrums garner over 4 million page views per month, solidifying her position among the Web’s top 100 blogs.

“My Web site has always been about my life,” says Armstrong. “But it’s always been written with an irreverence for life that some people feel themselves, but are afraid to express.”

While other parenting bloggers are more reserved and choose to keep their private lives—well—private, Armstrong holds back nothing. Some people find Armstrong’s posts offensive, but the majority of her readers have responded positively to her candor, including the outpouring of encouragement from her followers when she wrote about her decision to check into a mental hospital for postpartum depression.

“It was a very uplifting experience to share that with my readers,” she says. “It’s a good Internet story.”

Bringing Home the Bacon

By letting people into her life, Armstrong has created a close bond with her readers. And it’s this loyal fan base that keeps the advertisers coming back for more. Since Armstrong began accepting ads on her Web site in 2005, her husband Jon has been able to quit his job at a software company to run the administrative end of dooce. So this makes us wonder…how much is the site making from ad revenue?

It’s estimated that her blog rakes in over $40,000 a month.

Excuse our drool, but $40K a month to stay in your pajamas and write about your life?! THAT SOUNDS AWESOME.

Armstrong, however, will tell us to wipe off the slobber and hold the awesomeness for a second. The life of a full-time blogger is not all fun and games, she confesses. Although she considers herself lucky for finding success in the Blogosphere, Armstrong admits the job is extremely stressful. She never gets to take a break.

“It’s all consuming,” she says. “I don’t ever leave it. It’s always there and I’m always working on it. I don’t ever get to take a vacation. Your audience is always waiting for your next update, and if you don’t update, ohhh do you hear about it.”

However, Armstrong believes posting “persistently and consistently” is the key to success. By updating her Web site at least once a day, Armstrong’s readers continually check dooce for new material.

When Armstrong missed posting regularly one time, she says her followers got a wee bit upset. “People thought I had died when I didn’t post for two days,” she remembers. “I had to tell everyone to calm down. I haven’t posted cause I’m sick. It happens.”

The dooce Product

Before she puts anything on her site though, Armstrong acknowledges that she thinks long and hard about the overall "dooce product." Each thing she posts has to be worth visiting her Web site for.

“I approach it as if it’s Friday night and I’m sitting down with my girlfriends to talk about what happened during the week,” she says. “How would I tell them in a really funny way so they’re going to laugh? It’s a good way to filter out the crap that gets put on a lot of other blogs.”

Crap or no crap, Armstrong still receives hate mail and loathing comments from a select few of her readers. But revenge is sweet and she has found the best way to deal with the haters is to simply mock them. Like when a reader recently wrote Armstrong to tell her how much he disliked the re-design of her site.

“I hate your new Web site,” he wrote. “Two words: Lame.”

That particular comment is now part of the large banner running across dooce’s homepage. It’s the first thing you see when you enter the site. You can’t miss it.

Happy anniversary, Mrs. Armstrong.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Get paid to write? Forget about it!

By Claudia Ricci

Check out this piece on The Huffington Post!

Twice in the past week, I've heard the same bad news: two media outlets for whom I'd written articles informed me that they would not be paying me for the writing I had submitted.

One outlet is a very large and prominent city newspaper. The other is a regional magazine where I used to be paid rather handsomely, as far as freelance assignments go. Neither editor I spoke to was apologetic. Indeed, they both seemed a little surprised when I registered my objection. Somehow, they seemed to imply that I shouldn't need to be paid.

In the end, I let the pieces run. Sure, I could have told them both, "no thanks." But the truth of the matter is, there weren't any other outlets for those particular pieces. And so, I let them take my work. For free.

Every time I think about it, I get angry. Worse, I get this sinking feeling in my stomach because I can see quite clearly that this bad news is part of a much bigger journalism picture: the news industry industry is crumbling around me. '

The big news this past week: the Rocky Mountain News went down the tubes on Friday. And the San Francisco Chronicle and the Seatle Post-Intelligencer may be next. Every major newspaper, The New York Times included, is in very very bad shape.

We've all read the articles detailing the reasons for the newspaper industry's demise. The rise of the internet. Craigslist cannibalizing the classified ad business. The loss of public trust in the media. The mismanagement at newspapers, and the arrogance of editors and publishers who failed to adapt, who refused to recognize that with the arrival of the World Wide Web, the world of information delivery really was changing, and changing radically.

When the editors and publishers finally did catch on, they made a rather desperate effort to attract readers to their on-line product. Part of their strategy -- give the on-line content away for free. Looking at that decision now, some media observers are saying it was a mistake.

Which brings me back to the point of this poor-me --or better, poor us-- tale. If The New York Times is giving its news product away, doesn't that send a very important message ricocheting through our society: that news has no value? We live in a society that places a very clear value on things: we pay our baseball and movie star celebrities astronomically high salaries. We pay our day care providers and our teachers next to nothing.

Ironically, I am writing this for The Huffington Post, which makes no apologies about the fact that it doesn't pay its bloggers. When I --very politely-- asked an editor about this issue last year, he very nicely explained to me that the many hundred bloggers at the Huff Po are willing to write for free because they know their work is being seen by many millions of eyes.

That's true of course. And yes, I do see the value of having my work appear in the Huff Po. But I guess I am also old-fashioned. I was trained in an era when my work, appearing in The Wall Street Journal, earned me more than just readership. It earned me a salary. Writing, and reporting, took time. And time as we all know, is money.

There are those of course who have figured out the new economics of the Internet. A small but growing number of entrepreneurial bloggers publish product on-line that gets them a gazillion hits, or at least, enough to attract advertisers.

I suppose it's time. I did the same.

I suppose.