Let’s Blog Like Crazy!

I'm not a player, I just blog a lot
Image by J. Money via Flickr/Creative Commons

Since I’m a writer, blogger and feminist it should come as no surprise that Julie & Julia is one of my favorite films. I watched this great Nora Ephron movie Friday night and by the end my enthusiasm for blogging was renewed. 

I started thinking about Julie Powell and other bloggers who have been wildly popular and landed book deals because of their websites. The one thing these writers seem to have in common is that they were willing to do something crazy. Naysayers may call it a gimmick, and perhaps for some it is just that. But when I think about Julie Powell and women like Rachel Bertsche, author of the blog and book MWF Seeking BFF, they were all willing to do something that took courage and discipline, whether that was cooking 524 Julia Child recipes in 365 days or going on fifty-two friend-dates, one per week for a year, in hopes of meeting a new Best Friend Forever.

And so I present a challenge.

November can be a lonely month for us creative non-fiction writers because in November many of our ambitious fiction writer pals are busy with National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.

So I thought, what if we bloggers had a project of our own for the month of November.

Inspired by Tarayi Jones’ #writelikecrazy, in which she encouraged writers to write every day for a month, I’ve decided to launch #bloglikecrazy for the month of November.

Here’s the #bloglikecrazy challenge: publish a meaningful blog post every single day in November. That’s 30 posts in 30 days. 

I’ve tried to do this several times before and failed miserably. But I figure I’d be a bit more motivated if I’m actually leading this endeavor over at my blog The Writeous Babe Project.

So are you with me?

Project #bloglikecrazy will begin Nov. 1. 

Also, if you’d like you can sign up for me to send you writing prompts throughout November to help get those creative juices flowing. Just email me at javacia@gmail.com with #bloglikecrazy in the subject line and in the body of the email simply say “I want prompts so I can #bloglikecrazy!”

So does this mean that after blogging for 30 days you’ll get a book deal? Probably not. But at the end of November you will be more dedicated to your blog and it’s dedication that will help you make your writing dreams come true. 

So let’s blog like crazy!

Girl Crush: Carrie Rollwagen

Carrie Rollwagen
Photo Credit:  
 A few weeks ago I took the hubster to one of my favorite local coffee shops — Church Street Coffee and Books — and while we were there I had to make a confession.“I have a total girl crush on the owner of this shop,” I leaned over and whispered to him after we had settled at a table nestled in the corner of the shop’s newly opened Reading Room.By the time you’ve finished this post you will have fallen for for Carrie Rollwagen too.In January, 2011, Cal Morris called Carrie with the idea to open an independent coffee shop and bookstore in a space where a Starbucks had stood for the past 10 years. After months of planning, they did just that.

But Carrie is also a woman who loves words. She’s a former copyeditor for The Birmingham Post-Herald, copywriter at Southern Progress and Willow House, and a prolific blogger. So another huge part of Church Street Coffee & Books is its blog, which features book reviews and other musings on storytelling and literature.

What do you hope your shop will offer Birmingham? What void do you believe it’s filling?

“Filling a void” is an appropriate phrase, because that’s exactly what Church Street Coffee & Books did — our shop was a Starbucks for ten years, and the neighborhood was very upset when they decided to vacate. Cal, my business partner, was manager of the Starbucks, so he knew there was a need and a market for a coffee shop in our spot. He also knew that many Mountain Brook residents were still upset over the loss of their bookstore –Jonathan Benton, Bookseller — a few years ago. It was Cal’s idea to open a new shop in the space. He called on me to help because I’d managed Jonathan Benton and worked as a barista. Also, we’ve been friends for years, we work together really well, and we share a desire to create a store that serves the community instead of ourselves.

One of the things I love about your blog is that you always have such high-quality content. I’m impressed you find the time to do this considering you are a small business owner and you read all the time. Any time management tips for those of us trying to balance jobs with blogging and reading?
I think the trick to writing a solid blog is to practice, and to chose a subject that you’re passionate about. I do have a background in journalism, which was really helpful in teaching me to meet deadlines. And I worked for several years as a copywriter — writing ad copy is great practice, because it teaches you to communicate effectively and quickly to a fairly hostile audience. I really try to have daily content on my blog, but when I can’t come up with something, I’d rather skip a day than use a filler post. Of course, for PostScript, our store blog about books, I’m not the only writer — my team of writers helps me quite a bit.

As far as finding time for reading, everyone asks how Cal and I have time to read, and the fact is, we don’t have time to read. You have to make time to read. For both of us, that’s usually when we have five or ten minutes here and there — you really get through a book much more quickly than you’d think, just by reading a bit at a time. I need the escape into the world of story just as much as I need writing; so not reading isn’t really that much of an option for me.

Tell us a little bit about what you’re reading right now?

I read a lot of new fiction, especially since we opened the shop. I just finished Where’d You Go Bernadette, which is smart, funny, and a quick read — I loved it. The Sisters Brothers is one of my favorite books right now. It’s a dark comedy, and it reminded me a lot of Catch 22. I also just re-read and enjoyed Stephen King’s On Writing. I’d like to read something seasonally spooky, like maybe some Edgar Allan Poe or The Last Werewolf. And I just started Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, which raises some interesting questions about e-books versus paper books.

You once mentioned on your blog that Amazon is a “story-destroying behemoth” which I found interesting. While I can certainly see how Amazon hurts independent bookstores, some would say that Amazon is encouraging storytelling because it offers people more opportunities to get published. Can you talk a bit about why you believe Amazon can be harmful to storytelling?

I’m glad you asked about Amazon. I’m pretty vehement about Amazon, and a lot of people think that’s only because it’s a competitor, but that’s not true. Starbucks is a competitor, but I don’t have any problem with them as a company. But Amazon has made a business strategy of trying to squeeze profits out of the book industry without contributing to it creatively. They sell books for less than they’re worth, even lose money on them, in order to undercut competitors and put us and publishers out of business. They’re trying to get a monopoly on book selling and on publishing, and I think having one entity — whether it’s Amazon, government, or any physical bookstore — in charge of the publishing and distribution of stories and ideas is terrifying. Also, they’ve captured the market on digital publishing and made a device that will only display books purchased from them — it’s as if, when Apple made the iPod, they’d designed it so it would only play songs bought from Apple, and you could never buy an album from a local shop, or from a live show, or from the artists themselves. That kind of control isn’t good for competition, for artists, or for consumers.

A lot of people see Amazon’s self-publishing arm as separate, or as a positive entity, because it gives writers a chance to self-publish. But it’s really hard for me to understand why any writer would put their work into the hands of a company that has a business strategy so opposed to artistic expression and freedom of readership. I’m not against Amazon because I’m a bookseller — I’m against Amazon because I’m a writer and a reader, and I became a bookseller again so I’d be in a better position to try to fight what they’re doing. I don’t know if I’m making a difference or not, but I’m trying.

Can you speak a bit on the importance of supporting small businesses?

There are lots of reasons to support small businesses, but I think the one that shocks most people is the impact local businesses have on the economy. For every $10 you spend at an independent shop, anywhere from $4 to $7 goes back into your local economy. Spend the same amount at a big box store, and that number is just $1 to $4. That money creates jobs, fixes schools, pays off debt. We’re so concerned about the economy, but we’re willing to sell ourselves short by buying from corporations, which I just don’t get. Shopping small probably won’t result in discounts, but your spending will mean something. Instead of buying more for less money, just buy less in the first place. The economy will benefit, and, if my experience with Shop Small is any indication, your life will be fuller and richer (both literally and figuratively) as well.

*Crossposted at The Writeous Babe Project.

How May I Serve You?

Last night I attended a panel discussion hosted by 90.3  WBHM, Birmingham’s NPR station, that explored the future of journalism in North Central Alabama. Despite the gloom and doom attitude that most people in the audience seemed to have as they proclaimed the death of journalism and the evils of the media, I left that event  motivated. 

I even went home and wrote a love letter to journalism

During the discussion one attendee said journalism shouldn’t even be called journalism anymore. He said reporters aren’t keeping a “journal” so why do we call it “journalism.”

But Andre Natta, editor of the community news website The Terminal and one of the panelists, stepped in and said, “The journal we are keeping is the journal of the communities that we serve.”

This got me to thinking. This got me to thinking about you, ladies of See Jane Write. 

You are the community I serve and I started wondering if there was a way for me to better serve you through this blog. 

Currently, I only use this blog to post information about See Jane Write and recaps of our events.  I use my personal blog to offer musings and words of wisdom on the writing life. But why can’t I do that here, too, with a hyper-local focus?

So tell me what you want. Tell me what you need. What kind of coverage of Birmingham’s literary and media communities would you like to see? What kind of information would you like me to gather and share? 

Please let me know in the comments of this post or by sending me an email. 

And just imagine the possibilities. 

Love Letter to Journalism

Lost love letters
Image via Flickr/Creative Commons

Dear Journalism,
Some people threw you a party last night, but I doubt you had much fun. 
The event, organized by Birmingham’s NPR station 90.3 WBHM, was called Issues & Ales: The Future of Journalism in North Central Alabama
So many people in the room kept lamenting about how the Internet is changing you and changing you for the worse. I can appreciate their position. The Birmingham News, the city’s paper of record, is, as of this week, no longer a daily paper. While it produces and posts online content every day, it now only publishes a print product three times a week. 
One person in the room even suggested that you change your name. He said that you aren’t about keeping a “journal” so why do we call you “journalism.”
But Andre Natta, editor of community news website The Terminal and one of the special guest speakers at this shindig, stepped in and said, “The journal we are keeping is the journal of the communities that we serve.”
And I believe this journal isn’t any less important just because it’s moving in a more digital-focused direction. 

Journalism, I still believe you can save the world. 
WBHM General Manager Scott Hanley (far left) with the panelists.
From left: Vickii Howell, Andre Natta, Kyle Whitmire, and Bob Sims. 

Another attendee questioned whether or not you will still be able to preserve our history, as you once did, in your new form. 
Vickii Howell, another special guest and editor of BirminghamView.com suggested that because of the Internet that recorded history can be even richer. The Internet democratizes information so that we can now see history through multiple lenses, she said.  
I must admit there were moments when everyone in the room disappeared and I began to think about us, about our rocky relationship. 
I’m not even sure how you feel about me these days. You’re probably mad at me. You probably feel like you’ve become my #2, that I’m a part-time lover, that I treat you like the “side chick” as the kids say. 
It’s true. In July 2009 I left you to become a full-time educator. 
But I missed you like crazy. So I started freelancing for every newspaper, magazine and website that I could write for because I needed you.  
I know this isn’t how we imagined our life together would be when I was 15 and dreaming of starting a magazine. But I hope you’ll stick with me, nonetheless. 
And I hope the people of Birmingham, and every city, will stick with you. 
Someone in the crowd wanted to know how the local paper will be able to retain high quality content amid all the changes. Bob Sims, content director for AL.com, an online hub for news from around Alabama and another panelist at this event, said he was confident that the passion of the people who work for the news organization would ensure this.
“People work in journalism because they have a passion for good storytelling,” he said.
Good storytelling – that’s what you are, journalism, and that’s why I yearn to be called one of your own. I miss being called a journalist.
These stories may be told in different ways nowadays, but that doesn’t change who you are. You are still the field I fell in love with so many years ago.
And so I write — even if it means juggling three regular freelance gigs with a full-time teaching job and, getting an arrive of 5 hours of sleep a night. No matter what, I will write. 

Kyle Whitmire (far right)

Kyle Whitmire, another guest speaker and local politics and news reporter for The Birmingham News, shared that he was in high school when he decided he wanted to be “a newspaper man.” While he still obviously cherishes the newspaper, he is not naïve about the realities of the industry. Yet, he’s optimistic still.

“I may not end my career as a newspaper man,” he said, “but I hope I will end my career as a journalist.” 
What I’m trying to say, journalism, is I hope we can be together forever.

Yours truly,

Cross-posted at The Writeous Babe Project

See Jane Write founder to be honored by the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham for being “innovative”

The Women’s Fund asked for a photograph, so I sent this one. 
Don’t I look smart surrounded by all these books?

Did you like that serious, hard news headline? I figured it was in order considering this post is about the fact that the ladies over at the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham actually think I’m smart.  

Next month the organization is honoring 12 Birmingham-area women for their “innovative” work and ideas and I can’t believe I’ll be in the mix. To be in a group that includes the director of the Birmingham Public Library, a successful lawyer, and a space archaeologist — just to name a few — is both humbling and shocking. 

I am being recognized for the work I do with See Jane Write, which I founded in March 2011. 

We will be honored at the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham’s inaugural “SMART Party.”

The Birmingham Business Journal describes the “SMART Party” as an event that will include “tweets, tags, pins and check-ins from attendees and video ‘virtual’ messages from guests from around the world.”

The SMART Party is a fundraiser for the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. Lin Carleen founded the organization in 1996 with a mission to “encourage the full participation of women and girls in the community by creating opportunities for education, physical, emotional, social, artistic, and personal growth and empowerment.” The group’s major focus for the past five years has been on domestic violence. 

The SMART Party will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 11 at WorkPlay and I hope you’ll join us. I’d love to see you there! For tickets and more information, click here