Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Write Diet

Helloooooo, all! I'm sitting at my kitchen island, staring at a desolate backyard, brown with patches of white. The snow has not all melted off the grass, despite it having been dry for some time, and won't until the temperatures get jacked up enough to warrant melt. Right now I'm patiently waiting for snow fleas to circle the property. Once they appear, I know spring is upon us.

 I've been daydreaming about warm weather since the ball dropped in Times Square. I don't do well in cold temps. Not physically and not mentally. I have a tendency to eat crap in the winter months, grabbing junk from the pantry because fridge foods are too cold to gobble up when I'm already cranky about the chill in the air. And when I'm drafting, trying to get those words on the page as quickly as possible, I reach for nutritional powerhouses like candy and chocolate chips. I mindlessly pop those in my mouth for sustenance. Hours later, I wonder why I feel like garbage.

I don't think it's an over-generalization to say that writers are probably not the healthiest occupational group. Standing desks and dictation software have provided some freedom from the constant sitting, but how many of us utilize them? I going to guess that most writers sit at a day job and then come home to sit at their desk. Throw in a commute and our asses are constantly in something. Toss in some poor eating choices and all we're doing is making it harder to for our brains to work.

Lately I've been doing some reading on the Mind Diet. The MIND stands for the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay and combines the best of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet (a nutritional program specifically aimed at lowering hypertension). Researchers found that if you smoosh the diets together, you can prevent cognitive decline. You could possibly prevent Alzheimer's Disease.

The diet is fairly simple. It is mostly plant-based. Whole foods. No processed crap. It promotes leafy greens and vegetables and fruit. It specifically recommends two services of berries a week. Why berries? Because in a major study, researchers found that people who ate blueberries and strawberries had the slowest rate of cognitive decline. The diet also recommends five servings of nuts per week because nuts have Vitamin E and Vitamin E is good for the brain, and three services of whole grains a day like oatmeal and brown rice. Whole wheat bread is fine too. A glass of wine (one! Kim, just one) per day is also recommended. And beans. They make you fart, and they apparently make you smart. Fiber and Vitamin B are also great for the brain.

Now, of course, I'm simplifying all this. I'd recommend jumping online and checking out the research for yourselves. But there is something to be said about eating healthy, whole foods to help your brain. And I'd like to think that anything that prevents cognitive decline will boost the writer's brain.

Creativity feeds off inspiration. But it also needs actual food. It's takes a lot of mental energy to create story worlds and character arcs and build a narrative. Snacking on chocolate chips isn't going to help me. I know that. Eating oatmeal might.
Breakfast of brain champions
I don't know if it's Mommy Brain or something more nefarious, but lately I've been feeling like my brain is soup. I'll forget an actor's name that I should know, or I'll struggle to find a word to complete a sentence. Sometimes I simply can't focus long enough to be productive. And there might be many reasons for that--inadequate sleep, numerous demands for my attention, and just the whole of life weighing down on me. Something always gives. But if I can do something small--like eating better--to improve my brain, then I will. Because my books aren't going to write themselves. And I like thinking. I do it a lot.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Do you follow a healthy diet to work better? Do you notice a difference?

Please sound off in the comments.

Monday, January 27, 2020

A Book Cannot Be Murdered

This tweet made the rounds on Twitter last week:

Many readers and writers were angry with the book murderer:

I have opinions on this debacle, as both a reader and as a writer.

First, as a reader, I can relate. I've never cut a book in half, but many of my longer books are worn to hell, mostly because I bought them used in the first place, then they spent a long time bouncing around in backpacks before I was done with them. Here are just a few of the books off my shelf from one of the masters of very long books:

Well-worn is well-loved. It marks the passage of time spent with the books, sometimes over multiple decades, if read more than once. I can still remember finding a private corner of my high school to avoid people and wear out that particular copy of It.

I like signs of book assault from other people, too. I'm reading a used biology book right now, and there are seemingly random words underlined throughout. Like someone before me thought "ah, yes, zygote, good word, gotta get out my pencil and underline that one so I can bring it up at a party later." It's a nice little connection with a stranger, because someone else didn't consider book mutilation a crime.

Tearing books in half is on a whole other level, but I can relate with that too. Especially as an adult, I have limited time for reading, and it can be daunting to see a thick wad of pages past my bookmark. If dividing it into two parts can make it easier to get through, then fine, be a book murderer. Lately, I just gravitate toward shorter books, but maybe next time a long book seems worth it, I'll consider introducing it to my scissors.

What about as a writer? How would I feel if somebody took a blade to my hard-won collection of ideas, which I so carefully printed onto pages and wrapped in a lovingly designed cover?

Honestly … fine. As long as you're reading my books, I don't care how you're transferring those ideas from my brain to yours.

Treat them like precious artifacts if you want. But also cut them up, highlight your favourite passages, dog-ear your favourite pages, stick them on an e-reader, listen to them as an audiobook, borrow them from a library, lend them, steal them, slice them in half.

Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew.

A book is not the physical pages it's printed on—it's the ideas the pages only echo, and the cool thing about ideas is that they can never be murdered.

P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame

Friday, January 24, 2020

My Own Personal Bad Ass Mom
A while ago, fellow ATB Blogger, Mary Fan, mentioned she would be organizing and editing the next anthology published by Crazy 8 Press. I'd already participated in two previous Crazy 8 anthologies (Love, Murder, and Mayhem edited by Russ Colchamiro; and Thrilling Adventure Yarns edited by Bob Greenburger) and was looking forward to participating in another. Mary always has brilliant anthology theme ideas (see her Brave New Girls anthologies about girls in STEM based adventures). I knew her idea for Crazy 8 Press would be an impressive one. And I was right.

On the Crazy 8 Press blog, Mary explains her inspiration for her latest anthology:

"Dead moms are a long-established trope in stories, especially in sci-fi/fantasy. Mothers are, culturally speaking, meant to be nurturing figures who protect and coddle, and one of the easiest ways to force a protagonist to strike out on their own adventure is to get rid of the safety net that is Mom...
...When you look at stories—and the way we talk about stories—there’s this sense that when a woman becomes a mother, she ceases to be the heroine of her own story. Instead, she’s relegated to a supporting role for her children, who are now meant to be the center of her life and the only reason for her existence...
...Here’s the thing, though: Moms aren’t defined solely by their offspring, any more than dads or other parental figures are. A heroine doesn’t stop being a heroine because a kid came into her life—she’s still a heroine, but now with a kid."  
When I first heard about the theme for this anthology, I pictured a rough and ready adventure woman who also happened to be a mother. I thought I'd write a pirate who raised her kids to embrace the family business. That story refused to come out of me, though, no matter how hard I tried to write it. Instead, my heart insisted I write about a less aggressive mother who was dauntless in a softer way. 

I kept thinking of my own quietly bold mother who, over the years, I've come to realize was brave and daring by forging a full-time career in STEM fields--biology and computer programming--at a time when women (especially women with children) generally weren't, and still aren't, proportionately employed in those fields. She did all that while remaining fiercely devoted to her family--I can see so much of her influence in the way I've approached balancing my own family and work life. She showed me a woman can work, pursue hobbies and passions, and still have a fulfilling family live.
Mom kayaking the Hulela River in Kaua'i, Hawaii

Along with my dad, my mom has traveled back and forth across the country chasing adventures from Florida, to Alaska, Puerto Rico, St. Johns, and Hawaii. She's always been a pretty good piano player, but she taught herself to play Clarinet a few years ago and regularly performs for her church congregation.

She's also a craftswoman in many ways (cooking, baking, drawing, painting), but she's especially adept in "fiber arts". She knits or crochets almost daily, and it's obvious her love and care
One of Mom's recent projects
goes into each project--she gives a bit of herself in everything she makes, and that must carry some magic in it, right?

And that's how I came up with the idea for my story: 

The Art of Crafting Resistance

It's campaign season in Faffton and an uncanny, silver-tongued stranger has come to town with plans of winning the election for Mayor. He quickly charms the locals into giving him their support, but Lucy and Grandma Winnie soon discover his political plans threaten the beliefs and traditions they both hold dear. Lucy and Grandma Winnie team up to craft a grassroots resistance that fights back with truth, common sense, a lot of yarn, and a 
little bit of magic. 


Art by Sean “MunkyWrench” Eddingfield, design by Streetlight Graphics. Mary says: "And no, it’s not poorly cropped. Those words are intentionally too big for the frame. Just as the idea of a mom is too big for any box."



Mary's currently in the process of setting up a Kickstarter campaign to help fund this project. Follow Mary on social media to get updates: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

And just to give you an idea, here are some potential kickstarter rewards:
  • Copies of E-books from authors contributing to the Anthology.
  • Tuckerizations (naming a minor character after a kisckstarter backer or their loved one) 
  • One-time mentions (a kickstarter contributor is named once a story -- as a cameo character, street name, company name, planet name, etc.)

Monday, January 20, 2020

Women in Horror Month 2019 Redux

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey, everybody!  I hope you enjoyed your Martin Luther King Day, and ideally spent it in faithful service.

In case you've never noticed before, we here at Across the Board have a schedule of recurring special features.  Today I'm actually scheduled to do an interview, but I've decided not to do that just now because next month I'm going to be doing a series of interviews over on my personal blog which will also spill over here.

You see, February is one of the best months of the year for horror writers: Women in Horror Month.  Every year for the past four years I've done an interview series, and this year may actually prove to have some of the biggest names I've ever convinced to join me.  So, next month I'll be featuring an interview here, but for now, let's take a look back.  Here is a list (you may even see some names you recognize) of the people I interviewed last year, both here and on my personal blog.  Enjoy!

Sadie Hartmann

Mary Fan

Stephanie Wytovich

Elizabeth Massie

Catherine Cavendish

Gemma Files

Ania Ahlborn

Kelli Owen

Tlotlo Tsamaase

Kristi DeMeester

Christina Sng

Yvonne Navarro

Nadia Bulkin

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The World Has Gone...

By Cheryl Oreglia

Is it just me or has the world gone mad?

I'm up for a Google search this week and less than eager to share my findings.

Let's be honest, it seems as if everyone is enraged about something these days. It doesn't matter if you are on the right or left, from the North or South, rich or poor, skinny or fat, male or female, religious or atheist, young or old, pigment challenged or not. People are going berserk?

You might be curious as to what all this fuss is about?

I'm glad you asked because what I found was rather disheartening.

People are mad about...politicians, mass shootings, misogynists, terrorist, climate change, taxes, healthcare, same sex marriage, immigration, fires, law enforcement, crime, war, poverty...the list is long and difficult to contemplate.

If you've watched any of the debates you will have seen most of the politicians concur, we live in a chaotic world, in need of a savior (wasn't that what we just celebrated?)

As a survival technique I tend to squint at these controversial issues, shading myself from being over exposed, and then absolutely blow my stack if the toilet paper dispenser is empty, the dog eats my sock, or I encounter a slow driver in the fast lane, sometimes a dusty shelf can do me in.

We are all on overload.

But why?

Mark Mason says violent crime is at an all-time low, international wars are at an all-time low, there have been precipitous drops in domestic violence, steady declines in drunk driving-related deaths, death from infectious diseases, and a rock-bottom child mortality rates. You’re more likely to be killed by a piece of furniture than by a terrorist attack.

So why am I feeling so out of control?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and quote Ta-Nehisi Coates who says, “The violence is not new; it’s the cameras that are new.”

We have all these social media platforms ~ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and a few undisclosed sites that only people under 30 know about? But believe me they are out there.

People like hits on their platforms and guess what gets rewarded for sharing? Controversial, scandalous, and criminal stories, especially if it involves blood - even if they're wildly exaggerated, or worse fake news. The crazier the story the more it is retweeted, shared, and viewed or spread if you will. If you haven't noticed people are glued to their iPhones, we're inundated with data, and we have no way of assessing the accuracy or processing the content.

No wonder we think this is the end of times. As Mason notes we live in an attention economy where extremism and bias are not only indulged but perpetuated. It's an apocalyptic mentality that is celebrated and spreading like the wild fires in Australia.

While we continue to stoke these fires, there is no way for reason and moderation to dampen the rage, it's all smoke and mirrors, because anything else seems boring.

Mark Mason says, it’s this feeling that has consumed the consciousness of millions of people, and caused them to look at their country through the lens of a fun-house mirror: exaggerating all that is wrong and minimizing all that is right.

How do we come to any resolution when we've become so polarized?

Truth is a close relative to fiction (in my book). If I want to be perfectly transparent, which I don't, we could name humor as the proverbial parent, one who loves unconditionally the incarnate story of you (sorry I have Christmasitas - it lingers). Okay, I'm finished with this line of thinking, except to say, when done well, story gives birth to something akin to new life, and I've come to believe after this arduous google search that story is the only way to write us out of this current scenario.

Is there a conclusion?

This is the crazy part, despite the fact that we live in relative safety, poverty at an all time low, we have complete access to all the information we want, and what do we choose ~ The National Inquirer no less! No wonder we think the world has gone mad.

It's as if we're all crammed together in some sort of modern day Noah's Ark, we've been swept away by a flood of negativity, submerging the very structures on which we have built the most successful civilization in human history.

How can we change this narrative? Thoughts?

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

Thursday, January 9, 2020

A high level view of the RWA fiasco

As Across the Board's resident romance writer, I feel compelled this week to write about the ongoing situation with Romance Writers of America. What situation, you ask? Well, buckle in. And get ready to follow some links that explain all of this WAY better than I can.

If you spend any time on Twitter, you're probably not unfamiliar with the ongoing drama with Romance Writers of America. Even if you're not on Twitter, the #RWAShitshow has been covered by Vulture, The New York Post, and more recently, Entertainment Weekly, who reported on RWA's decision to cancel the Rita's - the romance industry's annual writing awards. There is a lot of speculation about whether cancelling the RWA National Conference is next. As of yesterday several major publishers - including Harlequin, Avon, Sourcebooks and Entangled - have indicated that they will neither attend or sponsor this year's annual conference. Agents have disassociated and members have left en masse.

I have capital-T thoughts on everything that's happened, but before we get to that...

For a very thorough timeline of events, I've not found a better one than Claire Ryan's here. 

Where Claire Ryan's timeline leaves off, @Romancesparksjoy on Twitter picks up

For specific timelines, I recommend 
@courtneymilan, @Alyssa_Day and @AlyssaColeLit.  
All have been immersed in this situation from Day 1.

Also, Jami Gold's blog post offers an insightful look at the problems with RWA and why
they should matter to ALL writers.

I have NOT been immersed in from Day 1 and as a former member of 
RWA, I have no voting power in the current situation. However, that does 
not mean it doesn't impact me.

When a national association is revealed to be racist, anti-LGBT and ableist, 
that impacts us all. When said national association has received criticism for lack of 
diversity, equality and inclusion in its previous awards and makes award judges 
complete DEI training, but does not embrace those principles at the highest levels, 
that impacts us all. And then when the same national association's first magazine of 
2020 comes out in the midst of this whole controversy and shows a white woman 
pulling a woman of color up a mountain - knowing full well the cover image was 
chosen months ago and no one thought anything was wrong with that image 
at the time - that impacts us all.

I love writing romance and I love being part of the romance community. I love the fact
that so many authors, agents and publishers are taking a stand against this behavior.
What I don't love? That this type of prejudice is still so insidious. 
That there is discriminatory behavior to be called out. That this has reached the highest 
level of an organization I, and many authors, once held in great esteem.

Many more issues have come to light since this whole mess has started, and whether RWA 
can recover is very much in question. One thing is certain, however. If it does manage
to live to see another day, it will be need to be a very different organization.
For everyone.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

New Year, New Novel?

A post by Mary Fan
Happy New Year, everyone! Mary here, and I'm a day late because... well, I don't have a good reason, actually. I've been behind on various writing projects, and I feel like I've been playing catch-up for maybe a year. I've come to accept that this is my life now. I burrowed myself in the proofreading cave last night in an attempt to get back on track and totally spaced on my post. Sorry! #onbrand?

Anyway, it's the time of year when everyone's setting new goals. Many are health-related... my kickboxing gym was so full the other day, me and this other lady kept round-kicking each other by accident because there wasn't enough space between bags for our flying limbs. For those of us who write things, they're probably more, well, writing related.

Some people will set goals or resolutions based on habits -- something like "write every day." That works well for some folks, and if that's you, then I encourage you to go for me. Me? I'm not a creature of habit. Quite the opposite, really. My productivity is feast or famine... either I'm writing 3,000 words a night or nothing at all. But I'm generally decent at hitting my longer-term goals, such as finishing things and meeting deadlines. Well, the ones that really matter, such as ones tied to events... hence why so many of my goals (actually, all the ones below) are tied to events.

So here's what I'm aiming to do in 2020, roughly in chronological order:

  • Finalize and publish WINDBORN, the first novel in my YA epic fantasy series, in time for Farpoint 2020 (this is the thing I was proofreading when I forgot to write my post last night...). Current status: Getting there!
  • Crowdfund and publish BAD ASS MOMS, an anthology I'm editing for Crazy 8 Press, in time for Shore Leave 2020. Current status: Already late, but salvageable...
  • Publish the fifth (!!!) BRAVE NEW GIRLS anthology, also in time for Shore Leave. Current status: Still on track! Mostly because we're still taking submissions
  • Complete and publish SEIZE THE STARS, the third and final book in my Starswept YA sci-fi series, in time for Gen Con 2020. Current status: Also late but salvageable (halp)
  • Write a whole new book in time for my local writer group's critique session in November. Current status: I ain't started *sigh*
There are a few other things I want to do as well, but these are the big ones. What are your 2020 writing goals?

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Konmari method for writers

Happy New Year, everyone! Holy hell, it's 2020. A decade ago, I was anxiously awaiting the birth of my first kid. Now I'm planning his tenth birthday party. Time seriously flies and it makes me hella stressed. No one wants to blink and they're seventy, y'know?

Anyway, I saw a ton of tweets from writers bulleting their decade-long accomplishments and rather than rehash that or discuss writer resolutions or goal-setting, I thought I would talk to you today about what I am affectionately calling, decluttering for authors. Very new decade. Very Marie Kondo. And like Marie Kondo, we're going to ask ourselves if something brings us joy. And if it doesn't, we're chucking it. Because a cluttered space is a cluttered mind. And we writers need clear heads. So let's begin with my stuff.

Hey there, Alphasmart Neo. You little internet-less keyboard that I purchased on Ebay to write without distractions. I discovered you via a KBoards thread and I thought you would be the answer to my procrastination problems. Alas, you've been sitting on this shelf for years. You're much better off in the hands of someone else who might actually use you. Thank you and goodbye. 

Hello giant binders with my old manuscripts. The books have been edited and published and I'm no Hemingway. I don't need to hold onto three hundred sheets of paper and red pen notes because it belongs in a museum. Thanks for being there, but it's time to hit the recycling pail.

Oh hey, computer file folder with old drafts of short stories that bear no resemblance to the final product. And how are you FinalDraft1, FinalDraftVersion 2, and FinalFinalDraft3 files that are definitely not the final versions of anything? I think it's time you all go to the Trash. Thanks. It's been real.

And to you fancy pens, highlighters, post-it notes and notecards. I'm not sure why I thought overspending at Staples was going to help me write better or faster. I'm going to pass you along to my kids for their school projects.

And lastly, to you cheap ShopRite notebooks that I bought for ten cents a piece in late August. You, with the scribblings of a mad woman with so many ideas, you get to stay. You are chock full of notes and plot threads and characters that I intend to flesh out one day. You bring me joy. Also you are the most consistent part of my process. I can't let you go.

I've always believed that writers work best when their space is clear. Be it headspace or working space, just get rid of the stuff you don't need anymore. Condense your computer files. Delete duplicates. Chuck old manuscripts into the recycling bin unless you absolutely need to revisit your process.

Get rid of the old. And welcome new ideas and enthusiasm. And write. Butt in chair.

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