A Bug’s Life on Twitter – Interview with Twitter Novelist Nick Belardes

(also posted to Social Media World)

bugotopia1.jpgI recently had the opportunity to interview Nick Belardes about his Twitter novel, “Small Places“, which is about breaking life into small pieces. I’ve been following the story for a couple weeks now and thought I’d ask Nick some questions about this new way of story-telling.

Tabz: Tell us about the premise of Small Places…

Nick: It’s a very compartmentalized love story tailor-made for twitter.com. People, jobs, lives, thoughts, all tucked away at times in the compartments of lives we lead. “Small Places” takes that idea to an extreme by imagining everyday problems in micro-form, in bug-like terms, in tiny thoughts, bits and pieces. A life is revealed piecemeal, slowly, as if your friend is text messaging you a story about himself and taking a month
or so to do it.

Tabz: Tell me about yourself…

Nick: I’m a journalist, blogger, videographer and novelist, though on my twitter novel profile for “Small Places” I refer to myself as ABC TV newsroom twitterer, editor, novelist, lunko…

I’m Managing Editor for ABC (KERO) in Bakersfield, Calif., where I write several media blogs, including Nick 2.0. That was actually the idea of Brenda Knight, vice president of Palace Press. “You have to re-invent yourself,” she said. So I did and now when I appear on TV, the Nick 2.0 catch is often used.

I write other blogs including Noveltown’s Paperback Writer. That’s really the blog that got me attention as I was once a gadfly to local media. But then I started working for the media. Go figure, I went from blogger to journalist in a matter of weeks. In a way it’s a dream come true. Now my journalism often appears on CNN.com and other broadcast news sites across America.

I’ve worked as a history professor, a creative writer for a Las Vegas animation company, a marketing creative director. You name it, I’ve probably done it.

With all that I’ve done, literary writing continues to be my passion.

Tabz: When did you first get the writing bug (pun intended)?

Nick: Writing is a buggy thing, isn’t it? It’s like an annoying flea at times that bites you. You have to do something about it. You have to deal with the bug or you go insane with scratching. I got the writing bug in the early 1990s. Around 1998 I finished my first novel, a great exercise that showed myself I am capable of lengthy manuscripts, though it still collects dust on a shelf. Before that I wrote a lot of short stories and small-time magazine articles. There was no Internet then. I imagine if there were, my writing career would have flourished sooner as social networking, blogging and digital media are my strengths.

In 2005, Noveltown released my novel, “Lords,” which describes the infamous Lords of Bakersfield. I’m working on a non-fiction documentary on the topic.

Tabz: Where did you get the idea to do a twitter novel?

Nick: The idea to do a twitter novel came out of the simple act of joining twitter. I joined twitter to have some fun with providing news junkies a window to a broadcast television newsroom (twitter.com/nlbelardes). I was already aware of Japanese text-message novels and so did some research right away and found hardly any literary-themed twitter profiles. Upon further research I found hardly any actual twitter novels. I’ve really only seen sci-fi and erotic fiction twitter books. I have seen flash fiction novels — not really novels in my opinion. I think a novel has to have a certain word count or cannot be a novel. I’ve seen some twitter group projects, but nothing like “Small Places.” It had to be done. I wanted to experiment. But I didn’t necessarily want to be quiet while doing so.

Tabz: Do you feel more creative – or hindered with the Twitter 140 character limit?

Nick: Twitter is a big place made up of many small 140-character micro-blogging places. A twitter novel consists of many small mostly stand-alone parts. It’s compartmentalized and yet together by its very nature.

“Small Places” is a complete reformation of what was a half-built lump of manuscript. Even with parameters, there’s a lot of creative freedom. At the same time, I am taking a portion of an existing manuscript and reforming that along with new buggy themes and characters into a micro-blog form. It’s not a hindrance, but a fun challenge in being concise and clear. I’m stripping away the flower petals of my usual prosody.

Really, every entry is rewritten and molded for Twitter. If I were editing a novel I wouldn’t edit every line. So it’s a very creative fun sculpture with parameters. And I should add I’m refraining from using short-form text messaging techniques (i.e. L8R equals later, or UR for you’re or your).

The merging part takes all that I have: incomplete novel plus new ideas and reforms them into a twittery
piece of literature that at its very root, I hope people enjoy as it’s revealed.

Tabz: What kind of feedback have you gotten?

Nick: I get a lot of feedback from people who get “Small Places” twitter updates via their cell phones. Someone could be walking a dog in Washington, D.C., taking photos of a flood in Canada, or on a bus in L.A. and get an update that strikes them. They in turn can send instant feedback.

Maddie Grant, author of “Diary of a Reluctant Blogger,” which investigates emerging social media tools in the Web 2.0 and 3.0 culture calls “Small Places “…another lovely thing.”

A twitterer wrote, “Reading a twitter novel is like getting a luscious petit four while wanting a great big-ol slice, but despite the diet, I like.”

Darryl Ohrt writes in his “Brand Flakes for Breakfast Blog” about new ideas and design branding said, “This is an interesting writing technique — because once it’s posted, it’s published. He can’t go back and edit. That’s got to be a real challenge for the author of a novel. This is a fun, and really cool idea.”

Another twitterer wrote, “The whole concept of a Twitter novel is great — mostly because the separate bits are much like postcard stories/snapshot.”

Tabz: What’s your goals with doing a Twitter novel?

Nick: To continue to push digital media potential, to connect/link to new people and other emerging social media experts. You never know, I might get a sponsor before I’m done. I’m definitely positioning this project to build up for success rather than simply an experiment to see if it can be done. After the first five “Small Places” twitters I knew it could be done.

The rest is commitment to a project and to readers who expect me to be as committed as they are as readers.

Tabz: Have you thought about (or done) other new media ways of sharing your writing?

My personal web page at www.nlbelardes.com is a hub to social networking outlets like Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, blogs and more. Some links on the page I use more than others, yet it’s a new way to link in to the social networking craze. It’s how I share something like an ABC documentary and “Small Places” all in one easy-to-use space.

I already share my writing in various ways through blogs, YouTube, MySpace and more…

I have been considering an entire LED throwie campaign to promote my next big project, which is sort of a
clean graffiti methodology…

Tabz: What advice do you have people who might think about starting Twitter novels (things you wish someone would have told you when you started)?

Nick: This was my thought from the beginning: Don’t write a novel using Twitter, but mold a novel, transform a novel using Twitter. In my opinion, Twitter isn’t a scratch pad. Any good writer should have a plan, and so should either use a completed manuscript, or a portion, as is my case. The line-by-line rebuilding of the manuscript should be challenge enough. There should be lots of note-taking, forethought, and not just random phrases thrown at readers.

Know what you’re building.

I do wish I had a larger audience from the beginning, but that’s the problem with starting from scratch. No Twitter list is just going to appear out of the blue unless you’re Guy Kawasaki. So that’s the only frustrating part, not having an audience in the thousands already reading “Small Places,” though I’m working on it, and building for the possibility of another Twitter-form novel.

Tabz: What advice do you have for writers in general?

Nick: Don’t settle for mediocrity when you can reach your full potential. Don’t make excuses for not writing– everyone is busy, has a family, has a life. Writing takes sacrificing time.

Strive for your writing goals even in the face of rejection.

Understand why you might get rejected. Is it because of your writing, or because you don’t have a large enough writing platform. You can build your writing platform through social networking, and especially, networking with other writers. Support them, especially those who are freshly published. Wouldn’t you want them to do the same for you?

Tabz: What are some blogs, twitter accounts or new media sites you follow?

Nick: I follow the L.A. blog site www.thenervousbreakdown.com, run by L.A. Times Best Selling Author Brad Listi. I am honored to be among its emerging writers and am always entertained by the bloggers there, which really, are from around the world.

I’m always scouring blog sites and interesting media folk via Twitter.com. With each message is usually some kind of interesting emerging media blog worthy of perusing. I also enjoy the blog community from Bakersfield, Calif., Bakotopia.com, which has won an Edgie award or two.

Some of the most interesting literary voices I’ve met have been through MySpace (www.myspace.com/nlbelardes, www.myspace.com/kerotv23). I’ve even got several outstanding news tips that have made CNN.com and the local news via the site.

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