The thickest book on the shelf of Mrs. Varga’s fourth grade class was called The Golden Child, a hardcover that probably stretched all of 150 pages. I eyed that book each week during reading period, but class rules required students to complete a special reading program before they could check out classroom books. I rushed through my reading assignments each day with my sights set on The Golden Child. I was the first one in class to finish the reading program and proudly pulled the prized book from the shelf and took it home to read. That was the first book I stayed up all night reading. When I look back at my love of literature and how it has shaped my career as a writer, I always come back to The Golden Child as the book that changed my life.
When Twitter erupted in the virtual world, I was fascinated. An early adopter of technology, I launched myself into the Twittersphere and connected first with all of my writer friends. Soon I was engaging many of them in casual writing conversations and others began to follow me. I discovered and became active in a chat for journalists called #journchat. This chat connected journalists from around the world to discuss issues relevant to journalism. This gave me the idea for a literature chat for readers and writers.
After some research of Twitter hashtags, I was dismayed to discover there were no moderated chat sessions devoted to discussion of books, reading, writing and publishing. Even though I was already busy with my writing and event administration business, I stepped out with the plan to start a Twitter discussion group. I opened a Twitter account under the name @LitChat on January 29, 2009 and sent out my first Tweet. Then I began following every writer I knew and searched Twitter for teachers, librarians, booksellers and others I believed were interested in books. I decided on a regular time to hold the #LitChat sessions—4 p.m. E.T., Monday through Friday. From there I began tagging all of my book-related tweets from the @LitChat account with the hashtag #LitChat. I created a tagline for #LitChat and posted it into the @LitChat profile: All books. All the time.
I realized the next thing I would need is a website to promote #LitChat. After some research into web applications, I determined that WordPress offered everything I was looking for in a website for #LitChat. I was delighted to learn that the URL www.litchat.net was available, so I bought it. (Our current domain, www.litchat.com, became available a couple of years later and I bought it and moved the entire site over there in January 2014.) Although I had some experience with web design and HTML coding language, WordPress was a new application to me. I had to learn how to create web pages, sidebars, tables and blog updates. The website was launched a few weeks after starting the hashtag, along with a schedule of upcoming #LitChat sessions with published authors.
In the first year, LitChat grew beyond expectations, creating a community of more than 5,000 people who read widely, who support literacy, and enjoy talking about books, writing and getting books into the hands of readers. Regular participants of #litchat include people from around the globe, many of them staying up late or rising very early to catch the chats. As of this writing, #LitChat has gathered more than 17,000 followers.
We have scaled #LitChat sessions to twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) with a contributing editor, Robyn McIntyre, who moderates the Writing Wednesday sessions, while I moderate the author guest host sessions. In previous years we’ve had the honor of hosting such luminaries as Pulitzer finalist Luis Alberto Urrea, New York Times bestselling author Sara Gruen, award-winning journalist Susan Orlean, critically acclaimed author Jon Clinch, reader’s favorite Mitch Albom, plus many other emerging and debut authors. #LitChat provides a platform for authors to talk with readers about their books, while also promoting literacy and book sales.
Without knowing the author, even after exhaustive internet searches, I have been unable to locate a copy of the book The Golden Child that inspired my love of reading. I keep hoping that one of these days someone will pop into my #LitChat feed with the author’s name and a link to where I can buy a copy of the book that changed my life.