Thursday, August 29, 2019

Writers Need To...

By Cheryl Oreglia

So you want to be a great writer?

I did a google search on what writers need to be successful?

If the objective is to publish a radical best seller, one you find in the hands of total strangers, bent and borrowed, passed from neighbor to neighbor, entertaining commuters on buses, planes, and trains then do read on. 

Or to post blogs that go viral, change lives, maybe change the way people view this crazy world.

What we need is an express lane, something that takes you from blank page to a terrific manuscript, in zero to ten.

If you're like me you've taken some writing courses, attended writing conferences, joined a writing group, listened to all the classic advice about "shitty first drafts," and "sitting down at the keyboard and bleeding onto the page."

Forget all that.

According to google great writers need to do some very specific things:

One source claimed the key to writing well isn't to focus on writing at all but on writing systems? Yes, this intrigued me so I read the whole article. According to Sarah Cy good writers like Hemingway, King, Rowling have one thing in common - a well honed writing system. 

Cy says, "Hemingway, King, Rowling didn't just throw words on paper whenever they felt like it...Hemingway wrote in the morning, as soon as the sun rose. King writes 2.000 words a day, rain or shine." And Rowling implements a helpful color-coding system: on a table of suspects, notes in blue ink are representative of clues, while red ones symbolize "red herrings" meant to mislead readers.

Under my first search I learned there are three parts to a writing system: Gathering materials, writing, and honing your craft. She says they are interlinked, but also separate, like a three legged stool. You need all three to create a solid system from which to perch yourself while writing. 

Gathering Material:

  • Consider your personal experience, successes and flops, usually there is a lesson or two embedded, and this is how your life becomes a valuable medium for your writing.
  • Notice your daily rituals, what do you do that others might benefit from knowing, better yet, what should they avoid.
  • Mercilessly use your more interesting relationships, as Anne Lamott says, "You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better."
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Read, read, read.
  • Follow other blogs, find out what's trending, jump on the bandwagon. 
  • Research your audience, figure out what they are interested in reading, and use this to guide your writing, remember it's not biblical it's just wise. 
  • Join a writing group for advice and feedback. They usually meet at places with coffee so win, win.
  • Keep a journal! This is your best source for material and they come in leather. Oh and buy a good pen, you're a writer, it justifies the expense.
  • A notebook by your bed with that pricy pen is good for late night insights!
  • Have a place where you keep your shitty first drafts, then edit, edit, edit. 
  • Organize your notes, quotes, topics, blackmail worthy materials in one place so you can access what you need without scrounging through your IPhone and index cards. 
  • You have to sit your butt in a chair and write. Seems obvious but hunger, housework, and husbands can be a distraction. Don't get up unless something is on fire. Writers write. 
  • Create the perfect environment. Make coffee if that's your thing, open a bottle of wine, wear comfortable clothing, have a snack ready, and for the love of God limit the annoying distractions - turn off your cell phone, the television, shut the window if the gardeners blowing, don't answer the door for the fuller brush man - you have a hair brush. 
  • Set goals for not only word count but finishing posts, chapters, and query letters. Stephen King claims 2,000 words per day. Clearly he doesn't have a day job!
  • Figure out when you are most productive - morning, midday, or night? Then set aside time to write at that time! 
  • Set limits or you'll end up filing your nails, dusting the keyboard, and sipping cold coffee! People who have deadlines and limits time are always more productive. 
Developing your skills:
  • Good writing doesn't just happen, well for most of us anyway, it's a skill and you can develop your craft. 
  • Read as much as you write, if not more, and soak up a diversity of genre. Expose yourself to as many styles as possible. This allows you to expand your range, like voice lessons, you hit those difficult octaves with a lot of practice. 
  • Hire a writing coach.
  • Join a writing group.
  • Go back to school and get your Masters in Creative Writing (you can do this on-line but you have to actually do the work to improve.)
  • Attend a writing conference or workshop.
  • Find a good editor and learn from there feedback.
Stephen king says if you don't have time to read you don't have time to write. Hey, if none of this appeals to you, I just heard Denny's is looking for a hostess. Writers write and that's all there is to it. “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though,” says J.D. Salinger. If today was hellacious, but you had a good writing day, nothing else matters. Write on! 

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”― Ray Bradbury

What are your writing secrets? 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Asking for an author review quote

Search through any author group on Facebook or publishing-centric threads on Twitter and eventually the topic of author review quotes comes up. As in: what are they? Do they help? Do you need one? And - arguably the most important question of all - how do you ask for one???

What are author review quotes?
Short answer: They're nice things other authors say about your book.

Long answer: They're nice things other authors say about your book that you can use for marketing purposes, editorial reviews on Amazon, even your front cover. They're pithy, smart and quotable, and ALWAYS positive.

Do they help?
Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Still yes. An author review quote from an author with whom you share a potential audience is ideal - although maybe it would be cool for marketing purposes if I got a quotable quote from Stephen (a horror writer) for one of my romances? Will think on that one. An author review quote from an author with name recognition in your genre is helpful, too, especially if you're putting his/her quote on your cover.

Do you need an author review quote?
Short answer: No.

Long answer: That space on Amazon for editorial reviews looks awfully empty without any editorial reviews. You can wait until reader reviews come in - and it's great to have a few of those, as well, but an author endorsement or two definitely helps. You can also use author reviews in your pre-publication marketing.

How do you ask for an author review quote?
Short answer: Nicely.

Long answer: This is actually a pretty long answer.

  1. Do your homework!
    1. You've read some books by the author you're asking to review your book, right? If not, get on that.
    2. Check out her website and look at recent/upcoming releases. If she's got a book coming out next week, you might want to hold off on your email.
    3. Check out his social media. Is his Twitter feed filled with deadline stress? Or maybe his Instagram shows that he's spending the month at the lake with his family. Either way, it might not be the best time to ask this particular author for a review.
    4. Look at her website again and click on CONTACT. How does she want to be contacted for review requests? Via her agent? A PA? A form on the website? An email address?
  2. Once you know the preferred method of contact for submitting your request, use that. For most authors, it is NOT Twitter DM, Facebook Messenger or Snapchat. Email is the most likely scenario.
  3. Think about the tone of your email before you start writing it. On the one hand, your review request is kind of like a business letter. On the other hand, it's...not. To some extent, it could/should reflect you, the writer. 
  4. If you know from doing your homework that there's something you and the author have in common, or something you think they'll really connect with in your book, mention it. E.g., I saw on Instagram recently that you were in London.It looks like you had an amazing time! My book is actually set in London, and I lived there for five years before trading in city life for a tiny English village.
  5. Indicate how you'll use the review. Will you use the author quote on your print cover? In pre-publication marketing? In release week marketing and on Amazon?
  6. Set a date!!! This is especially important if you're going to use the quote on your cover or pre-publication, but it's also important for your sanity. Something as simple as: My book releases September 27, and I need all author reviews completed by August 27.
  7. But give them an out. Something like: If you can't make that date, I totally understand, but I'd love if you could let me know so I won't be stalking my email inbox.
  8. Offer a full manuscript and a sample. Some authors will eagerly read the whole thing. Some might prefer the first six chapters, but can still provide you with a great review quote.
  9. Include your blurb, cover, social media links, website, etc. You can cram a lot of this into your email signature and some people might argue that it should be there already anyway.
  10. Spell check, proofread, send.
  11. Obsessively check inbox for a reply, despite said date conversation. :) 
It also doesn't hurt to google "Asking for author blurbs" and reading through some sample emails. I did that, in addition to the above, when I was asking for author review quotes for my last book and, well, it worked for me!

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Life-Changing Magic of Procrastination

A post by Mary Fan
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer who is voluntarily tidying up must be in the throes of procrastination.

I’m currently on the hook for about five writing projects – meaning they’re attached to deadlines and promised release dates. Which of course is why I decided that now is the perfect time to attempt to de-disaster-ify my apartment, which had reached landfill levels of entropy. I’m pretty sure the last time I saw the floor of my closet was sometime in 2017. Meanwhile, I’d overloaded my bookshelf to such an extent that I was pretty sure that any day, it would collapse on top of me, leading to my untimely demise (which I can’t have… with all these projects, I don’t have time to perish!).

As a small press/indie author who often goes on the road to promote books at conventions and such, I’ve always kept copious copies of my own books. This matter compounded when I decided to self-publish Starswept as a custom-printed hardback with silver foil lettering… meaning I had to order in bulk (WORTH IT). Being a city dweller, I don’t have a whole lot of space. And paying for a storage unit seems both extravagant and inconvenient (let’s face it, even if I were willing to spring for one, I’d be too lazy to actually get my butt over there to grab books every time I had a show). My solution? Stack everything in a corner. Which worked well on a practical level, but also invited mess because, I mean, it was just a bunch of boxes in the corner. Of course that meant it was also a dumping ground for all the random crap I couldn’t be bothered with finding a spot for, right? The results:

Now, I’m notoriously oblivious to my surroundings. Comes with being the kind of person who usually lives in her own head (I also have comically low levels of body awareness… who knows what any limb is doing at any given time). So I allowed the entropy to grow and grow, hardly noticing it was there at all.

Until one day it hit me that I was basically living in a warehouse, and that this was not ideal. I’m not sure what exactly triggered this revelation. Probably procrastination, to be honest… I become far more aware of what’s going on around me when I’m trying to get out of my head and away from my writing projects (usually because they’re due soon but I don’t want to deal with them). And also because I didn’t wish to perish in a tragic book-related accident when my overloaded shelves gave up on me.

So I decided that instead of keeping stacks of cardboard boxes in a corner, I’d put my stock on bookshelves and use plastic storage containers to tote them to and from shows. I’d already planning on getting clear plastic boxes for Gen Con anyway, since we always have to bring so many books, and figuring out what’s in every opaque cardboard box is a nightmare. Also, cardboard likes to slide around, meaning when you try to stack said boxes on a cart, they have the nasty habit of slipping off and spilling your poor, vulnerable paperbacks all over the exhibit hall floor (despite the most heroic efforts of your bungee cords).

Anyway, this may all have remained a fanciful idea if a local friend hadn’t decided to relocate across the country – meaning she was about to pack up her entire life. She asked if anyone had extra boxes, and I was like, “Oh, honey, I have all the boxes you’ll ever need.” I just had to get the books out of them first.

So I went to the IKEA website and ordered the biggest bookshelf that would fit in my apartment (which was actually two tall bookshelves smashed together). The original plan was to stick them in the box corner to carry book stock and then order another shelf for my extra reading books. But I had the sneaking suspicion that things wouldn’t go quite according to plan, so I held off on the latter part of that… Plan B was to put the giant shelf in my bedroom (where my bookcase was), move the bookcase to the box corner, and then figure out what to do from there. Good thing I had Plan B, because the giant shelf was ONE MEASLY INCH too wide to fit between the wall and the low-ish lighting fixture.

Taking all the books off my shelf, unboxing all those copies of my own books, dragging 4 heavy bookshelves around my apartment, and then moving literally a thousand pounds worth of tomes around was no fun at all. But I’m rather pleased with how it all turned out:

Of course, now that I’ve run out of books to rearrange, I need to find a new way to procrastinate. I’d still like to see my closet floor…

Thursday, August 15, 2019

I'm not that good a writer...on social media

Hellloooo friends. I woke up this morning with a vacation hangover. You know that feeling. When you've been away for a week and you finally get home and you're exhausted, disoriented, and suffering from a headache. Honestly it wasn't a vacation, so much as a trip. My son played in a soccer tournament in Hershey. Then we decided to tack on extra days to do the amusement park and Washington DC and let's just cliche...I need a vacation from my vacation. Yuk. Yuk. Yuk.

And while on vacation, I posted photos of my kids to social media with cute captions like We're at Hershey! And Smithsonian Day with a healthy dose of whine. Then, later that day, I wrote the same thing while on the beach with a cup of merlot and punned a healthy dose of wine. And you know what I realized? I am terrible at composing pithy captions on social media. In fact, I am a crappy writer all together on social media. Which wouldn't be a thing if I wasn't a goddamn author.

My friend Dave was a writer for Mad Magazine. He is the funniest dude on the planet and his one-line Facebook updates are Pulitzer worthy. Another friend is a copy writer and her Instagram posts about ballet and coffee are eloquent and artsy. Meanwhile, I'm on Twitter trying to blog about my favorite television shows because I don't often know how to relate to people other than to talk about what Netflix shows I'm bingeing. I am literally that person at parties. Because it's not cool to discuss politics and religion and those are my two favorite topics of conversations, I'm the one who asks, "So whatcha all binge watching?" And then I get the response, "I don't really watch TV." Or they respond with, "I'm into the Real Housewives."

My last Tweet that got traction was me asking the Twitterverse if anyone found the exhaust fan above the stove as annoying as I do. And it turns out, lots of people do.

I marvel at how sassy and clever people can be on Twitter. Especially about mundane things. And there's me over here revising the same sentence ten times just to vary my word usage. Half the time, I don't add commentary because my brain is fried from trying to simply write a novel that I have nothing left to devote to cleverness. I have to work at being smart while others simply do it on instinct.

Do you ever cringe at your Facebook post memories? I do. I'm like, "I wrote that trite piece of crap observation?" Ugh. Thanks Facebook for reminding me that I'm a hack.

Please don't judge me by my tweets and status updates. And why is there no edit button on Twitter?

Monday, August 12, 2019

My Author-self is Actually a 13-year-old Drama Queen

In 7 short days I will have a teenager in the house. I’ve only got the one kid, and she only becomes a teenager once in her life, so we’re letting her have a ‘party’ party. I’m talking nearly 40 thirteen and fourteen year olds. Girls AND boys. So, yeah, I’m in the middle of party planning hell. My mind is consumed with all things teenagers. 

Which is why, yet again, my post is inspired by my kid. In the midst of all this party planning, I somehow came to the conclusion that my author personality is basically a 13-year-old girl. How? Well, I’ll give you 13 reasons . . .

My author-self:

  1. Always makes the same mistakes over and over and over . . .
  2. Never cleans up her messes without being told.
  3. Is only productive when she wants to be, not when I need her to be.
  4. Rolls her eyes whenever I think I have control of the situation.
  5. Is insecure and into self-deprecation.
  6. Is hormonal with mood swings from one extreme to the other.
  7. Tries to sleep most of the day.
  8. Thinks she will go viral overnight. Because, you know, that other author did.
  9. Pays too much attention to what people are saying (or not saying) on social media.
  10. Thinks listening to music and dancing around the house is the same as being productive.
  11. Is hungry ALL. THE. DAMN. TIME.
  12. Is more comfortable talking to people electronically than in person.
  13. Is easily distracted.

Who else has a 13-year-old drama queen/king as an author personality?

~ Carrie

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Alternatives to Hereditary Magic Systems
If you at all participate in the the Star Wars fandom, then you're probably aware of the controversy that erupted last year. "Which controversy," you ask? "There were so many!" Well, in particular, I'm talking about the one that arose in response to Star Wars: The Last Jedi's seeming attempt at subverting the force-sensitive "legacies" that had existed in the canon for decades.

It's been well established, basically since Star Wars's inception, that force sensitivity--the ability interact with and manipulate the "Force"--was an inherited trait, one that could be passed down from parent to child, generation after generation. Arguably, this established an aristocratic system--power by inheritance rather than merit (which, possibly, was one of the issues the Jedi were trying to mitigate with their marriage prohibition). The Skywalkers were the prime example--Anakin, Luke and Leia, Kylo Ren/Ben Solo... and Rey, too, perhaps?

That was the imperative, over-arching question everyone was eager for this movie to answer. Who were Rey's parents?! What was her legacy?! ...But then this scene happened:
Kylo: It's time to let old things die. Snoke. Skywalker. The Sith. The Jedi. The Rebels. Let it all die... You're still holding on! Let it go. Do you want to know the truth about your parents? Or have you always known? You've just hidden it away. You know the truth. Say it. Say it.
Rey: They were nobody.
Kylo: They were filthy junk traders, who sold you out for drinking money.They're dead in a pauper's grave in the Jakku desert. You have no place in this story. You come from nothing. You're nothing.

And just like that, Star Wars's force-sensitive legacies went down in flames... or did they?

I'm not here to argue whether Kylo is gaslighting Rey, manipulating her sympathies to work in his favor; or whether Rian Johnson truly meant to subvert aristocratic themes in the Star Wars canon (or if Abrams is going to subvert Johnson's subversions in The Rise of Skywalker); or give you my thoughts and feelings on this issue as a loooong-time Star Wars fan. I'm here to tell you this scene sparked an idea that became one of the cornerstones of my current Work-in-Progress.

The idea was this: Could I write a story with a magic system where legacy does not
Harry Potter:The Blue Blood Prince
exist? Where inherited abilities do not factor in? Also, could I make magic inherently egalitarian? Take the social hierarchies in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and throw them right out the window! (Sorry, not sorry, Harry Potter fans). What does that leave you? A hell of a lot of possibilities on a wide and complex spectrum. And let me tell you, disposing of those old-guard magic structures is hard. Even if I did away with genetics, I've found it's extremely difficult to abolish magical hierarchies. Universal magical egalitarianism might be impossible--either that or I'm simply not clever enough to figure out how to build that kind of world and make it compelling or believable.

Here are some ideas that I've thought of (and obviously a lot of other people have thought of too) for Alternatives to Hereditary Magic, as well as some of the questions they present:

1. Magic is a readily available resource, rather like air or sunshine, and anyone can access it regardless of race, nationality, gender, religion, physical ability, or class.
  • Does everyone inherently know how to use the magic, or does it require some training and education for effective application?
  • Are certain people born with a superior aptitude that gives them an advantage? Fore example: everyone with a voice can sing, but only some of us can be truly good at it.
  • Who has access to the training and education? Everyone (like a magic public school system) or only those with the ability/privilege to seek and/or hire a tutor or teacher?
  • What do those who can't afford or access that education do? (One possibility is underground layman training schools. What happens in Magic Fight Club stays in Magic Fight Club!  Lev Grossman addressed this issue in a fascinating way through his Julia character in his Magicians trilogy.)
  • Is there regulation of magic, and if so, who wields this regulatory authority? Who abuses it?
2. Magic is readily available but access to it requires a certain special "sensitivity" or ability (i.e., the Jedi and the Force). That ability, however, is a random trait not limited to or by any social, physiological, or biological factor including genetics (Pretty much the opposite of the Skywalker scenario).
  • The same questions I had above apply to this situation as well.
  • It's inherently not egalitarian for those who don't have the ability or sensitivity to access magic.
  • Maybe family aristocracies don't exist, but what if some magic users work together to increase their power through cooperative efforts--the many against the one, the oligarchy against the lone practitioner?
3. Magic is contained in objects rather than people or the environment. Anyone who possesses the object can wield its magic.
  • This is a lot like any limited resource. Those who are already rich and powerful are the ones most likely to control the objects. (Oh, but how cool would it be to do a story about a gang of magical thieves who steal and trade these on a magical black market? I'm sure that story already exists, right? But still...*stashes idea in mental filing folder for later*).
  • The haves inherently oppress the have-nots, whether they mean to or not.
  • Where the heck does the magic in these objects come from in the first place? Maybe they are gifts from a divine entity and are therefore limited. Or could an ambitious person find the magic source and make *more* magical objects, thereby leveling the magic "playing field".
4. Magic bestowed by an environmental factor: i.e., the radioactive spider-bite. AKA the Superhero Scenario. This is a slight variation on #2, above.
  • While it avoids the legacy/inheritance factor, it's still inherently not egalitarian because only those who encounter the environmental factor (and survive it!) benefit from the "magic".
  • Could the environmental factor be reproduced so that more than one person could benefit from it?
5. Magic bestowed by a divine being.
  • Sort of like the super-hero scenario, but instead of a radio-active spider, or gamma rays, or military experimentation, power is bestowed by another being of power. (see Shazam/Captain Marvel as an example)
  • Inherently not egalitarian for those who aren't "chosen" to receive this blessing.
See Also: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

6. Magic places.
  • Magic is confined to a certain area but is available to anyone who can reach that place. Ex: the standing stones in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series (In those books, the ability to use the stone circles' magic, however, was an inherited trait ((although, in some cases, the application of sorcery or "spells" overcame genetic limitations)).
  • Limits magic use to only those who can physically access these places.
If you're curious to know, my Work-In-Progress is utilizing the scenario in example number two above. Alternatives to aristocracy was a theme I really wanted to explore--not so much in the dialogue or narrative but more in the worldbuilding--a magical world fundamentally lacking a hierarchy and the ways people (particularly the antagonists) try to overcome that limitation. The way I'm attempting to address that issue is with complete randomness--those with the ability to manipulate magic are extremely rare, and the trait appears arbitrarily with no known genetic factor that can be replicated or bred. It's not a perfect system and some inequality inevitably exists--without social conflict or a break in the status quo, the characters have little impetus to act. The villains hunger for more power and the heroes fight to keep that from happening--not a new idea but hopefully, at least, a fresh interpretation. In a few more months I expect to have a finished product to show you, and hopefully a real title for it too.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Scares That Care Autopsy

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey, everybody!  Forgive me if this post is brief.  It's already after 11:00 pm on Monday and I haven't even gotten around to starting this post.  My new small business is opening this week (more on that next month) so that didn't make it the greatest time in the world for me to attend the greatest con in the world...but of course, how could I not?

Scares That Care is a 501 (c) (3) registered charity and one that is entirely deserving of your donation right now, whatever time that is in the year.  They are always accepting donations. 

Scares That Care Weekend, of course, was this past weekend in Williamsburg, VA, and it is a time when horror aficianados, both professionals and fans, gather from (literally) all over the world to do some good and indulge in their love of horror.  I've been delighted to attend for the past four years. 

The legendary Paul Tremblay expresses his support for myself, Aaron Dries, and Patrick Lacey
My weekend actually began on Wednesday (I know, right?) because Matt and Anna Hayward were in town from Ireland (remember how I said people come from around the world) for the convention.  It was lovely to take a deep breath before the plunge.  My greatest regret every year is that I can't have the long, intimate conversations with all of the attendees, or even just the ones I count as friends.  There are just too many people I know and love to do that, and so, inevitably, every year I come away feeling that I shafted someone.  But I like to think that by now people understand how conventions are and that it's like trying to catch lightning bugs in a bottle: you will really only be able to catch so many in one (or four) evenings.

My trip to Williamsburg was largely uneventful, albeit plagued by miserable traffic around Washington D.C.  The first night there I did something I've actually never done in four years: got in the hotel pool.  I'd forgotten how much I loved swimming until I went to Knoebels earlier this year and found it was utterly unfeasible to get into the pool there without waiting in line for hours and then paying exorbitant amounts.  I promised myself I'd swim at least a bit at STC, and I did.

David Barbee admires a bullfrog's various attributes at the Bizarro Power Hour-ish
Friday morning I got to really get to know my tablemate, Aaron Dries, of Canberra, Australia.  (I told you it was genuinely international.)  Aaron is a sweetheart, and gives Jonathan Janz a run for his money for making every single person who stops by the table feel like the most important person in the universe.  And to be clear, in neither of those cases do I think the guys are pandering.  It's their very genuineness, I think, that makes them so charming and appealing.  Meanwhile, here I am, an overweight, frumpy little hack trying to live off of reflected glory.

In any case, largely thanks to Aaron taking pity on me and redirecting most of his customers in my direction, sales Friday were quite robust.  They dropped off a bit Saturday, but overall I was very, very pleased with the weekend.  I'd have to check my records, but I believe it was my biggest financial success for a convention ever.  Of course, my financial success is really not what a charity convention is all about, so I like to think that I did a bit to contribute to the charity by participating in some really compelling programming.

The contenders in the Bizzaro Power Hour-ish: (from L to R) myself, David Barbee, Scott Cole, Andersen Prunty, Eric Hendrixson, and John Wayne Communale
My first quality programming came Thursday night with the trivia contest.  I was pleased to take the highest score of the night (2600, bitches!) but had to hand off my prize to my competitor.  It was fans vs professionals, and as hokey as it sounds I feel like my job as a professional (ha!) at a convention is to make the fans happy.

Friday I had the unusual honor of interviewing the legendary Jonathan Maberry.  If you missed it, you did indeed miss something.  I had no idea what a profoundly fascinating life Mr. Maberry has led, and really, while I want to share everything he talked about, I feel like it's not my place.  Well, all right.  One little thing: he saved Stevie Nicks's life once.  It was funny and heartbreaking and all points in between.  And I also got the chance to right a little wrong I've always felt terrible about.  The first time I met him, I interrupted his drink at a bar (yeah, I was that guy) so I was finally able to make it right by mixing some fine Bombay Sapphire martinis for us to enjoy as we talked with the audience.

I had a great reading on Sunday with Jeff Strand, but I'm skipping over Saturday for a reason I'll get back to.  Jeff was on point, particularly with a piece about being served fish at a restaurant that was by a wide margin the most gut-busting of the several short pieces we each read.  It must be heard to be properly appreciated.

I also got to witness readings by Kenzie Jennings (impressive), Somer Canon (hilarious), Wile E. Young (absorbing), Dan Padavona (heartwrenching), Aaron Dries (theatrical), and Wesley Southard (meh.)  I'm just busting chops, of course.  If I don't bust your chops, trust me, I don't really care for you.  And by that metric the only person I love more than Wes is my girlfriend.  His reading was actually really impressive, both the piece and the performance. 

And now we come to the elephant in the room, which is hard for me to describe without sound like a completely self-absorbed asshole, but I guess I'll try anyway: the Bizarro Power Hour-ish.  When I was preparing my readings for the convention (pro tip, kids: always prepare fresh material at least once a year for conventions) I realized I wasn't writing a straight reading, I was writing a bizarro reading.  Early this year I heard Carlton Mellick III's story about a Conan the Barbarian-type who just wanted to talk about his nipples and I really, really wanted to write something like that.  But, of course, shit like that is ephemeral and, of course, it didn't come until I was bashing my head against the wall trying to write a decent more standard reading.  But then when it came I was certain I had just shat gold upon the page.

I knew there was a Bizarro event at STC, but I wasn't sure if it was open invitation or not.  So I lobbied some of the convention staff to let me in, and while I didn't want to take advantage of my connections, I also really, really wanted to do this reading.  Unfortunately, a few of the participants weren't able to make it to the convention.  As sad as that was for the people involved, it was a stroke of luck for me, because I no longer felt like I was weaseling a place on the panel.  In fact, I felt like I was being helpful.  Little did the other participants know, though, of the solid steel atomic turd I had hiding in my pocket, glistening, waiting for them to finish their presentations.

Scott Cole, I would say, did the most straightforwardly (I guess that's a contradiction in terms?) bizarro piece, an excerpt from his book SLICES.  David Barbee gave a thrilling rendition of the butthole song with a frog puppet.  I was a little drunk and horribly nervous, so I don't entirely remember what Eric Hendrixson and Andersen Prunty did, but John Wayne Communale's piece was dissertation on getting really, really high, which I sympathized strangely with at that period.

And then I went on.

I have never seen an audience laugh so hard.  Maybe at a professional comedian.  Like name-level.  I mean, I thought it was going to go over well, but I was shocked when I saw the laughter become uncontrollable.  This may come as a surprise to those in the audience that night, but I had actually carefully timed and calibrated my piece, but the waves of laughter were simply so powerful that I had to adjust entirely.  I've never been in that situation before.  In a word, it went over like gangbusters.

And then the accolades poured in.  I was told I "broke" several people.  The bizarro veterans in attendance who, I assume, had never heard of me before tonight, were hurrying up to shake my hand and discuss, at length, the virtues of circumcision. 

So the Bizarro Power Hour-ish was the highlight of my con, although, of course, the real highlight of the con for everyone involved is the chance to help out victims of burns and cancer.  If you have not been, I really hope you'll consider attending next year.  And now to post this just under the midnight wire and...done!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Clare Mulvany and Michael Warden - Authors on Tap

By Cheryl Oreglia

Author Clare Mulvany, is an author I met at the OnBeing Gathering, she stems from Ireland and says of the gathering, "The On Being Gathering was a huge adventure for me. It was so encouraging to feel part of a wider network of people who are also working to build a better world for future generations. I will never forget meeting the giant redwood trees at the venue, they had a deep effect on me, reminding me to think beyond our span of time. I’m still in touch with quite a number of people from the Gathering and it feels like there is much more to come!"

Clare did not grow up with books, but she did grow up with play and magic. She said, "our house was one which cherished childhood and our door was always open to the menagerie of children on our street in Dublin. Strangers were welcomed; generosity was a given. We had a plum tree in our back garden which gave so much fruit it fed half the neighborhood. To give away was to receive; to play and explore was priority. I owe all that to my parents. It is a foundation which only later in life do I really appreciate for its rarity."

Is anyone else interested in knowing when Clare knew she wanted to become a writer? Writing has been a lifeline for her. Something her eleven year old self knew would be a good thing, and it was then that she picked up a journal and never stopped writing. Her journal today is a constant companion. All her works stem from this personal, daily practice of capturing her thoughts, ideas, observations, insights and inspirations on the pages. Clare says, "I think journalling it one of the best gifts to give to ourselves, and it is a gift that keeps on giving."
Does Clare see her writing as a passion for social justice, occupational subject, business ethic, lifestyle, self-reflective, spiritual practice, fictional, historical, or story-teller? I realize I listed a lot of subjects but she's brave and dove right in. "Before thinking of myself as I writer, I think of myself as a storyteller. I am driven to find and narrate new narratives for our time, asking myself what is the story that the world needs now? I am curious about how our cultural narratives inform, and transform, our social policies and practices. ‘A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves. Sick storytellers make nations sick’, said the writer Ben Okri, and I am interested in that eternal enquiry: How do we tell a better story for our time?"

Clare went on to explain her fascination with the role of narrative in our personal lives: what is the story we are telling of ourselves and how does that story shape how we show up in the world. If we can change the story we tell of ourselves, can we change how we perceive our value, worth and place in the world. Stories then are like maps, and we the eternal explorers. 

She said writing is part of the storytelling arsenal, one of the tools she uses to navigate in the world. She said, "I use it as both barometer and compass. When I am unsure of what to do next, I take to the blank page. When I am trying to unmuddle a muddle, the blank page calls. Each time, as the words unfold themselves and arrange themselves in new orders on this blank canvas, I can find a thread in the muddle, tug at it, and with time, allow the muddle to unravel."

From a personal perspective, writing has been one of Clare's ways of serving the world. She started a youth magazine, she's written copy and articles for the non-profit sector, scripts for short documentaries, blogged for 10+years, written for online publications, designed learning programs and curriculum. 

Clare published her own book entitled One Wild Life: A journey to discover people who change our world (available at Amazon). It is an account of an eleven month journey around the globe to interview social entrepreneurs about their life stories. She is also a photographer and her words accompany her images. She says, "the space between these- the text and the image-  holds a magic too: the space for imagination, interpretation and meaning making." 

Clare is interested in the intersection of things; where art meets science, where social justice meets art, where spirituality and entrepreneurship both collide and combine. She said, "I started writing mainly about social innovation and creativity but now my work increasingly is reaching into these intersectional spaces to explore new combinations, patterns and hopefully can shed a light on new ways at looking at things- if only for myself. This excites me and keeps me showing up to the blank page!"

She is also working on a memoir at the moment, drawn to the power and role of story in her own life. She's been diving into the silences in her own family lineage, and following the story of how those silences have rippled through the generations. Her story ultimately finds its way to the sea, the memoir in one sense is a homage to the redemptive power of wildness, nature and the landscape of our bodies within this sea of our own individual experience. 

When asked about her primary audience she said, "Me! I write to make sense of things. If my words are useful, then that’s a bonus. When I am writing, I tend also to think of the people who are on my mailing list and network- I want to serve these people with useful resources, links, ideas and tools. Readers range from those interested in the question which Mary Oliver so eloquently poses, ‘So, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life’, and those interested in tools and practices for leading their own one wild life. My readership crosses the business, entrepreneurial, yoga/ spirituality and social innovation worlds. Many are women, who really want to step up and lead new ways of being in the world.

The mission or focus of Clare's work is constantly evolving. She said, "right now, it is to host more learning experiences and journeys for people to support them in their quests to figure out what it is they want to do with their one wild life, and then providing tools and practices to honor their choices. So that involves hosting gatherings and retreats here in Ireland, leading online learning programs, and of course, writing. The world is changing so much and more and more we need people with creative skills, empathy, and practical tools for building new ways of being in the world." 

I snooped around about her networking style and asked how she promotes her mission? Yes, I was digging for tips. She said, "replace the word networking with conversations, and it all becomes easier. What are the conversations you want to contribute to? Where are those happening? How can you be of service to that conversation? Who else is having it and who else can you invite into it?  It’s about building relationships, trust, webs and weaves of interconnections. In this light, it also is about reciprocity; creating circles of connection which has a natural flow between give and receive. You invest time, energy, intention and in return you get to withdraw time, energy and intention. It’s not a linear give and take."  

She believes what one does in the world is probably one of the least interesting things about the person, but who you are, how you show up in the world, who you want to be when you grow up- these are interesting questions to Clare.

When asked how much contact she has with other writers?
She said, "I make it a practice to connect with other creative thinkers. Musicians, artists, innovators, design thinkers, environmentalists, film-makers, entrepreneurs; people who are asking big questions and figuring out new ways of making work happen. I am very lucky in Ireland, and particularly here in West Cork- I am surrounded by writers, artists and creative thinkers. I only have to go to the local coffee shop and spark a conversation!"

So then I entered into the sticky topic of research and how important it is to her writing? She said it depends on what she is writing and that when research becomes procrastination, it is time to write! So true.

Clare is fortunate to live on the beautiful west coast of Ireland. She simply walks out to the shore and writes there. When the weather is bad, she takes to a lovely coffee shop, overlooking the harbour in her village, and writes with the sea by her side. She loves to work late at night: fire lit, candles lit, my little dog snuggled up, the silence enveloping it all. However, she tries not to be dependent on any of that to be able to write. She's written on buses, trains, planes, in petrol stations, in the back of pick-up trucks driving across dirt tracks, or in boring queues. She doesn't want to wait for ‘the right conditions’. The conditions can help, but should never curtail the writing process. 

Clare advises, "Read. Read. Read. Write. Read. Read. Read. Write. Writing is a practice and a craft. There is always more to learn, more ways to experiment and explore. Whenever I feel I am falling into the formulaic, I try to read outside of my comfort zone and learn from a different genre. More and more I find this essential to how I think and how I can show up in a spirit of service in the world. I love reading children’s books, and poems by children. There is often a simplicity and truth in them which brings me back to the essentials." 

When asked if writing was her primary work? She said, "my work right now has a few strands. I am a creative mentor, supporting people through their own creative and leadership journeys, with practical tools and accountability to keep up the momentum. I have recently also launched writing and leadership retreats here in West Cork, Wild Edge Retreats- I want more people to experience the power and magic of this place- a wonderful place to write, create, think big and explore the ‘what’s next’ in your life. I also host online learning programs, including one about the celtic seasonal calendar and living and working seasonally, and have a few more courses in development. Writing helps me to weave all of that together."

I asked how active she was on social media because I need a template myself? I wanted to know if she found this essential, burdensome, or just part of being a writer? Honesty counts! "I’d say I am very active; but I have had to put some boundaries up too - mostly for my own mental wellbeing. I use Facebook and Instagram for sharing my writing and connecting with others; but I find the constant noise of ‘stories’ and ‘streams’ very challenging. I try to plan out my communications and before I post anything, I ask myself, ‘how is this being of service? I frequently turn off the phone and the internet so I can have extended focus time. When I slip and fall back in the constant scrolling syndrome I find it has an impact of my mood and motivation- so I have to really careful, like so many of us I am sure."

My final question, what does literary success look like to you? 
She said, "to keep writing, no matter what. I’d like to publish more books - I have a few on the go- but the primary aim to to keep learning, keep curious. The books will come from that. 

Her final thought to our readers, "stay curious." 

Link to Clare Mulvany Website 

Michael Warden attended the first annual OnBeing Gathering 2018, hosted by none other than the beloved Krista Tippett. He was one of the four hundred invitees eager to engage, immerse, and challenge the way we participate in civil conversations. We all walked away “nourished, emboldened, accompanied” as beautifully noted by Krista Tippett
I had to start the interview in honor of Krista Tippett's famous first question concerning significant childhood influences. Michael writes, “I grew up in a highly dysfunctional environment which prompted me from an early age to seek creative ways of escape. I discovered books quite early and fell in love with them almost immediately. The stories I read took me out of my context and honed my imagination, so that before long I took to creating my own made-up adventures, which I wrote or just acted out in that way kids do so effortlessly. Those early experiences prepared my imagination for writing fantasy fiction later in life.”
The son of a pastor, Michael explains that spirituality was a core focus in his early life, “my dad served as both as Christian pastor and then later as a missionary throughout my childhood and adolescence, so a big chunk of my early life focused on the idea of God and the spiritual realm and what it meant to live in connection with those things. My own experiences of God started very early in my life, and continue to this day. They continually inspire me to engage my writing not just as a skill, but as a spiritual practice, which is to say, I write as a way to know God, to better understand life and what it means to be truly human.” I love the tapestry of life, there are no wrong answers, just diverse ways of being in the world.
While I was chasing boys, Michael was an early player on the literary front, he started his first novel in the 6th grade, “a riveting adventure about a motley crew of five quirky individuals who were the only escapees from an alien takeover of the entire world. There was a grisly but good-hearted captain of an old space barge, a professor, a movie star, a country girl, and…you see where this is going?” Michael inadvertently lifted the characters from a popular sitcom called Gilligan’s Island. He regrets throwing the novel in the trash because it would be hilarious (and possibly sentimental) to enjoy a visit with his younger self.
Michael sees his writing as a way to connect with God and inspire others to as well. “It’s also my primary form of inquiry. I’ve kept a journal since I was a child, and it’s always been my way in to exploring and understanding life better. In public arenas, such as my blog, or in my novels, I see writing as a provocative invitation to explore, experience, or think about something differently than perhaps you have before."
He wants his writing to inspire change, "sometimes that means speaking directly to social issues I care about, but more often I speak to the transformation of the self, the process of becoming whole as an individual, and living fully from that place in a way that naturally transforms the world for the better. To me, the need for each of us to heal up and grow up into our Truest, Highest Self is the issue at the root of all the other problems we face as a species. It’s like that saying, ‘I’ve seen the problem, and it is us.’" #truth
Epic or high fantasy is Michael’s fictional genre targeting “anybody who loves fantasy and science fiction. In the nonfiction realm he explores his own spirituality and tends to connect with people from opposite ends of the spectrum, those deeply immersed in mystic Christian traditions, or those far removed from Christianity, yet passionate about their own spiritual journey."
When asked about writing rituals Michael revealed some usual practices, “I live in the Colorado Rockies, with an office full of windows that offers and expansive view of the mountains. So you’d think I’d write staring off into the wonder of all that beauty. But in fact, the opposite is true. When I write, I close the blinds, turn off the lights and light a single candle across the room from where I sit at my laptop. When I write, I go to far off places in my imagination. Anything that ties me to my immediate environment, even a panorama of mountains, only serves as a distraction.”
Michael is a life coach, “I used to work full time as a freelance writer, but found that tying an income to my writing had a way of choking out my enjoyment and creativity around writing. Now I can write whatever I want, without having to worry about whether it will sell.” You can enjoy Michael’s blog at
He enjoys connecting with inspirational people, whether writers or not, so I dropped the social media question in his lap, “I used to hate social media, particularly as a requirement for growing a platform. I’ve mellowed in recent years, however, and now focused on finding ways to have fun with it. I think seeing social media as a chore comes across to the person on the other end. If that’s your attitude, it’s probably best not to do it at all.” Good advice.
As I worked my way to the most important question on how the Gathering changed, illuminated, embodied, directed, focused, or most importantly connected his work to others? Michael writes, “I definitely see myself as a cultural bridge builder. I can speak across difference, and help shine a light on the threads of our common humanity. The OnBeing Gathering only deepened my sense of that in myself, my commitment to it, and inspired my courage by exposing me to so many other people, in all walks of life and belief, who are largely up to the same thing. Together, I really believe we can bring the world together.”
Currently focused on finishing a trilogy Michael will “see what success looks like after that.” (for my blog, and coaching work)

When I'm not writing for Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, interviewing authors, finding my place in the world.

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