Deadly Ever After

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

Archive for the month “April, 2014”

Cleaning Out The Closet (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Today’s Brew:  Good morning!  We’re back to Blueberry!

by Kristen

NEWS SCHTUFF FIRST:  To celebrate the Audible release of BECAUSE THE NIGHT, my very first book signing this weekend, and my brand spankin’ new Facebook page which you should totally go click like on, I’m giving away 3 ecopies of BECAUSE THE NIGHT!!

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Now that you’ve entered to win, we can talk about stuff. Actual stuff.

I’m a slob. As much as I don’t want to admit it, it’s true. Sure, I keep the house presentable at all times for when people come over, but I’m not afraid to shut the bedroom doors so you can’t see my slobitude. My major malfunction? I drop stuff. Coats, bags, shoes, gym clothes, pjs, whatever. I put it down and that’s where it stays until I decide it’s time to do something about it.  I like to blame my closet, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: that’s total bullshit. I’ve had walk in closets and I do the same thing. I’m one person in a 900 sq ft apartment. There’s plenty of room for everything.

Stuff becomes clutter. Clutter sucks. My bedroom bears the brunt of it, and I’ve actually noticed that I sleep better on the days that I clean it all up. How does even matter? My eyes are closed. The lights are off. But I know.

Today, I had to put away laundry. There was no place to put it. It was time to do something about the stuff, which had now been downgraded to clutter. So I started going through my drawers, getting rid of the deadwood I didn’t even know I had. Things that were too gross to donate (pjs, old gym clothes) went straight in the trash. It always feel weird to do that, but I didn’t even remember I had some of that stuff. Or I hated the way it looked on me. I also rediscovered some former favorites, including the bad ass top I’m wearing today.

Even worse, there were clothes still in shopping bags. Really, Kristen, you needed this SO bad that you never even took it out of the bag? Of course, it just stayed where I dropped it. That stuff got put away so I can actually use it.

Getting rid of the clutter felt good. Really good. There’s something extremely satisfying for me to get rid of something. As I worked, I thought about what I was doing, and how I was going to spend the rest of the day.

I talked a few weeks ago about saying no, and it’s something we don’t do a lot in writing, or any facet of our working lives. We do things that we think are beneficial to us. I never bought those gray sweatpants thinking, ‘wow, I’m going to feel like a whale doing Zumba in these!’ I thought they’d just be workout pants. The problem I found is that as I had more responsibilities to my work, makeup and writing, I don’t often let go of the things I don’t need anymore. So often something that should make my life easier, is just taking up space and becomes clutter.

Look at your routine. What don’t you need anymore?

Everyone does too much. Slow down and enjoy the moment you’re in right now, because you’ll never be here again.

Speaking of slowing down a bit, Julie and I have decided to cut back a bit on our blog posting. We each do two posts a week, which we’ve both enjoyed, but now it’s a lot for our schedules. Julie’s getting ready for Penguicon, preparing Running Away for publication, and doing freelance editing. I am getting ready for NECRWA and RT, putting the finishing touches on two books, and relaunching Because the Night with the audio release. It’s also going into the busy production season.

Our new schedule will be:

Monday  Julie

Wednesday Kristen

Friday Sara

Of course, if something amazing happens like a book sale or release, or if you have a major book life event we are hosting, we will post as needed. I will be posting the results of the survey soon as well. You guys surprised us a bit!  Can’t wait to share!

FIRE OF STARS AND DRAGONS–Interview and Giveaway

Today’s Brew: Hot cocoa with whipped cream. Why not blueberry coffee? Because it’s night time, and I need my beauty sleep.

by Kristen

Website - FoSaD page

Today is a day that we’ve been waiting for around these parts for a long time–release day for Melissa Petreshock’s FIRE OF STARS AND DRAGONS. FOSAD is a futuristic fantasy that has a little bit of something for everyone to love: dragons, vampires, and demi-gods. I haven’t finished it, so I can’t give you any spoilers, but I can guarantee you’ll keep turning the page for one more chapter. (Damn you, Melissa, I just said I needed my beauty sleep! *shakes fist*)

I’ve heard so much about this book, I needed to know more about how it came to be from Melissa. So without further ado, I’m handing the reins over to Melissa to tell you what went into writing this book:

(Buy the book! AMAZON   ITUNES  KOBO)

Why dragons? What made them an essential part of your story?

I’ve always like dragons. Dragonheart and Eragon are awesome as is the general concept of dragons. What really helped give them life in my story is the fact there is simply so much of a history of legends and myths surrounding them. It allowed me to create a whole mythology that builds on the idea that all of that is real and based on the way the Dracopraesi dragons work. The shapeshifting, their Goddess-ordained duties and responsibilities to the world, it all falls into place with the idea these legends and myths may have bits and pieces of truth to them. I like mixing fantasy and reality, blurring lines so readers fall easily into the world I’ve created.

FIRE OF STARS AND DRAGONS takes place in the 22nd century. How is it different from today? What survived?  How does it affect the way Cait considers Theo, Dante, and Corrin?

Of course, in MY 22nd century, the biggest difference is the fact all supernaturals in the world are out in public. Humans are fully aware of the dragons, vampires, deities, elves, and the Fae. They all have various roles they play and levels of integration into society by their own choice, but their existence has become a normal and accepted part of life. Schools teach about their history and cultures the same as they do human history and culture. Our government has fallen to the rule of a monarchy, and the king is a vampire, so that’s a big change.

There is an integration of technology similar to SmartHome technology that is trying to break through now, but it’s widespread and the norm. Everyone uses it. It’s a seamless transition of data between smartphones, tablets, and wall-mounted panels in every home/office/building that use biometrics for access, allowing anyone to pull up their personal data from a cloud server regardless of where they are.

At the same time, the supernaturals are often older than humans, or at least have longer life spans than humans, and the ruling class are significantly older, quite ancient actually. There are plenty of much younger vampires and such, but the ruling class, the monarchy are not young, just as you would expect for most cultures. Because of this, they aren’t keen on too much change in technology, so you don’t see flying cars or anything. They are fine with things changing at a slower pace. They have plenty of time. Plus, the book isn’t about sci-fi crazy futuristic world stuff.

The way all of this affects Cait is in the governmental change and overall societal change. There are aspects that are dystopian. Laws are in place that suppress women, particularly human women, and that’s what leads to her situation in the book, the choice she faces. Cait is in better circumstances than most women because of social standing gained by her vampire uncle, but laws still don’t play in her favor after his death, and she has to cope with that.

I put a little of myself in most of my characters. How is Cait different than you? What similarities do you share with the characters?

For one, Cait looks nothing like me. Lol. She’s more fearless than I am, even when she’s doing something stupid or crazy. I tend to be far more anxious than she is, not that she doesn’t ever doubt herself or second-guess her choices, but she’s less afraid of jumping into things head first than I am. I share sarcasm, self-doubt, and analytical qualities with various characters. Many of my characters have similarities with people close to me in various mixes but all with their own twists. None of them are straight-up copied from someone I know or me and written into the pages.

Had Cait’s uncle lived, what was her original plan after college?

She was studying psychology and had plans to become a counselor with a non-profit organization for women and children. Cait doesn’t need the money and grew up taught to do for those less fortunate because of those circumstances. Her uncle was quite the philanthropist and passed that on to her.

The world of FIRE AND STARS AND DRAGONS is involved. How do you keep track of it all while writing?

Notes, notes, and more notes. I have tons of notes in both Word documents and in notebooks. I have an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the Penfaeryn language I’ve developed, and pages of notes detailing the mythology for the dragons. To make it easier, I’ve also kept the story contained to one general area- Boston. I know it well enough from living up there to require far less notes about the location where things take place. But there is still a ton to track, and it can’t be done without detailed notes, organized notebooks, Excel spreadsheets, and carefully outlined Word documents breaking everything down into groups and subsets of information.

Did you base the Dracopraesi on any existing mythology?

No. I created all of that from the ground up and spent a lot of time pouring over how they would work with the division of houses, responsibilities, appearances, rankings, etc. The basics of everything is found on my website. I created a Guide to the Dracopraesi to help readers understand the Dracopraesi mythology since I know fantasy worlds can be confusing, and the dragons have a great deal of complicated rules about house rankings and such.

Sixes and threes come up often in your work, and you’ve carried your theme onto your blog. What do these numbers mean to your characters or to you? Should I playing these daily numbers?

I have an Irish ancestry and a huge love for all things Celtic, so it was natural for me to pull in certain Celtic symbolism into my world. The triquerta is incredibly significant to the deities, dragons, and other supernaturals in my world. Threes came naturally from there.

Dragons led to the biblical “666 sign of the dragon/beast” concept, which led to me challenging that notion with sixes coming into play. In my mythology, I decided to create 396 eternal dragons. They can die but would reincarnate in death, so there are always 396 dragons, never more, never less. This number comes from there being 6 Houses of the Dracopraesi with 66 dragons in each house. 666 split into 6 and 66. They are further divided into the 3 Goddess Houses and the 3 Catalyst Houses to keep with the symbolism of 3.

Among the deities, there is a strict belief in 3 Sacred Principles, which is why they use the triquerta as a divine symbol. It represents the principles all beings should strive toward gaining: morality, knowledge, and compassion.

What does your typical writing day look like? Do you have any writing rituals?

My typical writing day looks like utter chaos. I have a husband, three kids, and four cats in the house. There’s always some crazy distraction going on. I write every spare minute I can, especially if I’m on deadline, but sometimes I get so stressed that I just can’t focus. My biggest ritual is that I MUST have music playing to write. I have to find the right song to keep me in the tone of the scene I’m writing at the time, or I can’t find the words.

What would you do if writing wasn’t an option?

Go crazy. Honestly. I’ve tried doing other things, and it just doesn’t work out. This is the only thing that keeps me anywhere close to sane. I don’t think I’m wired to do anything else.

What’s been your favorite part of your writing journey so far? (Besides getting The Call from Swoon.)

Meeting other writers on Twitter. I’ve had a blast connecting with fun people I wouldn’t otherwise have met if we weren’t all writers. There have been tons of moments that have been OMG kinds of moments, but in the long run, I think the people I’ve met are lasting parts of this journey. Although, I have to say that seeing the cover for FIRE OF STARS AND DRAGONS for the first time was wicked epic. I never expected such an amazing cover and am still blown away every time I look at it.

Music is a huge part of your life. How does it inspire your writing?

Finding the right song while writing holds the emotional tone of the scene and keeps it flowing smoothly. If I can nail the perfect song down and get it on repeat, I can knock words out fast and with such beauty it’s as if I’m living the moment with my characters, watching it play out rather than writing it. I know if the song isn’t right because the scene doesn’t work. At the same time, there are songs I hear that click, leading me to write an amazing scene I hadn’t initially planned, but it works out better than I expected. The playlists on my website are tied heavily to the writing and tone of the books. Listening to the songs can deepen a reader’s sense of the characters.

What’s your favorite book? Yes, you have to pick just one.

One? Agh. You’re killing me. If I have to pick just one, I’ll say WHEN RABBBIT HOWLS by Truddi Chase, which is actually a non-fiction book recounting the horrors of abuse and delving into the world of Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder). I read it when I was growing up because this is perfectly normal casual reading as a teenager if your mother is studying for her Master’s degree in clinical psychology. Just ask my sister. I think she also read it.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently finishing the second book in the trilogy, BLOOD OF STARS AND GODS, then I’ll dive right into the final book before taking a short break and starting into the first of the standalone novels associated with the series. I have several standalones planned with some of the secondary characters from the trilogy, giving them their own awesome stories. I’m a long ways away from leaving the world I’ve created and hope readers want to stay in it with me.

Want to win FIRE OF STARS AND DRAGONS? Enter here for a chance to win one of three ebooks!
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Hear And See Kristen This Week!

Today’s Brew: Blueberry. All is back to being right with the world.

by Kristen

Once I start working on a book, I’m always dying to talk about it. I spend so much time with the characters they are real to me, and like I’d want to share the juicy exploits of my real life friends, I want to do the same for my fictional ones.

Most of the time that involves talking Julie’s ear off while she tries to get something done in the relative peace (ha) and quiet (snort) of my home.  Now we can add Intern Sara into that mix.  This week, I get to share with the world. And it’s awesome.

  •  On Wednesday, I chatted with Brian LeTendre about vampire books and hair bands for the May 7 podcast of See Brian Write.  We had so much to talk about, he invited me back just so we could talk music.  Tonight, I’ll be talking to Ariel Burnz from  Ilovevampirenovels.comUpdate: you’ll be able to hear it May 26! Tune in for a giveaway! 
  • SATURDAY!!  I’m signing books!!  Please come say hi! If you have a copy of BECAUSE THE NIGHT or NIGHT MOVES, I’d be happy to sign them. If you want one, I’ll have to available for purchase. I’ll be at the NECRWA Book Fair at the Burlington Marriott in Burlington, MA from 4-5:30 PM.  It’s free to the public. Bella Andre, Meg Maguire,  Madeline Hunter, and over 20 other romance writers will also be signing.  I’d love to see your beautiful faces if you’re in the area!
  • BECAUSE THE NIGHT will be available on Audible on May 13!  I’m so excited about this.  It’s going to be surreal for Callie to have a voice that’s not in my head. Jessica Almasy will be narrating. She’s read the audio versions of many of Gena Showalter’s books, so I know she’s done an excellent job.

COVER REVEAL: How To Reprimand Your Rock Star By Mina Vaughn

Today’s Brew:  I’m out of blueberry, so Gingerbread

by Kristen

A year ago this weekend, someone raised their hand in a NECRWA conference panel to tell us about her upcoming book. It was about a female domme who “spanked the hell” out of her submissive vampire.  Immediately, I knew I had to make friends with this author.  Mission accomplished. That author is Mina Vaughn, and the book How to Discipline Your Vampire.

Mina and her Domme-Nation series are back and the only way she could get closer to my heart was if she wrote about rock stars.

Without further ado, I give you the cover for HOW TO REPRIMAND YOUR ROCK STAR.

HowToReprimandRockStar2

Release date is July 21, 2014.  You can, and of course should, add it to your Goodreads TBR right this very minute.

Do you need more convincing?  Here’s the blurb:

In this fun and saucy romance novel, all-star college basketball player Thea dominates on the courts—and off—with a rock star who is determined to win her over.

Thea is a star basketball player at UConn on track to be Rookie of the Year. That is, if she can stay focused on the game. Lately that hasn’t been going so well, as her knee has been bothering her. But that’s not the only thing on her mind…

Ever since rock star Keaton Lowe surprised her in the girl’s locker room, Thea can’t stop thinking about him. On top of his status and enticing ways, he seems to know everything about her. But some of his actions cross the line, and Keaton needs to be punished. Will Thea keep her head in the game, or get distracted by her other favorite pastime—reprimanding her rock star?

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!

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