Letters to the editor

I rarely let political differences get in the way of a good read. And there are few essay writers I enjoy reading more than William F. Buckley (and Joseph Epstein—but that’s another story).

Buckley’s come out with a new book, Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription, a collection of letters to the editor of National Review, which ran in the magazine’s “Notes and Asides” section along with the response from the editor — Buckley. The book includes a back-and-forth between Hugh Kenner and Buckley that Wall Street Journal reviewer Andrew Ferguson (who sides with Kenner) calls “a miniature tutorial in rhetoric and style from one of the century’s most rigorous critics directed at one of its most accomplished journalists.”

Ferguson’s review, in today’s WSJ, is a good read as well. I liked his comment that contemporary editors have a Platonic ideal of the contributing writer: “the writer who hands in his article and is then run over by a bus before he can complain about the editing.” He’s close, but I think to meet the Platonic ideal the writer would have to have handed in the article on time before being flattened.

Webloggers toast Anita Rowland

The December Seattle Weblogger Meetup opened with a toast to the memory of Anita Rowland, who started the group five years ago. Anita, a pioneer of online journaling and blogging, was also a talented facilitator of social networking. Friendships, business relationships, and even a marriage (Ryan Anderson & Tara Anderson) have their roots in the meetup.

The gathering at Ralph’s Wednesday night was a mix of regulars, newcomers, and out-of-town visitors, including John Chow, the Vancouver, BC, blogger who runs a blog on how to make money blogging — and walks his talk by using the blog as an ongoing experiment in doing just that. How successful is he? You’ll find John consistently ranked in the top 50 on Technorati. John’s wife, Sally Chow, does a more traditional personal blog.

Also at the meetup were three Seattle news bloggers, Clark Humphrey of MISCmedia, Monica Guzman of The Big Blog, and Dylan who often blogs for Seattle Metblogs. Look for these folks to be back at the meetup in early 2008 for a panel on the relationship between blogging and traditional news reporting.

Which reminds me — Jack William Bell has agreed to kick off the Jan. 16 meeting with a short presentation on adding RSS feeds to blogs.

More familiar faces: Andrew Ferguson (who blogs at Andrew Ferguson dot NET and contributes to the blog StudentTabletPC) and The Zorg. Promising to blog more in the new year: Jeannie of jeanniecool.blogspot.com; Jerry Kindall of jerrykindall.com; and Bill.

Best Books of 2007: Crime Fiction

If your year has been lacking in mystery and mayhem thus far, January Magazine is giving you a chance to catch up: They’ve just published the first half of their annual “Best Books of 2007: Crime Fiction” list. It includes my review of the latest book in Reginald Hill’s Pascoe and Dalziel series, Death Comes for the Fat Man.

Meme different

I love to do memes on my personal blog, but am less likely to do them here on Writer Way unless they are writing related. I’ve been tagged by Terry from Cofffee Writer and have decided to tweak my answers to the meme just a bit so that they all refer to writing.

Here are the original rules (memes have rules): 
“Link to the person who tagged you, post the rules and five facts [about yourself]  (some random, some weird) on your blog. Tag five people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs.”
Hmmm. Looks like I’m gonna be tweaking those rules, too. Because I am not going to post the names and links of the five people I tag. But I am going to tag five people. If any of them want to be linked to from Writer Way, they’ll have to contact me and give me permission to point to their blogs.
So, here are my facts:
1. One of the first short stories I wrote as a child was about a Hanukkah bush and a Christmas tree.
2. In junior high, my friend Emma and I were called on the carpet by the vice principal for creating a “slam book” with short poems skewering each of our classmates. I can still remember most of the poems, verbatim.
3. The most money I’ve ever gotten for a non-fiction piece was a $6,000 scholarship for a story about my mother taking care of her elderly parents.
4. I wrote Johnny Cash’s obituary for the front page of the iTunes Music Store.
5. After reading a New Yorker article about novelist Alice Walker, I dream of someday having an office with a big wooden kitchen table in the middle of the room to work on.

Anita Rowland, one of the early bloggers

Anita Rowland, one of the founding mothers of the contemporary blogging culture, died today at Swedish Hospital after several years of battling ovarian cancer. She was 51.

Anita’s Book of Days, the blog she kept from 1997 through 2006, says everything about Anita. Her mischievous, subtle, and even-tempered personality shines through in every entry.

Anita and I lived somewhat parallel lives (grew up in Northern Virginia, moved to Seattle, became writers in the tech industry, loved genre fiction, enjoyed swing dancing, and married relatively late in life — to geeky guys who read genre fiction). Our paths eventually crossed through the Seattle Webloggers Meetup that Anita led and I attended. She gently urged me to do more of the genre fiction writing I love, and saw to it that I was introduced to other supportive people in the field (through events like Potlatch).

Anita was a joy. I miss her.

Words count: Changing a name

One of the most common—and difficult—tasks I undertake for online clients is helping them name or rename products and services. In many cases, this involves modifying an existing name for online use.

An example of this would be a crafts product called Urble Soapz. This is a name that looks cute on a tag in a retail shop or crafts show but is certain death online, where people are searching for “herbal soaps.” Or a service that a company’s internal team has always called “multiple viewpoint advocacy” but anyone coming to their website would think of as “group work” or “collaboration.”

I have been involved in one or two situations in which not just a product or service, but the entire company name, needed to be changed to become more web-friendly or user-friendly. In most cases, this meant that the name got longer, vaguer, and indisputably worse.

Guy Kawasaki’s blog called my attention to a well-written report on company name changes done by Strategic Name Development. If you are in the middle of naming or renaming a business entity, I strongly recommend studying the before-and-after comparisons. This is a real “read it and weep” document.