Thursday, March 22, 2018

Superhero Overload (Is it even possible?)

A Post By Jonathan

Whenever I write a post like this I always feel the need to apologize ahead of time. The truth is I haven't been doing a lot of writing lately, so I don't have much to write about on that front. But what I have been doing a lot of lately is watching TV. Working full-time, with a three-year-old boy to take care of in the morning and nights, I haven't quite found my writing groove since, well... pretty much since he's been born. Pre-kid, I used to write like a boss every night from 8pm to whenever I had 1,000 words down on paper. Now I have a son that takes epically long naps at daycare and doesn't want to go to bed until about 9/9:30 at night. Yes, my wife helps out a lot, but she's got a really important job that keeps her late and emailing till the wee hours of the night. By the time dinner is made, bath is done, kid is in bed I'm wiped out. So what do I do then? I go to the DVR and watch TV of course! And if there's one thing I've figured out as a "writer" it is basically if I'm not creating then I'm consuming (other writers' --TV or otherwise-- creations). Some of that consumption is reading and listening to books, which I do manage to do quite a lot (and I feel that at least prepares me to be a better writer), but when you're zapped and can't muster up the energy to do very much beyond sit on the couch, then TV is the ticket.

So what kind of shows do I watch during these fleeting moments? Mostly any kind of superhero show I can get my eyes on. As a child of the 80's, who could only dream of seeing his favorite Marvel and DC characters come to life on the small/big screen when he was a kid (apart from Christopher Reeve's Superman, which was easily my go-to superhero move back then-- and maybe the Incredible Hulk and cheesy Amazing Spider Man re-runs) the epic amount of super hero shows available to you today is dare I say, almost overwhelming.

Not even including the recent barrage of superhero movies that have been released (the Marvel Cinematic Universe includes 18 movies at this point and DC has a nauseating schedule of upcoming flicks) there are so many TV shows and series out there that it's easy to get lost in them.

The ones that I watch/have watched are:

- Smallville (off air)
- Arrow (catch up on episodes on Netflix from time-to-time)
- The Flash
- Legends of Tomorrow
- Black Lightning
- Super Girl (no longer watch)
- Gotham (no longer watch because there's no Batman!)
- Daredevil
- Jessica Jones
- The Iron Fist
- Luke Cage
- The Defenders

And now the SyFy channel is releasing a show called Krypton, about Superman's grandfather! I probably won't watch that either because there's no Superman. The only other show I watch is the Walking Dead (just because I've been invested in it for so long, but I'm pretty much ready for it to ride off into the zombie sunset).

Anyway, what's the point of telling you all this? I think I may be hitting superhero overload, which I never even thought was possible. I guess there are only so many times you can see someone discover something amazing about themselves... pretty soon it gets to feeling like it's all been done before. And the worst thing is, as I'm watching these shows, in the back of my mind I'm kind of like "why am I even watching this?" Maybe it's because some of the CW shows are kind of cheesy and have a lot of Young Adult love-triangle stuff going on... Or maybe it's because I know I'd rather be writing/creating my own adventures. The problem is, I've become so practiced at not writing that it has become more of a chore/work rather than a stress-relief-- like television.

I wish I could take all of this superhero knowledge I've gained (scene/story structure) and turn it into some kind of writing project/comic book (not the greatest artist though). I actually have two decent ideas for superhero-related stories.

- One is called "Weather Girl." She's a journalist who is just starting out at as a "weather girl" on her local TV station, but she soon finds out she has some sway over the weather and uses her skills to become one of the most accurate meteorologists in the world. Then, when she moves to the big city, she has to learn to use her powers for good.

- The other is titled "Mongoose." It's about a scientist in Africa who studies snakes, then all the snakes in his labs get released and he gets bit, then infused with some mongoose blood, which gives him a bunch of cool powers. Then he ends up fighting a gang of guys with names like "King Cobra" "Diamondback" and "Pit Viper".

Pretty cool, huh? *crickets*

Okay, so maybe I'm into more of the fringe superheroes... But you know what? There are superhero tropes in a number of different books I've read lately. Everyone who gets special powers is basically a superhero in my mind. Bella from Twilight, Gandalf The Grey, Harry Potter, Bran and Arya from Game of Thrones, Kell and Lila from a Darker Shade Magic, and even the amazeballs fantasy series I'm reading by Brandon Sanderson (The Stormlight Archive) is all about Kaladin and Shallan, who are Knights Radiants and are basically learning how to use their special gifts to rid the land of evil.

What can I say? I guess I'm a sucker for any story that takes a normal human being and makes them special. In the end isn't that what we all want to be?

Will I ever stop watching superhero movies/shows? No way. Am I a little less excited about them because of the sheer volume of material available right now? Yes (may even be getting close to my pre-saturation point...). But I guess as long as there's a tall building to be leaped, a train to be raced, or a person to be saved, I'll be there to watch it... And maybe someday I'll even write my own superhero epic. Weather Girl and Mongoose team up anyone?!

What are your thoughts, dear readers? Is there ever too much of a good thing? Would love to hear what you think!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Authors Working With Libraries

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey everybody!  A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure to appear with Nadia Bulkin, Morgan Sylvia, and the legendary Mary SanGiovanni at Stokercon 2018's Librarians Day.

Our audience consisted of librarians and we had been invited by Readers Advisory spokesperson Becky Spratford. The panel was interesting (I hope) and the question and answer session afterwards was even more interesting, at least to me as an author.

As authors we often worry about getting into bookstores and getting in touch with our readers directly through social media and events like conventions and book signings.  In fact, the only time I ever reached out to a library was to my local library to see if they'd be interested in having me for an event like a Halloween signing.  My local library promptly advised me that they don't do events with local authors and I pretty much let the pursuit stop there.

But having fifty or a hundred librarians from across New England in one room taught me an important lesson: different libraries and library systems have different rules.  So some libraries, like my local one, may not be interested in local authors, but others are dying to have us.

The librarians in attendance advised us that they are constantly on the hunt for programming.  Now, they also stated that having an author show up and try to sell his book is not really very enticing.  However, if I were to call one of their programming directors with an idea, say a "How to Write Horror" workshop or a panel on getting published with all five panelists lined up, they'd be very interested in that.

So, first of all, if you as an author are not reaching out to your local library system, you're missing out on a great opportunity.  And if you are reaching out, but just to do signings or maybe give a reading, you may be taking the wrong tack.  Have you considered planning an actual demonstration or workshop?  That way, when you reach out to the librarian in charge, you're not so much begging them for a favor as you are helping them out by handing them a program opportunity on a silver platter.

Now, the librarians also stated that programming is planned very far out, sometimes six months or longer.  So now might be the time for all you horror authors to start looking at Halloween programming (hint hint.)  But in general, don't expect to contact your library and then show up next week.  My new plan is to reach out to a number of libraries, perhaps plan a tour through New England later this year or next.

Libraries are also always looking for new acquisitions for their collections, which is one of the reasons why Becky Spratford's Readers Advisory exists.  So again, when you've been reaching out to have your book shelved at bookstores or in different online venues, have you considered reaching out to your local libraries?

I'm not very familiar with this process at all, so I'm going to have to come back with more on that after I've reached out to a few acquisitions librarians.  But the benefits seem clear to me.  First of all, you're getting a sale, which is always nice.  But second of all, having your books in libraries means that you're potentially acquiring new readers.  If you pick up a reader who just happened to grab your book off the shelf (hey, I've read plenty of books that way myself) they might go out and buy your whole back catalogue.  Or they might go back to the acquisitions librarian and ask him/her to pick up more books from your back catalogue, which is also sales.  And if you have a good relationship with the library staff, they may recommend your books from their collection when patrons come asking.

So, while I'm brand new to this and can't really speak on it with very much experience or authority, if you haven't been reaching out to libraries, you may be doing yourself a disservice.  I had this conversation with a small publisher shortly after the StokerCon Library Day, and she said that she has been collecting and collating lists of small bookstores to reach out to for years, but had never considered libraries.  Imagine all of the untapped potential there!

Oh, and by the way, our very own Kimberly Giarratano is a former libarian - maybe you'll luck out and she'll tell us more in the comments.  But what about you?  What have been your experiences working with libraries?  Librarians, what about the other side of the aisle?  What's it been like working with authors?  Sound off in the comments below!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Hidden Agenda of Saint Monday

By Cheryl Oreglia


Is anyone curious about the origin of this concept? 

Apparently it's formation was biblical, imaginative, an act of greed.

Reaching back into the abyss of time I remember when weekends meant Daddy was home, decadent breakfasts, newspaper comics, lively board games, lawn mowers, Sunday drives, naps under the apple tree, and long periods of undiluted time. Never boring, more of an unhurried orientation, with delightful results. 

I think I may have felt more loved on the weekends as a child, although I didn't know how to articulate it, I now recognize how stress can mask the presence of love. And I work tirelessly to eradicate this particular situation in my immediate family.

Today most of my weekends are spent at the lake, with family and friends. Kicking it back. Enjoying the quiet. For me this is a writer's paradise.

What I want to know is why we ended up organizing our God given time into seven day cycles, five for work, and two for play? 
"We made up the weekend the same way we made up the week. The earth actually does rotate around the sun once a year, taking about 365.25 days. The sun truly rises and sets over twenty-four hours. But the week is man-made, arbitrary, a substance not found in nature. That seven-day cycle in which we mark our meetings, mind birthdays, and overstuff our iCals—buffered on both ends by those promise-filled 48 hours of freedom—only holds us in place because we invented it," Katrina Onstad.
Do we understand the absurdity of living our lives imprisoned by patterns we blindly adhere to, but fail to challenge, or query?

I did a little digging and although the weekend is a human construct, it was officially sanctioned during the industrial revolution by Henry Ford. Prior to the establishment of the Saturday/Sunday weekend employees often failed to show up for work on Monday of all days, claiming they were keeping Saint Monday (there is no Saint Monday, it was more of a malady), but this gave one permission to take a day off from the daily toil of work dominated by time clocks and managers married to profit margins. 

Do you know why watches were frowned upon in factories? This was due to the fact managers often tampered with the time clocks to rob workers of extra hours spent on the line. Pure greed.

I'm sort of charmed by the idea of a Saint Monday resurrection. I'll do just about anything to extend the euphoria of the weekend including tampering with clocks. 

Interestingly Benjamin Franklin bragged about earning a promotion by working on the fabled Saint Monday at a London printing house. What a total suck up. Franklin even invented a simple clock known as the three-wheel but it didn't have a minute hand like all clocks of the period. Made it easy for managers to push back time.

One of the key players in establishing the Saturday/Sunday weekend was the anti-unionist, auto tycoon Henry Ford. His methods were revolutionary but they also had a devious purpose. He more than doubled his employee's wages because his vice president, James Couzens, pointed out that not only would it be great publicity, but it might be the perfect incentive to motivate workers to buy cars. Also a two day weekend would allow leisure time in which to take long drives in the country. 

It practically caused a riot as thousands of people showed up to the Ford plant hoping for a higher paying job. The police department turned firehoses on the men in the bitter winter to squelch the growing mob. Can you imagine that happening today? Um? Yes I can.

The weekend as set by Ford standards was a time of rest but more importantly a time to consume. It's as if the corporations were dangling a carrot, keeping the ignorant consumer tethered to their jobs, so we could continue the cantankerous pattern of "spending time doing things you don't like, in order to go on spending, and to teach our children to follow the same track," as Alan Watts claims, "it's all retch, and no vomit, it never gets there," in his famous If Money Were No Object speech. 

"Time is now currency: It is not passed but spent," notes E.P. Thompson. 
"Oh, I just want what we all want, a comfortable couch, a nice beverage, a weekend of no distractions, and a book that will stop time, lift me out of my quotidian existence and alter my thinking forever." Elizabeth Gilbert
Why do we remain dedicated to systems that don't make us happy? I lose a quarter of my weekend come Sunday afternoon when my thoughts return to lesson plans, or lack there of, and the inchoate appeal of unspecified time slips through my fingers like water.

Speaking of water, for me the lake house is serendipitously tied to the weekend, as Sunday is to church, and yeast is to bread. 

This is my ode to miraculous beginnings...

There is this pristine moment when the early light eases into the landscape like butter on warm toast. I stand on the deck, coffee in hand, enamored by the movement of the water lapping against the dusty shore, even the mass exodus of the bats is spectacular. As the sun peeks over the eastern ridge cumulus clouds caress the mountain as if a mother tenderly embracing her child. The spring swallows sheltering in meticulously constructed mud huts swarm the skies, as schools of catfish, bass, and crappie lurk just beneath the murky surface of the water. 

I love waking to the subtle aroma of ground coffee along with the mesmerizing buzz of rice flies swirling in the soft morning breeze. In wrinkled pj's I pay homage to this most unique sanctuary before approaching my computer docked on the kitchen table with enormous reverence. This for me is a saintly practice. 
"There are some hungers that only an endless commitment to emptiness can feed, and the only true antidote to the plague of modern despair is an absolute, and perhaps even annihilating, awe." Christian Wiman
I realize it is impossible to pay bills and provide for your family without working but I do wish we had more opportunities to bask in the things we desire above all else. I suppose play would seem less attractive without work, as joy would be less appreciated without sadness. Finding a commendatory balance might be our only hope. 

I'm all for keeping Saint Monday, drawing out the pleasures of undiluted time, as we learn to step into the sacredness of all life. 

Where do you enjoy writing? What gives you inspiration? Share a few thoughts in the comments.

I'm Living in the Gap, drop by anytime.

Monday, March 12, 2018

In like a lion....out like a lion.

Hey guys!

My literal neck-of-the-woods got slammed with, not one, but two Nor'easters. That's right. Two. Quinn dumped two feet of snow on us, taking down power lines and trees with it. We were without power for five days (some of my friends lost power for 8 and 9 days!) And anyone who has well and septic understands--no power means no flushing toilets, no running water, no showers. And just as particularly gruesome, no heat.

We had counted on our generator to power our home only to find it wouldn't start. Since we couldn't get out to Lowes, we had to huddle under blankets and use our fireplace for warmth and melt snow to flush our toilets. Lesson to all: do routine maintenance on your generators in October. The network also went down so we had no internet, and phone service. [It was rough. Obviously not Puerto Rico-still-without-power- many-months-later rough, which is lost on the many Trump voters in my area, but I digress...] Storm #2, Riley, dumped a foot of snow on top of the two feet we had, so now we have three feet of snow on our lawn. I won't see my grass until May.
Early in the morning when I went to walk the dog.

This is my husband getting a smidge down the driveway before our snowblower broke. Oh yeah. That happened. Luckily, my neighbor cleared us out.

My backyard.

My children have been off from school for a week. They got an additional two days tacked onto the end of the year and are losing what little Easter vacation that is scheduled. It's fine. We live in the Northeast. This is how we do winter. I say that so nonchalantly as if I hadn't been Googling warm-weather liberal states to move to all week long. Truthfully, in a few months, these cold temps will be a distant memory.

Oh, hey, and it's Daylight Saving Time. That's always fun when you have kids. Their sleep schedule is all off and they're cranky as hell. Man, nature is reaping us all sorts of rewards. Isn't it?

What's the weather like where you are? 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Google Search: International Women's Day

March 8 is International Women's Day, so what better topic for a Google Search post today! Just to recap how this works -- I type a phrase into Google search and see what randomness predictive text returns. Some ATBer's answer the questions, themselves, like Mary's Fan in her search about writers. (Funny and worth a read, in case you missed it.) Today, I'm leaving it to Google.

So, here are my search results:

It feels only right to start with the history of the day. If you want to read more extensively, the chronology is here. In a nutshell, National Women's Day started in 1909 in honor of the garment workers strike in New York where women protested working conditions. It became international in 1911, but was not recognized by the United Nations until International Women's Year in 1975. Part of the United Nations 2030 Agenda is specifically focused on eradicating gender inequality.

Which, according to the World Economic Forum 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, is currently estimated to be 200 years away! Infuriating, yes? And why this year's theme is #PressforProgress. Specific actions include: forging positive visibility of women, influencing others' beliefs and actions; and celebrating women's achievements. (You can find out more, as well as join the International Women's Day movement here.)

There are tons of International Women's Day quotes, but my favorite comes from Malala Yousafzai:

And this one:

Speaking of raising strong women, I admit one of the best things I've seen in a long time is the line of International Women's Day barbies, which include snowboarder Chloe Kim, boxing champion Nicola Adams, and designer Leyla Piedayesh, as well as Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo and Katherine Johnson.

These are definitely going on a few Christmas/birthday must-give lists for friends with younger kids.

There are events happening globally, as well as protests, including a women's walk out at Spanish newspaper El Pais, which shows exactly how critical women are to the functioning of its business. The Guardian is live blogging world events and, of course, you can follow #internationalwomensday2018 on Twitter

Are you -- or is your employer -- doing anything special for International Women's Day today? I know my husband's company is hosting a special screening of the film Hidden Figures tonight, which I think is pretty cool. As for me, since I'm a woman and my own boss, I'm embracing this thought today. And every day.

Monday, March 5, 2018


A post by Mary Fan

Hey everyone! Mary here, and it’s my turn to do a Back Jacket Hack Job! And once again, I’ve decided to pick on my own book… mostly because it’s kind of therapeutic to mock my own stuff. Especially since writing back cover copy is such a frustrating nightmare, and so it’s fun to see just how bad I can make it.

My next release, a YA dark fantasy titled FLYNN NIGHTSIDER AND THE EDGE OF EVIL,  has been a long time coming. I wrote the first draft back in 2012. And pretty much ever since then, people have been saying it’s like Harry Potter meets the Hunger Games. So, the Hungry Harry Games. By the way, it's up for preorder, and it'll be 99 cents through the end of March...

And now, without further ado, here’s the Back Jacket Hack Job!

Cover of the Hungry Harry Games

It’s just like Harry Potter, except Harry is actually named Flynn, and he doesn’t have any magic. In fact, there are laws keeping non-magical kids like him from even knowing how magic wands work. And Hermione is actually named Aurelia, and she’s more into chopping monsters in half than going to school. And she also doesn’t have any magic.  Hogwarts is actually called the Academy of Supernatural Defense, and yeah, it’s a magic school, but it lets non-magical kids like Flynn attend too. Except they’re not allowed to learn the magic stuff… actually, they’re just there to be servants and clean up the magic students’ messes. Plus, the Ministry of Magic is actually the Triumvirate of North America, except they don’t hide from the non-magical. They’ve used their magic to conquer the nation and set up a caste system where those with magic get all the good stuff, and those without are second-class citizens. And if you say something they don’t like, they’ll make you disappear.

So Harry-Flynn was born into the bottom tier of this whole dystopian system, which makes him basically Katniss. Except a guy. Who sucks at shooting arrows. And who, instead of being thrown into a high-tech arena to kill other kids, has to deal with all the supernatural monsters that prowl the earth. See, a hundred years before the story began, the Lord of the Underworld escaped the monster dimension and unleashed a whole bunch of nasty beasts, and they destroyed pretty much everything. Which the magical folks used to set up their Triumvirate.

I guess that would make Hermione-Aurelia… Peeta? Except good at slaying monsters instead of baking bread? That works, right?

Anyway, Katniss-Harry-Flynn is pretty pissed off at this whole dystopia situation and winds up joining an underground rebellion, where he meets Peeta-Hermione-Aurelia. They’ve got to fight both the Harry Potter dark magic stuff—like supernatural monsters and a mysterious dude who controls giant zombies—and the Hunger Games dystopia stuff—like a government that stomps on freedom and has no qualms about feeding dissenters to monsters.

So there you have it: The Hungry Harry Games! May the magic be ever in your favor!

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Focus on Dialogue

I recently read a book that had a lot of potential. The overall message of the book was very important and I think it’s something that could really help a lot of people. The issue was that it got lost in the endless internal ramblings of the main character’s voice. I think only about 10% of the book was dialogue. And most of that 10% wasn’t well executed.

A few ‘conversations’ were completed in one paragraph. As in—I said, “Hey, how’s it going?” And she replied, “Things are good.” So I said, “Great!”

Another example is a chapter that ended with the main character arriving at someone’s house, after having had a very emotionally difficult day. Instead of picking up that moment in the next chapter, we are told what happened when the main character tells another friend about the conversation. . . Um, why?


I’m one of those who has a very hard time dropping a book, so the result of this poor execution was that I just started skipping large chunks. The author effectively lost me, and I’m not sure I’m willing to give another book of hers a try.

Dialogue is not a requirement for every book, but it is when writing a fiction novel. It keeps the story moving, and it’s what helps you ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’. Below is an example. I’ve crafted two narrations—one without any active dialogue and one with.

Example 1:

Suzie has been my best friend for nearly a decade. Our dessert had just arrived (neither of us likes to admit defeat against temptation, so we decided to share) when she asked me about the book I read. We tend to like the same kinds of books, so we always quiz each other about our most recent reads. If one of us didn’t like it, there’s a good chance the other won’t like it either. The problem was I wasn’t sure how to answer her. The book had a very good premise, and the moral of the story was so important. The characters were diverse, which was a breath of fresh air. I knew she struggled with the same issue as the main character, so on one hand I definitely thought she should read it. But on the other hand, if she got frustrated with the execution and stopped reading, she might miss the message altogether.

I must have taken too long thinking about my answer because she asked me again. I told her, “It was good.” Her reply was, “That’s not very convincing.” And so I told her about my concerns.  

Example 2:

The waiter placed the dessert in the center of the table and disappeared after producing two fresh spoons. I snatched one up and dipped it into the creamy concoction without hesitation.

After a few bites, Suzie wiped her mouth and leaned forward. “Hey, how was that book you just finished?”

My mouth was full so I raised my hand and made the ‘eh’ motion.

“Darn. It sounded so good. What was wrong with it?”

I swallowed and took a sip of my wine before answering. “Well, it had lots of humor and diverse characters. And the overall message was wonderful. As your best friend, I know it’s something you’d connect with. But the execution was poor. It’s only about 300 pages but it felt like I was slogging through an 800-page psychology textbook most of the time.”

Suzie sat back in disappointment. “Now I’m even more curious about the book for the message, but I don’t really have the energy to force myself through a slow-paced book.”

“How about I give you the highlights?”

Suzie snapped her fingers and pointed at me before dipping her spoon back into the bowl. “Yes, perfect.”

I’d like to note that both examples above have the exact same word count and present the same information. Despite the same number of words, I’m hoping you found Example 2 much easier to read. The story flowed and there was interaction between the characters. I know I’d rather read novels that fall into the second example over the first any day.

Now, back up in my opening paragraph, I mentioned that the dialogue that was included in this particular novel was poorly executed. I could make this post twice as long by giving you advice on how to write excellent dialogue (since my critique group tells me I’m a ‘master of dialogue’ I think I’d have a few legit tips), but there are already lots of great articles on the subject. Below are just a few I found when I did a search for this post.

Now go forth and make your characters effectively communicate!

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