Monday, May 29, 2017

Hangin' out with fellow authors!

A post by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! This is gonna be a quick one because I just got back from an epic roadtrip down to
North Carolina for Red Adept Publishing's annual party :-) For context, I live in Jersey City... an 8-hour drive... except even more thanks to traffic. I'm pretty sure I spent more time in the car than actually hanging out in NC. But that's okay because I was listening to Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton biography on audio... yes, I've joined the Hamilton crowd :-P

Anyway, we kicked things off with some readings/signings in a local Garner, NC coffee shop, and it was loads of fun hearing a dozen fellow Red Adept authors talk about their books! Red Adept publishes pretty much all genres, so we had a wide range of books... fantasy, women's fic, thrillers, romance... and of course, I was there representing Team Sci-Fi :-)

We're such a fun little publishing family :-)

And then we went over to the house of Lynn McNamee, owner/publisher/editor/guru-of-all-things for Red Adept Publishing. There were cupcakes with pictures of our books as toppers!

And then we all had a wackadoo good time :-D

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Do you need a mothereffin A (MFA)?

Today, I watched my husband receive his doctoral diploma in Civil Security Studies from NJCU. Not to sound like a braggart, but I already have two master's degrees. Yes, two. I'm over-educated and not employed. But watching my husband in his doctoral regalia made me envious, and I momentarily considered an MFA program in Creative Writing. Momentarily. Because again, I already have two advanced degrees. And I just paid one of those off. Ten years later.

There's debate on whether a) one needs an MFA and b) is it worth the cost? Some writers emphatically say no. You don't need a master's degree to become a published author. And that is very true. Craft is something that can definitely be self-taught. I consider myself to be one of these students. I've read tons of books on storytelling, process, genre, and self-editing. I've taken some cheap online classes in mystery writing, and revision. I absorb everything an editor tells me I'm doing wrong. I listen to podcasts specifically geared toward readers and writers. I'm a perpetual student.

And considering many MFA programs cost $40K, you're never likely to recoup that tuition. 

However, there are plenty of authors who would disagree with me. I met one, in fact, at a writers and readers festival where I opened my big, fat mouth to declare MFA programs a waste of money. She respectfully countered. She loved the challenge of elevating her work to a level she felt she couldn't master alone. She enjoyed the mentorship, and camaraderie of her writing peers. Writing is a lonely gig. Who wouldn't want to commiserate and share one's work with like-minded authors? Also, the MFA would allow her to teach in colleges and universities. And let's be real, writing pays crap so one needs to supplement the art.

So, there ya have it. Do you do the MFA or not? Well, it really depends on the author. Good news, there are some programs that fully find MFA students. I found this awesome link with a list of programs. They're competitive, but rightfully so.

What say you? Do you have an MFA? Would you want one? (I would, if I could swing the tuition.) Sound off in the comments, beloooooooow.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Determining a Book Title

When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I took a very systematic approach to figuring out her name. We independently came up with a list of names, and then narrowed it down to our top 10. We then compared our top 10s and prepared for discussion. We hadn’t expected both of us to have Julia in our top 2 names. Despite neither of us talking about that name before, it felt right. It was not an unusual name, yet it wasn’t wildly popular in the US at that time. There was no fear of her being one of five kids with the name Julia in her class, nor was she in jeopardy of never finding her name on those fun vanity souvenirs.

I’ve taken a similar approach to the titles of my books. I don’t make a list or anything, but I do look for what feels right and then I check to make sure there aren’t several other books out there with the same name. I like book titles that are short and punchy—one to three words. I personally find them easier to remember.

The title for my first book, Kingston’s Project, popped into my head as soon as I started writing. Kingston is the last name of one of the primary characters, and his ‘project’ drives the majority of the plot. When I decided to write a sequel, at first I wasn’t sure what the title would be. I knew I wanted it to also start with Kingston, but I wasn’t sure beyond that. I stared at the title page for a bit when suddenly my fingers replaced Project with Promise. I didn’t know at the time what the ‘promise’ would be about, but I knew it felt right. (A little behind the scenes knowledge—I didn’t figure out the full meaning of the promise until I was almost finished writing the book, and it was perfect). I was just as lucky with my third book, Shattered Angel, and the tile was there from the start.

Now I’m a little more than halfway through my current WIP. Based on past experience, I’ve figured I needed a name right from the start. And I have one. It’s just that now I’m not sure if it’s right.

The story is about a fifteen-year-old boy who is angry, mostly because his parents got divorced and his mom moved him and his sister to live with their grandparents in Indiana. It’s mostly about his journey as he learns to control his feelings. It’s also about how or feelings and beliefs about people can change depending on the perspective we use to view them. One of the people who helps him through this transition is a girl he meets one day when he climbs a tree. I want to keep the reader wondering if the girl is real, a figment of Ben’s imagination, or a ghost. The title I’ve been using so far is The Tree Sprite. Ben’s little sister is obsessed with sprites, and when they first think they hear someone up in the tree she suggests it’s a sprite. I like the sound of the name, the relative uniqueness of it, and how it hints to a key setting of the book (the tree). However, I don’t want readers to assume it’s a fantasy book or heavy on the magical realism.

I’ve also started to wonder if it places too much emphasis on the girl. While she is a critical character in the book, it’s not her story. When I first started to draft out the storyline, I did think I’d get more into the mystery of her background. I write organically, and it’s turned out that the story took me slightly away from that. I may still include some of it, but it hasn’t been a primary plot driver of the story as I first thought it would.

Now I feel a bit stuck. I’ve been trying to think of other titles, but nothing comes to mind. I know there is still the possibility I’ll be struck with a lightning bolt in the last half of the book, but I’m feeling anxious. I’d like to start promotions before I finish completely, but I need a solid title for that.

How do you come up with your book titles? I’d love any advice you can throw my way!

~ Carrie

Thursday, May 18, 2017


A Post By Jonathan

Hi Ya'll! We kind of retired our reoccurring EEK! PUT SOME PAGES UP FOR CRITEEK! post, but I wanted to bring it back just this once so that I could get your thoughts on this piece I've been working on for a while. It's about a middle-aged guy down on his luck whose about to go gas station postal.
Hope you enjoy and please let me know what you think!

                                                                            Phil ‘Er Up

The Go-Mart down on Route 13 is the only gas station in town. You can’t miss it. It’s right across from the only stoplight.

Phil’s been workin’ there since ’83, after he barely graduated from Millbrook High—Home of the Millworkers. A lot of the men still work at the mill, but not Phil. He has an even worse job. Pumpin’ gas. There are a lot of shitty things about workin’ at the Go-Mart (the smell being only one of them), but they get even shittier when your name is Phil.

“Fill ‘er up Phil,” the customers are always sayin’.

“Go Phuck yourselves,” Phil wanted to say.

But the boss wouldn’t like that— same boss that made him wear an f’in’ nametag every day. That didn’t stop Phil from saying it under his breath a couple hundred times, especially when those preppy ass college kids came passin’ through. They were the worst, with their “this university” and “that college” stickers all over the fancy cars their mommies and daddies buy them. Spoiled brats. They never worked a day in their lives, none of ‘em.

Pretty soon they’ll start comin’ through Millbrook again. After the big winter break they’re always talkin’ about. Must be nice. Phil never got a break.

He didn’t mind spring break so much. The girls, the good looking ones at least, were always friendlier that time a year. Their blond hair flowing this way and that, their tan skin, their perfect, white teeth. Maybe if Phil cut it down to a pack a day he could get white teeth and land one of them college girls for himself. The thought made him laugh a raspy laugh.

He started to think about it a little more when the damn bell rang, which meant he had a customer. Phil was holed up in the store like always. It was just big enough for him, the smokes, the beer, and about one other person. He looked out at the pump through grease-covered windows and recognized the car immediately. It was Daryl Sands in his big ass pickup truck.

Phil sighed. “Shit.”

Like most people in Millbrook, Daryl Sands was an asshole. Phil went to school with his brother Billy, who, believe it or not, was an even bigger asshole. Billy was on disability now, so Phil didn’t see him much. But Daryl was always out and about.

Phil lumbered off his stool, slow as he could. One of the biggest parts of his job Phil hated was having to pump everyone’s gas.

A few years ago, a bunch a people kept stealing petrol and so the boss had come up with a new “full serve” policy to keep people from running. Phil had tried to tell him that there were pumps out there that took credit cards, helping stations deal with things like that. But the boss wouldn’t listen. Even though people stopped stealing gas, the policy never ended. So now, even though it’s below freezing outside, Phil still has to go out there and serve the customer. Bullshit.

Daryl honked his horn and Phil started yelling. Too bad Daryl’s stereo was blaring so loud he never heard him. Phil’s neck hurt just looking at the truck. It was jacked up so high that Phil swore every time Daryl came into get gas he was going to take the roof off the whole damn station. 

The tinted window came down to reveal Daryl smiling his crocked, cocky smile. Smoke rolled out of the window and there was a woman’s laughter inside. Judging by the smell, someone was smokin’ a joint.

“Fill ‘er up Phil,” said Daryl. “Eighty-seven.”

Before Phil could tell him to go to hell, Daryl rolls his window up. Phil has to actually reach up to pop the gas cap. The pump is freezing, even through his gloves. After a few gallons, Phil hears the passenger side door open up and sees someone get out. It’s Toni Baker, wearing high heels and an even higher skirt.

When did Toni and Daryl start runnin’ together? Phil wondered.

He watched her all the way to the bathroom. She was obviously drunk by the way she was walkin’. Damn. Phil had been wanting to make it with her since middle school, but even back then she never gave him the time of day. Sometimes you get loser stink on you and you can never wash it off. Daryl wasn’t much better. He’d won some money in an asbestos settlement, and the last Phil had heard he’d nearly spent it all. Half of it probably went to his damn truck, and the other half to the tires.

The pump clicked off. Finally. Phil walked over to the window and gave Daryl the roll-it-down sign. When nothing happened, Phil reached up and tapped on the window. Daryl finally rolled it down. The music was still blaring.

“That’ll be $75.23,” said Phil.

Daryl handed him a wad of cash. “Here’s $80.00. I need a pack a Marlboro Lights too.”

“Well you’ll have to get ‘em yourself. I only pump the gas.”

“What was that?” said Daryl, turning down the music. “I didn’t hear ya.”

“I said I only pump the gas,” said Phil.

“The sign says full service,” said Daryl. “Serve me.”

Phil was about to go off on Daryl when Toni came back, fussing with her leather jacket.

“Hey Phil,” she said with a wave.

Phil looked to Daryl, then back to Toni. “Hey Toni…”

Toni was too busy climbing back up into the truck to respond.

“Phil was just getting those smokes you wanted,” said Daryl, when Toni finally made it in the cab. “Weren’t ya Phil?”

There was a long pause, then Phil nodded. “Yep. Yep I was.”

“Aww thanks Phil,” said Toni, leaning over Daryl so that her tits nearly fell out of her top. “You’re so sweet. Could you get me a bag of Fritos too? I’m hungry...”

“Yeah Phil,” said Daryl. “Throw some Fritos on there too.”

Phil knew Daryl didn’t have enough for the smokes, the Fritos and the gas, just as much as Daryl did, but what could he do?

Back in the store, Phil grabbed the Fritos, rang up the gas, and snagged a pack of Marlboro Lights off the rack behind the checkout counter. Daryl was at least two dollars short, but Phil wasn’t about to ask him for more. Instead, he opened the cigarettes, took three out for himself, closed the pack and put the plastic wrapper back on.

“Shipping and handling,” Phil muttered to himself. Daryl will never know the difference.

When Phil got back outside, Daryl and Toni were all over each other. Phil had to cough to get them to split up.

“What?” said Daryl.

Phil handed him the cigs and Fritos. “Here ya go.”

“Oh, thanks,” said Daryl, like he’d forgotten he’d order ‘em.

Phil turned, but then he heard Daryl say, “Hey wait a second!”

Shit, thought Phil. “What is it?”

“Where’s my change?”

Phil turned back around slowly. “Your change?”

He was tempted to give it to him, in the form of buckshot all over his pretty little truck. It was full up too. One shot at the gas tank, and Daryl, Toni and the Chevy would go up like the Fourth of July.

Instead, he said, “You didn’t have none.”

“What do you mean?” said Daryl, lookin’ around the cab. “I gave you at least a hundred bucks.”

“You never did learn how to count, did ya Daryl?” said Phil.

“What did you say?” said Daryl, looking pissed.

It could’ve gotten ugly then, but another car pulled into the gas station. It was black and white and had sirens on the roof. Daryl gave it a once over in the rearview mirror, then started to roll up his window. He stopped long enough to say, “You better have my change when I come back,” then he barreled out of the Go-Mart, gray snow hitting his mud flaps as he went.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Swimming With Sharks

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

If there's one thing that shows like "House of Cards" has taught me, it's that politics is a dog-eat-dog world.  Just one viewing of "Full Metal Jacket" is enough to know that the military is not for the faint of heart - and not just because the enemy is shooting at you.  Pop culture even warns us in the guise of "Wall Street," "The Social Network," and so forth that business is a cut-throat world where your best friend will betray you for a bigger slice of the pie.

One thing I've rarely seen depicted, though, is the dangers of the publishing world.  When I think of movies about writers - and there aren't very many, and most of those are not very interesting - it usually amounts to someone writing a brilliant manuscript, and with very little foreplay they are suddenly a bestselling author.  Everyone is very happy for them, and...scene!

From time to time I've considered writing about the drama of the publishing world, though that may end up being a novel for when I'm older and have more experience.  But right now I can already tell you there is enough betrayal and turmoil to make Shakespeare blush.  When I was a teenager, I thought becoming a writer would mostly consist of writing, then being published, then making tons of money and fending off fans.  Nobody ever told me I'd be swimming with sharks.  So consider yourself fairly warned, young neophyte, if ye be reading this: you're about to plunge into the deep end of the shark tank.

A few of the species of sharks you will encounter in your journey towards fame and fortune include:

1.)  Schmagents and Schmublishers

I believe we've gone over this before, but to recap: there is no test, badge, or vetting process for calling yourself an agent or a publisher.  If you get pulled over by somebody pretending to be a cop, well, that's illegal and they can get arrested.  If you sell your manuscript to some idiot with a mimeograph machine in his basement calling himself a publisher, well, basically there's nothing you can do about it.

There are people in this business who are outright hucksters (Publish America, anyone?) who simply wish to prey upon innocent writers and essentially fleece them for their money.  Again, there's nothing illegal about this.  It's a universal rule that there's more money to be made off of aspiring writers than there is to be made off of readers.  But the government can't really stop anyone from giving bad advice (if they could, Deepak Chopra would be Public Enemy #1) or utilizing bad business practices (hell, that seems to get rewarded with the highest political office in the land these days.)

But somewhat adjacent to more-or-less unprosecuted con men are what we call "schmagents."  They're not an agent with beaucoup sales.  But they're also not not an agent.  They're probably just someone too dumb to know what they don't know.  They're probably some guy in Flint, Michigan or West Texas who assumes that with a little elbow grease they can sell just as well as any snooty New York agency with millions of dollars worth of sales to their name.  These people probably aren't out to fleece you, they're just a bit delusional, like the forty-five year old couch potato with a midlife crisis who decides with enough gumption he can get into the Olympics. 

Ditto the schmublisher.  They may have good intentions, but if they're essentially just a step between you and Amazon, what are they doing for you that you couldn't do on your own by self-publishing?

2.)  The Next Stephen King

Most of the authors I've met have a hard-earned, wholly realistic grasp of where, exactly, they fit into the publishing totem pole.  After just a few years of looking at your sales and banging your head against the wall, you usually can get a pretty good grasp of where you stand.  I might call myself reasonably well-known in the horror literature community, the kind of guy that four horror readers out of ten would say, "Oh, yeah, I've heard of him but haven't read any of his stuff."  But that's about it.  And I have no illusions about who I am.

Some authors, though, are hopelessly delusional.  They think they deserve a higher station than they've earned.  How does this affect you?  Well, for one thing, prepare for a veritable vineyard of sour grapes.  If you're the sort of person who can let complaining roll off your back, great.  But I think even the best of us can be brought low by ten or twenty doses of negativity a day.

And if he doesn't just mope about, The Next Stephen King may be a rager.  Nothing makes sense like getting angry about a book, right?  They may hate another author's success.  Hell, they may resent your success, young upstart.  When you bypass them along the road to Writer Valhalla (and you will) they may start chucking bombs along after you.

3.)  Trolls

I don't mind a one-star review now and then.  In fact, I prefer it.  It means my work is getting read widely enough that it's reaching the sorts of people who don't dig it. 

Let me reiterate: bad reviews are fine.  What's not fine is personal attacks.  What's not fine is doxxing a writer.  What's not fine is starting a flamewar encouraging twits on Reddit to down vote all your books or leave bad reviews.  What's not fine is conservatives leaving bad reviews on a book they've never read by a liberal (or vice versa.)  What's not fine is threatening to blow up an author's child's school (yes, that really happened.)

The internet is full of morons and trolls.  Your average person can just avoid them.  Authors, however, like any public figures, are going to attract their fair share of loonies.

4.  Buffoons

And finally, where would we be if not for well-meaning idiots?  It's hard to get angry at morons, but it doesn't make their behavior any less dangerous.  The buffoon may just be full of terrible, terrible advice.  They may direct you towards schmagents, schmublishers, and trolls.  They may worship The Next Stephen King, making it that much harder to forget about him.

A buffoon may be a terrible editor who takes your money anyway.  He may be convinced he's the next Picasso, but produces a cover in MS Paint (and charges you anyway.)  He may be a publicist who turns off every reviewer and blogger he contacts, making him worse than useless (oh, and a big old drain on your wallet.) 

He might come to one of your convention panels and try to hijack it with terrible ideas.  He could be a jerk, but he could also be perfectly nice, and just terrible at the whole writing and marketing thing.  In which case, he's probably going to offer you a review-for-review trade of his terrible book like an earnest puppy, and you feel terrible giving it a bad review.

Buffoons, like trolls, are also not unique to the writing world, but, again, since you're a public figure, they'll become more difficult to ignore (and especially difficult to tell off.)


So, fairly warned.  If you want to run with the big dogs, you're going to be running with some that are happy to maul you.  Some are malicious, many more are just wrong-headed, and a whole bevy of them just don't know any better.

But what can you do to avoid the sharks?  Well, lucky for you I've got a few shots of good old-fashioned Bat-Shark-Repellant here to take the nasty taste out of your mouth from reading the rest of this article:

- Look before you leap.  If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  If someone's offering you something that you don't feel like you've earned yet, ask yourself why.  Maybe you've had good fortune.  Or maybe you've run into a shark.  Never sign a contract the day you receive it.  Never agree to anything the instant the offer is made.  Hard thinking and intuition will help you steer clear of most chondrichthian encounters.

- Research widely.  Sure, I highly recommend Across the Board.  But you should also be regularly reading Author Beware, Terrible Minds, Scalzi's Whatever, Publisher's Marketplace, and as many industry blogs and sites as you can find.  Terrible advice is rampant, but you can always triangulate the truth by ingesting as much data as you can, seeing what jibes, and rejecting the junk.

- Learn who to trust.  The best defense fish have against sharks is swimming in schools.  I can think of seven people right off the top of my head who will have my back and help me avoid the sharks, and you know each and every one of them: Jonathan, Mary, Carrie, Abby, Kim, Brenda, and Cheryl.  They're not the entirety of my Tribe of Righteousness and Truth, but they represent a good cross-section of them.

So, what do you think?  Have you come across any sub-class of authorial sharks I haven't mentioned?  Come up with any ways of avoiding their predations?  Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Final Approach

By Cheryl Oreglia

I've been learning about growing old for so long I failed to realize I'm approaching the runway myself. 

When I was young I didn't give aging a thought until my grandfather had a stroke. I spent a lot of time with him in recovery, after his brain had changed, and he no longer had access to his short term memory. This only left the present available to him but I noticed how a lifetime of experience filtered into his wisdom. I believe this is what we revere most about the elderly. I remember asking for advice one morning about my future. He was quiet, I waited, and finally he said, "Do what makes you happy. That's all that matters." It would be our last conversation. 
"Along with aging comes life experience, so in every way that is consistent with even being human, Leia has changed." Carrie Fisher
I remember the first time I watched a grown man cry. He was mourning the loss of his only brother. A death that happened nearly twenty years ago. He came home from high school to a distraught mother, and the only thing she told him was his brother had died, much later he would learn it was suicide. He never got to say good-bye. Out of shame his parents did not hold a memorial and they rarely spoke of him, "it was as if he never existed." I believe "he thought he could not go any closer to grief without dying, [then] he went closer, and did not die," Mary Oliver (adapted). I learned that grief must be given its time, as a way of honoring life, or we are left clinging to it's fleeting presence. 
"Grief doesn't have a plot. It isn't smooth. There is no beginning and middle and end." Ann Hood
The most important lessons I learned from my dad had to do with fishing. He was formed from a generation of hard workers, which gave his life purpose, but at his core he was a fisherman. Fishing requires patience, persistence, intuition, and knowing your limits. This tells you a lot about my Dad. (I think he was an extraordinary catch.) When his health began to fail my sister Nancy and I spent as much time as possible in the Northwest. I remember the day he told the doctors he was done, "I want to go home, I can't take any more treatments, I'm tired." Oh how we wanted him to press forward, to never give up, to live in the worst kind of agony because we were not ready to let him go. But he was a fisherman, he lived on his own terms, and he knew his limits. I learned about courage from my Dad, the importance of catch and release, and now his 'sole' lives on in me. 
"Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength." Betty Friedan
In a recent dream I stood mesmerized by a younger version of my Mom, sitting cross-legged on the floor, laughing with a child. When I woke up there was moisture in my eyes. I was crying in my sleep. I miss her youthful vibrancy as much as I miss my own. She is in a challenging bout with cancer and has decided to stay in the fight even though the risk of permanent injury is likely. She has not become a shell of her former self, she has become a new creation, and I now realize this stage of life is as important as the rest. She is a fighter and from her I've learned "impossible is nothing." I believe her final achievement will be defending her journey's end.  
“We’re not the Faster-than-the-Speed-of-Light Generation anymore. We’re not even the Next-New-Thing Generation. We’re the Soon-to-Be-Obsolete Kids, and we’ve crowded in here to hide from the future and the past. We know what’s up – the future looms straight ahead like a black wrought-iron gate and the past is charging after us like a badass Doberman, only this one doesn’t have any letup in him.” Tim Tharp
My priorities have drastically changed at this elevation, I might be in a slow descent, but I have a ways to go before the lights of the runway guide me home. The things I thought were so important in my youth are of no interest to me today. The paint on my core is fading, but the structure is sound, and still a worthy of flight. I think less about what you think of me and more about what I think of myself. Soaring above the clouds, searching for something new each day is now my goal, and I can still manage a loop-de-loop when need be. 
"There are 30,000 days in your life. When I was 24, I realized I'm almost 9,000 days down. There are no warm-ups, no practice rounds, no reset buttons. Your biggest risk isn't failing, it's getting too comfortable. Every day, we're writing a few more words of a story. I wanted my story to be an adventure and that's made all the difference." Drew Houston

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

Interview with Isaac Kozell, Who Will Fight You Over Refrigerator Poetry

           For my first ever interview for Across The Board, I decided to really embarrass myself by interviewing someone who does tons of interviews on a professional level.  Isaac Kozell is a comedian and writer based in New Orleans.  Check out his website for tour dates and some of those professional level interviews with some of the top names in comedy today and find him on twitter @isaackozell.

How did you start doing comedy?

It’s actually kind of weird, I came into it wrong, and then realized I had to go back into it and start over.  I was doing a lot of PR work.  I worked for Clear Channel Radio, so I was out doing promotional events and stuff, and then I started working for this law firm and I was their PR guy. 

Did you major in PR in college?

No, I went to school for marketing and never finished.  I just always had jobs.  I started working right out of high school because I just wanted to move out, buy a truck, and have my own place.


So I was getting good jobs and supporting myself and I was like, “I don’t know why I’d go to college right now.”  Also, I was raised in a super conservative religious cult, so they didn’t want you to go to college.

Really?  What cult, anything I’ve heard of?

Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Ohhhhhh, wowwww.

Yeah, so we were always preparing for Armageddon, so there’s really no reason to go to a four year college just to get smart, because you’re not going to need that once Armageddon comes . . . They were cool with people going to tech schools to learn a trade.

Wow, that’s sort of backwardsly though a good idea in today’s world, to do a trade, you know?

I know, I totally agree.

I regret my degree, I regret going to college, I should have done something useful.

Yeah, Armageddon still hasn’t come, so it’s worked out for a lot of the ones who went to trade school, because now they own small businesses and they’re doing okay.  The reasoning for it is what disturbed me, because I know a lot of people now who can barely support their families, and they are praying for Armageddon to come so they can get out of debt. 

Did you ever knock on doors?
               Oh yeah, you had to.  In order to be considered a worthy Jehovah’s Witness, that’s the first thing you do, is you start going door to door and handing out pamphlets.  I knew how to be onstage, that was one thing the church taught me.  I was onstage since I was four years old.

I heard you recently said “I used to be a pastor” is your best pick-up line.

                Yeah, I got into it.  The levels within each congregation, the elders are the highest, and then there’s a thing I was in called ministerial servants which is kind of a deacon or a pastor role, where you give Sunday sermons, you travel around to different congregations, stuff like that.

So I was doing marketing and PR work, and I was out in the community a lot.  I’d be hosting events and fundraisers, and then somebody was doing a charity comedy show and asked me to host it.  So I thought, oh I have to write jokes for this.  I had one or two that were okay, but thinking back now, it was so bad, really bad . . . then I went to my first actual open mic in Pittsburgh and watched all these people do really well, I was like, “I don’t know what I’m doing.”  And so I started, and I just hit five years doing stand up.

Cool, well what about writing?  How long have you been professionally writing?

                I had always kind of been really interested in writing.  I used to write a lot of short stories and fiction stuff, and I was really big into what all the young men my age were into, Bukowski and all of that, and I thought Chuck Palahniuk was really funny, and that got me into McSweeney’s stuff, so I started writing a lot of satire type stuff.  And then when I started comedy I really just wanted to write about comedy.

               There was an alt weekly in Pittsburgh called the City Paper, and they weren’t covering the comedy scene.  So I came in and said “this scene is amazing and nobody is talking about it.  Jim Gaffigan was just here and nobody did a write up.”  So I just approached them and said, “hey, I would like to write for you and cover comedy.”  And so I started doing short little blurbs about stuff going on, and then I would pitch the bigger articles, and they would say “if you can land that interview, we’ll make it a cover.”  So during the time I was in Pittsburgh, I had three or four feature cover articles, which was really cool.  So from that this magazine in Humboldt County, California, well one of the people that came through town, I think it was Bob Saget –

He graduated from my high school.

                Oh really?  Where was that?

Abington, Pennsylvania. 

                That’s so funny.  Yeah so that was one of my first big interviews, and then I tweeted a link to it at him, he retweeted it.  Then Savage Henry, this stoner magazine in Humboldt County, California that has a bunch of goofy articles and they interview a comic every time, they contacted me and said “we can’t get a regular person to do this, so we’ll pay you if you can book these interviews and do one a month, and also if you want to do a regular article for us every month you can.”  So I started writing for them, and then they invited me out to their comedy festival, which was the first big thing I’d ever done in comedy.  So I did that, and I continue to write for them, and now I run their Twitter and web stuff and am a staff writer there.

                Then I was looking at all these other sites I wanted to write for, and I had a few along the way where they were looking for original content, humor content . . . a lot of piecemeal,  freelance kind of stuff, and then Splitsider came along, which is my favorite thing in the world to write for.  It’s a super steady gig and I get to talk to everybody.  Everybody is generally okay, but these bigger comics, they’ll be like “oh, you have twenty minutes with them.”  We’ll talk for an hour, and they’re giving me tips, inviting me to come out to mics with them next time I'm in town.  And I would never have that opportunity to have an intimate conversation with people like that, at my level of comedy, if it wasn’t for the journalism stuff.

So how do you book these interviews?

                I started out just hustling and just googling their publicist, management, booker, whatever, and I would just send emails out to everybody I possibly could in the most annoying way until I could land one.  Now, most of them are assignments, which is cool because I’ve been doing it for a while.  For a while, Splitsider would just assign me stuff, which they still do, but now PR people will contact me directly, which is nice . . . now it’s so nice that people are coming at me, because I used to work so hard just to land interviews, and I don’t have to do that anymore, they just come my way, which is nice.

You reference some pretty gnarly music in your stand up.  What concert were you at when you proposed to your ex-wife?

                It was Incubus, and that’s a real thing.  We got engaged to the song “Stellar” at the Incubus concert because one of our fondest memories was we were driving home one night, we pulled over onto one of those country access roads to make out, and this song comes on and she says “Let’s get out and dance in the headlights.” And so we did, and I waited for them to come into town so I could propose.

Do you still like them or do you feel the way about them that I feel about Sublime, because I used to listen to them a lot in college when I started dating my ex-husband?

                But do you, if you listen to Sublime, can you detach from the emotion and just like the music still?  Or have you grown away from that style of music?

I’ve grown away from that style of music.  Is that how you feel about Incubus?

                Somewhat.  However, they have some jams, they have some good songs.  The whole rap rock thing . . . they don’t hold up as well as some of the other rap rock bands I was listening to at the time.  Like the Deftones, I listen to that music regularly still.  Incubus, I have to be in the mood for it, and it’s kind of like a goofy listen, but I don’t hate it . . . I went back and watched a bunch of the 90’s numetal stuff, the lyrics are so bad . . . I was listening and laughing so hard because I used to love it, so that embarrassment felt so good . . . it’s pure pleasure, there’s nothing twisted about it.  Going back and looking at things you used to feel passionately about.

Here’s one of my favorite stories about this level of passion that is so embarrassing to me in a good way.  During the period where I was getting into writing I was really into poetry.  I was listening to a lot of emo music and I was writing poems in this little moleskin book, like if I was at a family function I’d go off to the edge of the woods and write a poem.  I have them and they are amazing how bad they are.  They are so, so bad.  So one of my friends had refrigerator magnet poetry, and I was at his house party, feeling very emo, and there were these guys there being super bro-y.  I was like, I don’t identify with these bros, I’m going to go over here and just write. 

But first I’m going to reapply my eye liner.

                I never did eyeliner but I would adjust my black rubber wristbands or tighten up my leather cuff.  So I’m writing this poetry on the fridge magnets, it’s so bad, it’s got longing, chasing after a girl in the rain, rust and all these terrible metaphors.  Then this bro, the biggest bro comes up, I’m standing there drinking a beer and he looks at it and laughs, and he moves out two words and puts in like “butt” and “wiener.”  And I I tried to fight him over my refrigerator poetry.  I was like “fuck you, dude!” and I shoved him, and he’s still laughing, and I’m so mad that he fucked up my art.  But then I realized that I just became the biggest asshole at the party, defending this garbage to this guy who made it objectively funnier.  I was like, how dare you come up and mess up my poetry!  I was so serious about it.  That story is so funny to me because it’s embarrassing as hell, that I would disrupt a whole party and try to fight a guy over poetry.

Yeah, that is really funny.  So how much of your personal life do you share on stage, and where do you think the boundary is, if any?

                I don’t have much of a boundary, I talk about pretty much everything that’s happened to me.  Early in standup it was a lot of childhood stories, goofy embarrassing stuff, then through the divorce I really opened up about all of that.  I mean that’s why you know about Incubus and where I proposed and all of that, because I talk about it onstage.  But I try to be careful that I’m not – in the end, a lot of those jokes start out where I’m in control, but in the end I want to make sure that it’s known that all of this affects me too and ultimately I’m the butt of the joke.  So I have to be careful about that.  Anything that’s about other people I always run by them first . . . I don’t mind hurting myself up there, but I don’t want to make anyone else feel bad.

What tips would you have for aspiring writers?

                Write every single day.  You have to.  And you have to have time to do it.  Commit to doing stuff, even if it’s scary, and if you fail, keep committing to it.  I agree to do so many things.  Even if I am in the middle of a job or getting ready for a show, and my week is full, if Splitsider says “do you want to talk to so and so,” I always take it and I find a way to get it done.  I know first of all I could use the money, second of all I could use the experience, and third, I have to keep pushing . . . if you really want to do it, you just have to keep doing it.  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Google Search: Need enc

Yay, it's my turn to do a Google search post! For anyone who needs a little refresher -- Google Search is a new segment on Across the Board this year and the rules are:
  • Start a random search string in Google (or could be from one of your previous searches)
  • Choose one of Google’s suggestions
  • Write up a post (or some flash fiction if you’re feeling really creative)
Well, I looked at my previous searches and they're boring. I need to start writing murder mysteries, I think, and googling how to dispose of a body or something. So, I decided to search for something I've been needing lately -- encouragement. I didn't even need to type in the whole word before I got what I was looking for:

I was looking for encouragement, in general, but I like the variety here. Losing weight is hard and encouragement is always appreciated. (In my case, so is taking away the Doritos.) For the religious, encouragement from God is literally at your fingertips. Full disclaimer: I'm not religious and I did imagine God, Himself, appearing on screen when I chose that option. (Didn't happen, in case you were hoping so, too.)

Probably my favorite is need enchilada recipe. I'm not 100% sure how Google Search works, but if this is predictive text, that phrase has been typed in enough to make it appear here. My question -- why wouldn't you just type in "enchilada recipe"??? The "need" takes it to a whole different level. I NEED an enchilada recipe. Stat.

However, kidding aside, I did find some great quotes. And I went away feeling less discouraged. I also saved a couple to my desktop for another day. Because the thing for me about being a writer is that a bad day or week leaves a mark and erasing that mark takes more pep talk than I'm capable of sometimes. So I talk to writer friends who get it and, apparently, Google. Who gets it, too, and has a killer enchilada recipe to boot.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Back Jacket Hack Job #18: Starswept

A post by Mary Fan
Hi everyone! Mary here, and it's my turn to do a Back Jacket Hack Job! For those of you who are new, this is a recurring feature where one of us chooses a book and does the worst job possible writing its back cover description. This time, I've chosen to pick on my own upcoming YA sci-fi novel, STARSWEPT (coming August 29 from Snowy Wings Publishing!).


Viola [vee-oh-luh]: NOT A VIOLIN. A four-stringed musical instrument of the violin family, slightly larger than the violin with lower pitches. Related to the violin but decidedly NOT A VIOLIN.

Once upon a time, there was an alien planet where people could just show each other their thoughts, so there was no need to get creative or anything. But then they discovered this primitive little planet called Earth where peoples’ ability to express themselves was hobbled by their inability to be telepathic. So to compensate, these humans developed things like music and dance and whatnot. Turned out, the aliens quite liked these things and began hiring humans to perform on their planet. So the humans set up schools to train kids specifically for these jobs. It was an awesome system.

Pictured: A viola. NOT A VIOLIN.
Also, not the cover. Just a promo pic.
Then some teen girl named Iris had to go mess it up. She was a student at one of these school, studying viola. That’s VIOLA, not violin.

Now, the viola is an often-neglected instrument in the string family. I suppose you could call it the red-headed stepchild, though that would be hair-ist. It looks a lot like a violin… Actually, its shape is pretty much exactly like a violin’s. But it is NOT A VIOLIN. It’s bigger, and its pitches are deeper, and it plays an entirely different part in the orchestra. Well, kind of. I mean, it’s a different section. If string instruments were a choir, violas would be the tenors. Except not as glamorous.

You know who else isn’t glamorous? Iris. Much like her instrument, people often forget she exists. Which is just as well, since for most of her life, she wasn’t particularly interesting… goody two-shoes and all. Until she decided to mess up the system. It’s not completely her fault though—she was corrupted by an alien boy who came to Earth to spread his radical propaganda to humans. Horrible stuff like how sometimes his people use telepathy for mind control. But of course the aliens would never abuse their ability like that! What a troublemaker. And he turned Iris into a troublemaker too.

Anyway, not content to screw things up from Earth, Iris uses the power of her viola to travel to the alien planet and really mess with the system. And she gets herself into quite a lot of trouble because of it. Tsk.

Well, at least by the end, people know who she is. And what a viola is.

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