Wherein We Launch the Epic - A Book Birth

As foretold many moons ago--well, yesterday really--today shall be a day of celebration! My dear blog friend, Alex J. Cavanaugh, is bringing the second installment of his thrilling sci-fi adventure series into the world today. 

The new book, CassaFire, promises to pick up where CassaStar left off. That means you'd better put the dogs to bed, lock the doors and uncork the merlot, cause we're in for a treat! 

To be fair, that's what I do every night to celebrate reading time or a new episode of Downton Abbey, but the CassaFire release certainly merits a continuance of festivities.

Also going on today is the Catch Fire Blog Party, celebrating the release of CassaFire. The goal is to help CassaFire “catch fire” on the best seller charts and achieve the success of the first book, CassaStar. There’s also a special package of prizes being given away at the author’s blog (copies of CassaFire, CassaStar, tote bag, mug, and bookmarks) as well as book giveaways during his two-week blog tour. See Alex’s site for details: http://alexjcavanaugh.blogspot.com/

Ubiquitous Reader (you): Great, but what's the story about? 

EJ: Glad you asked!

by Alex J. Cavanaugh

CassaStar was just the beginning…

The Vindicarn War is a distant memory and Byron’s days of piloting Cosbolt fighters are over. He has kept the promise he made to his fallen mentor and friend - to probe space on an exploration vessel. Shuttle work is dull, but it’s a free and solitary existence. The senior officer is content with his life aboard the Rennather.

The detection of alien ruins sends the exploration ship to the distant planet of Tgren. If their scientists can decipher the language, they can unlock the secrets of this device. Is it a key to the Tgren’s civilization or a weapon of unimaginable power? Tensions mount as their new allies are suspicious of the Cassan’s technology and strange mental abilities. 

To complicate matters, the Tgrens are showing signs of mental powers themselves; the strongest of which belongs to a pilot named Athee, a woman whose skills rival Byron’s unique abilities. Forced to train her mind and further develop her flying aptitude, he finds his patience strained. Add a reluctant friendship with a young scientist, and he feels invaded on every level. All Byron wanted was his privacy…

What others are saying: 

CassaFire is the sequel to Cavanaugh’s first book, CassaStar, an Amazon Top Ten Best Seller:
“…calls to mind the youthful focus of Robert Heinlein’s early military sf, as well as the excitement of space opera epitomized by the many Star Wars novels. Fast-paced military action and a youthful protagonist make this a good choice for both young adult and adult fans of space wars.” - Library Journal

Ubiquitous Reader (you): Where can I snag my own copy, just incase I don't win one through the awesome Catch Fire blog contests?

EJ: You ask all the clever questions, don't you? Spank my bottom!
(trying out new catchphrases, sorry) You can check the links below!

You can visit the author’s site at http://alexjcavanaugh.blogspot.com/

Also available in tree!

CassaFire by Alex J. Cavanaugh
Science fiction - space opera/adventure
Print ISBN 978-0-9827139-4-5, $15.95, 6x9 Trade paperback
EBook ISBN 978-0-9827139-6-9, $4.99, available in all formats

Check my post from yesterday for a look at the awesome CassaFire trailer.  Best of luck to Alex this week, no one is more deserving of great success. I sincerely hope you'll join me in helping his book get off to a great start! 


Book Media Reviews & Other Fantastical Fun

Hey gang! I trust your weekends were better than Ryan Seacrest's. (Oscar joke! Don't worry, there aren't any more ... ) Also hope you're well-rested, cause we're going to be running like a squirrel in a cage (that's Texas speak for busy) here on the Open Vein this week.

To kick us off I've decided to revisit an old blog feature that was a lot of fun. Second, we're going to celebrate the book launch of a very special blog-friend. Finally, we'll end the week by tackling some hard questions when I scrutinize authors using social media as an advertising platform. (Yes, I see the irony, and that's the point.)

Hope you'll join me for any and all of it!

Today is the beginning of one of my (and I'm certain many of yours)  favorite author bloggers, Alex J. Cavanaugh, launch week for his newest work CassaFire. Alex is an ultra-dedicated and entertaining blogger, so it's not surprising his books garner similar praise. CassaFire promises sci-fi action and adventure of the highest order and I'm certain it won't let us down.

I'll give you the full skinny tomorrow, but I wanted to bring it to your attention today as it is the launch of the official CATCH FIRE! blog tour. Alex is giving away some really sweet goodies on his blog (including copies of the book, the first book in the series--CassaStar--totebag, mug and more) and I didn't want you to miss an opportunity. AS IF THAT WEREN'T ENOUGH, Alex runs one of THE best blogs out there, so you'll be a winner of outstanding company if nothing else.

Entering is simple: just hop over to his blog and leave a comment for a chance to win. (click CATCH FIRE! above to go to his site and sign up) Again, more CassaFire goodness to come tomorrow...


Way back when I reviewed book trailers on this blog. I called it Trailer Talk, and I had a lot of fun doing it. Not sure why I quit ... 

Anyway, I'm going to start doing them again, but with a few changes. The biggest being that I'm actually going to open it up to all kinds of book-related media. Why? Because times are a changing and, thanks to the myriad of tech-type-devices you can use to read on, people are interacting with books in all kinds of fun ways.

Video, music, maps and pretty much anything under the sun can be used as promotional tools or accessories to the reading experience. So, as authors and readers, I think it's worth examining them all.

Consider this an open call: if you have a trailer, etc. you'd like me to review, shoot me the link. PROVISOS: I don't guarantee a review; I don't take money, cookies, etc. for reviews; I will review it as I see it, so I can't promise I'll say something nice--though I usually do.

On that note, these reviews are intended to reflect the effectiveness of the media as promotional tools or accessories to the books/stories they represent. THEY ARE NOT MY REVIEWS OF THE WORTH OR QUALITY OF THE STORIES THEMSELVES. So if I happen to review the trailer for your book and don't love it, please don't consider it to be a slam of your book or you personally. I'm very aware that some authors make their own media/trailers, and some have absolutely nothing to do with it.

To get us started, I've (of course) selected the trailer for CassaFire

CassaFire by Alex J. Cavanaugh
Category: Book Trailer

What the book is about (via Amazon product description): 

"The Vindicarn War is a distant memory and Byron’s days of piloting Cosbolt fighters are over. He has kept the promise he made to his fallen mentor and friend - to probe space on an exploration vessel. Shuttle work is dull, but it’s a free and solitary existence. The senior officer is content with his life aboard the Rennather.

The detection of alien ruins sends the exploration ship to the distant planet of Tgren. If their scientists can decipher the language, they can unlock the secrets of this device. Is it a key to the Tgren’s civilization or a weapon of unimaginable power? Tensions mount as their new allies are suspicious of the Cassan’s technology and strange mental abilities. 

To complicate matters, the Tgrens are showing signs of mental powers themselves; the strongest of which belongs to a pilot named Athee, a woman whose skills rival Byron’s unique abilities. Forced to train her mind and further develop her flying aptitude, he finds his patience strained. Add a reluctant friendship with a young scientist, and he feels invaded on every level. All Byron wanted was his privacy…"

What I Liked: 

The music! Very punchy and futeristic. Really sets the tone for the entire trailer. The computer animations are awesome-to-stunning, particularly the panning camera that focuses on Byron near the beginning and the finale that takes us from spaceship to book cover. Also really loved how the narration didn't run the entire time. Too many trailers try to tell us everything when the medium is built around the visual. Good authors are masters at showing and not telling, yet it doesn't always get applied to the media. 

What I didn't: 

I like the concept of the flaming CassaFire logo in the beginning, but I wanted it to have more of an impact. The flames were small, and the logo faded probably a little too quickly for my taste. Just a touch more punch would do ... Maybe a big sound effect or drum thump when the title hits and then have it scorch off the screen or something? I've always felt that the one thing a trailer should accomplish is burning the name of the book into the viewer's mind.  

Similarly, I loved the transition scene from narration to action, especially the pause and, "all I wanted was my privacy". Very powerful. However, I didn't feel the words matched the intensity of what we were seeing/hearing on the video. Instead of "all I wanted was my privacy" I expected something like, "all I wanted was to escape my past" or "all I wanted was to find the man who'd haunted me" or something equally cryptic. A minor thing, but it pulled me out of the trailer for a moment to think, "dude, take a nap if you want some alone time; you've got a frigging universe to explore and an alien babe to talk to!" 

Did it worK?

Absolutely. A lot of the digitally animated trailers I've seen are bland and lifeless. Not this one. The environments were lush and beautiful, and the dogfighting ships were exciting. The CassaFire trailer is more akin to watching cutscenes from an excellent video game. I even liked the character models, which is usually the killer. (i.e. making human characters not come off as creepy, puppet-corpse-people with slightly moving lips) I think this is a reference quality trailer for sure. Meaning, if you're looking to make one of your own, watch it and learn. Great job!

What say you? Did you enjoy the trailer? Do you even like book trailers at all? (Some people hate them. That's cool too.)


Blog Science: Why People Quit on Blogs, RESULTS

Howdy Gang! Hope you all navigated the week of made up holidays without issue. Yes, I love loving people as much as anyone (check out my posts from last week if you don't believe me), but that doesn't change the fact that Valentine's Day is a fabricated money muncher foisted upon us by retailers the world over. Hey, I buy the chocolate, cards and flowers too--not judging anyone here. Just calling a sheep a sheep.

"Wanna hear a joke?" credit
A U.S. specific phenomenon is President's Day. Which, unless my memory fails, never used to be a big deal unless you were an employee of the United States government, a political prisoner or a kid in school. Now the holiday, originally concocted in the 1960s, has apparently gone mainstream Seems these days everyone is off work and/or having a sale of some kind.

While it wasn't originally intended to replace the respective birthday celebrations of two of our nation's finest men (Washington and Lincoln) that happen to be a week apart in February, it has taken on that significance for many. A day of great patriotism, as it were. I still think it's just an excuse to sell mattresses, cars and other big ticket items that beg for our hard-earned tax rebates. Whatever the case, I enjoyed having a rare breakfast meal with my wife on Monday nonetheless.

The grindstone returned Tuesday for many, and we've all got sore noses to show for it. Right? Right! (Just nod and agree even if you're still being a sloth. We'll never know...) As such, I thought it time to get back to the business of why people hate quit following our blogs.

If you'll recall, a couple of weeks back I had a two-part post on the subject (here and here) complete with fancy-schmancy survey. The votes are in, and frankly I'm a little surprised by the results.

There were 14 options to choose from (listed below) with an 'Other' category that allowed write-ins. You could vote for more than one category and as many times as you'd like, so this sucker is far from scientific. However, I tend to believe the votes are mostly genuine as 1) Why would anyone care enough about this to slant the votes? and, 2) I got an e-mail each time someone updated the survey and almost all coincided with a unique individual posting a comment as well.

Conclusion? This is at least as valid as a Florida election. (Probably more so.)

The premise was simple: Figure out why people quit following blogs. The choices were as follows:

1. Overall content isn't useful
2. Overal content is offensive
3. Don't want to be professionally associated with the themes or message of the blog
4. The blogger doesn't follow me back, or reciprocate my activity on my own blog
5. The blog is boring
6. Too few posts
7. Too many posts
8. Specific post offended me
9. Frequent mistakes in grammar, information, etc.
10. Formatting stinks (blog isn't attractive or simply cumbersome to navigate)
11. Consistent technical difficulties (pages won't load, videos won't play, etc.)
12. The blogger doesn't interact with followers
13. All of the above
14. Other

Here's how the votes came in:


- Don't be offensive or boring

By far the most common grievances. Both of these are tricky, because of their highly subjective natures. Me, for example. I'm easily entertained (LOL CATS FTW!), so you're not likely to put me off in that way. I also have a broad (crude?) sense of humor and am generally easygoing, so you could probably only offend me by being mean or stupid or both--with regularity.

There was a variation on the 'offensive' line as there was a choice for jumping ship if a specific post ruffled your feathers. It got a good number of votes, but I'd suspect that post would have to be pretty over the top in most cases. Could be wrong ... I read a blog a few weeks back where the blogger admitted to dropping people from Twitter, etc. because the talked about drinking alcohol. From my POV that'd be the equivalent of dropping someone because they like Lebron James. I think they're both issues of dubious moral logic. Valid, yes, but dubious. 

- Momma said to choose your friends wisely. You listened.

This one is interesting. Tied for 3rd most checked, it seems many people are cautious when it comes to the blog company they keep. Not sure if I'm surprised, as I've said many a time on this blog that folks aren't lying when they say the blog, writing and publishing worlds are punchbowl-small. I've read many, many agents say they are aware of what bloggers are saying--or at least check before taking on clients. I know author-bloggers talk a ton amongst themselves, and news travels fast.

Personally? It's a little disappointing. So long as you aren't vulgar and/or threatening I think you should share your opinions and be able (as professionals) to agree to disagree. That doesn't seem to be the case. 

This is one reason I can't advocate book reviews (some of you do awesome ones, btw) if you're an author (aspiring or otherwise). Seems like a lose-lose proposition unless you genuinely love the book. And if you're only 'reviewing' books you love, they aren't reviews, they're recommendations. I digress.

- Surprises

More folks are put off by too many posts as opposed to too few. Who knew?

- Reciprocity is king

If you combine them, by far the thing that you'll get you bounced the most for is ignoring your followers. I consider Doesn't Follow Back and Blogger Doesn't Interact to be branches on the same tree. Both got a lot of votes. The lesson? Love your followers, and they shall love you. Shun them and they'll kick you to the curb.

- Touchy!

Whomever voted 'All' has probably already quit following me. 

- Bug free is the choice for me

Another area that, if combined, generated a lot of hits was issues in formatting, technical aspects and overall user interface. Guess the lesson here is to occasionally go to your blog as a user would (through the browser, not the blogger dashboard) and make sure it looks and behaves correctly. Also, do it right after a post goes up. Check your links, videos, etc. to make sure they're behaving. A little probably goes a long way here. 

- The 'other' write-ins, because they were good

If the blog is a veiled advertisement or the content is idiotic; my interests have changed (IT'S NOT YOU, IT'S ME!); posts are too long (GULP)

So what do you think? Do you disagree with the majority? Anything we missed?


Music Love Week: Kickstart My Heart

Howdy all! Hope your Valentine's Day was spent with someone sweet. Or maybe that you were able to eat something naughty. (I got some heart-shaped Reece's!)  Or, better still, both. :)

However, I know this week hasn't been all sunshine and over-priced roses for everyone. No, sometimes love hurts. It's a special kind of agony, a pain that almost everyone has felt at some point in their lives. Yet, mysteriously, the loss or absence of love almost always leaves us feeling isolated. As if that giant hole in the middle of our soul can't be seen--or filled--by anyone. One of life's more torturous ironies, I think.

In that vein, I wanted to dedicate my last post of the Music Love Week to the folks who are going without. The people to whom the L word sounds more akin to an impending war drum of doom than the sweet nothings tossed from a lover's lips. An ode to the jaded, the angry and the resigned. Again, we've all been there. Most of us more than once.

Being a writer type, I'm always interested in how people articulate emotion. Expression is the meat of what we do. Do your characters get pissed when they're having love problems? Do they pine? Do they withdraw? Do they get reckless? Do they over-think? Go all stalker-crazy? Hopefully any and all of those things, because that's how real people deal with it.

Thing is, writers often get it wrong. Our characters all too frequently fall into the depression/hopeless side of things when love doesn't go their way. Sure, that's a typical way of dealing with it, but sometimes people lash out too.

I've found that musicians are particularly crafty when it comes to expressing love and the angst it can cause. None more so than rock musicians. You wouldn't think so, because the genre isn't always the most subtle and nuanced. But that's why I think they're specifically gifted at it. 

Love isn't always very subtle, particularly in the moments when it's causing problems. It can scream. It can bite. It can twist us up in knots that take years to be undone.

As such, here are some of my all-time favorite rock songs dedicated to the destructive power of love. Give 'em a listen and see if you can't find a better way for your characters (or you) to express the hardship. And to those who might be experiencing real love strife, I'll leave you simply with this:


What are your favorite love tunes (angry or no)?


Music Love Week: An Enduring Love Is The Greatest

We all have our definition of love. An idea as to how it SHOULD play out. That definition answers questions about love. What it says. What it means. What it does. It is formed by what we've experienced, what we've seen modeled and what our perceptions are.

Being visual creatures, often a picture forms in our heads to go along with the idea. A sort of rough sketch of love. Perhaps a timid, first sweaty kiss underneath the bleachers. Maybe a person proudly holding your infant child. Two aged people, assured smiles on their faces as they walk hand-in-hand in a forest or down a deserted beach.

Today, I'm going to share my concept of love and, as part of the Music Love week, a couple of songs I think capture that idea perfectly.

I come from a family of hard committers (?). My parents have been married for 47 years. My father's parents were married until they died. My mother's parents were married until they died--with a proviso: my biological grandmother succumbed to cancer at a young age, granddad did eventually remarry, and he stayed married to that woman until his death. So he basically married for life, twice.

I have three aunts and uncles on my dad's side. All have grandchildren (some have great) and all are still married to their first spouses. I have five aunts and uncles on my mother's side. All are still married to their original spouses and have grandchildren (some greats as well).

This isn't to say my family is somehow impervious to marital strife, or that we've somehow hit the relationship lottery. My sister has divorced, cousins have as well. Heck, I have a nephew who has married, had two children and divorced--and he's not even 25! No, it rains on our side of town just as much as yours.

You could certainly make an argument that the older family members still being married is more a sign of changing times than a reflection of couple mastery. No question that, as a society, marriage means something much different then it did 50 years ago. Then, you got married to stay that way. If you didn't, you risked being labeled, or worse, socially outcasted. Nowadays, as is popularly quoted, if you're married you're just as likely to be not-married again as you are to stay that way.

That being said, I think it's safe to say that I have a pattern to follow. That pattern goes something like: Love is commitment, commitment is love, love is commitment...

My parents argue. They've had rough patches. You stay with someone long enough, you're bound to. In fact, I have a theory that every relationship will come to a cliff moment, and it goes like this: There's a fire burning behind you, no way out. Jump or fight it. You walk to that cliff and you say, "I can jump, start over with a new life. Or, I can turn around and face this down with the person standing beside me."

Circumstances will dictate your decision, but you will have to make a choice at some point. For some, that fire will just burn too hot, too out of control. You'll be forced to jump. Sometimes it's not evan a fire of your making, so you wouldn't know how to put it out if you wanted. Others will risk getting burned up.

I'm saying my folks have decided to face the flames, gotten scorched, yet somehow kept it all under control. For 47 years. I like that idea! The idea that, as a couple, we're always fighting a fire. You have to keep it in check. Why? Because staying with someone is work. It's an active process, not passive. It doesn't just happen.

My wife and I have a policy. We talk openly about the possibility of divorce. I know, maybe it's bad ju ju, at least many of our friends seem to think so. They treat divorce like it's a crazed, wild animal that should be locked away and never discussed lest it be allowed to devour us all. I think that's bunk.

Like most wild animals, divorce is only dangerous to the extent you're ignorant of it. Stay vigilant, recognize it has its space and respect it, and you'll be fine. Get crazy, try to pet it or just forget it's there, and you might get bitten. That's our philosophy. So we talk. Lots.

So what is love? To me, it's those old folks walking on a beach. Every wrinkle and spot on their skin is a mark of defiance. An indication that they've endured. Together. 

Old fashioned? Maybe, or maybe true love does exist, but you only know it at the end. Not at the beginning. Not at the middle. Not when all the dust of kids, careers and life is swirling around you. Only when that dust settles, when you've endured, do you see it clearly for the first time.

Happy Valentine's Day!


Music Love Week: No Grammy, But #1 In Our Hearts

Hey gang! Almost time for that special day when we can talk openly about spreading VD cheer with all smiles and very little social ramification. In honor of Cupid's Last Laugh, and as a nod to this week of music we'll never be able un-hear (thanks Nicki Minaj & Grammy's), I'm going to be sharing some music and other fun love-related things.

After all, what's more connected to love than music? Well, besides chocolate, and crushing loss, and sex, and stilted expectations, and--anyway, music HAS to be up there, right? Right. If you're like me, you'd be hard-pressed to recall any significant relationship in your life without attaching some kind of soundtrack to it.

Be it a single enduring tune that plays in the background of all you do, or an entire decade of music your love life has marched to, music is the constant companion of the emotion for most of us.

So, without further delay, I'm going to kick off the week with a list of the top five albums from the previous year that didn't get any love during last nights Grammy Awards. Not because it's way too hip or esoteric, but simply because it wasn't included due to omission or restrictions. (#1 on my list is an example of the latter, the album will most certainly be recognized at next year's show. I hope.)

This isn't an all-incompassing list by any means, just stuff I give my stamp of approval to (and things you should definitely check out if you haven't already). In no particular order...

1. Florence + the Machine: Ceremonials

Love your ears? I do, and so does Florence Welch. The lead mistress of Florence + the Machine will caress, claw and beg your eardrums to follow her along on what can only be described as a journey through a sonic masterpiece. A masterpiece filled with 80s-esque choir-backed anthems, brooding blues riffs on love, and a visceral pounding intensity more akin to tribal music than pop. But it's pop too. And alternative. And--well, just get it.


2. Christina Perri: Lovestrong

When Christina released her single, Jar of Hearts, I thought it was a beautiful song. Sadly, I wrote her off at that, figuring, "Just another pop princess who's going to release an auto-tuned club junk album." Then she released another single that I loved. Then another, all leading up to her album's release in the spring of 2011. A release I snatched up. In most respects, it's a pop album, but Christina's vocals and the strength of the song writing carry it so much further. No, one listen through and I think you'll agree that you've heard something sneaky, yet profound. In her odes to love, loss and happiness Perri doesn't miss a beat.  

3. Locksley: Locksley

Do you like your tunes more on the fun side? Locksley delivers an entire album full of infectious, guitar-laden, sunshine bathed joy. This album screams early summer day cruising with the top down. They'll remind you of the Clash, the Beach Boys, Weezer and lots of things in between. You'll have to tie your leg down to keep your foot from tapping a hole in the floorboard with this one for sure.

4. AWOLnation: Megalithic Symphony

Powerful. That's the only way to describe this album. Heavy drums. Heavy guitars. Heavy strings. Scorching vocals. Sure, it's EMO of sorts, but in the best way possible. Megalithic Symphony makes you feel like a brooding badass, but you'll also nod your head and sing along like a goofy teenage you. It's rock. It's punk. It's a concept/story album, and the story is marvelous.

5. Sarah Jarosz: Follow Me Down

If you like your music more on the understated country and bluegrass side, this album is surely one of the best 2011 had to offer. (Alison Krauss' excellent Paper Airplanes notwithstanding.) Ms. Jarosz has been an up and coming superstar in the folk and bluegrass scene for a while--and she's only 20! Already a world-class mandolin player (she was nominated for a Grammy in 2010 for instrumental performance on her first album, and started playing the instrument at 10), her voice and song writing aren't far behind. She's skilled on multiple instruments, still in college and will almost certainly be one of the biggest names in the business in the next few years.

Did I leave out your favorites? Check back tomorrow to hear a few songs that (I think) perfectly capture what an enduring love can be.

Poll results coming later this week or early next, BTW. Lots of votes so far, so it should be interesting! 

Don't forget to do something sweet for your sweet! (Even if you are your sweet.)


Blog Science: Why People Quit on Blogs, Part 1

Hey gang! Hope your lives are chugging down the tracks at a comfy and productive speed. I've been going through some formal edits on a long-in-gestation project, and for the first time I'm actually enjoying the process! Probably only means I'm doing it right for the first time, however, it's still cool when you have those fleeting moments of, "I'm getting better at this writing stuff!"and your work actually reflects it.

Don't worry, it'll pass, and I'll get back to the writer default of "I'm worse than I ever imagined"as soon as the second round of editorial feedback hits my inbox. Until then, LET ME HAVE MY MOMENT! 

*stamps foot and demands applause like a three year old in a room full of busy adults* 

Anywho, as part of my Blog Science series I'm really posting today to get to the bottom of something: Why do people stop following blogs?

I posted waaaayyyyy back on my 100th post about the subject and (after re-reading) I think I summed up my personal feelings pretty well. Consequently, I'm going to re-post that post in this post. (Got that?)

HOWEVER, I'm really most interested in what you think. On Friday I'm going to post a survey (first ever for this blog, I think) as part 2 of this discussion. As such, consider this post a primer for that questionnaire. In the meantime feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.

Hopefully see you back here on Friday!

REPOST: How I Know I can Quit You

I'd like to continue my FOUR LETTER WORD theme for the week and discuss blog followers. Actually, I'd like to discuss how we lose them.  The word QUIT came to mind, because that's typically how I'd define the termination of my keeping up with a particular blog.

First, let's take a quick look at why people might follow a blog in the first place.  I follow blogs for a handful of reasons, which include:

They provide useful and/or interesting information - I'm a writer and like to read about, and learn from, other writers.  I also enjoy reading and seek out others who do as well.

An act of reciprocity - The blog world is a community, and the 'Do unto others..." guideline definitely applies.  You must follow to be followed--especially in the beginning.  Simply put: could you make friends and build relationships by walking into Walmart, shouting your name and telling everyone to meet you in in aisle 15 of the parking lot if they want to get to know you?  Heck no.  No one is going to care if you create a blog and start posting stuff unless you make a genuine effort to get to know them too.

For entertainment - Some blogs I follow have nothing to do with writing.  I follow them because they're funny, quirky or touch on some other aspect of life I enjoy.  Sometimes I follow for purely voyeuristic purposes, meaning it's somebody who has an interesting life or (more likely) interprets their ordinary life in a unique way.

Before I get into how to run people off, I'll qualify a few things.  I don't have a ton of experience in 'unfollowing'.  I started following blogs when I started blogging (about a year ago), and in that time I've probably quit following 3-7 blogs.  That's out of the dozens I currently keep up with.  However, I have noticed a pattern in my jumping ship, and that's what I'm going to share.  Reasons I quit following:

Lack of reciprocity - I've dropped a few blogs because I continually left comments on their posts and they didn't follow me (minor offense as I'm willing to accept that not everyone I follow is going to dig my blog and some folks like to keep their lists manageable) or didn't acknowledge my comments (major offense)--ever.  I don't expect every comment I post to receive a direct response, or even be read for that matter.  However, if I comment on your blog weekly over a period of months, at some point it would be cool if you answered my questions or responded to anything I said.  Followers of my blog get a ton of slack in this area, btw.

Continued posting of things I completely disagree with - I can probably be accused of this one myself!  :)  I stopped following a couple of major writing-related blogs because the blogger continually posted offensive content. I'm not talking about nude photos or anything, they simply kept posting things that made me bristle intellectually.  Not to mention one of the blogs posted an outrageous slam of pretty much half the human race and, when commentors began to call them out for it, they disabled the comments.  If you're going to say controversial things in public, you need to be able to take your medicine.  I might delete a profane response to one of my posts, but I'd NEVER prohibit people form disagreeing with me.  As a matter of fact, I think some disagreement is healthy.

Constant pandering to the publishing gods (or being a fake, phony, fake) - We all know this is a fickle business.  It's hard to get started and even more difficult to stay once you're there (so I'm told).  Spitting in the face of conventions is probably not the best thing to do.  That being said, I've dropped blogs because they were constantly trying to mirror things the "industry" seemed to encourage as opposed to being an organic representation of the author's voice and style.  In my somewhat limited viewing, I'd say prospective YA and young reader bloggers are far worse at this than many of the other writing groups.  I don't know if it's a voice thing, a market thing--or something else entirely--but it drives me a little crazy at times.  Don't communicate what you think people want to hear, communicate what you think and what they NEED to hear.  

Again, I'm sure I've done some of these myself.  I've lost a few followers over time, and I may lose a few over this post.  I don't think committing any of the 'offenses' listed above on occasion is going to necessarily lose you followers.  Unfortunately, it might over time.

What say you?  Do you monitor your following?  Do you notice when someone drops you?  Have you quit following blogs?  Why?



Language is Almost Dead & the Blood's on All of Our Hands

"Every thing is quiet here in the Camp. Dear I could not even buy me a sheet of paper in Winchester to write to you. There is none to be bought. The boys are writing on paper that they have captured on the battle field. When ever you write to me you must send me a blank sheet of paper in your letter. The boys say that we shall soon have our pay and if so, I will send you some. Dear I would like to see you, and feel lonesome for you. Give my best respects to mother--and to all the enquiring friends. So nothing more at present but to remain your affectionate husband untill death."

Close your eyes. Imagine Tom Hanks or Brad Pitt reading the above. Sounds like something out of a Hollywood script, right?

It's actually an excerpt from a real letter written by 3rd Sergeant John Garibaldi of the Confederate army to his wife, Sarah, during the Civil War. (You can find the letter in its entirety, along with a number of other letters, at the VMI edu website HERE.) 

Maybe he was a poet, possessed a writer's soul or was overly-educated for the time? Maybe, but there are tons of beautifully written letters from the Civil War era, just like this one. We're talking the 1860s! Now I'm not great at the new math, but that's something like a 150 years ago.

We go from that, to this:

"If I was on that plane with my kids, it wouldn't have went down like it did. There would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin and then me saying, 'OK, we're going to land somewhere safely, don't worry." Actor Mark Wahlberg, 2012, when asked what he would've done had he been aboard one of the flights on 9/11

Granted, Marky Mark's response was spontaneous. Not something as painstakingly crafted as a precious letter home in a time before phones, much less texting and instant updates. Still, spend one day at a public school (or follow a Hilton, rapper or Kardashian on the FaceTweet thing) and you'll see the point right away:

As a society, our mastery of language has gone into the crapper.

"My Dear Amanda, It has been a long time since I had an opportunity of writing to you, and I gladly avail myself of the present opportunity. I am not certain that I will have a chance of sending this but I will write a few lines any how and try and get it off to let you know that I am among the living--" J.C. Morris, 21st Texas Calvary, 1861

Educators have understood it for years. The ability to articulate complex thoughts and emotions with words (written and verbal) has diminished to the point of decay. Frankly, it has happened at a pretty alarming rate. 150 years isn't all that much time to have passed to get us from the intricate thought choreography of yore to the lolz, OMGs and IDKs of today.

I've heard the argument that there is no longer a need to speak or write in such an elaborate fashion. A claim, I assume, meant to somehow say that we've simply "evolved" and outgrown it. I think that's bunk.

That kind of thinking insinuates that we could do it the old way if we really wanted, or if there were a good reason for it. I don't think we can. I think we no longer know how.

"Another soldier was shot yesterday. The yankees went to jail and brought him while a citizen was standing near. He said the soldier was very poorly clad but his countenance was that of a gentleman. When the guard brought his horse to him (a broken down one from the camp) he asked what they were going to do with them. On being told to "Mount that horse and say no more . . ." he did so remarking that he supposed they were going to shoot him." From the diary of Alice Williamson age 16, Tennessee 1860

The education system has failed, you say? NOT SO FAST MY FRIENDS!

How many modern day sixteen year olds could pen a paragraph like the above? Maybe the best English students. Maybe the top 1-5% of graduating seniors. It was commonplace then. It's simply how they communicated. The only folks who put that much thought into their words these days are likely paid to do so.

So if they could do it then, and we can't do it now, surely our teaching practices have somehow devolved. After all, our brains haven't gotten smaller, right?

Remember, basic enlisted military personnel with little-to-no formal education could string together words and sentences that most would call poetry by today's standards. (There are grammatical errors, sure. But the comprehension/ability was there.) People weren't very educated (in general), and rarely went through twelve years of formal schooling.

Thus my conclusion is that it isn't a failure in our ability to teach and/or learn. If anything, the only real argument would be that we over-educate, or perhaps allocate our education time and resources to other areas. And I think that's a valid argument.

"I am sorry that Masters cow has so little manners as to eat Onions - in the City of Richmond too - well what a disgrace! I wish you to tell her that our Mountain Cows are better trained than that - and that if she will come up here we will learn her to be more genteel and not spoil the Governers milk - Tell My Master I think all the world of him and long once more to see his dignified steps up our hill--" Lethe Jackson, former Virginia slave writing to her mistress, 1838 

Truly, the degradation of language is at the feet of society in general. The Civil War was at the end of the Industrial Revolution, also known as the beginning of the math and science age. We are currently a world run by machines, and those machines are run (we hope) by average people. Average people with analytical skills far surpassing most of the brilliant minds of 150 years ago. In fact, I'd wager most of our seven year olds know more about science than the professionals of that age.

Just think about how something as simple as a keyboard has greatly contributed to the loss of language skills. Most people use a keyboard (or pad) for 99% of our written communicating, and it's a device predicated on speed, not thoughtfulness. That's why we use it! It takes more time to scrawl letters than it does to click them. The mathematics of efficiency, as it were.

In that way, perhaps time has become the greatest enemy of language. The same number of hours exist in a day as there did when General Lee and General Grant were butting heads; however, there can be no argument that much more is expected out of those hours today. Less time for language, I suppose.

We've all contributed to the decline of language in its purest forms. A crime of necessity? Probably. But we are still partially responsible nonetheless. That also means we can help to repair it.

So we're left with some decisions. Do we try to resuscitate language? Do we rally society around the idea that expressing something in a paragraph is more worthwhile than doing so in 140 characters? Can it even be done? 

What do you think? Does language matter outside of esthetics? Are there other factors you see contributing to the depreciation of language skills? Can we stop it? Should we stop it?