Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Warning To New Writers: Don't Try To Drink From The Internet Firehose

A Post By Jonathan

Hi all. This probably isn't going to be my most groundbreaking post, but I do think I've got some advice that could be useful for new folks out there who are just getting into this whole writing gig.

When I was just starting off and was in that super-exciting period that all new writers experience --where you're like, this whole imagining all the time and creating characters and new worlds and all that is really cool and I could do it everyday of my freakin' life!!!-- I made it a point to join every list serve, writers community, author page, blog, magazine, forum, website, Facebook page, Pinterest board, YouTube channel, twitter feed, and any other online thing I could find. I basically wanted all the knowledge I could gain on the writing craft and I figured the more the better.

What I didn't realize was that this would result in a continual, and often contradictory, deluge of writing advice, promos for this product or that, a million webinar/retreat/workshop/conference invites, information of all kinds that I could never in a million years keep up with or ever have time to engage in even 1% of the things that were/are constantly being pushed on me. It's just too much for a new writer to handle, so my advice to you is to pick your subscriptions wisely. I would choose two or three really good writing sites to follow and stick with those. I can't even begin to give advice on which ones are the best because I joined them all. I guess I would try to go as genre specific as possible. As a Middle Grade/Children's writer, the best site for me is the SCBWI Blue Boards. And stay away from the ones that are always asking for money. Don't these people know we're starving artists? Geeze!

But there are all kinds of resources out there. Just be discerning. I know you can unsubscribe anytime you want, but once they have your name you somehow end up on a ton of other lists. Not to sound paranoid or anything (okay, where'd I put my tinfoil hat?). I guess what I'm trying to say is don't try to drink from the internet firehose. Especially when you're just starting out.

The other thing about being part of way too much internet writing crap (hopefully this post doesn't qualify) is if you're in one of those non-writing periods, which I so often am, getting pinged about writing all day does not really help you (not me at least) get out of a writing slump. It's like, shut up already! Good for you, you're writing. Now leave me alone.

Well, best of luck out there folks. And be sure to subscribe to Across The Board!
 

Monday, March 20, 2017

L'idée parfaite

The French term "le mot juste" translates literally to "the right word," but, with a wonderfully Gallic sense of understatement, actually means something closer to "the perfect phrase for that exact moment."

You know when somebody cuts you down to the quick with a verbal pantsing, and in the moment you go, "Oh yeah? Well takes one to know one?"  Then, a few hours or even days later, usually in the shower, you suddenly shout "Eureka" (and if you're the type of person who is prone to shouting nerdy Latin words in the shower, may I also suggest, "Excelsior") and suddenly you've got it?  The perfect, damning, ego-destroying rejoinder?  That would be a mot juste.

There was an entire episode of "Seinfeld" about the concept, when George, while eating a plate of seafood, is ripped to shreds by a office mate who says, "The ocean called and they said they're running out of shrimp."  After days of trying to re-create the exact same situation, George finally replies with what he thinks is a soul-crushing, "Oh yeah? Well, the jerk store called and they said they're running out of you!"  But of course, the real mot juste belongs to his adversary, who's able to respond not just once, but twice in real time.  (For those who really may not have seen this twenty-year-old show, the second riposte was "I don't know why.  You're they're all-time bestseller!")

One could imagine, I suppose, a similarly understated term, like, say, l'idée parfaite for a story or concept whose time has come.  "Gone With the Wind" tore up theaters in the '30s the same way "Titanic" did in the '90s.  HARRY POTTER, sure it was well-written and universal in a lot of ways, but something about the concept "a normal boy finds out he gets to go to wizard school" must have struck people just so upon its release to blow up the way it did.

Sometimes ideas strike me as a forehead-slapper.  I don't know sometimes how I didn't come up with the concept behind the recent movie "The Belko Experiment."  "Office drones are forced to kill each other or die" is the sort of thing that practically writes itself, at least in my head.  I felt similarly about "The Purge" a few years ago.

The funny thing is I've been bashing my head against the wall for the last few months trying to come up with an idea, a perfect idea.  I obsess about this with each new project.  I hate to write about a subject unless I can put a new spin on it.  BRAINEATER JONES was an almost perfect example: a zombie who must solve his own murder.  HUNTER OF THE DEAD was particularly challenging, because it feels like everything that could possibly be done with vampires has already been done.  When I see something like "The Belko Experiment" or "The Purge" it can be upsetting because it feels like somebody else struck on the idea I've been tying myself into pretzels trying to coax forth.

A friend of mine believes (perhaps metaphorically) that all ideas come from a sort of dreamworld, perhaps something like Lovecraft's Kadath.  Thus, when multiple people around the world seem to be capturing same zeitgeist, they're actually tapping into the same source.

The ancient Greeks believed ideas came from a series of angels or low-level gods called muses.  There was a muse for epic poetry, a muse for song, and so forth.  The muse came to give you your ideas.  Modern writers still speak often of the muse.  Once in a great while the muse blesses you with l'idée parfaite.  It happened to me last night (I think.)  But no more on that until it's too far gone for any of you to steal it from me (unless you're all tapping into the same level of Kadath as I did.)

What about you?  How do you come up with the idea you need to write something new?  Do you not care and just go with good enough?  Do you wait around until it happens?  Have you found a way to force it?  Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

If Only...

By Cheryl Oreglia


"The willingness to consider possibility requires a tolerance of uncertainty." Rachel Naomi Remen
If only...he hadn't noticed the young man coming out of the neighbor's house, carrying a non-describe box, and casually toss it in the trunk of a car. Nothing gets by my husband Larry. No sir. It's Fat Tuesday (which has nothing to do with this story), as Larry rounds the corner to our block, he immediately notices an unfamiliar car, parked in an odd place, male occupant sitting suspiciously behind the wheel, with the engine running. He pulls to a stop right next to the car, gives the driver his best 'this is my neighborhood' look, but he is not intimidated. Not in the least.

This is when two more young men emerge from the neighbor's house carrying various items. Larry promptly pulls out his iPhone to capture a few indiscreet images, the said car moves slowly away, as the young men jump inside one by one. The last guy out of the house has to run along the street to catch up to the departing car, he leaps through an open door, and they take off like a bullet train, Larry in hot pursuit. 

If only....Larry wasn't adamantine by nature this would be the end of the story. He has the 911 dispatcher on the phone, she repeats in a loud authoritative voice, "do not pursue the said vehicle," "I repeat, do not pursue the vehicle." This litany of advice is running through the blue tooth device connected to Larry's car as he blatantly pursues the alleged criminals out of the neighborhood, left on Midway, hurling down Bent, screeching onto Leigh Avenue, both cars approaching a hundred miles per hour as they skid onto Hamilton Avenue. 

Try to remember this is Campbell not Miami and Larry is no Don Johnson. He asks if there is a patrol car anywhere in the vicinity but the dispatcher only wants the address of the invaded house. When he gives her the address, she promptly switches him from emergency to Campbell Police Department, essentially cutting off his chances of alerting a patrol car as to their location.

Larry decides his best option is to return to the scene of the crime. Four police cars arrive and they determine the empty house had indeed been broken into. The residents are out of town and a missing UPS package left on the porch was likely the only enticement needed for these cruising bandits to target the house. After running the plates from Larry's images they found out the car in question was stolen. Which means the young men will never be found or prosecuted. In incredible detail our neighbor's surveillance camera catches the entire episode on tape. 

From a wide-angle perspective the details unfold, including Larry rolling up to the crime scene, the brazen behavior of the young men, and finally Larry taking off in hot pursuit. The young men are wearing hoodies so their identity is impossible to make out. It's so frustrating. Larry decides to hide his car in the garage for a few days in case the perpetrators return for a little revenge. By the time I return home, the story has been circulating the neighborhood for hours, with each telling the details grow exponentially, and a bottle of wine is required for a proper narration. 

"I can't believe you chased a gang of criminals down Leigh Avenue going a hundred. They could of shot at you or worse." 

"What could be worse?"

"They could of beaten you to death with a baseball bat."

"They were bold, it was the middle of the day."

"I thought the suburbs were safe?"

"Honey, we're not in Kansas anymore." (We lived in Kansas for about three years when we were first married so it's sort of an inside joke - Haha)

"Try to remember that next time you have the urge to don your Superman cape and save the day."

We keep his car tucked away for the next few days, until Larry has to go out of town, and wants my car in the garage for safety purposes? That's sweet but his car is like a beacon for angry delinquents. Right? As luck would have it the first night I am all alone in the house. I'm an adult, I can sleep alone in my own house, two down from the one that was recently robbed, of which my husband tried to single handedly apprehend the perpetrators. I'm fine and in my back pocket I have my sisters house, seven minutes away, with an empty guest room. She says I can come over anytime. I assume that includes the middle of the night...wouldn't you?

I secure the house twice, make sure my phone is fully charged, and leave on several lights in case I need water or something. It's late before I try to sleep because I binge watch Grace and Frankie for a few hours, it's a light comedy, and I think it might help me sleep. Then I play a few rounds of solitaire on my iPhone, call my sister again, work on a blog, refresh my water. I finally turn everything off and give the Rosary a try, somewhere between the third and forth decade, I dose off. At exactly 2:00 a.m. in the morning I wake up for absolutely no reason.

If only...the light in the hall didn't suddenly go dark. My breath catches in my throat, I sit straight up in bed, straining my ears for the slightest indication of an intruder, although difficult to hear over the sound of Shaggy's snoring (my fearless Portuguese Water dog). I know, it's like I'm staring in a B rated horror movie, I expect Jack Nicholson to appear, "Heeere's Johnny." I figure they are waiting me out and I have to remind myself to breath. Eventually I pull on a sweatshirt, drag Shaggy off his chair, and decide to inspect the house. I first check the light switch in the dark hall, if that thing goes on, I head straight to my sisters. The bulb is dead, a minor detail, I remain on high alert. I secure every damn door before peaking out the front window, searching for suspicious activity, grateful not to hear, "Wendy, I'm home." I head back to bed even though I am not convinced of my safety. I lay awake counting the people most likely to attend my funeral until the alarm sounds at 5:50 am (if you must know I counted eighty-six and that includes second cousins). 

If only...it wasn't spirit week at Notre Dame, I wouldn't have to dress like a zoo animal this morning, and try to maintain control of a bunch of hyped up students when I'm exhausted. I notice my throat is itchy, not a good sign, and my sense of humor is AWOL. I'm so tired I don't even dry my hair, I just slap on these tiger ears I dug out of the costume bin in the hall, attach a tail to my ass, and drive to work gulping down a third cup of coffee. Let me just say it was a loooong day. I have to pick up a few things at the grocery store on my way home. I couldn't figure out why I was getting such odd looks until I got home and realize I had not de-tigered myself. It happens.

If only...it wasn't Lent and I could have a glass of wine. 



Come visit me at Living in the Gap, drop-ins welcome!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Rumpus Room Reads #4 - "God Told Me To"


                I’ve never been a big fan of fruit.  As a child, there were few fruits I would choose to eat, and many which I actively avoided.  My hatred of bananas reached a phobic level, to the point where my little sisters would, post-banana consumption, chase me around the house with their hands held out in front of them chanting “banana hands, banana hands!”  (two of my four kids have inherited by bananaphobia, which is unfortunate because the other two have caught on and tormented accordingly).  There are some fruits that I tolerate now as an adult.  I like a good melon ball or a rock hard red grape.  I will eat an entire grapefruit, peeled, as preventative medicine.  Blackberries can surprise me with a mild dose of enjoyment. 

In general, though, even with my newfound semi-appreciation for fruit, I still categorically dislike it based on principle.  The thing about fruit is, it’s so hard to get a really good piece.  There’s no good way to gage the quality.  Jerry Seinfeld put it best in the season two episode “The Ex-Girlfriend” when he said “I don’t return fruit.  Fruit’s a gamble.  I know that going in.”  You can’t tell the quality just by looking at it, that’s for sure.  The fruit with the prettiest peel is often flavorless and gross.  The best example of this is the red delicious apples we all used to get in our school lunches – a gorgeous deep ruby red on the outside, uncooked mealy potato texture and no taste inside.


Until today, I thought “God Told Me To” by C.K. Chandler, based on the screenplay by Larry Cohen, was the red delicious apple of Rumpus Room Reads.  The cover seems created specifically to draw me, Abigail Isaacoff, into taking this book home.  First of all, we’ve got a no-pupils Lady Gaga in a man’s nightshirt gazing up at an unspecified deity with orgasmic terror and devotion.  The tagline – “A child is born.  A wave of murder has begun.  Is it the final warning?” promises all my favorite things – reproduction, slaughter, and holy apocalypse.  Next to Gaga – “Now an awesome motion picture experience” from a time (1976) before “awesome” was totally bleached of meaning by a generation of overzealous teenagers.  Awesome in this context most likely literally was meant to convey that the viewer was filled with a sense of divine awe. 

I had some pretty high expectations for this book.  And then I cracked open the skin and the insides were . . . mealy.  The writing – C.K. Chandler, I believe your copy of the screenplay must have somehow gotten lost in the extra-thick shag carpeting you bought with the book advance, and you only found it again 48 hours before the manuscript was due.  This thing reads like a script.  The scenes sound like shot descriptions interspersed with lines.  It’s very visual, very surface level.  Scripts for movies and television have to be like that, they can’t have a bunch of internal monologue and pondering that can’t be shot and translated on the screen.  Also, the movie upon which this book was based was from 1976.  As someone born in the 1980s who came of age in the 1990s, seventies movies are, for the most part, like a slow form of torture.  They seem to meander avocado-and-brownly through dull vague wandering plots that my Oregon Trail Generation mind has trouble following.  Every scene is three years long and goes nowhere, and everybody has yellow teeth because they smoked constantly and SAG didn’t have regular teeth whitening as a requirement of membership yet.

I was so put off by the writing style that I only got two chapters in before giving up.  The first chapter was a cinematic description of this blandly religious detective watching news coverage of himself and his colleagues after he unsuccessfully tried to get a teenage sniper on top of a skyscraper in NYC to surrender.  Then there was this whole offputtingly misogynistic thing where he had this young hot girlfriend waiting on him.  In the second chapter he goes out to the suburbs to visit his wife at their old rundown (because a man doesn’t live there anymore, duh) marital home.  She’s still his wife because he doesn’t want to get divorced because Catholicism?  They had no kids so since her life is clearly empty she just drinks all day and waits for him to come hang out.  It was all just so gross that when I found this cool book



 at one of the many cute little free libraries you see all over town here, I found it hard to return to “God Told Me To.”  In my defense, my sister recently got into a graduate program in Copenhagen and is moving to Denmark next year, so I was very excited by this random free library score.


After several failed attempts to get back into this book (thwarted by library books, actual homework, and a mountain of magazines at jury duty), I decided to write about just how impossible it was to get into this book instead.  For curiosity’s sake, I looked up what actually happens in the movie, and hence also the book.  To my extreme shock and horror, this is what I missed out on: As Nicholas pries deeper into the mysterious crimes, what he uncovers is a secret cabal of corporate bigwigs working at the behest of a glowing hermaphroditic deity named Bernard who seems to have been the product of an artificially inseminated virgin birth orchestrated by space invaders – an origin shared by none other than Nicholas himself!”  What the holy alien murder messiah?!  I feel like I just discovered the flavorless mealy apple had a winning Powerball ticket embedded in its core.  I am now resolved to power through the rest of this garbage tome for at least a few more chapters, and will post a brief epilogue review in the comments section here.  It just goes to show you, though – bad writing can make even the most appealing concepts so offputting as to turn into the literary equivalent of banana hands.  See what I did there?  Appealing?  Peel?  Wait, where are you going?  Put down that magazine!  Read meeeeee!!!!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

How Do You Avoid Burnout?

I was reading a post today in a Facebook author group I belong to and someone asked the seemingly simple question, "How do you avoid burn out?"

Based on the answers, it's not a simple question at all. Almost everyone felt pressure to write more/faster/better. I read the comments nodding the whole time. I write and read romance and some of my favorite authors release books every three months! One author friend released six books last year! I *plan* to release two books per year, but the truth is, in 2016 I only released a single novel, and honestly, I panicked about it. I even thought of condensing book two into a novella so I could release around Christmas time, but I couldn't shave that much off the story and still do it justice. So I'm releasing it as a full-length novel in April instead -- eight months after the first book in the series came out. It feels like an eternity!

And in order to minimize this gap in 2017, I've started writing the next book in the series and I'm putting in serious time getting in the words. While doing promotional stuff, planning, and drumming up interest in my upcoming release. At the end of the day, I'm spending a solid 10 hours/day on my author business AT LEAST.

I'm lucky that I don't have a "day job" anymore to juggle, too. I recognize and appreciate that I CAN spend this time and it is a gift most days. But it also means I see the possibility of burn out, even before the question is asked.

To combat this, I try to walk the dogs in the hills most days. I have a good friend who has a dog and we walk together at least a few times per week, but even if she's not available, I try to make myself go because otherwise the puppy drives me insane. I run first thing in the morning three days/week with another friend, which is on my to-do list anyway and has zero to do with writing. And lately, I've been blasting the daily playlist on Spotify as I cook dinner -- and I do mean blasting. There's something cathartic about loud music that clears my head, even if the occasional Justin Bieber slips through (Apologies to all the Beliebers out there. No offense intended :) ) 

I'm not sure any of them are a magic bullet, but each of them take me out of my head and, most importantly, get me off my butt away from the computer. I often come back with at least one new thought, which is definitely one more than I had sitting there staring.

So what about you? Do you feel burn out as a writer? If so, what do you do to combat it? Are there certain tasks that make you feel more burnt out than others? Inquiring minds want to know!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Google Search: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Chinese People

A post by Mary Fan
Heya! My turn to do a Google Search post! Basically, I type a few words into Google and let autofill do the rest... and write a post about it.

Well, as the resident Chinese person here, I thought I could answer some questions about my kind that people have been dying to know, but have been too shy to ask about and so have turned to Google instead.

Here are the results of my Google search:


Good questions, everyone! Very good questions! Allow me to enlighten you...

Why are Chinese peoples' eyes like that?

Hmm... I'm afraid you're going to have to be more specific. Why are our eyes... dark? Rimmed with black lashes? Absolutely gorgeous in a way that makes people so jealous, they have to ask Google why?


Ah, I see. Okay, to answer your questions, Chinese eyes are...
See the amazing alien powers shining in my eyes?

  • Different because we are different. See, Chinese didn't evolve on Earth like the rest of you homo sapiens. We're actually descended from a superpowered alien race from another galaxy that came to Earth several thousand years ago, riding dragons and yelling math equations at the top of our lungs.
  • So small because we needed more space in our heads for our giant brains. The alien gods who created our kind knew there was a finite amount of space in our skulls and decided to dedicate more space to brainpower.
  • Squinted because we spend so much time staring at the sun. You see, one of our superpowers is that we can communicate psychically with the sun, which is actually an all-knowing being that's happy to grant us knowledge as long as we're willing to make eye contact. So we spend several minutes per day staring at the sun, which makes us squint so much, our eyes get stuck that way. 
  • Like that because That, in case you didn't know, is a magical gemstone from space with great powers. Chinese eyes are like That because our ancestors were superpowered aliens, and they actually invented That, so of course they made sure all their descendants had That's powers

Why are Chinese peoples' skin yellow?

Because we're dusted in gold. We're so fabulous and good at everything, gold particles just stick to us wherever we go. We can't help it that we're so awesome.

Why are Chinese peoples' eyes squinted?

See above. Hey, the sun tells us the secrets to life, the universe, and everything when we make eye contact. Worth it.

Why are Chinese peoples' heads flat?

Because we spend so much time bashing our heads against walls, which flattens our skulls. It's therapeutic.


Hope that was enlightening! If you have any more questions about Chinese people, I'd be happy to answer them in the comments below!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Two-peat retreat

On Friday, this mamacita is headed to her second annual writers retreat. Ta-da! Actually, it's just me and my girl, Katie. But we're making it a yearly thing.

 We did this last year. I booked a hotel in the Poconos, half-way between her house and mine, for one night via Groupon. The hotel was the bomb. First, it was humongous. It had all these little nooks and lobbies with leather club chairs and views of the mountains. Although, some dude had decided to park himself near us and talk loudly about politics -- and let's just say we weren't on the same side. That stressed me out. Funny, how simple it all seemed a year ago. But, I digress. There were two restaurants, a bar and grill, and a buffet. So we were fed. I think they even served complimentary coffee in the lobby. No kids. No spouses. No responsibilities. Just us and our words.

This year, we're going for two nights. Oh, the luxury! And my plan is to plug away as much as I humanly can on the second book in my YA mystery series. Without distractions, I have no excuse not to hack away a chunk of this draft.

I'm incredibly excited. It's a relief to work. I feel more like myself when I'm writing. My identity is so wrapped up in my kids that I forgot who I am most days.

Writing retreats need not be fancy, formal things. Grab one writing buddy. Find a hotel on Groupon and get the hell out of Dodge. It's a worthwhile investment in your sanity and craft.
 
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