Spoken Word at Enigma – 9/26/14

Come see me at Enigma Bookstore in Astoria, NY on Friday, September 26! It’s one of their last in-store events, so it’s a bittersweet occasion, but I couldn’t be happier to be reading in their beautiful space. Readings start at 8pm, and it looks like I’ll be in some pretty great company. Don’t miss it! EnigmaReading



#CommunityBuilding: Twitter for Writers

Over the past few days, I’ve had the opportunity to chat with a number of writers. Some have books out already, some are shopping manuscripts around, some are polishing up their latest drafts – but a lot of them are wondering about marketing and social media. My advice? Don’t market. Now, I’m a marketer by trade, so that might sound strange, but work with me.

Photo credit: Flickr user Tashmahal

Photo credit: Flickr user Tashmahal

For the most part, writers are fabulous communicators. That’s kind of our schtick. Even better, writers usually enjoy communicating. So let’s call a spade a spade: Marketing is communication. It’s that simple. That’s all there is to it. That said, you do need to navigate your options and make sure that you’re communicating with the right people, in the right space, in a way that’s beneficial. My personal favorite, for many reasons, is Twitter.

Am I talking about that weird site where teenagers and college kids gather to commit their hashtaggery and their @mentioning? Yup. The forum in which Justin Beiber’s fans discuss how much they #belieb in him and where Lady Gaga posts dress-up photos of her tiny dog? Ding ding ding! Truth is, in 140 characters, you can make connections in one of the most organic ways the internet has to offer, and there is so much more to Twitter than teeny boppers and celebrities (although they’re welcome, too…let’s not be alienating). The site’s literary community, ranging from writers to reviewers to agents and more, is particularly strong. Hashtags like #FridayReads and #AmWriting are commonplace, and the overall atmosphere is incredibly supportive for writers of all experience levels. Tweeting is an ideal way to introduce yourself to fellow craftspeople and potential readers, and to have genuine interactions with the literary community.

That said, don’t blow your opportunities here. Nobody likes a sales pitch at a cocktail party, and no one wants you filling their social media feeds with links to your Amazon page. If you’re a writer who doesn’t have Twitter and you haven’t published yet, GOOD. Make a profile now, and start building relationships in the community before your book is released. You can make real friendships through the digital network, and connect with real people. And you want those people to know who you are, to be familiar with your voice, when it comes time to announce your publication date. They’re the ones who will be buying, reading, reviewing, and telling their friends about your work. You need them, but more importantly, you need the support – and that has nothing to do with sales.

Writing is a notoriously lonely endeavor, haunted by individuals who feel chronically misunderstood. Twitter not only makes it possible to connect with all sorts of different people – people who are like you and people different from you, people who understand you and challenge you and inspire – it makes it easy. There’s none of the will-they-think-I’m-a-weirdo-if-I-friend-them social anxiety associated with the more personal format of Facebook. There’s no pressure to produce longform works on a regular basis, as I do so infrequently while blogging. Just “follow” people (which sounds creepy out of context, but is a completely legitimate Twitter term), whether you know them or not, and say hello. No big deal, no awkwardness. It’s a public forum, and your presence is not an intrusion. You can see what other cool people are up to, or support them by sharing their messages and responding to their quips. Twitter is what you make of it, so get involved in a way that makes sense to you. Have fun. Be yourself. Hashtag with abandon. Slowly but surely, you’ll reap the benefits of being an active member in a community with a shared interest in the written word. And maybe you can check out those pictures of Gaga’s dog while you’re at it.

Find me on Twitter, tweeps! @daniwriteswords

There are tons of other social media/marketing options out there for writers. Other than Twitter, what works for you? What do you want to learn more about? Maybe this can become a series of posts about different venues. Who knows! Have at it in the comments, my lovelies!


Read a book, so I don’t have to be sad.

The Washington Post released a story on May 12 that made me make my sad face, to say the least. You can read the article for yourself, but it essentially summarizes a report from Common Sense Media that found a dramatic decrease in the number of young people who are reading for pleasure. I know I’m preaching to the proverbial choir here, since the blogosphere is full of literary types, but this breaks my heart and I have to say it somewhere.

Photo credit: Randen Pederson (flickr username: chefranden)

Photo credit: Randen Pederson (flickr username: chefranden)

Even as a child, books were my refuge, some of my best teachers, and constant friends. They encouraged my creativity, and provided insight into places/times/cultures I had never encountered in person. We all know that books can serve a great purpose as both educators and entertainers. What we don’t always think about is the effect they have on our personal development. Reading, quite simply, facilitates compassion. It helps us embrace diversity, introducing us to a variety of people and situations from the comfort of our own favorite comfy chairs. And we live in a world that is increasingly in need of compassion.

That’s what bothers me most about these stats: I don’t want to see the percentage of understanding people drop lower and lower with every flip of the calendar. I don’t want younger generations to lose an entire channel of information, a direct line into the inner workings of another individual’s mind. I don’t want kids to grow into adults who don’t know any better.

That said, I also know a lot (note: a LOT) of adults who don’t read. They think they don’t like books, that all avid readers are traditionally “bookish.” Personally, I’m a firm believer that everyone does like to read–they may have just not met the right book yet. (Literary matchmaking is my favorite, by the way.) These adults usually hated the required reading list when they were in school, didn’t do any reading at home, and came to the conclusion that all books were evil, scholastic heathens, sent to ruin their GPAs. When they graduated, they tossed literature aside to concentrate on more “productive” pursuits. Or, you know, to watch TV or something.

So here’s my request, of everyone, because I want our collective sense of compassion to grow in the coming years–because we can’t afford to see it shrink:

Read a book.

If you love to read, read something new. Immerse yourself in the story, or the poem, or the biography. Read whatever makes you happy, makes you think, makes you better. Talk about what you read, if you feel excited about it. Recommend the book to a friend.

If you’re sure you hate reading, hear me out. Please, please, just give it one more try. Please. Find a reader, someone you trust, and ask them for a recommendation. Visit a library. Listen to an audiobook during your commute. Read something you’ll enjoy. Don’t put pressure on yourself, or worry about the number of pages or how long it takes you to reach the end. A book is not about its ending. Even if you end up hating it, try to understand why. If you don’t hate it, try to understand why.

And if you have kids, help them find their books. Mine were Dr. Seuss titles and Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter stories. I read through my elementary library’s inventory of Ramona books, and shortly thereafter, The Saddle Club and The Babysitters Club series (clubs were a big thing for a while). Read bedtime stories. Give books as birthday presents. Find a book that makes your child smile, and then find more books like that. They’ll branch out on their own, eventually. When kids want to talk about what they read, talk with them. Listen to them. Don’t rush them. Don’t force it too much. Let them catch you reading.

Let’s all be more compassionate. Engage with characters. Lose ourselves in stories, then find ourselves in them. We must allow ourselves to feel something beyond our own experience.

You can help me make my happy face, and I’ll be very grateful.


Refusing “Feminist” – The Lexicon of Inequality.

from Flickr user MBrewerDC

Feminism got a spike in publicity this week, with March 25 marking the 80th birthday of icon Gloria Steinem. Add to this the ongoing celebration of Women’s History Month, and the internet would have us all believing that women’s causes are at the forefront of our national consciousness these days. It’s strange, then, that I’ve recently found myself questioning my own “feminist” status.

Rest assured, I still hold strong opinions regarding the treatment of women in our society. I still support women’s healthcare, equal wages for equal work, and positive portrayals of females in media and advertising. I am still wholeheartedly opposed to chauvinism and slut-shaming. I still give a thumbs up to any Facebook meme featuring a Tina Fey quote. But if Beyoncé and Sheryl Sandberg can ban the word “bossy,” I have another proposal: Let’s reconsider the term “feminist,” as well.

For the record, I’m not talking about censoring the dictionary here (and I doubt Sandberg, Bey, et al. are, either). What I am suggesting is that language evolves to reflect values, and it is perhaps time to think about what modern word usage is saying about the current state of our culture. Let’s consider for a moment what “feminist” actually means. In short, it is a label used to describe someone who opposes sexist behavior toward women. Let’s also consider this:
Why do we need a word for that?

What does it say about us, that we seem to have blindly accepted into our lexicon a label meant to specifically define those who oppose something so inherently wrong? At what point did we accept, onto our already heavy burdens, responsibility for bearing the vocabulary of this injustice? To be frank, it’s not my job to be a feminist. Let the weight of terminology rest on those in the wrong. The oppressors. The sexists. The chauvinists. Let them carry the labels. Let them have the Facebook groups and Twitter hashtags and Pinterest boards. Let them alert the rest of us to their presence by blatantly calling themselves out for supporting inflammatory ideas about gender equality. I, behaving as a decent human being, acknowledging that indecent behavior is in fact indecent, should not require categorization. Categorization is a method for lessening individual value, whether it’s done intentionally or not. And I am valuable in my own right.

We know that the action of labeling someone is dehumanizing, serving to impose a sense of the “other.” We see it all the time, from playground bullies shouting “NERD!” as they kick dirt in another child’s face, to any number of racial/sexual/religious slurs muttered on the sidewalk. Hateful labels exist to put individuals from imposed-upon demographics in their place. You know these labels. They start with N’s and C’s and F’s, just to name a few of the more popular letters. I’ll let you fill in the blanks for yourself. Now, decades after the achievement of women’s suffrage and Title IX and Roe v. Wade, “feminist” is all too often one of those F-words.

It’s more subtle than many of the others, of course, but the tone of degradation that bubbles up in offhanded mentions of “those feminists” can be undeniable. In many circles, even among women, the word “feminist” evokes images of an aggressive, rabid, man-hating radical. Women who speak out against acts of chauvinism, or even just gently draw attention to sexist mindsets in hopes of changing them, are usually made to feel either like the raging femi-Nazi bitch or the oversensitive crybaby—both propagated through a twisted understanding of the word “feminist,” a term that could essentially be boiled down to one meaning: “anti-sexist.”

I can think of no other anti-discriminatory label that exists in common contemporary usage. We do not regularly and willingly categorize people as anti-racists, or anti-religious-persecutors. We don’t have a word that means person-who-thinks-homophobia-is-bad, or kid-who-doesn’t-steal-lunch-money. Is it, then, a subconscious act of victim-blaming to blanket everyone who opposes sexism under the oft-stereotyped term, “feminist?”

Cheris Kramerae famously described feminism as “the radical notion that women are human beings.” Now, as human beings, we need to consider whether our thoughts are affecting our words, or vice versa. So, am I a feminist? Absolutely. But I’d rather consider myself a person with values, first and foremost. I don’t need a hashtag for that.

Self-Publishing: A Quandary

I used to have a firm, unshakeable opinion on self-publishing. “Don’t do it,” I would say, when writer friends asked my opinion on the matter. It seems like every Joe(sephine) Shmoe and his/her mother is self-pubbing lately, leading to a flood of “OMG MY NEW BK IS OUT BUY NOW ON AMAZON ONLY $2.99 THIS WK!”-esque nonsense overtaking my Twitter feed. I still hate that, for the record–but it’s an issue that extends to writers with traditional publishers, as well as the self-pubbers…and that’s a marketing conversation for another day.

via Flickr user Rach (Rachel Sian) @ http://flic.kr/p/qe8Vd

via Flickr user Rach (Rachel Sian) @ http://flic.kr/p/qe8Vd

The main problem with self-publishing was, and continues to be, a lack of curation in the process. Without the traditional pipeline of agents and editors, a ton of sub-par and unintelligible writing makes its way to the public eye. The success of platforms like Amazon’s CreateSpace has eliminated the hierarchy of the publishing world. While browsing the internet for a new read (And let’s face it, that’s where people are looking nowadays. Not that I don’t love and prefer local indie bookstores, but this is a truth-telling space), there’s no pre-purchase guarantee that a self-published book has been read and vetted by someone with a trustworthy opinion about literature. There may be grammatical errors, distracting structures, incomplete characterizations–but here’s the big takeaway, my friends: traditionally published books have those, too. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. Most publishers are professionals who work with authors, editors, production gurus, and proofreaders to ensure an end product that at the very least reflects the cleanest version of its content. There are, however, also a huge number of writers without publishers who work to achieve the same effect. That’s the realization that lead to my change of heart. Today’s publishing industry is a corporate feudal system, where the majority of writers serve as peasant farmers and payday reigns supreme. The focus has shifted from harvesting and distributing quality books–beloved by editors, publishers, and readers alike–to bulk production of whatever the masses are willing to ingest at any given moment. The great acquisition question is no longer, “Is the work good?” Now, from the bottom of the slush pile all the way to the tippy top bookshelf, the literary powers-that-be are asking themselves, “Will it sell?”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s even marginally interested in reading. And in a way, we have the fluffy-melodramatic-romances-that-shall-not-be-named to thank for keeping money rolling in for the book people. Still, the fact remains that publishing houses put out crap sometimes. And agents and editors pass up fantastic, heartfelt, well-written manuscripts all the time–usually out of necessity more than greed or ignorance. It’s the nature of the game, and for the time being, it’s simply a survival tactic for the industry. You can only fit so many people in the lifeboats; women and children get dibs.

The result is a slew of ultra-talented writers who are unable to find homes for their work within the typical channels. As the stigma of self-publishing weakens, and the appeal of greater profit shares grows, more and more of these bards are taking matters into their own hands. So why not read them? In another time and place, these are the books that would have been picked up by the Random Houses and Simon & Schusters of the world. The authors are serious writers, many of whom work with private editors and book doctors, writing groups, teachers, and literary-minded friends to polish their prose until it reaches a standard that readers expect. They know their craft, and they’re not messing around. Great writers can click the “publish” button just as easily as terrible writers.

The current state of the literary world is such that, no matter where you shop for books or how those books are being published, some effort is required from the reader in order to weed out the undesirables. If you want mindless bubblegum pop literature, that’s certainly not hard to find; feel free to ignore anything with a thought-provoking synopsis. If you want something meaty and layered, with complex characters and an engrossing plot–those are out there, too. In any genre, any sub-genre, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or that weird dusty shelf in the corner where the books defy categorization, there is something to satisfy everyone. I promise you can find whatever it is that you’re looking for. It just might not be where you expected.

So here’s my final proposition: read the books that interest you. If you love them, recommend them to friends. Write Amazon reviews. Tweet about them. Do whatever it is that you do when you come across a piece of literature that you enjoy. Don’t give a damn about how that literature made its way from the author’s computer to your eyeballs. Just be grateful it found its way.

And if you’re a writer? Choose the path that makes sense for your work. Do what works for you, and try to do it as well as you possibly can.

What are your favorite self-published books?
Send me your recommendations in the comments!

Ain’t no party like a hungry writer party!

I was thrilled to attend fellow Wilkes alum Laurie Loewenstein’s book launch tonight at Bluestockings on the Lower East Side. Laurie’s novel, Unmentionables, is the first publication from Kaylie Jones Books, an imprint of supercool indie press Akashic Books (you might know them from the uber-successful children’s book parody Go the F@$! to Sleep!).

It was a great event, with standing room only as Laurie read selections from her work. And any night that ends with chocolate mousse cake and fun with writer friends is a good time in my book (no pun intended).


A reunion of fellow Wilkies! We stumbled onto this gem of a diner after the reading. Many thanks to Jose at Sugar Cafe (visit them on Allen Street on the LES!) for humoring us, taking our photo, and not blinking an eye when all I ordered was a slice of chocolate mousse cake.


That chocolate mousse cake I was talking about? Yeah, it was incredible.

I don’t mean to judge…but I’m going to, anyway.

I like to think of myself as a relatively open-minded person. I really do. I try not to engage in petty stereotyping; I make an effort to give people the benefit of the doubt. I even try to check the inevitable feelings of rage that arise when a small child is shrieking in my subway car and the train is delayed in the tunnel for 15 minutes (Yeah, that happened. I was damn near saintly).


Photo credit: Flickr user, TheStaceys1

However, after years of careful observation, I have come to the conclusion there are times when some people simply deserve to be judged. There are people who exhibit behavior of such abominable sub-human standards that no reasonable human being could ever look them in the eye and not let out a heartfelt “what the hell?

So this one’s for you, the sick executors of societal chaos. Don’t say I never warned you. If any of the following activities seem well within the realm of what you consider acceptable day-to-day behavior, please know that I WILL judge you. Brace yourselves for the full wrath of my raised eyebrow:

1. If you sing in public. While wearing headphones.

I will never understand. Do you not know you’re singing aloud? Do you think those earbuds cast a magical noise-cancelling force field around your mouth? Or do you think you actually sound like Adele, and are therefore gifting us with this questionable display of talent? News flash: This is New York; even Adele wouldn’t impress us during rush hour on the E train.

January 16, 2013

Photo credit: Flickr user, Mia Teria

2. If you’re a lame tipper.

Factor the extra 20% into the cost of your dinner. You work hard for your money, and guess what? Servers do, too. And they work for tips. So pay them when they’re working for you.

3. If you’re “just, like, not really a dog person.”

Stop. Just…stop. Look at this face. You’re a terrible human being.

4. If you are reading Fifty Shades of ANYTHING in paperback anywhere beyond the privacy of your own home.

fifty shades of grey

Time to get an e-reader…
Photo credit: Flickr user, pspyro2009

Have some shame. Some books are meant to be enjoyed electronically. Don’t get me wrong, I will judge your choice of literature no matter how you access it…but in this case, it’s really all about the medium. Maintain appearances, people.

And last, but most certainly not least:

5. Two words…Vocal. Fry.

Not. Cute.


So, good people of the world, now you know.
Please, help me help you. I don’t want to have to be this way.

Feeling judgmental? Get it out of your system, and into
the comments below! Let me know what raises your eyebrow!


For What I Don’t Have

In just a couple days, it will be Thanksgiving. People all over the internet/blogosphere/country are busy writing about everything they’re grateful for. Me? I just got a laid off.

I started November as a marketing manager, a title I was proud of and a role I felt fit me well. Now, at the month’s end, after a severe round of lay-offs, I have a title that I’m far less comfortable with: Unemployed. For someone who started babysitting for spending money at age 12, got her first real paycheck at 16, worked through college, and held a full-time career-track job while attending grad school full-time for over two years–well, let’s just say it’s an adjustment.

I’ve been in this career purgatory for about two weeks now, and I’ve recently arrived at my parents’ house for the holiday. It’s a new experience, being around family and friends I haven’t seen in a while and having to answer “how are things in the city?” with an awkward shrug. An innocently intended “how’s work?” quickly devolves into an uncomfortable explanation about being low (wo)man on the totem pole in a declining economy. Don’t even get me started on the inevitable, “So are you going to move back home?” questions (answer: no). The point is, I’m still adjusting, still navigating my new-found socioeconomic space.

And that is precisely why I am so grateful.

Grateful? People look at me like I’m crazy when I use that word. After all, I have rent to pay and food to buy–losing my job right before the holidays was not a happy surprise. But believe me, I’m going to be just fine. Best of all, this period of unemployment is providing me with some much needed perspective. The truth is, I am not my job. As individuals who spend so much of our days at our places of employment, I think it’s easy for us to lose sight of that fact. No matter how many hours a week you devote to your work, no matter how much you excel at it, a career cannot define a person. I had nearly forgotten.

It actually came as a bit of a surprise to me that things didn’t completely fall apart when I lost my job. Of course, there are financial concerns; there’s no denying that. I have some challenges ahead. But fundamentally, I am still me. I have not changed. I have the same skills, the same personality, the same sense of humor that I had when I was “marketing manager.” My family and friends still love me. The face I see in the mirror is still my own. Even if the worst of the worst happens and I never find a new job, none of that will change. It’s an important realization: We are not talented, skilled, and competent because we have great careers. Rather, we build great careers because we are talented, skilled, and competent.

When it comes down to these essentials, I have lost nothing. That’s what I’m thankful for this year. So there’s my Thanksgiving advice for everyone: Think about the essentials. There’s not much else worthwhile.