Panelist Spotlight: André Natta

Andre Natta will be one of the panelists featured in our
discussion on blogging and community journalism
set for Thursday, Jan. 10. 

Long before I returned to my hometown of Birmimgham, Ala., in 2009 I was hearing talk about The TerminalAndré Natta started this critically acclaimed web publication about Birmingham in 2007 and the site has since garnered him plenty of attention and respect in the Magic City and beyond. 

Natta will be one of the panelists featured in next week’s event Blogging and the Future of Community Journalism. The Terminal is just one of the reasons I’m excited to have Natta as part of this discussion. 

In addition to his work with The Terminal, Natta has two blogs — a personal one (Dre’s Ramblings) and another looking at modern communication methods and urbanism (Urban Conversations). He also contributes a monthly column on technology and how it’s affecting the future of Birmingham (The Digital City) for B-Metro Magazine. 

This week over on his blog Urban Conversations, Natta started a series he calls The Four Agreements of Blogging. Inspired by The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, this series will examine principles we should all keep in mind when it comes to writing and digital strategy. You can begin reading the series here

And you can learn even more from Natta about blogging and community journalism on Thursday, Jan. 10 at our next event. Click here to register. 

There are two questions I asked all our panelists after they agreed to be part of this discussion. Check out Natta’s responses below: 

What must bloggers who want to be considered journalists do to be taken seriously?

I’d say they’d want to approach writing their posts with passion. They got to be willing to tell the truth and have the ability to connect dots most folks wouldn’t at first glance. Always be willing to question and to learn as much as possible.

What main piece of advice would you give to folks who want to use their blogs to tell important stories in their communities?

Be willing to do the research necessary to make sure no stone is left unturned. This includes reaching out to all sides of the story; there are normally more than two. Even if folks don’t reciprocate, you know you’ve done all you can to present as complete a piece as possible. Being thorough and transparent matters much more than being balanced and objective.

If you have more questions for Natta leave them in the comments section and we will add them to our list of questions for next week’s event. 

3 Reasons You Should Join the See Jane Write Facebook Group

You’ve signed up for the See Jane Write mailing list and you’ve liked our Facebook page. And for that I am truly grateful. But, believe it or not, you may still be missing out on See Jane Write happenings. Here are three reasons why you need to join our Facebook group. 

Reason 1: You’ll learn about new events first!

Long before I announced the next See Jane Write panel discussion on this blog or via email, I announced it first on the See Jane Write Facebook group page. In case you missed it, the next See Jane Write event, Blogging and the Future of Community Journalism, is set for Thursday, Jan. 10. This panel discussion will feature editors from, Magic City Post, Southern Living, and The Terminal. This event is perfect for bloggers looking for a way to use their blogs to support and promote the communities they care about and for journalists wondering about the future of community journalism in the digital age. This event, like all See Jane Write programs, is free, but registration is required.  Click here for more details and to register. 

Reason 2: You’ll make new friends.

Last month I hosted a blogging challenge called #bloglikecrazy over on my blog The idea was to publish a new blog post every day for 30 days for the month of November. When some of the Janes found out about this they jumped on it, ran with it, and turned #bloglikecrazy into so much more than I could have ever imagined. These awesome women shared their #bloglikecrazy posts on the See Jane Write Facebook page and something beautiful happened. Not only were they reading each other’s blogs but they were having discussions on an array of topics and finding out they had much more in common than writing. For example, several of us discovered we had an interest in fitness. The result was See Jane Write’s first fitness event, See Jane Move, which was organized by Tanya Sylvan. If you missed it, you can learn more about that wonderful event here.  

For January I’m hosting another blogging challenge called 31 Days to a Better Blog. I hope you’ll join us!

Reason 3: You’ll find new readers. 

The Facebook group page is a great way to spread the word about your blog, but don’t think it’s for bloggers alone. You can also use it to promote other projects such as your latest published article or your new book. For example, check out Murder on the First Day of Christmas by Billie Thomas, a new book by See Jane Write member Stephanie Naman. I found out about this book via the See Jane Write Facebook group and bought it right away to show my support. I’ve enjoyed reading it so much that I was eager to interview Naman. You can find the Q&A on this blog and at

And now that you are thoroughly convinced thta you need to join our awesome Facebook group, you can do so here: 

31 Days to a Better Blog

super cute photo found here

I’m not a fashion blogger, but I regularly read the Independent Fashion Bloggers website because it always features such great tips for bloggers of any niche.

At the beginning of this month I came across a blog post on that website on 31 Ways to Boost Your Blog into 2013. Taylor Davies gave a list of 31 things to do in the month of December to make for a more successful blog in the New Year. Unfortunately, I didn’t see this post until a few days into the month and since I’m not a fashion blogger several items on the list didn’t really apply to me. Then I thought, “I feel another blogging challenging coming on!”

Drawing inspiration from Davies’ post, I’ve put together a list of my own: 31 Days to a Better Blog. Here are 31 things to do in January (that’s one task for each day) to improve your blog. What a great way to kick off the New Year.

Below is the entire list so you can play along, but each day I’ll be posting at or tweeting @writeousbabe about the tasks (with the hashtag #31Days).

If you plan to join me on this challenge let me know in the comments so I can swing by your blog to check on your progress.

Happy blogging!

31 Days to a Better Blog

  1. Carve out a new niche for yourself. Create the blog you wish existed!
  2. Create an editorial calendar and stick with it!
  3. Update your Twitter header.
  4. Write a mission statement for your blog. 
  5. Revamp your About page (and include that new mission statement). 
  6. Redesign your header. 
  7. Take a photo that you will use on all your social networking sites and add the photo to your blog as an “About Me” graphic that links to your About page. 
  8. If you’ve been thinking about changing your URL, title or platform, do it! 
  9. Sign up for a blogging class or conference.
  10. Recommit to being more engaging on Facebook and Twitter. 
  11. Dust off your LinkedIn profile. Believe it or not, I’ve had more people contact me about writing and social media gigs through LinkedIn than Facebook or Twitter. 
  12. Update your Google profile. 
  13. Learn how you can use Pinterest to boost your blog. 
  14. Update your blogroll. 
  15. Now recommit to leaving thoughtful comments on most of those sites in your blogroll. 
  16. Cut ties with some of your tweeps to streamline you Twitter experience. 
  17. Make commenting on your blog easier.
  18. Organize an event for bloggers in your area.
  19. Get connected with an online blogging community such as BlogHerSkirt or IFB.
  20. Make a pitch to be featured on or to contribute to one of your favorite blogs. 
  21. Make a pitch to be featured in local (or even national) media. 
  22. Start a video post feature on a topic related to your niche. 
  23. Post an interview with someone you admire. These posts generally bring lots of pageviews.
  24. Introduce yourself to important people in your niche. 
  25. Blog about a controversial topic. These posts are shared over and over in cyberspace and are sure to bring you more traffic.
  26. Start an e-newsletter.
  27. Have a blog date. Go to your favorite coffee shop and blog for hours.
  28. Highlight your best blog posts. 
  29. Cover a local event. These types of posts tend to be popular, too.
  30. Compile a post of all the lesssons you’ve learned about blogging thus far. Your readers who are also bloggers will appreciate it, and this will be a great post for you to refer back to when you feel you’ve lost your way.
  31. Create a list of great blog post ideas for 2013. 

Humor, Homicide and the Holidays: A Chat with the Author of Murder on the First Day of Christmas

You may think that a novel about homicide isn’t exactly something that could get you in the holiday spirit. And you probably think that there’s no way a story about a Christmastime murder could also be funny. Stephanie Naman is here to prove you wrong. 

Naman’s new book, Murder on the First Day of Christmas by Billie Thomas, cleverly mixes humor, homicide and the holidays to make for the perfect murder mystery and a great vacation read. 

Set in Birmingham, Alabama, the novel follows Chloe Carstairs and her mother Amanda, two decorators who find themselves in the middle of a homicide investigation after two of their clients are killed. Chloe and her mom soon become amateur sleuths determined to crack the case. The first of a series of Chloe Carstairs mysteries, this book is filled with laugh-out-loud humor, romance, irresistible mother-daughter banter, and a bit of Southern hospitality for good measure. 

I recently had a chat with Naman, a Birmingham resident who published her book under the pen name Billie Thomas, about the series, her writing, the Magic City. 

Tell me a bit about how you came up with the idea for this story.
My mom and I always traded mysteries back and forth and one day, out of the blue, I asked her to collaborate on writing one with me. I think I surprised us both, since I’d been struggling to write another book and hadn’t planned on putting that aside, much less starting a project with my mom. We had something of a rollercoaster relationship, but the idea of a fun, funny mystery with a mother-daughter relationship much like our own, appealed to both of us.
Why did you decide on a Christmas murder mystery and how did you get the idea for Chloe and her mom to be interior designers?

My mother wasn’t a professional decorator, but she could’ve been. She had great taste. And several years ago, I wrote a monthly column for Birmingham Magazine about some of the most beautiful homes in town. I got to interview a lot of interior designers, including one who did Christmas decorating like the kind Chloe and Amanda do in the book. Since this is going to be an on-going series, being decorators will get my main characters into a lot of houses, where they can find lots of skeletons in the closets.
I love reading all the Magic City references! What do you think makes this city a great setting for a story like yours? 

I love Birmingham and want everyone to know what a great city it is. It’s a character itself – often underestimated, full of surprises. Another Birmingham author, the late Anne George, was a master at using Birmingham as a backdrop for her stories. She was a definite inspiration.
Even though this book is a murder mystery, it’s also hilarious and I’ve always envied humor writers. Any tips on how to be funny on the page? 

The better you know your characters, the easier it is to find the humor in your story. The way they relate to a situation or to other characters are great sources of humor. Chloe, for instance, is self-deprecating and a little ditzy. Amanda is more sophisticated and has a dryer sense of humor. Their differences make their banter funny, but their affection for each other keeps it light.
Let’s talk about your writing process. How long did it take you to write this book? Did you have a writing routine that helped you complete the project? 

The first draft just flowed out in a couple of months. It was a joy to write. I’d work on a chapter, send it to my mom, she’d make suggestions and I’d rewrite. Easy. I workshopped it with my writing group and looked for an agent, getting some lovely, mystery-series-are-a-hard-sell-right-now rejections. We put the book aside for a few years and I worked on other things. Since then, I’ve become a lot more disciplined with my writing – writing every day unless work is out of control. A thousand words a day is my goal but I often do more if the story is taking off. And it never takes off if I’m not writing consistently. I keep a journal and scribble ideas all the time, so I have a stockpile to refer to if I get stuck.
Why did you decide to go with e-publishing with an independent press instead of self-publishing or going after a larger publishing company? 

At the last few writers’ conferences I’ve been to, indie publishing has been the hot topic. It’s no longer waving the white flag and admitting you can’t find a traditional publisher. It’s a way to take the reigns of your own career – something that’s right up my alley. Because my book is the first in a series, I thought it would be perfect to start with. When my mom died unexpectedly of an aneurism at the end of 2011, I became more determined than ever to see it published. My friends were using an independent press and it felt like a head-start on the process. I could get my manuscript professionally edited and not have to learn all the formatting that goes into self-publishing. Plus, we could cross promote – always a good thing.
What advice would you give to those out there who are looking to get published? 

Connect with other writers. I love writing but it’s not the solitary experience everyone thinks it is. You need to workshop your early drafts and network at conferences. You need people to commiserate with when rejections start rolling in. And you’ll need connections to help you market your book – which you’ll have to do yourself whether you go the indie or the traditional publishing route. I’ve met some of the best, most creative and generous people through writing – my See Jane Write girls included.
Why did you decide to publish under a pen name? 

My mom’s name is Billie and my Dad’s name is Thomas.  They both have been so encouraging of my writing, it seemed like a nice way to honor them. I’m so thankful I have this series because working on it makes me feel close to my mom. If I ever hear that a daughter loved it and passed it along to her mom, or vice versa, saying “this is so us”, I will be thrilled. I’ll bawl my eyes out, probably, but sometimes I do that when I’m thrilled.

Cross-posted at The Writeous Babe Project 

Blogging and the Future of Community Journalism

Can a blogger be a journalist? 
How can you use your blog to cover a topic or community you believe doesn’t get adequate attention from mainstream media? 
Will community news flourish or wan in the age of new media?
We will tackle these questions and many more at the next See Jane Write panel discussion, Blogging and the Future of Community Journalism
Our panelists include: 
  • Staci Brown Brooks, Community News Director for the Birmingham Hub of  Alabama Media Group
  • Emily Lowrey, founder of Magic City Post, a web publication that offers a daily posts on the Birmingham metro area and shows off the best the region has to offer.
  • Andre Natta, founder of The Terminal, a critically acclaimed web publication about Birmingham.
  • Erin Shaw Street, travel editor for Southern Living magazine and editorial content manager for the magazine’s social media including its blog, The Daily South 

The panel discussion will be moderated by Edward T. Bowser, community engagement specialist for the Birmingham Hub of Alabama Media Group

But you can help determine the questions Edward will ask our panelists. Leave your questions for the panel in the comments section of this post. 
This is a free event, but registration is required. And, yes, men are welcome!
See Jane Write presents Blogging and the Future of Community Journalism
6 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013
Innovation Depot, 1500 1st Avenue North #31, Birmingham, AL 35203
Special thanks to our venue sponsor Magic City Post.
We will be a guest of Magic City Post at Innovation Depot for this event. 

Don’t forget to leave your questions for the panel in the comments!