Thursday, August 17, 2017


To quote Jon Lovett, "What a week." Oh, man. Listen, I am sure we are all feeling the same things right now -- rage, more rage, despair, and a huge sprinkling of WTF, but we'll get through this. The nation will overcome. Trump won't be prezzy forever. He may not even be president for the duration of the year. Any solace in that? Probably not.

Fight the good fight.

But sometimes we need a break from: protesting, calling our senators, tweeting, yelling at our Facebook friends. What better way to escape than with some quality television options. (I thought about blogging about heavy topics, but I don't have it in me right now.) Plus, television informs my art. No other medium inspires my storytelling quite like it.

Here are my recs.

In no particular order...

Animal Kingdom (Tuesday 9pm ET, TNT): Basic cable used to blow, but TNT has been showcasing excellent series and this show is exceptional. Produced by John Wells of ER and Shameless(!), and set in Southern California, Animal Kingdom is about the Codys, a crime family run by Smurf, the matriarch. She is ruthless, cunning, and she's taught her sons all she knows. It's gritty, clever, and compelling.
 Shetland (Netflix): Produced by BBC and based on books by Ann Cleeves, Shetland is a mystery series set in the Shetland Islands. The first season is one mystery split over two episodes. You could binge this satisfying show in a weekend, and then book a trip to the islands. It's atmospheric, chilling, and cleverly done. Make sure to watch with subtitles since the Scottish brogue is hard to decipher for American ears.

Master of None (Netflix): Aziz Ansari writes and produces this comedic gem where he plays Dev, an actor trying to find love and work in New York City. I feel like I overuse the word 'clever,' but this show is worthy of the adjective. It's funny, smart, and insightful. Season 1 is solid, Season 2 is gold.

You're the Worst (FX, Hulu, Season 4 premiers in Sept): There's something magical about two terribly selfish people finding love with each other. Jimmy is a struggling British writer whose one published novel has gotten little attention. He loves to drink, and loves to heckle. Gretchen is a self-absorbed publicist who can't maintain a relationship to save her life. And yet, you root for these two kids. Like Judd Apatow's Love, but way, way better. My favorite line from Jimmy: "Scrambled Eggs -- a dish so pedestrian, its name is the recipe."
 Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Netflix, CW): Do you like neurotic Jewish girls? And musicals? What about smart takes on feminism? And stereotypes being turned on their heads? What about all that stuff in one show? Why are you not watching CEG? Seriously, you're missing out! Rachel Bloom is my hero. She'll be yours too. If you're not sure, watch her videos on YouTube. My faves: JAP Battle Rap, I Give Good Parent, Sexy Getting Ready Song. You're welcome.

Dear White People (Netflix): This satirical series, based on the movie of the same name and written by Justin Simien, portrays students of color who go to a predominantly white college and deal with social injustices. It's highly stylized with a sharp narrative structure. Each episode is told through the point of view of a different character. Barry Jenkins directed one of the best and most heart-wrenching episodes of the season featuring Reggie and a campus party that goes wrong. The mood skips from joyous to harrowing in a blink. Race, sexuality, class -- it's all covered with humor and complexity. Everyone should be watching this. The show has been renewed for a second season.

Okay, that's it from me.

Recommend your favorites.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Stop Feeding the Hate

My family had a difficult time last week. We lost an amazing member of our family. My husband’s Uncle Ron was one of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever had the honor of knowing. Ending an already grief filled week with the horrific events that happened in Charlottesville resulted in my struggling to figure out what to write for today’s blog post.

So I decided I’d talk a bit about hate.

For the longest time, ‘hate’ was considered the ‘h-word’ in our house. Even now that our daughter is old enough to know most of the curse words we still don’t like to use the word ‘hate’ in our family. If she says she hates her pencil, we challenge her to express her frustration a different way. Then we talk about why we don’t want to say hate often. And why is that, you ask?

Because hate feeds hate.

You start feeling justified in hating one thing, then it becomes easier to hate something else. And then something else. And then someone else. And it builds. Hate feeding hate.

I remember the first time I felt true hatred toward a person. It scared me so much I sought help. I needed to talk to someone because I didn’t like how it made me feel. I’m grateful that back then we didn’t have Facebook or Twitter or other social media outlets. Who knows what I might have said or done in the heat of my hatred. I knew I had to find a way to let go of that hate because I could feel it festering, and it made me look at all the other aspects of my life through a negative filter.

But these days we do have a boat load of social media outlets to express our frustrations. Places where we read post after post and tweet after tweet, feeling our anger build higher and higher. The hatred is in our comments and tweets—from expressing our hatred for the white supremacists who acted this past weekend, to the terrorists who bomb innocent people, to the people who open fire in schools and gay nightclubs, and to those who gun down cops. Hatred is even in even our negative comments about our Presidents (I use the plural because while this presidency seems worse it’s not new). We are hurt and angry and confused—hatred is bubbling and it wants to be released. So we do. We find a target and let it fly.

I don’t think most of us sitting behind our computers associate expressing our feelings of frustration with perpetuating hate. We want people to hate things like what happened this past weekend in Charlottesville. If we don’t, then we have no hope left for humanity. So if we hate what happened, then we can hate those who did it—along with anyone else who we feel didn’t live up to our expectations of how they should have reacted to the situation. I get that. I feel that.

But the reality is when we share those feelings we are feeding the hate. We are keeping the hate alive. We are telling others that it’s okay for them to do the same.

Commenting that the white supremacists are pieces of shit who deserve to burn in hell will not make them change their beliefs. It will only feed their hate.

Our posts and tweets about how the President sucks for not saying the right thing at the right time will not stop racism. It only feeds the hate of others.

I’m not saying we can’t feel all these things. Again, if we don’t feel them then I worry about humanity. But I think it’s time to start questioning ourselves about the effect of our viral comments and actions.

Many of the people stopping by our blog today are probably in the writing community. We have platforms where people listen. We have a chance to help stop the spread of hate through thoughtful consideration of what we share. We’re writers—we should be able to express our feelings in a way that will encourage others to act in support and unity rather than to fuel hatred and division.

Let’s all do our best to stop before every post/comment/tweet/share/like and ask ourselves what side of the line it falls on. Does it have the potential to feed hate, or does it help close the divide and move us to unity?

I’m not saying we should stand by and accept what’s happening. But what we’ve been doing clearly isn’t working. It’s not getting better. As individuals, we can’t change the beliefs and behaviors of others, but we can start spreading light. We can start spreading love. Hopefully, if enough of us shift the dynamic then it will start to drive out the hate.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Guilty Pleasures (That Keep Me From Writing)

A Post By Jonathan

We all have them. We all want to get rid of them. But no matter how hard we try, they never seem to go away. They are our guilty pleasures-- and they're here to stay.

We writers are naturally guilty people anyway, so when we're working on a book or article it's tough to view any other activity (besides writing) as okay or something we can feel good about. I'm not talking about family commitments, the day job or other essentials of being a functioning adult. I'm talking about those conscious decisions we make, in our (for some rare) moments of free time, to spend (waste?) hours and hours doing something that is easy and requires no thinking and just makes us happy, OK?!

Anyway, here are my top three guilty pleasures and how they keep me from writing:

Oh come on, I know you watch it too. Sure, it's only an hour show on a Sunday night, but most of the episodes are so awesome that you just have to spend a couple days on the internet figuring out what you missed, and on twitter gleaning everyone's reaction, and watching the after show show episodes (and the after the after the show show episodes).

So maybe GoT is more than one guilty pleasure... But it pretty much takes up my whole Sunday night (but I've read the books, that's got to count for something, right?) My Sunday nights will get even more guilty with the arrival of this next one.

This may not resonate with a lot of my fellow writers, but I love, love, love NFL football. It's not just the games, but I play fantasy football as well (probably way too much of it). I've been meaning to quit my league(s) for about ten years now, but I keep lying to myself that it's the only way I stay in touch with my buddies. I mean, what kind of buddies can they be if we only commune online over a fake game with fake players for four months out of the year?

Well when you're a dude this can sometimes be the only way you stay in touch. It's so fun and so easy to waste time on, reading articles, stats, etc. Apparently fantasy football costs companies 13.4 billion dollars a year in lost revenue due to workers spending time on it. Sorry boss!

Oh Netflix. You dirty little time sucker. How you waste my life with your amazing original series and ease of viewing with your no commercials and enticing streaming of many seasons of the most obscure shows on the world wide web. I really loved that Manga black hole you dragged me down the other night. Even though that cartoon was entirely in Japanese I'm pretty sure I got the gist. Don't mess with the Japanese... If only writing were so easy. I could just sit on the couch with my potato chips and let the ideas wash out of me and flow from my fingers and onto my laptop. Ain't so and will never be so.

So here's a PSA for you kids. Don't be me. Don't do Game of Thrones or Fantasy Football or Netflix or Drugs. Just keep your nose to the grindstone and keep on the keepin' on. That said, feel free to celebrate with any of your guilty pleasures once you've put the time in or completed a project. They won't feel nearly so guilty if you actually deserve them.

Now if you ever want to talk about a series or know of another fantasy league I can get into, just leave a note at the bottom! And thanks for stopping by.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Rumpus Room Reads #6 - "The Great American Alimony Escape"

I’ve had this book on my list to revisit for some time now, due to the outrageously delicious trash cover.  Like some of the other Rumpus Room Reads, this one didn’t come from my Grandma’s basement.  Not even ten books in and I can barely stick to my mission-statement formula!  

But come on, who could resist talking about this thing, even if it was purchased for like fifty cents from a beat up cardboard box in a Publix in Fort Myers, the purgatory of Florida (which is itself the purgatory of the USA)?  It’s so in-your-face seventies swinger kitsch, it’s practically giving me crabs (bell-bottomed crabs at that).  The font is brought to you by Quaaludes.  The human math equation at the top with the guy in the microscopic pink towel and tiki beads aching to get timesed by the Breck Shampoo girl who adorably stole his undershirt if only it wasn’t for his flabby avatar with the so-large-as-to-be-useable towel staring gloomily at his past marital mistakes - it seems to actually involve the man marrying himself?  It’s confusing me, frankly, but I somehow escaped ever taking calculus (physics, too, damn you lackadaisical public school education!).  

The novel itself is heinously dated and misogynistically objectifying to the point where as a twenty first century woman I’m fairly certain I betrayed my gender by ever completing it.  Poor Jed, before he discovered tiki beads and grooviness, married boring old Denise and had some boring sons with her.  Then twenty years later he was like, catch you on the flip side, Denise, I’ma get me some of that strange all those draft dodgin’ hippie kids were rapping about over their doobies!  But see, kids, he gets sick of banging different free-spirited nudity-lovin’ tight bodied twenty two year olds every night, so he decides to just bang one free-spirited nudity-lovin’ tight bodied twenty two year old.  Oh, sorry, I’m totally exaggerating.  She was twenty four.  Anyway, Maura, the nude young romance novel editor, tells him she can’t marry him until he ditches the alimony payments to Denise.  Cue the scheme to find Denise some schlong with a wallet attached, which they find in the form of Barney, a well hung middle aged momma’s boy virgin Jed trains for Denise’s pleasure with tennis and dancing lessons and bridge lessons
It’s not even really worth delving into the rest of the plot.  This isn’t just me saying that - it’s the first book I’ve reviewed here that I couldn’t find a plot synopsis for anywhere on the internet.  By the end of the book, every character described above and even more thirsty bicentennial-era skanks end up at some Caribbean sex resort with the subtle name of Gomorrah.  Surprise surprise, the plot twists everyone one intercourse friend to the left, and Jed ends up back with Denise, tearfully apologizing post-coitus for the whole hackneyed midlife crisis because, as he put it, “I’d like to be a little fat and flabby.”  Because we all know that  marriage is nothing but a dangerously attractive form of entropy.  Below, without comment, a selection of quotes to better flesh out the mood:

“Sheltered by marriage, he had been unaware of the full force the winds of freedom of the sexual revolution had unleashed.”

“And where the hell is Gaby?  She could at least come and tell me what’s happening.  Or bring me a sandwich.”

“Barney arrested his piston movement in mid-revolution, his body suddenly hunched like a cat discovered on the buffet table.”

“Keep your hands off the other guys’ women, towels, and diet margarine.”  

In my attempt to find out more information about this book, I was surprised to discover in his 2013 online obituary that, far from being solely an author of slender seventies trash novels, author David Rogers was a Broadway playwright who also wrote for television, opera, and “night clubs,” wrote a Tony-nominated musical adaptation of “Flowers for Algernon.”  He studied at the Theater Wing alongside Jack Lemmon and Lee Marvin and contributed to the Zigfeld Follies, writing for such stars as Tallulah Bankhead, Bea Lillie, Bea Arthur, Carol Haney, and Hermione Gingold.  Most shocking to me, though, was the last line - “He is survived by his wife of 50 years, June L. Walker.”  

What was this happily married man doing writing about moist heaving aging divorced swingers?  Was it all an escapist fantasy made safely digestible with the addition of the return to the wife at the end?  Or was he deeply grossed out by the whole scene, intentionally making everybody involved vapid and foolish out of derision?  I believe the latter, especially given the little throwaway line early in the novel by some beefy Scottish stereotype masseur gossiping about some other almost-fifty dude meeting a barely legal second wife in line for Woody Allen movie.  

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Black Jacket Hack Job #21 - "The Partner"

By Cheryl Oreglia

I have been avoiding all non obligational things this summer, especially reading and writing, not unlike the protagonist in John Grisham's best selling novel The Partner, minus the ninety million dollars. 
My summer objective was to lounge around the vast recesses of my mind, drenched in memories, with utterly no expectations. This is my chosen form of escape and let me just say it's not going well.
My sister suggested I read something fun, I believe she used the words for pleasure, pounding her fist on the coffee table for emphasis, "read this and maybe hit the shower this week."
She spilled my coffee with all her zeal. See, I would rather sit here watching a ring form on the dark wood then leave the comfort of my "housecoat." That's normal. Right?
She threw a worn copy of John Grisham's "criminally entertaining," novel The Partner at my head. Arizona Daily Star claims "compulsively readable." I was able to catch it was alarming finesse for someone my age. We'll consider that a sign.
Now these are rather weighty accusations as to the readability of this novel and I believe someone should substantiate these claims. 
I carried the book around for two days like one of those beloved miniature chihuahua's before opening the first page. The first chapter was quite a jolt and I was hooked like a big old catfish. It happens. 
I suppose the attractiveness of a story has much to do with the interests of the reader. So...avoidance queen, coffee addict, no expectations kind of girl was unexpectedly caught in the Grisham web.
If you only read romance or horror, do yourself a favor, and browse through a Grisham novel. There's an entire exegesis on torture, a complicated trail of betrayal, deep dark secrets, torent lovers, grieving mom's, sleazy senators, and way to many lawyers. He must of been in the middle of a law suit when he wrote this book. 
I'll skip all the flowery language, subtle nuances, and intellectual wit. Here's the short version.
Fat lawyer, good mind, bad marriage, trusted, slipped out of town with ninety million dollars, "now they don't want justice - they want revenge." Poor Patrick is found, tortured, tried, but there's a twist, as unexpected as a double yolk. That's a clue.
This book is so good I'm planning on re-gifting at the next wedding I'm invited to. (That should curb the invitations)
The ending is worthy but you're not going to like it. Just sayin.

What have you got your nose stuck in this summer? Do tell. 

Living in the Gap, drop in some time. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Google Search: "What if Ghosts..."

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey everybody!  First of all, to answer the burning question on everyone's minds: no, we're not dead.  Far from it.  Brenda and Abby both ran into unexpected situations and had to bow out for the last two blogposts.  Not to worry, guys.  As we all know, everybody gets one:

Just kidding, of course.  We're a pretty easygoing blog and life happens.  I'll be flip-flopping my slot with Abby this week and she'll take August 7.

It's my turn for a Google search post!  I may have mentioned this before but I'm sort of half-assedly working on a haunted house novel.  So weighing on my mind lately has been the question, "What if ghosts were real?"  For those of you who don't know me in real life, I am a supreme skeptic about basically everything.  That means God, ghosts, karma, chi, and ear candling all go basically in the same basket for me.  (That is: the bullshit basket.)  Naturally I mean no offense to any of you who are believers, just as you doubtless can respect my opinion while not sharing it.  That's the beauty of freedom of conscience after all.

Anyway, I digress.  Rather than Google "What if ghosts were real?" I decided to just google "What if ghosts" and let the algorithms do the rest.  Here's what I came up with:

It seems Google either knows me or most people are like me, and a couple of those hits were the exact subject I was thinking of: what if ghosts were (or are, depending on your tense) real?  More interestingly the first hit was "What if ghosts are aliens?"  I actually saw an episode of "Doctor Who" about that once.  Trust me, you do not want ghosts to turn out to be aliens, if the BBC is anything to go by.

However, I was feeling lucky today, so I indicated that to Google, which ended up choosing the last option, apparently, and took me to this site:

Those of you who are interested can go to the link directly.  But I thought I might save you all some trouble and ply you with my own listicle on that very subject:

8.  Tell the ghost, "Are you a ghost cop?  Because if you're a ghost cop, you have to tell me."

7.  See if the ghost will take a message to one of your deceased loved ones.  Then spend half an hour giving really explicit directions on how to reach their house in Heaven, i.e. "Turn right at the Dairy Queen but if you see a stop sign you've gone too far."

6.  Ask, "What's it like being dead?"  Ghosts never tire of that old chestnut.

5.  Never, ever throw a sheet over your head and cut eyeholes out of it.  Ghosts consider that "ghostface" and it is extremely offensive.

4.  As subtly as possible, lick the ghost.  If no saliva remains behind, it is a real ghost.

3.  Ask questions about current politicians and sports teams who have moved to different cities to see if the ghost has been paying attention.

2.  Start making a vase on a potter's wheel and if the ghost just so happens to come up behind you and semi-erotically join in, so be it.

1.  Netflix and chill.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Breaking Character

A post by Mary Fan
Those of you who’ve been around the writing community for a while have probably encountered the “plotters vs. pantsers” debate more times than you’d care to think about. Just in case some of you haven’t heard of these terms, “plotters” are writers who carefully outline and map out their books before beginning the actual writing process, and “pantsers” are those who “write by the seats of their pants”—that is, who open up a blank page and simply write, often without knowing where the story’s going.

I’ve always been a neurotic plotter. Ever since I first started scribbling silly stories in middle school, I’ve always had detailed outlines of my stories. Plus a bunch of other supporting documents—worldbuilding “encyclopedias” and character backstories and such. Having completed over a dozen stories this way (from full-length novels to flash fic… yes, I outline my flash fic…), I pretty much had my writing method down. I’ve written blog posts about it and spoken on panels about it—the merits of outlining and how well it works as a writing method. And my outlines aren’t just short little chapter descriptions… They’re often 10,000+ words long by themselves, detailing every move a character makes.

So you can imagine how surprised I was when my latest WIP started writing itself. Without. An. Outline.

That’s right, folks. I pantsed a manuscript. A 100,000-word, novel-length manuscript. If I were a fictional character and my author wrote me doing this, their editor would write a long note in red pen saying “this is inconsistent with Mary’s character and readers won’t buy it.”

How did this happen? Honestly, I still have no idea, though I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I’ve written and read enough novels in my genre (sci-fi/fantasy) to have some kind of internal outline hard-wired into my writing system. I also suspect that switching up my writing method gave me the jolt I needed to finally complete another book.

I’d been in a major writing funk for pretty much all of 2016. The only things I completed in that time were a novella and a short story, even though I’d hoped to finish at least one novel-length manuscript (in previous years, I’d done two). I started writing two books, using my usual neurotic-plotter method, but they just weren’t clicking for some reason, and I abandoned both a few chapters in. I figured that at some point, I’d pick one and beat the words out of me at some point, just so I could finish something.

Then, in early January of this year, a random idea hit me seemingly out of nowhere. I remember being in choir rehearsal when it did… in fact, I still have the page of Bach’s St. John Passion with my early brainstorming scribbled in blank space beneath the soloist cue. Unlike my other two projects, which were slightly out-of-genre for me (one was magical realism, and one was hard sci-fi—neither of which I’d written before), this one was going to be pure fantasy fluff. A fun adventure across an enchanted land starring a girl who fights demons. Maybe it was a reaction to trying so hard to write something… hard. My lazy brain was sick of trying to make book-vegetables and just wanted book-candy.

Anyway, me being me, I then sat down to start outlining as usual. But I quickly found myself impatient to begin already… I could already picture the opening scene where the protagonist guards her village and gets to kick some demon butt. “Fine,” I told myself. “Let’s just write that scene and outline the rest later.”

Except “later” never happened. Once I finished the opening chapter, I kind of just wanted to write the next thing. And the next thing. And so on and so forth until I realized I was actually pantsing this whole damn book. And it was awesome. There was a kind of freedom to having only the vaguest idea of where the story was going. And it was terrifying. There’s nothing scarier than a blank page, and heading into one without an outline feels like diving in the dark.

There were a few drawbacks to pantsing—mainly that sometimes, I’d come up with something halfway through the book that I realized I should have introduced earlier. “Well, make a note of it and move on,” I told myself. I had whole document titled “Things to fix later” full of these kinds of things.

While that was a fun foray into the world of pantsing, I’ll probably go back to plotting for my next manuscript. But who knows… maybe that one will start writing itself as well.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Gaining perspective and getting offline

By the time you read this, my butt will be on a beach "sipping on gin and juice" (just kidding). [Seriously, I'll be alternating between water and more water cause I'm dehydrated like that.] Anyway, we're taking a big family vacation. The in-laws, the kids, the whole kit and caboodle. And I will be fully disconnected. I won't check email on vacay. I won't cruise social media on vacay. I'll pretend the outside world doesn't exist when I'm on vacay. Now, why can't I do that during the rest of the year?

I believe I've mentioned this before: I have an internet problem. The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check my email (because my agent will be emailing me with terrific news at 5am - yeah, right) and then I jump online to scroll through Twitter. I'll comment on Facebook, see what's happening on Reddit. Lament my book ranking on Amazon. There is no end to the wormholes the web provides.

I'm on my laptop constantly. My children will always remember me as standing at the kitchen counter, clacking away on my computer.

In addition to writing, I am a stay-at-home mom with three kids. Some days, my only adult interaction is through Facebook Messenger or Twitter convos. Writing is a very lonely and isolating gig. And I love to chat up my author friends about their manuscripts, their submission process, their writing life. It makes me feel like I am part of a virtual office. It makes me feel connected. Also, as many of you know, writers are online a lot: to market, to promote friends, to advertise book sales or blog posts. But, you can't push a product you don't have and online time swamps my ability to draft.

And like gorging on a fatty meal when you're trying to lose weight, my insistence on surfing the web makes me feel horrendous. In an effort to connect to people online, I'm disconnected from my life around me: my kids, my dog, my writing which gets neglected by the pull of an interesting thread on Twitter. It's not freaking healthy. And I know it.

It's impossible to completely disengage from the online world. For one thing, I need to be reachable via email and Messenger for a myriad of reasons, but mostly to make sure my neighbor (who I often team up with for carpooling and childcare), and my husband can reach me if need be. But honestly, that's it.

So, I've drafted a Disengage Manifesto:

1. You do not need to share every Washington Post/Buzzfeed/NYT/Politico article. It's not your job to teach Facebook friends about politics. They can look stuff up themselves. Let them. Post some photos of your kids once in a while. Check your parents' feed for their vacation photos. That's enough. You're good.
2. Twitter is a time suck, not to mention a hatchet to your morale. Limit that indefinitely.
3. Email really only needs to be looked at once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening. No one is trying to contact you that badly.
4. Reddit is fun, but it won't write your book.
5. Close your freaking laptop and hide it from yourself. Run a lap around the block. Get off your butt. Put in a load of laundry. Listen to a podcast.

I don't know why I continue behaviors I know are bad for me. Why does anyone really? I'm hoping some time off from the real world will give me new perspective. To quote Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast...."

What are your tips and tricks to getting offline and boosting productivity?

Monday, July 17, 2017

My Creative Battery

I hadn’t figured out until recently that I function on several different batteries. Maybe all of you already knew this and I’m just slow, but I thought I’d share anyway in case there is someone else out there who hasn’t yet figured out all their batteries. Here’s how I finally grouped mine:
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Adulting
  • Creativity

My Physical Battery gives me the ability to stay awake during the day and move my body through all its physical needs. My Emotional Battery controls how well I tolerate frustrations throughout the day. My Adulting Battery keeps me charged for all the responsibilities I have to accomplish in any given day: get the kid to school/activities, walk the dog, make dinner, do the laundry, etc. My Creative Battery is what I use for writing and all other activities that require creativity.

Of course, this would be the optimal state:

The thing I’ve discovered recently is that these batteries drain and recharge at different rates. In addition, if I need more in one of the ‘key’ areas—such as my Physical Battery—I have to drain some of the others. Lately, my battery capacity has looked a lot like this:

Certainly, there is fluctuation in this model from day to day, but I’d say this has been a good average for me over the last year. I knew my creativity was suffering—not that I wasn’t feeling creative anymore, just that it took an extreme amount of effort to pull it out of my head. Writing was slow and forced. I’d sit for hours trying to figure out what to do for my scheduled blog post. All the things I need to do to run my author business—marketing, social media, events, newsletter, etc.—also come from this tank.  A few months ago I ran a fitness challenge for my gym and it tapped out all of my remaining creative juice. All of my writing related responsibilities took a huge hit because I had nothing else left in the tank.

So what to do? How could I recharge it?

I tried to pull from some of my other batteries, but that didn’t work. All it did was add ‘lazy and cranky’ to my ‘uncreative’ characterization.

I tried to be creative in other areas, hoping that once I started it would generate new creative juice. I’d spend time with my daughter in the craft room. I’d read a lot, as that often inspires my creativity. The result—just more drainage of what little creative juice I did have left in the tank.

It took my daughter’s summer break to make me realize what I needed—SLEEP! Over the past year, I averaged between 5 and 5.5 hours of sleep 6 out of 7 nights. It was apparently enough to keep my Physical Battery at a functional level, but that was it. But even that battery was in danger. There were a few nights where I was so tired it felt like my bones hurt. Days when I’d be falling asleep in a doctor’s waiting room. Mornings when I felt I needed to pull over to the side of the road because I wasn’t sure I could keep my eyes open for the 15-minute drive to the gym. I was pulling so much from my other batteries just to keep moving. I didn’t want my family to give me the boot, so I had to watch the levels in my Emotional and Adulting Batteries. That meant the Creative Battery got the biggest ax.

Now that my daughter is on summer break, I can sleep in a bit and go to a later workout time. That one hour a day has helped me so much! I can feel my creative juice coming back up. The downside is I only have 2 weeks left to figure out what to do once school starts again. My goal is to find a way to get to this model:

Basically, I need to find a way to be plugged in all the time. I have to keep going to my workouts in support of my health goals, and early morning is my best option so sleeping in will be out once school starts back up. I might be able to mix in some later workouts, but that causes a different kind of drain on my writing so it wouldnt be a permanent solution. I can’t drink caffeine for medical reasons, so that’s not an option. I’d been resorting to food as my energy source, but that wasn’t working well and it detracted from my health goals. I already take Vitamin D, but I may have to look into additional vitamins. I’ve tried diffusing oils at times, and occasionally that helps. I figure I’m going to have to get to bed earlier, but I’m not optimistic it will be sustainable long term. I’m not one to take naps, but I might have to try to figure out how to do that if I can’t get to bed. The struggle is real, and I suppose I ought to figure it out now while my Creative Battery is still sufficiently charged! Jonathan’s recent post about meditation gave me some ideas that I might try. 

What about you? Do you find your batteries are grouped in similar ways? What do you do to keep them charged?

~ Carrie

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Is writing the ultimate form of meditation?

Photo Credit

A Post By Jonathan

Hey ya'll (did I mention I moved to Virginia recently?)! It took me about an hour to find a good picture to put at the top of my post (I ended up with the symbol for mindfulness, being in the here and now), so this won't be the longest blog entry I've ever produced. But does it need to be? I mean, who has time to read super long blog posts these days?

Actually that's kind of what my topic is about today. Finding time (or at least creating capacity within yourself) to do more of what you enjoy on a daily basis. I doubt that's reading my blog posts, but you are here so there is that.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been looking into the topic of Mindfulness quite a bit lately and I wanted to take a moment to expand on that. I'm sure a lot of you have heard about the Mindfulness movement, as it seems to be everywhere these days, but if not I think it's a concept that just can't be overlooked for writers. In my opinion, mindfulness and those really awesome writing sessions are very closely related. And I believe mindfulness concepts can help us identify why writing feels so great sometimes and even label the sometimes hard to pin down reasons why we love writing so much.

According to Wikepedia, Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one's attention to the internal experiences occurring in the present moment. Basically if you are able to do this you block out painful past experiences as well as future anxieties and are just focusing on the present moment.

Some people achieve this by sitting cross-legged on a beach while others (us) achieve it sitting at a keyboard, living moment by moment with our characters. And that's when the best writing sessions occur, isn't it? When we are lost in the present moment, with no thought towards the past or the future. We are just advancing from word to word, scene to scene, blocking everything out but what is occurring at that exact second in our stories. And it feels great-- so different than the craziness of our "other" lives.

A lot of times I don't write because I bring the past (preconceptions, questions about my ability, the business of my day) into my writing as well as the future (will I ever finish? will this be any good? am I just wasting my time?). But what I often miss --and what I'm working on-- is that the act of writing itself is, what I consider, the ultimate form of meditation and can just make me a happier and healthier person in general.

So keep that in mind the next time you sit down at your computer. Writing for the sake of writing To your health and wellbeing...

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Creating From a Place of Honesty and Integrity (Interview with Cantwell, Singer/Songwriter Behind "Hearing Things")

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey all!  Authors can tend to run over the same ground again and again so I thought for this month's interview I'd introduce you to a different creative type: a singer/songwriter.  Today's guest has an impressive body of work and is making a name for herself in the Philadelphia music scene.  Let's learn a bit about her and then jump into the interview.


Writing poetry since the age of 9, Cantwell is a creative mind first and foremost. Back then, emulating her idols Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, and Madonna, she started writing, singing, and performing in talent shows at the age of ten.

While in a band in middle school, she continued to discover her own power in a lyrical way. Then, she wrote of heartbreak, teenage angst, and unrequited love. At the age of fourteen she was recording and being approached to write for other artists. Happy to oblige, Cantwell began learning the art of songwriting and building up her now extensive catalog. And, with the help of a home recording studio, she has more demos recorded than she can count.

Cantwell has performed in bars, concert halls, coffee shops, weddings, in clubs, and on radio shows. She has an ability to entertain a range of audiences. Her voice appeals to not only the young pop audience, but to older rock and even jazz fans. She is known for being energetic and vocally strong on stage.

While her songs range from rock, to pop, to R&B she simply defines her style as “mature pop”. The new album, “Hearing Things” will be released in September of 2017 and it promises to be personal and fun. Songs like “Killer, Killer” & “Wanted” show her edgier, darker rock side and tracks like “Stale” and “All to Myself” bring out her inner pop star. Then, ballads like “Misfortune Teller” and “Love Is A Dirty Word” show her softer, more vulnerable side. ”I’m so excited about every song on this album because I wrote them all for me but in doing that, I also wrote them for YOU!” She is motivated not only by your head nodding, but by your smiles as you listen. “If you get even one minute of joy from this project, my work is done.”

You can follow her on her website, SoundCloud, Twitter, or Instagram.


SK:  Hi, Cantwell, and welcome to Across the Board! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. First, can you walk us through your process of writing an individual song?

C:  Hi Stephen! Thanks so much for having me! I really appreciate it.

I would love to tell you there’s one way to write a song and that it’s Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 and BAM! have a song! But, it’s never that way. The most common way I begin is with a concept or title. Once I have a concept I start writing the idea immediately so I don’t lose the initial inspiration. I start jotting down ideas that surround or are related to the title or concept. That or I start with an entire line and go from there. Sometimes a melody comes to me immediately, in which case I sing that into my iPhone’s “Voice Memos” until later when I can really flesh out the idea. Since I don’t actually play an instrument (not well anyway) I usually start with a drum sample or loop from one of my audio programs on my home computer (ProTools, Garage Band, or Logic Pro to name a few). I set the tempo, add a bassline or keyboards or guitar loop and demo the track at home until I can bring the idea to the producer I work with in a real studio.

SK:  That said, how do you go about putting together a full album? How do you determine the flow and order of songs?

C:  Luckily (or unluckily) for me, my catalog is quite extensive. I literally have hundreds of songs/concepts to choose from. It’s about the song’s home-demo “feel” or vibe. If it excites me immediately and then again after a few weeks on my rotation, it goes on the album. I don’t believe in “filler” tracks so you’ll never find a song on one of my projects that is just “thrown in there”. I’m glad you mention song order too. There is certainly an energy when you listen to any album. For me, the first song is always my most “mass appeal” record. That way, I can hook most listener into at least listening to track 2. Then, track 2 is always a personal favorite that I feel is fun and yet doesn’t stray too far from the vibe of the first record to the point where the listener feels betrayed by the difference in sounds. Then, as the album develops I paint more of the intended “picture”. I usually wait to slow it down until the end of the album. With my last album, I ended with a vulnerable ballad called “Anonymous” that I wrote at 19 years old. This record ends with an upbeat rocker “in-your-face” type record called “Wanted” that I wrote very recently. The reason for this ending is I want the last feeling the listener gets from me to be strength.

SK:  Knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a singer, do you ever write music and realize you're not the right person to perform it? Do you/would you ever write for somebody else?

C:  While my songs are often quite personal, I do write with others in mind often. I think, “How would Rihanna say this?” or “Would Gwen Stefani sing it like that?”. I would very much love to have others sing my songs as I simply don’t have the resources to record all of mine. Like I said, I literally have hundreds of songs. I am getting to a point where I am going to start giving songs away, just so they can be recorded and heard!

SK:  As a performer, how do you find and book gigs?

C;  A great way to book a gig is by doing Open Mic nights. I have been on the local Philadelphia/Delco ("Delco" is Delaware County, a suburb of Philadelphia - SK) scene for years now and met many great musicians and performers that way. A lot of them are willing to invite you to be on the same bill with them in the future or even create a new show with you. As long as you’re willing to work, promote, and be “grass roots” about it, people will be nice and offer to work with you. You just have to get yourself out there.

SK:  How do you market your performances and your albums?

C:  I do my due diligence on the Internet with social media apps, my website, and iTunes, and Amazon. I plan to film a few music videos with this project and release those. I also will do radio podcasts, interviews like these, and hopefully good ol’ word of mouth!

SK:  You have quite an impressive body of work already. What are your aspirations for your career, either creatively or in terms of popular appeal?

C:  I would love to be a touring singer/songwriter full time. I’ve been steadily writing songs and poetry since I was 9 and the well has not run dry yet! I know I have plenty to offer and look forward to meeting other creative minds in my journey.

SK:  Tell us about your latest album "Hearing Things." When and where will we be able to get it?

C:  Yes, “Hearing Things” is the title of the album and it’s a three-tiered message about music, mental illness, and rumors. Songs and music are “things we hear”, if mentally ill enough, people “hear things” and when someone is spreading rumors you hear people say, “Oh, I’ve been hearing things”. I’ve dealt with aspects of all three and felt it was important to put a voice to all three in one project. My songs range from rocker chick vibes (“Killer, Killer” & “Wanted”) to softer ballads (“Misfortune Teller” and “Love Is A Dirty Word”) and fun upbeat pop records (“All To Myself” and “Stale”). While my style is all over the place, I like to define it as “mature pop”.

With “Hearing Things” I decided to record songs that I love, not just ones I thought would do well commercially. Obviously, my ultimate goal is to have everyone know me and my songs but as a creative person that is never the driving force behind the music. If I can’t create from a place of honesty and integrity, I don’t create at all.

“Hearing Things” will be released in September on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and most other major audio outlets. You can hear two of the songs now, “Stale” & “Killer Killer” on Or, you can visit my website at All updates on performances, videos, and releases will be there!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

It All Started with a Google Search

By Cheryl Oreglia

That's right, it's Google search time my friends, my first at bat so to speak, and I'll admit to wanting to knock it out of the park.  It's a bit of a hack job but at least I tried. Apparently there are rules for these quick writes and I'm a avid rule follower. 
  • Start a random search string in Google (or could be from one of your previous searches) 
  • Choose one of Google’s suggestions
  • Write up a post (or some flash fiction if you’re feeling really creative)
My google search began with a search on the meaning of the word google. I assumed it would give me something of interest. I found out, "Googol is a mathematical term for a specific number that is written out as the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros. According to Brin and Page, the theory behind selecting a name based on this extremely large number is to reflect the mission of Google to organize a potentially infinite amount of information on the Internet." So naturally I googled stories that involved math and infinity. 
There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There's .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I'm likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful.John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Of course the whole "Fault in Our Stars" thing got me thinking about the Fourth of July. Right? New search: 4th of July - A celebration that dates back to the American Revolution. On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, two day later delegates from 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, drafted by our very own Thomas Jefferson. And the rest is history. 

A little known fact is that John Adams believed that July 2nd was the correct date on which to celebrate the birth of American independence, and would reportedly turn down invitations to appear at July 4th events in protest. Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826—the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Makes you wonder about the synchronicity of things. 

Which brings to the brink of some marginal flash fiction. This is not my forte, but I made an attempt, because I'm a rule follower like our founding fathers. Keep in mind I'm at the lake, packed house, and sleep deprived. Okay, that's my apologia, read on.

A Fourth of July story of death, betrayal, and mistaken identity

She pulled the cold trinket from her coat pocket, a small replica of the liberty bell, it felt heavy in her sweaty palm. It's the third of July, the bells have been on sale all week, along with an assortment of fireworks, and brightly colored banners. She has never stolen anything in her life. What made her take this from Mel's Hardware Store today? On the eve of a horrendous personal tragedy? It's late, she wasn't thinking straight, maybe she'll return it tomorrow. 

As she slips the key in the front door, it opens unexpectedly, her identical twin emerges in the doorway, "You look like you just committed a crime Helen," Tori giggles. The trinket slips to the ground where the sound of the clanking bell seems to collaborate her sister's statement. Helen snatches up the contraband before it rolls off the porch, jams it back in her pocket, and steps quickly into the house. You can hear the sound of the wheels skidding on the loose gravel as the car speeds away with Tori and her gaggle of friends.

On the verge of sleep, the sound of an incoming text makes Helen sit up in bed, and reach for the phone on the nightstand. She knocks over the stolen bell in the process, but she lets it go so she can read the text, "I saw what you did today Helen, hope it was worth it?" The text is from a blocked number. She froze. 

As the night turns into day Helen continues to pace in the small room. She is painfully aware of the consequences for stealing. She lives in the small town of Hackalim, tucked away in a remote part of the Appalachian Mountains, almost forgotten by mainstream society. The crime rate is negligible, especially when justice is swift, and irreversible. What possessed her to take something that didn't belong to her? She knew the answer long before the question formed in her mind. It is her private rebellion and the liberty bell is the perfect symbol. It's cracked and imperfect but the inscription at the top reads, "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." 

A second text came in mid morning, Helen fearfully glances at her phone, "Amputations at noon, are you ready?" She fainted, holding onto the phone with her left hand, unable to shield herself from the fall. Gashing her head on the metal coffee table as she went down, Helen lands with a thug on the hardwood floor, the blood slowly pools around her limp body. 

She watches her motionless body, wrapped in a crisp white sheet, from a distance. She seems to be hovering near the back of a sterile hospital room, detached, but fully alert. The only thing keeping her body alive is a machine, that forces air in, and out of her lungs. She is on the fourth floor of the St. Stephen's General, but she is not in her body, how could this be? 

Five years earlier Helen was accused of steeling a rare book from the library downtown, but the accusations were false, she was no where near the library on that faithful day in July. Her right hand was amputated before her innocence could be established. It wasn't fair. She never found out who accused her of this crime. 

It was past midnight when the door slowly opens and she watches a nondescript shadow slip into the room. It approaches her unconscious body, bends to whisper in her ear, "I'm sorry..." As soon as the confession manifested itself into the world Helen's heart stopped beating, it was the Fourth of July, Independence Day, and finally the truth had set her free.

Where have your google searches taken you? 

I'm Living in the Gap, drop in anytime! 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Back Jacket Hack Job #20 - "Alive"


     From molecular gastronomy to humanely killed and raised small batch game restaurants, we have entered a golden age of curated authentic dining experiences.  People these days are eating out and expecting a meal that is not just delicious and unique, simultaneously healthful and indulgent, but also want an experience.  One of the hottest trends in haute cuisine is actually cold - the raw food movement.

     In "Alive," celebrated restaurant critic Piers Paul Reed explores the history of one of the pioneering restaurants of organic free-range raw food, Glaciar de Lagrimas.  Open for a mere seventy-two days in 1972 on a remote mountain top in the Argentinian Andes accessible only by helicopters guided by Chilean mule drivers, Glaciar de Lagrimas started out as a wine bar serving chocolate and tapas locally sourced and flown across the continent.  An unexpected surplus of ice-cured Uruguayan specialty meats led the restaurateurs to hand craft the most unique raw food menu to rock the world of alfresco mountain bistros since The Donner served its last party in northern California. Serving some of South America's most famous athletes and luminaries, Glaciar de Lagrimas was eventually abruptly shut down when the thing lovers of hidden fine dining gems dread the most happened - it was written up on the front page of newspapers around the world.

     "Not only did Glaciar de Lagrimas inspire me to open Spago in the 1980s, it is the main reason I branched out into airport dining establishments." - Wolfgang Puck

     "A better street-meat pop-up than the world thought was humanly possible." - Anthony Bourdain

     "Ride a doomed airplane to Flavortown - I'd donkey sauce the shit out of that." - Guy Fieri



Thursday, June 29, 2017

I'm Not Going to Bed Until I finish writing this book -- and other questionable decisions

I'm really NOT going to bed until I finish writing this draft of my book. I was supposed to finish it yesterday and then today, and I can't put it off for another day. So, somewhere along the line I decided I'd pull an old school all nighter if necessary.

I had a 4pm coffee and some chocolate just now, so I should be good, right? Except I haven't pulled an all nighter in a LONG time. Even when I worked mad hours at the day job, I'd only stay up until 2am or so. Since I've started writing and working for myself, I've been a lot more, shall we say...lax?, about the hours I keep. I work the hours The Boy is in school, but I walk the dogs every day for at least an hour in there and my social media habit is strong!

But it's time to crack down! I have exactly 9 days to get this draft in good enough shape to send to my editor and that means writing the ending sooner than later. From a curiosity perspective, I'm treating this like an experiment. Again, I have only day job experience as reference, but I was capable of PowerPoint and Excel, even at 2am. Am I capable of creativity after being awake for 20 hours? I don't know! I've led myself to believe I'm not. In fact, I seldom write at night, claiming it "doesn't work well for me." But I don't actually know

So, I'm going in. It's 10:20pm where I live and I have at least a chapter and a half to eke out. If I'm going to do the story justice, it's probably more like two and a half. I'm not a fast writer normally, although recent days and deadline pressure have also made me question whether this is another lie I tell myself. I suspect it might be -- just like I suspect there's a whole psychology around why that I'll delve into when I'm not trying to make a deadline.

For now, I'd love to hear your strategies for a) making your deadlines and b) pushing yourself beyond the preconceived notions you have about your capabilities. As for me, I'll be the one over here typing madly. Or falling asleep with my face on the keyboard. I'll let you know how it turns out!

Monday, June 26, 2017

How the Starswept Cover Came To Be

A post by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! As some of you might recall, I had a cover reveal for my YA sci-fi novel, , here a few weeks back. Today, I'm gonna take y'all behind the scenes of how it came to be.

STARSWEPT is, at its core, a romance. It's the story of a teen viola player, Iris, who's grown up surrounded by classical music and dance, who's been so immersed in the glittering dramas and fairy tales of the stage that she wants nothing more to be a part of it all. Though she lives in a sci-fi future--the story takes place about 200 years in Earth's future--she's an old-fashioned romantic. And she soon finds herself lost in the kind of hopeless love she depicts in her music after an unexpected encounter with a mysterious alien boy... who ends up revealing information that shatters everything she thought she knew about the world she lives in. Her journey eventually takes her to an alien planet lightyears away.

So I needed the cover to convey both the romantic tone of the story and Iris's voice and something that spoke of galaxy-spanning sci-fi. Also, something that fit in the young adult category. In addition, it was super important to me that Iris herself be pictured on the cover. Even though there's been a trend lately of YA covers not depicting people. But here's the thing: Iris is Asian American. There are not a lot of Asian Americans (or Asians in general) on book covers. Especially in sci-fi/fantasy.

Anyone who says they don't like seeing characters on book covers likely hasn't grown up feeling invisible because they've never seen anyone who looks like them on book covers. I remember wandering the rows of bookstores and libraries, seeing white face after white face depicted as the heroines of countless stories, be it contemporary or speculative. This is beautiful, they said. This is normal. This is what a heroine looks like.

This is not you.

Unless it was a specifically Asian-centric story focusing specifically on Asian-ness--think Joy Luck Club or Dragonwings--Asians were literally invisible in fiction. They were not pictured. They weren't intrepid warriors or quirky sleuths or determined underdogs. Or romance novel heroines. They didn't get to wear the pretty ball gown under the swirly title, didn't get to narrate the story, didn't get to catch the eye of the handsome stranger.

Asian girls can be heroines too.
With Iris, I was determined to take one step more toward changing all that. She was going to be front-and-center on the cover of a sci-fi romance, telling young Asian girls that yes, you are beautiful. You are normal--and you are more than just your Asian-ness. You are what a heroine looks like.

Anyway, those of you who read a lot of YA may have noticed that girls in ball gowns is a common theme on covers, and the concept fit Iris's story perfectly. Not only does it scream "romance"--signaling to romance readers that this is their kind of book--but it brings in that old-fashioned romanticism that's so integral to Iris's character. Plus, she literally attends a ball at one point.

To add in the element of sci-fi, I decided she'd be pictured against a space background--a galaxy or nebula. And holding her instrument, since it's such a core part of both her character and the story.

I briefly considered going the old-fashioned route and searching stock photo libraries for a suitable model, but quickly abandoned the idea. First of all, stock photo libraries are overwhelmingly white... there just weren't a lot of options. And secondly, I've been around stock photo libraries and book covers long enough to have seen the same faces on different covers multiple times. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with this, but it began to bug me a bit (I've seen the characters on my other covers on several other books, and it weirds me out a bit every time).

Angel Fan, about to dive in for the shoot
Next, I went about arranging a photo shoot... and decided it should be underwater. I've always loved underwater photography for the otherworldly, ethereal look it gives its subjects. And it was perfect for my pretty little romance novel. Also, the weightlessness of being underwater translated perfectly to the weightlessness of being in outer space.

Finding a model was easy: my kid sister, Angel, was eager to volunteer. And it just so happened that she was uniquely qualified for the gig. Not only did she have the right look, but she's a dancer and an experienced swimmer (a trained diver, in fact!) who wasn't afraid of spending long periods of time in the water. And she actually plays viola. As a string player myself (violinist), it always bothered the heck out of me to see unqualified models atrociously clutching and
One of Roberto's gorgeous photos.
clawing at their instruments. Even when they weren't "playing," the way they held the instruments made it obvious that they didn't know what they were doing. Even if Iris wasn't going to be playing her viola on the cover, whoever portrayed her sure as heck had to know how to handle one. And Angel did.

So I had the concept, and I had the model. Next thing I needed: A photographer experienced in underwater photography. Lucky for me, I live in the NYC area, and finding one was a simple matter of Googling. I came across Roberto Falck's website and immediately fell in love with his portfolio. This was my guy.

Next task: obtaining props and wardrobe. Since I wanted a viola to be depicted in the shoot and knew that whatever unfortunate instrument I used would be totally ruined, I went online and sought out the cheapest instrument I could find. Thank goodness for eBay. I also had to find a suitable ball gown for Angel to wear. I ended up finding two that I liked. The first one was a slender pink dress with butterfly sleeves I absolutely adored. However, one of the best things about underwater photography is the floaty-ness it adds to fabric, and I was hoping to find something with a lot of skirt. So I found a
Angel doing her make-up before the shoot
second dress--a white one--that had a train. I loved everything about it, but was worried it might be too heavy and pose a safety risk. So I obtained both dresses and decided to see the day of which one worked.

Then there are all the little things that pop up. For instance: what to do about hair and makeup? Well, hair, I decided, was easy: She'd just wear her natural long hair down and let the water play with it. For makeup, I went online to mermaid forums (as in, forums for professional underwater performers) to gather tips. Still, I wanted Iris's look to be as natural as possible... "no make-up make-up," if you will. Essentially, I wanted Iris to be all about natural beauty. So I ended up finding a waterproof tattoo cover-up recommended by several professional mermaids that would serve as foundation (and cover Angel's wrist tattoo). And that was the only make-up we ended up using. Also, it occurred to me to obtain a two-piece swimsuit to serve as underwear and pack some towels and Angel's bathrobe so she wouldn't have to wander around in a soaking dress when she got out of the water. Finally, Roberto suggested trying a few shots of Angel seated, so I found a short stool that would be heavy enough to sink (in other words, no wood).

We rented out the pool at a Long Island diving school for the shoot. Roberto and his crew arrived the evening before to set up--the lights, the backdrop, etc.--and conduct a few test shots on a different model (an acquaintance on his).

Angel, Roberto, and Frank in the pool
Angel and I arrived the next morning. Besides Roberto, there were six other crewmembers: Ed (the producer), Frank (underwater support), Jeff, Jesse, and Maha (the latter three performed miscellaneous support tasks... adjusting the equipment, previewing the photos on a computer, running errands, etc.)

The pool room was super hot and humid, since the water had to be kept pretty warm (no hypothermia!). We started with the pink dress, since it was lighter and would be easier for Angel. Roberto and Frank were in the pool with her--Roberto in his wetsuit photographing her, and Frank providing miscellaneous underwater support, which included fluffing up Angel's hair and skirt to give it more movement. I spent the whole time crouched by the pool's edge, watching everything from above.

Roberto would tell Angel what poses to try, and Angel would oblige (as a dancer with ballet training, she's really good at posing). Each time, he'd give a count, and then they'd submerge (one... two... three... hold your breath and go down!). They'd stay down for about a minute, then come up. Roberto would review a few shots and give Angel feedback. I also got to get a peek at some of them in case I wanted to give feedback, but I really didn't have anything to say other than, "That's beautiful!"

Le broken viola. I ended up using this shot for a chapter spread.
Of course, something had to go wrong. About an hour into the shoot, the viola broke. The neck
snapped clean off the body. Apparently it was because the waterlogged wood expanded and softened, and the tension of the strings pulled it apart. We'd barely begun... we were scheduled to go all through the afternoon.

Fortunately, Frank was super handy, and I know a thing or two about string instruments. He pointed out that he could screw the neck back on if we could get the strings off. So I unstrung the instrument, and Maha ran out to the nearest hardware store to get some screws. It was a good time for Angel to take a break, too (and she was really glad that bathrobe was there!). After Frank got the neck back on, I restrung the instrument, being mindful to keep the strings looser this time (the hardest part was getting the bridge to stay up, since that's held up by the string tension alone, without letting the strings get too tight).

After that, fortunately, it was pretty much smooth sailing. After another hour of shooting, Angel changed into the white dress. And, it turned out, it wasn't too heavy at all! And the train looked fantastic underwater... the skirt was a lot more dynamic than the pink one was. Angel tried a bunch of different poses... in the end, we ended up with more than 400 shots.

Here's a behind-the-scenes video Roberto made...

Now, I had been in contact with a cover artist since before the photo shoot, and when I last heard from her, she was ready and eager to do the design, just waiting on the photos. Once the photos were available, I contacted her again, and... crickets. For more than a month.

So I contacted Streetlight Graphics (whom I'd worked with in the past and totally love--the only reason I was trying a different artist this time was for variety) in a panic, since I had to have the cover done by a certain date if I was to have hardcovers printed in time for Gen Con, a huge convention I exhibit at every year. Thankfully, Glendon (owner/artist extraordinaire) was able to accommodate the hastened timeframe.

From a graphic design standpoint, I only had two instructions, really: That the background be some kind of pretty galaxy/nebula, and that there be some kind of frame. Because I was determined to have silver foil for this cover and thought it'd be cool to have a silver frame (as well as the title and author name being in foil). I was thrilled with the end result... it's everything I wanted. Some have pointed out that it's a little old-fashioned looking. Considering it's about a classical musician, I say that's all the better.

When I finally got my hardback production sample in my hands, with that photo and those shiny foil letters... well, let's just say I needed a tissue ;-)

Clockwise from top left: Shot as seen from above the water, un-retouched shot, cover as hardback, cover as e-book
STARSWEPT will be released on August 29 from Snowy Wings Publishing!



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