Thursday, December 31, 2020

What's It Like Now: Writing Covid Into Your Story

 It's New Year's Eve (mild clapping) and I'm sure you're at home, like me, like everyone, doing nothing, just waiting for that ball to drop so we can be done with this year. I find myself swarming with a lot of pent-up rage (mostly aimed at politicians and dum-dums who refuse to wear a mask because of 'mah freedoms'), but also a sad resignation that, despite the vaccine, we won't be climbing out of this dark tunnel anytime soon. 

This is our new way of life. Caught not wearing a mask in a crowd is the new going-to-school-naked nightmare. Most of us are used to wearing masks. Used to keeping our distance, canceling parties, working from home, zooming get-togethers, e-learning, etc blah, etc.

Which begs the question for writers, do we incorporate Covid into our book universes? and how?

A friend of mine, who has far more publishing cred than I do, said editors and agents are mostly ignoring Covid as far as stories go. Recently published titles, supposedly set in 2020, do not incorporate the pandemic into their novels. But that is presumably because they were acquired pre-pandemic and to make such drastic changes wouldn't just suit the story, it would cost time and money in rewrites. 

Books are a form of escapism, and nothing anchors us more to our current nightmare than reading about it in our forms of entertainment. And, yet, television shows that have returned to filming are working Covid into the existing universe. Showtime's Shameless and NBC's Superstore are two that come to mind. If this is our new reality, then shouldn't our art reflect it too?

I can't imagine reading a book set in 1919 that didn't, at least, mention World War I and its lasting trauma, so why would we pretend Covid doesn't exist in our own works set in present-day? Is it because we (publishing) expect this to go away and lose its relevancy? If so, that seems short-sighted.

I haven't heard a consensus on this, and I would love to know what writers are doing.

So, writers, what are you doing? Are you absorbing Covid into your plots? Ignoring it? Writing fantasy or historical fiction to side-step it? What? I need to know.

And happy New Year.

Monday, December 28, 2020

What Pretentious Scotch Reviews Taught Me About Writing

P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame
I have a few days off this holiday season, and that means I can get tipsy every night without having to worry about working with a hangover in the morning. My wonderful girlfriend also got me a bunch of scotch for Christmas, so that's been my drink of choice.

Have you ever read reviews for scotch? Google any random example and you'll see they're all pretentious as hell. Here are five egregious "tasting notes" about various drinks, from Whisky Shop Magazine:

“Absolutely filthy… like doing a bog swim without a snorkel.”
“The nose is a TNT banana, exploding bursts of fruit…”
“The hug of sherry is soporific”
“A pleasant dram, but lacks nerve and buoyancy.”
“Like putting Benny Lynch into the ring with Marciano.”


Ridiculous, right? I don't even know who those last people are.

Yet I find myself reading reviews for each scotch before I drink it. The more reasonable reviews may not mention TNT bananas, but they do include various fruits, spices, and inedible items like smoke and leather.

Wait ... meat?

And you know what? I enjoy the scotch more after reading these reviews.

Last night, after reading about Ardbeg's peaty nose and impression of a distant wildfire, I cleared my mind of the day's worries, watched the snow fall outside, took a sip, and was transported to a boggy landscape with a hint of smoke in the air. It was a nice experience. I could even compare it to a hug.

I don't know if that pleasant sip was a direct result of the chemicals in the scotch reacting with my tongue, nerves, and brain. I probably imagined half of what I thought I tasted. But it doesn't matter, does it? Taste is subjective anyway. If it can be enhanced by some pompous scotch blogger halfway around the world causing my brain to embellish a little, then I will continue reading flowery booze descriptions until I see the world through purple-coloured glasses.

Here's where I tie this back to writing. Writers sort of do the same thing as these scotch reviewers, except the embellishment is intentional, and we aren't constrained by the physical reality of liquid on the reader's tongue. If we're doing our jobs, we can make a person vividly hallucinate coastal air, a beach bonfire, and a soporific hug—no strong liquor necessary.

In a year when inspiration was badly needed, that's where I've most recently found mine. I hope you find yours too, and have a very happy new year!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Karissa's 2020 Round-Up. Yee-Haw!
Since this is my last post for 2020 it seems like a good time for a year-end review. Not the most original idea, yes, but I always enjoy looking back and remembering. And this is my blog post, so I do what I want. Also 2020 has been a brutal year (Such a cliché at this point--don't mean it ain't true), so I like the idea of remembering the things that were good about it, and there sure were A LOT of great movies, books, TV shows that kept me from losing my mind.  I'd like to share those with you In hopes that maybe one or two can bring you joy as well.

My favorite Books of 2020

The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she's posted to an alternative London. Their mission - to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it's already been stolen. London's underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested - the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene's new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she's up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option - the nature of reality itself is at stake.

I loved it! Loved that it was like a great blend of Sherlock Holmes, Steampunk, and classic epic fantasy sprinkled with modern characters and a semi-sentient library that embraces computer technology. The Library knows no single time period or genre, and that made for a fun mix of world-building. I loved Irene's level-headedness and ingenuity contrasted with her craving for friendship, family and a place to belong. I loved the unexpected moments of pure wakadoo absurdity (cyborg alligators!?! A train is actually an ancient fae god?!?!)The metaphysical concepts of the Library are interesting and compelling--a little confusing when first introduced but as the worldbuilding became clearer, the books just got better and better. Irene, Kai, Vale, and Bradamant are a fun Grown-up-Scooby-Doo-esque gang, and there's just a touch of romance to make it all the more thrilling.

This series gets my endorsement for being turned into Netflix's next series (rather than another frickin' reboot of True Blood. Ugh.)

Circe by Madeline Miller

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange
child - not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power - the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love. 

Circe, as a character, is complex and flawed and so wonderfully sympathetic in this EPIC story. Miller is really a pro at giving her characters an arc that show tremendous but believable growth and change. I didn't know much about Circe before reading this, and I think it was good to come in without expectations because this is the version of Circe I'm always going to think of from now on. Madeline Miller is likely to be another of my insta-buy authors. I read her second book, The Tale of Achilles, after Circe and adored it, too, although I reserve harsh critiques for it's representation of women (so surprising after the fierce feminine voice of Circe). 

 The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother's house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be?

Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.

Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale.

From Hugo Award–winning author Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher.

This was such a freaking creepy, messed up book.  Often my most favorite kind of horror is the kind that keeps the monster hidden as long as possible. People joke about it now, but back when it came out, The Blair Witch Project did such a good job with suspense and anticipation without ever really showing you a monster. This book has that same unknowable adversary quality for about 2/3rds of the plot. Bad things happen, but who is doing them and why is almost impossible to know, but clues and highly original folklore references are sprinkled in along the way. It makes you uncomfortable and uneasy without being too specific, and I loved that. However, if you're a fan of monsters, this book has plenty of that too, and it all that quiet suspense building up pays off big and very weirdly in the end.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.

I fell in love with Rebecca Roanhorse's "Sixth World" series (dystopia urban fantasy), so it was sort of a no-brainer to pick her first foray into epic fantasy. This book cements Rebecca as being one of my go-to, will one-click buy all her books, authors.

I want a second-world fantasy to be THICK with worldbuilding and this one absolutely delivered. In the
beginning, understanding the vocabulary and the dynamics of the societies and clans and geography was challenging as it often is with second world fantasies but I trusted Roanhorse to deliver on the foundations she was building and boy did she ever!

 This book stood on its own but it also feels very much like only the beginning to something much bigger and grander.

The Sandman, by Neil Gaimon, Audio Production adaptation by Dirk Maggs

Adapted and directed by multi-award-winner (and frequent Gaiman collaborator) Dirk Maggs, and
performed by an ensemble cast with James McAvoy (It, Parts One and Two, X-Men: First Class, Split) in the title role, this first installment of a multi-part original audio series will transport you to a world that re-writes the rules of audio entertainment the way that The Sandman originally re-defined the graphic novel.

When The Sandman, also known as Lord Morpheus - the immortal king of dreams, stories and the imagination - is pulled from his realm and imprisoned on Earth by a nefarious cult, he languishes for decades before finally escaping. Once free, he must retrieve the three “tools” that will restore his power and help him to rebuild his dominion, which has deteriorated in his absence. As the multi-threaded story unspools, The Sandman descends into Hell to confront Lucifer (Michael Sheen), chases rogue nightmares who have escaped his realm, and crosses paths with an array of characters from DC comic books, ancient myths, and real-world history, including: Inmates of Gotham City's Arkham Asylum, Doctor Destiny, the muse Calliope, the three Fates, William Shakespeare (Arthur Darvill), and many more. 
Outstanding and exceptionally performed. I'm not normally a James McAvoy fangirl, but if he were performing as Lord Morpheus, I would listen to him read the ingredients on a box of laundry detergent. I actually own some of the Sandman comics but, confession time, I haven't read them yet. So, I can't compare this production to the quality of reading the comics, but as someone who had only a casual, shallow knowledge of comic, this audio production made The Sandman and his world extremely accessible. You don't have to be a super-fan to understand and follow the stories.

Thorn by Intisar Khanani 

Between her cruel family and the contempt she faces at court, Princess Alyrra has always longed to escape the confines of her royal life. But when she’s betrothed to the powerful prince Kestrin, Alyrra embarks on a journey to his land with little hope for a better future.

When a mysterious and terrifying sorceress robs Alyrra of both her identity and her role as princess, Alyrra seizes the opportunity to start a new life for herself as a goose girl.

But Alyrra soon finds that Kestrin is not what she expected. The more Alyrra learns of this new kingdom, the pain and suffering its people endure, as well as the danger facing Kestrin from the sorceress herself, the more she knows she can’t remain the goose girl forever.

With the fate of the kingdom at stake, Alyrra is caught between two worlds and ultimately must decide who she is, and what she stands for.
I tried to come into this book with no expectations and little advanced research. I knew it was a fairy-tale retelling, but I wasn't sure which one. Surprisingly, I have never read the original "Goose Girl" story, even though I'm aware of it as part of the cannon of classical fairytales, so I got to come into this book with no knowledge or expectations and I'm glad I did. This was a fantastic way to be introduced to the fairytale, although I can't say how true it was to the original or how subversive it might have been (or even if it needed to be subverted).

The world-building was a little on the sparse side for my tastes. In 2nd world fantasy, I'm usually looking for a lot of description and scenery. That existed in this book, but it was clear the author was focused more on theme and character and she definitely delivered in those departments. I'd say perhaps the strongest theme in this book is the idea of justice--what it is and what it isn't; and who deserves it and who doesn't; and who should receive it and who doesn't; and how those who don't get justice from their leaders or from the law go about seeking it through other means.

This was just really brilliantly done, and the author pulled no punches. This story WILL break your heart several times but that made the whole experience richer. I will definitely be reading more by Ms. Khanani.

My favorite Movies of 2020

My husband and I are both Gen X and grew up loving Bill and Ted. As soon as our kid was old enough, we showed him the movies, and he loved them too. When the Hollywood Powers that Be announced another Bill and Ted movie for 2020, I was wary. 

So many of my cherished childhood properties have been messed up by producers/studios/writers who couldn't leave well enough alone and who seemed to care more about subversion and edginess than honoring what made us all fall in love with the thing in the first place. However, Bill and Ted Face the Music turned out to be the perfect remedy for our world weary spirits. 
With COVID and the elections and everything else against which we've all had to toughen up to survive, Bill and Ted was the antithesis of cynicism and sarcasm and bitterness. It was warm and funny and light hearted and totally celebrated the original spirit of this franchise. It couldn't have been released at a better time. For a few minutes we let ourselves believe that this divisive world really could be united in peace and harmony.

The Old Guard

A covert team of immortal mercenaries is suddenly exposed and must now fight to keep their identity a secret just as an unexpected new member is discovered.

If it's Charlize Thoren being a badass, I'm there. If it's a movie with more than one woman being a badass, I'm there. If it also happens to have Matthias Schoenaerts in it, that doesn't hurt either (even if I am ready to see him do something other than being the moody silent handsome asshole).  Sure parts of it were kinda predictable but other parts of it were really fun and original. It wasn't earth shaking but it was fun and the cast had great chemistry. I'm looking forward to the sequel.


The rapid spread of an unknown infection has left an entire city in ungovernable chaos, but one

survivor remains alive in isolation. It is his story.

I've been watching a lot of foreign horror this year and I think it would be smart to do a different post devoted to some of the amazing movies I've seen. I've always had a wakness for zombie movies and TV shows and Korea is having a blast with this genre. This movie has a simple concept, a charming and not entirely stupid kid has to survive a sudden zombie apocalypse alone in his urban apartment building. He uses drone technology in some really novel and creative ways. There's a cute relationship and great witty banter. It's not perfect, there are a few sub plots that are a little head scratchy, but overall it's full of the great fast paced, edge of seat tension that I need from all good zombie movies.

 Although it wasn't released this year, I also must recommend Train to Busan, which is not only a nail-biting thriller but also an emotional gut wrencher. My eighteen year old kiddo says it's the best zombie movie he's ever seen.

My favorite TV shows of 2020

Schitt's Creek

Hands down this was the best show I've seen in a long time and 2020 was the best year to watch it. I'd seen people saying "you have to stick it out past the first season," so I was prepared to do just that--stick it out. WHATEVER! I was hooked on this family from the first episode. I've been fans of Eugene Levy (Mermaid!) and Catherine O'Hara (Beetlejuice!) since I was a kid. A little later in my youth I became aware of SCTV and Christopher Guest movies and loved them even more.  Maybe on the surface they look like shallow people? I don't know...from the first episode it seemed clear to me that a devastating thing had happened to them and instead of taking it out on each other, they chose to stick together. This show is hilarious but it's also unbelievably warm and sweet.

When an acquaintance asked for Netflix suggestions, I told them to watch Shitt's Creek. They said, "The children are way too old to be acting the way they do." i.e. immature brats. But, but...that's the whole point of the show. These privileged people learn to grow up and be more real, and yeah that doesn't happen in the first episode. But in the meanwhile you get to know the delightful "bumpkins" of Shitt's Creek who are not bumpkins at all. You keep expecting them to be portrayed as small town simpletons and mostly they are but they all (well, almost all) have an undercurrent of wry, no BS intellect. 

The show regularly made me laugh out loud and cry and I want a mini version of David Rose to keep in my pocket.

The Mandalorian; Season 2

The Mandalorian was everything I wish the Star Wars sequels had been. I like season two better than the first because the whole season was more cohesive overall. The goals and purpose and narrative arc were clearer and Mando (Din Jardin) became more of a real person. Even Baby Yoda/The Child/Grogu grew a bit more than being an extremely cute puppet/prop. My favorite moment of the whole season (besides the last episode which had a lot of favorite moments) was seeing the Tucsan Raiders aka The Sand People get culture, language, and a back story that was long overdue.

There were a lot of great individual episode directors but overall I give kudos to producer John Favreau for reminding me of when I was a wee little girl who regularly asked her mom to put her hair in Leia Buns because she loved Star Wars so much.

Cobra Kai

This was an unexpected delight, though I must qualify that at the time of this post I've only seen the entirety of Season 1.  My husband and I have a hard time finding things we both like to watch together. Mostly, I gave this a try because he was interested it, and nostalgia is a powerful drug in our house (see Bill and Ted Face the Music above). 

My husband loves anything that brings him fond memories of his childhood (seriously, I think The Goonies is perhaps his favorite movie ever), and we both loved Karate Kid back in the day, but I was a kid then. As an adult, I figured Cobra Kai might be as juvenile as Karate Kid and probably very dumb. The first episodes were a little more sentimental and simplistic than I normally go for, but my husband loved it so I stuck it out. I'm glad I did. 

The writing and characterizations got a lot sharper and smarter as the season went on. It manages to laugh at itself in a way that the originals never did, and it pokes fun at some of the problematic content from the earlier movies. There are more than a few laugh out loud moments, too, which is a plus.  Maybe some of it was a little predictable, but other moments showed some complexity and cleverness I wasn't expecting. And I'm always a sucker for a bad guy who gets a better back story (see my reference to the Tucsan Raiders above) and a chance at redemption.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Publish Like A Motherfucker Rides Again!

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, everybody!

Off and on this past annus horribilis I've been testing out a video series called "Publish Like a Motherfucker" with varying results.  I've been trying out different broadcast dates and times to see which people like most.  One thing I've been wanting to try was a sort of guerrilla broadcast, just to do it without warning and see if there would be any organic interest.  I think from now on I'm going to be giving people fair warning, but I'm still very happy with the result.  Since this is the last time I'll be seeing my ATB family this year, maybe it's appropriate that I sign off with this.  I'll talk to you all again in 2021, which can't possibly be worse than 2020, right?  


Originally Recorded: Monday, December 7, 9:45 pm EST 
Syllabus: For some reason, everyone's talking about book reviews today. Something must have happened on Twitter. But as long as it's in the air, in this unscheduled, impromptu course I discussed: 

- what do book reviews do for you as a writer or a reader? 
- what does the book reviewer owe the author and vice versa? (hint: the answer is nothing.) 
- should you always, never, or sometimes read the reviews? 

More information on PLAM and links to previous episodes can be found here.

For the video that inspired this one, thank booktuber Gloria McNeely.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Wisdom of Maryanne Pope

It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you Maryanne Pope, Founder, and CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions, an accomplished author, blogger, and grief expert.

In honor of Krista Tippett, I like to start my interviews by asking Maryanne if there were any significant childhood influences that had an effect on her writing. From early on Maryanne has had a deep concern for the treatment of animals. It was her Mom, a big animal-lover, who instilled in her the importance of treating animals kindly and caring about wildlife, conservation, nature, and the environment. An empathic view much needed in our world today.

Maryanne knew by the age of seven that she wanted to be a writer and ever since this has been her dream. It wasn’t until her beloved husband died suddenly at the age of thirty-two that Maryanne understood the difference between dreaming and doing. It was only two weeks after his death that she sat down at the computer and started writing. This writing that sprung from intense grief would become the raw material for her first book, “A Widow’s Awakening.”

She writes to understand what she is experiencing in life. Maryanne says, “I re-write and publish (or post, produce, etc) to share with others what I am learning. I have a passion for many things but because of my life experience, I have written a great deal about workplace safety, death & dying, grief, and the afterlife. At my core, I think I am a story-teller.”

Maryanne would describe her genre as creative non-fiction. Her writing is based on real-life experiences, either her own or historical figures. She is attracted to creative non-fiction because "she finds there is such richness in reality itself.” She uses real-life stories as the starting point for an imaginative retelling.

Her audience is diverse, for her book, “A Widow’s Awakening,” her primary audience is female readers who love engaging stories about strong women overcoming adversity, or women who are grieving the loss of a spouse or loved one.

Maryanne’s weekly blog, “Weekly Words of Wisdom,” attracts readers who are interested in the insights of a lifestyle blogger. This includes not only everyday experiences but movies, books, life lessons, and on occasion people who push her buttons! 

Maryanne also writes play scripts and screenplays that capture a very different audience but regardless of genre, platform, or project, her audience has a desire to be inspired, challenged, and empowered to make changes in their own lives and/or the world around them. 

Her engagement with other authors is casual and not necessarily intentional. If Maryanne reads a book that resonates with her, she will write a review, and tag the author. She says, "If something comes of it that’s great."

I asked how the current political climate and world-wide pandemic has affected her writing? She thought the question was an interesting one, for Maryanne, the pandemic has been a blessing. It has given her the time, space, and privacy to stay at home and write, and she adds, in peaceful and productive solitude.

Maryanne has written several blogs about the benefits of being a writer during this pandemic, she acknowledges some people resonate with this perspective more than others. It seems as if she is connecting more deeply with readers of her weekly blog during the pandemic because she has the time to communicate with her followers, especially since she is not traipsing about the planet!

Maryanne says, “I am fascinated with what a difference time and space is making in regards to my writing…including my ability to connect to my deeper self, my imagination, and my characters. This pandemic has taught me that even when the restrictions are lifted, I will continue to be far more protective of my time and sacred writing space. I will connect with fewer people…but develop deeper connections.”

When asked about the importance of research in regards to her work, Maryanne says it depends on the project. Her screenplay, “God’s Country,” for example was researched extensively because it is based on the life of a silent screen star, Nell Shipman. Her book, “A Widow’s Awakening,” didn’t require much research because it was based on her personal experience of coming to terms with the death of her husband, John.

She has written a playscript called, “Saviour,” based on the real-life circumstances that led to her husband John’s death, but the bulk of the story takes place in the afterlife and is very much about death, dying, including the journey and purpose of the soul…so that required some research. But much of that research isn’t exactly scientific or fact-based because it is spiritual and subjective in nature.

I love to learn about the writing rituals of authors so I asked Maryanne to share something of her routines. She says, “I am as predictable as they come! I wake up early every day, have coffee, think, and reflect. Then I do yoga, after which I write for 1 to 2 hours usually focusing on larger projects." Then she moves on to smaller writing tasks, such as blogs, e-mail, and administrative tasks.

She writes in the same place every day, on her laptop, sitting on her couch, surrounded by supportive pillows. I love this tip, she sets a timer for 53 minutes and takes a break when the timer goes off. Brilliant.

Maryanne chooses technically challenging projects that end up strengthening and stretching her skills as a writer. As an example, the “Saviour” playscript and subsequent scripts in that series are extremely challenging because she has to create an entire world…that of the afterlife. It took her 15 years to get the “Saviour” playscript where it needed to be. It was extremely challenging to write…emotional in the early years but then technically challenging in the subsequent rewrites.

When asked about her activity on social media Maryanne responded, “I am not personally that active on social media. I really don’t enjoy most social media very much. The exception is Instagram…I do enjoy that – probably because I can get in & out very quickly.” She does understand the importance of having a strong presence on social media, so she hired Sarah who helps her stay on top of social media demands. Sarah loves Twitter, for example, so this is where she shines. She says, "I am extremely grateful for Sarah because she ensures that I do have a social media presence."

Maryanne says, “I have been going hard, as a writer, for twenty years – and this much I have learned: we cannot do it all on our own. At least, I can’t. I cannot work at my peak creative capacity, writing large projects such as play scripts and screenplays, AND have a robust presence on social media. Sarah and I work really well together. I create the content (blogs etc) and she shares them on social media.”

How’s that for honesty 😊

Social media is a very important way of connecting with others, but there is still nothing like a good old-fashioned phone call, or well-crafted e-mail to move a writing project forward advises Maryanne. 

One of her favorite authors is Sarah Ban Breathnach. Her book, “Something More; Excavating Your Authentic Self” is one of her all-time favorite books. I also have a copy of this book and absolutely love it.

For Maryanne literary success is doing the work she is here to do…and loving it. She loves hearing back from readers when something she has written resonates with them or helps them in some way. Success is a very internal thing, as Maryanne loves nothing more than waking up each morning, and looking forward to working on whatever writing project she happens to be working on.

She says, “over the years, I have come to realize that learning to enjoy the process of taking an idea all the way through to the end product – blog, book, play, film – is where the success lies. I used to think it was the end product. NowI know better.”

Maryanne advises, “if you have been wanting to write but have never got around to it, my advice to you is this: just do it. Make a short-term commitment to yourself to write for even just ten minutes a day for one week. See how that feels. If you hate every moment, it may be time to let that dream go…make space to let in what you really want to do.”

If you do enjoy the experience of writing, then keep at it, perseverance is key, so is developing good habits.

Here is the link to buy “A Widow’s Awakening”: Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening. She is the Founder & CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and a Director of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To receive her weekly blog, Weekly Words of Wisdom, please sign up here. Have a visit to her Etsy store.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Things I Would Rather Be Doing Than Writing

Things I Would Rather Be Doing Than Writing

Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing; I love having written.” 

For some of us, it feels like writing is something that happens against our will. We try to quit—I can do it, just after this next sentence!—but hiding around every corner is a Shiny New Idea, its siren call impossible to resist. The road to hell is those few months between furious dreaming and journaling and when we can finally type The End. As my own siren whispers in my ear, I present to you a list of things I would rather be doing than writing.

1. Eating.

I’m not even picky. Got a half a bag of stale Cool Ranch Doritoes? Hand it over. Freezer-burned ice cream? I’ll have a bowl. Preferably with the Doritoes.

2. Scrolling through my Amazon Wish List

It’s my favorite game of chicken. My thumb hovers over the “Click to Buy” button beneath a package of edible gold leaf, added to the list during a late night Great British Bake Off binge session.

3. Repairing the hole in a hoodie I haven’t worn since 2002.

Remember Volcom? Of course you don’t. We’ve been through hell and back, me and this hoodie. It deserves a little respect. Now, if I only I could get this thread through the eye hole.

4. Cleaning.

Just kidding. I love my filth and my filth loves me.

5. Rearranging the ornaments on my Christmas tree.

This thing has been up since mid-November, when I decided it would be Christmas for the rest of 2020. The way its looking, it’ll probably be Christmas in my apartment until July.

6. Trying to bend a spoon with my mind.

I almost got it this time. Almost.

7. Building a cat tree out of empty Amazon boxes.

The box that delivered the gold leaf is just big enough to cradle my cat’s fluffy behind.

8. Forming an acapella group 

We will sing exclusively Nine Inch Nails covers and use actual nine-inch nails like bells to keep time.

9. Learning to say “fuck the patriarchy” in every language. 

Because what else do you need, really?

10. Teaching my cat to apply band-aids.

With all of these papercuts from assembling the cat tree, it’s the least she can do.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Allow Myself to Introduce...Myself


I'm new-ish to this blog. You might remember a handful of posts from me last year when I was doing some side-work for Stephen Kozeniewski. Well, I have since moved up in the world and become an actual part of the blog. My sincerest apologies for the things you will be reading in the future.

First, the intro. I'm 35, I'm a Capricorn, and I don't like long walks anywhere, much less on the beach. Too many broken shells and garbage to step on. I live in Wrightsville, PA with my boyfriend of 11 years, Jose. I also live with a multitude of pets, many of which are not what you would consider "conventional." True, I am not very conventional by nature. I tend to go for the things others told me I shouldn't or wouldn't like as an adult female.

Oh yeah, I'm also a writer. I've self-published several novels in the dark fantasy, action/adventure, and comedy genres, and I'm looking to expand into horror and science-fiction. I love to read, and coincidentally enough, horror and sci-fi are my favorite genres to read. Some of my favorite authors are Stephen King, Brian Keene, Carrie Vaughn, and James Patterson, but I am open to just about any author's work as long as the flavor is palatable.

I regularly attend comic cons and other vendor events when the world isn't saturated in disease. I like to cosplay while I do so. I have a handful of character costumes, including one of my own characters from my series, 'The Book of Siavon.'. I enjoy Halloween to an almost manic level, because it gives me an excuse to dump fake blood on myself and dress like I'm going to a wedding at Wal-mart.

So, there it is, my introduction. I am very honored to have been invited to contribute, and look forward to it. I hope I can deliver enjoyable and informative blogs in the future. If not, I hope I can at least entertain a few of you, as I fumble to make myself appear like a professional who knows what she's doing.

Stay weird.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Rethinking Dystopia in the Age of Conspiracy Theories

A post by Mary Fan

Hey everyone! Mary here, and I've been rethinking dystopia lately. This was triggered by, of all things, a TikTok that made the rounds on Twitter that I wish I could unsee... More on that later...

Dystopia has been around for decades, but in the YA world it really saw a boom around the early 2010s, thanks to the popularity of The Hunger Games. For a few wild years, dystopia was so trendy among YA readers - tweens, teens, and adult alike - that it felt like every popular book in the YA category was about (almost always white, usually female) teen freedom fighters in speculative, vaguely sci-fi worlds.

And then, almost as quickly as it arrived, it fizzled out. The market became oversaturated, and any manuscript so much as suggesting a dystopian flavor was considered treated like poison by traditional publishing. Only recently have a few dystopian titles popped up again, though they're usually packaged as just "sci-fi" or "fantasy."

In the world of adult spec fic, the stream was a lot steadier. Using all-powerful, controlling, ultimately pretty evil governments or corporations or other large institutions as a villain has always been pretty popular.

I get the appeal. After all, I've written plenty of it. I can't speak for the rest of the world, but at least when it comes to American audiences, we've always had a rebellious streak. It's baked into the founding myth of our country - the scrappy revolutionaries taking on the mighty British and winning freedom and independence. We love our underdogs, and a lot of our most popular sci-fi/fantasy franchises reflect this - Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings.  

A lot of that is because we like to think of ourselves as the underdogs. I mean, whose life isn't tough? No matter who or where you are, always some kind of uphill battle to fight. And no matter your privilege, there's always someone who has it easier than you, some obstacle standing in your way. 

Which brings me back to dystopia. It's a genre like any other. Sometimes, it can serve as insightful social commentary. Other times, it's just an excuse to follow a scrappy underdog on a hero's journey against an all-powerful enemy. All in good fun, right?

Well, lately I've been thinking it's not so cute anymore. Not necessarily because of the stories themselves, but rather what the preference for them reflects.

The TikTok I can't unsee featured what could have been a dystopian heroine. I won't link to it because I don't want to feed it any more views. In it, a young, attractive, blond woman acts out a skit in which she first plays someone who accepts a COVID-19 vaccine because she doesn't want to die, only to be implanted with a chip when she receives the injection. The second scene has her playing a woman who refuses, and a faceless voice tells her she will die if she refuses. She then cries prettily as she says she knows, imitating a gazillion movie and TV characters who've made noble sacrifices. Cut to her (in terribly done effects make up) all bloody as, it's implied, she's abused and killed for refusing a COVID-19 vaccine. Final shot has her playing an angel in heaven because apparently her refusal to take the vaccine (and receive a chip) has made her a martyr.

W.T.F. I was so confused.

Except... it all felt familiar.

I've literally read a book in which an evil government wants to implant all its citizens with chips, and when a small population refuses, they create a plague and then put chips in the vaccines (I won't name the book because this would spoil it for anyone who might stumble upon it).

The original premise of my own YA dystopia, Starswept, was that an evil corporation created a fake alien disease to keep a population of teenagers under its control. I changed the premise at the advice of an editor - now said evil corporation uses impossibly high student loans to keep these kids in indentured servitude (heh) - and damn, am I glad I did. The third and final book came out this year, and if I'd kept my original premise, it would have been about the teens exposing a fake plague and freeing the population from government lies... aaaaawkwaaaaard...

In fact, given the direction that series could have gone, I could very well have written a scene similar to that atrocious TikTok. Super aaaaawkwaaaard...

The aforementioned "chip" book came out around 2012. I wrote the original, fake-plague version of Starswept in 2013. Back then, the idea of a plague or pandemic felt as far-fetched as an alien invasion. An exciting, escapist way to raise the stakes. Now... 

We don't often think about the subconscious politics of sci-fi/fantasy. But the fact is politics are buried in every story, whether intentionally or not. In a lot of ways, The Hunger Games can be read as a right-wing conspiracy theorist's ultimate fantasy. You have your evil government run by urban elitists - many queer-coded - oppressing your honest, rural, blue-collar white folks (there are a few Black characters too, but the main character and her closest allies are white). People of color barely exist, and when they do, nobody sees race. The evil, urban-based government will do anything to control the honest, rural folks, who must take up arms to fight back. Urban elites with fancy technology, bad. Rural, blue-collar folks who are physically tough, good. Sound familiar?

As far as I'm aware, that's not the message Suzanne Collins meant to send with The Hunger Games, which was supposed to be more about the impact of war on children. But it's a message baked into the story nonetheless.

Just as there are messages, often subconscious and unintentional, baked into every story. Because all stories are written by people, and people inevitably have beliefs. Sometimes, we don't think too hard about them. Sometimes, we're just playing on tropes and assumptions that have been around forever... after all, The Lord of the Rings also features evil, industrialist, technology-wielding elites versus rural, scrappy, blue-collar types.

For this reason, all fiction is political - indeed, all writing is political. Everything we think of as "neutral" or "the default" was the result of political actions. And as for those who say they "keep politics out of it", well, what they mean is that they keep politics they disagree with or that make them uncomfortable.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

A Lesson from NaNoWriMo

Greetings, dear readers. I don't know about you, but I have hit a wall with Covid. Or maybe it's just the holiday season getting to me. I find this time of year to be incredibly overwhelming. Cooking, cleaning, decorating and shopping. It's a lot. So that's probably why I have never been quite 'successful' at NaNoWriMo.

And, lord knows, I have tried.

I've been doing National Novel Writing Month for over a decade and I have never "won." Not even this year when I should've. After all, I've written several full-length novels by now. I should be able to write 1,667 words a day. I've written 10K words in a weekend. During the pandemic (which I know we are still in), I wrote 30K words in three weeks. So I have it in me. But why can't I draft 50K words in a month?

Well, I know why.

I don't want to.

I had started off strong. I got to Day 11 with no trouble. Racked up my word count. And that's when I saw the issue. In an effort to draft fast, my story was falling apart, and everything I typed out was garbage. And, yes, I know the point of NaNoWriMo is to simply draft. Words on the page. Edit later. But in an effort to eek out words, I was beginning to loathe my book. There was no joy in the drafting. No marveling over a great sentence. No staring into space, trying to figure out what my character would say or do. I was simply vomiting on the keyboard. 

For the longest time, I had always thought word-count goals was the best way forward. On non-NaNo days, I would tell myself to write a thousand words. But putting that kind of output on myself meant that I would just be typing nonsense. I have since learned that it is best if I just commit to a time slot for writing. Every morning from 9am to 11am, I will work. That could mean brainstorming, research, or simply drafting slowly. 

I definitely know that I need to write several days a week to keep the momentum going. If I take too much time off my drafting, I forget the story threads. But working within a set time frame, as opposed to forcing myself to draft a certain amount of words, makes the entire process a lot easier on my anxious soul. Because focused work drives momentum, no just the word count tally.

So, dear friends, what lessons did you take away from NaNoWriMo this year? 

Please sound off in the comments.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Interview: Being Very Mean to Leonard Delaney

P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame
Hi. I'm P.T. Phronk. It's my turn to do an interview here on ATB, so I thought I'd reach out to fellow Forest City Pulp author Leonard Delaney. Leonard is a close friend. In fact, he's as close as two different pen names can be.
Delaney achieved brief viral popularity a few years back, when he released Conquered by Clippy, an erotic short story about Microsoft's annoying digital helper who only old people remember now. He was interviewed by media from Vice to Men's Health, for some reason. Even today, academic examinations of Delaney's work help define the 21st century, as in this treatise from the future: A Literary Review of Sex and Technophobia in Leonard Delaney’s Digital Desires: Taken by the Tetris Blocks.
So it is an honour to speak with Leonard today, who joins us from rural Ontario, where he has been in quarantine since 2017.

You can find Leonard Delaney on Twitter by using this hyperlink.
P.T. Phronk: Okay, give us an intro.
Leonard Delaney: Oh, this is one of those interviews where I do all the work, cool. I'm Leonard, and I write technology-and-pop-culture-focused erotica. I've written about having sexual relations with everything from wrist watches to planets. 
It's Leonard Delaney.

PTP: What work would you say you're best known for?
LD: My novella Motherfucking Wizards is selling best these days, because people are still weirdly obsessed with Harry Potter, and it's kind of a parody of that. Maybe it's also because J.K. Rowling became dumb and anti-transgender, so people are looking for better alternatives to her stories, and Motherfucking Wizards is a lot better as long as you are an adult who can handle sexual wizardry.
Conquered by Clippy was the story that people really gravitated towards, though, so I'm best known for that.

PTP: I heard that the creator of Clippy is aware of the book.
LD: Kevan Atteberry, yeah. He was actually pretty mean about it in one of his interviews (he probably means this one —PTP), where he admitted to pirating a PDF of my book and thought the writing was bad so he didn't even finish reading the book he stole. He's wrong, though, because I Google almost every word I write and make sure it's spelled right, so my writing is really good. This guy can't even spell "Kevin" so what the crap does he know? And he liked artwork depicting a pregnant Clippy, so maybe the issue is that he's got very specific fetishes about his creation.

PTP: Why do you think people describe your books as "erotica by a virgin"?
LD: That's actually a really mean thing to say. First the creator of Clippy is mean to me, and now you are mean to me. The definitions of things like "virgin" and "sex" are very fluid in this year twenty twenty, so what would that even mean? I think if you read some papers about human intercourse you'd find that my writing is very realistic.
PTP: Fine, so, changing subject, you said you've been in quarantine since 2017, but the pandemic only started in 2019?
LD: My books have always been future-facing, so I suppose I am ahead of my time. I was already spending a lot of my hours inside, because it's warm in here and I have to feed my mom's cats, but the pandemic emphasized that it's actually important and selfless to stay inside. Heroic, even. So am I a hero? Many people are saying that, but as a man staying in my house all the time, I'm really only doing my duty, as a man, which also gives me more time to write.
PTP: But you haven't published anything since 2017 either.
LD: Look, fine, so I kind of went into hiding. People are mean to me, as you’ve seen first-hand. Plus, the whole novelty erotica thing was starting to feel like it was getting old. And it felt wasteful to write about topics ripped straight from the headlines, because the headlines change every day … even faster in the last few years. So I'd do something like My Racist Robot Lover, and a few days later nobody would even know what it's referring to. Do you remember Microsoft's problematic millennial chat bot, Tay? I barely do.
PTP: I have the same memories as you. But I'm surprised you didn't write anything about the coronavirus.
LD: That would be a bit tacky. I know COVID-19 erotica has been done, and authors like Chuck Tingle are still plugging away and doing a really good job of erotically covering current events without being too negative or exploitative. Maybe there's still a place for tech-focused erotica, though. I don't know.
PTP: Does that mean there's hope for a Leonard Delaney comeback?
LD: If the time was right to do something fresh again, sure, maybe. You said yourself that it's hard to put in the work to create something great during periods of difficulty, and that affects me too. But ... maybe. Follow me on Twitter dot com and other online hangouts in case I make any moves.
PTP: Where can people find you online?
LD: This question is unnecessary. Please Google my name and put links at the top of this interview, or you can go back and hyperlink all the stuff I've said in this interview before you post it. Don't you know about linking on websites? Websites are amazing.
PTP: Thank you for the advice about websites, and also for the interview. We'll keep an eye out for that comeback you're definitely staging.

Monday, November 23, 2020


Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, everybody!

For those of you who have never experienced the pleasure (or horror!) of collaborating with another author, it's difficult for me to recreate the experience.  It is, I imagine, a bit like raising a child as both parents try to impart their values on a single individual.  It is a breathtakingly beautiful, but painstakingly difficult process of melding two authors' voices perfectly, so that each is equally represented and neither is diminished.  Sometimes we will pore for hours over our words, with a scalpel-sharp level of attention to detail, discussing individual commas and word choices for hours at a time.

For my latest novel I worked with Wile E. Young, a truly exceptional young author who is known for capturing with marvelous gusto the exacting language patterns of his native Southwest.  Like the wind blowing through a cove of cacti, Young's prose has an uncanny, almost preternatural capacity to capture the very essence of Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and the surrounding environs.

So for today's Back Jacket Hack Job I thought I would set myself a difficult, perhaps impossible task.  I'm going to try to recreate the back jacket copy in my writing partner's voice.  Any success I have will be solely due to his mentorship, and any failures, of course, are my own.  Please feel free to let me know how I did in the comments.


Howdy, pardners and pardnerinas!  My name's Wile E. Young and when I'm taking a break from throwing my ten-gallon hat up into the air and blasting it with my shooting iron, I sometimes get around to writin'.  That's writin' with an apostrophe, not no fancy writin' with a "g" liking you have up New York City way.


Now, when I came in the other week from shooting some new oil holes in one of the many oil fields I own, I was done approached by none other than that coyote-eating varmint Stephen Kozeniewski to work on a thick set of reading papers for folks to read out of.  And we sure enough came up with a story lonesomer than a sunset down on the bayou:


But is it really perfectly fine?  Well, shoot, pilgrim, if you think that, then I've got an oil field to sell you up Muskogee way!  (Actually, I really am trying to sell my Muskogee oil field, so if'n you're interested, post me up some signing papers.)

But anyway, read it and I guarantee you you'll be more satisfied than a prairie dog in a corn silo, assuming corn is actually something that prairie dogs eat, which I do.  

Also, there's ghosts!


Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Miracle of COVID-19

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By Cheryl Oreglia

We are learning so much during these tumultuous times, but we are not at war with a virus, that's about hatred, violence, and destruction, as it turns out our best defense is love, not hate. I think we're rediscovering the innate value of family, our neighbor, and community, but most importantly how creativity might be our saving grace if we ever hope to fully understand what I'm calling a modern-day miracle.

This year everything looks different from just about any other and our ability to adapt our lifestyle to continually shifting restrictions has been challenging to say the least. Thanksgiving dinners across the country will most likely be smaller events, Christmas might not include relatives from across the country, or grandparents who remain our most vulnerable population. We've not only put off grooming, socializing, traveling, worshiping, mourning, but celebrating life and our most cherished traditions.

I think it's interesting to note how science fiction writers have historically taken on threatening pandemics, zombie apocalypses, and alien invasions, presenting worst-case scenarios, and our less than stellar human response to the unknown, especially when livelihoods are threatened, common goods are in short supply, and we resort to hoarding, hunkering down, amassing weapons, and preparing for battle.

We're such a vindictive species!

We have fought against many different threats in our past, at first with sticks, swords, spears, cannons, machine guns, and finally atomic bombs as we squabble over land, power, equality, and necessary commodities that were pertinent to our survival.

Here we are in 2020 with our established constitution, policies, two-party government, allies, well-supplied military, but currently it is our susceptibility to a complex virus that is creating animosity between us.

As we race towards a vaccine, a solution, a panacea if you will, the world watches and waits, but maybe the disease is not the virus, maybe we are the disease?

This virus could care less about borders, nationalities, cultures, skin color, social status, or the strength of one's military. What we need to establish is a strong sense of personal responsibility and collaboration if we hope to overcome this virus. It's as counter-cultural as Jesus was in his time, calling for compassion, mercy, justice, solidarity, kindness, and peace in a time when survival depended on the strength of one's clan when confronted by violent regimes.

The message recently launched by Pope Francis is "no one is saved alone," and that seems particularly relevant to our current situation. We are called to be altruistic in a society that prides itself on individualism and independence. Cooperation is going to be key in terms of our eventual salvation both spiritually and physically from this plague.

This worldwide lockdown is in response to a contagion that has taken advantage of our "congested" lifestyle. Crowded markets, sporting events, theaters, churches, bars, travel industry, cruise ships, prisons, weddings, funerals, and communal celebrations have spread this invisible virus to every known part of the globe, and we can no longer ignore the need for separation, restraint, and personal responsibility.

I wake up every morning comparing and contrasting my old life with this new one and the difference is striking. As I try to envision what a post-coronavirus world will look like I'm struck by the importance of storytellers. People are writing about the pandemic from every corner of the world, sharing their unique perspective, their victories, and their failures so the rest of us can benefit. This is likely the most curative thing we can do.

Was it only eight months ago when I was confronted by this new reality? At first, I thought it was sort of exciting, I figured we'd be in lockdown for a few weeks, maybe a month, and now we see how this virus has deceived us all, we'll most likely be under the influence of COVID-19 for decades to come.

I believe it takes obedience and humility to do what is asked of you, that is miraculous, that is what it means to be saintly. We can all do this today. This contagion is intermingled with the air we breathe, and it has brought us to our collective knees, some are more vulnerable than others, but no one is exempt. It will take all of us working collectively to fully eradicate this virus from our world and that in itself is miraculous indeed.

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

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