Tag Archives: Author

Author Spotlight: Scott Westerfeld


Scott Westerfeld is the author of the Leviathan series, the first book of which was the winner of the 2010 Locus Award for Best Young Adult Fiction. His other novels include The Leviathan series, The Uglies series (which has over 4 million books in print and has been translated into 28 languages), The Last Days, Peeps, So Yesterday, and the Midnighters trilogy. AFTERWORLDS is his newest book.

The Poetics Project: Describe your novel in ten words or less.

Scott Westerfeld: One girl travels the afterworlds, another writes her story.

TPP: What inspired you to write AFTERWORLDS?

SW: I’ve had such a great time in the world of YA, I wanted to write something about this community. About touring, working on novels, and about the ways that we writers talk to each other when it’s just us in the room. And I didn’t think it was fair to write about a novelist without letting the reader know what she was working on, so I decided to include the complete text of her novel as well.

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TPP: Was is difficult to write the novel from these two different perspectives/plots while still keeping it cohesive and easy to follow?

SW: The two threads interact, each giving you more information about the other. For example, when my writer character, Darcy, discovers something new, that knowledge works its way into the world of her novel. She gets her ideas from the same place all novelists do, the real world around her. So hopefully the two stories make each other easier to understand, rather than getting muddled up. To know the writer is to know her work.

TPP: What was the process like behind developing the cover art for your novel?

SW: When we shot the video, we took a lot of photos of the actors, thinking to use them on the cover. But nothing quite worked right, because it was hard to strike a balance between the fictional characters and the people in the “real world.” In the end, designer Regina Flath realized that tears played a very important role in both stories, so we went for something simpler—a teardrop and spilled ink.

Link to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zrQG_5av18

TPP: If AFTERWORLDS was optioned for a film, who could you see cast as Darcy and Lizzie?

SW: It has been optioned, and partly cast, so I really shouldn’t say. But at least one of them should be an unknown.

TPP: Name three songs that could be on a soundtrack for AFTERWORLDS.

SW: “Dancing with Mister D” by the Rolling Stones, “Meet Me in the Sky” by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and “Party for the Fight to Write” by Atmosphere.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you had been given?

SW: Genius, honesty, and intelligence are all lovely things to have, but persistence is the only consistently rewarded virtue.

TPP: What do you get out of writing?

SW: I get to build worlds, and to destroy them. I get to commit terrible wrongs, and then right them. I get to watch people go through the most trying and exciting challenges of their lives, and then reach in and make it harder on them. In other words, I get to tell stories.

TPP: What’s your writing process like? Do you listen to music, have the TV on, or complete silence? Can you write anytime, anywhere or do you have to be alone?

SW: I write at the same time every day (right after caffeine) and in the same chair, so my butt knows that it’s writing time. Nothing will make your brain cooperate better than being trained that NOW is the time to write, and that it doesn’t get to do anything else. Make habits your ally.

TPP: What’s the most recent thing you’ve read?

SW:”What If?” by Randall Munroe. It’s a set of seriously scientific answers to really odd questions, like, “If all your DNA suddenly vanished, how long would you live?”

To learn more about Scott Westerfeld, visit his website where you can find links to his social media accounts and tour information as well as frequent updates and blog posts from the author himself!


Author Spotlight: Sandy Hall


Sandy Hall is a teen librarian from New Jersey where she was born and raised. She has a BA in Communication and a Master of Library and Information Science from Rutgers University. When she isn’t writing, or teen librarian-ing, she enjoys reading, slot machines, marathoning TV shows, and long scrolls through Tumblr. A Little Something Different is her first novel.

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The Poetics Project: Describe your novel in ten words or less.

Sandy Hall: A girl meets boy story told from everyone else’s perspective.

TPP: What inspired you to write A Little Something Different?

SH: I was inspired by the Swoon Reads website. I’d been working on a completely different book, that had no romance in it. Then I saw an article about Swoon and I decided to try my hand at writing teen romance.

TPP: What was the most difficult aspect of writing your novel?

SH: Editing! Without a doubt. The writing comes easy, it’s the re-writing and editing that’s tough for me.


Writers Are Athletes, Using Different Muscles

My cousin is a swimmer. My proud aunt recently passed an article of him in the Winchester Herald around to her friends on Facebook, in which the writer admires his dedication and talent—the fact that at only sixteen he ranks twenty-seventh in the nation for the breaststroke, how in two years he will likely qualify for the Olympic trials.

The fact that my cousin is a swimmer probably seems completely irrelevant right now, but when I read the article in the Herald, all I could think about was that if more writers treated their work like athletes do, we’d probably get a whole lot farther. You see, my cousin used to play football and run track. For his first three years of high school, he was able to do all three throughout the school year, but this year—his senior year—he decided what most of us realize at some point in our lives: we can’t do it all and still give it our all. So he got rid of the distractions and focused all his efforts on swimming.

Athletes, like my cousin, practice their “craft,” if you will, roughly twenty-two hours per week (mind you, this kid is just in high school). They aren’t allowed to get “athlete’s block,” and they understand that whatever fears and anxieties they have—like not being the best or questioning whether your love of the game will take you anywhere—will only cease to exist with practice. By getting better and working harder. Twenty-two hours a week equals a little more than three hours per day, and I struggle to name one writer I know personally who gives their work that much dedication, including myself.


Now, I understand there are differences between my cousin and you, reader, or even myself. We aren’t in high school anymore, and even if we were, we might have part-time jobs that distract us. We might have shitty family lives, bills to stress over, or, for those out of college, full-time careers that drain our energy before we even head home. But even with those completely valid excuses, they are just that—excuses.

If you truly believe that you are a writer, then you have to carve out time in your day for writing. Even on my worst and most unproductive days, I try to dedicate at least thirty minutes to writing. And if that time is spent staring at a blank page in my notebook, until, in the last five minutes, I press my blue pen against the smooth page and draw up an outline for my magnum opus in writing so messy I can hardly decipher it the next day, then, well, so be it. At least you did something. Use the stress and the heartbreak, but don’t let it stop you.


Author Spotlight: Celeste Ng


Celeste Ng is the author of the novel Everything I Never Told You (June 2014, Penguin Press). She grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize. Currently she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and son, where she teaches fiction writing at Grub Street and is at work on a second novel and a collection of short stories.

Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng
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TPP: Describe your novel in ten words or less.

Celeste Ng: A favorite daughter’s sudden death reveals her mixed-race family’s secrets.

TPP: What inspired you to write Everything I Never Told You?

CN: The specifics: my husband told me an anecdote about seeing a girl fall into a lake when he was a kid, and that image stuck with me.  I started writing to explore who she was, what her family was like, and how she ended up in the water, and this troubled family emerged.

More generally, though, I’ve always been fascinated by secrets, how they can erode you from within. I wanted to look at what that could do to a family, especially in the wake of a tragedy. When you lose someone, there are often so many unanswered questions—all these unintentional secrets, large and small. You think of all the things you want to ask them, and all the answers they’ll never be able to give you.  My father died ten years ago, and I’m still thinking of things I wish I could ask him.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your novel?

CN: I hope readers will close the book thinking about what it’s like to be an outsider, to feel different from other people around you in any way. Every character in this book is an outsider in some way, and that can be so isolating.  What is fiction for if not to help you imagine your way into someone else’s experience and find connection there?

And I hope readers will leave with an appreciation of how difficult it can be to really communicate with someone, even if—maybe particularly if—you’re very close to them. Sometimes there’s more risk in being honest with the people you care about most; there’s so much more at stake. The title, Everything I Never Told You, works two ways: it refers to the secrets we keep on purpose— the things we hide because we’re frightened or ashamed—but it also speaks to the things we leave unsaid because we don’t realize other people are waiting to hear them.  I love you. I miss you. You’re important. It sounds a little cheesy, but those are things we often leave implicit and yet long to hear explicitly.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve been given?

Author Spotlight: Josh Weil


Josh Weil is the author of the novel The Great Glass Sea, forthcoming from Grove Atlantic in July, 2014, and the novella collection The New Valley (Grove Atlantic, 2009). A recipient of fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, and the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences, he has been the Tickner Writer-in-Residence at Gilman School, the Distinguished Visiting Writer at Bowling Green State University, and the Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Born in the Appalachian mountains of Southwest Virginia, he currently lives with his family in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, where he is at work on a collection of stories.

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The Poetics Project: Describe your novel in ten words or less.

Josh Weil: Twins struggle to keep their love alive an alternative-present Russia.

TPP: What inspired you to write The Great Glass Sea?

JW: Well, first and foremost, my relationship with my brother. We grew up extremely close, and have managed to stay close—but, at times, for various reasons, its been hard to fight the pressures of adult life to keep a hold of what’s always been so strong between us. We work hard at our jobs, have ambitions for careers, become close with other friends, move away across the country (and at times around the world), get married, have kids: these are all wonderful things, but they complicate life, and complicate relationships. At one time my brother and I were the most important people to each other in the world. Now there are a lot of other important people; our hearts are divided in ways they weren’t when we were young. We’ve managed to still love each other just as strongly, but I wanted to wrestle with the pressures that might cause a rift between close siblings, to look at what modern life does to limit the relationships between people who love each other. So that’s the heart of the book. But, almost as important, is the world within which the story is set—an alternative-present, redolent of fables and skewed from the reality of Russia now by such things as space mirrors that light a city 24/7 and rid a whole swath of northern Russia of nighttime. That was inspired by real life: in 1993, and again in 1998, the Russians sent up experimental satellites with reflective wings that were meant to carom sunlight down onto the earth—and they did, to a point. I heard about that and it just grabbed my imagination and I ran with it.

TPP: How did you go about balancing the folkloric and dystopian themes to make such a realistic novel?

JW: Really, it was the only way I could do it, the way I go about most everything in writing: I start with character and ground everything in that. The story arises from the emotional and psychological wounds that the characters struggle with and so every element—the folkloric and dystopian themes here—spring from that. Dima, the main character in this novel, is driven by a desperation to regain a life that’s lost, to return to a different time, when a different relationship to the world (and his brother) were possible; he’s riven by nostalgia and wistfulness for a time that is almost magical in his mind. That gave birth to the folkloric elements here. The dystopian ones were a direct result of looking at ways in which the life of this alternative-present could put pressure on the what Dima most desires, push him from it—and that way, hopefully, they aren’t just thematic trappings but are integral to the dramatic tension of the story.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from The Great Glass Sea?

JW: It’s most important to me that readers feel moved by what happens to these two brothers—without that, the rest is nothing—but, on an intellectual level, I’d love it if some of the questions raised in this novel make people think about the way we live our lives—especially in America, but, increasingly in other parts of the world, including Russia: our slavish devotion to productivity and capitalism’s reliance on perpetual growth and what that does to our ability to be satisfied with our lives.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would have been given?

JW: The best advice I ever got is also what I’d give: Write what scares you most (emotionally). I wish I’d been told to focus less on finishing novels (I wrote 5 before this one) and more on experimenting with my own voice, pushing to get things right, letting things go when they weren’t. I probably was told that, but I didn’t listen.

TPP: Name 2-3 songs that would be on a soundtrack to your novel?

JW: They’re all by Russian bands, so they might not be well known to English speakers, but check them out; they’re all also awesome:

  • “Ptashka-Kanareika (Canary Bird)” by Myllärit
  • “444” by Mooncake
  • ”Katorga (Servitude)” by Raznotravie

To learn more about Josh Weil, visit his website!

Author Spotlight: Jerry Ludwig


Jerry Ludwig is a multiple-Emmy Award–nominated writer for television. He has been nominated for the Golden Globe and the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for TV writing; he has also won the Writers Guild of America Award. Ludwig has written for Murder, She Wrote; MacGyver; Mission: Impossible; and Hawaii Five-O. Jerry Ludwig lives in Carmel, California.

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The Poetics Project: Describe Blacklist in ten words or less.

Jerry Ludwig: “Romeo and Juliet” mystery set in the Hollywood Blacklist era.

TPP: What inspired you to write the book?

JL: In my years in Hollywood I’ve known many people on both sides of the political spectrum whose lives were torn apart by the Blacklist. I was particularly interested in the impact on the children of the Blacklist —my best friend’s parents were both Blacklisted and his mother killed herself (he found her body) and his father was forced to flee to Europe, along with his son, for ten years.
The House Un-American Activities had posed a devil’s choice: it wasn’t enough to confess to having once supported Leftist causes, you had to name names— of friends, relatives, associates —or be deprived of your livelihood. So I thought it would be interesting to explore a love story between two young lovers whose fathers had made opposite choices – and add in the FBI agent who had pursued the fathers and now the children when someone starts killing “friendly” witnesses.

TPP: What was the most difficult aspect about writing your novel?

JL: Bringing to vivid life events that took place in the Fifties. And writing a book that would make the reader feel the heat of those times.

TPP: How different was it writing a novel versus writing for the screen?

Author Spotlight: Stan Parish

stanparishStan Parish was born in Texas and grew up in California and New Jersey.  He attended The Lawrenceville School followed by St. Andrews University in Scotland and Wesleyan University, where he graduated with honors in 2006. He is the Deputy Editor of Bloomberg Pursuits and his writing has appeared in GQ, Esquire, Departures, New Jersey Monthly, and the New York Times. He lives in New Jersey and New York.

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The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.
Stan Parish: It’s about breaking the rules and being broken by them.

TPP: What inspired you to write Down the Shore?
SP: Several people have pointed out that my biography contains some parallels to the plot of the novel, but my life was not the inspiration. Down the Shore was was inspired by a single image: two boys, late teens, wandering a deserted discount clothing store in black tie, shopping for something for something to wear having been out all night. At this point, I can’t remember whether this was something that I saw or something that I heard about, but the whole book—how they came to be there, where they go next—grew out of that.

TPP: What was the most difficult aspect about writing your novel?
SP: Definitely the writing of it. That sounds glib, but closing the distance between what you say and what you mean is most of the job.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your novel?
SP: There are no clear answers to the problems we face, no tidy morals. You do not arrive at the end of a difficult experience and find a lesson waiting for you like a pot of gold. Tom Alison, the narrator of Down the Shore, gets in over his head and assumes that, having come through in one piece, he’s gained some understanding that will make things easier next time around. And he’s wrong. He’s wrong again and again, which is the larger point: you have to be wrong a lot before you start being right.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve been given?
SP: The best advice I’ve been given is “don’t take advice” but when I was studying with the novelist Alexander Chee at Wesleyan, he told me something that I pass on to anyone attempting a long piece of fiction. “Writing your first novel,” Chee said, “is like being dropped in the woods with an axe and a clear memory of houses.” You may know how something looks and feels, but that does not mean you can replicate it. Also, writing your first novel is like undertaking an impossible task alone in the woods. And that’ s fine. That’s par for the course. You either get through it or you don’t.

TPP: Name 2-3 songs that would be on a playlist for you novel.
SP: Muchacho by Phosporescent. The whole album. It came into my life in the last and most difficult stage of edits and helped me pull through.

To learn more about Stan Parish, visit his website.

Author Spotlight: Melanie Dobson


Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of thirteen historical romance, suspense, and contemporary novels. Two of her novels won Carol Awards in 2011, and Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana won Best Novel of Indiana in 2010. The former corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family, Melanie now lives with her husband, Jon, and two daughters near Portland, Oregon.

Chateau of Secrets - COVER
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The Poetics Project: Describe your novel in ten words or less.

Melanie Dobson: A noblewoman hides French resistance while Germans occupy her home.

TPP: What inspired you to write Chateau of Secrets?

MD: The courageous story of a French noblewoman by the name of Genevieve de Saint Pern Menke inspired me to write this novel. Her granddaughter shared Genevieve’s stories of courage and faith with me, and I was captivated by her bravery in hiding the French resistance in tunnels under her family’s château while the Nazi Germans occupied her home. Genevieve left a beautiful legacy, and I hope readers are inspired by her story as well.

TPP: What was the most difficult part of writing a historical novel?

MD: I often say the reason that I write historical fiction is because I love to learn! One of the most difficult parts for me is to stop researching and start the actual writing. Also, as I write, I struggle to find the balance between adding believable details to a story and overwhelming readers with too much information. I’ve learned that compelling historical fiction should be rooted in good research, and then if all goes well, the story will flow naturally from the facts.

TPP: How did you go about writing the intertwining story lines? Was it difficult to write one in present day and one in the past?

MD: It was incredibly challenging for me until I began to write the present day sections in first person. That change seemed to breath life into Chloe Sauver’s perspective. Then I began weaving together Chloe’s struggle with fear and doubt and her grandmother’s story of courage and faith. After I finished my first draft, I rewrote and rewrote until the timing seemed right.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your novel?

MD: Château of Secrets is about seemingly ordinary people who stood against evil, often working in secret as they fought against the Nazis and protected innocent people marked for death. As I wrote this story, I was reminded that we all have many opportunities today to stand against evil and protect those who are suffering. We may not be risking our life, but it is always extraordinary to sacrifice finances, time, and even our pride to help someone in need.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would have been given?

MD: Don’t sweat the first draft! I think it’s important for aspiring authors to get their story on paper. Once the story is down, they can begin the process of editing their plot and polishing their words. When I first started writing, I didn’t want anything bad to happen to my characters, and it took me a long time to realize that conflict is what makes a compelling story. Now all sorts of bad things happen to my good characters… But they always triumph in the end!

TPP: Name 2-3 songs that would be on a soundtrack to your novel?

MD: “Mighty to Save” by Seventh Day Slumber, “Blessings” by Laura Story,and I think Chloe would be personally motivated by the lyrics from Frozen’s “Let It Go”. I checked with Genevieve Menke’s daughter-in-law, and she thinks that would have made Genevieve smile.
To learn more about Melanie Dobson, visit her website.

Author Spotlight: Josh Malerman

Josh Malerman is a member of the rock band The High Strung, who have been spotlighted on NPR’s This American Life, and profiled on VanityFair.com. Their music has been featured on many movie and TV soundtracks, including the title and theme song for the Showtime series Shameless. BIRD BOX has been optioned by Universal Pictures with Andy Muschietti, known for the cult horror hit Mama, to direct.

BirdBox hc c
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The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.
Josh Malerman: A story about motherhood, and man’s inability to comprehend infinity.

TPP: What inspired you to write Bird Box?
JM: I went into the rough draft with two things in mind: one was “infinity” as a physical entity/monster, the other was a simple image of a woman rowing down a river blindfolded. I started writing the latter, and soon realized she was fleeing the former. From there, the details and the story blossomed. It was like filling a balloon with air, watching it expand. As far as any movies/books/etc that inspired it, my history with horror is so rich, that I’m not sure I can point to a single work and say this or that got me to write Bird Box. The genre just continues to propel me, all the time.

TPP: What was the most difficult aspect about writing your novel?
JM: The first draft was such a smooth experience. The only real speedbump was a part of the book I can’t talk about without giving things away! But it’s safe to say that having the lead character blindfolded for 80% of the novel proved to be a juggling act at times. Still, I loved that act.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your novel?
JM: I hope the colors of the story come through, more than I’m worried about how well written it is. I hope the spirit of the genre is somewhere between the front and back cover. I once heard that Berry Gordy decided if a Motown mix was finished when he saw the janitors tapping their toes to the music. I hope that happens with Bird Box. As they read the book, I hope the janitors are tapping their toes.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve been given?
JM: Do not wait for inspiration. Inspiration is a monster. The inverse of a monster; it haunts us when it’s not around. And don’t be afraid to write a bad rough draft. Fly through the thing, hate it if you must, but get that rough draft done, and from there you’ll be able to fix it, with the confidence of having finished a novel.

TPP: What was your experience with the process of getting your novel published and the film rights being picked up before it was released?
JM: My agent, Kristin Nelson, is absolutely wonderful. She walked me through the process step by step and made it all feel natural and fluid. That’s not to say I didn’t experience a few internal freak outs, but through Kristin I met a group of fantastic people, including all the staff at ECCO/HarperCollins. I’m constantly surprised at how nice everyone involved has been. I think a lot of us writers imagine that these mysterious editors, producers of films, and agents are coming from a harsh. anti-artistic place. But it’s just not true. My editor is every bit the artist I am.
TPP: Name 2-3 songs that would be on a playlist for Bird Box.
JM: Ooh! All of the soundtracks for the following three movies worked wonders while writing it: Creepshow (John Harrison), Vertigo (Bernard Herrmann), and Dressed to Kill (Pino Donaggio.)

How One Man Successfully Funded His Book With Kickstarter

I’ve always been curious about Kickstarter projects when it comes to literature. I think new approaches to literature in general, particularly ones spurred by the digital age, like online fundraising, self-publishing, and e-readers are all worthy of exploration. Books may be hundreds of years old, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to change things up.

Not all bookish fundraisers thrive on Kickstarter. That Globe to Globe Hamlet Tour you may have heard about? The fundraiser was cancelled due to lack of backers. To be fair, that particular fundraiser was for a hefty amount for a tour that had never been done before. It was risky to begin with. But other fundraisers are quite successful. Doodler and poet Alan J. Hart created a Kickstarter fundraiser back in April for a children’s book called Everything’s Better With Monkeys. Here’s a video about the project:


Alan wrote the first poem in the book back in 2006, but he has expanded on it since with the encouragement of others. The poems come with illustrations depicting famous paintings, like Grant Wood’s American Gothic or Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory—with monkeys, of course. Here’s example of the type of poetry in the book:

Whistler’s Mother looks so bored
Just sitting in her chair
I think that a baboon or two
Would add the needed flair

That old couple with the pitchfork
Looks quite unhappy too
Adding an orangutan
Is just the thing to do”

I reached out to Alan to conduct an interview about Everything’s Better With Monkeys, which you can read below:


The Poetics Project: First off, I watched the video you posted on your Kickstarter page and thought it was hilarious. Why did you choose to create a video for the project? Do you think the effect of the video would have been different had it been less comedic?

Alan J. Hart: Thanks! Kickstarter offers a really good tutorial for people that want to use the site, and they highly recommend including a video. Projects with videos have a much higher success rate than those without (50% vs. 30%), so I definitely wanted to include one. I think the concept of the video made it more effective. I wanted it to be something that people would not just notice, but get a kick out of and want to show to other people. I heard from a couple of people specifically that they backed the project because they enjoyed the video.

TPP: Were there any other methods you employed to get the word out there?

AJH: Facebook was my main marketing tool. I gave the book it’s own facebook page, and I put up new posts every day on the book’s page, which I also shared on my personal page. I started with a simple announcement of the project, then tried to have a new gimmick every day, teasing some of the art from the book or posting pictures of the monkeys featured in the book. I always included a link to the kickstarter page and encouraged people to share it on their own walls.

I also put all of the relevant information into an e-mail and sent it to everyone I knew who isn’t on facebook or doesn’t use it very often, and encouraged them to back the project and to spread the word to their friends.