Category Archives: The Writer’s Tower

All about writing: trends, old media, freelance, editing, new media.

The Faulkner Society’s BIG READ Events at Words and Music, NOLA

St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square in New Orleans, near the world famous Cafe du Monde. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square in New Orleans, near the world famous Cafe du Monde. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit one of my most favorite cities on earth, New Orleans, Louisiana. The occasion was cover the 2014 Words and Music, a Literary Feast which is sponsored by The Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society and organized by the Society’s Co-Founder, Rosemary James. The Faulkner Society is a nationally recognized non-profit arts organization. As such it is a literary and educational institution. It receives grant donations, membership contributions, and contributions to their fundraisers all of which are fully tax deductible.

As I sat in on Master Classes and Workshops, networked with Editors and Publishers and Presenters, I noted in the catalog for Words and Music many events listed as a “BIG READ EVENT.” I knew that The Faulkner Society created and supported outreach programs for high school and college students and literacy projects for at-risk teenagers. As I networked with individuals at the Words and Music “literary feast,” I became apprised about how BIG READ projects funded in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts were integrated seamlessly in Words and Music. I further learned how The Faulkner Society embraces the BIG READ in its mission and integrates BIG READ projects in its endeavors.

Joseph J. DeSalvo, Jr. (owner of Faulkner House Books) and  Rosemary James, Co-Founder of The Faulkner Society, organizer of Words and Music. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Joseph J. DeSalvo, Jr. (owner of Faulkner House Books and on the board of The Faulkner Society) and Rosemary James, Co-Founder of The Faulkner Society, organizer of Words and Music. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

What is the BIG READ?

The National Endowment for the ARTS (NEA) identified the tremendous need in our modern technological culture that reading in part had fallen by the wayside. Indeed, Gore Vidal had mentioned in numerous interviews before he died in 2012 that “Americans don’t read.” The BIG READ is a program created by NEA to bring back reading to the center of American culture. This program provides competitive grants to support innovative reading programs in designated communities.

A typical street in New Orleans' French Quarter where the Hotel Monteleone is located toward Canal Street. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

A typical street in New Orleans’ French Quarter where the Hotel Monteleone is located toward Canal Street. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

As a former English teacher and professor I saw students struggle through reading literature. I worked tirelessly for 33 years attempting to improve students’ reading and appreciation of literature from 9-12, from Special Ed students to college level English and Advanced Placement Literature students. I taught in a district on Long Island where over half of the students were on reduced or free lunch. They often did not grow up in a reading household as I did; their parents often worked two jobs to put food on the table, if there were two parents. Sometimes parents or single parents did not encourage reading because their own reading skills were limited and it was painful to read. This situation happens nationally in many districts and certainly in New Orleans. So I was doubly thrilled to learn that wonderful literacy programs are alive and well. I felt a complete synchronicity as a former educator and professor and current writer and journalist when I discovered that a mission for The Faulkner Society’s was literacy and that they had exciting BIG READ projects encouraging literacy and appreciation of literature.

I became familiar with BIG READ during Words and Music and I must say I am impressed. Every day during Words and Music, there were a number of BIG READ events. Each of them was integrated into highlighting and revisiting the themes and experiences of the characters in the 2014 BIG READ focus book, The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu. Some of the events were on site at the Hotel Monteleone in the Queen Anne Ballroom. One example was the session that featured successful screenwriters and novelists, Carleton Eastlake and Loraine Despres. The workshop was on Creating Compelling Characters for Books, TV, and Film. Participants in the workshop were to have read Mengestu’s book. Eastlake’s and Despres’ discussion centered around how Mengestu created memorable characters and distinguished them through specific details, for example, their will to power, their conflicts with others, their backgrounds, their desires and goals.

The Words and Music catalog featuring the schedule of events, many BIG READ events. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The Words and Music catalog featuring the schedule of events, many BIG READ events. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Some BIG READ events occurred off site of Hotel Monteleone. One was held at Loyola University, Dana Hall. This was a BIG READ and PAN AMERICAN connections event. The title of the session was Immigration: It’s Human Toll and Its Inspiration for the Arts and Cultural Enrichment. The event was free and open to the public. This session was a joint venture with Loyola’s Center for Latin American Studies and Caribbean Studies directed by Uriel Quesada, Ph.D. The session featured Luis Alberto Urrea, Mexican-born American poet and bestselling author of the non-fiction book The Devil’s Highway and other works. The former Louisiana Poet Laureat Darrell Bourque open and closed the program with poems related to the migration of Acadians from Nova Scotia to Louisiana and how that migration greatly impacted Louisiana and enriched the culture.

Words and Music 2014 included many other BIG READ events which can be seen online at The Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society website. There you will be able to browse through the Faulkner Society, note its mission and endeavors and gain an understanding of how innovation should be at the heart of literacy. It is vital that we who adore the written word and find reading an easy facility encourage this skill especially for those at-risk, young and old and not just those who are uneducated, but those who have an education and who do not read longer works but read short bursts online.

We live in an age that requires we read extensively and widely if we are to keep our vision of a democratic society viable and manifest in our political system. As part of this reading we need to be able to read critically and hone our critical thinking skills to differentiate the unsupported blather and straw man arguments from those works that are well supported with rational argument and facts. Worthy literature and non fiction are what inspire us to live and get through to the next day. It is paramount that BIG READ continue and that organizations like The Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society continue to make magic for others.

If you are interested in reading more about the annual endeavors of The Faulkner Society in New Orleans, then check out their website linked in the first part of this sentence. Or contact to ask questions and learn more.


Writers! Regardless of Where You Stand in the Publishing Game, Enhance Your Social Media Presence.

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A Spiegelman fan,I purchased this copy at a used bookstore.

Brilliant best selling graphic artist and Pulitzer prizewinner Art Spiegelman of Maus I and Maus II fame struggled to get his work out there in the early 1970s. It was a process and there was even rejection of his incredible, iconic work. (Words cannot describe the graphic artistry and meaning of what he has done with Maus I and Maus II. You just have to check it out for yourself or not.) When he was attempting to get his book Breakdowns  published (before he created Maus I) it didn’t go swimmingly. Decades later, after his many awards, global recognition and other publications, his editor at Pantheon was all for re-issuing Breakdowns and this time, Spiegelman was surprised and hesitant. But things had changed by 2007. You mean publishing and the cultu1re had galactically shifted from the days that Art Spiegelman was first establishing his career? Duh!

In those days, for Spiegelman, getting published was not unimportant. To many today, it is golden. It is the dream of established writers who may have faced writer’s block after years of success. It is the dream of those who have fallen off the charts and out of the hearts of former readers. It is the dream of the published whose first, second and third books have middling sales that  tapered to .001% so that literary agents and editors won’t go near them. (Low percentages? Nil profit margins? Are you insane? How can the media  CEOs sustain tremendous salaries and bonuses with such schlocky sales numbers?) It is the dream of the working writer who has written and published one book and is working on another in the hope of changing publishers/ agents and getting a better deal, though the first book sales were abysmal. The variables of situation are endless, unless of course, one is a hot name with an extensive platform, i.e. Bill O’Reilly (in which case the greatness of the work is immaterial, as long as there is name recognition and a ready mega platform).

The irony has been that for the last century, concepts and particular literati who have been favored by elites, the wealthy or politicos have been highly publicized. This creates an inherent censorship. The gatekeepers, the literary agents, the large presses have kept it that way to fuel ideas that elitists wanted the public to believe and be bound in by. So traditional media has worked in concert with the very wealthy. (Perhaps it is why Spiegelman was rejected for publication until he found an intelligent, prescient SMALL publisher who took a chance on him.) In many instances the middle class and general public’s reading tastes have been tailored to what elites have deemed, “great,” though their standards are merely opinions and predominately skewed to their agendas. Their concepts of great craft, writing and artistry often beggar the imagination.

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Salman Rushdie tweets with his fans on Twitter and actually did battle last year with Facebook, winning with his great humor, irony and wit. Social media is one of the best ways to connect and keep in touch with your readers.

Needless to say, European publishers, more intellectual, knowledgeable in breadth and scope, courageous and less censoring, have allowed titles in that NEVER WOULD HAVE BEEN ACCEPTED IN THE US. And yet, we think we are a free and open democracy?  (We are told that by traditional media hirelings though many medical books and controversial political content find publishing friends overseas or in Canada.) Well…traditional publishing has relied on TV to gather its stable of often un-meritorious but profitable properties.  Writers, unfortunately, have been at the mercy of these “experts” in the field who often consider the art and craft of a work last, and consider the saleability first.

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Apple was one of the companies sued by the DOJ for price collusion.

This former “state of the art” for the industrial media complex has been upended by Google. It has been overturned by Amazon, undercut by Facebook and thwarted by Twitter and other social media platforms and growing spheres like Storylane.  How? Subtly and not so surreptitiously. When traditional media realized it had lost its edge and destroyed the bee hives producing their honey, their fear and greed and inability to ADAPT or wrap their brains around what was happening spurred them into old paradigm interventions that worked before: lobbying and price collusion.

Mistake.  They’ve been held accountable and have been sued by the DOJ and a few have had to settle while others collude with the government for the best deal which may not be forthcoming since their profitability is much lower than Google’s and Amazon’s. You see traditional media became so comfy with their century long oligolopoly that they were caught up short without a chamber pot when Amazon undersold them. That’s all they could come up with to compete? While they were riding out the waves of the past, their navigation misdirected by the old paradigm, the innovators, like a huge roller, a mammoth tidal wave, a mega tsunami, capsized their hopes and dreams of profits. Now, they are paddling slowly while growing social media networks and companies like Google continue their innovations, investing money in R & D to create better product and to entice readers, writers and developers to improve.

Bottom line? Google is swamping the media that was!  I will not refer to the traditional publishers by name. Unless they begin to accept mid-list and beginning writers, offering them credible crumbs, the writing community will eschew them completely in favor of working with e-publishers, small publishers, Createspace, et. al, and those in the online publishing paradigm. I give these censoring publishers who will have to spend more and more on costly promotions and PR campaigns less than 20 years. Unless they begin to innovate to create the “next best thing,” or unless they merge with Amazon or Google (Why would those companies want to merge with inefficient, ineffective, archaic and intractable platforms?) they will have disappeared, become a ghost memory, a ridiculous faux nightmares of elitism from which we have awakened. What was the name of that book seller that went bankrupt because its innovations were too little too late? Innovate or perish. Big name publishers are slowly writhing in the mud as their hand maidens, the agents, the PR personnel, the editors struggle, sucked downward with them, sinking further into the shifting, miry clay soon to be swallowed up in a sinkhole of their own making.

The diminishing present trend is that,unless you are President Obama or a politico or a faux or worthy celebrity, a salable commodity, a publishing company will not market you. You have to market yourself. Even if you are President Obama, you have to market yourself, appearing on old media, TV, etc. Wasn’t it Michelle Obama I saw ripping open the envelope for the Best Picture Oscar last night, via a feed from the White House? Folks, the President is savvy enough to have his social media hordes and teams busy marketing him online. It’s why the Republicans have been doing unmentionables in the dark. They can’t get into the light of Twitter/ Facebook, et. al. and sound rational.

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Kristen Lamb, author, blogger and a member of the online writing community who inspires and nudges writers to get on with the craft and be persistent in achieving their goals.

So, writers, if it’s good enough for the Prez, it should be good enough for you. Kristen Lamb, social media maven and author, in a recent blog post discussed the hard work it takes to position yourself on social media platforms to establish a working, interactive community from which you can promote and sell your books. If you think it will take too much time, then hire a team to help you. Using hashtags, and signings and promotions and launches, you will be able to promote yourself on social media and continue to do so, long after a traditional publishing company has left you to ROT.

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Nina Amir is a motivational coach who helps writers and non writers achieve their goals and live inspired lives.

How do you do this if you have been out of the loop for some time and find Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube and Reddit loathsome? GET OVER YOURSELF! SNAP OUT OF IT! Swallow, take a deep breath and sign on for social media classes online. If you are a woman writer, then check into WOW  Women on Writing. If you prefer live and hands on, there are many Continuing Ed. courses at various universities or colleges near you. Hopefully, you are not in this dire condition.

To help yourself and your writing career regardless of where you are…pick up the bullet at your current situation:

  • Read about social media and take classes to learn how to post and interact on the most powerful sites (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.)
  • Start a few blogs and blog about subjects related to your writing, making sure to increase your readership and followership daily. Read other blogs faithfully and post comments on them, inviting them to guest on your blog.
  • Be willing to spend at least 3-4 hours a day on social media and the same on your writing. Alternate this according to a schedule you make for yourself if you can’t spend the time.
  • Once you’ve created a viable interacting platform and joined writers’ groups including those on Linked In and elsewhere, create your book pages and invite your followers.
  • Somewhere in between all of this, you are writing your book, editing it or sending it out to be edited or working with an editor or an agent you get along with; one who is a friend and one you can trust.
  • If you have done all of the above years ago and are in a slump, change it up and do something different. Shut down all online interaction for a day or a number of hours. Then review what seems to be working and what isn’t and jettison both for another day or period of hours. Go back and reassess and research. The change up will spur you on and revitalize you. If it doesn’t, seek a coach or someone to help you get out of the funk or open this up to your online writing community. Share, ask for comments and advice. Eventually the watershed moment will come. (Skip below as needed and move to the last paragraph.)

This is the beginning of a beautiful relationship with your online writing community and your team of writing friends who are intelligent, creative wordsmiths. You will keep many; you will lose many, but the journey is amazing, and eventually what was the hard work, when you look back after a year of doing this, will not appear to be so arduous after all.

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The following 2 sources might be helpful for those who are beginning, or those who have taken a hiatus and need to get back into it especially if you feel overwhelmed. I apologize for not including many more, but these should whet your appetite and they are easy.

Online writing source with classes: WOW Women on Writing.  (Men can take these classes as well. They are not maternalistic.) I took classes with WOW and found them to be what I needed. I also had to put in the time to learn by trial and error. I have writing friends who refuse to do this and their many publications languish, but they are trying to use other venues to get going. (traditional media venues)

Helpful BooksHow to Blog a Book  by Nina Amir

We are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media by Kristen Lamb

Your successful publishing career can take years, but so can publishing via the traditional way, which may never come to pass as the industry is reeling in a downward spiral toward doom. I have a friend who self-published because he said he was getting old and he wanted to see his books in print. That was his dream. What is yours? Are you using your social media presence to achieve it?

My Bite of the Apple Part I (Redacting Steve Jobs)

Apple, the forbidden fruit

Excited to buy my first iPhone? I guess. but it wasn’t an outer body experience as buying Apple products has been for some.  Maybe that’s because I’m a techie fail, a black hole when it comes to understanding mother boards and code and building cloud infrastructure and sequencing networks.  I can figure things out if directions are given to me? But that’s it. I am one step above tech illiterate doggie doo with a single digit IQ. So if you are an uptown geek, then you will probably stop reading right about now.

After I got the iPhone, was I ebullient, addicted, umbilical corded? Nah. Actually, since I had a Motorola as well, can you believe my iPhone became my secondary phone to use in case I needed to reference something online? I preferred my old MO, my laptop, my Motorola for calls, the iPhone for referencing. I didn’t like the touch screen so much and since I type at the speed of light, slowing to one finger “tough” could never approach any viable functioning beyond snail pace to input type. That made me  pissy. So, I hobbled along in the comfort of the tech semi-dark ages. But I was acutely aware of the awe this gadget produced in others whenever I pulled it out to reference something. Swoons, gasps, exclamations of approval filled the air as if this thing  gave me character and substance and not the other way round. Frankly, I thought it amusing at the time and felt somewhat flattered that I was almost “in.” (I had never been “in” in HS. In college as a hippie, yes…but HS has its own sting and that poison was difficult to expurgate.)

iPads I lusted over but balked at purchasing.

Was it this faux flattery that percolated my appetite to lust for another bite of the forbidden fruit? I thought about buying an iPad. Did I need it? Do I need another piece of jewelry (Most of it is in the safe deposit box.)? I thought, well, I could compose  my news articles easily without dragging my laptop around. Granted my laptop was small, and it worked well…everything there that I needed. I admit it. The super hype about the iPads was irresistible and the reveal had my heart and head feening.  And at times there were visceral urges that I just had (I mean short of waiting in line for three days. I’m not insane.) to have one of those fabulous, incredible, virtual portals that professionals would be sashaying around with them like progeny.  But when I was up close and personal with an iPad my friend (a line waiter) had, I thought, but I love my laptop.  Why do I need two cameras?  Taking pictures with an iPad is so pretentious, like you want everyone to know it’s an iPad you are taking a picture with. Big deal. (I know, I know. I can hear the geeks moaning about my fecal cephalic lack of appreciation for the iPad’s prodigious design and flawless tech perfection.)

But once you have that first bite, you become hooked. Like a confused obeser who doesn’t know she’s full (I used to be obese; I can say that word.) I had to indulge and buy another Apple product.  Maybe I’d even join the holy crowd and worship at the shrine of awesomeness, becoming an owner of Apple, you know, get a few shares?  The company’s earnings were spectacular, market share flying high like a dirigible with iPhones and iPads selling so rapidly the company couldn’t keep up production. Global sales…mega, mega.  I like, thousands of others, regretted not buying the company when it nearly went belly up and Jobs came back in glory to take it over again after the board kissed his feet and became his willing slaves. I wouldn’t buy a lot of stock, just enough (100 shares) for it to be a symbol that I endorsed everything Steve Jobs stood for as an enlightened, Renaissanced, man of goodness, a shining glory.

So I went to Apple and I looked at the iPad. But I balked at the point of purchase. I had a headache. Over the next few days, I looked at other tablets and smaller laptops. I discussed the iPad with as many geeks as I could. I hesitated. Like a hunger pang that abates, my lust fled. Not sure why. Maybe because I would have to pay for a lot of stuff I needed, buying from the iTunes store, cha ching? I was sick of doing that on the iPhone. The interface with Mozilla that was paramount, I would have to tweak. And I had issues with my iPhone which was slowing. And two cameras? What for two cameras? I had enough cameras I wasn’t using: 35 mm beauties and digitals (top of the line when they first came out).

So instead, I went for another Apple product, their top of the line wireless router that I could stream with from Montauk (I live in NYC). My uncontrollable appetite did rear her fat head, you see? But this bite left me with a  bitter taste:  it was unappetizing and I got indigestion. The router was really pricey and weird to put together. And I had a hell of a time configuring it to my PC. Annoyed at my tech incompetence and blaming my bad gut, I returned it and bought a well reputed router that  a one-year-old could set up. And I left the rising market share of Apple stock for the birds of the air to pluck. But since my phone contract was up, I purchased the next generation iPhone, knowing I would use it minimally, relying on another phone. My appetite for this next bite, though not particularly nourishing or filling was vital to my ego, cultural sensibilities and ethos. I indulged my lust.

Apple Store, Grand Central Station

And then Steve Jobs died. I wrote an article for Technorati and saw the TV programs about his genius, reheard his Stanford speech for the hundredth time and admired the man who was like a mastermining god, the new savior who walked on tech waters.  Again and again it was repeated, his ambition, his “drive for perfection” and his “we’ll never see his like again,” and his business acumen and ruthlessness, all wonderful praise for an icon that geeks wept over, no exaggeration. (There were folks unrelated to his family who sobbed over his loss.) It was only a day later after I muted all the static that it came to me. The geeks who owed their changed lives to Jobs? The change was all theirs and had little to do with the man or the gadgets and in fact, they might have become someone greater if not someone else despite him not because of his Apple. But irrevocably, they had tied their own identities with Jobs; they were him and he was them. And they rued the days ahead because how would they be able to function without him to market the wonder and the magic of their addiction and keep their lives meaningful?

And then after Jobs was in the ground a few months, the dam broke and the waters roiled. What had been dredged up in secret and silted and drained away with each reveal of the next generation iPad and iPhone product could be stemmed no longer. Enter Foxconn. And slowly by revelation of a different kind, we began to understand the identity of the king serpent who delivered the Apple to us to eat.

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