Thursday, August 15, 2019

I'm not that good a writer...on social media

Hellloooo friends. I woke up this morning with a vacation hangover. You know that feeling. When you've been away for a week and you finally get home and you're exhausted, disoriented, and suffering from a headache. Honestly it wasn't a vacation, so much as a trip. My son played in a soccer tournament in Hershey. Then we decided to tack on extra days to do the amusement park and Washington DC and let's just cliche...I need a vacation from my vacation. Yuk. Yuk. Yuk.

And while on vacation, I posted photos of my kids to social media with cute captions like We're at Hershey! And Smithsonian Day with a healthy dose of whine. Then, later that day, I wrote the same thing while on the beach with a cup of merlot and punned a healthy dose of wine. And you know what I realized? I am terrible at composing pithy captions on social media. In fact, I am a crappy writer all together on social media. Which wouldn't be a thing if I wasn't a goddamn author.

My friend Dave was a writer for Mad Magazine. He is the funniest dude on the planet and his one-line Facebook updates are Pulitzer worthy. Another friend is a copy writer and her Instagram posts about ballet and coffee are eloquent and artsy. Meanwhile, I'm on Twitter trying to blog about my favorite television shows because I don't often know how to relate to people other than to talk about what Netflix shows I'm bingeing. I am literally that person at parties. Because it's not cool to discuss politics and religion and those are my two favorite topics of conversations, I'm the one who asks, "So whatcha all binge watching?" And then I get the response, "I don't really watch TV." Or they respond with, "I'm into the Real Housewives."

My last Tweet that got traction was me asking the Twitterverse if anyone found the exhaust fan above the stove as annoying as I do. And it turns out, lots of people do.

I marvel at how sassy and clever people can be on Twitter. Especially about mundane things. And there's me over here revising the same sentence ten times just to vary my word usage. Half the time, I don't add commentary because my brain is fried from trying to simply write a novel that I have nothing left to devote to cleverness. I have to work at being smart while others simply do it on instinct.

Do you ever cringe at your Facebook post memories? I do. I'm like, "I wrote that trite piece of crap observation?" Ugh. Thanks Facebook for reminding me that I'm a hack.

Please don't judge me by my tweets and status updates. And why is there no edit button on Twitter?

Monday, August 12, 2019

My Author-self is Actually a 13-year-old Drama Queen

In 7 short days I will have a teenager in the house. I’ve only got the one kid, and she only becomes a teenager once in her life, so we’re letting her have a ‘party’ party. I’m talking nearly 40 thirteen and fourteen year olds. Girls AND boys. So, yeah, I’m in the middle of party planning hell. My mind is consumed with all things teenagers. 

Which is why, yet again, my post is inspired by my kid. In the midst of all this party planning, I somehow came to the conclusion that my author personality is basically a 13-year-old girl. How? Well, I’ll give you 13 reasons . . .

My author-self:

  1. Always makes the same mistakes over and over and over . . .
  2. Never cleans up her messes without being told.
  3. Is only productive when she wants to be, not when I need her to be.
  4. Rolls her eyes whenever I think I have control of the situation.
  5. Is insecure and into self-deprecation.
  6. Is hormonal with mood swings from one extreme to the other.
  7. Tries to sleep most of the day.
  8. Thinks she will go viral overnight. Because, you know, that other author did.
  9. Pays too much attention to what people are saying (or not saying) on social media.
  10. Thinks listening to music and dancing around the house is the same as being productive.
  11. Is hungry ALL. THE. DAMN. TIME.
  12. Is more comfortable talking to people electronically than in person.
  13. Is easily distracted.

Who else has a 13-year-old drama queen/king as an author personality?

~ Carrie

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Alternatives to Hereditary Magic Systems
If you at all participate in the the Star Wars fandom, then you're probably aware of the controversy that erupted last year. "Which controversy," you ask? "There were so many!" Well, in particular, I'm talking about the one that arose in response to Star Wars: The Last Jedi's seeming attempt at subverting the force-sensitive "legacies" that had existed in the canon for decades.

It's been well established, basically since Star Wars's inception, that force sensitivity--the ability interact with and manipulate the "Force"--was an inherited trait, one that could be passed down from parent to child, generation after generation. Arguably, this established an aristocratic system--power by inheritance rather than merit (which, possibly, was one of the issues the Jedi were trying to mitigate with their marriage prohibition). The Skywalkers were the prime example--Anakin, Luke and Leia, Kylo Ren/Ben Solo... and Rey, too, perhaps?

That was the imperative, over-arching question everyone was eager for this movie to answer. Who were Rey's parents?! What was her legacy?! ...But then this scene happened:
Kylo: It's time to let old things die. Snoke. Skywalker. The Sith. The Jedi. The Rebels. Let it all die... You're still holding on! Let it go. Do you want to know the truth about your parents? Or have you always known? You've just hidden it away. You know the truth. Say it. Say it.
Rey: They were nobody.
Kylo: They were filthy junk traders, who sold you out for drinking money.They're dead in a pauper's grave in the Jakku desert. You have no place in this story. You come from nothing. You're nothing.

And just like that, Star Wars's force-sensitive legacies went down in flames... or did they?

I'm not here to argue whether Kylo is gaslighting Rey, manipulating her sympathies to work in his favor; or whether Rian Johnson truly meant to subvert aristocratic themes in the Star Wars canon (or if Abrams is going to subvert Johnson's subversions in The Rise of Skywalker); or give you my thoughts and feelings on this issue as a loooong-time Star Wars fan. I'm here to tell you this scene sparked an idea that became one of the cornerstones of my current Work-in-Progress.

The idea was this: Could I write a story with a magic system where legacy does not
Harry Potter:The Blue Blood Prince
exist? Where inherited abilities do not factor in? Also, could I make magic inherently egalitarian? Take the social hierarchies in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and throw them right out the window! (Sorry, not sorry, Harry Potter fans). What does that leave you? A hell of a lot of possibilities on a wide and complex spectrum. And let me tell you, disposing of those old-guard magic structures is hard. Even if I did away with genetics, I've found it's extremely difficult to abolish magical hierarchies. Universal magical egalitarianism might be impossible--either that or I'm simply not clever enough to figure out how to build that kind of world and make it compelling or believable.

Here are some ideas that I've thought of (and obviously a lot of other people have thought of too) for Alternatives to Hereditary Magic, as well as some of the questions they present:

1. Magic is a readily available resource, rather like air or sunshine, and anyone can access it regardless of race, nationality, gender, religion, physical ability, or class.
  • Does everyone inherently know how to use the magic, or does it require some training and education for effective application?
  • Are certain people born with a superior aptitude that gives them an advantage? Fore example: everyone with a voice can sing, but only some of us can be truly good at it.
  • Who has access to the training and education? Everyone (like a magic public school system) or only those with the ability/privilege to seek and/or hire a tutor or teacher?
  • What do those who can't afford or access that education do? (One possibility is underground layman training schools. What happens in Magic Fight Club stays in Magic Fight Club!  Lev Grossman addressed this issue in a fascinating way through his Julia character in his Magicians trilogy.)
  • Is there regulation of magic, and if so, who wields this regulatory authority? Who abuses it?
2. Magic is readily available but access to it requires a certain special "sensitivity" or ability (i.e., the Jedi and the Force). That ability, however, is a random trait not limited to or by any social, physiological, or biological factor including genetics (Pretty much the opposite of the Skywalker scenario).
  • The same questions I had above apply to this situation as well.
  • It's inherently not egalitarian for those who don't have the ability or sensitivity to access magic.
  • Maybe family aristocracies don't exist, but what if some magic users work together to increase their power through cooperative efforts--the many against the one, the oligarchy against the lone practitioner?
3. Magic is contained in objects rather than people or the environment. Anyone who possesses the object can wield its magic.
  • This is a lot like any limited resource. Those who are already rich and powerful are the ones most likely to control the objects. (Oh, but how cool would it be to do a story about a gang of magical thieves who steal and trade these on a magical black market? I'm sure that story already exists, right? But still...*stashes idea in mental filing folder for later*).
  • The haves inherently oppress the have-nots, whether they mean to or not.
  • Where the heck does the magic in these objects come from in the first place? Maybe they are gifts from a divine entity and are therefore limited. Or could an ambitious person find the magic source and make *more* magical objects, thereby leveling the magic "playing field".
4. Magic bestowed by an environmental factor: i.e., the radioactive spider-bite. AKA the Superhero Scenario. This is a slight variation on #2, above.
  • While it avoids the legacy/inheritance factor, it's still inherently not egalitarian because only those who encounter the environmental factor (and survive it!) benefit from the "magic".
  • Could the environmental factor be reproduced so that more than one person could benefit from it?
5. Magic bestowed by a divine being.
  • Sort of like the super-hero scenario, but instead of a radio-active spider, or gamma rays, or military experimentation, power is bestowed by another being of power. (see Shazam/Captain Marvel as an example)
  • Inherently not egalitarian for those who aren't "chosen" to receive this blessing.
See Also: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

6. Magic places.
  • Magic is confined to a certain area but is available to anyone who can reach that place. Ex: the standing stones in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series (In those books, the ability to use the stone circles' magic, however, was an inherited trait ((although, in some cases, the application of sorcery or "spells" overcame genetic limitations)).
  • Limits magic use to only those who can physically access these places.
If you're curious to know, my Work-In-Progress is utilizing the scenario in example number two above. Alternatives to aristocracy was a theme I really wanted to explore--not so much in the dialogue or narrative but more in the worldbuilding--a magical world fundamentally lacking a hierarchy and the ways people (particularly the antagonists) try to overcome that limitation. The way I'm attempting to address that issue is with complete randomness--those with the ability to manipulate magic are extremely rare, and the trait appears arbitrarily with no known genetic factor that can be replicated or bred. It's not a perfect system and some inequality inevitably exists--without social conflict or a break in the status quo, the characters have little impetus to act. The villains hunger for more power and the heroes fight to keep that from happening--not a new idea but hopefully, at least, a fresh interpretation. In a few more months I expect to have a finished product to show you, and hopefully a real title for it too.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Scares That Care Autopsy

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey, everybody!  Forgive me if this post is brief.  It's already after 11:00 pm on Monday and I haven't even gotten around to starting this post.  My new small business is opening this week (more on that next month) so that didn't make it the greatest time in the world for me to attend the greatest con in the world...but of course, how could I not?

Scares That Care is a 501 (c) (3) registered charity and one that is entirely deserving of your donation right now, whatever time that is in the year.  They are always accepting donations. 

Scares That Care Weekend, of course, was this past weekend in Williamsburg, VA, and it is a time when horror aficianados, both professionals and fans, gather from (literally) all over the world to do some good and indulge in their love of horror.  I've been delighted to attend for the past four years. 

The legendary Paul Tremblay expresses his support for myself, Aaron Dries, and Patrick Lacey
My weekend actually began on Wednesday (I know, right?) because Matt and Anna Hayward were in town from Ireland (remember how I said people come from around the world) for the convention.  It was lovely to take a deep breath before the plunge.  My greatest regret every year is that I can't have the long, intimate conversations with all of the attendees, or even just the ones I count as friends.  There are just too many people I know and love to do that, and so, inevitably, every year I come away feeling that I shafted someone.  But I like to think that by now people understand how conventions are and that it's like trying to catch lightning bugs in a bottle: you will really only be able to catch so many in one (or four) evenings.

My trip to Williamsburg was largely uneventful, albeit plagued by miserable traffic around Washington D.C.  The first night there I did something I've actually never done in four years: got in the hotel pool.  I'd forgotten how much I loved swimming until I went to Knoebels earlier this year and found it was utterly unfeasible to get into the pool there without waiting in line for hours and then paying exorbitant amounts.  I promised myself I'd swim at least a bit at STC, and I did.

David Barbee admires a bullfrog's various attributes at the Bizarro Power Hour-ish
Friday morning I got to really get to know my tablemate, Aaron Dries, of Canberra, Australia.  (I told you it was genuinely international.)  Aaron is a sweetheart, and gives Jonathan Janz a run for his money for making every single person who stops by the table feel like the most important person in the universe.  And to be clear, in neither of those cases do I think the guys are pandering.  It's their very genuineness, I think, that makes them so charming and appealing.  Meanwhile, here I am, an overweight, frumpy little hack trying to live off of reflected glory.

In any case, largely thanks to Aaron taking pity on me and redirecting most of his customers in my direction, sales Friday were quite robust.  They dropped off a bit Saturday, but overall I was very, very pleased with the weekend.  I'd have to check my records, but I believe it was my biggest financial success for a convention ever.  Of course, my financial success is really not what a charity convention is all about, so I like to think that I did a bit to contribute to the charity by participating in some really compelling programming.

The contenders in the Bizzaro Power Hour-ish: (from L to R) myself, David Barbee, Scott Cole, Andersen Prunty, Eric Hendrixson, and John Wayne Communale
My first quality programming came Thursday night with the trivia contest.  I was pleased to take the highest score of the night (2600, bitches!) but had to hand off my prize to my competitor.  It was fans vs professionals, and as hokey as it sounds I feel like my job as a professional (ha!) at a convention is to make the fans happy.

Friday I had the unusual honor of interviewing the legendary Jonathan Maberry.  If you missed it, you did indeed miss something.  I had no idea what a profoundly fascinating life Mr. Maberry has led, and really, while I want to share everything he talked about, I feel like it's not my place.  Well, all right.  One little thing: he saved Stevie Nicks's life once.  It was funny and heartbreaking and all points in between.  And I also got the chance to right a little wrong I've always felt terrible about.  The first time I met him, I interrupted his drink at a bar (yeah, I was that guy) so I was finally able to make it right by mixing some fine Bombay Sapphire martinis for us to enjoy as we talked with the audience.

I had a great reading on Sunday with Jeff Strand, but I'm skipping over Saturday for a reason I'll get back to.  Jeff was on point, particularly with a piece about being served fish at a restaurant that was by a wide margin the most gut-busting of the several short pieces we each read.  It must be heard to be properly appreciated.

I also got to witness readings by Kenzie Jennings (impressive), Somer Canon (hilarious), Wile E. Young (absorbing), Dan Padavona (heartwrenching), Aaron Dries (theatrical), and Wesley Southard (meh.)  I'm just busting chops, of course.  If I don't bust your chops, trust me, I don't really care for you.  And by that metric the only person I love more than Wes is my girlfriend.  His reading was actually really impressive, both the piece and the performance. 

And now we come to the elephant in the room, which is hard for me to describe without sound like a completely self-absorbed asshole, but I guess I'll try anyway: the Bizarro Power Hour-ish.  When I was preparing my readings for the convention (pro tip, kids: always prepare fresh material at least once a year for conventions) I realized I wasn't writing a straight reading, I was writing a bizarro reading.  Early this year I heard Carlton Mellick III's story about a Conan the Barbarian-type who just wanted to talk about his nipples and I really, really wanted to write something like that.  But, of course, shit like that is ephemeral and, of course, it didn't come until I was bashing my head against the wall trying to write a decent more standard reading.  But then when it came I was certain I had just shat gold upon the page.

I knew there was a Bizarro event at STC, but I wasn't sure if it was open invitation or not.  So I lobbied some of the convention staff to let me in, and while I didn't want to take advantage of my connections, I also really, really wanted to do this reading.  Unfortunately, a few of the participants weren't able to make it to the convention.  As sad as that was for the people involved, it was a stroke of luck for me, because I no longer felt like I was weaseling a place on the panel.  In fact, I felt like I was being helpful.  Little did the other participants know, though, of the solid steel atomic turd I had hiding in my pocket, glistening, waiting for them to finish their presentations.

Scott Cole, I would say, did the most straightforwardly (I guess that's a contradiction in terms?) bizarro piece, an excerpt from his book SLICES.  David Barbee gave a thrilling rendition of the butthole song with a frog puppet.  I was a little drunk and horribly nervous, so I don't entirely remember what Eric Hendrixson and Andersen Prunty did, but John Wayne Communale's piece was dissertation on getting really, really high, which I sympathized strangely with at that period.

And then I went on.

I have never seen an audience laugh so hard.  Maybe at a professional comedian.  Like name-level.  I mean, I thought it was going to go over well, but I was shocked when I saw the laughter become uncontrollable.  This may come as a surprise to those in the audience that night, but I had actually carefully timed and calibrated my piece, but the waves of laughter were simply so powerful that I had to adjust entirely.  I've never been in that situation before.  In a word, it went over like gangbusters.

And then the accolades poured in.  I was told I "broke" several people.  The bizarro veterans in attendance who, I assume, had never heard of me before tonight, were hurrying up to shake my hand and discuss, at length, the virtues of circumcision. 

So the Bizarro Power Hour-ish was the highlight of my con, although, of course, the real highlight of the con for everyone involved is the chance to help out victims of burns and cancer.  If you have not been, I really hope you'll consider attending next year.  And now to post this just under the midnight wire and...done!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Clare Mulvany and Michael Warden - Authors on Tap

By Cheryl Oreglia

Author Clare Mulvany, is an author I met at the OnBeing Gathering, she stems from Ireland and says of the gathering, "The On Being Gathering was a huge adventure for me. It was so encouraging to feel part of a wider network of people who are also working to build a better world for future generations. I will never forget meeting the giant redwood trees at the venue, they had a deep effect on me, reminding me to think beyond our span of time. I’m still in touch with quite a number of people from the Gathering and it feels like there is much more to come!"

Clare did not grow up with books, but she did grow up with play and magic. She said, "our house was one which cherished childhood and our door was always open to the menagerie of children on our street in Dublin. Strangers were welcomed; generosity was a given. We had a plum tree in our back garden which gave so much fruit it fed half the neighborhood. To give away was to receive; to play and explore was priority. I owe all that to my parents. It is a foundation which only later in life do I really appreciate for its rarity."

Is anyone else interested in knowing when Clare knew she wanted to become a writer? Writing has been a lifeline for her. Something her eleven year old self knew would be a good thing, and it was then that she picked up a journal and never stopped writing. Her journal today is a constant companion. All her works stem from this personal, daily practice of capturing her thoughts, ideas, observations, insights and inspirations on the pages. Clare says, "I think journalling it one of the best gifts to give to ourselves, and it is a gift that keeps on giving."
Does Clare see her writing as a passion for social justice, occupational subject, business ethic, lifestyle, self-reflective, spiritual practice, fictional, historical, or story-teller? I realize I listed a lot of subjects but she's brave and dove right in. "Before thinking of myself as I writer, I think of myself as a storyteller. I am driven to find and narrate new narratives for our time, asking myself what is the story that the world needs now? I am curious about how our cultural narratives inform, and transform, our social policies and practices. ‘A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves. Sick storytellers make nations sick’, said the writer Ben Okri, and I am interested in that eternal enquiry: How do we tell a better story for our time?"

Clare went on to explain her fascination with the role of narrative in our personal lives: what is the story we are telling of ourselves and how does that story shape how we show up in the world. If we can change the story we tell of ourselves, can we change how we perceive our value, worth and place in the world. Stories then are like maps, and we the eternal explorers. 

She said writing is part of the storytelling arsenal, one of the tools she uses to navigate in the world. She said, "I use it as both barometer and compass. When I am unsure of what to do next, I take to the blank page. When I am trying to unmuddle a muddle, the blank page calls. Each time, as the words unfold themselves and arrange themselves in new orders on this blank canvas, I can find a thread in the muddle, tug at it, and with time, allow the muddle to unravel."

From a personal perspective, writing has been one of Clare's ways of serving the world. She started a youth magazine, she's written copy and articles for the non-profit sector, scripts for short documentaries, blogged for 10+years, written for online publications, designed learning programs and curriculum. 

Clare published her own book entitled One Wild Life: A journey to discover people who change our world (available at Amazon). It is an account of an eleven month journey around the globe to interview social entrepreneurs about their life stories. She is also a photographer and her words accompany her images. She says, "the space between these- the text and the image-  holds a magic too: the space for imagination, interpretation and meaning making." 

Clare is interested in the intersection of things; where art meets science, where social justice meets art, where spirituality and entrepreneurship both collide and combine. She said, "I started writing mainly about social innovation and creativity but now my work increasingly is reaching into these intersectional spaces to explore new combinations, patterns and hopefully can shed a light on new ways at looking at things- if only for myself. This excites me and keeps me showing up to the blank page!"

She is also working on a memoir at the moment, drawn to the power and role of story in her own life. She's been diving into the silences in her own family lineage, and following the story of how those silences have rippled through the generations. Her story ultimately finds its way to the sea, the memoir in one sense is a homage to the redemptive power of wildness, nature and the landscape of our bodies within this sea of our own individual experience. 

When asked about her primary audience she said, "Me! I write to make sense of things. If my words are useful, then that’s a bonus. When I am writing, I tend also to think of the people who are on my mailing list and network- I want to serve these people with useful resources, links, ideas and tools. Readers range from those interested in the question which Mary Oliver so eloquently poses, ‘So, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life’, and those interested in tools and practices for leading their own one wild life. My readership crosses the business, entrepreneurial, yoga/ spirituality and social innovation worlds. Many are women, who really want to step up and lead new ways of being in the world.

The mission or focus of Clare's work is constantly evolving. She said, "right now, it is to host more learning experiences and journeys for people to support them in their quests to figure out what it is they want to do with their one wild life, and then providing tools and practices to honor their choices. So that involves hosting gatherings and retreats here in Ireland, leading online learning programs, and of course, writing. The world is changing so much and more and more we need people with creative skills, empathy, and practical tools for building new ways of being in the world." 

I snooped around about her networking style and asked how she promotes her mission? Yes, I was digging for tips. She said, "replace the word networking with conversations, and it all becomes easier. What are the conversations you want to contribute to? Where are those happening? How can you be of service to that conversation? Who else is having it and who else can you invite into it?  It’s about building relationships, trust, webs and weaves of interconnections. In this light, it also is about reciprocity; creating circles of connection which has a natural flow between give and receive. You invest time, energy, intention and in return you get to withdraw time, energy and intention. It’s not a linear give and take."  

She believes what one does in the world is probably one of the least interesting things about the person, but who you are, how you show up in the world, who you want to be when you grow up- these are interesting questions to Clare.

When asked how much contact she has with other writers?
She said, "I make it a practice to connect with other creative thinkers. Musicians, artists, innovators, design thinkers, environmentalists, film-makers, entrepreneurs; people who are asking big questions and figuring out new ways of making work happen. I am very lucky in Ireland, and particularly here in West Cork- I am surrounded by writers, artists and creative thinkers. I only have to go to the local coffee shop and spark a conversation!"

So then I entered into the sticky topic of research and how important it is to her writing? She said it depends on what she is writing and that when research becomes procrastination, it is time to write! So true.

Clare is fortunate to live on the beautiful west coast of Ireland. She simply walks out to the shore and writes there. When the weather is bad, she takes to a lovely coffee shop, overlooking the harbour in her village, and writes with the sea by her side. She loves to work late at night: fire lit, candles lit, my little dog snuggled up, the silence enveloping it all. However, she tries not to be dependent on any of that to be able to write. She's written on buses, trains, planes, in petrol stations, in the back of pick-up trucks driving across dirt tracks, or in boring queues. She doesn't want to wait for ‘the right conditions’. The conditions can help, but should never curtail the writing process. 

Clare advises, "Read. Read. Read. Write. Read. Read. Read. Write. Writing is a practice and a craft. There is always more to learn, more ways to experiment and explore. Whenever I feel I am falling into the formulaic, I try to read outside of my comfort zone and learn from a different genre. More and more I find this essential to how I think and how I can show up in a spirit of service in the world. I love reading children’s books, and poems by children. There is often a simplicity and truth in them which brings me back to the essentials." 

When asked if writing was her primary work? She said, "my work right now has a few strands. I am a creative mentor, supporting people through their own creative and leadership journeys, with practical tools and accountability to keep up the momentum. I have recently also launched writing and leadership retreats here in West Cork, Wild Edge Retreats- I want more people to experience the power and magic of this place- a wonderful place to write, create, think big and explore the ‘what’s next’ in your life. I also host online learning programs, including one about the celtic seasonal calendar and living and working seasonally, and have a few more courses in development. Writing helps me to weave all of that together."

I asked how active she was on social media because I need a template myself? I wanted to know if she found this essential, burdensome, or just part of being a writer? Honesty counts! "I’d say I am very active; but I have had to put some boundaries up too - mostly for my own mental wellbeing. I use Facebook and Instagram for sharing my writing and connecting with others; but I find the constant noise of ‘stories’ and ‘streams’ very challenging. I try to plan out my communications and before I post anything, I ask myself, ‘how is this being of service? I frequently turn off the phone and the internet so I can have extended focus time. When I slip and fall back in the constant scrolling syndrome I find it has an impact of my mood and motivation- so I have to really careful, like so many of us I am sure."

My final question, what does literary success look like to you? 
She said, "to keep writing, no matter what. I’d like to publish more books - I have a few on the go- but the primary aim to to keep learning, keep curious. The books will come from that. 

Her final thought to our readers, "stay curious." 

Link to Clare Mulvany Website 

Michael Warden attended the first annual OnBeing Gathering 2018, hosted by none other than the beloved Krista Tippett. He was one of the four hundred invitees eager to engage, immerse, and challenge the way we participate in civil conversations. We all walked away “nourished, emboldened, accompanied” as beautifully noted by Krista Tippett
I had to start the interview in honor of Krista Tippett's famous first question concerning significant childhood influences. Michael writes, “I grew up in a highly dysfunctional environment which prompted me from an early age to seek creative ways of escape. I discovered books quite early and fell in love with them almost immediately. The stories I read took me out of my context and honed my imagination, so that before long I took to creating my own made-up adventures, which I wrote or just acted out in that way kids do so effortlessly. Those early experiences prepared my imagination for writing fantasy fiction later in life.”
The son of a pastor, Michael explains that spirituality was a core focus in his early life, “my dad served as both as Christian pastor and then later as a missionary throughout my childhood and adolescence, so a big chunk of my early life focused on the idea of God and the spiritual realm and what it meant to live in connection with those things. My own experiences of God started very early in my life, and continue to this day. They continually inspire me to engage my writing not just as a skill, but as a spiritual practice, which is to say, I write as a way to know God, to better understand life and what it means to be truly human.” I love the tapestry of life, there are no wrong answers, just diverse ways of being in the world.
While I was chasing boys, Michael was an early player on the literary front, he started his first novel in the 6th grade, “a riveting adventure about a motley crew of five quirky individuals who were the only escapees from an alien takeover of the entire world. There was a grisly but good-hearted captain of an old space barge, a professor, a movie star, a country girl, and…you see where this is going?” Michael inadvertently lifted the characters from a popular sitcom called Gilligan’s Island. He regrets throwing the novel in the trash because it would be hilarious (and possibly sentimental) to enjoy a visit with his younger self.
Michael sees his writing as a way to connect with God and inspire others to as well. “It’s also my primary form of inquiry. I’ve kept a journal since I was a child, and it’s always been my way in to exploring and understanding life better. In public arenas, such as my blog, or in my novels, I see writing as a provocative invitation to explore, experience, or think about something differently than perhaps you have before."
He wants his writing to inspire change, "sometimes that means speaking directly to social issues I care about, but more often I speak to the transformation of the self, the process of becoming whole as an individual, and living fully from that place in a way that naturally transforms the world for the better. To me, the need for each of us to heal up and grow up into our Truest, Highest Self is the issue at the root of all the other problems we face as a species. It’s like that saying, ‘I’ve seen the problem, and it is us.’" #truth
Epic or high fantasy is Michael’s fictional genre targeting “anybody who loves fantasy and science fiction. In the nonfiction realm he explores his own spirituality and tends to connect with people from opposite ends of the spectrum, those deeply immersed in mystic Christian traditions, or those far removed from Christianity, yet passionate about their own spiritual journey."
When asked about writing rituals Michael revealed some usual practices, “I live in the Colorado Rockies, with an office full of windows that offers and expansive view of the mountains. So you’d think I’d write staring off into the wonder of all that beauty. But in fact, the opposite is true. When I write, I close the blinds, turn off the lights and light a single candle across the room from where I sit at my laptop. When I write, I go to far off places in my imagination. Anything that ties me to my immediate environment, even a panorama of mountains, only serves as a distraction.”
Michael is a life coach, “I used to work full time as a freelance writer, but found that tying an income to my writing had a way of choking out my enjoyment and creativity around writing. Now I can write whatever I want, without having to worry about whether it will sell.” You can enjoy Michael’s blog at
He enjoys connecting with inspirational people, whether writers or not, so I dropped the social media question in his lap, “I used to hate social media, particularly as a requirement for growing a platform. I’ve mellowed in recent years, however, and now focused on finding ways to have fun with it. I think seeing social media as a chore comes across to the person on the other end. If that’s your attitude, it’s probably best not to do it at all.” Good advice.
As I worked my way to the most important question on how the Gathering changed, illuminated, embodied, directed, focused, or most importantly connected his work to others? Michael writes, “I definitely see myself as a cultural bridge builder. I can speak across difference, and help shine a light on the threads of our common humanity. The OnBeing Gathering only deepened my sense of that in myself, my commitment to it, and inspired my courage by exposing me to so many other people, in all walks of life and belief, who are largely up to the same thing. Together, I really believe we can bring the world together.”
Currently focused on finishing a trilogy Michael will “see what success looks like after that.” (for my blog, and coaching work)

When I'm not writing for Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, interviewing authors, finding my place in the world.

Join me in the comments!

Monday, July 29, 2019

A Guide to Writing Your Next Novel

Writing a novel is hard no matter how many times you've done it. I'm currently working on my fifth and my brain, as always, refuses to cooperate. I've lit candles and made blood sacrifices, but every time I sit down to write I end up asking myself the same questions: "Why? How the hell did I do this last time? How do you even words? Why is the good stuff in my head incapable of showing up on the page?" I know all writers go through this, and that's why I'm happy to be sharing this guide with you all. It's been working wonders for me. Hopefully it'll do the same for you:

Guide to writing your next novel:

1. Stand in the middle of the road in a strange part of town and scream "Everything's a construct!" at the top of your lungs.

2. Read amazing novels and get angry because you'll never be that good and maybe no one loves you. Maybe you're really a hack.

3. Get inside your blood. Find the ghosts that ride your veins and fight them. Let them win the fist round. Then get up and destroy them.

4. Pull your deepest fears outta the bottom drawer of your soul and staple them to your face with the sharpened bones of tiny birds.

5. Listen to your favorite music. Then listen to something impossibly darker. Listen to something new. Listen to something awful and scary. Listen to the ominous silence. Listen to the blood pounding in your head. Listen to music from movies you've never seen. Listen to atmospheric black metal while walking around the woods at night holding a knife.

6. Eat tacos and ponder life without soy sauce or garlic or salsa.

7. Remind yourself of every fight, every accident, every dance with absolute fear, every instance in which a fucking gun made an unexpected appearance, every night spent pressing your tongue against the blood clots on the inside of your lips, every broken promise, every drop of anger, every death that crushed you, every spirit you've ever felt, every broken relationship, every second of crushing loneliness, every night spent battling a fever, every letdown, every frustration, every fucking nightmare.

8. Punch a wall until your knuckles bleed. Lick the blood off your knuckles. Punch the wall some more. Remember no one owes you a thing. Smile. Pick up a gutter flower and put it in your hair. Tell the world you can do this. Tell yourself you can do this. Do this.

9. Type as if the keyboard owed you money. When you hit a passage that means something, hold your breath and keep going. Kill every meaningless word. Slice every unnecessary word.

10. Reply to the voices in your head. Recognize aliens are real. They live in the closet and come out to watch you sleep sometimes. Scream at the moon. Understand that, if there is a hell, its fire is nothing compared to what you hide underneath your skin. Obsess about everything. Cry without shedding any tears. Finish the damn thing. Move on to the next one with a new set of neon scars.


Gabino Iglesias is a writer, professor, book reviewer, and journalist living in Austin, TX. He is the author of ZERO SAINTS and COYOTE SONGS. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Back Jacket Hack Job - What Alice Forgot

Hey there, readers! It's my turn for a back jacket hack job - a feature which I haven't done in AGES here on Across the Board. Basically, it's my take on what the blurb could/should be vs the blurb on the back cover. 

Today's feature - WHAT ALICE FORGOT by Liane Moriarty. You might know Liane Moriarty from BIG LITTLE LIES (which is a phenomenal book, haven't seen the HBO series) and THE HUSBAND'S SECRET, which is considered to be her breakout novel.

I admit, I read WHAT ALICE FORGOT blind. I was looking for women's fiction and my online library had this one available. I'd liked other books by Moriarty, so why not this one? Little did I know how much I would love it.

If YOU read the blurb, you know from the very beginning that Alice takes a fall at the gym and wakes up thinking she's 29 and newly pregnant, not 39 with three kids and on the verge of divorce. Her story is about rediscovering herself against the Alice she remembers (her 29-year-old self) vs. the Alice she's become by 39.

If you read MY Back Jacket Hack Job blurb, it would go something like this:

Don't start this book without time to dive into the story, because without giving yourself time to read the first few chapters in one sitting, you might give up and that would be a travesty. (Spoiler alert: I started this book one night when I was tired and couldn't read more than a few pages. Same the next night. I almost quit reading thinking I just wasn't into it. Turns out I was just super tired.) And Alice in the first couple of chapters is a little hard to connect with. She's just woken up in the hospital and is confused at the timeframe, which made ME confused as well. Again, I was super tired. I don't think this is a problem for well-rested readers.

The story is what the original blurb describes - but so much more. Because Alice ten years ago is really different than the Alice of today, but the relationships she has with her sister, her kids and her ex-husband, in particular, are colored by those ten years. And they don't reflect so well on Alice.

Without being all spoilery - let's just say that as a woman who used to be ten (or twenty) years younger, newly married and child-free, it was eye-opening to see the ways Alice had changed, and the ways her interactions with family and friends had become so different. Strained. It's understandable - looking at it objectively - but Alice wonders if it's inevitable. And you will too.

I don't want to give away anymore of the plot, but I think this story will resonate if you're a mother, especially. So, tell me - have you read WHAT ALICE FORGOT? Did it make you stop and think? Do you find yourself still thinking about it, even weeks after finishing? Or is that just me? (Tell me it's not just me!) And if you've read it, would LOVE to chat about it on the comments.

Monday, July 22, 2019

In Praise of Paper Planners

A post by Mary Fan
Most folks who know me have noticed a significant uptick in the number of hobbies I've gotten written before on just why I find purely-for-fun activities that I aspire to be mediocre at so rewarding.

In a nutshell, it's because with all the pressures of writing and publishing and day job-ing, I find relief in getting to just play around for a change.
involved with over the past year or so. I've

It started a few years ago with choir...

... and then last year it really took off when I decided, pretty much around the same time, to resume kickboxing (which I'd done a few years back but dropped for... more writing time, I guess? laziness?)...

... while simultaneously taking up aerial silks (say what now?).

And then choir let out for the summer, so I decided to use that time for flying trapeze classes, which I quickly became addicted to (who'd've thunk).

Meanwhile, I'm also an active member of my local writers group, in which I co-moderate the full-novel critique track and give the occasional workshop. Plus, you know, having to visit my family and hang out with friends every now and then. Oh, and traveling for conventions or vacations... basically, I've totally overscheduled myself. But it's okay -- it's all fun stuff.

Problem is, I have Swiss-cheese memory. Can't remember a dang thing on my own. It was really after I started publishing and doing writer-type events (conventions, events with my local writers group, etc.) that my schedule got really whack. At first, I tried doing it the modern way -- that is, entering things into my iPhone's calendar. I mean, I carry that thing around with me everywhere anyway, and this is how us Millennials are supposed to do it, right?

Except I hated that stupid app. I hated how when it showed me a month, it only indicated with a frickin unhelpful dot that something was up on any given day -- not what. I hated that it somehow synced with Facebook and added the birthdays of all my rando Facebook friends (most of whom I barely know anymore... Facebook is basically a phone book to me), so I couldn't tell if I ACTUALLY had something to do, or if it was the birthday of that random friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-of-someone-I-met-once-at-Freshmen-orientation. I hated how annoying it was to add an event -- typing things out on that stupid keyboard, fighting autocorrect, scrolling around for dates and times... ARGH.

So a few years ago, I switched to a wall calendar. It was also because I just liked the idea of having a wall calendar (and it was Star Wars-themed). That worked nicely. I could quickly jot down "JCW 1PM-3PM" to indicate that I had a critique session with the Jersey City Writers... much faster than typing all that into the stupid, stupid app. It also made it a lot easier to visualize any given month, particularly when I had multi-day events. I even started entering writing deadlines so I could plan my writing schedule around all my other things.

For about 3 years, this worked nicely. There was just one issue: if I was out and about and someone asked if I was available for a thing, I'd always have to say "let me check my calendar when I get home." So last year, I switched to a planner. And it's been AWESOME.

I can't tell you how much easier it is to just track everything in one place, and then take that place with me everywhere. Also, something about the physical action of writing things down actually helps me remember it better.

Maybe someday I'll give that annoying app another shot. But for now, I'll be jotting things down old-school.

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