deadlyeverafter

The Writing Adventures of The Undead Duo–Julie Hutchings and Kristen Strassel

Who Are You? A Survey!

Today’s brew:  Three guesses, first two that aren’t blueberry don’t count.

by Kristen

I wanted to try something different today, and I hope you all do, too.

We want to know about you. Please take a couple of minutes and fill out our survey!  It’s all easy stuff. If you guys are into this sort of thing, I’ll make more.  I hope you are, because I think this is fun!  I can’t wait to read the answers!

How To Be A Mad Scientist

TODAY’S BREW: Cinnamon Pecan Pleasantries. (I added the “Pleasantries.” It sounds better.)

By Julie

I’ve been in the house A LOT. Between editing THE ANIMAL immediately after finishing RUNNING AWAY, and editing for clients the whole time, along with a new schedule around here, I’ve been grounded. Kristen has felt the same way, and with the weather warming up, it makes us both restless on top of it.

With every edit I do, I’ve been getting the itch to write something new, desperate for that clacking of the keys for an extended time, instead of just the occasional line here or there. Being trapped in the house doesn’t exactly lend itself to creativity always, but it doesn’t have to detract from it either. The job of the writer is to make the ordinary into something deliciously new. Make the flatline start beeping again. Kick over the anthill to see what’s inside. (It’s ants.)

The creative person needs to change their world, not wait for their world to change for them. Such is my epic hatred for the “finding of the muse” that so many talk about. You control your creativity, no fucking mythical bitch is going to bring it to you. The creative type is a warrior, fighting for their voice to be heard, not the princess waiting to be saved. You want inspiration? Look for that shit. You don’t have to drive across country to get it, do some life-threatening thing like hangliding or whatever, you can get it by looking at the stuff you look at every day differently.

I’m somewhat of a militant when it comes to writing. My creativity works for me, not in spite of me. I want that spark of inspiration, and so I look for it, actively and with venom in my veins. I scout through Pinterest as a job. Not a hobby, a job. I searched “empty containers” the other day for probably an hour and a half, and from it gleaned an entire storyline that I WANTED. My idea was vague and I researched every aspect of what would go into it in order to make it come to life. That means the dull stuff, too. Because dull stuff made magical is what writing is all about. Be inspired by stupid crap as a choice, not a stroke of luck. Make your art sing for you. Be the composer, not the conductor.

Here’s a little trick that I practice when exercising my brain to write. Because, indeed, you have to work the muscle that is your mind. I like to find an ordinary picture of a thing and another picture of something that really speaks to me, and try to weave them together. Now, you get a little sneak peek. A picture like this:

The Witch of Empty Things. She's a serious motherfucker. Stares at these empty frames for hours, picturing them full. You don't want to know of what.and what it would mean to this person:

Stunning portrait.Now, how could I fit in something like this?

The Witch of Empty Things needs a container to carry. Could our MC give her a new one to keep her good thoughts in, ones like this? "I know you're afraid to look at the sky, so I wanted to bring some of it down to you." 5 Tiny STAR shaped clear glass vials with cork and free eyehooks on Etsy, $5.50What do they have in common? How would she see them working together? How do they challenge her, and what does she do to rise to the challenge? Who’s the person that throws a wrench in her thoughts of them?

Creating is a process, and like any process it needs to be altered, added to, and be reshaped for new purposes all the time. Making a story is like being a mad scientist…putting things together that nobody else thinks of, making explosions and rebuilding, thinking of things that are so far-fetched they make people stare at you with gaping mouths, and then making them see it with as much gusto as you do.

Now, I have a crazy ass book to write, if you’ll excuse me.

 

 

Controlling Your Controllables

Today’s Brew: Blueberry, duh, but I’m looking at vampire elixirs and concocting a recipe for a Venomtini.

by Kristen

(Pssst…Wanna win a paperback copy of NIGHT MOVES?  Enter here.)

Julie and I spent more than our fair share of time in the retail management trenches.  It was not my dream job by any stretch of the imagination, but I learned so much while doing those jobs (Julie had one, I had many) that applies to the jobs I actually want and helps me be successful. And happy. A lot of times, I’ve wished that I started doing makeup or pursuing writing sooner, but I needed to go through all the things I did before to be able to do both of these jobs the way I do now.

Retail taught us to micromanage. We had break downs of every statistic you can imagine. Not only did we know how much we were selling, we what people were buying in what ratios, and how many people who came in to the store actually left with a purchase. We knew what hours of the day were the busiest, and what employees gave us the biggest bang for their minimum wage buck. We had to be flexible, diplomatic, and innovative, all while playing by someone else’s rules.

Now you know why the Undead Duo drinks.

Once we both said screw your rules, we don’t want to play by them anymore and struck out on our own, a lot of what we were taught at those jobs stuck with us.  At the time, this stuff sounded like corporate speak, but now I realize it makes sense.  Here are my two favorites:

Change doesn’t happen to you, you happen to change.

Not happy with what you’re doing? Your book isn’t coming out the way you want? You aren’t getting an agent? Your book isn’t selling? Your dating life sucks? You’re not losing weight? You need to do something different. Albert Einstein said:

Albert Einstein - Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

 

And for the love of jelly beans, he’s Albert Einstein. He’s kind of smart. If you want something different, you need to do something different. Maybe you change up your routine. Maybe you take a long, hard look at that query. Change up your diet. Maybe you stop hooking up with guys on Tinder and actually go out with that nice guy your sister keeps pushing on you. If you keep doing the same thing, you’re going to get the same results.

Control your controllables. 

There are things we can’t control, ever. What other people think and do, most notably. But you don’t have to concern yourself with their shit. If you’re a writer, you should probably stay the hell away from looking at reviews. Even when they’re good, the anxiety I feel preparing to read them can’t be good for me. Focus on the things you can control, you can change, and make you happy. Because a happy you makes a happy everyone else. If everyone else doesn’t want to be happy, screw them, it’s out of your control.

Learn to say no. This was life changing for me, especially at work. When I was younger, and even more of a grunt than a retail manager, my higher ups were of the belief that I needed them way more than they needed me. So I stuck around, doing things I didn’t want to do, and hating it. But something else happened. I got good at my job. People noticed when I wasn’t around anymore.

Now that I work for myself, I often say I’ve never worked for myself less. With makeup, I rely on the phone to ring, the email or text box to ping. If I’m not available for a day, it’s not like the job can wait. I don’t get it. No sick time, no vacation. Because of that, I’ve missed a lot of personal things. Birthdays, holidays, even just nights out. It takes it’s toll. But the flip side is I get to do what I want for a living, and I don’t have to work forty hours a week, every week, to survive.

Lately, I’ve had to say no to a few things. Even though they were all the right decisions, still, it was hard. It’s not in my nature, as someone who was taught to be a people pleaser, to say no. One was a movie. Five weeks on Nantucket. Five weeks on Nantucket. I wouldn’t have been able to leave. In the time I would have been there, I have NECRWA, RT, and a few makeup commitments, some of them couldn’t be changed. I decided I didn’t want to half ass or miss my writing conferences, since I’ve worked so hard on writing and those conferences are an investment in my future. And I didn’t want to change things for my existing clients, who’d already committed to me. So I turned down the movie. That one was tough. Five weeks of work or my future as an author.

The others were easier, but still tough. A hospital in the city keeps calling me for work, and I keep having to turn them down. I’ve made excuses why I can’t go, but now they’re requesting me specifically. I can’t go. My mom passed away in that hospital. The trap doors of anxiety slam down in my brain just talking about it. There’s no way I can ever set foot in that hospital. So the next time I hear from them, I’m going to tell them the truth instead of just telling them I’m not available. It’s the most fair thing for everyone.

Recently, I had the worst job ever in my almost ten years of doing makeup. Not only did I not hit it off with any of the talent, the work conditions were unsafe. I was scheduled for another day with this company, but I encouraged them to replace me. Mind you, they weren’t exactly sad to see me go, but that reinforced my decision.  Sure, they could have been a big client, but they’re not for me. That’s what I had to realize. Not everything’s a perfect fit. There will be plenty of other clients who are.

You may know about my neighborhood, and that it kind of sucks. I’ve been looking to move, but I haven’t found THE PLACE yet. And I can’t really afford to move and replace a lot of stuff right now. I write in my living room, and do a lot of other things in my living room, like live. I was getting really fucking sick of looking at my living room. I can’t get a new living room, so I controlled my controllables, and I spruced things up a bit.

20140422_081741

A new rug, a new table runner, and I moved a couple things around. For now, it’s just enough to get my brain going in a different way. I love doing stuff around the house, it helps me with my creativity. Added bonus.

Do something different. Don’t be afraid to say no.

Becoming One With The Animal

TODAY’S BREW: Deviled Eggs. Around the clock.

By Julie

Naturally, on the day of the Resurrection, I worked on the dirtiest book ever written about possession, THE ANIMAL. And guess what?

I FINISHED EDITING THAT BOOK AND NOW IT IS READY FOR YE OLDE AGENTE TO ENJOY.

A) Ye Olde Agente is not actually old. For the record.

B) We pray to defiled Egyptian sex gods that he actually does enjoy it.

C) I miss Trent already.

D) Now I get to write NEW THINGS.

So, today is extremely exciting for MEEEEEEEEEEEE. After a lovely Easter, I get to spend the day today with my family at the zoo, because CELEBRATION TIME and there is no better way to treat me than to bring me to the zoo then let me get a new book.

(Speaking of which, I just finished UNEARTHLY by Cynthia Hand, and you need to read this book. Looks like it would be cliche, I know but it is so good. Go do it.)

When I finished the first draft of THE ANIMAL, what feels like ten years ago, it was hard for me. (See also Breaking Up With Trent: Finishing The Animal http://wp.me/p2x7oj-kK via ). I couldn’t even listen to the song I fell in love with while writing that book because it reminded me too much of Trent.

THIS TIME I FEEL NOTHING BUT JOY.

The book is ready for the world, and I’m ready to start something new. The NEW THING is itching at my brain, and I’m dying to dive into it.

But for now,  CELEBRATION. Here! Listen to the song that makes me think of Trent and now I can listen to it without crying.

 

Also, this is Trent. Right down to the white tee shirt because he won’t wear any other color. Not clean enough.

Keanu Reeves

keanu... There's The Animal himself

Trent on the inside.

 

Anna Christina Speckhart is Ivy, no ifs ands or buts about it.

Little sister, Ivy. Fearsome thing that she is.

 

 

This is a Candy face right here.

And Candy, who I possibly love as much as Trent.

 

OBSESSIVE By Isobel Irons: Trailer, Excerpt, and Free Books!

Today’s Brew: Blueberry, of course. I’m obsessed. Get it?
by Kristen

Today we have a guest, and she wants to give you stuff. Isobel Irons is my favorite new discovery of 2014. She writes gritty contemporary young adult/new adult that is so real you feel like you’re talking to your sassy girlfriend or you’re neurotic brother. Her voice grabs you by the hair and makes you pay attention. You don’t have any other choice. The Issues series is refreshing, funny, entertaining, and you can get OBSESSIVE today for free on Amazon.

Free doesn’t convince you? Check out the trailer and the excerpt below, then go get OBSESSIVE!

PART II: FUNCTIONAL

 

In first grade, I was officially ‘tagged.’

When my parents asked the school counselor what that meant, she explained that the school district had recently been granted funding for special, extra-curricular programs for students who fell outside the boundaries of what they considered ‘average.’ According to my test results, she said, I was ‘academically gifted,’ which meant that I was one of those kids who just naturally took to learning, problem solving, and following directions.

Two years later, in what was either a stunning coincidence or a sick cosmic joke, my little sister was also ‘tagged.’ Only instead of ‘gifted,’ Gen was labeled as ‘special needs.’ They spent the next five years trying to figure out where she fell on the special needs ‘spectrum’; if she was severely ADD or mildly autistic. Either way, Gen didn’t learn things as quickly as other kids seemed to, and unlike me, she couldn’t handle studying for hours on end.

One thing we did have in common was that we both got pulled out of class twice a week, in front of all of our fellow students, and taken off to our own ‘special’ classrooms. But I got to do complex scientific experiments, and Gen got to practice reading from her textbooks through different colored panels of cellophane. Apparently, seeing the words in yellow or blue instead of plain black and white was supposed to make it easier for her to retain facts. That was around the same time I started highlighting my homework—in addition to taking copious, meticulous notes.

Fortunately for me, because I had the ‘gifted’ classification, my excessive note-taking was chalked up to being an exceptional student. That was another thing the counselor told my parents about me. I’m what psychologist types like to call ‘exceptionally socially intuitive.’

If you ask me, that’s just a P.C. way of saying that everything I do or say is an act. A lie, custom tailored to whoever might be watching, to make sure no one ever figures out the true motives behind my actions.

But like most things about me, even that label is a lie. The truth is, I’m exceptional in the same way chameleons seem exceptional to the average, uneducated observer. For chameleons, blending into their surroundings isn’t exceptional at all. It’s not a magic trick, meant to impress or delight. It’s not even about showing off or attracting a mate. It’s about survival.

I read this article once, about a drug addict who kept his habit a secret from everyone in his family for almost 30 years. One thing he said really stuck with me:

“I was the world’s greatest actor, in the world’s worst play.”

I never thought I’d have so much in common with a junkie. But that quote pretty much sums up every waking moment of my life, up to this point.

 

Also, fun fact about this trailer: My husband Eli wrote and performed the song. So…that’s some exclusive “behind the scenes” info.

 

The Education of Intern Sara: Lessons Learned from Mr. Rogers and Twyla Tharp

The Art of Finding Your Ritual

There are certain words in the English language that just speak to me. They have a weight of their own. They don’t need to be used in any sort of dramatic or political way, they can simply be uttered and evoke something in me. The word ritual has always held that power for me. There is something alluring and charming about the concept of a ritual. I imagine this has more to do with the imagery that comes to my mind, than the act of rituals, as they exist in reality.

To me a ritual is an almost magic-inducing act. Something that involves an altar of some sort, a small but precious array of collected and displayed objects, and a summoning of something wonderful, be it inner strength or a magical creature from another realm. Imagine my hearts sorrow when I realized that when many artists speak of their daily ritual, they are not talking about a spiritual pre-show that gets them going but the very ordinary acts that precede their art-making.

The Research That Lead to “my hearts sorrow”

Most of the reading I’ve done for pleasure has been of the autobiographical, biographical, and in some cases, unauthorized biographical nature. Granted, the latter category often amounts to being a little better than an unabridged version of the National Enquirer, but when lured, the little reader inside me will take the bait. The biographies I favor are almost always about artists, usually musicians. I mostly read them because I am interested in knowing what it is that makes them special, where their art comes from and mostly why is it that they were the successful one? As of the last few years, I’ve been trying to find biographies that talk less about rock-star-debauchery and more about craft and how the artists got there. That’s all I ever really wanted to read about, but it’s hard to come by, at least with musicians. The dance world however gifted me with 3 wonderful books, all by the same artist. Twyla Tharp, a well-regarded dancer/choreographer (and now writer) wrote three great books, the first being an autobiography, Push Comes to Shove: An Autobiography, the second a book entitled, The Creative Habit and the last The Collaborative Habit Overall, 3 for 3, they were enjoyable reads but there was one thing that struck me from the three books and stayed with me for years. It seems to have been more powerful than even I realized because everyone I’ve spoken to about these books remembers the same thing. Twyla Tharp’s ritual.

It’s as simple as this. Twyla gets up at 5:30 every morning and hails a cab from her Manhattan home to her gym where she works out for 2 hours. Once she gets home, she eats 2 hard-boiled eggs along with her morning coffee. Next she showers. Lastly, she sets off to rehearsal. And she does this EVERYDAY and has for at least 20 years.

To be fair, I’m not saying that getting up at 5:30 is easy, not even for someone like me who LOVES the idea of waking up really early, I simply can’t do it. And we can all agree that it takes a great deal of discipline and dedication to get to the gym everyday and make a go of it for 2 hours. That being said, the fact that the simple banal act of getting in a cab is the key to her productive day is mind blowing to me.

This simple act of getting in the cab is the ritual itself. Once she has done this, the rest of her day is set to automatic pilot. That means as long as Twyla gets in the cab, she knows the rest of her day will go as she intends. And since she does this EVERY SINGLE DAY the chances of her breaking the habit are probably slim to none.

Ever since I read that book, I have been trying to get myself to get up at 5:30 to go the gym. No lie. There was something so genius about the simplicity of that ritual that it made me wish it was my own. And I tried, I did, but the truth is, rituals need to be of our own making. Something organic to us that brings us a sense of security and ease. As much as I love the gym (a habit that took me several years to create) and as much as I adore being up early in the morning, the 5:30 am gym habit was never meant to be mine. That being said this simple ritual made me think of other familiar rituals.

Mr. Rogers’ daily ritual is one that I have always had such and affection for. I’m of the opinion that we all watched him, all loved him, and have all gone through the I’m-not-a-baby-I-don’t-want-to-watch-him-anymore phase. Despite the phase I was in at the time, his morning ritual of changing from his sports jacket to his zippered cardigan, and then from his leather dress-shoes to his comfy tennis shoes always intrigued me. ALWAYS. But why? Maybe I just liked the theme song? Perhaps I knew that the sweater and tennis shoes meant a trip to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe would soon follow? Maybe children really do crave structure? According to the program’s philosophy the consistency in the way he communicated with his viewers “creates a calm, safe place for preschoolers to visit.” Maybe that was it; maybe that’s what we all need? To create a calm, safe place, something that eases us into the task at hand. Or maybe, I was just a 3-year-old clothes-whore who wanted all of those fashionable colored zippered cardigans.

In my quest to find the answers, I was led to what is easily the least sexy, nerdiest, but-still-manages-to-be-interesting book on the subject of ritual and art-making called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work written/compiled by Mason Curry. It’s a wonderful little book that is largely a compilation of excerpts from interviews and biographies of creative geniuses discussing their work rituals. He covers everyone from Maya Angelou (a personal favorite of mine) to Albert Einstein to Pablo Picasso.

I’ve found one truth in all of the rituals I’ve read so far. NONE of these rituals were the least bit sexy. None involved altars, the evoking of magical creatures or anything that you and I would consider fun. They were all simple, every day tasks equivalent to hailing cabs, putting on cardigans, eating 2 hard boiled eggs… and yet, they got every one of these brilliant artist-genius types, to create their art.

Simple. Banal. Ordinary acts.

Author, Robert Fulghum’s book entitled, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten said it all in its title. Without our realizing it, before we even started elementary school, Mr. Rogers had already given us the key to being brilliant writers by teaching us to start our day by putting our cardigan’s on, one sleeve at a time.

To my writer friends, here’s to finding your banal, not-at-all-sexy but effective ritual!

Cover Reveal! IN STONE by Louise D. Gornall

TODAY’S BREW: There’s Cookie Dough Coffee in this world and I will consume it ALL.

By Julie

Our delicious friend, Louise Gornall wrote this killer book, IN STONE, and there’s GARGOYLES, so get it. It has this monstrously gorgeous new cover that I want to lick.

Book blurb:

 

Beau Bailey is suffering from a post-break-up meltdown when she happens across a knife in her local park and takes it home. Less than a week later, the new boy in school has her trapped in an alley; he’s sprouted horns and is going to kill Beau unless she hands over the knife. Until Eighteenth-century gargoyle, Jack, shows up to save her. Jack has woken from a century-long slumber to tell Beau that she’s unwittingly been drafted into a power struggle between two immortal races: Demons and Gargoyles. The knife is the only one in existence capable of killing immortals and they’ll tear the world apart to get it back. To draw the warring immortals away from her home, Beau goes with Jack in search of the mind-bending realm known as the Underworld, a place where they’ll hopefully be able to destroy the knife and prevent all hell from breaking loose. That is, provided they can outrun the demons chasing them.

 

 

About The Author:

 

 

Louise is a graduate of Garstang Community Academy. She’s currently studying for a BA (Hons) in English language and literature with special emphasis on creative writing. YA aficionado. Brit bird. Film nerd. Identical twin. Junk food enthusiast. Rumored pink Power Ranger. Zombie apocalypse 2012 survivor, and avid collector of book boyfriends.

Facebook|Blog|Twitter |Goodreads

 

 

Diners, Roadtrips, and Stagenames: An Excerpt From NIGHT MOVES

Today’s Brew: I’m out of creamer, and I need more coffee before I go to the store.  How did this happen to me?

by Kristen

I thought today might be a fun day to share a little bit of NIGHT MOVES with you all. I love this excerpt.

I’m kind of obsessed with diners.I love that they’re always open, always quirky, and that you can always get anything you want.  We don’t have many close to my town, so it’s like a thing when I see one. It’s always my top choice if we’re looking for a place to eat. I should probably move to New Jersey. I’ve put diners into a couple of my books now, and this one is based on a visit Julie and I made to one last year.

Melanie and Erin aren’t in the best area of Milwaukee, because the never put night clubs in the posh areas of town. One day on my way to work, I was on the look out for a Starbucks, until I realized I was deeper in the ghetto than I’d been in a while. Suffice to say, no Starbucks. File that one under white people problems.

I based Erin’s character on some of the most fascinating people I know: traveling fetish models. These ladies are hitting the road on the road less traveled. What a way to truly take the world by the balls. They get to see the world, they get to do what they love, and be the person they want to be. We talk a lot on here about living life on your terms, and I think these ladies are an amazing example of that.

Enough of me telling you about this, just read it!!!

NIGHT MOVES COVER

Either Ralph had a better opinion of Milwaukee than he did of Detroit, or he seemed to think that Erin and I could hold our own. Or he just didn’t care what happened to us anymore after last night. Obviously we weren’t safe from attack on the buses. Whatever his reason was, Erin and I were free to go off on our own.

“Can you believe after all the time we spent chasing after the band together, we meet up with each other here?” Erin chattered nervously as we walked down the busy road away from the parking lot of The Raven night club. “Think they have Starbucks around here?”

“Um, probably not.” Many of the stores in this neighborhood hadn’t been open for business in a long time. We walked past a nail salon, a Columbian convenience store, and a pizza place. “There’s a diner up ahead.”

“They’ve got coffee. Sold.”

The diner was strangely quiet for being so close to lunch time. We sat ourselves and waited a while for anyone to acknowledge us. Neither of us was ready to really talk yet. We spent the time waiting for a waitress to acknowledge us as we looked around at the dusty Americana cluttering the walls.

“Would you ladies like coffee?” The waitress finally surfaced, placing sticky menus down in front of us. Maybe she meant for us to sample previous customers’ meals before making a decision. I pulled hand sanitizer out of my bag and silently offered some to Erin.

“You have no idea.” Erin said, rubbing the gel together in her palms. “Keep it coming.”

“It’s going to be a minute. I need to brew a pot.” The waitress walked away without asking us if we wanted anything else. Erin and I were both at a loss.

“Shouldn’t a diner always have coffee? I mean, isn’t that the point of a diner?” Erin spoke rapidly. “Oh well, at least it will be fresh.”

I noticed she’d already placed her menu aside. Granted, it was gross, covered in jelly and syrup. I had my old standbys at places like these. Chances were I’d order Eggs Benedict or a cheeseburger. I didn’t know if I could resist diner fries. Yesterday’s salad didn’t quite cut it. But Erin always used to take forever to make a decision.

The waitress returned with our coffees. “Have you ladies decided?”

“Yes, I’ll have a cheeseburger. Cooked medium.”

“I’m all set.”

“Really?” I questioned Erin. The waitress couldn’t care less.

“Yeah. I have some protein bars back at the car.”

“You can’t live off of protein bars!”

“Don’t give me a hard time, Melanie. I mean, I’m the one who should be grilling you. It’s just food. Who cares?”

I sighed. “You’re right. I’m sorry.” I did have a lot of explaining to do. “So what do you want to know?”

“When I told you about Jamie, it wasn’t a surprise, was it?”

I shook my head.

Erin looked like she might get sick. She swirled her spoon around in her coffee cup vigorously. For such a protein bar aficionado, she certainly added a lot of sugar to her coffee.

“Why didn’t you tell anyone?” She whispered, eyes wide. I don’t know if she assumed I had anything to do with his death or not. And I wasn’t looking for clarification.

“I couldn’t. It was just too awful, too fresh.” I couldn’t look her in the eye. I just watched the whirlpool of caffeine following her spoon, concentrating on the motion so completely it made me dizzy.

“So what came first? That, or you being here?” Erin continued.

“That.”

“Are you here with the band, or just here?”

“With the band.” I bit my lip and looked up at her. Finally her face lit up.

“Nice.” The Erin stamp of approval. “Which one? Adam? Josiah? Not Thomas, he’s too creepy for you.”

“Ryder.”

“No way!” Erin slapped the table, making the remaining coffee in her mug jump. We stopped for a moment when the waitress brought me my burger.

“Can I have some ketchup, please?” Why didn’t they just keep it on the table? Something about this place was off. I said a quick prayer to ward off Mad Cow Disease while I waited for condiments.

“Mel, you lusted after him all through high school! And he’s like, not even back on the market yet after the divorce.”

“You make him sound like a used car.”

“You know what I mean.” Erin piled up spent plastic creamer tubs like a pyramid. “Tell me how it happened!” Her question tapered off in a squeal.

I swallowed the rest of my french fry before answering her. “It just happened. We ran into each other and we’ve been together ever since.”

“Are you traveling alone? I mean, we could drive together.”

“I’ve been riding on the bus.”

“Oh.” Erin’s face darkened.

This was the perfect time to turn this interview around. “So what are you doing here?”

“I’m here to see Drake.” She leaned forward, speaking in a hushed tone and looking triumphant.

“Does he…know you’re here?” Something about her wording made me think she hadn’t made much progress from our fan girl days seven years before.

“Of course he does.” She looked insulted. Rightfully so, I guess. I mean, who would go to Milwaukee in the winter on a whim? “He’s just, you know. Busy. He can’t always have company. He’s got a business to run.”

Erin had drank the Drake Kool-Aid. “So I hear. How well do you know Drake?” Did she know what I knew?

She smiled. “Extremely well.”

“So then you know?”

She sighed. “That he’s never going to leave his wife. Yeah, Mel, I get it. He can’t. It would totally ruin his public image. And there are other reasons, too. But I know the real him, and I don’t care. I’ll take what I can get.”

I hadn’t expected that. “Everyone knows that. Have you noticed anything, weird about him, if you know what I mean?” It was still too surreal to just ask someone if they knew their lover was a vampire in the middle of a restaurant.

“Oh, that he’s a vampire? Of course.” Erin dismissed it like it was no more trivial than her not wanting anything for lunch.

“That doesn’t freak you out, even just a little bit?” I know I still hadn’t gotten over it, no matter how much I liked it when Ryder sunk his fangs into me.

“Um, excuse me.” A shy, skinny, middle aged man overwhelmed by a plaid wool jacket and a trucker hat approached the table. I felt confusion spread over my face as Erin looked up at him brightly. It was her attention he was after. “I just have to ask, are you Trixie Temptation?”

“Trixie Temptation?!” I mouthed at her as she nodded and smiled at her admirer.

“Oh wow, I love your work. You’re so beautiful.” The man gushed. Erin assumed her alter ego and nodded at him with a frozen smile. What the hell was going on? “Could I take a picture with you? My buddies will never believe I saw you.”

“Of course.” Erin rose as the man took out his camera. “What’s your name, sir?”

“Dwight.”

“It’s so nice to meet you. Maybe my girlfriend will take our picture for us?” She winked at me. Skinny Dwight ogled me, trying to figure out if he knew my ‘work’ as well.

I sighed, trying not to grimace. “Sure.” Erin put her arm around the man and I captured the moment.

Dwight kissed Erin’s hand. “Thank you so much for your time, Ms. Temptation.”

Then he was gone.

“What in the hell was that about? Trixie Temptation?” I practically shrieked.

“Shh!” Now it was Erin’s turn to look annoyed. “That’s my stage name.”

“Keep talking.”

“I’m a traveling model,” Erin explained. “It’s how I support myself while I’m out on the road.”

“What kind of model?” Erin was just a little bit of a thing with a pink streak in her platinum blonde hair, a nose piercing and several tattoos. Pretty, definitely, but not in an America’s Next Top Model sort of way.

“I do fetish shoots. Artistic Nudes. That sort of stuff,” she said casually. She had a way of brushing things off that anyone else would consider a bombshell.

“Porn?” This was just too much.

“Not porn. Nobody puts anything in me. I call the shots, and I know my limits. I probably make more money than you do at the bank. I didn’t expect you to judge me, Mel.”

Now I felt bad. “I’m not, but I don’t like to think of you selling your body just so you can support your Drake habit. I mean, that guy’s got more money than God, you’d think he wouldn’t want you doing that.”

“It was his idea,” Erin said, quietly, as she finished off her third cup of coffee. “And face it, Melanie, we’re all selling ourselves in some way.”

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Julie Gets To Be A First Grader: What Your Kids Are Capable Of Learning

TODAY’S BREW: Cinnamon Pecan. Sounds fancy, right? IT IS.

By Julie

I don’t even know where to start with how awesome this is.

Yesterday I spent a half hour talking to my son Bennett’s class about being an author, editing and revising. As if that isn’t cool enough, it wasn’t just like “bring your mom to school day.” This is actually in my first grader’s curriculum right now.

There is so much awesome about this, I can’t handle it. First off, what I love is that my son’s school is in the lowest income neighborhood in Plymouth, arguably and yet they have the most forward thinking curriculum I’ve ever heard of. It’s the most multicultural school in our large town as well. It’s also such a small neighborhood school that there aren’t even any busses that go to it; walking school only. So, all of our families, from different backgrounds, some of which don’t even speak the same language, feel like family. The teachers walk the kids into school in the morning, and dismiss them one at a time in the afternoon. Every teacher, no matter what the grade knows the names of our kids. It’s this intimacy that has helped make this advanced curriculum so successful so far, I think.

Bennett’s first grade teacher, Mrs. Albert, shares my amazement at the complexity of this curriculum. The kids are learning to not only write creatively, but are being taught to edit. The fact that “editing and revising” are words they know just flabberghasts me. They understand the importance of going back over your work to look for places to add more detail and to remove extra words and phrases that don’t contribute to the text. While it excites me to have Ben be even more a part of my writing process in this way, I can see the big picture enough to know that this is a lesson that means more in his life than just about writing. I have to think that this careful attention to detail about the written word is going to help these kids really think about what they say in life in general. To think harder about the quality of person they put out there.

After editing and revising their work for these points, the kids then exchange their work for proofreading. They’re learning that an outside opinion of their creative work and another point of view on something that’s personal to them is valuable. It’s much different than when I was their age and would write to be judged by the teacher on whether or not it was good enough. This gains them the approval of their peers, encourages openness about feelings and opinions, causes them to accept one another’s interests and open their minds to new ideas. When I was a kid I was overprotective of my writing, hid it from view, never shared it and thought for sure I would be openly ridiculed for what I  liked. If I’d had this kind of support from school, I don’t think that would have happened.

All in all, the point of teaching the kids about editing, revising, and getting feedback is so that by the time they go into second, third and fourth grade, they hand in quality work. That they own their creative process enough to not need the correction of simple things. This will translate into every aspect of their lives when it’s supported at home, I feel.

Also, THOSE KIDS THINK I’M AWESOME AND I LOVE THAT.

To be able to field questions about how I come up with my ideas and listen to how they come up with their own fiction was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. One little girl told me about how she sometimes pictures dragons with her when she gets ready for school, and she’s writing about it in her diary. I got to tell that kid she just made up an urban fantasy story just like I do. (She then turned to Bennett and said, “We definitely need a playdate. Your mom’s cool.”) Telling them how I edit and revise, how Ben sees me do it at home, and how I’m doing the same thing that they do was so much fun. They’re doing the same thing as me and I write books. Which means they can write books.

I got to tell them about how Kristen and I would pass a notebook back and forth when were not so much older than them, and how we’d write a line of a story one after another, making a whole story together. Now we still do it, and we both write books, and we love to get each other’s feedback. I had no idea it would become such a monumental part of my life now, make me so much me. They asked me if I know a lot of authors, and I had the extreme pleasure of saying, “yes, I do.” They thought that was amazing. I think it’s pretty amazing, too.  

Something that wasn’t even anywhere on my radar at their age was the publishing process. These kids GET IT. Weird as hell. One kid asked me if a company published my first book or if I did it. I got to tell him that  a company published mine, but that anybody that practices what they’re doing right now can self-publish a book, do the whole thing from the ground up. Anyone can be an author. What an amazing thing to be able to tell a bunch of bright eyed kids filled with creativity and love of getting feedback from their peers. I love that not a one of those kids was too shy to talk about what they write about, the things that they find exciting to read. That fear of acceptance was nowhere in the room. I love it more than I can say.

And when one little girl told me how when she’s in karate class, she imagines she’s in a book about karate class, I got to tell her that there was karate in my book, too. EVERY KID GASPED LIKE IT WAS THE COOLEST THING THEY EVER HEARD. So, mostly I feel like a rock star right about now.

It’s important to me to point out that the entire country is irritated by the cutting of programs in schools. I get it. But what we don’t look for often enough is the ability to integrate what we find missing in our school curriculum into the current curriculum. (Yeah, you do have a say in it, folks. It isn’t just about being on the PTA.) Not to mention, never in my life did I imagine that my seven year old would be learning about editing and revising. It’s not something I ever thought was missing from his education, but now that it’s there I see how incredible it will be for his class. Look outside the box, parents, and think of what might be beneficial to your kids that can be implemented in your school. Suggest it. Offer to go in and help out with it. Anyone can do this. When you show your kids that anyone can introduce something new and help, it makes them believe they can do it, too, and it shows them that you care enough to support them in it. It’s a little bit of “quit your bitching and make lemonade” philosophy. Being progressive is about losing some of the old and creating some of the new.

Yeah, I learned that from editing and revising.

The Ability to Stop, But The Choice To Continue

Today’s Brew: Pounding Wild Blueberry. Working two crazy shifts back to back today and tomorrow.

by Kristen

dog meme

My body loves being fat. I’m not saying that to be all Piss On Kristen, it’s true. The sales people in Lane Bryant and Torrid know me by name. Just because my body’s all about the fluff doesn’t mean my mind is. I realize I have to work harder to get to my goals, and what’s going to be good and healthy for me is going to be different than what another person considers to be the same.

The other night I found this cool tattoo while surfing Pinterest. Since we’re all writer and reader types around these parts, I thought it fit in to every facet of my life beautifully.

semi colon

 

The caption read: The ability to stop, but the choice to continue.

I never thought a semi-colon could be so fucking deep.

I’m going to try to explain how much I fell completely in love with this saying. Julie’d used a version of it in her review of Because the Night, and the line always stuck out to me. She referred to Tristan as “having the ability to be good, but making the choice to be dirty.” It’s kind of knowing right from wrong, and knowing that you’re going to have to make an effort to get the results you want, no matter what those might be.

I’ve talked about pole dancing class before, and how I when I started, I could barely get my feet up off the ground. Now I can get them up over my head, while hanging on to the pole. I can’t totally invert yet, but with persistence and the right attitude, I’ll get there. And yes, my size 14 ass wears booty shorts. Sometimes you need to put yourself out of your comfort zone to get to where you want to go. However, there are things I do better than the rest of the class, like splits. My brain got this stupid idea that it wanted my body to start running, so I figured, what the hell, I’ll try it. I can’t go very far, but it gets easier every time I try. Today I rollerskated for the first time in two years. I exhausted quickly, because I’m not use to using those muscles any more. But each time I lace up my skates, I’ll be able to do a little more.

So what the hell does any of this have to do with writing? Everything. The more you write, the better you get. I didn’t start from nothing doing these activities. I’d been doing Zumba for a year. I thought I was in amazing shape, and I found out otherwise. Sometimes I think I write something that’s awesome, and it doesn’t get that reaction. I need to make it better. And not everything’s going to be the same. Sometimes a draft of a book takes six weeks, sometimes it takes six months. Depends on which muscles I’m using.

A lot of us, and this totally includes me, have been struggling a lot this year with writing. I don’t know if it’s burnout, or rejection, or just not getting the results we desire, but I’ve noticed so many people reaching out and talking about this. This is brave. We’re all taught to put on a mask and pretend nothing’s wrong, and that we’re perfect at everything. But we’re not. And others can be quick to point that out. And it fucking hurts, even though we know that we can’t possibly be the world’s best writers, or athletes, or anything else. We just do the best we can.

The ability to stop, but the choice to continue.

There have been many days that I’ve thought long and hard about finishing the projects I have in progress, and then moving on to something else outside of writing. Those days aren’t pretty.

I have the ability to stop. But is that really what I want? To quit? Or do I want to rise to the challenge and make myself better? I have more stories in me, and some of you seem to like the ones I’ve told already. I’ve learned so much about myself through writing, that I’m not sure I can let that go now. So I have to acknowledge that every day won’t be perfect. Some days I’ll run the proverbial extra mile and others I’ll eat too much cake. Like with fitness, I have to put the bad day behind me and treat each day as a chance to kick some ass.

But I have to make a choice to continue. It’s not always an easy one, especially when I’m feeling really bad. It’s way easier to crawl deeper into my hole and congratulate myself for failing. That’s a place I don’t let anyone else into, because I’m pretty sure none of you want to see it. But it’s there, welcome me into its dark, airless pit of despair. I know we all have these places, and I know I haven’t made my last visit to mine.

If you love writing, or anything, you’ll make time for it. You’ll want to grow, and do what it takes to get to where you want to be. It’s truly all about you. With writing, we have to accept we’re all on different paths. Some people might write faster than me, get published before me, sell better than me, but that doesn’t mean what I’m doing is wrong. It’s just different. Some people don’t like my work, but other people do. I have to make the choice to listen to the positive or the negative, and move forward from there. The good so outweighs the bad.

I pay a little bit of attention to astrology. I don’t plan my day around my horoscope, but everything I hear makes a fuckton of sense. Today is the Full Blood Moon. It’s also a total lunar eclipse, and the start of something called a Triad, which I haven’t had a chance to explore, but it only happens every couple of decades. It’s also Passover, which the guy on the Today show thought made this lunar event even more significant. When Mercury is in retrograde, it loves to fuck up our lives. All of this unusual activity with the moon has got to be messing with our gravitational pull, our magnets, and our alignment. So what I’m hoping is once we pass this cycle, we can all come out of it feeling a little bit better.

You’re all fucking amazing, we don’t tell each other than enough. No one gets tired of hearing it, ever. I’m glad to have you in my life, and I hope you make the choice to keep going even if it’s hard.

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