Monday, September 30, 2019

Why Being an Author is Like Being a Small Business Owner

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey, everybody!  Hopefully you haven't found me too terribly out of sorts lately, but I have been burning the candle at all three (?) ends between my day job, writing, and...

(drumroll please)

I am now the co-owner of a small business!  I don't want this post to be all about that, but I'm sure you'll have some questions, so the deal is:

- I bought a balloon store
- It's in central Pennsylvania and while external support is nice, our customer base is local
- No, I don't know anything about balloons, but my partner and our staff are awesome
- No, we don't make balloon animals
- Yes, the helium shortage is a real thing
- No, we don't have any special helium connections

So what am I doing for the business exactly?  Well, I'm running the numbers and doing some social media, so, yay Blog Number Three!

What's struck me in the last few months, though, is how much the skills I've developed as an indie author translates to being a small business owner.  This probably comes as no surprise to any other authors out there, but it may be interesting to our readers and aspiring authors.

The TL;DR for this post is: being an indie author means you are a small business owner.

Writing is a craft, an art, and in some cases a vocation, which is why people can forget that it's a business as well.  You're selling books.  In many cases, you're not just selling books, you're actively aspiring to sell books full time.  Should you ever achieve that goal, you will be a one-person business.  (Or, possibly more.  You could hire an assistant, for instance, but at the end of the day the paychecks are coming in because of you and what you're writing.)

Now, I know it may not be true that you're trying to sell books.  There are some people who simply give away their work for the love of having it out there, or, in fact, don't show their work to anyone at all, a la Emily Dickinson or Henry Darger.  If that's the case, then God bless you for it, God bless you for the purity of your dedication to your art.  But at that point you are a hobbyist, and since the purity of your art is the point of your art, then there is no advice I, or for that matter, anyone else can give you that would be of any value.  And since this post is writing advice, I'm going to table that discussion for now and focus on pro authors, and those seeking to become pro authors.

So what does being a pro author entail?  It entails selling your books, which means you need to be reasonably good with money and finances.  You need to, at a minimum, track your sales, through your various platforms and hand-selling at conventions, signings, and the like.  It means you need to maintain and keep track of inventory for hand-selling, which means you have to make certain predictions about how much inventory you will need, and then order it in time for events.  These are all the very basic fundaments of business.

But it goes beyond that, as well.  One of the first things we had to do with the balloon shop was establish our brand, which is all wrapped up in this handsome logo right here:

We came up with a name that represented how we wanted people to think of our business: not just as a balloon store for kids, but an art studio for sophisticated clients.  An author, too, in many cases, has to decide on a name or a pen name which represents their work, whether it be a compelling element of their genre or just a strong but ultimately generic name.  In certain gender-dominated genres you may wish to choose initials to portray a gender-neutral or even counterfactual gender for marketing purposes.

But marketing doesn't stop with a name.  We came up with a logo and a website to capture the public persona we wanted to project.  And, of course, as an author, you'll be projecting a persona as well.  Now, don't take that as me saying that you need to make up a whole new person.  Just consider how you would act in a business setting - completely professional if you're in a very uptight setting, or perhaps with a bit of humor or charisma if you're in a more performative setting.  It's not that you're faking who you are, you're just projecting different aspects of yourself. 

Now don't get me wrong.  Your author persona may also be completely made up.  I doubt Chuck Tingle really acts that way, for instance.  But most likely your author persona will be some version of your real self, somewhat curated for public consumption.  (Not unlike social media in general, now that I think of it.)

What about marketing?  One of the first things we did for the store was to order cards.  As an author, your "card" will probably be a bookmark - but, of course, you can also make a card.  You'll also want to look into advertising.  For a small business, that may consist of local newspapers, billboards, or small donations to raise your profile.  Similarly, as an author, you'll be looking into book blogs, marketing sites, and giving away ARCs (or advanced review copies) of your books.

The similarities go on, and I could go on for days, but I think you're starting to see the picture.  And to be honest, I've directly ported a lot of the skills I learned while marketing myself as an author to the balloon shop.  For instance, starting a blog and a newsletter.  How about you?  What skills have you brought from your business work to writing, or vice versa?

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Patterns - In Words - In Life

By Cheryl Oreglia

Humor me for a moment and imagine a pile of words as if a clump of clay, siting lifeless on the table, until the artist comes along and molds it into some sort of shape. Right? Before one word is selected, or the skill of the artist is applied to the clay, in that moment the possibilities are endless. It's the most enticing and frightening part of the process for me.

As I stare at the unformed page, organizing my thoughts, censoring nothing as waves of words ebb and flow through my mind, it's an exciting moment, full of tension, a touch of fear, and unquestionable elation. I have always aspired to shape my 1,500 word posts into something worthy of display, as if a work of art, a piece that inspires the reader to stop and ponder it's meaning.

After hours of sculpting, a rustic image begins to appear, but I believe it takes enormous courage to lift the cloth, boldly revealing that which you have cast, intentionally or not some hidden aspect of the self is always unveiled.

"Soul animates body to make a living being, just as form animates matter to make a piece of art," claims Jane Alison in her recent book Meander, Spiral, Explode. If formation and pattern are the soul of our narratives than I think it might be worthy of our consideration?

There are many ways to write, the most popular having something to do with an arc, meaning historically a story has been defined or burdened with a beginning, middle, and end - And they lived happily ever after - a narrow but classic closure. The truth is there are many ways to weave a story and often without knowing we use various strategies and patterns when we write. This is the personality of your work and as with people it can be charming or annoying or boring, or worse unengaging and we simply loose the audience we so painstakingly enticed.

Strangely enough when you explore structures of writing we find they mimic fundamental patterns in nature! It's all so pleasantly rural. Look around you, everything is patterned, this can be comforting, and distressing at the same time. Right in front of me are patterned blinds shading me from patterns of light filtering into the room, below me is a patterned tiled floor. I'm sitting on a patterned chair beside a patterned brick fireplace and layered wooden mantle. The plants I have scattered about the room in an attractive pattern are patterned with leaves and flowers. Outside the tree and bushes form an attractive pattern. It's extraordinary when you stop and look around. Even the keyboard I use to type this piece is patterned along with my daily schedule and patterns of sleep.

Oh my, the webs we weave are adhesive as hell.

We have distinctive ways of organizing our stories, usually they fall in the form of Parataxis or Hypotaxis. Parataxis being a linear form: She walked into the kitchen, filled her cup, reached for the morning paper, and decided to spend her morning on the patio basking in the sun. As opposed to Hypotaxis which is a more spacial form of writing, it bounces, and lingers leaving the action hanging in favor of comparative relations among the elements: It could have been the crows gathering in the Magnolia tree for their morning chat, or the aroma of freshly brewed coffee that moved her thoughts in a deadly direction, she had to shut that shit down, and snuggled more deeply into her voluminous pillow muffling the wayward solicitations and fetor of scalding java.

I am a Hypotaxis writer, the story draws me into the underlying symbols, but it is the meaning embedded in our stories that I find so titillating. How about you?

Jan Alison says it's not about what happens next but instead weaving a net whose design you can't see until it is finished. Sometimes when I'm reading a novel that uses this approach, someone like Ruth Ware, I literally have to use all of my inner strength not to peek at the final pages, I have to manage this uncomfortable tension between knowing and not knowing, which only serves to heightens the suspense. Let me just say the struggle is real and I failed while reading her last novel.

I've sought to create powerful narratives that hint at embedded structures but avoid the simplicity of the classic arc, structures that create an inner sensation of traveling toward something and leave a sense of shape behind, so that the stories feel organized - not just slice of life writes Jan Alison. Stories like The Sound and the Fury, The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice to name a few.

Think of the motion of the waves at the beach and how a pattern such as that can be assigned to our stories, waves of action roll in and recede, tides of thought rise and fall, "a drama with swelling and collapsing tensions," it can be as magnetizing as the ocean. Jan Alison says a wave is a clear instance of energy charging static matter until that energy is spent and equilibrium returns, elegant and satisfying. I liken it to the feeling I get when riding a Ferris wheel or roller coaster.

We have to consider the experience of the reader as they absorb the essence of the story, our goal is to pull them in, keep them in our world, until it becomes their own. Think of a story that moves like a tornado, swirling, spiraling across the page, sort of reminds me of the Wizard of Oz, with all the unexpected twists and turns, kindness and generosity playing beside devastation and destruction.

Patterns are everywhere, we like patterns, it is our nature to pattern our lives in some sort of fashion, it makes us feel not only safe but sacred, as if our life is an efficacious ritual, our deepest desires miraculously manifest in the center of routine. This is the same with story, readers are drawn to patterns in your writing. It makes me think of architecture, bee hives, quilts, paintings, textiles, flooring, even the way the grass is mowed. These patterns need to find their way into the DNA of our stories.

So it is a personal challenge that I will go in search of ways to interest my readers by using unexpected patterns, white space, repetition, texture, symmetry, and wavelike stripes, that work beyond the narrative to create motion and appeal, as if an invitation to the reader, come, join us, stay.

What are some of your favorite stories and what sort of patterns do you use in the molding of your tale?

When I'm not writing for Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, drop by anytime.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Ten Authors I Wish I’d Discovered Sooner

I became an avid reader at a young age. However, I grew up on an island that’s roughly 100 miles long by 35 miles wide, so there weren’t many choices in terms of bookstores. Between the lack of places to purchase literature and my anemic finances, my options were limited to whatever was on sale at the only Borders on the island. That means I read a lot of Jeffrey Deaver, James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell, Stephen King, Pablo Neruda, and Michael Connelly. I’m sure they became an indiscernible part of my DNA as a reader, so I don’t hide the fact that I read them. In any case, the internet wasn’t a choice for me until my last year of high school, so Amazon was also out of the question for that first half decade of devouring books. Thankfully, my father was also a reader and I received many books from him. What I couldn’t get that way or find at an affordable price, I either stole from the school’s library or wrote down on a list that never got any shorter. I’m not proud of having stolen books from the library, but the first book I stole, Horacio Quiroga’s Tales of Love, Madness and Death, for example, changed my life. After all that changed and I could order books online, I became an even more dedicated reader and my nights were spent in the company of authors who helped shape me not as a reader but as a writer. Their influence is something I feel even today. I’m not talking about copying styles, but about something more profound, something that goes far beyond my appreciation for James Ellroy’s telegrammatic style, Julia de Burgos’ way of anthropomorphizing nature, or Richard Laymon’s straightforward brutality. What I’m talking about is my writer DNA, the cumulative elements that in various ways lead to my voice or that at least gave me the push to keep writing and find it. Nowadays I write multicultural, multilingual, violent fiction steeped in syncretism and superstition, and I’m incredibly happy with that. However, I often wonder what my writing would be like if I’d had a chance to read some authors earlier in life. Here are, in no particular order, the ten I wonder about the most:

10. Henry Miller

Some consider the man a genius and others think of him as no more than a libidinous hack. For me, he masterfully walks the line between the two. His work is beautiful, deep pulp. His observations on art are art themselves and when he gets down and dirty, he doesn’t pull any punches. This duality is something I try to achieve; to dance on that dividing line between what most call literary fiction and the blood, sweat, tears, and other bodily fluids of the literary gutter. Every time I find myself editing a paragraph in which I, to a degree, find that balance, I wonder how Miller’s prose would have helped shaped the malleable mind of a 14-year-old who desperately wanted to share his own stories.

9. Gwendolyn Brooks

Strangely enough, I devoured poetry as regularly as I did crime and horror in my early years. Oliverio Girondo, Mario Benedetti, Julia de Burgos, and Federico García Lorca quickly became favorites. Many years later, already living in the U.S., I encountered the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, online and almost by accident. Short, sweet, playful, and surprising in its depth, especially in his shorter poems, her work forced me to rediscover and rethink rhythm, to explore once again the way words can force you to read them a certain way because the author has infused them with the power to set the tone and rhythm in the mind of the reader.

8. Jim Thompson

My crime education was packed with books by Elmore Leonard, John le Carré, whom I found a touch boring but read because his books were around, and the aforementioned James Ellroy, among others. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I moved to Texas that I finally acquired a few Jim Thompson books. His work blew me away. His novels were full of violence, unreliable narrators, surprisingly odd structures, and bizarre inner monologues, but those elements somehow added up to outstandingly beautiful crime novels. I’ve always walked on the weird side of things, and have no doubt Thompson would have helped me land on the right path much sooner if only I’d been lucky enough to have access to his novels earlier in life.

7. Cormac McCarthy

I’ve written extensively about the backlash my bilingual fiction has received, and every negative comment or angry 1-star review that complains about the Spanglish always reminds me of my first encounter with McCarthy’s work. Here was an author who wrote using his own set of rules, and he was respected and lauded for it. To this day, his work, along with that of authors and academics like Junot Díaz and Gloria Anzaldúa, gives me the strength to push forward and write things they way they demand to be written and not like monolingual readers would like to read them.

6. Mayra Montero

For a long time, I thought of Mayra Montero as a journalist who wrote great articles and opinion columns for my local newspaper. I knew she was a writer, but had no interest in checking out her work. Right before leaving Puerto Rico for Texas, I decided to read In the Palm of Darkness (I read the Spanish edition, Tú, la Oscuridad), and quickly realized that she touched on many of the things that obsessed me: identity, language, mystery, and syncretism. It immediately made me wish I’d started reading her sooner. 

5. Langston Hughes

When craving the stunning beauty that can be found at the heart of poetry, I systematically evade purposefully convoluted poems and turn to the simple, straightforward poems of Langston Hughes. For a young author who reads and writes across genre boundaries, there are times when gratuitously embellished writing seems tempting. Similarly, for young readers and writers, dense writing may seem impressive. Later in life, once many weak, plotless, beautifully written books have been read and deconstructed, it’s almost impossible to go back to that while ignoring how satisfying simplicity can be. I wish I’d learned that sooner, and I’m sure that would have happened if I’d started reading Hughes back when I was reading poets daily before my 18th birthday.

4. Chuck Palahniuk

For years, Palahniuk existed in the periphery of my reading habits. That movie everyone has seen had placed him on my radar, but other books, lack of disposable income, and limited access kept his books away from me. Finally, I dug into his work, years after the aforementioned movie had come out. It was an eye-opening experience. I always leaned toward weirdness, and this man was the patron saint of it. If I decided to study journalism because Hunter S. Thompson was a journalist, I lost all fear of writing bizarre narratives because Palahniuk had been successful doing it. I regret not delving into his novels the second the movie ended.

3.  Edwidge Danticat

There is a collective Caribbean heart at the core of every Danticat novel, and reading her work is master class in how to tap into it. For those inhabiting Otherness, literature can be a weapon, a tool, and a home. I found all those things in Danticat’s work and, as a bonus, developed a little voice in my head that whispers “It’s okay, keep going” whenever I stop to think if my writing is becoming so tied to a specific identity or place that might be alienating for readers. 

2. Patrick Chamoiseau

Chamoiseau, like Danticat, came to me late and thanks to my time at the University of Texas at Austin. Also, like McCarthy, he showed me that mixing languages was not only acceptable but sometimes required in the name of authenticity.  

1. Harry Crews

Crews changed the way I looked at fiction, my understanding of weird, and shaped a few of my views on writing, and he did all of it in the last ten years. Before I moved to the United States, I hadn’t even heard of Harry Crews. His name, like that of Chester Himes and Charles Willeford, two authors who could easily be on this list if it were longer, was one I came across when I started looking for better, stranger fiction that none of my cohorts were talking about. I found it quickly, and I became a huge fan of Crews even faster. It’s impossible not to wonder what twenty years of his words would have done to my brain.

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, professor, book reviewer, and journalist living in Austin, TX. He is the author of ZERO SAINTS and COYOTE SONGS. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Lamenting the (temporary?) lack of reading

Who here has kids? *raises hand*

Who here has kids who are readers? *raises hand halfway*

I have a fourteen-year-old son who was once an avid reader. He struggled as a developing reader and we enrolled him in Kumon, which is a global company and it was AMAZING. It wasn't his favorite thing to do when he was seven by any stretch of the imagination, but even he credits Kumon with his reading abilities today.

That is...his reading abilities when he chooses to use them. Unlike his eight-year-old self who was never without a book, the fourteen-year-old has become a reluctant reader. I'm pretty sure if it were up to him, he'd never read at all for "pleasure", preferring SnapChat, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, PlayStation. Basically, <insert social media platform here> and it supersedes reading.

Thank goodness it's not up to him. A condition of living in our house is that he reads, and it is a habit for him. (I mean, I'm not sure we'd really make him move out, but I tell him all the time that reading is too important a thing to just drop.)He takes his Kindle upstairs to read before bed every night (while all other electronics stay downstairs) and brings it down every morning to read with breakfast. But, the only other time he'll pick up his Kindle "willingly" if he's been rude and had all other electronic devices taken away from him. I guess then reading doesn't seem so bad? Also, he's not stupid. He knows it warms my cold hard heart to see him reading, so it's not a bad way to get back on my good side!

I did an informal poll among my friends and acquaintances about their own teens' reading habits and many had similar stories - their child stopped reading somewhere between ages 12 and 14. If they didn't stop altogether, reading declined significantly. Yes, there are a few whose teens avidly devour book after book, but they were the exception, not the norm. There also didn't seem to be any difference between boys and girls. All were fairly disinterested.

It makes me wonder why, especially with the plethora of YA books these days. I remember being 14 and reading Victoria Holt, with a sneaky side of Jackie Collins. (Um, 14-year-old girls, Jackie Collins' books still exist! Just saying.) Is it the pervasiveness of other forms of entertainment? I absolutely think this is a factor. Or is it the medium?

The Boy doesn't read print books anymore and he hasn't in a couple of years at least. We originally loaded up an old Kindle for him when we were going on holiday rather than carry several paperbacks, but now the Kindle is his preference, hands down. Is it because it's another screen? Maybe? Or is it because of the immediate gratification? That's why I love ebooks so much. I'm sure there's an element of that with him, as well.

My husband thinks The Boy is learning a habit in reading at bedtime and at breakfast and that this will be his habit out of choice when he's older, too. The Boy, of course, says once he moves out he'll never read another book again. I think he says this to wind me up, but I'm not really sure. I hope not because I can't imagine a life without the comfort and company of books. But am I just being old-fashioned? What about your kids, if you have them? Do they still read? And if they stopped, did they come back to it?

Monday, September 16, 2019

How to Write a Story in One Day

A post by Mary Fan
Step One: Commit to something you totally don't have time for.

When YA author Gabriela Martins approached me mid-July to contribute to a charity anthology about queerness and faith, I couldn't say no. Not only was it a wonderful and profound theme, but the proceeds would be going directly into the hands of someone in need. Every instinct was like "YES I WILL CONTRIBUTE." Thing was, it's no secret that I've been tragically behind on all my writing projects for almost a year now. My brain's been floating around in outer space since before the last Christmas season, and I've been spent the better part of 2019 slogging through edits that were supposed to take a few weeks. And because the anthology needed to be out as soon as possible to start helping out the person we were supporting, we had about three weeks to write and submit. The deadline fell the weekend right after Gen Con.

I said yes anyway after finagling a one week extension. I was finally hitting a groove with my WIP edits and didn't want to pause just yet, and also Gen Con preparations plus the con itself took up a whole week by itself. Also, Gen Con always sucks the living Force out of me, and I knew I'd be useless for several days after. But that would still give me a whole week to work on it, I thought.

Cover by Kess Costales
Find it on Gumroad
Step Two: Clear your schedule for one day.

My summer schedule was completely whackadoo. There was a whole monthlong period when I didn't spent a single weekend in my own apartment because I was so busy with trips (all good stuff, but exhausting by the end). Gen Con was the cherry on top of all that. So I blocked out a weekend after (not the one immediately after, but the one after that). No matter what, I told myself, I would make zero plans for that weekend. It was to be my sanity recovery weekend.

Or, as it turned out, my panic-writing weekend.

Step Three: Brainstorm any chance you get.

Even though I knew I wouldn't be sitting down to write my story for a few weeks, I started jotting down ideas whenever they came to me. I was briefly worried I wouldn't be able to come up with something, so I started scribbling EVERYTHING that popped into my head. And it wasn't in a nice brainstorming notebook or anything either. No, it was in emails to myself, random notes on my phone, and haphazardly typed word docs. Often just a fragment here and there.

It would all come together eventually, I told myself. Somehow, it would...

Step Four: Mull.

As the days went by, the guilt started building up. I'd committed to a deadline -- and even received an extension -- but still hadn't written a single word. Gen Con came and went, and I told myself now was the time to hunker down. But I was even more brain-drained than expected and couldn't bring myself to write a single sentence.
A quote from my story.
Graphic by Kess Costales.

Maybe it was because of that guilt that I found myself thinking about my story all the time when I
wasn't actually at a computer. When I was walking down the street, on the subway, in the shower -- even waiting for my turn on the flying trapeze -- I had mental discussions with myself about what I wanted the story to be. I'd settled on a premise at least: A woman uploads her mind into a probe to explore the multiverse, encounters a pre-industrial alternate Earth, is mistaken for a miracle, and faces a moral quandary when she falls in love with a local girl.

While grocery shopping, going to the gym, and commuting, I worked out the overall arc of the story and, perhaps more importantly, the tone I wanted to take. It would be different from my usual explosive action/adventure tales. It would be quiet as a whisper, pensive and blurred around the edges. Somehow, just thinking about it that way helped me develop the voice even though I had no idea what that voice would say

Step Five: Run out of time and write until your fingers fall off.

The deadline was a Saturday. Almost all the other invited authors had already sent in their stories, and following along in the group chat made my guilt grow and grow and grow. Yet somehow I still didn't manage to sit my butt down and write. I blame Gen Con brain (hey, it's a long and taxing con!).

Saturday morning came. This was it -- I was going to open my laptop and not close it again until I had a friggin' story. But even though I'd promised myself no plans, I'd still agreed to go to the farmer's market with a friend. Then even after I got back from that, I just faffed around for no reason.

Procrastination on top of procrastination. By mid afternoon, all I had was a vague outline and the characters' names.

Finally, it hit. When I finally started typing, the story seemed to write itself. I credit all that mulling. 5,000 words made it into the Scrivener document before midnight -- I made my promised deadline. I'll admit, I didn't do as much editing as I would have under ordinary circumstances (I did one quick pass but only tweaked a few grammar things). But I think I'd spent so much time shaping it in my head that by the time it made it onto the page, it felt complete.

The KEEP FAITH e-book was released on September 1, and it's been pretty well received so far! Here's the link, in case anyone's interested: You can also see what readers are saying about it on Goodreads.

We're currently working on the paperback version, and I volunteered to do the formatting because I'm a book interior nerd ;-). Here's a sneak peak...

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Writing the Goddamn Screenplay Already

Hellooooo, Readers!

And helloooo, Autumn. NEPA winters are long so I don't mind when summer ingratiates itself well into October and November. On the other hand, who doesn't relish the break in humidity? Last night, it was a sauna in my house. This weekend, it might only be in the 60s. The pendulum of air pressure can wreak havoc on a girl's sinuses, but who doesn't love changing leaves and apple picking?

And now all my kids are in school. That's right. It's just me and my dog from 9 to 4. I've been working on a little porch decor project, finishing my outline for a detective fic, scouring the job listings, AND finally writing that screenplay.

For years I have been wanting to write a television show, which probably sounds impractical. I'm a mom of three who lives in the Poconos. I'm not getting staffed on a Netflix series. But it is a dream. I think I'm well-suited for TV writing, I just realized it too late. And, sadly, there is such a thing as missing the moment when you have three kids. And yet, screw it.

I asked for Syd Field screenplay books for the holidays. I studied the pilot scripts of my favorite programs. I would listen to film and TV podcasts. But I never got the courage to start my own script. I kept thinking I should just focus on my novel writing. And only novel writing.

But the lure kept tugging.

I deliberated taking a screenwriting workshop, but couldn't justify the expense.

I was afraid it would all be too hard. That I'd get bogged down by the formatting, overwhelmed with camera directions. That I would struggle to describe what was in my head because I would have to write it all from the viewpoint of a camera lens.

I thought, I know I can write, but can I write this?

But I have spent so much time analyzing and examining television. Trying to figure out exactly how a scene I am watching might look on paper. And then I googled screenwriting software and found Writer Solo (shout-out!), a free cloud-based screenwriting program. It's dummy proof. I'm the proof.

Two weeks ago, I opened up the app and set to work adapting my latest novel. After all, I am very familiar with the source material. I know the heroes and the villains. I know what it all looks like. I know the murderer and the string of events to get there.

Do I know how to turn a novel into an eight-episode season? No. 
Have I constructed subplots to round out the story? Not yet.
Am I overwriting? Probably.
Will this ever get picked up? Not in a million years.
Am I having fun? Yes.
Do I want to keep doing it? Yes.

As of now, I have drafted 47 pages of a roughly 60-page script. That's a one-hour show!
It's a draft. I have to go back and see how it compares to proper, finished scripts. I have to have a screenwriter read it, tell me if it's amateurish (which I'm sure it is) and where I should revise.

But the point is, I freaking did it. The thing that scared me is no longer scary.

I seized an opportunity (free software + chunks of uninterrupted time) and did the thing I wanted to do.

I am incredibly proud of myself.

There are lots of writers who work in various mediums--novels, screenplays, journalism. Maybe I can be one of those people.

Because scouring the job ads when you've been out of work for a decade is demoralizing. Because living in a rural area where there isn't a lot of job opportunities for over-educated moms means I need to think bigger than I used to.

It means I need to do the shit that scares me. Now. And not later.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Zodiac Profiles for Writers - Part 1

I’m one of those people who enjoys reading my horoscope. Do I believe it in? To an extent. I do believe in cosmic connections and that we can adapt and grow based on the energy surrounding us, but I don’t necessarily buy into the theory that the stars rule our every movement.

I also think most of the zodiac profiles and character trait descriptions are pretty accurate most of the time. As a result, I thought it’d be fun to look at the zodiac profiles for each of the signs and interpret them for the writers of the world. 

Genre: An Aries writer would stand out in the post-apocalyptic genre. These fearless leaders are used to forging the path for others, and that’s the primary expectation of the hero/heroine in a world desecrated by an unknown or unexplained event.

Writing Habits: An Aries writer wants to get the job done in a quick and effective manner, preferring to be the first to market. Details are not important as long as they can pull the reader along with their captivating, and often terrifying, story-line. Once a project is complete they may look back and notice holes that should have been patched, but there are no regrets. Just deflection and possible lessons learned that will feed into the next project.

Rules: Aries writers set the tone and foundation for which all rules are based upon.

Ideal Writing Location: The Aries writer should be in a central office, surrounded by intimidating artifacts. Bookshelves line the walls with reference materials. Even though they may be coated in dust from lack of use, they are necessary as they convey a sense of authority.

Genre: The steady and reliable Taurus is the ideal series writer. The topic can vary depending on specific interests, but they have the make-up to remain steadfast to their characters/stories across numerous volumes. 

Writing Habits: The Taurus writer knows which topic will be their cash cow, and they will remain dedicated to that endeavor until they’ve milked it for all its worth. They will utilize every rule and formula to their advantage, helping them crank out their work at a speed envied by most other writers. They are likely to be ‘that author’ that readers know they can turn to when they need a book they can count on.

Rules: They want someone to explain the rules to them, and help them ensure they have delivered appropriately.

Ideal Writing Location: A cozy cafe where the aromas and ambiance can help channel their focus onto their craft.

Genre: The Gemini writer finds it difficult to stick to just one genre or type of writing project. They may also find happiness in blending multiple genres into one project. The key is to find a topic where they can channel their energy and emotions.

Writing Habits: They are constantly working on a larger project, such as a novel, while juggling a few smaller ones at the same time, such as blog posts. A scan of their computer might reveal several stalled projects that were abandoned when a new idea took hold. It may also reveal several versions of each project as they changed their mind multiple times on how to write it. Their web browser is likely to have a minimum of 20 tabs open at once as they multitask their way through the day. 

Rules: The Gemini writer will research all the rules, but only follow a few.

Ideal Writing Location: While a Gemini can write in just about any environment that promotes positive energy, they need to be cautious of writing in public locations — their social butterfly tendencies will need to be reigned in if they desire to get any work done.

Genre: A Cancer writer is likely to gravitate towards non-fiction. Whether a financial guide, a lifestyle blog, or a self-help book, these writers are often the experts in their field and have a lot of knowledge to share.

Writing Habits: Focus, focus, focus - that’s the Cancer writer’s mantra. Every topic is researched to the nth degree and efficiency is often sacrificed for accuracy. Nothing will be published until they can feel confident that 99.9999% of all errors are eradicated. 

Rules: The Cancer writer knows that rules are in place for a reason. And they know every single one of them.

Ideal Writing Location: A Cancer writer craves the comfort of their home, and they will be able to perform to their best ability by carving out a dedicated writing space that is neat and organized.

Genre: A Leo writer will flourish in the romance genre. Their heroes are likely to be strong and loyal to their fierce and feisty heroines. 

Writing Habits: They are driven to complete projects and jump right into the next one. If someone were to tell them they couldn’t write about something, they would do it anyway just to prove them wrong. The independent nature of the Leo writer would make a self-published venture a successful endeavor. 

Rules: Rules do not apply to these regal writers.

Ideal Writing Location: A Leo writer will feel most at home writing in public locations where they can be in the spotlight. Knowing people are watching them create greatness is all the fuel they need to drive a WIP to completion.

Genre: The Virgo writer’s desire to process information with meticulous detail would make for a powerful combination in the historical fiction genre. 

Writing Habits: No detail is too daunting in the life of a Virgo writer. They will take all the time necessary to get all the facts straight. They are content to take their time in completing a WIP to ensure it’s as accurate as possible. They are driven to help other writers and are often looked to for advice within the writing community.

Rules: Virgo writers not only know all the rules — across every genre and region, not just the ones that pertain to their topic  they also know how to interpret and process the rules better than anyone around them.

Ideal Writing Location: The most efficient place for Virgos to write is the library where they have access to research, research, and more research.

I’m a Gemini and I totally relate to the description above. (Let’s just ignore the fact that I wrote it for the moment…) Case in point - while writing this post I was also doing laundry, the dishes, researching for my next project, and shopping for supplies for the jewelry my daughter now has me making. And I definitely have more than 20 tabs open in my browser. That’s also why this post will be in two parts. With all my distractions, I only had time to profile half the signs. 

If you’re a writer with any of these signs, let me know in the comments how well I captured your writer persona!

~ Carrie

Thursday, September 5, 2019

This is What My Midlife Crisis Looks Like
In this day of Instagram Influencer mania, when youth is worshiped and celebrated like a massive cult, it's a little hard to admit I'm "Over the Hill".  In my head, I'm still in my twenties, and when I have to give my age, I have to stop and think really hard about it. By the way, it's 41. There, I admitted it out-loud. I'm 41 years old.

I've written a couple of things here in this space and deleted them because they were such cliches about age: the aches that didn't exist before, comfortable shoes, wrinkles and gray hair. But I don't want to go there with this post. "Old" is a universal state with common experiences shared by us all--no need to rehash.  What I'd rather do is reflect on how my awareness of my "progressing maturity" has manifested in ways that might not be so common and familiar and cliche. I think I am experiencing a sort of mid-life crisis (I'd rather call it a renaissance, though) and this is what it looks like:

It started with a trip to the Outer Banks for my 40th birthday. I've pretty much lived in central North
Carolina my whole life. I grew up going to the southern beaches like Emerald Isle, Wrightsville Beach, and Myrtle Beach. I had grandparents who lived on the Bogue Sound at Cape Carteret, and after college, I lived briefly at Carolina Beach and in Wilmington. Although it's only 3 hours away, I never had a reason to visit the northern beaches known nationally as the "Outer Banks," composed mostly of the shoreline from Ocracoke to Corolla along Highway 19. But for my 40th birthday I wanted to celebrate by doing something I'd never done before, so I booked a stay for my family in Nags Head. We did all the obligatory tourist stuff like visiting Jockey's Ridge, the Wright Brother's Memorial, and, of course, Cape Hatteras lighthouse.

That trip was like the first domino sending me tumbling down a path of new experiences. My family is passionate about water sports. My husband and son love to fish. I like to bask in the sun, read books in the shade, or splash around in the water. My son is getting older and we wanted to invest in something that we all loved doing together while we still have him at home with us, so we broke down and got a boat. Some folks get sports cars in their middle-age; we got a pontoon. The dogs possibly enjoy it more than we do.

As fall crept in and the cooler weather put a damper on our outdoor activities, I started planning
In Times Square with Mary
events more compatible with the season, which ended up including a trip to Jersey City and New York City to visit fellow ATB blogger, Mary Fan. If you need inspiration for how to go out and experience life in unique and exciting ways, spend a few days with Mary. We did the New York things like eating, shopping, and Broadway, but I also let her talk me into trying something completely new: aerial silk acrobatics:

If you know Mary, you probably know she's taken the aerial silks to a much higher level, literally and figuratively. She's also becoming super proficient on the trapeze, and I keep waiting for her to announce she's running away with the circus. Spending that weekend with her, hiking all over New York, inspired me even more to not let "old age" hold me back. I used to be very athletic and fit, but busy schedules that come with advancing careers, marriage, and having a kid had sidelined much of that for me. But when I got home from New York I was determined to get back in shape and start pursuing new interests of my own.

In November of 2018, I signed up for the February 2019 Krispy Kreme Challenge: "an annual charity event in which participants run a 5 miles (8.0 km) road course leading to a Krispy Kreme Doughnuts shop, eat one dozen doughnuts (totaling 2,400 calories and 144 grams of fat), and run back to the finish line in under 1 hour." 

I didn't eat all of the donuts and I didn't run the whole time--I have a bad knee that won't accommodate extensive running anymore--but I had spent close to three months training for it and was in much better shape than I had been in a long time. In an effort to continue with my fitness progress, I signed up my son and I for a gym membership, and we actually go on a regular basis. There's this treadmill/stair-climber machine that is both my greatest love and greatest nemesis all in one--it calls to me when I'm away too long.

We went back to the Outer Banks and saw some different lighthouses and looked for wild ponies. I took my son to see a stage performance of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief at the local theater. We renovated our living room, turned our back porch into a laundry room, and opened up the kitchen so we have more space to sit down and have a family meal together. As it turned to summer, we spent more time on the water, and I pursued my newly developed passion for paddling.

You may remembered my post about discovering Hindi cinema (aka "Bollywood". Here's the link to that: Escapism, Bollywood, and the Shirley Temple Effect) and that new, uh, obsession opened me up to even more unique experiences. I signed up for a Bollywood dance class. Talk about getting out of my comfort zone! Feel free to laugh at me. I sure laughed at myself a lot but I had so much fun.

My interest in Indian cinema inspired me to study Hindi language and learn more about the history of south Asia. I finally got an Audible account (after years of making excuses about not having time for audio books) so that I could spend more time on non-fiction--I prefer to listen to non-fiction rather than read it. I've learned about the history of India, have listened to historical Indian mythology epics like the Ramayana and I have started teaching myself Hindi. So far I've managed to learn the Hindi syllabary, and I'm working on vocabulary and grammar now. They say learning a new language is a great way to work out an aging brain and stave off dementia and Alzheimer's. Who knows, but it's worth a try.

Next week, I'm anticipating the start of a new "Fitness Paddle-Boarding" class through my local parks and rec system. It's supposed to be yoga and Pilates. On a paddle board. I wonder how that will go (I typed that with some sarcasm). I'm sure there will be pictures. Probably embarrassing ones.

This has been the year (and a half) of a new kind of self discovery, and I'm having a blast. The last 40 years went by so fast, it makes me a little afraid of how fast the next 40 will go. I don't want to waste that precious time. There's still so much out there to see, do, experience, and learn! Remember that slogan from the old hair-dye commercial? I don't want to grow old gracefully. I'm going to fight it all the way. For me that's not about denying my gray hairs and wrinkles and aches and pains but about making the most of the years yet to come, so that when the end days of my life are upon me, I hopefully will have something to look back on and be proud of. I'll be so epic my kid will tell stories about me. Or, in the least, maybe he'll show his grandchildren embarrassing pictures of their great grandmother dancing and falling off paddle-boards.

Monday, September 2, 2019

KillerCon 2019 Autopsy

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey, everybody!  Sorry if you're hating these posts, but 'tis the season.  Convention season, that is!  I recently got back from KillerCon in Austin, TX, and it was a blast.  My only scheduled performance was a panel at 11:00 am on Friday, and my plane arrived at 10:00 am.  I was right on the edge of worrying about whether I would make it.  Fortunately, I came walking into the hotel right around 10:45, so instead of checking in, I headed straight for the panel.

Myself, Kelli Owen, Jeff Strand, Rose O'Keefe.  (Not pictured: David Barnett.)

Our discussion was "How Not to be an Asshole in Publishing" and my fellow panelists were David Barnett, Rose O'Keefe, Jeff Strand, and Kelli Owen.  The panel went swimmingly.  We talked about when to respond to negative reviews (spoiler alert: never), how to deal with rejection, and the like.  For the record, I did not spend the entire panel on my phone.  This was just me checking the time.

Friday I got to have a long overdue lunch with Lucas Mangum and we went to a taco place near Round Rock.  Then that evening I had some authentic Texas barbecue with Wile E. Young, Wesley Southard, and their spouses.

Friday night was the launch party for my good friend Christine Morgan's DAWN OF THE LIVING IMPAIRED AND OTHER MESSED UP STORIES.  I actually liked this collection so much I blurbed it, so make sure you check it out if you have even a passing interest in zombies.

I wasn't selling books at a table for this con, so I got to relax and take in a lot of the programming.  The only selling I did was at the mass signing on Saturday morning.  I also got to see a couple of Texan fans there, including the incomparable Mike and Ana Rankin (more on them in a minute.)

Myself and Ana Rankin.

Myself and Mike Rankin.

Ana for some reason was wearing a Jonathan Janz t-shirt, but I convinced her to get a Kozeniewski t-shirt for next year, so I'm looking forward to that.

Saturday was the centerpiece of the con.  I got to have lunch with Jeff Strand, Wes and Wile E. again, and a long overdue meeting with Gabrielle Faust.  There was great programming all day, culminating in the second annual Splatterpunk Awards, where David Barnett, who I was on the panel with on Friday, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award.  Congrats to all the winners, and nominees as well.

The Splatterpunks were followed by the Gross-Out Contest, which I've had the great honor to win twice.  However, I knew almost immediately that this year was not going to be a threepeat.  I had a fairly respectable story, but as soon as Jay Wilburn stepped up and began telling the true life story of his kidney operation (catheter insertion and all) I knew it was over before I was doubled over in laughter, which wasn't very long.

And after the Gross-Out contest came the wedding reception.  Well, vow renewal.  Our good friends who I mentioned earlier, Mike and Ana, wore Poe and Lovecraft shirts, respectively, and renewed their vows in the style of their favorite horror authors.  Brian Keene walked Ana down the aisle, John Wayne Communale played "I Walked With a Zombie" as the wedding march, and the godfather of splatterpunk, Ed Lee, stood as best man.  It was lovely overall.  I was surprisingly touched.

Finally, Saturday night was the Eraserhead Press/Section 31 Press party, and much fun was had by all.  I may even have pitched the greatest followup to the classic CLICKERS muncher horror series ever conceived.  Sadly, it was too good to ever see the light of day.

Myself, John Skipp, and Wesley Southard.  (Photo by Edward Lee.)

Wesley Southard, Edward Lee, and myself.  (Photo by John Skipp.)

Whelp, here's to KillerCon.  Hope to see you there next year!
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