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Monday, August 3, 2020

Writing Lessons from the Sunshine State

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What Lauren Groff's haunting story collection teaches us about thematic unity and formal innovation.  ♦
Florida by Lauren Groff is a collection of stories in which each piece acts as part of a greater whole, featuring different characters and different timelines that all intersect to create one single representation of Florida as both a state and a state of mind. Groff depicts the state as terrifying yet beautiful, a feeling that stretches throughout, and while tropical storms, snakes, and crocodiles are always a threat, the main characters in her stories somehow find beauty within the chaos. Groff uses the same character in different stories throughout the collection to provide continuity between pieces and stretch the topics of motherhood and marriage, but even when Groff explores characters besides the mother, all lend well to the overall feeling of Florida as a place where being content is not an option, such as the two sisters who are abandoned on an island in “Dogs Go Wolf” or the homeless girl running away from life in “Above and Below.” Groff employs various narrative structures that help keep the content fresh and exciting, making these stories as unpredictable as the Floridian weather, and I found myself being swept around in a gust of literary wind that left me as entertained as I was unsettled.

In fact, maybe the most important thing aspiring writers can learn from Groff is her use of varying story structures. When you think of a short story, you may imagine a beginning, middle and end, and while Groff does use a straightforward, linear form in some of these pieces, she employs other structures to great effect; in “Snake Stories," for example, Groff uses an unconventional, crot-based structure to tell about a woman in Florida struggling to be happy with her husband and two kids. In this context, a “crot” is a part of a whole, like an entire collection of smaller stories sharing space inside a single story. Each one is short, rarely over a paragraph long, and somehow related to snakes, whether this is literally, or related to someone’s deceptive actions, or the narrator recognizing someone’s snake-like tendencies. The piece begins with the narrator relaying the story of Adam and Eve and the snake that fools them into committing the original sin, and it then transitions into the narrator describing her son’s school projects about snakes and his fascination with them:

I can’t get away from them, snakes. Even my kindergartner has been strangely transfixed by them all year. Every project he brings home: snakes.

The pet project: i thnk a kobra wud be a bad pet becus it wud bit me, picture of him being eaten by a cobra. The poetry project: snakes eat mise thy slithr slithr slithr thy jump otof tres thy hissssssssssssssssss, picture of a snake jumping out of a tree and onto a screaming him. Or so I assume: my child is in a minimalist period, his art all wobbly sticks and circles.

Why, of all beautiful creatures on this planet of ours, do you keep writing about snakes? I ask him.

i lik them and thy lik me, he tells me.

As the piece continues, the narrator describes seeing her husband, a man “overrun by angels” but who “struggles with things that appeal,” gravitate toward another woman at parties. “Snake Stories” is about temptation, deception, and recognizing the snakes in the grass, meaning that there is evil and potential danger lurking around everyone.

Most of the stories in Florida are between fifteen and thirty pages long, typically somewhere in the middle of that spread, and all but one take place in Florida. The only story to break both of those normalities is “Yport,” the final story in Groff’s collection. Coming in at fifty pages and taking place in France, this is the perfect way to end the book and drive home the ideas presented throughout. Having spent the previous two-hundred-plus pages in the sunshine state, you might expect that the recurring mother with two kids going to France would be a beautiful, exciting, and stress-free escape . . . but it is nothing like that. Groff seems to be saying you can take the woman out of Florida, but you cannot take Florida out of the woman. Her husband has stayed back home, so she is bound to Florida through him; her melancholy and drinking problem both came with her from Florida to France; and the surreal visions that other characters had in previous stories are present as well. Groff removing her character from the titular state but having the character struggle with the same issues shows that Florida is a state of mind, something that the characters cannot escape, even when they pick up and go elsewhere. The longer page length of the finale and switch up in structure from all the previous stories, along with the changed setting, is a great way to end the collection and solidify the ideas presented throughout.

The stories in Florida are atmospheric and sometimes surreal, and the various narrative structures create a collection that might seem (at first glance) to be here, there, and everywhere, but all of this works together wonderfully to convey and explore a cohesive thematic idea.

  • About the Author
    Ben Woodson is a rising senior at Miami University of Ohio, where he majors in Interactive Media Studies and minors in Creative Writing. One of his aspirations is to write a screenplay. In his spare time, Ben enjoys biking and hiking. He works in a deli but on the side resells vintage clothes. He is very interested in fashion and wants to start a sustainable clothing business one day. After graduation, he plans to work and gain experience in content marketing and branding to one day apply those skills to his very own business.

    Tuesday, May 26, 2020

    Queer Comics for Your Pride-Reading Joy

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    Have your local events been canceled or postponed this year due to COVID-19? Celebrate Pride Month by picking up one of these queer comics!  ♦ 
    I’m what is known as a “seasonal reader” — love stories are for February, spooky stories are for October, and queer stories are for June. As a bisexual woman, LGBTQ+ narratives have always been my favorites to read. However, one of the problems with the queer stories currently on the market is the overwhelming focus on two white gay men. What is supposed to be an inclusive body of work is instead very one-sided. Where are the lesbians? The nonbinary folks? People of color? When pride month is supposed to be about all queer people, it can feel exclusionary when most of your reading choices are for only one letter of the LGBTQ alphabet. On top of this, much of the queer literature that's out there seems to tend towards the tragic. And while these stories are important, during a month that’s meant to be about being proud of who you are, personally, I don’t want to read about homophobia, unaccepting parents, violence, depression, etc. There’s a time and a place for the Brokeback Mountains of literature, to me at least, it’s not in June.

    Enter: the graphic novel.

    While there are some great diverse releases in traditional prose fiction, graphic novels are telling stories through the whole spectrum of LGBTQ+ experiences, especially in the past few years. From a nonbinary Chinese werewolf to a cross-dressing prince, there’s really something for everyone. Many of the releases I’ve read in recent years have been mostly lighthearted, gentle, fun, and oh-so queer.

    With that in mind, here are some of my favorite diverse and lighthearted queer graphic novels I’ve read recently:

    The Prince and The Dressmaker by Jen Wang
    I’m going to have a problem not reviewing every single graphic novel as just “adorable.” (But it is really adorable!) Prince Sebastian has a secret: every night he puts on a gorgeous dress and becomes Lady Crystallia, an icon in the Paris fashion world. He has help of course, from his brilliant dressmaker and now best friend Frances, who dreams of becoming a well-known dress designer. But if Lady Crystallia remains a secret, so does Frances. With uniquely beautiful illustrations and a story that reads like a fairy tale, this one you’ll definitely want to pick up!

    Bingo Love by Tee Franklin
    While this one errs more on the side of bittersweet rather than a completely feel-good read, it’s an amazing story and will leave you with a smile on your face. Bingo Love tells the story of two African-American women, Hazel and Mari, who meet at a bingo parlor in the 1960s as two teenagers. They quickly become friends and soon fall in love. But circumstances and unaccepting families tear them apart, only for them to find their way back to each other in a bingo parlor 50 years later, ready to make up for lost time. The graphic novel format really works for this because what could have been a tragic story about all the time that Hazel and Mari lost, the focus is primarily on the time that Hazel and Mari do have together.

    Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker; illustrated by Wendy Xu
    If The Prince and the Dressmaker was adorable, then Mooncakes is tooth-rotting fluff. Nova is an expert in witchcraft, working at her grandmother’s supernatural bookshop. One day while exploring a mystery for the store, she runs into her childhood crush Tam, who is now a werewolf and is battling some dark enemies. Together, Nova and Tam rekindle their feelings for each other, try to stop their demon foes, and make a little magic. When I saw this, it immediately reminded me of the Studio Ghibli film Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Mooncakes is just as magical. It is also incredibly inclusive, as both characters are Chinese, Tam is non-binary, and Nova is hard of hearing. Publishing has certainly come a long way in terms of supporting queer and diverse stories. There is always progress to be made, and supporting the stories that are out there can create a significant impact in the long run.

    If you find you’ve got some time to kill between your (online) Pride events this year, consider picking up one of these graphic novels! These are just a few examples of the many outstanding queer graphic novels out there. Enjoy these, and then keep an eye out for more diverse releases in 2020 . . . this is a list that can always use more representation across every letter of the LGBTQ+ community.

  • About the Author
    Sabrina Ludwig is a senior Psychology student at Miami University. For the first three years she was on the path to premed, until she took a comic book class for fun and realized that medical school just wasn’t for her. After graduation, she is looking to pursue a career in publishing or editing. In her free time, you can find Sabrina hoarding books she’ll never finish, re-watching Marvel movies, and making various kinds of avocado toast.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2020

    Find Me: Time, Love, and New Beginnings

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    Find Me is an unexpected sequel that deals with taking a chance—or even a second chance—to ask, "What if?"
    As someone who loved Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name and its movie adaption, I greatly anticipated Find Me’s release in October. Even before I read Find Me, the general opinion was that the book was disappointing, but like any good reader I refused to form my opinion until I had experienced the novel in its entirety. (My devotion to CMBYN was also a contributing factor.) When I cracked open Find Me for the first time, I was a bit confused. Who is this person talking? What year is it? What does any of this have to do with Call Me By Your Name? For readers coming back to the continuation of their beloved story, they might be surprised by the new voice that greets them.

    Find Me’s predecessor, 2007's Call Me By Your Name, is a romance set in Italy during the summer of 1983. Over the summer, 17-year-old Elio Perlman falls in love with Oliver, a doctoral student from the US finishing his dissertation with the guidance of Elio's father Samuel, a classics professor. For the six weeks that they are together, the young men keep their romance a secret, in intimate moments calling each other by the other’s name as if to erase the line where one of them begins and the other ends. At the end of their time together, as Oliver leaves to return to the US, he reveals that he is engaged, and the pair is forced to build their lives without one another, destined never to be together again.

    Or so we thought.

    Enter Find Me, and cue the spoiler alert.

    Whereas CMBYN was narrated by 17-year-old Elio, Find Me begins with a different voice that we learn is Elio’s father, Samuel Perlman. Wow, wasn’t expecting that. CMBYN was an intimate story that contained explicit details of the acts of love between the story’s youth. Suddenly we’re hearing the voice of the father of the teenager who spent the last book making love to another man. The expectation was to hear from a young voice with something to learn, but we’re met with a seasoned voice who in reality is still learning from life. Don’t get too disappointed; we still get to hear from a young voice. The book is split between three perspectives, Samuel, Elio, AND Oliver.

    Find Me starts ten years after the events of the first novel with Samuel, now divorced, on a train to Rome to visit Elio, who has become a classical pianist. En route, he meets Miranda, a twentysomething woman, and the two connect through their similar experiences of being unable to love their past partners deeply. Samuel can’t hide his attraction to Miranda, an attraction that is not unrequited. The pair throw out their plans and spontaneously decide to spend the day in Rome together, and later to spend a night together in bed. The two seem to be on a euphoric high that actually works out for them in the end. They traipse about the city, throwing around the ideas of getting tattoos and having a baby, never wanting their bodies to be the same, with Miranda saying, “I can’t go back to my life. And I don’t want you to go back to yours, Sami.”

    Flash forward five years. We’re back to Elio’s perspective: he is now living in Paris as a concert pianist. He finds himself falling in love with another older man, Michel, and they spend a few weeks together. But being with Michel brings up memories of Oliver and feelings that never quite went away. He knows he can never love anyone the same, saying, “Some shadows never go away.”

    In another five years the perspective switches to Oliver, who is finishing his tenure at the university job that took him away from Elio. Drunk at his going away party, he looks at all the people there to wish him farewell and feels alone. Then someone starts playing the piano and Oliver’s thoughts fly to Elio, whom he never forgot, as if he is in the music asking Oliver to find him.

    Samuel Perlman’s monologue at the end of CMBYN was one of the most beautifully written conversations and one of the most revered parts of the book’s movie adaptation. And it might be why Samuel opens the show for us in Find Me. Because CMBYN focused almost solely on Elio and Oliver, readers did not get to know the classics professor in depth; we learn more about Samuel in his monologue than in the entire book. Find Me gives us some insight on how he became so wise. In 1983, Samuel said, “We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing as to not feel anything? What a waste!” Samuel lost hope for himself but was trying to give some to his son. In Find Me there is the feeling that Samuel gets to live out his life as if he were talking to himself from decades past.

    The perfect ending to the 1983 love story we wanted was a mirage that we got a glimpse of at the end of the book. After waiting 246 pages until Elio and Oliver are reunited, we are left wanting more. We could be angry, or we could listen to what Aciman writes: “Fate doesn’t respect what we believe is the end . . . Which is why I think all lives are condemned to remain unfinished.” Aciman’s painting-like prose leaves one dazed as if waking from a daydream, and I mean that in the best way possible. There are parts where characters feel distant and parts when their dialogue is so frank that it punches you in the face. Miranda is blunt and expressive because she knows what she wants. Oliver is far away, because he is not the same Oliver that we knew. The novel has no chapters, so the act of reading feels addictive. The best parts of Aciman’s work are the monologue-type speeches that pop up in characters’ conversations. These idealistic patterns of speech that have seemed to die out in the 21st century.

    There are some parts of the story that I’m not sure I can buy into. After the night they meet, Samuel tells Miranda that “my entire life . . . was leading up to you.” My question for him is: How can you discredit your entire life for a girl you met over one weekend? But a quote from earlier in the novel explains the plotline perfectly: “So you could say that we’ve overwritten and lived each other’s memories.” Though it’s an unexpected journey, it is a journey nonetheless and an ideal end that came from a wayward plotline.

    The back cover of the book poses a question to its readers: Does love ever die? Of course it does. Just look at the relationship between Samuel and Elio’s mother, or Samuel’s past lover. But I guess that’s a question only the characters can answer. Samuel found someone new to love, and Elio and Oliver were reunited, so there’s a good chance they’d disagree with me.

    I was not disappointed by Find Me because we, as people, don’t get to decide how someone else lives their life. Not everyone gets the chance to live out a romantic "what if?" This is a story about love, which is sometimes sparked through spontaneity and sometimes reaches through decades to find people once more.

  • About the Author
    Mady Wilson is a second year Literature and Professional Writing double major and Social Justice Studies minor. She hopes to someday work in the editing department of a publishing house working directly with literature, or be an advocate for diverse forms of writing from minority writers. At Miami University she is involved in Alpha Kappa Delta, the International Honor Society of Sociology, and is a Writing Consultant at Howe Writing Center. In her free time she loves to paint, draw, and practice calligraphy.

    From Screen to Sound: The Art of Comic-to-Audio Adaptation

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    Adapting a book into an audiobook is a fairly straightforward process. But what about an audio comic?  ♦ 
    "Thank you for listening to Adventures in Odyssey!” host Chris Anthony says as she ends the latest episode of the audio drama, and then the CD stops. Seven-year-old me takes the disc out and eagerly replaces it with the next in the series. I grew up with audio dramas like this one: I would play in my room for hours listening to stories interwoven with voices, music, and sound. As I got older, I admired the talent that went into making these stories and decided to make some for myself. However, I wanted an extra challenge: converting image into sound. It’s easy enough to make an audio drama from a written script that can be read aloud. Could I also adapt the images in a comic to an audio drama? How would I stay faithful to both the comic’s text and images?

    To begin, I chose a simple, slice-of-life comic I’ve been reading for years: Humor Me by Marvin. Humor Me focuses on a no-nonsense girl trying to get through school while also taking care of her younger brother. Meanwhile, a young model mistakes the girl for an obsessed fanboy and tries to get her kicked out of the school. The comic’s dialogue, story, and visuals seemed simple enough at a glance but gave me a lot to consider as I adapted them for audio.

    The first step was to write a script. I needed to include the characters’ lines, sound effects, and descriptions for places and actions that were drawn but not mentioned in the comic’s text. I knew a narrator would be necessary at times but preferred to “show” action through sound effects. To do this, I reviewed each scene and identified what was important for the listener to know. For example, in one scene, the main character walks from inside of a store to the outside street. I needed to portray movement from indoors to outdoors without overwhelming the listener with different sounds. To signal the setting change, I faded the store sounds out and inserted the sound of a door opening. Because of sound cues like these, a single chapter of this comic turned into roughly 15 pages of script with 11 characters.

    Next, I needed to cast my characters. I recruited my amazing group of friends to help me out with this project. Some were actors, and some were not. As a result, I had to be a good vocal director and accurately explain what performance I wanted from them. This was by far my favorite part of the process: I loved helping people who had no acting experience learn how to use only their voice to act.

    Once I had all my lines, I went through the script and made a list of sound effects I needed to find. For this project in particular, I was lucky enough to find the necessary sounds on royalty-free websites. For past projects, however, I have pulled out my blue Yeti mic and recorded sounds myself. Some examples include walking in my bathtub in heels to imitate a woman walking downstairs and splashing a pot of water into a sink lined with towels to imitate water spilling onto a shirt. Though I didn’t have to create my own sound effects for this project, I still needed to be creative with how I searched for audio tracks. For example, I couldn’t find a sound that imitated a hug, so I settled on an audio track called “body falling on floor.”

    Once I had all of the sounds and music I needed, I started to piece everything together in the editing program, Adobe Audition. The editing process took several hours, and each track had to be laid out as a separate Wav file. This means I was managing between 20 to 30 sound files at the same time. The most time-consuming part of this process was timing the sound effects correctly in relation to the other tracks. If a sound is even half-a-second too early or late, it is very noticeable. This is especially true for dialogue. To make the dialogue sound as natural as possible, I spent a lot of time moving lines back and forth within the editing program until they synced up just right. Another time-consuming task was adding effects to the sound effects. While it may seem redundant, this task is absolutely essential. For the walking and running effects, I changed their pitches and speeds to distinguish the different characters’ walking patterns. I also manipulated the dialogue's frequency to represent when characters were talking on the phone.

    This entire process required a lot of work, but I loved every second of it. Starting off, I was a little worried that my audio choices would not properly represent the comic. As I continued, however, I realized that I understood the heart of the story being told. My choices were unconsciously portraying my view of the comic and its story. If you’d like to try creating your own audio drama, give yourself a lot of time! Audio editing takes more of it than you’d think. It’s a lot of listening, re-editing, and tweaking the tiniest details. However, once it’s done, you will definitely be satisfied.

  • About the Author
    Gina Moravec is a current senior at Miami University with a Professional Writing major, a Media & Culture co-major, and a Theater minor. Gina has been making audio-based projects since she was 16. You can find her current work on the Internal Comms Pro, the Podcast as the Associate Producer as well as The Successfully Funded Podcast as the Executive Producer. When she’s not working on projects, she likes to take walks around her college campus or the woods in her backyard.

    The Phenomenon of Instagram Comics

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    From our screens to our bookshelves, these social media influencers are contributing to a new type of comic with the click of a button.
    A couple months ago, my boyfriend and I were lying in bed scrolling through our Instagrams. Out of the blue, my boyfriend laughs and turns his phone for me to see. He shows me a comic posted by the account @Catanacomics. I remember reading that comic (pictured above on the left), then turning to him with a big smile on my face. I laugh and say “Oh my God, that’s so true!” From then on, we started direct messaging each other comics made by the same artist. Once I discovered these comics, they’ve completely fulfilled my desire to read comic books without me having to actually go to a store and buy any.

    Catana Comics has been on Instagram since 2016 and was created by Catana Chetwynd and her boyfriend, John. The comics are meant for young couples and tell stories about what it’s like to be in a relationship. They take moments from their everyday lives and make it into a cute, relatable comic. Because their comics are so relatable, they have gained millions of followers on Instagram throughout the years. They have 2.9 million as of right now.

    According to the Catana Comics website, they weren’t expecting for the comics to get any fame and attention. “The comics were never intended to be published online, but thanks to John, they were! I was prepared to be embarrassed and torn apart (the internet is a scary place, you know), but to my surprise, the comics took off.” Their website also states that Chetwynd’s boyfriend, John, inspired her to start publishing the comics online.

    Not only are they successful on Instagram, but they also have best-selling books, calendars, and merchandise, all based on their comics. Their merch includes books, calendars, large print outs, and apparel. They sell their products on multiple internet platforms and several products have almost all positive reviews. “My boyfriend and I have been following Catana Comics on Instagram since we first started dating, so we had to have this calendar when it came out! We actually both got them for our anniversary! Great quality. Easy to use. Sturdy. And oh so cute!” said one Amazon customer who purchased the “Little Moments of Love” calendar. Catana Comics sells their stuff on Amazon and on their website, so if you're interested I encourage you to check out their merch.

    But what if couples' comics aren’t your cup of tea?

    There are several other Instagram accounts that have similar comics and several followers. Some of these accounts include @Nathanwpylestrangeplanet, Nathan Pyle, creator of the comics and account, has illustrated several short and simple comics as well. He is the artist for the “Strange Planet” webcomic series, which has over 5 million Instagram followers. These comics feature blue, alien-like creatures, who live a human lifestyle. However, the dialogue they use is rather odd and isn’t how most people talk. For example, the dialogue in the above picture on the right reads, “How does your face malfunction?” It might take readers a bit to understand why the alien speaks like that, but it can quickly be translated to why are you sad.

    So, why are these comics so relatable?

    First of all, they know exactly who they’re reaching out to. If you look up any review of their products or scroll through their comments on Instagram, you will most likely see nothing but adoring fans who are tagging their friends, family, or significant others.

    For Catana Comics, they make comics based off their own experiences as a couple. Each comic tells a different story and they’re all easy to understand. As soon as someone reads them, they immediately get the point. These comics are simple in their writing, illustrating, and meaning, which makes them so loveable.

    Unlike the Catana Comics, the Strange Planet Comics take longer to understand due to the dialogue. However, the reader only has to read a few comics to understand what they’re about. They’re relatable to almost everyone who reads them because they represent everyday human activities. The aliens are modeling human behavior, which makes it hilarious that the humans are replaced with aliens. Although they might take time to understand, these comics are still very popular because they have comedy, loveable characters, and relatability.

    The comic and cartoon industry has changed drastically since social media became popular. Instagram comics have allowed creators to have the freedom to create, edit, and publish content whenever they want. Instagram also helps influencers use and combine elements of distribution. This makes it easier to sell their merch and make a profit. Instagram’s platform has allowed these creators, along with several others, to share their work and make a profit.

  • About the Author
    Katie Byrum is currently a junior Professional Writing major at Miami University. She is from Potomac, Maryland, and loves to read, write, and ride her horse, Jackson. After she graduates, her dream job is to become a writer and editor for a magazine company that specifically deals with horses.

    Thursday, April 23, 2020

    Book Influencers in the Wild

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    Take a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of social media's most bookish content creators.  ♦ 
    For years, celebrity book clubs like Oprah’s Book Club have swayed readers’ interests and writers’ popularity with their recommendations. Since the rise of social media, however, there’s been a surge in virtual discussion about books. Now, many everyday booklovers have become “book influencers” themselves: content creators whose digital presence impacts their followers’ reading habits. These hardworking, ordinary people review everything from graphic novels and audiobooks to new fiction and classics. In addition to their own careers, they manage professional accounts brimming with polished flat lay images, quality videos, thought-provoking posts, and podcast episodes.

    But what goes into crafting this content for readers? What do book influencers’ lives look like behind-the-scenes? As a budding influencer myself, the thought of filming selfie videos, setting up flawless photos, and reading enough to post makes my head spin! Fortunately, I had the pleasure of interviewing several book influencers about their work and how they approach their role online. It’s astonishing to see what they are able to accomplish with their passion for books driving their actions.

    Phoebe Wright and Ashley Chandler run not only the joint podcast Read It or List It but also their own book accounts that differ in style and content. The pair met and connected through #bookstagram, balancing each other out— Ashley being the technical side and Phoebe being the creative. Another influencer, Kat Botell, runs her literary blog, Rustic Pages, on her own. “My life currently consists of taking and editing both photos for Instagram and videos for YouTube. I recently got back on top of blogging,” she shared.

    The Read It or List It podcast duo, Phoebe and Ashley, did not set out to be book influencers. “I had no idea book influencing was a ‘thing’ to be honest. I started my blog and Instagram account as a creative outlet... it was a passion project that then took on a life of its own,” says Phoebe. Kat over at Rustic Pages started hers as a ‘hobby account’ initially, and it grew from there as she tried out blogging.

    The three agree that book influencers must create authentic relationships with their audiences. As they plan, Phoebe and Ashley keep a dedicated planner for their blog and Instagram account. Phoebe says, “I lay out my content for the month and always leave room for a little flexibility in order to maintain an authentic relationship with my audience.” Personally, I prefer to engage with accounts that feel like friends more than a corporate company. When influencers reflect on a book with anecdotes from their own lives, it doesn't feel like they are actively selling me a product. Instead, their honesty and personal connection to the work’s themes builds my trust in them and the book they are posting about.

    With all of this preparation and creating content about books, when do these influencers have time to read what they are writing about? Ashley emphasizes, “I can’t talk about books if I don’t read them! But posting and engaging is a lot of work, which I did not realize until I saw the difference in my growth when I let my audience into my life a bit more.” Kat is a night reader and consumes page after page before going to bed. She states, “I also LOVE read-a-thons and co-host one every first Friday of the month on my Instagram.” Read-a-thons engage followers in a set period of time (usually 24 hours or a week) of dedicated reading compared to normal. Kat admits that engaging with over 32,000 followers on Instagram is time-consuming but finds the work incredibly rewarding. Keeping up with comments is valuable and builds a relationship of trust between herself and her followers.

    While the rewards of providing such content are encouraging, there can also be times of challenge. Reading provides most of the content but balancing it with keeping the accounts active can become burdensome. Additionally, seeing little return on time invested can be upsetting. “Balance and creative burnout are definitely the challenges. It’s also really hard not to play the comparison game. I struggle with it more than I’d like to admit, but I put so much work into what I do that it can make me feel inadequate some days,” says Ashley. Remembering why you started is always a good rule of thumb. Kat agreed, saying, “And as with any other niche, to not compare yourself to others. Everyone grows at their own pace!”

    Regardless of the amount of time and energy it requires, influencing readers has its rewards. Phoebe from Read It or List It says her interactions with authors and followers fill her with joy. She adds, “… it’s just really, really cool that people trust my opinion. It’s very rewarding to discuss books with my audience who loved a story as much as I did but only picked it up because I recommended it!” Kat has also become friends with many people through her channels. The community that is built through these platforms allows readers and followers to feel a part of something larger.

    As a book becomes popular across these social media platforms, how do we know that book influencers are assisting with its success? Some blogs and websites have affiliate links that let publishers know how a buyer gets to their site. Kat frequently gets messages from followers that they have purchased the books she has posted about. If she is encouraging others to read more, Phoebe argues, then her opinion and voice are valuable.

    Almost anyone can become a book influencer. Keeping the book community engaged as a creator or participant grows the love of reading and supports talented authors. Book influencers also learn strategic marketing skills that can be encouraged by publishers or sought after by book enthusiasts on their own. With new books being published every Tuesday and tons of backlists and classics to be reviewed with fresh perspectives, there is plenty of bookish content to share. So, the next time you see a bookworm staging a bookish photo or filming a tour of their favorite bookstore or library, give them a shout-out. They’re selflessly spreading and maintaining the love of books.

  • About the Author
    Courtney Wallace is a marketing and communications professional in higher education. With degrees in Art History and Interactive Media Studies, she has implemented creative solutions to media, communications, and websites along with managing her own book blog. She resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, and enjoys literary travel, running, and playing volleyball.

    The Murderinos Are Afoot

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    Staying sexy and not getting murdered have never been easier, nor more fun.  ♦ 
    There's nothing quite as thrilling as falling in love with a book within a genre you've never explored before. The realization that suddenly there is an entire plethora of new books to read is a truly empowering feeling, as many have recently discovered for themselves through the popularization of true crime. Titles such as Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in The Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer and The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America's First Serial Killer by Skip Hollandsworth have even found success that transcends the traditional expectations of the genre—highlighted as New York Times Bestsellers, praised by critics, devoured by readers. So, what caused this sudden interest in true crime?

    I would argue that the current success of true crime literature was influenced by an unlikely source: the hugely addictive and intriguing realm of podcasts.

    Growing in popularity because of its personality-driven content, relatability, and flexibility, podcasts feature devotees fervently discussing their favorite topics, ranging from politics to Dungeon & Dragons, and with the sheer number and variety of shows in existence, it's no surprise that there's a large number in the true crime genre. While some are dedicated to covering a single narrative, such as NPR’s wildly successful first season of Serial, others are more episodic and take on multiple cases, such as the podcasts Jensen & Holes: The Murder Squad, Crime Junkie, and My Favorite Murder. These podcasts opened the door to discussing true crime as a useful tool for analyzing human behavior, informing audiences about red flags, encouraging people to stand up for both themselves and others, and providing a community to explore similar interests. One podcast in particular truly helped with destroying the stigmas and barriers around true crime as a salacious genre of interest only to budding investigators or incipient serial killers, bringing true crime fully into the mainstream, and that podcast is My Favorite Murder.

    My Favorite Murder began in 2016 with two hosts, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, who bonded over their love of true crime. Sharing a level of vulnerability with their audience, the pair discuss personal stories and listener testimonials, encouraging an open dialogue between themselves and their fans. As their podcast continued to grow, they created resources such as Facebook groups to connect listeners who dubbed themselves “Murderinos.” Whether discussing hometown murders, invented self-insert stories, or tips on finding red flags, My Favorite Murder connected people from different backgrounds around a common interest, growing a community that was confident in the idea that it is entirely reasonable to love true crime and helping Murderinos not only befriend each other but like-minded individuals outside of the fandom.

    As the community grew, there was a significant amount of fans who connected around their deep love of literature, and these bibliophiles began to form book clubs surrounding the genres of mystery and true crime. Discussing in online forums and libraries, these book clubs read novels and nonfiction highlighted on My Favorite Murder episodes such as If You Really Loved Me by Ann Rule and No Stone Unturned by Steve Jackson. I personally lead one of these book clubs on Chase the Darkness With Me: How One True Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen. The book was a whirlwind for many of us as we tried to uncover the Golden State Killer and the Bear Brook Murderer, and the experience brought me closer to both the fandom and the genre, creating some new friendships with others who shared my passions and interest.

    In my opinion, podcasts like My Favorite Murder have helped legitimize the genre, making true crime less about horror and focusing much more on awareness. As an aspiring author, I often used writing as an excuse for my knowledge of and interest in true crime, rationalizing any internalized anxiety I might have felt toward the genre as a "necessary evil" for research purposes. However, listening to My Favorite Murder allowed me to recognize my interest as a beneficial passion that I can share with others. I feel as though I am not alone anymore as I agree with Karen and Georgia’s comments, laugh with them over their silly ideas, and make friends in the community.

    I, along with many others, am truly proud to be a Murderino.

  • About the Author
    Jessica Rosepen was born and raised in Ohio. She is currently a senior at Miami University, where she studies American Studies. After graduation, she will continue on to University of Kentucky to attend their Library & Information Science master’s program. In her free time, Jessica enjoys reading, writing fiction, and exploring history’s forgotten and abandoned places.