Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How essential is your writing life?

I'm taking a class this month, WRITE BETTER FASTER, taught by Becca Syme on So far, it focuses on the psychology of what keeps you from meeting your writing goals and helps to identify your distractions and the key ways to keep them from derailing you. It's a month-long class and this is only week 2, but yesterday's exercise really resonated with me and I have a feeling it's going to be an a-ha moment for you, too.

Becca has asked us this week to keep a notebook, detailing how we spend our time. She's broken it up into:
1) Essentials; 2) Priorities; 3) Desires; 4) Nonessentials. Basically, Essentials are things we have to do -- like day job, feed the dog, wash the dishes. Priorities are things we don't have to do, but probably should -- vacuuming up the dog hair, talking to our spouse/kid/mother, etc. Desires are things we love and want to do, like social obligations, coffee with friends. And Nonessentials are things we may or may not want to do, and the world won't end if we don't do them. Like Facebook and watching Netflix.

So, revelation. On day 1 of doing this. Aside from getting The Boy out the door to school (which is Essential), my entire morning today was taken up with Priority items -- running, dog walking, showering, vacuuming up dog hair. By the time I sat down to write, which I consider Essential, as it's my JOB, it was 11:45. I *could* argue that dog walking is essential -- and running, too, for that matter because it makes a massive difference to my mental and physical health -- but is it really? If I were reporting to work in an office, would 11:45 be an acceptable time to show up? Um, probably not.

So why is it acceptable when I'm working for myself, making my own hours? Add to that an inadvertent software update (Essential, but I didn't mean to click to start it when I did) and going to see The Boy play football/soccer for his school team (Priority. They won in a sudden death penalty shoot out. It was crazy intense.), my hours spent on my actual job today are about...3. And that's generous.

Again, would this be acceptable if I were working for someone else in an office? Definitely not. Would it be acceptable if I were the boss and my employee was only giving me 3 good hours/day? I'm lenient, but not that lenient. Part of my motivation for writing full-time is flexibility, but managing my time well within that flexibility needs some serious work.

I'm going to continue to track my time for the next week, at least, to see if I can identify a pattern. I suspect it won't be that different from what I've noted today, which means I need to work on making those writing hours count or making more writing hours in the day. Or maybe even both?

How would your day look if you were to break it down the same way? And where does your writing fall on the scale from Essential to Nonessential in your daily life? Writing it all down is an interesting exercise, especially if you struggle with productivity, because the reason becomes glaringly clear. And proves that the struggle, although real, is sometimes mostly with ourselves.

Monday, November 13, 2017

INTERVIEW: Karissa Laurel (author of the Stormbourne Chronicles)

Hi everyone! Mary here, and I today, I’m interviewing Karissa Laurel. She’s the author of the 
A post by Mary Fan
Stormbourne Chronicles, a YA steampunk fantasy trilogy about Evelyn “Evie” Stormbourne, a princess with powers over thunder who’s forced to go on the run after dark forces take over her kingdom. The first book, Heir of Thunder, was released last fall from Evolved Publishing. The sequel, Quest of Thunder, is releasing on December 4. I’ve read both (I got an advance copy of Quest of Thunder), and they’re fantastic! Adventures across a fantasyland inspired by 19th century Europe, magic powers and steampunk wonders… all narrated by an amazing protagonist who grows from damsel-in-distress to kickass heroine over the course of the books.

Karissa, welcome to Across the Board! What inspired you to write the Stormbourne Chronicles?

Hi Mary. Thanks for having me. So, the Stormbourne Chronicles were inspired by a song. When Coldplay's “Viva la Vida” came out years ago, I loved it right away. It gave me instant ideas about a character who once had a kingdom, but lost it. I asked myself: Who is this character and what could have happened to make her loose her kingdom? And what is she doing about it, now? Those questions eventually evolved into Heir of Thunder.

Evie is a fantastic protagonist who gets to develop significantly over the course of her journey. What inspired her character?

It was almost always my intent, from the start, to write a coming-of-age story. The goal was to create a young woman who has the capacity to be strong and independent, but she would have to grow and change a lot to get there. I think the teenage years are all about leaving behind childish things and discovering the kind of person you want to be as an adult, and that's one of the main themes throughout the trilogy and in Evie's character development.

The Stormbourne Chronicles takes the reader on a vast international journey along with Evie. How did you tackle the world-building?

Sort of like the multiverse theory, I've always imagined Evie's world is one that started out the same as ours, but somewhere along the way, reality branched off into a new dimension--one allowing for Magic. So, her world has many similarities to ours, including languages, technology, and geographical locations. I debated whether to make up languages or use ones that existed in our world. Ultimately, I decided that, at the point where Evie's world would have branched off from ours, that many of the same languages already existed. Over time, place names might have evolved as they often do in the real world (Is it St. Petersburg or Leningrad? Is it Istanbul or Constantinople?) or they'd be different based on where you come from (Is it Deutschland or Germany? Japan or Nippon?) So, what would the map of a one-off world evolve into? Something different, yes, but not that much different.

Let’s talk about boys. What can you tell us about Evie’s love interest, Gideon? How does he contrast the other boy in her life, Jackie? Were either inspired by the guys in your life?

Gideon and Jackie were not inspired by any guys in my real life, although, when I look back on my
dating history, it appears I tended to lean toward guys who embodied a pretty standard idea of masculinity. They've been soldiers or blue-collar workers and outdoors-men who like hunting and fishing and such. Maybe that was because my dad was a "man's man": A Vietnam vet, a police officer, and a backpacker who retired into the mountains of Virginia to get closer to nature. Gideon is definitely that kind of guy. But he's also a bit secretive and mysterious and he hates personal questions. Jackie, on the other hand, is a bit more cultured. He's got money, and he's careful about the way he dresses. His manners are elegant and refined. He's charming and chatty. He's almost too charming, if you know what I mean. Gideon needed a foil, and Jackie is his opposite in many ways. But to be clear, this story does not have a love triangle. It doesn't take Evie long to figure out which guy has her best interests at heart.

Steampunk is an interesting category, in that it’s more of an aesthetic than a true genre. You can have steampunk fantasies, steampunk sci-fi, steampunk mystery… What does steampunk mean to you, and how did you tackle incorporating it into the Stormbourne Chronicles?

To me, steampunk is what happens when magic and technology combine. Evie's world is just starting to explore those possibilities, so in the first book, the steampunk element is more like seasoning rather than the meat in the story--it hovers in the periphery with elements like the Fantazike's airships. However, that element increases throughout the series and becomes more prominent by the end of the trilogy. For example, book 2 includes some alchemy (magic combined with chemistry), which I tend to think goes hand-in-hand with steampunk, and there's also a mechanical circus. Why did I choose to include the steampunk? Mainly because I think the steampunk aesthetic just looks really, really cool. I also wanted to do something other than "medieval" which tends to be the standard default in epic fantasy stories.

What was it like narrating the story from the point of view of a teenager?

I often have a hard time remembering how old I am, and maybe I still have some teen living inside me. I also have a teen in my household, too, so I have a lot of reference points to work with. One thing that helped was that Evie is young, but not contemporary so I could put aside worrying about things like current fashion or fads and focus on things that are universal with teens (and with all people), such as friendship, love, a need for independence, and discovering one's passions and purpose in life.

You’re also the author of the Norse Chronicles, an urban fantasy trilogy. How is it different writing young adult versus grown-up fiction?

To be fair, the main character in the Norse Chronicles, Solina, is barely an adult herself. She's still on that path of self-discovery that most YA characters are travelling. She's lived a sheltered, naive life similar to Evie's. The biggest difference is that Evie is usually surrounded by other young people while Solina has to try to hold her own among a group of ancient demi-gods. In truth, the more I try to find differences between Evie and Solina, the more I realize they're a lot alike.

What’s your writing process like? Does it differ depending on which project you’re working on?

You and I have teased each other lots of times about our panting versus outlining differences. I tend to be a pantser. I don't like knowing too much before going into a story because I like the wonder of discovering the plots and characters as I work. However, I think this tends to make me a slower writer because often I hit walls where I have to stop and figure out what happens next. Yet, I still prefer to work that way. Too much fore-planning means risking that I'll lose interest in a project. I also write a lot of short stories and the process isn't much different for that. Generally, I start a story with a big idea-- a "What if?" question. I also like to have idea about what the main conflict will be, who the main character is, and I'll probably try to figure out the ending, but I don't try to hard to plot much more than that before I begin.

What’s it like working with Evolved Publishing?

My first book series (the Norse Chronicles) was published by a full-service small press, which means I gave them the book and they did the rest. Evolved Publishing is a slightly different model in that the publisher requires a little more involvement, investment, and input from it's authors. We work more as a collective than a standard full-service press. Even thought he business model differs, it's a professional publisher with a really strong support team. I've been able to grow and learn from other EP authors who've been doing this a lot longer than me and are great about sharing experience and advice.

What was your favorite scene to write in the Stormbourne Chronicles? What was the most challenging part?

I wrote the first Stormbourne book a long time ago, relatively speaking, before I wrote my adult urban fantasy series. I think it was easier then because I didn't know what I was doing. I just charged ahead, not worrying about rules or style or marketability. The second book, Quest of Thunder, I wrote last year, and it was much harder because I was a lot more self aware as a writer. I think it's a better book because of it, but I was more critical and careful, writing with less free-wheeling abandon, if that makes any sense. As far as a favorite scene goes,I knew book 2 was going to have a circus with some mechanical animals. I thought they would be background, world-building wallpaper, mostly. Then my cover artist came up with the cover design that prominently featured a big, mechanical lion, and I knew it would have to become a more integral character. So, I don't necessarily have a favorite scene, but anytime Sher-sah (the mechanical lion) shows up in the book, you know I was having fun writing him. He's my favorite part of Quest of Thunder.

Anything else you’d like to tell us, either about yourself or about the Stormbourne Chronicles?

I'm working on Book 3 right now, called Crown of Thunder. It's scheduled to come out next year some time, probably late in 2018. That book will conclude the series and hopefully see Evie living happily ever after because, to be honest, those are the kinds of stories I like to write. Will she be queen or won't she: that will be the question answered in Book 3.


Karissa lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky. Some of her favorite things are coffee, chocolate, and super heroes. She can quote Princess Bride verbatim. She loves to read and has a sweet tooth for fantasy, sci-fi, and anything in between. Sometimes her husband convinces her to put down the books and take the motorcycles out for a spin. When it snows, you'll find her on the slopes.

Find her online:


The Lord of Thunder has passed, leaving daughter Evelyn Stormbourne to overcome her kingdom’s greatest enemies, but first she must embrace her dominion over the sky.

The Lord of Thunder’s sudden death leaves his daughter, Evelyn Stormbourne, unprepared to rule Inselgrau in his place. Weeks before Evie’s ascension to the throne, revolutionaries attack and destroy her home. She conceals her identity and escapes under the protection of her father’s young horse master, Gideon Faust. Together they flee Inselgrau and set sail for the Continent, but they’re separated when a brutal storm washes Evie overboard.

In her efforts to reunite with her protector and reach allies on the Continent, Evie befriends a band of nomads who roam the world in airships fueled by lightning. She also confronts a cabal of dark Magicians plotting to use her powers to create a new divine being, and she clashes with an ancient family who insists her birthright belongs to them.

If she’s to prevail and defeat her enemies, Evie must claim her heritage, embrace her dominion over the sky, and define what it means to be Heir of Thunder.
Find it on Amazon


Evie must restore her divine abilities, or be enslaved by her enemy’s dark Magic.

Evelyn Stormbourne has overcome revolutionaries, pirates, devious relatives, and powerful Magicians to claim her birthright as Lady of Thunder, but before she can embrace her dominion over the skies, her powers falter, leaving her impotent and adrift. Under the protection of her stalwart companion, Gideon Faust, Evie hides in anonymity and searches for news of the Fantazikes who had once promised to help her master her divine abilities.

Without her capacity to control the storms, Evie wonders how she’ll ever reclaim her throne—a legacy she’s not convinced she deserves. But when a fearsome nemesis from her past reemerges, she embarks on desperate quest to find the Fantazikes and restore her powers. If she fails, her enemy’s dark Magic will enslave her, forcing her to destroy everything and everyone she loves.
Preorder on Amazon

Thursday, November 9, 2017

What's Your Writing Intensity Level?

A Post By Jonathan

I know it's NaNoWriMo and a lot of writing motivation has been flung around the internet lately, but I wanted to add a little more with a video I found on YouTube recently. It definitely gave me a shot in the arm, and helped me write for the first time in a while. Especially the "running after your destiny" part. I challenge you not to write a sentence or two after that, or get out of your desk chair and run a mile or two...

But after I was done writing, and thought about it for a little while, I wondered if something this intense would be needed for every writer out there, or is it just for those of us with low self esteem and bad writing habits...

I guess depending on where you are in your writing journey determines the intensity with which you approach the craft. I've been out of practice for a while, so it seems to take an act of God to get me to sit down and write a hundred words. But when I was pre-kid, pre-move, pre-new-job and writing on a weekly basis, I was banging out 1,000 words a night Monday through Thursday, then taking the weekends off unless I found some spare time. At that point in time, I don't remember feeling like I needed to go all Rocky Balboa on my writing sessions to get them started/finished. It was habit, so I didn't need a mountain of motivation. Now it seems like the longer I'm away from writing, the further my destiny is running away from me.

So now my writing intensity level is at an 11 on a one to ten scale (or a zero when I'm not writing at all...). But I imagine a lot of seasoned writers out there like to keep the intensity level around a 5 to 7. You don't want to turn it down too low because you're probably not getting much done, but you also don't want to be too high and start hanging on every sentence as make or break. And maybe you NaNoites out there are somewhere between 8 and 10? Gotta get those words in!

I'm hoping to bring the word count up and the intensity level down at some point, but it comes and goes I guess. So what is your writing intensity level set at lately, dear reader? Would love to hear from you in the comments.

Google Search: Which town has?....

I swear I spend the majority of my life Googling how old celebrities are just so I can either feel really good about myself or wallow in abject misery that I am biologically old enough to be Shawn Mendes's mother. So, yeah. Depends on the day. Anyway, I thought it would be funsies (I should never use that word again) to ask this question:

Being a Jersey girl myself, I am curious about that first question. The reason I no longer live in the Garden State is because the taxes are so freaking high. Apparently, according to this article on, the answer to this question is: Camden. Camden is one of the poorest, and most violent, cities in the country. And requires a thoughtful examination about poverty and institutional racism that I am not qualified to address. 

Next up, the smallest population: According to Roadside America, the answer is Buford, Wyoming. Population: 1.

I'm skipping a few of these and moving onto 'temple of the tooth' because I have no idea what the hell that is. Apparently, it's a Buddhist Temple in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Thanks, Wikipedia.

Which town has the area code 01392? Why that's Exeter and its surrounding areas in the United Kingdom. How charming. I love the UK. And its surrounding areas.

Keeping with the Great in Great Britain, which town has the most pubs? Why I'm quoting this delightful response from Rob Lines of Streatham on this Guardian website:  

"Two hundred years ago Gosport, the victualling town for Portsmouth ships of the line, was also the drinking and whoring base for visiting sailors. It boasted 123 pubs in one square mile."

And lastly, which town has the most Greggs? This raises two questions -- is Gregg a surname or a consonant-y first name? Nope, wait. I'm being a dumbass American. Greggs is a some kind of British Panera. Well, alright then. Apparently, the answer is Newcastle (which I say in a Mrs. Bennet Pride and Prejudice voice).

Well, this blog post certainly turned into a woman about the globe type thing, didn't it? I think my next book will be titled, 'Whoring Base for Visiting Sailors.' Really catchy.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Back Jacket Hack-Job #23 - The 5th Wave

And we’re back for another installment of our Back Jacket Hack-Job! Today I bring you . . .

Aliens invade the earth with a five-wave plan. Humanity realizes its best chance of survival lies in the hands of children. Why? Because the aliens made one fatal mistake when they took away the thing that mattered most to children across the world.

Wave 1 destroyed technology. Fear ensues.

Wave 2 took out most of the coastal populations. With no access to technology, the Midwest survivors are left with nothing but the sight of endless cornfields. Fear turns to irritation.

Wave 3 killed a large part of the survivors with a strange virus. Kids learned that real zombies weren’t as cool as what they saw on TV. Irritation turned to anger.

Wave 4 separated the kids from the adults. They were reminded of how the Others took away their homes. Their families. Their PHONES. Anger turned to hatred.

Wave 5 is a mystery. But one thing is clear—it’s do or die time, mother-f*ckers.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Horror Christmas!

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey kids!  It's the happ-happ-iest time of the year!  Horror Christmas (aka Halloween) is right around the corner!

Maybe I'm a little late to the party.  Maybe I'm a day late and a dollar short.  But you know what?  There's still a solid 26 hours of Halloween season joy remaining before November 1 hits and the horror love slams to a halt like a Pinto skidding into a lamppost and I'm going to make the best of it, dammit!

Now, it wouldn't be much of a Halloween season if I didn't tell you where you could purchase some fine horror literature, would it?  Well, if you swing by my Amazon store between now and November 1, you can pick up three of my novels for only $0.99 and the most recent (SLASHVIVOR!) for only $1.99!

But that's just an appetizer.  An amuse-bouche, if you will.  Everyone knows the real way to spend Halloween is not with your nose stuck in a book, but with your eyes stuck to a screen!  So I'm going to list a couple of classic movies you can spend tomorrow night watching.  But here's the catch: I know some of our readers (and even our fellow bloggers) are self-described horror wimps.  So how about if I list a few movies for marshmallows to enjoy, and a few for the gorehounds to enjoy, and a few for  (yes, I'm going to square this circle) both to enjoy together!  Without further ado, here we go.

For the marshmallow:

"The Nightmare Before Christmas"

A perennial favorite for both Halloween and Christmas, Tim Burton's stop-motion classic is spooky, creepy, and weird, but won't scare anyone who's much over ten.  With fun music, genuinely touching characters, and a staggeringly beautiful look, this is a decisively Halloween-themed movie anyone can enjoy

For the gorehound:

"Dead Alive"

"I kick ass...for the Lord!"

Why not take this Halloween to revisit the undisputed all-time champion of gore, "Dead Alive" aka "Braindead?"  While I won't disparage gore for it's own sake, this is also a ridiculously funny romp and a weirdly deep descent into an Oedipal nightmare straight out of Freud's most deranged fever dream.

For both:

"Night of the Living Dead"

Can't decide to board Mom's terror train or Dad's creepy caboose?  Why not split the difference with a classic of yesteryear?  There's genuine gore enough to please the maddest among us here in the progenitor of the zombie genre, and yet it was a film that kids watched almost fifty years ago.  The horror lover can get a genuine fright and the horror neophyte can enjoy a true classic of cinema.

For the marshmallow:

"It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!"

I re-watched (and live-tweeted) this Halloween classic when it was on ABC last week, as it has been for the last 51 (!) years.  I was ready to rip into some Baby Boomber nostalgia, but you know what?  Even a demented cynic such as myself can't find a whole lot of fault.  It's just so damned earnest.  Every moment of it rings so excruciatingly true, from Lucy busting Charlie Brown's balls by drawing on the back of his pumpkin-shaped head to that same miserable cuss wrapping her brother in a blanket and dragging him in out of the cold.  Sure, it's Boomer-era shlock.  So find yourself unable to not enjoy it with your parents.

For the gorehound:

"Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn"

"Army of Darkness" is funnier.  "Evil Dead" is scarier.  But for my money, the best of the series is the middle entry, sandwiched right in between those two points.  Geysers of blood, giggling game heads, and a veritable cornucopia of demons all recommend this one for the horror lover.  (For bonus points, check out the "Ash vs. Evil Dead" show on Starz, a more than worthy successor to all these movies.)

For both:

"The Rocky Horror Picture Show"

And here we come to the end, dear readers, and why not round it out with the grand-daddy (mommy?) of all Halloween viewing, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."  See it at home in comfort or see it in the theater for the whole ridiculous viewing experience.  It's wacky, hilarious, gory, and when it comes to the true meaning of Halloween - putting your weirdest foot forward - it still takes the cake.


What about you, dear readers?  What is some of your favorite Halloween viewing?  Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Writing in a Hostile Environment

By Cheryl Oreglia

Writing in a hostile environment is difficult at best and on occasion impossible. I'm talking about the unnecessary eye rolling, impatient pacing in front of my work space, audible sighing, words muttered under the breath, even enticements to the local wine bar (seems unusually cruel) while I attempt to polish up a new piece. It's maddening. I blog, what an atrocity, sue me. I consider it my work but that is not how everyone views my writing practices, especially since I don't make a dime, and I spend an astronomical amount of time honing my craft. I don't care one iota. 

The words quick blog is an oxymoron, although my posts may appear spontaneous, they are created with blood, sweat, and at times tears. I usually start with a "really, really, shitty first draft," as Anne Lamont would say, and then I work it over as if pulling toffee, until it is smooth, elastic, full bodied, imbued with interesting flavors. It has to have texture, bulk, leave the reader with something to chew on. That's the objective, not always the result. It's purely subjective and I'm leery of unwarranted opinions so let's not go there.

Simply put, writing takes an enormous about of time, and there is just no getting around it. I have been known to linger over a single word for an hour. I'm not a fanatic, but the right word is like pulling a hair-ball out of a clogged drain, it creates flow. When it's right it's right, when it's not, it's a hair-ball. You do not want to leave your reader with a gag reflex. It's counter productive.

Once a general idea begins to sprout, I pull together a few body paragraphs, and as if a miracle a summary starts to surface, then I go for the fill. I'll research some aspect of the writing, add a quote from a recent article I've come across (it is uncanny how often the perfect article, quotes, current event - finds me just in the nick of time), and if I bump into an applicable Seinfeld clip, that's just topping on the cake.

By the way, I have a real job too, one that deposits a pay check into my account every two weeks, one that lacks flexibility when it comes to my time. I teach high school, I absolutely love this work, but it is work. When I write it's like I'm suspended in some kind of time warp, I'll look up from my screen, and three hours have passed. I'm not kidding. I totally lose track of time, I don't feel a single pain in my body (at my age it's more like a collection), and the room around me kind of fades away. It's like taking a mini vacation from life.

Speaking of vacations, Jonathan wrote a great piece on writing while on the road, I can not possibly add to that masterpiece except for one notation, writing in a bathing suit, sipping a pina colada, poolside, adds a whole new dimension to my skill set. I'm not sure it's a good thing. I can't seem to put down the taco that some half naked woman delivered right to my lounge chair, the screaming children are distracting (miss my grand-babies), and the ocean to my right is more mesmerizing than the words trickling down to the keyboard. I'm in Hawaii this week, can you feel my pain? I didn't think so, but I'm scheduled for today, and carrying my computer all over the resort has not resulted in a post. See, you have to open it, sit down, and actually write. 

My sister says she has a hard time constructing a text message? Which reminds me of a passage in Anne Lamott's book Bird By Bird (I read it every year). In responding to a students inquiry about how you actually write Lamott says, "You turn on the computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind -- a scene, a locale, a character, whatever -- and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.” So poolside writing is not a total bust but the rocking part is concerning a few of the guests. Hostile decides to take a dip in the ocean. 

The other malady is the wicked "perfectionism, the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people," warns Lamott. It is the Felix to Oscar in writing (if you are too young to remember the Odd Couple, see clip below). It is why many aspiring authors quit, pull their hair out, and drink. Oh shit. Lamott says, "I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.” 

So there you have it. Hostile is surfing the waves, I have free reign of my workspace/lounge chair, half naked serving staff, and my own tunes blaring from pandora. I ordered another pina colada, found a worthy Odd Couple clip, and I'm calling it a wrap.  I'm not going to worry about misspellings, poor word choices, or run on sentences. I'm going to die anyway. Cheers...

Where, how, and when do you enjoy writing? 

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

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Kings


Did you know 88% of Stephen King’s short stories take place in October?  If that’s not the actual number, it sure feels like it is.  I was born in October, so maybe that’s why Stephen King’s short stories have been my go-to rereading material for most of my life.  But there seem to be certain stories that I return to more often than others, and many of those belong to a few categories of subgenre, such as Lovecraftian dimensions and “Quiet Little Town” stories.  Here are thirty one of my favorites, in no special order, one for each day of this spooooOOOOoooky month.

“The Mist” – The movie did not capture the delightfully cheesy kitsch feel of this story of horrifying prehistoric hell beasts terrorizing people stuck in a small town grocery store.  Replacing the written story’s vaguely hopeful ending with a shockingly sad one did not help.  Read this, you’ll love it.

 “Graduation Afternoon” – Even though this tale of a working class girl attending her rich boyfriend’s high school graduation party isn’t a dream story, it feels like one when the freaky thing hits at the very end. 

 “The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates” – A woman’s recently deceased husband gives her a ring a ling as she’s planning his funeral.  Poignant and tugging at the everlasting love heart string.  See also “Sorry Right Number” for another of King’s magical phone call stories, or “Willa” for a beautiful sad tale of undying love with a dusty haunted western feel.

“Mute” – A man’s darkest revenge fantasy come true leaving his hands clean and his life intact, but his soul in questionable shape?  Yes, please.
 “The Man in the Black Suit” – When I was a gothy late ‘90s teen, Satan was having a pop culture moment.  I’ve always deeply relished a good campy Satan (Al Pacino in “The Devil’s Advocate” is my favorite devil, my favorite Pacino, and probably the real reason I went to law school).  The devil in “The Man in the Black Suit” is a little bit campy but a lot scary.  It’s also has the intrinsically scary setting of remote farmland surrounded by woods in the early 1900s.  Anything could be happening out there.  See also “A Fair Extension” if you want to make a deal with a less scary devil. 

 “That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is In French” – As someone who once lived in the area in Southwest Florida where this story is set, it delights me to no end that they used it as the location for some sort of repetitive purgatory/Hell.  Because it is!  It’s like a Hannah Barbara cartoon’s repeating background, but with strip malls and subdivisions.  Stephen King owns a home in the Sarasota area I believe, so he’s got a few stories and at least one novel set in Southwest Florida.  See also “The Gingerbread Girl,” a pretty awesome Florida-set tale of womanly triumph.

“1408” – Being set in a fancy yet completely unsettling hotel starts this one off "shiningly" already, hardy har har.  Combines Lovecraftian dimensional creep horrors with a bad drug trip vibe.  Even with a sprinkling of Samuel L. Jackson, the John Cusack movie did not do this story justice.  One of my top ten.

“The Jaunt” – Creepy sci-fi future story that’s really a warning not to shield your kids from disturbing truths lest they find out themselves.

 “The Langoliers” – Time travel mixed with dimensional sci fi stuff, all set in a stale ass airport.  And the movie had Balki Bartokomous!  I had a weird sexually tense dream about hiding under the bed from the two actors from “Perfect Strangers” when I was a very small child.  SpooooOOOOOoooky!

 “A Good Marriage” – This one is soooo good, inspired by the real BTK serial killer, wondering what it would be like if the wife didn’t know and then all of a sudden she did.  I think if I ever really get into nonfiction, it’ll either be serial killer stuff or stuff about cults.  Or maybe both?  Wait, why hasn’t Stephen King done any cult stories?  If he has, I can’t remember them.

“Jerusalem’s Lot” – I didn’t reread this one for a long time because the description of the undead things in the basement kept me up for several nights in a row in college.  Origin story of the novel “Salem’s Lot,” and also another one with Lovecraftian roots, though less about dimensions and more about undead monster things.

“Night Surf” – Bleak nihilistic teenage apocalypse and chill hang out on the beach, with immolation.

 “I Am The Doorway” – This one’s in Florida, too!  Astronaut brought something back, unexpectedly.  Could have been an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”  This is a very good thing.  See also “The Word Processor of the Gods,” which also could have been introduced by Rod Serling if word processors had existed in the early sixties.

“The Ledge” – Stephen King makes much suspense of the minute and painful struggles of the human body in trying to escape certain doom.  This is an early one based on a little bet about edging around a sky scraper on a tiny ledge.  See also “Quitters, Inc.,” a tale about quitting smoking (King clearly struggled with this himself, it comes up constantly) that takes place in an office which I always imagined is in the same skyscraper as “The Ledge.”

“The Lawnmower Man” – This one is a bizarre little pagan gem from the 1970s and bears no resemblance whatsoever to the bad early computer animation movie with the same title, which has a 36% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and which apparently was originally supposed to be based on this story but which was so far off that Stephen King sued to have his name removed and won. “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut” is a great story with a weird pagan feel too, from before Google Maps!

 “Chattery Teeth” -  I like the Nevada desert isolation in this piece, and the wacky premise.

“Crouch End” – The best of the Lovecraft-inspired bunch, for sure.  A slow unsettling build to boiling horrors and madness.  See also the runner up, “N.” which put a hellish dimensional spin on OCD.

“Children of the Corn” – Wait, I guess he did do a story about a cult!  His original “quiet little town” story.  The mind does wander to potential unseen horrors on long road trips through completely foreign territory, doesn’t it?   I think the movie was totally different, like weird blonde laser eyed alien clone babies not murderous kiddies for Corn Christ, right?  See also “Rainy Season” for a town with an unbelievable problem that comes one night every seven years (but they were warned!) and “You Know They Got A Hell of a Band,” which, oh my gosh, top ten favorite for sure.  Getting lost in the creepy Oregon woods and finding what looks to be a Rockwellian vision of a small town utopia but which actually turns out to be some sort of hell?  That was basically my marriage, only I never got to meet zombie Janis Joplin.  Zing!

 “The Raft” – Scary because you can feel how hopeless it is for these horny college kids trapped on this raft at the behest of a formless monster.

“The Breathing Method” – Of all of the novellas in “Different Seasons,” this is the only one that didn’t get turned into a well-known movie.  He’s got a couple of stories that get started in this slightly weird story telling old fashioned gentlemen’s club somewhere in New York City.  This one gives the most background to that club and has a woman giving birth on Christmas in an unusual way.

“Survivor Type” – You won’t believe what this drug smuggling castaway surgeon does to survive.  I don’t even want to hint at it, lest I put my foot in my mouth.  Aw, nuts.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Serious Question About Series

Disclaimer: I'm going to talk real numbers here but am admittedly bad at math. I'm rounding the numbers a little bit to make it easier, but I'll try not to screw it up nonetheless.

A BRIT COMPLICATED, the third book in my Castle Calder rom com series came out last week. I use the term "series" loosely -- the books are connected by setting (which is the castle, but I bet you guessed that). There are cameo appearances by characters from other books, but each book can be read as a standalone. All three books are centered around different romance tropes and have a mix of British and American characters. They were all super fun to write, and not only for all of the British slang I learned. "Bugger me with a fish fork" is still my favorite and yes, my British heroine in book 2 (A BRIT UNEXPECTED) says it exactly how it's intended. :)

So yay for fun and inappropriate slang, but at the end of the day writing is my job. I'm in week two of my newest release, comparing Amazon numbers and, puts my plans for this series into serious question.

Book 1 -- A BRIT ON THE SIDE -- released August 2016
Month 1 sales = 2000
Month 2 sales = 1555
Month 3 sales = 1200 
Total first 3 months = 4755

I was thrilled with this! I am thrilled with this. A BRIT ON THE SIDE exceeded all of my expectations. Bring on book 2!

Book 2 -- A BRIT UNEXPECTED -- released April 2017
Month 1 sales = 900
Month 2 sales = 200
Month 3 sales =  46
Total first 3 months = 1146

Umm... Okay? You don't have to be good at math to realize that's more than a 50% attrition rate. Bring on book 3? Even if I was having second thoughts, I'd already contracted the cover and written it, so, sure. Bring on book 3.

Book 3 -- A BRIT COMPLICATED -- released October 2017
All I basically have is one week's sales data for this one so far. In a week, I've sold about 370 books on Amazon, which is GREAT. But it also included my $0.99 release price, which accounts for about 300 of those sales. Since raising the price to $2.99, I'm still gaining sales, but I'm not sure I'm going to hit even 900 sales by the end of the month. I might hit 500, which isn't quite 50% attrition, but not far off.

Benefit -- I have been seeing sell-through to the rest of the series -- which is a super side effect of having a series. BUT, is it enough to warrant continuing the series? And how do you know when to say when? I have plans for a free novelette next month, which I'm giving away to my reader group and newsletter subscribers, and I'm 100% committed to this. But after that? Does it make sense to continue as planned, with more books in this series that feels like it's waning, even though reviews are good?

I went to a panel at RWA this past summer where some big-name authors said that most series don't take off until about book 5. Then I heard another big-name author say, just today, that connecting books as series on the Zon is a bad idea because readers feel like they can't commit to series and prefer standalones. I also read something in a romance author group I belong to that contemporary romance is dead.

And that's when I decided to stop reading. Because I'm a romance reader, as well as a romance writer, and I can tell you, I'm eager for my next read. Looking for it right now, in fact. Which the business side of my head evaluates and says, "Yes, there is room in the genre for more of my books." I just need to decide what those books will be -- whether they'll continue my current series? Start a new one? Write a few standalones in 2018 and compare? At the minute, it could go in any direction, but I'm super curious what your thoughts are about series, both as a reader and a writer? Do you read series, even if they're interconnected standalones? What about as a writer? Has your experience been a similar rate of attrition or have you found a way to make your series a succession of stand outs? I'm so curious about this and really look forward to your input.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Interview with a YA author: Kara McDowell

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Welcome Kara McDowell to the blog! She's a YA author whose debut novel, JUST FOR CLICKS, will be published by Amberjack Publishing in 2019. She's a mom of three, and a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fan (everyone should be a CEG fan, just sayin'). Kara also has stellar advice for writers in both the drafting and submission trenches, so listen up.

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 1. First, and foremost, welcome! Can you tell us a little about your debut novel?
Thank you! JUST FOR CLICKS is about a teen social media darling who begins to question the cost of internet fame—especially when she unearths the secret her mother has spent the last seventeen years hiding. I was inspired by popular mommy bloggers who are raising a generation of children on the internet, and the question of what will happen when those children become teenagers. While writing, I was also able to draw on my own experience working as a mommy blogger after my first son was born.
2. Also, congrats on your sale to Amberjack Publishing. That's incredible. As any author on submission knows, the process can be grueling and demoralizing (no joke). Any advice to authors currently in the submission slog?
I’m the worst person to be giving advice on this subject, because I found submission to be a special kind of hell. It was agonizing to be so close and so far from achieving my dream at the same time. That said, I have two pieces of advice, and they are conflicting. First, write something else. Focusing on a new project stopped me from pinning all of my hope on one book. My second piece of advice is to be kind to yourself. Some days, writing will feel impossible. That’s okay. It’s okay to feel sad, to wallow, to worry. You will still be a writer if you take a few days (or more) off. It’s also helpful if you seek out friends who have been in your shoes. People don’t tend to talk about submission publicly (a separate, frustrating topic), but you will need to talk, to vent, to cry, and probably to eat ice cream.
3. You're a mom of three. How do you write and stay sane at the same time? 
Ha! I’m not sure I do? But honestly, writing is what keeps me sane when I’m surrounded by tiny people all day. Because my kids are so young, I’ve long since accepted the fact that I won’t get huge chunks of time and silence to sit and write. Because of that, I’ve gotten good at working with what I have, whether that’s nap time, while the kids are watching cartoons, or simply writing a sentence or two with my right hand while I stir dinner with my left. I’ve found it’s helpful if I leave my laptop open in a place I can see it. That simple act keeps my brain engaged in the story while I’m doing other mundane, necessary tasks. At the end of the day, I’ve often added hundreds of words to my count simply by squeezing in whatever I can.
4. Who are your favorite YA authors? Is there a published YA book that you wish you wrote?
I would not be the writer I am today without Stephanie Perkins. I’ve always dreamed of being an author, but I didn’t realize I wanted to write contemporary, romantic young adult novels until I read ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS. That book is like a giant hug. I could read it one hundred times and never get tired of it. I also love Jenny Han, Morgan Matson, and Nicole Yoon. I will read anything they write.
5. Are you a TV binge watcher? Or binge reader? And if so, what are you bingeing right now?
Yes! On both accounts! Admittedly, I binge watch more than I binge read these days, because my husband and I can do that together at the end of the day when the kids are asleep. We recently watched the first two seasons of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix and we both loved it. It’s hilarious, and smart, and feminist. Plus, it’s a musical! What more could you ask for?
6. Is there a line from your work-in-progress that you'd like to share? Either something that you adore, or something hysterical out of context.
My WIP is another standalone contemporary. I’ll share a snippet from the opening chapter. I love this section because everything that happens in this book stems from my character’s belief about this one subject.
“I have this theory that every person is a boat person. Or, they have the potential to be. Some people will deny this fact, will insist that they prefer the supposed safety that comes with having two feet on dry ground. These are usually the same people who spent one muggy summer morning digging through a Styrofoam box of worms in their grandpa’s fishing boat. They haven’t done the thing properly, is what I’m saying. They have no idea what they’re talking about.”
7. Do you have any advice for newbie writers? Those who are simply trying to get words on the page?

Quantity over quality. Truly. Anything you write now can be fixed later. Finishing your first novel is such an empowering experience. And if you’ve done it once, you can do it again. At least, that’s what I tell myself when I’m discouraged about a terrible first draft.

8. What take-out food would pair well with your novel? 

Amberjack Publishing’s homepage says they “have a knack for finding binge-worthy books.” With that thought in mind, I’d pair my book with chips and salsa. If you eat one, it’s hard to stop! Plus, my main character Claire, loves Mexican food. She’d approve.

Thanks, Kara, for stopping by! 

Follow Kara on social media, and look for JUST FOR CLICKS in 2019.
Twitter: @karajmcdowell
Instagram: karajmcdowellbooks

Monday, October 9, 2017

Google Search: From Head Transplants to Book Souls

The Beckort household had a head lice scare at the end of the summer. I suppose I should count my lucky stars that we made it 11 years without the kid coming in contact with the little buggers, but still. LICE {yuck} Well, I quickly went into full combat mode, and my first stop was Google. I had to know what I was looking for and what to do about it. As I typed in ‘head’ I was met with the following suggestions by the Google bots:

Even in my DEFCON 1 mode, I had to pause when I saw ‘head transplant’. I mean, what? As intrigued as I was, I didn’t have time to investigate further. My understanding is that lice multiply by the millisecond.

Later, once the house and all family and pet members were fully deloused, I did a legit search on head transplant. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was surprised to learn that there’s a doctor who is actually trying to complete the first human head transplant. Technically it’s more like a body transplant, but head transplant must sound cooler. Apparently, this has already been attempted several times with animals. I’ll never forgive Google for putting me on this path after seeing the pictures of the two-headed rats... Why? Just, why?

I considered doing a flash fiction for this post, but with our Stephen Kozeniewski as the resident horror writer on the blog, I knew I could never produce something worthy of the topic. So then I started thinking about the ethics of a head transplant. It’s not surprising that there are people who think doing this is immoral. That it would be like separating the soul from the body or even attempting a mixing of souls. I believe we all have souls, but I never actually thought about where the soul resides. Is it only in the brain? Is it the heart? Is it the entire body? Or is the soul outside the body, controlling us like avatars?

Well, that’s all a bit heavy for this post. So like any good rabbit hole, my mind wandered to the soul of books. I’d qualify the book’s soul as the essential part of the story. That one part that would render the book useless if it didn’t exist or if were changed in some way. Is it in the characters? The plot? The setting? A combination of all?

I’m going to select my favorite multiple choice answer: All of the Above.

I’ve read some books where the character(s) carried the entire book. One that comes to mind is YOU by Caroline Kepnes. You could pick Joe up and plop him down in another setting or plot and he’d be just as intriguing. He makes the story.

When I think about the soul of a book residing in the plot, most murder mysteries and thrillers come to mind. The whole point of the book is to figure out who-done-it. An annoying protagonist can be easily overlooked if the plot offers up some good unexpected twists and turns. One of my personal favorites is SHUTTER ISLAND by Dennis Lehane. That book gripped me from the start and didn’t let go for a while after I had finished reading.

I’m not usually a reader who gets swept away by the setting. That’s just not where I like to get lost. However, once in a while a book takes me by surprise and I want to immerse myself in its world. My favorite has to be THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern. The characters were great and I loved the storyline, but it was the setting that had me enthralled. I found myself wishing the Night Circus would show up in my town in real life. And I’m not even a circus fan!

Then there are some books that combine all three in a way that would make it impossible for one to exist without the other. I’m currently listening to the CHIEF INSPECTOR ARMAND GAMACHE Series by Louise Penny. These murder mysteries mostly happen in the small fictional Canadian village of Three Pines. Each of the three areas—plot, characters, setting—are so intricately woven together I’m convinced none could exist without the others.

All this got me thinking about the souls of my books. I’ve often thought through the ‘reason’ for each of my books (as in what I want the reader to get out of reading it) but I haven’t really thought about it in terms of where the soul lies. I suppose each book does and will have an individual soul, which will reside wherever that particular book needs it to be. But I also think I have a universal book soul that stretches across everything I write—emotional connection. I want to write things that make people feel something, anything—from happiness to hopefulness to anger to everything else in-between. For me, the worst possible reaction I could get from a reader is indifference. I believe my natural writing style evokes emotions, so my challenge comes in successfully attaching the characters, the plot, and the setting to the emotional conduit I’ve created.

What about you? If you’re a writer, where does the soul for your book(s) lie? If you’re a reader, which of the book soul locations mentioned above do you enjoy most?

~ Carrie

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Across the Board is 3 Years Old!

A Post By Jonathan

I can't believe it, can you? Across the Board is three years old! That's like 30 years in blog years. We make three look good, don't we...

Our first post was on October 9th, 2014 and we've been bringing our readers quality content every Monday and Thursday (just about) ever since.

I for one want to thank all my fellow bloggers for making Across the Board such a huge success:
                                                                                Carrie Beckfort
                                                                                     Mary Fan
                                                                            Kimberly G. Giarratano
                                                                                 Abigail Isaacoff
                                                                           Stephen Kozeniewski
                                                                                Cheryl Oreglia
                                                                                 Brenda St. John
Sometimes blogging once a month (that's what it works out to with the eight of us) isn't easy for some of us, but we keep on doing it "literally" (see how I did that?) year in and year out. We just reached 22,000 twitter followers the other day, so we know people like us. And we like you too, people...

I would be remiss if I didn't mention our past Boarders. We "literally" (see how I... oh never mind) wouldn't be here without you. See the list below and follow them and their work vigorously.


Lastly, I'd like to thank my mom for birthing me, my wife for marrying me and my fellow Boarders for sticking with me. Here's to another wonderful three years-- and beyond!

Monday, October 2, 2017

True Horror

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

It's hard to write a blogpost about writing on a day like today.  And what can I even say about the tragedy in Las Vegas that Carrie didn't already say better here?

This is horror.  True horror.  The horror we live with every day.  The horror that you try to shove down and away and cover up with Netflix binges and Scrabble and trips to the Olive Garden.  Death could come for you suddenly, so suddenly you don't even see it coming.  You could just turn around and be shot in the back of a head at a movie theater, an elementary school, a country-and-western concert.

Not long ago I dreamt I was standing in a marble colonnade and the nuclear bombs started falling.  I realized how death could come at any instant, for absolutely no reason, and I wouldn't even get the chance to clean up the loose ends of my life, say, fill the gas tank or finish this blog post.  I woke up with a deep, mortifying, existential dread.  

You always think you're going to die when you're old and gray, after a long, satisfying life.  Or, barring that, maybe you'll get a cancer diagnosis and a year to live in which to settle all your accounts and say all your goodbyes.  If you go to war there's the cold comfort of knowing that if you die, you died for something.

But there's something especially horrible about sudden, meaningless death.  It's what madmen and terrorists prey upon.  It feeds them and satiates them.  The clown from IT is more metaphor than supernatural menace, after all.

I write horror.  I try to imagine terrible things.  I'm often asked why.  Well, there are a million reasons, but amongst them is that facing death is a special kind of exhilarating, and a special kind of catharsis, especially when you know you'll be safe.  It's like riding a rollercoaster.  

Real death and destruction, though, it's never fun.  I find no matter how hard I try to inoculate myself to horror and dismemberment through movies and books, the real thing still always has the power to depress and wound me.  No matter how many times I may watch "Re-Animator" for fun, seeing someone decapitated on the side of the road will still shock and sicken.  I guess it's the difference between having the safety bar down on the rollercoaster and driving drunk without a seatbelt.  

Not long ago a great horror writer gave the rest of us a challenge, and a warning.  He said that it was our task to entertain people in these miserable times, but also to comment upon what's happening.  Great art comes out of challenging eras, but it can also change them - think about UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, THE JUNGLE, or ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES.

I'm not a kook - at least I think I'm not - but I worry sometimes, more often as the clock ticks onward, that we're reaching the end of man's time on this planet, whatever that means.  I doubt a seven-headed dragon with seven diadems on each of its heads will descend upon us, but as hurricanes swallow whole states and islands, as nuclear war seems closer than it has since the '60s, as lunatics and terrorists blow up and shoot up every place we feel safe, it certainly seems like a wave of darkness is washing over us.

Sure, it was a refrain as old as the hills when the ancient Greeks predicted the end of days, but though we came through the ignorance and the slaughter of past centuries, never before has the threat to our society seemed so existential.  That's technology's fault.  Perhaps technology can fix it.  Perhaps not.  It's the job of the science fiction writer to imagine that future, and the job of the horror writer to help us confront our fears.  We do what we can, I suppose.  And it's all of our jobs to love a little bit, and bring a little bit of light into that ever encroaching wave of darkness.  Maybe seven billion little flames can drive out the night, even if a few powerful, small-minded jackasses seem determined to usher it in.
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