Tag Archives: Internet Fads

Freedom of speech?

Cass* goes to a fancy-dress party and wins the best costume prize. She is awarded a bottle of champagne, which she pops and shares with her friends. She poses for a photo of her drinking from the bottle. Should she post this on her personal Facebook page?

Now, I’ve been in the workforce for over 20 years, and I’ve done a lot of equal opportunity, bullying and whatever-else is required training over the years, but this week a friend of mine did social media training. She took a photo of the above question and showed it to me. What do you think the answer is?

According to the training Cass should NOT post the photo. The reason; because others can share the photo, so she has no control over it and it might damage Cass or her employer’s reputation. Let me remind you; Cass was not vomiting on herself. She hadn’t pulled her top down or her skirt up. Her ‘reputationally damaging behaviour’ was swigged out of a champagne bottle.

This training alarmed me. If workplaces are now going to get antsy about someone drinking directly from a champagne bottle (would it have been okay from a glass?) what would they think about some of the stories I write? In future will my writing potentially impact my employment prospects? And where does that fit with the equal opportunity rules they all claim to abide by?

I think what they were trying to say was; be sure that whatever you post online you are happy for the world to see. I’m sure Cass, her work colleagues and her clients wouldn’t care that she was swigging from a bottle. If Cass is okay with that, then Cass can be the judge of what goes out to the world on her own Facebook page.

Some of my writing is confronting, some is stupid, and some is opinionated. Writing asks you to push the boundaries sometimes, and I think we all want to live in a world where you have the freedom to do that.

To pay your bills, most of us need to work. I think it will be spectacularly unfair if we move into world where those who want to earn a living are expected to turn into little yes-big-brother robots and stop living our lives how we want to outside of work hours. Cass, you should be able to drink your champagne any way you want to!

*Fictional name changed to another fictional name so my friend doesn’t get the sack!

Open your eyes

The spec fic writer in me cannot help but imagine the worst turn of events for what could happen with the current Ebola outbreak. A long time ago I read a non-fiction book called ‘The Hot Zone’ by Richard Preston and it was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever read. And it was real. And it is happening right now.

This week it has made me look at all the bits of community I take for granted in a whole new light. The social chat at the check-out, the morning banter at the bus stop, the bus ride, and skiving off work to get a quick coffee. These could all become memories at a moment’s notice.

I never really realised how much such moments define my experience of my community. I also never thought about how important they were until I started thinking ‘what if I couldn’t do this anymore?’

This winter just gone, all but one member of my team at work got the cold that was going around. Imagine if that was Ebola? Well, actually don’t, it is a horrible way to spend your time.

We need to support whatever measures are put in place to stop this thing. We need to take it seriously, and we need to act now. And just in case the worst does happen, make sure you open your eyes and make the most of the nice interactions you have with strangers around you now. You may just find it defines you more than you realise.

Reading age

My project this week has been to read a range of kid’s book where the protagonists are all approximately the same age. I got all the books from recommendations from ‘kids’ of all ages. As a result some books were written in the 50’s, some in the 80’s, some in the 90’s and some hot off the press.

Wow, what a spectrum. All my pre-conceived ideas about language, complexity and length were completely destroyed. There was no formula that you could apply to all of the books, despite the supposed common target audience. I found some terribly boring due to their simplicity, while others were totally captivating thanks to the depth of character and story.

But all these books have been loved, that’s why I only read recommended books. The fondness for the book was remembered (sometimes) decades after the storyline had been lost to memory. Many of these older books have never been out of print, such is their popularity.

I know that publishers have ‘rules’ which mean they will probably reject most non-conforming manuscripts before they even open them, but Harry Potter got picked up eventually. That story broke loads of rules not least of which was story length and complexity given Harry was only 10 when the novel opened. Thank goodness J.K. didn’t listen to all the advice out there that would tell her to cut, cut, cut!

This brings me back to the same conclusion I keep butting up against; just write the book you want to read. Each book will find its audience, it might be an audience of two, or two million, but the most important audience is that of the writer. If publication is not your driving force, then be true to your story, you may just be onto something.

No more blogs?

I was watching a show on social media the other day and it said blogs are now passé. A vlog (video log) is still acceptable, but apparently blogs are on their way out. Naturally, this got me thinking about this blog.

When I started blogging I attended social media workshops and researched SEO tips to get the most out of it. I also started my Twitter account and ramped up my Facebook profile to back it up. Social media was going to be the key to my publication success.

I spent hours on my online profile, at least double the time I was spending on my actual writing. As all the articles said it would, I slowly increase my likes, followers and comments. I didn’t finish any stories.

Then I unexpectedly got moved to Adelaide and suddenly my focus changed (briefly) to removalists, breaking leases, finding homes for things etc. My online profile tanked the moment I looked away. In a very short time my three months of hard work disappeared. I got very disheartened and turned my focus back to my writing. I got some stories finished.

But I kept the blog up. Why? Because this blog represents something that I think is very important in writing; dedication. Even when I’m coughing up a lung and producing double my weight in snot I will still make sure I’ve got something to go up on Sunday. So it may have a readership of just six friends, three strangers who happened upon it by accident and a bunch of people who want to sell rip-off handbags, but it is here and that’s what is important to me.

I’m not slagging social media, I know it does work, but for me the commitment and accountability are a bigger appeal, and the blog provides that. Also I have a theory that sitting at my computer also inspires me to finish stories, which is what I think writers are really meant to do.

So for now the blog stays.

Can fake rules be broken?

A friend of mine eagerly confessed that he had just set up a twitter account, but had not yet worked it out. He was confused about when to use #hashtags and when to use the @ sign.

The @ sign was pretty easy to explain; its role, like that in an email, is to denote an address for someone. The #hashtag I thought I had sussed, and explained it was used when you wanted to join in on a conversation or if you wanted to expose your comment to others who were watching that #hashtag. He asked me to give an example, so I gave one that I commonly use; Chapter three finally finished, so glad I #amwriting.

NOOOoooooo! Bemoaned another friend with an #eyeroll, that’s not how you use it. The #hashtag isn’t incorporated into the sentence, you append it to the end to expand on what you have just said: A whole day shopping with the girlfriend #torture #thethingswedo

I then expressed my opinion that with only 144 characters you don’t have a lot to play with, so I couldn’t see what was wrong with incorporating my #hashtag into the sentence. At which point I was informed that I was ‘doing it wrong’.

It struck me as bizarre that people would want to put rules upon one of the ultimate tools of free speech. It’s okay though, I’ve been #torturing him with #inappropriately placed #hashtags all week.

A bit spooky…

Maybe there are some down sides to being a collector of end of the world predictions. Several of them coincided last week and there was just a part of me wondering if I would have to worry about finishing off all my novels after all.

Most of us heard about the near-miss asteroid long before it had its little fly-by with earth, but on the whole the media were pretty quiet about it. Some underground groups were saying the near-miss was going to be an extinction level event, but the world governments were keeping it quiet so our last days would not be spent in chaos.

It was easy to dismiss them as a bunch of crack-pots (while secretly working out the fastest way home should said chaos descend while I was at work). But then the other end of the world prediction clicked into place; the pope resigned.

It wasn’t so much the resigning bit that set up the portent (being the first time in over 600 years it would be hard to argue with that prediction) but in 1139, a man called St. Malachy predicted the list of popes between then and the end of the world. His predictions have been uncannily accurate and the second to last pope named was Benedict.

Fortunately the election of the new pope has been set for a date long after the asteroid near-miss. Had it occurred before I might have started sussing out where my closest crackpot group was hiding out in the hills and petitioned to become a new recruit!

Then the Russian meteorite happened, only when it was first reported, due to the vast numbers of videos, it was said to be a ‘meteorite shower’. That’s the beginning of the Mayan end of times, and let’s face it, that date wasn’t so long ago and our calendars are known to be inaccurate…

But it wasn’t a meteorite shower, the pope hasn’t left the Vatican yet and the asteroid has sailed pass without so much as a puff of smoke, but it has led me to think quite seriously about something; I need to turn my interests toward fluffy bunnies, doily making, or cup cakes, because last week was just a little too freaky for my liking!

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Why flash fiction?

I always think it is funny when you read interviews with authors and they say that one of the most common questions they get asked is ‘where do you get all your ideas’ – as if they are a rare commodity. Ideas rain down on writers every day and one of the sad tasks for any writer is deciding which stories to run with, and which to let slip through your fingers.

Flash fiction, for me, has been a fantastic vehicle to write out some of these ideas, which I know if pushed could turn into a novel, but when you have five novels, three kid’s books and countless short stories already waiting to be completed, you tend to avoid taking on something new.

Flash fiction allows you to get the idea on paper in one sitting. This has the added benefit of meaning you have something you can send out in a very short time, which is particularly good if it is a topical story. Also many of the publishers of flash fiction are online, so from first draft to publication can easily happen in under a month. It may also still take three years (I’ve experienced both), so don’t look at it as a key to a quick publication.

My flash fiction story Nose Plugs (link removed due to site issues), is something I wrote after watching a documentary on a multinational company which is slowly but surely taking over the world’s food production, with potentially devastating consequences. I won’t mention their name, because they are a particularly litigious company, but it was a story I was passionate to get out and flash fiction gave me the ability to do it quickly and get my point across without too much fluff.

I’m sure eventually I will explore a lot of the topics that I’ve covered in flash fiction in much longer shorts or even novellas. But when that idea is burning inside of you, and you just want to get it out, flash fiction is a great way to test the waters.

Fifty shades of red

We regularly see phenomenon books rise from the pack, books which suddenly everyone wants to read; The Harry Potter series, The Da Vinci Code, the Twilight series, and now it is 50 Shades of Grey. While often these phenomenon books tend to be genre, what sets this recent tome apart from the rest is the saucy nature of its genre; er0tica.

When I first saw it advertised in Target and K-mart I assumed it was another YA paranormal romance, and due to its obvious popularity put it on my list of books to read. Then I saw some reviews and at last I read some excerpts… This was not a YA paranormal romance!

Suddenly I noticed my boss was reading it, my work colleagues, even mousy looking people were reading it on the bus! ON THE BUS! And no-one batted an eyelid. I wonder if I pulled out the old 70s Joy of $ex book that my parents thought they had hidden on the top shelf, if people would find it as unremarkable? Believe me, I don’t mind that people are reading it, I just find it peculiar that they would do so on the bus. I see them reading it and I blush on their behalf.  

It is great to see liberation of the masses at work, I just hope it doesn’t extend to the guy I sit next to on the bus who watches bad US comedies on his iPhone. Maybe he’ll get it into his head that anything goes now. Then again, if he changes his viewing habits maybe the seat next to him will no longer be free by the time the bus gets to my stop 😉

The art of the implied

I’m sorry, but I will be on my soap box for this post.

There is a trend, which I’m sure has been going on for much longer than I’ve been walking the earth, where our TV shows and films are getting a lot more graphic. Watch any prime time cop-style TV show at the moment and you’ll see more graphic scenes of human mutilation than ever made it into any R-rated film when I was a kid!

What I want to know is why do we need to see this gore? Why should we be made to be desensitised to violence? I think the only groups of people who should not be made highly emotional by the site of such violence are medical and police professionals, who need to function with a clear head in the face of these traumas, and psychopaths. The rest of us should get upset!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in denial about these things happening, and that they will always be a magnet for stories, we have and always will be morbidly drawn to these topics (and indeed I have written quite a few horror stories myself, so I know the fascination). But there is a difference between seeing the gore in detail and using the art of the implied. A spray of red across a wall, the bloodied knife dropped to the ground, or even the expression of pain moments after we hear a gunshot can all get across the fact that a dastardly event has taken place. Seeing it should not improve the story!

I don’t want to see the graphic violence. I want to be able to sit with my friends or family and watch an action, drama or thriller without having to feel horribly uncomfortable about what is happening on screen. I don’t want to have to tell a friend when they can look again at the screen. I just want to enjoy the show.

Probably a lot of you are thinking that I can just make the choice to not watch the show, but this is my point. I enjoy horror, thrillers, dramas and action stories and have done for years, but it is now getting to the point where I can’t watch any of those without risking losing my lunch. I’m not getting a choice any more. Game of Thrones was not released in an M-rated version, if it had been I would have got it. So as a fan of the books, if I want to watch the show I have to sit through horses getting their heads sliced off in front of me, people getting daggers stuck in their eyes, and dismembered bodies littering the ground.

I have an imagination, it is amazing how well my brain can fill in the missing pieces when all the TV show gives me is a groan –and that’s the way I like it. My imagination will provide me with as sanitised or graphic a version of what is going on as what it knows I can handle. The same cannot be said of the people who produce these TV shows.

It all just leaves me wondering why do people want to see this violence in all its gory detail?

All about the numbers

Lots of numbers
Hits, followers, friends, connections, comments, re-tweets… Nowadays it seems that reaching out is more about the numbers than anything else. That’s not to say that the content of communication doesn’t matter, it is still paramount, but it is amazing how many people who are active online are hung up on their numbers (myself included).

I’ve recently read comments about the ‘arrogance’ of people who have more followers than people they follow on Twitter. WHAT?!?!?! If there is one place you have no control over who looks at you, it is Twitter, so how your ratio falls can hardly be put down to any fault of your personality. The comment smells a little strongly of jealousy to me.

Having a memory that goes back further than five years, I can recall when networking sites started up. Your friends were actually friends and you shared private information that really had no place on such an exposed network. Now we have hundreds, if not thousands of connections and the communication is substantially tempered to include as little personal information as possible. Well, for many of us over the age of about 22 anyway.

I can’t help but think that the online trend for collecting numbers is turning us all into marketing experts. This is not necessarily a bad thing, selling yourself is a good skill to have, but where does all this work on number building leave us for relationship building?

I know, the irony of a person who writes a blog saying this is not lost on me, but I would be lying if I did not admit that sometimes I wonder if I should be pulling back from my online world and focussing more on my offline world. I’ve done less fiction writing since I created an online presence, and have caught up with friends less often. The two might not be related (I did move states during the same time, after all) but I think it would be wise to see if there is any connection.  

Something to think about…