Monday, May 16, 2022

"Saving Noah" by Lucinda Berry - Book Review

 "Saving Noah" by Lucinda Berry

Could you love your child if they were a serial killer? A school shooter? A pedophile? If your fifteen year old son came home and admitted he gave in to his urges of touching young children (that you had no idea existed) what would you do? Noah's parents Adrianne and Lucas find out in this heartbreakingly raw and emotionally packed read. 

Noah had it all. Everyone loved him. He excelled at sports and school. He was the best big brother his seven year old sister Katie could ask for. His swimming talent landed him a coaching job teaching kids to swim. But then, Noah changes. He becomes more introverted. He isn't eating or taking care of himself. And then one night, he comes clean and he speaks the dirty truth he's been struggling to conceal... He molested two girls he was coaching. Desperate to help and make this go away, his mom sets out to make things right, only to realize the lives they led will never be the same. 

This was my first read by Berry and this book put my mind in a place I've never visited before. As a parent myself it asked some seriously tough questions about family, love, and trust. I can't imagine not loving my children but I also can't imagine my children or child confessing to such a heinous crime. Adrianne and Lucas couldn't either. While Adrianne never stops loving Lucas or advocating for him, his father doesn't feel the same. Allowing this book to give a real detailed outlook on how something like this could rip a family apart. 

I definitely shed some tears toward the end when I realized there was only one way to save Noah. I could feel the hurt and frustration from Adrianne. I sympathized for her situation as a parent. I experienced some severe confusion in my feelings towards Noah. He wanted to get better, he admitted his wrongs and he served his time. But those things don't change what he did or might do later, leaving me unsure even now if he truly deserved the treatment he received. I loved the innocence of his sister Katie and how no matter what Noah did she chose to love him unconditionally. 

This story is nothing short of heart stopping. It's a wild ride and it will make you feel and think in ways you never expected. I give this a solid 5 🌟 and ask, what would you do?

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Book Review: Revelator by Daryl Gregory

For today's post, I had the option of doing a back jacket hack job, a regularly occurring segment in which we contributors put on the hat of a total industry hack attempting to write the back cover of a book. Here's a link to my previous Hack Job entry for NOS4A2 by Joe Hill as an example: 

But instead of writing bad copy, I'm going to use this opportunity to paste an actual back jacket blurb of an actual book I just finished.  It's already May--we're almost halfway into 2022 (Dear God! Where does the time go?!?!)--and while I have read a lot of books, few so far have completely wowed me. The first exception to that trend is Revelator by Daryl Gregory, with whom I was familiar because of Spoonbenders, his utterly charming, sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, and sometimes wackadoo book about a family with psychic powers and a history of troubled relations.

Revelator is Gregory's latest book, and with it he takes a darker, eerier turn, creeping very close to horror.

From the back jacket:

ONE OF THE WASHINGTON POST‘S BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR • The dark, gripping tale of a 1930’s family in the remote hills of the Smoky Mountains, their secret religion, and the daughter who turns her back on their mysterious god—from the acclaimed author of Spoonbenders.
“Gods and moonshine in the Great Depression, written with a tenderness and brutality … this is as good as novels get.” —Stephen Graham Jones, author of The Only Good Indians

In 1933, nine-year-old Stella is left in the care of her grandmother, Motty, in the backwoods of Tennessee. The mountains are home to dangerous secrets, and soon after she arrives, Stella wanders into a dark cavern where she encounters the family’s personal god, an entity known as the Ghostdaddy.

Years later, after a tragic incident that caused her to flee, Stella—now a professional bootlegger—returns for Motty’s funeral, and to check on the mysterious ten-year-old girl named Sunny that Motty adopted. Sunny appears innocent enough, but she is more powerful than Stella could imagine—and she’s a direct link to Stella’s buried past and her family’s destructive faith.

Haunting and wholly engrossing, summoning mesmerizing voices and giving shape to the dark, Revelator is a southern gothic tale for the ages.

If I weren't already a fan of Gregory because of how much I enjoyed Spoonbenders, I might have given this book a try simply because it got a great blurb from Stephen Graham Jones. Jones's horror novel, The Only Good Indians, made it onto my list of favorites from 2020 (Here's my very short review of it on Goodreads ).

I'd say what The Only Good Indians and Revelator have in common is a similarly eerie tone, a strong sense of American setting and identity, and both feature "monsters" that are less creatures of fang and claw, and more genius loci. Genius loci are often thought to be protective spirits of the place they haunt, and this is true in both stories. Things only start to go bad when the locals spirits are offended by the  behavior of humans. Both of these books tend to feature that long held theme of many horror novels: Maybe humans are the biggest monsters of all.

I think Revelator particularly spoke to me because it was set in the Smoky Mountains between North Carolina and Tennessee. The Smoky Mountains is a region in my own state that fascinates me, but I have visited only a few times, probably because of how utterly remote they are. Most of my life has been spent exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia where my parents now live. However, any time spent in the Appalachians will likely have a visitor convinced those ancient hill are crawling with all sorts of Eldritch beings. This book does a brilliant job capturing  Appalachia's atmosphere of stoicism, isolation, and supernatural possibility.

Every time I thought I knew exactly where the story was going, it would change directions and prove me wrong. Also, I *really* liked Stella, the bootlegging rebel at the heart of the story. If you took a shine to Idgie Threadgood in Fried Green Tomatoes, then Stella might be your kind of girl. If you've read Spoonbenders then you get that Gregory likes to write weird things, and he writes them well. At times Revelator might be a bit eerie or dark, but it was never scary, at least not to me, but I've come to understand I have a pretty high threshold for what's considered scary.

Revelator is going to stay with me for a while, and between it and Spoonbenders, Daryl Gregory has evolved into an "insta-buy" author for me.

Monday, May 9, 2022

From Writer to...Publisher?

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, everybody!

I'm pretty excited right now.  I just got off my first telecon as a publisher!

I've been writing for something like thirty years.  And I've been getting published for about nine now.  I've watched the industry pretty closely that whole time, both in blogs like this one and by networking at real-life events, like some of the ones I've described here on ATB.  About six years ago I assisted in editing a few anthologies for charity, but in a limited capacity.  And ever since the rights for my first two novels came back to me about four years ago I've been self-publishing.

But up until about a month ago I've never taken the reins and published another author.  I've always tinkered around with the idea of expanding my personal imprint, French Press, possibly for an anthology or something similar.  But nothing ever motivated me to take the plunge.

Then an opportunity fell into my lap that I just couldn't pass up.  My good friend (and one hell of a good author) Somer Canon was looking for a publisher for a dream genre project of mine.  (I don't want to tell you the exact genre, because the manuscript treats that aspect as something of a surprise.)  And after nearly hacking up my guts after reading VICKI BEAUTIFUL, I knew Somer was an author I believed in.  

I spent the last month editing her manuscript, YOU'RE MINE.  I've self-edited all of my works, and as I mentioned above assisted here and there with shorts and the like, but this was the first time I've ever professionally edited someone else's manuscript.  And let me tell you something, dear readers, it's good.  Damned good.  You're all going to love it, wherever you fall on the horror-loving spectrum.

So, as though mighty Cthulhu were emerging from R'lyeh, all the stars were right.  There was someone I wanted to be in business with who had a manuscript I believed in, and I have just enough knowledge and infrastructure to put it out there in the world and hopefully make it a big success for both of us.  So, for now, make sure to follow French Press on blogger and Twitter, and watch this space, where I'm sure there will be much more news to come!

Do you have any questions about making the transition from author to publisher?  Let me hear them in the comments!

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Cinco De Mayo Is An Appropriated Drinking Holiday

Cinco de Mayo is a holiday that celebrates the Mexican army’s victory during The Battle of Puebla. Which was a battle that took place during the Franco-Mexican war on May 5th,1962. 

Evolved into a commemoration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas with a highly concentrated Mexican-American population, the US spends Cinco imbibing tequila-based drinks, dancing, and Mexican food. The holiday is one of the biggest bar-themed celebrations of the year, and by all means, has essentially become one of the largest American drinking holidays up there with St. Patrick's day. 

The popular bit of misconstruction, Cinco De Mayo is NOT Mexican Independence Day. Instead, it’s actually a commemoration of a symbolic single battle. One that really didn’t mean much in the long scheme of things to the Mexican people.

An indigenous member of the Zapotec Tribe, Benito Juarez, the then-president-elect of Mexico–after years of wasted spending and infighting within the country (kind of like America, today)--had decided to default on payments back to the European governments it had owed a debt to. In actuality, this said debt, which was written about in the Convention of London treaty (that went against the US's own Monroe doctrine), was a form of bill collection for a civil war highly motivated by foreign European interests, all of whom, sought both allies and profiteering from the newly independent Mexico.

In response to this bill, France, Britain, and Spain sent forces across the world to Veracruz, Mexico in order to get them to repay. Taking advantage of course, of the fact that the United States was in the midst of its own Civil War and so was unable to intervene. Veracruz itself was a city that was considered a port municipality. And though Britain and Spain inevitably ended up negotiating and retreating away… France on the other hand did not.

Ruled by Napoleon the third, the emperor had seized this opportunity to launch an outright invasion of Mexican territory. Knowing full well the US could not intervene during this stage in their own war.

The Battle of Puebla: The Whole Reason We Celebrate Cinco

In 1861, the French Fleet stormed Veracruz with an army of 6000 soldiers. They drove President Juárez into retreat. United against a foreign enemy, the Mexican forces rallied a ragtag force of 2,000 indigenous fighters of varying descent--basically, recruiting anyone willing to fight. Despite being vastly outnumbered and poorly supplied, the rebels, led by Texan General Ignacio Zaragoza, fortified their town, created chokepoints, and reinforced their holdouts. They prepared for a longstanding assault. 

The battle lasted for days. Despite having both the men, artillery, and discipline, the French were unable to take the fortification. When the force inevitably retreated due to running out of ammo, and an unwillingness to take the battle to open field (knowing they'd be outmaneuvered), all-in-all, the French retreated and had lost nearly 500 soldiers. Fewer than the 100 Mexicans who'd died in the clash. 

This is the great battle that Cinco De Mayo is supposedly based on. But the efforts, while admirable, still meant very little in the grand scheme. Because the city would fall one year later, followed shortly, by the entire empire, when the French had come back and took the capital. There were no Remember the 300 rallies. This was not the Alamo. Overall, it was a skirmish that came and went...

But as history teaches us, empires aren’t won with battles. They're won with politics.


Napoleon III soon placed the Archduke of Austria, Ferdinand Maximilian as emperor of Mexico in 1864. Seeking to create a Pro-French government, the leader had made the seminal mistake his predecessors had committed in setting up an international leader as king of a foreign land they knew absolutely nothing about.

Refusing to abandon his men or his responsibilities, Ferdinand Maximilian stayed in his dying kingdom despite all warnings from France to retreat, else lose his life. Respectfully, when Juarez retook the empire, he had Maximillian executed for the lives of thousands of dead Mexicans lost in the war.

The former Archduke's dying words were…

“I forgive everyone, and I ask everyone to forgive me. May my blood, which is about to be shed, be for the good of the country. Viva México, viva la independencia!"

The Aftermath

Thanks in part to military support and political pressure from the United States, France finally fully withdrew in 1867. Their invasion failed. In the end, an emperor came, took advantage, lost, and left.

Thousands had died and an empire was destabilized. Yet, we celebrated these events as Americans, over an insignificant battle. And a buttload of Margaritas.

From the 1970s into the 80s, alcoholic beverage manufacturers began a marketing campaign to attract products to Latino customers. This period, saw an influx of Mexican births, as the country’s population exponentially grew. Many immigrants had actually moved back and forth across the border for work around this time. So, in a typical capitalistic society, what better way to make a dollar than… to sell liquor to a nomadic, struggling, southern workforce looking for their place in the world? 

The very people whose descendants likely fought in both the Mexican and American civil wars…

In the US, we use the holiday to celebrate Mexican Culture and the victory of the indigenous over an unruly emperor. Why? because it’s a narrative much in tune with the US’s. This is why we celebrate it with mariachis, music, dancing, and mole, despite the odd fact… 

That Cinco De Mayo isn’t even considered a Mexican federal holiday. It’s an American holiday ABOUT Mexico, that, outside of the port city of Puebla, not many actually celebrate.

Funny how stories are sold throughout history, isn’t it?

Sources: History, Britannica, Stanford, Pewresearch, and Wikipedia... and all their affiliated .coms or .orgs or .edus.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Cats Sitting on Books

 Why do they do it?

Because books are comfortable for their little cat butts? Because they take issue with you looking at a page, instead of directly at them? Because they're trying to absorb the story via osmosis? 

I guess I can't speak for every cat, but all 3 of mine enjoy sitting on books. Loki and Thor are more casual about it, they won't wrestle an upright book down so it's flat enough to curl up on, but my eldest cat.... she'll fight me. Oh, Whirly, my weird little Whirly girl. She's especially fond of Stephen King books for some reason - I swear she comes running if she even hears me opening one of his (don't ask me how a SK can sound different to open than any other - ask her - she's the obsessed one).

Before I show you photographic evidence of this heinous cat crime, I just want to say this - you might think that I'm really scraping the bottom of the barrel with this post. You might think, "it seems like Kayleigh forgot she was supposed to prepare a post for today, and is now panic-posting the first thing she thought of". Look... I'm sorry, okay?! Shut up and look at these cat pictures.

Exhibit A: Whirly going with the classic "look cute" to get my attention tactic.

Exhibit B: 

Exhibit C:

Exhibit D:

As it turns out, I couldn't find pictures of Thor (the white kitty) or Loki (the black kitty) interrupting my reading time, but in case you're curious about them, here are some non-bookish pictures of my little snuggly loves. They're... strong personalities.

Well, that's it. I hope the cat pictures make up for my absolute lack of content this time.... :D


Thursday, April 28, 2022

Four State Comic Con

APRIL 30 & MAY 1 2022

I don't have much to write about this month, so I thought I would shamelessly plug my first major appearance since before Covid. Join me at Four State Comic Con! I will be signing and selling books all weekend, and I can't wait to reconnect with my friends and fans.
Meet celebrities, see cosplayers, buy art, and just have fun! I hope to see you there!
Bring money!

Monday, April 25, 2022

Half a dozen Brave New Girls

Hey everyone! Mary here with a totally shameless blog post this week. Back in 2014, fellow sci-fi author Paige Daniels and I were ranting on Facebook about we didn't see enough tech-savvy girls in sci-fi, especially YA. At least, not as the main characters. Oh, you'd have your bespeckled lab nerd making gadgets for your dudely superhero, or your PhD-at-22 babe who's there to dissect the villain's doomsday machine for exposition purposes and get rescued then swept off her feet by a bro-y action star. But we wanted to put the nerd girls front and center.

So we crowdfunded a YA sci-fi charity anthology about girls in STEM, with proceeds from sales being donated to the Society of Women Engineers scholarship fund, and published it in 2015. Then we decided to make another one. And another. And another. Oh, and another.

And now, we're back again with our sixth volume, BRAVE NEW GIRLS: CHRONICLES OF MISSES AND MACHINES, which just went live for preorder! And here's our pretty cover, art by Streetlight Graphics:

Why do we keep putting out volumes? Well, because we want to. And people seem to like them (we do most of our selling at conventions, and some people are happy to come back every year for the newest volume). We've raised about $8,500 so far, which may sound like peanuts compared to the major charity operations out there but is a big deal for us small-time indie publishers. Plus, there are now about 140 more stories about girls in STEM out there than there were before. So we'll keep going, because why not?

Here's the full list of stories and authors who will be in this year's volume, coming July 5!

The Adventure of the Listening Machine by Veronica Lee
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by Flor Contreras
Blooming Where She's Planted by JD Cadmon
CompAInon by Chris Kanther
Girls Rule the Steampunk World! by Ira Nayman
The God-Maker by Tyan Priss
Intergalactic PenPal Program by Andrew K. Hoe
Jupiter Jaguar by Kris Katzen
Mystery Aboard the Old Faithful by Karissa Laurel
Mainframe Magic by Denise Sutton
The Microscope by Brad Jurn
Tuesday Evening Social Club by Paige Daniels
A Planet Named Beatrice by Melanie Harding-Shaw
The Pod by Josh Pritchett
Premature Emergence by Raphael Sutton
The Price of Progress by A.A. Jankiewicz
A Special Theory of Circus by Mary Fan
Tercio by J.R. Rustrian
Vandermecha by Jelani-Akin Parham
Webs by Elizabeth Stombock
Wendy's Findings by Annie Gray
ZIKES by Mackenzie Reide

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Law & Order - DUN DUN!

 Did you ever watch Pet Sematary, Stephen King’s story about a burial ground that brings the dead back to life, but different? Do you recall the creepy scene where the Dad is considering burying his dead child in the sematary to resurrect him, only to be warned that “sometimes dead is better?”

I was thinking about that scene while watching the newly resurrected season of Law & Order.

Dun- DUN!

In case you have been in a 32 year coma or your cave didn’t get basic cable, Law & Order is the classic crime show that spends the first half with detectives solving a crime and the second half with the DAs prosecuting them. Debuting in 1990, the show was a major change from the crime shows of the eighties - shows like Hill Street Blues and Cagney and Lacey - that were as much about the private lives and struggles of police officers as they were about catching criminals. L&O was all business, a throwback to the “just the facts” days of Dragnet. They only hinted at the detectives’ off-screen lives, usually by Lenny Briscoe making a joke about his many ex-wives. My Dad loved it and got me hooked on it as well. I would watch marathons all afternoon on A&E on my 13” TV when I first moved to New York back in the 90s and was only working nights. I’m such a fan I even wrote a scene into my book where Law & Order is Orson the bulldog’s favorite show. (Lenny Briscoe is his favorite, too.)

The secret to the show’s success was the formula. Every fan of the show can give you a rundown of a generic plot. In the opening scene, a couple random New Yorkers are chatting about their jobs or girlfriends and they trip over a dead body. The detectives are called, the legendary Jerry Orbach makes a qup or two, and they follow the bread crumbs until they arrest a suspect, usually after they question a Guy Stacking Boxes and the Bartender Who Remembers Every Customer. 

This would be followed by ADA Jack McCoy - played with full righteous dudgeon by Sam Waterson - bending every rule to secure a conviction, while his second chair lawyer would admonish him and DA Adam Schiff would scold him for overreaching and tell him to make a deal. (These tropes were affectionately parodied by John Mulaney in a great bit.) 

The formula was soothing. The formula was relaxing. You could leave L&O on for a marathon and not worry if you missed a scene or zoned out while folding laundry, because the plots (with a few exceptions) were pretty much on rails. There is comfort in the familiar. This is why there are thousands of McDonald’s restaurants. Characters could be swapped out for younger, hotter, and cheaper actors without upsetting the flow. The show ended after 20 seasons, and probably could have kept going if not for producer Dick Wolf and NBC fighting over the budgets. Still, it was survived by numerous spin offs - SVU, Criminal Intent, Conviction, Organized Crime, Trial by Jury, etc. And Dick Wolf is still cranking out procedural shows (“Chicago Water Gas Electric” is sure to be on your TV soon.) 

In an age where every beloved (or at least somewhat well known) show is getting a reboot and television is desperate to fight declining ratings, bringing back a show that spawned over a thousand hours of television must’ve seemed like a no-brainer. 

Unfortunately, just like poor Timmy Baterman, it came back with no brain. Sometimes dead is better…

Where to begin? Everything is just…off. The writing, the performances, the rhythms, everything is just not there. Like a beloved pet come back from the dead, it doesn’t move right, look right, or act right.

The cast was always a strength. Irascible, sarcastic Lenny Briscoe, Jesse Martin as the suave Detective Green, Angie Harmon’s tough ADA. All great characters, Who is going to fill those shoes and power suits? Jeffery Donovan, who I loved on Burn Notice, now plays a detective whose only personality traits are belligerent and angry. He is a dull, grumbly addition to the detective pairing, and has zero chemistry with Anthony Andersen, who has returned from the final season in 2010. Camryn Manheim, usually very good in everything, is playing the lieutenant and is just playing her as perpetually annoyed, This is in stark contrast to the great S. Epatha Merkerson, who brought a world of personality to the part. Hugh Dancy, fantastic in the Hannibal tv series, plays the lead ADA and he’s just so milquetoast here. There is none of the fire that McCoy had, none. I can’t for one second picture him trying out any of McCoy’s theatrics. Sam Waterson has returned to play DA McCoy, and frankly he looks too frail. I worry that a stiff breeze will knock him over. And there is Dancy’s second chair, who has thus far been given absolutely nothing to do. No one has any zest or chemistry, no one has any good one liners, it just lies there, leaden.

One thing the show would have to handle is the shift in public opinion towards the police. In the wake of the massive Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 that were spurred by police violence and brutality, a show where the cops intimidate suspects into confessing and DAs bend the rules to get convictions isn’t great. I still love the old shows, but I admit that when the detectives are grilling someone in the box I keep shouting “don’t say anything! Ask for your lawyer!” at the screen. McCoy is forever threatening reluctant witnesses with deportation and arrest, cops are always making prison rape jokes to scare suspects. That stuff just won’t fly anymore and needs to be dealt with.

Now there are about  a hundred ways L&O could have addressed this. Cast a brash young detective of color who clashes with an old school partner. Have a young ADA who wants to go after bad cops, but then the DA office gets stonewalled by the PBA and then McCoy has to come in and sort it out.

So how does L&O address this change in attitude? By not addressing it. At all. Except to have McCoy whine about “they tried to defund the police” and have Donovan threaten someone who’s recording him on a cell phone and grumble about “these kids today, they got no respect.” And, come on. For a show that would always tout cases “ripped from the headlines,” how can you ignore the dominant story of policing over the last two years? 

Oh and the plots… Everything is a “ripped from the headlines” show now. In the episodes I’ve watched, they’ve done Bill Cosby getting out of jail, Theranos, Brittany Spears conservatorship, Naomi Osaka, and QAnon. Can’t we just have a simple crime of passion or the obvious Kennedy family stand in trying to cover up a crime their crazy son committed? It doesn’t help that their takes on these headlines are just the laziest ones imaginable. (“Sure, the Cosby stand-in deserved to get shot, but this is a society!”) And there are no twists! The old show would often catch the wrong guy at first and then have to go back and reinvestigate, or the judge would toss out key evidence while McCoy fumed. Not here! These have all been “security camera footage shows this guy doing it, Let’s go get him.” And they get him. Just so dull.

It’s not good. In fact, it’s pretty bad. For such a timeless formula, it’s kind of impressive how badly this has been botched. 

How to fix it? The writers should sit down and binge watch a few of the Jerry Orbach seasons, like the rest of us do on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Re-learn the beats and the rhythms. Re-cast the detective parts, or at least make Donovan and Andersen spend a weekend together locked in a cabin so it doesn’t look like they met for the first time ten seconds before the cameras roll. And if you can’t figure this out, well then put it back in the ground. I’d rather have the memory of the old episodes and enjoy the endless reruns than watch this shambling mess. 

Sometimes dead is better.

Victor Catano lives in New York City with his wonderful wife, Kim, and his adorable pughuaua, Danerys. When not writing, he works in live theater as a stage manager, production manager, and chaos coordinator. His hobbies include coffee, Broadway musicals, and complaining about the NY Mets and Philadelphia Eagles. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @vgcatano and find his books on Amazon

Monday, April 18, 2022

Just Keep Writing

P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame
I joined Across the Board in late 2019, and since then, I’ve written 30 posts on this blog. Once a month, I spent my Sunday morning thinking of approximately 500 words (or in this case, exactly 500) to put in a sequence that I hoped would get across something interesting or meaningful.
That’s about 15,000 words total, which adds up to the length of a whole novella, or a good chunk of a novel. All from writing for a few hours a month for a couple of years.
Today, I started reading a book called Just Keeping Buying, which is about the magic of regularly investing money, for a long time, and without worrying too much about what you’re investing in or trying to time it. The book’s title was itself inspired by a YouTuber whose secret to millions of subscribers was “just keep uploading.” I think this applies to a lot of things, writing included. Just keep writing, and even with modest effort and not overthinking choices about what to write, it adds up to something. Maybe even something good.
I just kept writing here on Across the Board, and I’m proud of most of the things I came up with. I got to document my unfiltered thoughts about the pandemic, from the beginning, to the awkward middle, until more hopeful times. I mixed in my day job as a brain scientist by writing about how to make people remember your contentthe appeal of horror, and why you shouldn’t listen to successful people. When I couldn’t think of anything for the month, I posted about miscellaneous stuff like what pretentious scotch reviews taught me about writingbikesthe sasquatch, and, uh, hands. And speaking of Just Keep Buying, I even wrote about retirement for writers.
As you may have guessed by the wistful reminiscing and past tense, I gotta retire. Not from writing or my job, but from ATB. This is my last post here.
It’s been wonderful, but I feel like a bit of a fraud, because I’ve barely written anything since I joined this blog that is (mostly) for writers. My lack of writing has primarily been because of life getting busy and pandemic stress, but also, those Sunday mornings are sometimes the only time I have for writing, so over the next few years, I’m hoping 15,000 words go toward an actual novella or novel.
Thank you to my fellow writers here on Across the Board. I have been reading every post and will continue doing that, plus I hope we stay in touch on social media because you’re all pretty cool. Thanks especially to Stephen Kozeniewski, who gave me the chance to join this blog and helped make the last two and a half years much better than they would have been otherwise.
You can find me on, and will continue to exist as a monument to not blogging.
That’s all for now. Have a nice day, and just keep writing. Bye.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Writing Careers and Evolving Goals

Probably, for most of us, when we started out as wee baby writers, we were either those who got joy from writing stories for ourselves at an early age, or those who, later in life, put pen to paper with immediate dreams of literary stardom. Or we were those who were something in between.

I think I'm one of the in between people. I can hardly remember a time when I wasn't reading, telling, or writing stories, even as a little kid. In middle school, my girlfriends and I wrote short stories on notebook paper about New Kids on the Block and passed them around (because I'm old and there was no AO3 or Wattpad or whatever back then). I kept journals of (very bad) poetry and song lyrics in high school. In college, there were more bad short stories and incomplete fiction scenes all written with the intent of 1) completing a course assignment; or 2) entertaining myself. It wasn't until well after college, after marriage, after starting to raise a kid that I took the idea of being a legit author more seriously. 

I wrote one complete novel (a contemporary romance that I have since come to understand was actually fan-fiction that was only slightly better than my earlier NKOTB fantasies) just to prove to myself I could write a whole novel. I didn't care about quality or salability. It was about showing myself I could start and finish a thing. Once proven, it was as though I had ignited a fire. Fifteen-ish years later, that fire is still burning. But where it was once a great bonfire of ambition and passion, it now more closely resembles a woodfire stove. Steady, but not blazing. Warm and cozy, but not threatening to destroy the neighborhood.

So what happened? Evolution happened, I guess. Growing up, raising a family, enjoying the privilege of a satisfying career/day-job that provided a comfortable lifestyle, a pandemic, radical political changes, another world war on the horizon... Perspectives shifted and, therefore, so have many of my goals and priorities. 

Those who know me know I tend to take up new interests with almost obsessive and compulsive levels of interest, but then, over time, I'll loose focus and drift away. I don't stop being interested in that thing, I just give it less energy so that I can make room for a new obsession (I'm looking at you, Bollywood and crochet infatuations). I bet you think I'm going to say that's what happened with my writing career, but... I'm not sure that's entirely accurate.

Writing is a part of me and has been a part of me for *cough*forty-some*cough* years. It's not going anywhere. But I think I can comfortably admit I'm no longer chasing dreams of literary stardom. There are still projects I'll be putting into the world (keep your eye out for the novel version of Serendipity at the End of the World, coming...soonish; and look for Mystery Aboard the Old Faithful, my short steampunk mystery  soon appearing in the latest volume of Brave New Girls, which should be out the summer of 2022), but I also want to go back to writing short stories with a focus on honing craft like I did much earlier in my career. I want to focus on producing quality and not just quantity, and if that means a quieter, smaller, and more circumspect future as a writer, that's okay with me. For now.

Ask me again in a few years and who knows? I might be ready to toss a log on that bonfire again.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Scares That Care AuthorCon I Autopsy

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, everybody!  Around this time last week I was sleeping off a long convention hangover (both in the literal and more metaphorical sense.)  And what a con it was!  

I've been supporting and attending Scares That Care events for quite some time now but this past week was something new: the very first AuthorCon, focusing (as the name would suggest) solely on authors.  STC Weekend in August is author-friendly, but there are always actors and vendors there to draw fans.  This time the organizers took a real gamble, insisting on only authors and only writing-related programming.  Would it be enough to draw fans and be a success?  Read on, dear friends, to find out.

Last summer I went to STC Weekend on Wednesday evening and left Monday morning.  I've always wanted to take a prolonged weekend to see how it goes, but it was far too much.  This time I decided to try Thursday to Sunday, and I'm still not sure that's the right length of time, but I digress.  In any case, I arrived Thursday evening, hauling a trunk full of copies of CLICKERS NEVER DIE.  I no sooner walked into the hotel lobby than my co-author and dear friend, Wile E. Young, swept me up in his arms and swung me around in slow motion, Little John-style.

Wile E. was rooming with Wes Southard and as usual, Wes Southard was screwing over all of his friends, this time by arriving late and making Wile E. sit in the lobby without access to his room.  Finally, Wes deigned to grace the rest of us with his presence, and the three of us made for the reading room.

Ah, the STC reading room!  A staple of so many glorious late-night discussions.  And the place was bopping on Thursday night!  I got to see Mary SanGiovanni, Matt Wildasin, Jay Wilburn, Brian Keene, Richard Wolley (who nobody has heard from since World Horror 2016), Paul Goblirsch of Thunderstorm Books, and many, many more.

Me, Bridgett Nelson, and Wile E. Young.  (Not pictured: Jesus H. Christ.)

When the party petered out a few of us headed back to my room to continue discussing Wittgenstein over a game of backgammon (read: drinking.)  Wile E. decided it was time for me to find Jesus and spent the rest of the night trying to baptize me in the hotel room ice bucket.  When I - finally! - managed to throw him out, I immediately heard a tap-tap-tap on my door.  It was Wile E., back, because apparently Wes, jerk that he is, had locked Wile E. out of their room.  So I, being a river to my people, let him spend the night, provided he admit that Satan is king and bow to the small shrine to Richard Dawkins which I bring with me everywhere I go.

In the morning we woke up to learn that Wes had spent the night laughing about locking Wile E. out and then went to go get cheesesteaks without us, presumably out of spite.  I mean, we didn't really get up until after noon, but even so.  So I went to go set up my table for the con.

And while I was bringing in my books, who should I run into but the Prince of Extreme Horror himself, Daniel J. Volpe!  I quickly tricked him into taking a picture so that I could appear important as well.  I also tried rubbing his bald head so that some of his success would rub off on me, but so far it does not appear to be working.

Me and Daniel J. Volpe

I also got to meet some of the other New Splatterpunks - Aron Beauregard, Candace Nola, Rowland Bercy, and Carver Pike.  I also spilled half a venti White Chocolate Mocha on Aron Beauregard within twenty minutes of meeting him, which is a super-not-awkward way to get to know someone.  And while I was desperately hoping that some or preferably all of them would turn out to be jerks so I could go on resenting their success and feel justified about it, they all turned out to be frustratingly nice and personable.

Around 4:00 pm Friday we had our vendor meeting.  The STC organizers outlined for us their hopes and rules for the weekend, reminded us that this was all for charity, and bade us bon chance.  At 5:00 the doors were thrown wide, and my God how the fans poured in!  Sales were not just good for a Friday night, they were good period.  And all of the Splatterpunks had to pull up stakes after only two and a half hours because we had a panel that night.  So, really, it was just half of a Friday evening, and by all accounts a massive success for everyone present.

Like I said, everyone at the convention who was a Splatterpunk Award nominee or winner had a panel on Friday evening on the future of the genre.  There were like 14 of us!  Luckily we had Jay Wilburn along to wrangle the stable, and brag about his two consecutive Grossout Contest wins, which, if we're being frank here (and I think we all are) are far less impressive than two non-consecutive Grossout Contest wins, say 2016 and 2018, for instance.  Apparently this was Candace Nola's first convention and first panel!  Don't worry, Candace, if you're reading this, they don't usually have 14 people on them.

That night I got to meet up with Wes, Wile E., Kristopher Triana, and the owners of Grindhouse (and publishers of THE PERFECTLY FINE HOUSE) C.V. Hunt and Andersen Prunty.  We had some more of that terrible pizza that Wile E. keeps insisting is good because he's from Oklahoma.  And then after dinner we headed back to the reading room, which was a bit more of an intimate affair that evening.  I guess everyone had either heard that I was going to be there and fucked right off or else they were all preparing themselves for Saturday, like Roger Daltrey pounding his chest in preparation for the big "Yeah!" at the end of "Won't Get Fooled Again."

I did, though, Friday night, get to talk about witchcraft with Mary SanGiovanni and a few others, which was seriously eye-opening.  I saw a side of Mary I've never seen before, a steely resolve which made me not want to fuck around with her ever and very nearly made me change the conclusion to my witch-related reading for Saturday night.  But, don't worry.  I didn't.  If the author is not bold, then he is nothing.

Saturday kicked off at 10:00 am, which doesn't even sound like a real time that should actually exist.  But, somehow, bleary-eyed, I stumbled into the vendor's room for day two.  And, if anything, day two was even better than day one!  I got to see many people, some of whom I haven't seen in years.  I even got to tell Lesley Conner she needs to bring THE WEIGHT OF CHAINS back into print, and I think she may be seriously considering it now.

Me and Lesley Conner

L - R: Me, Jeff Strand, Bridgett Nelson, Wesley Southard

Me and Erica W., a fan

That evening Kris Triana, Wes Southard, Wile E., Aron Beauregard, Daniel Volpe, and myself headed over to the Italian place across the street for dinner.  I suspect any horror fan worth their salt would have given their eyeteeth to be at a table with such luminaries (assuming I wasn't there, of course), but don't worry, we mostly just talked about "Death Wish" and the New Orleans episode of "King of the Hill."  Also, as usual, Triana's dog Bear was the star of the show.  By the end of dinner the restaurant crew had practically recreated the spaghetti scene from "Lady and the Tramp" for her.

Then at 10:15 pm came the big show: The Carnival of Chaos!  Trust me when I say that two weeks ago nobody, including the people involved, had any idea what a Carnival of Chaos was or would be.  But I suspect it will now be an indelible keystone of STC AuthorCon.

I was proud to step up as the ringmaster of this...SHIT!  I just realized ringmasters are of circuses, not carnival.  DAMN IT!!!  I fucked the whole thing up.  Ah, well.  Anyway, we had readings of a stupendous nature from six of the finest performers who...happened to be at the front of the room that night.  Then we had a heavy metal trivia contest (including a very special guest, one of the greatest horror writers in the world!), the musical stylings of John Wayne Communale, and one more round of readings including, yes, that thing with the witches I was talking about earlier.  I also wore a shark costume for some reason.  I think everyone present was in agreement that a fine time was had by all.

L - R: Me, Wesley Southard, Jeff Strand, Wile E. Young, Kristopher Triana, John Wayne Communale

The Carnival of Chaos segued into a final night of debauchery, where I got to hang out with Matt Blazi, Aron Beauregard, Paul Goblirsch, and just about everybody else at the con.

Sunday came and with it 11:00 am, which, somehow, sounds like an even more preposterous time to wake up than 10:00 am on a Saturday, if such a thing were possible.  We sold a few more books, had a few compliments on the previous night's Carnival, but Sunday is always a funereal time at a convention.  The sense of things ending had descended like a miasma on us.  And ahead of me lay a miserable four hour journey home which somehow ballooned into six hours of ass-clenching Richmond traffic.

But!  There's a final bit of good news.  As of Friday, the board of STC has announced that AuthorCon was a success, and they were able to cut a check to one of the charity's beneficiaries already.  Even better: there will be another AuthorCon next year.  And you, my friend, had better fucking be there!
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