Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Review of Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio by Jessica Abel

Books in graphic form are not just filled with superheroes, Japanese manga, or women in push-up spandex bustiers. Occasionally, you can actually learn something.  Writer/Cartoonist Jessica Abel’s new book describes the ins and outs of producing radio shows at NPR. The oral medium of storytelling is well suited to graphics, especially in Abel’s creative hands.

Although the book focuses on NPR, the information applies to writing in general. Whether producing a podcast or novel, the creative processes overlap in several ways. Oral and written storytelling requires solid ideas and finding the right voice. Each needs a logical structure and a way to make audience care. As with fiction, the best stories come from “following some itch.” Catherine Burns, artistic director of the program, The Moth, makes a comment any writer can relate to. “The simplest way to say it is...who are you at the beginning and who are you at the end.” That’s Storytelling 101 for any writer.

In both podcasting and radio much time is spent determining structure, and Abel makes some interesting observations. Scenes in chronological order is the default, but not always necessary. Some stories start at the end in order to grab listeners. Screenwriters use a common hook. When a hero faces impossible odds, the screen goes black, and words such as Twenty-four Hours Before appear before the story takes a backward leap. Radio can do the same thing. Or as one producer notes, the structure is less important than what catches the audience and makes the story sexy.

Abel also includes practical advice for those wishing to attempt their own podcast. Getting started is surprisingly easy. A person needs a digital recorder, a set of headphones, a good microphone, and quiet. And no—the built-in mic on an iPhone won’t cut it if you want the interview to sound professional. More important is a little gumption. Mic placement is key. You have to shove that mic in a wazoo for an interview that’s up close and personal.

The function of sound and music also get noted. Music can highlight a story. Obvious spots for music cues are introduction of a new character or description of a feeling. As one producer says, music can be used to “shine a light” and be a “dousing rod” for hidden moments. Just as important is to note when sound or music are distracting. “You always take the music out when there’s a big idea that you want people to pay attention to. You lose the music so it stands out.” 

This is good book for anyone with curiosity about the work behind radio broadcasts or has an itch to create a podcast of their own. The simple graphic layout makes the explanations of the different facets of story construction easily understandable to the layman, and the cheery rah-rah, you-can-do-it attitude will encourage the beginner to take the first step.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book Spotlight: Silverhawk by Barbara Bettis

He’s everything a proper lady should never want; she’s everything a bastard mercenary can never have.

Sir Giles has come to England to kill his father, who seduced and betrayed his mother. First, however, he’ll seek sweet revenge—kidnap the old lord’s new betrothed. But when Giles uncovers a plot against King Richard, he faces a dilemma: take the lady or track the traitors. What’s a good mercenary to do? Both, of course.

Lady Emelin has had enough. Abandoned in a convent by her brother, she finally has a chance for home and family. Yet now she’s been abducted. Her kidnapper may be the image of her dream knight, but she won’t allow him to spoil this betrothal. Her only solution: escape

Rescuing the intrepid lady—while hunting traitors—is a challenge Giles couldn’t anticipate.  But the greatest challenge to Giles and Emelin is the fire blazing between them. For he’s everything a proper lady should never want, and she’s everything a bastard mercenary can never have.

The Lady’s Garden. Such a grand name for the stick and weed enclosure beside the keep. Giles eased open the weathered door, the faded wood rough against his fingers. He tipped his shoulder to slip through the narrow opening. The musty smell of plants gone to seed hung in the air, and he inhaled the odor. Strange, the comfort he felt, like a flash of memory.

He glanced around. Where was his quarry? Moonlight 
flooded the enclosure, and several bonfires in the bailey sent wavering light bobbing over the fence top. She knelt at a patch of what looked like dead grass, undoubtedly remnants of flowers. Perhaps they’d resembled the colorful blossoms that once dotted his mother’s palm-sized yard. How she’d loved the sparse but fragrant blooms that escaped their one hen’s search for food. His head jerked. God’s blood! Why had those thoughts surfaced just now, of a nearly forgotten long ago? This was neither time nor place for childish reminiscence.

Intent once more on the graceful figure before him, he picked his way through the tangle of growth. She wore the same green gown as when he arrived, some kind of embroidered figures at the neck and wrist. The color suited her vibrant auburn hair, draped now with a flimsy square of fine white linen. He should have known the color would be fiery to match her spirit.

As he advanced, the bright moonlight cast his shoulders as a darker shadow on the ground ahead. By the rigid set of her back, he knew she heard him. He couldn’t explain what prompted him to veer off course, to seek her out.

Lord Osbert had been the object when he started across the crowded, dusty bailey. Yet the moment he saw her disappear behind the weathered door, a voice in his mind whispered, “Follow.” It didn’t tell him why.

Now he stood in the midst of a dead garden, unsure of his intent. Emelin sat back on her heels with an exaggerated sigh. “Would you move your shoulders, Sir Knight? They block what meager light I’ve found.”

If a tone could cross its arms and tap its toe, hers did. A lightness inside him felt shockingly like a smile. That’s why he was here. She amused him.

“Where would you like me to move them, my lady?”

“London, I should think.”

Award winning author Barbara Bettis has always loved history and English. As a college freshman, she briefly considered becoming an archeologist until she realized there likely would be bugs and snakes involved. And math.

She now lives in Missouri, where by day she’s a mild-mannered English teacher, and by night she’s an intrepid plotter of tales featuring heroines to die for—and heroes to live for.



Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tech Hint: Stop looking at me, Facebook. You’re weirding me out.

I’m not the most tech savvy person, and I came across something new to me on tech-maven Kim Komando’s site the other day. Ever wonder how those ads got into your Facebook news feed? Targeted ads on the internet are a nuisance and creepy when you realized how sites spy on your activities in order to sell you things. Facebook is part of the Digital Advertising Alliance. This means it shares information about you with many other advertisers so they can tie ads to specific interests. Every ‘like’ that you click on any Facebook page sends another little bit of information about yourself to a raft of internet marketers.

It’s easy to opt out of Facebook’s target ad feed. This won’t stop Facebook from showing its own ads to you based on the data it collected. It will stop Facebook from collecting more from its advertising partners, or sending more information on you to them. According to Kim, you won’t see ads anymore in Facebook for merchandise looked at on Amazon and Ebay, and opting out will also keep Facebook from building up a detailed file on your personal likes. Remember, this won’t prevent any other company from collecting your information.

Follow these steps:
  1. Sign into Facebook
  2. In the upper right click on Settings
  3. In the left hand column click on Ads
  4. Under ‘Ads based on my use of websites and apps’ click Edit and then No
  5. Under ‘Ads with my social actions’ click Edit and then No one

Don’t forget to do this with both personal and professional pages.