Thursday, January 14, 2021

Perfect Does Not Exist

By Cheryl Oreglia

What happens when the world changes, when the things we were counting on, or the things we worked hard to accomplish do not happen?

Currently, our situation fits the description of a shit show, far from perfect, and way outside my wildest apocalyptic musings.

Apologies in advance for my sour mood.

People are experiencing a scarcity of food, housing, medical, and psychological wellbeing. The lack of moral leadership is not helping, it’s as if we’ve become an expansion pack for the Lord of Flies, and quite frankly some of us are behaving like lost children.

We’re still marrying, and having babies, but we’re dying alone.

Businesses are closing, supplies are running short, hospitals are at capacity.

What else could go wrong? Oh yeah, domestic terrorists stormed the Capitol, and we’ve impeached the president twice.

This has a trickle-down effect, as if a spring waterfall, and we’re drowning in the runoff.

Students who worked their butts off to get into college are studying remotely, missing the campus experience, and more importantly the networking that occurs when socializing. They are stuck at home using zoom as their primary social connection, youth suicide rates have doubled in the last year, along with seniors.

This has been a depressing year.

Authors are publishing books and forgoing the book tours, marketing conferences, and interviews. Not so bad but if you spent ten years writing and perfecting a novel it’s not the best of times.

My world is currently incompatible with the skill set I have depended on for most of my life.

I was taught from a very young age to follow the steps and the outcome will be close, if not exactly, what I expect. Right?

Study and you’ll pass your courses, graduate and you get a job, save your money for a rainy day, work out and you’ll get stronger, eat less and you lose weight, work hard and you’ll prosper.

But nothing and no one could have prepared us for a world-wide pandemic, months of quarantine, not to mention the political and social unrest that is currently monopolizing our country. The waters are stirred up, it’s murky as hell, and it doesn’t appear to be settling anytime soon. But remember, beautiful souls are shaped by ugly experiences says Matshona Dhliwayo.

So what the hell do we do now?

These are unprecedented times in the history of the world. If we don’t write about it who will? Every country on the planet has been infected, lost elders, jobs, and their sense of security. We’re slowly forgetting what it was like to live “normally,” and worse, we’re becoming accustomed to extremely restrictive environments.

That’s just bullshit.

This is not our demise, this is our opportunity to document a historical phenomenon flashing before our screens, from our own unique perspective, because no one else in the world can tell this story the way you can.

For writers, quarantine is actually a rare occasion that offers unmitigated time to write, think, and ponder without undue distractions, obligations, or interruptions. I agree Netflix is probably part of a Russian agenda to keep us docile and tame, but we’re better than this, at least I once was.

Hello, I’ve been whining about my lack of time, congested schedule, unexpected intrusions forever. Since the first, second, and third lockdown I have cooked hundreds of meals, spent thousands of hours on Zoom calls, and watched more television in ten months than my entire life put together, and I’m embarrassed to say I’ve worn my pajamas for most of these high-level activities. “Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t,” says Rikki Rogers.

What I haven’t done is write about it.

The sad thing is creativity doesn’t repeat itself, it can’t, says Seth Godin. This period in time might be our greatest opportunity along with our worst nightmare, but no one will read our stories if we don’t turn off the television, and write. Yes, I’m talking to myself, just ignore that part, I'm such a sloth. 

This is our work. It’s not for everyone but it will serve someone, it will change something, and it has the potential to make things better. Read that again.

The creative journey takes practice, it follows a distinct pattern, pandemic or not. I have to sit down, and write every day, whether I want to or not. I have to post my work and find an audience who wants to read what I have to offer. They are not going to come to me. 

It’s not easy, most things of value are not, in fact, it might be the most vulnerable thing you’ll ever do. Expose your fears, failures, frivolity, but trust me, no one wants to compare themselves with perfect, let your flaws shine. This is what gives us hope.

Write until our fingers fail, this is our covenant, and this is what I remind myself of when I’m sitting in the same sweats for a week, eating cold chicken with my fingers, hydrating with endless cups of coffee.

My mantra, “I will not watch reruns of The Office.” Repeat.

Remember that show, Walking Dead, it’s become a reality of sorts.

There are plenty of Walking Dead out there, this is our audience, and what we have might be the only source of hope available. Never doubt yourself, I’ve used that as an excuse, but it’s really a defense mechanism against failure. Yes, I’m talking to myself again, I write to figure things out, my thoughts flying around like kamikazes until they land on the page.

What happens when the world changes, when the things we were counting on, or the things we worked hard to accomplish do not happen?

Change your definition of happiness, or better yet, “stop living someone else’s definition of happiness and start living your own,” says David Paul Vosburg.

Our current view of the world might not be perfect because that does not exist.

How are you holding up? What are you currently writing about? Any survival secrets? 

When I’m not writing for Across the Board, I’m Living in the Gap, drop in anytime.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Overnight Success

At a time when many of us are sitting down to get a leg up on those New Year’s resolutions to write that novel or find an agent or get published, it can be too tempting to compare ourselves to the Angie Thomases, the V.E. Schwabs, the seemingly overnight success stories. That success feels so far out of reach, it’s almost enough to stop our work in our tracks.

Just before publishing ground to a halt for the winter holidays, I signed my first “big girl” contract.


I don’t tell you this to toot my own horn (while I’m here, though, TOOT TOOT), but to give you some perspective. To those who don’t know me, they might assume it just happened, instantly and without years of hard work and waiting to back it up. They would be woefully wrong.

To demonstrate, a timeline:

2008: Though I’d been writing for “fun” for several years, as a new mom staring down the rest of my life, I decided to write “seriously.” My first manuscript was a Twilight rip-off called Eternity, in which my main character, Catherine, comes into the crosshairs of a football-playing family of vampires. No, you can’t read it. I’ve burned every word.

2009 – 2011: After Eternity’s failure, I decide I’m not a novelist. I am, in fact, a short story writer. I write and submit over a hundred and fifty short stories in this time. None of them sell. I join a Goodreads group called On Fiction Writing where I meet my first mentor. She not only has the balls to tell me my writing is “very not good,” but that it could be if I was willing to work my ass off.

2012: Back to novel-writing. Though I write two books this year, I am still too new to know how to property edit a manuscript or query an agent. I am full of optimism and too much caffeine. I manage to get a couple of short stories published in anthologies edited by writer friends.

2014: After six years of hard work and failure, I land my first paid writing gig at Dark Comedy Productions. I write an interview column called “The Rack” in which my interviewees, lovingly dubbed “victims,” are stretched out on the rack in a combination short story/interview format. To this day, it is my favorite thing I’ve ever done.

2014: After being rejected by every agent known to man, my first published novel, REAPER, is published by a small press in Minnesota. It barely sells—and for good reason. It was not up to snuff. But it was the stepping stone I needed. Someone out there thought I was good enough. Maybe I could be.

2015: My second published novel, SACRIFICIAL LAMB CAKE, is published by another small press, Red Adept Publishing. Though I’m pleased with the book, I suspect the small press route isn’t for me. Too much of the production and marketing is up to the writer. Being a mom of two, I work paycheck to paycheck. Fronting the money for blog tours and reviews and giveaway copies without the privilege of an advance just isn’t in the cards.

2016: I self-publish a book that, though it got some full requests from agents, never panned out in the traditional market. A TALE DU MORT is part Terry Pratchett, part Florida love-affair. In truth, I only published this one to see if I could. Several hundred rejections do a lot to a person; I wanted to know if I could do it on my own.

Late 2016: My third published book, ALL DARLING CHILDREN, is released by Red Adept Publishing after a few full requests by agents end in more rejection. It’s my first foray into the crossover horror genre I’d later figure out I love.

2017: Almost ten years after I started pursuing a writing career, I finally signed with an agent with my manuscript, HEART OF SNOW. We spend nearly a year on editing and submissions and receive almost a dozen rejections, all mostly complimentary and encouraging. Their one gripe? No idea where to put in on the shelf, or how to market it. I learn my first hard lesson—there are no guarantees.

2018: I write another manuscript, CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT. This one went through two complete rewrites before it even saw an editor’s inbox. Though I get close—an editor tells my agent she is taking the book to acquisitions—in the end, I’m rejected. At this point, my agent has signed a few authors after me, all of which have landed their first deals. I’m feeling disheartened and frustrated and wondering what the hell to do next. The answer is easy: write another book. So I did.

2019: I write two more manuscripts, one of which is shelved for having no plot. The other is still sitting in limbo.

2020: The editor who took CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT to acquisitions, only to have it rejected, reaches out to my agent. She tells my agent she wants to try again, if I’m willing to play a little with the genre. It’s a challenge, but I whole-heartedly accept. The book goes through its third complete rewrite before she takes it to acquisitions again. It’s twelve years later, and I finally get the call I’ve been dreaming of since Catherine tackled a vampire in a game of touch-football.

What I’m saying is this: it’s difficult, the waiting feels like it’ll kill you, and you will be rejected more times than you can count. That doesn’t mean you should give up. I didn’t.    

Thursday, January 7, 2021

What's in a Name?

Like a lot of authors, I like to put some time into creating individual characters for my story. The first step in always figuring out what their name is. I don't like to pick a name at random. Often times, I will spend a few hours browsing baby namer websites for the perfect name based on meaning, pronunciation, ethnic background, and personality. But does the name of a character influence who they'll become in the course of a story? I think it does.

Insert shameless plug here.

In my dark fantasy series, 'The Book of Siavon', I spent a lot of time working out the names of my main characters. Being that the world is set an a medieval, fantastical landscape, I wanted the characters to have heavy Irish, Latin, and British influences on their names. Keavy, the heroine of the series, was the hardest to come up with. I wanted something easy to say, but also different enough that you wouldn't confuse it with any characters from other novels. I landed on this particular name by browsing a Gaelic name database. It means gentle, beautiful, or precious (though in the series, I have her saying her name means "Lady of the hearth"), which is the kind of person I pictured Keavy as. 

Another way I name characters is through science. Often times, non-human characters and creatures in my fantasy stories draw their name from some sort of real world Latin name for the animal in which I have based them on. Linnaeus Marcus Tulley is a prime example of this. He is of a race called the catfolk, which are basically half-cat, half-human sentient beings who populate the mythical world of Aryth, (which I named as a variation of Earth). Linnaeus came from the name, Carl Linnaeus, who was a Swedish scientist who studied botany and zoology. He also was the person who came up with the scientific name, Felis catus. You guessed it, he gave cats their name. It was a little nod to the field of science, which the character of Tulley studies, as well to his species influence. I didn't expect many people to pick up on it, but those that did probably got a little kick out of it like I did.

I also sometimes use the meaning of names as a form of foreshadowing in the story. For instance, someone who is a werewolf might have a name that means 'wolf' or 'change.' I try to do this subtly to keep from spoiling the story, so it's usually not too obvious. I mostly do this for my own entertainment, but people interested in linguistics might pick up on it.

Naming characters is a lot like naming real children. You want it to fit their personality and be something they can grow with as the story progresses, but you also just want it to sound right in the reader's head and be something that isn't too hard to pronounce. That's why I spend so much time obsessing over what names to use and where. It's a lot of fun, and believe it or not, one of the easier aspects of creating a whole person for a book, even if it takes a while. 

How do you name your characters? Tell me about it!

Stay weird.

Monday, January 4, 2021

New Year, New Resolution?

A post by Mary Fan
Happy New Year, everyone! It's that time again -- the time when a bunch of people set resolutions and goals for what they're going to do between now and December 31. I've seen a lot of writers share their goals on social media. Some are aspirational targets, like achieving a certain word count per day, and some are... how do I put this... more like wishes shouted into the Internet.

You've probably seen them around. "This is the year I land an agent." "This is the year I get published." "This is the year I become a bestselling author."

I get the impulse. The myth of meritocracy has led most of us to believe that external markers of success -- usually achieving some kind of institutional approval, popularity, or monetary gain -- are all due to the efforts of the individual. It's a comforting myth, this idea that you can control your own destiny. And to some extent, helpful, since it can push you to do the things you need to in order to get what you want.

But so much is out of our control that treating these external markers as resolutions isn't always healthy. Especially in an industry as fickle as publishing, much more is up to chance than we'd like to admit. Maybe you happened to write a book in the trendiest genre, right as the genre is taking off. Maybe you happened to adopt a style adored by publishing professionals. Maybe you were assigned a phenomenal cover artist whose eye-catching design made your book stand out from a thousand others. Or maybe you didn't -- your timing was off, your tastes don't align perfectly with the industry's, your marketing efforts didn't land.

So when if you don't land that agent, get that deal, or achieve that title, does that make you a failure, or simply unlucky?

Personally, I don't like tying resolutions to things out of my control, which is why my resolution is very simple: To finish the manuscript I started during NaNoWriMo, clean it up and make it readable (it's currently a hot mess full of continuity errors), and submit it. That's all I can do; the rest is up to fate.

Do you have a writing-related resolution?

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