Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review: A Gift for my Sister by Ann Pearlman

Sibling rivalry never goes away.

Sky and Tara have the lives they want.

Sky has a job, a baby, and a husband she loves. She has everything she has ever wanted, everything she dreamed.

Tara has a man, a baby, and the career she wants as a rap artist. Her crew is her family and she is on the road to fame and fortune. She could not ask for more.
At the height of their happiness, the world falls apart and the half-sisters find themselves at odds over their choices and old hurts that never went away. Finding peace is hard and finding forgiveness and love even harder.

A story that begins with an unwed white rap artist living with her son’s father in a crumbling Detroit is a bit far-fetched, but not unheard of, and Ann Pearlman makes the story timely and real. It is easy to like Sky with her conventional life, her homemade granola, and even her penchant for pouring five artificial sweeteners in her coffee; liking Tara is a bit harder.
A Gift for My Sister begins with Sky’s perfect life, her love for her husband Troy and their daughter Rachel and a sense of impending doom that descends with decisive force. Sky’s life was settled, her path clear, and Tara’s career is just taking off. The trouble comes not from Tara’s pipe dream coming true, but from old wounds and the different choices they have made. Suddenly, Sky’s life turns out less than perfect and Tara, against all the odds, is getting everything while Sky’s world crumbles to ash.

Countering Sky’s voice with Tara’s in separate chapters is done with deft skill and makes both women’s stories come alive. Their voices are preserved and still move the story swiftly toward confrontation and conclusion, giving each time to voice each woman's anger, confusion, and love. I thoroughly enjoyed A Gift for My Sister.

My only complaint is the way Pearlman leans so heavily on the black man’s plight in society, giving only a quick nod to the rapid changes made in the last 50 years. Stereotypes appear through Sky’s eyes, stereotypes that have no weight from the poignant characterizations so carefully constructed, and are dealt with swiftly. I would go with the belief that 70% of all statistics are bogus and forgive Pearlman’s soapbox grandstanding and focus on the very real and very wonderful story she has written.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Social in Social Networking

One Note Ronnie and Tessie Tunnelvision are coming. Time to hide. They have photo albums, videos, and voice recordings of their babies and are about to bore you to death with their prattle.

Ronnie and Tessie used to be such interesting people, full of opinions and views on current events, and they always remembered birthdays and anniversaries. Now all they do is talk about their babies—in detail, excruciating, mind numbing detail. Ronnie brings charts that show his baby’s milestones and Tessie is obsessed with her baby’s intake—and output. What happened to them? Do Ronnie and Tessie really believe they are the first people to have babies and must regale the rest of the world with their excitement?

Substitute book for baby and the result is the same, if the statistics and conversation are a little different.

With the rise of social networking and email, writers now have the opportunity to inform friends, family, and strangers with the latest news about their book. It could almost be tolerated if it is a first book and the author is unsure of how to go about social networking, believing that more is better, but more and more authors, determined to become the next Amanda Hocking or John Locke. What most writers do not understand about social networking is the social part and how annoying they become when they forget that being a person is as important as being a writer.

One writer complained on Facebook earlier this week that another writer he barely knows bombarded him with email advertisements to buy his book. The writer didn’t bother to get for duplicates on the email list and sent out the email blast to quite a sizable list, irritating a healthy segment of the indie publishing community with the thoughtless marketing strategy. That writer is one of thousands engaged in the same kind of guerilla book marketing that is heavy on the hammer and light on any kind of personality or common courtesy.

Like One Note Ronnie and Tessie Tunnelvision, both of who are happy to discuss the contents, quantity, and quality of baby’s diaper, too many writers treat social networking with a cavalier attitude, sure that more is better and hitting people hard and often is the trick to selling a million books. Not so. If only authors would remember how fast they run and hide when the Ronnies and Tessies appear, they would treat social networking with a little more respect, and their targets with a great deal more courtesy.

One thing I noticed about Amanda Hocking’s blogging and tweeting is that she talks about herself, and not just the writing process or her new books. She did unconsciously what more writers should do—get to know people and keep it real. Hocking wrote about movies, books, and music she loved and she tweeted about her favorite movie stars and places to eat, all the while continuing to write and throwing in information about her books from time to time. She also wrote every day, treating writing like a job, which it is—or at least should be. Tweeting and blogging were ways to get to know people and to market her books, even to the point of talking about what she did wrong and when she decided to go with a traditional publisher.

That is what most writers fail to realize. People are interested in other people because they want to get to know them, to find out what commonalities are shared, and what it is like to publish a book, traditionally or by self-publishing. Social networking should be as much about the personal touch as it is about books being published. The key is people.

There are companies that specialize in email blasts and marketing strategies that will do the work for you, but if your budget doesn’t extend to cover such expenses, there are plenty of books on how to—and how not to—market books. They are affordable for everyone, since the prices range from free to about $10. There is a price for every budget.

What social networking comes down to is common sense, which is—or at least should be—at the heart of everything we do. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Get to know your readers. Talk about yourself, but only what is comfortable for you, and keep the book talk for important occasions, like a new cover, the debut of a new book or a new book in a series, and getting that one millionth sale. Make a big deal out of that one millionth sale because it is a big deal, but don’t forget to give readers and other authors a chance to put in their two cents’ worth. Promote other writers, books you like, and even talk about books you don’t like and why, but treat your audience like real people—because they are.

Advertising is important, but if all you can talk about is advertising, think how many people will hide when you come visiting. Remember Ronnie and Tessie and keep them firmly in mind when you get read to press the button to send out another email blast with nothing to say but another sales pitch about your book. Save it for later when you have something new to talk about. In the meantime, how are your friends doing and what happened to you today away from the keyboard? People want warts and all, but especially warts.