2017 in Review; 2018 Goals

Reflecting on 2017 and looking forward at 2018.

I have a problem with negativity. Not in my life, but in my mind. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. Fortunately,  these posts forcing me to acknowledge my accomplishments and give myself goals to be more mindful help me to exorcise a little bit of that pessimism. So thank you for being a reader and for any comment-love you’ve given. Know that I appreciate you.

So here is what my 2017 looked like and what I hope for 2018.

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2017 Achievements

  • I read 47 books of my goal of 30 (next post tallies my 2017 favorite reads), plus a TON of fanfic. Like, you have no idea. In retrospect, I might need a support group.
  • I submitted short stories 6 times and poetry 5 times, and I got 2 encouraging rejections back on one of my poems!
  • I finished my LGTBQ urban fantasy, The Space Between You and Me. 
  • Finished a 2nd draft of TSBY&M (I missed it, okay?!)
  • Between November 1st and December 31st I returned to my gothic WIP, Wrathmoor, that I had begun back in 2013 and stalled out on, and I wrote 8 chapters, totaling 52,780 new words written for the year (while listening to The Village soundtrack approximately 48 times).
  • I set up one bookshelf in my office, after a year and a half of living at my new place! And it’s pretty damn fine, just sayin’

  • I revamped and resurrected my Instagram to focus on one of my favorite things in the world: books!
  • Attended a Maggie Stiefvater signing that was just *kisses fingers*
  • I went on a writing retreat with my bestie
  • Alongside my husband, successfully grew two babies into mini-humans who talk, sing, throw tantrums, and celebrate the general chaos of life in high Dionysian fashion

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My goals for 2018:

  • Read 40 books. Follow me on Goodreads to see how I’m doing
  • Finish my office (maybe get on Annie Neugebauer’s The Decorative Writer, cause I’m a goal-oriented nerd like that)
  • Publish a poem, short story, or article. If I achieve this in 2018, I am allowing myself to buy a domain for my website, so simple domain name and no more ads! (Apologies for any assault upon your person those ads may have wrought)
  • Finish 3rd draft of The Space Between You and Me, polish a blurb and synopsis, and begin the submission process
  • Finish 1st draft of Wrathmoor
  • Brainstorm for what will be my 8th novel, The Rosen Tales; and Other Points of Contention, a contemporary/literary mystery with sparks of fantasy shot through. Comparable titles are Byatt’s Possession and The Madwoman Upstairs. Though this idea is probably entirely out of my depth, I am really looking forward to it.

Some less specific goals:

  • Write at least once a week.
  • Reflect often on the positive things in my life
  • Embrace, appreciate, and love my life, because it’s mine and no one else’s. This goes hand-in-hand with not comparing myself or my work or my life to others’.  Everyone’s got their own things, and yeah, it’s cool I can kill cacti (yeah, multiple) with almost no effort at all and play the opening of Malaguñea on guitar and nothing else. I’m gonna own it.
  • Take adventures. I often idly wish I could travel, but I’ve decided I am going to be a bit more spontaneous about this desire and just get out there and do stuff. Our little town has quite a few places for good close-to-home adventure. I’ll be sure to post pics or my super eloquent philosophications on them (Not).

So there are my goals for this big and wonderful year. I hope you are feeling refreshed by the new start as well. What are your resolutions, goals, or intentions for 2018? Inspire me in the comments.

6 Reads of Unexpected Horror

My sisters and I used to have an ongoing competition to see who could scare the other two the most by jumping out at them. I never begrudged them whenever they would win, because it meant that I had been scared. That game was how I got my original horror kicks.

Nowadays, I’m a little less spastic (not really, I keep the legacy alive with my husband and daughters) and far more cultured about my love of horror. I love horror in art, horror movies, and of course reading horror. While movies spoon feed it all to you, seeing and reading it involve a little more on the part of the viewer/reader. Art requires you to create a story in your head, consciously or subconsciously, that makes it horror to you. You fill in the blanks the artist left behind. Whereas when reading it, you’re given the story and you make up the rest with the images dancing in your brain. It depends so heavily on the writer’s skill, their understanding of fear and fearlessness in employing that understanding.

Below, you will find a little reading list of horror in surprising places. Because what better time is there to scare yourself as we approach Halloween? None, I say.

Horror in Middle Grade (MG) Fiction

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The Nest

It’s not that I think it isn’t possible for a children’s book to be scary. I started my avid reading career in Goosebumps, okay? But I became physically uncomfortable when reading this book, squirming throughout most of it. On the surface the premise might seem innocuous: A boy worries about his sick newborn brother and develops a complicated relationship with the wasps building the nest outside his bedroom window; I assure you, the novel is anything but. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. Extremely original and skin-crawlingly creepy.

Horror in Young Adult (YA) Fiction

My Best Friend’s Exorcism 

Yes, it’s shelved as horror.  But I have read plenty of horror novels I enjoyed but that didn’t scare me. You know what I mean? It’s hard to do.

In this post last Halloween, I recommended this book as quirky horror. And it was. But I have to be honest, there were a couple scenes in this 80s-centered novel that terrified me more than any Stephen King scenes.

Horror in YA fantasy

The Raven Boys

If you’ve been following me on Twitter or have read my most recent post, you know I’m obsessed with this series. On the real though? My body broke out in chills while reading The Raven Boys, and I had to stand up away from the book to pace while my husband politely listened to my hysterical string of curses. The horror was intense, and it’s not even marketed as horror! This author does atmosphere so well, so when she wants to scare the shit out of you, she’s pretty damn successful. Also, it doesn’t stop with this book. It’s strung throughout the series.

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Uprooted

A note about horror in YA and MG: I would never recommend these books to anyone looking for “lite horror”. When I say unexpected horror, that’s exactly what I mean. These novels scared me, and I didn’t expect it. When reading this novel, I experienced utter physical discomfort and psychological…interruption.

Do not let that cover fool you. This novel was stunning, but it has an inky darkness made all the blacker beside the life and love it struggles to consume.

 

Horror in Poetry

Satan Says 

There were some lines, shit, entire poems in this collection that grabbed me by the throat and still haven’t let go (I reread the first poem in this collection for this blog, and it was even scarier because I unlocked a little more of its meaning). I’ve also talked about Sharon Olds here. Poetry is a perfect way to inject your Halloween with atmosphere. This article on Lit Reactor has more fantastic suggestions.

Horror in the Classics

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Dracula

Now I knew going in that this novel is horror. I guess I just wasn’t expecting…well, horror. I feel like Hollywood has desensitized me with jump scares and Frankenstein creations of mismanaged lore and urban legend. But Dracula reminded me vampires can be scary, that they actually ARE monsters. Which makes sense, since Dracula is the OG of the vampire myhthos–as original as we’re getting in this post anyway, and most everything after are watered down reinterpretations.

Parts of this novel lured a visceral reaction from me. The narrative structure definitely makes it a work of psychological horror, which always sticks fast with me (House of Leaves, Bird Box, A Head Full of Ghosts).  The narrators’ heads, as they face down the monster, are our landscape and it’s just as rich as the physical landscape.

Have you read any of these novels, and were you at all surprised by the horror? Feel free to leave additional suggestions for books or poems that gave you unexpected chills.

I hope everyone has a safe, horror-filled Halloween, and at least one evening curled up with a blanket and a scary read in hand.

5 Unusual and Practical Ways To Break Writer’s Block

Below are 2 practical and 3 unusual ways to help overcome writer’s block. Most of these revolve around immersing yourself into your story, while some suggest taking a step back. Sometimes all you need is a seed of inspiration to have you busting through that writer’s block like the the Kool-Aid man. Ah, apologies. Only people who grew up in the 90s or earlier will get that reference.

Unusual

1. Draw your characters. Or draw the warehouse or stronghold or spy headquarters in your novel. Design the room your gentleman frequents, or even more intriguing, the room your lady finds respite in. Or just doodle something entirely irrelevant to your novel and let your mind wander.

If you don’t like to draw, Pinterest is a great way to stimulate visualization of your work. If you want to be a perfectionist about it, here’s a how-to to make a really professional, themed storyboard for your novel. Below is the board I am working on for my novel, The Seer. As you can see from my board, there are foreign landscapes and travel in the novel. Because The Seer takes place in faraway places and dated societies, Pinterest has aided me in going to those places and seeing those societies.

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Board for The Seer

Practical

2. Read. You’re probably rolling your eyes, writers. But truly, stop drafting/editing/revising and take some time to read. And read outside of your comfort zone at that. Here’s a WriterUnboxed post on the benefits of changing up your reading habits. I never read biographies, but I’ve picked one up on my favorite author, Charlotte Brontë (Harman, 2015), and have gotten loads of inspiration for my Gothic romance WIP, Wrathmoor. And from the smallest things too:

“Patrick Brontë’s [Charlotte’s father] quirks included…having a ‘volcanic’ temper that he sometimes relieved by firing his pistols out of the back door ‘in rapid succession’.”

Unusual

3. Make a mix tape/CD/youtube/spotify soundtrack for your novel. There are songs I will forever associate with certain novels of mine, because they belong, heart and soul, to those characters. For instance, Loreena McKennitt’s Beltane Fire Dance will forever be associated with the novel mentioned above, The Seer, and Apocalyptica’s Metallica covers are being hardily applied to Wrathmoor for the good ole’ Metallica rage expressed through a mid-nineteenth-century-approved instrument, the cello.

Practical

4. Take a day off. Or a week. Seriously. Either from work, or from your writing, or both. Sometimes all you need is a reboot to come back to your work with a fresh eye and mind.

Unusual

5. Make a map. So your novel has an epic scene in a Buddhist temple or maybe a battle on a mountain side? Or maybe it has a ton of townships, cities, and ports. Make a map. You can do this the old fashioned way. For my fantasy WIP, Blood of the Realm, I dyed watercolor paper with tea water to make an approximation of parchment. I may or may not have referred to Tolkien’s Middle Earth for inspiration.

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You can also take a more modern approach. If you own the PS3 game FarCry 3, you can use the map feature option for your novels! Writers, even if you’re not a gamer, this game–which would surely be on discount now–might be worth it solely for this feature. The game takes place on a tropical island amid the Indian and Pacific Oceans. There are countless combinations of different landscapes you can create and landmarks. You can even adjust the time of day and weather. It is one of the most unique and immersive ways, in my opinion, of diving into your own story.

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After finishing my 6th novel in January, I had been pretty stagnant, just working on rewrites to an older novel, and nary a poem or short story in sight. But since I took vacation from my job, unearthed the “soundtracks” for my novels, and reading a lot, including things outside my usual reading repertoire, something has opened inside of me, creatively.

Have you ever tried any of these block breakers? Any others to suggest?

6 Awesome Books I Read in 2016

I read approximately 30 books last year, and there were some gems among them, including a new favorite. I narrowed it down to six favorites for this post. I can only tell you what I loved about these books, sans spoilers,  and maybe convince one or two of you to pick up something that you wouldn’t usually turn to.

Sharp Objects (Mystery/Thriller)

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This book, this book right here. Wow. You want to be punched in the face and then falsely comforted by a book? Look, I didn’t think I did either, until I read this. All you have to do is go ‘look inside’ on amazon, and read the first couple pages. Flynn reads like a Sylvia Plath poem in a crime noir. Every sentence builds on the previous all the way to the sick-to-your-stomach merry-go-round ride at the end. Read Gone Girl or Dark Places? Great, now read this, and be happy you saved the best for last.

Camille Preaker, fresh out of the psychiatric hospital and looking for approval from her editor, is sent back to her hometown to look into a potential serial strangler of little girls. Problem is, returning to Wind Gap means facing her past, specifically her mother, with whom she has a strained relationship, her ethereal half-sister Amma, and the ghost of her dead sister, Marian.

Sisterland (Contemporary/Women’s Fiction)

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A compulsive contemporary read with a semi-fantastical element, this book was shocking in its vivid realism. Kate is the good girl of the sisters, the one that cares about what other people think, the one that ‘does things right’. Violet is the non-conformist, brutally honest, true to herself sister that embraces the psychic ability that they discovered at an early age and her premonition of an impending earth quake that gets her a spot on the national news.

This novel should not be written off as only chick-lit or a book about psychics. Sittenfeld combines masterful storytelling with subtle acknowledgement of all those what-if forks throughout our lives. Bringing to mind Niffeneger’s deft handling of that slice of magic through ordinary life in her Time Traveler’s Wife, Sisterland observes friendship, and romantic and familial relationships with a sharp emotional clarity.

Night Film (Mystery/Thriller)

10112885Horror is a third genre in which this novel fits (from my 2016 reads, see also A Head Full of Ghosts and My Best Friend’s Exorcism). Though this novel did call to mind House of Leaves in its experimental story-telling method, it is also unique.

Night Film had a hard-boiled tone to it in some parts, a thrilling ghost story in others, and the recounting of great and dark man’s horrific legacy overall. While about a prolific horror film director, who went to all lengths to capture true, unaffected horror, the story is told by Scott McGrath, the reporter who once tried to out director Stanislas Cordova’s sinister methods and lost everything in the battle. Now that Cordova’s daughter Ashley has turned up dead (and was pretty ghostly before she died), McGrath declares war. Will he find the truth he is looking for? You’ll have to read to see.

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (YA)19547856

I read a lot of YA last year. My reread of Carry On aside, this was the most flawless, engrossing, teen-angst-ridden book I could have devoured in two days. And I did. (I can also highly recommend First & Then and P.S. I Like You for light-hearted, touching reads, but for heavier/darker YA, NestLooking for Alaska, and Wintergirls were also great.)

Simon’s day is already going south quick when he realizes that awkward class clown Martin (think Ackley from The Catcher in the Rye) is blackmailing him, threatening to reveal his homosexuality far before he’s ready. A timely disturbance to the butterflies he feels when emailing his also gay, anonymous pen-pal, who quite possibly attends Simon’s school. This book took me back to high school, to drama club, to starbursts in your chest of like-like and love, and to trying so hard it hurts to define yourself while defying the definitions placed on you from without.

Longbourn (Historical)

18399238After diving into Downton Abbey, I thirsted to read about how the other half lives in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, as represented by Baker. I was not disappointed. Some Austen and/or historical purists disdain this book for historical inaccuracies or perceived misinterpretations of Austen’s text. In my opinion, it is a good story beautifully written. It dug into my heart and lives there still. How can I convey how much and why I love this book? Okay, you have a certain food that you love, right? The ultimate comfort food. Maybe you throw it together on rainy days, maybe you just need it after having a really bad day…or a really good one. And you know how you feel, afterward, in the pit of your stomach? Not just full, but satiated? This is a book you will want to eat. And it will satiate you, I promise.

*FAVORITE BOOK OF 2016*

The Madwoman Upstairs

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And my absolute favorite book of 2016, which has been bumped up to my top four favorite novels ever (sitting prettily aside Jane EyreHouse of Leaves, and The Catcher in the Rye), was The Madwoman Upstairs. 

So, if you’ve ever done any type of feminist research on the Brontës’ works, you probably ran into a little tome called The Madwoman in the Attic (Gilbert & Gubar), not to be confused with the novel, The Madwoman Upstairs. Lowell’s title is a play on the excellent collection of feminist analyses, but I promise the book is less homework-y and more fun. 🙂

If you take immense pleasure in archaic romances (as defined here), you will enjoy this book. Not to be shallow, but debating great literature and semi-colon use with my hellishly good-looking Literature tutor in the pubs of England and yes, the halls of Oxford University, sounds like a little slice of heaven. Even better though, someone else struggles with inarticulateness in the face of the intimidating don. Samantha Whipple, the last Brontë descendant, was home-schooled by her late eccentric father. She is a bit of an odd ball and fairly alone in the world. She comes to Oxford to study literature, gets sequestered in what must surely be an inhabitable tower of the school, and begins to find startling pieces of her past on her doorstep. The mystery of whether her father left her the Brontë legacy, or any legacy at all, absorbs the reader into Sam’s growing obsession. Sam is far from perfect, but this is what makes her a heroine you will adore (or maybe you’ll hate her, but I adored her). Her sense of humor had me laughing out loud, ex:

“The trajectory of the academic year was now spanning out in front of me, and it looked like one blackened stream of intellectual dictatorship. The more time Orville and I spent together, the more I would become one of those pale-faced vampire children in films who emerge only to say something unsettilingly prophetic in a half whisper” —The Madwoman Upstairs

God, I could pull so many passages from this book, but I don’t want to spoil it for you (because you’re about to go buy it, right?). However, it wasn’t just about the narrator voice, or the romance, or the Brontë ghosts Sam spends over three hundred pages chasing (and avoiding in some parts). This book made me think, made me reconsider my own analyses on the literature addressed therein. Part scavenger-hunt, part romance, part spiraling descent into academia (with a touch of madness, of course), this novel leaves you struggling to discern truth from fiction.

Read any of these books? What did you think?

Other recommendations?

How to Throw a Bookworm Baby Shower

PART_1437411309730_DSC_0007I’m not big on ceremonies that require a whole lot of pomp or tradition just for the sake of tradition (i.e. weddings, baby showers). Yes, even if they are my own. This probably makes me the least sentimental writer out there, but so you have it.

I knew I needed to have a baby shower though because I needed a lot of things for two babies, so I wanted to ensure it reflected me in some way. And however it reflected me needed to be something I planned to pass down to my chil’en. Thus, books became the theme.

The entire idea came together in pieces, but it all turned out pretty good. I think it started with the awesome books my roomies gifted me for my girls at the horror con.

Shark Vs. Train was hilarious and The Monster at the End of This Book was a great addition to any child's book collection. Funny and unique
Shark Vs. Train was hilarious and The Monster at the End of This Book was a unique addition to any child’s book collection.

To throw your own bookworm baby shower, here are the necessary components of such a shindig:

One pregnant chick:

Yes, my belly button is off center. Stare at it too long and you'll turn to stone.
Yes, my belly button is off center. Stare too long and you’ll turn to stone.

Two impending bookworms (or one in most cases):

If you look close, you can see their designations at the top. 'Baby A' and 'Baby B'
‘Baby A’ on the left and ‘Baby B’ on the right

Bookworms galore in the décor:

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We cut a gajillion of these cute little worms out.

Bookmark party favors:

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Got the idea for these badboys from Pinterest

Books (duh):

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We used books underneath the colorful centerpieces my sister made, and the diaper raffle prize was even a book.

People:

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Well…there were a lot more people inside.

To humor your ridiculous love of books that you will either lovingly pass down to the next generation or shove down their throats.

Some of the excellent books we received for the girls in lieu of cards:

  • Animalia by Graeme Base
Probably my favorite illustrated children’s book. Pictures cannot do the book’s detail and thought justice
  • The Time Cat series by Lloyd Alexander
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  • Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You and On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman
  • Grimm’s Fairy Tales
This is a gorgeous leather bound edition my sister-in-law got us for the girls.
  • Love You Forever by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd
  • The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
  • The Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
  • Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

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    This pretty and colorful collection of ‘Baby Lit’ is from a high school best friend
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The illustrations are beautiful and the structure perfect for primer books, specifically counting primers or opposites primers

There you have it, folks. All you need for a bona fide bookworm baby shower.