Monday, July 16, 2018

Back Jacket Hack-Job - One of Us is Lying

Here’s the obligatory link to the original BJHJ in case you need a refresher on what this is all about. Hope you enjoy my latest hack at a book I recently read and enjoyed. Check it out if you haven’t already!

~ Carrie

We’ve been described as the modern day Breakfast Club, and I have to say, if you’re going to be compared to an 80’s flick then that’s the one you want as your benchmark. Everyone knows it’s a classic. The only way the comparison could be better is if we were described as the Breakfast Club on a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off adventure. Thanks to someone knocking off Simon while we were all in detention together, what do we get instead? A Weekend at Bernie’s.

So who are we? You’ll meet us soon enough, but until then we’ll give you a sneak peek into our lives with a quote each of us selected from The Breakfast Club.

“We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.”~ Cooper

“You ought to spend a little less time trying to impress people.” ~ Bronwyn

“I hate it. I hate having to go along with everything my friends say.” ~ Addy

“Well, everyone’s home life is unsatisfying. If it wasn’t, people would live with their parents forever.”~ Nate

“Don’t mess with the bull, young man. You’ll get the horns.” ~ Simon

Thursday, July 12, 2018

and then he wrote “The End”

A Goodbye Post By Jonathan 

What’s the saying? All good things must come to an end? Yes, that’s the one.

Well, after nearly four years as a (founding) member of Across The Board it has finally come time for me to say au revoir. It’s been a great run, at this GREAT blog, and I can’t thank the other members of ATB enough for their unending support, their inspiring professionalism and their constant collegiality. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) I will be stepping away from the “creative” writing business for a while to pursue a career in college admissions (at my alma mater). It has been my day job for about fifteen years now and I’ve finally been given an opportunity to make it more than just a job, but a career. 

I will sincerely miss being a part of this group— and wish everyone here (and all of you out there) the best life has to offer. I selfishly hope that my presence will be equally missed, but most of all I want my absence to provide someone else the opportunity to contribute to our little writing community here. I hope they love it as much as I did.

Please wish me luck, as I wish ATB all the success and prosperity it can muster. I will continue to check in from time to time, and willl always look back on these four years fondly and with grateful appreciation.

So I guess this is THE END. Or perhaps it is just the beginning... Only time will tell.

Goodbye all! See you when I see you.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Journey to the Center of my Net Worth

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
What is French Press?  Read on to find out, true believers.

It's true of investment, it's true of education, and it's true of publishing.


What does that mean, though?  How many different opportunities are there in publishing?

One of the most common questions I'm asked, particularly at events like last weekend's Shore Leave Star Trek convention is, "Are you self published or traditionally published?"  (Sometimes it's phrased differently - casual readers don't commonly use those terms.)

Well, up until today, actually (we'll get to what happened today in a minute) I've always had to answer, "Well, neither.  All of these novels are with small presses."  Then, if they're really interested, I may explain the difference between the Big 5, small press, and self-publishing, but usually the person just nods and moves on.


Why do we diversify?  Well, MySpace is an illustrative example, though not in the publishing field.  As recently as ten years ago MySpace was the social media platform.  Facebook was considered a MySpace clone and things like Friendster and LiveJournal were still kicking.  Advertising types saw MySpace as the wild West, and figured the gold rush would never end.  How much time, money, and energy did they expend to get millions of followers for, say, Taylor Swift?

And what do you suppose those followers are worth now?  I'll tell you: Jack and shit, and Jack just left town.

So what does this example illuminate for  us as authors?  Well, I know more than a handful of authors who gave all of their books to a single publisher.  Let's call them...Meisure Publishing.  And wouldn't you know it, when Meisure collapsed, well, those authors didn't just lose all of their back royalties in the bankruptcy.  They also lost all of the rights to their books.

The authors who were devastated by that collapse suffered because they had only had a single revenue stream.  When it was a fire hose, it was great.  But when that single source got cut off, they were just shit out of luck.  It's better to have many streams of revenue.  That way, if one gets cut off, your garden's not going to suddenly dry up.  (In this metaphor your garden is, I don't know, your kids and your mortgage, I guess.  Not everything is an apples-to-apples comparison, people.)

In other words: diversify.

Don't put all your books with whoever today's Meisure is.  Put them with different publishing houses.  Some will be better than others.  Some pay on time, some don't pay at all.  Make sure you do your research first, of course, and try to always go with respectable houses.  But when I came on to the scene I made it a point never to put all of my books with a single small press.  If one of them ever stops paying I have a problem, but I don't have  disaster.  If one of them disappears and my rights go into limbo, I may have a hole in my bibliography, but I still have a bibliography.

But you shouldn't just diversify the small presses you're working with.  Also diversify how you're publishing.  Self-publish some things.  That's a different revenue stream.  No publisher can screw you on that.  Of course, Amazon can still screw you, and they often do screw self-publishers.  Which is why I don't recommend you self-publish everything. 

And don't self-publish exclusively on Amazon, either.  Publish on Kobo, Google Play, iTunes, Smashwords (well, maybe), and Barnes and Noble.  Oh, and guess what?  Barnes and Noble is probably going bankrupt any week now.  That'll be a missing revenue stream for you.  But as long as you didn't publish with B&N exclusively, you're not going to suddenly be sideswiped, are you?  Starting to get the gist?

And I know it probably sounds crazy - utterly, improbably, impossibly insane, perhaps - but Amazon could go bankrupt someday, too.  Think that's impossible?  Yeah, that's probably what Tom from MySpace thought, too.  (Remember Tom?  How cool was it having a friend as soon as you sign up for the site, huh?  Yeah, that worked out great.)  It's weird how few empires are impervious to the march of progress.  It's almost as though all empires are destined to fall.  But I ramble on and on.  What's the point of this blogpost, again?


Earlier this year I signed with an agent, as I've discussed elsewhere.  I'm looking forward to working with the Big 5.  But I have heard horror stories, my friends.  Books being completely rewritten.  Covers depicting nonsense (and often nonsense with a portrait of a character who, um, shall we say, doesn't resemble the actual protagonist in the book.)  And big companies have a knack for finding creative accounting practices to prevent creatives from getting the money they're owed.  It wasn't terribly long ago, after all, that an accountant embezzled nearly four million dollars from literary agency Donadio and Olson.  It sent Chuck Palahniuk, often held up as one of the more successful writers of our time, straight into bankruptcy.  I wish him well as he finds his way back on his feet.  And I guarantee you one thing he's going to do in the next chapter of his career:


So, no, I'm not going to start giving all of my books to my agent.  I'm going to publish some through the Big 5, some through small presses, and...oh, yeah, as of today I'll be self-publishing as well.

The logo at the top of this post belongs to my brand new personal imprint, French Press.  (And muchas gracias to the multifariously talented Natasha Tara Petrovic for designing it.)  I have often in the past jokingly referred to my then non-existent imprint as Kozeniewski Basement Publishing.  I seriously, seriously considered calling it that, too, but I couldn't bring myself to pull the trigger when the day came.  The whole point of having a personal imprint is to add a veneer of legitimacy to your self-published titels, and while KBP would have been a fun joke, it would have defeated the purpose of that altogether.  And thus my brilliant coffee pun was born.

The first two offering from French Press are the Author's Preferred Editions of my second and third novels, THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO and BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS.

Thanks to Chris Enterline for the fabulous cover!

So what prompted this decision?  Did I have a spat with my publisher, Severed Press?  Did I have to fight the corrupt man and now I'm trying to dust myself off and move on with my life?

Well, no, nothing that exciting.  Every publishing contract has a natural lifespan.  So far, with all of the small presses I've encountered it's been 5 years.  My contract for TGA is up shortly, and since my sales with these two titles weren't anything very impressive, Severed contacted me earlier this year, expressed their thanks for working with me and regrets for ending the contracts early, and unequivocally offered me all of my rights back.  (For those paying attention at home - that's exactly what a good publisher's supposed to do.)

Faced with the opportunity to seek out another small press for a second edition or self publish, I decided it was time to start taking my own advice and...


See, I've always been reluctant to self-publish because I didn't feel that I knew all of the ins and outs of the industry well enough to be successful.  Now I think I do, so it'd be hypocritical of me at this point not to at least dip my toes into the pool.  

Next time I plan to let you all know about the nuts and bolts of my self-publishing process (including the hair-pulling moments) and hopefully give you an update on sales and how well it's been going for me.  Of course, until then, I could sure use your help getting the word out.  Thanks, everybody!

Thanks to Natasha Tara Petrovic for the fabulous cover!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Wisdom of Dogs

By Cheryl Oreglia

It's late June, the landscape is bursting with color, I find myself up at the lake alone, with the alleged purpose of prepping the house for the family's eminent arrival, but in truth I'm here to engage the silence, to come to the edge of my imagination, and to write. I brought my dog Shaggy because he doesn't have vocal cords, the perfect companion, teacher, protector (admittedly I'm terrified of the dark, not the dark per se, but to be alone in the dark). Shaggy is the ideal partner except his foul delight in rubbing on dead fish. 
"Everything that's created comes out of silence. Your thoughts emerge from the nothingness of silence. Your words come out of this void. Your very essence emerged from emptiness. All creativity requires some stillness." Wayne Dyer
Shaggy lays at my feet wherever I happen to be, looks me in the eye, and appears to instinctively calculate my emotion. If I am fearful he moves closer, if I am restless he gives me space, if I am lonely he gives me a lick, then grabs a ball and drops it at my feet. Play? Can you see the inherent value in this? Why can't I learn to meet people where they are? To have the courage to look my worldly companions in the eye, allow them their individuality, and then drop something in front of them that invites them to play? It's so simple. The wisdom of dogs.

Therefore to this dog will I, 
Tenderly not scornfully, 
Render praise and favour! 
With my hand upon his head, 
Is my benediction said 
Therefore, and for ever. 
And because he loves me so, 
Better than his kind will do 
Often, man or woman, 
Give I back more love again 
Than dogs often take of men, — 
Leaning from my Human. 
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

These are the random thoughts I find lapping at the edge of the lake along with the Canadian geese, grebe, osprey, and American white pelican. It's feels prehistoric, okay that's a slight exaggeration, but there is something very primitive about this setting, as if caught in the process of evolution, much like my thoughts. 

I stand with my feet in the cool water admiring Mt Konocti. She had her face blown off during an eruption (11,000 years ago ~ give or take a few days), but I think she's the most intriguing part of the view. We've all survived eruptive histories, injuries that have left scars on our souls, but must we be defined by the worst that has happened to us? Can there be a greater purpose for our being in the world? Rumi says the wound is the place where light enters you. Perhaps this is how we were designed? I know what you're thinking, I belong in a straight jacket? If the family doesn't get here soon God knows what will spring from my mind and land on this page?
“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.” Vance Havner
The view is calming. It is quiet, too quiet for most people, but just perfect for writer types who like to vacation with their thoughts, spend time loafing around their interior spaces, where time no longer exists. As the outside world recedes, the things that come into focus are lofty notions like presence, being, joy, but also judgement, fear, and anger especially when it comes to unwarranted traffic tickets.
"Our discomfort and our grappling is not a sign of failure," America Ferrera says, "it's a sign that we're living at the edge of our imaginations."
I wonder if there will be a day when we are able to resolve our conflicts without ferocity? It's as if we've remained adolescents, unable to matriculate, still confronting our differences with deeply embedded fears. Who am I to talk? When I was stopped by a cop last week, I wanted to jump out of the car, and completely lose my shit. You'll have to trust my version of the story because the officer was not available (asked) for a statement.

I'll admit to making one tiny illegal maneuver, it's been legal for fifty years, but now it's considered criminal. A few months ago someone (a total nincompoop) decided we can no longer drive straight across Leigh Avenue from Campbell Avenue, you must turn right, and drive three blocks out of your way to get home. There's a sign posted and some annoying barriers. What ever. I sort of turned right, made this brilliant u-turn, and glided flawlessly down Campbell Avenue, so gracefully choreographed, it was as if a ballet. But clearly these aesthetics were lost on the police officer, hiding in the shade, on a motorcycle, late in the afternoon. 

"May I have your license please." I dig it out of my wallet, furious but obliging, because I was taught to be cooperative when encountering authority. So as he's writing up my ticket I watch (in truth I glare) at him in my rear view mirror. This is what I'm quietly thinking, "I wasn't driving too fast, on my cell phone, or texting. In fact my hands were at ten and two on the wheel. I wasn't balancing a cup of coffee, eating granola, or fishing my sunglasses out from under the seat. The street was completely empty, I was coming home from the grocery store for goodness' sake, the radio wasn't even on, and now I'll be traumatized every time I think about food shopping. And you can forget dinner. I can't cook knowing I got a ticket buying this damn food. He probably didn't have his ticket allotment for the day and decided to chastise the rebellious locals. In my thoughts there was a considerable amount of swearing, you can only imagine, I would continue, but I believe this sample is sufficient. 

As he approaches my window for a signature I decide to try a little dog wisdom, see him as a person with issues much like my own (except the ticket part), look him in the eye, maybe drop a few playful words. "I'm not good at this yet, like a puppy who pees on the floor, just take me back to the paper," Anne Lamott.  I said thank you as sweetly as possible when he handed me the ticket, and (without a hint of hypocrisy), "you have a nice smile, enjoy your evening officer," and moved merrily on my way (as you can see I'm totally over it). And I'm fairly positive he cracked a smile on the way back to his motorcycle.

I wander down to the dock, wine in hand (yes it's 5:00 somewhere), dog at my heels, to be mesmerized by the movement of the water. There are so many spiders at the lake, webs everywhere, and I'm a bit of an arachnophobic. As the sun goes down, hundreds of spiders drop ominously from the rafters of the dock, to stretch their hairy legs. I might have to call John Goodman.

It's the webs that grab my attention, clinging to my arm when I pass too closely. We are all part of the web of life, delicately attached, but it's sticky, and let's not forget the black hairy spider lurking in the corner. This web of relationships includes everyone, not only our beloved, but police officers with nice smiles, and tax collectors. As Anne Lamott notes the conscious mind seems to block that feeling of oneness so we can function efficiently, maneuver in the world a little bit better, abide traffic laws, pay our taxes on time. Let that stick with you for a while. Okay I'll stop, plus I have to refill my wine.
“There is a patience of the wild--dogged, tireless, persistent as life itself--that holds motionless for endless hours the spider in its web, the snake in its coils, the panther in its ambuscade; this patience belongs peculiarly to life when it hunts its living food;” Jack London
I ordered fourth of July banners for the deck and runners for the tables. They should arrive today, but you never know, it's Lake County, and the inefficiency is alarming. I peek out the front door, no box. I think the table we set is important, the people who gather create a certain environment, the food appears to be the main ingredient, but it's the quality of relationships around the table that matters most. 

I ask myself because Shaggy's not talking: Is this a table you would want to join? Do our conversations dignify each other as human beings? I believe with all my heart that it takes incredible courage to really listen to each other, reserving judgement, not attempting to alter the other's position or belief, but to really learn from each other. Johnny Luzzini says cooking is about imbibing different cultures and putting them in a plate on the table. I believe that is what we call table magic.

In this solitude, I putz around creating space for my family to gather, spraying for ants, removing cobwebs. The box finally arrives so I line the deck with oval flag banners but it's the dusting, sweeping, and scrubbing toilets that has a way of bringing me back to the paper. 

I came across this poem today and thought it sort of tugged at my message or maybe it simply encompassed my thoughts at the moment. Anywho... I'm all fired up about the sheet of flame.
“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. 
This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight.” Jack London
I stand at the edge of my imagination and grapple with the view of the future, the rising generations, the emerging story that I want to be part of, to meet them here at the lake, and rest in their presence. This is what joy looks like.
As Rumi claims, God's joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box, from cell to cell. As rainwater, down into flowerbed. As roses, up from ground. Now it looks like a plate of rice and fish, now a cliff covered with vines, now a horse being saddled. It hides within these, till one day it cracks them open. 
There is joy in paying attention, observing silently, as Gary Snyder notes, ripples on the surface of the water were silver salmon passing under - different from the ripples caused by breezes. Sometime I'm so intrigued with the subtle nuances in this life that I fail to see the resplendent joy that lingers on the surface. I'm learning, but sometimes I fail, just take me gently back to the paper. 

“Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished.” Dean Koontz

Any dog wisdom to share? Leave us something to nibble on in the comments.

I'm Living in the Gap, lakeside, drop by anytime.


  • Paper is a metaphor for empirical, practical, hands-on
  • It turns out that culture is the most powerful force available to us. Culture comes from each of us, from the connections between. Doesn't Seth Godin makes the obvious so powerfully clear?
  • The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web. Pablo Picasso

Monday, July 2, 2018

Five Reasons Why You're Reading Mediocre Books

One of the mains reasons I get on social media is to talk books with fellow book lovers. Sadly, I often encounter complaints. Thrillers that don't thriller. Horror novels that are more sad than scary. Clichés. Literary fiction that doesn't tell a story. Lack of editing. The list goes on and on. Yes, there are a lot of books being published, but that doesn't mean that there are a lot of great books out there. Here are five reasons why. If you keep them in mind, working around them will be easy, and finding superb fiction in your favorite genre will be a piece of cake.

1. The book business is...well, a business.

Here's an unsurprising fact: the obscenely large publishing companies that rule the market print books they think will sell, not awe-inspiring literary gems that will make you cooler and smarter just by reading them. Publishing is a money-driven machine that worries about profits, not great literature. Sure, the major publishing houses put out great books every year, but compared to the barrage of celebrity memoirs, big name rehashes, pedestrian thrillers/erotica/horror/etc., and simply unbelievably dull junk they put out there, the percentage is very small. The books that get backed with big money are those they expect to make money, and that equation often leads to best-sellers lists packed with formulaic garbage. This shouldn't be a surprise. If you rush out the door to buy the latest James Patterson and then get angry about how crappy it is, you're part of the problem. 

2. Self-publishing

If you want to start an argument that will end in bloodshed, mention self-publishing around writers. As a book reviewer, I try to read and review as many indie authors as possible. If you can get a book at the grocery store, that author doesn't need help spreading the word about his work, so I stay away from it in terms of a review. Sadly, trying to help out self-published authors means that reviewers often have to read unedited books. While there are outstanding self published novels out there that deserve best-sellers status, too many authors think their manuscript can skip the editing process. They're wrong. No one can skip the editing process. Did you read that? No one. Even the greatest editors need a good editor once in while. Editing is a tedious and painful process, but it's crucial for any manuscript. The authors throwing their work out there unedited are tarnishing self-publishing and flooding the market with appalling books that should've never been shared with anyone. This is why self publishing is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is a thing that allows new authors to get their books out into the world. On the other hand, it is a way for 20-year-olds to share their memoirs and for grandmothers to publish books about their love for their cats. Oh, and then there's the fact that too many self-published authors don't want to spend money on covers and layout, so you end up with an awful, unedited narrative wrapped in a horrendous cover. That's why some folks can't get people to read their work even if they give it away.

3. Agents

Believe it or not, literary agents are human. As such, they're full of that nasty thing called subjectivity. They choose to represent stories they like and work with authors they think will make them money (besides subjectivity, most humans also have bills to pay). Sadly, agents have the power to get the wrong manuscript in the right hands. The result is thousands of terrible books being published and promoted. I won't give you any titles here (that would only make the priggish, pitchfork-wielding readers run faster in my direction...just kidding, look at Garth Risk Hallberg's City on Fire, Sean Penn's Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, or all those books by E.L. James), but there is a ton of garbage manuscripts that came to be only because an agent liked them. Conversely, some of the most astonishing tomes I've read in the past three or four years were repeatedly rejected by dozens of agents and eventually published by indie presses or came from authors smart enough to go to an indie press directly. This doesn't mean that agents should disappear, that they're solely to blame for the vast array of horrible literature occupying shelf space out there, or that authors shouldn't try to make a bundle with their work; it only means that agents play an important role in getting authors who can't write a decent paragraph to publish trilogies. Thankfully, I've seen, heard of, and met a lot of agents recently that are doing the exact opposite of this, and that gives me hope for the future.

4. Lack of focus

Many authors, old and new, have lost focus. John Skipp, best-selling author and editor extraordinaire, wrote in his blog a couple of years ago about the qualities of the fiction he likes to publish and wants to see more of: "exciting, provocative, tightly-focused, plot-driven, character-intensive, shockingly original cliché-hammering tales with ass-kicking endings that make people sit up and take notice." Unfortunately, stories like that are getting harder and harder to find. Authors (and here I'm delighted to say that I can exclude most of the authors I know) are favoring formulas over insightful writing and think publishers are looking for writers who fit whatever current mold is making money instead of idiosyncratic voices. This landscape leads to unfocused authors writing what they think will get their name on a cover instead of the stories they would really like to share with readers. I'm dirt poor, but I write what I want to write, and I think most writers should do the same.

5. Your own nauseating comfort

While all of the above are good reasons why your current read is probably dismal, this last one is the most important reason of all. You have the power to read outside the best-seller lists. You can look around and find a plethora of amazing indie presses that are putting out unique books by very talented writers. If not reading is a self-imposed neurodegenerative disease, then reading whatever rubbish is on sale at the pharmacy is a volitional cancer. The previous four reasons can be easily circumvented if you get rid of your fucking contentedness and step out of your comfort zone. If you spend more time thinking about what coffee to get than you do picking your next read, you're part of the problem and the only one to blame for the fact that you're reading garbage. Just because it's readily available doesn't mean it's the best thing around. You know, just like fast food joints. If you want to read great books, you have to go and get them. Now go read some awesome stuff.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Questions for Your Beta Readers

Your novel has been edited within an inch of its life, gone through to your critique partners and developmental editor, been edited some more and you're ready for the final feedback loop. You're ready to send your book to your beta readers.

It's tempting to send your manuscript along with a "what do you think?" and leave it at that, which totally works for some people, especially those with whom you have a long history of sharing your writing. But with others, you're going to want to provide more direction about the type of feedback you're looking for.

I always send the below list of questions to my beta readers with the caveat - I know you're not a professional editor so I've provided the below questions as guidance to frame your reading. Do not feel compelled to give detailed replies to each! You're my last reader before my book hits the virtual shelves and I'd rather know what's not working before piling up bad live reviews!

A.    Opening:
  • Were the first paragraphs and first page compelling? Did they make you want to keep reading? If not, where did you stop reading?
  • Did you get oriented fairly quickly at the beginning as to whose story it is, what’s going on, and where and when it’s taking place? If not, what were you confused about at the beginning?
  • Did the story hold your interest through the first few chapters? Or is there a point where your interest started to lag?

B.    Characters:
  • Could you relate to the main character? Did you feel her/his pain, joy, fears, worry, excitement?
  • Which characters did you connect to and like? (or love to hate)
  • Are there any characters you think could be made more interesting/developed more?
  • Did you get confused about who’s who in the characters? Are there too many characters to keep track of? Are any of the names or characters too similar?

C.    Dialogue:
  • Did the dialogue sound natural to you? If not, whose dialogue did you think sounded artificial or stilted?

D.    Setting
  • Were you able to visualize where and when the story is taking place?
  • Did the setting pull you in, and did the descriptions seem vivid and real to you?

E.    Plot, Pacing, Scenes:
  • Was the story interesting to you? Did it drag in parts?
  • Which scenes did you really like?
  • Which parts were exciting and should be elaborated on, with more details?
  • Which parts bored you and should be compressed or even deleted?
  • Was there anything that confused, frustrated, or annoyed you?

F.    Writing Style/Tone/Voice:
  • Do you think the writing style fits the story and genre? If not, why not?

G.    Ending:
  • Was the ending satisfying? 
  • Was the ending believable?

H.    Grammar, spelling, punctuation:
  • While you were reading, did you notice any obvious, repeating grammatical, spelling, punctuation or capitalization errors?
Do you use beta readers? What kind of guidance do you give them, if any? Are there additional questions you'd add to this list?

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Unique Agony of Imagination Whiplash

A post by Mary Fan

I have a bad habit of overcommitting myself. The cycle usually goes like this: I work hard on a writing project, I get tired, I tell myself I deserve a break, I bum around and produce nothing for a few weeks (or months), then I feel guilty about wasting so much time and decide to work even harder on writing projects. Then I get tired, tell myself I deserve a break, bum around, feel guilty… etc. etc. etc. In the beginning, I only had one or two writing projects to deal with, so I didn’t realize this was what I was doing. But things compound over time—mostly because I have the bad habit of starting series that need sequels while also wanting to write all-new things.

I’ve been in an especially sticky situation for the past year and a half or so—overcommitting myself so much, I had to use a spreadsheet to keep track of this all. I think I was overcompensating for an especially terrible 2016—a year in which three book projects fizzled (jerk co-author, deadbeat publisher, agent break-up). 2017 would be different—I’d publish ALL THE THINGS. That attitude spilled into 2018… and now, I’m totally screwed (I can totally write a book in three weeks in time for my critique group’s deadline…)

One thing I didn’t account for while scribbling down my schedule—Write this short story next week! Spend the following three weeks working on the full-length novel! Abandon that novel at whatever stage it’s in because the anthology needs editing by a certain date to make its release date!—was the imagination whiplash. See, I was treating book projects as a to-do list. First, sort the laundry and dump it in the machine. While that’s running, vacuum the carpet. Stuff like that. Thing is, when you’re vacuuming, you probably aren’t still immersed in the brain-space of sorting laundry.

Not so much with book projects. As any writer will tell you, authoring something means diving deep into another world. You start living and breathing the fictional realm. Sometimes, it takes a spell to get your head into the project. And once you’re in, it starts feeling like a part of you. You start thinking like your characters, seeing the story through their eyes. You start mentally living in your setting. The book world starts to feel more real than the real world. (Or is that just me??)

Thing is, it can take a spell to immerse yourself in the first place. And then, even after you’ve hit “submit” or “publish” and can’t touch the manuscript anymore, your mind lingers in that world. Back when I was only working on one thing at a time, I’d take a writing break to let it fade before starting the next thing. But since the Era of the Spreadsheet began, I haven’t had that luxury. One day, I’m working on a contemporary fantasy. The next, I’m drafting a sci-fi mystery, whipping myself into a totally different world. It’s… disorienting. Makes me want to yell at my computer, “WHERE AM I NOW???”

So far, I’ve managed to keep myself from getting these story worlds mixed up (at least in the writing and editing stage… I’ve definitely gotten some characters mixed up while plotting, but so far I’ve managed to catch myself before the real work begins!). But I wonder if it’s just a matter of time before my space-faring viola player accidentally shows up in the haunted forest instead of my champion monster-slayer. Actually, that might be a fun crossover…

Anyway, I know there are plenty of writers out there who hop from project to project. Maybe they get imagination whiplash too. Maybe it’s just me because I get too pulled into my fictional realms.

How about you? Does you ever get confused when switching too quickly between projects?

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