The Phenomenon of the Group Blog (And why we should consider returning to its power)

Note: It is my great pleasure today to welcome author J.T. Ellison as guest blogger at The Kill Zone. J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling author of twelve critically acclaimed novels. Her topic today is one of my favorite subjects–the art (and future) of group blogging! ~ KL

Several years ago, the fiction world exploded with a number of group blogs. I was lucky to be a part of one of them – Murderati. Founded by Pari Taichert, the blog served as a one-stop shop for all things crime fiction. We made an early agreement to stay away from divisive issues like politics and religion, choosing to focus instead of the writing life. We started with 7 bloggers, and over the course of the blog’s life, had two dozen regular contributors. And that doesn’t include the countless guest blogs. There were births, and deaths. Triumphs and heartbreaks. Breakups and makeups. And books. So. Many. Books.

I was one of the first group of 7, and was the only one with the time (no book deal yet) and inclination to get involved in the backend of the site – the coding and hosting and all that technical stuff. And that, ultimately, was the reason I left the blog as well, but I get ahead of myself.

I grew up on Murderati. Late to writing (I started on Murderati when I was 34, published my first book when I was 37), not knowing much of what I was doing, knowing virtually nothing about the industry. The blog was both a learning experience, and a way to mark my own growth as a writer. It taught me the discipline of a deadline – for the first several years, I blogged every Friday – how important it was to think about writing, even if I wasn’t creating. In the beginning, I had to dedicate a full day to composing and editing and fretting about my blog. I ate up every ounce of advice and insight the other bloggers were sharing. I learned; we all did.

And it wasn’t just Murderati. The group blog phenomenon was everywhere. It crossed genres. There were mystery blogs and sci-fi blogs and romance blogs. There were male-centric and female-centric. We could gorge on the posts – I know the first thing I did every morning for years was get up and read everyone’s blog from all the sites. We all had communities of readers who chipped in daily with their own opinions. It was awesome.

And then we started repeating ourselves. After hundreds and thousands of entries, it was inevitable. The pressure to find a topic no one had discussed grew. People started dropping off to go work on their – you know – books. New people came in, and new life would be given. For a while.Then they too would run out of original topics, and peel away.

The decline of the group blog was gradual, but no less striking for its attrition. Facebook and Twitter gave quicker feedback, though its false intimacy at first didn’t seem to be enough to hook us all. But we began building ourselves as individuals, and boom. Talking to, instead of talking with. And like a lead singer who does a solo album, the next album had that shadow hanging over it. It was all over, though we didn’t want to admit it. We dragged on, desperately trying to keep things fresh and relevant, to work together, but all around us, the group blogs began dropping like flies, until Murderati too finally gave up the ghost.

We had a great run. Seven years of original work. Millions of words written. A built-in platform for book launches and celebrations. The respect of our peers. A community unlike any other.

Shutting down sucked.

Did the rise of “I” overcome the power of “Us”? Or did we all simply run out of things to say? I know for me, running the backend of the site was taking time away from my actual writing. I had so many deadlines that my head was spinning, and I had a massive set of personal losses that made me question the whole purpose behind the endeavor. Everything felt shallow to me – writing, blogging, reading, living – and I pulled out, knowing I wasn’t doing anyone any favors being involved anymore.

I know I missed the phenomenon that was us. But I kept telling myself it was for the best.

Oddly enough, several months later, we realized most of the Murderati folks still were blogging. Though we’d run out of things to say, and complained bitterly about the time it took away from our writing, we’d kept on blogging. We just didn’t do it on Murderati. We didn’t do it together. Together became too difficult. Too time consuming. Too much effort. But we still wanted to talk. So we did it on our own blogs. On Facebook. Alone. Built our own networks of people. Our own communities.

And damn if we didn’t miss being together.

Missed it enough to try an experiment.

With the help of Writerspace, we revamped We built an archive site. Every blogger has their own pageof their old blogs. And everyone who was interested has their current blog feed automatically into the site. So we’re together, but not together. Blogging, but not on a set schedule.

I love seeing group blogs like The Kill Zone that are still going strong. I wish we could have found a way to make that happen for Murderati. Maybe someday in the future, we’ll all come together again, realizing that there is a reason animals run in packs – there’s safety and camaraderie in numbers.

What do you think? Can we ever get that heyday back again? Or have we become so divisive as a community – and we are, trust me. There’s a war going on out there –   that we are better off on our own?

Thanks so much for having me today. Y’all rock!

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling author of twelve critically acclaimed novels, including The Lost Keyand When Shadows Fall, and is the co-author of the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Her work has been published in over twenty countries. Her novel The Cold Room won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original and Where All The Dead Lie was a RITA® Nominee for Best Romantic Suspense. She lives in Nashville with her husband. Visit for more insight into her wicked imagination, or follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick or Or, if you’re so inclined, read her blog, The Tao of JT.

Location, Location, Location

I fell in love with New Orleans before I ever stepped a foot into the city. James Lee Burke was the matchmaker, and all it took was THE NEON RAIN. Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January novels, as well as Burke’s subsequent Dave Robicheaux novels (Right up to and including CREOLE BELLE) sealed the deal. I lost my heart, probably forever. I had of course been exposed to New Orleans through literature and other media well before I read those books. When I was a wee tad there was a police drama entitled Bourbon Street Beat that I watched religiously; and I studied the plays of Tennessee Williams in high school. But it was that Burke book caused me to lose my heart, probably forever.
I was thinking about this today because I started reading Linwood Barclay’s new novel, TRUST YOUR EYES. This is a very different book for Linwood, one that I would strongly recommend to both old fans of his and new readers based just on the first few chapters which I’ve read so far. One of the primary characters is a gentleman who is obsessed with maps, to the extent that he spends hours and days and weeks visiting cities through the magic of a Google Street View- type tool. When offered the opportunity to actually physically visit one of the cities that he treads in cyberspace, he declines. There are reasons for this — read the book, please — but my reason for bringing this up is that there have been any number of novels that, unlike Linwood’s character, have made me want to trace the footsteps and tire tracks of the characters, to experience the sights and smells and sounds in real time and real place. I will be in Louisiana in a month or so and plan to make a quick trip to New Iberia to do just that — Burke and Robicheaux, once again — and on the way back I’m going to try to stop in Nashville just long enough to drive past some of the haunts which J.T. Ellison features in her novels. And who could read DRIVE or DRIVEN by James Sallis and not tempted to visit — with the windows rolled up, of course — some of the dustier sides of Phoenix?
So I’m curious. Have you read novels that have affected you in the manner? Has a particular book or author motivated you to visit a particular city or place and undertake a self-guided tour, using a story as a guide? Has a fictitious character or account actually prompted you to pull up stakes and move? And if you’ve had an experience such as this was it everything that you hoped it would be? Or were you disappointed?