A Case of the Fridays

Case of the Fridays

I used to love Fridays.

But lately, I’ve been dreading them. Like clockwork, since the beginning of our shelter-at-home order, I’ve been starting my weeks with lots of energy—and ending them completely and utterly exhausted. Sometimes, to the point of tears.

Case of the Mondays? Gone. Case of the Fridays? In full effect.

The past few weeks, I’ve recognized that this has become a pattern, and I knew I needed to change something. I wasn’t sure what, but I needed to dig deep and figure it out.

After talking it out with my husband, I sat down and made a list. Instead of traditional pros and cons, I wrote down the things that cause me stress and the things that make me happy. Let me tell you, it was not fun being brutally honest about some of my stressors. But on the other side of the coin, it was also therapeutic to recognize the things that genuinely bring me joy.

Here’s what I learned, thanks to this exercise.

First, there are plenty of things on my stressors list that I have zero control over (hello, shopping trips and paying our mortgage and the damn jungle that has overtaken our backyard due to record rain).

But there are plenty of things I can manage. Like my personal news and social media consumption.

I will admit I’ve been rather addicted to my phone since all of this mess started. Checking on news updates. Reading personal accounts of those who’ve battled COVID-19. Cringing at the terrible decisions being made socially, politically, globally. And let’s be honest, all the existing issues in our society haven’t disappeared in the face of coronavirus; if anything, this pandemic is emphasizing them and showing us how broken so many of our social and political systems are.

All this stuff, it stresses me out. The bad news just continues to pile up. And I’ve been feeding my anxiety with it.

You hungry, anxiety? Here, have a big bag of chips (aka – bad news). Still hungry? Oh, there’s so much more content in this pantry (dumpster fire) you can consume.

So, I made the choice to take a break. Last weekend, I left my phone on my bedside table while my husband and I watched movies, baked banana bread, played games, and napped on the couch. I turned off all my push notifications. I fought the impulse to constantly check in.

I didn’t go cold turkey. I still allowed myself a little phone time, but I limited those instances to a few minutes each. And then I walked away.

This week, I’ve been trying to continue this practice. I’m not perfect. I’ve succumbed to old habits (I mean, I’m human), but something in my brain has changed. When I see something that upsets me on the news or social media, I set my phone down rather than digging deeper into the issue and sitting in the stress it produces. I still post things. I still respond to both good and bad announcements. But I have new boundaries that are keeping my empath heart safe.

Now, let’s talk about the happy side of that list I made!

All those things that bring me joy—reading, baking, playing board games with my husband, exercising, taking baths, watching horror films and RuPaul’s Drag Race, cuddling with the pups, encouraging and helping those I love—I have so much more time to do them now that I’m not consumed by my phone.

I’m making a point to do at least one of these joyful practices every day. On days I’m feeling down, I look at the list and try to do them all. Bring on the joy, baby!

Today is Friday. And it’s the first Friday in a while that I don’t feel ridiculously overwhelmed. I actually have energy. Something has changed, thank goodness.

There’s a lot of talk going around right now about the importance of self-care. It’s incredibly critical, but it’s also easier said than done. Self-care is complex. Sometimes, self-care is taking a bath or drinking a glass of wine. In this particular case, I had to do some uncomfortable work and make significant personal changes to get some relief. It wasn’t easy, but I’m so happy I did it. I feel lighter.

Buh-bye, end-of-week exhaustion. Fridays? I’m reclaiming them, thanks.

A Jerk and a Joke: Shopping Adventures in the Time of COVID-19

Grocery Shopping

When we realized our supply of dog waste bags was dwindling, I knew it was coming. When our fresh veggies, Splenda, veggie stock, and coffee started to go, we began making a list. When my husband announced he needed to pick up an important prescription, well, it was time to face the music. We needed to go shopping. You know, during the deadly upswing of a global health crisis.

The last time we stocked up on groceries, we went to each store together. Oh, how things change in a matter of weeks. Now, it’s too risky. Not just for shopping, but for a lot of things.

Our local officials recommend wearing masks when out in public. We’re supposed to clean everything we bring into our home with sanitizer wipes. There are conflicting reports about social distancing; some say six feet is adequate; in others, it’s nowhere near enough. And COVID-19 has crept too close to home already. My husband and I both know people who are sick.

So yeah, we needed to re-evaluate how to go about grocery shopping. We decided the safest way for us to shop right now is to divide and conquer: my husband goes to the first store or two, picks up whatever he can from our list, and then I make a second trip out to look for the items he couldn’t find. We figure this strategy limits the amount of time we spend as individuals in the world that we once knew laid back, beautiful San Diego and has now morphed into a truly terrifying episode of The Twilight Zone.

After my husband brought home round one of our haul and we’d properly cleaned and stored our groceries, it was my turn. I took my Prozac, strapped on a homemade cloth mask, donned some plastic gloves, hiked up the hood of my hoodie, and drove to Von’s looking like I was planning to rob a bank.

Let me tell you, it was an adventure.

During my hour-and-a-half away from home, I experienced prime examples of both of the goodness and the baseness of humanity. Let’s start with the negatives so we can end on the positives, yeah?

As I moved through the grocery store, it became immediately apparent that either people are quite bad at judging six feet of distance…or fear wins over patience the majority of the time. Sadly, I think the latter is most likely.

With a safety-first mentality and a personal dedication to practicing legitimate social distancing, folks should wait a full six feet away for shoppers to vacate certain areas before reaching in to get the green bell pepper they so desperately need, right? But fear makes us take risks – and it’s way sexier than safety.

It’s human nature to want to get the hell out of a potentially threatening situation as soon as possible. So, despite the invisible elephant in the room that is COVID-19, we get close to each other. We reach around folks to scoop up groceries to lessen our time in the store. Ultimately, we’re risking our health, and the health of others, in order to obtain  things we think we need. Either consciously or subconsciously, we’re putting the sum of its parts ahead of the collective whole.

And while that was more of a philosophical observation, I also observed some straight-up nastiness.

Due to the large number of people shopping yesterday, their larger-than-usual hauls, and the social distancing measures put into place by Von’s, checkout lines cascaded down the vast majority of the aisles of the store. Entirely expected, right?

While wandering down the cereal aisle in search of bran flakes, I heard a male voice boom, “Do your damn job!”

I blinked, startled. But yeah, this was happening. A man in one of the checkout lines was berating the folks working at Von’s. (Who, by the way, were doing an absolutely incredible job. I watched them wipe down the conveyor belts, point-of-sale transaction stations, and all surfaces in between each customer. They were doing their best to keep people distanced. They were hustling. They were offering free bags to those who needed them. I can’t imagine how stressful their jobs are right now.)

Y’all, this man was loud. It was clear he wanted to be heard. But…did he seriously think his complaining would magically transport him to the front of the line? Oh sir, I’m so sorry, I see you’ve been waiting. Please, cut in front of all of these people who are being patient and waiting their turn, because you matter so much more than any of them.

A manager came over and told the man he needed to get himself under control and lower his voice. If he didn’t, they would kick him out. This guy was seething. I could feel the bad mojo pouring off him half an aisle’s length away. I honestly was afraid he’d start throwing punches. Luckily, that didn’t happen. Instead, he abandoned his basket and walked out.

To play devil’s advocate, maybe this guy was having a terrible day. Maybe this pandemic has touched him personally. Maybe this Von’s experience was a symptom of a larger issue.

But people who work in grocery stores are literally saving us right now. They are helping. They are putting themselves at risk. They are allowing us the privilege to stock up so we can stay home and hopefully never come into contact with this virus.

I know it’s stressful and scary, y’all. But don’t bite the hand that feeds you. If you do, someday that hand will turn up empty.

Blessedly, my shopping adventure concluded with a much-needed dose of positivity!

As I was loading groceries into my car, a white-haired woman in a RV rolled up next to me, leaned out her window, and asked if I wanted to hear the “ridiculous joke of the day.” Um, of course I did!

And here it is, ladies and gents, a truly corny joke delivered by this sweet stranger who just wanted to spread a little laughter during a crisis.

White-haired woman: Can you name the stinkiest pencil on the market?

Me (after a brow furrow and pause): You know, I don’t think I can.

Lady (after a dramatic pause): The number two!

Y’all, she sang that punchline with unmitigated glee in her voice. She was cracking herself up, and she certainly cracked me up, too! I applauded her as well as I could in my plastic-gloved hands and thanked her for the laugh. After that, she simply wished me a good day and drove off.

It was a brief interaction, a minute tops, but I needed it so badly. I wonder if she could tell. Or perhaps she’s just a woman with a hopeful spirit and I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

But her kind gesture reminded me of why we’re staying home, despite how hard all of this has been and will continue to be. Humans can be great. Interactions with other people can make our days. We naturally crave community.

Don’t get me wrong, COVID-19 is making everything really hard. We’ve started losing people. Everyone’s mental health is compromised. Quite frankly, we’re all living with trauma right now. Our existence, individually and collectively, is a fragile thing.

But on the other side of this, I hope there are still sweet souls who approach complete strangers armed with Dad jokes. Because those people, they remind us that this life—this life together—is worth fighting for.

(Re)finding the Light

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When I had a panic attack right before bed in mid-November 2019, I knew something had to change. Now, I’m no stranger to anxiety. It’s loomed over me for years like a dense fog, obscuring reason and making me feel panicked in a myriad of situations. But I’ve learned how to clear the fog. I take deep yoga breaths. I replace negative thoughts with positive ones. I distract myself with a game, favorite TV show, or puppy cuddles. I tell my husband I’m struggling so we can have a conversation about it.

But this anxiety attack was different for two reasons.

Reason number one: it was completely unprovoked. I was wearing fuzzy socks, book in hand, ready to climb into bed and relax. I probably had a freshly brewed mug of tea in hand. I had exactly zero reasons in that moment to panic. But my body decided it was time for either fight or flight. My heart started hammering. Adrenaline shot through me. I was suddenly massively uncomfortable. And I was really confused about it.

Reason number two: my usual coping mechanisms didn’t work. I focused on my breathing, willing my heartbeat to slow. I sat down and closed my eyes. I told my husband what was happening. And got no relief. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

It was as if my mind and body had gone completely rogue.

***

You won’t be surprised to learn that this anxiety anomaly occurred during a particularly stressful season of my life.

My husband and I bought our first house together last year, and our financial situation changed significantly (homeowners, especially those in California, you’ll feel me on this one).

Our dog, Zen, was diagnosed with cancer in his foot after a routine vet appointment, which threw our lives into a tailspin of oncology appointments, impossible decisions, and difficult conversations.

My world as I knew it shifted when my best friend called and said four unimaginable words: “I have breast cancer.”

My dad fell and as a result, required shoulder surgery.

Another dear friend was dealing with important medical tests for her mother coming back inconclusive – multiple times.

There were far too many people I loved fighting battles for their health and the health of their loved ones. (Did I mention these all happened within a month of each other?)

Cherry on top, I had my own bizarre medical condition to investigate, a vein in my armpit that decided to painfully and visibly protrude like an alien ready to pop out of my skin. This required a barrage of tests since my GP took one look and went, “I don’t know what this is.” (Spoiler alert: I’m completely fine and the condition cleared up on its own, but damn, it was weird.)

It’s safe to say stress was wound tightly around me like bubble wrap encasing something fragile. It’s also safe to say I was that something fragile.

Perhaps my right-before-bedtime panic attack was cumulative stress and anxiety. Perhaps the fog had grown so dense and cold and pervasive, I couldn’t see anymore, even if the sun was trying to shine through.

Though I was relatively calm that night everything changed—my pajama pants warm and soft, my little family surrounding me, the comfort of a story in my hand—my body was raging.

Apparently, this was my new normal.

***

I was really nervous to talk to my doctor. I steeled myself and promised myself I wouldn’t cry. I vowed to keep it together.

I’ve never had anything against medication for mental health. I think it’s vital. It’s life-changing for many. It’s incredible science. So many people struggle with various issues, and personal happiness, executive function, the ability to get through a day without some sort of episode is…well, everything.

But for me, there was something pretty sinister about confronting the fact that I couldn’t control this anymore, even though I tried, and it was time to ask for help. Why is it so hard for us to do that? To ask for what we need without reservation or shame or fear?

Over the phone, I told my doctor about the stressers in my life and my newfound inability to keep my anxiety from swallowing me whole. I expressed my interest in treating my anxiety medically.

I can’t articulate how validating it was to hear the genuine compassion in my doctor’s voice. She quickly made recommendations, and her immediate willingness to help me felt like a warm hug. We talked about possible side effects, how I’d start on the lowest dosage possible and adjust, as needed. My prescription would be ready later than day. She’d call me the following week to check in and see how I was feeling. And if this one didn’t work, we’d find one that did.

When I hung up, I finally felt like I could breathe again.

***

Fluoxetine sounds like some sort of sexy element on a distant planet, but really, it’s just Prozac. And taking it has improved my life dramatically.

Fluoxetine is an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety combo and belongs to a group of medicines called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). It gives me a daily kick of serotonin, a chemical that is known to transmit messages between nerve cells, is thought to be active in constricting smooth muscles, and (here’s the important part for me) contributes to wellbeing and happiness.

I can happily report that I don’t feel like I’ve been emotionally run over by a Mack truck anymore. I have no side effects. I feel much more like myself. I smile. I crack jokes. I take better care of myself. My executive function is vastly improved. I’m not living in the fear of unprovoked or unexplainable panic attacks.

The moment I knew the medicine was working? When I opened my mouth to sing along with the radio in my car, something I hadn’t done for months. It was this tiny, mundane, seemingly insignificant thing, but for me, it was incredibly profound. Because it was a little slice of joy.

Let’s call this a comeback.

***

Inevitably, someone (perhaps even a handful of people), will tell me I’m brave for telling my story. The social stigma surrounding mental health and the medications that help it, yeah, it sucks. I’m not sharing this because I have guts; I’m sharing it because, empath that I am, I want everyone to know it’s okay not to be okay. I want all of us to feel better. And I want everyone to know it’s okay to want that for yourself, too.

***

The fog isn’t gone entirely. To be honest, I wouldn’t want it to retreat completely, even if I had the choice. Why? I still want to feel things. Every day can’t be unicorns and rainbows, because the marrow of life is sticky and complicated and difficult at times. I’m okay with peaks and valleys as long as I know where I am, who I am, and that this life belongs to me, not some chemical imbalance or misfire in my brain.

And if the sunshine is trying to peek through the fog, you better believe I can see it now.

It’s mine.

And it’s priceless.

Little Paranoias Serves Up Creepy Revelations about the Human Condition

It’s officially October, which means everything is available with pumpkin flavoring, there’s a distinct chill in the air, I’m getting excited about boots, my Halloween costume preparations are underway, and it’s undoubtedly the season for spooky tales!

Speaking of spooky tales, I had the pleasure of receiving an advance review copy of Little Paranoias: Stories, the latest short story collection by author Sonora Taylor, and I have to tell you all, it’s atmospheric, unnerving, and addictive. Essentially, it’s the perfect October read. After you put it down, I dare you to not glance over your shoulder every five seconds, listen for those inevitable bumps in the night, and desperately try to discern who around you is, indeed, a monster. (I mean, statistically, this has to be a thing.)

Featuring 20 stories and poems, Little Paranoias turns up the dial on the stuff that scares while also delivering little epiphanies on the human condition. Sure, the book is full of creatures and baddies and horrific happenings, but the most intriguing stories are the ones that cut a little too close to the bone.

“Crust” examines the deadly depths of perfectionism. “Always in my Ear” (one of my favorites in this collection!) explores the sanctity of secrets between friends and our society’s continued obsession with podcasts, especially those of the true crime variety. “Cranberry” explores body dysmorphia and eating disorders. “Hearts are Just ‘Likes’” exposes the dark underbelly of social media and influencer culture. And the opening story, “Weary Bones,” touches on life after death, scientific discoveries gone sideways, and the marginalization of “others.”

Another aspect of Taylor’s writing I consistently enjoy is her ability to craft adept portrayals of nature (and how it bites back at the human race), as exemplified in “Quadropocalype” and “Seed.” In both, her world building is spectacular, especially in light of her brevity. The environments Taylor builds on the page are evocative and cinematic and believable. I would love to read a full-length novel set in nature from her (hint, hint, nudge, nudge), because I’m sure it would be beautiful, immersive, and best of all, freaking terrifying. (If you like “Quadropocalypse” and “Seed,” check out Taylor’s other book of short stories, Wither and Other Stories.)

Other stories in Little Paranoias, particularly “Salt,” “Never Walk Alone,” and “Perfection in Shadow,” deliver on creep factor and smart, twisty endings. The two poems included in this collection evoke the sing-song quality of nursery rhymes—and we all know how dark those can get. Lastly, if you’re a fan of stories that put fresh, complex spins on the trite serial killer trope, this collection is for you.

In short, Little Paranoias is a spooktacular October read from a new and distinct voice in horror fiction. The book will publish on October 22, but you can preorder your copy today!

Also, as a special sneak peek, watch a reading of “Stick Figure Family,” one of the stories in Little Paranoias, by I Am Sterp on her YouTube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyeDwlFpdEQ

Happy hauntings, boys and ghouls!

About Sonora Taylor:

Sonora Taylor is the author of Without Condition, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Please Give, and Wither and Other Stories. Her short story, “Hearts are Just ‘Likes,’” was published in Camden Park Press’ Quoth the Raven, an anthology of stories and poems that put a contemporary twist on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Taylor’s short stories frequently appear in The Sirens Call, a bi-monthly horror eZine. Her work has also appeared in Mercurial Stories, Tales to Terrify, and the Ladies of Horror fiction podcast. She is currently working on her third novel. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband.

Visit Sonora online at sonorawrites.com.

Connect with Sonora on Social Media:

Listen to “Moonshine” on the Manawaker Flash Fiction Podcast

I am officially dubbing 2019 the Year of the Podcast! In February, my paranormal comedic short, “Bad Vibrations,” was read by the incredible Tina Connelly on the Toasted Cake Podcast. And today, you can listen to my darkly sweet modern fairytale, “Moonshine,” on the Manawaker Flash Fiction Podcast, read by the equally incredible CB Droege.

“Moonshine” explores adolescent heartbreak and midnight enchantment and whether or not you should trust fairies. Speaking of fairies, there is fairy dialogue in this story, and CB Droege completely kills it. The moment I heard one of my fairies speak, my face lit up with the biggest grin, and it stayed there for a full ten minutes. Truly, this narration is fantastic! I’m really honored to have a story featured on the podcast. CB, you’ve outdone yourself!

If you happen to have ten minutes to spare and love fairytales, this one’s for you. Listen to “Moonshine” HERE.

And if you enjoy CB’s reading of my tale, consider subscribing to the Manawaker Flash Fiction Podcast or becoming a patron.

Cheers to the Year of the Podcast!

Everything’s Coming Up Superheroes

Divine Five

This week is shaping up to be decidedly super. My husband and I are halfway through the Netflix adaptation of The Umbrella Academy graphic novel series (more fangirling on that later!). I have my ticket to see Captain Marvel this weekend in the fancy Dolby theater at our local AMC (the one with leather recliners that rumble, surround sound, and gorgeous projection). And yesterday, Divine Five: Dawn published, an anthology of superhero origin stories, which just so happens to feature my story “Shock to the System.”

Fun fact: I’m wearing a Wonder Woman shirt today in celebration, but I digress…

This was such a fun project! The editor/publisher, Timothy Pulo, simply provided me with a location (Marseilles, France), a name (Nikolas Travers), and a superpower (but I’m not spoiling that part for you!), and said, “Uh, go for it!” So yeah, the story was completely up to me. I had full reign to create the world, the relationships, the storyline, and the character of Nikolas. That kind of freedom is so liberating! And I had a blast writing my very first superhero story. (Although, I think it’s fitting to apologize to my protagonist, Nikolas. I put the poor kid through the ringer!)

Here’s a sneak peek of my story:

Excerpt of Shock to the System

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

Three blocks later, the métro sign appeared. Nikolas nearly sank to his knees in relief, but the thought of Marceline propelled him onward. He raced down the concrete steps, past a group of figures who wore dark-colored trench coats and argued in harsh whispers—Drug deal gone sideways, Nikolas thought—and into the underground tunnels of Marseille.

He was greeted, as always, with the stale smells of urine, mold, and grit, but the foul odors barely registered, because Nikolas had somewhere he desperately needed to be. There was a short, yet slow-moving line at the métro turnstile, and he briefly considered jumping the barrier, but knew he’d regret the decision later. He stood in line, like everyone else, then fed his métro card into the turnstile and pushed onto the platform. An overhead announcement proclaimed the next car would arrive in five minutes.

Nikolas ambled to the knife edge of the platform, ignoring the yellow safety line, and peered down the track, into the cavernous tubes of the métro line, as if he could summon the car with his mind. Of course, nothing of the sort happened. All Nikolas could see was darkness.

Nikolas sighed. Of all the nights to be late. Though perpetual tardiness was his status quo, he’d promised himself—and more importantly, he’d promised Marceline—that he would arrive at her place at a decent hour that night so they’d have ample time to celebrate.

And he’d broken that promise.

Flushed with disappointment, Nikolas reached into his pocket and retrieved his cell phone. The time was 8:02. He’d meant to arrive at Marceline’s an hour ago. And, of course, there were a slurry of text messages from his girl.

At 6:45: Still planning to be here at 7? I’m making your favorite! J

At 7:20: I’m guessing the métro is backed up or you left a little later than expected? I’ve got dinner ready for whenever you get here. Give me a call and let me know what’s up?

At 7:50: Nik, if you’re still at the office…

At 8:01: I’m not mad (well, maybe a little). But now I just want to know you’re ok. Call me?

“Idiot, idiot, idiot,” Nikolas muttered. “And for what? A medical app? An email that could’ve waited until tomorrow? You have to make this right.”

Nikolas paced the platform wildly, thinking through what he’d say once he got Marceline on the line. He concocted harebrained excuses—the office was under siege! He practiced over-the-top apologies—I’m sorry to the moon and back! He considered chucking his phone in the trash, so he could explain that he’d lost his mobile and couldn’t have contacted her.

In the end, he settled on a simple apology, coupled with an assurance that he was fine and on his way. They would talk more once he got to Marceline’s. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves, took a step away from the platform—and his ankle rolled.

Suddenly, Nikolas was pitching past the yellow safety line and toward the buzzing tracks of the métro. As he fell, he thought of Marceline—her golden, cat-like eyes, the raspy way she laughed, the way he felt safe wrapped in her arms—and sadness swept through him.

But then he stopped, mid-flight, and was pulled backward with a sharp jerk. Nikolas stumbled away from the rails, gulping in air, his body a patchwork of fine tremors. Beside him, a woman wearing a black trench coat stood calmly, as composed as a statue.

Merci, merci,” Nikolas managed between shaky breaths. “You…you saved me.”

“Yeah, I did,” the woman said. “I had to. You’re him.”

Nikolas frowned. What did she mean? “Have we met?”

“No. This is our meet-cute. Charmant, oui?

Nikolas wondered fleetingly if she was high—and then decided she must be. All the signs were there. She’d been reckless enough to save a man tumbling onto the métro tracks, risking her own life (although she’d seemed preternaturally strong). She was talking in riddles with utmost confidence. And it looked like her eyes were all black—so perhaps her pupils were dilated?

“Sure,” Nikolas said. “Listen, I’m really, really grateful. I don’t have much on me, but can I give you a little something?” He produced his wallet, but the woman caught his wrist before he could offer her anything.

“No,” she said. “You’re all I need.”

“O—kay,” Nikolas said. This exchange had become truly uncomfortable, and the woman still had a grip on his wrist. A really firm grip that Nikolas wasn’t sure he’d be able to break. “Thanks again, but I need to be go—“

“Could you tell me the time?” the woman asked, her black eyes peering into his.

Nikolas lifted his wrist—the one free of the woman’s grip—and glanced down at his watch. 8:05.

Huit heures…” he began, then felt fire in his wrist as the woman wrenched him to the side—not further into safety but toward the humming track.

She’s strong—too strong, Nikolas thought.

And then his feet left the earth and he flew. But this time he knew the mysterious stranger wouldn’t halt his fall. She’d initiated it this time, and Nikolas had no idea why.

As he tumbled, Nikolas heard the screams of passengers waiting on the platform, but they sounded warped, like he was underwater. He felt a sickening jolt as his body struck and bounced like a ragdoll. Heat seared through him, and it ran so hot, he almost felt cold. Nikolas’s back arched and his limbs stiffened as an electric current swept through him, painting his world in pain.

To find out what happens on the other side of Nikolas’s fall, pick up your copy of Divine Five: Dawn today!

 

kINKED Gets a New Cover!

kINKED

I will always have a soft spot in my heart (and my loins) for kINKED. Published by Pen and Kink Publishing, kINKED explores the intersection of ink and kink. And it just so happens to contain my story “Begin Again,” a tale that marks the first time I had the guts to publish something really, truly sexy.

Of course, a sexy collection deserves a sexy cover. And y’all, when kINKED first published, it had a cover that’ll make you blush…which proved a little problematic on good old Amazon. The OG cover is, well…visually risqué. And it made finding the collection organically via their search engine pretty difficult.

So…kINKED has a new, slightly less steamy cover. Check it out!

Kinked_photo_full_final_rework2

And here’s a little teaser of “Begin Again”:

“When the blue door swung open, Melissa lost her ability to speak as her gaze swept over the man she presumed to be the tattoo shop owner. Warm, amber light outlined his lithe yet strong figure, his dark, unruly hair, and the tattered jeans precariously slung about his narrow hips. He wore a gray t-shirt that clung to his chest as if he’d been standing in the rain, and where cotton ended, color began. Every inch of his muscular arms were covered in radiant koi fish, dark, twisty woodlands, long-dead rock stars, and lines and lines of block letters and script.

Melissa’s fingers tingled as an overwhelming desire to sketch him stretched through her arms. As far as drawing subjects were concerned, he was her type, someone who would be more at home on the battlefield than lounging nude in the heavens flanked by angels. Well, the nude part would be okay.

Melissa reached for the pencil she routinely kept in the back pocket of her jeans. But having forgotten where she was and what she was wearing—a black pencil skirt and a sequined top—she grasped nothing but air. Coming up empty, she clutched the arm nearest her, unsure of which friend it belonged to in the moment. She was afraid if she didn’t hold something, anything, she’d reach forward to trace her fingertips along the elegant arcs of color on this stranger’s forearms.”

If you’re looking for a steamy read, you can easily search for kINKED on Amazon…or you can use this direct link.

Happy reading!

My Bloody Valentine: An Interview with Sonora Taylor

Happy Valentine’s Day, lovers! Today, I bring you a special treat to celebrate dark and deadly love, an interview with Sonora Taylor about her newly published novel, Without Condition.

I was a first reader of Without Condition, and I devoured it! The story is incredibly unique, unrelentingly dark, at times, sexy as hell, and just an altogether fun read.

Before we dive into the interview, a little about Without Condition:

Cara Vineyard lives a quiet life in rural North Carolina. She works for an emerging brewery, drives her truck late at night, and lives with her mother on a former pumpkin farm. Her mother is proud of her and keeps a wall displaying all of Cara’s accomplishments. Cara isn’t so much proud as she is bored. She’s revitalized when she meets Jackson Price, a pharmacist in Raleigh. Every day they spend together, she falls for him a little more — which in turn makes her life more complicated. When Cara goes on her late-night drives, she often picks up men. Those men tend to die. And when Cara comes back to the farm, she brings a memento for her mother to add to her wall of accomplishments. Cara’s mother loves her no matter what. But she doesn’t know if Jackson will feel the same — and she doesn’t want to find out.

Let’s get right to it. What inspired you to write a serial killer coming-of-age love story?

Something that had nothing to do with any of those things, ha ha. I was first inspired when I read an article about Tobias Forge, the lead singer of the band Ghost. Previously, Forge performed under an alias. He said one of the reasons he decided to come forward with his identity was because his mom wouldn’t stop bragging about him to her friends and neighbors. Forge typically performs in full Satanic priest costume, or in full skeleton makeup while wearing a suit. I couldn’t stop laughing at the thought of this man’s proud mother walking around saying, “That’s my son!”

 

From there, I thought about what it’d be like if a mother was like that for a child who was actually doing bad things — nay, criminal things. I’m drawn to extremes, and thus thought about what that’d be like if the child was a killer. I went first to a son, but to change things up, I had the child be a daughter. I started thinking of how this mother-daughter dynamic could play out, but it wasn’t until I came up with the daughter meeting a man that the story really took off in my mind. It became less about the absurdity of one mother’s pride and more about testing the limits of unconditional love.

 

What is your writing process like? Was there anything particularly unique about the process of writing Without Condition (anything that surprised you, was funny, was brutal, etc.)?

 

I try to write once a day, and to carve out a little time each day. I usually do a section a day for a short story, and 1000 words a day for a novel. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes it’s more; but having a number to aim for helps give me a goal to meet, and thus makes it easier to complete the task each day.

 

Without Condition was unique in the context of working on this novel versus working on my first novel, Please Give. For the latter, it was very easy for me to sit down and write. I often surpassed my 1000 words a day goal, sometimes writing 2000 or even 3000 words in a sitting. I had lots of ideas and, while writing Please Give had plenty of challenges, sitting down to write it wasn’t one of them.

 

With Without Condition, while I wanted to sit down and write, I found it harder to sit down and do so for long stretches of time. Some scenes would flow like butter in a hot skillet, while others would spread like cold butter on bread — ie, either not at all or else with a lot of torn bread.

 

Still, I found that when I went back and read what I’d written so far in Without Condition, more often than not, I found myself reasonably satisfied with the first attempt. Not satisfied enough to leave it unchanged, of course; but with Please Give, I must’ve revised some passages several times over before I was even close to satisfied. With Without Condition, I always felt like I had something good, even when I knew I could have something better. That was a pleasant surprise I encountered with this one.

 

In my opinion, you’ve written a protagonist who, yes, is a serial killer, but the circumstances surrounding her are much more terrifying than her propensity to kill. You cover a lot of horrifying topics in this book, many that are freakishly mundane and a little too close to home. Tell us a little about the themes of Without Condition (without spoilers, of course!).

 

The biggest theme, as alluded to in the title, is the idea of unconditional love. We often tell our loved ones that we’ll always love them no matter what. But what does that mean when someone is doing something heinous or wrong? Does that still apply? I wanted to explore that, and at a deeper level than the absurdity of that level of unconditional love from an outsider’s perspective. I wanted to look at it from the perspective of a mother’s love and from romantic love, and I found it more gratifying to do so from the point of view of Cara, the subject of both of those types of love.

 

Another theme that cropped up was enabling, especially through inaction. Rather than confront notable problems that Cara displayed, she was often dismissed or ignored. I consider that just as bad as the active antagonism she faced as a child, especially from some of her teachers.

 

One final theme I enjoyed exploring was the inability to let go, be it voluntary or not. I think especially of Cara hearing the insults of her classmates over and over in her mind, and well into adulthood. Some of that is involuntary, but other times, it’s a deliberate undertaking on her part to feel anger — a way to keep herself company that, in turn, ensures she’s often alone. It’s also dangerous company, both for herself and for the people around her.

 

I feel like the setting of Without Condition is very important for both the plot and the characters. Are you drawing from environments that you know well, or did you create the setting purely to support the story?

 

Leslie is a fictional town in North Carolina (as are Pinesboro and Egret’s Bay), but I drew on actual places I lived for inspiration. I lived in North Carolina for eight years. My family lived in Chapel Hill, I went to school in Durham, and I went to college at NC State in Raleigh. While none of the places I lived were as small as Leslie, the towns I lived in were a hop, skip, and a jump from more rural areas. I spent a lot of time visiting places with lots of farmland and forests, and I based the look and feel of Leslie on the time I spent in those places.

 

One tidbit I’d love to share here, if you don’t mind: Leslie was originally a placeholder name for Cara’s hometown. I named the town after Bill Leslie, a reporter in Raleigh who also has a career as a New Age musician. The name stuck as I kept writing. So, thank you, Bill Leslie, for the inspiration!

 

Without giving too much away, I will say that there are some very sexy scenes in this book. To you, what are the most important things to consider when writing sex scenes?

 

To me, sex scenes are at their best when they’re focusing on the sensations and feelings — some feelings of deeper emotion, like if someone’s happy or nervous; but more so feelings of lust and desire. Many romance novels focus on the longing, then end the scene before any sex happens; while a lot of erotica or straight sex scenes focus mostly on the actions. I prefer sex scenes that infuse both. I also like implications as opposed to direct references to certain body parts. Not dorky euphemisms, mind you; but not clinical terms either. It’s not that I mind seeing the word “penis,” it just seems to throw off the sexiness when I’m reading or writing a good sex scene.

 

I’m also not a big fan of sex scenes that refer to a vagina as a pussy. I’d sooner say “entered her” or something like that — I think most readers will know what that means, and can fill it in themselves (heh). But I think focusing on sexual emotions first, and then how the characters act on those feelings and desires directly after, is most important; letting each move and flow in rhythm like … well …

 

I’m definitely getting some Mommy Dearest vibes from this book. Are you a fan? Are there other works that have directly inspired either Without Condition or your writing in general?

 

I am a fan! “Tina! Bring me the axe!” But funny enough, I wasn’t really thinking of Mommy Dearest when I wrote this. I can see where those vibes would come from, though. Both feature overbearing mothers, as well as mothers who scar their children with their own fears and traumas.

 

I’m inspired equally by dark humor and mundane takes on things that are dark. One of my favorite authors is Augusten Burroughs. His humor is so biting, and he talks about some horrific things in his life with both humor and … like, he knows it was awful and traumatizing, but he also presents it as just so, because it was his life (and a large part of his life). He doesn’t hammer his readers over the head with what was shocking, bad, or wrong. He just shows it through talking about it and letting the events speak for themselves. I think that’s a rare gift.

 

In fiction, I’m similarly inspired by Flannery O’Connor. The way she tells a story about murder in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is horrifying because of how casually she tells it. It’s just something that’s happening. I like horror that’s unsettling. It stays in my bones longer than a quick jump scare.

 

If there was a movie poster created for Without Condition, what would its slogan be?

 

She’s hidden the bodies. Hiding her heart is a little bit harder. (I love cheesy taglines)

 

Okay, this is a fun one for horror writers. We write horror, in part, to terrify others, but what are you afraid of?

 

My top 5: enclosed spaces, being bound or trapped, upsetting people (especially people I care about), slipping on ice, and the Extra-Terror-estrial ride at Magic Kingdom (it’s now closed. Good riddance).

 

I love that you published Without Condition so close to Valentine’s Day and during Women in Horror Month! What are your thoughts on being a woman writing in the horror genre – and also, what are your thoughts on Valentine’s Day?

 

I’ve always been drawn to dark fiction and horror in the stories I read and write. While I read a variety of genres, the darker stories hold a soft spot in my heart. My favorites tend to be less about monsters, the supernatural, and gore; and more about the darkness of people and their minds. This is the type of horror I like to write, and also the type of stories I like to write, period; be they straight horror, slice-of-life, romance, or other genres.

 

I like being able to write horror, and I like how much the genre has opened up to women writers over the past several years, especially in the indie scene. There are still barriers, but it’s really great to see women’s contributions to the genre being recognized and appreciated. Like any genre, horror is at its best when we get a variety of voices telling the stories.

 

I actually love Valentine’s Day. Growing up, it was always a friendship and family holiday for me. My parents gave me candy and a card (they still send me a Valentine’s Day package each year), and my friends and classmates gave each other those cartoon cards. As such, I never found it overly mushy, or felt anything against it; even though I was always single on Valentine’s Day until I met my husband. I still like to get cards for my friends, and candy for myself. And yes, I did intentionally release Without Condition close to Valentine’s Day because of its dark romantic nature.

 

Who is your favorite character in Without Condition? What’s your favorite thing they say in the novel (no need for context!)?

 

I like pretty much everyone (except Amanda and Mr. Murphy), but if I had to pick a favorite, it’d probably be Jackson. My favorite thing he says — the gravity of which will make more sense in context — is, “You would?”

 

What is your favorite line in Without Condition?

 

“She couldn’t help but think of Jackson as a small boy feeding a bobcat in his backyard, trusting that this wild animal would always be his pet.”

 

What do you hope readers experience when they read this novel?

 

This is always kind of hard for me to answer, because I don’t want to guide people’s feelings when they read my work (beyond what I establish in things like the book description). That said, I hope people will consider the sources of darkness, of what horrifies them, and what’s unsettling them as they read. I consider the serial killer aspect to be the surface — it’s horrifying, but there are also more dark and terrible things below that surface, some of which we might be uncomfortably more familiar with.

 

What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?

 

Right now, I’m finishing some short stories that I’m including in my next short story collection, currently titled “Little Paranoias: Stories.” It will include my flash fiction, some longer pieces, and a little poetry. Once I send the manuscript to my editor, I’m going to take a crack at my third novel.

 

You can purchase your copy of Without Condition HERE

 

About Sonora:sonora-taylor-26771109472762677651.jpg

Sonora Taylor is the author of The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Please Give, and Wither and Other Stories. Her short story, “Hearts are Just ‘Likes,’” was included in Camden Park Press’ Quoth the Raven, an anthology of stories and poems that put a contemporary twist on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Her work has also been published in The Sirens Call and Mercurial Stories. “The Crow’s Gift” will be featured on the horror podcast “Tales to Terrify” later in 2019. Her second novel, Without Condition, is now available on Amazon. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband.

Find Sonora Online:

Website: https://sonorawrites.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/sonorawrites
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sonorataylor/
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/sonorawrites/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17015434.Sonora_Taylor
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Sonora-Taylor/e/B075BR5Q7F/
Blog: sonorawrites.com/blog

Listen to “Bad Vibrations” on the Toasted Cake Podcast

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My paranormal comedic short, “Bad Vibrations,” has risen from the dead!

This story was originally published in Alternate Hilarities: One Star Reviews of the Afterlife, an anthology that, sadly, is no longer in print. Thus, “Bad Vibrations” has been floating in the ether for a bit.

I’ve always loved this story. It was one of my first forays into humor. Writing this piece helped me unlock a style and voice I didn’t know I possessed. And it gave me an excuse to be colorful and inappropriate and to let some freak flags fly!

I was so excited when “Bad Vibrations” was picked up for the Toasted Cake podcast. Today, I’m straight up fangirling! Tina Connelly, the creative mind behind the podcast, is a comedic badass! Her timing is impeccable. And the voice she uses for my protagonist? She is Gabby! The recording makes me laugh, which is a joyful experience and such a gift.

If you need a chuckle, which just might evolve into a fully belly laugh, give “Bad Vibrations” a listen HERE.

One final note: As Tina so aptly states in her intro to the story: “There is a content warning on this one for some mild swearing and some totally grown up discussion of sexy sex topics.” (If you’re alone, blast it! In public, headphones, my friends.)

Enjoy! And if you like Tina’s reading, subscribe to the Toasted Cake podcast for weekly idiosyncratic flash fiction goodness!

Escaping Mortality: An Interview with Sara Dobie Bauer

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Today, Sara Dobie Bauer’s sexy Escape Trilogy comes to an exciting and scintillating conclusion with Escaping Mortality! To celebrate the shipwrecked, blood-soaked, oh-so-hot love story of Andrew and Edmund, I have Sara on the blog for a little farewell interview.

But first, a little teaser for Escaping Mortality:

Their ocean journey was successful, and Andrew and Edmund found an Elder just in time. As they wished, Edmund is now a vampire like Andrew. They have eternity together, but first, they must visit Edmund’s ailing mother in the English countryside with their flock of immortals, including the Elder, who has taken an ominous liking to his new creation.

When they arrive at Edmund’s family estate, his sick mother and her loathsome best friend await them. While ducking religious curses, Edmund struggles to harness an unexpected power gifted him by the Elder. Andrew fears for his beloved as Edmund becomes more and more monstrous—but vampires have always been monsters, haven’t they?

A battle is coming, for Edmund’s heart and his soul, and Andrew will lose neither. He escaped island exile and a near tragedy at sea to be with Edmund, the beautiful young sailor he loves. Andrew will do anything to keep Edmund by his side, but his most dangerous adversary may be Edmund himself.

And without further ado, here’s Sara!

Name five things (single words!) we can expect in Escaping Mortality.

London.
Fights.
Smut.
Immortality.
2011.

What has been the best part about writing and/or publishing the Escape series?

Watching people fall in love with Andrew and Edmund. It’s a toss up who has a bigger fan following (possibly Edmund), but it was so fun hearing the chorus of swoons as the series continued. Some fans have really bemoaned the big ending, saying goodbye to the boys one last time, but you never know where they might turn up. (And, for the record, I’m definitely Team Edmund.)

We get to know the Elder a lot more in Escaping Mortality. What was your inspiration for this character? Tell us a bit about him (without giving too much away, of course).

Imagine you had lived for centuries—watched the world change without changing much yourself. Imagine you had unlimited power but couldn’t show it off. Imagine being alone in darkness for a very, very long time … until, suddenly, a light appears in the form of a handsome, dying British sailor. That’s what it feels like to be the Elder, Brien. He is melancholy but adoring of Edmund. He is quiet and brooding, cunning yet protective and perhaps a bit needy. There’s great depth to Brien, but I better not say anymore. Spoilers.

In Escaping Mortality, Edmund’s character gets a little, ahem, dark – which is in stark contrast to the easygoing, sometimes silly, wildly adventurous personality we’ve grown to love in Escaping Exile and Escaping Solitude. What inspired you to share this side of Edmund, and how was it to write it?

Despite his levity, Edmund acknowledges his own dark side from the get-go. He’s pretty honest with Andrew in book one, admitting to his own madness and destructive tendencies. His somewhat villainous nature has been alluded to, so it shouldn’t be a total shocker when Edmund goes off the rails in book three. It was easy to write, because I saw it coming as soon as he washed up on Andrew’s island.

We all have a duality. We’re all different people on different days and in different circumstances. No matter how silly or easygoing we may seem, we’re all hiding a tiny monster. Edmund’s monster is just … ahem, hungrier. My favorite Hozer lyric: “Don’t you ever tame your demons, but always keep them on a leash.” Edmund drops the leash in book three.

Two vampires (Andrew and Edmund, of course!) walk into a bar. What are their drinks of choice?

Ha!! Well, Edmund is a sailor (practically a pirate really), so he would go with straight rum. Andrew, although not much of a drinker in the books, is a man’s man. To me, he’d be an aged scotch drinker. I’m talking that peaty shit that’s been aged for twenty years. No ice.

I’m a big believer in personal theme songs, tunes that epitomize where folks are in their lives at particular moments in time. What is Edmund’s theme song? What is Andrew’s?

Edmund’s song is “Waterbound” by The Fretless. He’s been waterbound (even drowning perhaps) his entire life. Plus, there’s something quite mad about a good fiddle.

And speaking of Hozier again, Andrew’s theme song is “Better Love.” It’s such a freaking EPIC song, and the lyrics are perfect. For Andrew, there is no better love than what he feels for Edmund.

What is the best review you’ve received regarding Escaping Mortality thus far? (You can excerpt, of course.)

Really love this quote from author Elizabeth Lister: “Exploring fascinating settings like a tropical, cannibal-infested island, the bustling port city of turn-of-the-century New Orleans, and Victorian London, Sara Dobie Bauer propels her vampires through escapades and adventures while weaving a tale of love, dark magic, sensuality, and violence.” The reviews have been pretty dang good, honestly, and everyone goes freaking ga-ga for the Escaping Mortality epilogue. No spoilers!!!

Now that this series has come to a close, what’s up next for you? Tell us about upcoming works or projects you’re currently working on. 

I have a Victorian romance novella called A Lord to Love coming out in March from Carnation Press. For Escape Trilogy fans, the whole trilogy will be released as a big, beautiful paperback in May. Then, in October, my very witchy Charleston romance, Destiny’s Dark Light, will be released by Pen and Kink Publishing.

In the meantime, I’ve been writing a MASSIVE Timothee Chalamet/Armie Hammer vampire crossover fan fiction on A03. I’m in the process of selling a literary fiction novel, and rewrites are soon to begin on my YA LGBTQ paranormal romantic comedy. I’m also recording the audiobook version of my first novel Bite Somebody.

Keep up with me on my website: http://SaraDobieBauer.com. You can sign up for my newsletter there or stalk me on social media!

About Sara: sdb (1)

Sara Dobie Bauer is a bestselling author, model, and mental health / LGBTQ advocate with a creative writing degree from Ohio University. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, she lives with her hottie husband and two precious pups in Northeast Ohio, although she’d really like to live in a Tim Burton film. She is author of the Bite Somebody series and Escape Trilogy, among other sexy things.

Pick up your copy of Escaping Mortality today!!!