Thursday, February 28, 2019

Retreat! Retreat! A writing retreat: The highlights

One of my most favorite writerly things to do is to go on writing retreats. It's a luxury, no doubt, but one I need. I am the mother of three kids. Even when they're at school, I find it hard to just sit and write. There's laundry and vacuuming and errands and phone calls--all vying for my attention while I'm trying to compose. So once a year I disappear for a weekend and write. I've done this for four years now, but the last two years have been spent at the Highlights Foundation outside Honesdale, PA.

If you are a writer and you live within driving (or even flying) distance of Honesdale, PA, go to Highlights for an Unworkshop. For a $149 a night, you get accommodations and farm-to-table food. I repeat You will eat like a queen and the food is prepared by chefs and not, you know, yourself.

This year I attended an Unworkshop with my two buds--Katie and ATB's own Mary. Mary and I were revising, Katie was drafting. And we were hella productive. I mean we left brain dead, or, at least, I did. When you work ten hours a day staring at blue light from your computer, trying make words go better, you eventually succumb to its effects. Let's just say that on Monday, I did nothing.

Anyway, don't just take my word for it. Let's see our awesome weekend in pictures!

The sign to my uber cute farmhouse room. All rooms have their own ensuite.

The farmhouse living room where we worked. You can see my laptop and blanket on the left.
A writing nook

The Farmhouse has a lot of cute antiques. Mary found a sword which was totally on brand.

Best tuna salad ever! I tried to recreate it at home but it didn't taste the same.

Cream of broccoli soup. This ain't no Campbells. And homemade sourdough from a 40-year-old starter.

Dinner! Those are garlic mashed potatoes. Salad! And roast chicken from a local farm.

Pavlova! I've never had this before but it's insanely good.

Blueberry pancakes and eggs and Black & Brass coffee and heaven.

This is a happy nourished author
It was Mary's birthday while we were there. She was adorably low-key about it.

 And there you have it. If have the opportunity to attend a Highlights Unworkshop, you should go. You'll leave productive and chubby. Both good things. I also left with a recipe for tuna salad and pavlova.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Interview with Myself

All right, so I’m cashing in my ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card on this post. I was sick all last week and I’m just now starting to feel human again. Needless to say, I didn’t have a post ready let alone an interview. But no worries - I won’t leave you completely hanging. 

My daughter is 12 (and a half) and I’ve been encouraging her to work on her communication skills. If you have a kid, especially a (pre)teen, then you know how difficult it is to get them to actually speak words to people. They’d rather text or post an update to their story. Or if you’re really lucky, you get to have streaks. Um, whatever. I want my kid to get a job some day so I’ve been encouraging her to at least once in a while use the phone for its original purpose. That’s right, I want her to actually TALK to her friends. Even her boyfriend. 

In addition to getting her to talk on the phone, I went so far as to purchase a couple of games that she could pull out when she had friends over. Games that encourage talking to each other. They haven’t been used yet, but I have hope. Anyway, I’ve pulled five cards from each of these games as my interview questions for myself for this post. Enjoy!

From: The Game of Things… Humor in a Box!

Q1: THINGS… you would have done differently if you were Harry Potter. 
A1: I think I’d go big if I were to do something different as Harry Potter—like beg the Sorting Hat for Slytherin rather than Gryffindor.

Q2: THINGS… you hope will never be done by robots.
A2: I’d hate to see robots write books. Publishing, editing—all that’d be fine. They just shouldn’t be allowed to create the stories.

Q3: THINGS… that were not your fault.
A3: Nothing is ever my fault.

Q4: THINGS… that won’t stop.
A4: Distractions. And apparently my cough.

Q5: THINGS… you would like to say to contestants on The Bachelor.
A5: I would tell them it’s all fake, but that would be completely pointless. I suppose I’d tell them that it’s called ugly crying for a reason.

From: Chat Pack for Kids

Q6: What is the most unusual thing you’ve ever found?
A6: A large candle in my backyard.

Q7: Where do you think would be the most fun spot to have a treasure hunt with all your friends?
A7: A bookstore. Duh.

Q8: If you had to describe your personality in terms of a sound, which sound would be best?
A8: I’m a true Gemini, so that means I’ve got many faces to my personality. Based on that, I’d have to say a violin. It has many different sounds depending on how it’s played to match my moods.

Q9: If you were a teacher, what are three rules you would insist that your students obey?
A9: (1) Say one kind thing to each classmate every day. (2) Say one kind thing about yourself every day. (3) Every assignment must be turned in with chocolate. 

Q10: What big ideas or dreams do you have right now that you would like to see come true someday?
A10: Right now it’s to get my forth book done and dusted. Yeah, it’s the same one I told you all last year I wanted done by May. Maybe I meant to say May of this year??

That’s all I’ve got for you today, folks. Sorry for the somewhat lame post, but it happens. 

Feel free to answer any of these questions yourself down in the comments!

~ Carrie

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Google Search: Feeling Trendy

So, it's my first time attempting to do the "Google Search" feature that has become a staple at Across the Board. I had to study some previous posts to orient myself with how it works, and I found these rules (''loosely suggested guidelines"):
  • 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).
Hoping for a flash of inspiration, I stared at the Google Search screen until I eventually noticed the “I’m Feeling Lucky” option. If I were feeling particularly creative, I would've spent the rest of this blog post making double entendre jokes about “feeling lucky” but I decided not to go that direction. You're welcome.

Instead, I hovered my cursor over the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button, and it came up with “I’m Feeling Trendy."  I'm the somewhat middle-aged mom of a sixteen-year-old boy and have not felt “trendy” in a long, long time. But, I decided to put on my parachute pants, my jelly shoes, and my white sequined single glove (y’all it’s been a REALLY LONG TIME since I’ve been trendy) and let Google trends inspire me.

The results were disappointingly lacking in suggestions on how to be cooler when hanging out with my kid (Okay, yes, I know the answer to that is: Just don’t even try). Instead I got a list of trending news topics, and I picked the top five to discuss here. Hopefully I won’t come across as too ignorant and out of touch and these might already be dated by the time this posts on Thursday (I'm writing this on Monday), but you work with what you got:

1. Jussie Smollett: He is/was the actor on Empire who was recently in the news as the victim of an alleged hate crime. Now he's back in the news because investigations have lead to some questions about the validity of his story.
      *Updated Thursday morning to add that Smollett has turned himself in to Chicago police, and he's been arrested on felony charges of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report.

This hurts my heart so bad I can't quite process it. It will be talked about ad nauseum today, and I have no interest in piling on, especially not in the middle of what is otherwise a silly post.

2. NASCAR: Look, y'all, I live in North Carolina, which is basically the birthplace of NASCAR and some folks around here worship it like it's the third hour of church on Sunday. "Preacher hurry up and finish the sermon. I gotta get to BoJangles, pick up my fried chicken, then get home and turn on the TV before they wave that green flag!" 

In my checkered past, I was known to buy a box of fried chicken from BoJangles and eat it in the parking-lot before an actual real-live NASCAR race. We had two Winston-Cup tracks in this state before Rockingham Raceway closed and the shunning of the tobacco industry meant NASCAR had to find a different sponsor. I make no apologies--it was the heyday of that sport, I thought Jeff Gordon was cute, and those cars are wicked cool when you're watching them live and in person.

That was a different life, I was a different person, and now I have no idea who Joe Gibbs is or why I should care. I have thoughts about why NASCAR is somewhat problematic in 2019 but that's a "whole 'nother" blog post. MOVING ON!

I had to actually click that link to discover what that was all about. I found it out had to do with a WWE professional wrestling thing, specifically "Elimination Chamber (2019) was a professional wrestling pay-per-view event and WWE Network event produced by WWE for their Raw, SmackDown, and 205 Live brands." 

My checkered past also involved--let's not say "following, let's say "being aware"--of professional wrestling back when WWE was still WWF and the NWO (New World Order) was a thing. If you don't know what I'm talking about, that's probably a good thing. I've mostly forgotten it too.

4. Cain Valasquez: Who?

I see it's a UFC thing. I've never followed UFC fighting. I don't care enough to click the link. NEXT

So, apparently NBC did an All-Star special tribute to Elvis. I missed it because it started at 9:00pm. By then my husband and I were in bed and watching the Ken Jeong Netflix special, and I so, so, so much recommend it. Hey did you know Ken Jeong is from North Carolina? We're not all NASCAR, fried chicken, and professional wrestling here. His co-star in The Hangover, Zach Galifianakis, is also from North Carolina, a fact you probably find much less surprising. But I digress.

I visited Memphis for a week during the summer after my Senior year of high school to complete a service project. My team and I took the time to fit a visit to Graceland into our schedule. I'm not sure if it was worth the ticket price--his house is a museum to the decor trends (see how I worked this post's theme back in?) of the 60s and 70s but it really isn't all that ostentatious. Still, I'm glad that I can say I went. I loved Elvis movies when I was younger, and I still appreciate his music.

In his honor, I'll sign off by sharing my favorite Elvis song with you. Enjoy!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Women in Horror Month #9: Tlotlo Tsamaase, Author of "Murders Fell From Our Wombs"

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, everybody!  In case you don't know, February is Women in Horror Month, and 2019 is the tenth year of this redoubtable celebration.  I'm celebrating all month long over on my personal blog, but I wanted to let you Across the Board fans get in on the excitement as well, so today I'm very proud to bring you an exciting and talented poet and author of the macabre, Tlotlo Tsamaase.  Let's meet her briefly and then jump into the interview.

About Tlotlo Tsamaase:

Tlotlo Tsamaase lives and and works in Gaborone, Botswana. She is a Motswana writer of fiction, poetry, and articles on architecture. Her work has appeared in "Terraform," "Apex Magazine," "Wasafiri Magazine," and at "Strange Horizons." Her poem “I Will Be Your Grave” is a Rhysling Award nominee. For a longer list of her works check her website.

You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, and her website.


SK: How are you involved in the world of horror?

TT:  I started out in the film genre, watching scary movies when I was a kid. "Ginger Snaps" was my all-time favorite. I read any suspense novel I could get my hands on. During my childhood, my cousin who was a couple of years older than I used to tell me frightening local tales of gods, demons, ghosts, and mischievous creatures that caused havoc through the night, through villages, through generations of families as bedtime stories; so, I suppose that also shaped my imaginative mind and paranoia. I believe 
Gabriel GarcΓ­a MΓ‘rquez’s quote, “…surrealism runs through the streets,” regarding Mexico is quite relatable and befitting for this. I also grew up on a diet of R.L Stine books. Way back when, there was a South African drama called "Lesilo Rula," about a man who blew into a whistle to awaken a zombie-like figure that carried out his revenge—I loved it as a kid, but it frightened the hell out of me!

SK: Who or what terrifies you?

TT:  Answering that is more terrifying than the real answer! But strangely enough, being in a dark room with dolls and teddy bears and their somehow shiny beady eyes is claustrophobic for me. As a kid, I had a nightmare of them pretending to be inanimate objects, but, when humans were out of range, they moved and talked like people. Funny enough, I can still fearlessly watch "Chucky"…I think.

SK: Are there unique challenges to being a woman in horror or do you feel like gender is irrelevant?

TT:  Gender and race should be irrelevant, but they are relevant especially in our time; unfortunately, race issues are oftentimes attached to gender. So, in most cases you have two things working against you, but it’s also an opportunity because you’re offering another perspective. Women are generally seen as delicate and fragile and only serve trope-filled roles. So if they are depicted in such a way then they are perceived as fairly incapable to write horror. In most works or roles, they are perceived as mistresses in distress, silly, naΓ―ve, weak—incapable of complexity or horror. They are seen as soft bodies for seduction for comfort for rescue. I’m normally intrigued by works that make women deeply complex villains who are capable of love and horror. And I especially love works of art that show complex black women and other ethnicities existing in a wider genre of work whether it be in a psychologically intense sci-fi or fantasy or contemporary stories.

SK: Who are your favorite female horror icons?

TT:  I’m an avid foreign-film viewer, so I’m going to bunch in my literary favorites with a few film faves: "Raw" by Julia Ducournau looks at sisterhood and cannibalism in the weirdest sense; our local horror TV show "Thokolosi"  was chilling and scary; I loved the symbolism and religious motifs as well as the revenge itself in "Revenge" directed by Coralie Fargeat; Seo Young-hee’s acting in "Bedevilled" is gripping and deeply saddening. Regarding literary, I’m addicted to Helen Oyeyemi’s dark and chilling prose in WHITE IS FOR WITCHING and THE ICARUS GIRL. One of my favorite local authors is Cheryl Ntumy who’s published a myriad of amazing works; she wrote a very startling and subtle-but-chilling novella, CROSSING, which was my first introduction to her writing. The other horror icons are also within my circle of friends and family telling of local myths.

SK: What are you working on/promoting currently? Why should folks check it out?

TT:  I’m currently working on a strange magical realism and sci-fi story, as well as editing a novella and another story. I’m deeply in love with this quote by AnaΓ―s Nin,“Had I not created my whole world, I would certainly have died in other people’s.” In some instance, you find it difficult to exist in certain spaces, as if those spaces want to purge you from existence, so you attempt to bend and deform yourself to fit to a trend, stereotype, discrimination or bias. In other words you die in other people’s worlds. I can’t say how many times a written work has provided me with a different perspective that allowed me some freedom to nurture my identity according to me. The power of prose can be both therapeutic and damaging, in a sense that it can be a refuge for a person, a culture, or a killer. I really love it when I find a work I can strongly relate to, so that is what I hope people will find in my writing, something to relate to, something that will enlighten them, and something to question or something that allows them to question the world and the universe. Currently, folks can check my recent work: an audio version of my story “Eco-Humans” over at Nipe Story which is curated by the amazing and talented Kevin Mwachiro, and “Murders Fell From Our Wombs” in "Apex Magazine" which looks at the dangerous tropes that bind women. My novelette, “District to Cervix: The Time Before We Were Born,” is a tale of a young pre-born character’s journey or battle towards birth and the gender they desire, and it is forthcoming from Michael Bailey and Darren Speegle’s PRISMS anthology. “They Don’t Believe God Grows in Our Hearts” appeared in "Wasafiri Magazine" and tells of poverty, unemployment, starving artists and the imprisonment of societal pressures. My short story, “Who Will Clean Our Spirits When We’re Gone?” is forthcoming from "The Dark Magazine" and it's about a young woman contacting her dead girlfriend from a telephone booth. More to reveal this year! Also, find out more on my website.

About "Murders Fell From Our Wombs":

The complete novelette "Murders Fell From Our Wombs" is free to read in its entirety here and is included in Apex Magazine Issue 108, available for purchase here.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Is it love or infatuation?

By Cheryl Oreglia

Sometimes I feel as if I beat to a wildly different drum than that of my peers. Have you ever felt this way? As a creative person I'm drawn to solitude, quiet, even boredom in my search for inspiration. I'm partial to natural environments such as lakes, mountains, and the ocean. A cup of coffee within reach, simple keyboard at hand, maybe a book or two as my muse. I'm happy to lose myself for hours in this way, there is no remorse, I lose track of time, motivated by a unrequited longing to write. I'm not searching for mere words but a meaningful story structured to transfigure the reader.
Agape love is...profound concern for the well-being of another, without any desire to control that other, to be thanked by that other, or to enjoy the process. Madeleine L'Engle
I admit it, when I'm writing I want to brush up against that sacred hem, I'll crawl on my belly if I have to, brave the restless crowds for a singular moment of clarity. Madeleine L' Engle says, "to be an artist means to approach the light, and that means to let go our control, to allow our whole selves to be placed with absolute faith in that which is greater than we are." There is no other way to explain it or justify this wayward preoccupation with the written word. It's one of the most radical vocations I can think of pursuing. Yet I do.

The purpose of this work is to either shift the view of the reader or connect in a profoundly intimate way, as if a textual binocular, one that magnifies, broadens, or at the very least focuses ones view. If not, then what is the purpose? Stories, good ones, are what we pack for the journey, they turn our feet in new directions, give one courage to take that first step into the unknown. 

I'm adept at stalling, as if a clogged catalytic converter, or one who lacks power when attempting to accelerate. Why do I think I must have all the answers before I begin to write? Some of my google searches are absolutely insane. What the hell is that all about? "There is no denying that the artist is someone who is full of questions, who cries them out in great angst, who discovers rainbow answers in the darkness, and then rushes to paper, "claims Madeleine L' Engle. 

I have shelves all over the house, shelves that not only hold books, but trinkets, items that when cradled in my hand "spark joy in my heart." I like to rearrange these things on occasion. I call it putzing. This is the same thing I do when writing. I search for order in the chaos, a rhyme to the beat of a defiant drum, the perfect simile to right the disorder, to clarify some obscure concept, one that "sparks joy" when I find the perfect word. Am I the only one who can hear this persistent beat, as if the words are creating their own rhythm? 

Writing requires discipline. Damn. If I only work when the feeling strikes there would be no blog to speak of, no body of work to look back on, no conflict with my time. I have these rituals I use to settle into the work. I check on my social media accounts, repeatedly, bouncing back and forth from the blank page to twitter, from the desk to the coffee pot, from the fork to the refrigerator. 

Then I decide to file my nails, heat up some soup, grab a sweatshirt, start a load of laundry, scour the kitchen sink. You get the picture. Eventually I run out of distractions, settle into the work, and before you know it I find myself walking on the surface of the pond, panicked, overwhelmed, when something takes my hand, and I'm rescued from a sure drowning. I lose track of time more then I'll admit, I forget to think, and instead I start writing what I hear. It's extraordinary.
At this time in my life, I cannot afford to be sidetracked by the trivial. If I am going to write about people, there needs to be some depth, some honor, something bothering on nobility. And that's what I found in the lives of [people] whose love for others propels me to love deeper. Phil Callaway
The morning after one of these obscure writing sessions, I start looking around for an exorcist, only to be dumbfounded by the words that landed on the page. "The impossible still happens, often during the work, sometimes when we are so tired that inadvertently we let down all the barriers we have built up. We lose our adult skepticism and become once again children who can walk down their grandmother's winding stairs without touching," Madeleine L' Engle. For me, that's as good as it gets. 

How about you? Add a few "confessions of a writer" in the comments. Is it love or merely infatuation?

When I'm not writing for Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we'll rearrange the trinkets on the shelves. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The world is ending. Quit your day job? Or not?

I've gravitated away from Twitter in the past few months, but every once in awhile I scroll through to see what the latest drama is in the book world. This week, I scanned through the Dan Malloy scandal, although stopped short of reading The New Yorker article. Then I saw this gem:

I don't know how many replies this has, but based on my very scientific method of how long I had to scroll, it's a lot. Some people are all like, "Hell, yeah. Do what you love." Most people (including me) are raising an eyebrow saying, "Um...hang on just a second."

Not that I disagree with this completely. I think in an ideal world, I'd be the first to sign on this dotted line. But...I like to eat. And pay my mortgage. And, and, and... (I live in the UK and don't pay for healthcare, but if I lived in the US I'd add that to the list, too.) The truth is - I don't know many people for whom writing pays enough for them to throw their heart and soul into it, unless they have a spouse who earns, a trust fund, or a mysterious benefactor whose sole interest is in their gorgeous prose. (Also, if anyone does have a mysterious benefactor, I want to know more about that because it would make a pretty awesome book, yes?)

I'm lucky to be writing more or less full time right now, although it happened more through a conflux of circumstances than me flinging myself into it with abandon. And I couldn't do it without my husband's very good job. More importantly, I wouldn't want to. If my circumstances were that I was the sole provider for my family all of a sudden, I'd be hitting Linkedin faster than you could say resume because relying on this writing income? It's stressful! And undependable! And seemingly at the whims of the big companies who control much of the distribution and the advertising. Does anything kill creativity faster than having to scramble through a technical glitch of your book not uploading or your ad account suddenly being suspended? I just had a new release this week and I can say with certainty that even though I had NEITHER of those things happen to me, I did spend way too much time on the phone with Amazon customer support. And when I finished (even though they resolved my problem) I tried to write and it was rubbish. I ended up deleting it all, which was a luxury. (Also a necessity, but that's another thing.)

Working a day job isn't "selling out", in my opinion. It's not giving up a dream because it doesn't have to be either/or. I sold my very first book when I was working full-time. I self-published my first series while I was working the most stressful job I've ever had. Did I dream of the day when I could write full-time? Sure. But I also knew/know that publishing income is not the same as day job income. At least not for me. Yet.

What are your thoughts? I saw some Twitter responses from a few of the contributors to this blog and I'd love to hear what you think, too!

Monday, February 4, 2019

#AuthorLifeMonth is back!

A post by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! Mary, your resident Instagram addict, here!

It's February, which means it's #AuthorLifeMonth on Instagram. What is #AuthorLifeMonth? It's a photo challenge for writers and bookish folks started by Dahlia Adler in 2016. Basically, there are daily bookish/writerly prompts for the month of February, and you post a photo to go with it. Click here to read more on Dahlia's website.

Here are this year's prompts:

Personally, I love #AuthorLifeMonth because it fills my Instagram feed with pretty pictures of peoples' books, coffee tables, and more. It's also a great way to connect with fellow authors. And if you're new to Instagram, a wonderful introduction to the platform.

More than anything, though, it's just plain fun. Here are my posts for this year so far:

Blogger Template by Designer Blogs