A Yearly Bout of Wanderlust

Every year, around this time, I get a serious wave of wanderlust. I don’t know if it’s the weather or the fact that for several years, I, either by myself or with family, have gone somewhere for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

When I was in college, we would travel to Mesquite to see my dad’s family for Thanksgiving.

I also visited my then-boyfriend’s family in Corpus Christi the week before Christmas my senior year of college.

After college, my mom and I would travel to Tucson to see her family for Christmas.

And the annual sojourn to Chicago for the New Heart for Christmas festival (yes, festival…three days of concerts, five days with basically no sleep, good friends, good memories, it was a festival).

And I was making a habit of traveling to Denver for my birthday.

So, for the better part of twenty years, I was going SOMEWHERE in November and December. So I start to get the wanderlust around this time.

This year it’s even worse because I can’t go anywhere. There’s just too much garbage in the way. The flights are going to be miserable, then getting somewhere there isn’t anything to do because everything is shut down or restricted. There are no concerts, no conventions. I’m just stuck here wishing I could be anywhere else. 

I am changing my milestone goals on my Patreon. Where, right now, I have a goal of adding a new “subscription box” tier when I reach $50 in monthly contributions, I will be changing that to a trip.

One thing about writing urban fantasy is it’s hard to write about a city you don’t know. With something like contemporary fiction or romance, you can focus your setting on the high points. Writing a contemporary romance about Chicago? Send your characters to Giordano’s or the Sky Deck and you’ve accomplished the goal. With urban fantasy, the city is just as much a character as the breathing creatures and you need to explore the side streets. You need to explore the nuances, eat where the locals do, go off the “beaten path” for entertainment. What places are only frequented by tourists? Where would your character live if they were in a bungalow versus a condo? Which side streets are one way and which way is that way? Do locals skirt around the city and drive on the Interstate/Freeway or do they wind in and out? Grab a Lyft or a cab and watch how the driver gets where they’re going. Talk to the driver and find out what is important to know about the city.

So I’m going to take my two week vacation from work and go somewhere and do all of that and document my adventures. I’m going to spend a lot of money on food and Lyft rides but I’m going to explore and learn. It’s a long way off but so is the freedom to do it so it seems like a good time to implement it.

If you would like to help me reach this goal, join me on Patreon.

Come to the Creepy Side

First, I want to make it clear that I am not comparing myself to others. That is toxic and unhelpful. I am, however, looking at what others accomplish as a means for setting goals.

For years, I was a horror writer. Until a vampire story I wrote in college turned into what I had called at the time dark fantasy. Now, it’s urban fantasy.

Urban fantasy is when you take elements of horror stories like vampires, ghouls, ghosts, and instead of monsters, you make them characters in a modern setting. The name of the genre is new but the concept is not. The concept goes back decades. Stories like A Christmas Carol are now included, retroactively, in the genre.

And it’s a fun genre to write in. So many possibilities. I’m not complaining about that.

It’s just frustrating to know the kinds of things I used to write that I can’t seem to find the ideas for any longer. And then to come across these Tumblr threads and Twitter threads where people are making up these creepy AF stories on the fly . . . That used to be me.

I used to make those kinds of stories up quickly and easily. Maybe not completely “on the fly” but I did a lot of flash fiction when I was writing what I still consider to be really good, and I’d churn out a 1000 word story in a couple of hours. Good, creepy stories.

I read one from Tumblr the other day about why humans are the only species to experience the Uncanny Valley effect. It got weird. Then it got historically feasible, but also still weird. I miss writing things like that.

I keep thinking I need examples of my creative work to share in various places—here, Vocal Media, Instagram, Patreon—so that people can get an idea of the kind of writer I am. But I also need that to be consistent so people can start to expect it and look for it.

Because that is ultimately what I want; people to actively seek me out.

The Anxiety of Unplanned Creativity

I was invited to a creative Zoom meeting tonight. The idea was creating a new creative calendar that is “more aligned with our lives *in this moment.*”

I was interested in the event until I heard the word markers. And then something in my brain went into a weird panic mode and then shut down. I don’t know what it was about all of the things put together, the “new calendar,” the markers, but I was suddenly very uncomfortable and disinterested.

And I feel like that’s pretty standard.

I don’t know if that’s a normal thing among creatives but it’s definitely something I experience. I’m not fully sure how to explain it but I get really anxious and uncomfortable when presented with unexpected creativity.

There is also the issue of my life doesn’t fit a schedule. It is different from week to week and day to day and I don’t always get advanced warning before people change my plans for me. So creating a calendar that’s more aligned to my life—that sets off all kinds of “this will be frustrating!” alarms and I don’t like those alarms either.

The point is I don’t know what causes this panic response to the idea of being creative without advanced warning or preparation time, but it is very real.

If you would like to see more of what I do when I’m not stressing over unplanned creative time, please visit my Patreon and consider becoming a patron.

On the Subject of NaNoWriMo. . .

I guess I’m participating by default? The third book of my trilogy is due to the editor in January but I reached a point where I hated everything but the beginning and end so I binned almost 40k words to rewrite the whole thing.

Publishing this trilogy has worked out very different to how I planned.

When I was going to DIY, I intended to have everything finished so everything could be edited together. Because it’s one story from start to finish, a loose three-act structure over three books. Editing it in pieces has brought up some interesting hurdles.

Not that that is why I scrapped all of book three. It just got weird. I needed to bring it back to the reality of the story universe.

I also cut out the torture scenes.

There. Chew on that for a minute while you decide if this series is for you.

I’ll release them, eventually, because they’re important, I think. They might end up in a book, they might end up on Patreon, I have yet to decide. I think it will depends on what the next year brings.

So, I won’t be on the NaNoWriMo site logging my progress. But I don’t have much choice other than finish 50k words this month.

And speaking of Patreon, if you like my content here, please join me there.

Soup Weather

To begin. . . I have no intention of ever becoming a food blogger.

BUT

Sometimes I realize I make some pretty good food stuffs and it is selfish of me not to share.

The weather is disgusting today in the high desert. It’s all rainy and dark and gloomy . . .

It’s a soup day.

I prefer thick, rustic soups with lots of bits and pieces. I don’t hate a good bowl of Campbell’s creamy tomato but it’s definitely better with a cheese sandwich to dunk in it (coincidentally, tomato soup and a toasted cheese is just deconstructed pizza—think about it for a minute; I’ll wait) but I like soup better with it has texture. To that end, one of my favorites is loaded baked potato soup.

I grew up on potato soup made with ham and milk so when I had a broth based potato soup in my mid 20s, I was severely disappointed. Like, I KNEW that was a thing but I had grown so accustomed to what is probably potato chowder, technically, this thin, watery business wasn’t cutting it.

Over the years, I have developed my own sort of recipe for this baked potato chowder whatsit. It’s incredibly simple and I make it even simpler by employing the microwave but you can make it all on the stove if you prefer.

Ingredients:
one medium potato (per person/serving)
pre-cooked ham or bacon (real ham, not “lunch meat” slices)
2 tablespoons butter (divided)
1 cup milk (more as needed)
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup mixture of shredded cheddar and Swiss cheeses, and grated Parmesan
Salt, pepper, garlic, paprika to taste

Start with one medium potato per person.

What is a medium potato, you ask? Well, it’s a little arbitrary but my measurement is a medium potato is roughly the size of my hand. I can hold two small potatoes in one hand, one medium potato, and a “large” potato is larger than what I can contain completely in my hand. See? Arbitrary.

One medium potato per person.

Peel the potato, or don’t, it’s your choice. I prefer to peel them. Either way, give them a good rub and rinse to get the dirt and bacteria off the outside before you peel or cut.

Give the potatoes a rough dice. Half inch cubes work nicely.

Now, this is where I cheat a little.

I throw the little cubes into a microwave safe bowl (usually the one I’ll be eating from later). I add a little water, cover the whole works with a damp paper towel, and give it about two minutes in the microwave. I want them soft but not “cooked.” You can also par boil the potatoes to just before “fork tender.”

In your choice of medium pot, melt a tablespoon of butter. When the butter is fully melted, toss in your potatoes. “Fry” the potatoes in the butter over medium to high heat until they start to get a little brown and crispy on the outside, about 3-5 minutes. Add a “pinch” each salt, pepper, dried minced onions, garlic powder or paste, and smoked paprika* (you can always add more later but it’s very hard to take it away if you over salt or something) and a teaspoon of chicken base (this stuff) or concentrated stock (this stuff).

Rough chop cooked ham or bacon** (or both!) into the pan with the potatoes and remaining butter. Stir to coat, reduce to heat to low, and cover for 3-5 minutes to marry the flavors.

Uncover and add another tablespoon butter, one cup milk, and one half cup heavy cream. Simmer to melt butter and bring liquids up to temperature. Add half cup mixture of shredded cheddar, grated Parmesan, and shredded Swiss cheese. Stir cheese into warm milk and cover to simmer 5-10 minutes (until cheese is thoroughly melted). Taste it while still cooking and add more seasoning if needed.

Serve hot. 😊 Obviously.

* Any variety of red pepper powder, depending on your taste. Smoked paprika will add a mild amount of heat to the end product. Chili powder, cayenne, and chipotle powder can be used for different end results.

** While I still recommend using regular, crisply cooked bacon, the soft bacon bits (not the crunchy ones) have a more concentrated bacon flavor. Try throwing a tablespoon or so in with the butter and potatoes in the beginning of the cooking process.

A Season of Gift Giving

When I was a teenager, my parents committed some horrible atrocity.

I don’t remember what it was, now, but there was a gift for some gift-giving holiday that did not meet my teenaged girl standards. Probably shoes that were the wrong color or a knock-off of some overpriced brand name thing. Anyway, I was given a gift about which I was less than thrilled and that started a law in my family.

No gifts without a wish list.

For anyone. I made a list, Mom made a list, Dad made a list. And we shopped from the list. No deviation.

Well, some deviation but as long as we shopped 90% from the list, everything was peaceful.

This is not some spoiled teen thing. Even today, if I buy something for my mother that is of my own accord, not something she specifically requested, the response is often mixed. There is some level of gratitude but there’s always some level of “why did you buy me this?” or “why did you think I wanted that?”

This applies to objects as well as even just showing up with treats. “I saw these candies I thought you might like to try.”

The thing is—and the point of this story—I make the lists, even still, but if something happens and the items requested cannot be purchased, I might get a gift card or cash instead. Which is fine, except then I have trouble buying the things that were on the list.

I don’t have an explanation for it. But, let’s look at this year’s list. I asked for charcoal pastels—charcoal, not oil; I don’t like the oil kind. If I don’t get them but get, say, a gift card to Michael’s, I will not go straight away and buy the pastels I wanted. I will put the card away until such a time when I want to make a big purchase that I wouldn’t make otherwise.

Which means the card will stay put away, indefinitely, and I’ll never get the pastels.

If someone could explain this to me—or even tell me that you can relate—I would greatly appreciate it.

And if you enjoy this content, please consider becoming a Patron to read even more.

Building a Loyal Audience

I want to talk a little about audience.

I write books. Books are a special animal in that they are not readily conducive to multitasking, they are time consuming, and they draw a very specific kind of audience. People who like certain genres of book are quite in tune to what they like about that genre and if you stray from those parameters, you run the risk of being roasted, as it were.

Which is largely why I have worked vehemently to keep my book out of the paranormal romance category.

I honestly wasn’t even going to have a romantic element but I got talked into it. By the romantic element.

He’s just so damned charismatic he could probably sell water to a drowning man.

But building an audience, as a writer, is a special beast as well. One tip—or pointer or bit of advice—I found on the subject of audiences and social media is to make sure 80% of my content is on topic. It’s fine to, once in a while, show off a picture of my cat because writers have cats, right? But if I want to showcase my cat, it is better to have an Instagram for the cat and one for the words. Because if I flood my account with cat pictures and draw in thousands of cat lovers, they’re not going to care when I drop news about writing.

If they even see it at all.

What I need to do instead is aim all of my content toward the kind of reader who will want to read my books. In this case, urban fantasy readers are who I am trying to draw in. But also readers in general. So I use those hashtags and I write captions about that kind of stuff.

What all of this means, essentially, is that while I would appreciate the sales, I don’t want just everyone buying my books. I don’t want people who enjoy cozy mysteries or Christian fiction to buy my books out of an obligation to me as their friend. I don’t want family to buy my books because they think they should.

I want people who are going to dive in with both feet and devour half the book before realizing they need to go to bed. I want people who are going to be excited about my book(s). And that’s a harder audience to reach.

Casting a wide net and scooping up all the little fish in a 100-foot radius is fine but isn’t it better to use a rod and reel to catch a smaller collection of bigger fish? Who wants to clean all those little fish? Bigger fish are easier to prepare. Now that I’ve reached the 500 followers mark on Instagram, I feel like I can back off a little. Not in terms of content—although, unfortunately, that has happened—rather in terms of casting the net. I don’t need to join follow loops and just gain everyone else as a new follower. I need to draw in followers who found me under their followed hashtags. I follow “#amwritingurbanfantasy” because I want to see what I’m up against. So my goal is to end up under a hashtag someone else is following. Multiple times because it’s not something that happens on the first try.

But the real issue is I don’t want pity follows, pity buys. If you are interested in my books, buy them. If you’re not, share them so someone else might find them. Don’t buy out of obligation or loyalty then leave it to collect dust for the rest of forever. I appreciate your purchase and will never say don’t buy it, outright without quantification. But I don’t want it collecting dust on your shelves.

That said, if you would like to support my content, please join me on Patreon.

feeling disadvantaged

I have been watching various artists in various mediums and I have come to a conclusion. Writers are at a disadvantage when it comes to unique marketing.

Consider, for a moment, the amount of time it takes to read a book compared to listen to an album. Consider the active, hands-on nature of reading a book compared to the passive nature of listening to an album while multitasking and doing other things.

But it’s more than just that.

Music and art are active creations. There is behind the scenes moments. There are riffs and drum fills. There are concept sketches and models. There are levels to what can be offered to fans or perspective fans. In reference to something like Patreon, you can offer the lowest level still photos from video shoots and upper levels can get previews of songs. Lower levels can get sketches, upper levels can get a discount on commissions.

I’m on TikTok as well and I see musicians sharing the progression of their songs. I see visual artists showing their creations in progress.

What do writers offer?

Time-consuming, passive content. I can offer up all the flash fiction in the world but people have to have time to read it. I’ll be honest; I love the concept of Patreon and I want to keep using it as an alternative to social media because social media is a flaming disaster. I want Patreon to be the home my fans go to when they want information. But I probably wouldn’t pay for what I’m offering.

On the other hand, the common consensus is that a majority of patrons don’t sign up for the benefits; they sign up to support the artist and don’t really care about the benefits. Which is why I have a “choose your own price” tier with no benefits.

I’m not comparing myself to other artists. I’m just comparing what I have to offer. I feel like if I could just hop online and break out a guitar to play for my fans, or set up a canvas and paint for my fans or offer drumming or drawing tutorials, I would not have to struggle so much to figure out how to reach people.

But I am not a specialist in anything. I’m the proverbial Jack of all trades. I am a Master of none and frankly, I don’t want to be. I don’t want to shoehorn myself into posting about the same thing all the time. I don’t have the kind of attention span needed for that. Unfortunately, not having a niche means I don’t have a ready-made content library.

So, I struggle. I search and scour for ways to make my art active and interesting in a world filled with people looking for quick bursts of dopamine and serotonin, who don’t have the time or patience for a slow burn.

It seems a little desperate to say this now but if you enjoy my content, please consider supporting my Patreon.

Twenty years of linkin park

I have had a busy day.

Though that’s not really a valid excuse for not having this finished sooner. I think it was just too big for me. It still is.

Every time a celebrity death sends shockwaves through the populace, I remember a quote I read once: We don’t mourn the death of a celebrity because we knew them but because they helped us to know ourselves.

I have gone through a lot of these in the last few years. Robin Williams, Tom Petty, Prince, Chris Cornell. But none have made this statement more true than Chester Bennington.

His voice still hurts my heart.

I didn’t jump on the Linkin Park train right away. I got on a couple years later—2002, probably—with Meteora, but when I fell, I fell hard. Early on, with those first two albums, Linkin Park was my go-to angry music. In college, in my early twenties, I had times when I needed angry music.

And some of my angry music doubled as pump up music, getting ready for something big.

It wasn’t until later when I really started to feel the impact of the music.

To say I went through a messy breakup at the end of my senior year of university would be a gross understatement. I went through a soul-crushing, devastating breakup at the end of my senior year of university. In the year I was supposed to be planning for my future, my plans had grown up around our relationship. I didn’t have any real ties to any specific place so I was all for moving to Austin, Texas, to wait for him to finish his schooling. I wasn’t planning to move in together, just move there. Start working, hopefully in my field, and when he graduated, we’d figure out the next step.

Until that couldn’t be my plan anymore.

I couldn’t move to a city where the only people I knew were my now-ex’s friends. So I moved back home with my mother.

And that wasn’t even the devastating part. It got progressively worse.

Until I was numb. I felt nothing. Not happy, not sad, not angry, not hurt. I felt nothing. I had a couple of friends (who are still with me) who honestly worried that I would fall asleep one night and never wake up again. It’s called Broken Heart Syndrome and it is when the physical stress brought on by a person’s grief is too much for their body to handle and their organs simply shut down.

After a few months of this, I rediscovered my connection to music. He and I had had a relationship built around music so I had found it difficult to listen to anything. I just didn’t have the interest in any of it. But I found another band (not Linkin Park; another story for another day) that had no connection to my time with him and before long feelings started to come back. They were horrible feelings. Pain, sorrow, anger, but they were feelings. They took turns and when it was anger’s turn at the wheel, I looked to Linkin Park for . . . well, a lot of things. To channel the anger, to comfort the anger, to nurture the anger. After being numb, I relished the anger. I wanted to be angry. Anger was easier than pain.

Numb is not something I would ever wish on another person, ever. When someone says, “there are things worse than death,” I think they are talking about nothing. The complete absence of everything. No emotions. Creativity sapped. Energy depleted. Appetite nonexistent. Numb, I think, is worse than death.

And even in all of that, it was 2014 before I fully understood the full impact the music of Linkin Park had had on me.

At that point I had been following the band AFI for twenty years, and Linkin Park for twelve, so when I was offered a ticket to the Carnivores tour with AFI, Thirty Seconds to Mars, and Linkin Park as a gift for graduating cosmetology school, I was thrilled.

I truly believe there is no better way to experience music than live, from the front row. Even music you’ve listened to for years, for more than a decade. The live experience is so different to being at home or in your car. Especially for someone like me, an extroverted empath who feels and absorbs other people’s energy and emotion. Being among hundreds or thousands of people whose emotions are turned up to eleven is so powerful. But feeling that emotion and energy from the artists creating the music. . . it’s honestly euphoric.

But something in hearing, live, those lyrics that had brought me so much comfort from my stereo and headphones, was overwhelming. Being in the melee of the tiny GA pit with a couple hundred other people, thirty thousand in the seats behind us, supporting Mike Shinoda standing on the barricade, it was something I knew I had to do again.

That’s my concert experience. There are bands I expect to put on a good show before I go and I might spend years trying to get there. Linkin Park was one of those bands. And I know before the first song is over if it’s a show I’ll seek out again and again. Linkin Park was going to be one of those shows too.

I had been watching the tour schedules, determined to see them again, when I got the news about Chester’s death. And I am not being dramatic when I tell you, I felt my heart break. I could probably write down every lyric from their catalog that has touched me in some way and completely fill up a notebook. I don’t think I have learned more about myself from any other band, ever. Every album is it’s own therapy session, every song a deep dive into the traumas of my life.

“I wanna heal. I wanna feel what I thought was never real. I wanna let go of the pain I felt so long. I wanna heal. I wanna feel like I’m close to something real. I wanna find something I’ve wanted all along. Somewhere I belong.”

We don’t mourn the deaths of celebrities because we knew them but because they helped us to know ourselves.

*****

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Campaign against pink

October is breast cancer awareness month in the US. Which means a flood of pink around the nation.

Each year I make an effort to explain, as gently as possible, to explain why I refuse to participate.

On October 1, 2016, my cousin, who was eleven months older than me and one of my best friends in our teens, came to me at the salon with a request for mermaid hair. Blue fading into green. A few days later, another friend of hers shaved it down to a three foot mohawk. Eighteen months after that, she was gone.

That day she came to me, she had been diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer. In the summer of 2018 she had traveled out of state to follow one of her favorite bands – because she never stopped loving life – and passed out at the show. When she got checked out from that, they found more than forty tumors in her brain.

That first day in 2017, we talked about the irony of starting treatment in October and how we felt about BCA month.

Here’s the reality.

Ten percent or less of the money raised by Susan G. Komen is actually funneled into researching for treatment or a cure. Fifty percent or more of the pink merchandise sold in stores is just that – merchandise. It supports the companies selling it, not breast cancer research or patients. Ninety percent or more of the campaigning for BCA is geared toward woman and fifty percent of that is sexualized. Campaigns like Save the Tatas ignore the human. And breast cancer is not gender specific. Men are just as susceptible to it as women.

So, while I support breast cancer research and survivors, I refuse to participate in the onslaught of pink without purpose. I don’t judge anyone who does participate but I won’t.

If you enjoy my content, please join me on Patreon.

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