Monday, November 29, 2021


P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame
I swear I’m not on drugs right now, but have you ever thought about hands?

Our hands are what allow our brains to change the world. Aside from the occasional kick, shove, or kiss, everything we accomplish is accomplished with our hands. Way back, it started with tossing rocks to form sharper rocks. Smashing those rocks against trees gave us wood. With more tossing, smashing, and a few handshakes, we cooperated to build a house.

Iterate on those basic themes, add in some poking, pinching, flicking, grasping and gripping, and we end up with everything humans have ever built. Those wriggling flesh nubs in front of you have turned rocks and trees into everything from the Tesla factory (426,000 square meters) to the transistor gates on the computer chips that power those cars (14 nanometers).
We think of these things as being created with machines, but those machines were built by other machines, created by other machines, etc., until the only machine is, you guessed it, the ten bones wrapped in supple leather that are permanently attached to most of our upper limbs.

A hand.

These days, much of our communication happens with our hands, rather than our vocal cords. I’m wiggling my fingers in a fancy pattern here in Ontario, Canada, and you’re flicking at a slab of glass wherever you are, and somehow what’s in my brain is affecting what’s in your brain.
Whoa, where am I? Oh yeah, I forgot this is a writing blog, so let’s tie it back to writing. Arthur C. Clarke once wiggled his fingers to write that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. When the fingers of other writers engage in their own sort of telepathy with readers, perhaps it helps to keep in mind that no matter how strange the worlds they invent are, the real world is just as strange. A fantasy novel may have a complex magic system, but our own world has its own sort of magic. We can conjure factories and computer chips out of mere gestures.
Think about that next time you’re staring at your grabbers and daddles. 

Monday, November 22, 2021

In Defense of NaNoWriMo

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Howdy, cats and kittens!  I hope you're all doing well and will forgive me for being brief this month.  I have, amongst everything else going on in my life, a house to buy in a little under a month's time.  If you haven't gone house hunting in COVID times, then I do not recommend it.  I could write an entire post on what a nightmare that's been.

Instead, though, I want to write about the other massive thing that's taking up all of my time this month:


Now, like I said, I'll try to be quick here, not the least of reasons for which being that I still have to go write my words for the day.  This year I'm writing a piece I'm very excited about, my first horror novel to feature no speculative fiction elements, in the vein of Kristopher Triana's excellent and appropriately brutal novel FULL BRUTAL.  I'd like to call mine THE FORBEARANCE OF REPTILES because I'm a pompous nerd, but I can't shake the feeling that since it's about the main character being cancelled online (to the extreme!) that it will end up being called something like CANCELLED!  So for now I'm splitting the difference and giving it a Vonnegut-style dual title.  Here's the cover I dummied up:

And this month has been as close to a steady output as I usually come in these things.  I shot for two thousands words a day, and with a few exceptions reached that goal, which means I'm on track to finish up on the 24th or 25th.  If you're interested, here's a bar graph of my progress:

Now, if you don't know the basics of NaNo, as one of my friends so cleverly put it some years ago, "Have you ever even been on the internet?"  But, in short, it challenges you to write a complete 50,000 word manuscript, the barest of bare minimums to constitute a novel, in the month of November.

For a while it was a very nice thing that encouraged a lot of people who would otherwise dither to start writing.  It also encouraged a lot of people who thought they could write to shit or get off the pot, and they dutifully got off the pot.  NaNo bred a few great successes, for instance WATER FOR ELEPHANTS.  

Then, like all popular things, the blowback came.  And now it seems to me that even more storied than the tradition of people doing NaNo online is people complaining about NaNo online.  And these complaints usually boil down to a few basic arguments:

"Only a poser would need to have their hand held to actually write."

"Any real writer writes every day anyway so you don't need a special month to do it."

"All it does is make people who can't hang feel bad."

Well, I'm not going to counter any of the straw men I just made up.  I'm just going to tell you what I get out of NaNo instead.

This is the thirteenth year I've done NaNo.  With the exception of EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED, which I wrote before I started doing NaNo, and THE HEMATOPHAGES, which I wrote on a deadline, all of my published novels have been composed, to one degree or another, during NaNo.

I would prefer to write every day of the year, but like most human beings I have peaks and valleys.  I work on my writing career to one degree or another every single day.  But sometimes that just consists of composing some advertising tweets.  A lot of times it's editing, which doesn't really count as "writing."  Sometimes it's writing a blogpost like this one.

What's great about NaNo is it focuses me.  It forces me to put everything else aside and "just write."  And whereas during every other month of the year I will write as much as feels natural, or as much as I can to meet a deadline, and slave over sentences sometimes, or give up when I can't figure out a natural next direction, with NaNo I just have to keep pushing through.

Athletes talk about a "runner's high" after pushing through "the wall."  (Despite all of my years of running in the army, I've still never experienced a runner's high.  But I digress.)  Something akin to a writer's high occurs when you just have to pound out 1700 words a day, rain or shine.  I get into a zone where, since I have to push forward, my brain is solving Gordian knots in ways I never would have thought of under my normal process.  I use turns of phrase that I would never use, because some nonsensical ten word mixed metaphor is another ten words written.  My characters solve problems in ways both delightful and mundane, but certainly never in the perfectly crafted ways I would normally choose.

I don't want to be trite, but when the organizers of NaNo say "magical things happen during NaNo," I can personally attest to it.  I've created some of the most brilliant, searing prose of my career because I had no choice.  One month out of the year I have leave to exult in the simple pleasure of the creative process, without being bogged down by all the ancillary hokum.

And getting the chance to say, "Shit or get off the pot" to the posers is pretty great, too.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

I'm Moving On...

By Cheryl Oreglia

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," Lao Tzu. This step I am about to take is more like a step back, but nonetheless, a monumental shift from my comfortable rut, sending me in a new direction, with all the pitfalls and expectations of the unknown. 

I’ve been writing for Across the Board for the last five years, honing my craft as a blogger, exploring topics, styles of writing, and various formats. It’s been a full-bodied education, to say the least, and I’ve enjoyed the safety of being bundled with a talented group of writers. 

This year I made the bold decision to retire from my teaching gig of many years, as my husband and I enter into a new season of life, our winter years as they’re referred to, we plan to travel, play, kick it up a bit before we return to the dust from whence we came. 

Our adult children are docked all over the world. One of my sons has been enjoying the delights of Portugal for the last few years, one of my daughters makes her home in Boston, another son travels extensively for work, and my oldest child, a daughter, lives across the street. We plan on disrupting their lives as much as possible while we still can! 

I’m sure they’re thrilled.

My hope is that retirement will afford me undisturbed time to write without the guilt of family and work nipping at my heels. It’s as if life itself is tempting me to step outside, to go beyond the boundaries of my neatly groomed yard in the suburbs, to fully experience the world.

If only we weren't in the middle of a worldwide pandemic?  

I hope to put together a book of essays from my personal blog that seemed to resonate with readers, expand on the topics, offer it up as a modern-day memoir. 

It’s trending. 

I keep waiting for life to slow down, for the lull in the schedule to appear, so I can spend the day in my pajamas writing from the throne of my king-sized bed. 

Well, that doesn’t happen on its own, as we approach a new calendar year, I realize it’s time for me to start constructing my day, setting boundaries, creating my own space to write.

Life has a way of sneaking in between me and the keyboard as if a frightened child who demands my attention and surety. Yes, I understand that frightened child is indeed an aspect of myself, but regardless she’s insufferable and demanding.

I’m looking forward to this new chapter, I plan on living on the edge, using up all my energy, resources, and time until there is nothing I can squeeze out of myself. The nice thing about aging up is the freedom from the expectations, I no longer care what others think of me, in fact, I’m dropping the word “should” from my vocabulary. 

We waste so much time pleasing others, doing what is expected of us, not dropping a single ball for years and years as we juggle our responsibilities as if circus entertainers. 

I love that Polish proverb, “not my circus, not my monkey’s.” That’s going to be my new motto. Bahaha.

As I take my final bow, I can’t thank the team at Across the Board enough for welcoming me into this group, publicizing my work, and allowing me the space to find my own voice. It’s been an absolute privilege and honor to be a part of your team. I am forever grateful and appreciative. 

I will continue to host my personal blog, Living in the Gap, I employ you to drop by anytime, and join me in the comments. 

Monday, November 15, 2021

Welcoming Kayleigh

 Hi, I'm Kayleigh and I'm new around these here parts. I hate being the new kid - I usually worry so much about making a good impression that I say something weird. So, with that concern in mind, I've decided to make my debut here with a safe, normal subject; shit weasels.

What are shit weasels, I hear you ask? Why, an alien species that grows inside your bowels and then eventually explodes out of your butt, of course. And who's responsible for this? Stephen King, obviously. I mean, it could only be Stephen King. These little nasties appear in his 2001 novel, Dreamcatcher, a sci-fi/horror story about an isolated group with the misfortune to come across a somewhat parasitic alien species. I've just read this book and couldn't help being reminded of Nick Cutter's The Troop, which is also about an isolated group that come across a dangerous, parasitic species. Personally, I'd recommend both books, but apparently I'm an island because while The Troop is generally well-received and reviewed, Dreamcatcher is typically rated as one of King's worst books. Cutter's book is often referred to as a body-horror masterpiece, whilst King's offering in this sub-genre is often described as, "uh, shit weasels, man."

Why is this? It can't be the premise, when one is loved and the other isn't. And people just love scary, body-invading parasites, ESPECIALLY when they either morph into you or burst out of you (a la Alien and John Carpenter's The Thing). I can't imagine it's a writing issue either - even when King's plots are criticised, he's still normally praised for his writing and his characters. Meanwhile, Cutter's book is by far the most disgusting of the two, and also includes scenes of animal cruelty, which is normally off-putting, and yet, as far as the reviews go, he reigns supreme. So again, why?

I'll tell you why. Shit weasels. And butts. It's because the parasites are referred to as shit weasels, and they come out of butts. People are prudish and blush at the mere mention of butts, never mind the planted image of something shooting out of one. Like poop. Which people are even weirder about than the butts. Why can't I stop saying butts?

I know what you're thinking - isn't it possible that I've not done enough research to draw this ridiculous conclusion? Is it not possible that King fans are not the same fans that are giving Cutter all this praise, that there are, in fact, millions of horror fans all with different preferences, that Dreamcatcher just doesn't stand up against most of his other works, and that I just love it because I have bad taste? No. I'm absolutely sure it's because the shit weasels come from an unsavoury place, and they remind people of violent pooping episodes. It's possible that I've come to this conclusion because I'm British, and we're notoriously prudish.

So anyway, hello everyone, that's a bit about me and my thoughts on ... all of that. I don't know how to end things so... bye.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Veterans Day Interview: Ryan Griffin


 What Veterans Day means | Henry Ford College

For Veterans Day this year, I wanted to interview an author who served this country. Please welcome Ryan Griffin, a science fiction writer and former Marine. I met Ryan at my new job, and when I found out he was both a writer and a Vet, I knew he would be a perfect choice to interview for this year's Veterans Day blog.


Tell me about your title and your time in service.

I served in the Marine Corps in the mid 2000s as a Motor T operator for 6 years. During that enlistment, I spent time in South Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Arizona, California, Kuwait, Iraq, Peru, and Honduras. It was a challenging yet revelatory experience.

Has your time in the service affected your writing style?

Not directly, as I didn't write very much before or during my time of service, but I always enjoyed writing and began to take it more seriously after being discharged. My experiences led to me having a more worldly view of other cultures, inside knowledge of military operations, as well as a great love and appreciation for my brothers and sisters-in-arms.

Do you use any of your military experiences as material?

My preferred genre of fiction is sci-fi or philosophical thriller however the next book I am working on is called "The Everyday Tactician" in which serving in the military greatly influenced my views and knowledge on alertness, readiness, de-escalation, as well as weapons safety & operation; all things I talk about in the book. It's a guide on how the average citizen can maximize their safety in everyday situations, on the road, at work, in public places etc. as well as focusing on gun safety and applicable laws.

Tell me about your books. What made you decide on the subject/genre?

My first book, "Autumn Shadows", is basically a love letter to Edgar Allan Poe. I've always had an affinity for dark stuff and most of what I wrote in my 20s ended up being dark poetry. In 2015, I decided to compile it into a book and self-publish. After many years of learning all the intricate processes of self-publishing, in 2016, I released "How to Publish for Next to Nothing", a beginner's guide for the aspiring author.

How has writing been an outlet for you?

Writing is one of the many mediums I rely upon for escapism. It can create whole worlds or other dimensions apart from ours. In my mid thirties, I began to realize I have a lot to say about the world, politics, philosophy, writing, and other topics. I regularly compile all of my ideas down so that I can create different content down the road. The world is waiting for what each of us has to offer it. We shouldn't deny it our voices.

What does Veterans Day mean to you?
A time to reflect on my service and those who came before me.

Does being a Vet yourself make writing easier/harder?
Probably easier because I've experienced more things in life because of it and can call upon those experiences as needed.

What do you think this country can do to take better care of our Vets?

Stop creating more disabled veterans by getting involved in endless operations and occupations that take us 20 years to get out of.

Do you like it when people thank you for your service, or does it make you uncomfortable?

Neither, I just say "happy to have served" and move on, I have mixed feelings on my service because I've been against most of the foreign wars going on since 2012, including the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Are you working on any writing projects now?

So many. My creative projects are endless. Right now I'm learning a lot about table-top game design because I have lots of ideas for games I'd like to create but "The Everyday Tactician" will most likely be the next book I publish, it's coming along very fast.

What advice can you give Veterans who want to become writers?

Do it. Follow whatever passions you have, they're why we're alive. Learn as much as you can about whatever craft you take up, cast a wide net, digest as much skill and information as you can, toss out what isn't helpful, and hone your craft. I read blogs about writing, receive daily emails, listen to audiobooks, read physical books, follow other writers and entrepreneurs on social media, and jot down every idea I have so I can flesh it out and expand on it later.

Where can our readers follow your projects?
Anyone interested in following my projects can find me on twitter: @Griffincyde.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Google Search: Why is Mary...?

Hey everyone! Mary here, and it's my turn to do a Google Search. Now, for those of y'all who aren't familiar, Google Search is a semi-regular recurring segment of ours here on Across the Board. It's evolved over the years, and we all give it our own spin. It's also been a million years since I've done one, so I don't recall exactly how it works. One thing I do remember, though, is that I like to have fun with this segment by typing the beginning of a question into Google, looking at the autofill results, and answering said questions with all my knowledge and wisdom.

So that's what I'm going to do today. And I decided I'd answer questions on a topic I'm very familiar with: Me! So here I am to answer the question: Why is Mary...?

Here's what Google served up... let's see...

Why is Mary back on In the Kitchen with David?

I assure you, I am not. I am absolutely terrible at anything involving the kitchen except maybe grabbing pre-cooked food from the fridge and shoving it in the microwave.

Why is Mary so mean to Edith?

Edith knows what she did ;-)

Why is Mary Wollstonecraft important?

Because one of these days I'm going to use Mary Wollstonecraft as a pseudonym and then Google will be really confused :-P

Why is Mary a saint?

Because I have a high-tech alien device that implants peoples' minds with ideas about what a good, wonderful person I am!

Why is Mary Warren afraid of Abigail?

Ah, see, Mary Warren is my vampire pseudonym, the name I use around my fellow vampires, and Abigail is a garlic farmer.

Why is Mary called Bloody Mary?

Because I'm always tripping on the sidewalk and getting bloody knees for my troubles.

Why is Mary Queen of Scots famous?

Because she shares a first name with me, duh.

Why is Mary Anning famous?

See above.

Why is Mary Prince important?

Because, in the old time-y tradition of Theoden King, "Prince" actually refers to my title. Won't tell you where my kingdom is but I assure you, I spend quite a bit of time leading it. That's why I haven't finished writing my latest short story yet... totally not because I'm faffing around on this blog...

Why is Mary important?

Because I write the best YA sci-fi/fantasy books in the world, full of girls who fight monsters and heroines who take down evil, and you can check them all out on my website! #SeeWhatIDidThere

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Farewell to Charms: A Goodbye Post

Hello, lovely readers. It is KGG, here with my farewell blog post. I have been a member of Across the Board since 2014. I know! That's forever ago when I was in my thirties. Since 2014, I have published more books; got an agent, lost an agent, got another agent; and raised my kids. I've also started to put in more volunteer work with Sisters in Crime (I am now the chapter liaison), and picked up more teaching hours at the community college. Sadly, that means I need to let go of my monthly rotation at ATB. 

I've truly enjoyed blogging for ATB. This platform has allowed me to explore topics and ideas that normally would not have had an outlet. 

I thought it would be fun to revisit some of my more interesting posts from the past seven years. In some ways, my writing career has really evolved, and in some ways, it's regressed. So be the life of an artist.

Here goes:

  • My inaugural post from October 16, 2014, "Make a Long Story Short," in which I wrote about the short story format and interviewed fellow ATB writer, Steve Kozeniewski, about his short story in At Hell's Gates, a horror charity anthology.
  • This post from March 5, 2015 recounts my first foray into indie publishing in which I self-published a short story. "One Night Is All You Need" had been initially written for a writing contest, in which sadly, it had not won anything. Not even an honorable mention. It came close to getting selected for a literary magazine, but alas, that didn't pan out. So I published it myself. Then I got the indie bug. Seven years later, I am trying to make some headway into traditional publishing, but looking back, I am so glad I gave indie publishing a try. 
  • And here is my follow-up to that post, only 4 months later. I am always here for the updates.
  • And then in June 2015, I wrote a post on making cover art in Canva. I titled this post, "Blank Canva," and I still love it. I wound up revamping the cover years later when my design skills improved.
  • In December 2015, I wrote a blog post about submitting my book to Kindle Scout. The program is no longer around, but once upon a time, Amazon Publishing supported a crowdsourcing campaign for a publishing contract. Winners got $1500 advance and visibility on Amazon. Here's my post on how it all turned out. And then here is my post about submitting Book #2.
  • Here's a post in 2016 where I wrote about dictation software. 
  • A few months later, I wrote a post about fanfiction and why I thought writers should give it a try. I'm still here for it.
  • In May 2018, I wrote about reader magnets, and not the kind you hang on the fridge. But the one that attracts more readers.
  • In this post, I wrote about a new habit that made a world of difference to my writing--waking up at 5am. I should go back to it; it really did work.
  • Also in 2018, I wrote about Veronica Mars, the #Metoo movement, and the future of crime fiction being more diverse.
  • In February 2019, I wrote about my favorite activity--writing retreat at Highlights in Honesdale, PA. Seriously, if you haven't done an Unworkshop at Highlights, you don't know what love is. This post is complete with photos, so check it out.
  • In September 2019, I wrote a post celebrating my accomplishment of writing a screenplay!
  • Oh, and in March 2020, naive KGG wrote a post about the pandemic, thinking we hadn't quite hit middle of lockdown! Ha, dummy.  
  • In August 2020, I wrote about how extroverts can thrive in an introverted profession.
  • I also covered the traditional publishing submission process. 
  • As my writing changed, so did my blog posts. In this piece, I discuss historical research for novel writing. 
  • And lastly, one of my most informative pieces, I wrote about what to include in your newsletters when you're not promoting your books.      
I truly appreciate everyone who read and commented on my blog posts. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed writing them.


Monday, November 1, 2021

The One Tool That Can Double Your Writing Output

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

Please forgive the clickbait headline and inevitably disappointing answer, but I have a point to make. So shut up.
I’ve discovered a device that can literally increase how many words you write if you use it enough. It’s something that’s commonly available, and you may already have one in your home.
The device that can double your writing output is: the bicycle.
An article has been making the rounds claiming that eating one hot dog subtracts 36 minutes from your life. While that’s likely oversimplified, it’s certainly true that people who engage in unhealthy activities like eating hot dogs, smoking, and sitting still all day die sooner than people who don’t. Who sits around all day? Writers. Yet, what is a basic requirement for typing words? Being alive.
When you’re on a bicycle, not only are you not sitting still, but you are burning off the calories from that hot dog you hurriedly shoved into your face so you could get back to writing.
Cycling on a regular basis adds years to your life. One article estimates an extra 5 years for people who cycle vigorously, though that estimate obviously depends on a lot of other things.
Perhaps more importantly, regular exercise gives you more years of productive life, free from effects of aging like dementia, physical pain, and dealing with disease. Even if you don’t live longer, you can be healthy longer, and that means more years of putting coherent words on a page. 


My bicycle. Getting on a bike and riding into the woods is the best thing you can do for your productivity. Optional: coming back.

Since I turned 40, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’m beginning to feel the effects of age, but I still have enough years ahead of me to fit in a lot of hot dogs—or bike rides. Habits I stick with now will affect how many things I can do each year, and how many years I have to do them. I’ve been using writing as an example, because it’s easy to quantify: 60 minutes of cycling a week can equate to an extra novel or two in my lifetime.
However, the less quantifiable and more immediate effects matter too. I feel great after a long bike ride, physically and mentally. Biking around for an hour or two is a rare chance to focus entirely on the present moment. Without the ability to check my phone or listen to a podcast or think about anything too complex, it’s like meditation, except the focus isn’t my breathing, but the path ahead. And if I must return to the capitalist habit of quantifying the benefits in terms of productivity: I’m way more inspired and motivated to make shit happen after I’ve had that chance to clear my mind.
It won't necessarily make me write better, so I'll probably just end up writing about zombies again, but at least I won't be one.

P.S. Autumn Christian wrote about some similar things in her newsletter recently. “I think we should bring back the weight lifting philosopher. The jacked intellectual. Lift weights in the morning. Write brilliant dissertations in the evening. Learn that everything we do is a circuit, a conjoined union, and we are our bodies as much as our brains.”


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