Thursday, September 21, 2017

The 'Fountain and Fairfax' of youth: I love The Afghan Whigs

I feel like I need to preface this post with a caveat about how the world is a dumpster fire and I feel so guilty about my life being pretty decent when Puerto Rico is barely standing, Mexico City is a rubble, and we're fighting for healthcare again. But, maybe, that's exactly why I am writing this post. Because we're not meant to absorb all these sorrows at once.

Throw money at causes. Call your senators. Try to live decently. And value small gifts.


I was so fortunate to see my favorite band LIVE last Saturday night in Brooklyn. Little history lesson: When I was 17 years old, I fell in love with The Afghan Whigs. It was all just a fluke really. In 1994, I saw the leader singer Greg Dulli perform with The Backbeat Band (a mishmash of alterna-gods who performed Beatles covers for the Backbeat movie) on MTV, and I was instantly smitten. First, he looked like no other rock star at the time. He had short, dark hair and was wearing a black dress shirt. No grunge. No long hair. No mosh pit. And when he sang, I paid attention. I couldn't take my eyes off him.

In 1996, my Green Day phase long over, I bought The Afghan Whigs's Black Love from the BMG catalog. You remember those? My mom, who thought she was just getting a good deal, is the reason I had such a bitchin music collection as a teenager.  

Black Love was dark and gritty and sexy. It felt adult. No quippy tunes about jacking off or weed. Just raw, seedy emotion. And I loved it.

The last time I saw The Afghan Whigs was 1999. I was a sophomore in college and they were playing at a small, rundown club five minutes from my house. The band dissolved in 2001. Greg Dulli fronted a new endeavor (The Twilight Singers -- also amazing), and I saw them a few times. But then I got married, had kids, and I could never make another show. I was always nursing a baby, and driving to the city on a Wednesday night was never feasible, not without disrupting my entire family so I could see my band. Until last Saturday.

I bought tickets, grabbed my best friend, and hauled ass to Brooklyn. And it was the most incredible night of my life.

My husband, for all his good qualities, is not a fan of their music. He doesn't understand the community, the intense feeling of singing your voice raw with other Gen X-ers, dancing as if you're demonically possessed. Being in a crowd with fans who are jumping, dying over the music. Who are screaming because we heard the first few chords of "Fountain and Fairfax." No one can make me feel 17 again like The Afghan Whigs. It's the greatest gift. Yeah, yeah I have children whom I adore, but they don't make me feel young, that's for sure.

Who's your most favorite band? When did you fall in love with them?

I'm a dork. 

Greg Dulli does not permit flash photography so the photo is crappy. But there he is!

I love this man.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Adapting to Chaos

A post by Mary Fan
Every writer and aspiring writer has, at some point or another, seen some inspiring article/meme about the humble origins of successful authors—tallying up the rejections received for famous books, describing how these authors had to slum it before being showered with riches, etc. They’re meant to encourage: “Hey, even [famous author] struggled, but look how awesome things turned out! You can do it too!” Lots of successful authors add to this sea of inspo by humblebragging about their journeys, “10 years ago, I was poor and depressed. Look at me now! I’m a New York Times bestseller with a movie deal! Yay me! If you work hard, you can be me too!”

While well-intentioned, these inspiration stories have… something of a dark side. Underneath them all, there’s an unspoken message: “If you’re good, you’ll get discovered.” And underneath that, there’s the flip side: “If you’re not getting discovered, you’re no good.” The latter thought is an insidious demon that crawls into your subconscious after reading story upon story of relentless authors who find success and wondering why, even when you’ve done everything they’ve done, you still haven’t reached their level of success/fame/whatever.

We like to believe that publishing is a meritocracy where talent is discovered and the cream rises to the top, but the fact is, any creative enterprise is bound to be highly subjective. Which means it’s also highly chaotic. Random. Who decides what’s good? Who decides what’s worthy?

While there’s certainly a baseline of work every writer needs to do – learning the basics of storytelling etc., whether through courses or by reading a lot – publishing is ultimately one giant game of chance. You can do everything right and still wind up with no deal. Last week, writer Anjali Enjeti wrote about her own publishing woes in The Atlantic (“Why I’m Still Trying to Get a Book Deal After 10 Years”). Now here was a writer who did it all – attended conferences, got an MFA, etc. And her talent was recognized – she twice landed agents, and her articles have been featured in prestigious publications. Yet no publisher would pick up her books.

Suffice it to say, her story is thoroughly depressing for most writers. Yet, I found it weirdly reassuring, since it said to me, “If your books aren’t selling, it’s not necessarily because they aren’t good.” It reminded me that being “good” and being “successful” are two different things (what is “successful” anyway?). And by the end of the article, Enjeti has made peace with herself, accepting the randomness and finding balance.

I suspect that her story is far, far more common than those of the J.K. Rowlingses. And it needs to be told more, and by more people. Even though it’s not fashionable to talk about one’s lack of success (particularly since it draws a spotlight to said lacking). But it demonstrates just how chaotic the publishing process is, how little relationship there is between merit and reward. Some people crank out their first novel in a few weeks just for the heck of it, then land a publishing deal right away and find themselves on bestseller lists. Others spend years and years on a novel, conscientiously crafting a thing of beauty, and yet it never sees the light of day. Two authors with similar books published at similar times can put in the same amount of marketing effort, yet one will go viral and the other will languish in obscurity. There is no fairness in any of it.

What can we do but adapt to the chaos? Accept the randomness of publishing as part of the deal we made with our muses when we decided to become writers. Know that apart from the writing of the book itself, almost nothing is in your control. Some people will find that discouraging. Personally, I find it comforting.

It's fun to fantasize about one day getting to humblebrag on social media about how "X years ago, I had all these rejections, but look at me now! I'm a fabulous bestseller!" But what if that day never comes? Does that mean you were never good enough to deserve what those other writers have? I don't think so. Randomness is a powerful force, after all. As for whether all that work was worth it... well, that depends on your own definition of worth.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Working With a Freelance Publicist

Authors who love doing marketing raise your hands? Anyone? Anyone??

I feel like a lot of my posts here at Across the Board are about marketing/publicity -- and about what NOT to do. But today I'm taking a slightly different turn and talking about outsourcing marketing/publicity. Yep, it's a thing. And while it may not be the answer to all of your prayers, it can help a lot. 

When I was preparing to launch The Castle Calder series, I decided to work with a publicist to help me maximize the exposure on the release of my new series. I got the marketing all wrong with the release of The Truth Series the first time around (hence a recent rebrand and relaunch, but that's another story altogether), but I didn't know how to do it right. So...I did what anyone else would do. I asked author friends for recommendations, reviewed websites and set up interviews with three different publicists.

(For the record, I ended up working with Linda Russell from Foreword PR (formerly Sassy, Savvy Fabulous) and she is, in fact, sassy, savvy AND fabulous. She specializes in new adult, contemporary and erotic romantic fiction and she's helped me a lot. So much that I've stuck with her through three releases and my rebranding.)

I see you over there shaking your head. You interviewed publicists? What on earth did you ask? Lots of things, the most important of which I'm going to list out here. Remember, you're hiring this person. You're going to pay them (we'll talk more about that in a minute). Pretend it's for something less personal You'd ask questions of the guy who's going to renovate your bathroom, right? When you're hiring a cover designer, you want to see samples of his/her work. Same with a publicist. Some "standard" questions I ask:

  1. How far in advance of release date do you prefer to start working with an author?
  2. Do you have a different monthly rate for release month vs. pre-/post-release? What is the difference in level of "service"? What is the minimum term you'll contract for?
  3. Can you give any data on how your efforts have worked in the past?
  4. Will you handle ARC sign up and distribution? How many ARCs will you try to give out before release? 
  5. What big blogs do you specifically target?
  6. Is any graphics/branding work included in the monthly fee? If not, is this something that can be arranged separately and at what cost?
  7. What is your preferred method of publicity? Facebook, newsletters, etc.
  8. How far in advance of release date do you need material from me for this to be most effective?
  9. Will I have access to the contacts and data related to my release?
  10. How do you prefer to be contacted and what should I expect from you in terms of level of contact? (If your publicist never checks email, but is on FB messenger like it's her job, you want to know that!)
I've seen people lament, "I hired a publicist, but this last book just tanked." There may be reasons for that (Hello, natural disasters and world politics) that have nothing to do with your publicist. Or it may be that your expectations aren't quite realistic. So, about that...
  1. You're going to have to work just as hard as your publicist to get the word out about your book. Working with a publicist is a team effort. She/he will guide you, but at the end of the day it's not a hall pass to escape marketing altogether.
  2. If you're not sure what to do that works, ask your publicist. She/he probably has tons of ideas about what you as an author can do to promote your release.
  3. The more prepared you are before you start working with a publicist, the better.
  4. It takes time to build an audience. Everyone wants to have that magic unicorn book that will hit a list and gain all the buzz, but most of us aren't magic unicorns.
  5. You're not your publicist's only client. Emailing ten times/day "just to check in" is distracting. Or annoying. Or probably both.
There ARE some horror stories out there and big, waving red flags. This list is by no means comprehensive, but I'd think twice (or six times) about:
  1. Companies that ask you for a large lump-sum deposit upfront. Paying for a month in advance is expected. Paying for a year? Not so much.
  2. Companies who don't have experience promoting in your genre. Linda, for example, is amazing, but if you write horror, she's probably not the right fit for you.
  3. Companies that contact you post-release after seeing your book mentioned somewhere. Their interest may be legitimate and it may be a great fit, but poaching a client from someone else doesn't feel like the right way to do business. If you DO go this route, at least make sure to do the above due diligence.
  4. Companies who won't/can't give you a written plan with measurable outcomes tied to your goals. If you don't have it in writing, you have no recourse. And if you don't have measurable outcomes (e.g., distribute 50 ARCs, increase Facebook author page likes by x%) that you're both working towards, you have no recourse if things go badly.
Is your head spinning yet? One of the reasons I've made each list progressively shorter is because it's a lot to take in. Working with a publicist is a big decision and an investment, so it's best approached like the revolving sushi counter -- with eyes open and chopsticks out so no one sticks any unagi on your plate when you're not looking.

Has anyone here worked with a publicist? Additional recommendations for any of the above or things we haven't covered here? I'd love to hear them all in the comments!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Interview with Author Kathleen Grissom

I’m so excited to have had the opportunity to talk with Kathleen Grissom, author of THE KITCHEN HOUSE and GLORY OVER EVERYTHING: BEYOND THE KITCHEN HOUSE. I loved both books, and Kathleen immediately came to mind when I was thinking who I should approach for my first Across the Board interview. We had such a wonderful and inspiring talk. Her books are just as amazing as she is, so you should check them out if you haven’t already!

You can also You can follow Kathleen on the following sites:

CB: One part of your story thats always resonated with me is how youve said that you never intended to write a book, but it was as though you were called to do so. I know from experience it can be difficult to take that kind of leap of faith. What would you say to someone who may be experiencing the same kind of calling but is afraid to listen?

KG: If people don’t listen to the calling, I believe it’s because they don’t think that they’re capable, or that they’re not qualified to write it, or there’s some sort of fear attached to it. And I think it’s just so important to walk through fear. So I would say sit down and do it. Put that self-editing voice to the back and sit down and write what’s coming to you. And be grateful for it. Just do it. You know—the old Nike expression.

CB: I agree that fear is at the root of it. Let’s say someone reading this takes your advice and walks through their fear. If you could give them one piece of advice of what not to do, what would it be?

KG: Don’t let your ego run wild—get it out of the way. The ego is the one sitting there saying you have to make yourself important, you have to look important, and all of that ‘you should.’ And it’s not about that. It’s about a gift. One that you’ve followed through on and one that you want to know if people are interested in helping you with. And if they are that’s good and if they aren’t that’s good too. It’s not personal. With THE KITCHEN HOUSE, I had to go present myself to bookstores and I was terrified. I was taking it personally and I was thinking, “Oh my God, they’re going to think I’m a fool.” All that thinking about myself—the ego was wrapped up in it.

Also, I’ve seen authors turn people off by talking about how great their book is. People want to know how you came to write the book. Stay real. Be honest. Let them know that you’re afraid. Let them know that you don’t know if you’re qualified or if you’re good enough. Let them know the real you, the vulnerable part of you. They don’t want to see the ego up there and the pretty pictures we post of our lives on social media. That turns people off.

CB: That’s great advice. Have you come across any unexpected challenges in your life as a published author?

KG: One of the things that surprised me was how hard it is to be in the public eye. I have a whole new appreciation for people who don’t necessarily seek it out but are thrown into it. It can be overwhelming. That’s something I hadn’t expected. Sometimes after I’ve been speaking to a large group someone might come up and tell me how I’ve personally affected them through my writing. Sometimes they might cry or hug me and I realize that this is so much bigger than me. It allows me to again appreciate that this was a gift.

CB: In some of your talks I’ve watched online, you’ve commented that if you ever tried to change the story you were seeing in your head the writing would stop. I love that and know exactly what you mean. Was there a time when you had to defend a part of your vision during the writing process to keep it from changing, for example in editing?

KG: I never had that happen. Both my agent and my publisher were sensitive to this process and the way it works. I thought I was unique, but what I discovered was that many writers write this way—where the story comes to you and you don’t necessarily have control over what the characters decide to do. I certainly don’t. But I have wanted to make changes. As an example, in THE KITCHEN HOUSE I wanted the captain to tell his wife who Belle was. And when I tried to change the story line, the characters all just dissipated and I was left with no story. So I learned early on that I was meant to write it as it came—it was a gift and I was not meant to insert my opinion.

CB: Does anyone ever look at you strangely when you say that? My writing experience is similar, and I worry people will look at me like Im nuts if I tell them that. 
KG: You know, I thought that’s how people would look at me. When I was first told I was going to have to do book clubs, I didn’t know what I would talk about. My publisher told me to talk about how I wrote the book. I told her I couldn’t do that because they would think I was crazy. But she said, “Well, that’s what they’re going to want to know.” I wondered how I was going to do this. Then one day I picked up Alice Walker’s book THE COLOR PURPLE. For no reason. I wasn’t going to read it again—I just picked it up. I was paging through it and came to the very last page where she had thanked the souls for coming through and then she signed it “A.W.—author and medium.” And I thought then that if she can write that in her book then I’m not alone. And that was my first real indication that I needed to be completely honest about this and if people thought I was crazy then so be it.

Once I opened up, I was shocked by how many people then started to tell me about experiences they had. I’m often asked if I think I’m psychic and I say no because that’s a whole different phenomenon to me. But this is something I don’t pretend to understand. I just know that I’m very, very lucky to have been given this gift. But how people interpret me is none of my business. If I make it my business, then it’s the ego again. That ego always wants to get involved.

CB: Just hearing you talk about your experience creates an emotional reaction. I’ve found the same to be true in your writing. Both novels convey a strong emotional pull for the reader, which leads me to believe you were personally immersed in those emotions as you were writing. Was it difficult for you to let go of those feelings after you finished writing?

KG: You know it’s interesting—the way this comes to me is an interesting phenomenon because when I leave my writing room, it stays in there. While I’m writing it, I’m often pacing and crying. I’m feeling strong emotions. There’s this expression, I don’t remember where it came from, but it’s 'if it doesn’t come from the heart it won’t reach the heart.' And I believe that. So I let myself feel whatever my characters are feeling and I try to write that down. But after I’m finished for the day, that’s it. The feelings don’t follow me around, and when I finish the book we’re done. The characters don’t come back to let me know how they’re doing. That’s the gift. It’s presented in a certain package, and once that package is wrapped and sent out into the world it is no longer mine.

CB: You mentioned your writing room—can you tell me more about that?

KG: I’m lucky enough to have a writing room over my garage. At the beginning, when I first started writing THE KITCHEN HOUSE, I was writing in a corner of my dining room. I think it’s important to have a separate space. For me, I think it’s where the souls gather. So now I have my writing room, and in there I have a little alter. Right now I’m writing about a Native American woman Crow Mary, so I have a picture of Crow Mary and her daughter standing in front of a tipi. I also have a picture of my mother who’s passed away. Next to that, I have a little statue of Mary, a candle and a mixture of sage, cedar, and some other sacred herbs that the Crow used. Before I write, I smudge the room, and I ask for God’s direction. Then I sit down and write.

CB: I like the writing ritual you described.  I can see where that would help get you centered and get you into what you’re trying to achieve with your writing. I believe having things we can connect with is so powerful. Many readers often connect with specific quotes in books. I don’t tend to be one of those readers for some reason, but I did experience that connection with GLORY OVER EVERYTHING. The quote is from Jamie: “ could I blame her for an inability to love the part of me that I, too, loathed?” That really resonated with me on a personal level. Is there a quote from a book that has had a strong impact on you?

KG: Oh, that’s such a good question in that I don’t know that I’ve ever really given it much thought. There was this book, THE MADNESS OF A SEDUCED WOMAN by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, but I don’t remember the quote. However, there was some insight in that book about how a woman was treating her husband, and it had to do with fear and anger. She explained how fear was motivating the anger. And that was so powerful for me because that helped me to understand anger. That stayed with me for so many years and is still with me today. I think that when you are reading and something resonates it helps you understand something that’s deeply personal to you.

CB: Is there anything you can tell us about Crow Mary, the book that you’re working on now?

KG: Yes, I can tell you that I’m deeply committed. Crow Mary’s story is very challenging, in that it took place between 1850 to around 1900, which is a time when Natives were put onto reservations. There is so much research that I am doing, and it is ongoing, even as she speaks. She has so much to say—so much to tell us about her amazing life. You can imagine I’m burning a lot of that smoke at my little alter!

CB: I’m excited to read it. I loved your first two, I really did. They were great. Well, I have two more questions for you. They’re probably the most difficult questions, and they’re from my 11-year-old daughter. She likes to participate in my writing life as much as possible. Her first question—What’s your favorite color?

KG: I think my favorite color is purple. I think so. I would never have said that before, but I think it’s purple. I don’t know why, but it is. What’s her favorite color?

CB: If you can call cheetah print a color, then that’s it. She’s all over anything cheetah print. But if we’re not counting that, then her favorite color is aqua. The other thing she wants to know is if you like ice cream.

KG: I do like ice cream, but ice cream doesn’t necessarily like me.

CB: Ah, see that’s why she wanted me to first ask you if you liked ice cream. I told her we could just ask your favorite flavor, but she pointed out you might not be able to have dairy. 

KG: Well, she was right. Now I want to know her favorite flavor of ice cream.

CB: Mint chocolate chip.
KG: Oh, that’s my daughter’s favorite. And please tell your daughter thank you for those wonderful questions.

CB: I will—she was very excited about this interview. As was I. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

KG: It was no problem. Thank you—I enjoyed our conversation.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Writing While Traveling

This is a post about writing while traveling. I had planned to start it off by talking abut how I can't write while traveling, but since I am actually traveling, and writing, I guess I can't really say that, can I? It's funny how deadlines can make people do crazy things.

I had also thought about providing some tips on how to write while on the road, but it turns out that there are a lot of articles out there, by smarter people than me, that give you some great ideas on how to do it (see below). So I guess the only thing I can add is my own personal experience.
Writing while traveling is hard. We writers are creatures of habit (at least I know I am) and typically need our environments to be familiar and free of distractions to be able to produce the magic that we do. Some people are better at it than others. I heard that JK Rowling, pictured above, wrote the majority of the Harry Potter books at her local coffee shop and finished the last one at a hotel in London. I could never do that. All that talking, the swish of the cappuccino machine. And the temperature is never right in the hotel room, not to mention the smell. I guess that's why she's JK Rowling.

Then there's the physical toll that traveling takes on the mind and body. Navigating new cities, sprinting through airports, just the stress of it all. By the time I hit the hotel, I want to collapse. Add in the fact that I have a two-year-old --and don't get many moments alone-- and the vegging out time is just too enticing to pass up.

I know this is something I need to work on. Authoring this blog post was a great first step! So how about you all? How well do you write out on the road? Can you tune out the noise, embrace the unfamiliar, and get those word counts in? How do you do it, or not? I want to hear from you (no matter where you are).

Monday, September 4, 2017

Back Jacket Hack-Job #22 - SLASHVIVOR!

Hey everybody!  Happy Labor Day!  Are you spending yours at the beach?  Perhaps you need a new beach read.  After that clever segue, let me introduce you to our latest Back Jacket Hack-Job: my very own SLASHVIVOR!

Of course, it's not just my own.  This novel was my first collaboration ever, and I worked on it with the incredibly talented author of THE BREADWINNER series, Stevie Kopas.  I think you're really going to enjoy how it turned out.

(Oh, by the way, if you think these BJHJs are fun, remember you can submit your own for possible inclusion on the blog.  Just reach out to me or one of the other bloggers.)

September 2017.  The Buddy System is ascendant.  The horror genre has grown stale and calcified through decades of nepotism and neglect.  True horror fans weep and light votives in their windows every night in hopes that someone will answer the call to revivify the genre.  Perhaps two someones...

Suddenly, with a single publication, the old order is turned upside-down.  With a heartbreaking work of pure artistic integrity two intrepid young visionaries - Stephen Kozeniewski and Stevie Kopas - buck the trend.  And is it just a coincidence that they have the same initials?

Their novel (perhaps better described as a political movement than a novel) blazes a revolutionary new path for an entire literary tradition.  The Buddy System is finally shattered once and for all, and horror finally has a future again...

Nah, I'm just fucking with you. It's THE HUNGER GAMES with '80s slashers, everybody! Wubba lubba dub dub!

The Real Back Jacket:

Try Not to Die

TV-XXX (Salty language, Sexual innuendo, Vomit-inducing ultraviolence)

TBA. Pirate transmission.

North America's number one reality television show returns with instant fan favorite Dawn Churchill, a plucky, hometown girl from the irradiated ruins of the former United States. Will she survive the night in the electrified, booby-trapped arena or will one of the serial killers pitted against her come out on top?

Returning slashers include evil animatronic Abraham Lincoln, eight-year-old “Daughter of the Devil” Abadonna, and all-time undefeated champion Denney the Killer Clown. (Plus surprise appearances by mad surgeon Doctor Feelbad, silver-tongued “Charming” Charlie Whitmore, and steel-clawed firebrand Razortooth.)

A night of chills, thrills, and endless buckets of blood. A must-see for Dawn’s innovative use of a shotgun alone. Fun for the whole family!

Host: Mark Winters
Producers: Marisol Martinez, Amy Green, Jacob Graves, Derron James (less)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Hope Chest

By Cheryl Oreglia

I started a "hope" chest in 1970 with two embroidered pillow cases (white, with pink flowers) and a couple of dish towels. The name of the chest is a little disconcerting because the whole idea is based on the contents "hopefully" being utilized when prince charming comes along, tosses you a ring, croaks out a few vows, and switches up your name. I believe we refer to this as wedded bliss.

I added to my "hope" through my adolescent years, quilting a baby blanket in high school, inheriting a yellow tea kettle from grandma, embroidering more dish towels, and an apron. Are you getting the picture? I also received a Betty Crocker Cookbook which made me feel very sophisticated but did nothing to improve my talent in the kitchen. I considered myself a talented cook with no experience. I still have this book, the margins are full of warnings, like the time I heavily salted some fish and added capers for good measure. It was not edible and we had to throw thirty dollars worth of Halibut down the drain. The intention was worthy.

I'm better with linens. In fact I tend to horde linens because maybe they'll be useful "someday." Sadly I've had those pillowcases in my possession for over forty years and never used them. (I did the same with a rose shaped candle that eventually melted in storage) Recently I've been binge cleaning, I'll just blame Mom, every drawer in her house was neatly organized, and somehow she made this seem normal. I think it's outrageous that my mother can make me feel guilty about my linen closet from the grave. She was my world and now I have her spirit. Glory be...

I'm beginning to understand the popularity of If you Give a Mouse a Cookiebecause for me it started with the window seat in the old master, and believe me when I say one thing leads to another. My goal was to de-rat Dante's room literally (we added on to our ranch style track home close to twenty years ago and somehow Dante ended up in the old master). I told him to get everything out and we would replace his old furniture with a sturdy bed frame, side table, and chairs from Mom's guest room. A day later I was shocked to find all his belongings neatly stacked in the garage on an old comforter. My children totally pick and choose when to follow my guidance. It's a crap shoot and I usually lose.

Somehow we were able to fit a bedroom set, two recliners, and a small desk into his room. Extraordinary. I drove straight to Bed, Bath, and Beyond (coupons  in hand) because as you know the right comforter sets the tone for the entire room. I found the perfect one. I'm sure Dante is thrilled, he didn't say, but I could tell. As we were moving in the new stuff he mentioned the storage under the window seat was full. I took a peak and found it crammed with Julie's stuff (my oldest daughter), dolls, scrapbooks, and a bunch of teenage paraphernalia she left behind ten years ago when she moved away to college. Why in the hell am I storing all this stuff? She is married and has a home of her own.

I sabotaged her recent visit and started pulling things out of the window seat. Just like Michael J. Fox, she was slammed back in time, squealing with delight over a slew of long forgotten dolls. She quickly faced-timed her sister who was at work and found it difficult to fully share in the experience. We piled all those treasured possessions in the back of Julie's van and I waved good-bye to the clutter, the memories, and a piece of my heart. Nic (her husband) was not pleased. 

It reminded me of the time I went to the doctor about a rash covering my lower leg. It was all scaly and unattractive, the doctor who was examining me said it was due to stress? What? Apparently four kids, husband, dog, fish, arrogant cat, and out of control linen closet was stressing me out. I could leave or drink wine. I took the road less traveled and that has made all the difference...

But I digress, back to the pillow cases. I decided Larry's office also needed a makeover. I'm on a roll, move along, or get squashed. He has these samples stored in piles of boxes all over the room. It's not the first thing I want people to see when they enter my house. His office is positioned opposite the front door. That was a mistake of epic proportions. What's done is done. I flutter around saying things like, "he just got a shipment or he's reorganizing, this will all be gone in a week," which is a total lie. They've been there for a year and I see no indication that he was planning to store this mess any time soon.

Clearly he needs two shelves in my linen closet and I throw myself into the work. This is when I stumbled upon the embroidered pillow cases. They have yellowed over time but it makes them look vintage. I washed them up and this inspires me to revamp the guest room. It is now appropriately called the mermaid room due to the adorable bedding I spent a fortune on and Amazon happily delivered to my doorstep. I pulled out the old sleigh bed and replaced it with two twin beds. The bedding is now all color coordinated, it is adorable if I say so myself, and those two little pillow cases blend in perfectly. Who knew? I'm so happy with all of my little projects I might tackle the kitchen next?

I noticed Larry is developing a rash. Strange? I feel refreshed and unencumbered. I think I even lost a few pounds. My daughters had memory boxes instead of hope chests. I might rethink this strategy. We  take our "hope" with us when we move out but for some reason the memory boxes get left behindI think there is a message embedded in all this? Don't you?

Barbara Kingsolver says, "the very least you can do in your life is to figure out what to hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope." It all started with two pillow cases. Forty years later I'm decorating a room for my granddaughters. Who could have ever imagined my greatest joys would be resting their heads on pillowcases I embroidered with girlish dreams and a lot of hope.

I'm Living in the Gap, drop in anytime, it gives me hope!

What are you hoping for? Leave a few notes in the comments (I almost said closet) give me something to do besides redecorating. My husband would be grateful. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Rumpus Room Reads #7 - "The Best Cartoons of 1957"

Ever since my membership at the gym ended this spring, it's been hard for me to find time to crack open my stack of Rumpus Room Reads.  I realized I was doing 95% of my leisure reading on the stationary bike.  I missed it so much that I was actually searching Craigslist for an old Exercycle to call my own.  Then when my kids went back to school this month, they came back with a brochure for programs at all the city rec centers.  I discovered that several of these rec centers have small free workout rooms, including the one closest to my house.  And when I went to check it out, sure enough - stationary bike!

For my first session back in the saddle, I brought along with me "The Best Cartoons of 1957."  This was probably my grandpa's book.  My grandpa Raymond Cowan was a prolific amateur cartoonist.  He had some published in "Stars and Stripes" magazine and sold one to the Philadelphia Inquirer along with some sports article he wrote.  It was titled "Punt or Bunt" and was published in "I don't know, I think the sixties," according to my irritated mom who is currently visiting me down here and is laying down watching "American Ripper" on her phone on my bed and whom you would think would be more enthused about answering my questions about her late father but I guess it's the finale?  I remember the article hanging framed in my grandparents' basement (the actual rumpus room!) but never actually reading it because ew, sports.  I wanted to encourage my oldest son Eli's interest in cartooning, so I brought this one back with me at some point in the past couple of years.

1957 -  Eisenhower was president.  Sputnik 1 and 2 were launched into orbit.  The last episode of "I Love Lucy" aired.  Gas cost less than a quarter a gallon.  A new house cost . . . okay we all know what's coming, I'm going to stop setting the stage and just show you the opening page:

Literally exactly what you thought it was going to be, isn't it?  Actually, you may not realize that sexist objectification of busty bimbos isn't the only repeated theme of "The Best Cartoons of 1957" present in this opening picture.  There was also a persistent psychiatry theme.  Psychiatry, bimbos, priests, doctors, nagging wives, department stores, and for some reason desert-set cartoons were all the rage that year.

Psychiatrist-approved child abuse!  Ladies who can't park!  Actually, look how freakin' sweet that cartoon car that was probably supposed to look generic is.  Hah cha cha!

Schools were beginning to desegregate thanks to 1954's Brown v. Board of Education, but it was still cool to make fun of Spanish speaking stereotypes!  The first one is pretty straightforward, but is the second one I guess like a Latin lover doctor type performing on his guitar before performing the old fashioned "massage cure" for "hysteria?"

Disgustingly sexist to imply women don't care about sports - oh wait (see paragraph two of this post).

Another weird trope - wives being caught rummaging for cash in their presumably sleeping husbands' recently worn pants.

July 12, 1957, Surgeon General Leroy E. Burney linked smoking to lung cancer.  Maybe these cartoons were from June then?  Smoking in the maternity ward!  Dad waiting outside with a full ash tray.  Who is that lady next to him?  She can't be the woman in labor, where's her belly?  Oh, that's right, big pointy missile boobs were kosher exposure in 1957, but publicly acknowledging pregnancy was positively pornographic (see aforementioned "I Love Lucy," where they never even used the "p" word when she was all knocked up).  Actually, I can't really tell if in that second picture the cigarettes are part of the joke or not.  Did they know nicotine was addictive yet or is this just really ironic?  The fact that not every executive in the picture is smoking tends to point towards irony.

Lastly, a hint of feminism courtesy of a fancy old dowager wearing the whole dead fox.  So progressive and modern, ma'am!  Your daughter or granddaughter will ride that sentiment of detached emotions on the quickly approaching tide of free love, but her daughter might be deeply depressed by the demise of the perceived cultural norm of monogamy and long for the simple Rockwellian days of yore.  Then she'll find this book in your basement and be like, "oh yeah, that's what it was like."

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

STARSWEPT release day!

Hey everyone! Mary here, and I'm taking over the blog today to announce the release of my new YA sci-fi romance, STARSWEPT! It's been quite a journey to get this book out, from the cover shoot to the book production (I had it printed in hardback and did the interior myself), but at last, the book is done and out in the world!

Here's a bit about it:

Some melodies reach across the stars. 
In 2157, the Adryil—an advanced race of telepathic humanoids—contacted Earth. A century later, 15-year-old violist Iris Lei considers herself lucky to attend Papilio, a prestigious performing arts school powered by their technology. Born penniless, Iris’s one shot at a better life is to attract an Adryil patron. But only the best get hired, and competition is fierce. 
A sudden encounter with an Adryil boy upends her world. Iris longs to learn about him and his faraway realm, but after the authorities arrest him for trespassing, the only evidence she has of his existence is the mysterious alien device he slipped to her.
When she starts hearing his voice in her head, she wonders if her world of backstabbing artists and pressure for perfection is driving her insane. Then, she discovers that her visions of him are real—by way of telepathy—and soon finds herself lost in the kind of impossible love she depicts in her music. 
But even as their bond deepens, Iris realizes that he’s hiding something from her—and it’s dangerous. Her quest for answers leads her past her sheltered world to a strange planet lightyears away, where she uncovers secrets about Earth’s alien allies that shatter everything she knows.
And here's what people are saying about it:
"...a sophisticated commentary on art, society, and how we perceive our own worth. The beginning of an elegant, spirited rebellion saga." - Kirkus Reviews 
"Starswept is a seductive and wholly satisfying book from start to finish--imaginative, well written, and touching on themes beyond romantic love." -Foreword Clarion Reviews 
"Fan spins a riveting tale against a backdrop of intergalactic human trafficking, brainwashing, corporate greed, freedom fighters, and the backstabbing culture of an exclusive performing arts academy." -Blue Ink Review (starred review)
And it's now available from Snowy Wings Publishing! Find it on AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo, and more.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

#TeaserTuesday: Branding Your Book Launch

Full disclaimer #1: I don't know if other genres do the whole #TeaserTuesday thing on social media like the romance genre does. I read mostly romance and write romance exclusively, so that's where my main focus lies.

Full disclaimer #2: My "method" isn't scientific or even proven. But it is what I see lots of successful romance authors doing and why re-invent the wheel?

Full disclaimer #3: Even if you don't embrace #TeaserTuesday, branding your book launch doesn't seem like a bad idea?

I have a new book coming out October 11. Yay! It's called A BRIT COMPLICATED and it's the third book in my rom com series. I have high hopes for this book because I have such a crush on the hero, you guys. (Weird, but you get it, right?) But, I'll be honest, I'm also way more nervous about this release than I was about book two. A lot of series tend to fizzle -- and/or intentionally end -- at book three, and I'm not ready to stop living in this rom com world.

So, I've been thinking about branding. A lot. My series covers are branded really well and the third one fits in perfectly with these two:

(I can't show you yet, but my cover designer is on it, trust me.) So, opportunity #1 for branding -- that box is checked.

Then there's the whole #TeaserTuesday thing, another opportunity to brand my book launch pre-release. I realized pretty quickly I'd done a crap job with my past two releases. As in the branding and consistency in my graphics was nonexistent. I started branding the teasers of my last release, A BRIT UNEXPECTED, but when they didn't gain traction, I switched it up. Now when I look at my teasers collectively, you wouldn't even realize they were for the same book.

Bleh, right? Where's the branding? Let me answer that one. Aside from the book title, is none.

Seven weeks out from my next launch, I know I need to do things differently. So, I started looking at some of the best sellers in my genre. And guess what they do really well? They brand their teasers on their website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram! They all match!

Look at Emma Chase's teasers for ROYALLY ENDOWED, her latest release:

You only need to glance at them to know they're for the same book. They all have the same white background, red writing and the book cover. 

Lauren Layne also does this well. Look at her teasers for READY TO RUN, her book that came out this week:

She does one better -- all of her teasers have one of two backgrounds. Only the blocked text changes! How cool -- and effective -- is that?

As I said in the beginning of this post, I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel, so I'm focusing on consistent branding with my upcoming launch. I spent last Friday night making picture teasers and ALL of them are similar to this:

Same fonts, same colors, same logo (which I'll switch to the book cover after my reveal). When I look in my Google Drive and see all the images side by side, I see consistency. I see the same look and feel, and the same font combination, which hopefully will help readers associate with my upcoming book. 

Will it make a difference in sales? That's still TBD. But it can't hurt, right? I'll report back post-release and let you know. In the meantime, I'd love to know more about your branding in the comments. Is this something you think a lot about? How do you brand your book launch?

Monday, August 21, 2017

The 10 Con Commandments (for Exhibiting Authors)

A post by Mary Fan
Many authors choose to exhibit their books at conventions and other events as a way of reading new readers. I've lost count of how many cons I've gone to over the past four years, and I've seen a lot of fellow exhibiting authors fail to meet a certain level of... basic etiquette. 

So here are 10 Con Commandments to follow:
  1. Thou shalt not interrupt a fellow author while they are pitching their book to a customer.
  2. Thou shalt socialize with fellow authors when the dealer's room/exhibit hall is dead. It gets boring in there.
  3. Thou shalt offer to watch a fellow author's table so they might run to the bathroom or obtain food.
  4. Thou shalt tell a fellow author if there's an issue with their display (slipping posters, tipping books, etc.).
  5.  Thou shalt not walk around to other authors' tables to sell them your book, for they are here to sell their books, and thou art wasting their time and costing them potential opportunities to pitch passing customers. Especially if thou dost not haveth thy own table.
  6. Thou shalt not block a fellow author's table, even if thou art there to chat with the author. Stand to the side.
  7. Thou shalt not badmouth any aspect of a fellow exhibiting author's book.
  8. Thou shalt share tips for setting up display; there is no sense in being weird about it when a fellow author asks where you got your cool poster or book rack.
  9. Thou shalt recommend thy fellow authors' works where possible. For instance, when thou hast finished a sale, direct the customer to also check out thy neighbor's works. Or if the customer stops and chats but is not interested in your genre, but may be interested in thy neighbor's genre.
  10. THOU SHALT NOT POACH ANOTHER AUTHOR'S CUSTOMER. When a potential customer stops by an author's table, thou shalt not engage this customer until that author is done pitching their book. Thou shalt not attempt to direct the customer's attention to thy own book instead. AUTHORS WHO POACH FROM FELLOW AUTHORS BURN IN A SPECIAL CIRCLE OF HELL.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


To quote Jon Lovett, "What a week." Oh, man. Listen, I am sure we are all feeling the same things right now -- rage, more rage, despair, and a huge sprinkling of WTF, but we'll get through this. The nation will overcome. Trump won't be prezzy forever. He may not even be president for the duration of the year. Any solace in that? Probably not.

Fight the good fight.

But sometimes we need a break from: protesting, calling our senators, tweeting, yelling at our Facebook friends. What better way to escape than with some quality television options. (I thought about blogging about heavy topics, but I don't have it in me right now.) Plus, television informs my art. No other medium inspires my storytelling quite like it.

Here are my recs.

In no particular order...

Animal Kingdom (Tuesday 9pm ET, TNT): Basic cable used to blow, but TNT has been showcasing excellent series and this show is exceptional. Produced by John Wells of ER and Shameless(!), and set in Southern California, Animal Kingdom is about the Codys, a crime family run by Smurf, the matriarch. She is ruthless, cunning, and she's taught her sons all she knows. It's gritty, clever, and compelling.
 Shetland (Netflix): Produced by BBC and based on books by Ann Cleeves, Shetland is a mystery series set in the Shetland Islands. The first season is one mystery split over two episodes. You could binge this satisfying show in a weekend, and then book a trip to the islands. It's atmospheric, chilling, and cleverly done. Make sure to watch with subtitles since the Scottish brogue is hard to decipher for American ears.

Master of None (Netflix): Aziz Ansari writes and produces this comedic gem where he plays Dev, an actor trying to find love and work in New York City. I feel like I overuse the word 'clever,' but this show is worthy of the adjective. It's funny, smart, and insightful. Season 1 is solid, Season 2 is gold.

You're the Worst (FX, Hulu, Season 4 premiers in Sept): There's something magical about two terribly selfish people finding love with each other. Jimmy is a struggling British writer whose one published novel has gotten little attention. He loves to drink, and loves to heckle. Gretchen is a self-absorbed publicist who can't maintain a relationship to save her life. And yet, you root for these two kids. Like Judd Apatow's Love, but way, way better. My favorite line from Jimmy: "Scrambled Eggs -- a dish so pedestrian, its name is the recipe."
 Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Netflix, CW): Do you like neurotic Jewish girls? And musicals? What about smart takes on feminism? And stereotypes being turned on their heads? What about all that stuff in one show? Why are you not watching CEG? Seriously, you're missing out! Rachel Bloom is my hero. She'll be yours too. If you're not sure, watch her videos on YouTube. My faves: JAP Battle Rap, I Give Good Parent, Sexy Getting Ready Song. You're welcome.

Dear White People (Netflix): This satirical series, based on the movie of the same name and written by Justin Simien, portrays students of color who go to a predominantly white college and deal with social injustices. It's highly stylized with a sharp narrative structure. Each episode is told through the point of view of a different character. Barry Jenkins directed one of the best and most heart-wrenching episodes of the season featuring Reggie and a campus party that goes wrong. The mood skips from joyous to harrowing in a blink. Race, sexuality, class -- it's all covered with humor and complexity. Everyone should be watching this. The show has been renewed for a second season.

Okay, that's it from me.

Recommend your favorites.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Stop Feeding the Hate

My family had a difficult time last week. We lost an amazing member of our family. My husband’s Uncle Ron was one of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever had the honor of knowing. Ending an already grief filled week with the horrific events that happened in Charlottesville resulted in my struggling to figure out what to write for today’s blog post.

So I decided I’d talk a bit about hate.

For the longest time, ‘hate’ was considered the ‘h-word’ in our house. Even now that our daughter is old enough to know most of the curse words we still don’t like to use the word ‘hate’ in our family. If she says she hates her pencil, we challenge her to express her frustration a different way. Then we talk about why we don’t want to say hate often. And why is that, you ask?

Because hate feeds hate.

You start feeling justified in hating one thing, then it becomes easier to hate something else. And then something else. And then someone else. And it builds. Hate feeding hate.

I remember the first time I felt true hatred toward a person. It scared me so much I sought help. I needed to talk to someone because I didn’t like how it made me feel. I’m grateful that back then we didn’t have Facebook or Twitter or other social media outlets. Who knows what I might have said or done in the heat of my hatred. I knew I had to find a way to let go of that hate because I could feel it festering, and it made me look at all the other aspects of my life through a negative filter.

But these days we do have a boat load of social media outlets to express our frustrations. Places where we read post after post and tweet after tweet, feeling our anger build higher and higher. The hatred is in our comments and tweets—from expressing our hatred for the white supremacists who acted this past weekend, to the terrorists who bomb innocent people, to the people who open fire in schools and gay nightclubs, and to those who gun down cops. Hatred is even in even our negative comments about our Presidents (I use the plural because while this presidency seems worse it’s not new). We are hurt and angry and confused—hatred is bubbling and it wants to be released. So we do. We find a target and let it fly.

I don’t think most of us sitting behind our computers associate expressing our feelings of frustration with perpetuating hate. We want people to hate things like what happened this past weekend in Charlottesville. If we don’t, then we have no hope left for humanity. So if we hate what happened, then we can hate those who did it—along with anyone else who we feel didn’t live up to our expectations of how they should have reacted to the situation. I get that. I feel that.

But the reality is when we share those feelings we are feeding the hate. We are keeping the hate alive. We are telling others that it’s okay for them to do the same.

Commenting that the white supremacists are pieces of shit who deserve to burn in hell will not make them change their beliefs. It will only feed their hate.

Our posts and tweets about how the President sucks for not saying the right thing at the right time will not stop racism. It only feeds the hate of others.

I’m not saying we can’t feel all these things. Again, if we don’t feel them then I worry about humanity. But I think it’s time to start questioning ourselves about the effect of our viral comments and actions.

Many of the people stopping by our blog today are probably in the writing community. We have platforms where people listen. We have a chance to help stop the spread of hate through thoughtful consideration of what we share. We’re writers—we should be able to express our feelings in a way that will encourage others to act in support and unity rather than to fuel hatred and division.

Let’s all do our best to stop before every post/comment/tweet/share/like and ask ourselves what side of the line it falls on. Does it have the potential to feed hate, or does it help close the divide and move us to unity?

I’m not saying we should stand by and accept what’s happening. But what we’ve been doing clearly isn’t working. It’s not getting better. As individuals, we can’t change the beliefs and behaviors of others, but we can start spreading light. We can start spreading love. Hopefully, if enough of us shift the dynamic then it will start to drive out the hate.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Guilty Pleasures (That Keep Me From Writing)

A Post By Jonathan

We all have them. We all want to get rid of them. But no matter how hard we try, they never seem to go away. They are our guilty pleasures-- and they're here to stay.

We writers are naturally guilty people anyway, so when we're working on a book or article it's tough to view any other activity (besides writing) as okay or something we can feel good about. I'm not talking about family commitments, the day job or other essentials of being a functioning adult. I'm talking about those conscious decisions we make, in our (for some rare) moments of free time, to spend (waste?) hours and hours doing something that is easy and requires no thinking and just makes us happy, OK?!

Anyway, here are my top three guilty pleasures and how they keep me from writing:

Oh come on, I know you watch it too. Sure, it's only an hour show on a Sunday night, but most of the episodes are so awesome that you just have to spend a couple days on the internet figuring out what you missed, and on twitter gleaning everyone's reaction, and watching the after show show episodes (and the after the after the show show episodes).

So maybe GoT is more than one guilty pleasure... But it pretty much takes up my whole Sunday night (but I've read the books, that's got to count for something, right?) My Sunday nights will get even more guilty with the arrival of this next one.

This may not resonate with a lot of my fellow writers, but I love, love, love NFL football. It's not just the games, but I play fantasy football as well (probably way too much of it). I've been meaning to quit my league(s) for about ten years now, but I keep lying to myself that it's the only way I stay in touch with my buddies. I mean, what kind of buddies can they be if we only commune online over a fake game with fake players for four months out of the year?

Well when you're a dude this can sometimes be the only way you stay in touch. It's so fun and so easy to waste time on, reading articles, stats, etc. Apparently fantasy football costs companies 13.4 billion dollars a year in lost revenue due to workers spending time on it. Sorry boss!

Oh Netflix. You dirty little time sucker. How you waste my life with your amazing original series and ease of viewing with your no commercials and enticing streaming of many seasons of the most obscure shows on the world wide web. I really loved that Manga black hole you dragged me down the other night. Even though that cartoon was entirely in Japanese I'm pretty sure I got the gist. Don't mess with the Japanese... If only writing were so easy. I could just sit on the couch with my potato chips and let the ideas wash out of me and flow from my fingers and onto my laptop. Ain't so and will never be so.

So here's a PSA for you kids. Don't be me. Don't do Game of Thrones or Fantasy Football or Netflix or Drugs. Just keep your nose to the grindstone and keep on the keepin' on. That said, feel free to celebrate with any of your guilty pleasures once you've put the time in or completed a project. They won't feel nearly so guilty if you actually deserve them.

Now if you ever want to talk about a series or know of another fantasy league I can get into, just leave a note at the bottom! And thanks for stopping by.

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