Dial tone


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I’ve been in a bit of a daze lately. I’ve been feeling disconnected from the rest of the world for a while now and so often when I try to reach out, to find some common ground, I find the earth’s been salted by screeds of hate or the hands on the other side would rather push me back into the darkness. Or that there’s nothing out there that sees me enough to even push back.

I walk around in life alternately invisible to the point that people run into me with carts, skip past me in lines, stare through me and like piece of meat hung out for dogs. Drivers are either honking and licking their car windows at me or their cutting me off and merging into me because they don’t know I exist.

Invisible Girl

I’m one of those people who always feels most alone in a crowd. It’s one of the reasons I almost didn’t go to my first Bouchercon. It’s one of the reasons the last one I attended left me feeling less-than-excited for the next.

People talk about the crime fiction community as a tribe, the readers and authors who make up that group gush about one another — especially during Bouchercon each year. And if one of their beloved members struggles, they rally. Which is wonderful. Except, that it’s not so much a tribe as a high school with segregated lunch room tables. Oh, sure, they all come together against threats from SFF High or Literary Prep, but halfway through the pep rally, you find Noir and Cozy in a stand off in the hallway or Romantic Suspense talking crap about Historical’s outdated do.

At Crime Fiction HS, I feel like the kid who’s been flunked enough times that all her classmates, the kids started out including the kids a year or so older who still palled around with the freshmen because they were nice or shy or had a sibling to look out for, are all upperclassmen or graduates. They’re off in college or they’ve transferred out and I’m sitting in freshman English still not recognizing any of the faces but knowing they’ll graduate before I do. (Really about time I get the writing equivalent of a GED, maybe.)

Then, if my nightstand is any indication, I’m not feeling so much loyalty to the school anymore. I’ve been sneaking off to make out with poetry and weird experimental stuff dressed in all black with safety pin piercings, with essays and academic theory and manuals. Maybe that’s why I keep flunking. Maybe that’s why I have no lunch table in the cafeteria.

In metaphor, just like real life high school, I’m eating in the hallway with a book.

And like the endless teen movies about how hard it is to be the popular kid and how awesome it would be to be the geek and “no care what people think” (because only popular kids think that’s how it works), traditionally published authors will tell you how hard it is to keep everyone happy, to meet deadlines, to worry about royalties and readership and whether a series will get continued or a standalone will get accepted or the next book will earn out. Rich people also write about how hard it is to find a nanny on the Upper East side, but from the hallway that sounds like a problem of privilege, too.

Traditionally published authors who aren’t happy can quit or self-publish and build on the readers they already have. They can use their platform to do all sorts of things. Maybe not the things they really want to try, yet, but they certainly have options.


Where one lives is also a choice, at least in part. And while I’m blessed with warm weather and sunny skies most of the year (a former coworker regularly posts beach photos with the caption “I live where you vacation”), I’m also hundreds of miles from the nearest Noir at the Bar. (And I can’t seem to find either a place willing to host one or people willing to read at one here.) The nearest chapter of Sisters in Crime is about seven hours away. Lay those miles out on a map of Europe and it’s countries away. MWA is nearby, but I’ve yet to attend a local event that made me feel remotely welcome. Could be me, probably, but my remembrance of two Sleuthfests is pretty much this:

  • Spent a whole day without anyone speaking to me but the barista who muttered “thanks” with my change.
  • Spent another day largely mute except for a brief exchange with Jeremiah Healy, who was warm and charming and I’m sorry he’s gone.
  • Hit on by a presenter, then assured by his coworker he was harmless. Was asked if I could move in the bar later. Moved to my car and went home (was sipping sparkling water — no DUI worries).
  • Brief chat with Michael Palmer, who was far too accomplished as a person to be that nice to me, especially in light of being invisible to nearly everyone else.
  • Asked to join some ladies at a table by the pool, but they talked to themselves so I have no recollection of who they were. Spent the whole time wondering if they’d notice if I left.

And I get that I’m often quiet and awkward in public. I get that a lot of writers are. But when I’m out in crowds like that I make an effort to smile at people, to make small talk if I don’t feel I’m intruding. Yet, I can only sustain that for so many hours without reciprocation.

I went to the Miami Book Fair Friday, but I only really did the street fair. The events are so scattered across two weeks and various times that making one is a bit of a challenge since Miami isn’t exactly down the street. And it rained Saturday and Sunday, so I’m glad I got to the street fair while it was nice. In the past, I’ve tried to talk friends into going, but it’s not really their thing. It’s a bunch of book and they aren’t “book people.”

That said, despite feeling recharged by changing up my surroundings, and taking the train down and interacting with random people was interesting, I left feeling somewhat like a ghost capable of touching physical objects. I bought books at three tables, but I never felt like I was “participating.” I didn’t feel connected to the event in any way and my longest exchange of the day was with a woman who needed reassurance she was on the right train platform.

Of course, the Miami Book Fair has a strong Latin and literary flavor and I’m an outsider there. I’m a tourist. I read poetry and translated stories, but I am not their audience. I’m just cheating on my old school. I’m spicing up my reading list with mangoes and cayenne and accent marks. I’m picking up chapbooks and trying to find a voice in them because I feel I’ve lost my own.

And so, when it comes to Crime Fiction High School, I am not only a freshman in the hallway eating a stale sandwich, I’m an exchange student (surely the other school got the better deal)  in a hallway at the bottom of America’s Wang, 1000 miles from the first cafeteria in which I had no place to sit.

Anyone else feel disconnected? Invisible? Alone? Or is that just me?

Vegan Thanksgiving


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Every year about this time, families gather and inevitably some of those families have vegans and vegetarians in them. Families without a majority of vegheads tend to react to this one of two ways:

  1. Making something veg-friendly is just too hard. They can starve or bring their own. Weirdos.
  2. We’ll make some stuff we found online. A few side dishes or maybe a Tofurkey loaf if they live near a store that sells one.

If your family is like the first, and you just kind of tell your relatives or friends you can’t be bothered with them and they’re on their own, I guess the question is: Why are you inviting this person? It sounds like you don’t like them very much. And they certainly won’t feel loved or welcomed if they show up at a holiday event that’s essentially a big meal and there’s nothing for them to eat.

Besides, it’s super-easy to make some side dishes that both vegans and meat eaters can enjoy.

Mashed Potatoes

  • You need some potatoes — white, red, golden, Idaho, purple, fingerling, baking, organic… Doesn’t matter. Use what’s handy, what’s on sale, your favorite… And in whatever quantity you’ll need to feed your clan.
  • You’ll need an oil — olive oil, vegan “butter,” or non-dairy margarine.
  • You’ll need a dairy substitute — sour cream, soy, almond, hemp, or coconut milk, or maybe”buttermilk” (a cup of milk substitute and a tablespoon of lemon juice).
  • You’ll need herbs or spices that go well with your other dishes, regional tastes, etc. (Garlic, dill, chives, salt, pepper, wasabi, parsley, sage, thyme, onion powder or cut onion, go nuts.)

Cut up the potatoes and boil them until they’re soft. Drain and dump into a bowl. Add enough oil, “dairy,” and herbs/spices, as you mix or mash either with an old fashioned masher or an electric mixer.

Note: This isn’t so much a recipe as a “choose your own adventure.” Still, this guide isn’t just great for the vegan at your table, but it’s tasty (if you don’t tell them, the meat-eaters might not even know, however if you have gluten-free people, you may want to check the ingredients lists on any substitutes you plan to use) and it’s perfect for your lactose-intolerant friends and family.

Vegan Stuffing

This can be made a million ways, but here are some options.

  • You need bread crumbs.
    • You can use stale bread you might already have around the house (both Arnold and Nature’s Own have sliced breads that are vegan and you probably didn’t even know it — just doublecheck the ingredients for “dairy,” “honey.” or “eggs”). If not stale, cut or tear up the bread and toast it.
    • You can buy pumpernickel or rye (or both), cut it up, and toast it on a cookie sheet.
    • You can buy vegan stuffing in a bag (this one tastes the most like “Stove Top” and similar).
  • You need some broth. The easiest two are Imagine’s No-Chicken Broth or Edward & Son’s bouillon.
  • Olive oil or vegan “butter.”
  • You need something crunchy (carrots, celery, onion, almonds).
  • Herbs and seasonings like thyme, sage, rosemary, garlic, parsley, etc.
  • Optional stuff:
    • Maybe some extra substance (potato or vegan sausage)
    • Or maybe something sweet (sweet potato or dried cranberries)

If you’re using potatoes, boil those separately. If you’re using vegan sausage, crumble and fry that up separately. If you’re toasting your own bread, do that separately.

In a pot, add water, broth, a little of your oil choice, onions, and herbs/seasoning. Bring to a low boil. Toss the bread in a big bowl with the cooked potatoes and/or sausage, then pour the cooked broth mixture over. Stir or toss to coat. Bake if you want the top crispy.

Again, you can add and subtract to create the perfect stuffing for you. My sister uses the bag stuffing, faux sausage, and potatoes before baking it into a puffed pastry she weaves like a salty-haired Martha Stewart (my sister’s a surfer and a diver and an environmentalist). I’ve done a marble rye with cranberry and almond slivers. I’ve done pumpernickel with potatoes and celery. I’ve done the bag mix with onions and broth. Go nuts.

Stuffed squash

Butternuts and Acorn squash make great centerpiece dishes and are pretty easy to do. Cook up some rice or quinoa and toss with herbs and soy crumbles or panko or chopped sweet potatoes and stuff your squash’s insides before cooking. Maybe just slice and scoop (think jack o’lantern prep) and then fill it with your vegan stuffing before baking.


Almost every family has peas or green beans or something on the table come Thanksgiving. It’s not that hard to toss a serving or two of frozen peas in a pot with a little water and olive oil and pepper.

(Note, if you can’t even be bothered with this level of accommodation, maybe don’t invite the vegan to dinner. You might as well just “go screw yourself’ on the invite.)

Rosemary Biscuits

Then there’s all this stuff:

HuffPo List

Food and Wine Options

Buzzfeed’s Take

Oh She Glows’ Faves 

VegKitchen Ideas

Tofu Taquitos


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Over the weekend, the husband wanted taquitos, so I drained a block of tofu (sliced it into three flat segments and wrapped it in a towel) for about an hour and thawed some whole wheat soft tortillas.

While that’s doing that, here’s the ingredients list:

  • Extra-firm tofu
  • Cumin, turmeric, chili powder, cilantro, cayenne
  • Onion, diced small
  • Bell peppers, diced small
  • Soft taco shells/small flour tortilla wraps
  • Coconut oil
  • Block of Daiya cheddar and jalepeno havarti
  • Plain, unsweetened almond milk
  • Vegan cream cheese
  • Salsa

After the tofu drained, I cut it into tiny cubes and fried it in some coconut oil with the onion, peppers, and spices until it was browned and pretty solid. Just before it was done, I tossed in about a tablespoon or two of salsa and let the liquid cook off with the pan heat after I turned it off.

Then I dumped the ingredients in a bowl and added about a quarter inch of coconut oil to the pan and heated it back up while I put some of the filling mix in each tortilla, rolled it, and placed it seam-side down in the hot oil to sear it closed.

Once the rolled tortillas were all in the pan, I put about a quarter block of each “cheese” in a bowl with a tablespoon of plain “cream cheese” and a splash of almond milk. That went into the microwave for thirty seconds at a time, stirring in between, until it was a smooth, creamy cheese sauce.

Keep turning the tortillas until all sides are crisp, then put on a plate. The coconut oil doesn’t usually require a lot of draining, but that’s up to you.

Serve with the cheese sauce and salsa.

You’ll have to excuse the lack of photos. We ate them all. That, and I’m not really a food blogger.




Kickstarter and the Club of Self-Righteousness


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I’ve been pondering Kickstarter a lot lately. Ran all the numbers and everything. Let them sit.

Because Kickstarter is highly controversial these days and I just don’t feel mentally strong enough to deal with the backlash, with the snark, with being hated anymore than I already feel like I generally am.

Thing is, no one I know seems to have any extra money. Not really. We all seem to be passing around that one spare $20 from hand to hand like that stupid Coke commercial on the beach. We run across a new person who seems a tad worse off, so we give them the money we just got and then they find someone worse and pass it off again. There are so many people struggling to have food and shelter or pay for life-saving medical care or to fund planet-saving research, that the idea of begging for a bit of dried fruit from that already small pie for something as trivial as “art” feels kind of, well, wrong. There are too many more worthy places to give.

Maybe that’s why there are so many people who think writers and artists should fund their own work with well-paying day jobs or extra freelance or through publishers and record companies and prior sales. It’s the idea that if you believe in your work enough, you’ll believe in it enough to put your own money behind it or it’ll be good enough for an almighty corporation to fun for their own benefit. All that’s great if you can afford it, if you can get your hands on any of those things or maybe have a half million Instagram followers who will fund your new venture after your social media meltdown. I mean, if that works, awesome. Good for you. If not, Kickstarter is essentially a form of pre-ordering for projects that lack the necessary budget to do that on their own. I mean, in theory.

Which is a thing, sure, but what really bothers me about this idea that people should fund their own stuff is how that further marginalizes already-marginalized people. (Not me. Living in that space between normal and weird isn’t being marginalized.) Sure it’s great for people who want to experiment outside genre or who want to sing and play music that doesn’t fit in with the radio edits. People who want to create zines for niche groups but don’t have the storage space if the things don’t sell. But ideally, it should be  a way for us, the world, to get more diverse books and music and art from people who struggle to break through the whitewashed walls of publishing, the thin/pretty world of pop music, the logo-covered land of hip hop. People who don’t have the cash, who don’t know friends with the cash to chase a dream. It’s honestly, one of the biggest flaws of Kickstarter is that it really relies heavily on friends and family to fund your efforts unless you have spent years cultivating a social media presence to rival the biggest celebrity through your perfect beauty or exactly-styled image. Amanda Palmer talks about asking as if it’s that simple, but she’s built a platform out of couch-surfing and weirdness and flinging herself naked into crowds. Not everyone can or should be famous.

I don’t want to fling myself naked into crowds. I’m not sure writers should do that. Ever. At the same time, I’ve tried — for years — to do all things the “proper way” with regard to both “art” and day jobs and I have the student debt to prove it. (You know that old wannabe Indiana Jones movie The Librarian where the kid of a single mom in NYC has 22 degrees and gets a job at a magic library where he’s hunted by villains who want powerful objects? Yeah, the least believable part of that is that he hasn’t first been hunted down and shot by the student loan industry. Magic organizations have nothing on those people.) I’m just not “normal” enough and I’m not “weird” enough and I’ll never be popular enough. I don’t mean that to sound like a complaint, but just plain realistic. Look, Robert Galbraith had modest sales — despite being well received critically — before being outed as JK Rowling. Spoiler alert: I’m never going to secretly be JK Rowling. I’m never even going to secretly be EL James.

So, you have any thoughts? It is the internet, after all.

NaNoWriMo Tools


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About a year ago, I wrote up a list of tools as options for NaNoWriMo participants. Pretty much all of it’s still valid (though Microsoft has named OneDrive “SkyDrive” on parts of my laptop and I have to say I’m not thrilled with dealing with their identity crisis when looking for documents, so I generally just use Google Drive).

If you want the full breakdown, it’s over here on the Fort Writerdale site.

The “paper” tools section is here.

It occurs to me that I never wrote about my favorite pens so let’s remedy that real quick. (Yes, real quick. Don’t make me break out any of the worse phrases I picked up in the South.)


I generally hate ballpoint pens, but if I really need to use one, I always fall back on the Pilot Better RT (retractable). They are little workhorses that last for nearly ever, rarely bleed or clot or fail in anyway, and they come in a few colors if you use your Google-fu (I still have a purple one somewhere that still writes despite being 20 years old). I’m a fan of super-fine points and the fine version of this one is about as fine as you’d want in a ballpoint because of the viscous nature of the ink. The Pen Addict mentions the EasyTouch and I’ve always liked that one, too, but I had a harder time finding the EasyTouch in that “needle” point the Better had. Plus, the Better has more metal parts if you’re rough on pens.



Everyone loves the Pilot G-2 and the Pilot Frixon pens, but I can’t find the Frixion with thin enough tips and while the G-2 is serviceable, the Pilot Juice has better flow, comes in a dizzying array of colors and (!!!) is available in .38mm, which to me is “fine.” Even The Pen Addict is a fan. Seriously, you could make far worse pen purchases than the Juice.

Not to be outdone, the Zebra Sarasa has always been a good pen — as good or better than the G-2. Except, again, in the US I could never find anything smaller than a .7mm in anything other than black. However… The Sarasa Clip comes in .3 (and other tip sizes) and an equally-impressive range of colors. Both JetPens and TokyoPenShop offer great customer service. The Pen Addict is right. North America is getting the short end of the pen market stick.



I used to be a huge fan of the Pilot V-ball (again, needle point) and the Pilot Precise is good, too, bu overall I just don’t use them very often. They’re smeary compared to the gel pens and they’re not as fancy as the fountain pens.

Technically, the Pilot Maica is a gel pen, but it comes as a stick pen with a needle tip similar (but so much prettier) than the V-ball and the Precise. It comes in a .3mm and .4mm; you can buy them in sets or singles, and they really are just a pleasure to write with.


My two favorites here are, again, imports. Again, Pilot and Zebra are in the mix, but I also like what Pentel’s done with the i+.

The prettiest of the bunch is by far the Zebra Prefill, which if you use some Google-fu, you can find in a ridiculous array of barrel designs like Hello Kitty, Peanuts, and cute little animals. Since The Pen Addict reviewed them in 2013, they’ve expanded their barrel and refill options considerably (The Surari emulsion ink works in them, too, but I’m not a fan) and, as far as I’m concerned, they’re the only multi-pen with a pencil option that’s worth considering. (I have pencil refills in three of my Prefills, two in plain graphite and one in red). Tokyo Pen shop breaks down the whole refill situation here.


Pilot has been in the mult-pen business a long time — just not in North America. The only multi-pen you can get at Staples and the like is a disgrace to the company. The Hi-Tec-C Coleto (or Coleto for short) has been through a few barrel changes, but nothing like the options for the Prefill. It comes in a few sizes (3-, 4-, or 5-refill options) and will take refills in .3, .4, and .5mm. It also has a pencil and separate eraser option, but they both fee flimsy in the barrel and it’s awkward to advance the lead. The Pen Addict’s thoughts go back to 2011, which tells you a bit about how long Pilot’s been selling these (just not at your local Office Depot).


Pentel used to have these skinny little multi-pens with ridged barrels that left marks on your fingers if you wrote too long. They tried some other ideas over the years, but the best one they’ve come up with is the simplest. The Pentel i+ might have a stupid name, but if you like Pentel’s Sliccies refills (they are nice and super-fine), this might be the multi-pen you’ve been looking for. They’ve also surpassed Pilot in the “pretty barrel” department if you find the .3 Zebra’s lacking.


Fountain Pens:

If you want a fountain pen expert who has tried a ton of them and also uses them every day, you want Pens and Art. If you just want some quick and dirty thoughts on a few cheapish options, here you go.

Most people who want cheap fountain pens look for the disposable Pilot Varsity. I hate the idea behind disposable stuff (that’s why so many of my favorites are refillable). There’s also no reason to be disposing of a fountain pen so I tend to view this as another way the North American pen market gets treated like we, well, like the US is apparently known for using Solo cups instead of glassware at parties.

Anyway, if you want a super-cheap fountain pen to try out the idea, the Platinum Preppy comes in a mess of pretty colors and it’s refillable. They last a pretty long time if you keep them in a pen cup on your desk or a pen roll in your bag and they are very low-fuss. You can leave them uncapped while you eat lunch and they’ll still write. You can leave them on your desk for a month and they’ll still write. Just don’t try that with fancy-pants fountain pens and expect the same results.  Look, Staples will sell you a single Varsity for $4.29 and when it runs out of it, it’s garbage. For $3, JetPens will sell you a pen you can refill (two more times for $1.65). For math haters, that’s 3x the writing for 36 cents extra. Not to mention that JetPens ships free at $25 and Staples wants you to spend $50.


For a little more, the Platinum Plasir looks like a much nicer pen than the price suggests. It also has the same technology that lets you leave it sitting around without having to clean it and baby it that the Preppy does. It’s just a bit sturdier, so you can put it in a bag or pocket without worrying about breaking the cap.


If you want bright-colored plastic that’s sturdier than the Preppy with a reliable ink flow that doesn’t require a lot of babying, you can’t go wrong with the Lamy Safari or the Lamy Al Star. Just make sure if you buy a Lamy, you pick a reputable seller. Its’ one of the most copied pens and there’s a metric shit-ton of copycats and fakes on sites like eBay. The thing about fakes is that the quality is hit or miss. Some people have had good experiences and others haven’t. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is and if you’re not buying from a reputable seller, don’t pay full price unless they can prove it’s the real deal. Also, keep in mind that the Lamy isn’t a Japanese pen (they’re German), so if you like super-fine tips/nibs, go with the extra-fine nib and expect it to still be a little thicker than a comparable imported Pilot or Platinum.


I have a Pelikan I bought years ago, lost, and never really used. The nib was too thick for my liking and it was another cartridge or converter I needed to keep track of. Then I discovered it will take universal cartridges (they’re just short) and started using it pretty often. It’s no fuss, pretty sturdy, and while it’s not great beauty, I end up using it more than my gorgeous Monteverde because the Monteverde requires some sort of pagan ritual to get it to write. (Note, I did not pay as much for my Pelikan as the one in the link; it’s just the closet in style to the old one I have.)


Felt-tip Pens:

Because I like such a fine point, I rarely use anything with a felt tip. There are a few exceptions. I have a set of Papermate Flair pens in medium for anytime I need a “marker” type pen and I don’t let anyone else touch them because hard-pressers mess up the point.


I have a handful of Yasutomo Stylist pens that I like pretty well and I have a bunch of Stabillo 88s that come in a bunch of fun colors, but I hardly ever use them. Mostly for editing, which means I run out of red and purple before anything else because they’re the most visible (to me) against black.

I like the Sharpie pens well enough and I’ve always liked the Sharpie ultra-fine tip for proofreading ad copy so it stands to reason I’d like the pen. That said, I’m not crazy about the inability to refill.


Last, but not least, pencils. As a former math teacher and someone who breaks out old algebra and calculus books for fun when she needs to clear her head, I have a thing for pencils, too. Specifically, two pencils.

Sure, I have pencil refills in some of my Prefills, but that’s for quick-and-dirty stuff. For actual sketching and plotting and mathy goodness, I either use a Pentel Twist-Erase 0.5 mechanical pencil or a Dixon Ticonderoga. (Hey, finally something we can find at Staples!) I have a bajillion other wooden pencils in a cup on my desk, but my go-to remains something with that little green ferrule. I’ve loved Ticonderogas since I was a kid and while the Palomino Blackwings and their ilk are lovely to behold, they just don’t match the simple pleasure of figuring stuff out with a Ticonderoga.


Things I shouldn’t say…


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I left teaching for a variety of reasons, but among them was this overwhelming sense that I wasn’t doing anything good. I had gone from feeling like I helped kids, even if was just a few a week, to feeling like I was forced to do more harm than good. The state had tied the hands of both the facility staff and the education staff to the point where they had been reduced to a cross between jailers and poorly-paid babysitters. The facility staff were miserable and overworked, over-tired, and over-stressed from back-to-back shifts and never knowing if they’d be allowed to go home to their families. Education had been reduced to testing, test-prep, and forced instruction from books the kids (by and large) weren’t up to understanding yet. We’d gone from a sort of triage system of meeting the kids where they were and trying on all fronts to piece them together as best we could before they left to an aloof sort of HMO that did what it wanted no matter what showed up and input codes to make our overlords happy at the cost of all the patients.

I also left because I had no “home” at work. After eight years, I’d been reduced to a sort of shuffling existence where I had to carry everything around in my hands because bags were prohibited, all the locks had been drilled out of the desks, and my co-teacher left her stuff in both desks — even contraband that I later had to answer for, either to her about what happened to it or to the facility about how a kid got their hands on sharp objects. I was supposed to use books that weren’t in the room I was using, but was told I couldn’t move them. I had once been a teacher of the year finalist and I suddenly had people who’d never worked in correctional education — or even a middle school — telling me I was doing everything wrong, constantly, tracking my movements on breaks, and telling students I didn’t know what I was doing. I had adults trying to create tension and drama with the students and I had support staff and administration doing things that created security risks.

Sitting in a cubicle performing useless tasks is one thing. Anyone can do that for years. Doing things in private that gnaw at your sense of justice or morality will eventually catch up to you one way or another. Being an introverted person by nature and having to lie “on stage” in between being berated and questioned is a recipe for exhaustion at best. So many people these days want to act as though that’s “just how it is” and that everyone should “be happy to have a job” and “suck it up.” Except, it was killing me. Slowly. I was depressed and it had sunk to a level I couldn’t maintain it through my usual exercise routine because I was too exhausted to exercise and as winter marched on and the days shortened to nothing, I started to feel I’d never escape the blackness.

So, I went back to the doctor. He and I had tried an assortment of antidepressants over the years and I generally respond terribly to medication, so it was no surprise that nearly everything available made me worse in some way: there was the one that made me more depressed, the one that made me narcoleptic, the one that made me manic, the one that did nothing, the one that made me much much worse. Good times. There was one that had worked okay, but insurance lapses over the years had caused me to stop and so we decided to give that one a shot. And a few days later, I already felt better except for a growing itchiness that grew to maddening. Halfway through the month’s dosage, I was clawing at my skin like I was possessed and had taken so much Benedryl, I was essentially a zombie, a very itchy zombie. Good times.

I ended up taking a leave of absence, but never went back. It’s hard to talk about how I was treated the last couple of years I was there without feeling like I don’t have the “right platform” to talk about bullying and depression. Without feeling whiny in the face of so much of the judgmental “suck it up” mentality that has turned into our national response to everything. Thing is, no one should be bullied and abused at work — not minorities, not LGBTQ people, not the mentally or physically ill. I mean, what the hell are we doing with ourselves as a country if that’s the message we want to send to the world? That we’re capable of no more compassion and nuance than hormonal sixth graders raised by pack animals?

I’ve spent the past year or so working intermittently for my husband’s company, but a lot of that work has dried up; making candles, but that’s a hard thing to sell in a market where everyone seems to be struggling to make ends meet; teaching karate a few times a month; and writing. None of these things really pay an income even high enough to pay my student loan anymore, so I’ve been looking for jobs. What I’ve discovered, though, is my resume is too sporadic, too varied, too something. I’m overqualified, underqualified, something. I had one interview where the woman made sure to let me know the industry didn’t pay as well as corporate jobs. To which I smiled and tried to figure out how to explain, after twenty minutes of examples and anecdotes from education, that not only does education not pay well, but my corporate job was in advertising which for nearly everyone I knew at the time paid just enough to get them to and from and eat a few times a week. Mad Men, we weren’t.

Thing is, after months and months of looking at job postings and applying for things, I’ve realized I’ll be doing good if I ever find a job that pays me enough to pay my student loan again. There are dozens and dozens of companies and cities looking to hire people with bachelor’s degrees who intend to pay what I made with a high school diploma in 1995. Not only that, but the compound effect of my many failures has left me feeling like I’m good at nothing. Except, that’s not totally true. I resort to Excel for all sorts of things and build linked multi-workbook documents with color-coded, self-tabulating spreadsheets. Last week I taught myself how to format an ebook with CSS. I’m still not happy with either of my WordPress sites and I can’t figure out how to fix the belt on my alternator by myself, but I got certified to teach both high school English and math (and passed the certification test for social science; I just didn’t add it to my certificate because once math is one there, it’s pretty much all a district will ever hire you do to). I make a mean vegan cookie and I helped the husband do well enough on the GRE to get into grad school at the University of Florida. I got a black belt in my late thirties.

But I’ve become shyer, more questioning. I always feel nothing I do is good enough. Timid. And I hate that. I was never timid. Introverted, yes, but I always said what was on my mind. I never feared going to new places. I need to find that person again. Because being what other people want, trying at least, isn’t working. People see through it or it still isn’t quite right and I fail and I add that failure to the pile as proof I suck instead of being my real self and letting the chips fall where they will.

I’ve been working on a Davis Groves story where she starts out feeling separate from others, where she tries as hard as she can to blend in and make her older sister happy by being “normal,” but in the end it all falls apart. In the end, the person she is breaks through even though the person she is is questionably socialized and rough not just at the edges. Seems obvious this is some sort of metaphor for my own battle with figuring how who I am and how to play nice in the world and while I’m beyond lucky my problems are no where near as bad as Davis’s, there’s something so obvious and natural in her arc that is a perverse kind of fun to spend time with.

So, how do you fit in? How’s that working out? When you pretend, do people know?

Davis Groves and the changing world


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Most of you probably have no idea who Davis Groves is — unless you miraculously remember her from a story in Needle magazine back in 2013, from a story on Beat to a Pulp later that year, Noir Nation from last year, or maybe Feeding Kate, back in 2012 (damn, time flies). I’m assuming even if you have a copy of the new Protectors anthology, you haven’t gotten far enough to find the Davis story in there because Thomas Pluck has utterly outdone himself and not only does that include stories from writers even my nonreader friends have heard of, I understand the print copy rivals phone books in size (Amazon says the print size is over 700 pages). (And if you don’t have a copy of the Protectors 2: Heroes, I don’t know what you’re waiting for unless you’re as broke as I usually am. Maybe ask for it as a gift? It benefits Protect, an organization that aims to prevent abuse of children so even if you only like one story in it, it’s still worth the price.)

In a world where Protect wasn’t necessary, Davis would likely not exist — at least not the Davis who’s been floating around various story collections these past few years. She’s largely a product of two thing: One, reading stacks of every mystery I could get my hands on with a female protagonist back in the mid-90s. Had I discovered Zoe Sharp’s Charlie Fox, I might not have ever felt the need to scribble bones of Davis in a notebook back then or ever bothered writing really terrible early stories around Davis that have since gone to wherever floppy disks go to die.  Might. But Davis isn’t Charlie; they just have some similar qualities. And a lot of the differences come from Thing two.

(Thing two leads to me talking about my former students and some of that could be triggering for some.)

Two, I spent eight-and-a-half years teaching secondary school and four years of that time I spent all day every day (including summers) with teenage girls who’d been detained by law enforcement and the courts. I spent another year-and-a half splitting my time between younger boys (mostly middle school) and the girls who had been detained. I spent another year and most of a summer working in classrooms with all genders in an alternative school setting.

I once wrote that Davis “comes from a place of having been a survivor in a landscape where everyone else was, too, to some extent or another. It’s a fatalism combined with a resourcefulness and stubbornness that expects to go down, but won’t do it without a fight, and probably a long, nasty one.” That part of her comes from having spent all those years with girls who desperately wanted to learn and get a GED, but had done so many drugs in the years before that you could literally watch them forget what you’d just said. Girls who sold drugs to keep the lights on for grandma, girls who sold themselves for family, for boyfriends, for the money to do what they wanted. Girls whose mothers traded them to older men in exchange for housing. Girls who tore their hair out. Girls so full of rage they couldn’t get free of they’d tear up anything, tear through anyone, hurl themselves against furniture and immovable objects. Girls whose mothers beat and burned them, but could would still defend their families to a dying breath. Boys who’d rather let others beat them than give the illusion of fighting back (out of fear of more time and their mother dying before they could get out). Boys more afraid of sexual assault in prison than of dying. Boys who admitted freely the only men in their family to live past 22 were locked up. Kids who’d use certain predatory guard’s sickness to get favors or freedom. And kids who, despite everything, found the routine of being locked up such a comfort they completed credits or earned GEDs — things they often admitted had never seemed possible on the streets.

The 4-5 people who’ve read one or two of the stories have asked me in the past why Davis doesn’t have a longer story, a novel, something. And the answer is that she sort of does. She sort of has a novel-length tale, three novella/novel-length tales, a half-dozen other quasi-finished short stories, and two 35,000-word somethings. (There’s also some other non-Davis stuff on my hard drive, but for some reason I seem to need to get her out of my system and the other stuff just doesn’t have her heart. It’s only been a year-and-a-half since I stopped spending my days with scores of damaged kids, so it might take some time before the much happier and better-treated karate students bring some light into the inspiration section of my head. (Not that they’re perfect, but they have the kinds of middle class problems Davis learned about through books and TV.) The whys of all this writing without reason or purpose or publisher is a matter for another post. Which is why very few have seen anything longer and those were messy drafts. No one really knows what to do with a longer version of Davis. And I get it. She’s regularly…unpleasant. And she’s not a dude, so she doesn’t get as much leeway in the unpleasant department. Or maybe I’m just better at character than plot. Something anyway.

What got me writing this today, though was a couple of things, but largely this story on laist. (trigger warning) The county of Los Angeles has decided, finally, to stop arresting underage sex workers and seek alternative means of providing assistance and intervention for victims of trafficking. This is a rather huge step and one that should have happened a long time ago. I mentioned that Davis is partially a product of my time “in juvie,” (at “da ‘tent” if you want the local lingo) and it may not be a surprise that of the girls I taught there, saying 80% had been abused in some way would be an understatement. Saying more than half had been sex workers of some kind before 18 would also be an understatement. Between the strippers working with fake IDs, the girls selling themselves for drugs or for better access to steal money and IDS, the girls being sold or traded by boyfriends, pimps, parents and other relatives, or working their own rings out of group homes and neighborhoods…  Even those arrested for drugs, fights, stealing cars, or breaking into houses, some element of prostitution regularly ended up being either another charge their next visit or the reason they started doing drugs or just some other aspect of their life story.

Which is why, while LA’s new process will help children like the victims in Josh Stallings’ third Moses book, it wouldn’t do much for a lot of the students I used to work with. While some of them did get picked up for prostitution, most involved in that were arrested for other, related, things. And girls (or guys) with pimps or “boyfriends” who trade them around are generally loyal to the person trafficking them. The students I worked with would even point out that they had to go back to those neighborhoods, the county only looks big on a map, or that so what because they had a place to stay and clothes to wear. Trafficking victims who have known a “good” life can be convinced to go back. Victims who allow themselves to be trafficked in exchange for things they wouldn’t otherwise have, are harder to both understand and separate from the life.

Davis has been one of these girls. In the Noir Nation story, she’s on the cusp of finding that’s the best way (for her) to get the money her family needs to get where they need to go. In the Protectors‘ story, she’s spent years doing that and she’s trying to be one of the middle class kids she knows about through books and TV. In the Needle story, she’s on the verge of going back. In the Beat to a Pulp story, she’s trying to break free again and finding it hard. It’s a crutch she uses when she needs quick money, but it’s also a how she looks for connection and validation because she’s not used to getting it in too many other ways — and all those ways require, to her, a bigger sacrifice.

Like many of the girls I worked with in those years, Davis doesn’t really see herself as a victim either — and to suggest she is puts her on the defensive. Partly because she, like so many of the students I met, sees herself as making her own decisions even if all the choices are crappy. Partly, it’s because she’s lived in and around people she knows have had it worse. There’s something she tells a friend (in an unpublished work) as she’s trying to explain that world and she uses the phrase “at least” over and over. I recently saw that same mentality, rationality, used again in Roxane Gay’s call for essay submissions. The description in the first paragraph is so similar to what Davis tells this friend over dinner that it makes the writer part of my brain nod and think “well, at least I got that right.”

Hopefully, organizations like Protect, changes in policy like that in LA County, and writers like Roxane Gay will one day create a world where Davis and her past seems as antiquated as the cell phones in season 2 of The X-Files.

20151023_111842_Richtone(HDR) (1)

Seriously, these are more advanced than the thing Scully carries around that season.

Adulting Mornings


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I have always been somewhat awful at adulting. Not in the obvious, disastrous, off-the-rails sort of way. I don’t shoot up heroin or hang out in strip clubs until 5am selling cocaine. I don’t leave babies and dogs in cars. I don’t set buildings on fire. I am a generally law-abiding boring person who has such an aversion to smoke in general that I never even tried pot in college. (Really. Smoke just kind of closes up all my airways and I have to force myself to inhale and there’s just no way inhaling on purpose was ever going to work.)

No, my big issue is mornings. I don’t function well in the morning. Especially if I have to wake between 5 and 7am EST and I am indoors, away from the sun or it is winter. (Adults don’t live in tents all summer so they can rise in time for work unless they’re camp counselors or park rangers or something.) I’ve heard all the advice: it’s all in my head; just wake up smiling; go to bed earlier; don’t watch TV late; don’t read before bed; read before bed; don’t sleep near your phone; don’t check email before bed; work out; don’t work out… I just need sleep. And that sweet spot between 5 and 7 seems to be when my body really wants to be asleep. Which means if I wake at 7, I’ll be alert and nearly-cheerful by 9. If I wake between 5 and 7, I might be semi-coherent by noon and by 3pm I’ve lost the ability to sit still without nodding off like a drugged grandpa. When I was teaching, this meant after the kids left and I started grading, I’d turn up obnoxiously-loud music on my computer and still wake up around 3:30 wondering if any of the other teachers noticed me drooling on a stack of future Fs. Granted, teaching was an exhausting job for an introvert. There’s that.

I’ve tried being one of those people, like the husband, who can get by on 4 or 5 or even 6 hours of sleep. That always goes fine for about three days and then I either forget how to sleep for about 24 hours or I turn damn-near narcoleptic. (This makes for unsafe commuting.) I’m definitely not one of those people who can run for weeks, months, even years on two or three hours of sleep a night without being a dangerous, cranky, stumbly mess. (People only forgive this, by the way, if you have an infant — generally a human infant that you can prove lives in your house and requires your attention in some fashion.)

I’m not one of those people who has ever found smiling to cure anything. If I’m not doing it naturally, it makes my face hurt. It also makes people think I’m plotting their demise or that I’ve been possessed by an evil clown.

Going to bed early just results in me lying in bed having all the same thoughts I’d have if I were up. Then, I wake up in the morning cranky that I didn’t actually do anything with the thoughts and then I have to find time during the day to cram in those thoughts before new ones happen and it just leads to the added stress of always being behind on my own nonsense in addition to everything else. Accomplishing things with the thoughts helps me sleep easy and not toss and turn all night.

I mean, I admire and marvel at those writers who wake at four or five to turn out pages before day jobs. And I get that it’s easier to get it done before the day and friends and family and work and errands and rising tides intrude. Except, if I woke at four or five, I’d have pages of this:

kk d                                          coffee. kkkkkkkjddjl;lalkjllliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiij                                                                        iijia;ff398 kthinglsishieqiejsa roewrrooqur oyeie jjhio;w  mdnnm,                          ndjm nldlj ‘9ue9a’ kc ijodija’

And this is a quick and dirty thing I banged out as an example of something at midnight:

Bob ran his hands through his thinning hair and stared at the dog poop. He could not believe such giant turds could come out of a runty chihuahua. “Just you and me now.” He considered using the divorce papers as a scooper, but figured that’d come back to bite him in the ass, too.
Beth gulped down the last of her margarita and threw her hands in the air. “I’m free. No more Bob. No more shitty little taco dog. And if that barely legal busboy is willing, I’m going to christen my new sheet set right.”

I keep waiting for that “when you get older, you’ll be a morning person” promise to kick in. Apparently I’m still not old enough. I worry I won’t live long enough to be old enough since the husband’s “morning person gene” switched on when he was a year or two younger than I am now. I still sleep through alarms. Yes, plural. I need at least four to get me up.

On the other hand, come midnight, I’m wide awake.

The Power of Positive Thinking or Don’t Buy Lies


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Fail Harder

Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, even Twitter are full of “positive thinking” quotes and hand-lettered sayings and all sorts of “You Can Do It” if you “Keep Calm and” “Think Positive.” There’s lot’s of pictures of coffee mugs with perfectly angled planners and glasses you know no one wears, maybe some glitter or pink flowers on a unbelievably white desk. (Seriously, who the hell has room on their desk for bud vases and what kind of “designer” can keep a desk pristine white without spilling coffee or ink or the leaky bits of yesterday’s lunch on it?)

These people are the opposite of “writers” though there’s some overlap, generally in the self-help genre. Most of the writers I know are surly, cynical, and will tell anyone who listens that there’s no money in writing, no money in publishing, that you’re going to need to keep your day job forever yet still probably die of a disease basic insurance could have cured, and that “writers write” everyday whether they want to or not, generally at the ass crack of dawn before going to the day job or in the middle of the night after tucking in all the children. They’re regularly drunk, over-caffeinated, under-medicated, bleary-eyed, and tend to wear their dysfunction like a badge of honor. They march around under a banner of “This Sucks and We Do It Because We Think We Have To or Maybe We Want To, We Don’t Know, But It Definitely Sucks.”

this sucks

Then there are the “creative entrepreneurs.” They are all sunbeams and rainbows and none of their unicorns are murderous. They seem to mostly be people who at one point made things (maybe?) like felted squirrel boutonnieres and embroidered planner bookmarks — things I can’t imagine anyone needing or buying, but that somehow hit a nerve with some pocket of hipsters who made the thing go whatever version craft viral causes someone to actually make a living on Etsy. Of course, eventually their fingers cramp or the market for antique cat crates dries up and they need something new to peddle. Hence, the rise of the coaching, coursing, self-help pamphlet bullshit industry.

They are wedding photographers who “tell stories” rather than just take pictures in between the shouting matches of in-laws and estranged sisters. They are the people hand-lettering signs for boutiques selling discounted felted squirrel boutonnieres and menus for events with mason jar champagne glasses. They are the stylists who blog about fashion on Tumblr, promote themselves on Snapchat, and will sell you an e-course on gaining Pinterest followers through better Instagram hashtags. They are all designing their own planner, especially for [insert super-specific niche market] and it’ll have gold coils and on-brand graphics that are equally pretty and bold to make your every to-do list come to life on the backs of glitter-coated fairies. All their Instagram accounts look the same because all their mood boards are pink and teal with white backgrounds dotted by peonies and antique cameras and cats eye glasses and any quote about following your passion over the positive thinking rainbow to thinness and wealth and brand-coordinated macaroons.

Untitled design

Unlike the writers, hunkered down in their post-economic-collapse, pre-climate-catastrophe studio apartments hoping to get through the next draft before they run out of antidepressants, the creative entrepreneur army will tell you to quit that day job, follow your passion, work it #girlboss, and for just three easy payments of $199, you can have all the SEO secrets to make a million dollars by using social media to promote your blogging about how you make your lizard socks from fair trade organic pug fur. There’s a lot of steps in the creative entrepreneur world. The first one tends to be buying an e-course or an e-book or some sort of “passive income” training that the presenter brags about having created in five hours, wants fifty bucks for, and will teach you to do the exact same thing for another fifty bucks. Because there can never be enough craft-e-preneurs selling the same branding class. Not if you think positively enough!

But, no, seriously…don’t quit your job. Eventually the world will run out of new people with the disposable income to pay $20 for your 20-page “book” about increasing followers through hand-crafted hashtags and you’ll wind up under the bridge with the writers who made $0.35 on their 400-page novel and they’ll have already had time to sharpen their sticks. That way lies madness. And glitter. There are only so many people willing to buy handmade things because most of the people are busy “hustling” at their own five jobs trying to cobble together enough money to stay indoors another month. They might want your finch-feather earrings, but they also want food that isn’t ramen and Walmart has pigeon-feather earrings on clearance and this is how you’ll eventually go from the ranks of the coached to the coach as you peddle your own expertise and start the bullshit cycle anew.

Which may sound like I’m being snarky and judgmental, but that’s not really my intention. I generally hate that sort of thing, and I mostly wish people would just let each other like what they like. At the same time, it pains my heart to see so many people line up to throw money at magical thinking while authors I adore, who actually think magically by creating worlds and people out of nothing, struggle. That, and I really want to see the scientific study proving that telling my mirror I deserve wealth will manifest money any better than saying “Bloody Mary” will cause a slumber party massacre.

When Outlining Gets Out of Control


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I’m not much for outlining. I try. I understand the concept. Except, then I write and everything goes off the rails. I write the end first, part of a prequel, thirty pages of backstory, and then the thing I outlined except with a different plot glued together from three other stories I wrote when this process happened on another project. The story, “Hollow” that appeared on Beat to a Pulp a few years back was a hybrid of three random scenes that came together after reading a magazine article and after two other plots fell out and got together to form their own thing — then those other two set a building on fire and haven’t been seen since, but I’m sure they’ll reappear at some point. The always do.

So, what I’m saying is that I’m painfully inefficient at crafting fiction. Something that seems to translate into “terrible writer” in this age of putting out five books a year in order to cobble together enough income, along with a day job and two night jobs, to live indoors someplace with plumbing. Trust me, I’d like to be a bit more organized and linear. And I’ve tried. I just keep ending up with stuff even I don’t want to read and stuff that’s utterly unfixable without dumping its parts back into the above stream of parts.

I wrote a whole novel-length manuscript this way. (And rewrote it approximately 57 times, five of which were from scratch. Seriously, there’s only about five words in common from the last draft to the first and three of those are “the,” “and,” and “a.”) Then, I wrote two more. A friend, who is way smarter than I’ll ever be, suggested I write more from the main characters’ childhood since they didn’t have a typical suburban upbringing. A couple of those have turned into stories at least one other person have read. And it’s true that the childhood misadventures of these characters can be entertaining, but that turns into a lot to keep track of. Hence, outlining the whole lives of these characters, from town to town, year to year.

Granted, that sounds crazy, but I’ve tried doing things (not writing, clearly) the “right way” and that’s never worked out.

I find the characters interesting, though, and with well plotted lives, maybe someone else will find them interesting. Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not. Seems selling a book these days involves some strange alchemy beyond interesting or even well-written, beyond even luck, and might actually require black magic or complicated sacrifices. Pretty sure it also requires something more commercially easy to explain than this Winchester Mystery House of fiction I’ve created on my hard drive.

Sure, there are different options. There’s stabbing blindly at traditional routes, writing things that are supposedly popular or formulaic or manage to predict trends before they happen. There’s the crossroads of indie presses with less-popular, less formulaic books that rise and fall and sometimes rise again. And self-publishing, which is often either done poorly or expensively and there’s not much going on in between. (Yes, to me the $2000-5000 it seems to cost to put out a good-quality self-pubbed book seems expensive because a nearby town is looking to hire an attorney for $54,000 a year and before the economy collapsed, I made that teaching and my last year of teaching my salary worked out to be about $10 an hour for all the time I put in.)

Best I can figure, all writing advice contradicts itself and career/industry advise is no different. A lot of it is dated because things are moving at such a speed that Joe Friendly who got an agent five years ago, a deal two years ago, and just released his debut had a vastly different playing field to work with than you likely will. Just like the advise our parents, teachers, and grandparents gave us in business and life ten, twenty years ago might as well have been written on stone tablets  or at the very least come off as dated as instructions for a transistor radio. Sometimes it still works. Sometimes not.

And everyone has a theory about why.

Because everyone has opinions on the internet. (And judging people on the internet seems to have become an international hobby.)


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