Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

I was walking my dogs the other day and the neighbor kid came out to tell me he was burning his English papers.

I think he told me this to shock me (I wasn't shocked) but he was also pretty keyed up because HE WAS BURNING HIS ENGLISH PAPERS. According to other friends' posts on Facebook, this is A THING.

Over the top? A little. But what's more alarming is the fact that these students think that just because their English GCSE is behind them that they're never going to have to write a paper again. Should I be the one to tell them? Can I?

(Some background for any non-Brits reading here. Basically, GCSEs are standardized tests that students in Years 10-11 (mostly Year 11) take across several subjects of their choosing in core subjects like maths, English (both English language and English literature), Science (a minimum of 2 exams), at least one language, History and Geography. Students may also opt to take additional exams in PE, ICT, Art, Design Technology, etc. Depending on GCSE results - and interest - students can then pick subjects to study for A levels, which then determine what they're going to study in university.)

In other words, if you don't choose to study English at A-level, you may (mistakenly) think your essay-writing days are behind you. MY OWN KID THOUGHT THIS. Granted, he's only finishing Year 8 and his GCSE's are still a couple of years away, but he was already gleefully looking forward to the day when he won't have to write another essay. Spoiler: he's not anymore.

"I'm going to burn my English papers when I'm done with GCSEs too," he said.

"That's fine. But you like history and you know that if you study history for A-level, you'll still have to write essays?" I asked.

"It's still not an English essay." He smirked a little.

"And science. All of those lab reports. Guess what they are? Essays." My turn to smirk a little.

"Still not English essays." Smirk faded because he really likes science.

"And university applications all require essays."

Smirk turned into a grimace. "Next you're going to tell me I'll be writing essays even if I go into technology."

"You'll be writing emails, which are often a person's first impression of you." I shrugged. "But, you know, they're not English essays."

"Will you stop if I promise not to burn my English papers?" he asked.

"No, you can burn them. It won't make any difference." I laughed because actually, the kid is pretty good at English. "Writing is the gift that keeps on giving, really. Once you learn the core skills, you can carry them over to anything!"

"Yay." The Boy rolled his eyes and left the room. I let him because he's thirteen and eye-rolling is as natural as breathing at the minute. And my point was made.

I'm still waiting to see the neighbor kid again. Rumor has it he's going for science at A-level. I can't wait to talk to him about his lab reports. :)

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Real Rushed Post from a Real Rushed Mary

A post by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! Happy Memorial Day! My apologies for totally spacing on this week's post... I'm
afraid I have nothing Memorial Day appropriate to say, so I'll just ramble about writing stuff instead.

Last time I was on here, I blogged about how I'd committed to so many writing projects that I had to resort to using a spreadsheet to keep track of it all. Since then, I've decided that even if I can keep up (which I'm starting to wonder about), it might behoove me to step back and breathe a little. So I've decided that after I finish my next manuscript (which is due to my novel critique group in August... and I have exactly 1000 words so far), I'm going to build in at least one day a week where I do absolutely nothing writing related. No drafting, no editing, no formatting... nothin'. Sounds like it shouldn't be hard, but weirdly it's hard to commit to... Have you ever had to slow yourself down and say "whoa whoa, hold your horses"?

On a separate topic, I've noticed lately that my writing style has been evolving. I used to think that I had My Method and that it would apply to everything I ever wrote. The Method was: come up with plot concept. Populate plot with characters. Create encyclopedia-type notes document for world-building. Then proceed to obsessively outline the book until I have a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline (some of which have been over 10,000 words long).

The last book I wrote, I tried to do an outline and kept getting stuck at the halfway point, so I pantsed it. Just sat down and wrote with no idea what would happen in each chapter until after I'd written it. The book before that, I had a skeletal outline, but I barely followed it (so in my view, I pantsed the whole thing). Now the latest book I'm working on is a mystery with lots of suspects and twists, so I felt like I had to have detailed notes on what was what. But still, I got stuck at a certain point. So I've just started writing, and I guess when I get to the point where I got stuck, I'll pants it again.

I have no idea why my writing style changed so drastically. Maybe it's because before, I was more afraid of blank pages and needed as many pre-writing-type docs as I could summon to metaphorically hold my hand. Or maybe it's because experience has showed me how often I deviate from the outlines anyway. I've no clue.

So next time someone says or tweets something like "THIS IS THE ONLY WAY TO DO WRITING", stick two middle fingers in the air and walk away, because clearly that's not true. Writing methods can vary person to person, and apparently sometimes within a person.

Have you ever found that your writing method changed?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Funneling in readers via a reader magnet

Hey, all! It's KGG here. I've been hella busy lately--drafting an adult mystery while also trying to launch a young adult novel this summer. And parent. Damn, kids are needy. I also just finished editing a trio of short stories for my newsletter subscribers. It's a thank you gift for those already on the list, and a bribe for those who I'd like to add to the list. And that's what I'm here to talk about today.

Growing your mailing list via a reader magnet.

What is a reader magnet? It's usually a free book authors offer their newsletter subscribers for signing up. Think a prequel story set in your series world. It could be a short story, novella, or full-length book. Whatever you think will entice readers to buy your work. In my case, I wrote three really good short pieces of crime fiction. I think they are some of my best writing, but I couldn't find a paying home for them (got a lovely rejection from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine for one). So rather than collect dust on my laptop, I thought I'd package them nicely and offer them up.

Typically, the reader magnet isn't always available for sale (making it exclusive and, thus, more enticing) on other platforms, although mine is (I threw it up on Amazon), and it's not free anywhere else (also can't be enrolled in Kindle Unlimited). The point is, it's a bribe. "You want this lovely book. Sign here." Very Ursula The Sea Witch of me.

I am using BookFunnel to get my reader magnet to my readers. BookFunnel is the interface readers use to download the work to their devices. I'm not handling tech issues. [This isn't an endorsement. It just happens to be one of the few services that makes this super easy.] Then I go into my Mailchimp account and send my current subscribers a link to the freebie. And then I write a proper welcome message for new subscribers with a BookFunnel link to the reader magnet. And then I have to market the hell out of my reader magnet because what is the point of all this if no one knows about it?

Up until now, I haven't made a big effort to expand my newsletter list. The consensus is that readers who come to your mailing list organically (because they like your work and want to hear from you) are more likely to engage rather than those signing up in droves for a free book. Makes sense. But, I am tired of screaming into the void. I'm a strong writer and a good storyteller and I need an audience. It's getting harder and harder to invest my money in my work to see it flounder because of a lack of visibility. You get it. You're all writers.

Anyway, who has a reader magnet? How do you use it? Is it working for you? And if you'd like to get mine, click here. But, first, you gotta sign up.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Update on May End Goal

Last month I declared that I would be done with the first draft of my current work in progress by the end of May. That meant I had to complete approximately one chapter a week.

So how am I doing?

I should have 4 chapters done, and I have three. While not on target, that's actually pretty good compared to my average writing speed on this particular book. I'm not going to lie - it's been a challenge. My life right now can be summed up very accurately by this video by The Holderness Family. 

It's an extra special May this year too as my daughter is graduating from elementary school (read lots of extra stuff . . .). 

Despite all the craziness of the month, I'm determined to meet my goal. I have just over a week left. Actually, my birthday is this Friday and I've decided that the best gift I could give myself is a specific combination of six little letters -- THE END. 

Now I'm off. I wish to say it was to write, but I'm on kid-activity duty tonight. I'll have to try to pick it up again tomorrow. But it's hair appointment day (which is a 45-minute drive each way . . . don't ask - we women are crazy dedicated when it comes to our hair. I would reschedule, but this is already a rescheduled date.). So maybe Wednesday -- around the kid's ortho appointment and the shopping I have to take her to do. I'd say Thursday, but that's my critique group day and I have some manuscripts to read. I suppose that leaves Friday -- what better way to spend my birthday than in a cram writing session?

I foresee some late nights and/or early mornings over the next week and a half if I want to get this done before May ends . . . 

Please send all your positive writing vibes!!

~ Carrie

Thursday, May 17, 2018

That Moment When You Finally Get To Visit The Place You've Been Writing About: Part 2

A Post By Jonathan

I did it! I finally did it! I got to visit Space Camp! The place I've been writing about... and it was awesome!

Thanks to my wife's somewhat shotty photography work, you can barely see me standing under the entry gate in the picture above, but I'm there. Compare it to the previous stock picture I used for "Part 1" of my blog post and you can see there is no bald dude in a red shirt standing there. Really, it's  me...

Here’s a close up for more proof:

Anyway, bigfoot-like photo evidence aside, I can attest that I visited Huntsville, Alabama, the home of Space Camp, the early-chapters setting that my fictional Middle Grade characters have been frequenting for like thirteen years now... that's book years... which are exactly the same as real-life years if anyone's wondering. The visit was totally insane. We got there with only an hour and a half of time to explore before close. We obviously didn’t plan very well,  and ran into a lot of traffic along the way, but it was always going to be just a side trip. Turns out that's all I needed...

After "gladly" paying full price admission, me, my wife and our three year old went on a mad dash to see all that we could see before they shut the cargo bay doors on us. In hindsight, I probably should've dropped the wife and kid off at the hotel and done the recon on my own, but that would’ve been cruel. It wasn’t all book research. We ended up having a lot of fun along the way. But it sure was surreal walking around this place I had been imagining for so long. There's nothing like the real thing. It was truly a dream come true.

Rather than explaining (telling) everything to you I figured I’d post (show) some pictures for you instead. See the captions for specifics:

Here I am in my space suit, ready to blast off!

Here's Hunter and me in front of the Saturn V Rocket's huge boosters

Here is the mess hall where some serious stuff goes down in my book

Here are some actual real life Space Camp Trainees getting ready for their M(anned)M(aneuvering)U(nit) simulation

My son running to the Pathfinder Space Shuttle Replica, where my main character hides from the meteor strike! Better run, here it comes!

The actual robot who was on the International Space Station, where my main character was born!

The grand daddy of them all, the Saturn V Rocket

The trip was great. But you know what the greatest thing is? It worked! What I was hoping I would get from this “site visit” was some motivation to finally start working on my novel again. And boy did I ever. This seemed like a total pipe dream before, but since I went to Space Camp, I’ve been getting up nearly every morning at 5:00am to edit my manuscript and do what I can to get it into shape before heading off to work. It feels so great to be back in the world of the writer. I guess I knew I was always the type of person who needed to see a place before I was totally confident writing about it. But now that I have that confidence nothing is going to stop me.

To prove it, I leave you with a video of me literally lifting off into the stars on the Space Shot simulator (I'm the one on the right side, far left seat)!

Thanks for reading. Now get back to writing! I know I am.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Scares That Care Telethon

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey everybody!  I could not possibly have more going on in my writing life right now, but updates on all of that stuff will have to wait until a later date.  Today I want to talk about Scares That Care.

For those of you who may not know, Scares That Care is a horror-themed 501 (c) (3) charity to benefit burn patients and patients of childhood and adult cancer.  Every year the charity chooses three worthy people to split the proceeds.  This year the beneficiaries are Hope, a Navy veteran suffering from cancer, Brian, a young boy who was terribly burned in a household accident, and Sawyer, a young girl suffering from debilitating tumors (I can't really pronounce the name of the disorder) whose family is having a tough time getting her back and forth from treatment.  You can read more about them here.

Now, STC is probably best known for its convention weekend, which will be happening in August if you want to go.  I'll be there, so why wouldn't you?  But it also does a number of other events throughout the year, including a telethon this past weekend.  The telethon, which was conducted by the cast and crew of The Horror Show with Brian Keene, exceeded its goal of raising $20,000 in 24 hours (we came very close to $22,000.)

So let's talk about the telethon.  In 24 hours of straight broadcasting a lot happened, so I'll just talk about a few little things.  In the very first hour of the event, comedy horror author Jeff Strand was on.  Now in 2009 Jeff released a novel called PRESSURE.  In 2016, Brian was pressured (ha!) by his publisher to name his new release the same thing.  I was able to get a copy of PRESSURE by Jeff Strand signed by Brian Keene at the World Horror Convention in 2016.  This past weekend I was finally able to get a copy of PRESSURE by Brian Keene signed by Jeff Strand.  Life is delicious sometimes.

Now at 7:00 pm Friday night I was scheduled to be a guest for a big announcement.  Here, you can see me on the air dropping the bombshell.  You can also see Brian wearing jeggings ($500 for the charity) and filmmaker Mike Lombardo wearing an "I love Tarantinto" t-shirt ($100 for the charity.)

So what was the big announcement?  Well, it turns out that Serial Box Publishing (also the corporate sponsor of the telethon) will be releasing a serialized prose version of the horror anthology "Silverwood" this coming October.  But you can pre-order it now by going here.  Of course, those of you who read Across the Board already know a bit about how this came to pass when I wrote about the writers room I worked at earlier this year.  Now, for the first time, we've been able to go public with what that secret project was.

Want to know more?  Of course you do.  Here's a teaser trailer:

Of course, the telethon was, if you couldn't already have guessed, filled with shenanigans.  Amongst them, on my end anyway, I signed up to do a collaboration with legendary horror author John Urbancik.  I also did a reading at 7:00 am and offered to read my story "My Drinking Contest with Brian Keene" rather than the usual book excerpt for a $100 donation, and the horror fans came through.  And finally, here horror pioneer Ralph Bieber and I agree to form the BieKoz podcast for the Project Entertainment Network, who desperately, desperately do not want any more shows.  Should be fun!

So I had a great time, but more importantly, we did a little good this weekend.  Did you miss the telethon and won't be able to make the convention but still want to help?  Don't worry, you can make donations any time right here.  I hope you will!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Third Party - Google Search

By Cheryl Oreglia

I'm up for a google search today but I wanted to tackle the topic from a different angle. I've become dependent on google for much of my blog research but also as a tool in many of my daily interactions. I use it to check traffic patterns, convert measurements when cooking, find my children, compare prices on toilet paper, and locate the closest urgent care ~ to name a few. But recently I've noticed how google is squirreling its way into my personal life.

There were eight of us sitting around the table enjoying breakfast, coffee, and quality conversation. We celebrated a friends milestone birthday the night before and spent a good part of the morning going over the highlights. There were many and the conversation was lively. Sleepovers have become a thing again in midlife, maybe we're reliving our youth, but clearly there are many practical reasons. None of us like to drive late at night, especially after a few glasses of wine, we have lots of space since the children have moved out, and hanging out with each other in the morning is a total bonus.

I noticed something interesting happening around the table. Our smart phones have become a third party in our conversations. We casually googled a plethora of topics, expanding our knowledge of current events, definitions, polls, opinions, historical events, trends, song lyrics, even mass schedules. It didn't seem to stall the conversation, if anything it enhanced our chatter, or maybe shaped it with all the additional information available at our fingertips. 

The smart phone provides us with a platform to travel further in our search for knowledge, a classic James Shatner, "to boldly go where no wo/man has gone before." We can pull up satellite images of an obscure street in Avignon France, I call it world voyeurism, because in a matter of seconds we can travel to the remotest parts of the earth with a simple search. We used it to find party games like Heads Up. And just the fact that any type of music is available at the touch of a button is miraculous especially at social gatherings. 

This uninvited third party is appearing at family gatherings, during intimate conversations, in the classroom, at board meetings, social occasions, conferences, restaurants, libraries, concerts, laundry mats, breweries, cafes, even church, and the list goes on. I don't think there is a place on earth that hasn't been invaded by cell phones (even the bathroom). It is changing the way we retain information, engage with the current political climate, avoid boredom, understand complex issues, utilize statistics, and engage with each other. But are we developing the art of conversation, empathy, real listening? Most researchers claim that excessive use of cell phones is pushing these important human faculties in a negative direction. 

The fear of being without your cell phone is a real phenomena (I googled it, it's called nomophobia) across age groups, income, and ethnicities. According to MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle, author of the new book Reclaiming Conversation, we lose our ability to have deeper, more spontaneous conversations with others, changing the nature of our social interactions in alarming ways.
"Mobile phones hold symbolic meaning in advanced technological societies," a research team led by Shalini Misra of Virginia Tech University writes. "In their presence, people have the constant urge to seek out information, check for communication, and direct their thoughts to other people and worlds."
Eighty-nine percent of Americans say that during their last social interaction, they took out a phone, and 82 percent said that it deteriorated the conversation they were in. Is it possible for google searches to increase the quality of what you are talking about? 
Sherry Turkle says it decreases the empathic connection that people feel toward each other? Something about how the lulls in conversations actually encourage us to go deeper especially without the interference. When we avoid the lulls with google searches this changes the depth of our discussions. Is this true for you? 

Turkle is also concerned about the many other situations in which everyone is texting at a meal and applying the “three-person rule”—that three people have to have their heads up before anyone feels it’s safe to put their head down to text. She claims it takes away our ability for empathy and deep connection. 
I think it is possible to live in harmony with technology but maybe we have to set aside sacred space for conversations to organically sprout and grow without the benefits of google search. Trukle encourages us to allow for those human moments, accept that life is not a steady “feed,” and learn to savor the pace of conversation—for empathy, for community, for creativity.
What's your policy on cell phones? Have you noticed this third party appearing in your conversations? Does it distract or enhance your discussions? In your opinion is google search changing the dynamics of our most intimate conversations?

I'm also Living in the Gap, google it, see what comes up.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Read More MG Books (Guest Post by Lilyn G, Blogger at Sci-Fi and Scary)

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey, everybody!  Hope your weekend was good.  Today I’ve invited one of the pillars of the horror community to stop by the blog.  I asked Lilyn G of Sci-Fi and Scary to write about whatever topic she wanted (in the reading and writing field - this is ATB, after all.). I think her choice will intrigue you.  Let’s meet her briefly and then jump right in to the guest post!

About Lilyn G:

Lilyn G is the founder of the book and film reviews and news site Sci-Fi & Scary, which focuses on primarily independent works. Insomniac, rabid reader, spoonie, and afflicted by PTSD, she is frequently unfiltered, and fond of telling horrible jokes. Also, there’s the tentacle thing.

Guest Post:

I run a website devoted almost exclusively to science fiction and horror books. My favorite book, currently, is Jake Bible’s STONE COLD BASTARDS. I love foul-mouthed shoot-em-ups, super-sized chomp’n’stomps, space exploration, and head-spinning possession books. Yet believe me that I am utterly serious when I say:

I think we could all benefit from reading more middle-grade books.

Middle-grade literature is aimed at 8-to-13-year-olds. It’s that lovely space right between boys/girls have cooties, and oh-lawdy-lawdy, the hormones! These books are aimed at readers old enough to handle chapter books, but not old enough to be interested in finding their one true mate, love triangles, sex, etc. They’re not going to put up with 600-page tomes from authors whom are very interested in describing every single aspect of their world, including the particular shade of blue-green the trees on the northern most hill turn when the summer solstice sun hits them at a certain angle.

Some of the books that have affected me the most have been from the middle grade section. Sure, some of them (a lot of them) are downright entertaining, and good ‘forget the world reads’, but there are lots of books in this age group that can hit you right damn in the feels. Whether it be straight written word like Dominion by Shane Arbuthnott or Wonder by R.J. Palaccio, or a graphic novel like Ghost by Raina Telgmeier or El Deafo by Cece Bell, modern day middle grade fiction doesn’t treat young readers like they’re precious little things made of glass who can’t handle anything more than fluff’n’stuff. (I specified modern day middle-grade fiction because that’s what I’ve read the most of. )

Of course, middle grade literature, or MG lit for short, isn’t perfect. The tropes are many (single parent, anyone?), but if you’re looking for a plot-driven novel with few distractions, this is where have the best chance of finding something to suit your fancy. And the stories are wonderful. Especially if you’re looking for stories of courageous, kick-butt girls. I’ve found that even if the main character is a boy, it’s not unusual to have a girl steal the show. Want to see what I mean? Check out Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, Max Helsing and the Beast of Bone Creek for starters!

The main reason I say we could all benefit from reading more middle-grade books comes down to two words, though: ‘Hope’ and ‘Courage’. These books are filled to the brim with hope and courage. Whether its in a little girl taking on her father’s kidnappers by herself, even though she’s terrified of basically everything, or a little boy who has been neglected and mentally/emotionally abused his whole life being brave enough to go to a school filled with a population he didn’t know even existed until he was eleven, they’re there again and again.

And I think it’s safe to say that we all need to remember what people filled with hope and courage are capable of achieving, don’t you?

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Interviewing Your Characters and GMC

Show of hands - who here has filled out a character interview sheet before they start writing? I definitely have not - yet. But I've been reading Debra Dixon's GMC: Goals, Motivation and Conflict (which is brilliant, by the way - even for someone 10 books into this whole writing thing) and she talks a lot about building the character interview into your writing process. According to Dixon (and I agree), it helps to give you a firm grasp the characters' goals and motivations, and how they're going to respond to conflict -- all of which help you build a great story.

The foundation of every great novel, regardless of genre, is conflict. If you have a weak conflict, readers feel like they're being led along a path for no real reason. Even in romance with its guaranteed happily-ever-after, your main character (MC) must face conflict - whether it's accidentally falling for her brother's roommate or an off-limits office romance.

Ok, I see you nodding and thinking, "But how does knowing whether my MC likes dogs add to the potential for conflict within my story?" Well, let's just say you're writing science fiction and your MC had a dog back when he was kid, which was a very long time ago. He and his friends are being shot at by rebel forces and about to board their space ship to escape the hostile planet, when MC sees a dog limping into a cave twenty feet away. MC makes a split-second decision to grab the dog and take it with them, but doing so means he's under enemy fire. And the crew now have a dog onboard - who's limping along and definitely worse for the wear. Imagine the conflict this can create amongst the crew! Now, the dog isn't the central plot point or conflict (it could be, but in my imaginary story it's not), but it can be used as a plot device to help drive the main conflict - which in this case might be something along the lines of: MC is a rogue and his superiors expect him to fall in line b/c he's putting everyone in danger otherwise. Case in point? You guessed it. Dog.

Here are 25 more great character interview questions:

  1. It's Monday morning. Are you excited to go to work/school or sad?
  2. What do you normally eat for breakfast?
  3. Do you call your mother or text? How often?
  4. Do you iron your clothes? Who does your laundry?
  5. Do you exercise or are you happy to sit on the couch? If you exercise, what's your favorite way to exercise?
  6. Have you ever played a team sport? If you no longer play, why not?
  7. What is your favorite TV show?
  8. How do you typically spend your Friday night?
  9. What do you do when you're bored?
  10. How many hours/day do you work/go to school?
  11. What would you be embarrassed for people to know about you?
  12. If you go to a party, do you prefer to talk to people you already know or meet new people?
  13. What do you drink during the day? Water? Coffee? Ice Tea? Beer? Nothing?
  14. What kind of books do you read? If you don't read books, do you read magazines, newspapers, or online content?
  15. If a stranger rings your doorbell, do you answer it or do you wait in the kitchen until they leave?
  16. What is your favorite food?
  17. If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
  18. How many siblings do you have? Are you close or estranged?
  19. Do you have a pet? If so, what kind?
  20. What would be your perfect gift to receive?
  21. What do you like best about yourself?
  22. What do you like least about yourself?
  23. How long have you known your best friend?
  24. You're stuck waiting in an unexpectedly long line. How do you react? What do you do while you're waiting?
  25. What is one color you think looks great on you and why?
These are only the tip of the iceberg of questions you can use to "interview" your characters, so I'm curious -- if you do a pre-writing character interview, what kinds of questions do you ask your characters?

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