Thursday, July 26, 2018

Wanderlust - Sri Lanka Edition!

John Steinbeck said, "People don't take trips; trips take people." I've been lucky to experience this a few times - when I moved to Japan to teach English, almost every trip to Paris (because, Paris), my first time in London, and most recently Sri Lanka. I've been home for a day and I keep looking at the (tons of) photos we took and just...smiling with a lot of happy sighing thrown in.

I'll be honest, when my husband first mentioned going to Sri Lanka, I was a little ambivalent. He'd been there when he was a kid and wanted to revisit and introduce it to our kid and I was like, "Ok, I've never thought about going there, but I can't think of any big objections either." Honestly, before he mentioned it, it wasn't even a place I'd thought about visiting. Have you? If's worth the trip

In was AMAZING! The people. The culture. The food (although you'll have an easier time if you like curry. There is western food, but it's not nearly as good.). The scenery. The weather. The wildlife. The only thing NOT to rave about is that it's a long-ass flight, even from the UK, so chances are you'll have a connection in the Middle East somewhere. But - more time to read in transit, right?

Not convinced? Maybe it's better to show you?

If you ever do go to Sri Lanka, take the train from Kandy to Ella. It is breath-taking. Absolutely my favorite part of the trip. Make sure you hang out the door to get the full experience. Don't worry. The train goes a max of 20mph, so it's safe-ish. And it goes into the mountains through tea country, which means the scenery is spectacular!

Tea plantations for as far as the eye can see.

You'll have a chance to go on a few Jeep safaris, which are expensive but if you want to see elephants they're your best bet. Related: baby elephants are adorable.

Monkeys, on the other hand, are plentiful. We stayed at one hotel where they warned us that not locking the door to the balcony was pretty much an invitation to the monkeys to come on in and help themselves. The phrase cheeky monkey exists for a reason! These monkeys were hanging out at the pool and the big one enjoyed hissing at my husband. He thought it was funny. Me? Not so much.

Other highlights included visits to the Temple of the Tooth relic in Kandy, which is a Buddhist temple said to house one of Buddha's teeth rescued from his funeral pyre. There is an annual celebration/pilgrimage in Kandy every year to honor the temple gods (starting today!) that is the grandest of all of these festivals, but we were lucky to see a similar smaller festival in Kataragama.

Temple of the Tooth
Kataragama Perahera Festival

The other festival we saw was a Hindu festival where men pierce their skin with hooks and hang from wooden posts to show their devotion:

Um...that looks like it hurts?

Tuk-tuks are everywhere! They're surprisingly comfortable and perfect for the crazy roads.

Also another elephant. Just because.

So what does this have to do with reading or writing? So far, admittedly nothing! But did you know that Michael Ondaatje (author of The English Patient, among many other novels) is Sri Lankan-born? His book, Running in the Family, is an account of his return to Sri Lanka in the 1970s to dig into his family's history.

Another book that's come highly recommended since returning home is Elephant Complex by John Gimlette, which has gone on reserve at my e-book library, along with Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera. Not one of these books was on my radar before we went to Sri Lanka, but now I'm waiting (im)patiently for them so I can learn a little more about this gorgeous country and it's history. Because that's the thing with wanderlust. There are so many ways to feed it - even when your feet are back on familiar turf.

Tell me what's your favorite book that transports you to a place you've been or want to visit?

Monday, July 23, 2018

INTERVIEW: Brave New Girls Authors Talk Inspiration!

A post by Mary Fan
Hi everyone! Mary here, and it's my turn to do an interview! Instead of a tradition Q&A with one person, I decided to ask some of the BRAVE NEW GIRLS authors about their inspirations. What's BRAVE NEW GIRLS? Well, I'm glad you asked! ;-)

Back in 2014, sci-fi author Paige Daniels and I were bemoaning the lack of tech-savvy heroines in fiction. Oh, you'd see the odd glasses-wearing sidekick working the lab while the real (male) hero beat bad guys. Or the impossibly sexy babe who somehow had five PhDs at 22 so she could be the (male) hero's love interest and ostensibly have a role in the plot. But there was a distinct lack of stories about the
girls in the lab, the girls behind the keyboards, the girls who loved science for its own sake.

So we ran a crowd-funding campaign to launch the Brave New Girls YA sci-fi anthologies in which every story featured a brainy girl who was the hero of her own story. No big strong men stealing the spotlight -- the smart girl would be the main character for a change. While the original campaign was for one anthology, Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets (2015), it wound up being successful enough for us to put out two more: Brave New Girls: Stories of Girls Who Science and Scheme (2017) and Brave New Girls: Tales of Heroines Who Hack (just released July 5!).

Each volume contains multiple short stories, with illustrations for every story acting as a cover within the cover. I asked some of the authors to talk about what inspired theirs. Here are their answers:

Art by Jennifer L. Lopez
Jeanne Kramer Smyth

"The 17th Quadrennial Intergalactic Neo-Cultural Expo and Science Fair"
Brave New Girls: Stories of Girls Who Science and Scheme
My story, 'The 17th Quadrennial Intergalactic Neo-Cultural Expo and Science Fair', in the 2nd BRAVE NEW GIRLS anthology, was inspired by a combination of things:
- my participation in a science fair in 10th grade
- my desire to set something in space (and the awesome conversations I had with my friend who works at NASA about what might go wrong, both on a space station and with science projects)
- the name of a show my father directed years ago ('Banjo Dancing, or The 48th Annual Squitters Mountain Song Dance Folklore Convention and Banjo Contest, and Why I Lost ...')
Art by Jennifer Stolzer
(both illustrations)
Jamie Krakover

"Arch Nemesis"
Brave New Girls: Stories of Girls Who Science and Scheme

"Pyramid Scheme"
Brave New Girls: Tales of Heroines Who Hack
My first Brave New Girls story was inspired by the fact that I always wanted to write a St. Louis centered story. I focused on the Arch because it's such an iconic landmark in the city. But I wanted that landmark to have secrets than no one knew about. As a female engineer I saw the need for strong female characters with science and engineering minds. So I crafted Valerie, who had experienced loss but also had something to prove and a need to thwart the activities there.
From there I decided to throw in math and science references and puns centered around Arches and thus Arch Nemesis was born. After completing Arch Nemesis I realized that my main character had more adventures to take and since I left things a little open ended, I took a similar approach with Pyramid Scheme. I built on the strong character and explored an adventure within the great pyramid, once again incorporating science and math as well as puns. I wanted the main character to have learned from her previous experiences, developed her engineering skills further and gave her a sidekick to help in her adventure (even though she thought she didn't need one). Overall I've just had a blast utilizing my engineering knowledge and sneaking in fun, nerdy references wherever I could.
Art by Sharon Emmitt
Jennifer Lee Rossman

Brave New Girls: Tales of Heroines Who Hack
I love fairy tale retellings (my first-ever publication was in an anthology of sci-fi fairy tales), and the idea of a Rumplestiltskin retelling really interested me. It seemed to lend itself well to a futuristic setting since the girl gets three chances to guess his name, and that's how many chances you usually get to guess a login name on the computer. 
The rest of the plot - the war machines, the factory, the gold wiring - fell into place around that premise, and I decided to make the main character a wheelchair-user like me because we need more positive disability rep in stories.
Art by Lyssa Chiavari
Lyssa Chiavari

"Sea-Stars and Sand Dollars",
Brave New Girls: Tales of Heroines Who Hack
I've always been really interested in the concept of seasteading, and one of my favorite TV series is SeaQuest DSV. I wanted to do something that combined those things together and also tied into my ongoing sci-fi series, so I decided to do a fun adventure story about one of the adult side characters from the series back when she was a teenager. It worked out so well that several elements from the story got built into the second book!

Me! (I'm also the co-editor) (What? Couldn't resist!)

"Takes A Hacker"
Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets

"The Case of the Missing Sherlock"
Brave New Girls: Stories of Girls Who Science and Scheme

"The Altered Avatar"
Brave New Girls: Tales of Heroines Who Hack 

Art by Mary Fan
I've always loved stories about virtual reality, and so for "Takes a Hacker," I wanted to use that as a setting. The heroine is a teen Jane Colt, who's also the heroine of the space adventure trilogy named after her. I thought it would be fun to explore the character at an earlier stage in her life. I also thought it'd be fun to center the story around a science fair of some kind. I'd participated in Science Olympiad as a high-schooler, and while the story ended up being much more... adventurous... than my own experiences, I thought it was a nice nod. Also, I wanted to reject the idea that girls in tech could only be awkward nerds (nothing wrong with that, but there's more than one way to be a girl) or babelicious bimbos (okay, there is something wrong with that). The backstory I'd established for Jane was that she'd always been something of a belle -- good-looking and charming enough when she felt like it. Not to mention the daughter of one of the richest men on her planet. At the same time, I didn't want romance to define her. Besides, for continuity's sake, her love interest in the series couldn't be present in the prequel short. So I made the story an anti-romance... the story of a break-up. Because that's part of being a teen too, and Jane doesn't need no man telling her what to do! 
Art by Jennifer L. Lopez
"The Case of the Missing Sherlock" and "The Altered Avatar" both feature a crime-solving duo inspired by Sherlock Holmes and John Watson -- except now, they're an AI called Sherlock (built to look like a teen girl despite being named after a male character) and a teen engineer named Chevonne Watson. Both are whip-smart and love their sciences. Sherlock gets herself into all sorts of trouble with her whackadoo experiments -- which she swears will help her solve crimes someday -- and Chevonne is an apprentice biomedical engineer. 
"The Case of the Missing Sherlock" thrusts Chevonne into the role of detective. I'd written two stories starring these two characters already, and while she had an active part in both of them, it was still Sherlock doing the heavy lifting. I wanted Chevonne to solve the mystery, and so I got rid of Sherlock altogether -- and had Chevonne show off her smarts by figuring out what happened. 
Art by MunkyWrench
"The Altered Avatar" is told from Sherlock's perspective and featured a futuristic riff on augmented reality. Once again, the girls' science smarts are what save the day.
The thing about all three of these stories is that it's not a big deal that these girls are into tech. It's just part of their reality, and no one questions it. Hopefully, that will be true in the real world someday too. There won't be any of this "ooo you're a girl and you do science/tech/engineering/math!" nonsense. It'll just be "oh, another girl in STEM -- lots and lots and lots of those these days." Because when you're fighting for equality, normalcy, even mundanity, is the goal.

Oof, I did not mea to make my segment so long! Anyway, all three anthologies are available in paperback and e-book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more! Check 'em out!


Thursday, July 19, 2018

How to launch a car? A Google search.

Hellloooo ATB readers!
How’s your summer going? Mine? Mine’s been hectic. Between camp, swim team, dance classes, vacation, writing -- I don’t know which end is up. Also I’m launching a book on Tuesday.

I repeat I’m launching a book on Tuesday. 

It’s hella hard launching a book in the summer. Between giving myself a crash course in Amazon and Facebook ads and trying to drum up some kind of buzz for the book, I have had little time to actually figure out how to launch it. So I thought I’d google it. And then I thought, I’ll blog about it. 

Here’s my google search.  


I really can’t imagine owning a boat and not knowing how to get it into the water. That seems dumb. You spend all this money on a boat, you didn't think to ask the salesman, "How do I launch it?"

I have no idea how someone launches a car. Do you?

Fortnite. Do you have kids? I do. My 8-year-old is obsessed with Fortnite. It is the bane of my existence. I don’t get it. I don’t want to get it. I just hope it’s not melting his impressionable brain.

How to launch a podcast? I not gonna lie. This has crossed my mind before. I’m sure I’ve searched several times how to make a podcast because I love podcasts. I wish I was super niche so I could create a cool podcast. Or be on someone’s podcast. Just let me podcast!

How to launch a product? That’s sort of what I’m trying to do now, albeit poorly.

An app? Does your app help me sell books? No? Moving on.

What the hell is an ico? (*looks it up*) It's....Initial Coin Offering. I don’t want to google this. I don’t care enough. It sounds boring.

A website? Easy peasy when you're an indie author.

A manual car? Again, who is launching cars? And where? Into space? From a catapult? Over a fence? How are we launching cars?

Jupyter notebook? WTF is this? I’ll google it. Ugh. It’s software jargon. I’m already checked out.

Whoever said summer is lazy has not been in my head or to my house. I’m hella busy. What about you, folks? How’s your summer going? Anyone want to pony up to $2.99 to buy my book? If you're my age, you'll get this reference--remember Brendan Fraser and Matt Damon in School Ties? It's like that but with blackmail and death and stuff. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Back Jacket Hack-Job - One of Us is Lying

Here’s the obligatory link to the original BJHJ in case you need a refresher on what this is all about. Hope you enjoy my latest hack at a book I recently read and enjoyed. Check it out if you haven’t already!

~ Carrie

We’ve been described as the modern day Breakfast Club, and I have to say, if you’re going to be compared to an 80’s flick then that’s the one you want as your benchmark. Everyone knows it’s a classic. The only way the comparison could be better is if we were described as the Breakfast Club on a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off adventure. Thanks to someone knocking off Simon while we were all in detention together, what do we get instead? A Weekend at Bernie’s.

So who are we? You’ll meet us soon enough, but until then we’ll give you a sneak peek into our lives with a quote each of us selected from The Breakfast Club.

“We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.”~ Cooper

“You ought to spend a little less time trying to impress people.” ~ Bronwyn

“I hate it. I hate having to go along with everything my friends say.” ~ Addy

“Well, everyone’s home life is unsatisfying. If it wasn’t, people would live with their parents forever.”~ Nate

“Don’t mess with the bull, young man. You’ll get the horns.” ~ Simon

Thursday, July 12, 2018

and then he wrote “The End”

A Goodbye Post By Jonathan 

What’s the saying? All good things must come to an end? Yes, that’s the one.

Well, after nearly four years as a (founding) member of Across The Board it has finally come time for me to say au revoir. It’s been a great run, at this GREAT blog, and I can’t thank the other members of ATB enough for their unending support, their inspiring professionalism and their constant collegiality. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) I will be stepping away from the “creative” writing business for a while to pursue a career in college admissions (at my alma mater). It has been my day job for about fifteen years now and I’ve finally been given an opportunity to make it more than just a job, but a career. 

I will sincerely miss being a part of this group— and wish everyone here (and all of you out there) the best life has to offer. I selfishly hope that my presence will be equally missed, but most of all I want my absence to provide someone else the opportunity to contribute to our little writing community here. I hope they love it as much as I did.

Please wish me luck, as I wish ATB all the success and prosperity it can muster. I will continue to check in from time to time, and willl always look back on these four years fondly and with grateful appreciation.

So I guess this is THE END. Or perhaps it is just the beginning... Only time will tell.

Goodbye all! See you when I see you.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Journey to the Center of my Net Worth

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
What is French Press?  Read on to find out, true believers.

It's true of investment, it's true of education, and it's true of publishing.


What does that mean, though?  How many different opportunities are there in publishing?

One of the most common questions I'm asked, particularly at events like last weekend's Shore Leave Star Trek convention is, "Are you self published or traditionally published?"  (Sometimes it's phrased differently - casual readers don't commonly use those terms.)

Well, up until today, actually (we'll get to what happened today in a minute) I've always had to answer, "Well, neither.  All of these novels are with small presses."  Then, if they're really interested, I may explain the difference between the Big 5, small press, and self-publishing, but usually the person just nods and moves on.


Why do we diversify?  Well, MySpace is an illustrative example, though not in the publishing field.  As recently as ten years ago MySpace was the social media platform.  Facebook was considered a MySpace clone and things like Friendster and LiveJournal were still kicking.  Advertising types saw MySpace as the wild West, and figured the gold rush would never end.  How much time, money, and energy did they expend to get millions of followers for, say, Taylor Swift?

And what do you suppose those followers are worth now?  I'll tell you: Jack and shit, and Jack just left town.

So what does this example illuminate for  us as authors?  Well, I know more than a handful of authors who gave all of their books to a single publisher.  Let's call them...Meisure Publishing.  And wouldn't you know it, when Meisure collapsed, well, those authors didn't just lose all of their back royalties in the bankruptcy.  They also lost all of the rights to their books.

The authors who were devastated by that collapse suffered because they had only had a single revenue stream.  When it was a fire hose, it was great.  But when that single source got cut off, they were just shit out of luck.  It's better to have many streams of revenue.  That way, if one gets cut off, your garden's not going to suddenly dry up.  (In this metaphor your garden is, I don't know, your kids and your mortgage, I guess.  Not everything is an apples-to-apples comparison, people.)

In other words: diversify.

Don't put all your books with whoever today's Meisure is.  Put them with different publishing houses.  Some will be better than others.  Some pay on time, some don't pay at all.  Make sure you do your research first, of course, and try to always go with respectable houses.  But when I came on to the scene I made it a point never to put all of my books with a single small press.  If one of them ever stops paying I have a problem, but I don't have  disaster.  If one of them disappears and my rights go into limbo, I may have a hole in my bibliography, but I still have a bibliography.

But you shouldn't just diversify the small presses you're working with.  Also diversify how you're publishing.  Self-publish some things.  That's a different revenue stream.  No publisher can screw you on that.  Of course, Amazon can still screw you, and they often do screw self-publishers.  Which is why I don't recommend you self-publish everything. 

And don't self-publish exclusively on Amazon, either.  Publish on Kobo, Google Play, iTunes, Smashwords (well, maybe), and Barnes and Noble.  Oh, and guess what?  Barnes and Noble is probably going bankrupt any week now.  That'll be a missing revenue stream for you.  But as long as you didn't publish with B&N exclusively, you're not going to suddenly be sideswiped, are you?  Starting to get the gist?

And I know it probably sounds crazy - utterly, improbably, impossibly insane, perhaps - but Amazon could go bankrupt someday, too.  Think that's impossible?  Yeah, that's probably what Tom from MySpace thought, too.  (Remember Tom?  How cool was it having a friend as soon as you sign up for the site, huh?  Yeah, that worked out great.)  It's weird how few empires are impervious to the march of progress.  It's almost as though all empires are destined to fall.  But I ramble on and on.  What's the point of this blogpost, again?


Earlier this year I signed with an agent, as I've discussed elsewhere.  I'm looking forward to working with the Big 5.  But I have heard horror stories, my friends.  Books being completely rewritten.  Covers depicting nonsense (and often nonsense with a portrait of a character who, um, shall we say, doesn't resemble the actual protagonist in the book.)  And big companies have a knack for finding creative accounting practices to prevent creatives from getting the money they're owed.  It wasn't terribly long ago, after all, that an accountant embezzled nearly four million dollars from literary agency Donadio and Olson.  It sent Chuck Palahniuk, often held up as one of the more successful writers of our time, straight into bankruptcy.  I wish him well as he finds his way back on his feet.  And I guarantee you one thing he's going to do in the next chapter of his career:


So, no, I'm not going to start giving all of my books to my agent.  I'm going to publish some through the Big 5, some through small presses, and...oh, yeah, as of today I'll be self-publishing as well.

The logo at the top of this post belongs to my brand new personal imprint, French Press.  (And muchas gracias to the multifariously talented Natasha Tara Petrovic for designing it.)  I have often in the past jokingly referred to my then non-existent imprint as Kozeniewski Basement Publishing.  I seriously, seriously considered calling it that, too, but I couldn't bring myself to pull the trigger when the day came.  The whole point of having a personal imprint is to add a veneer of legitimacy to your self-published titels, and while KBP would have been a fun joke, it would have defeated the purpose of that altogether.  And thus my brilliant coffee pun was born.

The first two offering from French Press are the Author's Preferred Editions of my second and third novels, THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO and BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS.

Thanks to Chris Enterline for the fabulous cover!

So what prompted this decision?  Did I have a spat with my publisher, Severed Press?  Did I have to fight the corrupt man and now I'm trying to dust myself off and move on with my life?

Well, no, nothing that exciting.  Every publishing contract has a natural lifespan.  So far, with all of the small presses I've encountered it's been 5 years.  My contract for TGA is up shortly, and since my sales with these two titles weren't anything very impressive, Severed contacted me earlier this year, expressed their thanks for working with me and regrets for ending the contracts early, and unequivocally offered me all of my rights back.  (For those paying attention at home - that's exactly what a good publisher's supposed to do.)

Faced with the opportunity to seek out another small press for a second edition or self publish, I decided it was time to start taking my own advice and...


See, I've always been reluctant to self-publish because I didn't feel that I knew all of the ins and outs of the industry well enough to be successful.  Now I think I do, so it'd be hypocritical of me at this point not to at least dip my toes into the pool.  

Next time I plan to let you all know about the nuts and bolts of my self-publishing process (including the hair-pulling moments) and hopefully give you an update on sales and how well it's been going for me.  Of course, until then, I could sure use your help getting the word out.  Thanks, everybody!

Thanks to Natasha Tara Petrovic for the fabulous cover!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Wisdom of Dogs

By Cheryl Oreglia

It's late June, the landscape is bursting with color, I find myself up at the lake alone, with the alleged purpose of prepping the house for the family's eminent arrival, but in truth I'm here to engage the silence, to come to the edge of my imagination, and to write. I brought my dog Shaggy because he doesn't have vocal cords, the perfect companion, teacher, protector (admittedly I'm terrified of the dark, not the dark per se, but to be alone in the dark). Shaggy is the ideal partner except his foul delight in rubbing on dead fish. 
"Everything that's created comes out of silence. Your thoughts emerge from the nothingness of silence. Your words come out of this void. Your very essence emerged from emptiness. All creativity requires some stillness." Wayne Dyer
Shaggy lays at my feet wherever I happen to be, looks me in the eye, and appears to instinctively calculate my emotion. If I am fearful he moves closer, if I am restless he gives me space, if I am lonely he gives me a lick, then grabs a ball and drops it at my feet. Play? Can you see the inherent value in this? Why can't I learn to meet people where they are? To have the courage to look my worldly companions in the eye, allow them their individuality, and then drop something in front of them that invites them to play? It's so simple. The wisdom of dogs.

Therefore to this dog will I, 
Tenderly not scornfully, 
Render praise and favour! 
With my hand upon his head, 
Is my benediction said 
Therefore, and for ever. 
And because he loves me so, 
Better than his kind will do 
Often, man or woman, 
Give I back more love again 
Than dogs often take of men, — 
Leaning from my Human. 
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

These are the random thoughts I find lapping at the edge of the lake along with the Canadian geese, grebe, osprey, and American white pelican. It's feels prehistoric, okay that's a slight exaggeration, but there is something very primitive about this setting, as if caught in the process of evolution, much like my thoughts. 

I stand with my feet in the cool water admiring Mt Konocti. She had her face blown off during an eruption (11,000 years ago ~ give or take a few days), but I think she's the most intriguing part of the view. We've all survived eruptive histories, injuries that have left scars on our souls, but must we be defined by the worst that has happened to us? Can there be a greater purpose for our being in the world? Rumi says the wound is the place where light enters you. Perhaps this is how we were designed? I know what you're thinking, I belong in a straight jacket? If the family doesn't get here soon God knows what will spring from my mind and land on this page?
“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.” Vance Havner
The view is calming. It is quiet, too quiet for most people, but just perfect for writer types who like to vacation with their thoughts, spend time loafing around their interior spaces, where time no longer exists. As the outside world recedes, the things that come into focus are lofty notions like presence, being, joy, but also judgement, fear, and anger especially when it comes to unwarranted traffic tickets.
"Our discomfort and our grappling is not a sign of failure," America Ferrera says, "it's a sign that we're living at the edge of our imaginations."
I wonder if there will be a day when we are able to resolve our conflicts without ferocity? It's as if we've remained adolescents, unable to matriculate, still confronting our differences with deeply embedded fears. Who am I to talk? When I was stopped by a cop last week, I wanted to jump out of the car, and completely lose my shit. You'll have to trust my version of the story because the officer was not available (asked) for a statement.

I'll admit to making one tiny illegal maneuver, it's been legal for fifty years, but now it's considered criminal. A few months ago someone (a total nincompoop) decided we can no longer drive straight across Leigh Avenue from Campbell Avenue, you must turn right, and drive three blocks out of your way to get home. There's a sign posted and some annoying barriers. What ever. I sort of turned right, made this brilliant u-turn, and glided flawlessly down Campbell Avenue, so gracefully choreographed, it was as if a ballet. But clearly these aesthetics were lost on the police officer, hiding in the shade, on a motorcycle, late in the afternoon. 

"May I have your license please." I dig it out of my wallet, furious but obliging, because I was taught to be cooperative when encountering authority. So as he's writing up my ticket I watch (in truth I glare) at him in my rear view mirror. This is what I'm quietly thinking, "I wasn't driving too fast, on my cell phone, or texting. In fact my hands were at ten and two on the wheel. I wasn't balancing a cup of coffee, eating granola, or fishing my sunglasses out from under the seat. The street was completely empty, I was coming home from the grocery store for goodness' sake, the radio wasn't even on, and now I'll be traumatized every time I think about food shopping. And you can forget dinner. I can't cook knowing I got a ticket buying this damn food. He probably didn't have his ticket allotment for the day and decided to chastise the rebellious locals. In my thoughts there was a considerable amount of swearing, you can only imagine, I would continue, but I believe this sample is sufficient. 

As he approaches my window for a signature I decide to try a little dog wisdom, see him as a person with issues much like my own (except the ticket part), look him in the eye, maybe drop a few playful words. "I'm not good at this yet, like a puppy who pees on the floor, just take me back to the paper," Anne Lamott.  I said thank you as sweetly as possible when he handed me the ticket, and (without a hint of hypocrisy), "you have a nice smile, enjoy your evening officer," and moved merrily on my way (as you can see I'm totally over it). And I'm fairly positive he cracked a smile on the way back to his motorcycle.

I wander down to the dock, wine in hand (yes it's 5:00 somewhere), dog at my heels, to be mesmerized by the movement of the water. There are so many spiders at the lake, webs everywhere, and I'm a bit of an arachnophobic. As the sun goes down, hundreds of spiders drop ominously from the rafters of the dock, to stretch their hairy legs. I might have to call John Goodman.

It's the webs that grab my attention, clinging to my arm when I pass too closely. We are all part of the web of life, delicately attached, but it's sticky, and let's not forget the black hairy spider lurking in the corner. This web of relationships includes everyone, not only our beloved, but police officers with nice smiles, and tax collectors. As Anne Lamott notes the conscious mind seems to block that feeling of oneness so we can function efficiently, maneuver in the world a little bit better, abide traffic laws, pay our taxes on time. Let that stick with you for a while. Okay I'll stop, plus I have to refill my wine.
“There is a patience of the wild--dogged, tireless, persistent as life itself--that holds motionless for endless hours the spider in its web, the snake in its coils, the panther in its ambuscade; this patience belongs peculiarly to life when it hunts its living food;” Jack London
I ordered fourth of July banners for the deck and runners for the tables. They should arrive today, but you never know, it's Lake County, and the inefficiency is alarming. I peek out the front door, no box. I think the table we set is important, the people who gather create a certain environment, the food appears to be the main ingredient, but it's the quality of relationships around the table that matters most. 

I ask myself because Shaggy's not talking: Is this a table you would want to join? Do our conversations dignify each other as human beings? I believe with all my heart that it takes incredible courage to really listen to each other, reserving judgement, not attempting to alter the other's position or belief, but to really learn from each other. Johnny Luzzini says cooking is about imbibing different cultures and putting them in a plate on the table. I believe that is what we call table magic.

In this solitude, I putz around creating space for my family to gather, spraying for ants, removing cobwebs. The box finally arrives so I line the deck with oval flag banners but it's the dusting, sweeping, and scrubbing toilets that has a way of bringing me back to the paper. 

I came across this poem today and thought it sort of tugged at my message or maybe it simply encompassed my thoughts at the moment. Anywho... I'm all fired up about the sheet of flame.
“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. 
This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight.” Jack London
I stand at the edge of my imagination and grapple with the view of the future, the rising generations, the emerging story that I want to be part of, to meet them here at the lake, and rest in their presence. This is what joy looks like.
As Rumi claims, God's joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box, from cell to cell. As rainwater, down into flowerbed. As roses, up from ground. Now it looks like a plate of rice and fish, now a cliff covered with vines, now a horse being saddled. It hides within these, till one day it cracks them open. 
There is joy in paying attention, observing silently, as Gary Snyder notes, ripples on the surface of the water were silver salmon passing under - different from the ripples caused by breezes. Sometime I'm so intrigued with the subtle nuances in this life that I fail to see the resplendent joy that lingers on the surface. I'm learning, but sometimes I fail, just take me gently back to the paper. 

“Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished.” Dean Koontz

Any dog wisdom to share? Leave us something to nibble on in the comments.

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


  • Paper is a metaphor for empirical, practical, hands-on
  • It turns out that culture is the most powerful force available to us. Culture comes from each of us, from the connections between. Doesn't Seth Godin makes the obvious so powerfully clear?
  • The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web. Pablo Picasso

Monday, July 2, 2018

Five Reasons Why You're Reading Mediocre Books

One of the mains reasons I get on social media is to talk books with fellow book lovers. Sadly, I often encounter complaints. Thrillers that don't thriller. Horror novels that are more sad than scary. Clichés. Literary fiction that doesn't tell a story. Lack of editing. The list goes on and on. Yes, there are a lot of books being published, but that doesn't mean that there are a lot of great books out there. Here are five reasons why. If you keep them in mind, working around them will be easy, and finding superb fiction in your favorite genre will be a piece of cake.

1. The book business is...well, a business.

Here's an unsurprising fact: the obscenely large publishing companies that rule the market print books they think will sell, not awe-inspiring literary gems that will make you cooler and smarter just by reading them. Publishing is a money-driven machine that worries about profits, not great literature. Sure, the major publishing houses put out great books every year, but compared to the barrage of celebrity memoirs, big name rehashes, pedestrian thrillers/erotica/horror/etc., and simply unbelievably dull junk they put out there, the percentage is very small. The books that get backed with big money are those they expect to make money, and that equation often leads to best-sellers lists packed with formulaic garbage. This shouldn't be a surprise. If you rush out the door to buy the latest James Patterson and then get angry about how crappy it is, you're part of the problem. 

2. Self-publishing

If you want to start an argument that will end in bloodshed, mention self-publishing around writers. As a book reviewer, I try to read and review as many indie authors as possible. If you can get a book at the grocery store, that author doesn't need help spreading the word about his work, so I stay away from it in terms of a review. Sadly, trying to help out self-published authors means that reviewers often have to read unedited books. While there are outstanding self published novels out there that deserve best-sellers status, too many authors think their manuscript can skip the editing process. They're wrong. No one can skip the editing process. Did you read that? No one. Even the greatest editors need a good editor once in while. Editing is a tedious and painful process, but it's crucial for any manuscript. The authors throwing their work out there unedited are tarnishing self-publishing and flooding the market with appalling books that should've never been shared with anyone. This is why self publishing is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is a thing that allows new authors to get their books out into the world. On the other hand, it is a way for 20-year-olds to share their memoirs and for grandmothers to publish books about their love for their cats. Oh, and then there's the fact that too many self-published authors don't want to spend money on covers and layout, so you end up with an awful, unedited narrative wrapped in a horrendous cover. That's why some folks can't get people to read their work even if they give it away.

3. Agents

Believe it or not, literary agents are human. As such, they're full of that nasty thing called subjectivity. They choose to represent stories they like and work with authors they think will make them money (besides subjectivity, most humans also have bills to pay). Sadly, agents have the power to get the wrong manuscript in the right hands. The result is thousands of terrible books being published and promoted. I won't give you any titles here (that would only make the priggish, pitchfork-wielding readers run faster in my direction...just kidding, look at Garth Risk Hallberg's City on Fire, Sean Penn's Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, or all those books by E.L. James), but there is a ton of garbage manuscripts that came to be only because an agent liked them. Conversely, some of the most astonishing tomes I've read in the past three or four years were repeatedly rejected by dozens of agents and eventually published by indie presses or came from authors smart enough to go to an indie press directly. This doesn't mean that agents should disappear, that they're solely to blame for the vast array of horrible literature occupying shelf space out there, or that authors shouldn't try to make a bundle with their work; it only means that agents play an important role in getting authors who can't write a decent paragraph to publish trilogies. Thankfully, I've seen, heard of, and met a lot of agents recently that are doing the exact opposite of this, and that gives me hope for the future.

4. Lack of focus

Many authors, old and new, have lost focus. John Skipp, best-selling author and editor extraordinaire, wrote in his blog a couple of years ago about the qualities of the fiction he likes to publish and wants to see more of: "exciting, provocative, tightly-focused, plot-driven, character-intensive, shockingly original cliché-hammering tales with ass-kicking endings that make people sit up and take notice." Unfortunately, stories like that are getting harder and harder to find. Authors (and here I'm delighted to say that I can exclude most of the authors I know) are favoring formulas over insightful writing and think publishers are looking for writers who fit whatever current mold is making money instead of idiosyncratic voices. This landscape leads to unfocused authors writing what they think will get their name on a cover instead of the stories they would really like to share with readers. I'm dirt poor, but I write what I want to write, and I think most writers should do the same.

5. Your own nauseating comfort

While all of the above are good reasons why your current read is probably dismal, this last one is the most important reason of all. You have the power to read outside the best-seller lists. You can look around and find a plethora of amazing indie presses that are putting out unique books by very talented writers. If not reading is a self-imposed neurodegenerative disease, then reading whatever rubbish is on sale at the pharmacy is a volitional cancer. The previous four reasons can be easily circumvented if you get rid of your fucking contentedness and step out of your comfort zone. If you spend more time thinking about what coffee to get than you do picking your next read, you're part of the problem and the only one to blame for the fact that you're reading garbage. Just because it's readily available doesn't mean it's the best thing around. You know, just like fast food joints. If you want to read great books, you have to go and get them. Now go read some awesome stuff.

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