Monthly Archives: September 2015

Confessions of a Veteran Blogger

WordPress informed me that I recently marked my 4th anniversary as a blogger. To celebrate this momentous occasion, let me share with you some stats and insights.

First the stats:

  • 247 posts and 42,001 views.
  • 25,689 visitors from 11 countries, including the United States (4,128), the United Kingdom (664), Canada (372), Australia (260), India (196), and the Philippines (133).
  • 137 views on my best day, which was Nov. 9, 2014, when I was blogging and tweeting about the Writer Unboxed Un-Conference. 
  • Top three posts: Linear vs. Non-linear Narrative (1,262 views), Why Introverts Make Good Writers (868), and The Story Behind the Story: Memoirs of a Geisha (514).
  • Referring sites: Google (4,639), Bing (128).

So, what have I learned from four years of blogging? Here are some insights:

  • Be prepared to make a long-term commitment. I’ve followed countless blogs that showed great promise, but the blogger either lost interest or ran out of steam. When I started my blog, I vowed it would not become one of those ‘take off like a rocket and burn out quickly’ sites. Blogging is hard work. It requires, at a minimium, 3-5 hours of research and writing per post. It requires perseverance and dedication. Though my output has fallen off during the past year due to family and health issues, I still strive to blog several times per month.
  • Select timeless topics. This is the gift that keeps on giving. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received was in a post (forgive me, I cant recall the author) on blogging tips. The advice was this: choose evergreen topics. In other words, write about topics that don’t go stale in a year or two. Any fiction writing topic that begins with “how to” will draw a lot of readers: how to write winning scenes, how to craft compelling characters, etc. I still get hits on posts I wrote three years ago on craft of fiction topics.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to go deeper. I started out with a long list of topics. After I exhausted this list, I thought, Now what? I’d covered everything. I had nothing more to say. So I looked for opportuntiters to take a deeper perspective on fiction wrting. I started to read more about the creative process and to write about it and reflect on it.  I wrote about authors and books I loved. This got me into the mindset of writing from the perspective of a reader. 
  • Fight burnout through inspiration and engagement.  Some early adopters in the blogosphere have checked out. That’s too bad, but it is perfectly understandable. Burnout is my biggest challenge. I fight it through engagement and immersion. Engaging with other writers and online communities provides a continual source of ideas and inspiration. Immersing myself in the craft by writing, as well as by reading others’ work, keeps me wanting to learn, grow, and share.
  • Take a break. Step away from the blog, but not for too long. Give yourself a one-month vacation. You may come back refereshed and renewed.

Your turn. Veteran bloggers, how do you deal with blog burnout? What strategies have worked for you?

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Book Review: “Purity,” by Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen’s fifth novel, Purity, is a sprawling, ambitious work that revolves around the quest for truth and love. Or is it about secrets and lies? As with all of Franzen’s novels, there are several layers to this hefty, complex story.

Eschewing a linear narrative, Franzen takes the reader backwards and forward in time on a journey that spans six decades and covers three continents. He introduces seemingly random characters whom he skilfully ties to the main plot. The story is organized into seven linked sections that transport the reader to such locales as modern-day Berkeley, Cold War-era East Germany, Bolivia, Texas, and Denver, just to name a few locations.

The main story centers on Pip Tyler, a recent college graduate saddled with a $130,000 student loan debt, a mentally unstable and manipulative mother, a dreary, dead-end job, and a burning desire to learn the identity of her father. Pip, whose birth name is Purity, has a love-hate relationship with her mother, who refuses to divulge any information about Pip’s dad. She lives in a squatter’s house in Berkeley with a bunch of oddball radicals and anarchists. This is where she meets Annagret, an attractive German woman who makes an irresistible offer: a paid internship at The Sunlight Project (TSP), a Wiki-leaks-type operation that uses web technology to expose the secrets of governments and corrupt corporations. She is also told she can use TSP’s technical savvy to help her find her father.

Located deep in the jungle of Bolivia, TSP is the brainchild of Andreas Wolf, a charismatic and troubled former East German dissident. Wolf has a fascinating and creepy back story. The son of a high ranking East German official and an unhinged college professor, Wolf throws away his chance at a comfortable life in Communist East Germany by publishing a scandalous poem. Due to his father’s intervention, Wolf escapes a harsh prison term, but he is banished from the family. He ends up as a counselor to troubled youth at a church, a lowly job that he parlays into sexual conquests of teen-age girls. Until he falls for Annagret.

Like all of the book’s characters, Wolf carries a dark secret from his past. He shared his secret with Tom Aberrant (I love these character names), an American journalist who was in Berlin to cover the collapse of Communism in 1989. Tom is the most decent and likeable character in the story, but he has secrets of his own. His volatile marriage to Anabel Laird, the unstable heiress to a fortune, is a toxic train wreck. It ends in divorce, but Tom finds himself drawn to her and begins a doomed post-divorce affair with Anabel. 

As in his other works, Franzen raises knotty questions about the way we live and he incorporates the great issues of the day into this story. In this case, the internet is the centerpiece around which much of the modern-day part of the story pivots. The internet is portrayed here as both a “disinfectant,” exposing the dark secrets and lies of  the powerful to sunlight, and a pervasive intruder on the privacy of individuals.  

At its core, though, “Purity” is less about ideas and more about the dysfunction of families and the individual’s search for identity. The characters are defined and constrained by their family relationships. Pip’s mother conceives her as an act of self-validation. She wants someone she can love and call her own, but she can never let go. Wolf’s mother sees him almost as an extension of herself, and he ultimately rebels against her. Tom’s mother projects her own values onto him, but his early attempts to be his own person have disastrous consequences. It is to Pip’s credit that she is able to wriggle free of the bonds of her mother’s oppressive love. In this story, as in life, nobody is truly pure.

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