Friday, December 29, 2017

Ranting and Writing (aka, when your horrible airbnb experience makes you miss your blog post)

A Post By Jonathan

So apparently I took Steve's last blog post, Writing Tips for the Holidays, a little too seriously, especially his tip about taking some time off, because I'm a day late on my blog post. Oops.

I realized it while in the movie theater last night, watching The Last Jedi. I think I thought of fellow Boarder, Mary Fan, as she is a huge Star Wars nut, which then brought my thoughts back to my delinquent blog post. I'd use the holidays as an excuse, but Steve managed to post on Christmas day, so that doesn't really hold water. I will, however, blame it on the horrible airbnb experience my wife and I had on our attempted holiday vacation in Williamsburg, Virginia. I still need to write a hopefully account-ending review of our experience, so I will share it with you now (and maybe kill two birds with one stone)... Warning, some details may be too graphic for some readers. Parental guidance is advised.

This was my first time using airbnb. I was excited, since a lot of my other friends had used the service and seemed to enjoy it. I looked all over for a nice place, and ended up choosing what I thought was someone's condo in a resort that my wife and I had stayed in previously, during one of our earlier trips to Williamsburg. When I contacted the owner to ask if the dates I chose were still available, she said yes, but that she wouldn't be around to clean the unit after the other tenants left, so I would have to clean the sheets and the towels and that would be it. She said she would take $50.00 off our stay for the inconvenience, so I agreed.

When we showed up to the unit, I knew something was wrong. First of all, the whole place smelled like Indian food. I have actually been to India, so I didn't necessarily have a huge problem with that, but it wasn't the first think my wife and I were expecting to encounter at the start of our vacation. Then I started in on the sheets and towels, only to find hair and food and disgustingness all over them (the floors, walls, ceiling...). Then we quickly realized that there was no detergent, soap, or any cleaning supplies in the unit at all. There was a Target nearby, so my wife sent me up to spend probably the $50.00 dollars we were saving in cleaning supplies and candles. Lots and lots of candles.

When I was at Target I called the owner and told her about the condition of the place and she said she would knock another $50.00 off, so I said okay. Then my wife called me and told me our three-year-old son had just discovered an unflushed toilet with unspeakable contents in and around it, so I called the woman back and told her were leaving and wanted a full refund. Among other things, we are currently potty training our son and did not want him anywhere near this place. Then she demanded that I take a picture of the toilet with said unspeakable contents inside before she would give me a full refund. A picture! So I did. I texted it to her and she said, "okay, if you want to leave it's up to you, but it looks like you could have just flushed it."

We decided to leave. And she did refund us the money (thank God).

As I returned the key to the resort, I told them about our experience and they offered to potentially put us up in another room. Then we got to talking and it turned out that the place we thought we were renting was not even available for the time that we were renting it. It was the woman's time share and she was subletting it on airbnb! And all the time she had available went to the lovely folks who rented the room before us. Apparently, when I asked about the rental, she had retroactively tried to get additional time, but was never able to. The person at the front desk who checked us in had made a mistake and should have never let us into that horrible room in the first place. We ended up leaving the resort and feeling pretty awful and in need of a shower or three.

With that horrible start to our vacation, we ended up in a hotel and left the next day. On the way home, I thought we might drive a little on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but that turned out to be a horrible decision as well. My wife's bladder nearly exploded and in our search for a working bathroom we ended up in Deliverance land with no cell service and no idea where the highway was. Then when we finally found the highway, there was a huge accident and we had to take the backroads home, which added quite a bit of time to our already fubared trip.

So instead of writing my blogpost in front of the fire at our beautiful condo rental, I ended up driving home two days early and escaping to the movies. And then The Last Jedi had to go and suck, which made my day all the more worse. But it was nice to retreat to a galaxy far, far away for a time nonetheless. But that's why I was late, but better late than never they always say.

So, dear reader, have incidents like this thrown your writing schedule off before? Or are you the kind of person who never lets anything get in your way? Either way, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Writing Tips for the Holidays

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey all!  Hope you're enjoying your holidays.  If you're anything like me, you're probably stressing out this time of year, and you hardly need your writing career compounding that.  So here are a few thoughts and tips I have for getting through the holidays as a writer.

1.)  Don't send queries in December

NaNoWriMo is a great event if you care to participate in it.  You can get a lot of work done, or even an entire novel.  However, it's important to self-edit any work before you submit it to an agent or publisher.  A good rule of thumb is to set your manuscript aside for at least four weeks, then give it a second look with fresh eyes.  

However, a lot of people figure when it's done, it's done, and start immediately submitting to agents.  That means that when NaNo ends each year, slush piles in New York go through the roof.  Yes, in an ideal world, every query would be judged only on its intrinsic value.  But you should also do everything you can to make your query stand out from the crowd - and that includes sending it at a time of year when there's less of a crowd to stand out from.  So take December off from querying.

2.)  Allow yourself to take some time off

Holidays are traditionally a time of bacchanal, when otherwise normal people say "Fuck it" and leave behind their usually work and gym routines to scarf down booze, cookies, and gigantic dinners.  If you're the type of person who likes to fuss about this, and double down on working out and making sure you get your thousand words a day written, allow me to give you permission not to.

There's no need to be a hero.  For most of us, getting the gifts bought, dinner made, and decorating done makes you enough of a hero.  There's a reason why depression, alcoholism, and suicide rates spike during the holidays.  Remember to try to relax and enjoy the season, and if that means taking a break from writing, so be it.  There's always next year anyway, right?

3.)  The new year is an opportunity to take stock

This applies to your life as well as your writing career.  I know people have a love/hate relationship with resolutions and their all-or-nothing nature.  Well, forget about that, then.  There's no need to make ironclad resolutions.  But the beginning of a new year is a chance to think about goals.

What did you accomplish last year?  How many books did you get written?  How many short stories did you get published?  How many reviews did you get?  Are you happy with those numbers?  What would you like this year to look like?  If you want to have a book published in May, are you editing it now?  If you want to get an agent, are you querying now?

4.)  The holidays are a chance to stock up

If you're anything like me, it's tough coming up with a wishlist every year.  As adults, if we need it, we often just buy it, and then our holiday gift lists end up looking like a bunch of needless junk.

Well, guess what?  Maybe this is just the time of year to remember all the time and money you spend on your writing career.  Do you need notebooks?  A new computer?  How about a thick stack of books for the TBR pile to stay up-to-date?  Pens for signings?  Business cards?  Swag?  Why not ask for it all now?

5.)  Enjoy the experience

Last, and perhaps most important, a good writer lives life and then writes about it.  Stop and smell the roses - or in this case, the eggnog, latkes, and black-eyed peas.  Be present.  Be mindful, as Cheryl always reminds us.  And enjoy your time with your friends, family, and loved ones!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

In Good Company

By Cheryl Oreglia

This life may very well be a miraculous adventure but I’ve come to believe the people we encounter along the way are more reflective as to the purpose and intent of our journey than maybe the questions we ask ourselves. As I move deeper into Advent, a time of waiting and preparation, dare I consider my own incarnation? 

What has impregnated me this year?

The word impregnate has several meanings, but the one I refer to here has to do with infusing, soaking, steeping, saturating, and this year I've been impregnated with a new perspective. 

The world may be a spacious place but I happen to live in the same neighborhood I grew up in. I'm unapologetic about my homebodiness because it nourishes me in a mysterious and profound way. Don't get me wrong, even though I crave the familiar, I do venture out on occasion. It's called living and people seem to like it.

I spent the first half of the year in the presence of my Mom who was fighting a losing battle with cancer and sadly succumbed to her illness in June. I learned a lot about myself as I cared for Mom. The length of my patience expanded, the well of my empathy deepened, and the depth of my love increased a hundred-fold.

As my Mom's life narrowed, my daughter's life expanded, and we were confounded by the news she was expecting twins. It was a high risk pregnancy, two identical fetus' sharing one placenta, with precarious connections. I desperately wanted to tend and feed both Mom and child as they journeyed towards the unknown. The babies became a focal point for Mom, something to hold out for, come hell or high water she was going to hold those babies. 

I remember a most powerful moment just days before she passed. She had been unconscious for about twenty-four hours when my daughter dropped by with the twins. I placed those tiny newborns right next to Mom, and there we sat on the foldout bed in the living room, four generations of women. It was a notable moment.

"Mom the babies are here to see you," I spoke as if she could hear me.

I about fainted when she opened her eyes as if waking from a short nap, smiled, and reached for me with her hand. We enjoyed a moment of clarity, love, contact. The joy radiating off her face was incredible as she caressed those babies with her eyes. It was my modern day miracle and a most precious gift. I still find it odd to be in this world without my mother. An orphan, from Greek, meaning bereaved. 

Every year I toy with the idea of retirement but especially this year as my perspective on time has radically changed. The aging thing sucks but I can imagine spending my days blissfully writing in a newly erected writer's cottage in the backyard (work with me people), finding a publisher, and then my debut novel lands on the best sellers list. A girl can dream but then again that would eliminate some of the people who inspire me most.

I teach high school and this semester I walked into a room full of focused, relevant, conscientious students who elevated me in a way I couldn't have achieved through efforts of my own. They took our discussions to a whole new level, demanded critical thinking on subjects from heaven to hell (I teach religious studies), and clarity around complicated issues like forgiveness, grace, and free-will. In moments of great vulnerability these students gave witness to each other. It's rare indeed to find yourself in the midst of such undiluted grace.

Speaking of grace one of my fondest memories was a recent dinner party with a small group of friends. We're really a tribe of sorts, four couples, eleven children, and now six grand-babies to adore. We've been friends for many years and used to live within a few miles of each other. It was common to have an impromptu dinner party just about every other weekend when our kids where young. We didn't realize what a gift that period of time was in our lives until it ebbed and flowed away. Now we are separated by not only distance but obligations. We manage to come together at least a half a dozen times a year, these gatherings are greatly anticipated, and deeply savored.

I remember pulling up to the beach house loaded down with overnight bags, wine, groceries, and presents my anticipation was palatable. It is the one place where I will be greeted warmly, cherished, welcomed, accepted, and celebrated. This is what we do for each other and I am exorbitantly grateful for this group of friends. They have given me the courage to step out of my comfort zone, publish a blog, travel, and explore this life in a way that I would not be able to do on my own. It has something to do with belonging?

Which reminds me of my sister, the one who knows not only my heart, but the very fiber of my existence. She is overly caring and kind, my life would be drudgery without her, and as luck would have it we live seven miles from each other. During a recent phone call we were trying to think of how to honor the memory of Mom at Christmas?

I truly believe a conscientious deed is better than acting as though no one is missing. People must be given the opportunity to hurt out loud says LadyBird Johnson. Sometimes I feel the hole is so deep there no bottom. We can push away a lot of things in this life but grief is not one of them. 

So we've been steeping in her memories, soaking in her wisdom, infused with her grace. The mystery of life and death are worth musing, "but perhaps the secret of living well is not in having all the answers, but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company," says Rachel Naomi Remen.

Could the present moment be pregnant with possibilities we can not imagine? Give it a little birth in the comments?

If you enjoyed this blog you might enjoy another at Living in the Gap, drop in anytime. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

"Big Little Lies," or What's My Problem With Chick Lit?

I mostly go to the local library branch for my kids, just to browse and spark their interests, but my eyes do run over the "new and hot" section on the red hot cart (hence the name I suppose).  That's where I found Liane Moriarty's "Big Little Lies."  I recognized the title from the HBO series of the same name, starring Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman and Aleksander Skarsgard.  I haven't seen it, but I know from a Reductress post and general zeitgeist murmurings that there's heavy themes of marital violence and rape.  So of course I brought it home, even if the cover is an exploding lollipop.  I got about halfway through, which was hard for me, and then I skimmed the second half and read the Wikipedia pages about the book and the series.

Why was it so hard for me to read this seemingly vapid and easily digestible tome?  Well, first of all, the very fact that it was so vapid and two dimensional while dealing with such heavy topics was a bit of a disappointment.  None of the women are very fleshed out (not that the men are more developed, they are actually barely present at all, more like 1.5 dimensional).  The main character, Madeline, was a "glittery girl" who liked accessories and is very vocally fond of shoes and perfume and self-conscious about her lack of social awareness when compared to her ex-husband's new wife.  This comes into play when their teenage daughter wants to go live with the ex husband and she's all hurt about it.  Then she's friends with fragile but rich and beautiful Celeste and new-in-town Jane.  The main story centers around a murder at an elementary school parents' trivia night, the victim of which we do not find out until the end.  But I easily guessed who was murdered and what the main paternity mystery of the novel's answer was early in the book, and it left me bored.

This year has been one of rapid emotion and social growth for me.  A big part of that growth was examining my relationships with my womanhood and with other women.  I used to always claim to prefer the company of men.  I realize now a big part of the reason for that was wanting male attention while trapped in a dead marriage and feeling disgusting about myself, needing that attention to feel approval and feel okay with myself.  I also didn't know how to connect with other women, but I was desperate for female companionship.  However, back when I was totally disconnected from society, I used to read stuff like this novel and other popular women's literature and feel like it was hopeless, feel like I must be some sort of alien non-female for reacting in such a visceral negative way to this literature. 

But now that I do have female friendships in my life and am doing universes better socially and emotionally, I can see that just because this type of writing isn't my cup of tea doesn't mean it doesn't have value to a lot of women and doesn't mean I'm an unfemale freak of some sort.  In fact, the simplistic juxtaposition of scenes with Madeline fetishizing champagne brunches and expensive shoes and the scenes describing the disturbing sexual violence might actually make it more easy to comprehend for some women.  Or maybe it just drives the point of the horrors home even further, like even when you live this pleasant silly life where squabbles about kindergarten birthday parties are the biggest item on your agenda, women are getting choked and degraded and objectified, women that you know and love.  Damn, shit got real. 

Anyway from the description of the show, it seems like the show writers agreed with me, because they added a lot of dramatic side stories not present in the book.  So maybe my assessment of it being too simple was more universal than I would have once feared.  Maybe I'm a real girl after all.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Planning for Pantsers -- A (sort of) Guide

Hey, indie authors how are your plans for 2018 shaping up? If you're like me you might have that deer-in-the-headlights look as you ask, "What do you mean by plans, exactly?" Sound familiar? Planning can be the eighth level of hell for a pantser, but -- as a recent convert -- I promise you, you might even be better for it.

1. Decide how your writing fits into your life goals
This is an important starting point. "I want to publish a book someday" is a different mindset from "I want to be able quit my day job and write full-time." If your 2018 plan is more along the lines of the former -- you want to finish that book and work on trying to get it published -- you're probably feeling a different kind of pressure than the writer who's hoping full-time writing allows him/her to do things like eat and pay rent. 

2. What else is going on in your life right now that impacts your writing?
Have you just had a baby, gotten married, divorced, and/or moved across the state/country/world? All of those things are going to impact your writing and it's only fair to be gentle with yourself during times of big transition. As Kimberly pointed out in her recent post, 2017 has been a tough year to be creative, and it's perfectly okay to say, "The whole world is on fire and I can't muster up the enthusiasm to write about shifters, period." Of course, if you rely on your writing for things like food and rent, it gets a little trickier. Which is where the rest of the Pantser Planner strategy comes in.

3. Before you look forward, look back
What went right in 2017? What went wrong? If you were to look at the various areas of your life -- health, relationships, family, career, creativity, finances -- how would you rate yourself on a scale of 1-10? Of those things are 5 and below, which three areas would you like to move up to a solid 8? (I'm suggesting choosing three areas because it's impossible to do all the things and no matter how good your plan, it can feel pretty overwhelming to face a life overhaul.)

4. Continue looking back for just a few more minutes
Take a deep-dive look backwards at those three areas you want to see become 8 or above in 2018. You want to improve your financial situation? Write down the things you did right -- and wrong -- related to your finances this year. Did you take a course that really spurred you on creatively? Or did you attend a conference that, in all honesty, was just way too expensive for the career benefit it provided? How about your advertising dollars? Which advertising decisions were good and which ones were the equivalent of throwing money into the wind? It's important to be as detailed as possible here because it gives you a really robust picture of where you are currently and how you got to that point.

5. Now take those three areas and write them down as goal statements
Goal statements are supposed to be SMART -- Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely. As a Panster Planner, I find writing SMART goals kind of intimidating. BUT, it's easier having done step 4. I know, for example, that I've spent way too much money in 2017, so my SMART goal related to finances might be something like: Total publishing budget for 2018 not to exceed $1500*, including covers, editing and copyediting. Total advertising budget for 2018 not to exceed $1500, with the exception of additional FB advertising during release week of $200 per new release. (*These numbers are totally made up, but not completely unrealistic.)

6. Look at those goal statements. How do they align to your writing/publishing goals?
In the above example, I've allowed myself $3000 towards publishing next year. It's a decent amount, but not a lot, by any means. So how many books does that translate into? Ideally three, so that's $1200 per book, including the additional spend for release-week advertising. Budget set.

7. Okay. So when?
This is where the Pantser Planner wants to throw in the towel and where you absolutely should not. You don't have to nail down the day you're going to hit publish, but think about the schedule in relation to the rest of your life. Your kid is off for spring break in April and you have the in-laws for a week in May? Maybe April and May aren't great months to try to publish, but June? June is wide open and everyone loves a summer romance, right? Be realistic about the commitments in your non-writing life and how they impact you. Also be realistic about what you do to support your release and who else needs to be involved. Do you hire a publicist? How much notice does she need? Do you need to book your editor months in advance? Are there penalties for changing the date, if necessary? How much time do you need to prep for your release, yourself?

8. June. You've decided on June.
Get your wall calendar, Google calendar, diary, whatever and look at the month of June. Right now. Pick a date that doesn't seem to clash with anything else and pencil in, "Publish book." There you go. Date set.

9. Then work backwards
If you're publishing your book on or around June 13, that means you need to have a first draft done by...when? Hiring a cover designer/artist? How much lead time do they need? Looking for a premade? Maybe you want to start looking. If you work with a publicist, clue her in regarding your timeline. 

10. Settle in to do the work.
The problem with self-imposed deadlines is that they're self-imposed and no one knows this better than the indie author. However, if you start the ball rolling booking covers, edits and publicity, suddenly your deadline firms up because other people are depending on you. It's not a bad thing.

Some people get down to the nitty-gritty of daily word count goals. If that works for you, you should absolutely do it. If the big picture "I need to have draft 1 done by February 15" works for you, you should do that. Planning is NOT one size fits all, but there is a way to make it work for you. Even if you're a pantser at heart.

Monday, December 11, 2017

10 Signs that It Might Be Time For a New Agent

A post by Mary Fan
Being a writer often feels like being at the bottom of the publishing food chain, especially when you’re just starting out. On the traditional publishing side, landing a literary agent feels like reaching a finishing line of sorts, like you’ve Made It. But sometimes, having an agent isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Before I go on, I want to clarify that I’m not subtweeting (subblogging?) anyone in particular here, but rather aggregating a list based on various anecdotes from various writers.

Anyway, the agent-author relationship is a business relationships, and as in all business, sometimes, things just don’t work out. Now, as a writer (especially a newbie writer) who’s spent countless hours querying and hoping and praying for an agent, to finally sign with one can feel like a miracle. So it can be especially hard to accept that it may be time to walk away. But you’re not doing yourself any favors by staying with an agent who’s not a good fit. 

Here are some signs that it may be time to move on with your publishing life:

1. The agent doesn’t return your emails
Open communication is key to making any relationship work, business or otherwise. While it’s true that sometimes people just get busy and accidentally miss emails, watch out if a pattern starts to form. As in, you email and follow up time and time again, only to get crickets from someone who’s supposed to be your advocate. If they’re being unresponsive, it probably means you’re low on their priority list, and that’s not a good place to be.

2. The agent doesn’t answer your questions
This is related to #1, but also distinct. For example: You send the agent an email with a question, and the agent dashes off a vague reply without answering. Again with the communication. And again with being a low priority.

3. They don’t add you to their client list on their website or follow you on Twitter
This might sound petty, but hear me out. If an agent lists a bunch of their clients on their website but not you, that could mean they don’t see you as being that important. Similarly with Twitter—it costs literally nothing to hit the “follow” button on Twitter. Yet I’ve heard of some agents only following back clients after they’ve sold, which just seems… petty on their part. And is yet another sign that you just might not be that important to them.

4. They treat you like a cog
Publishing is a business, but that’s no reason to stop treating people like they’re human. And authors are human beings, not just word producers and revenue generators. If you’re starting to feel like you’re being seen as a product instead of a client, then it might be time to walk away.

5. They become less cordial the longer you don’t sell
Related to #4. It can take a long time to sell a book. I’ve heard of books being on submission for years before landing a deal. Or sometimes, the book the agent originally signed for doesn’t sell, but the next one or the one after that does. And the agent-author relationship is supposed to be long-term one. So it’s starting to feel… transactional, like you only matter when you start bringing in cash—maybe reconsider who you’re working with.

6. They’re not open to your new ideas
Some agents sign authors—they’re in it for the long haul, and if the book they signed you for doesn’t sell, they’re up for trying again with the next thing you write. Others sign specific books—they liked that one thing you wrote, but if you try anything different, they’re just not interested. Some authors find a specific space they’re comfortable writing in, in which case, this one probably doesn’t apply, because if the agent liked the first book, they’ll like subsequent, similar books as well. Others are eclectic. They want to explore. They never write the same book twice. And sometimes, this throws a wrench into the author-agent relationship. If the agent isn’t open to your new ideas, then it could be a sign of a bad fit. You shouldn’t have to feel like you’re querying your own agent with every new thing you write. You might as well query another agent entirely.

7. They don’t pay attention to your concerns
This goes back to the whole “you’re just not that important to them” thing. Remember, you’re the client. You shouldn’t feel ignored.

8. Their enthusiasm wanes
Sometimes, they’re just not that into your writing anymore. And they won’t be a particularly effective advocate if that happens.

9. They don’t provide updates
This is an important one. Lots of things can happen during the submissions process, and you have the right to know what’s going on with your book. Who has the agent sent your book to? Have they followed up? Who’s requested or passed on it so far? Are they sending it to anyone new? Even with bad news, it’s better to know what’s going on. If you’ve asked your agent for updates and they aren’t answering, then that’s not a good sign.

10. You’re just not comfortable

Trust your gut. You should feel comfortable working with your agent.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

May the new year be....well, anything's better than this

Last year around this time, I was all ready to say good-freaking-bye to 2016. Man, was that a tough year. Okay, maybe the last two months sucked big time. Other than that, I was feeling good. I had a book published in March and I was just finishing up the last edits on a YA novel I was particularly pleased about -- a mystery I planned to query, and hopefully sell. I saw hope, professionally if not globally.
Fast forward a year and I am in no better a place. Someone tweeted (and I'm paraphrasing) that if were you able to write anything in 2017, you did good. Well, it was tough. My writing, creative energy, and motivation were spent on political news and developments. Writing scathing letters-to-the-editor of our local paper, trying to rally folks on Facebook (Ha! Like that's a thing you can do), trolling my politicians on Twitter (I guess it was kinda cathartic) and, not to mention, watching a lot of escapism on Netflix. It's amazing anything got done. Actually, little got done. I queried my beloved YA book, secured an agent, fired an agent, and the book is trunked. I'm still in the midst of finishing edits on a sequel to Dead and Breakfast that I've been working on for year! 

Life can be paralyzing. And because I'm not at the point where an editor is pressing on me to finish a project, my work ethic is what I make it -- weak and unfocused. But 2018 will be better. It has to be better. For one thing, I'm the only one pushing me. And I have a lot of great project ideas that I want to see bloom. Only I can do that.

Every January, the majority of Americans pledge to eat healthier, exercise, and spend less money. Well, I already do two out of those three things, so I'm promising to get my ass in gear. To work for the betterment of my mental health and to force change where I can -- with my art.

And to celebrate the new year, here's the cover art for my next mystery. Set to be published in early 2018.

Monday, December 4, 2017

12 Days of (a Writer’s) Christmas

To have a little fun this holiday season, I bring you the 12 Days of Christmas—writer’s edition. The traditional song has a lot of repetition, so I’ve gone straight to the final verse.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my Writing Angel gave to me:

Twelve Months of Drumming
(Fast fingers, drumming on the keyboard for a solid year will lead to an impressive word count.)

Eleven Pipers Typing
(One for Facebook, one for Twitter, one for Instagram . . . This could work. If rats follow when they pipe, maybe readers will follow when they type.)

Ten Lords a-Loving
(I don’t really need these for my genre, so I’ll re-gift them to a historical romance author friend.)

Nine Ladies Leading
(Oh, I like strong female leads. I’d better get writing and give them all a novel home!)

Eight Maids a-Cleaning
(They clean, I write.)

Seven Scripts a-Swimming
(Maybe more like treading water in my mind, staying cool and patiently waiting for their turn in the spotlight.)

Six Hours a-Lying
(I need at least 6 hours of sleep to be creative, which has been hard to come by these days, so YAY!)

(And they’re legit—not the kind you pay for!)

Four Calling Agents
(Does this mean I don’t have to deal with rejection letters?)

Three French Chefs
(They cook, I write.)

Two Turtle Doves
(One to distract the cat + one to distract the dog = fewer distractions for me.)

And a #1 Spot in a Bestselling Tree
(I’m not too picky about which tree it is. It’s not so much about the title as it is the reach it represents.)

May your writing angles bring you many wonderful gifts this holiday season!

~ Carrie

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Imposter Syndrome, Anyone?


A Post By Jonathan

While I was on Facebook yesterday, avoiding writing this blog post for lack of a decent topic, a decent topic popped up right there in my news feed. I guess procrastination isn't always a bad thing!

Someone posted an article about Imposter Syndrome and, never having heard of it before, I clicked. Moments later, I found a name for a truth I have been living for much of my adult life:

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud". The term was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Wikipedia

I can find countless examples of when I've felt this way, especially when it comes to my writing. I've won and placed highly in a couple of writing contests, but no matter the successes I've had I always seem to make excuses for it. The contest was too small or the prize wasn't a money prize so it wasn't as competitive/legitimate or it was just dumb luck. I always thought it was low self-esteem, but Imposter Syndrome seems to be more than that.

It's when there is an actual example of success that is outright dismissed by the individual who has achieved said success. It's an inability to recognize your own accomplishments. So you do achieve, but you refuse to accept the results as anything but a deception, a ruse. And sometime, very, very soon, you will be found out and the gig will be up.

I know why I feel this way. I was a horrible student in high school. More jock than academic. I didn't read my first real book until I was 18 years old. Most authors I hear about have been reading and writing stories since they were kids. But somewhere along the way, despite all my best efforts, I learned to write. Or maybe it's just a natural thing, I don't know.

Hopefully, soon I'll be able to feel like I'm not fooling everyone and just get on with my writing. Thoughts and feelings like this --the psychology of the craft-- tend to hold me back so often. and I know I'm not alone. Apparently 70% of people feel like frauds at some point in their lives.

I leave you with a related story by Neil Gaiman and a little bit of inspiration:



So do you feel like a fraud too? If so, leave your comments below!

    Monday, November 27, 2017

    Do you NaNo?

    Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
    Hey all!  Hope you're recovering well from Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the weekend.  Today is Cyber Monday, the semi-secret holiday when everyone tries to slip by their boss that they're getting all of their online shopping done at work.

    I was not at work today Cyber Mondaying.  That's because this weekend I was at Chessiecon, a delightful little sci-fi convention in the Baltimore, MD area that has become something of a holiday tradition for me and fellow Boarder Mary Fan.  I got to judge the Turkey Awards, as I have every year since Chessiecon's inception.  It's a delightful little writing-related tradition when aspiring (and not-so-aspiring) authors do their best to write their very worst first paragraph, "Eye of Argon"- style.

    So what's with all this tradition talk?  Well, I can hardly believe that we've made it this far into November with scarcely a mention from our fine bloggers about NaNoWriMo, the biggest annual writer's tradition of them all.

    For those who don't know, NaNoWriMo (or NaNo for even shorter) is short for National Novel Writing Month, and it takes place every November.  I presume it's because November has a solid 30 days rather than 31, and is pretty well packed with holidays between Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving, which many people take a few days off work for.  And in those 30 scant days participants attempt to bang out 50,000 words, the number which is often used as the bare-bones bottom-end definition of a novel.  So many people will complete a full novel this month.  Many more will fail.  And there's no shame in failing, or, for that matter, not trying.  I'd say the only real shame, as in anything in life, is in berating those who do participate, but perhaps that's a subject for another blogpost.  In short, my feeling is if you enjoy or get something out of NaNo, then bully for you, and if you don't, well, also bully for you but don't feel obligated to degrade those who do.

    Now I've participated in NaNo (and won!) every year since 2009.  Of my novels, BRAINEATER JONES, THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO, BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS, HUNTER OF THE DEAD, and SLASHVIVOR! were all NaNo babies, at least in part.  So you see I get a lot of writing done during this event each year.  (And for the newbies out there: not a one of those was "finished" on December 1 - I spent solid years in some cases editing each.)

    This year I was up to some real hijinks.  I'm working on a haunted house collaboration with Wile E. Young that will hopefully blow all of your socks off when it comes out, and my own piece about secret police in a near-future semi-dystopian America.  So how did things go for me this year?  Well, let's take a look:

    These are my stats as of today, the 27th, so they're a bit off.  I wrote about 2500 words a day up until the 17th.  The 17th I absolutely crapped out and wrote about 400 words.  Then I didn't improve much on the 18th, only adding 1400 words or so.  The 20th was similarly crummy.  Then I got my groove back and completed 50,000 words on the 22nd.

    So, of the 22 days I wrote I averaged 2280 words per day.  I can't say this is usual - I often have more ups and downs.  This is one of the least wacky NaNos I've ever done, having in the past made up for writing a hundred words one day by writing 5000 the next.  Slow and steady wins the race, though, I suppose.  This is pretty much exactly what I'd like my NaNo chart to look like each year (barring the three fall-down-on-my-face days, but everybody has those now and then, I suppose.)  Ideally, I'd always like to be done by Chessiecon so it doesn't hang over my head that weekend.

    The greatest thing about NaNo is, (for me, at least) that it's over.  I can go back to writing on my own schedule, and not leaving my girlfriend an effective novel widow.  But there are still four solid writing days left for NaNo participants.  So I'd like to know: how are you looking this year?  Did you participate?  Will you finish on time?  

    What are your thoughts on the process?  Do you enjoy it?  Hate it but do it anyway to be one of the cool kids?  What do your stats look like?  What have been your wackiest stats over the years?  Let me know in the comments below!

    Thursday, November 23, 2017

    Grateful Harvest

    By Cheryl Oreglia

    It's hard to imagine the first Thanksgiving was a harvest celebration held by the pilgrims of Plymouth colony in the 17th century. Clearly Americans like to eat and perpetuating foodie traditions is especially popular. As you know the early pilgrims had a lot to celebrate, 53 out of 102 survived the Mayflower crossing, only to encounter raw land in need of cultivating, disease, extreme weather, and the Native Americans. It was a tenuous beginning at best. I'm sure they were flabbergasted when members of the Wampanoag tribe generously supplied them with food for the cold winter. A kind and neighborly gesture that sort of backfired a century later.

    The first harvest celebration went on for several days. Can you imagine? Ninety members of the Wampanoag tribe showed up with five dead deer in need of roasting. This is diversity at its best. Edward Winslow wrote about the celebration in his diary. 
    “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.” 
    Eventually the United States established a date for these yearly harvest celebrations, which of course made travel a nightmare, but at least you know why the grocery stores are inundated with turkeys, cranberries, and sweet potatoes. In accordance with tradition, families and friends gather to enjoy an array of foods, express gratitude, and watch football while gorging on pumpkin pie. The traditional meal was choreographed in the 60's when an article appeared in Better Homes and Gardens describing the perfect, "Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner: Hot Tomato Starter, Roast Turkey, Herb Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, Orange-glazed Sweet Potatoes, buttered Green Beans, Apple-Pinapple Slaw, Hot Biscuits, Butter, Pumpkin Pie, Hot Coffee." They outed the deer and corn for a more appealing meat and seasonal vegetable. Who knew?

    Mail isn't delivered, schools are on holiday, and most businesses are closed, except for Walmart of course. This is my experience of Thanksgiving, but I wanted to explore some of the more unusual expressions of this holiday, and this is what I found. 
    1. How about a traditional food fight at the end of the meal? Started by a crazy aunt, slightly inebriated, but becomes a cherished family tradition. I have to admit this one worries me.
    2. I learned about a crafty host who provides a white tablecloth for guests to leave painted handprints, made to look like turkeys, dated, and signed. They add new hands to the cloth each year. Now there's a way to occupy the guests while the turkey cooks.
    3. A few people I know host an open table Thanksgiving, this is where you might land if you are estranged from family, or far away from home. It is a generous and kind practice for those who would otherwise spend Thanksgiving alone. Open hearts, open doors. I am ever so thankful for the tables that are open to my children that are not with me this year.
    4. The turkey dance is one of the more unusual traditions I came across. This requires the cook to dance with the turkey prior to being stuffed? I will assume this requires soft music, romantic lighting, and good wine. Bon Appetit!  
    5. The Twitter family asks everyone to send out a gratitude tweet right before grace and then all phones all go into a turkey shaped cookie jar until the end of the evening. Tweet, tweet, gobble, gobble.
    6. Instead of pie this family plays hide and seek after dinner with their cars. Teams are constructed, boundaries decided, the "it" car gives a fifteen minute grace period for teams to hide, and then drives around until all the cars are found. Makes you wonder what you would say to the police officer who discovers five people sitting in a dark car, on Thanksgiving, behind a bush in a neighbors yard?
    7. Friends-giving is a popular tradition for many who gather in celebration of friendship. These events are often celebrated at an earlier date leaving the holiday open for family events. My daughter hosts a friends-giving up at the lake every year, and other than an Instagram of the table setting, I know nothing about the intricacies of this event. Beer and ping pong balls might be involved? 
    8. I read about a grandma who bakes "thankful rolls" with pillsbury dough. The family writes down what they are thankful for on tiny slips of paper as they arrive and these notes are actually baked into the rolls, like a fortune cookie, only with butter. What would you write?
    9. The Turkey Trotter is a stuffed turkey that travels with family members that are away for Thanksgiving. They are required to take regular updates of their travels with pictures of these turkeys positioned in funny locations. I just sent turkeys to Australia and Utah (most likely they'll arrive late, remember it's the thought that counts, but I expect pictorial updates nonetheless). 
    10. One family has a Twister competition after dinner with several mats and rounds going at the same time. Right hand, blue circle, left hand, yellow circle. This could be an interesting intergenerational activity if no one gets seriously hurt. 
    11. Instead of sitting around after dinner you could go on a scavenger hunt searching for specific scenes; like pumpkins on the doorstep, piles of leaves, people walking pets, live turkey's milling around, someone jogging (really), or early Christmas decorations. See what team returns with the most finds substantiated with photos of course. I admit, this one's a keeper.
    12. The famous butter shapers, comes from an odd family skill, passed down through the generations of sculpting the butter into turkeys. The kids then fight over who gets to cut off the heads. A little violent but aesthetically pleasing I suppose.
    13. Then of course there is the family weigh-in prior to gorging on the traditional meal, it's actually a competition to see who can gain the most. Why? 
    14. And my personal favorite. After the dinner is consumed the ladies leave and go shopping at Walmart for comfy PJ's and silly socks while the men clean up the kitchen. Oh I can not express how much I love this tradition. 
    Wishing you all a wonderful and gracious Thanksgiving! Sharing a table with those you love is a sacred act. This year listen to the music of the table, the voices, the laughter, the clink of the spoon against the gravy bowl, the scraping of chairs on the hardwood, the litany of silverware dinging the plates, the movement, the grace of being elbow to elbow, worshiping the flavors of life. "For this and all we are about to receive, make us truly grateful..."  
    Drink and be thankful to the host! What seems insignificant when you have it, is important when you need it. Franz Grillparzer

    Notes - The term cold-turkey means suddenly, without preparation. Talk turkey means to speak without preparation. A turkey shoot is a fight or contest where one side is so much stronger that the weaker side has no chance of winning. Bird for thought...

    What are some of your favorite traditions? 

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

    Monday, November 20, 2017

    Rumpus Room Cigarette Break - The July 1974 issue of "Woman's Day"

         A few weeks ago I flew up to Philly/Jersey to meet my new nephew Chester (first time aunt you guys!).  As is the custom when our family gets together up in the northeast, we all went to my grandma's house for some Chinese takeout (not that she doesn't cook!).  I went down to rummage around in the basement and found this vintage gem on top of a bunch of Golden Book Encyclopedias of American History from 1963, pre-Kennedy assassination because there's a little foreword from him in each book.  Perhaps I shall explore those another time.  Today, though, grab your smokes, pop a Miltown or a Quaalude, and let's get domestically groovy.  Mostly through ads.

    "No woman wants the world to see her at LESS THAN HER BEST - even for the BRIEFEST MOMENT!"  Poor Moira here.  Between the gas shortage and all that Nixon ugliness earlier in the year, not to mention the fact that Harvey keeps working longer and longer hours and Moira could SWEAR she smelled Love's Baby Soft on his jacket last week, Moira's got a lot to give her a migraine.  But mustn't let the pain show!  Mustn't let the world see anything but the shiniest female facade at all times!  

    This mother of the bride chose Quaaludes, as did my own parents at their seventies nuptials.

    Weird, apparently Woman's Day used to have a direct line to Yahweh.  Couldn't see this flying in a secular mag today, not with the "Twenty New Ways to Make Him Orgasm Using Only Hand Signals!" and such being the typical headlines.

    BUT YOU ALSO HAVE TO FIX YOUR FACE DON'T FORGET THAT!  Actually, this promotion sounds sort of like a subtle, secret way to signal your lesbianism in a day and age when coming out of the closet wasn't an option for most.  Invite your intended paramour over, leave out the tool box with the "You Don't Need A Man To Fix It Book" leaning on it, and tip her a wink as you light her Virginia Slim, because you've come a long way, baby, but you could both come a little more if you know what I'm sayin'.

    Well, IS there?
    I use the term "douche nozzle" as an insult all the time, but "douche powder" seems to have a classier, more refined feel.  And Massengill Douche Powder is triple-refined, now available in floral.

    You know how pop culture phenomena have so many ripoffs and spinoffs that get lost in time?  This was the only puppet-based Manson Family murder cult ripoff, and now that Charlie is dead, let the world rediscover the wonders of the Mann Clan and Company!  Also, look how sweet the 409 packaging used to be, in ozone-decimating aerosol!

    If you see this man, you need to put the cap back on the bleach and ventilate the area immediately.

    Every women's magazine before 1980 had to include at least one recipe for a Jello mold.  It was the law.

    Guess who's got more kidney?  I hope it wasn't the Jello mold.  They had meat ones too, ya know.  Sounds like kidney was the trendy pet food ingredient of the time, like lamb and rice in the 90s.

    Barbara here is definitely taking Linda here back to her place after this to check out her new Virginia Slims toolbox, which may contain other unexpected pleasures.

    You say "good candy," I say grandma candy.  Fun fact - most of the candies purchased with these coupons are still in your grandma's candy dish to this day!

    "Gimme a baby prince valiant" said no woman ever, I hope.  Soft and feathery maybe, but who wants to look like an infantilized version of the least read comic in the history of comics?

    This one - this one is an emotional journey.  This took me through the mountains and the valleys.  Read the whole thing.

    Smoke menthols and you'll be a wholesome un-aging German sex vampire, just like Heidi Klum!

    High fashion couture of the day.  The hat trick is good for pulling over your face when you realize you're wearing a massive bath robe in public.

    The question mark necklace stands for why am I wearing the afghan off my aunt's couch as a skirt?

    Omg what is this what is this what even is this?  Ten year old bombshell?  "Ma, He's Making Eyes At Me" is her big hit?!  Oh Jesus, I just looked this girl up and it's as bad as you'd think: she became anorexic at 13 when puberty made her stop fitting into her costumes, got depressed, got destitute and into some bad marriages, got shock treatments, then died at 35 after having "pioneering psychosurgical operation" and getting pneumonia as a complication.  Christ.

    Knick knacks will cheer you up!  Just vacuum clean the sad off your face!  From the age before drunken Amazon purchases, a woman had to hand-address an envelope to a PO Box number and write a check to buy a weird crappy overpriced ceramic poodle after hitting the cooking sherry a little too hard.

    Ohhh, I get it, cuz the hair will be mysteriously gone like the aviatrix herself.

    Okay for real though this is Kim Basinger on the back cover.  Hairstyling contest for high school seniors is how she got her big break?  If only I'd entered that Herbal Essence Top Scrunchie Look contest back in my high school days, I too could have had a child by Alec Baldwin by now!

    Blogger Template by Designer Blogs