Monday, December 9, 2019

Reasons to Put Your Books on Your Resume

A post by Mary Fan

Published authors with day jobs – do you put your books on your professional resume? I do. It goes in that little miscellaneous section at the very end – the usually reserved for volunteer work and community activities (I call that section “volunteer/independent work” and for a spell would put my freelancing gigs on there). So far, it’s worked to my advantage when it comes to interviews. Of course, there are certainly reasons to leave the books off – for instance, if you write in a genre some employers would frown upon under a pen name. But those circumstances aside, here’s why you should include your masterpieces on your resume.

It showcases a lot of useful skills
If you’ve managed to not only write a whole book, but also survive the hellish obstacle course that is the publishing process, you’ve probably gained a lot of buzzword-y skills along the way. Writing and communication, sure, but also time management, project management, and… well, people management. Not to mention the stuff you have to do to market the damn thing – you’ve probably picked up some public speaking skills while participating in book talks, some event marketing skills from attending conferences/conventions, etc. Oh, and then there’s all the accounting and logistics. It’s been written on this blog before that being an author is like being a small business. And running a small business involves a lot of skills that workplaces find valuable. Adding your books to your resume gives you an excuse to talk about them.

It makes you more interesting than cookie-cutter candidates
I’ve recently wound up on the other side of the hiring process, and let me tell you, it can be exhausting scanning dozens of identical-seeming resumes that all have the same basic educational backgrounds and experiences. Anything different and interesting is a plus.

They’re going to find out anyway
Your interviewers are going to look you up online. Unless you write under a pen name, your books are going to come up, and they’ll probably be curious. You might as well get in front of it.

What do you think? Do you put your books on your resume?

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Plotting the perfect crime: the 4-act structure

Hello, troops. It is not even officially winter yet and I am so over it. Northeastern PA got hammered with a winter storm that kept us inside for a few days. Our school district has also already used up one snow day. I guarantee we will use up all eleven (that's right! We get eleven!) and then some. Blech.

So what's a girl to do to defeat winter doldrums? Concoct the perfect murder? For my book, of course.

Truth is, I don't believe there is such a thing as a perfect murder. Not in books and not in real life. Killers evade capture--not because they're sticklers for details and thought of everything--but because of timing, chance, lack of evidence, lack of witnesses, lack of reasoning. But that doesn't bode well for a mystery novel. I don't need to create the perfect crime. I wouldn't even know how. I just need to fuss with variables such as timing, chance, and evidence, so that it seems near perfect. So it seems damn near unsolvable.

And how do I do that?

Well, I work backwards. I start with the victim. Who is she? Or he. What got them to this place? Then I wonder who would kill them and why? None of my books, so far, have focused on serial killers or random violence. Every crime has a reason, and every criminal, a motive. A puzzle to solve.

I then focus on the murderer. What are they afraid of? What is their motive? What is behind their rage? And then I write two scenes: one from the victim's POV, and the other from the killer's POV. These scenes don't always make it in the book, but they provide me with something for my protagonist to figure out. Also, if you know your crime scenes (ha! pun), then you can figure how realistic it is to die that way. *Looking at you wonky poisons.

Once I have the murder(s) down, I break up my Scrivener file into four acts. Why four? Well, it's because a few books ago I read this great blog post by John P. Murphy in which he elaborated on how the talented P.D. James would plot her novels using, what he calls the two-body plot, and what I just call Kim's New Outlining Method. Either way, it works. I can also break down my word count this way to keep the pacing on point.

In Act 1, I introduce my protagonist (detective, amateur sleuth, whatevs), a cast of characters, and the crime. This might be a murder or it could be a missing person or kidnapping. In School Lies, I introduced readers to a missing person. In Dead and Breakfast, I introduced a ghost who had been murdered in the 1960s. In other words: shady stuff has happened.

In Act 2, my protagonist is on the case. Either metaphorically or literally. In my current work-in-progress, my detective is trying to solve a murder. She unravels the clues in a linear fashion. She learns A so she investigates, which leads her to B, so she investigates. She's picking up those breadcrumbs and seeing where they lead. BUT, she's also making judgements. Preconceived biases get in the way. So do unknown villains. And then, ANOTHER BODY!

This is where I took Murphy's/James's second body advice and put it in practice. I killed another person. I feel like murder mysteries are most fun when there's more than one victim. It revs up the intrigue.

In Act 3, my protagonist is done with everyone's bullsh*t and she starts to take all those little clues and shove them together into a more cohesive bunch. She knows who is lying to her, but not necessarily why. Anyway, no more screw-ups here. She's out for blood. Whereas before, she was collecting the right info with the wrong intent, now she's on the right track. And so is the antagonist. Danger lurks everywhere.

In Act 4, she's got 'em. She knows the identity of the killer(s) and she's out to expose them. Here is where I make it life-or-death for my protagonist. How will she get out of this alive? There's a showdown and the aftermath. My protagonist is a changed woman. And safe. Until the next book.

So there ya have it. My mystery writing outlining as succinctly as I could put it. If you write crime fiction and are struggling with plotting, take a look at John Murphy's blog post. Read a P.D. James book.

Do you write murder mysteries? How do you plot the 'perfect crime'?

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Paradoxical Appeal of Horror Fiction

Art by Prettysleepy2.

Hey. I’m P.T. Phronk, the new guy around here. I write genre fiction—mostly horror. I’m also a brain scientist. For my first post here, I thought I’d combine those things and explore the irrationality of the horror genre with an attempt at rational thought.

Have you ever thought about how damn strange horror really is? Yeah yeah, obviously spooky stuff is strange, and it’s always been an outcast of a genre due to the icky subject matter, but I propose that its strangeness goes deeper than the obvious, because horror is inherently paradoxical. In horror, what’s bad is good. The worse it is, the better it is. How does that even make sense?

Horror fiction goes through periods when it’s embraced by the mainstream, like the “post-horror” label a few years ago, when horrific media stumbled into the territory of Very Serious Critics™ and was judged to occasionally have redeeming qualities beyond the ghosts, goblins, and guts. That doesn't change the fact that the core of horror—the defining quality—is repulsion. If it doesn’t contain something you want to turn away from, then it’s not horror.* Why would anyone be attracted to repulsion?

It’s tempting to think there’s something wrong with people who are really into horror. Maybe some neurons got wired into the wrong places in their brains, and they actually experience bad things as good. They are the defective humans who, outside the comfy modern world, would have been compelled to enter Earth’s darkest corners, only to add to the piles of skull fragments and femurs lying there.

But I don’t buy that anyone who likes a good scare is defective.

In my PhD thesis on horror (read it here if you have a few hours to spare), I used a special technique to get at people’s gut reactions to frightening media, free from cultural baggage and other explicit thoughts that come into play if you simply ask someone “do you like this gushing neck stump? I know you're not supposed to, but do you???” That's one of the reasons it's so hard to understand why people like horror. You can't just ask them.

Anyway, coming at it more indirectly, I found that when you pull out the repulsive elements of horror movies and show them to people, everyone has a negative gut reaction. There are no—or at least very few—people who see something scary or gross and feel pleasure instead of repulsion.

I think this applies even more strongly to written horror. There are no noisy jump scares or visual gross-outs in a novel, so there’s even less room for the theory that people consume horror because they’re getting some cheap thrill out of it (not that there's anything wrong with a good cheap thrill—we're on the verge of a recession, after all). Those defining repulsive elements are necessary for horror, but not sufficient for enjoying it. There must be something deeper. Something that I believe gets at the core of what it means to “like” something, and ultimately, what it means to be happy.

What explains the paradoxical appeal of horror?

That’ll have to wait, because this post is already getting long. Sorry to leave you hanging, but I’ll return at the end of the month with more thoughts on horror and happiness. In the meantime, let me know: are you one of those baffling people who likes to be scared? If so, why do you think that is? I know a few paragraphs ago I said you can't just ask people about this stuff, but we horror fans have to be comfortable with paradoxes. Comment right here, or find me on Twitter @Phronk.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Rebooting an Older Series
One of the slots I fill here at Across the Board is to represent the fantasy genre in its myriad forms. Since I've been a member of this fabulous blogging team, I actually haven't talked much about fantasy. Today I aim to get back on track, but mainly because I'm going to talk about my own book series. Sorry-not-sorry.

One of my completed book series is the Stormbourne Chronicles, a trilogy aimed at a Young Adult audience. It's a bit of epic, second-world fantasy mixed with some steampunk elements.  I published the first book, Heir of Thunder with Evolved Publishing, a small press, in 2016. I released the last book, Crown of Thunder, last December. The books, however, languished shortly thereafter.

I loved the world I had built as well as the characters in it, but I was despondent, and lacked the enthusiasm to promote the series. Something about the books bothered me, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Over time though, as I spent more time networking and talking to other YA authors and watching the books they were putting out, I realized what bothered me about my own books: The covers!

In the beginning, my publisher and I worked with a talented artist to develop an original set of
covers. He produced some lovely images, but I they didn't quite project the image in my head of the world I had created, and they especially didn't fit among the current market of fantasy YA covers I was seeing on shelves, on Amazon, Instagram, and everywhere YA books are sold, discussed, and promoted.

Original Stormbourne Chronicles covers
Having original artwork was a precious privilege, but I couldn't deny the covers tended to look more like what I was seeing in the Middle Grade and Children markets. Nothing wrong with that if I were writing Children and Middle Grade books. But alas, that was not my goal or target and I decided it was time to promote these books with the effort they deserved. In order to do that, I had to give them the covers that excited me, and hopefully my readers as well.

First step was to reach out to a new cover designer. Among my YA cohorts, I had seen some amazing covers coming from of a team called Deranged Doctor Design. I worked with them over about a 5 month period (they have a serious wait-list) to come up with concepts and designs. Without fail they produced a set of gorgeous new covers that more accurately reflect the contents and will hopefully catch the eye of my intended audience, both adults and young adults.

My next step was to get the covers out in the world for my audience to see. To the best of my knowledge, the best platform to reach the YA book crowd is Instagram--they take their #bookstagram game seriously and they are producing some unbelievable images. Thanks to a tip from fellow ATB blogger Mary Fan, I found a great Instagram tour service that got my book out to some #bookstagrammers who have been sharing beautiful images of my new covers across the social media platform.

And last but not least, my publisher and I finalized the audio-book edition of Heir of Thunder, read by Aida Reluzco, an amazing and talented narrator who gets every nuance, every accent (and there are a lot of accents!) and every detail exactly right. I'm blown away by her talent. The audio-book has been uploaded at Audible, and we're waiting on the final word about when it'll be released, which should come any day now...

Monday, November 25, 2019

An Author's Gratitude

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the States, so I thought I might start us off by listing some of the people I am grateful for as an author.  So, in no particular order, in 2019 I'm grateful for:

1.  My PA

This is the newest one on my list.  For years now I've dreamt about getting someone to pick up some of the heavy lifting I do, from around the time I realized that you can spend just as much, if not more time doing what I call "writing adjacent" business as opposed to actually writing.  That is, formatting your work, running social media, querying publishers, requesting reviews, and the like.  Earlier this year I just ran into kismet when fellow indie author Jessica Eppley was looking for a part-time job and I realized that was just what I needed: another writer who knows her way around Amazon, Twitter, and the like.  And I've never been more content as a writer, knowing my important but draining tasks are with someone I trust.

2.  My fellow authors

It sounds self-serving to say this on the group blog, but other authors help you recharge and refocus.  They're there to commiserate with and bounce ideas off of.  They can be your beta readers, your cheerleaders, your guides in the wilderness, your mentors, your proteges, and a million other things.  I'm not ashamed to say that some of the people on this very blog I speak to every day, and without their consistent support I wouldn't be where I am today.  

3.  My fans

Without fans, without readers, I'm nothing.  I know, I know, there is such a thing as ars gratia artis, and perhaps there will even be things I never publish and create solely for my own gratification.  But, by and large, we write to be read.  And even more exciting than having readers, is getting to know them, and getting feedback from them, and perhaps, in an even more important way, getting to know them as people and not just customers.  

4.  My girlfriend

None of which is to forget the real people in your life.  Not that any of you aren't "real" but there are the people you chat with online and see twice a year, and then there are the people you see day-in, day-out.  Every day, my girlfriend (life partner, really, but that sounds hokey) is there for me, not just for the writing stuff, but all of the other stuff, too.  The emotional support of a real person can't be overstated.  Make sure you're remembering the ones in your life.


How about you?  Who are you grateful for this year (and every year?)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

What's Lurking Under Your Words?

By Cheryl Oreglia

Sitting on the back deck of our weekend house on the shores of Clearlake I'm mesmerized by the subtle motion of the water rhythmically lapping against the pale beach. The motion of the water has formed ribs in the sand that span out from the rock wall to the waters edge. Our cabin, situated on the eastern side of the lake, in the narrows, sometimes referred to as the neck, because the passage is deeper than it is wide, this is my refuge.

The water line shifts depending on the season, this late in November, without a drop of rain, our beach is about as expansive as I've ever seen it. If you were to wade out into the water at this time of year you would be surprised by the steep drop off, not more than two feet out, this unexpected edge plunges forty feet into the a dark abyss, the swiftness of the cool current sends endless wavelets towards the rabbit ears, or the southern tips of the lake.

Swaddled in a soft throw, cup of warm coffee warming my hands, I shift through my thoughts for topics worthy of posting. The gentle waves seem to harness my attention, and I wonder of the energy that ripples just beneath the water, powerful enough to rib our beach, creating all this chaos, and movement. It made me think of how we tell a story, not only the patterns we use, but the motion of our words rippling just beneath the pages so to speak, drifting on clusters of organized thought.

I tend to rely on patterns of speech, tossed with a bit of humor (I realize this is a matter of opinion), utilizing (exploiting) metaphoric ripples for for the intended effect. I'm one who avoids tension at all costs so it is with forced intention that conflict works its way into one of my pieces. I'm more of a small wave writer, dependent on the reader to ride the motion of my narratives, as if on a raft gone astray.

I could go on but I think you get my tributary of thought.

My point might be overdone but I think the reader thrives on embedded themes in writing, or oppositional motifs such as dark and light, wet and dry, which stirs me right towards a dry martini, capturing both motifs without the help of 007.

A story is felt not only through the use of efficacious words but in ones mouth with the assistance of memories of taste, sensations recalled, emotions unleashed. I've heard this referred to as a form of embodied cognition. Just writing about the child who stuffed a slice of fresh lemon sprinkled with sugar into his mouth and winces as sour and sweetness assault his tastebuds. You might notice your own mouth watering.

Some of my favorite stories contain these brilliant themes so deeply embedded in the narrative that I remain unaware until the last page and my eyes land on that final sentence that anchors the entire tale. I'm thinking Grapes of Wrath, Gone With the Wind, Little Women, Wuthering Heights, War and Peace to name a few.

Sometime there is no dramatic arc, the story simply advances, and then partially resolves, through a rippling of nuances and subtle undercurrents!

What's lurking under your words?

I'm Living in the Gap when I'm not writing for Across the Board, drop-ins welcome.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Wondering what to bring?

Hey there, Boarders! It's my turn today to do a Google Search and my initial thought was "what to bring to a writing conference" because I'm heading to the Romance Author Mastermind conference in Houston as we speak. But then I typed "What to bring" into the Google Search bar, and well... 

Here we are:

What to bring to Friendsgiving? Well, according to PopSugar, Pumpkin Thanksgiving Sangria is a hit, as well as Pumpkin Goat Cheese Crostini. I give the sangria a thumbs up, the crostini? Maybe? Williams Sonoma recommends a sweet potato "crostini" with blue cheese and honey, which looks amazing, but, um, where's the green bean casserole? And the roast potatoes that someone else cooks in their oven? I'm hosting Friendsgiving, myself, and I really really want someone to bring roast potatoes. Also, possibly that sangria. Hint, hint.

What to bring to college? The College Board seems to have a pretty thorough checklist, although I'm not sure I ever had any of the Household and Kitchen Items in 4 years of college. College Info Geek has an even more extensive list, including a desk chair. Do people really do that? Aren't the hard wooden desk chairs a rite of passage?

Lastly, what to bring to ACL? Maybe because I'm already in Texas as I'm writing this, the Austin City Limits Music Festival is appearing in my search results. According to the website, a reusable water bottle is at the top of the list, along with sunscreen and hearing protection. All great suggestions. The 2019 lineup looked amazing, btw, if you happen to be close to Austin and want to keep it on your radar for 2020.

All that said, I'm no closer now to figuring out what to bring to Romance Author Mastermind that I might have forgotten. I have clothes, my laptop and a notebook, as well as a copious amount of snacks. That's all I really need, right?

Any veteran conference goers have any helpful hints, I'd love to hear them!

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