Thursday, April 30, 2020

Pandemic Productivity Is Bullsh*t

By now we've all seen this pandemic productivity meme, right?

I'm here to call bullshit. And not just because my productivity has screeched to a halt lately - although it has - but because it's a pretty toxic message that takes into account NONE of the external circumstances surrounding this quarantine.

Like the fact that there's a global pandemic and people are concerned with their health or the health of friends/family.

Or the absolutely astonishing job losses that, even if you're working, have you wondering how the economy can possibly recover. And what it will look like if/when it does.

And that's a big IF you're working. I don't personally know many writers who make enough money from their writing, alone, to sustain their entire family, but I know plenty of writers who have lost their day jobs/been furloughed/had their spouse furloughed. That side hustle is more important than ever, but there's that damn pandemic that's just as alarming as joblessness.

At the same time, there's that whole "remote learning" that's crept into the lives of families with children. And by "crept" I mean came in like a wrecking ball. Or is that just me?

So, yeah...if you're not killing it right now, let me be the one to tell you, it's not only okay, it's probably normal. Yes, I have writer friends who are LOVING this and have found their groove and then some. I have non-writer friends who are organizing their pantries and finally painting the baseboards. Then I have friends like me, who spend too much time reading the news and are slowly finding their way back to reading other things. (I actually had a few creative thoughts today and wrote those down, so that counts as writing, right?)

Instead of writing, I've been spending time connecting with my teenager, which is an unexpected bright spot in this whole thing. And cooking, then cooking some more. Getting anxious about going to the grocery store but going anyway because we can't get any delivery or click-and-collect slots. Running, which is also a bright spot because I'm back up to a decent distance again. (We're really lucky to live in the English countryside, so while I might see a few cyclists, the lanes where I run are pretty deserted.)

Are those things "productive?" Not by the above adage, I don't think. But again, the pandemic productivity mantra rings hollow to me and maybe the most important thing I can give myself at the end of this is grace. Grace to know what I can do, what I cannot, and the belief that one of these days the words will flow (relatively) effortlessly again. 

Are you writing more or less during this pandemic? How has it changed your work habits, if at all?

Monday, April 27, 2020

Series Enders Are Hard

A post by Mary Fan
The last time I wrapped up a series was in 2015, which feels like approximately a million years ago. It was the Jane Colt trilogy, which is a rather episodic space adventure whose final chapter didn't have a whole lot of plot threads from previous installments to tie up. I'd written the first book in the series in 2012, and though I took detours to write a few other things in between, for the most part it felt like I was powering through the whole trilogy in one go.

Wrapping up the Starswept trilogy has been an entirely different experience, and damn, was it hard. I finally managed to finish the manuscript about a week ago -- three months after I planned to -- and there were days when every word felt like a struggle.

Unlike the Jane Colt trilogy, which is three separate adventures with a few plot threads carrying through, the Starswept trilogy is essentially one giant story. The challenges from Book 1 are still present in Book 3... if anything, they're compounded. Plus, more characters to deal with. All the things I'd been putting off for 2 books had to concluded.

When I wrote the first book in the series back in 2013, I had only the vaguest ideas of where the series might go. Since Starswept was set up as a kind of dystopia, it was easy to take for granted that it would all come down to a final battle of sorts where the bad guys would get overthrown and the good guys would get a victory parade. Sadly, it turned out, that's not actually how I set things up. But as long as there was another book in the future, I could put off considering how my characters' problems would ultimately get solved.

In a way, writing a series ender is about contracting your universe. All the books before it are about expanding on your world and introducing new people and situations, but when you get to the end, you have to pull it all back so the story can feel finished. And I, for one, feel like I need to give all my characters some kind of send off, which can be hard to do without bogging the book down in sappy sentiments.

It feels weird concluding a series I started writing seven years ago, especially when that series turned out to be quite different from what I originally envisioned. There were some things I imagined happening that just didn't work when I actually sat down to write. Looking over old brainstorms makes me go, "huh, I really didn't know what I was going into, did I?"

And then there's this sense of finality. I'm putting away these characters and this world for good. As long as the series ender wasn't written yet, I could noodle around with possibilities for where the story might ultimately go. Even after I decided, there was always the chance things would change. And, of course, nothing is as good on paper as it is in your head.

I think part of the reason why I procrastinated so much on this book is because I didn't want to set down in words how everything would turn out, especially since it always felt like there was something else I could do, another direction the book could go in.

Right now, I'm still kind of in denial about this story being over. I guess it isn't quite done yet, since I still have to edit and stuff. At the same time, I'm not planning to majorly overhaul the ending or anything. It's a relief that this project I've been working on for so long is finally coming to an end (especially since I've got so many other to work on next), but at the same time, it's... well, weird. Maybe a little sad. I'm still trying to process the fact that this thing that's been part of my life for the better part of a decade is about to come to its end.

Have you concluded a series? Was it hard? Did things turn out the way you thought it would?

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Superhero Fic to the Rescue: Interview with Timothy Cerepaka a.k.a. Lucas Flint

Good tidings, readers. I hope this post finds you well.

We are very fortunate to bring you an interview with Timothy Cerepaka.

Under the pen name Lucas Flint, Timothy writes young adult superhero fiction. He is the author of The Superhero’s Son, Minimum Wage Sidekick, The Legacy Superhero, Dimension Heroes, and Capes Online, among others. He lives in Texas. (*Where I imagine the weather is far warmer than the cold temps we're experiencing in the Poconos. Someone tell the Northeast that it's almost May.)

If you're into the superhero genre, check out his work. His book covers are gorgeous. And if you're an indie author, pay attention to his thoughts on library ebooks (you could be missing out on an opportunity). 

Welcome to Across the Board! First, I gotta ask, as this is the new norm: How are you holding up during the quarantine? What are you doing to keep busy and sane?
I'm holding up fine. Spending it with my girlfriend, who I moved in with for the month of April (we're in a long distance relationship and weren't sure when the lockdown would lift, so decided it made sense for me to move in with her for a while so we could be together during this time).
I'm doing all sorts of things. Writing, editing, marketing, and all of the other things that go into running a publishing business. I'm also volunteering at my girlfriend's church a couple of times a week to pack bags of produce for the poor, doing bodyweight exercises to keep in shape, spending time with my girlfriend when she's not working, practicing my chess skills ... yeah, I can't say I'm bored :P .
How would you describe your work?
Young adult superhero fiction that, while dark and intense at times, is generally upbeat, fun, and full of action and adventure, with a dash of satire thrown in for good measure. 
Many authors are going to have to change their stories to reflect the pandemic and its impact on history. Do you think fantasy and science fiction writers will have to do the same?
Interesting question. The series I am currently writing (but have not yet published) features an epidemic in the background that nearly decimated the superhero community, but I planned this series before this pandemic started, so that's totally a coincidence. Said series will not come out until August, so we'll see how this pandemic is going by then.
Possibly. I don't think you NEED to talk about this pandemic (or any pandemic) in your stories if you don't want to or it doesn't make sense. While post-apoc fiction dealing with pandemics is selling like hotcakes right now, not every reader wants to read about that. Especially in fantasy and science fiction, which often feature alien worlds that may have nothing to do with Earth as we know it.
Having said that, pandemics are as much a part of a world as anything else. This could be a good opportunity for SFF writers to learn more about pandemics so they can make realistic alien or fictional diseases in their own worlds and stories. I'm certainly paying attention, despite not having any plans to make a pandemic story (aside from my unpublished series, though like I said, the epidemic is more of a background element than a central part of the story).
In addition, as an indie publisher, do you already see a change (positive or negative) in the publishing industry since the start of the quarantine? How will indie authors have to accommodate these new times?
A positive change I've seen, in my personal experience, is an increase in demand for library ebooks. My personal library sales have been rising steadily since January, which is significant because I do no direct marketing to libraries whatsoever. I expect that people are staying home more often and looking for free or low cost ways of entertaining themselves during their quarantine, and you can't get cheaper than free library books. I've also seen my KU page reads increase, which is probably for the same reason my library sales have gone up.
So, whether you are wide and in libraries or exclusive to KU, there's good opportunity out there for us indies. We're blessed to be working in an industry that isn't as badly affected by quarantines, lockdowns, and so on as others, so let's make the most of it.
Who are you reading right now?
Luke Chmlienko and his Ascend Online series. I'm a big LitRPG fan and have been enjoying this series so far.
Also been making my way through some of Craig Martelle's books on writing and publishing. Lots of good info and tips for writers and indies in those books.
What are you binge watching?
I recently finished binge watching the fourth season of the superhero anime My Hero Academia. Great season and great series in general. Definitely recommend it for superhero and anime fans alike.
What is one new hobby or activity you have picked up since being in quarantine?
Chess. Well, I was actually learning chess before the quarantine, but I've been studying and practicing more than ever since getting to my girlfriend's apartment. My girlfriend, who's a good chess player, has been teaching me how to play. Still can't beat her yet ( :P ), but I've made huge progress in a fairly short time and having fun doing it.
I've also been making my way through Mark Dawson's Facebook ads course. I have very little experience with Facebook ads, but would like to make them part of my marketing arsenal. Almost finished with it.
What are you working on?
A young adult superhero academy series. The first book, the name of which I haven't revealed to my readers yet, is coming out in August. The series will probably be about four books long. It's been a lot of fun to write and I can't wait to publish it so my readers can check it out.
Thank you so much for stopping by the blog. You can connect with Timothy at any of his Lucas Flint social media links posted below.


Monday, April 20, 2020

Do Dogs Turn Into Spirits? Google Search + Flash Fiction

P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame
It's my turn for a Google search post! This is my first ATB Google search, so I had to look up the rules:
  • Start a random search string in Google (or could be from one of your previous searches) 
  • Choose one of Google’s suggestions
  • Write up a post (or some flash fiction if you’re feeling really creative)
Let's make this as embarrassing as possible by starting with some of my actual previous searches. Most of my Google history is boring brain science stuff for my day job, but a few recent searches stood out:

I believe that's called a "video," past self.

I guess the air was moving fast and I forgot what to call it? Or maybe I just longed for the feeling of being outdoors, and turned to Google for a fruitless search to find pictures of wind.

Makes sense, given we're living through SARS's flashier but shittier sequel. The SARS outbreak was in 2003, and stopped by good old fashioned isolation of the infected, which was easier because it doesn't spread as easily as COVID-19. We still don't have a vaccine for SARS. Yikes.

Right, that sums up my feelings. (This is also the name of a great web series).

And finally, these two:

Errr ... that last one may require some explanation. My girlfriend and I were drinking wine and just wondering if our spayed dog would miss going into heat and doing the nasty with boy dogs. What? It's a valid question!

Anyway, let's combine those last two and see what Google autocompletes:

Ok I understand asking if dogs turn grey or white, but pink? Red? What have Googlers been doing with their dogs?

The one I really like is "do dogs turn into spirits?" Animals usually get left out of the world of the undead (though not in my crappy vampire series, because I find animals more interesting than people). But if a tiger can get COVID-19, then a dog (or bunny) must be able to catch whatever microorganism causes undeath. Surely dogs, and indeed all animals, can turn into spirits.

Let's explore the possibilities there with some flash fiction:

Do Dogs Turn Into Spirits? 

By P.T. Phronk

It turns out dogs have ghosts too! This is so great. After petting my friend’s dog, Ziggy, I’ve started seeing them everywhere, and they are always excited to see me. When a translucent puppy comes bounding up to me with a big bone in his mouth, I wonder if he was the pet of a long-ago king or a dead movie star. You never know. Sometimes three or four phantom doggos will crawl into my lap begging for pets. I hope this never ends!

Oh wow, it works with cats, too. A neighbourhood kitty rubbed up against my leg, and suddenly I see glowy eyes watching me wherever I go. Unlike dogs, they’re quite indifferent to my presence, but I think the ones at home are warming up to me. Some will meow for food. It’s a teeny bit irritating when I’m trying to sleep, but what a small price to pay to always be surrounded by adorable fur babies!

After a squirrel at the back door grabbed a peanut right out of my hand, the trees look much more alive. I can barely make out leaves any more, because there are so many fluffy little tails waggling up there. Cute! Kind of.

Since I helped that baby bird back into its nest, things have become a touch more difficult. I miss the sun, now that the sky is black with criss-crossing swarms of birds that died a long time ago. They swoop through my room and annoy the dozens of spectral cats that hang around, watching and licking their lips. The constant squawking and screeching sure do make it hard to get anything done.

Now it’s mosquito season. I thought living mosquitos were annoying, but let me tell you, the dead ones don’t lose their hunger for blood, and there are so many more of them. My entire body is covered in clumps of every mosquito that ever lived, jabbing their phantom needles into my veins in a futile attempt to drain my blood.

Sometimes I wish they could drink me dry, because maybe then the begging, the squawking, the itching would end. But when I see a translucent naked man writhing on my bedroom floor, the bugs swarming him, the cats gnawing on him, I know this will never end.

Good times, good times. Stay safe, everyone!

Monday, April 13, 2020

Virtual Reality
Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, kids!  Hope you're doing well and staying safe and sane.  I'm not doing great at collecting my thoughts lately, so I hope you'll forgive me if today is not a deep, philosophical blogpost.  Instead, I thought I'd highlight some opportunities I've been involved with lately to help give folks trapped in their houses something to do.

So, first, as I mentioned last month, I'm offering one free e-book to anyone who wants one for the duration of the emergency.  Since then, Robert Swartwood has also published MIDNIGHT RITUALS, including a short piece by myself, which we are also offering free for the duration of the emergency.  So even if you're terrified to e-mail me for a free novel, just click on that pretty cover below and grab your gratis anthology.

Next, in a little bit of a departure from the literary community, but still a fun virtual event, this weekend my business partner and I participated in the One Million Bubbles event.  Featuring over 1900 balloon artists in 81 countries, the idea was to put up a small display in your neighborhood to raise spirits.  Air Studio put together this lovely pastel Easter/spring-themed display: 

Finally, I'll be appearing this weekend at a virtual event, the somewhat offputtingly named CoronaCon.

Constructed somewhat out of the detritus of Scares that Cares Wisconsin, which was cancelled in the wake of the pandemic, CoronaCon will feature virtual panels and readings from some of the top horror authors in the field today.  So, stop by on Saturday.  I'll be appearing at a panel at 10:30 am EST and a reading at 3:00 pm.  Hope to see you (in spirit) there!

How about you?  What virtual events have you been participating in since the world shut down?  Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

What Do You Miss?

By Cheryl Oreglia

I've been thinking a lot about the things I miss, but also about the things I'd prefer not to return to after this blasted quarantine is over. Dave Hollis asks, "in the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to?"

It seems clear we have the ability to clean up the environment, almost overnight, if we work together. Who wants to go back to wasting precious time sitting in traffic jams, paying exorbitant gas prices, and auto insurance?  Have we've learned anything about conservation? What practices that benefit our environment will we keep?

Do we really need to commute to work everyday when working at home at least some of the time is sufficient? Do we have to fly across the country when a zoom call is enough to share information and strategize? Can we accomplish just as much working remote as we did before sheltering in place became our new normal? I think we can make compromises that allows for spending less time commuting to offices and more time with the people we love. Win, win.

Maybe we don't need to fill in every minute of the day with tasks? We seem to confuse busy with important, busy as a moral issue, busy with our self esteem, but now that my life has powered down, I'm sort of enjoying the pause. Time to sit with my thoughts, a warm cup of coffee, a good book - and not feel guilty. I'm so leaving guilt behind. 

We've learned a lot about online learning, student buy in, and challenging our current educational system. Could this be our chance to revamp an antiquated system of tests, scores, grades into a genuine desire to learn, an enthusiasm for our own development, an education driven by individual needs instead of outcomes?

I'm seeing leaders rise up in places you would never expect. Small restaurants offering a role of toilet paper with take-out because their bathrooms are no longer in use. Grocery stores partnering with hotel chains to hire laid off workers as grocery store staff. Hardware stores hiring laid off construction workers to help assist customers with home improvement projects which have quadrupled. 

Drive thru restaurants extending their hours to meet the needs in the community and the profits aren't bad. 

Thousands of people are volunteering to help organize food distribution centers, establish emergency shelters, and counseling services. Selfless giving is on the rise. 

Zoom has become a overnight success and other than unexpected drop-ins on your zoom calls they have kept pretty good pace with all the demand. Disney plus is releasing children's movies and youth programing as a way of helping beleaguered parents trying to entertain kids while working remote. 

Retired nurses are putting on scrubs and returning to work to help out with the increase of COVID-19 patients. 

Of course I miss stupid things like having my nails done, my hair cut, grabbing a coffee. I miss important things like eye level conversations, engaging with organically inspired topics from my students, reaching out when I know you are hurting or troubled and offering a hug.

I miss grabbing a bit to eat at the local diner, sipping wine with friends, playing card games with the neighbors, spending times with my sister, huge family dinners, holding on to that which is most important - each other. 

What do you miss? What will you leave behind. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

Survival of the Weirdest? Re-tooling Your Brand

A good friend of mine from grad school days is now a strategic branding and marketing guru (@leighgeorge on Instagram) and has been posting a lot of great stuff lately about how companies are retooling their brand in this pandemic.

Her various posts cite Nike's latest as one great example:
If you want to see more - including one upscale restaurant that has pivoted dramatically to "meet customers where they are" - check out Leigh's Instagram feed. If you want some great food for thought, ditto. Leigh posted this question several days ago and I've been thinking about it a lot:

Supermarkets are sending weekly emails in the UK about how they are feeding the nation and keeping us safe. We both need and want the reassurance that they're providing.

Local restaurants are now offering takeaway and delivery, offering a break from the relentless cooking. One local restaurant here even has a "date night" menu on Thursdays, available for takeaway. 

Boredom busters - Zoos are streaming, musicians are streaming, the West End and Broadway are streaming. PE with Joe Wicks at 9am Monday through Friday is "getting the nation moving" and is trending on Twitter almost daily.

It's astonishing to me how quickly - and in many cases, how well - these businesses have responded to this "new normal". 

And I...have not. 


Everyone I hear from says their attention spans are shot. My attention span is shot! But there's this little niggle in the back of my head that says, "Six months from now, what do I want to have to show for this?" Endless scrolling of Twitter and BBC News? Or something else? 

Some authors have started releasing chapters of what will presumably be a new novel/novella for free. Jami Albright, one of my fave romcom authors, released chapter 1 of LOVE, QUARANTINE AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES on her blog late last night. 

(Speaking of free, there are a lot of authors offering up free books right now. A LOT.)

Some authors are buying groceries for families in need on Twitter (Angie Thomas and Jason Reynolds did this just yesterday.)

Some authors are posting lots of dog pics on social media (raises hand) and aren't quite sure what to do and how to do things differently now because books take time and attention, and both can be a challenge right now in this time of home schooling/the-whole-family-at-home-every-minute-of-the-day. Never mind the very real anxiety of a global pandemic. 

But then I go back to the question Leigh posted that's been echoing in my thoughts - What do my customers need from me in this moment? And I feel like I owe it to them - and to myself - to figure that out.

What are YOU doing to retool your brand, fellow authors? And readers - what are you seeing from your favorite authors that is really resonating with you right now???

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