Paper Obscura – Your New Obsession

If you’ve been on #bookstagram for any period of time, you’re familiar with subscription boxes already. Instead of another YA box, there’s a new box focusing on murdery, twisty reads with location themed boxes featuring small businesses.

Welcome Paper Obscura!

Okay, so there are a few really cool things about this box! This is probably a good time to say SPOILER ALERT!!! I’m going to go through the first box EVER from Paper Obscura, so if you’ve ordered and want to be surprised STOP READING!!!

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The first amazing thing that I think makes this box REALLY unique is that each box features a setting. On the spoiler card you get a map showing the locations of each vendor and a location for where the book is set. I mean, how freaking cool is that?!

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I’ve subscribed to many a book box in the last year. And I have to say, I’ve never had one focus the theme on the featured books location. I am incredibly intrigued to watch how this theme follows for so many reasons. The biggest is being introduced to new shops and products in such a unique way. I have a feeling it will make the reading experience and subsequent use of each item, a touch more special with this added detail! Not to mention, their focus is also on supporting small businesses and artists. I think my icy heart might be melting!

ON TO THE BOX!!!

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Oh, hello gorgeous…

Can we all just stop a moment and appreciate the serious dark humor of this beauty??? Of all the themed candles I own or have shopped, none have made my little black heart quite so happy as this one! Sociopath?! The Apathy Collection?! “Distinctive and unpredictable, like a true textbook sociopath”?! It’s like they stumbled into my dark subconscious to find what I really needed in my life. AND THEN GAVE IT TO ME!!!

This beauty is made by Grizzly, located in Brooklyn, New York. Want natural candles made with sustainable products where fun is the focus with a capital F??? Yeah, me too. I’m so happy to meet this candle and will be buying more in the future! Find them on Instagram @grizzly_bk or their website www.grizzlybk.com, just click to go to their page.

Did I mention it smells fantastic with a capital F? Because it does.

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You had me at stabby…

I think we can all agree that blood dripping knives are the perfect accessory to complete any outfit.

Designed by Brookpyn located in New York, NY, each pin starts as a sketch and is then digitized. Pop culture icons and jokes may come and go, but these enamel pins will last forever. Want fun and fashionable with an item that doubles as social commentary on pivotal issues? Brookpyn has you covered!

Give them a visit on Instagram @brookpyn or their website www.brookpyn.com. I know I already have my eye on a few!

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Don’t cry little monster…

40 pages of art by artist Dylan Balliett will entertain your inner monster. Bonus points if you look through it while burning your Sociopath candle. For appropriate atmosphere.

Dylan Balliett is an artist and a musician, currently located in New York, NY. Life as a monster isn’t always as glamorous as we think. This little art book is cute and fun with an added dash of sad and a twist of disgusting. Monsters would have it no other way.

You can find out more about his art and music by visiting his Instagram @dylanballiett or his website www.dylanballiett.com.

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The Wife by Alafair Burke is one of the books I’ve been looking forward to! The cover is simply stunning, and the premise so dark it’s delicious.

At the heart of this novel is the question: How far will a woman go to protect the man she loves? Will she let him drag her down? Exploring topics like media obsession, celebrity worship and technology dependency, this novel sounds like it’s going to be full of sociopaths, monsters and bleeding knives! I can’t wait!!!

You can buy the book here or visit her website www.alafairburke.com.

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Like I said, a lot of really cool items tied together in a thoughtful, unique way. I am very impressed and looking forward to March’s box!

What’s that? You want a hint?

“Bold, unsettling, and atmospheric — March’s featured, wicked read delivers a haunted reimagining of a mysterious tragedy in the American West.”

I can’t wait to see what book that is! And what items will be featured!

Visit Paper Obscura on their Instagram @paperobscura or their website www.paperobscura.com and sign up! Be sure to use the code WICKEDJENA for a discount!

Thank you Bryan for sending me a box to review! I loved it and can’t wait to see what you guys come up with in future boxes!

 

Strangers – Review

“Both of us are sure we’re right, but one of us is living in a world of make-believe right now.”

Strangers was the January book club read for the Instagram group BlackHeart Reads. If you’re on Instagram and are interested in joining their monthly reads, click the link and follow their page! It’s always a ton of fun!

The premise of this book was intriguing: a woman faces a stranger in her home claiming to be her fiancé. She has no memory of him, to her he is a complete stranger. A man comes home to a fiancé who claims to not know him. Every single item belonging to him is gone, his existence in their life erased.

One of them has to be lying, but both are convinced they are telling the truth.

As events continue to unfold around them, it becomes obvious that something is happening that neither of them understand. And if they are going to discover the truth and get out of this alive, they are going to need to trust their instincts. And each other.

After the beginning chapters of this novel, I was expecting some serious twist, a la Black Mirror. Everything about the plot felt like some sinister, devious, horrifying conspiracy was taking place.

Initially, the characters were fantastic. Joanna was appropriately freaked out, and believed that Erik was some crazed madman. Until her best friend confirmed their relationship. It would have been easy to leave all the doubt on Joanna, but the authors made sure to balance the doubt between both Jo and Erik. They did a fantastic job making not just the reader but the characters themselves wonder which of the two was crazy. Or what possible explanation could be at play.

“A hand, as cold as ice, reaches for my heart. And, for the first time, the thought crosses my mind that maybe the person who’s lost their mind here isn’t Joanna, but me.”

Unfortunately, the book lost steam for me towards the end. The book was action packed and held an intense pace throughout, but the entire plot hinged on the twist. And for me, it fell flat into cliche disappointment.

In all, the book was entertaining and kept me interested until the end. But I felt like the ending was too easy, a bit predictable, and didn’t really go far enough to feel satisfying based on what the authors built up. However, if you enjoy books full of action that keeps a fast pace, you may enjoy what Strangers has to offer.

I’m going to discuss a few things that felt problematic for me, which will include spoilers, so if you have not read this book, please be warned!!!

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The ending, as I mentioned was way too easy and fell into the eye-rolling territory very quickly. A bunch of Nazi’s plotting to cause chaos to purify the country of Germany just didn’t really add up or feel satisfying to what they had built up throughout the book. Beyond trying to make their terrorist attack look like Muslims were at fault, there really wasn’t anything to even support this weird Nazi plot line.

Beyond that, a brief hypnosis session while she was on vacation as the entire catalyst of her memory loss and violent urges? Talk about disappointing. I felt like there were so many other avenues that would have at least fallen into the realm of possibility, hypnosis felt too easy. And not at all believable.

If the ending was the only weird cliche pieces in the book, it may not have bothered me. But this book was full of them. Nadine, the ex-girlfriend was written as a sad, desperate woman who would do anything to get Erik back. Even going so far as to blatantly insult Joanna to her face in front of Erik. It came across as all the terrible stereotypes of women.

Joanna’s own father was a controlling rich man, willing to risk his daughters life if she didn’t follow his rules. Honestly, I was hoping he was behind the entire thing, it would have made his character feel more real than it did.

The gun wielding muscle sent to “collect” Joanna that suddenly jumps to the rescue. They are pretty standard and self-explanatory.

It felt like the side characters were presented as these stereotypes to offer plausible villains behind the memory loss and strange violent events following Jo and Erik. But since that wasn’t where the plot was headed, and the authors didn’t offer any redemption so they ended up feeling flat and one dimensional.

There was a lot of action and this book had some serious potential, so I was really disappointed at the end. This book read more like an action movie than a thriller. Lots of action not as much plot.

I did have a ton of fun reading this book for our group discussion, and loved hearing everyone’s thoughts on this book in our group!

The Power – Review

“The shape of power is always the same.”

The Power is such an amazing book! Anyone who enjoys reading about the complexity and reality of power, both perceived and enforced, implied and physical, will enjoy this novel. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and The Power shows us the harsh truth in those four words.

We open with a series of letters between two people. There is a work of fiction being presented for one to read of the others. When the letters stop, we don’t get dates, we simply get a countdown in years. We’re counting down to something, but we don’t yet know what.

We get the novel told in four alternating points of view. Each character, Allie, Roxy, Tunde, and Margot present us with a perspective on the world we find ourselves flung into. A world where suddenly, out of nowhere, women discover they have a physical power residing within them. In a new organ called a skein, attached to their collarbone, women can now create electricity and shoot it out through their hands. Young women can trigger this power in older women.

I really liked the symbolism of having the youth wake up the older women. There’s something powerful in the idea that youth leads the way for change, but also that they won’t leave the older women behind. That is one of the more positive symbols in the novel.

But with any good, there is also bad, and the fact that the more powerful will turn on the less powerful is a reality that couldn’t be ignored. In this case it extends to less powerful women as well, and I liked that Jos, Margot’s daughter was the representation of this dark side to this new world.

These alternating perspectives help us unfold this world in such a detailed way. Rather than being told one point of view, we see the scope of this power on a world perspective. Which is so necessary for the totality of this story. One voice wouldn’t have fully captured the huge perspective that this type of power shift would have.

“It is only that every day one grows a little, every day something is different, so that in the heaping up of days suddenly a thing that was impossible has become possible.”

The writing is smart and edgy with just enough realism to make the horror slowly set in. You feel the shift in power happen slowly, but also all at once. As you read through each narrators experience of the world around them, combined with bright and sunshiny news reporters, the book reads like a surreal nightmare. Anyone who adores the eery and terrifying worlds that Margaret Atwood creates will quickly fall in love with The Power.

“When historians talk of this moment they talk about “tensions” and “global instability”. They posit the “resurgence of old structures” and the “inflexibility of existing belief patterns”. Power has her ways. She acts on people, and people act on her.”

Because I want to discuss some of the incredibly fascinating points, the rest of this review will contain some spoilers. So if you haven’t read this book, please STOP READING!!!

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The sheer brilliance of this novel happens at the end. This is where you really get the final sucker punch, and this twist is absolutely stunning in its brilliance. Where we finally see that this narration has been a fiction wrapped in fiction. An alternate history where the acts of the past are being pieced together by an author, hoping to read into the clues that history has left behind.

This mix of alternate history combined with dystopia creates an intoxicating blend of fiction that is breathtaking and impossible to put down. What’s genius about this, is how with a single twist, Aldermann was able to take our ideas about women and turn them upside down. It isn’t simply the entire novel we now see. It is a history where one gender has possibly taken control of the narrative and conditioned the other into certain behaviors and traits.

We often hear how women would be better leaders because violence isn’t in us the way it is men. And maybe that’s true. But maybe it isn’t. However, the allure of power is something that I think has been documented fairly extensively over time. I think that regardless of culture, regardless of how systematically oppressed women have been, if they woke up to having an actual power literally in their fingertips, enough of them would seize it and this change to society would happen.

I love good villains. Not for the evil they inflict, but because we do all carry the capacity for great acts of good and horrific acts of bad. It is a matter of how far we are pushed. Exploring ideas like this really makes you stop and face the reality that perhaps good people would do terrible things if pushed far enough. That perhaps good people would relish the power to suddenly control their own lives in a way they never could before. That perhaps might does make for right, and it is only the lesser that pleads for peace. Not everyone would succumb to that darkness, but how many would?

Throughout this whole novel, though, we don’t necessarily see villains. We see different characters coming to terms with this gigantic change. We see them witness great acts of kindness but we also see them behaving horrifically. And knowing the oppression that some of these women in some of these countries have faced, it is both understandable and horrifying.

Tunde is one of the most interesting characters, partly because he is the only male voice. I think it’s very real that even until the end, he held onto the belief that it wasn’t yet that bad. That his assumed and unspoken power of just being a man, an idea that he had grown up with and become used to, slowly slipped away. Again, we are empathetic to his plight but it’s also difficult to feel completely sorry for him as well.

The final piece that I found brilliant is Mother Eve and the voice she heard. Throughout the book I was reading this as a current unfolding of events, not aware of the twist that came at the end. So I was trying to figure out if this was actually going to be a significant piece of her character, or if she was just crazy. Knowing that the end has this as a fiction novel 5,000 years in the future, where what we thought is today turns out to be the past suddenly made her voice make sense.

It is obvious that women rewrote history. The idea that men could be police officers, soldiers or aggressive was ridiculous to the women of the future. There was a feminine slant of religion. So I think using this fiction as understanding the source of this history and this religion was smart. We often use realistic fiction to understand history and read the signs left. To do the same in this context made so much sense to me.

Overall this book was stunning in execution. The exploration of all things power is chilling and eye opening. I loved the idea of turning gender norms on their head, on really facing the idea that power doesn’t care what gender embodies it, only that it is embraced. This is a book I can see gracing college campuses and being examined for it’s ideas for a long time. I am so glad I jumped into this buddy read on Instagram!

Instagram Algorithm – Shadowban

My last post on the algorithm talked about some of the basics. You can review all of that info HERE.

I’ve resolved to fully educate myself on this Dark Magic, so today, I want to talk about the one thing that does seem to guarantee low engagement and performance on your posts. The dreaded SHADOWBAN.

First, shadowban sounds like an awesome ninja name when you first read it. Doesn’t it? But, unfortunately, like with their entire platform, Instagram took something awesome and made it not so awesome. Harsh? Maybe. But, by all accounts their decision to move from chronological to this algorithm has only benefitted large accounts. But, I digress.

So what is a shadowban? Essentially this means that your post, and in some cases, your entire profile have been flagged unbeknownst to you. The difficulty in this is, how do you know you’ve been shadowbanned if you don’t know? Hopefully this post can help you with some tricks.

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Let’s start with the essential question: how do I know if my post is impacted?

The biggest trigger to indicate your posts are being flagged is low engagement. If your likes suddenly drop fairly dramatically, you’re only seeing likes and comments only from people who follow you, and your comments drop significantly, you could have been shadowbanned.

This is tricky though, because your post could simply be suffering from low performance for reasons other than a shadowban. (We’ll get into those in a future post.) So, to know for sure, you’re going to need an Instagram buddy. Or, at least a second account.

From an account that does not follow you, and this is key, make sure that the account you’re checking from DOES NOT FOLLOW YOU! Go to one of your hashtags and search for your post. If your post has been shadowbanned, you will not show up in the hashtag search.

This is important because it means that your posts will only show up to users that already follow you. No one knew. Which is the entire point of using hashtags. To become discoverable to new followers. So being aware of this is important if your goal is to grow your account.

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The next question is, how does a post become shadowbanned?

There are multiple answers to this. The primary reason is using banned or restricted hashtags.

Hashtags get flagged frequently. If enough users are offended at posts using a certain hashtag, they get flagged. I believe that there is a place on Instagram that tracks these, but I don’t know that for sure. However, I can show you a trick.

Let’s take the hashtag that got me. #books

I used to use that one fairly frequently because my account deals with books. Makes sense right? Turns out this hashtag is shadowbanned. Here’s how to tell.

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When you use the search function for any tag, you see a result screen like this. There’s the Top Nine at the top, and then below that will have Most Recent. As you can see from the screenshot above, #books goes on for longer than the Top Nine, whereas #bookstagram has a white space after the Top Nine. This isn’t cropped, it’s just white space.

If you scroll down for #books, you’ll come across this:

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Unless you make the Top Posts, which are more numerous than just the Top Nine, all recent posts are hidden.

On the surface this doesn’t seem like a big deal. Just try and make the Top Posts right? NOPE!

For some reason, and I’m not quite sure the logic here, but if you use #books, every hashtag you use will also be hidden. So, by using one flagged hashtag, your entire post will be shadowbanned.

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If you check the hashtags you use, and you aren’t using any flagged one, YAY! One step eliminated. But you still need to figure out why you’ve been shadowbanned.

It could be that you have been flagged for using the same hashtags for a length of time. A lot of people have become used to saving their hashtag comments as a shortcut, rather than typing them out. If you use the same ones, this signals possible “bot” activity and flags your posts.

You can still use the shortcut trick. But you have to have several options saved. It is also a good idea to use hashtags relevant to your post. I will use hashtags for the book and author I’m posting for, along with any relevant publisher tags, and then use a few of my favorites. Whether you type them out each post, or use a shortcut trick, just make sure you’re changing them frequently to avoid being flagged.

The bot trigger is the third way. Some apps have become popular because you can create content and schedule a post. This is a lifesaver for people who work, or have busy schedules, and you’ve discovered that per the rules of the Universe, those are the times when you get the most engagement. The problem is, these apps use the same IP address for all posts; OR, the IP address is constantly changing locations. Depending on how popular they are, this can cause the address to be flagged which will make your post spam.

And speaking of bots, if you use a bot service to gain followers, the activity from both the follow activity and potential IP address issue will cause your account to be flagged.

This last point is tricky as well, because if you are spending time on a slow Sunday afternoon catching up on likes and following accounts, you may get flagged. So, I would caution heading to multiple accounts and liking all their photos in a short period of time. Ditto for following or unfollowing a ton of accounts in a short amount of time. These can appear as bot activity.

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I know. It’s a lot. And all of this can feel very overwhelming very fast. That’s why again, I will say, know the goal for your account. It may not matter if no one outside of your follower base sees your posts. But, if you want to grow your account for whatever reason, these are things to be aware of. Find the level of awareness that fits you.

Generally speaking, taking a one to two day break from posting will reset any shadowbans, or problems with algorithms. If you used hidden hashtags, once you stop using them, you should see your posts begin to bounce back. If you’ve been blocked from liking or following, it’s usually temporary and if you are aware of your activity, you should be fine.

Some people have stated that simply stopping the hashtag, or changing up your hashtags will boost your posts since it lifts the ban. I find that taking at least a day break works better and my account always recovers faster. You’ll have to find what works for you.

I don’t have any words of wisdom for using a posting app, as I don’t use one, and never had. There are some that allow you to plan a post but you post your photo yourself, which solves the IP address problem. Just be aware of what app you are using and how they work.

The algorithm can be a difficult thing to wrap your hands around. Hopefully this helps just a little!

 

Exploring the Instagram Algorithm

Anyone who has been on Instagram for the last year knows the dark magic that is known as “The Algorithm”. And this is Dark Magic indeed. No one knows exactly what makes it tick, what works, what doesn’t. Though, like with any sorcery, there are many, many theories running amuck.

The argument for the algorithm is that Instagram is attempting to find the best audience for your posts. It can be argued that they are giving preference to large accounts. I can’t disagree with that, but neither can I prove it. Even if it is, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost for smaller accounts. You just have to have a targeted approach to your account.

I don’t have the answers. But I have done a little bit of research, and in doing my good deed for the Internet world, I thought I would share my findings. Please remember, these are simply my own experiences and observations.

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First, in order to beat the algorithm you must calculate the hidden mass of your…… HA! Just kidding!

First, consistency. Instagram is a stickler for consistency. There are a lot of articles telling you that you have to post the same day and time or else you’ll get thrown into Internet jail or worse: LOW PERFORMANCE!!! There’s some truth to this, although it isn’t quite so dramatic as some lead you to believe. Yes, consistency matters. If you post at different times every day, you may struggle to get the performance your post deserves. But, if you post normally around 9am daily, and you don’t post until 10am one day, you probably won’t see too much of a difference.

I have learned that if you want to ‘reset’ your algorithm, not posting for a day or two will usually work. I’ve done that when I couldn’t get my posts over a certain threshold. I waited a day between posts, and the next time I posted, it immediately performed better. In the meantime, I posted on my stories (we’ll get to those later) and still liked, commented and interacted with people on Instagram. This all matters.

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If you really want to get nerdy about it, there are actual performance data on business accounts that tell you when your followers are most active. This is true, business accounts do provide more insight than personal accounts. These algorithm articles will urge you to change to a business account so that you get this data. But is this necessary?

I have one personal account where I post the majority of my content, along with two business accounts; one for my dogs (yes, I know, it’s ridiculous but also awesome and we love it) with 200 followers and one for my Etsy shop with around 250 followers. It’s difficult to say which performs better. My two business accounts get anywhere from 50-100 likes per photo. I don’t post consistently to them. But one is dogs with books, mostly in pajamas and costumes, so I feel like that’s a winner on it’s own. And one is mainly tagging Harry Potter hashtags and dragon lovers. Again, fairly popular tags.

My personal account has gone up and down with performance. Lately, I find that I do get around 100 likes per post. I post daily, fairly consistently. So it would seem that while my business accounts are smaller, they get nearly the same activity. Of course, if I posted on my personal account with the same tags, it could be that they would do better. Difficult to say.

One thing I can say, is that the insights are interesting if you enjoy interpreting data. But it is very basic data. Most followers are active between 9am – 7pm daily. It goes up and down according to the day on which hour, but if you follow the consistency rule, the variation between activity per hour shouldn’t impact your post too dramatically. The rest of the data such as gender and location are interesting, but unless you’re an actual business with targeted demographic needs for your product line, I don’t find them that useful to the overall realm of social media.

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Frankly, who knows?! I mean, if you are into data and analytics. By all means, upgrade to business and enjoy the analysis. But, if not, my advice is simply this: test posting at various times. Try the morning for a week and see how they do. Then post in the afternoon or evening. Whenever you change, do it for a week to allow Instagram to adjust to your new times. Find your happy place. The most important thing with posting, is that you reply to comments.

So here we get to the good stuff.

Posting times and business accounts aside. Account interaction is key. So, find a time to post, that performs well, where you can comment and reply to people on your post.

I’ve read that if your post get comments and likes of a certain amount (who knows the sorcery behind this? NO ONE!) Instagram will release your post or boost it to more followers. I have no idea if this is true. What I can tell you, is that since I joined not just one, but two algorithm groups, my performance per post is improving.

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If you join a group with the sole intention of just boosting your posts and your algorithm, I think you’ll end up frustrated, disgusted, and overall unhappy. These groups help, yes. But, they are also a commitment of time and energy. Make sure the group you are in jives with you. If you have to comment on sultry romance posts and you’re a solid dystopian girl, you may find yourself struggling to comment on every post, every day, sometimes multiple times a day. So make sure you find your people!

The one thing I have found, is that commenting and interacting with accounts, even outside my groups is helping. Because you form friendships with people. The more you message with people, comment, watch their stories, mystery of all magic their posts show up on my feed more, and vice versa.

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Okay, so this isn’t sorcery as much as common sense. But it’s important. Like life, social media is what you make it. And you get what you put into it.

If you want to grow your account, and you don’t want to buy followers or use bots, you need to form genuine connections. Yes, these take time. But they also make it worth the experience. You’ll find accounts and people behind them who are interested in you, and you in them. This will lead to others, and so momentum is built.

The more genuine you are with your account, your captions, your comments and replies, the more your account will grow. That much I have seen not just through my accounts, but others as well.

Post to your stories. I know, I know. When they first came out everyone complained. It’s too much! But your stories are a way to show a different side to you versus your beautifully themed feed. Let them see your sense of humor, your quirkiness. This is where you can be a bit messy. It disappears in a day! Find a way to let your personality shine through and you’ll find people respond.

I use ridiculous Snapchat filters. It makes me happy. And it makes me even happier when people message me that my dancing reindeer post made them laugh, or that my dancing pickle video brightened their day. It’s silly. But it’s fun. Sometimes I do unboxings. Sometimes I talk about serious stuff. Sometimes it’s dancing pickles.

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Beyond letting people get to know you through your stories, they carry, say it with me now: ALGORITHM INFLUENCE!!! I don’t know if they have their own algorithm, or they influence your feeds algorithm, or if it’s a combination. Seriously, who has time to track all this? But, the more people see your bright shiny username and profile pic at the top of their screens, the more they’re likely to watch and go to your feed.

Some thoughts on stories. Be aware of your audience. If you use Instagram for friends, that’s one thing. If you’re attempting to be an Influencer, or are using this platform to promote products, even while being yourself: be professional. There’s a balance there. Find it.

That’s a lot, and probably nothing you haven’t already read before. I don’t have any tricks other than simply being sincere, find your happy place, make genuine connections and be consistent. The rest will come.

I will talk more about shadow banning, hashtags and more in another post, so stay tuned!

Chatting with Val – The Reminders

Some of you may remember that in early summer I won the chance to chat with Val Emmich, author of The Reminders, from Little, Brown. I was lucky enough to be able to include a few of the women from my book club (@pnwbookworm, @trissinalovesbooks, @thepagesinbetween), and through a series of scheduling snafus and hilariously trying to figure out how to group Skype (at the last minute of course!) we successfully connected!

I took notes, but by no means is this a detailed transcription of what we discussed. Any errors are mine, and mine alone. And rather than type out an interview style article, I wanted to rather relay our chat in snapshots and impressions, because let’s be honest, my note taking skills aren’t that accurate.

As I recap, please be aware that there could be spoilers in this conversation. Please stop reading if you are planning on reading the book, as I would hate to ruin the experience for you. That said, be sure to check out my Instagram page for a Reminders related giveaway!

Outside of signing events and meeting authors at conference, this was my first actual one on one interaction with an author, and I am so glad it was with Val.

First, let me start by saying, we ended up talking on Skype for over an hour and a half! And, honestly, I think we probably could have gone on longer. It didn’t hurt that we all, author included, adored his book. But beyond that, Val is such a genuine person that it felt natural and easy to talk to him.

Obviously we talked about the book. We talked about the characters, and his process and everything in between! To give you an idea of how kind he is, he asked us questions about ourselves, wanting to include us in a conversation, and not just focus on his book or himself.

If you need a reminder, HERE is my review of the book.

To begin, we jumped right into how this book came to life.

The Reminders is actually the third book he wrote. He had gone through the writing, and querying and attempted selling of the first novels with no luck. After going through some artistic soul-searching, similar to what Joan’s dad goes through, (and an incident with his daughter, but we’ll get to that) he sat down and began writing a short story. This short story was about a girl named Joan and her rare memory disorder. From there the story grew.

He talked a bit about how in his first two books he was trying to write what he thought would sell. When the idea for Joan came, and he started writing, he changed his tactics and started to write something that he would want to read. He wanted it to be joyful and pleasant. To do that, he simply worked against our trained assumptions to assume the worst.

I found the way he wove these assumptions into the story in such a subtle way to be brilliant. There were multiple moments when my heart sank, only to be buoyed up by an unexpected turn in the story. These aren’t dramatic plot twists, or predictable outcomes, and yet the impact of being wrong works so beautifully. Hearing this insight after reading the book is amazing. Not just as a reader, but also as an aspiring writer.

We spent a lot of time talking about music. Music, as you know, plays a huge part of this book. Joan is trying to win a song writing contest, her dad has a music studio and Gavin and her dad were in a band in their college days. So, it is probably not surprising to learn that Val is a musician.

The music in the novel developed organically, the story coming to life as he wrote. This is an example of the adage, “Write what you know”. There are a lot of his own struggles brought to life in the novel. The struggle of being an artist, of living in New Jersey and not New York, of deciding to stay in art or change careers, and then there’s the struggle of being a parent. This honesty makes the novel so relatable. The characters and their struggles feel more real.

Even though the details of the music came organically, there was a moment when he realized he would have to write a song that would be good enough to actually enter and possibly win a contest. The experience he’s had as a musician and song writer really helped with this, and he said it was a lot of fun to write and create a song that has both Gavin and Joan in it.

Everyone always asks, where do ideas come from. Sometimes this is a tricky question for an author. But in this case, Val knew.

He talks about this moment on his YouTube channel, and elaborated with us. He was shopping in a Home Depot (sound familiar?) and his daughter fell out of the cart. After the terror of the accident calmed down, and everything turned out to be okay with his daughter, a special came on TV discussing memory and these rare disorders. An “AHA” moment transpired.

Some of the questions we asked were about details of the book. How did he track all the details of Joan’s memory? This is one of my favorite things in the book, how Joan remembers things so vividly and specifically. Val confessed to not having a great memory, so he printed calendars and filled them out with things that Joan experienced. It became a way for him to write, but it also ended up being a way for him to connect with the character.

How did he pick the age? His wife is a teacher. She teaches 4-6th grade gifted kids, and he spent some time observing them. From there it became a matter of figuring out what was too old (pre-teen) or what was too young for Joan. Her age had to be realistic to achieve certain details in the plot, but also to be able to think and rationalize like a child. He knew it was right when he landed on ten.

Where did the details for the characters come from? The characteristics for all the characters are an amalgamation of different people. Mostly these are unknown, so we won’t be revealing secrets here. But, like with anything, he watched people he knew, people he didn’t and the characters began to come to life. No matter how they started, or who provided the inspiration, it was fun to add personality and give them dimension.

The idea of music being intertwined with memory fit together fluidly. As a society we remember music. It makes sense, that for someone like Joan, where memory is such a vivid part of her life, that music would be a relatable way to showcase that importance.

Writing about such a specific memory problem was also a challenge. In some ways, he said it was easy, and in others it was difficult. The calendars he created helped him visualize her reality. He read books on people who actually have this condition so that he could understand it. The details about her clothing came from this research. While he didn’t come across that specific detail in an account, other details sparked the idea. Memories are so vivid for these people, that a shirt can pull them into the past. They often keep journals, which Joan does as well.

And finally, we talked about book tours.

Many publishers aren’t sending authors out on book tours, especially new authors. But since he already had a network and a fan base, he set up a tour anyway, or an exchange of sorts. He played music in exchange for a book discussion. I think given the nature of the book, this sounds perfect! These tour events also ended up being more personal and intimate than a traditional book store event. They were in people’s homes and so it prompted more intimate discussion and interaction. Again, if you’ve read the book, I think you agree, it sounds like a perfect setting!

One awesome detail: the drawings are his but the handwriting in those pictures are from his ten year old niece! How cool is that?!

Val has already started writing his next project, and should have an announcement coming soon! I for one, cannot wait to hear what is next.

If you’re interested in winning a copy of the soundtrack for the book, hop on over to my Instagram page for details!!!

Please visit his YouTube channel HERE

You can buy your copy of The Reminders HERE

Thank you so much Little, Brown and Val Emmich for giving us the chance to spend time getting to know you and your book!!! It was an experience we won’t forget.