Tag Archive | blogs

Julie & Julie & Julia Part II

Julie Powell

Julie Powell

I’ve spent the past couple of hours researching Julie Powell and her 365-day Julie/Julia Project, which led to a book deal and then a movie. I’ve learned a lot, but I still haven’t figured out how she built such an enormous following for her blog. I did find her actual blog, though – two of them, in fact – and although I may be jealous of her writing abilities, I’m underwhelmed by the look and layout of the blogs, which are elementary in the extreme. Members of Dani’s Blog Book Tour classes would have had lots of improvements to suggest. As Julie admitted when she began her second blog in 2005 before her book came out, “I still haven’t figured out all this blog crap yet. Picture, blogroll, etc.” Even so, some of her posts generated over 400 comments. Go figure.

Writing has been important to her since childhood, and she graduated from Amherst in 1995 with a double major in theater and creative writing. In her 20’s, she found herself mired in a series of dead-end secretarial jobs. In a post in December, 2003, she describes the way blogging changed her life: 

This thing was always meant to last a year and no more.  I knew that.  What I didn’t know, when I started, was how much I would come to rely upon the feedback and encouragement and just plain daily greatness of all of you who’ve so inexplicably agreed to go through this thing with me.  I am sure that keeping the blog limping along past its useful life is no good to anyone involved, and the last thing I want to do is jump the shark; I know it’s time to go.  But that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily happy about it.

. . . I started this project in inky isolation, to pull myself out of a tailspin of secretarial ennui.  How was I to know that you were all out there?  I am in a place that a year ago I could not have imagined. Because of all of you, because you kept coming back, my life has changed.  I credit Julia Child’s spirit and example with the inspiration to start this crazy thing, but for finishing it, I can only credit all of you.  And it’s great.  But it also means I’ve come to a place where I’ve got to let go of this, and of you, to some extent, for a little while.

By this time, she had a book contract, and she put blogging aside for the duration, but she was back in 2005 with the new blog, titled “What could happen? A baleful influence on American English as a Whole.” Evidently writing in isolation wasn’t enough; as she describes in a recent interview:

I’m not one of those people who can just be like: La di da, I’m going to get my two thousand words a day. I will avoid writing like the plague. And I find the process completely exhausting. When I was finishing my book that’s coming out in December, for the last two weeks I was a nervous wreck. I was shaking. I broke out in hives. I’d been thinking about stopping drinking, but I was like, I can not do that until I’ve gotten through this book. I’ve gotta just hang on with the tools I’ve got. But the pleasure of going back and reading something that I’ve written–that I finally feel that I’ve expressed what I meant to express in a way that is evocative and provocative, and true to my experience–is so intense. It’s an addiction, really. It’s something I have reveled in since I was a small child. It’s difficult to get there, and you torture yourself getting there, but the high of getting there is one of the more profound experiences in my life. So you’re always going after it again. Even though it’s exhausting.

Julia Child photo by Paul ChildIt’s fascinating to compare her writing in the blog entries and the book, for example in the passages describing her reaction to Julia Child’s death. The blog post, more casual and conversational, reads like a first draft for the more finely honed prose of the book. And in the blog post, she talks about learning of Julia’s death through multiple e-mails, whereas in the book, she describes first hearing the news in a phone call from her mother. But that’s literary license, and as a memoirist, she’s entitled.

In the end what I found most inspiring, perhaps even more than her fast-track success,  was the way she found her personal writing voice through the interactive world of blogging. My voice has been evolving over quite a few years now, but I feel blogging is helping me take it to a whole new level.

How about you? Has blogging had an impact on your writing voice? Or on the way you tackle other writing projects?

Julie & Julie & Julia

CocktailParty Anon painting Wash PostI just finished reading Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia, which I confess I’d been unaware of until the movie came out. The book and the movie both left my main question unanswered: how on earth did Julie Powell lure all those visitors to her blog? I wish I knew her secret. Reading her book, though, I can detect some of the key ingredients. I’m tempted to use the obvious metaphor of analyzing the ingredients in a delicious recipe, but in my case, that’s a phony parallel, because my sense of taste isn’t all that great when it comes to food.

Julie Powell’s primary ingredient is good writing. Just a couple of pages into the book, she had me hooked. I hadn’t expected such a high-caliber, thoroughly entertaining prose style. I’ll admit to being a tad jealous and upset, just as I am when I discover a truly excellent mystery writer, the kind that makes me think, “Damn it, I’ll never be able to write that well.” Actually, my thoughts are nastier than that, but unlike the other Julie, I tend to limit my use of four-letter words, at least in prose. (Orally, it’s another matter – I was once practically kicked out of my Nia class at the Y for using the F word. Remind me to post my poem about the experience.)

Then there’s the freedom with which she spills her innermost thoughts and feelings on the page. Early on, we learn about her gynecological problems: “I found out I had polycystic ovarian syndrome, which sounds absolutely terrifying, but apparently just meant that I was going to get hairy and fat and I’d have to take all kinds of drugs to conceive.” She talks about her sex life, or more accurately, her lack of same due to her cooking obsession. In the book as in the movie, her husband Eric comes across as an absolute saint. I love her penchant for self-disclosure, and as you’ve probably realized if you’ve been following my blog, I write fairly openly about many aspects of my life, but unlike her, I believe there’s such a thing as too much information.

Julie Powell developed a loyal readership (her “bleaders,” she called them – short for blog readers), and whenever she missed more than a couple of days of posting, their comments reflected their alarm about her state of mind and their fear that she might give up and leave them in the lurch. Gradually she developed a sense of obligation to them, which no doubt helped sustain her momentum in cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a single year.

Another primary ingredient, of course, is the subject of food itself. No doubt this is what attracted her initial followers, but it wouldn’t have grabbed me. Yes, I own a few cookbooks, but the last time we moved, in 2001, I packed away most of them in a carton I’ve yet to unearth from among the many boxes of books moldering in my basement. Mostly I improvise. So does my husband, who fortunately shares the cooking duties fairly evenly. Lately, for the sake of longevity and all that good stuff, he’s trying to turn us into vegans. I find I scarcely miss meat, but as a native of Wisconsin, I could never give up cheese.

It’s five o’clock, and this post is making me ravenous. Besides, I need to take off for Woodstock, where I’ll be on grandmothering duty tonight and tomorrow. Hope I can pull together something to feed the kids! I have lots more to say about Julie & Julia, and how it relates to blogging in general and my own blogging ambitions in particular, but it will have to wait for my Wednesday post. I hope you’ll stop back then!

What’s it all about, blogging?

Order from Amazon or www.virtualbookworm.com

Order from Amazon or http://www.virtualbookworm.com

I began blogging with the goal of selling my mystery novels, but reviewing my posts over the past 40 days, it seems I’ve been writing about everything but my books. And I may well continue the same way, posting about whatever strikes my fancy. Nonetheless, in an effort to focus more attention on my books, today I’m featuring the cover for my first mystery, Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders. I not only wrote the book; I did the cover illustration. More about that below, in what’s becoming my customary purple addendum.

For me, blogging is becoming an all-consuming creative challenge. I love the multidimensional possibilities of reaching an audience through varied media, both verbal and visual. And I love the immediate feedback – getting and responding to comments, studying the jazzy graph that charts my hits per day, watching my numbers climb. 

But this isn’t just about me. What do you look for when you click on someone’s site? What makes you keep coming back? Is it the quality of the writing, the usefulness of the links, the relevance to your own genre? Probably all of these and more. In terms of the Blog Book Tour folks, what draws me most is the sense of an individual personality coming through, especially if it’s someone I’d like to know better. Yes, I like the links to agents or pertinent articles, but often, if I don’t have time to check them out immediately, I tend to forget about them. Sometimes I make notes on posts I’d like to revisit, but then the notes get buried on my desk and I never get around to it.

What draws me back to certain blogs is the sense of a compelling personal voice. Please let me know: what draws you back? I’ll summarize the results (including your links, of course) in a future blog.

My illustration for Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders dates from 2006, the same year I published the book. It’s a pastel, measuring about 18″ x 27,” and it depicts Erika Norgren clinging to her beloved shepherd-mix dog Rishi as she discovers the body of a gifted young artist on the front steps of WellSpring, the East Village social club for adults with mental illness. Erika is the club’s director, and like many of the consumers who frequent the club, she is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

I was a painter long before I began to write mysteries. I received my MFA from Columbia University and exhibited at the Woodstock Festival of Music and Art in 1969. But that’s a story for another day.