Wednesday, March 25, 2015

If you don't hear from a girl on Tinder, abuse her...

I'm genuinely trying to find love, but maybe I'm just looking in all the wrong places…

I received these messages from a guy on Tinder. I didn't respond to him fast enough so he got mad and resorted to name calling like we're in fourth grade. I guess at least he didn't pull my pigtails and steal my lunch money. Always looking on the bright side, T-Lo!


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

3 Books Every Aspiring Sports Journalist Should Read

Joseph Nardone, the Managing Editor of Storm the Paint, shares his list of 3 Books Every Aspiring Journalist Should Read. If you'd like to connect with him, you can find him on Twitter @JosephNardone

Anything and everything written by Dan Wetzel
 "If you are a person who follows sports you know who Wetzel is. If you don't you are doing it wrong. He is probably one of (if not) the best sports writers of our generation and has some really good work out there. His ability to put his content ahead of him is rare in the age of "look at me" sports writing."

Sports Journalism at its Best: Pulitzer Prize-Winning Articles, Cartoons, and Photographs by Heinz-Dietrich Fischer 
"Great sports related content in the book. It's a good way to see how sports used to be covered. It's just done in a different way today, but some of the articles in the book romanticize sports to the point you would want to date an inanimate object."

Drunk on Sports by Tim Cowlishaw 
"A lot of folks only know of Tim as the guy from ESPN's Around The Horn, but he has been around and in the newspaper business for a few decades now. This book has as much to do with Tim's struggles with the bottle as it does with his writing career. It rang a bell with me and it might do the same for folks who don't realize how much work and shenanigans are involved in this kind of career." 

This post was originally published on October 16, 2013. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Everyone wants to be successful until they see what it actually takes


Facebook and Twitter tips for writers

Find me on Facebook  or Twitter!
Indie and mainstream writers/artists alike are being judged nowadays by their social media presence, and sometimes companies value your worth based on your account numbers. If you're new to social media, it may seem daunting to start an account, but I urge all artists to get online. Not only is it great to engage fans and promote your work, it can be really fun too.

The key to success in Social Media is to engage and acknowledge your audience. Don't just bombard them with "Look At Me!" tweets or Facebook announcements. Show that you appreciate their interest, and that you are as interested in them as you want them to be interested in you.

The following is a list of tips for two of the most popular social media sites, Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Pages
  1. Facebook Pages are for business use. These accounts work best if you are a public figure or have a business. What's great about Pages is that it is meant to serve as an announcement board for people you may not personally know, and with Facebook Pages, your audience does not expect you to interact personally with them. You can view it almost like a website or forum. 
  2. Facebook Pages are public and allow an unlimited amount of fans. 
  3. If you join Facebook solely for marketing purposes, you can create an account solely as a Page and avoid the Timeline all together. 
Twitter
  1. Unlike Facebook, Twitter is a mass broadcasting tool (unless you set your account to private, which I think defeats the purpose of Twitter.)
  2. Unless you are a celebrity, no one wants to read your "Look at me" posts. Just writing mundane comments about yourself will not attract followers, and may even lose you followers. So what constitutes quality content? Be unique. Be funny. Be informative. Think of it this way. What kind of content would make you want to Follow a stranger?
  3. To attract Followers, you must not only tweet quality content on a consistent basis, but you must also engage with your audience. This means acknowledging people when they Mention or Retweet you. A simple "Thank you" with their handles in the tweet will go a long way. 
  4. If someone follows you, follow back! This acknowledges that you acknowledge them. However, if that person is posting obscene content, suspicious links, or other questionable behavior, then it is okay to unfollow them. That person may be a Bot anyway.
  5. Don't over-promote yourself. Providing quality content will bring people's interest to you organically. Avoid being annoying by tweeting to people "Hey read my book!" "Hey, check out my album!" Start a conversation and let that person discover your work on their own through their connection with you. Being annoying will lose you followers. 
Facebook Timelines
  1. Facebook Timelines are mostly for personal use and have a cap of 5,000 friends. For this account, it is best to only add people you know and want to gain access to your personal information. 
  2. If you choose to friend strangers or people you don't like there are some restrictions on their access that you can place, but those Friends still are able to send you direct messages and event invites. If you stick with only having actual friends as your Facebook friends, you can interact and engage with a select audience who is interested in what you have to say and vice versa.
  3. Facebook is more intimate a social media medium than Twitter, so you should respect other people's decision not to add you as a Friend and vice versa. Only send requests to people you know. 
  4. When Facebook Friends write on your Timeline wall or send you messages, RESPOND! It seems like such a simple concept but you would be amazed at how often these things get ignored. When Facebook Friends reach out to you, you ignore them, and they see you active on Facebook, it hurts their feelings. The best way to avoid this scenario is to not accept Friend Requests from people you do not know. However, if you know someone personally but just don't like them, you should still respond politely or you may suffer the real life social repercussion of that person thinking you are a jerk. 
  5. Facebook Timelines are good for marketing because you can create groups, events, and interact with people you know and spread information about your work. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Five important questions to ask yourself before you self-publish

In 2012, I independently published my novel Hell's Game through Createspace; and it became an Amazon bestseller. I credit various factors in my success, and one thing I tell other writers who think about self-publishing is to think about whether or not it is really the best option for them. I created this list of questions I asked myself before I proceeded with Hell's Game and my subsequent books: The Red Lantern Scandals, Exercise with Cats, and Tree Dreams in Color. 

FIVE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU SELF PUBLISH
  1. Have I exhausted all avenues of trying to get traditionally published? This includes query letters, writer conferences, and asking people for referrals.
  2. Is this material at its best? Am I 100% sure that there is nothing I could do to improve the book's plot, characters, or other story elements? 
  3. Is this material fully edited? Is it free of typos and grammatical mistakes?
  4. Do I have the time and/or money to invest in producing the best product? (A book free of mistakes and formatted well with an eye catching cover.)
  5. Do I have the time and/or money to market this product?
If you are considering self-publishing; and you answered "no" to any of these questions, then you should not self-publish until you are ready. After all, your books are your products, and you do not want to sell inferior products. You may get initial sales but people won't come back. 

Agree? Disagree? Want to know more? Leave me a blog comment or check me out on Facebook or Twitter and send me your questions.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Discovering Madonna's Erotica, a reflection 20 years later

Madonna released the new album Rebel Heart this year, and in honor of the Material Girl, I'm reprinting Lizette Clarke's guest column, originally published on this blog in 2012. 

I bought Madonna’s Erotica album (on cassette!) during Memorial Day weekend back in 1997. With less than a month of one of the hardest school years of my life to go—seventh grade—I already knew that I had become a completely different person in the past year. I was attending a suburban school that was predominantly black, and already knew that I was deemed too weird and felt unwelcomed by the majority of my peers. What made that late spring so important in my life was the fact that by that point, I no longer gave a shit what others thought about me. I was weird, I was artistic, and I was becoming a woman. 

We stopped at Coconuts Music on Hempstead Turnpike en route to a family barbecue at my relatives’ new house in Jamaica, Queens. I remember exactly what I wore: a glittery, tan colored t-shirt with a turtleneck collar, and denim overalls from the Gap. I liked this top because it was tight enough to suggest that I had boobs (which I did not have), and there’s also a good chance my shoes that day were Jellies
from Payless Shoe Source. This Memorial Day was also one of the first times a boy hit on me. Some random wannabe thug rode his bike up to mine and asked me what my name was. I immediately deferred to one of my two go-to fake names: “Valleri” or “Maria.” I don’t recall the rest of the conversation, but I do remember it being one of the last of its kind. Shortly hereafter, I went to great pains to go unseen by anyone riding a bike in Queens.

But anyway, the album. The album. The second I got home, I put it in my Philco boom box and read the lyrics to each song as I played them for the first time. Already five years old by 1997, the sound of Erotica ranged from New Jack Swing to house music to jazz, with the occasional pop ballad or reggae track thrown in for good measure. One eye-opening aspect of the tape—in addition to its subject matter—was that Madonna merely spoke the lyrics on some of the tracks. She also said bitch! And ass! That shit was out of this world to 13-year Old Me.

Relatively unbeknownst to me at the time, this album received a lot of backlash when it first came out in October of 1992. Released concurrently with Madonna’s Sex book—which I couldn’t get my hands on back then, even if I’d tried—many critics and pearl-clutchers believed Madonna had gone too far. It was instantly regarded as an album about sex and nothing more, when in actuality it was mainly about all the bullshit that surrounds sex: relationships, betrayals, loss, and acceptance. More than anything, Erotica is an album about the pain that comes with the territory of being a sexual creature.

And it’s so obvious to me now! Madonna tells us at the end of the title track:

“Only the one who hurts you/Can make you feel better/Only the one who inflicts the pain/Can take it away.”

As far as my junior high reading comprehension skills went, shit was literal. Like, if you’re doing S&M stuff, the person pouring hot candle wax on you is the only one who can stop pouring hot candle wax on you. Duh, right? But I’m pretty sure she’s not talking about S&M or even sex there. As a 28-year old now, I read this song as an ode to ourselves, not an ode to BDSM: if we fixate on pain from the past, only we can stop inflicting it on ourselves. Sure, I earned two writing degrees in the last fifteen years, so I could be reading too much into it today, but one of the album’s stand out songs, “Rain,” hammers home a message of renewal and redemption, of overcoming your own personal darkness and letting yourself be loved. Considering sex and all its surrounding emotions, maybe I’m not being (that much of) an English major blowhard when I surmise the album’s overall message: let it go.

With a few exceptions, Madonna isn’t talking about sex at all in Erotica. One of my favorite tracks when I was thirteen is the shortest on the album, dance track “Bye Bye Baby.” With the help of auto tune (or whatever the hell its 1992 equivalent was), Madonna sassily tells an ex-lover that she’s so over it and to get the fuck out. Man, I loved the shit out of that song. It was bratty, it was catchy, and it boasted what I considered to be the ultimate in lyrical depth at the time:

“I don’t want to keep the burning flame/Of your ego going/So I’ll just stop blowing in the wind/To love you is a sin.”

So deep, right? When you’re thirteen.

In “Why’s It So Hard,” Madonna ponders why people can’t just get along. Seriously; that’s the whole song. “Thief of Hearts” is about a man-stealing, two-faced friend who will screw anything, and “Words” is literally about, well, words: their ability to harm, their ability to skewer reality, and everything else you started noticing when you were in junior high and emotions were running high.

Does any of this have anything to do with fucking? Barely.

The darker side of sex is present on my favorite track on the album, “Bad Girl,” which still may be my favorite, nostalgia notwithstanding. Why did a song about a protagonist who drinks whenever she’s alone and sleep around only to hate herself afterward appeal to me so much as a junior high schooler? It certainly wasn't my life at the time. Honestly, I think I just loved the melody and the music (my eventual forays into Boys for Pele and foreign music would later prove that lyrics are rarely a priority to my ears). Listening to “Bad Girl” in the present, however, I can truly relate to the lyrics, and I also realize what a painful fucking song it is. “Bad Girl” could be an anthem for sexual addiction. It’s probably no coincidence that most of my fictional characters could sing its lyrics and mean every word.

The one song on this album that’s explicitly sexual—and the only one that inspired me to take the album’s booklet to school the next day to show around to fellow young pervs—is “Where Life Begins.” This is the type of song for which seventh-graders live. If you can figure out what the metaphors and innuendo are referring to, you feel like a fucking adult. Because you get it. In this song, Madonna invites the listener to partake in cunnilingus. Her arguments are well-reasoned, but not terribly clever, for example:

“You can eat all you want and you don’t get fat.”

“Colonel Sanders says it best: finger licking good.”

Well, shit. The first time I listened to this jazzy number, I was like, “Why the fuck is Madonna singing about some restaurant in a basement?” When it finally did dawn on me, I assure you I was forever changed. I was all, people sing about this stuff? Girls sing about this stuff? I’m not a weirdo for thinking about this stuff? Right on! Right on, Madonna.

Erotica became crucial in my development not only as a woman, but as a writer. My propensity for creating female characters who would also totally listen to stuff like this got its stamp of approval from this track, from this album, from Madonna herself. She was telling me to go for it.

And I’m pretty sure that’s why this album holds such a special place in my heart. Honestly, I don’t know if I could recommend Erotica to any adult to hear for the first time in 2012. I think you have to be a thirteen-year old girl to truly appreciate it. Twenty Eight-year Old Me finds the lyrics silly and infantile now, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe this is a teenager’s album, even if Madonna was well into her thirties when it was made. Instead of reading Sweet Valley High novels or whatever the hell young girls were supposed to learn their earliest life lessons from, I was listening to Madonna. And Alanis. And Tori Amos. Is it any wonder I went through the balance of my teens and most of my twenties as a bawdy, cynical, foul-mouthed, open-minded (for lack of a better word) artist?

That’s not to say that I was a mature thirteen-year old by any means. Far from it. Only that this album taught me what to expect out of sex, relationships, and adulthood: expect the pain, expect the bullshit, and expect the ephemeral beauty of having your eyes opened to something new for the first time.

Happy 20th anniversary to a bold, raw, honest body of work. Without discovering Erotica in my formative, early teen years, I would not have learned the significance of exploring the darker, dirtier parts of our minds. I probably never would have had the courage to do it on my own. I’d probably be a different person, and I probably wouldn’t be much of a writer. 

Lizette Clarke is a writer based in Los Angeles. She has a M.F.A. in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California, and she was a 2009 CBS/NAACP Writing Fellow. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Love me Tinder: the fake male feminist

I consider myself a feminist, and I would like to find a man who is also as into gender equality as I am. However, I'm pretty sure a guy who calls a stranger a "crazy liberal feminazi" doesn't respect women no matter how much he tries to convince me he does.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Love me Tinder: the masseuse who wants to hook me with his penis

I ignored this guy's* first message because a homemade dinner and a massage on a date is code for "let's fuck." Realizing he was not going to lure me into his apartment so quickly, he proposed an art show, which would've been cool; but I was already scared by how quickly he wanted to bone me. However, he was thirsty enough not to give up, and this resulted in the best Kanye-I-don't-mean-to-be-rude-but-I-am-being-rude message of all time. 
*I actually figured out who this guy was, and ironically, he is a wedding photographer.