Thursday, June 30, 2022

Writing When You're Not Okay

PC: Associated Press

I'm at a loss for words lately. I'm out of speeches, platitudes, messages, and any sort of positive sentiment to say about hope. With the overturning of Roe v Wade, and just the loss of faith regarding the direction of where this country is going… I'm over it. Just everything. The system doesn’t work the way it was meant to and I don’t really have anything left to say.

My heart goes out to all women affected by the changes in this country. The struggles to come for those who now have fewer rights than before... That guns might soon be more accessible than contraceptives in this country, and, the harrowing fact that we’re moving backward in terms of... everything. Has been devastating as of late.

There is a sea of tumbleweeds blowing in the wind in the lands of where human rights used to be. This was a place of life that used to grow and nourish and foster... before the death knells of the times of today left it barren. What the hell is happening is beyond me now, but I’m waiting for it. The kindling spark of a fire that will roar and turn this brush into an inferno engulfing everything about the world that we know.

Because something has to change. 

I don’t think our current system is working. 

And I think a revolution is near… 

We just have yet to acknowledge it.

I was two days late coming back from vacation this past Friday. The airlines had said that it was cancellation due to storms in Pennsylvania. Using a phone to check the weather both where I was in Chicago, and over here at home in New Jersey, it was oddly clear in terms of storms. There something was quite obviously amiss.

There were strikes being reported at the airport that I was meant to return. And, if you look online now, you’ll see more reports about disgruntled employees and flights getting overbooked. There were too many tickets sold for the sake of profits, yet, not enough laborers and workers there to go around to actually get the planes moving.

It’s sort of becoming a systemic problem that has snowballed since the beginning of the Pandemic. A gap that grew from an already fracturing airline industry. That there have been fewer pilots produced over the years due to the costs of schooling versus a pilot’s take-home salary. That there have been, for an entire generation, many jobs tightly bound by a workforce of people now moving into retirement. 

A labor force whose positions new generations don’t want to replace.

We need more teachers, doctors, pilots, truck drivers, and social workers than ever before in our country's history. These shortages, not of people, but of qualification constraints due to systemic issues that have made this in-demand, yet unwelcomed workforce, marred by institutional redundancies such as insurance inefficiencies, low pay, and too high of an educational cost... 

This is our problem.

How do we afford college? How do we afford housing? How do we afford food? How do we stay alive right now knowing fair well, that most at the here and now, judging by the numbers game alone: are struggling. The checks and balances of this system are not working. 

Whether this is due to lobbyists, government red tape redundancies, or good old: American corporate greed. Functionality is not happening now. None of this is sustainable. And my generation, for the most part, is starting to burn through what used to be savings, all in the pursuit of living in the now because...

Well, tomorrow isn't looking so hot.

Climate change is probably the world’s biggest problem. Yet it’s so far in the back of our minds, thanks to actions of the US Supreme Court who, in merely a week, set us back decades regarding abortion, gun control laws, and the separation of church and state. The red-eye of Sauron that is this red court-- appointed by the orange idiot--basically brings everything to question the efficiencies of our institutions: how it is changing and why does this matter...

I personally want to write about why these moments that are playing out in the here and now, matter. Or better yet, do an entire feature on the history of American gun violence after the shootings in Uvalde. I want to talk about how a gun-friendly southern US has always been closely tied with gun relations and its connections to the military-industrial complex. I want to be honest about how things have gotten to where it is in terms of culture, and why we’ve allowed these systems to get away with it… mostly, out of comfortable convenience.

But the truth is none of what I say matters.

This is, I think, the sentiment so many of us are frustrated with. 

That the everyday person is no longer being heard.

So, I’ve studied a lot about data and search algorithms lately. For work. And mostly for my future in terms of career skills. Right now, we’re entering a strange time of censorship... 

I can write about these issues but none of it matters because I'm not a voice for these problems. I'm not a woman. I'm not a parent. I don't have children. And I'm not a politician. I'm not even in any debt of any kind... I’m just someone who is upset, much like, I'm assuming, yourself and most Americans.

Still, despite me being a journalist, no one really finds me when I speak up. 

My function in that profession is that of an echo chamber mostly to satisfy another group’s ends and obligations. Promote this thing. Distract these people. Talk about video games, representation, and entertainment. If I’m lucky, I get to talk about my novels and comics ideass and screenplays that I hope to get out and read by a wider audience.

But that's sort of the informational hellscape we've created: you are what the program labels you to be. There is something severely depressing about having a voice but not having one at the same time. 

To be told you have rights… yet don't. The voice of the minority.

It's hard to say or write anything when you see the world itself is ending. That's how it feels right now and nobody wants to hear it. Change is hard because people don’t want to live outside of their comfort zones. But we need it, now, more than ever.

We want normal but... look around you... this is the farthest thing from.  

I am saying all this aloud because these are the stories I genuinely want to tell. I want to try and write about the uncomfortable now. It's my form of therapy. My way of turning back the lens of cruelty over the world. Not to glorify these things, mind you, but to serve as a warning... because that’s the only thing that's making sense to me lately.

I genuinely want to write, more now than ever before, stories about the bad things happening now whether it be through the outright facts or metaphorical fiction, because...

Well, because I'm not okay. 

And I want to pretend a horribly deranged and twisted and awfully dark and messed-up world that we live in: can get better. That we can be better. 

Because I’m losing faith that this world actually will.

And I don't think I'm alone in feeling this way.

So I'm going to write.

Monday, June 27, 2022


Happy June, everyone!

Due to living with my head permanently lodged in sand (or in a book), I don't know if anything special happens in June...but at least it's sunny. Well, not here in the UK where I live, but I'm sure it's sunny somewhere.

To brighten up the notoriously grey and rainy apparent summer season, I thought I'd tell you a bit about my favourite indie books. I want to mention outright that I'm not including the works of anyone involved in this blog just because it seems a bit...something?...but I have included these fabulous people in lists I have posted elsewhere.

That being said *cough Stephen Kozeniewski's SKINWRAPPER would be in this list if I didn't feel weird about including him on a site he contributes to cough*

In no particular oder, here are my TOP 5 personal favourite indie books to date:

MILK by Adam Millard

So this book is about... how do I even describe this book? I'll just stick to the back-cover blurb:

In a post-apocalyptic world, Lou, a goods trader (batteries, cloth, books, pornographic devices) stumbles upon a new business opportunity when he miraculously begins to lactate. Milk is a rare commodity in a world gone to hell, and so before long everyone in town wants a piece of the action, but there's something not quite right about the milk - other than the fact it came from a fifty year-old man.

The milk is bad, turning everyone that consumes it into radioactive mutants with a penchant for human flesh. Now it's up to Lou to put things right, before everyone he knows becomes a milk-guzzling cannibal.

Whatever you do, don't drink Lou's Milk...

I met Adam Millard at a horror convention and, having never read a book of his before, I approached his trading table and browsed his work. I picked up MILK and innocently asked what it was about. Millard said, and I quote - 'It's's the story of...just read the back.' And so I did, and knew that I had to have it. It is the single funniest book I have ever read.

STARERS by Nathan Robinson

Imagine if you found yourself the attention of the entire world...

The dysfunctional Keene family awaken one Saturday to find several strangers and neighbours staring at their home. Events turn more bizarre when more hypnotised strangers arrive, all seemingly transfixed with those within the Keene household. As the ominous crowd gathers and grows larger by the hour, the Keenes find themselves under siege in their own home. With hundreds, then thousands of bodies pressing against the walls of their home, a rising body count and grim premonitions plaguing their dreams, the family must work together to discover who or what is controlling the Starers.

It's been an age since I read this, but it was still one of the first books that jumped to mind for this list. It's weird and creepy as hell.

PUNCH by J. R. Park

It's carnival night in the seaside town of Stanswick Sands and tonight blood will stain the beach red.

Punch and Judy man Martin Powell returns after ten years with a dark secret. As his past is revealed, Martin must face the anger of the hostile townsfolk, pushing him to the very edge of sanity.

Humiliated and stripped of everything he holds dear, Martin embarks on a campaign of murderous revenge, seeking to settle the scores both old and new.

The police force of this once sleepy town can't react quick enough as they watch the body count grow at the hands of a costumed killer.

Can they do enough to halt the malicious mayhem of the twisted Punch?

I read this in one sitting and it is bloody marvelous, I tell you!

THE FINITE by Kit Power

The Finite started as a dream; an image, really, on the edge of waking. My daughter and I, joining a stream of people walking past our house. We were marching together, and I saw that many of those behind us were sick, and struggling, and then I looked to the horizon and saw the mushroom cloud. I remember a wave of perfect horror and despair washing over me; the sure and certain knowledge that our march was doomed, as were we.

The image didn't make it into the story, but the feeling did. King instructs us to write about what scares us. In The Finite, I wrote about the worst thing I can imagine; my own childhood nightmare, resurrected and visited on my kid.

I've been saying this for years - it blows my mind that more people don't know about Kit Power. This guy just gets it - how to write characters, how to tell a story, how to keep you turning pages - he gets it all. His characters are so real that whatever the story is about, the stakes are high. It was hard for me to pick a favourite of his books to include on this list, but I guess this is the one my mind drifts back to the most. It's horrifying, and beautiful, and excellent.

I honestly can not put into words how much you need this author's books in your life. Please, if you never take any other recommendation from me, give this dude a shot (pick any book, you really can't go wrong). It actually pains me that he's not hitting every bestseller list under a major publisher, selling movie rights, and sitting on Graham Norton's sofa telling everyone how happy he is to be a global success.

I don't know if I've mentioned it already but I think I might be a superfan. 


and also


by Adam Nevill

Okay okay, so turns out I couldn't pick a favourite out of these two, but I didn't want to take up two spaces on this list with Adam Nevill books so here they are together.

Something is missing from the silent places and worlds inside these stories. Something has been removed, taken flight, or been destroyed. Us.

Derelictions are weird tales that tell of aftermaths and of new and liminal places. Each locations has witnessed catastrophe, infernal visitations, or unearthly transformations. But across these landscapes of murder, genocide and invasion, crucial evidence remains. And it is the task of the reader to sift through ruin and ponder the residual enigma, to behold and wonder at the full horror that was visited upon manking.

Wyrd contains seven derelictions, original tales of mystery and horror from the author of Hasty for the Dark and Some Will Not Sleep (winner of The British Fantasy Award for Best Collection).

This short story collection won't be for everyone, but it's definitely for me. It's very likely the most unique book I've ever read, in that none of these stories contain protagonists, or characters, really, for that matter. Each story takes you through the aftermath of some terrifying event and reading them is sort of like watching the first-person camera footage of someone stumbling through each horrid event. How Nevill actually manages to make this scary despite the lack of characters to feel scared for is beyond me, but it's a real triumph of a collection and an idea so perfectly executed that it's destined to make any writer feel jealous for not thinking up such a concept first.

Money's tight and their new home is a fixer-upper. Deep in rural South West England, with an ancient wood at the foot of the garden, Tom and his family are miles from anywhere and anyone familiar. His wife, Fiona, was never convinced that buying the money-pit at auction was a good idea. Not least because the previous owner committed suicide. Though no one can explain why.

Within days of crossing the threshold, when hostilities break out with the elderly couple next door, Tom's dreams of future contentment are threatened by an escalating tit-for-tat campaign of petty damage and destruction.

Increasingly isolated and tormented, Tom risks losing his home, everyone dear to him and his mind. Because, surely, only the mad would suspect that the oddballs across the hedgerow command unearthly powers. A malicious magic even older than the eerie wood and the strange barrow therein. A hallowed realm from where, he suspects, his neighbours draw a hideous power.

The suspense - oh, the suspense! This is for sure my favourite current read and I don't know what (if anything) will be able to top it.

Anyway, that's the end of my rambles for this month, thanks for reading!

Monday, June 20, 2022

Fun with Shared Universes

Have you ever written in a shared universe before? A world created with or by other authors where your story and character dwells in a piece of it? Though I've participated in a few such projects over the years, it still feels like a relatively new skill for me. Currently, though I'm involved in two separate shared-universe projects, which is why it's been on my mind lately.

My first foray into a universe created by someone else was when I first joined Crazy 8 Press and was asked to contribute an all-new story for the re-release of their shared-world anthology Tales of the Crimson Keep: Newly Renovated Edition (edited by Bob Greenberger). The first edition had come out a few years back, and after reading it, I was relieved to find that the premise was wide enough to leave lots and lots of room for more adventures. In a medieval-style high fantasy world, lies the mysterious Crimson Keep an ever-expanding, ever-changing enchanted fortress. Inside lives the Master and three apprentices, along with a motley assortment of creatures. I decided right away that instead of working within the existing plotlines, I'd introduce an outsider - a girl who enters the Keep on a quest for magic that can save her sick sister. That way, I could play with the setting without worrying too much about continuity with the existing tales.

I took a similar approach to my story in Pangaea III: Redemption, also from Crazy 8 Press (part of the fun of being with this author collective is getting to contribute to their annual anthologies). Now, as the title implies, this book was a THREEQUEL. The shared-world anthology series (here are links to volume 1, Pangaea, and volume 2,  The Rise of Dominjaron) took place in a speculative world in which the continents never broke up and Neanderthals wander the world alongside Homo Sapiens. I read the first two volumes, which were full of adventure and political intrigue, all revolving around a complex plot weaving through the interconnected stories. I'll confess, I copped out a bit. Coming in as a newbie in volume 3, I didn't feel equipped to plug a new story into the existing world. So I wrote a standalone mystery that took place on a cruise ship - murder in confined quarters, in the tradition of Death on the Nile - so I could literally disconnect from it all. The editor, Michael Jan Friedman, found a way to incorporate it into the wider plot anyway, by having my cruise ship be a vessel for some important characters.

In my latest two shared-universe projects with Crazy 8 Press, I've been involved from the beginning, which made a huge difference in terms of what I was willing and able to do in terms of cross overs. Phenomenons: Every Human Creature (also edited by Michael Jan Friedman) is a superhero anthology that takes place in a post-financial-crisis world, where elite (and evil) Captains of Industry abuse their powers, and the Phenomenons must stick up for the little guy. 

My story this time was about a teen girl with the power to control salt, who'd been using her abilities to become a schoolyard vigilante known as Sarcastic Fringehead. But when she learns that an ancient artifact belonging to her ancestral hometown is being kept at the Met Museum and one of these Captains of Industry is hankering to get his hands on it, she takes it upon herself to return it to its rightful place (reverse Indiana Jones, if you will). Thanks to some planning ahead, I was able to share villains with another author in the anthology, Keith RA DeCandido, and reference the wider world the other authors were helping bring to life.  

We've just finished crowdfunding the second volume, Phenomenons: Season of Darkness, and those of us with New York-based superheroes are talking crossovers. I think it'll be fun, getting to write one piece of a larger story rather than dealing with all of it myself like I'm used to. In some ways, it's less work, because the world-building has largely been done for you, and you can take inspiration from other things going on in this world. In other ways, it's harder, since you have to make sure what you're aiming to do fits with the wider picture and doesn't contradict what the other authors have helped establish.

The latest shared-universe project I've been involved with is the recently launched Kindle Vella series PRISM. The premise is that in the 1980s, a group of international spies seek to retrieve mysterious alien artifacts scattered around the world before unsavory types get their hands on them. We purposely set up this world to give everyone plenty of space to do their own thing. Since Kindle Vella is a platform for short, serialized fiction, we wanted each episode to have the feel of a standalone, well, episode. And as part of this, we each came up with our own agents and wrote about their missions in various parts of the world.

My character for this series is the rookie Agent Aureate, aka Valeria Volkova, a gymnastics champion recruited in her first appearance. So far she hasn't had a chance to meet up with the other agents yet, but who knows what future episodes have in store?

Anyway, shared-universe writing can be both fun and challenging -- you have to give up some control over the world-building and some plot lines, but in exchange you get to bounce off the creativity of other writers. I think I'm finally starting to get a feel for it and look forward to many more projects to come!

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Google Confirms What I Already Knew (Featuring a special guest blogger)

It's been a hectic month for me, but I would never - NEVER - shirk on my blogging duties here at ATB! I have been assigned a google search post this week, so let's fire up the ol' Google machine and see what comes up.

Who is the cutest dog in the world? Well, I have my suspicions, but let's see what the GoogOracle says:

Why... That's my dog! My precious little bundle of cuddles, Danerys. I am glad to report that Google has confirmed what is obviously common knowledge. 

My wife and I adopted Danerys (Dany for short) almost six years ago. She is a pughuahua, half pug and half chihuahua. (Some people call that mix a chug, but I find that horribly undignified.) She has the curly pug tail and the chihuahua nose.  Kim found her on Petfinder and...

Excuse me, daddy.

My editor.

Oh, hello Dany! I almost didn't see you there, standing directly in front of my monitor.

You're telling it wrong. 

Excuse me?

Of how we met! You aren't telling it right!

Oh. Well, do you want to jump in? I have a rental client meeting in about ten minutes, so why don't you hop in and tell everyone the story and I'll give it a quick edit once you're done. 

Cool, move over. 

The 100% True and Unembellished Tale of
How Danerys the Pughuahua 
Came to Live With 
Victor & Kim
(As written by Danerys)

Once upon a time there was a shapeshifting princess. 

This magical being could assume any form she chose. However, she could only do this in her youth. Once she hit a certain age, she would lose this ability. She would need to assume her forever form and choose her forever home. 

Princess Dany was concerned. She enjoyed roaming wherever she pleased. She enjoyed roaming through the woods.

And when she came to rocky cliff, she would assume her dragon form and soar over. 

She would romp on the beach.

And then turn herself into a mermaid so she could play with the fishes. 

But, as much fun as it was to roam, Dany yearned for a companion. She yearned for a true friend that she could play with. Someone to sleep on. Someone who would hand feed her rotisserie chicken and bits of cheese. Someone who needed constant licks on their face. 

Dany's decision day was drawing near. To clear her head, she decided to become and angel and fly about. 

She thought long and hard about her choice. Should she stay a dragon? Live in the water? What would she do?

But as she was flying, she came across a couple. There was a beautiful lady and a goofy-looking man. The beautiful woman said "I am very happy with our life together, but there is something missing."

The goofy-looking man nodded. "Yes, I agree. We desperately need a small dog to spoil."

The pretty lady beamed a smile. "Yes! We need a delightful dog with a curly tail. Someone that will sleep on us and eat cheese out of our hands."

The man agreed. "And who will lick my face constantly. Just never, ever stop."

When Danerys heard that, she knew her choice had been made. She landed in front of them and made her forever choice. 

Please take me home...

And they did. And they all lived happily ever after. 


Did you like it?

Yes Dany. It's perfect. That's exactly how it happened. 

Thanks to google and my guest author this week. I have to go and feed someone some cheese. 

Danerys is a 20 pounds of cuddles in a 10 pound body. She enjoys cheese and a sturdy squeaky toy. You can follow her on Instagram at @dany_the_pughuahua

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

Crossing Genres

 VIRTUAL: A Different Kind of Book Club (Young Adult Literature) | Fairfield  Public Library


Many authors have a specific genre that they work within. Your favorite authors are probably dominant in horror, sci-fi, romance, etc., and that's totally great, but I also love when they dive into unfamiliar territory and try their hands at something new. I have always jumped between genres in my own writing to test my skills as well as reach out to a wider audience. My most well known books have usually been in fantasy, but I've also written comedy and adventure fiction. One genre I've always wanted to break out into was horror.

I love reading horror and science fiction. I've been a die hard fan of Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and many others for years. I've half-started many books in the horror/sci-fi wing and never got the courage to continue them. I just never felt like I could live up to my own expectations when it came to these genres. I spent a lot of time comparing myself to them instead of just going for the jump into new waters.

Over the Covid shut down, I started dabbling in horror again. It took me two years to write my first book in the genre, and just last week I finally finished it. It's still in the editing process right now, but I am hoping that by Author Con next March, I will have it in my hand ready to present to the readers for judgment. I've also been on/off working on a science fiction novel since 2005. You could say I have not yet found my niche, or that my niche continuously changes. I think it's important for writers to expand and not just stick to their comfort zone.

As a writer, I read a lot, and I'm always experimenting with different premises. Sometimes it grabs hold of me, sometimes it fizzles out, but I never delete anything I've started just in case I decide to get back into it. Sometimes I even use something I started a long time ago in something I am working on now. This is turning out to be the case in my sci-fi novel. The one I started in 2005, while it didn't pan out, contains material I have found I could use in a whole new book idea. I call it 'plagiarizing myself,' although I don't know if you can technically really do that with your own work.

Last year, I published my first full fledged comedy book, and it got great feedback. So even though I am more well-known as a fantasy author, I haven't let that limit me to just fantasy.

Do you have a favorite multi-genre author? Tell me about it.

And stay weird.


Sunday, June 12, 2022

Book Review: I Wish You All The Best by Mason Deaver

 "I Wish You All The Best" by Mason Deaver 

Ben De Backer is non-binary. When Ben decides to tell their parents in the hopes of being accepted, their worst fear materializes when they are thrown out of the house. Freezing with no where to go, they call their sister Hannah, that they haven't seen or spoke to in over a decade. With the help of Hannah and her husband Thomas, Ben is able to start over at a new school for the remainder of their senior year. It isn't easy for Ben but they find solace in their new art room and even sometimes with friend Nathan Allan. Nathan is Ben's total opposite: loud to their silence, energetic to their calm. They develop a friendship that will cause Ben to question and further explore their identity and ultimately they become the first person besides their sister that they come out to. This is a wonderful book of soul searching, friendship, and ultimately acceptance. 4 🌟

This novel is my first attempt at exploring what it means to be non-binary. It was raw, it was powerful, and it helped me to better understand the importance of pronouns and what it means to identify as an enby (term for non-binary people). 

I appreciated the struggle that Ben experienced by trying to explain their identity to Hannah, it helped me to realize it isn't as clear cut as it seems. Even those who are non-binary themselves still experience confusion in regards to terms and the way they identify themselves. A good example of this from the book is when Ben explains how they previously believed they were gay, but over time they realized that wasn't quite right. The story goes on to further explain this but I felt this was a great example of how identity and gender can be much more than just male versus female and why. 

I recommend this for anyone who is curious about what it means to identify as non-binary and I'd also like to make mention it is written by a non-binary author.  This is an incredible coming of age novel in terms of identify and gender and I believe I will be making many recommendations to read it in the future.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Books, The Old Fashioned Way

 While my dad is the other writer in our family, though mostly he is more into travel journaling than fiction, my mom and I have always bonded over our mutual affection for arts and crafts. Everything from drawing and painting, to crochet and knitting, and even culinary arts.  Lately, my mom has really gotten into printing, which I think appeals to her STEM sensibilities. I think she like the creative side of it plenty, but I think she likes the mechanics of it even more. 

Over the past year, I've joined her twice at the Sawtooth School of Visual Arts in Winston Salem, which is the approximate halfway point between her house and mine. The first time we met, we did a gel print class, which is a low-key printing method involving an inked gelatin block. Here's a pic of one of the prints I made in that class:

This printing method is fairly simple and straightforward, and we only spent a single Friday night on the class. But after having so much fun together, Mom signed us up for a "Letterpress and Simple Bindings" workshop, which took most of two days. We worked with expert letterpress and book-bindings artist, Mary Beth Boone of Purple Pumpkin Press to learn about carving linoleum blocks, and using them on a very old fashioned letterpress machine to print what would become book covers for some simple, hand-bound journals.

Step One: Designing an image and carving linoleum blocks:

Mary Beth asked us to create a block with a pattern on it

Step Two: Create the print block.

The other classmates and I combined our blocks together to make one large print-block

This is the actual form that will get inked. Then paper will get pressed over it. Placing these blocks took a tedious amount of fine-tuning and fussing, using a lot of specialized tools. You could also create trays filled with lines of words made from individual little letters, which is why this is called a letterpress. It made me so thankful we can just type on a computer and print on a laser-jet. Letterpresses make gorgeous results, but it would take hundreds of hours to print a whole book this way. It gave me great appreciation and understanding for why books were so rare and expensive, once upon a time.

Step 3 &4: Ink the rollers, register the paper, and start printing

We made multiple copies, first with blue ink and then blending in yellow ink to do a "rainbow" print, which I loved because the color shades were beautiful. Here are the results:

Making these prints took most of the day. We knocked off that afternoon and came back the next day to learn how to bind these covers, using hand-stitching techniques, into journals.

Step one was measuring, marking, creasing and folding the spines. Step two was punching holes in the thick paper using awls. With some of these, we had templates to help guide us in punching our holes so that we could create pretty and even patterns. Step three was do the actual sewing. Thankfully our instructor had cut the paper pages for us ahead of time because preparing paper for bookmaking is a "whole 'nother" skill that might have required a "whole 'nother" workshop. We used regular sewing needles and waxed linen thread to sew the bindings.

This is a simple "chain stitch" binding

From left to right: Bowtie stitch, laced dash, rope stitch, triple chain stitch, and chain stitch. The thicker bindings were "three section" journals, where papers were bound to the cover in three separate sections. 

These are some relatively simple bindings, but spend a few minutes searching "book bindings" on Pinterest and you can see how a person could get really obsessed, really quickly.

Realistically, I might use the skills I learned in this workshop to create hand-made journals to give to friends for Christmas. But, if I ever accidentally touch a circle of magic standing stones and get whisked 200 years into the past, I should be able to find gainful employment working in Jamie Fraser's print shop in New Bern, making seditious pamphlets to incite rebellion against the English Crown. Yes, that's an Outlander reference, in case you were wondering.

Monday, June 6, 2022

How to 86 Your ACX

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, everybody!  Hope you're all doing well.  As I mentioned last month, French Press is going full steam ahead on bringing the demented, phantasmagorical vision of Somer Canon's YOU'RE MINE to your eyeballs next month.  And shortly after that, to your various earholes and other auditory sensory apparatuses.  As a first-time publisher, I could not have fucked this situation up worse.  But, perhaps my shameful failure will bring you some gleeful Schadenfreude.

One thing I've been cognizant of for nearly eight years now is just how long of a process creating an audiobook is.  Narrators (rightly so) can take several months to produce an audiobook of ten to fifteen finished hours.  Often, publishers wait until the ebook and paperback are published before even soliciting narrators on ACX, which is Amazon's audiobook auditioning platform.  At the end of the day, audiobooks often trail their printed siblings by so long, they may as well be treated as a separate release, which many publishing houses also do.

Well, I intended to not let that huge gap happen for YOU'RE MINE.  I knew it was unlikely we'd have an audiobook up before, or even at the same time, as the ebook, but I assumed that if I started producing the audiobook as soon as I knew I intended to publish the ebook, at least we could close that multi-month hole and make sure nobody was passing on the book for lack of preferred format rather than lack of interest.

Boy, did that turn out to be a dumb fucking decision.  But at least I learned some good stuff for next time.  Stuff from which you, my current (or potentially future) self-publishing friends, can learn.

So, first of all, you can't post something on ACX for auditions unless it already exists on Amazon.  It took me a few minutes of frustratedly trying, like an alchemist of old, to generate something from nothing, before I realized this.  But I was not to be dissuaded!  

I went back to Amazon and created a page for YOU'RE MINE for pre-order.  I wouldn't normally put something up for pre-order, and I'll tell you why.  Release day for an ebook is usually its buzziest day.  If you can get twenty, fifty, even a hundred purchases on release day, your numbers will shoot through the roof.  So you might land at number one in a particular Amazon category, and then guess what?  You can market yourself as a Number One Bestseller.  Sure, it may have been in "Latvian Interest Sea Stories," but still.  Number One, baby!

On the other hand, selling twenty copies over twenty days means you hold steady and your number does not go up.  Ditto a hundred copies over a hundred days.  I always attempt to strike with my fist, not my fingers splayed, and a pre-order option screws that up a bit.  Thirty sales over thirty days of pre-ordering is not the same thing as thirty sales on release day.

But, I had to do it in order to pull the Amazon entry over to ACX.  You can see it here.  But it didn't always look like that.  Initially I just wanted something so I could solicit auditions on ACX.  And since I didn't have my cover art yet, the cover just looked like this:

And ACX pulled that cover non-image over.

I spent the last few weeks eagerly awaiting auditions.  And I got...two.  For comparison's sake, last year within that same timeframe I had received about 75 auditions for BROKEN-DOWN HEROES OF THE WESTERN NIGHT.

I was frustrated, I can tell you that.  I hadn't done anything differently.  In fact, I'd taken great pains to get the damn thing up in the most timely manner possible.  But no auditions were coming in!  Did people suddenly hate me?

Well, I wasn't going to have that!  Luckily I have a massive writing community to draw upon, starting with this blog, and ending with my tens of thousands of fans and followers across social media and meatspace.  I would be damned if I wouldn't get Somer the best narrator there was for her book!

So, last week I set out and started actively soliciting narrators.  And I sent the audition link for YOU'RE MINE to one I know personally.

"Oh, man," he said, "You don't have cover art?"

And with a sinking feeling, I realized I'd shot myself in the foot.  Apparently professional narrators look for cover art, and that can be a make or break factor.  Which makes sense.  If I were just a dilettante, I might not get cover art.  And if I were a professional publishing house, as I purport to be, I should have gotten it before requesting auditions.

So I spent the next few hours (sue me, this is why I hire professionals for graphic design) dummying this up: 

Then I spent the next several hours trying to upload it to ACX - which apparently you can't, post ipso facto - and then crossed it over to Amazon, hoping it would populate to ACX...which apparently it won't.  

So I guess now I either have to desperately beg for narrators to audition (which, if you know anybody, please send them here) or wait for the perfect Goldilocks narrator who is good but doesn't mind slumming with some cover art-free basement press, or, I guess, if both of those fail, wait until the cover art is complete and then tear it down and redo the whole McGillicuddy.  Fun fun whichever way it pans out.

But, at least I got a blogpost out of it.  And hopefully you all learned something from my inept bumblings.  All right, have a great week everybody.  Talk to you soon!

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Never As Good As You Think. Never As Bad As You Fear.

In 2015, I had taken some classes at New York's Gotham Writer's workshop. The subjects were on fiction writing, and shortly after, novel writing. 

I wanted to get better as a writer. I genuinely thought I had so many good ideas back then, but was also, sort of obsessed over this relationship in my early 20s. A friend, who was also my student (I was 21, she was 19), who wasn't really a girlfriend... but something else entirely. Sort of this idealized version of love that doesn't exist in a very toxic rose-colored glasses sort of way. Youth and mistakes and all that.

I wasn't able to let it go at the time. That moment stayed immortalized in my brain. Part of me wanted to write a 500 Days of Summer type of story because I didn't know what a healthy relationship looked like.  In many ways, I think I still don't. Which is why it's a major theme I explore a lot in my writing. 

I am saying all of this aloud because I'm going to share the beginning of this story I'd written 7 years ago in class, down below. It was a failed writing project called The Tortoise and The Finch and it was the first time, I'd ever gotten real writer's feedback. Most of whom, claimed to care just enough about the characters but recommended I do more prose work.

I think I wanted to write about this story because of how closed-off I felt to the world. Those strange years of youthful, better-than-thou wisdom--the kind that's more a defense mechanism than ever having really existed--all the while, using my spirit animal: The Tortoise, a creature of stubbornness and experience, as an accompanying children's side story metaphor. Something meant to feel significant to run parallel to its themes. 

I wanted to talk about this person I'd found fascinating. This girl I'd sort of fallen in love with in an ideal and unrealistic kind of way. This wild and free-spirited adventurer whom I'd never met anyone like this before... whom I called, The Finch. The most common of birds, who'd just fit into their environment so naturally, while often fluttering away on adventures.

Tortoises and Finches have this strangely friendly relationship. I was convinced that they were trying to get one another...

I was really convinced I was going to change the world in my 20s. I closed myself off so much in my early 20s, thinking it was for the greater good, as I focused in on school and being the best among my peers. But then I met this...dancer...who used to live and work in New Orleans, before volunteering to help kids in India for a year, whom, after backpacking in Eastern Europe, moved back to NJ. 

Re-reading it now 7 years later... the opening of this story is not that good. It's not an awful story, it's just, well, it's written by a younger me who was very obviously trying to capture the moment too exactly. This sort of harms the storytelling elements. As I focused way too much on the scenery, having really approached the story more like a screenplay, than a novel. 

I also acknowledge that above all else I'm a character writer and a poor plotter. This is why every project I do now has an outline.

But anyway,  I'm sharing it mostly because, yeah, it's not that great. It's also not that bad either. And I think it's good for writers to look at their old pieces and cringe and try to do better.

The Tortoise And The Finch: April

It was midday. As grey-colored clouds mustered overhead, a teetering series of trees swayed to and fro across the front lawns of several houses. They were old homes lined corner to corner down Patterson Street, a one-way street dense with dilapidated rows of developments that were decades past their prime. 

The air was brisk and crisp. A warm gleam emanated from the springtime fauna. When the wind picked up, it painted the air with flower petals from the trees most recently in bloom. A natural canvas of yellows and whites and pinks, they danced about and spiraled in the breeze, falling along the edge of the paved road. A would-be beautiful day, if that quiet gust of wind didn’t also send chills down the spine whenever it passed. 

On the front porch outside of a shabby auburn house, a hunched-over guy in his early twenties exited through the front door. He lit a cigarette on the porch. The lighter's flame refracted off the lenses of his thick-rimmed glasses. He was short and tan and lovestruck. Heart on the sleeve. Ready to emo scream kind of vibe.

An everyday-looking girl, of about nineteen years of age, followed outside shortly after. Her hair was light brown hair curling just past the shoulder. She had a runner’s figure, pale white skin, and with a concerned look, stopped him in his tracks before he left and held his free hand.

“Please don’t do this,” she pleaded with a look of sincerity.

“I’m sorry, but I deserve better,” he fumed while exhaling a puff of smoke. He took a few steps forward and got onto the street before she stopped him in his track.

“You do, and I one hundred percent completely agree. That’s why this is stupid. You’re being stupid. I told you I can’t. So why am I the bad person?” she questioned.

She was talking about her vow. The two were together an awful lot the past few weeks, but just moments ago, in her bedroom, she'd confessed to him how she was on an abstinence pledge after sleeping around with more people than she'd liked to admit. Which was something he said he was fine with... while secretly hoping, that he'd be the exception.

“Good and bad are but matters of opinion. The only thing that matters are thought and perspective,” he replied rather smugly. “Tell me, just for once, what are you honestly thinking?”

“That I want to punch you in the face. Why are you making this difficult? Can't you can it with the pseudo-intellectual bullshit and just express a real fucking feeling?”

“You want a feeling?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I love you.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Let me finish,” she blurts as she cuts him off, “You act like I’m some god damn saving grace. That if we were together I’d magically fix you and all your crazy insecure bullshit inside.” 

She takes away his cigarette. Pauses. Then smokes a drag on her own.

“But I’ve been in your position before, so many fucking times, and it doesn’t work that way. You don’t love me. You don’t even love yourself. And that’s okay… because I sort of hate myself too. Maybe we’re both just built that way. Just two screwed up and really damaged people on the inside.” 

Silence. The words stung. Deeper than he intended to show. He whispers into her ear: “Goodbye,” as he passes her to leave. Before he can, she wraps her arms tightly around him preventing him from going...

“Why does this feel like we’re breaking up?” she cries, her head now buried on his shoulder.

“We were never together.”

“Yeah. I know.”

She lets him go.

He walks away.

As he nears the edge of the corner on Patterson, she makes one last call from the distance, “You know we’re going to call each other in about a month and forget all about this. Then we can go out and make epic plans for the summer!”

“No, I won’t,” he replied for the last time.

“Yeah, I won’t either,” she whispered in turn.


Blogger Template by Designer Blogs