A week ago, I was in my local bookstore on a Saturday with my wife and son and I was hoping to catch the person who I think is the owner. I’d e-mailed him earlier in the week, announcing the upcoming release of my novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, and I asked if carrying my book is something he’d been interested in doing. I explained that I reside locally, that I teach in the middle school down the block and that my book is set in New Jersey. He replied with interest in carrying my book and that, perhaps, we could arrange a reading.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t there but, being a lover of books, we browsed and checked out what was new. My son sat in the children’s section and flicked through some picture books. My wife checked out the new YA books, which she’s completely into after reading the Twilight series twice and devouring The Hunger Games series in a matter of days. I checked out the fiction sections.
As I perused the shelves and displays, I noticed a poster advertising that Naomi Benaron was going to do a reading from her new book, Running The Rift, this coming Saturday. I picked up the book, about a Rwandan boy who takes up running during the height of ethnic tensions in the 1990s and how his running helps him come to terms with his own identity. I’m also a runner so I was instantly interested in Naomi’s book. My own novel deals with identity issues so I was drawn to Running The Rift for that reason as well. In 1996, I wrote a science fiction screenplay, that got some agent interest, called Aliens Among Us, Part I: Discovery. The central theme of the script is racial tolerance and ethnic cleansing. With that as its theme and having written it in the 1990s, Naomi’s novel really seemed to be calling to me on a very personal level.
My wife bought me the book and I began it immediately. It’s a wonderfully written book with exciting running segments, a main character I wish I could meet in real life and revelations of what was going on in Rwanda during the 1990s. I’m still speeding through it but I was extra motivated to finish it in time for the reading. I also found Naomi on Facebook and sent her a message letting her know that I’m enjoying her book and that I was looking forward to the reading. She replied and, unfortunately, she’s had to cancel the reading due to illness. There is another reading on Monday, February 13, in Brooklyn but I don’t think I’ll be able to get there.
We exchanged a couple of messages. She told me to introduce myself if I am able to attend and she also wished me luck with my novel and my running. About my novel, she also asked for its title so that she could pick it up. That just made my day and, in a way, my entire writing career so far. I've had Twitter chats, albeit brief ones, with Lisa See and Marie Lu and Cindy Pon, all established writers. I also know Matt de la Peña, who I regard as a writing mentor, and he endorsed my novel. As a writer, part of me feels that I should take her request in stride but Naomi’s an award winning author and her book’s gotten all sorts of praise so, for someone of that stature to ask for the title of my book so she can go pick it up, I can’t help from feeling excited. It’s like Kobe Bryant asking someone who plays pick-up basketball on the weekends to play with him and share a thing or two about the game. It’s the equivalent of Chuck Norris asking me to go to his school and teach his martial arts classes.
I guess, what I’m saying is that there is definite value in connecting through social media. Most of you reading this already know that, owning your own Twitter and Facebook accounts in addition to websites dedicated to your novels and such. I’ve never met Naomi Benaron and I can’t profess to being able to call her a friend but we are fellow writers doing something we both love while trying to earn a living - or part of a living - doing it. I feel that through the simple and personal message I sent her, as a new fan of her work, I’ve also managed to make a professional connection of some kind.
So, for those of you who are unsure about getting into Twitter and Facebook and whatever else is out there, don’t be. Yes, idiots and hackers can send you all sorts of stupid - usually pornography - links and they can get into your accounts. Just be vigilant about changing your password and login settings and don’t put anything up that you don’t want anyone to see. Really, if a hacker wants to get in they will. They’re merely the dark side to the light of those people who write the security programs to block them. Most people I know - myself included - have been victims or know someone who’s been a victim but, in the end, things are restored and fixed.
The benefits, though, are worth it. I’ve made a professional contact with a well-regarded author through Facebook. On Twitter, I’m now a part of a large community of writers, indie and traditionally published, who support each other’s endeavours. With my novel about to come out, that’s particularly important. Beyond that, I get some love and validation and support for what I’m trying to do and for those times when it becomes overwhelming to do it. You’ve got nothing to lose. Give it a shot and if you don’t like it, just like at the party whose lights have flicked ‘last call’ and the kegs are drying up, you can always leave.
For me, I’m sticking around for a while. And, who knows? Some of my online friends and connections may even become real ones.