Monday, March 30, 2020

So, how's your quarantine going?

A post by Mary Fan
Greetings from the coronavirus capital of the world! I guess, to be precise, that would be New York City, and I'm just across the river in Jersey (everything is legal in New Jersey!). Still, I live (well, lived) half my life over there and see it every day from out my window, so close enough.

OH, WHAT TIMING, just as I was typing the above, a huge hospital boat thingy floated down the river outside my apartment. Behold!

The cavalry is here! 
This is super weird... usually when giant boats float by my window, they're cruise ships, but that hasn't been the case lately, for obvious reasons... NYC certainly knows how to strike a pose, doesn't she? With the moody clouds and everything? It reminds me weirdly of a scene from a war movie or something... like, we're grimly but hopefully watching the troops go off to war (spotted a couple of my neighbors also taking pics at their windows).

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, quarantine. Well, actually (as one of my guy friends so helpfully reminded me), it's stay-at-home orders (thanks, dude, I do know a thing or two about words). But everyone's calling it quarantine cuz, frankly, it feels like it fits better. "Stay at home" is what I do on the weekend when I'm lazy. "Quarantine" means there's a disease going around... which their is. Also, it sounds more dystopian, which is how the world feels right now.

I'm entering Week 3, and luckily, I have an office job where I can work from home. Not gonna lie, when it was first announced that a bunch of stuff was getting canceled and closed, I was a little relieved, since I'd overscheduled myself to the brink. The idea of not having to spent an hour-ish each way commuting (on overstuffed, always-breaking-down trains) was pretty appealing. But the novelty wore off real quick.
Can't get to my trapeze so this'll have to do

What's more, I thought I'd spend all that extra time catching up on the book projects I'm woefully behind on. While I do think I got more done than I would have otherwise, I've also spent way too much time obsessively reading the news (which, I know, I know, you shouldn't do) or turning off my brain with some mindless TV (by now, I'm sure y'all have watched the bizarre alternate reality that is Tiger King as well). There was one evening when I had my WIP up on my laptop and spent maybe 15 minutes staring at it uselessly before accepting that it just wasn't gonna happen. Turns out, it wasn't the lack of time that was impeding my progress. It was the lack of brainpower.

Between virtual happy hours and one-on-one video chats, I must say that loneliness hasn't really been an issue. The thing that's really been getting to me is the lack of physical activity. Ordinarily, I'm perpetually tired and will find any excuse to blow off the gym (oh no, it's raining and my shoes are wet, can't go). These days, I'm almost literally bouncing off the walls. Shadow boxing and conditioning exercises just aren't the same as hitting heavy bags and swinging from trapezes.

I guess this quarantine thing has been revealing about some things. I've worked in open office environments for the past several years, without the option to work from home, and I was always dead after work. Now, my workload hasn't changed that much, but that dead feeling is gone. Turns out, it wasn't the work. It was the people (hooray for being an introvert?).

I wasn't originally planning to do April NaNo, but I'm so behind on my WIP that I might use it as a motivator to power through the rest of this manuscript. Might as well. I have the time.

Anyway, how's your quarantine going?

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Modern life is the pits: struggling during a pandemic

Greetings, everyone.
This post might read like the anxiety-ridden stream of consciousness that is currently swarming my insides. Today, for the first time since quarantine, I actually cried standing at my kitchen counter. My anxiety is peaking and we haven't even hit the mid-way point through all this yet. I am on edge. Everyone in my house annoys me.

I haven't really been able to write through all this. I know most authors are struggling to get words down. But, just the idea of an interruption, which is guaranteed in a house with three kids, makes it impossible to open my Scrivener app.

My kids are always around and my husband suggested we get them on a routine since distance schooling officially starts Monday. And by we, he means me because he is working from home and can't be disturbed. But since my job is part-time, I am the constant caretaker of everything--just like normal except I can't escape this house.

I'm supposed to be teaching remotely on Monday as well but I've annoyed my students so much with texting them instructions on how to accomplish this--and without any guidance from the community college--that they've stopped reading my messages. I'm trying not to worry about it. But I'm worried. So there's that.

I've gained weight too. So that's fun.

I know I should feel grateful that my family is safe and healthy and my husband still has a job, and I am. But I am also struggling to cope. That's the reality. I am grateful and irritable and angry and defeated. I can be all those things and still be grateful.

Modern living is difficult on its best day, let alone during a global pandemic.

How is everyone?

Monday, March 23, 2020

A Slight Concern That This May Be the Apocalypse: Interview with cal chayce

P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame
I have a very special post today to take your mind off of all the things: an interview with cal chayce. He is the author of deep, dark novels such as All the Fine Hungers and Dead Dog on Morningside, in addition to being a co-founder (with me) of Forest City Pulp, and a fan of lower-case letters. But enough about cal, here's ... actually, it's more cal. On with the interview:

P.T. Phronk: I feel like every conversation will start with this for a while: how are you holding up in light of COVID-19?

cal chayce: I'm doing okay so far, taking it in stride, I do, however, have a slight concern that this may be the apocalypse and we'll all soon be hunted down by red necked and red capped folks for sport. You know they're out there right now, don't you? Oiling their pieces and giggling silently. Awaiting.

PTP: So you’ve had an interesting life so far. How much of your writing is autobiographical?

cc: None at all. At least, not at the time. After every book has aged a couple of years, though, I find they're all blatantly about me and I'm shocked that I had so completely overlooked the obvious. It just takes me a while to let me know what's really going on.

PTP: I was thinking about Dead Dog on Morningside, which seems like a very intimate portrayal of a family fleeing The Troubles in Northern Ireland to live in Toronto. Now that it’s aged a bit, what’s going on there? What was the inspiration behind that novel?

cc: For that one, I was at least partially cognizant. I knew I was the child narrator while writing. But it was eye-opening later on to find I was also, in part, the cousin, Danno the father – and Farley, the villain. I took no joy in the discovery of that last bit. But maybe he’s just Everyperson. He represents the personal demons that Danno realizes he should try to excise and bury in a deep hole. And maybe those of us who couldn’t make use of a decent spade are few and far between.

Dead Dog on Morningside cover

PTP: Some of your novels, like All the Fine Hungers, also bring up important stuff about the human condition and the current state of the world. How do you go about incorporating deeper themes into your work?

cc: It's the other way 'round, actually; it's the work that gets incorporated into the themes. When I discover interesting, new-to-me, common characteristics in people, those traits grow and intertwine and spread and swirl until a suitable story forms around them, manifesting in the guise of characters and settings. Then I just fill in all the bits that don't look like a book. But yeah, the core is always about the human experience.

PTP: That’s cool. Do you think fiction plays a role in improving the human experience? Especially in times like, you know, these.

cc: Fiction doesn’t just play a role; it’s vital. Who we are as a species has been vastly shaped by The Story Teller. Our hopes, our ability to deal with situations with which we have no experience, our very morals and personal ethics. Our being. From ancient religious stories to Greek mythology to that weird foreign film you saw last week on Netflix, all play their part. 

Someone should write a story about a society that developed without story tellers. What could that look like? I’d read that shit. 

PTP: Maybe music plays a part too. Do you listen to music while you write? I ask because I just wrote about that here on Across the Board. Any music you’d recommend people check out?

cc: You mean, some people don't? If anyone can write fiction without music, and not have their characters hop off to god knows where, they have my respect and admiration. The music, for me, is my only chance to keep the unruly bastards in line. If it's music that feels like the character I want to write, they just might stay in their designated lane. Many still break free, of course, but with music, there is hope. 

And no, I have nothing to recommend. What I listen to is what cuddles up to my lived experience and allows me to be the little spoon for a while. Everyone else's experiences have been different than mine. What cuddles up and spoons with me, might make another flee in terror when it pokes them in the back.

PTP: What’s next for you? Planning on spending any more time writing while you’re stuck inside?

cc: I stay inside all the time anyway, so there's been no difference. If it's a beautiful, warm day, I might admire it from the kitchen window for a few minutes before retreating back to the deepest recesses of my cave.

What's next for me is a kiss-ass commercial endeavour. I've never tried that, and to be honest, I'm not certain I can keep inspired to the end. It’s an experiment. Things blow up and men punch each other. Sometimes they punch each other while in the midst of blowing up. Because that's what the people like. That, and a little naughtiness, because they’re all pervs.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

10 Ways Publishing is like a Bad S.O.
So many of my inspirations from this blog come from talking with other authors, and in particular with fellow ATB blogger, Mary Fan. A couple of weeks ago, she and I were agreeing that after many years in this author business, we've come to accept that continuing to do this means doing it to please ourselves and not some nebulous expectations of the "Industry".

As a newbie writer, I was interested in trends and in being aware of what was selling and trying to plot books to meet those expectations. Now? Eh...not so much. Now I write what makes me happy. Mary spends money on gorgeous illustrations that may or may not be worth the investment--she does it because she likes making a pretty book to suit herself. 

But back in the day, we were willing to give our hearts to publishing, hoping we might get a crumb of affection from the industry in return. The following is a list of the ways the publishing industry is like a bad, bad boyfriend (or girlfriend, or what-have-you).

10 Ways Publishing is a Bad Significant Other

  1. They don't know what they want but they expect you to give it to them anyway
  2. They say they want something, and you give it to them, and they're like "No not like that you idiot"
  3. They expect you to spend a lot of your own money supporting your relationship but will never chip in on rent or groceries
  4. They court you then drop you for the first new thing that comes around
  5. They'll dangle promises about commitment but never actually propose
  6. They'll propose but never actually set a date (for publication)
  7. They tell you they love you just the way you are, then tell you all the reasons you need to change to make them happy
  8. They only love you as long as you’re still putting out
  9. They never call when they say they will and go forever without contacting you. 
  10. Often compares you to other authors and wonders why you can't be more like them.
Thanks to author friends Mary Fan and Erica Luke Dean for helping me with this list.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Reading and Writing and the Fucking Apocalypse
Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, everybody!



Here we are. 

I feel like I've had to chime in on this blog on the cusp of major disasters way too many times.  I wish the catastrophes would stop coming, but I guess that's just the way of the world.  The only positive I can say for it is that perhaps these events teach us humility and the importance of caring for our neighbors.  Or, as Dostoevsky put it with such characteristic eloquence, "...Every one of us is responsible for everyone else."

In any case, it's very strange for me to have a book release on a day when the world has otherwise shuttered.  But I do.  Today is the release of my much anticipated "reverse haunting" novel, THE PERFECTLY FINE HOUSE, co-written by Wile E. Young and released by Grindhouse Press.

It feels supremely odd to attempt to plow forward with things like advertising and even just regular work.  I really could not get much done at the day job today, and not just because I was working from home, but also because the world is imploding all around us in real time on television.

But, in any case, we must plow forward.  We must, to the extent that we can.  So, here.  Here's my new book.  I hope you'll grab a copy.  I hope you'll tell your friends.  (For the love of God, on social media or the telephone, not in person.) 

E-books are a great boon in this time when access to entertainment is so important for keeping us sane.  Which is probably why many of my peers have started offering free books to help entertain the housebound.  Maybe that is one small thing we as authors can do to help ease the pain of social distancing and self-quarantining.  And if everyone works together to lift up everyone else, we might just be able to construct, plank by plank, a boat around ourselves to weather the storm we're in the middle of.  In fact, it's all we can do, I guess.

So I am offering a free e-book to anyone who requests one.  (Although, as a courtesy to my co-author and publisher, please do not request my new release.)  Many other authors and publishers are doing the same, so please seek them out on social media.  And please, hold your loved ones tight and take care of yourselves.  See you on the other side.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

We Call Him Seth

By Cheryl Oreglia

Have you heard of Seth Godin?

He posts a daily blog appropriately called Seth's Blog!

I met him in person a few years back when I attended the On-Being Gathering with Krista Tippett. He was a guest speaker, one of the few that interacted with the participants casually during meals, and seemed to enjoy the conversations, or maybe it was the adoration? I just think he like connecting with people, it's his gig.

He's what I call a light bulb, not because he's bald (that would be rude), but he lights up a room with what I call authentic engagement. You know the types.

I noticed (okay I stalked him a little) how he engendered focused, down to earth, meaningful conversations. This is a person who's easy to talk to even when nerves render you speechless. A consequence of celebrity sightings.

I know, it happens, best practice is to breath, and imagine everyone else in their underwear. Makes me feel less vulnerable.

He's written a dozen books, all of which meet a need in his community, or shall we say niche, challenging his readers to show up, step up, and make a difference in the world.

A recent post:
Skill vs Talent
You’re born with talent.
You earn a skill.
I don’t think there are many places where talent is the key driver of success. The biggest exception might be that a drive to acquire skill could be a talent…
Assuming you have that, though, assuming that even once you did the hard work to learn something important, then you have what you need to develop even more skills.
Go do that.
We need generosity and passion. And even more so, we need people who care to develop the skills to deliver on their promises.

He also offers a series of on-line courses designed for all types of interests, from influencers to creatives, entrepreneurs and visionaries, the philanthropist and the developers, life coaches and those who are trying to make a living using creativity. I think a few dentist signed up?

I applied for the creatives workshop, and lo and behold I got in, well everyone does but that's beside the point.

I might be in over my head, but I'm daring greatly, and that's exactly who he's trying to reach, people who are good at hiding. If interested you'll have to wait for the next opportunity. Hint: there's a purple circle that you can link to for a huge discount, it gets smaller everyday, so don't sit around chewing your cud when opportunities abound.

It's coronavirus time, we're quarantined, what else were you planning on doing with your time? Yes, Netflix is the only hold out in the stock market, questions?

Okay, this was supposed to be a hack job? My bad, I got distracted with purple cows and such.

The Purple Cow by Seth Godin

This book talks about the importance of making your products remarkable. Not trendy or gimmicky but remarkable as in, “Worth making a remark about.” If you see a field of cows and they are all black or brown, then suddenly a purple one appears - that’s remarkable. You want to stand out in the market place, so people take notice, but in a good way.

Next you have to find your tribe, people interested in purple cows, but not just any purple cow, but your cow, maybe it leans like the Tower of Pisa or barks like a dog, lands on it's feet? The thought here puts traditional advertising in the recycle bin. It's ineffective. It's so yesterday.

Platforms are the key to success, reaching the right people, exceeding their expectations, and being so remarkable, "they'll share [your purple shit] with their communities," and so it goes. You might be worried about putting your barking, leaning purple cow out in the world, but fear not, the critics will come, and this is what we call free advertising.

Go for it, take a risk, find your audience, and exceed expectations in a remarkable way.

What is your current "purple cow" and who is the audience in need of this vision? How can I help?

When I'm not at Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, come graze in my field sometime. 

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Happy World Book Day!

It's World Book Day in the UK and Ireland today. Which kind of makes me think it's not "World" Book Day at all if it's only being celebrated in a tiny corner of the globe? (Kind of like the World Series in baseball.) But, in this case, totally willing to overlook that because BOOKS! Am I right?

So what is World Book Day? According to the World Book Day website: 

World Book Day is a registered charity on a mission to give every child and young person a book of their own. It’s also a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading. 

Tokens are given out in school and at bookshops to be exchanged for a selection of £1 books designated as World Book Day books, ranging from early reading books through young adult. The idea is to bring books home to everyone, and everyone can bring home a book. 

When my son was in primary school, World Book Day was an occasion for dressing up. Here he is as Skullduggery Pleasant in Year 4 or 5:

Now he's in Year 10 and dressing up isn't a thing anymore. Apparently neither is World Book Day, really. This makes me sad but I have to admit, I'm not unhappy to be trying to come up with costumes for a teenager who's over 6 feet tall. (Let's not even talk about the fact that reading isn't all that "cool" anymore, sadly, and even though my son does read, he'd hate acknowledging his recent favorite book almost as much as dressing up.)

Of course, there are loads of ready-bought costumes for younger kids available now. Kind of like Halloween part 2?

I admit, we always made our own World Book Day costumes. Some years were better than others. The Skullduggery Pleasant costume was so good my son wore it twice, although I'm not sure if he didn't just want an excuse to wear that mask.

Is it another stress on parents - this random day in March when suddenly you not only need to come up with a costume, but it needs to be book-related? AB-SO-LUTE-LY! My son wore glasses from a young age and there was definitely the year I threw a scarf around his neck and drew a "scar" on his forehead with lip liner so he could be Harry Potter.

But I have to admit, this one (stolen from Facebook this morning) is definitely my favorite:

If my son were still doing World Book Day, I'd be all over this idea. Just saying.

However you're celebrating World Book Day, I hope it's with your favorite book.

Monday, March 2, 2020

The Voices We Can’t Connect With

Hey everyone! Today’s post is on something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. It’s about what
A post by Mary Fan
it means when someone “can’t connect with the voice” of a book or story. While that’s a phrase most often used by agents and editors to reject writers, it’s an idea that readers experience as well when it comes to published books (they might phrase it differently in their reviews or conversation… they just couldn’t get into it, for example).

We’ve all been there. We pick up a book (or manuscript) that seems good based on the description/cover/recommendation/etc., but as we start to read, it just doesn’t resonate for some reason. We just can’t get lost in it. It doesn’t pull us in. Reading it feels like more of a chore than it should. We can’t necessarily pinpoint anything wrong with it… maybe the plot’s fine, maybe the characters seem like they should be interesting, maybe the world building is actually pretty cool. But there’s just this wall between us and the text.

Reading, of course, is extremely subjective. Sometimes, there is no reason why one thing clicks with us and another doesn’t. Maybe we just like Book A but not Book B, and that’s that.

But I do wonder if sometimes, there’s something more to it. As a kid, especially as a teenager, I had a hard time “connecting” with the books that were supposed to have been written for me. The YA books of the late 1990s and early 2000s, which were, of course, quite different than what’s being published today. I similarly had trouble “connecting” with the teen shows of that era. Looking back, I think the reason is because those pieces of fiction were about lives that had nothing to do with mine. Those of white, privileged, suburban, extroverted teens interested in sports and types of pop culture I had zero desire to get into. Everyone else seemed to love that stuff, though. Looking back, I think it’s because “everyone else” matched the description of the characters being depicted. And of course, the majority rules.

Anyone who’s taken a basic intro to psychology course (or even read a pop science article covering similar ground) knows that humans take mental shortcuts. We have to—it’s the only way to process the overwhelming amount of information surrounding us. So of course, when we’re reading or otherwise consuming media, it’s easier to “connect” with others who are like us. Those who share our backgrounds and cultures and affinities. Those who express themselves the same way we do. It’s how we are with in person relationships as well.

There’s a certain amount of empathy required to “connect” with or relate to somebody different. Somebody who maybe expresses themselves differently – who doesn’t smile when we’d smile, or laughs at what we think are inappropriate times, or isn’t as open about their feelings as we are (or, conversely, is more open than we’d like). Subconsciously, I think many of us know it. I, for one, mirror like nobody’s business. I’m a weirdo, and I learned long ago that this is an unforgivable crime, for which the punishment in respectable society is mockery or denial of existence. So I’ve found my mannerisms, the pacing of my words, and even my accent (which is pretty plain Midwestern American radio voice, but broadens around southerners and grows more clipped around northerners) changing to match that of the person I’m with (particularly when they’re a new person I’ve just met, or a person in power). It’s not on purpose—it just happens as some kind of survival instinct.

Anyway, back to reading/writing. Much has been said in the past few years about the continued dearth of books written by and about marginalized populations. Even though there’ve been many important steps taken toward a more equitable literary landscape, we still have a long way to go. Meanwhile, the demographics of American publishing remain as white and privileged as ever. Everyone on the reading side of things—editors/agents/reviewers/booksellers/consumers—want, of course, books they can fall into and “connect with” immediately. But maybe it’s time to think about why certain books “connect” more easily than others. Is it because the writer is similar to the reader? Because they were raised in the same kind of environment, like the same kinds of things, express themselves in similar ways? Or because the writer has gotten so good at mirroring what those in power have decided is “good”?

Who gets to decide what’s “good”? Who gets to decide what “quality” even means?

If we come across a book that in theory we should like, but can’t “connect” with it, is it simply a matter of subjective preference? Or are we, perhaps, taking a mental shortcut because it’s subtly too different, too difficult?

Is there an empathy deficit we need to address?

Are the voices we can’t “connect” with, perhaps, the ones we should be working even harder to delve into?

I don’t have the power to address these questions in a meaningful way. All I can do is consider them as a reader and try harder to read outside my comfort zone, even when a voice isn’t “connecting.” As a writer, well, mirroring, however much it works or doesn’t work, is a survival instinct.
Blogger Template by Designer Blogs