EWF Unpacking: Polish Your Pitch and Publishing Masterclass

I’ve been pretty dilatory about posting up these notes, but I’m slowly getting them out there! Here’s some more useful wisdom from the Emerging Writers’ Festival!

I took very few photos at the festival, but I did manage to get this one of my name tag and my awesome shoes.

I took very few photos at the festival, but I did manage to get this one of my name tag and my awesome shoes.

Polish Your Pitch - Class by Jennifer Baker (publishing professional of 16 years, host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, contributing editor to Electric Literature, essayist)

I have pages and pages of notes from this class taught by Jennifer Baker, including some very specific suggestions she made for a story I’ve been trying to pitch. Here are some of the highlights though:

  • First, follow the rules on pitching. Actually read the publication’s submission guidelines and make sure you know what type of work they’re working for. It’s a waste of your time and theirs if you pitch something that doesn’t follow their guidelines and/or is just totally wrong for their publication.

  • Your article topics need to be specific and interesting. Your goal is to get a “I haven’t heard this before” from the person you’re pitching to. If you’re writing on a common topic, make sure to specify what makes your spin different and unique.

  • If you can’t find a person’s name or can’t figure out how they identify, it’s okay if you just say “Dear Editor.” Just don’t make assumptions!

  • The editor is coming at your piece with a few things in their minds: “Can you do the thing you’re saying you can do?” “Is it worth my time and effort to pay you?” “Is the structure and voice of the piece there?” You want to be able to answer all these questions in your pitch. The more fleshed out and structured the idea, the less work the editor needs to do to get it up to par.

  • If someone rejects your pitch, don’t take it personally! Jennifer said: “As an editor, I have rarely ever NOT taken a pitch because of someone’s bad writing. I don’t believe in bad writing, but I do see unfocused writing.”

Publishing Masterclass - Class by Jane Friedman (20 years of experience in publishing industry, author of The Business of Being a Writer and The Authors Guild Guide to E-Publishing)

I actually had to leave this class 1/3 of the way through to go volunteer for the festival in another location, but I still learned SO MUCH. I’m really glad I got to go for at least that much.

I found this sweet pupper hanging out in Old Town Alexandria near the festival while walking between events one day. <3

I found this sweet pupper hanging out in Old Town Alexandria near the festival while walking between events one day. <3

  • To submit to publishers, you need:

    • A finished manuscript for a fiction book

    • A book proposal for a nonfiction book

    • For a memoir, you probably should have both a finished manuscript and a book proposal, as some publishers will want one or the other and plenty will want both.

  • Before you submit, you need to make sure your manuscript or proposal is the best you can make it. You need to resolve all the problems or hire someone to do it for you. No one EXPECTS you to hire an editor for revisions, but it’s certainly an option.

  • If you want a large/mid-size publisher, it’s a good idea to get an agent.

  • It’s really important to define the genre of your book so you can find the correct agents and publishers. This can be hard since some book genres are pretty nebulous.

    • For example, “Literary fiction” is sometimes publisher code for “will not sell.” However, once it makes the best seller list, a literary fiction book’s genre tends to magically change to “mainstream fiction.” (There are no particular requirements for either of these genres).

    • You can sometimes get away without picking a genre for your book by comparing it to another work instead, but that doesn’t always work.

  • Hard to sell works: Poetry, collections, multi-genre work, “hard to categorize” books

    • Even if your work is “hard to categorize,” just label it something. People run in the opposite direction at the sound of “hard to categorize.” “If you don’t know, they won’t know either.”

  • Projects that are more commercially viable:

    • Fiction - Genre, commercial, or mainstream narratives of about 80,000 words. You can go as low as 50,000, but that’s as low as you can go. Once you reach 100,000, you’ll get some pushback about it being too long or needing more editing.

    • If you’re trying to get a nonfiction book published by a large publisher, you need a platform. Your visibility and authority can matter as much as the content. They expect you to bring the audience to the publisher, not vice versa.

      • if you’re a journalist or professor or have some sort of career that gives you credibility on a topic, that can help you with your nonfiction author platform.

  • Less commercially viable projects:

    • Narratives that are 120,000+ words.

    • Children’s picture books, cookbooks, travel, short fiction, essay collections, poetry, anthologies of any kind

Fixing Up Split Headphone Wires with Yarn!

Oh oh I actually came up with the solution to this problem all on my own and I am DELIGHTED at how well it worked!

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So I tend to be rather hard on my headphones and as a result, I don’t spend much money on them. I had a cheapo pair currently that work fine, however, the connection between the two wires leading up to the headphones split, so they were constantly getting tangled. It was driving me pretty crazy.

I’m simultaneously learning to crochet and have a lot of yarn around, which gave me an idea. What if I just added some yarn into the wires and then braided the three pieces (two wires, one yarn piece) together? That would combine them all again and reduce the tangling!

It honestly worked better than even I could have anticipated! And it made my headphones look really unique and fun. I’m really happy with the result.

Here’s how I did it!

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  1. There was one tiny clasp still holding the two split wires in the headphones together. I cut that off with some scissors, as I’m about to render it useless!

  2. I took some yarn and tied it securely to the base of the headphones using a few knots.

  3. I measured out the yarn against the headphones and cut it to the length of the entire cord. This will actually be too long, but it’s easier to trim it later than add more length if you cut it too short.

  4. I channeled my elementary school self and braided the wires together with the yarn! (making friendship bracelets was the cool thing on my school bus! I carried around the cutest little Cat in the Hat bag full of embroidery thread and safety pins to pin the braid to the back of the seats while I was working on it. Ahhh nostalgia.) I held the end of the braid with my chin, but you could also clip it or hold it down with some heavy books if you like.

  5. When I was almost done, I tried on the headphones to ensure I had enough length of two split wires for my head and neck, then tied off the braid below that spot.

And there you go! It’s been working perfectly since I braided it. :)

#ShakespearesPlaylist: The Taming of the Shrew

So I LOVE finding songs to fit the mood of #Shakespeare plays. Basically every time I hear a song I love on the radio, I think about how I could fit it into a production. I can’t help it. My brain just does that, which is funny, because I’ve only directed one production (my own one-act) and questioned myself and my abilities the entire time, so I don’t necessarily see myself directing anything else any time soon, but I just like to dream about the music anyway.

The Globe Theater cast of The Taming of the Shrew from 2013 - photo from  https://thehoneycombers.com/singapore/the-taming-of-the-shrew/

The Globe Theater cast of The Taming of the Shrew from 2013 - photo from https://thehoneycombers.com/singapore/the-taming-of-the-shrew/

I’ve decided to play with this habit of mine more and make full-fledged Spotify and Youtube playlists for each play by Shakespeare, under the umbrella name and hashtag #ShakespearesPlaylist .

Quick Wikipedia summary: The Taming of the Shrew depicts the courtship of Petruchio and Katherina, the headstrong, obdurate “shrew” in the title. Initially, Katherina is an unwilling participant in the relationship; however, Petruchio "tames" her with various psychological torments, such as keeping her from eating and drinking, until she becomes a desirable, compliant, and obedient bride. The subplot features a competition between the suitors of Katherina's younger sister, Bianca. who is seen as the "ideal" woman. The question of whether the play is misogynistic or not has become the subject of considerable controversy, particularly among modern scholars, audiences, and readers.

I chose Florence + The Machine’s Kiss with a Fist to represent the domestic abuse prevalent in Taming of the Shrew. This is the part of the play that makes everyone uncomfortable, but it’s such an integral part to the plot that you really can’t remove it or gloss over it without changing the story completely. This is one of those problem plays that I think needs to be done carefully and respectfully, with a lot of conversation and care. Sure, perform it, but make sure to discuss the problematic aspects of it in your program or in a post-show discussion.

Husband John and I saw a version of it at The Globe in London in 2013 that featured an all-female cast; that choice retained the original story while portraying it in an explicitly feminist way that helped me see it in a really different way. It was very affecting. Because of those problematic aspects though, I personally have never been involved in a production of it nor have I seen many productions of it. One study (reported on Priceonomics) found that it was the fifth most popular Shakespeare play (in terms of professional performances by major theater companies between 2011-2015; this kind of surprises me? It is quite possible though that I’ve just happened to live in areas where it’s just not commonly performed. Plus, I mostly work with and am around community theater productions, and they seem to be slightly less willing to put on controversial plays (just my observation, not sure why).

I should note- Kiss with a Fist is not actually about domestic violence. Florence Welch explained the meaning of the song on her blog: “It is about two people pushing each other to psychological extremes because they are fighting but they still love each other. The song is not about one person being attacked, or any actual physical violence, there are no victims in this song. Sometimes the love two people have for each other is a destructive force. But they can't have it any other way, because it's what holds them together, they enjoy the drama and pushing each other's buttons. The only way to express these extreme emotions is with extreme imagery, all of which is fantasism and nothing in the song is based on reality. Leona Lewis's ‘Bleeding Love’ isn't actually about her bleeding and this song isn't actually about punching someone in the mouth." (I grabbed this explanation off Wikipedia)

Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation is a bit of an obvious choice for representing a woman who refuses to conform to society’s expectations of her, but I love this song and had to include it anyway.

Yeah, that’s a really short explanation of that, but I really can’t think of anything else to say. Joan Jett is awesome.

Etta James’ It’s a Man’s Man’s World addresses the gender dynamics of the play, as ultimately Katherina has little choice when it comes to her husband. Although Katherina does ultimately “agree” to marry Petruchio when he shows himself willing to counter her sharp wit, she has no ability to stop the ceremony when Petruchio hits the priest and drinks the communion wine and is completely helpless when Petruchio abuses her by withholding food and gaslighting her until she does his bidding. He shows off her “tame” self at the end to the other men. The setting of this play truly is “a man’s world” and Katherina is trapped in it.

Finally, since these songs have mostly been pretty dark, I’m ending on a lighter note with Letters to Cleo’s I Want You to Want Me. This cover was prominently featured on the 10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack. 10 Things is a loose adaptation of Taming of the Shrew and also coincidentally is one of my favorite romantic comedies of all time, probably because it came out in 1999 when I was 11 and thus was one of the first modern romantic comedies I ever actually watched.

The Best Long-Lasting Lipsticks: If You Love the Look but Hate Reapplying

So some friends asked me for long lasting lipstick recommendations and I'm happy to oblige! These lipsticks work well for anyone who loves makeup but hates spending more than a few minutes applying it.

So currently, I telework full time from home and don’t even put on makeup most days. I just use my basic skin routine of cleanser, toner, acne products, moisturizer, and Vaseline petroleum jelly at night (on my forehead and lips) - I really keep it super simple. And my skin generally looks great as a result! So when I /do/ leave the house, I generally just put on some lipstick and peach blush, perhaps a little concealer if I’ve been stressed out lately. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll put on some eye shadow and mascara, maybe eye liner. But I definitely have more lipstick than any other product and wear it most often!

I /only/ wear long-wear lipstick because I despise smudgy lipstick and leaving lipstains on glasses. I’ve honestly tried using fancier lipsticks before; I’ve prepped my lips with a sugar scrub and used a lip primer and lip liner and blotted three times and used a setting powder. It never works for me! And it’s way more work than it’s worth for the final result. So now I just stick to the long-lasting lipstick I know and love.

Two tips on long-lasting lipstick:

1. Use Vaseline petroleum on your lips at night to keep them moist and happy. These products can often be drying. Vaseline can also help remove the lipstick!

2. The secret trick to keeping lipstick off your teeth- After you apply, just put your thumb in your mouth, close your lips around it, and then pull it out. You have to wipe your lipstick off your thumb then, which is annoying, but I’ve literally never found anything else which works better.

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So my most commonly worn lipstick brand these days is Maybelline SuperStay Matte Ink (pictured). The colors shown here are: Pioneer, Heroine, Artist, Romantic, Explorer, Philosopher, and Protector.

I love this brand! It runs under $10 and comes in a lot of different colors - from classic or bold, to neutral or more out there shades. I should have even more than are pictured here, I just can’t find one or two of them right now, as I usually always have one in my purse when I’m out and about.

I have gone to dentist appointments wearing these shades before and they don’t budge; my dental hygienist has actually asked me what brand it was. They’re great! And you can also mix them together for an in-between shade if you’re careful - I apply the shades directly over each other on my lips and then rub it together to mix it and cover all the lines. I of course use a cloth to sharpen all my edges.

In addition, this brand has a great applicator that has a sharper edge than most do; i find it easier for making a sharp line. It also smells AMAZING. I think they put vanilla in the formula or something.

I also recently tried out the Maybelle Super Stay Ink Crayon Lipstick but honestly, I wasn’t impressed. It didn’t last nearly as long as the regular formula.

This pic shows my favorite lipsticks and most commonly worn AFTER my Maybelline:

First: my Rimmel Provocalips (upper left corner). These colors from left to right are Play with Fire, Heart Breaker, Kiss Fatal, Little Mink, and Dare to Pink.

Next going counter clockwise: the shorter purple lipstick is Maybelline 14 hr in Wine and Forever (my darkest lipstick!); then two Maybelline Superstay 24 Colors - All Day Cherry and Timeless Toffee.

Upper right: CoverGirl Outlast All Day Two Step Lipcolor in Eternal Flame.

Bottom Right: Lipsense by Senegence long lasting liquid lip color in B. Ruby with Glossy gloss.

Next to that on the left is Revlon Colorstay Ultimate in Buffest Beige (my go to nude lip color). I use this one if I’m wearing stage makeup and playing a dude.

Next to that: Revlon Colorstay in Unlimited Mulberry and Forever Scarlet.

Finally, bottom left is Kat Von D everlasting liquid lipstick in Backstage Bambi.

I would recommend all these brands with different levels of caution; all of them will last longer than your standard cream lipstick. Almost all of these can be bought at a drugstore or Target and honestly those tend to work best for me (I think my lips just adhere better to cheaper brands?). The Kat Von D is the most expensive by far; this shade lasts maybe half a day for me, but I've been told that this particular color is the hardest to work with from that line so I'm hoping to try another shade in the future to get a better idea of its quality.

The Lipsense is very different from the rest; it dries very quickly and requires lots of thin layers and a gloss to work. It's a bit tricky but I've found with regular lip scrubs that it withstands most of the day. It can only be bought from independent sellers and not from retail stores; if you're interested in it I can give you my contact. :)

As always, let me know if you have any questions! I'm happy to help!

Easy No Heat Hair Styling For Fine-Haired Girls

Half dry hair in low buns at top, lower left shows the hair immediately after several hours drying in the low buns. lower right shows the final look after it’s all dried post-makeup.

Half dry hair in low buns at top, lower left shows the hair immediately after several hours drying in the low buns. lower right shows the final look after it’s all dried post-makeup.

Since I bleach my hair before i dye it all the colors of the wind, I try to really baby it at other times.

I rarely use heat styling on my hair- maybe once a month I’ll use a curling iron and a blowdryer maybe once every two months. But my hair tends to lie rather flat if I don’t do /anything/ with it, so I use a lot of no heat styling tricks. Usually, I just style it by waiting until it’s half dry after a shower, and then putting it into one of a few hair styles so it can gain some shape and texture as it dries the rest of the way. This doesn’t work on everyone, but if you have naturally straight hair with a similar medium-fine hair diameter like I do, it works great! (If you’re not certain what type of hair you have, this article on Headcurve can be really helpful! I have a 1b hair type, meaning it’s fine and generally straight, but not so fine that you would see a lot of scalp showing through.)

My current favorite no heat style is two low buns in the back. I specifically also twist the hair as I’m putting it into the bun. I then either sleep on it or chill for a few hours while I’m working.

Once I take it out- voila! Fun curls and texture. As you can see in the picture, it’s still just a little damp when I take it out, so I finger comb it and zhush it a little. By the time I’m done with my makeup, it’s all dry and looks great! It’s really simple and I quite like it. :)

I personally don’t tend to use a lot of product on my hair unless it’s absolutely necessary. I don’t even usually use frizz free serum on my hair, as it can look greasy really quickly. I’ll often just put a little lotion on my hands at the end of my prep, rub it in, and any small amount that’s left, i’l just lightly finger comb through my hair - ends first, than just a very light hand on my roots.

#ShakespearesPlaylist: Comedy of Errors

So I LOVE finding songs to fit the mood of #Shakespeare plays. Basically every time I hear a song I love on the radio, I think about how I could fit it into a production. I can’t help it. My brain just does that, which is funny, because I’ve only directed one production (my own one-act) and questioned myself and my abilities the entire time, so I don’t necessarily see myself directing anything else any time soon, but I just like to dream about the music anyway.

I’ve decided to play with this habit of mine more and make full-fledged Spotify and Youtube playlists for each play by Shakespeare, under the umbrella name and hashtag #ShakespearesPlaylist .

Quick Summary of the Play from Wikipedia: “Set in the Greek city of Ephesus, The Comedy of Errors tells the story of two sets of identical twins who were accidentally separated at birth. Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant, Dromio of Syracuse, arrive in Ephesus, which turns out to be the home of their twin brothers, Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant, Dromio of Ephesus. When the Syracusans encounter the friends and families of their twins, a series of wild mishaps based on mistaken identities lead to wrongful beatings, a near-seduction, the arrest of Antipholus of Ephesus, and false accusations of infidelity, theft, madness, and demonic possession.”

I actually acted in a minor role in Comedy of Errors earlier this year! It’s an extremely silly play, and probably one of my least favorites, but the director and assistant director had a really fun vision for it that included lots of slapstick and physical comedy, plus a prominently featured rubber chicken. I got to wear a lovely costume and a ridiculous mustache and got to do some really fun comedic acting just reacting to the shenanigans aroudn me! Here’s a publicity pic of me for it (pre-mustache):

Plus I just got to work with the best people. Here are a couple of us in a ridiculous cuddle pile on the floor backstage, lol.

ANYWAY, when I think of this play, I tend to think of exceptionally ridiculous songs or songs about “double vision” or confusion. So I’m putting in Yakety Sax, the classic slapstick song, Double Vision by Foreigner to refer to the Twins/mistaken identity plot, and One Week by BareNaked Ladies to evoke the shenanigans feel of the whole play. I’m also throwing in Crazy by Gnarls Barkley (a cool slowed down version!) in here to refer to every character’s mutual feeling of “What is going on here? Am I going mad?” by the end of the show".

What songs would you add to this list? You can suggest them here or on Twitter at #ShakespearesPlaylist :D

A Diet App for Children? Are you Friggin Kidding me?

I just found out that the Kurbo by WW app exists from this Atlantic article (which has a great overview of the app and the issues with it) and I'm slightly horrified. It’s aimed at children 8-17. Apparently you need to sign up /with/ a parent if you’re 13, but in my experience, age restrictions on tech like that are super easy to get around. And even if a parent DOES sign you up, are they realistically going to be there with the kid at every moment supervising them on the app?

The basic idea behind the app (putting foods in green, yellow, and red categories based on nutritional value and encouraging users to eat yellow and red in moderation) isn't /terrible/ but marketing it to children as opposed to parents is pretty...awful. And to kids as young as *8*? Are you friggin kidding me? I've used the WW program before and found it pretty positive and helpful (with just a lot of caveats in there about my own depression and ADHD issues which sticking to any healthy diet long term difficult), but I'm pretty appalled they're doing this. I could /maybe/ see the idea behind marketing it to teenagers 15 and up with their own access to money, but from just a basic administration issue, the vast majority of kids don't buy or prepare their own food?

Plus this whole thing just seems really problematic and trigeringg. Even WITHOUT the 24/7 news cycle and social media of today, I remember being unhappy with my size and my weight starting at least back to age 9. I clearly remember the first time I looked at a picture of myself and hated the way I looked (it was from summer camp, I was sitting on a horse and wearing black shorts and a colorful shirt and I thought my legs looked "huge"). I am much happier and more confident with myself, my life, and my appearance than I ever was as a child, but I STILL fight disordered eating habits all the time. Aiming a weight loss app at a child is just one of the worst things I can imagine. Let. Them. Be. Children. And don’t give them a friggin complex over their appearance at an age that’s so difficult already.

Emerging Writers Festival Unpacking: Keynote, Fiction Intensive, and Against the Algorithm

So going over all my notes from the Emerging Writers Festival is helping me recap everything I learned and make sure I put it into practice in my own writing life and practice. In addition, I’m hopeful this might be helpful for others who weren’t able to attend some of the sessions, for whatever reason.

So here are some tidbits and wisdom from the first few sessions I attended at the festival!

Catherine Chung and Tayla Bruney

Catherine Chung and Tayla Bruney

The Keynote with Catherine Chung. She talked about her second novel, The Tenth Muse, with moderator Tayla Burney (a journalist and book reviewer for the Washington Post. She also writes a weekly email newsletter of author events and literary happenings around DC called Get Lit DC; you can subscribe to that here).

  • Cathy said that she had to rewrite her novel several times. “I had to let my narrator have this amazing life. I found sometimes I was the oppressive societal force holding my protagonist back.”

  • She said that she’s had writing retreat experiences where they just feed and house you and you just write all day. “It’s the most quixotic, ecstatic writing experience where you never have to leave the world you’re writing in. It ruins you for life.”

  • At one point, the company she worked for actually did a Christmas skit making fun of her ambition to be a writer. [Isn’t that SO SCREWED UP, seriously??]

  • “Writing rules are silly.” One professor claimed that if you don’t write every day you’re not a writer, but she said that while she was researching for her second novel, there were maybe years where she went without writing. She’s clearly still a writer.

  • For her first novel, she wrote all the time and threw out at least 1,000 pages as part of her process. It seemed like she was just accumulating pages and then throwing them away. But eventually it all came together and she figured out the structure. Her second novel was more structured from the beginning and was a different beast entirely.

  • A friend gave her a headsup before her novel came out: “Every writer gets depressed when their book gets published,” regardless of how well it does in the world or anything. Because you’re going from living entirely in your head to releasing it and waiting to hear what people think of it. Waiting is a terrible feeling. So ahead of her second novel’s release, Cathy decided just not to care.

  • She named the protagonist of her second novel Katherine as a joke, since so many people thought her first novel was an autobiography. However, it kind of backfired because many people still thought her second novel’s protagonist was autobiographical. At one point her wikipedia said that she was a 74-year-old woman; she was kind of sad when it got corrected.

From novelist Catherine Chung’s Fiction Intensive Workshop:

  • Cathy talked a bit about how she found it really interesting to see what people believe and what they don’t believe, as all of fiction is about making things up that people go along with. Sometimes we’re willing to believe the most ridiculous things, and in the current political climate, there’s a constant debate about what is true and false. What determines the stories we believe? What determines the stories we tell and are allowed to tell? (I believe most of the statements in this paragraph are actual quotations from her, but I didn’t notate it well enough in my notes to know for sure, so I’m paraphrasing a bit.)

  • “When you figure out the technical parts of a story, everything else falls into place” – who is the narrator, the audience, what is the shape of the audience.

  • She had us do an exercise where we wrote a letter to someone close to you in which you told them something you’ve never told before. As Cathy said, this premise sets up the central tension of a story from the very beginning. “There’s a reason you haven’t told them this thing before, and there’s a reason you’re telling them now. There’s a potential of how it will change everything.” When there’s an audience member for a story that’s very specific, it puts the tension of the story at the forefront. She pointed out that we don’t usually think about the fact that the speaker in a story is different from the author, and the intended audience and the actual audience are not always the same. Once she started thinking about this, it helped her unlock some things she’d been working on for her first novel.

  • Cathy said her first and only college writing professor said you have to be absolutely subjective about everyone you write. You have to be able to see it from their side, no matter how horrible they are. But you also have to be absolutely objective about yourself.

Against the Algorithm Panel with Lupita Aquino (co-founder and co-moderator of the LIT on H St Book Club at Solid State Books, instagram book reviewer), Amanda Nelson (executive editor of Book Riot), and Kendra Winchester (co-founder of the Reading Women podcast). My notes from this were scribbled into a tiny notebook I bought last minute at Old Town Books while my laptop was charging, so they may not be as detailed or as…in complete sentences as other notes. :)

Panelists gave some great advice about the dos and don’ts of author marketing:

  • Lupita - Engage with people before asking them for a favor or a review. And pay attention to what types of books people are into.

  • Kendra - She suggests engaging in Middle Reader Thursday or other events designed to bring attention to your books. There are lots of hashtags and discussions out there particular to specific genres. You can even reach specific agents this way sometimes. She also suggests you experiment with your marketing; don’t be afraid to be imperfect.

  • Amanda - Be a community member before you start asking for stuff. Find book writers that write about your genre and reach out to them directly. Writers LOVE to hear from authors.

I basically didn’t take any photos on the Saturday of the writing festival at all except this one.

I basically didn’t take any photos on the Saturday of the writing festival at all except this one.

  • Regarding diversity in publishing and books:

    • Amanda - publishing as an industry is overwhelmingly white women at lower levels and white men at the higher levels. The inherent structure is racist and sexist. Her company has a diversity mandate where 30% of their reviews have to be of works by POC authors. They’re very strict about it

    • Lupita - Online, you notice the diversity issues more. We need the options.

    • Amanda- If you say “I just want a good story,” you're saying you just want to read what’s marketed to you. And those books are by authors who are overwhelmingly white, male, and cisgendered.

    • Kendra- You have to work to find the books sometimes and represent them. We need to see more people with disabilities in them. We need more than just Darcy’s cousin and a woman in the attic. She suggests following amazing women as well to learn from them.

    • Moderator Allison Punch - wants to make a distinction between what’s getting buzz and what’s actually written. People of Color have always been writing; we’re just now hearing about them.

  • What they do to help underrepresented authors

    • Amanda - Donates ad campaigns to some independently published books.

    • Kendra - a snowball effect can really help.

    • Amanda - looks out for debut authors in her marketing and tries to promote them.

    • Kendra - Points out that she thinks it’s unfair to debut authors that we expect them to be perfect. They need room to grow and become better.

  • If you want to become a book reviewer on social media

    • Kendra - be consistent with your postings

    • Amanda - have an interesting angle to it. Don’t just post a photo of fairy lights as your cover picture. Like she follows an instagram that only posts library books - she loves that, as it brings out books that are older. Do something unique.

  • How to support books besides tweeting and reviews:

    • Amanda - pre-orders! for libraries even, creates buzz

    • Kendra - create an evergreen post of a list of books - one of their most popular posts ever still is about Muslim women authors.

    • Lupita - pre-order giveaways

    • Amanda - pre-ordering from independent bookstores

  • Pitching to reviewers

    • Kendra - be specific and complimentary. Show familiarity with the reviewer’s work and guidelines.

  • To avoid drama on social media

    • Lupita - Set boundaries - practice self care

    • Kendra - ignore the drama and go to the people that support you

    • Amanda - Remember your job and ignore the rest. Avoid the petty crap.


#ShakespearesPlaylist: King Lear

So I LOVE finding songs to fit the mood of #Shakespeare plays. Basically every time I hear a song I love on the radio, I think about how I could fit it into a production. I can’t help it. My brain just does that, which is funny, because I’ve only directed one production (my own one-act) and questioned myself and my abilities the entire time, so I don’t necessarily see myself directing anything else any time soon, but I just like to dream about the music anyway.

I’ve decided to play with this habit of mine more and make full-fledged Spotify and Youtube playlists for each play by Shakespeare, under the umbrella name and hashtag #ShakespearesPlaylist .

The incomparable Larry Yando as Lear in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production in 2014. Photo from  https://www.chicagoshakes.com/plays_and_events/lear

The incomparable Larry Yando as Lear in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production in 2014. Photo from https://www.chicagoshakes.com/plays_and_events/lear

Quick Summary from Wikipedia: King Lear is the tale of a king who bequeaths his power and land to two of his three daughters, after they declare their love for him in an extremely fawning and obsequious manner. His third daughter gets nothing, because she will not flatter him as her sisters had done. When he feels disrespected by the two daughters who now have his wealth and power, he becomes furious to the point of madness. He eventually becomes tenderly reconciled to his third daughter, just before tragedy strikes her and then the king.

I’m starting with King Lear because I just watched Kurosawa’s “Ran” with my husband, which is basically King Lear set in feudal Japan, so it’s on my brain anyway.

Here are a couple songs on my King Lear playlist. What would you add to this list? :D

Both Viva La Vida by Coldplay and Pompeii by Bastille fit King Lear’s “former leader watching his world crumble” theme, IMO.

Okay these two are a little more specific and require some explanation.

Frank Sinatra’s Where Do You Go? - I went to law school in Chicago and lived there for a few years after, so then-boyfriend/now-husband John and I went to a lot of shows at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. They have a great under-35 program that allows younger adults to get discount tickets and it was AWESOME.

In 2014, they did a friggin’ astounding version of King Lear that portrayed Lear as someone who really loved Frank Sinatra and used Sinatra’s music throughout the play to illustrate his growing madness. This specific obscure Sinatra song was used to illustrate how lost and alone Lear was and was mixed and looped to show his growing distortion. Right before the intermission, this one house set that had been standing up the whole time came toppling down over the actor playing Lear, who stood in just the one hole for the window so he wasn’t actually crushed, with rain and thunder and this haunting song in the background.

So clearly it made an impression. I definitely think of Sinatra whenever I think of Lear now.

Ravel’s Bolero is my pet choice and something I would include if I ever had the opportunity to direct Lear in the future. There was an amazing Radiolab episode a while back which discussed how the repetition in Bolero and in one woman’s paintings were a strong symptom of their own mental illnesses. It fascinated me and ever since, I have wanted to use Bolero as a metaphor for Lear’s madness.

What obvious songs am I overlooking? Do you have any choices that might seem odd without further explanation? I want to hear them all! Use the hashtag #ShakespearesPlaylist to get them to me. :)

The Inaugural Emerging Writers Festival in Old Town Alexandria!!

The last two weeks or so have been really rough, so I was really excited to attend my first writers festival in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia this past weekend!

It was the inaugural festival and was hosted by Old Town Books, which opened last year and is run by a bunch of really wonderful people with great ambitions and thoughts for the reading and writing communities! (I wrote a while ago about attending my first book club meeting there; the next one is in September and features the book “Coastalegre,” which is loosely based on Peggy Guggenheim and her daughter. As an art lover, I deeply appreciate this.)

This is a photo gallery, so you can click through and look at more than just like, my face and this one panel pic. I actually was so absorbed in all the speakers that I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I thought, but I got a good amount anyway. :)

I had so much fun and I learned a ton! I attended numerous classes and panels and volunteered at two of them. Honestly, I did WAY more than I even realized, once I started writing all these things down. I also met just a ton of wonderful writers at different points in their careers, which was so wonderfully inspiring.

  • Keynote Conversation with Catherine Chung, author of The Tenth Muse

  • Fiction Craft Intensive with Catherine Chung

  • Against the Algorithm Panel with Lupita Aquino, Amanda Nelson, and Kendra Winchester (all bookternet reviewers and leaders)

  • Polish your Pitch with Jennifer Baker (publishing professional of 16 years, host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, contributing editor to Electric Literature, essayist)

  • Publishing Masterclass with Jane Friedman (20 years of experience in publishing industry, author of The Business of Being a Writer and The Authors Guild Guide to E-Publishing)- I had to leave this early to go volunteer at the merch table, but the first hour was AMAZING and so useful.

  • Talk and signing with Tope Folarin (author of the novel A Particular Kind of Black Man, short story author)

  • Apply Yourself Panel - with Hannah Bae, Jennifer Baker, and Caits Meissner (PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing Program director, author), Kris Zory-King moderating

  • Writing the Personal Essay with Hannah Bae, journalist and essayist

  • The Path to the Debut Novel with Angie Kim, author of Miracle Creek

I was honestly going to write a whole blog post about ALL the things I learned in ALL the classes, but I just…do not have time fo rthat today. So i think I’m going to spread it out in more bite sized pieces, one or two classes a past for a while. I honestly gained so much useful knowledge

It's My Fisher Wallace-versary and the Anniversary of Getting My Depression Under Control

Selfie-ing it up with the Fisher Wallace Stimulator. I tend to use a sweatband with it instead of the included Velcro headband; it just has always worked way better for me.

Selfie-ing it up with the Fisher Wallace Stimulator. I tend to use a sweatband with it instead of the included Velcro headband; it just has always worked way better for me.

A year ago today, I received my Fisher Wallace Stimulator in the mail and used it for the first time. My depression was REALLY bad then, despite being on two anti-depressants already, and I was desperate to find something that worked. The Stimulator had great reviews and a 30-day return period so I thought - why not?

Within a few days of use, it kicked in. And since then, my clinical depression has been more consistently under control and my brain has been more stable and happy than ever previously. I still do have some issues at times, but usually those relate to - me not using my Stimulator enough or me going through a particularly stressful experience. I am consistently happier, calmer, and more focused in my life. I don’t snap at my husband as much and we can talk about tough topics now without me getting overly sensitive.

And once I made space in my brain for something besides just trying to survive emotionally, I rediscovered my love for writing and started really pursuing a career in it. Since then, I’ve had numerous stories published, self published one short story myself as an experiment, and have made a ton of writing friends on twitter and in person. My writing life makes me so so happy and I am utterly delighted that the Stimulator helped me get that life.

I’ve written about my experience with the Stimulator more in depth in the past here, so I won’t repeat it all now. But I just wanted to mark this day for the important, life changing event it was. I am so so thankful that this technology exists. ❤️

FYI: you do need a prescription to purchase it. It isn’t covered by insurance and usually costs $799, but they have a sale going right now (only for TODAY, it looks like) where you can get it for $399. I highly suggest it! It doesn’t work for everyone (i mean, does any medical treatment work for anyone?), but there’s a 30-day return period where you can get your money back if it doesn’t help you.

As always, if anyone out there had questions about the Fisher Wallace Stimulator, depression, ADHD, chronic pain, or any other of my pet topics, please feel free to reach out to me here, on twitter (@rachaeldickzen), or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/rachaeldickzenauthor). :)

And I was doing so well with that updating thing for a while...

Apologies for the lack of updates lately. I've been dealing with a family emergency that isn't my story to tell (because you know if it was, I'd be the loudmouth blabbing it all over! I am an open book. Plenty of other people are not.).

In any case, I've been too stressed out to blog or write really, but I'll try to get back to things as soon as I can. I am at the Emerging Writers Festival in Alexandria, Virginia this weekend and will be sure to write about that soon; I’m tweeting and facebooking about it over at @RachaelDickzen and www.facebook.com/rachaeldickzenauthor .

Thanks for your patience. :)

The Vanguard: My Current #WIP and Some Cool Ancient Civilization Facts!

My current work in progress (WIP)is “The Vanguard: The Cats that Conquered Egypt.” This is about the Battle of Pelusium, which took place in 525 BCE between the Ancient Egyptians and Persians. Legend has it that the Persians put cats (and other animals, although this part gets left out of a lot of retellings) on the battlefield before them in order to discourage the Egyptians from attacking; the Egyptians at that time held cats sacred and actually put to death anyone who killed a cat, even if it was by accident.

When Cambyses attacked Pelusium, which guarded the entrance into Egypt, the Egyptians defended it with great resolution. They advanced formidable engines against the besiegers, and hurled missiles, stones, and fire at them from their catapults. To counter this destructive barrage, Cambyses ranged before his front line dogs, sheep, cats, ibises, and whatever other animals the Egyptians hold sacred. The Egyptians immediately stopped their operations, out of fear of hurting the animals, which they hold in great veneration. Cambyses captured Pelusium, and thereby opened up for himself the route into Egypt.

Polyaenus - Strategems, VII.9 (Published 163 A.D.)

Realistically, this almost certainly didn’t happen and if anything like it DID happen, the Persians probably just painted cats and/or Egyptian gods on their shields. But it’s a great story, and I do love my cat legends.

This is the African Wildcat. From what I’ve been reading, this is probably what ancient Egyptian cats looked like. Honestly, it’s probably what ALL cats looked like at that time. But for the sake of differentiating them in my head, I’ve been envisioning just Bahadur (Persian cat) as an African wildcat (i haven’t been able to find ANY descriptions of cats in ancient Persia because than I just pull up “Persian cats,” which probably didn’t develop until like, the 1700s).

This is the African Wildcat. From what I’ve been reading, this is probably what ancient Egyptian cats looked like. Honestly, it’s probably what ALL cats looked like at that time. But for the sake of differentiating them in my head, I’ve been envisioning just Bahadur (Persian cat) as an African wildcat (i haven’t been able to find ANY descriptions of cats in ancient Persia because than I just pull up “Persian cats,” which probably didn’t develop until like, the 1700s).

The story starts about a year or so before the battle and tells the background leading up to the battle from the point of view of two cats. One cat, Bahadur (this is Farsi for “fighter”), lives in the royal palace kitchens in Persepolis, Persia, and ends up befriending an Egyptian woman who is sent to the Persian King as a decoy wife (he had asked for the current pharaoh’s daughter in marriage; he actually sent the PREVIOUS pharoah’s daughter instead, which Cambyses took as a grave insult). The other cat, Nedjem (which actually just means “sweetie” - Egyptian cats weren’t usually given individual names), is the in-house cat in the Department for the Protection of Cats (Upper Egypt branch) in Thebes. This government agency (which actually existed, although we have no idea what it was actually called or how exactly it functioned) existed to prevent the exportation of cats out of Egypt. I’ve also put them in charge of punishing people who hurt or kill cats, as it makes sense to me, but I have no actual evidence that this was the case.

I had planned on publishing this on Amazon in July but it’s actually still not finished, for a few reasons. The primary reason is that my face and head have hurt for most of the last month, which made it harder for me to like, concentrate on anything, and I’ve had to spend a lot more time at various doctors’ offices lately than I’d like. Ends up I have a deviated septum which is causing all the problems and I’m getting a septoplasty next Wednesday for it. Yay. PLUS, this story has honestly just been a lot more complicated and interesting and difficult than I thought it would be. It’s turned from a short story into more of a novella, as it’s over 14,000 words now and I still have a few more chapters to write.

So since the story itself isn’t quite out yet, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite tidbits I’ve learned in my research.

It’s unlikely that cats in ancient Egypt actually looked like an Egyptian Mau looks like now, but they’re so pretty, and I love them, so I’m imagining Nedjem as a Mau. :)

It’s unlikely that cats in ancient Egypt actually looked like an Egyptian Mau looks like now, but they’re so pretty, and I love them, so I’m imagining Nedjem as a Mau. :)

Egypt:

There’s evidence that every cat in Ancient Egypt was considered a demi-god. Mere humans couldn’t own a cat, and all cats were under the guardianship of the pharaoh.

Diodorus Siculus wrote “Whoever kills a cat in Egypt is condemned to death, whether he committed this crime deliberately or not. The people gather and kill him. An unfortunate Roman, who accidentally killed a cat, could not be saved, either by King Ptolemy of Egypt or by the fear which Rome inspired.”

Instructions for the deceased were written on the inside of sarcophagi. These would remind the soul of who they’d been in life and what to do in the afterlife.

Persia:

Ancient Persians practiced Zoroastrianism, the world’s oldest monotheistic religion. Zoroastrians consider both water and fire life-sustaining, so they generally pray in the presence of some form of fire. They did not build temples, altars, or statues of their god. As they conquered numerous other countries, they allowed them to keep their temples and practice their religions, but did not build any new ones. It’s believed that the tenets of Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) were all shaped by Zoroastrianism, as it established the idea of one god, heaven, hell, and a judgment day. It’s still practiced today, particularly in India.

Oh fun fact - “Magi” literally refers to priests of zoroastrianism. So the three Magi were three…priests of zoroastrianism. I thought all this time it was just a fancy word for “wise men.” That must be a thing they just tell you at church.

Zoroastrians didn’t really like cats - it was sad they were created by an evil spirit and there were numerous supersitions against them- but plenty of ancient Persians kept cats as pets anyway. At one point, there was a prince who loved his cat so much that petitioners would write out their requests and tie them to the cat’s collar so he’d have to see them!

I'm a ChildFree MomFriend and That's Just Fine With Me.

I used to think I really wanted kids, but over time, as I grew up and realized that I didn’t have to want the same things as everyone else, I determined that it was a lot more complicated than that.

Now, I’m not anti-kids at all.My nieces are one of the best parts of my life and I really enjoy talking to children. They’re hilarious. But I also really enjoy handing them back to the parents at the end of the day and going home with my husband to a quiet house. I totally support any of my friends who want to have kids and will cheer them on and give their kids stuffed animals and personalized onesies galore, but it’s just not for me. And John agrees as well!

Me as a kid, with my dad. I was a handful, can you tell? And let’s just be honest, if John and I procreated, our child would be way too smart and mischievous for anyone’s good.

Me as a kid, with my dad. I was a handful, can you tell? And let’s just be honest, if John and I procreated, our child would be way too smart and mischievous for anyone’s good.

I DO have some very maternal qualities, and I really enjoy taking care of other people. A friend labeled me “a momfriend” not too long ago, and I loved it. I want to check in on my friends and make sure they’re doing okay; I definitely worry about them and try to help them whenever I can. I love having a house that my friends feel comfortable in and I hope they realize that they can always come over if they need to get away from their parents or roommates or boyfriends or whatever. I like feeding people! I also adore my cats and mother them ferociously. But just because I have those qualities doesn’t mean I want to be an actual parent.

First, I have lots of medical issues, y’all. Chronic neck pain from osteoarthritis, clinical depression (which is controlled and generally stable now, but still exists and is a real concern in my life), ADHD, the New Fun Unnamed Chronic Pain is still rearing its ugly head pretty regularly, bad allergies, plantar fascitis (so my feet hurt all the time, yay), occasional tendinitis in my wrists, and now I have this deviated septum thing that needs to be fixed. Have I mentioned I also have a bicuspid aortic heart valve? I literally have a valve in my heart that’s SUPPOSED to be 3-sided but is actually 2-sided. This doesn’t generally cause a problem, but it does make me more prone to infections and such. And I’m 31! Like - who knows what else is wrong with me that I just haven’t discovered yet? I may develop something new tomorrow. And pregnancy and a baby would literally make all of those issues worse. It wouldn’t improve /any/ of them.

Second, partly because of said medical issues, partly because of…just my own personal feelings, pregnancy is like one of the most terrifying things in the world to me. My body does PLENTY of things on its own already that I don’t want it to do; the thought of actually losing it to another being is really unpleasant. Every time I hear about someone’s pregnancy or what it does to them, I just….ugh, no. It sounds awful. No, thank you. I’ve already firmly decided that if I ever DO change my mind and want a child (not likely), adoption is the way we’re going. I know it’s expensive and not easy, but pregnancy is just not a thing I’m ever willing to go through. My feelings might rise to the level of an actual phobia of pregnancy, honestly; it’s called tokophobia! It sounds like it’s hellish for people who WANT kids but are terrified of pregnancy/childbirth; I feel lucky that that’s not my situation.

I did almost buy this father’s day card for John and sign it from the cats, but I just sent him a picture to save $5 instead, lol. (He HATES the entire concept of calling pets your children, hah).

I did almost buy this father’s day card for John and sign it from the cats, but I just sent him a picture to save $5 instead, lol. (He HATES the entire concept of calling pets your children, hah).

Third, from a purely practical standpoint, life is expensive and my husband and I are often struggling even just with us two. And we’re lawyers! We’re better paid than many! But our house has lots of issues that still need to be fixed and my body persists in developing new problems that require lots of money, so money is still a serious concern. I can’t even comprehend the idea of trying to fit a kid into our budget.

Finally, I just really like my life the way it is. I enjoy having time to spend with my husband and with my friends. I like being able to participate in community theater. I love that my day job is flexible enough that I can also fit in writing on this blog and creative writing! I want to travel the world and see everything out there. These things are all certainly possible with children, but they are certainly much more difficult. And it should be! I value children enough to know that having them shouldn’t be a default or an afterthought. I don’t want to have kids unless I KNOW I really want them and am wiling to put in the time and money and effort needed to being the best parent I can be for that kid (not in a pinterest perfect way but in a “I need to help this tiny human become a decent person” way). And I’m not willing to do that, so - nope! No thanks. I’ll spoil my family’s kids and friends’ kids instead. :)

DIY Traction for Cowboy Boots!

I’ve had these pink cowboy boots for years now; they were somewhat of an impulse buy shortly after I started my first full time job post college. I had very few bills then and lots of savings (ah, what a time), so I splurged on ridiculous boots. I don’t wear them too often these days, but sometimes they’re just exactly what I need to spice up an outfit .

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I’m acting in a community theater production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale this weekend. I’m in a line dance in one sheep shearing festival scene! It’s super fun, although I’ve been pretty nervous about it throughout the rehearsal process because I haven’t danced in a show since....2012? But overall it’s delightful. And i get to wear my pink cowboy boots for it!

I discovered during our first dress rehearsal that my boots are quite slippery! It was bad enough that it made me quite nervous that I’d fall over onstage in front of everyone. I needed a solution! Fortunately, the internet, as always, provided. 

This was a super easy fix and relatively cheap! I got one strip of traction tape for about $6.50 at Home Depot; part of it was reflective, but I didn’t need to use that bit.  I ended up with some left over as well, which I can use for other super slippery shoes!

Materials: 

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  • One strip of traction tape. This is the type of thing you use on ladder steps for safety reasons! 

  • Pen or pencil

  • Scissors

  • Boots! 

    1. Position boots on the paper side of the traction tape.

    2. Trace around the boots.

    3. Cut around the trace lines with the scissors. If the boots have heels, cut the tape portions in two so you can put them flat on each portion. 

    4. Stick the traction tape to the bottom of the boots and press it firmly onto it. 

    5. Check for any parts that are lifting away from the sole and trim them away. I found that I had to trim my tape back away from the thread outlining the sole for it to lay completely flat (pictured below).

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And there you go! This has worked well and has prevented me from slipping or falling since I added it. It should work for other shoes as well!

One quick caution, courtesy of my wood obsessed husband (seriously, our backyard is full of firewood and his workshop is full of lumber for building stuff?): this is NOT a good idea if you plan on walking or dancing in the boots on nice hardwood floors. The traction tape is quite rough and could easily scratch up wood. 

And a FINAL word of caution from me: Traction tape is rough enough that it can rub your thumb down just a little while you’re manipulating it. I haven’t been able to use the thumbprint capture feature on my iPhone since I added this tape to my boots! I’m sure my skin will renew quickly and I’ll have my easily readable print back soon, but it is slightly annoying. 

My First Book Club Meeting! (Mostly Dead Things, By Kristen Arnett)

Mostly Dead Things
By Kristen Arnett

My sister’s family visited DC from Texas not too long ago. After a very hot morning wandering around Mount Vernon (the historical site, not the neighborhood), John and I took them to Virtue Grain and Feed in Old Town Alexandria for lunch. My sister suggested we check out the bookstore right next to it afterward, and I am SO glad she did!

I discovered three things on that visit. 1. Old Town Books is cute and fun. 2. They have book clubs! Which I decided immediately to join. and 3. They’e hosting an Emerging Writer’s Festival in August (that I knew I HAD to be part of).

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I’ve actually been meaning to read more fiction for a while now. I generally gravitate toward nonfiction books, usually history or self help. If I DO read a fiction book, it’s probably a Tamora Pierce novel or historical fiction set around the English Renaissance (Tudor Times are MY JAM), or maybe Jane Austen. I also regularly act in Shakespeare plays, although I’m not sure how much that counts towards reading. But since I’m writing fiction now, I clearly need to read more of it. I wasn’t sure where to start though, which is why I was so happy to learn about Old Town Books’ book club! I figured this was a perfect way to discover new fiction and make new literary friends while also overanalyzing stories (which is one of my favorite things).

My first meeting was this last Saturday! This is the first book club I can actively remember going to, honestly. And it was delightful! We discussed “Mostly Dead Things,” by Kristen Arnett. It’s a wonderfully wacky book about how a family moves on after their paternal figure’s suicide. He was a taxidermist, as is the narrator Jessa-Lyn, and the book explores this craft in a really fascinating, realistic, and occasionally gory way. The narrator’s mother starts to work through her grief by making art in the form of sexually explicit taxidermy scenes, which leads to her meeting an art gallery owner and creating her own full art exhibit. The narrator ends up in a twisty relationship with the gallery owner, Lucinda, and shenanigans continue from there. It’s also a beautiful exploration of the nature of grief and family. It’s a tough read at times, just because it’s so emotional and raw, but I really enjoyed it and I greatly enjoyed talking to other book fans about it. My friend Arielle came along with me and we had a good time!

Also there was a dog. A DOG. All bookstores need dogs.

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The author Kristen Arnett joined the meeting after a bit and we got to ask her some questions! She had some really thoughtful answers. She also talked about how she fit her writing into her life with her full-time job as a librarian - basically, she committed to writing 1,000 words every day Monday-Friday. She didn’t have to write on the weekend, but if she did, that was cool too. I’ve found this mindset really inspiring and have made a similar commitment in my own life (using the Momentum habit tracking app).*

Afterward, Kristen signed books for everyone. She had the coolest way of doing so too - she put hearts into various portions of the title on the title page! I really appreciated the extra effort she put into making the autograph experience more unique and it gives me ideas for the future. :)

I can’t wait for next month’s meeting! I haven’t figured out what the book is yet, but I keep checking their website obsessively and someday I’ll know!

*I previously used the Habitbull habit tracking app, but I switched to Momentum to save money. It’s a very similar set up and only cost $5-6 instead of the $20 per year for Habitbull.

Feeding the Kitties + DIY Reusable Wet Wipes for Cleaning Up After Them

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I currently have three cats residing in my house. Two are mine (Schrodinger and Ziggy Stardust) and one is a long term guest who’s hanging with us until his owners find a place to live where they can have him back (Martok).

Every morning, I feed them two cans of wet food (generally Friskies). One or more of them had some diarrhea issues earlier this year, so I now mix a scoop of probiotics into each can (I do all this prep work in the basement bathroom with the door closed so they don’t try to eat it while I’m serving it out!).

I then divide this food up into an automatic feeder (linked below) which goes off numerous times throughout the day and one extra bowl (so that they all don’t just scramble at one serving). I’ve been using this automatic feeder system for a few years now; it ensures they get some of their favorite food throughout the day at various times and also keeps them from associating me /too/ much with food. This has really helped reduce early morning wake up meows. I also take care not to feed them /immediately/ after I wake up.

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I should note that they literally always have some dry food so it’s not like they’re starving. I put a cup of dry food into their food tree every morning. The food tree (linked below) works really well for slowing down their eating and reducing “scarf and barf.” It also provides a bit of a challenge for them so they’re not just mindlessly eating all day.

Right after putting their wet food out, I put one of Schrody’s pill-pocket-and-capsule-covered-Prozac pills into whatever container he’s scarfing that day. I also put a squirt of salmon oil over his food, to help him with his senior cat joint pain.

As an ADHD cat owner, I’m not always the GREATEST at remembering to do things like, clean the cat bowls (they’re nowhere near the kitchen and I use them daily so it’s a little inconvenient to figure out when to do it). It’s much easier for me to remember chores when I make it super convenient and simple for me though, so for quite a while now, I’ve kept some wet wipes down stairs in the cat room to wipe out all the cat bowls and containers on a regular basis.

Recently though, I’ve been really trying to reduce the amount of waste in our house (thanks to the By the Book podcast episode on “Zero-Waste Home”), so I decided it was time to stop buying wet wipes. They’re really not good for the environment. Adam Ruins Everything did a segment at one point on why these “flushable” wet wipes are actually TOTALLY NOT flushable and how they wreck havoc on our plumbing systems. They also aren’t biodegradable.

So I made my own reusable wet wipes! It was super simple and they’ve worked really well as a replacement. In addition, the vinegar in it disinfects the bowls and helps keep the kitties healthy.

DIY Reusable Disinfecting Wet Wipes

Materials:

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Bambooee towels (we’ve actually used these for years now; they’re a great replacement for paper towels. John still insists on keeping power towels in the house for SUPER big messes, but we rarely use them at this point; our use has gone WAY down). OR Extra cloth rags
White vinegar
A container with a lid to keep them in.

  1. Use scissors to cut the bamboo towels/rags in half, so you have a nice little pile that’s approximately the size of your usual wet wipe.

  2. Stack the rags all in a Tupperware container.

  3. Pour white vinegar over them all. Ensure all the towels/rags are completely soaked. If there’s a bit of excess vinegar in the bottom of the container, it’s not a problem.

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And that’s it! I’ve been using them for weeks. When they’re dirty, I just throw them in the laundry and then stack them up for the next time I need to make new ones. The cat bowls and containers do need to be properly cleaned in the dishwasher or with dish soap regularly, but this definitely helps reduce the mess in the meantime.

The vinegar wipes work great for wiping down general cat room messes, cat bowls, their food mats, and the floor around them, when they’re being particularly messy eaters. I have found that they’re not a good replacement for wet wipes for litter box or poop mess (I completely clean out the litter boxes once a week or more, but it can be useful to have these on hand for in-between time messes) so I still use paper towels for those occasionally, but I’ve /way/ cut down on my waste for this.

My Deviated Septum is Trying to Kill Me With Pain, but At Least I Got a Diagnosis Quickly

WELP. I believe I’ve mentioned before that I’ve had pretty intense sinus and headache pain that I believed was sinusitis for over a month now. On top of that, I’ve had various bouts of nausea, lighteheadness, and eye blurriness, which I believed were all related at the time. After I tried three different antibiotics and a round of steroids from my general practitioner with no relief, I ended up going to an ENT, Dr. Sharma.

I took this in the waiting room because my hair looked cute. I really like the new yellow, orange, and salmon colors I added in last weekend!

I took this in the waiting room because my hair looked cute. I really like the new yellow, orange, and salmon colors I added in last weekend!

On my first visit to his office, he put some drops in my nose to dilate something inside it and scoped out my nose with a camera (this was all weird-feeling, but not painful or anything). He quickly determined that my facial pain was NOT in fact, the result of sinusitis. My sinuses were totally fine. This was mildly confusing to me, as my GP had previously said that my sinuses looked irritated (something I should address with him at some point).

Dr. Sharma initially suggested waiting a few weeks before getting a head CT, but once I explained how much of a toll this constant pain has been taking on me, he ordered one right away. I’m really glad I got it done sooner rather than later, as I was starting to get pretty freaked out over what might be the problem.

I got my head CT yesterday. Easiest medical test I’ve had all year! Yes - this is…at least my fourth, maybe my fifth, medical test to figure out mysterious pain this year. LUCKY ME. But this one didn’t require any fasting or medicine prep or anything. I just made sure I wasn’t wearing anything metal around my head, lay down, stayed still during the CT, and then left. It was awesome. I must admit though, I was pretty nervous and keyed up about it all afterward, just waiting for those results and hoping I didn’t have a tumor or something terrifying.

In the past, it’s taken several days for my doctors to get back to me with results, but I actually got a phone call from Dr. Sharma’s office first thing this morning asking me to come in and bring my CT CD so he could look at it and tell me what was up. So less than 24 hours after actually getting the CT - I had an answer. My sinuses are still totally fine. It’s a deviated septum that’s causing my facial pain. My nose looks totally straight and non-distinctive from the outside, but on the inside, it apparently is super wavy. So I’m going to get surgery to fix it and hopefully that should solve the problem.

I’m actually a little surprised that my septum ended up being the issue! That was not something I expected at all. My nose is straight and pretty non-distinctive - not really too small or too large or anything. I’ve never had a problem with it because it’s just…my nose. I’ve also never had trouble breathing out of either nostril and I don’t breathe through my mouth, so I really don’t display most of the classic deviated septum signs. The facial pain I started having at the start of July is really the only trouble I’ve ever had with it. If I hadn’t had that, I literally would never have known my septum was anything other than totally completely ordinary. I don’t actually mind it too much, but it definitely wasn’t the diagnosis I was expecting! (I thought my CT would be totally normal and I’d probably have migraines or something, which would be a pain in the ass to treat. :/)

Dr. Sharma actually was trying to get me in for the surgery tomorrow, but because I’m in a play next weekend and going to a writer’s conference the weekend after that, I elected to put it off for a while. From what I’ve read online, recovery from a septoplasty can be pretty grody and you can look pretty awful for a few days after it. I don’t want to risk messing up my performance or my face right before a theater production we’ve been working on for months. I also don’t really want to go to a writers festival that I intend to use as a learning AND networking opportunity with a giant bandage on my nose. So as bad as the pain is, I’ll just tough it out for a few weeks and then get the surgery. I feel like I can handle it now that I know what’s going on and I’m not just flailing around for a diagnosis.

This picture of my head CT results is blurry because I was trying to take it without being too obvious, but it’s the only pic I have documenting this whole diagnosis experience so, here it is.

This picture of my head CT results is blurry because I was trying to take it without being too obvious, but it’s the only pic I have documenting this whole diagnosis experience so, here it is.

All in all, the whole experience hasn’t been too bad. Considering it took me YEARS to get a diagnosis for my osteoarthritis/neck pain and over 8 months to get a diagnosis for my more recent chronic pain issue (which I’m choosing not to name, as it’s…of a slightly more private nature, and I am Southern, after all. I gotta have SOME boundaries.), getting a diagnosis for my new fun facial pain in just about a month really isn’t so bad. AND I’ve got a solution for it which is likely to remedy the pain entirely; in contrast, my neck pain and unnamed chronic pain #2 are continuing issues that I’m going to likely have to take active measures to battle the rest of my life. :/

I think the fact that I have a good ENT who believes me, takes my pain seriously, and is willing to work with me to get that pain addressed ASAP is a huge factor here. Dr. Sharma and his office followed up with me on my medical test faster than any other doctor I’ve ever had, and they were literally ready to get me in for surgery within 24 hours! That’s seriously quick for a relatively minor outpatient procedure that isn’t life threatening in any way. I am very very grateful for his work and his office and am very happy to have an answer!

I’ll have more updates later as I actually go through the septoplasty and recover from it. I had trouble finding straight answers online on what the recovery for an outpatient septoplasty under local anesthesia and without rhinoplasty would be like. The doctor’s office estimated 2-3 days, while accounts I was reading online and heard from friends was more like a week or two. But everything I read was also for in-patient procedures, under general anesthesia, or also included a rhinoplasty. So I definitely want to document my exact experience for anyone else who might want to get some answers in the future!

How I Get My Cranky Anxiety-Ridden Old Man Cat to Take His Damn Prozac

This is an older photo of us. My hair hasn’t looked like that in a while!

This is an older photo of us. My hair hasn’t looked like that in a while!

I’m starting to experiment with Amazon affiliate links, friends, so you’ll start to see links to products I personally use and love now. :)

Schrodinger Beethoven Dickson-Lorenzen is my first and most favorite kittyface. He purrs when he sees me, naps on my lap for hours while I’m working, and meows at me to turn on the bathroom faucet for him every night.

However, dude’s got some issues. He is pretty terrified of people and has a lot of anxiety. Now, some cats are shy naturally, but I don’t think that’s the case with Schrodes. He really loves people and loves being cuddled and pet, but he seems to be held back by his fears. He also still hisses at my husband John on a regular basis, although they’ve lived together for over two years now.

Based on my knowledge of his backstory before he was given up to PAWS (out in Chicago, they’re amazing) and his current emotional and physical health, here’s what I think probably happened. His previous owners got him declawed in his front legs. This resulted in his feet being really hurt by the cat litter, so he developed cat litter issues and ended up peeing basically everywhere else (the surrender papers were pretty awful to read). I’m guessing his previous owners got very frustrated by this and abused him in an effort to train him to stop doing it. He’s got one kidney that’s larger than the other, which probably means he was kicked at some point.

He stopped eating when he was at the main PAWS facility in Chicago, so they put him in a foster home with my bestie Holly. I met him through her and fell in love with him. For a long time, we had to put puppy pads in the litter box for him so he had a soft place to put his paws when he used the box. He hasn’t needed that in a couple years now, but it really helped him at the beginning when he was still recovering from the declawing and his previous owners’ abuse.

He was a pretty anxious cat who seemed lonely when I wasn’t around, so I adopted Ziggy Stardust pretty soon afterward so he’d have a friend. They’ve been great bros since and get along really well. He’s much happier now, but he’s definitely still got anxiety issues.So finally, last August, I went to the vet, explained the whole situation, and asked if we could get him on some anxiety meds. He’s been on daily Prozac ever since. He’s been on these meds for the past year now, but it took a LONG time to get him to take the meds regularly and consistently.

My Initial Attempts:

First, I just gave him the pills in his food. He quickly caught on within a week or so and refused to touch them.

Second, I put the pills in pill pockets, which i then hid in his food. I got a few weeks out of that before he refused to touch it anymore. :/ (I later discovered that he greatly prefers the tuna and cheese pill pockets to the salmon ones! Picky animal.).

Third, I got fancy tuna-flavored liquid meds for him and tried putting it in his food, then just squirting it into his mouth. Each time, he caught on and struggled and fought against it even more.

I resorted to getting some flavorless gelatin capsules online to put his pills in (I bought a pack of 1,000 capsules on Amazon, which should last me a couple of years!). I do have to cut these down to a more cat friendly size, but it doesn’t take too long if i just do a whole bunch of them at once. I had to experiment with the best ways to use these capsules - for a while I actually was putting the capsules into a pill pocket and THEN covering it with tuna to get him to eat it, but I FINALLY FINALLY found a method that works. I’ve been getting him to take his medicine consistently in this way since April! HALLELUJAH.

It only took me NINE MONTHS to figure out a system that consistently works!

So. What I do.

My Foolproof Method of Getting Schrodinger to take his damn pills:

  1. Cut a flavorless gelatin capsule down to a cat friendly size.

  2. Put his pill into the capsule.

  3. Put the capsule into a tuna and cheese pill pocket, Schrody’s favorite.

    [I actually work in batches and put a ton of pill/capsule/pill pockets together at a time. I store them all together in a bag so the pill pockets don’t dry out. The capsules soften up a little within the pill pocket, but Schrody doesn’t seem to notice or care.]

  4. Once Schrodinger starts eating his morning wet food, I put the pill pocket into the food immediately next to where he’s scarfing, so he eats it up without even really noticing it. It works every time!

Just look how pleased he looks with himself.

Just look how pleased he looks with himself.

I’ve also started squirting a little salmon oil on the pill pocket lately, as he’s been walking stiffly lately and I’ve read that it can help relieve joint pain in senior cats (he hasn’t been taking it long enough for me to really tell if it’s working, but he does lap up EVERY BIT OF IT, so clearly it tastes good).

The pills combined with more exposure to friendly people on a regular basis (because of the theater troupe that’s been rehearsing in our basement all summer) have REALLY helped him. He’ll actually come out to greet my friends now! He seems much more relaxed and happier.

He still hates my husband John, but that seems to be pretty mutual. Not sure there’s anything I can do about that at this point! But

"Purr Like an Egyptian": Inspiration from Daphne Du Maurier and Ancient Egypt

Have I mentioned that my cats-taking-over-Memphis story "Purr Like an Egyptian" will be in Grumpy Old Gods Volume 2? It's open for Pre-orders now and will publish on August 9! https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07VJZVM5C

This was the first short story I’d written since…high school? Junior high? I just heard about the submission prompt and I was instantly captivated; I HAD to write a story for it.

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GRUMPY OLD GODS: SEEKING

We’re looking for stories about mythical Gods who are waning, reborn, retired, or otherwise AWOL from their assigned post.

We invite you to re-imagine old myths, mine your local retirement home for things that tickle your fancy, and invite your Muse to go wild.  The only requirement is that the god or goddess in question (or whole pantheon if you so choose) must be retired, retiring, waning in power, or ignoring their responsibilities. Bonus points for good humor.

I mean, how amazing is that? I came up with the idea to use Bastet, the Egyptian Goddess of cats, pretty easily, and I knew I wanted her to run a cat cafe. The idea of all the cats migrating to Memphis to be near her developed more slowly over time.

Once I did get that idea though, I knew I wanted to look to Daphne DuMaurier’s The Birds, which has a similar premise, only much more frightening. I tried to get across a similar, but more modern, depiction of animals taking over a town. In addition, my intro was a direct homage to the story’s beginning.

The Birds:

On December the third, the wind changed overnight, and it was winter. Until then the autumn had been mellow, soft. The leaves had lingered on the trees, golden-red, and the hedgerows were still green. The earth was rich where the plow had turned it.

Purr Like an Egyptian:


On March 10th, Tennessee finally realized it was spring and the temperature rose 20 degrees. Everywhere in town smelled damp, like fresh sod, green and expectant.

So my opening is a bit more folksy to bring across the humor of the piece, but you get the idea.

I also specifically picked out names for everyone in the story that had an extra layer of meaning for anyone who bothered to look into it. In the story, Bastet’s human form goes by Nenet Elmasry. Nenet means “divine, spiritual,” and “Elmasry” literally means “The Egyptian.” Her husband, Sef, is the human form of Ptah, the god of craftsmen. His physical description matches Ptah’s - hairless and wearing a skull cap. “Sef” literally means “yesterday.”

I also used to have a cat character named Aten who was intended to represent the divine cat aspect of Ra, who was strongly associated with Bastet, but I ended up cutting him out during the editing process. We just didn’t need another cat around, particularly one with more of an obscure origin. Aten means “sun,” which referenced Ra as the sun god.