Thursday, March 8, 2012

Book Heroin & Writer Lust

I've got a book problem.

I've always had it, but lately it's gotten worse. I am drowning in books.

Over the years--as recently as the Fall--I have made attempts to seek a cure. I've culled my books, my haphazard library. I've donated books to friends, to the county library, to women's and childrens' groups. I became a volunteer for Operation Paperback, and each month I send countless paperbacks overseas to soldiers who desperately need a good story.

None of this has helped my disease. Let me offer proof.

Exhibit A, one of the four bookshelves in my livingroom/kitchen:

This bookshelf just squeaked, "Save me!"

Do not believe my husband when he tells you that I haven't given away enough books. I have. But this is as far as I can go. I won't show you the other seven bookshelves in my house. They're not fit for company.

Some girls dream of shopping sprees at Sephora and Manolo Blahniks. I dream of built-in bookshelves.

Now that I've begun my MFA in Writing, my book problem has gotten worse. Short story collections and essay collections--slim volumes, true--have been added to the stacks. Aimee Bender, Katherine Mansfield, and Jim Harrison have now joined the ranks of William Shakespeare, Diana Gabaldon, Lauren Groff and William Bartram. The books on my shelves speak Cherokee, Gullah, Cockney English, Gaelic and vampire. Yet they get along. I think.

Yesterday, I continued work on a new novel, which opens up a realm of possibilities for research. Okay, fine. A new reason to feed my book problem. Still, the sky has brightened and the seas have parted on a whole new world of topics like the Antebellum women's movement, the cotton industry, and pirates. Ooh, and also horse racing and 19th century politics and riding boots.

I might as well just go ahead and open a vein.

As a result of my book problem, I recently purchased one of the most enjoyable novels I've read in years: A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness. This book, which I gobbled down in about two days last weekend, satisfied all my cravings. It's centered around a
young American historian in Oxford (a hereditary witch determined to ignore her witchy DNA); a gorgeous, bookish vampire-scientist, and an ancient text. This is no teenager's vampire story: The pace of the novel is lightening-fast, the settings gorgeous, the mystery fun, and since Harkness herself is a PhD in history and a research hound, it totally satisfies the egghead in me. I can't wait for the sequel.

Since I read it, I've been suffering from writer lust. Another of my unfortunate "problems." I'm not necessarily jealous of Harkness's success (okay, maybe a smidge). What I lust after is her skill, her power to meld intellect with imagination. This is the sort of story I always long to tell: one that fuses history and research and books and adventure, and, when necessary (and some could argue this is always necessary), love.

And on top of all that, to create a story readers enjoy--full-throttle enjoy, like I did. On a beach, at the lake, on their couches, on a plane. Heads bent over gripped pages or Ipads or Kindles, completely immersed. Reading into the wee hours, though they have jobs and kids and life to take care of the next day.

It also doesn't hurt that as a full-time professor and author, Harkness is engaged in almost exactly the dual career I've been working toward since I was 24. And she's only in her mid-40s.

Did I mention that A Discovery of Witches is her fiction debut? Debut. First novel. And already a bestseller.

Okay, maybe more than a smidge jealous. But it's good-natured jealousy, non-threatening writer lust. Because for all her success and writerly genius, I get to read what she writes. And that's a gift.

So now it's back to my own projects and the story I'm currently trying to tell. In two minutes, it'll be time to wake my daughter, whom I've already let chatter and sing in her crib for far too long. Then my day really begins.

It's a wild, complicated, frustrating, wonderful, exhausting, exhilirating life, choosing to be a writer. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

I also wouldn't trade this for anything:

My daughter, 2 1/2, head in her own book.

Happy Thursday, all!

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Life and Times of an Author Web Site

My author web site, Katherine Scott Crawford, is officially up and running!

The thanks for this go to a dear friend of mine, Ben Muldrow. Ben is a partner at Arnett, Muldrow & Associates, an "urban planning firm" based in Greenville, S.C. (I like to think that Ben helps towns find their soul.) I basically hoodwinked Ben into creating my web site because he knows me, knows my writing, knows my good and bad and crazy, and he's just so ridiculously talented I couldn't stand to think of anyone else doing it. We've known each other since the 8th grade, so I guess I didn't really hoodwink him. When you've known someone since one or both of you were in braces, some things are a given.

I can't speak to what's it like to design a web site, because to say I lack those kind of skills is an understatement. I'm learning, in small ways, how to navigate the labyrinthine (at least to me) world that is technology, but it's not my world. As far as I'm concerned, my Toshiba laptop is just a really neat, flat little box with big keys that feel good to type on, holds my writing and my photos and lets me do all kinds of fun research. Oh. Also, something to stick DVDs in. That's about it. I can, however, speak to what it's like to formulate an idea for a web site, and to create content for it.

I'm lucky, because I have someone like Ben who knows how the media/branding/marketing + Internet world works, and who knew which Internet host to go with, and what type of design would best suit my needs and my vision. He took care of all that. And I did these things:
  • Researched the websites and blogs of authors I admired.
  • Researched the websites and blogs of authors who wrote books like (or sort of like) mine.
  • Found images I loved and that I thought represented KEOWEE VALLEY, and collected them.
This, of course, basically consisted of me drinking copious amounts of coffee while fooling around on the Internet for days, reading all about the people and stuff I like. My favorite authors' sites had interesting and pertinent content, great design, and necessary features. In particular, I looked to the web sites of historical writers Darci Hannah, Diana Gabaldon, Kate MosseKatherine Howe, Wayne Caldwell, Jim FergusSara Donati, A.D. Scott, and more.
  • I then made a list of all of the above, with links to each.
  • I also listed what I didn't like about some of them: Maybe the font was too small, the colors too pastel or too glaring, the photos blurred, the content cheesy, the design cluttered.
  • I then culled to my top three, noting what I liked best about them: appeareance (fonts, photos, design schemes, colors, etc) and content (pages included, information given, order of pages, etc). What was too much? Too little?
After Ben constructed the design, I played with the pages on WordPress, deciding which order I wanted things, what information, and where. I knew I needed information about me (i.e. a bio), about the novel (excerpt, praise, and since it's an historical and I love research, an abridged bibliography), about my blog, about any events I may have, information for reviews/book clubs/bloggers, and a sort of miscellaneous page (for other writing, links to friends and organizations I support or who have supported me, etc).

While I constructed all the content myself, I had help, especially on the short and long versions of my bio. (My friend Brian Zufall, who is a fabulous copywriter and who works for Gibbons Peck in Greenville, S.C., was my go-to guy. Still will be, because there's a lot left to do....) Brian is another one of those friends who's known me since braces. And high school politics. And an unfortunate incident with a pom-pom.

I highly recommend having someone with the appropriate media and writing-savvy aiding you when you're coming up with this stuff. Yes, I've utilized Ben and Brian because they're my buddies. They know me extremely well, and have for a long time. But more importantly, I asked them for help because they're incredibly good at what they do.

My web site is constantly changing and evolving. And I'm still getting used to the fact that it's really a blog, too, even though The Writing Scott is my official one. I use the blog function on the author site for quick updates, like events, or when I have great news, like when Southern writer Ron Rash provided an especially cool blurb about my upcoming novel. I'm hoping there'll be more of those types of announcements in the future, and that there'll be real-life readers wanting to know about them.

It's sort of like what William Shakespeare did with all his plots: he borrowed and picked and chose and basically stole ideas from others, and then created something fabulous. He was the world's most innovative pick-pocket. Not that I'm comparing my writing, in any way, to Will Shakespeare. I'm not fit to trim his goatee. Or shine his girly, buckled shoes. Or darn his hose. But you see my point.

You look at what you like, what you don't like. What fits your personality, your novel, your project--and what doesn't. You get help. A whole lot of it. From good people who know their stuff. And then you work. You change what you need to. You engage. And you hope people will like it, and want more.