Behind the Scenes at Fiction Mingle

Today I announced on Fiction Mingle that I will no longer be posting mingles featuring Photo + 100 Words + Audio. The Fiction Mingle community is a project I started in April 2010 and have had a ton of fun with, not to mention how much I’ve learned, the amazing creative people I’ve met, and the opportunities it has afforded me. It’s been a great run and what follows is the trajectory of how it all began, the bumps and thrills along the way, and the resolution to step away for the time being.

It Started With “The Goal”
Roller Smurfin - Fiction MinglePost fiction once a week for a year (April 2010 – April 2011). Just to push myself to create. Just to get used to sharing my writing publicly. Just because. I used a picture prompt and quickly jotted, and immediately posted, a piece called “Roller Smurfin’.”

The One Minute Mingle
Understanding how busy the online world is, I wanted the pieces served up in easily digestible bites. Since the idea was to write all the posts myself, I thought, hey, I can handle 100 words a week. Also, the parameters made it clear to visitors what to expect each time they clicked on a link from Facebook or Twitter: Image + 100 Words + Audio. Each mingle only takes about one minute to experience, which, to be honest, was all the time I felt comfortable asking for from my readers.

Help, Please.
After 4 posts (1 month), I panicked. You see, I was used to hoarding my fiction. I’d write, rewrite, simmer, edit, ponder, tweak… and only share with a few trusted readers. Now, I was writing these quick, random, unrefined pieces and posting them FOR THE WHOLE WORLD to read and have reactions to when I hadn’t even taken the time to be sure about word choice and punctuation… (breathe, breathe…) It was a passing crisis of ego and resolved itself with a swift attitude change and a call for help. I posted a plea for submissions on Facebook and the Angels of Mercy sent me Chloe.

Sleeping - Fiction MingleI’ve loved Chloe’s work since first reading it in a poetry workshop we took together. Her pieces are tender bruises you can’t help but touch again and again (ex: Reuniao). I was thrilled she was writing for Fiction Mingle and doubly bowled over by the resulting post (Sleeping) and the fact that she was willing to help out with future posts. For the next 14 months, Chloe & I were the Fiction Mingle team, alternating posts, reaching out to pools of writers, artist, & musicians to solicit submissions, and writing pieces ourselves. We’d meet in cafes to work out schedules and generate ideas… it was all so wonderfully writerly! The best of times. Chloe made Fiction Mingle a truly collaborative space, and if she hadn’t stepped in when she did, no way would FM have hit the goal of lasting a year (+)!

What do you mean there’s a big white space where the audio player should be?
Considering I was still a novice to blogging, there were a few technical issues, especially with Audio.  Exactly how do you take an original mp3 audio piece and post it online? The LiveJournal site hosting Fiction Mingle limits what sources it allows to play media to protect against spam, so I couldn’t upload the files to ftp and generate my own audio player. I had to find a site like Badongo that was on the LJ trusted list, upload the music there, then embed its player in the post. I won’t get more into it, but basically, every service I’ve tried for storing & sharing original audio has stunk. Glitches, fugly players, and sudden expirations have plagued the audio portion of Fiction Mingle since the very beginning. Knowing what I know now, the only real solution is to move Fiction Mingle to its own website, something so involved I just don’t have the time or resources to tackle it alone. Not right now, anyway.

A few things were challenging.
1. Analytics – Lack thereof. The analytic resources for LiveJournal communities are basic. While I could keep track of the number of visitors per day, I had no way of knowing which posts visitors like most, where they came from, or what was working/not working on the site. It was a bit like navigating blindly through crowds of concert viewers.
2. Deadlines – Let’s just say, not all contributors, bless them, were punctual or polite, and many a last minute mingles were patched together in the nick of time. They were all worth the wait, but boy did I learn what a tough job editors have when it comes to negotiating courtesies and rendering a polished product.
3. Money – What money? After considering options for funding prizes, outreach efforts, and technical help for FM (add a donate button? monetize the blog with ads? put together an e-book?) it didn’t feel in the spirit of things to go that route. Not everything of value has to come with a price tag.

Glory/Gory Days
Halloween Book Drawing-Fiction MingleThe height of statistical popularity for Fiction Mingle was October 2010, when Chloe and I featured the Halloween mingles of published authors and held a drawing for signed books sent to readers who commented. It was our one and only contest-style publicity stunt that generated new readers, encouraged people to comment, and brought over 500 visitors to the site. Plus it was a helluva lot of fun! (Posts: The Replacement, Meat Cindy, Small Favors, The Doll Maker, Halfway There)

Winding Down
It may seem like a simple thing to post a piece that only takes one minute to experience each Friday, but the seeking, organizing, collaborating, and technical aspects of posting often took several hours each week. While the finished product was always gratifying, after several months at a high-revving pace, we decided to downshift and post once a month instead of weekly (in synch with First Friday Gallery Nights across the US). The one year mark was met and Fiction Mingle has been coasting for an additional 7 months. Until now.

The Payoff
Running Fiction Mingle has been a truly gratifying experience. A few of the perks:

  • Collaborating with artists, musicians and writers. My favorite people on earth. Having a great reason to engage in conversation online & in person with some of my favorite writers was priceless.
  • I learned A LOT about Social Media, Online Platforms, and some technical aspects of maintaining an online site. Enough to help me land a job as a Copywriter & SEO Specialist at CCSEO Web Visibility Solutions (where I’ve gained so much valuable insight I’d know what to do differently next go-around.)
  • I learned how to edit like a mofo, ruthlessly cutting 500 word pieces to 100, streamlining, arranging, and being tougher on my own work than ever. Get to the point, yo. I internalized efficient imagery.
  • The Mingles themselves. I don’t know about you, but I love scrolling through & re-experiencing them. (My kid still imitates my “evil laugh” from the Lilith post.) They’re always a treat, like a mixed bag of cookies. You’re bound to have some favorites in there.

The End
I don’t want to list all the miniscule personal reasons why I missed a posting deadline for the first time in FM history last Friday, when I quietly omitted putting up a mingle on the first Friday of December. But if I have to give one reason, I’ll say this: I’m working on my second novel. It’s big. It’s bad. It’s a lot of fun. And it deserves all my extra attention.

Thank You All!
Focus Till The End by MehmeturgutI am grateful to all the fabulous contributors and readers of Fiction Mingle. I wish I had a team of minglers so we could keep it going for all posterity and continue to share your creative talents. Maybe in the future. Meanwhile, the current posts will stay up and if an opportunity presents itself at a later time to move the site and continue featuring artists, writers, and musicians, I will certainly take up the task. Thank you all for participating and please feel free to keep in touch with me through Facebook, Twitter, or my own blog here. ‘Til we mingle again!


Your Thoughts?