Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “LinkedIn”

Books For Writers and Bibliophiles

A colleague recently posted on our LinkedIn forum and asked what books writers read to learn and improve their craft. I would like to offer a few.

On Writing – Stephen King

I have the paperback, but once a year I check the audio book out of the library and listen to Stephen himself read it. Now I understand that he has been criticizing for reading one of his novels (never heard it myself), but since this is so personal, it is very intense. I feel as if he is a teacher.

But beware – he is the tough no-nonsense teacher. He lays out how it should be and brooks no dissent. There is no fluff, and no feel-good. This is a small book but packed with tips and direction.

 A must read – probably annually.

How I Write – Janet Evanovitch

I had never met Stephanie Plum (Janet’s protagonist) before I read this writing book, but she is a good friend now. Janet’s book is geared to e a reference. Much is presented in Q&A form (it is co-written with Ina Yalof) and there are lists and summaries.

I particularly learned a lot about writing a series and character development beyond one book.

Warning -You may find yourself reading a Stephanie Plum novel or twenty. Be prepared to set a summer reading space aside and get ready to laugh.

Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott

It is considered one of the classics. I haven’t read it in years and it doesn’t sit on my shelf to quickly check. But I remember it had a big influence on me and was mentioned in the LinkedIn list as often as any other book.

Sometimes The Magic Works – Terry Brooks

While fantasy writers will get more out of this than those who write in other genres there is a lot of fundamental stuff. However, such topics as creating a whole world are more unique to fantasy and SF.

Whatever you decide – the first chapter is unforgettable. If you have ever been where Terry takes you, you will understand what I mean!

Writing Down to the Bones – Natalie Goldberg

Natalie has written a number of inspirational books on writing (with plenty of practical tips. She writes from the perspective of one deeply in Zen practice. Her latest is about memoir writing.

Finally books mentioned by other writers:

Story – Robert McKee

This Year You Write Your Novel – Walter Mosley

Writing Basics for Beginners by Jeanne Marie Leach

The Weekend Novelist – a Writer’s Digest book

I want to share that I believe it is important to choose a couple of authors and read everything they wrote. This includes their novels, their how-to books, their blogs, interviews etc.

This is important for your own level of craft and how you market your work and present yourself.  We all write as individuals, but we can learn a lot from those whose company we strive to share.

Good Writing,

Alon

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Who’s Connected?

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press “is an independent, non-partisan public opinion research organization that studies attitudes toward politics, the press and public policy issues. In this role it serves as a valuable information resource for political leaders, journalists, scholars and citizens.”

They recently issued three reports on which communication tools we are using.  Here is a very brief overview.

Smartphone Adoption and Usage

  • 35% of all US adults have a smartphone.
  • The biggest users — those with income of $75K or more, college degree, under age 45, African-American or Latino.
  • Some 87% of smartphone owners access the internet or email on their handheld; 25% of smartphone owners say that they mostly go online using their phone, rather than with a computer.

It's fast and smells good!

E-reader & Tablet Ownership

  • E-reader ownership has doubled in last six months, to 12% of US adults.
  • Tablet ownership, now at 8%, appears to be leveling off; 17% of those with $75K+ income own one, and 13% of college grads.
  • Confirming the overall trend toward adoption of mobile devices, laptop computers are for the first time as popular as desktop computers among U.S. adults.

Ebooks - the future is now.

Social Networking Sites and Our Lives

  • 47% of US adults use at least one social network site (SNS), close to double the number in 2008.
  • Half these users are now over the age of 35.
  • 92% are using Facebook, 18% LinkedIn, 13% Twitter.

However, here is what really excited me:

“At that time, 10% of Americans reported that they had attended a political rally, 23% reported that they had tried to convince someone to vote for a specific candidate, and 66% reported that they had or intended to vote. Internet users in general were over twice as likely to attend a political meeting, 78% more likely to try and influence someone’s vote, and 53% more likely to have voted or intended to vote.  Compared with other internet users, and users of other SNS platforms, a Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day was an additional two and half times more likely to attend a political rally or meeting, 57% more likely to persuade someone on their vote, and an additional 43% more likely to have said they would vote.”

The premise of my novel, The Accidental Activist, written several years prior to this report, was the vision that the Internet and its various platforms would become a catalyst for more political and social advocacy.

It is still the beginning, but a very exciting beginning.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Empty Shelves

Whenever I enter the house of someone who I have just met, I look for defining features. What books are on their shelves? What CD’s do they listen to? What art is on their walls?

I recently visited two long-time friends. They are book-people and bookcases adorn every room. Books spill out onto the floor, a pile sits in the bathroom, and their garage, where I have crashed at various times of my life, has precarious towers of crumple covered books. Their walls are also covered in pictures. They are ‘stuff’ people.

Both these people are tech savvy. Their music has long been stored on iPods and there are hardly any audio footprints around the house except for iPod docking stations. But on this visit I was confronted by two paper bags full of books and piles of others sorted on their dinning room table.

“We are in the middle of a project,” one offers apologetically.

“We have almost everything digital now,” the iPad partner offered with the confidence unmoved by the appearance of the iPad 2 within a couple of months since he first brandished his new toy in my house.


A few days later I picked up my youngest son from a play date with a friend whose parents I had not met. Their house was the opposite to my friends: quite empty in comparison. There was a solitary bookcase, stored asthetically with art books sorted by size, and a few modern eye-catching pictures adorned the walls of cafes and jazz musicians.

What did I think of these people? What was my first impression and what were my frames of reference? I had few books to scan, no CD’s and little in the way of art.


It was tough. I had no choice. I had to resort to conversation. In a world of texting and tweeting, of Facebook profiles and LinkedIn status, will the empty shelves provide the last frontier of face-to-face communication?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

The Advantages of Twitter

I realize that so far in this series of threads, I have not actually cited Twitter’s advantages over other the other popular social media tools that are widely used today.

Tom Raftery used Twitter to search for a job. He also used Facebook and compared the two. His conclusion was that Twitter brought the quickest and most consistent responses and felt his Twitter network to be more engaged and responsive.

Jeff Glasson, writing for Social Media Today, suggested that this is because there are many things to do on Facebook beyond communicating with another person or persons. Helping a friend quickly and efficiently find employment just might get buried under a new game, revealing photos and avoiding vampire bites.

Twitter does one thing and it does it well. It is straight forward communication without bells or whistles. What seems to be the most important factor is the people you chose to follow. If they are players, connected, and motivated, you have a serious team to back you up.

Charlene Li points out that Facebook, whatever it subsequently became, began as a student platform. Business professionals claim to make up only about 34% of Facebook, but make up the vast majority of Twitter users.

I think there is a danger that we might generalize too much. Facebook has some serious, artistic and philanthropic uses, and Twitter is utilized for which commercial you prefer in the Superbowl.

What I have learned from this is to seriously consider who I follow on Twitter and with whom I spend time. Right now, it is still a mass of ### hash@@. I want something different from Twitter than what I already have on my blog, website, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, authorsden page, and Amazon Author’s page. Otherwise it becomes just another social media site to maintain, another chore, another distraction from writing.


Any ideas?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Tweet Tweet

“What! You’re not on Twitter? Why’s that?”

This response is usually elicited from someone who tweets and is either very proud that they are so cutting edge, or need to justify the time they are spending each day on social media. I try and explain that I blog daily, am on Facebook, maintain a website, and try to add an opinion post at least weekly on one of the LinkedIn e-groups where I hang around.

All this while editing one manuscript, writing another and trying to sell the novels I have already published (and I haven’t mentioned family, full-time job, and those annoying staples like sleeping, eating, doing laundry and hitting the gym).

Why are there only 24 hours in a day? But then again, why only 140 characters in a tweet?

Twitter is defined by Tweetnet as “a social networking and microblogging service” in which you can update your friends and followers with up-to-the-minute accounts of what you are doing.

Now I can understand why a celebrity like Charlie Sheen or LeBron James attract attention, but why me? My mother is extremely interested in what I have to eat for lunch, but it probably stops there. My original blog was about Alon Shalev, the author, and it had a very small following. While I am sure that a lot of the people I network with are interested in my imminent rise to fame as a leading social commentator of our time (in other words as someone who is very opinionated), they are not interested in the mundane activities that we all share.

Tweetnet also suggests that Twitter allows for “informal collaboration and quick information sharing that provides relief from rising email and IM fatigue.”

Excuse me, I need to move the laundry over to the dryer (that’s a 56 character tweet). I’m back. Admit it, you were on the edge of your seats wondering if I would remember to remove the wool garments before turning the dryer on. I did. You may resume breathing.


So the question is: How does someone like myself leverage Twitter? Are you on Twitter (I realize these are two questions)? I would appreciate your feedback and I shall stalk a few authors in their Twitter accounts over the next couple of days and let you know what they do.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

 

 

 

A Moment of Appreciation

Wade Mayer, who manages an excellent blog called Inviting Conversations: Intelligent Dialog Connecting Thoughtful People, posted a question on our LinkedIn Writer’s group. He asked whether we put our family events on our business calenders. In sharing my response, I realized how strongly I feel about the challenges facing achieving excellence in my work, my writing and my parenting.

My response:
Always! The challenge of maintaining a work:life balance is the most difficult juggling act I face. I love my job and my writing life, both hopefully impact others to create a better world. Raising two young boys that they might become a positive force for change and sharing quality time with a life-partner who makes me a better person, demands just as much attention.

I am learning to live with the fact that I cannot promote my novels that are already published, edit the current completed manuscript, and write the next novel. All this while holding down a full-time (and wonderful) job, and being a meaningful influence as my children develop, as well as being a supportive life-partner.

But it’s hard. I’ve been struggling with the usual winter coughs and colds for too long. No time to slow down and let the body recuperate. In the words of Jack Kerouac:

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop, and everybody goes ahh…”
On the Road, Jack Kerouac

And I wouldn’t want it any other way!

Final word: I am speaking at the Californian Writer’s Club on Sunday (March 21), at 2.15 p.m. in the West Auditorium of the Oakland Main Library at 125 14th Street near the Lake Merritt BART station. Enter directly from Madison Street between 13th & 14th Streets.

Love to see you there.

Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

iWhatever

It’s out. I drove past the Mascone Center in the heart of San Francisco the morning that Apple held their launch. During my lunch break, I surfed for a video about it. I have been waiting as have many.

Barnes & Noble brought out their Nook earlier than planned to get a head start. Amazon, home of the Kindle, announced that they are sweetening the pot for authors who publish with Kindle. Those authors, myself included, who have their ebooks published in multi-formats have been licking our lips in anticipation – well, drooling to be absolutely honest.

It’s no secret that the book-reading world is divided between those who see the Star Trek future, saving trees and waste, and those who still enjoy the feel, touch and smell of the printed page. Or as one woman in my LinkedIn group said: if I can’t take it into the bath, I’m not interested. Truth is, I’ve dropped a couple of books into my bathwater in my time and they don’t fare too well. Still they don’t cost $200-400 to replace either.

As previously mentioned, I’m on the fence. I love the new technology, but enjoy the sensual experience of the book. I also love my bookcases and feel they are a reflection of me and a statement to my children.

Still, I certainly desired a handheld instrument when it took me 28 hours to fly from New Orleans to San Francisco last weekend having just finished reading two great books.

Back to Apple. You just knew that they would raise the bar. The Nooks, Kindles and about a dozen other ebook pads are all very similar. The iPad, however, is more of a tablet computer, offering movie, photos and music options. Its touch screen is also a plus and there is an ergonomic touch keyboard. One negative comment that I have heard, thus far, is that the screen has a high resolution, necessary for movies, but possibly not so comfortable for book reading.

One last comment. J.D. Salinger passed away this week at age 91. I have to confess, I’ve never read ‘A Catcher in the Rye’ (it was never big in the UK where I grew up) but have read various articles about the author and the book. Over the last few days I have been asking friends if this was a coming-of-age novel for them. While the answers are varied, the fact is that people clearly remember reading the book, its story and where they were when they read it. I can think of no greater compliment for an author.

I’ve read that Salinger, though initially hungry for success as an author, had great difficulty dealing with the success and publicity that ensued. So many of us writers dream about achieving the level of fame that he reached. I doubt that many have given much thought to how we would cope with it.

If I had an iPad, Kindle or Nook, I could just download Catcher in the Rye and read it. As it is, I have ordered it from the library…electronically!

Good Writing,
Alon

http://www.alonshalev.com/

Venting Emotions

I am part of a LinkedIn discussion group and found myself involved in a thread that has got quite emotional. Good. It shows we care. I want to share with you one of my responses – I didn’t mean to pour so much on to the page, but I think it is quite revealing.

Charles,
Thanks for the compliment. The thread has already mentioned the essential advantages of PoD, and I largely agree with them. I want to mention some areas not covered, and again, this is my personal opinion.

1. A writer needs to write. S/he needs to develop his/her craft. S/he needs to tell the other stories that s/he has to write. Once you have finished your novel, had it edited, and sent it out to 50-60 agents, you need to think there comes a point when you must move on.

You can then put that manuscript on a shelf to gather dust, or you can put it out there. On the shelf seems pointless to me – it gives you nothing and has you stagnating. I think it is preferable to PoD the book and gain experience in the inevitable promotion and marketing world.

If I had not Pod’ed Oilspill dotcom, I would not have begun to build my author’s platform. In the 6 months since the novel came out: I built a website that I am proud of (alonshalev.com), maintain a modest blog, have spoken at 8 forums, been interviewed/mentioned in 5 newspapers/magazines, entered 5 competitions … all while holding a full time job and being an involved father to young children.

I believe I am more confident, more professional, and building a reputation (in Northern California, at least) because of these actions – and I have learned a lot. A few weeks ago, I met with two people in the hope of addressing their group. One said that they couldn’t agree as they haven’t read the book. His colleague responded that he had read it and gave me a great verbal review. He had heard about my book from a friend who had been moved by my Veterans Day blog entry.

2. I am not convinced that placing my novel in every bookstore is going to result in sales, so there’s little point complaining about it. There are thousands of books in any store (100,000 in the average Barnes & Noble). I believe people often buy the author as much as his/her book (assuming they’ve never read anything from the author). If you are charismatic, funny, profound, whatever, you will sell. People want to take a piece of you home with them (please don’t tell my wife). If you have not published a book (no matter which way) you have nothing to sell them.

3. A final comment. PoD, ebooks, consignments, advances – the industry is in flux and will take a time to work itself out. I do not believe books are going away, but neither do I think we yet know where the industry is going. An author/writer needs to write, needs to develop. S/he cannot stand still and wait for the rest of the world. Furthermore, I believe (hope) that in the future, the fact that you have put yourself out there and have a fan base, will be a plus when a big publisher considers picking you up. Your website, blog, appearances etc. are testament that you can go the distance with the right backing.

4. A final, final point: You have to love what you do. If you are not proud of your website, blog, pitch at parties and spontaneous meetings and, above all, if you are not proud of your books, then maybe you shouldn’t be here. It’s okay to complain a bit (who doesn’t?), but if it is paralyzing your progress, you have a serious problem.

Sorry this is so long. Thank you for reading.
Good Writing,
Alon
www.alonshalev.com/

Writing: The Solitary Path?

Picture the author: He (or she) is quiet, brooding, drinks and smokes too much, sits in a dark attic and pounds the keyboard. His hair is wild, uncombed, his razor unused, and his clothes ill-fitting and ill-matched. When forced out of his lair, he is socially awkward and impatient.

We’ve seen it in a dozen movies, read it in a hundred novels. Right?

But it’s wrong! It is a stereotype, possibly based upon someone, but I don’t believe it is the norm. True my social life mostly revolves around family, work, neighborhood, the boy’s school friends, synagogue, but I seem to have married or stumbled into these relationships, dictated by wife, children and geography. Let me stress that I love these people and value their friendship.

But there is something special when writers get together, something different. Whether this occurs at a chance meeting by the park playground, or by semi-chance while at a book signing, an author’s appearance or lecture.

Or whether it is organized – at my Writer’s group, at a California Writers Club meeting, a conference. Perhaps it is not even in person and happens online through a forum on LinkedIn, Facebook, Yahoo Groups or a dozen others

I love it when someone says: “Hey, I’ve just read your book.” I hope that thrill never disappears. But it’s an even greater thrill when a fellow writer tells me approvingly that they’ve read it. To hear someone praise your work when they truly appreciate, not just the plot, but the work that went into creating and finishing, and polishing, and putting it out there, and publishing, and marketing and…and…and…

I assume it is like this for all artists. When I tell a painter that I like her painting, or a musician that I like his music, does it matter that I can’t draw stick people without inflicting upon them unintentional deformity? Or that my tone deaf flat voice has been known to empty rooms before I even reach the chorus? Surely they appreciate the compliment more from a fellow artist or musician?

And then there is the critique, the honest suggestions from fellow writers who are investing some of their time and energy to help you craft a better story. And they are there for support – like when only two people attend a book reading that you painstakingly prepared for (and one of them is your mother).

I could never imagine writing collaboratively: my work is my own. But I could never imagine living as a writer in isolation. I would never survive the setbacks and would feel lonely even in my successes.

So here’s a Labor Day toast: to friends, to the rich literary scene and the Internet that helps bring us together.

Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

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