Everything is fine and what I’m reading…CITY OF GHOSTS.

Everything is fine.

Really. See? I’m wearing the t-shirt to prove it (Ignore the tired, glassy eyes. That’s normal).

Side note – the shirt is a design from one of my favorite independent artists. Check out Bombs Away Art – you’ll love his work, too.

Other side note – I have three versions of the “everything is fine” shirt, so I guess it’s kinda my thing.

Except, I’m not delusional.

I know everything is very not fine. People are sick and scared and scarred and out of work and lonely and overwhelmed and the world seems to be burning down around us while we watch through a window – if we’re fortunate enough to have a window to watch through.

For creatives – and I’m going to talk about writers here, because that’s what I know and understand – a world that is always difficult and uncertain is now exponentially more so. Many of us are finding it damned near impossible to find our words, buried somewhere deep below our anxiety, and all the while our attention is demanded by so very many deafening and conflicting priorities.

For those of us engaged in the business side of writing, that, too has become more daunting. It’s tough to read the publishing tea leaves in the best of times. The industry feels nearly inscrutable right now. Rumors of layoffs and downsizing and ever-tighter budgets abound – some of them easily verifiable, others the result of a very nasty game of telephone with too many players. I have an outstanding literary agent, and a debut project I’m proud of, but I may not have been able to pick a worse time to try to find my strange little story a home. So I fret about it. A lot.

In fact, the word I seem to now use most frequently to describe myself is “fretting.” But, you want to know something? I’m kind of (insert your favorite vulgar phrase here) over it. Fretting is getting me absolutely nowhere and taking up far too much precious time and bandwidth. So I’m going to stop. Fretting, that is. And I’m going to focus on what I can actually do rather than obsess over the things outside my control (easier said than done, but I’m determined).

That starts with writing. Until recently, a good night of writing meant somewhere around 800 words, and 1200 if I was on a roll. Now, if I get any new words written during one of my evening (after work, after the kids are in bed) sessions, I’m counting that as a win. And I mean any new words. If I write at all, I’ve accomplished something. Most importantly, I’ve not allowed my creativity to be smothered by my anxiety. Even if its breath is shallow and its heartbeat faint, my creative mind is alive. For now, that’s enough.

The other thing within my realm of control is my family, and how I choose to spend this time with them. So, instead of fretting about what I can’t do for and with my children, I asked the twins what good things were happening because of COVID-19. The Boy Child and Girl Child (six-and-a-half) didn’t hesitate to tell me:

“Doing fun activities.”

“Seeing my cats a lot.”

“Seeing new little caterpillar friends.”

“Helping Mom with the ants” (Don’t ask).

“Playing outside after dinner.”

“A good thing is that I have to stay with my family.”

Then the Boy Child said, “Can we stop? I’m done talking about the bad, old, stinking, dumb Coronavirus.”

I agree. Me too, Buddy.

So I’ll talk about what I’m reading, instead.

I’ve been hearing about City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab for a while now and finally picked it up.

Let’s start with the cover. I have to mention it because I find myself suffering from deep, seething, visceral cover envy. I mean, look at it, would you? It pisses me off how perfect it is.

I write middle grade horror, so am always on the lookout for books in my category. This one has everything I want as it serves as both homework and as a literary escape – humor, heart, and a scrappy, imperfect protagonist who also happens to have a ghost for a best friend.

I’ve only started City of Ghosts, but I’m already hooked by the voice and the premise. And honestly, I’m just in the mood for a little supernatural horror to distract me from the real-life, real-time tragedy we’re collectively living through right now.

Speaking of supernatural horror….

My reading time has recently been been otherwise occupied by The Magnus Archives podcast. If you’re a horror podcast fan and you’ve not yet given this a listen, stop what you’re doing, go find it, and listen to the first episode.

I’ll wait.

See? It’s amazing, right? I’m on Episode 22. Today is a warm, bright, glorious day, but I’ve got the full on creeps. It’s delicious. And also the mark of genius storytelling.

Ok…checking the list…I’ve rambled about COVID-19, t-shirts, caterpillars, publishing, and podcasts. My work here is done.

If you’re writing and struggling, keep at it. Your words are still there.

If you’re writing and not struggling, well good for you. Ignore my tone. I really mean it.

As always, send me your recommendations. Books and podcasts both, because I can’t get enough of either.

I won’t tell you to stop fretting, because I understand for some of us that simply isn’t an option. But work to control what you can.

And stay well.

A bit about what I’m writing and a book recommendation… THE ABSENCE OF SPARROWS

So, writing first.

I’m outlining a new middle grade horror manuscript. For now it’s called SOON but I expect that will change over time. It’s about a kid trapped (alone…?) inside his creepy new-old house because there’s something out his front door that is both invisible and ominous. I mean, he’s safe indoors, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Because it’s hard to guard against a threat you can’t see and don’t understand.

Did I start this idea before the COVID-19 scare? Yes, yes I did.

Is it at risk of tuning into a commentary on current events? Yes, yes it is.

Can I avoid that entirely? Probably not. I’m of the opinion most writers cannot entirely divorce themselves and their writing from the world around them. Reality creeps in even when it’s not been invited. Which, if you’re keeping track, makes reality less considerate than vampires.

I’m curious to see how many quarantine-inspired books are released in the next couple years. Will this be the Next Big Thing, or will publishers avoid it like the – ahem – plague? (Sorry about that…)

In the meantime, I’m going to keep plotting this story as much as a by-the-seat-of-her-pants writer like me plots anything. I have no intention for the story to be an allegory but I have no control over how it will be read and received. And we’ll see how much of that self-entitled and unsolicited reality sneaks past security.

All that said, I like the idea a lot. It appeals to my love of haunted houses, feisty kids, and impending doom. And my main character, Wyatt, has done that obnoxious thing good characters inevitably do – he’s become a fully formed person in my head. So I suppose I’m bound to see where this thing goes, because Wyatt will never give me any peace if I don’t – he’s the kind of kid who’ll go down yelling and swinging.

Ok, as for that book recommendation.

Kurt Kirchmeier wrote a brilliant middle grade horror, The Absence of Sparrows. It’s about a kid dealing with a pandemic that only affects adults…so, basically, Kurt was way ahead of the curve. It’s strange and haunting and lovely. I recommend this book all the time anyway, but as it’s particularly timely here I am recommending it yet again.

Pick up The Absence of Sparrows and see how Ben and his brother Pete – and their community – deal with a plague they can’t escape and don’t have an antidote for.

It was one of my favorite books last year, and I’ll wager you’d enjoy it as well. Because if you’re here, you have at least a passing interest in dark and twisty books.

If you’re writing, I hope your words are flowing.

If you’re reading, support your local bookstores. They sure need it right now.

I’d love to hear about what you’re working on. And, of course, I want all your book recommendations.

And seriously, go wash your hands. Right now. I mean, you have no idea where this blog has been.

What I’m Reading…GOLDELINE

I’ve read Jimmy Cajoleas’ young adult books and thoroughly enjoyed them. Minor Prophets was great, and The Good Demon was so good I’m still angry about it. Cajoleas’ books are dark and don’t pull punches – not for the faint of heart.

Because I so loved his YA novels, and because I’m writing middle grade horror, I decided to pick up Cajoleas’ MG book Goldeline.

I’m literally ten pages in, but am already pretty sure I’ve made a good decision. Cajoleas does a lot of things right in his books, but one thing he always nails is voice. And Goldeline has voice from page one.

So, what are you reading?

Leave a comment and tell me why I should read it, too.