Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Pros at Cons: A Google Search

Good morning, all. I'm here today with a fun Google search feature. 

One of the best parts of writing a book is the pre-writing--the research one embarks on to see if a crumb of an idea is hearty enough to carry 90,000 words. It's an exploratory process, much like an astronaut in space. The discovery could lead to a new colony or abandonment. I'm either pushing forward or scrapping the plan. But I won't know until I kicking the tires. Clearly, I'm mixing my metaphors, but you get the idea.

I've recently been toying with an idea for a standalone crime thriller involving con artists. I love a good heist, caper, scam story where, despite my own morality, I'm rooting for the bad guy to get away with the crime. In real life, I want justice for the victim(s). I want retribution. But in fiction, I want the handsome and charming Danny Ocean to get away with stealing millions from a casino. Or in Out of Sight, I want to know Jack Foley can escape prison for good. In fact, any protagonist George Clooney is playing, I want to get away scot-free. There is something inherently thrilling about heists and those who pull them off. How do they do it? What kind of sociopath do they have to be?

To write a decent caper, I need to understand how it's possible (not probable) to pull off a plot of this magnitude. Because if I thought a murder puzzle was tricky to create, imagine trying to design the perfect theft. 

So then I got to wondering:


Who is the best con artist of all time? Is there a con artist hall of fame? Who gets the distinction of such an honor?

Turns out, it's Charles Ponzi. The namesake of the Ponzi Scheme.  

 He wasn't a great dude and we associate his name with swindling people out of their retirement savings. I'm not liking Ponzi schemes as a plot mechanism. What else is there?

 Ooh female con artists. Now we're talking. 

 Let's go back in time, shall we?

Big Bertha Heyman, a Prussian woman who swindled wealthy men out of money in the 19th century was the top of her game. It's certainly something I can work with. In fact, my protagonist will definitely be female and she will definitely be swindling a rich man out of something. But mine is a modern story with modern consequences. 

And then I got to thinking about counterfeiting. What goods are counterfeit? How could I use that in a story? And would a counterfeit object play into the plot?

There might be something I can do with watches. Maybe my protag tries to pull off a jewelry heist using a counterfeit Rolex?? Not totally on board yet, so more research is required. But you get the gist. 

So, lovely readers, where has a Google search taken you in the name of research? Sound off in the comments.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Back Jacket Hack Job: Books I’ve Never Heard of Edition

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

I’m scheduled for another back jacket hack job this week, in which I badly rewrite the summary of a book. 

What better way to butcher a book description than to write one for a novel I have not read, nor indeed, even heard of? Let’s take a look at Amazon’s bestseller list and pick a few books I am clueless about.



The Wrong Family: A Thriller, by Tarryn Fisher


Ah shit, sorry, this is super embarrassing. That family you ordered? We actually sent the wrong one.


It was a mixup in our computer system. The boys at the warehouse have had a real thriller of a day trying to get it fixed.


So if you don’t mind, could you place the family you received back in the box they arrived in, affix the return shipping label we sent you, and bring your family to the nearest post office?


Yes sir, yes, I know you’ve been enjoying this family. It’s our most expensive option. 


No, yes, I know, you received this family through no fault of your own. But I’m afraid you didn’t earn this family, and you’ll have to let them go. If you work hard and pull yourself up by the bootstraps, perhaps you’ll be able to afford a more luxurious family in the future. For now, we think you’ll find the Awkward Aunt and Uncle package satisfactory.


Thank you for your business, and apologies again for sending the wrong family.


The Guest List: A Novel, by Lucy Foley


In the thrilling sequel to The Venue Selection: A Novel, Lucy Foley brings us the next chapter in wedding planning adventure: The Guest List: A Novel. Finally having decided on getting married on what seems from the book cover to be an abandoned island, the bride must now choose which of her friends and family most deserve an inconvenient destination wedding.


It’s a novel!


The planning is about to begin, and the guest list could include anyone—including the bride.


Wait actually, yeah, the bride sort of has to be there. But who else? Should she invite her boss, or would that make things weird at work? Will her husband’s Aunt Agatha get in a fight with the bartender again? Wait, is Aunt Agatha even still alive?


Soon, the bride will make her choice. But there’s still one nagging question left: what font will she use on the invites?



Silent Ridge: A Gripping Crime Thriller and Mystery, by Gregg Olsen


The ridge has always been silent.


Once, he thought he heard it talk, but it was only one of those weird birds that sounds like it’s asking a question.


He would do anything to hear the ridge’s secrets. He would even do crime! Gripping, right?


In this gripping crime thriller that is also a mystery, you’ll find out just how noisy one ridge can be. Not noisy at all! It’s a silent ridge. Or is it? Maybe it is.


“This gripping crime thriller was the most mysterious one yet. If you want non-stop geographical-feature-based suspense, this is the book for you.”

—Agatha Olsen, Goodreads Aunt ⭐️⭐️⭐️




Like I said, I know nothing about these books, so, I’m mildly sorry if I stumbled on something offensive here. Bye now.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

An Interview with Emily Colin and Madeline Dyer, editors of UNBOUND--Stories of Transformation, Love and Monsters
A few years ago I had the great fortune to be invited to contribute to a YA anthology called Wicked South: Secrets and Lies.  Emily Colin was one of the editors of that anthology, and I enjoyed working with her immensely. Luckily, she remembered me several years later and invited me to participate in her newest project, a YA anthology called Unbound, Stories of Transformation, Love, and Monsters, from Five Points Press.

I'm here today with New York Times bestselling author, Emily Colin and her SIBA Award Winning co-editor, Madeline Dyer, to get the details on this forthcoming anthology and find out more about their work on the book. Welcome Emily and Madeline!

When Emily approached me about the anthology, she said the stories should all be based on a theme of "transformation." But before she reached out, there had obviously been a lot of plotting and scheming going on behind the scenes. So, where did the idea to do a group anthology come from, and how did y'all settle on a theme?

 MD: I can’t specifically remember the occasion that we first thought of creating an anthology—it just seemed to be one of those ideas that had been bouncing around our group-chat for a little while—but it was during lockdown in 2020 when we really began to seriously think about it. The five of us in the group-chat (Emily, Lisa Amowitz, Sarah Anderson, Heidi Ayarbe, and I) thought that if we each wrote a novella/long short story, we’d have quite a good-sized anthology between us and also have all the skills we need to bring it to life, as while we’re all authors, between us we also have experience in all the other parts of publication—editing, cover design, interior art, marketing, etc. So, that’s where it started.

 And we settled on the theme of transformation pretty quickly really. We knew right away that we needed a theme that was flexible and could be adapted to a lot of different stories. That was really important as we didn’t want to be too prescriptive or controlling in what we were asking our writers to produce, and so themes that can be interpreted in many different ways (and across different genres too) are great.

Once we had the theme, we drew up a list of authors that we knew who we wanted to personally invite to submit work to our anthology before we put out general calls for submissions too.

EC: I feel like Madeline really said it all! I’ll add that the transformation theme also came from how challenging 2020 (and now, 2021) has been for all of us—that it’s changed every person I know in some ways, both big and small. We wanted to take that transformative energy and direct it into something creative. Our group has been a tremendous safe haven for us—even though between the five of us, we’re located in four different countries (the US, the UK, France, and Colombia), we chat multiple times every day—and we wanted to put some of that positive energy out into the world, during a time that we all need something to look forward to.

For me, there isn't a word better than "transformation" to exemplify the young adult experience, both in life and in literature. Young adulthood is literally the period of transformation between childhood and adulthood. There's so much change during that time, spawning so many experiences, and this anthology seems like a great expression of those various experiences. But having to choose just a few of those myriad stories seems like an overwhelming task! Can you tell me a little about what the process of putting together this anthology has been like from the Editors' point of view?

EC: Oh my gosh. It’s been fun, it’s been challenging, it’s been an adventure. We decided that out of the five of us, Lisa and Sarah would concentrate on design, Heidi would brainstorm marketing ideas, and Madeline and I—since we edit professionally—would take on that side of things. I’m in the US and Madeline’s in the UK, so sometimes coordinating stuff that we had to do in real time—such as having conversations with contributing authors—created a logistical quandary, but we figured it out!

Madeline talks a bit about how the details of the process worked, below, so I won’t go into that too much—but I will say that when you’re working with a diverse group of contributors, in terms of geography, background, styles, interests, experience, etc., it’s important to find a flow with each author. Madeline and I each worked with a select group of the contributors, but sometimes we’d collaborate to figure out the best approach for a given story. I loved this—editing can be a lonely process sometimes. It was lovely to have another editor to bounce ideas and thoughts off, and Madeline is brilliant. I felt spoiled!

MD: It’s been a lot of work! I definitely under-estimated how much work it would be. I write and edit full-time, and I thought at first that this would just be a nice, little side project! How wrong was I! Turns out co-editing an anthology is hard work and so, so time-consuming.

As stories came in, Emily and I read each one and voted on whether to include it (as well as getting Lisa, Heidi, and Sarah to vote too). We marked stories ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and began to think about how we’d work editorially on each story while also preserving individual voices and making the anthology into a cohesive whole. 

When we’d finalised which stories we wanted, Emily and I divided them between us, and we each worked with the authors on developmental, line, and copyedits. And of course Emily and I were each writing our own stories too—we were each other’s editors for those, so that was super fun.

How many stories will the anthology have and what kind of genres can readers expect to see?

MD: We’ve got 12 pieces in this YA anthology, including a thought-provoking contemporary story with an unreliable narrator, a beautifully poignant narrative poem, epic fantasy stories, and some dark and chilling speculative fiction. We’ve also got a number of #ownvoices stories in this collection too.

EC: Well, the anthology’s subtitle is Transformation, Love, and Monsters, so…I feel like that kind of says it all! One of the things I really adored about editing UNBOUND is that the theme ties all the stories together—but within that, there’s so much variety. As Madeline said, there are contemporary stories grounded in our reality, urban fantasy, dystopian fiction, love stories with a twist…the central theme is change, and that’s something that all of the characters in these stories do—for good or for ill! 

Among those 12 stories are the 3 that we've individually contributed as authors. I describe my story, "Of Marshmallows and Monsters", as a slightly fantastical, YA version of Pitbulls and Parolees--a girl seeks redemption for her gruesome past by rehabilitating monsters. Can you both give us a little hint of what your stories will be about?

MD: Sure! So, mine is called “Inside the Night,” and it’s a dark YA fantasy with a contemporary setting. It’s about a mysterious Power in the sky that turns people to stone, and it draws heavily on Greek mythology and the Medusa story, as well as taking a very feminist angle. It’s also #ownvoices for ace rep and chronic illness rep. 

EC: Oooh, yes! Mine is called “Smooth the Descent,” based on the quote, “Smooth the descent, easy is the way.” If you’re familiar with Virgil’s Aeneid, you might recognize that this references the descent into hell. ;) My short story is set in the universe of my YA trilogy, where people live—and die—by the laws of the Seven Deadly Sins. In it, a teenage librarian whose passionate curiosity far exceeds her restrictive society’s limits, and a medic whose desire to heal sends him in pursuit of forbidden knowledge, collide—and, despite the fact that lust is punishable by death, they fall in love. Hijinks ensue.

A little Easter egg—if you’ve read the first book or prequel novella in my Seven Sins series, you’ll recognize that the librarian and the medic in question are none other than my main character Ari’s parents. 

I've read both of the full-length novels in Emily's Seven Sins series (one of which is the soon-to-be-released sequel, Final Siege of the Seven Sins. It's awesome having connections and getting to read advanced copies!) and I'm super thrilled to get to read more set in that world. Along with introducing readers to your writing, what do you hope readers will get from this anthology?

MD: When I was editing the stories in this anthology, my favourite thing was the escapism it offered. These stories are all so different, and we’re covering many different genres while also examining the idea of transformation from so many different angles—the characters are engaging, the stories exciting, the plots surprising. One moment I’m on the moors of Scotland learning about folklore and monsters, the next I’m in an American museum where there’s a mummy on the loose. These stories really just grab you—and so I think (and hope) that escapism will be one of the big things that readers get. Especially in the current climate—escapism is what so many of us need.

EC: I couldn’t agree more! We created this anthology to give ourselves an escape from the crushing reality of recent events—and for me, at least, it delivered! I hope that readers will find that same sense of freedom in its pages—the sense of being transported to a world that exists alongside our own, where each story is a universe unto itself. 

Also, we were intentional, as Madeline mentions, about including a diverse group of authors. The writers in UNBOUND hail from Colombia, the UK, France, Cyprus, and the United States, and their stories represent their perspectives—including LGBTQIA+, chronic illness, and BIPOC representation. I hope that readers see themselves reflected in our characters, and find themselves spending time with kindred spirits as they read.

When, where, and how will the anthology be available to readers?

 Unbound releases on the 15th February, and it’ll be available as a free ebook download on Amazon and other ebook retailers. There will also be hard copies available to purchase from the usual sites and stores too.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about Unbound and give us a glimpse at the hard behind-the-scenes work the editors have to put into such an undertaking. I'm so proud to be a part of this project, and can't wait to share it with our readers. Find out more about Emily and Madeline here:

Emily Colin's debut novel, The Memory Thief, was a New York Times bestseller and a Target Emerging Authors Pick. She is also the author of The Dream Keeper’s Daughter (Ballantine Books). Her young adult titles include the anthology Wicked South: Secrets and Lies and the Seven Sins series, including the upcoming Shadows of the Seven Sins (June 2021) and Siege of the Seven Sins (August 2021), from Blue Crow Publishing.

Emily's diverse life experience includes organizing a Coney Island tattoo and piercing show, hauling fish at a dolphin research center, roaming New York City as an itinerant teenage violinist, helping launch two small publishing companies, and working to facilitate community engagement in the arts. Originally from Brooklyn, Emily lives in coastal North Carolina with her family. She loves chocolate, is addicted to tiramisu, and dislikes anything containing beans.

Emily is represented by Felicia Eth Literary. You can find her at

Madeline Dyer is a SIBA-award winning author. She lives on a farm in the southwest of England, where she hangs out with her Shetland ponies and writes dark and twisty young adult books. She is pursuing her MA in Creative Writing from Kingston University, having obtained a BA honors degree in English from the University of Exeter. Madeline has a strong love for anything dystopian or ghostly, and she can frequently be found exploring wild places. At least one notebook is known to follow her wherever she goes.

 Her books include the Untamed series, the Dangerous Ones series, and Captive: A Poetry Collection on OCD, Psychosis, and Brain Inflammation.

Madeline is represented by Erin Clyburn at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. You can find her at

Monday, January 18, 2021

Solving All the World's Problems With a Single Blogpost

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Happy Martin Luther King Day, everybody! 

So...this is awkward.  Nazis and white supremacists in the capitol.  Not exactly a banner month for the civil rights movement.

I don't know what to say, kids.  I don't know how to make it better.  The promise of the information age was that granting everyone instantaneous access to all the knowledge in the world would make humanity better.  How could anyone be fooled by the Blood Libel anymore or the Lost Cause of the Confederacy when you could just look that shit up and see it all debunked?  Bigotry and sexism and all that garbage was supposed to have been burnt away by the light of knowledge.

But something weird and unpleasant happened with the democratization of information.  Somewhere along the way we, as a society, became convinced that Uncle Fred's opinions on nuclear proliferation were just as valid as Henry Kissinger's because they both had access to similar platforms.  And then, as if it weren't bad enough that stupid opinions could spread unchecked, custom-generated misinformation, bespoke to whatever lie you wanted to make seem true, could also travel from Toronto to Tuvalu in the blink of an eye.

And so we found ourselves here, with a homegrown army of domestic terrorists with opinions ranging from "the choice is literally between Trump and communism" and "lulz, civil war would totes pwn" and I'm not even sure which of those outlooks is scarier, frankly.

So, yeah.  In some ways we seem further than ever from Dr. King's vision of racial equality under the law in America.  But, then again, perhaps we're doing better now than in the past.  I know, that sounds really bizarre to say.  But let me tell you a little about what I remember about the '90s.

The '90s was a strange decade.  When the Berlin Wall fell, and then the Soviet Union, we, as a society, decided that our worldview had pretty much won.  And, as a corollary, America had to be perfect in every way.  Therefore racism was dead.  They told us the biggest concern the average suburban white kid had to have about race was to remember to say "African American" and "Native American" instead of "black" or "Indian."  And even that little sop to human feeling was the target of much ridicule in the media.  We were told that, sure, there might still be some racists down there in backwoods Alabama or somewhere, but that whole mess had basically petered out.

There's something ugly about that pretending.  There was a certain capacity to sweep everything under the rug at that time that turned into an aggressive desire to do so.  "Oh, no, you weren't a victim of racism.  Don't you know racism is over?"



I guess that shit doesn't fly anymore.  It's pretty much impossible to deny that racism is a problem in America anymore, particularly when it's been the driving force in our politics for the past four years.  And if there was any real question about that, seeing the guys in the Camp Auschwitz t-shirts storm the capitol building made it pretty crystal clear.

There's a saying in AA that you can't get better until you hit rock bottom.  I'm not an expert, but it surely feels like we're hitting rock bottom in America these days.  At least our problems are all laid bare.  At least we can identify and try to fix them.  Not the greatest possible outcome, but it's something better than sweeping everything under the rug, I guess.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Perfect Does Not Exist

By Cheryl Oreglia

What happens when the world changes, when the things we were counting on, or the things we worked hard to accomplish do not happen?

Currently, our situation fits the description of a shit show, far from perfect, and way outside my wildest apocalyptic musings.

Apologies in advance for my sour mood.

People are experiencing a scarcity of food, housing, medical, and psychological wellbeing. The lack of moral leadership is not helping, it’s as if we’ve become an expansion pack for the Lord of Flies, and quite frankly some of us are behaving like lost children.

We’re still marrying, and having babies, but we’re dying alone.

Businesses are closing, supplies are running short, hospitals are at capacity.

What else could go wrong? Oh yeah, domestic terrorists stormed the Capitol, and we’ve impeached the president twice.

This has a trickle-down effect, as if a spring waterfall, and we’re drowning in the runoff.

Students who worked their butts off to get into college are studying remotely, missing the campus experience, and more importantly the networking that occurs when socializing. They are stuck at home using zoom as their primary social connection, youth suicide rates have doubled in the last year, along with seniors.

This has been a depressing year.

Authors are publishing books and forgoing the book tours, marketing conferences, and interviews. Not so bad but if you spent ten years writing and perfecting a novel it’s not the best of times.

My world is currently incompatible with the skill set I have depended on for most of my life.

I was taught from a very young age to follow the steps and the outcome will be close, if not exactly, what I expect. Right?

Study and you’ll pass your courses, graduate and you get a job, save your money for a rainy day, work out and you’ll get stronger, eat less and you lose weight, work hard and you’ll prosper.

But nothing and no one could have prepared us for a world-wide pandemic, months of quarantine, not to mention the political and social unrest that is currently monopolizing our country. The waters are stirred up, it’s murky as hell, and it doesn’t appear to be settling anytime soon. But remember, beautiful souls are shaped by ugly experiences says Matshona Dhliwayo.

So what the hell do we do now?

These are unprecedented times in the history of the world. If we don’t write about it who will? Every country on the planet has been infected, lost elders, jobs, and their sense of security. We’re slowly forgetting what it was like to live “normally,” and worse, we’re becoming accustomed to extremely restrictive environments.

That’s just bullshit.

This is not our demise, this is our opportunity to document a historical phenomenon flashing before our screens, from our own unique perspective, because no one else in the world can tell this story the way you can.

For writers, quarantine is actually a rare occasion that offers unmitigated time to write, think, and ponder without undue distractions, obligations, or interruptions. I agree Netflix is probably part of a Russian agenda to keep us docile and tame, but we’re better than this, at least I once was.

Hello, I’ve been whining about my lack of time, congested schedule, unexpected intrusions forever. Since the first, second, and third lockdown I have cooked hundreds of meals, spent thousands of hours on Zoom calls, and watched more television in ten months than my entire life put together, and I’m embarrassed to say I’ve worn my pajamas for most of these high-level activities. “Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t,” says Rikki Rogers.

What I haven’t done is write about it.

The sad thing is creativity doesn’t repeat itself, it can’t, says Seth Godin. This period in time might be our greatest opportunity along with our worst nightmare, but no one will read our stories if we don’t turn off the television, and write. Yes, I’m talking to myself, just ignore that part, I'm such a sloth. 

This is our work. It’s not for everyone but it will serve someone, it will change something, and it has the potential to make things better. Read that again.

The creative journey takes practice, it follows a distinct pattern, pandemic or not. I have to sit down, and write every day, whether I want to or not. I have to post my work and find an audience who wants to read what I have to offer. They are not going to come to me. 

It’s not easy, most things of value are not, in fact, it might be the most vulnerable thing you’ll ever do. Expose your fears, failures, frivolity, but trust me, no one wants to compare themselves with perfect, let your flaws shine. This is what gives us hope.

Write until our fingers fail, this is our covenant, and this is what I remind myself of when I’m sitting in the same sweats for a week, eating cold chicken with my fingers, hydrating with endless cups of coffee.

My mantra, “I will not watch reruns of The Office.” Repeat.

Remember that show, Walking Dead, it’s become a reality of sorts.

There are plenty of Walking Dead out there, this is our audience, and what we have might be the only source of hope available. Never doubt yourself, I’ve used that as an excuse, but it’s really a defense mechanism against failure. Yes, I’m talking to myself again, I write to figure things out, my thoughts flying around like kamikazes until they land on the page.

What happens when the world changes, when the things we were counting on, or the things we worked hard to accomplish do not happen?

Change your definition of happiness, or better yet, “stop living someone else’s definition of happiness and start living your own,” says David Paul Vosburg.

Our current view of the world might not be perfect because that does not exist.

How are you holding up? What are you currently writing about? Any survival secrets? 

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

Monday, January 11, 2021

Overnight Success

At a time when many of us are sitting down to get a leg up on those New Year’s resolutions to write that novel or find an agent or get published, it can be too tempting to compare ourselves to the Angie Thomases, the V.E. Schwabs, the seemingly overnight success stories. That success feels so far out of reach, it’s almost enough to stop our work in our tracks.

Just before publishing ground to a halt for the winter holidays, I signed my first “big girl” contract.


I don’t tell you this to toot my own horn (while I’m here, though, TOOT TOOT), but to give you some perspective. To those who don’t know me, they might assume it just happened, instantly and without years of hard work and waiting to back it up. They would be woefully wrong.

To demonstrate, a timeline:

2008: Though I’d been writing for “fun” for several years, as a new mom staring down the rest of my life, I decided to write “seriously.” My first manuscript was a Twilight rip-off called Eternity, in which my main character, Catherine, comes into the crosshairs of a football-playing family of vampires. No, you can’t read it. I’ve burned every word.

2009 – 2011: After Eternity’s failure, I decide I’m not a novelist. I am, in fact, a short story writer. I write and submit over a hundred and fifty short stories in this time. None of them sell. I join a Goodreads group called On Fiction Writing where I meet my first mentor. She not only has the balls to tell me my writing is “very not good,” but that it could be if I was willing to work my ass off.

2012: Back to novel-writing. Though I write two books this year, I am still too new to know how to property edit a manuscript or query an agent. I am full of optimism and too much caffeine. I manage to get a couple of short stories published in anthologies edited by writer friends.

2014: After six years of hard work and failure, I land my first paid writing gig at Dark Comedy Productions. I write an interview column called “The Rack” in which my interviewees, lovingly dubbed “victims,” are stretched out on the rack in a combination short story/interview format. To this day, it is my favorite thing I’ve ever done.

2014: After being rejected by every agent known to man, my first published novel, REAPER, is published by a small press in Minnesota. It barely sells—and for good reason. It was not up to snuff. But it was the stepping stone I needed. Someone out there thought I was good enough. Maybe I could be.

2015: My second published novel, SACRIFICIAL LAMB CAKE, is published by another small press, Red Adept Publishing. Though I’m pleased with the book, I suspect the small press route isn’t for me. Too much of the production and marketing is up to the writer. Being a mom of two, I work paycheck to paycheck. Fronting the money for blog tours and reviews and giveaway copies without the privilege of an advance just isn’t in the cards.

2016: I self-publish a book that, though it got some full requests from agents, never panned out in the traditional market. A TALE DU MORT is part Terry Pratchett, part Florida love-affair. In truth, I only published this one to see if I could. Several hundred rejections do a lot to a person; I wanted to know if I could do it on my own.

Late 2016: My third published book, ALL DARLING CHILDREN, is released by Red Adept Publishing after a few full requests by agents end in more rejection. It’s my first foray into the crossover horror genre I’d later figure out I love.

2017: Almost ten years after I started pursuing a writing career, I finally signed with an agent with my manuscript, HEART OF SNOW. We spend nearly a year on editing and submissions and receive almost a dozen rejections, all mostly complimentary and encouraging. Their one gripe? No idea where to put in on the shelf, or how to market it. I learn my first hard lesson—there are no guarantees.

2018: I write another manuscript, CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT. This one went through two complete rewrites before it even saw an editor’s inbox. Though I get close—an editor tells my agent she is taking the book to acquisitions—in the end, I’m rejected. At this point, my agent has signed a few authors after me, all of which have landed their first deals. I’m feeling disheartened and frustrated and wondering what the hell to do next. The answer is easy: write another book. So I did.

2019: I write two more manuscripts, one of which is shelved for having no plot. The other is still sitting in limbo.

2020: The editor who took CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT to acquisitions, only to have it rejected, reaches out to my agent. She tells my agent she wants to try again, if I’m willing to play a little with the genre. It’s a challenge, but I whole-heartedly accept. The book goes through its third complete rewrite before she takes it to acquisitions again. It’s twelve years later, and I finally get the call I’ve been dreaming of since Catherine tackled a vampire in a game of touch-football.

What I’m saying is this: it’s difficult, the waiting feels like it’ll kill you, and you will be rejected more times than you can count. That doesn’t mean you should give up. I didn’t.    

Thursday, January 7, 2021

What's in a Name?

Like a lot of authors, I like to put some time into creating individual characters for my story. The first step in always figuring out what their name is. I don't like to pick a name at random. Often times, I will spend a few hours browsing baby namer websites for the perfect name based on meaning, pronunciation, ethnic background, and personality. But does the name of a character influence who they'll become in the course of a story? I think it does.

Insert shameless plug here.

In my dark fantasy series, 'The Book of Siavon', I spent a lot of time working out the names of my main characters. Being that the world is set an a medieval, fantastical landscape, I wanted the characters to have heavy Irish, Latin, and British influences on their names. Keavy, the heroine of the series, was the hardest to come up with. I wanted something easy to say, but also different enough that you wouldn't confuse it with any characters from other novels. I landed on this particular name by browsing a Gaelic name database. It means gentle, beautiful, or precious (though in the series, I have her saying her name means "Lady of the hearth"), which is the kind of person I pictured Keavy as. 

Another way I name characters is through science. Often times, non-human characters and creatures in my fantasy stories draw their name from some sort of real world Latin name for the animal in which I have based them on. Linnaeus Marcus Tulley is a prime example of this. He is of a race called the catfolk, which are basically half-cat, half-human sentient beings who populate the mythical world of Aryth, (which I named as a variation of Earth). Linnaeus came from the name, Carl Linnaeus, who was a Swedish scientist who studied botany and zoology. He also was the person who came up with the scientific name, Felis catus. You guessed it, he gave cats their name. It was a little nod to the field of science, which the character of Tulley studies, as well to his species influence. I didn't expect many people to pick up on it, but those that did probably got a little kick out of it like I did.

I also sometimes use the meaning of names as a form of foreshadowing in the story. For instance, someone who is a werewolf might have a name that means 'wolf' or 'change.' I try to do this subtly to keep from spoiling the story, so it's usually not too obvious. I mostly do this for my own entertainment, but people interested in linguistics might pick up on it.

Naming characters is a lot like naming real children. You want it to fit their personality and be something they can grow with as the story progresses, but you also just want it to sound right in the reader's head and be something that isn't too hard to pronounce. That's why I spend so much time obsessing over what names to use and where. It's a lot of fun, and believe it or not, one of the easier aspects of creating a whole person for a book, even if it takes a while. 

How do you name your characters? Tell me about it!

Stay weird.

Monday, January 4, 2021

New Year, New Resolution?

A post by Mary Fan
Happy New Year, everyone! It's that time again -- the time when a bunch of people set resolutions and goals for what they're going to do between now and December 31. I've seen a lot of writers share their goals on social media. Some are aspirational targets, like achieving a certain word count per day, and some are... how do I put this... more like wishes shouted into the Internet.

You've probably seen them around. "This is the year I land an agent." "This is the year I get published." "This is the year I become a bestselling author."

I get the impulse. The myth of meritocracy has led most of us to believe that external markers of success -- usually achieving some kind of institutional approval, popularity, or monetary gain -- are all due to the efforts of the individual. It's a comforting myth, this idea that you can control your own destiny. And to some extent, helpful, since it can push you to do the things you need to in order to get what you want.

But so much is out of our control that treating these external markers as resolutions isn't always healthy. Especially in an industry as fickle as publishing, much more is up to chance than we'd like to admit. Maybe you happened to write a book in the trendiest genre, right as the genre is taking off. Maybe you happened to adopt a style adored by publishing professionals. Maybe you were assigned a phenomenal cover artist whose eye-catching design made your book stand out from a thousand others. Or maybe you didn't -- your timing was off, your tastes don't align perfectly with the industry's, your marketing efforts didn't land.

So when if you don't land that agent, get that deal, or achieve that title, does that make you a failure, or simply unlucky?

Personally, I don't like tying resolutions to things out of my control, which is why my resolution is very simple: To finish the manuscript I started during NaNoWriMo, clean it up and make it readable (it's currently a hot mess full of continuity errors), and submit it. That's all I can do; the rest is up to fate.

Do you have a writing-related resolution?

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