Monday, May 31, 2021

Totally Judging Books by their Covers

Shameless self-promotion ahead. Grab a beer and gird your loins.

July 5, 2022, my first horror novel, They Drown Our Daughters, will be released from Poisoned Pen Press. That’s 402 days (I’m totally not counting at all, nope) in which to agonize over how many of you will buy it, and how many of you are not my friends.

But until then, I have fun little milestones to look forward to. The most exciting, of course, is the cover reveal.

They say not to judge a book by its cover, but what are rules for if not to be broken? A great cover can be the difference between a passing glance and grabby hands. Every author dreams of a grabby-hand cover.

Before you ask, no, I haven’t seen any concept art and, no, I wouldn’t tell you if I had. All we can do is dream and hope and worry.

To distract us, I’ve compiled a group of my favorite book covers of all time. If these don’t make you want to read the books immediately, I can’t help you.

There's just something about damp fabric, you know?

If you wouldn't open that door, we can't be friends.

Part Gatsby, part circus - this one just looks like a good bit of trouble.

Did someone say green thumb--er--veins?

It's the stylized roots that do it for me.

A gothic masterpiece.

I love this Nordic woodcut feel.

This cover screams romance, pirates, and regency intrigue.

That GOLD though.

I'm a sucker for cameo-style art, and that red background is like a sunrise made of fire.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Writing in Public vs. At Home


A long time ago, when Borders was still in existence, I used to spend a lot of time there writing. I wasn't one of those people that needed to be seen writing in order to feel like a writer, but I enjoyed the atmosphere. Something about a book store café just inspired me to get more work done. It let me focus on what I was doing rather than distract myself at home with chores. I also had access to resources in case I needed to do some research. Plus, I had an endless supply of baked good and coffee at the café. When it was taken over by BAM, I went back a few times, but gradually phased out of it. The atmosphere had gone from cozy, quiet study area, to a platform for loud obnoxious political conversation nearly every time I went. I just couldn't focus anymore, so I went back to writing at home. 

One thing that always struck me odd about my time at Borders, was how often people would come up to me and ask what I was writing about, or otherwise wanted to strike up a conversation. I didn't mind it so much at first, but it would break my concentration and then I'd usually end up leaving after a few minutes. I had to think to myself, what is it about seeing someone working on a laptop that makes people want to talk to you?

I once had a gentleman come up to me while I was deeply ingrained in what I was writing and say "Excuse me, I don't mean to bother you, but I just had to say you have the most INTENSE look on your face! You must be really focused on what you're writing! What are you writing about?"

I didn't want to be rude, but he completely derailed my train of thought and I just sort of murmured "a book", before he mercifully let me go. I couldn't get back into it after that interaction, so I left. This was the downside to writing somewhere public. 

Now, with Covid restrictions in effect, I've found myself working from home more often. Yes, I've procrastinated by creating tasks to do around the house instead, but when I have a day to myself, and all is quiet, I've gradually gotten my spark back. I've been able to get work done without the need for an outside space to get the juices flowing. Plus, there is the added perk of not having anyone interrupt me...unless you count my parrot squawking, which can be just like listening to loud political talk sometimes.

In the beginning of my writing career, a lot of my books were written in a public place. The entire 'Book of Siavon' series was conceived and delivered at Borders. 'Exotic Birds' was written at home late at night, and sometimes at BAM. 'Solve for X' was almost entirely written from home. Gradually, I've become more comfortable and less distracted when I work from home, but still miss the atmosphere of the public writing space...and the coffee.

Do you like to write somewhere public? Or do you prefer the cozy familiarity of your own home?

Tell me about it, and stay weird.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Short Stories: A Writer's Sandbox

I don't really consider myself a "short story writer," which is kind of funny considering I've published over a dozen so far. Don't get me wrong - I love writing shorts - but I know they're not my main medium. I much prefer writing novels, and oftentimes I feel like I'm writing mini, compact novels instead of true short stories.

But short stories have one distinct advantage over novels, and that's that they're, well, short. I think it's been blogged on here before about how they provide a great sandbox for writers to experiment in. You don't have to commit to 50+ thousand words to try out a new writing style or genre.

I recall the first time I wrote something in first person present tense, it was a short story. But that wasn't the only experimental thing about it. This was not long after I'd finished my debut novel, Artificial Absolutes, which is an action-driven sci-fi adventure starring a strong-willed heroine with a sassy attitude. The short story I wrote was also my first foray into composing something quieter - an introspective piece about a shy, soft-spoken woman coping with a family tragedy. I don't remember much of what happened in that short (the indie anthology I wrote it for fell through due to a toxic combination of mismanagement and misogyny... a story for another time), but I do recall that I wrote the first draft of Starswept, written in first person present in the voice of a shy, soft-spoken young woman, not long thereafter. And I remember feeling comfortable with this different style of writing because I'd experimented with it previously.

A little while back, one of the indie author collectives I write with, Snowy Wings Publishing, announced that their next member anthology's theme would be Greek myths. I volunteered to do a retelling of the Arachne myth because it's been one of my favorites since high school (in fact, I vaguely recall once plotting to write an opera about Arachne...). Why Arachne? Not because I like spiders, but because I found it interesting how it's about a mortal who challenges a goddess... and is struck down not because she didn't rise to the occasion, but because she DID, and the goddess, Athena/Minerva became jealous. But at the time I volunteered, all I knew was that I was going to do something with the tale. What? I had no idea.

A few months ago, the anthology's editor asked us all to let her know what genres our stories would be in. I hadn't even thought about what my story would be about. Meanwhile, I'd been seeing all up and down Twitter that Dark Academia was becoming the next YA trend. "What the dickens is Dark Academia?" I wondered to myself while shaking my cane at a cloud. So naturally, I told the editor that my Arachne retelling would be Dark Academia.

Writing the story gave me the opportunity to experiment in a genre I otherwise wouldn't have (I'm certainly not brave enough to write a whole book in a genre I don't know!). It turns that Dark Academia is, roughly, the genre equivalent of a popular aesthetic featuring old academies, elite students, New England-esque settings, sharp blazers and pleated skirts, old books and gothic architecture, dark pasts and buried secrets... so... basically Princeton University. Which I went to and mention now not as a brag, but so I can laugh at the fact that I was ever intimidated by Dark Academia when I literally lived it.

Anyway, there's a certain sense of triumph that comes with completing something new. I'm rather proud of how my Dark Academia reimagining of Arachne, "With Dark Truths Draw Me," turned out, and I can't wait for it to be released as part of the Sing, Goddess! anthology of Greek myth retellings edited by Jane Watson (*plug plug nudge nudge*). Athena/Minerva is now Min Wong (shown here in the character art I commissioned as a self reward), a popular prep school junior who desperately wants to get into a top school and sees her painting skills as one way to stand out in her applications. Arachne is now Ara Zhi, an alternagirl-type whose death by suicide haunts Min. If I hadn't (somewhat randomly) picked Arachne and Dark Academia to write about, this story would never have existed.

There are a lot of genres I want to try someday, and lucky for me I know enough indie anthology editors that I think I'll always have a place to try them out. But even without a guarantee of publication or a deadline breathing down my neck, I think I'd still dip into short stories in between novels just to try out new things.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Newsletters: What the hell do I put in this thing? A listicle.

Hello, gorgeous people. It has been absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful in the Poconos these past few days, so I hope the sun is shining down on you too. Today, I am going to share my ideas on what to put in author newsletters. Because let's face it, content is hard.

For indie authors who publish frequently, their newsletter content is fairly easy to come by: a cover reveal, an excerpt, a sale, a new release--all of that will make up the bulk of their newsletter. But what about the traditional author with a once-a-year-release? Or the author who hasn't released anything in a while? Who doesn't have book news or cover art to share? What should they put in their newsletter to keep their readership engaged while they are waiting to sell a book or announce a deal?

Here are some ideas. Use them in good health.


  1. Other authors' books. Did you read a great crime thriller? Tell your list. Did your talented friend publish a new book last week? Tell your list. Did your agency sister get a book deal? Tell your list. Is a book you championed on sale this week? Tell your list.
  2. Photos of your personal stuff--your desk, office, garden, antique cuckoo clock--share the things that relax and inspire you. 
  3. Mood boards. Are you working on a secret project? Maybe you don't want to share the deets, but you could share a mood board. 
  4. Also create a fantasy cast list of characters for that secret project and share it. 
  5. Your book research. Did you dig up an interesting tidbit about 1750s France for a novel? Or a weird way to poison someone? Share it.
  6. Tell a funny story. You're a writer, you can make an awkward encounter at the mailbox interesting. 
  7. Recipes--do you mention interesting dishes in your books? Did you cook something delicious? Did you make your 80th sourdough? Did you invent a new cocktail. Share it.
  8. A lot of authors subscribe to newsletters so consider sharing your writing process. I personally like seeing photos of a computer screen with a half-sentence and the cheek of a forlorn author pressed to the keyboard--it makes me feel seen. Also people really want to know how the sausage is made.
  9. Also consider sharing the odds and ends that help your process. Fancy notebooks, pens, and stickers and where you buy them. An antique typewriter. Pink highlighters. Whatever works.
  10. Writing advice: if you suddenly learned the secret to efficiency, share it! If you figured a better way to plot, share it. If you started using new software, share it.
  11. Your local indie bookstore. Take pics and share them. 
  12. With that said--the library. Snap photos of your books in the library. You're in the library! It's cool.
  13. Movie, streaming, and podcast recommendations. I do this all the time. Did you listen to a cool true crime podcast? Tell your readers. Did you binge watch a new science fiction show? Tell your readers. Did you rewatch a little-known indie film from the 90s that still holds up? Tell your readers.
  14. Make-up/clothing recommendations. My favorite author shared a lipstick recommendation and I was all about it. She also shared these dope hats she wears. The woman has style, and I know her fans want to hear about it.
  15. A Q&A: do you get any interesting reader questions? Compile them into a Q&A for exclusive content.
  16. Flash fiction between two beloved characters.
  17. Reader reviews. Did your book get an awesome new review on Amazon or Goodreads? Share it. 
  18. News related to your genre. If you write romance, link to a new celebrity couple (Bennifer!). If you write science fiction, link to news articles about space (60 Minutes just aired a piece about UFOs-swear to God). I personally enjoy telling my readers about cold cases that have recently been solved. But you do you.
  19. Memes and jokes--people like them. 
  20. Inspirational quotes. Make it pretty and shareable using Canva.
  21. Imitation is flattery and all that. Copy your favorite authors. What do your favorite authors include in their newsletters that you enjoy reading? Do the same.

If you have suggestions for newsletter content, don't hog it all to yourself. Share it! And, please, subscribe to my list. If you love true crime, you'll love my newsletter.

Monday, May 17, 2021

How Being a Writer Ruins Everything

P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame
It was Friday, I'd just finished work, and I had a whole weekend ahead with no plans. I laid down on the couch, and attempted to clear my mind. Finally, I could be free of the week's worries and just be, in the moment, no thought necessary.
Then I thought: is it "laid down on the couch," or should it have been "lay down on the couch"?
I subsequently thought: man, being a write ruins everything. I can't do anything without translating it into these stupid words. That would make a good blog post! That's when the phone came out and my notes app was open and I was no longer in a blissful state of care-free laying or lying or whatever.


Here are a few other things ruined by being a writer:


  • Thinking simple thoughts. It's never just "this sandwich tastes good." Instead, it's "how would I describe the taste of this sandwich, if I were to put it in a book, or tweet about it? Should I include details about how it smells? The feeling of incisors cleaving fresh bread? Ah shit, the sandwich is gone now." Do normal people even put their thoughts in words? Or do they just, like, taste things?

  • Watching TV. A plot twist is never just a plot twist for a writer. It's an opportunity to analyze what exactly led to the twist, what it says about the characters, how it fits into the overall structure of the story. Sometimes it's like I can't even let the intended emotions hit me, because they're wrapped up in analysis and logic, which ruins any good feels. I think I even miss literally seeing things. Sometimes my girlfriend will be like "haha that guy's hat is hilarious" and I didn't even know he had a hat because I was thinking about how that trope from three scenes ago is totally overused but I could totally do something different with it.

  • Engaging in normal relationships with humans. For a few different reasons. Being good at writing does not mean being good at talking, for one, so good luck getting a coherent string of words out of a writer's mouth unless they wrote it down beforehand. It's a beautiful thing when the writer's shell of introversion does manage to get cracked, though, because then they can mine the relationship for material. Some writers may keep a straight face, but deep down, a friend's heartfelt confessionary breakdown is being classified as "compelling dialogue."

tfw you finally have time for a relaxing vacation with the family.

  • Traveling. Oh cool, a new experience in an unfamiliar place? The writer must cram his head full of every detail and try to memorize what it feels like, because "write what you know" is awfully narrow when 99% of what you know is the beige walls of an apartment. Study up on that additional knowledge. It's not supposed to be fun.

  • Having biological functions. Writers don’t sleep, they just lie down and think about things that don't exist, then write those things down in a notebook beside the bed, repeat, and eventually pass out from the exhausting cycle. Writers don't poop, they just take breaks from their day jobs to do research and take notes in a private enclosed space. Even basic personal hygiene is a time for dreaming up ideas. Why do you think so many novels start with the main character looking in a mirror and end with them crying in a shower? 


There you have it, some slightly exaggerated reasons why writing ruins everything and you should never touch a keyboard. Am I even normal for a writer, or has something gone horribly wrong inside of me? Please let me know your perfectly-formed written thoughts. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Romancing the Villain and Hotness Absolution
Warning: This post may contain some spoilers for the Netflix and book series, Shadow and Bone. Proceed at your own risk.

I'm a fan of the Shadow and Bone ("Grishaverse") novels by Leigh Bardugo, so naturally when the Netflix series came out, I gobbled it right up. I had watched the casting announcements, and while most of the actors picked for the main roles were unfamiliar to me, one crucial one was not. 

When the producers named Ben Barnes as the Darkling, aka General Kirigan, aka Aleksander, I fan-girl flipped out. The Darkling is the main antagonist of the series, though he doesn't necessarily start out that way. At one point in the books, and on the show, the Darkling is also a potential romantic interest for the main character, Alina Starkov. Any actor that played him had to be handsome, suave, erudite, a little distant and cold, and above all, sexy. 

Have you seen Ben Barnes as Billy Russo in The Punisher? How about as Logan in West World? Okay, as Logan he might have been more "spoiled asshole" than "sexy villain" but still... there really wasn't anyone more suited for the Darkling than him, in my opinion. He absolutely lived up to my expectations.

Oh, those expectations... Barnes's performance, physical appearance, sex appeal, etc. has caused quite the stir on social media ever since the show's release. It has also spawned a ton of blog posts and commentary, so I kind of feel like I'm beating a dead horse by talking about this subject again. But I here I go anyway...

There are three main camps I'm seeing when it comes to Romancing the Villain:

  1. Romanticizing villains is bad and you should never ever do it. Nothing about abuse, violence, murder, corruption, etc., is romantic. Ever.
  2. Romanticizing villains is okay as long as you acknowledge what makes them problematic and don't condone such behavior in the real world. Your fantasies are a safe space to work out complex feelings.
  3. Romanticizing villains is okay and don't apologize for your lust. Embrace the evil! Ride or Die, Bitches!
I can't say I have a firm opinion on the matter. Rather, I think all of them are right and wrong in their own ways. However, I think I tend to fall in camp #2. I definitely found Ben Barnes portrayal of the Darkling to be, um, erm, *shifts uncomfortably in seat* compelling. I'm currently re-watching the second season of The Punisher and Jon Bernthal's performance as Frank Castle lights me up, despite knowing just how troublesome such a character would be in the real world. I've also watched Bernthal as Shane Walsh on The Walking Dead a second time and found him way more sympathetic and complex than I did the first time I watched that show. Is that because I have a better comprehension of the character the second time around, or because I think Jon Bernthal is hawt?

Let's not even get started on my Adam Driver vs Kylo Ren conflict. As a character, Kylo Ren is reprehensible. I did *not* root for him and Rey to become a romantic couple, not even once. It still pisses me off when I think about it. But can I happily re-watch, over and over, that scene where he first takes his helmet off on The Force Awakens? Why, yes. Yes I can.

Basically, it does all come down to aesthetic appeal though. If excuses are to be made for loving the bad guy, those excuses are most often made for the beautiful bad boys and never for, say, the Jabba the Hutts of the world.

You never want a big wet kiss from Jabba, do you?

I talked about this issue with fellow ATB contributor, Mary Fan, who is often my go-to when I'm wrestling with issues like this, either in the media I'm consuming or in my own writing. She calls this phenomenon the "Hotness Absolution". It's her contention, and I agree, that if Jabba had been a hot human (or humanoid), people would have been a lot more into the Leia-as-his-slave thing. Would people have shipped Reylo so hard if Kylo never took of his mask? I think our recent text conversation sums up this contradiction perfectly:

Mary: No one shipped anyone with Palpatine...

Me: Right!

Mary: Hmm does anyone romanticize Evil Anakin? I haven’t hung out in fan forums much but I feel like they don’t really romanticize him at all... 

Me: I know way back in the day people were writing some very smutty stuff involving Darth Maul. I read a few stories that were 😮😮😮😮


Me: I mean, other than the creepy teeth and eyes, Ray Park is/was very, um, "fit". So, I guess if people can have a furry kink, why not an evil Sith kink?

Mary: I guess?? I mean yeah Ray Park was young, twenty-something martial artist with a British accent so I get that. Ha ha. People gonna people...

Me: Exactly

Mary: I wonder if any of those people romanticized his portrayal of the Toad in X-Men

Me: *Dies laughing*

So, I realize that the end of this post should draw some sort of conclusion about all of this. Maybe I should make a definitive stance on whether or not romancing the villain when he's hot, but not when he's not, is okay. A villain who gets to embrace his sexual appeal versus one whose appeal is hidden behind a less palatable exterior is always going to get more romantic leeway from fans. I can't criticize anyone for that though. It's a complex issue full of myriad nuances, and I'm not willing to judge people's thirst traps out of context. Context is everything. Besides, making a judgment would turn me into a hypocrite because I've got to stop writing this blog so I can go watch that video of Adam Driver/Kylo Ren taking off his helmet a couple dozen more times. Bye-eeeee!

Monday, May 10, 2021

A Terrible Title for a Blogpost

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, kids!

I was originally going to call this "The Writer's Dilemma" and then I realized that was a terrible title for a blogpost, and one that I wouldn't click on in a million years.  So I decided to change it to that, which I might, actually.  Still, it's the dilemma thingy that's the subject, so if you just clicked here for the clever title, you're about to get kind of screwed, I guess.  

The truth is I'm feeling at a crossroads and I don't know what to do.  We've talked before on this blog about how the modern world keeps you spoiled for choices, which makes them all seem terrible.  I remember a time when popping in "Rushmore" on a Saturday night seemed like the best choice from my collection of ten or fifteen DVDs.  Now I can't even decide which app to choose my near infinite list of movies and TV shows from.

"Yeah, but what's that got to do with writing, you dumb bastard?" I hear you shouting.  First of all, that's a bit harsh.  I'll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your mouth.  But to answer your unnecessarily angry query, I have a (somewhat?) unique problem in that I have a number of manuscripts in my trunk and a number of things to do with any given one of them.  

"What's a trunk?" you say.  Well, first of all, thank you for toning down the language a bit.  Second, a trunk is a metaphor, a bit like when they say "that film is in the can" in Hollywood, which is a thing I assume they say there.  "Trunk" can have negative connotations, because back in the day a working writer would put a completed manuscript they thought was unsaleable in the (sometimes literal) trunk at the foot of their bed.  But it can also be used to refer to just a completed manuscript waiting to find a home, which is the sense that I mean it here.

Let's see.  In my trunk I currently have:

- THE HYENA, a pretty straightforward sci-fi novel,


- NOTES FROM THE UNDEAD, a pretty straightforward horror sequel to THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO that still requires a hard edit

- THE CORPSE-WRIGHT'S APPRENTICE, a YA horror novella and less straightforward GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO sequel

- THE THING UNDER YOUR BED, a horror novella

- CLICKERS NEVER DIE, a horror collaboration

- A SECRET POLICEMAN'S CONSCIENCE, a dystopian thriller

So.  Shit, that's a lot when I lay it out like that.  So what's my dilemma?  Well, FOMO, mostly, I guess.  At this point BROKEN-DOWN HEROES was actually agented and seen by several people in New York and Hollywood, so I think the only thing I can really do with that at this point is self-publish.  But the problem with that is, and always has been, that it's a massive departure for me and would probably be best served by a pseudonym.

THE HYENA has a similar problem.  It's been queried widely to agents, and never been picked up, which means I either seek a sci-fi small press (a world I know nothing about) or self-publish.  It's not a huge departure for me, since I've done BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS and EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED, which, although dark, are more comfortably sci-fi than horror.  But, still, do I want a sci-fi novel to be my first self-publication?

NOTES FROM THE UNDEAD probably doesn't belong on this list since it's not been edited yet, but as a zombie horror novel it's the closest thing to completely in my wheelhouse that I have in my trunk.  I haven't queried it yet, but who would pick up a sequel to a small press horror novel from nearly a decade ago?  Should I treat it as unrelated and query anyway?  Are agents really interested in horror?  Yeah, I guess I will.  I'll at least give it that shot.  But then, if I do that, what about the press that published TGA in the first place?  Don't I owe them a look at the sequel?

CORPSE-WRIGHT and THE THING UNDER YOUR BED both suffer from the same problem: no one really publishes novellas.  Supposedly people all love novellas, but nobody wants to publish them.  So I guess they're all coming out self-published anyway.  And then I keep thinking I really ought to put out a work for perma-free on Amazon, and one of these novellas might fit the bill.  But should I put it up for pay at first and see if anyone's interested, then make it perma-free?  In which case, would that piss off the people who paid for it?

The goal of making something perma-free would be to get a bunch of people to read something of yours, and maybe a few come back to buy other stuff.  And then, back to THE HYENA, I've also thought about making a small illustrated guide to the aliens in THE HYENA universe my perma-free item, to hopefully direct people to pick up the novel.  But, then if I do that, I have to shell some mad samoleons out of pocket to hire an illustrator, for what could be absolutely zero return.  And shouldn't I include the bestiary in the actual manuscript for people who buy the paperback?  So would there be no point in releasing a novel featuring the bestiary and the bestiary itself under a separate cover?

A SECRET POLICEMAN'S CONSCIENCE is just barely, I think, on its last legs of the query circuit.  So I'll at least give that another ninety days to six months before I give up and do something with it.  Which doesn't help me get anything out this year.

And, finally, CLICKERS NEVER DIE is being shopped around and will be picked up by a high-quality venue, but probably for 2022.  Which is what precipitated this whole damn crisis in the first place.

So, there you have it, everyone.  All the boring ins and outs of what I could possibly do in the next few months.  Which leaves you just one thing to do in the comments: decide for me?

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Who Do We Write For?

By Cheryl Oreglia

I’ve wrestled with this question so many times as a writer, I usually end up penning (intentional) someone, or something before the towel's thrown in.

Is it for my friends, an enemy, some ex-lover whom I pen my words? A family member, a neighbor, or some unimagined person that stumbled on my work and became enamored with the words? Maybe I write for myself? Or my deceased parents? But this much I know to be true, when I have too many agendas to shuffle nothing of value lands on the page.

Regardless of who I’m writing for, if I want to invite readers onto my page then I think Glennon Doyle Melton makes a good point, “fancy language tends to make "in" people feel more in and "out" people feel more out, and I don't think that's how words are best used. Words are best used to describe specific feelings, ideas, and hearts as clearly as possible - to make the speaker and the listener, or the writer and the reader, feel less alone and more hopeful.”

When I encounter an author whose voice speaks to my own, I keep their cadence in my head, along with the seeds I want to sow, the itch I need to scratch, the wound in need of healing. These voices become so congested at times it’s as if I’m stuck in traffic, I make no progress, and that obnoxious red light flashes before me. A siren if you will as if you need to take cover because a catastrophe is brewing.

I’m trying to stop the metaphors but they just keep coming.

Seth Godin says we should write for the smallest viable audience and Kurt Vonnegut says he writes for an audience of one. “Many writers write because they’ve been there, seen that, did it and burnt their fingers,” says Bangambiki Habyarimana.

The audience you choose, whether it be yourself, or your dead sister like Kurt, maybe it’s a specific community you’ve conjured up in your mind, as Amanda Gorman says it’s about the bridge, not the blade. When you read what I write there is a single connection, this page might reach out to many as if a telephone wire, but if the conversation is to have any meaning it must be one to one.

For me, the world does not make sense until I have some version of it tackled on the page. Oddly enough, as Betsy Lerner says, the act of writing is strangely more lifelike than life.

It’s is a sacred act because both reading and writing are done in solitude to be fully efficacious. I can read and write with the television on but it’s distracting and disrupts the experience, the same with sex, prayer, and morning absolutions.

It becomes an intimate relationship between the reader and the writer, third parties are not welcome, and if the writing is good the love affair will endure.

Do you check out the back cover of a book to see what the author looks like? Do you read the bio and try to imagine the person you are now connected to through their writing? What is she like? Do you inspect her life as if a detective looking for clues to solve a mystery? Or do you treat this new relationship as if a lover you’re stalking on Facebook? I’ve done it all.

Marie Howe remembers a very lonely man, coming up to her at the end of a reading and looking into her face and saying, “I feel as if I have looked down a corridor and seen into your soul.” And she looked at him and said, “You haven't. Here's the good news and the bad news: you haven't! I made something, and you and I could look at it together, but it's not me; you don’t live with me; you're not intimate with me. You're not the man I live with or my friend. You will never know me in that way. I'm making something, like Joseph Cornell makes his boxes and everyone looks into them, but it's the box you look into; it's not the man or the woman. It's alchemy of language and memory and imagination and time and music and sounds that gets made, and that's different.”

Maybe that happens when we reach a place of absolute truth, no bullshit, no glossy adages, just pure authentic words nailed one by one onto the page as if a crucifixion. A part of the author must bleed, maybe die, in order for the reader to discover new life.

On occasion, I write for my Dad who harbored such hope for my life, I want him to know I haven’t forgotten him, that I’m surviving, maybe even thriving. Oh, how I wanted him to be proud of me and I know how that wiggles its way into my writing. When I write for my Mom it’s more about finding a place for my anger, for the destructiveness of cancer, for a life taken too soon. I want her to forgive me for the ways in which I think I failed her, that I didn’t give enough, even though she praised my every effort unto her death. I’ve written for my enemies, but that always ends up being a self-serving tyrant, and I tend to gloss over the truth for the version I have recreated in my head because If I were honest I am as much to blame as my nemesis. I write for my friends when I want them to understand their value, how they draw me away from the computer and into life.

Stephen King says, “one of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, working for long words because you're maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed, and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed.”

As a writer, I think we have to refuse to be domesticated, and in doing so we bring the untamed parts of ourselves to the landscape, the savage, feral, unbroken, human pieces, keeping our fire contained by a thin layer of parchment and the reader is seared by proximity.

In a recent post on my blog, Living in the Gap, I wrote for my children and grandchildren. I wrote about legacy and what we hope to leave the next generation. I hope they find me enmeshed in the words I laid to rest on the page but also in the experience of brushing up against me, and in the brushing their life is forever better. I suppose that’s what I want for all my readers.

Who do you write for?

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

Monday, May 3, 2021

Why Isn't...


Hey all you cool cats and kittens. Katrina here to answer all the Google queries you didn’t know you had.


Why isn’t Kelly on the voice?

Don’t ask me why, but I thought this question was in regard to the Pickler variety of Kelly when in fact, the world is more worried about Kelly Clarkson who is MIA on The Voice’s “Battle Rounds.” Is she being a diva? Did she binge one too many episodes of Hoarders and is now in her own battle against that corner of clutter in her basement, lest one of her relatives send TLC into her home alongside a therapist with questionable credentials?

Sadly, no. Kelly revealed she is merely “under the weather.” She didn’t test positive for COVID, but, you know, better safe than sorry. (Wear your masks and get vaccinated, folks).


Why isn’t Pluto a planet?

I, personally, would argue that Pluto is IN FACT a planet, only because I’m still a little bit salty about that replica of the solar system I spent a month putting together in fifth grade, only to have it lose points because of Pluto’s questionable planetary status.

According to the Library of Congress, though, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) downgraded the status of Pluto to that of a dwarf planet because it did not meet the three criteria the IAU uses to define a full-sized planet. Essentially Pluto meets all the criteria except one—it “has not cleared its neighboring region of other objects.”

I have no clue what that means. As it is not on our list, we’ll pretend it doesn’t matter. MOVING ON.


Why isn’t my phone charging?

Is it an iphone?

Well, there’s your answer, eh?


Why isn’t my dog eating?

What’s that? A MEDICAL QUESTION? To WebMD (pet version) we go!

First possible cause: Doggo is sicko. If he’s got some pukage or there’s poop-chute fuckery afoot, time to visit the vet.

Second possible cause: Dental disease. Given dog’s mouths are meant to be cleaner than ours, I’m not going to continue to read this part of the article. If you think Doggo’s mouth hurts, feel free to Google on your own.

Third: Recent vaccination. If this is the cause, no worries! Doggo will be back to eating your shoes in no time.


Why isn’t Puerto Rico a state?

Look, you can read a million different articles that debate the pros and cons of statehood, the viewpoints of the 5% of Puerto Rican citizens who would die on a hill if it meant independence from the United States forever, but the answer is simple: Racism.



Why isn’t CC McGraw playing?

The only McGraw I know is Tim and, look, if he’s found some new path in life that requires a name change to CC, I am HERE FOR—


So, NOT Tim?

Something something college volleyball. Digs. Aces. Assists. Etc.

I played volleyball in middle school. I grew up in Florida so there was sand a-plenty, yet SOMEHOW we still ended up playing on grass or—worse—the hard gym floor. My knee hasn’t been right since.

Wherever CC McGraw is, let’s hope it’s not the knee. Please, please, not the knee.


Now that I have imparted you with knowledge, go forth and pay it forward. Huzzah!

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