Thursday, October 12, 2017

Interview with a YA author: Kara McDowell

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Welcome Kara McDowell to the blog! She's a YA author whose debut novel, JUST FOR CLICKS, will be published by Amberjack Publishing in 2019. She's a mom of three, and a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fan (everyone should be a CEG fan, just sayin'). Kara also has stellar advice for writers in both the drafting and submission trenches, so listen up.

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 1. First, and foremost, welcome! Can you tell us a little about your debut novel?
Thank you! JUST FOR CLICKS is about a teen social media darling who begins to question the cost of internet fame—especially when she unearths the secret her mother has spent the last seventeen years hiding. I was inspired by popular mommy bloggers who are raising a generation of children on the internet, and the question of what will happen when those children become teenagers. While writing, I was also able to draw on my own experience working as a mommy blogger after my first son was born.
2. Also, congrats on your sale to Amberjack Publishing. That's incredible. As any author on submission knows, the process can be grueling and demoralizing (no joke). Any advice to authors currently in the submission slog?
I’m the worst person to be giving advice on this subject, because I found submission to be a special kind of hell. It was agonizing to be so close and so far from achieving my dream at the same time. That said, I have two pieces of advice, and they are conflicting. First, write something else. Focusing on a new project stopped me from pinning all of my hope on one book. My second piece of advice is to be kind to yourself. Some days, writing will feel impossible. That’s okay. It’s okay to feel sad, to wallow, to worry. You will still be a writer if you take a few days (or more) off. It’s also helpful if you seek out friends who have been in your shoes. People don’t tend to talk about submission publicly (a separate, frustrating topic), but you will need to talk, to vent, to cry, and probably to eat ice cream.
3. You're a mom of three. How do you write and stay sane at the same time? 
Ha! I’m not sure I do? But honestly, writing is what keeps me sane when I’m surrounded by tiny people all day. Because my kids are so young, I’ve long since accepted the fact that I won’t get huge chunks of time and silence to sit and write. Because of that, I’ve gotten good at working with what I have, whether that’s nap time, while the kids are watching cartoons, or simply writing a sentence or two with my right hand while I stir dinner with my left. I’ve found it’s helpful if I leave my laptop open in a place I can see it. That simple act keeps my brain engaged in the story while I’m doing other mundane, necessary tasks. At the end of the day, I’ve often added hundreds of words to my count simply by squeezing in whatever I can.
4. Who are your favorite YA authors? Is there a published YA book that you wish you wrote?
I would not be the writer I am today without Stephanie Perkins. I’ve always dreamed of being an author, but I didn’t realize I wanted to write contemporary, romantic young adult novels until I read ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS. That book is like a giant hug. I could read it one hundred times and never get tired of it. I also love Jenny Han, Morgan Matson, and Nicole Yoon. I will read anything they write.
5. Are you a TV binge watcher? Or binge reader? And if so, what are you bingeing right now?
Yes! On both accounts! Admittedly, I binge watch more than I binge read these days, because my husband and I can do that together at the end of the day when the kids are asleep. We recently watched the first two seasons of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix and we both loved it. It’s hilarious, and smart, and feminist. Plus, it’s a musical! What more could you ask for?
6. Is there a line from your work-in-progress that you'd like to share? Either something that you adore, or something hysterical out of context.
My WIP is another standalone contemporary. I’ll share a snippet from the opening chapter. I love this section because everything that happens in this book stems from my character’s belief about this one subject.
“I have this theory that every person is a boat person. Or, they have the potential to be. Some people will deny this fact, will insist that they prefer the supposed safety that comes with having two feet on dry ground. These are usually the same people who spent one muggy summer morning digging through a Styrofoam box of worms in their grandpa’s fishing boat. They haven’t done the thing properly, is what I’m saying. They have no idea what they’re talking about.”
7. Do you have any advice for newbie writers? Those who are simply trying to get words on the page?

Quantity over quality. Truly. Anything you write now can be fixed later. Finishing your first novel is such an empowering experience. And if you’ve done it once, you can do it again. At least, that’s what I tell myself when I’m discouraged about a terrible first draft.

8. What take-out food would pair well with your novel? 

Amberjack Publishing’s homepage says they “have a knack for finding binge-worthy books.” With that thought in mind, I’d pair my book with chips and salsa. If you eat one, it’s hard to stop! Plus, my main character Claire, loves Mexican food. She’d approve.

Thanks, Kara, for stopping by! 

Follow Kara on social media, and look for JUST FOR CLICKS in 2019.
Twitter: @karajmcdowell
Instagram: karajmcdowellbooks

Monday, October 9, 2017

Google Search: From Head Transplants to Book Souls

The Beckort household had a head lice scare at the end of the summer. I suppose I should count my lucky stars that we made it 11 years without the kid coming in contact with the little buggers, but still. LICE {yuck} Well, I quickly went into full combat mode, and my first stop was Google. I had to know what I was looking for and what to do about it. As I typed in ‘head’ I was met with the following suggestions by the Google bots:

Even in my DEFCON 1 mode, I had to pause when I saw ‘head transplant’. I mean, what? As intrigued as I was, I didn’t have time to investigate further. My understanding is that lice multiply by the millisecond.

Later, once the house and all family and pet members were fully deloused, I did a legit search on head transplant. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was surprised to learn that there’s a doctor who is actually trying to complete the first human head transplant. Technically it’s more like a body transplant, but head transplant must sound cooler. Apparently, this has already been attempted several times with animals. I’ll never forgive Google for putting me on this path after seeing the pictures of the two-headed rats... Why? Just, why?

I considered doing a flash fiction for this post, but with our Stephen Kozeniewski as the resident horror writer on the blog, I knew I could never produce something worthy of the topic. So then I started thinking about the ethics of a head transplant. It’s not surprising that there are people who think doing this is immoral. That it would be like separating the soul from the body or even attempting a mixing of souls. I believe we all have souls, but I never actually thought about where the soul resides. Is it only in the brain? Is it the heart? Is it the entire body? Or is the soul outside the body, controlling us like avatars?

Well, that’s all a bit heavy for this post. So like any good rabbit hole, my mind wandered to the soul of books. I’d qualify the book’s soul as the essential part of the story. That one part that would render the book useless if it didn’t exist or if were changed in some way. Is it in the characters? The plot? The setting? A combination of all?

I’m going to select my favorite multiple choice answer: All of the Above.

I’ve read some books where the character(s) carried the entire book. One that comes to mind is YOU by Caroline Kepnes. You could pick Joe up and plop him down in another setting or plot and he’d be just as intriguing. He makes the story.

When I think about the soul of a book residing in the plot, most murder mysteries and thrillers come to mind. The whole point of the book is to figure out who-done-it. An annoying protagonist can be easily overlooked if the plot offers up some good unexpected twists and turns. One of my personal favorites is SHUTTER ISLAND by Dennis Lehane. That book gripped me from the start and didn’t let go for a while after I had finished reading.

I’m not usually a reader who gets swept away by the setting. That’s just not where I like to get lost. However, once in a while a book takes me by surprise and I want to immerse myself in its world. My favorite has to be THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern. The characters were great and I loved the storyline, but it was the setting that had me enthralled. I found myself wishing the Night Circus would show up in my town in real life. And I’m not even a circus fan!

Then there are some books that combine all three in a way that would make it impossible for one to exist without the other. I’m currently listening to the CHIEF INSPECTOR ARMAND GAMACHE Series by Louise Penny. These murder mysteries mostly happen in the small fictional Canadian village of Three Pines. Each of the three areas—plot, characters, setting—are so intricately woven together I’m convinced none could exist without the others.

All this got me thinking about the souls of my books. I’ve often thought through the ‘reason’ for each of my books (as in what I want the reader to get out of reading it) but I haven’t really thought about it in terms of where the soul lies. I suppose each book does and will have an individual soul, which will reside wherever that particular book needs it to be. But I also think I have a universal book soul that stretches across everything I write—emotional connection. I want to write things that make people feel something, anything—from happiness to hopefulness to anger to everything else in-between. For me, the worst possible reaction I could get from a reader is indifference. I believe my natural writing style evokes emotions, so my challenge comes in successfully attaching the characters, the plot, and the setting to the emotional conduit I’ve created.

What about you? If you’re a writer, where does the soul for your book(s) lie? If you’re a reader, which of the book soul locations mentioned above do you enjoy most?

~ Carrie

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Across the Board is 3 Years Old!

A Post By Jonathan

I can't believe it, can you? Across the Board is three years old! That's like 30 years in blog years. We make three look good, don't we...

Our first post was on October 9th, 2014 and we've been bringing our readers quality content every Monday and Thursday (just about) ever since.

I for one want to thank all my fellow bloggers for making Across the Board such a huge success:
                                                                                Carrie Beckfort
                                                                                     Mary Fan
                                                                            Kimberly G. Giarratano
                                                                                 Abigail Isaacoff
                                                                           Stephen Kozeniewski
                                                                                Cheryl Oreglia
                                                                                 Brenda St. John
Sometimes blogging once a month (that's what it works out to with the eight of us) isn't easy for some of us, but we keep on doing it "literally" (see how I did that?) year in and year out. We just reached 22,000 twitter followers the other day, so we know people like us. And we like you too, people...

I would be remiss if I didn't mention our past Boarders. We "literally" (see how I... oh never mind) wouldn't be here without you. See the list below and follow them and their work vigorously.


Lastly, I'd like to thank my mom for birthing me, my wife for marrying me and my fellow Boarders for sticking with me. Here's to another wonderful three years-- and beyond!

Monday, October 2, 2017

True Horror

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

It's hard to write a blogpost about writing on a day like today.  And what can I even say about the tragedy in Las Vegas that Carrie didn't already say better here?

This is horror.  True horror.  The horror we live with every day.  The horror that you try to shove down and away and cover up with Netflix binges and Scrabble and trips to the Olive Garden.  Death could come for you suddenly, so suddenly you don't even see it coming.  You could just turn around and be shot in the back of a head at a movie theater, an elementary school, a country-and-western concert.

Not long ago I dreamt I was standing in a marble colonnade and the nuclear bombs started falling.  I realized how death could come at any instant, for absolutely no reason, and I wouldn't even get the chance to clean up the loose ends of my life, say, fill the gas tank or finish this blog post.  I woke up with a deep, mortifying, existential dread.  

You always think you're going to die when you're old and gray, after a long, satisfying life.  Or, barring that, maybe you'll get a cancer diagnosis and a year to live in which to settle all your accounts and say all your goodbyes.  If you go to war there's the cold comfort of knowing that if you die, you died for something.

But there's something especially horrible about sudden, meaningless death.  It's what madmen and terrorists prey upon.  It feeds them and satiates them.  The clown from IT is more metaphor than supernatural menace, after all.

I write horror.  I try to imagine terrible things.  I'm often asked why.  Well, there are a million reasons, but amongst them is that facing death is a special kind of exhilarating, and a special kind of catharsis, especially when you know you'll be safe.  It's like riding a rollercoaster.  

Real death and destruction, though, it's never fun.  I find no matter how hard I try to inoculate myself to horror and dismemberment through movies and books, the real thing still always has the power to depress and wound me.  No matter how many times I may watch "Re-Animator" for fun, seeing someone decapitated on the side of the road will still shock and sicken.  I guess it's the difference between having the safety bar down on the rollercoaster and driving drunk without a seatbelt.  

Not long ago a great horror writer gave the rest of us a challenge, and a warning.  He said that it was our task to entertain people in these miserable times, but also to comment upon what's happening.  Great art comes out of challenging eras, but it can also change them - think about UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, THE JUNGLE, or ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES.

I'm not a kook - at least I think I'm not - but I worry sometimes, more often as the clock ticks onward, that we're reaching the end of man's time on this planet, whatever that means.  I doubt a seven-headed dragon with seven diadems on each of its heads will descend upon us, but as hurricanes swallow whole states and islands, as nuclear war seems closer than it has since the '60s, as lunatics and terrorists blow up and shoot up every place we feel safe, it certainly seems like a wave of darkness is washing over us.

Sure, it was a refrain as old as the hills when the ancient Greeks predicted the end of days, but though we came through the ignorance and the slaughter of past centuries, never before has the threat to our society seemed so existential.  That's technology's fault.  Perhaps technology can fix it.  Perhaps not.  It's the job of the science fiction writer to imagine that future, and the job of the horror writer to help us confront our fears.  We do what we can, I suppose.  And it's all of our jobs to love a little bit, and bring a little bit of light into that ever encroaching wave of darkness.  Maybe seven billion little flames can drive out the night, even if a few powerful, small-minded jackasses seem determined to usher it in.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Lagom with a touch of Hygge

By Cheryl Oreglia

I wanted to be a Hyggelist for about twenty-four hours but just found out that was so yesterday! This was the topic of a recent blog posted at Living in the Gap. Hygge is a Danish term, it requires consciousness, the ability to not only live in the moment, but also recognize it's gifts. For those of you who only write horror, the english words used to describe Hygge are cosiness, charm, happiness, contentment, security, familiarity, kinship, or simpleness. The very things you strive to shatter in a horror novel are currently trending in the United States. 

If I wasn't trying to disrupt the algorithm of Facebook ads on my social media accounts with fake google searches I would have never stumbled upon the term Hygge. How lucky are we?

Taking time to smell the roses, enjoy the moment, maybe even seize the day, this is what Living in the Gap is all about.  All very cliche, totally Danish, but nonetheless taking our culture by storm. As a writer I consider my life experience through a unique lens. Does it have relevance, deeper meaning, significance? Is it worth writing about? Hygge sharpens the focus. 

Larry, my husband, and I have very different interests. My passion is writing, his is riding (mountain biking), weird how they sound the same, although very different practices. He does not miss a Saturday morning ride if he's in town. EVER. So I tend to write on Saturday mornings but that's not enough to keep a blog going. I have to linger with my words, thoughts, feelings, #Hygge. He'll never admit it, but he's not a fan of watching me crouched over a computer, deep in thought, sucking down gallons of coffee. He's what you call a man of action. I'm not. Is there middle ground?

Last night we were invited to a private concert. A good friend of ours is pursuing his passion of performing in a band. He made it happen, organized a group of talented musicians, and lined up a few gigs. They are awesome, the name of the band is Knee Deep, and they are making their mark in the valley. 

Knee Deep was booked at a quaint theater in downtown San Jose, a crew was filming for promotional purposes, so a small group of close friends showed up to dance/cheer/clap in the background. At one point in the night my friend Jill said "I love that Steve (the one in the front of the picture) is pursuing his passion." She looked at me and said, "you are too with your blog." We looked up and down the row of spectators, all over fifty, and still working day jobs. We realized most of us have a passion we kindle on the side, be it writing, riding, music, yoga, fishing, hiking, wine making, running, wood working, philanthropy, etc. And we all agreed we prefer our passions over our day jobs. 

I thought this was interesting, but I put it aside, and continued my mad search for news of Hygge. This is when I found out Hygge was so 2016, Lagom is the new trend, and together they are defining American culture. You can toss that around at your next dinner party (#sointheknow). Lagom is a Swedish concept of "not too much, not too little." Did I mention I'm Swedish? 

Sounds a little like the Buddhist concept of the "middle way," which avoids extremes of deprivation and excess, finding comfort in the middle ground, an optimal place for enlightenment. Lagom translates to "enough, sufficient, adequate, just right." Where Hygge aims to capture a feeling, Lagom is an ethos of moderation. Coffee with cream is Lagom, a nonfat pumpkin spiced latte is too much, plain coffee not enough. Add a roaring fire and you've got Nirvana!

In staying with my new standard of Lagom maybe I should avoid extremes like Comnopanis or my disastrous ClosetApparently there is a thin line between following your passion and acting in a selfish manner. Striving for balance, learning to say no, focusing on what you need to be doing are all part of the Lagom lifestyle. It's your personal gift to the world, the one you were born to pursue. As Glen Campbell sings, "I might need you more than want you." Writers write, singers sing, athletes play, everything else is superfluous. The trend is to simplify, pursue your passion, and avoid excess. A soft throw, hot coffee, computer, now that's the ultimate Lagom with a touch of Hygge.

"You will always be a little incomplete. This is the beautiful frustration of being human. And it’s where all the best art comes from, " Jeff Goins. 

Drop a few thoughts on these new trends in the comments. I might need, more than want a simplistic lifestyle, how about you?

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

Monday, September 25, 2017

Rumpus Room Reads #8 - "The Story of Adele H."

In which I question my choice of reading material, and whether I am self-consciously trying to alienate my peers by publicly consuming obnoxiously hipster vaguely erotic-seeming vintage novels.  Spoiler alert - complete erotic let down.  French eyes tell lies, apparently.

"The Story of Adele H." is literally just the script of the the 1975 movie of the same name.  Do they still do this, sell scripts with screenshots as books?  Was this a major trend in the 1970s?  I feel like maybe it was, due to the fact that movies from that decade seem to me, as an '80s baby, particularly like slow boring visual torture, experimental but the experiment failed.  Reading this script-book took me so little time that I had a hard time imagining that there was enough to make a full movie, until I realized each four-line scene probably had like eight hours of artsy exhausting imagery.  I mean, look at the director:

"I have, how you say, a vision.  And mustard on my ascot."

The "Adele H." in the title is the daughter of Victor Hugo, and this is the true story of her obsession with a British lieutenant, some bummy loser who probably used her for her money because he chose the army over debtors' prison, then when her dad refused to let them marry he was like meh, but she was like NOOOOOOO!  She followed him to Halifax where she was again rejected by him.  Her obsession grows and her grip on reality slips as she harasses him in such cute little romantic ways as publishing a fake wedding announcement for the two of them in the local paper then sending him a hooker.  Not a happy ending either.  Not anything that dramatic, just she ends up following him to Barbados then goes home to Europe to outlive all her family members.  Boring endings - the danger of true stories.

"This is definitely art, you guys!"

This bookstore owner was all like "I'll hunchback your Notre Dame" and Adele was NOT impressed.

Caption contest in the comments, GO!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The 'Fountain and Fairfax' of youth: I love The Afghan Whigs

I feel like I need to preface this post with a caveat about how the world is a dumpster fire and I feel so guilty about my life being pretty decent when Puerto Rico is barely standing, Mexico City is a rubble, and we're fighting for healthcare again. But, maybe, that's exactly why I am writing this post. Because we're not meant to absorb all these sorrows at once.

Throw money at causes. Call your senators. Try to live decently. And value small gifts.


I was so fortunate to see my favorite band LIVE last Saturday night in Brooklyn. Little history lesson: When I was 17 years old, I fell in love with The Afghan Whigs. It was all just a fluke really. In 1994, I saw the leader singer Greg Dulli perform with The Backbeat Band (a mishmash of alterna-gods who performed Beatles covers for the Backbeat movie) on MTV, and I was instantly smitten. First, he looked like no other rock star at the time. He had short, dark hair and was wearing a black dress shirt. No grunge. No long hair. No mosh pit. And when he sang, I paid attention. I couldn't take my eyes off him.

In 1996, my Green Day phase long over, I bought The Afghan Whigs's Black Love from the BMG catalog. You remember those? My mom, who thought she was just getting a good deal, is the reason I had such a bitchin music collection as a teenager.  

Black Love was dark and gritty and sexy. It felt adult. No quippy tunes about jacking off or weed. Just raw, seedy emotion. And I loved it.

The last time I saw The Afghan Whigs was 1999. I was a sophomore in college and they were playing at a small, rundown club five minutes from my house. The band dissolved in 2001. Greg Dulli fronted a new endeavor (The Twilight Singers -- also amazing), and I saw them a few times. But then I got married, had kids, and I could never make another show. I was always nursing a baby, and driving to the city on a Wednesday night was never feasible, not without disrupting my entire family so I could see my band. Until last Saturday.

I bought tickets, grabbed my best friend, and hauled ass to Brooklyn. And it was the most incredible night of my life.

My husband, for all his good qualities, is not a fan of their music. He doesn't understand the community, the intense feeling of singing your voice raw with other Gen X-ers, dancing as if you're demonically possessed. Being in a crowd with fans who are jumping, dying over the music. Who are screaming because we heard the first few chords of "Fountain and Fairfax." No one can make me feel 17 again like The Afghan Whigs. It's the greatest gift. Yeah, yeah I have children whom I adore, but they don't make me feel young, that's for sure.

Who's your most favorite band? When did you fall in love with them?

I'm a dork. 

Greg Dulli does not permit flash photography so the photo is crappy. But there he is!

I love this man.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Adapting to Chaos

A post by Mary Fan
Every writer and aspiring writer has, at some point or another, seen some inspiring article/meme about the humble origins of successful authors—tallying up the rejections received for famous books, describing how these authors had to slum it before being showered with riches, etc. They’re meant to encourage: “Hey, even [famous author] struggled, but look how awesome things turned out! You can do it too!” Lots of successful authors add to this sea of inspo by humblebragging about their journeys, “10 years ago, I was poor and depressed. Look at me now! I’m a New York Times bestseller with a movie deal! Yay me! If you work hard, you can be me too!”

While well-intentioned, these inspiration stories have… something of a dark side. Underneath them all, there’s an unspoken message: “If you’re good, you’ll get discovered.” And underneath that, there’s the flip side: “If you’re not getting discovered, you’re no good.” The latter thought is an insidious demon that crawls into your subconscious after reading story upon story of relentless authors who find success and wondering why, even when you’ve done everything they’ve done, you still haven’t reached their level of success/fame/whatever.

We like to believe that publishing is a meritocracy where talent is discovered and the cream rises to the top, but the fact is, any creative enterprise is bound to be highly subjective. Which means it’s also highly chaotic. Random. Who decides what’s good? Who decides what’s worthy?

While there’s certainly a baseline of work every writer needs to do – learning the basics of storytelling etc., whether through courses or by reading a lot – publishing is ultimately one giant game of chance. You can do everything right and still wind up with no deal. Last week, writer Anjali Enjeti wrote about her own publishing woes in The Atlantic (“Why I’m Still Trying to Get a Book Deal After 10 Years”). Now here was a writer who did it all – attended conferences, got an MFA, etc. And her talent was recognized – she twice landed agents, and her articles have been featured in prestigious publications. Yet no publisher would pick up her books.

Suffice it to say, her story is thoroughly depressing for most writers. Yet, I found it weirdly reassuring, since it said to me, “If your books aren’t selling, it’s not necessarily because they aren’t good.” It reminded me that being “good” and being “successful” are two different things (what is “successful” anyway?). And by the end of the article, Enjeti has made peace with herself, accepting the randomness and finding balance.

I suspect that her story is far, far more common than those of the J.K. Rowlingses. And it needs to be told more, and by more people. Even though it’s not fashionable to talk about one’s lack of success (particularly since it draws a spotlight to said lacking). But it demonstrates just how chaotic the publishing process is, how little relationship there is between merit and reward. Some people crank out their first novel in a few weeks just for the heck of it, then land a publishing deal right away and find themselves on bestseller lists. Others spend years and years on a novel, conscientiously crafting a thing of beauty, and yet it never sees the light of day. Two authors with similar books published at similar times can put in the same amount of marketing effort, yet one will go viral and the other will languish in obscurity. There is no fairness in any of it.

What can we do but adapt to the chaos? Accept the randomness of publishing as part of the deal we made with our muses when we decided to become writers. Know that apart from the writing of the book itself, almost nothing is in your control. Some people will find that discouraging. Personally, I find it comforting.

It's fun to fantasize about one day getting to humblebrag on social media about how "X years ago, I had all these rejections, but look at me now! I'm a fabulous bestseller!" But what if that day never comes? Does that mean you were never good enough to deserve what those other writers have? I don't think so. Randomness is a powerful force, after all. As for whether all that work was worth it... well, that depends on your own definition of worth.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Working With a Freelance Publicist

Authors who love doing marketing raise your hands? Anyone? Anyone??

I feel like a lot of my posts here at Across the Board are about marketing/publicity -- and about what NOT to do. But today I'm taking a slightly different turn and talking about outsourcing marketing/publicity. Yep, it's a thing. And while it may not be the answer to all of your prayers, it can help a lot. 

When I was preparing to launch The Castle Calder series, I decided to work with a publicist to help me maximize the exposure on the release of my new series. I got the marketing all wrong with the release of The Truth Series the first time around (hence a recent rebrand and relaunch, but that's another story altogether), but I didn't know how to do it right. So...I did what anyone else would do. I asked author friends for recommendations, reviewed websites and set up interviews with three different publicists.

(For the record, I ended up working with Linda Russell from Foreword PR (formerly Sassy, Savvy Fabulous) and she is, in fact, sassy, savvy AND fabulous. She specializes in new adult, contemporary and erotic romantic fiction and she's helped me a lot. So much that I've stuck with her through three releases and my rebranding.)

I see you over there shaking your head. You interviewed publicists? What on earth did you ask? Lots of things, the most important of which I'm going to list out here. Remember, you're hiring this person. You're going to pay them (we'll talk more about that in a minute). Pretend it's for something less personal You'd ask questions of the guy who's going to renovate your bathroom, right? When you're hiring a cover designer, you want to see samples of his/her work. Same with a publicist. Some "standard" questions I ask:

  1. How far in advance of release date do you prefer to start working with an author?
  2. Do you have a different monthly rate for release month vs. pre-/post-release? What is the difference in level of "service"? What is the minimum term you'll contract for?
  3. Can you give any data on how your efforts have worked in the past?
  4. Will you handle ARC sign up and distribution? How many ARCs will you try to give out before release? 
  5. What big blogs do you specifically target?
  6. Is any graphics/branding work included in the monthly fee? If not, is this something that can be arranged separately and at what cost?
  7. What is your preferred method of publicity? Facebook, newsletters, etc.
  8. How far in advance of release date do you need material from me for this to be most effective?
  9. Will I have access to the contacts and data related to my release?
  10. How do you prefer to be contacted and what should I expect from you in terms of level of contact? (If your publicist never checks email, but is on FB messenger like it's her job, you want to know that!)
I've seen people lament, "I hired a publicist, but this last book just tanked." There may be reasons for that (Hello, natural disasters and world politics) that have nothing to do with your publicist. Or it may be that your expectations aren't quite realistic. So, about that...
  1. You're going to have to work just as hard as your publicist to get the word out about your book. Working with a publicist is a team effort. She/he will guide you, but at the end of the day it's not a hall pass to escape marketing altogether.
  2. If you're not sure what to do that works, ask your publicist. She/he probably has tons of ideas about what you as an author can do to promote your release.
  3. The more prepared you are before you start working with a publicist, the better.
  4. It takes time to build an audience. Everyone wants to have that magic unicorn book that will hit a list and gain all the buzz, but most of us aren't magic unicorns.
  5. You're not your publicist's only client. Emailing ten times/day "just to check in" is distracting. Or annoying. Or probably both.
There ARE some horror stories out there and big, waving red flags. This list is by no means comprehensive, but I'd think twice (or six times) about:
  1. Companies that ask you for a large lump-sum deposit upfront. Paying for a month in advance is expected. Paying for a year? Not so much.
  2. Companies who don't have experience promoting in your genre. Linda, for example, is amazing, but if you write horror, she's probably not the right fit for you.
  3. Companies that contact you post-release after seeing your book mentioned somewhere. Their interest may be legitimate and it may be a great fit, but poaching a client from someone else doesn't feel like the right way to do business. If you DO go this route, at least make sure to do the above due diligence.
  4. Companies who won't/can't give you a written plan with measurable outcomes tied to your goals. If you don't have it in writing, you have no recourse. And if you don't have measurable outcomes (e.g., distribute 50 ARCs, increase Facebook author page likes by x%) that you're both working towards, you have no recourse if things go badly.
Is your head spinning yet? One of the reasons I've made each list progressively shorter is because it's a lot to take in. Working with a publicist is a big decision and an investment, so it's best approached like the revolving sushi counter -- with eyes open and chopsticks out so no one sticks any unagi on your plate when you're not looking.

Has anyone here worked with a publicist? Additional recommendations for any of the above or things we haven't covered here? I'd love to hear them all in the comments!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Interview with Author Kathleen Grissom

I’m so excited to have had the opportunity to talk with Kathleen Grissom, author of THE KITCHEN HOUSE and GLORY OVER EVERYTHING: BEYOND THE KITCHEN HOUSE. I loved both books, and Kathleen immediately came to mind when I was thinking who I should approach for my first Across the Board interview. We had such a wonderful and inspiring talk. Her books are just as amazing as she is, so you should check them out if you haven’t already!

You can also You can follow Kathleen on the following sites:

CB: One part of your story thats always resonated with me is how youve said that you never intended to write a book, but it was as though you were called to do so. I know from experience it can be difficult to take that kind of leap of faith. What would you say to someone who may be experiencing the same kind of calling but is afraid to listen?

KG: If people don’t listen to the calling, I believe it’s because they don’t think that they’re capable, or that they’re not qualified to write it, or there’s some sort of fear attached to it. And I think it’s just so important to walk through fear. So I would say sit down and do it. Put that self-editing voice to the back and sit down and write what’s coming to you. And be grateful for it. Just do it. You know—the old Nike expression.

CB: I agree that fear is at the root of it. Let’s say someone reading this takes your advice and walks through their fear. If you could give them one piece of advice of what not to do, what would it be?

KG: Don’t let your ego run wild—get it out of the way. The ego is the one sitting there saying you have to make yourself important, you have to look important, and all of that ‘you should.’ And it’s not about that. It’s about a gift. One that you’ve followed through on and one that you want to know if people are interested in helping you with. And if they are that’s good and if they aren’t that’s good too. It’s not personal. With THE KITCHEN HOUSE, I had to go present myself to bookstores and I was terrified. I was taking it personally and I was thinking, “Oh my God, they’re going to think I’m a fool.” All that thinking about myself—the ego was wrapped up in it.

Also, I’ve seen authors turn people off by talking about how great their book is. People want to know how you came to write the book. Stay real. Be honest. Let them know that you’re afraid. Let them know that you don’t know if you’re qualified or if you’re good enough. Let them know the real you, the vulnerable part of you. They don’t want to see the ego up there and the pretty pictures we post of our lives on social media. That turns people off.

CB: That’s great advice. Have you come across any unexpected challenges in your life as a published author?

KG: One of the things that surprised me was how hard it is to be in the public eye. I have a whole new appreciation for people who don’t necessarily seek it out but are thrown into it. It can be overwhelming. That’s something I hadn’t expected. Sometimes after I’ve been speaking to a large group someone might come up and tell me how I’ve personally affected them through my writing. Sometimes they might cry or hug me and I realize that this is so much bigger than me. It allows me to again appreciate that this was a gift.

CB: In some of your talks I’ve watched online, you’ve commented that if you ever tried to change the story you were seeing in your head the writing would stop. I love that and know exactly what you mean. Was there a time when you had to defend a part of your vision during the writing process to keep it from changing, for example in editing?

KG: I never had that happen. Both my agent and my publisher were sensitive to this process and the way it works. I thought I was unique, but what I discovered was that many writers write this way—where the story comes to you and you don’t necessarily have control over what the characters decide to do. I certainly don’t. But I have wanted to make changes. As an example, in THE KITCHEN HOUSE I wanted the captain to tell his wife who Belle was. And when I tried to change the story line, the characters all just dissipated and I was left with no story. So I learned early on that I was meant to write it as it came—it was a gift and I was not meant to insert my opinion.

CB: Does anyone ever look at you strangely when you say that? My writing experience is similar, and I worry people will look at me like Im nuts if I tell them that. 
KG: You know, I thought that’s how people would look at me. When I was first told I was going to have to do book clubs, I didn’t know what I would talk about. My publisher told me to talk about how I wrote the book. I told her I couldn’t do that because they would think I was crazy. But she said, “Well, that’s what they’re going to want to know.” I wondered how I was going to do this. Then one day I picked up Alice Walker’s book THE COLOR PURPLE. For no reason. I wasn’t going to read it again—I just picked it up. I was paging through it and came to the very last page where she had thanked the souls for coming through and then she signed it “A.W.—author and medium.” And I thought then that if she can write that in her book then I’m not alone. And that was my first real indication that I needed to be completely honest about this and if people thought I was crazy then so be it.

Once I opened up, I was shocked by how many people then started to tell me about experiences they had. I’m often asked if I think I’m psychic and I say no because that’s a whole different phenomenon to me. But this is something I don’t pretend to understand. I just know that I’m very, very lucky to have been given this gift. But how people interpret me is none of my business. If I make it my business, then it’s the ego again. That ego always wants to get involved.

CB: Just hearing you talk about your experience creates an emotional reaction. I’ve found the same to be true in your writing. Both novels convey a strong emotional pull for the reader, which leads me to believe you were personally immersed in those emotions as you were writing. Was it difficult for you to let go of those feelings after you finished writing?

KG: You know it’s interesting—the way this comes to me is an interesting phenomenon because when I leave my writing room, it stays in there. While I’m writing it, I’m often pacing and crying. I’m feeling strong emotions. There’s this expression, I don’t remember where it came from, but it’s 'if it doesn’t come from the heart it won’t reach the heart.' And I believe that. So I let myself feel whatever my characters are feeling and I try to write that down. But after I’m finished for the day, that’s it. The feelings don’t follow me around, and when I finish the book we’re done. The characters don’t come back to let me know how they’re doing. That’s the gift. It’s presented in a certain package, and once that package is wrapped and sent out into the world it is no longer mine.

CB: You mentioned your writing room—can you tell me more about that?

KG: I’m lucky enough to have a writing room over my garage. At the beginning, when I first started writing THE KITCHEN HOUSE, I was writing in a corner of my dining room. I think it’s important to have a separate space. For me, I think it’s where the souls gather. So now I have my writing room, and in there I have a little alter. Right now I’m writing about a Native American woman Crow Mary, so I have a picture of Crow Mary and her daughter standing in front of a tipi. I also have a picture of my mother who’s passed away. Next to that, I have a little statue of Mary, a candle and a mixture of sage, cedar, and some other sacred herbs that the Crow used. Before I write, I smudge the room, and I ask for God’s direction. Then I sit down and write.

CB: I like the writing ritual you described.  I can see where that would help get you centered and get you into what you’re trying to achieve with your writing. I believe having things we can connect with is so powerful. Many readers often connect with specific quotes in books. I don’t tend to be one of those readers for some reason, but I did experience that connection with GLORY OVER EVERYTHING. The quote is from Jamie: “ could I blame her for an inability to love the part of me that I, too, loathed?” That really resonated with me on a personal level. Is there a quote from a book that has had a strong impact on you?

KG: Oh, that’s such a good question in that I don’t know that I’ve ever really given it much thought. There was this book, THE MADNESS OF A SEDUCED WOMAN by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, but I don’t remember the quote. However, there was some insight in that book about how a woman was treating her husband, and it had to do with fear and anger. She explained how fear was motivating the anger. And that was so powerful for me because that helped me to understand anger. That stayed with me for so many years and is still with me today. I think that when you are reading and something resonates it helps you understand something that’s deeply personal to you.

CB: Is there anything you can tell us about Crow Mary, the book that you’re working on now?

KG: Yes, I can tell you that I’m deeply committed. Crow Mary’s story is very challenging, in that it took place between 1850 to around 1900, which is a time when Natives were put onto reservations. There is so much research that I am doing, and it is ongoing, even as she speaks. She has so much to say—so much to tell us about her amazing life. You can imagine I’m burning a lot of that smoke at my little alter!

CB: I’m excited to read it. I loved your first two, I really did. They were great. Well, I have two more questions for you. They’re probably the most difficult questions, and they’re from my 11-year-old daughter. She likes to participate in my writing life as much as possible. Her first question—What’s your favorite color?

KG: I think my favorite color is purple. I think so. I would never have said that before, but I think it’s purple. I don’t know why, but it is. What’s her favorite color?

CB: If you can call cheetah print a color, then that’s it. She’s all over anything cheetah print. But if we’re not counting that, then her favorite color is aqua. The other thing she wants to know is if you like ice cream.

KG: I do like ice cream, but ice cream doesn’t necessarily like me.

CB: Ah, see that’s why she wanted me to first ask you if you liked ice cream. I told her we could just ask your favorite flavor, but she pointed out you might not be able to have dairy. 

KG: Well, she was right. Now I want to know her favorite flavor of ice cream.

CB: Mint chocolate chip.
KG: Oh, that’s my daughter’s favorite. And please tell your daughter thank you for those wonderful questions.

CB: I will—she was very excited about this interview. As was I. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

KG: It was no problem. Thank you—I enjoyed our conversation.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Writing While Traveling

This is a post about writing while traveling. I had planned to start it off by talking abut how I can't write while traveling, but since I am actually traveling, and writing, I guess I can't really say that, can I? It's funny how deadlines can make people do crazy things.

I had also thought about providing some tips on how to write while on the road, but it turns out that there are a lot of articles out there, by smarter people than me, that give you some great ideas on how to do it (see below). So I guess the only thing I can add is my own personal experience.
Writing while traveling is hard. We writers are creatures of habit (at least I know I am) and typically need our environments to be familiar and free of distractions to be able to produce the magic that we do. Some people are better at it than others. I heard that JK Rowling, pictured above, wrote the majority of the Harry Potter books at her local coffee shop and finished the last one at a hotel in London. I could never do that. All that talking, the swish of the cappuccino machine. And the temperature is never right in the hotel room, not to mention the smell. I guess that's why she's JK Rowling.

Then there's the physical toll that traveling takes on the mind and body. Navigating new cities, sprinting through airports, just the stress of it all. By the time I hit the hotel, I want to collapse. Add in the fact that I have a two-year-old --and don't get many moments alone-- and the vegging out time is just too enticing to pass up.

I know this is something I need to work on. Authoring this blog post was a great first step! So how about you all? How well do you write out on the road? Can you tune out the noise, embrace the unfamiliar, and get those word counts in? How do you do it, or not? I want to hear from you (no matter where you are).

Monday, September 4, 2017

Back Jacket Hack-Job #22 - SLASHVIVOR!

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey everybody!  Happy Labor Day!  Are you spending yours at the beach?  Perhaps you need a new beach read.  After that clever segue, let me introduce you to our latest Back Jacket Hack-Job: my very own SLASHVIVOR!

Of course, it's not just my own.  This novel was my first collaboration ever, and I worked on it with the incredibly talented author of THE BREADWINNER series, Stevie Kopas.  I think you're really going to enjoy how it turned out.

(Oh, by the way, if you think these BJHJs are fun, remember you can submit your own for possible inclusion on the blog.  Just reach out to me or one of the other bloggers.)

September 2017.  The Buddy System is ascendant.  The horror genre has grown stale and calcified through decades of nepotism and neglect.  True horror fans weep and light votives in their windows every night in hopes that someone will answer the call to revivify the genre.  Perhaps two someones...

Suddenly, with a single publication, the old order is turned upside-down.  With a heartbreaking work of pure artistic integrity two intrepid young visionaries - Stephen Kozeniewski and Stevie Kopas - buck the trend.  And is it just a coincidence that they have the same initials?

Their novel (perhaps better described as a political movement than a novel) blazes a revolutionary new path for an entire literary tradition.  The Buddy System is finally shattered once and for all, and horror finally has a future again...

Nah, I'm just fucking with you. It's THE HUNGER GAMES with '80s slashers, everybody! Wubba lubba dub dub!

The Real Back Jacket:

Try Not to Die

TV-XXX (Salty language, Sexual innuendo, Vomit-inducing ultraviolence)

TBA. Pirate transmission.

North America's number one reality television show returns with instant fan favorite Dawn Churchill, a plucky, hometown girl from the irradiated ruins of the former United States. Will she survive the night in the electrified, booby-trapped arena or will one of the serial killers pitted against her come out on top?

Returning slashers include evil animatronic Abraham Lincoln, eight-year-old “Daughter of the Devil” Abadonna, and all-time undefeated champion Denney the Killer Clown. (Plus surprise appearances by mad surgeon Doctor Feelbad, silver-tongued “Charming” Charlie Whitmore, and steel-clawed firebrand Razortooth.)

A night of chills, thrills, and endless buckets of blood. A must-see for Dawn’s innovative use of a shotgun alone. Fun for the whole family!

Host: Mark Winters
Producers: Marisol Martinez, Amy Green, Jacob Graves, Derron James (less)
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