Marching forward

…because it’s March.

Yep.

Here’s what’s going on for me at the midway mark of this month:

  • Finished freelance editing project that has been looming over me like a really tall guy with no sense of personal space (it wasn’t that bad, but I had crisis after crisis the moment it hit my plate—remember to communicate with your clients!)
  • Decided to shelve current novel for mental health reasons (the topic is way too close to world events right now, and I’m trying not to be overwhelmed by dread as it is)
  • Gearing up to outline my next project, which should be a lot of fun
  • Took another Rambo Academy class, this one called Plotting Your Trajectory: How to Plan an Unplannable Writing Career with Jennifer Brozek, who is a lovely person. Also, she knows what she’s talking about, which helps
  • Trying to figure out if I want to switch from Milanote to Airtable (thoughts? opinions? random compliments about my fashion sense?)
  • Mourning the (wise, expected, and yet still disappointing) cancellation of Norwescon
  • Trying to figure out if our 3-person end-of-April writing retreat in the wilds of Arizona is still feasible
  • Trying to figure out how to work short fiction back into my writing schedule
  • Trying to learn Swedish

Let me know what you’re up to, even if it’s just watching Netflix in your pajamas and waiting for the apocalypse.

Too many books in the freezer

I was contemplating making a “best reads of 2020 so far” post, since I’m ahead of schedule on my Goodreads Challenge. However, I looked back through my ratings and found most of them are 4 or 5 stars, so “best reads of” would basically be “almost everything I’ve read in.”

I had a long dry spell last year where I couldn’t get invested in anything—books, TV shows, games, podcasts that were not just My Favorite Murder all day every day.

Now, I feel like I can’t read fast enough. There are so many books to tear through and only so many hours in the day and days in the week…and only so much emotional bandwidth to contribute. Books, good books, can be exhausting, in the best way.

Books in the Freezer

Books in the Freezer podcastImage belongs to Books in the Freezer

I fully blame this recent shift on the podcast Books in the Freezer. I binge-listened and ended up adding so many books to my TBR, I had to make another, smaller TBR to prioritize them.

Yes, I mentioned this podcast before, but I’m doing it again. It’s important.

Books in the Freezer bills themselves as “A bi-weekly book podcast dedicated to the deliciously disturbing world of horror fiction.” The podcast title is a funny reference to a Friends episode, one that I’ll let the hosts explain for themselves (go listen to their first episode to get the story).

You could Google it, but come on, just go listen.

Not only did this podcast introduce me to books to read, and remind me of books I’ve meant to read, it rekindled my love of reading. I was feeling burned out as both a writer and a reader, and to be excited about horror again? That’s a gift worth more than…what’s a big number? Worth more than my student loans.

So if you need a little bit of inspiration, this is where I’ll point you. Make sure there’s plenty of room in your freezer.

Back on schedule

Sorry about the unexpected hiatus—I had to take a short mental health break for a while after a stressful event that turned out okay but was frightening at the time.

The problem with even short breaks is the backlog piles up, especially when you’re juggling multiple commitments, but this runaway train is finally starting to slow down. I expect to be back on track soon.

Weekend writing: getting away

Yesterday, I checked in at a local hotel for some focused writing time.

Hotel room

That desk by the window is where I’ve been sitting since, plugging away at the book with no distractions beyond food and sleep.

I try to do this at least once for each large project, for two reasons:

  • It can be hard to balance working full time, contributing to a creative indie company, writing, and taking care of things in my life.
  • The number one way to avoid burnout is to keep your plate only as full as you can manage, but the number two way is to keep what you’re working on fresh, interesting, and exciting.

A change of environment is a way to escape, to focus on only what I need to focus on my writing: being productive and resting. When I do these little writing excursions, I never punish myself for going to bed earlier than planned or sleeping in. I let myself have a nice, expensive dinner. It’s less about getting the word out and more about narrowing my focus, realigning myself, and reminding myself of my own priorities.

A side note: It’s tradition, when I’m away from home for even a single night, for my husband to send me pictures of our cat, so this is what I woke up to this morning:

Cat

Highlights from the 2019 Bram Stoker Awards® Preliminary Ballot

If you haven’t heard, the Horror Writers Association (HWA) has released the 2019 Bram Stoker Awards preliminary ballot.

What it is

An annual award for superior achievement in horror writing, named after Bram Stoker. Categories are as follows:

  • Superior Achievement in a Novel
  • Superior Achievement in a First Novel
  • Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel
  • Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel
  • Superior Achievement in Long Fiction
  • Superior Achievement in Short Fiction
  • Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection
  • Superior Achievement in a Screenplay
  • Superior Achievement in an Anthology
  • Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction
  • Superior Achievement in Short Non-Fiction
  • Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection

What I’ve read

Last year, I didn’t read much, so the award is a reminder of all of the wonderful horror fiction, nonfiction, and poetry I’ve missed out on (I did see a number of the TV shows and movies that were nominated for Superior Achievement in a Screenplay, so there’s that). In fact, the only item on the whole ballot I read in 2019 is this one:

The Luminous Dead

From Goodreads:
A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.
My rating: ★★★★★

What I’m looking forward to

Everything else

Here’s the thing. It’s shameful that I’ve only read one of these works. 2019 was a good writing year for me but a bad reading year, and that’s my own failing.

Every writer on the ballot and every piece of work they’ve written has accomplished something remarkable within the horror genre. I listed above only some writers I was already familiar with in one form or another, whose name I would pick out on a shelf, whose work I’m already committing myself to read. But this ballot? It’s another resource to introduce me to writers whose works I haven’t read, whose style I don’t know.

I almost didn’t write about the ballot, because I’ve read so few of the works this time around. But I am always, always excited to talk about and share books with other readers. And if you’re a reader, this ballot is a great place to start as you put together your plans for the year. This is good stuff.

“Look at the preliminary ballot for the Stokers and tell me horror hasn’t entered a new Golden Age.”

Gabino Iglesias

Lists like this, and like Tor Nightfire’s All the Horror Books We’re Excited About in 2020, make me so happy to be a horror fan. If you’ve already read something, please link to your review or share your thoughts with me! And did you read something that came out in 2019 that isn’t on the ballot but you think it should be? Let me know. I want to hear recommendations.

Horror books 2020

Completed Goodreads challenges

Last year, I almost didn’t hit my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal. The reason: podcasts. I got so hooked on podcasts (My Favorite Murder being the primary culprit) that I didn’t listen to audiobooks. Most of my reading is done over audio (other folks with ADHD—I love audiobooks because they allow me to multitask, which I need to do! Anyone else find this?)

Then I discovered Books in the Freezer, which bills itself as “A podcast discussing the deliciously disturbing world of horror fiction.” This not only reminded me that I do, in fact, love reading horror, but it made me realize there’s a lot more to the genre that I haven’t explored. So I sat down and made myself a 2020 TBR. I focused on horror novels coming out this year, horror novels by women, horror collections and anthologies (I really don’t read enough short stories) and horror novels that I’ve been meaning to get to for far too long.

In the end, I had a list of 84 books and novellas (I figure these even out, because a really long book still only counts as one). Now, my goal is 52 books, so that still gives me room to pick and choose based on what I feel like. I used Milanote to organize it:

Milanote book log screenshot

Side note: Milanote // Milanote is fantastic for making to-do lists, organizing projects, and tracking goals. They have a number of templates available to give you ideas. You can also make your own. I use it for tracking TTRPGs I’m running, novels I’m planning, short stories I’m submitting, video game characters I’m leveling (ESO, mainly), household projects (including my Konmari goals for this year), plus I’ve used it to collaborate with other members of the indie company I’m in.

Conveniently, one of the books at the top of my list, The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon), was also a group read in Ladies of Horror Fiction. It’s the perfect book for a group read, because I immediately wanted to talk about it.

I’ve also been organizing a few buddy reads this year. On that note, if you want to take a closer look at my TBR, I have a view-only link to my Milanote board.

What are you looking forward to reading this year?

Self care as a horror lover

To continue discussion of self care from my previous post, I want to talk a little bit about how being a horror fan (and specifically a horror writer) can sometimes cause problems.

Horror is booby trapped.

Earlier this week I finished A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. It destroyed me. I couldn’t sleep that night. My brain was caught in a purgatory of one moment from the book, one single moment I couldn’t escape played over and over in my mind.

Now, I’d been expecting something like The Exorcist, with maybe a bit more ambiguity. I can deal with something like The Exorcist. I don’t scare easily when it comes to books. A Head Full of Ghosts did not scare me. It did, however, disturb me, and that is not something I handle well.

I will pause here to mention that it is a fantastic book and that the only thing I regret about reading it is that sleepless night.

The problem with horror is that unless you love spoilers, you don’t always know what you’re going to get (“box of chocolates” reference here). Sometimes, you’ll run into something that is not what you were expecting, something maybe just a bit too dark or a bit too gory or a bit too close to home. Does everyone experience this? I don’t know. I know I prefer spooky, atmospheric books to straight-up torture porn. I like ghosts over slashers and folk horror over vampires, and I don’t do paranormal romance. That’s me. Monsters don’t scare me. People, however, can scare me quite a bit. And sometimes people are the monsters, and you don’t know it until you’re halfway down the rabbit hole and there’s no “up” elevator from here.

And sometimes horror is just depressing.

That’s a lot of dark, unhappy content to be consuming over and over. Maybe you’re jaded enough that it doesn’t penetrate, but I’m not, and I’ve been writing and reading horror for as long as I can remember. I have novels I haven’t finished reading (and won’t finish reading) because I know they would be bad for my mental health. I had a novel that I was writing that I shoved on the back burner and haven’t look at again because I was disturbing myself a bit too much.

Loving horror can be hard.

So what do you do?

  • Know what you can and can’t handle.
  • Recognize if something is too much for you, and put it down.
  • Take a break sometimes! Switch genres. Let some light in your life.
  • Be aware of how you’re doing. Depression can be sneaky.
  • Save certain books (and other media) for times you know you’re doing well. Sometimes there’s a difference between “I can’t read this” and “I can’t read this right now.”
  • Use resources like Does the dog die? if you know there’s a particular topic you have to stay away from.
  • This is a controversial one, but don’t be afraid of spoilers. Knowing the ending is a lot less annoying than having the ending give you nightmares for weeks in ways you weren’t prepared for or open to. (Feel free to disagree with me)

Anything else? Always looking for recommendations. And if you have any stories about particular situations, I want to hear them.