Thursday, September 23, 2021

Tedious Is Not My Forte

Tedious, tiresome or monotonous, deadly dull, and honestly, that is the life of a writer. 

Writing happens in fits and starts, in between, it’s all about editing out the crap, coming back from our self-induced distractions, and of course multiple trips to the refrigerator. Back and forth I walk from the office to kitchen, kitchen to office, office to kitchen not unlike the cursor that moves stoically across the page. 

I emulate the actions of my mind or is it my hands that emulate the actions of my body?

Most of the time I open the refrigerator, look around, finding nothing of interest, I close the door, and leave. Returning to my computer, I open the page, browse the unappealing verbiage, close the computer, and leave. I might need therapy? 

Why do we do it?

What is the impetuous for keeping that blasted cursor moving across the page? 

Maybe I have this deep-seated hunger to reveal a tiny slice of reality. I reach for the dusty curtains, coughing as I push back the material that blocks your view, for a moment I’m blinded by the light that floods the room. I’m trying to show you something, I keep looking for the right words to describe what I see but I have to fight to get outside of myself. Painstakingly I crawl closer and closer to the truth. Knees bleeding.

No wonder writers drink. 

I wrap my words in so much shit if I washed away most of it, the rawness of what is left would only scratch the surface of what is true. I never fully arrive. It’s agonizing, like rashes, they itch,  and I scratch them until they bleed but the paresthesia is never satisfied. You know what I mean?

Some days I delete everything I write. Not one word is worth repeating. I toss my notebook across the room, it’s as if I am rejecting myself, and I’m thrown back to elementary school where it was a daily fight to belong.

It’s part of the deal, it’s the burden we carry, gutted by depletion we struggle on. 

Then there are the good days when everything flows as if a gentle stream trickling through a secret garden. These are the stakes that keep everything in place. But I’m camping on private land, signs posted “No Trespassing,” and this is how I understand grace. It’s undeserved. 

Today I’m writing with the computer on my lap, still in bed, with a cup of lukewarm coffee at my side. I’m already late with this post, I wrote the words above yesterday, I was clearly in a mood. Today, I’m picking through the words as if a pizza with anchovies that I asked for on the side. I can’t figure out where I was going and why I ordered an entire pie for myself?

Details, land rights, pulled up stakes? What the hell. Yesterday I had a direction but clearly, I’ve misplaced the map and now I’m standing in the middle of a post and have no idea where it’s going. Shit.

I slip out of the warm covers, make the incredibly short trek to the kitchen, but this time I refuse to open the refrigerator, I have the contents memorized, and besides there is nothing there that will satisfy my craving. I need a different sort of propellant. 

I consider crawling back to my room just to be dramatic but I think better of it as the floors haven’t been mopped in a while.

Slipping into the still warm covers, I go back to the first line, which is usually where I stash my agenda and read it again, “Tedious, tiresome or monotonous, deadly dull, and honestly, that is the life of a writer.”

It’s just not my forte.

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

Monday, September 20, 2021

She's A Bad Seed

 A review of The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker

A good book will make you feel things. Good things, bad things—thrilled, angry, wistful, it doesn’t matter. The magic comes from realizing these fictional people and their fictional problems have wormed their way so deep into your psyche that you become invested in the end of their story. You need to know what happens, and when it does, you leave the story, among other things, immensely satisfied.

A great book evokes the kinds of feelings that wash over you at the end of the last line, that make you laugh out loud or cry. They linger. For hours, sometimes days, making it impossible to pick up anything else. Some people call this a book hangover. At the end of the last page of THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING, I didn’t feel hung over. I felt destroyed. I locked myself in my office and sat in my chair and cried. Days later, a small part of me still aches. Part of me hopes it never stops.


I hadn’t expected any of it. When I picked up The First Day of Spring and read the first couple of pages, I thought I was walking into something twisted. A thriller with a hook I hadn’t read before. I bought it immediately.

The book opens with the eight-year-old protagonist (Chrissie) strangling another child. Tucker writes, “Sweat made it slippy between our skins but I didn’t let go, pressed and pressed until my nails were white. It was easier than I thought it would be.” Already a disturbing image, as Chrissie goes on to describe the fizzy feeling in her stomach when she realizes the boy is dead, the tick-tick-tick sound in her head as her body counts down to when she’ll need to feel the fizzy feeling again, Tucker forces us to confront these two seemingly opposing images—a murderer and a child—and try to reconcile them. It’s disturbing, and you can’t help but agree with the adults—oblivious to the murder—who call her a bad seed. There’s something wrong with Chrissie, they say. She acts out. Bites and kicks and steals and manipulates. And it’s no wonder, because she comes from the alleys where the poorest, most pathetic people live. And as the investigation into what happened to the little boy causes ripples throughout Chrissie’s small community, she tromps, peacock-like, through her days, knowing she is the smartest person in the world because she—and she alone—knows who killed the boy.

In a second timeline, Chrissie is grown and goes by the name Julia. She has her own daughter, Molly, and every day is an exercise in extreme discipline. Julia regiments their days, down to the quarter hour, because she believes it is the only way to keep Molly safe. To properly care for her because, unlike the other mothers around her, Julia doesn’t believe she knows how to comfort Molly. Nothing comes naturally to her. And when Molly falls off a retaining wall and breaks her arm causing Julia’s social worker to insist on a in-person meeting, Julia is convinced the social worker is going to take Molly away. Before that can happen, though, Julia decides to take Molly back to where it all started.

As the story progresses, eight-year-old Chrissie’s behavior spirals. But for every rotten action, every snide remark to show you just how bad Chrissie is, we are also reminded of how young, how sad she is. She tells her best friend that the boy won’t be dead for very long. She knows, because every few months her dad dies and then comes back to life. It isn’t until later that she realizes he doesn’t die at all—he’s locked up for petty theft and public drunkenness.

We spend so long being both fascinated and repulsed by Chrissie’s behavior that when we begin to discover why she acts out—how she steals extra milk and biscuits at school because the only food in her house is a bag of sugar, how she kicks and bites and snarls at the girls whose clothes don’t always smell of piss and sweat—the shame, the pity, creeps up unexpectedly.

As an adult, Julia bares the albatross of her past, making no excuses, all for the sake of her daughter. The thought of losing her fills her with pain, but she can’t help but wonder if she deserves it.

At the heart of this book is a message about growing up poor, being so young and ignored and hungry (for food, for attention, for empathy) you don’t know how to express yourself until the feelings build so high and so tight you have no choice but to explode.

We all have Chrissies in our lives. This book reminds us that every dirty child, every bad seed, is deserving of our empathy. That sometimes, all that stands between a difficult child and ruin is a kind word. A moment of attention. The time is takes to listen and understand.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

I Wrote a Bedtime Story for Adults



Several years ago, I wrote a random funny poem and posted it on Facebook. I forgot about it for a few years until my best friend made me the Maid of Honor for her wedding, and I had to give a toast. I didn't want to go the cheesy, emotional route, so I decided to be funny instead. I decided to read the poem, and it was the talk of the night. Everyone laughed hysterically and complimented me afterwards. That was when I started toying with the idea of making it into a mock-children's book. 

Well, after months of working with illustrator, Stephanie "Ms. Stubby" Webb, I finally did it. 'The Littlest Cock', as it's so coyly titled, is the story of the smallest rooster on a farm. He is often boastful and thinks highly of himself, and the larger roosters decide they're going to teach him a lesson. They are surprised to find, however, that it's not the size of the cock in the fight, but how it performs in the dead of the night, and they are the ones taught a lesson instead!

It's not a particularly dirty story, as there is no inappropriate language other than innuendo, but it's probably not something you want to gift to your young children, lest you prepare for the inevitable call from the school about obsessive usage of the word "cock" in the classroom. 

I'm writing this article on September 8th, and right now, it's in the final stages of editing before I release it on Amazon's KDP Select. I ordered a proof to review, and then I'll have it officially published before the end of September. It may or may not be for sale by the time this article posts. I'm hoping to get a lot of reviews for this book, so keep an eye on Amazon and my website,, to secure your copy when it's released.

And remember to stay weird.

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Return of the Con

Hey everyone! Mary here, and it'll be a quick one from me tonight because I have to pack... for a convention!!! After a year and a half of Zoom panels and virtual portals, in-person cons are finally back, and it is WEIRD.

I'm heading off to Gen Con in Indianapolis, a con I've been exhibiting at since 2015, and I have no idea what to expect. Will there be any attendees? Will those who come be in a book-buying mood? Or even just the mood to talk to a stranger about the stuff they've written? Will they be shopping, or did the 'rona recession take its toll?

At least this won't be my very first con back. That was AwesomeCon in DC, a few weeks back. I was so unprepared, I didn't even have any signage. Part of it was because I'd been so burned by all the cancellations of 2020 and the first half of 2021 that I didn't expect it to actually happen. About 2 days before I was supposed to drive down, I was like "oh, I should probably pack books or something." I had to relearn how to use my Square app, re-rehearse all my elevator pitches. I didn't have any new swag... I was just handing out whatever bookmarks or cards I had left over from cons past.

It went pretty well nonetheless... surprisingly well, actually. Sales-wise, I did pretty decently. And I had fun debuting my new cosplay, as Silk from the Spider-verse. Sadly, very few people recognized me (an annoying number of Spider-Men and Spider-Gwens looked at me like "who??"). Funnily enough, Silk's relatively unknown status is a bit of a running joke in the comics, so huzzah for getting into character?

Anyway, I figure as long as I have books and a way to take payment, I can improv the rest. At least with Gen Con, I have enough stuff left over from cons past to be in decent shape (the "Sci-Fi Gals" banner I use while exhibiting with Brave New Girls co-editor Paige Daniels didn't make sense for AwesomeCon, where I was solo... just one gal). And if no one shows up, or no one's in a book-buying mood... well, at least it's better than being locked down again.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Road is Long: inspiring interviews with your favorite authors

Good morning, readers! It’s a beautiful week in the Poconos. The summer heat has subsided, leaving us with sunny days and near autumnal temperatures. As much as I love a pumpkin spice latte, I am not ready for summer to be over because once it’s gone, we get a blip of fall, and then we’re faced with endless months of frigid days and bare trees. Hang on a little longer, August.  

I thought I would do something different with this month’s interview piece. Rather than do a straight author Q&A, I threw on my librarian hat to assemble a small collection of inspiring interviews with the most successful and dope writers working today. So hold onto your butts and get motivated.

First up is one of my favorite interviews with the most ‘money’ of screenwriters--Jon Favreau. Who would’ve guessed that the genius behind Swingers would also be the creative giant behind many Marvel movies and the Mandalorian? In this interview for the Writers Guild of America West, Favreau talks about his writing process and keeping the story in sight. My biggest takeaway from the interview: writing before your brain fully wakes up.  

Elizabeth Gilbert’s take on criticism has a special corner in my writing brain. In this 2014 blog post from her website, Gilbert answers a reader’s question on how to cope with both personal and professional criticism. Gilbert reveals that she “has been on the business end of some really majestic denigration over the years, too.” If that doesn’t make you feel better after a one-star Amazon review, I don’t know what will. My biggest takeaway from the interview is Gilbert’s famous retort: "If people don't like what I've written, they can go write their own f**king books." Damn straight. 

If you haven’t read this yet, get on it. The New York Times recently published an interview with S.A. Cosby, award-winning author of Razorblade Tears and Blacktop Wasteland. He impressed his now agent--Josh Getzler--when he sat on an author panel at a conference and responded to a woman in the audience who was waxing poetic about the antebellum South. Cosby is the kind of guy with whom you’d want to sidle up to in a bar and buy a drink. Also his wife is a mortician, and I have so many questions about that. My biggest takeaway is that Cosby got his start with small presses and short stories, and his success came over time. If you don’t have a subscription to NYT, save one of your free articles for this.  

Almost every writer I know has read Stephen King’s On Writing, but there are also his many interviews to mine for writing gold. One of my favorites is this piece he very recently did with Esquire Magazine where he discussed his new project Billy Summers. I particularly like this interview because he specifically discusses noir and it’s one-last-job sub-genre, not to mention the hard task of writing a book inside a book. For all of you who are tackling ambitious projects, definitely check out this interview. 

Lastly, this interview with Elmore Leonard. He is one of the most prolific and celebrated writers of our time. Leonard died in 2013, but he is best known for his westerns and crime fiction bestsellers such as Out of Sight and Get Shorty, as well as these nuggets of wisdom: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it," and "I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” Leonard is often regaled for his gritty and realistic dialogue, even being asked if he ever did time. If you’re a fan of his, or just want to appreciate his pragmatic approach to writing, check out this interview from 2006.

If you have a link to an author interview that brings you inspiration, post it in the comments.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Google Search: Bing Edition: Why Does It Matter?

P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame
It’s my turn to do a Google search, which is when you do a Google search then write a blog post about it.

Sometimes scientists are not sure if a new finding is a universal truth or just a quirk of a particular culture, so they will conduct the same experiment in various countries and see if they get the same results. I wonder if we can do the same thing by looking at the auto-complete results of various search engines and seeing what commonalities crop up? Because those must be the most important concerns that people frantically type into search engines, and that all algorithms prioritize, whether you’re visiting good old Google, the much-maligned Bing, or the scrappy do-gooder DuckDuckGo. Maybe the comparison can help figure out what’s important and relatable, whether you’re doing a scientific study or research for your next novel.

Let’s start with the big questions. What matters, and why?


I see three things that come up repeatedly: religion, politics, and the environment.

Across all cultures (as defined, poorly, by search engine choice), the environment is right up there with life’s big, eternal questions. I think that says something. The end of the world has always been a topic of inquiry, but now it takes the form of specific questions about our planet, and perhaps they’re worrying questions, if it’s common to wonder why it even matters if forests, dunes, and entire species disappear.
I remember in 2003, a blackout hit us here in London Ontario, alongside much of the Northeastern chunk of North America. Apparently that was caused by a single tree touching a single power line in Ohio, which led to cascading errors across a complicated and fragile human-created system. If one falling tree can do that, think of what many burning trees, many floods, and many entire missing links in the food chain will do. The Internet is not a universal and eternal part of nature. It’s a breakable thing that one species cobbled together with its opposable thumbs, and that species may regret coming to rely on Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo for answers to life’s big questions when the shit hits the fan, or the tree hits the power line.
Hey Google, how can I dig a well in my backyard? Google? Please, I’m thirsty.
We know this is coming, possibly in our lifetimes. Some of our leaders care about doing something to prevent what we can and prepare for what we can’t. Some leaders don’t. Another question that came up across search engines: “Why does it matter to vote?” Sometimes asking one question provides the answer to another.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Back Jacket Hack Job: NOS4A2
Hey everyone! Karissa here, and it's my turn to do a Back Jacket Hack Job! Basically, this is a recurring series where one of us rewrites a book's back jacket terribly. 

Since some people think the beginning of September is the beginning of "Spooky Season", and because I just finished reading/listening to NOS4A2, a horror novel by Joe Hill, I decided that would be a great back jacket to hack, especially since I kinda found the real blurb to be a bit misleading.

"If you love horror predicated on myogenetic bad guys and violence against women (especially mothers) and children, then check out this best seller horror novel that got converted to a cancelled TV series on AMC!"~Author , Karissa Laurel

"A book that feels a lot like, but not quite, a Stephen King novel, probably because it was written by Stephen King's son who was clearly influenced by his dad's bibliography." ~Reader, K. Laurel

Victoria McQueen, a deeply flawed woman who spends most of the novel in a state of perpetual denial has an uncanny knack for finding things using a Raleigh Tuff Burner bike and a magical covered bridge (this is a New England novel, obviously, even though Kate Mulgrew will narrate the audio version in a distinctly midwestern accent).  

The bridge eventually takes her to Charles Talent Manx, a soul sucking vampiric creature person who drives a really cool old Rolls Royce Wraith that's a lot like Kit from Knight Rider if Kit were possessed by a demon. You know, kind of like that evil 1958 Plymouth Fury in that one horror novel by that famous horror novel writer guy...I can't remember his name.  Anyway, Charlie Manx likes kids but not in that "kiddie fiddler" kind of way that everyone wrongly accuses him of, and he kidnaps and takes the kids to a perpetual childhood in "Christmasland" (Hint: Christmasland isn't as fun as it sounds). Helping him is the "Gasmask Man", a simple-minded, childlike man who really really hates women, especially "Mommies", and does everything he can to torture and abuse them throughout the book. Fun times.

Manx sees Victoria as a threat and tries to do bad things to her, but Victoria manages to escape and spends decades dealing, poorly, with the emotional trauma of her magical abilities and her near-death run-in with Manx and Gasmask Man. She has some good times, even manages to fall in love with a wonderful cinnamon roll of a man, and she writes some successful children's novels (that sound so cool they should exist in real life), but literal demons from her past haunt her into near insanity, and her life starts falling apart.

Eventually she and Manx and Gasmask Man have their final showdown when Manx, still pissed that Victoria got away from him all those years ago, comes to seek his revenge. She puts on her big girl panties long enough to get stabbed, burned, beaten, and broken a whole lot before she finally goes Grinch all over Manx's Christmasland.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Creature Feature Weekend 2021 Autopsy

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey everybody!

Despite the fits and starts, con season 2021 is underway and I've made my way to a few events now.  I won't lie to you: it is a bit scary, despite being vaccinated.  Despite doing my damnedest to maintain social distancing, constantly sanitize, and mask up, there are still times I worry it's just not enough to keep myself, my friends, and my community safe.  So, unless the larger picture of the Corona fourth wave changes, I'll probably be dialing back from live appearances aside from existing commitments for the foreseeable future.

But, all that doom and gloom aside, I did attend a fun event in Gettysburg, PA, this past weekend: Creature Feature 2021!  First, I want to highlight worlds colliding.  The small business I co-own, Air Studio, created this gorgeous conversation starter for my table:

Here you can see some of our house specialties on display.  The pigtails are a fun addition to jeuje up any piece.  Inside the aqua balloon is some lace material replicating ectoplasm (in keeping with the spooky nature of our novel.)  And, of course, the balloon has been personalized with names, the same font as the book, and images.  So our artists really went all out.

Here you can see my co-author and tablemate Wile E. Young in front of the sculpture.  Yes, we are both vaccinated, and you can see we were both wearing masks and took them down just for the pictures.

And here, taking a step back, is our whole table.  You can see Wile E.'s banner, and all of our books lined up with display cases.  Big thanks to Kristopher Triana, who was also at the show and took these photos.

So I couldn't escape the day job entirely on Friday, but did successfully take a half day off and reached the con a few hours ahead of time.  Sadly, our good friend Wes Southard could not, and had to hurry in around 5 all in a blur like the Tasmanian Devil.  When I checked in the Queen of Cosmic Horror Mary San Giovanni was right behind me, so we got to catch up for a few minutes.  

We tabled from about 5-10 on Friday night, and sales were surprisingly robust.  Of course, I'm used to attending more science fiction themed cons with fellow ATB contributor Mary Fan, so I probably benefited a bit from the stronger horror theme of Creature Feature.

At that point Mary San, Wile E., John Urbancik, and Somer Canon had to head out for the night, but luckily that gave Wes, Kristopher, and I a chance to have dinner with Joe Ripple and some of the staff from Scares That Care, an event which you may recall me talking about in my last blogpost.  I've never actually gotten a peek behind the scenes of convention organizing, so our conversation was hilarious, but I can also tell you that there are some very exciting things on the horizon for that most distinguished charity.  But none of those are my beans to spill, so, picture Kermit drinking tea or whatever's most appropriate since we all just speak in memetic shorthand now.

Kristopher had to drive in from Connecticut, so he zonked immediately, leaving me and Wes to talk each others' ears off all night.  But it had been nearly a month since we'd done that, so we were overdue.

Saturday, as usual, was the grueling long day, but my friend and mentor Brian Keene appeared, so there was a veritable bevy of minds to pick and laughs to be had, so the day never dragged, even when foot traffic dwindled.  Sales were quite good again as well, and Creature Feature even sprang for some food trucks, so there was more than just the usual hotel room coffee and vending machine snacks to keep us fed.  

The celebrity room actually closed at 5 on Saturday, so at that point we all had a chance to go make our purchases from the vendors room, take naps, and get dinner before settling in for a long, hard night of drinking and making fun of Wes.  Apparently they don't have Arby's in Connecticut, because Kristopher made us all drive past all the delightful local gastropubs and eateries in Gettysburg in the name of ice-cold curly fries and soggy roast beef "sandwiches."  But, then, on second thought, perhaps he was simply FULL BRUTALing the rest of us.

In any case, what happens in Gettysburg stays in Gettysburg (don't worry, kids, that's a real tourism slogan) so I can't tell you any more about the rest of that night, but suffice it to say that we put Keith Moon to shame with our relentless antics.  Boy, you just can't take horror authors anywhere.

After waking up next to a naked hairy man (I'll let you attempt to intuit who) I took a long, scalding hot shower, full of whispered prayers and eye bleaching, before hitting the showroom floor one last time.  

We were fortunate on Sunday to be sitting across from a celebrity guest as kind and thoughtful as Ted Raimi, who you probably know from "Army of Darkness," "Hercules: the Legendary Journeys," and much, much more.  Ted talked to every one of us and bought a number of our books.  He immediately laughed at the Solzhenitsyn pun in THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO's title and based on his other comments, I realized he was quite well-read and genuinely interested in our work, which is very cool.

I had to work on Monday, so I sadly couldn't spend another night locked in Caligula-level debauch with Kristopher and Wes, but we had a nice final sit down after packing our books and then hit the road.

See you next month, everybody!

Saturday, August 28, 2021

How Not To Plan

By Cheryl Oreglia

They say the most productive artists have a plan in mind when they get down to work. The word plan is either a noun, meaning you have a detailed proposal or it’s a verb, as in something you decide on and arrange in advance. 

As it turns out I’ve been treating it as an adjective as if it could modify my time. 

See I’m newly retired and it’s not going well. This week I would have launched my first classes, I would be memorizing my student’s names with a series of flashcards for each block, and we would be full-on planning (there’s that word again) our curriculum for the entire semester. The idea is to plan for the topics we hope to explore but leave the flow of the class open to the myriad of possibilities. Sometimes we have to throw out the plans even though they are indispensable.

This annual pattern has been with me for so long it sort of inspires everything else. That would include keeping my personal calendar up to date with notations as to when my blogs are due, weekends at the lake, dentist appointments, birthdays, social commitments to friends and family, etc. 

I’m in total disarray.

I can’t remember what day it is let alone the date or time. I’m confused about how food gets into the house and ends up as a meal. I’m regularly shocked we have a female vice president, each time she appears on the news it’s as if I’m finding it out anew. I have no alarm clock set. That’s probably the most disturbing part of it all. 

I’m waking up in a fog each day trying to figure out who I am? Talk about the walking dead.

Okay, that was the longest explanation ever for missing my blog schedule this week. I apologize for the delay in our schedule. Now, in my defense, there’s a fine line between good planning and over planning and I haven’t navigated that well. As Twyla Tharp warns, we don’t want all the planning to inhibit the natural evolution of our work, or life in my circumstance. 

So I took a little dive into Tharp’s ideas around planning. She says a plan is like the scaffolding around a building. When you’re putting up the exterior shell, the scaffolding is vital. But once the shell is in place and you start work on the interior, the scaffolding disappears. That’s how she thinks of planning. 

I forgot the scaffolding. 

This is sort of a paradox, in order to be habitually creative, as in a member of a blogging group, you have to know how to prepare to be creative, but of course, that’s not a guarantee of success, because it’s only after you let go of your plans that you can breathe life into your efforts, says Tharp.  

In my old life, I had every other day off, those were my writing days, rain or shine, that computer would be open on my lap, flanked by a cup of steaming hot coffee no more than six inches away from my right hand. The thing is I had a plan as if someone said between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. if you’re working something good will happen. 

And it always did. A blog would appear.

Woody Allen said that eighty percent of success is showing up. So I need some new scaffolding that can accommodate a restructured life, one that allows for unexpected delays, multiple exits, and maybe a little color because this project is going to take some time. I say plan to a point because without leaps of imagination, space to dream, we lose the possibility of the unexpected and that makes all the difference in writing. 

As a reminder scaffolding is only temporary.

So I will be updating my calendar with scheduling reminders and I’ll be setting aside specific time to put my butt in a chair and write but I’m leaving the subject or topic open so as to allow for a little magic. That’s how I plan not to plan. 

The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed says, William Gibson. Bahaha.

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

What are your planning tips?

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Cats are a Writer's Best Friend


Most writers I know of either have cats, love cats, or are basically cats themselves. So, what is it with writers (and readers) and cats? 

Firstly, cats are just awesome animals. They are quiet, independent, and generally just great companions. They love nothing more than to lounge around the house or on your lap. Their soothing purrs are cathartic after a long day. Nothing gives you more pride than earning the affections of a cat. They get a reputation for being aloof or unfriendly, and as a lifelong cat owner myself, I find this to be untrue. Most cats will bond with you just like a dog, and although they tend to not be as rambunctious or demanding as a dog, they still have their own personalities and quirks that make us smile.

I've always said that dogs are extroverted while cats are introverted. Most writers tend to be introverts, and it makes sense that they tend to be cat people. Not to say that they aren't dog lovers as well. Dogs are great, but lets face it, they are a lot more demanding. You need to let them out, walk them, and help them expend their energy. They are pack animals, and you are their pack. They generally need more attention from us than a cat would. A cat is independent by nature, but they are still social when they want to be. Cats can keep to themselves for most of the day, but still enjoy being in the room with you while you work. Your presence in it's area is usually enough. There are demanding cats, but usually not to the level dogs are. Most of them are content to just lay on your lap. Sometimes they want to walk across your keyboard and "help" you write your story, but it's more endearing than it is annoying.

Readers like cats as companions while they sit with their book in hand. I think that's why a lot of bookstore owners keep cats in the store. They keep you company without distracting you...most of the time anyway.

All the greatest writers had cats. Hemmingway was known for keeping polydactyls, cats with extra toes. In fact, polydactyl cats are sometimes called Hemmingway cats for this reason. Edgar Allan Poe had multiple cats. It's even suspected that his mysterious death could have been caused by a rabid cat bite. Mark Twain was also a cat lover. He has a lot of quotes about them. One of the most famous was:

"When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction."

Now me? I have a cat, but she doesn't live with me. She lives across the street with my parents, but I still consider her mine. I grew up with cats all my life, but I couldn't take her with me when I moved. I visit her often, and she stays with me when my folks are on vacation. I have multiple other animals that live with me, including a really loud and needy parrot, who definitely does not make it easy to focus on writing. I could say he is a lot like a dog in that regard.

I think the subtle dignity and intelligence of a cat just speaks to creative types. We often are introverted, have our own small circle of friends, and prefer the company of ourselves most of the time. A cat will not leave you lonely, nor will it be burdensome. A cat is just "there", and that's enough for some people. It's a friend that you don't need to say much to, that doesn't ask for a lot, and simply enjoys your company in silence.

Plus, they are just adorable.

Do you have cats? Tell me about them, and stay weird!

Monday, August 16, 2021

What even is Kindle Vella, and what's it good for?

If you know any indie authors, it might have felt like everyone and their mother was throwing stuff up on Kindle Vella when the platform launched a few weeks ago. Our very own Karissa Laurel interviewed fellow author Erica Lucke Dean about it. What even is Kindle Vella? Ebook serials, basically. Like a TV show but short stories. I'll admit, I was only peripherally aware of what was going on at first, and it genuinely confused me why anyone would buy a story by the chapter rather than just downloading a whole ebook.

Out of curiosity, and because I really wanted to read Karissa's steampunk zombie apocalypse story about a sharpshooting gal, I decided to give it a try as a reader (as a writer, I wasn't feeling innovative enough to try my hand at it). To Amazon's credit, they made it really easy to figure out; Vella stuff just showed up in my Kindle app.

I soon realized what these short snippets of fiction were good for: what I've dubbed "incidental reading," something I actually do a lot of, only with internet articles on my phone. Stuck in line at the grocery store? Pull up a quick opinion essay. Getting on the subway? Preload a news article. Waiting for an Uber that's 10 minutes out? Trashy listicle, why not. 

I don't like reading novels in this context because, well, it's rather frustrating to read a long-form story in fits and spurts. Like trying to watch a movie in 5-10 minute segments, with hours, if not days, in between. You forget things because it's been a while, or you're forced to cut yourself off in the middle of a scene because your train arrived, or you awkwardly try to pick up where you left off halfway down a page. 

So I can see the appeal of phone-friendly serials, and I can seem myself adopting Vella as a reader, basically doing with fiction what I was already doing with news content, essays, and clickbait trash. In fact, it might be more fun to follow a quick adventure for that 15-minute subway ride instead of learning more about how doomed we all are.

We'll see if the rest of the world sees the use of it too. Meanwhile, because I can't help trying new things, I'm working on a Vella project myself (albeit a group one).

Thursday, August 12, 2021

One if by land, two if by TV: British crime dramas to cool down those hot summer days

Good morning, readers. Everyone I know keeps commenting on how fast summer is moving, how autumn will be here any moment. Even the leaves on my birch tree are beginning to yellow. But listen up, people. Listen up, nature. It's still August. It's still hot. And I'm not ready to say goodbye. In fact, I have a beach trip in my future, so calm down pumpkin-spice fanatics, and give August her breathing room.

Speaking of hot and humid things, I have been watching a lot of British TV lately. Cause nothing says summer like the Shetland Islands. Since Covid hit and shut down travel like a steamship trunk lid closing on fingers, I have been taking to streaming services to get my international fix. I feel like I have exhausted Netflix in this department, so I decided to check out Britbox and Acorn TV via their free trials. 


First up: Britbox. 

Basically, I've watched two shows on Britbox: Shetland and Vera. Vera is weird because it's 5th season is only available on Acorn TV for some reason. Anyway, both Shetland and Vera are based on the novel series by Ann Cleeves. Shetland is set in the Shetland Islands and features Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, and his team, who solve one big crime for the duration of the season. The Shetland Islands are as much a character as the humans in the show and make everything so tense and atmospheric, you'll want to watch it wearing a fair isle sweater. Vera, on the other hand, solves one mystery per super-sized episode. So a whole season might only run 4 or 5 episodes, but you get 4 or 5 mysteries. I know for Vera some of the episodes are based off the book so it sort of ruined the reveal for me. Vera is a no-nonsense stern grandma type who is smarter than everyone else in the room. Even though there are two eye-candy actors in the show, Brenda Blethyn steals every scene. I watch for her.

Now: Acorn TV.

So if I'm going to give my money to anyone, it's Acorn TV. There is so much here for me to enjoy. To fulfill my itch to see Scandinavia, I watched Wisting. Set in Norway, Wisting is about police detective William Wisting who finds a dead body on a Christmas tree farm. This discovery is tied to an American serial killer, so of course the FBI shows up. Enter Carrie-Anne Moss (you know, The Matrix and Jessica Jones) to energize everything. As an American, I often find it incredulous how European detectives do not carry guns when confronting possibly dangerous suspects. Which Carrie-Anne's FBI character so articulately points out every time Wisting goes off searching for this serial killer. But America is no model for guns and policing, so I'm happy to see a different view.

If you think American serial killers in Norway is dark, you should watch Hidden, a crime drama set in Wales where half the dialogue is in Welsh. The first season is hella suspenseful. You know the villain right away so you spend much of the season with your stomach in your throat waiting for them to get caught.

For lighter stuff, watch Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, set in 1920s Melbourne, Australia, or its groovy spin-off Ms. Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries set in the Swinging Sixties. If you love sassy heroines and incredible period costumes, you can't go wrong with either show. I often watch it as a palate cleanser after I've been binging too much noir. 

Speaking of Australia, Lucy Lawless is returning for a second season of My Life Is Murder. I wasn't a huge Xena watcher, but Lawless if flawless in this modern mystery show. She's a former detective who works as a consultant for the police, solving their tougher cases. Which she does like an Amazonian boss.

And if you love cozies, there is Agatha Raisin starring the charming Ashley Jensen (of Catastrophe) based on the series by M.C. Beaton. It's set in the Cotswolds.

And if you want more Scottish drama with a bit of teen angst, check out Loch Ness.

And if you're over murder all together, there are tons of comedies and dramas. 

What are you all watching that inspires your work? And if you have a recommendation for a show on Acorn TV, tell me!

Monday, August 9, 2021

Literally, Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame
“Where do you get your ideas?”

That’s the infamous question writers get asked all the time, and many of them hate it. I think the hate is for two reasons: 1) I dunno man, I just make them up. The question forces writers to confront the fact that they don’t know themselves any better than they know a stranger asking the question; and 2) It implies that getting ideas is the hard part. Maybe a better question is: “how do work really hard to create a bundle of pages containing tens of thousands of words, wrapped in a professional cover with beautiful art and a snappy blurb, which people want to buy, that originated with a stupid thought that popped in your head while washing your junk in the shower?”


Which leads to another interesting question: literally where do you get your ideas? Like, what physical location?


This came up in a group for horror writers on Facebook recently, and answers included:


  • Lying in bed attempting to sleep.
  • At a boring day job.
  • On the couch watching a bad TV show.
  • While commuting, on foot, on a bicycle, or in a vehicle.
  • And yes, the shower.


There’s a common theme there: ideas flow when the writer’s mind isn’t blocked up with something else.


Perhaps that can help explain the first reason writers hate the non-literal version of that question. They can’t answer the question because the ideas only present themselves in certain physical locations where the mind can wander. Because of the “present themselves” part, this is where many discussions of this topic mention supernatural muses, or more realistically, the subconscious. Places that allow the subconscious to come out and play are fertile ground for ideas.


I think it’s more than that.

There is a component of ideas that does lie outside of consciousness, which is why the hated question can’t be answered accurately. However, there is also a component that requires consciousness. Lying in bed, routine tasks, showering—they don’t require conscious thought, so consciousness is free to interact with the subconscious. It’s not just letting the subconscious out to play, but having the capacity to play with it.


The subconscious isn’t a supernatural muse. It’s a child that craves attention, but only gets it from her workaholic parents when they can all take a little vacation together.


Knowing the physical location of ideas doesn’t help with the second reason writers hate that question, though—that it’s very hard work to turn ideas into something tangible—especially because almost all those situations make it hard to even jot down an approximation of the idea. I have a waterproof notebook in the shower, but I stopped getting ideas in that location as soon as I put the notebook there. The last “idea” I wrote down was this:


Letting the ideas flow.


Sometimes, that child only wants attention until she can actually get some, at which point she becomes … unruly.

 “Where do you get your ideas?” On the particularly dull stretch of sidewalk between Central and Queens on my way to work. In bed, while in the liminal state between waking and sleep. On the couch, watching FBoy Island, or doing nothing at all. I’m a writer; that counts as working.

P.S. I was scheduled to do an interview today, but I … did not. Apologies to the 5 people that know this blog has a schedule. I’ll try to be less antisocial next time

Monday, August 2, 2021

Dispatches from Scares That Care VII

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

7/29/21 21:29 EST

Hey, everybody!  Usually after the delightful Scares that Cares charity convention each year I write up a dissection of the whole weekend, but this year I've decided to do something a little bit different.  I'm going to (try) to remember to write a little bit a couple of times over the course of the weekend while memories are still fresh and not obscured by the cloud soft drinks.

It's Thursday night and I arrived at the hotel around this time yesterday.  In years past I've greatly compressed the weekend, sometimes arriving Friday afternoon and departing Sunday.  But that is not conducive to having a good con.  You won't get to talk to anyone, you'll feel rushed, and you'll just go from driving to hawking to driving and probably make yourself miserable.  So over the past few years I've started coming up Thursday and leaving late Sunday and this year I finally decided to just stretch it all the way out.  I came up Wednesday and I'll be leaving on Monday, which I think may not be 100% the right answer, but I'm glad I at least tested it out this time.

I got a lot of work done today.  I know, that's a little bit shitty, paying to be in a hotel and just writing all day.  But it works for me and unless things are very different from years past I anticipate I will be up all night hanging out with people, so I'm glad I got that breathing room in.

The trip from central Pennsylvania to Williamsburg, VA was uneventful yesterday.  I stopped once for a mandatory Wawa tuna hoagie and coffee, but that (somehow) added less than fifteen minutes to my trip.  I left right after work and arrived right around 10:15.  I figured only convention staff and their partners would be here Wednesday, so I rang up my good friend Brian Keene, who is on the convention board, and we shared a few drinks of ouzo and caught up.  I am particularly glad about that because I expect I will not see him again this weekend except perhaps as a Flash™-like blur moving by fixing convention things.

This morning I caught up with Joe Ripple, the convention founder and organizer, who talked to me about COVID protocols and some other sundry business about being in the celebrity room.  That's right!  Yours truly is a bona fide celebrity this year.  Then I took a dip in the pool (another thing I hardly ever got to do in years past.)  Unfortunately I didn't end up meeting up with anyone for dinner.  I guess it's still a bit early for the usual suspects to be arriving.  But that has afforded me time to complete my reading for Sunday, practice it over five times due to my goddamned webcam, and then send a covert video to my audience plant to ensure they know when to step in and "upend" proceedings.  I also completed the monthly blog and newsletter for the small business I own and started working on this blog, so I won't be rushing around like a madman Monday night and backdating it to noon like the conniving liar I always am.

Okay, that seems like too much for a single dispatch, but I guess it did technically cover two days.  So let's try to do these at least daily if not more often.  Catch you on the flipside!

8/2/21 2:29 EST

Wow.  That...clearly did not work out.  I guess I don't know why I thought I would want to sit down and write a portion of a blogpost every day after working a convention table, but I guess I was way off on that.

Anyway, here's how the rest of the weekend went.  Thursday night after writing that post I headed down to the lobby to see who was coming into town.  There I caught up with Jeff Strand, my past and future reading partner, and artist Lynne Hansen.  I also met Bridgett Nelson, a new up-and-comer who I immediately bonded with, and promised to attend her reading the next day.

After talking with Lynne, Jeff, Bridgett, and crew for a few hours, my good friend and author Wesley Southard arrived.  As everyone else gradually turned into pumpkins, Wesley and I stayed up late into the night catching up, where we witnessed our first con fight.  While it was disconcerting, as far as I can tell the short version is that a belligerent drunk picked a fight with convention security and it went about as well as you would expect.

Friday Lynne, Jeff, Wesley, I, and a few others went to Rick's cheesesteak shop in Williamsburg, which I always think is an odd choice for folks coming from so close to Philadelphia, but it is a tradition and Rick's is amazing.  We met one of our favorite fans and servers at the steak shop.  (BTW, I'm not trying to be super cagey, but aside from the public figures I'm not trying to name too many people.  I don't want to throw around a bunch of spouses and fans names that they didn't want out there, which would probably be fine, but privacy is nice, too.)

The celebrity room opened at 5:00.  (Did I mention I'm a fucking celebrity at this place?)  But first came Bridgett's reading, which was her first reading at her first con.  Ah, I remember those days.  And she immediately knocked it out of the park.  I was really glad to get to come out and support her, and later when one of the con organizers asked me how it went I said, "Well, she described holding a gun to somebody's head and forcing them to eat gangrenous severed toes."  To which the organizer replied, "Ah, then she'll fit right in."

Then it was off to table.  Friday was the big night of sales.  Sales were good overall, but Friday was such a smash that when it tapered off the rest of the weekend it felt like a letdown of sorts, but intellectually I know that was just because all the fans were eager beavers and did all their buying immediately.

Friday night Wes and I caught up with my collaborator Wile E. Young and everybody's spouses and loved ones, which was a massive and long coming reunion.  We had pizza which Virginia has apparently not imported as well as cheesesteaks and ended up in my room exchanging the kind of heart-to-hearts and merciless ballbusting which can only occur at Scares That Care.

Saturday was the long day.  Vending started at 10:00 and lasted until 19:00.  I took as many opportunities as possible to send buyers next door to Wile E. and rub it in his face that they had bought our collaboration from me instead of him.  Lunch consisted of a chili cheese dog which, in hindsight, was a terrible choice for a vending table.  I got to spend most of the day catching up with Adam Cesare, Scott Cole, Matt Serafini, and Jonathan Janz.  That evening the usual crew went out for Italian along with Dacia Arnold.  Dacia's big news for the day was that Billy Zane, the villain from "Titanic" had bought a copy of one of her books and inquired about the movie rights.  

Most folks were rolling out on Sunday so I hung out with my friends a bit on Saturday but then got to go spend time with Jeff, Bridgett, and John Urbancik.

Sunday split the difference between the rest of the weekend, with a 10:00 to 16:00 vendor room.  I had opted to stay until Monday so as all the vendors began gradually drifting out early as they are wont to do, Wes and I stayed until the bitter end.  We were rewarded with meeting up with our friend from the cheesesteak shop, and even a few other last minute sales.

Finally most of the con departed, but Sunday night the stragglers finally got a chance to breathe.  I got to meet up with Brian and John again, as well as John Anderson, Scott M. Baker, and the "Castle Freak" himself, Jonathan Fuller, which I rubbed as thoroughly and roughly as possible in superfan Wesley's face.

The night ended, as most nights do, with Lucas Milliron and John Communale lecturing me on black magic.  And that, my friends, was Scares That Care VII.  Oh, and you can still donate to the charity by clicking on the link below!

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Why Do I Write?

By Cheryl Oreglia

How do you view your blog? Is it a hobby, art, your passion, or a means to an end? Most fellow bloggers, who have been keeping a blog for a few years, will admit it is stressful, time-consuming, without a lot of rewards. Or is that an unfair statement? I’ve poured my soul into blogs that garner shameful stats, dismal likes, and very few comments.

I have to ask myself on occasion - why do I continue to publish a blog?

Well here are my reasons for continuing to blog despite the stresses and hassles. I’d love for you to add a few of your own.
  1. When I don’t write I feel as if I’ve not exercised my brain, she gets lazy, and after a while, I can’t get her away from the television, or off youtube. When I’ve been working my brain, reading, writing, and synthesizing the material I’m able to think critically and write with ease. But still, I take breaks and send my brain on a mini vacation.
  2. It’s a great outlet for my thoughts and observations on life. I can process my experiences and hopefully, this informs or resonates with others. What I don’t like is spending precious time promoting my work on social media with zero results or obsessing over meaningless stats. But still, I write.
  3. I find it difficult to balance the competing forces in my life which are living, working and writing. When I’m working I’m thinking about the blog and when I’m blogging I’m thinking about my classes, and then my life tries to squeeze itself between me and the keyboard, tempers flare, and at times I’m accused of “sitting on my ass for hours doing nothing.” Which I choose to ignore. Not. The struggle is real but still, I write.
  4. One time I was nominated for a writing award, I got all excited, answered all the questions, followed all the rules, publicized the award as instructed, and then found out it wasn’t really an award at all. It’s what I call the circle jerk, crude, but accurate. The expectation is you are nominated and you go out and nominate others, this is like getting a gold star on your paper, it’s one person’s opinion and meaningless. But still, a small part of me was thrilled “just to be nominated.”
  5. It’s difficult to respect and please those closest to me, the people I interact with on a daily basis, because they end up in the blog, and believe me when I say they’ll let me know if something is inaccurate or exaggerated. Oddly, some of my most popular posts are about my husband, whose only claim to fame and being featured on the blog. On occasion, I admit writing about that exasperating man just to see my stats go up. I’m not proud but still, I write.
  6. I suppose the best part of maintaining a blog is the writing community I’ve come to know and befriend. I have people across the world who I interact with, exchange comments, and enjoy immensely although I’ve never met them in person. Recently one of my writing friends who resides in England is sending me some Yorkshire Tea to try because he’s annoyed with all my references to coffee. I don’t care why, a reader is sending me a gift, and I’m thrilled.
  7. I may have started my blog to establish a platform for this book I’ve yet to write, but it ends up I write because life seems meaningless without exploring my trials and tribulations on paper, and besides, it’s not as if there’s a chance in hell it’ll go viral. One always can hope.

I would love to hear your thoughts about why you write, your frustrations, your successes?

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