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Query letters are supposed to be catchy, succinct, and intriguing. They’re also a pain in the ass to write. As I prepare to sell my manuscript, Bite Somebody, I must first prepare a dreaded query letter. That’s where you come in.
Kindly read the following query letter and tell me if it a) makes you wanna read my book and b) flows and/or makes sense. If all goes well, maybe I’ll mention you in the Acknowledgments.
Bite Somebody Query Letter: First Draft
All Celia wanted was her first bite and a cute boyfriend.
She expected her life to change when she became a vampire, but she’s the same chubby, awkward Pretty Woman-loving girl she’s always been. Abandoned by her maker, the opportunity for change arrives in the form of Ian, her new neighbor at Florida’s Sleeping Gull Apartments.
Ian is a goofy ex-surfer who likes Jeopardy and, to her surprise, Celia. Despite the nagging of Imogene, her only vampire friend, Celia can’t get her fangs to go “boing” at the right time, and her first bite seems less and less attainable.
When Ian makes his romantic move, Danny, Celia’s jerk of a creator, returns for a favor. He wants to harvest Ian’s human blood, because Ian’s blood smells like Christmas wrapped in bacon and they could make a fortune. But the last thing Celia wants is her cute boyfriend dead.
Bite Somebody: A Bloodsucker’s Diary is a 75,000 word YA paranormal romance parody set at the beach, and nothing and nobody are what they seem.
My name is Sara Dobie Bauer. I’m a vampire enthusiast and fan of Christopher Moore and Gregory Maguire. I earned my creative writing degree from Ohio University and am the official book nerd at SheKnows.com. My short fiction has appeared in The Molotov Cocktail, Stoneslide Corrective, and Solarcide.
A full synopsis and manuscript are available upon request. Intelligent vampire fans who don’t take themselves at all seriously thank you.
A friend of mine was a pilot who served his country well. Due to his experience, he never understood why someone would pay to go skydiving. In his words: “Why would you jump out of a perfectly good plane?”
My tandem mate Tod asked me this same question last week at Skydive Phoenix as I prepared to do just that. Why? Why would I choose to jump out of a plane at eight thousand feet? I wish I had a good answer, but as I told Tod’s nifty video camera, “I was bored.”
Now, I realize most so-called “normal human beings” wouldn’t get bored and decide to plummet toward Earth with a bag on their back, but you know me: I’m the girl who swam with sharks in Belize; who loves haunted houses and cemeteries at night. I’m the girl who likes to be scared.
When I arrived at Skydive Phoenix Thursday morning, I felt immediately at home. I was surrounded by people younger than me who seemed to be having a damn fine time just hangin’ together. I met Tod, who reminded me of a rock band roadie mixed with a Southern Florida surfer dude. Turns out he was from Ohio. As I chose my Ohio University “House Beer” t-shirt for my jump, we hit it off immediately.
There was little prep work. Sure, I signed all the paperwork that said Jake couldn’t sue anyone if I ended up a pancake. Then, I put on a harness, and we walked to a plane the size of an SUV. The video camera (strapped to Tod’s wrist) came along, and Tod kept asking, “Nervous yet?” Should I be concerned that I wasn’t?
The itty-bitty plane climbed to eight thousand feet. Tod and I were strapped together as we slid to the open door. My last moment of clarity: With my left foot outside the plane, I stared down at the desert below. Then, we jumped.
I can’t say the free fall is clear. I don’t exactly remember the way my body felt, and my mind was blown blank by adrenaline. I think I was screaming (we’ll see once I get the video tape back). What I can say with assurance: the free fall was over much too fast.
As we swung above the earth, tethered to our parachute, the first thing that came to mind: “I need to do this again.”
I had a perfect landing (thank you very much), and I felt like my spirit was still eight thousand feet high. The cool chick at the Skydive Phoenix office confirmed my belief that after skydiving, there are two things that should happen: a cigarette and sex.
I have to thank the team at Skydive Phoenix for making my experience so easy, enjoyable, and fun (including the guy who said he was going to undertake his hundredth jump nude. Now, that would be something to see!). Tod was the perfect crazy person to be tied to, and I already have intentions to do a thirteen thousand-foot jump in the near future.
There’s something about doing irresponsible things that makes me feel alive. Since my jump, all sorts of people have called me crazy for doing it, but I think they’re just jealous they don’t have the balls to let go. Do something that scares you. Do something that makes you freak. Stop working and wake up for a second. Find your own “plane,” and make the jump.
In 2013, director/writer Therese Shechter released the shocking documentary How to Lose Your Virginity. I wasn’t shocked by words like “hymen” or “penis.” I was shocked by our country’s ignorance.
Therese waited longer than most to have sex. When she finally decided to “do it,” she said, “It wasn’t so much because I had found Mr. Right but because I had grown tired of waiting for him.” It was in that moment, in a basement apartment, that Therese realized all the hype about losing her virginity really was just hype. There was no earth shattering before and after. She was still Therese, but she was Therese who’d once had a penis inside her.
The hype surrounding virginity is really a problem. I’m not saying losing your virginity is something to rush into. I waited until I was twenty-seven, and thank God, because I was finally mature enough by then to deal with sex’s ramifications. Thanks to How to Lose Your Virginity, though, I see how insane America is about purity and the unfortunately clichéd theory of “saving yourself.”
Did you know there are “Purity Balls?” In these ceremonies, seven- and eight-year-old girls metaphorically hand their virginity off to their fathers who will then someday hand that gift off to the girl’s husband. Antiquated (and frankly, creepy) practices like this are the reason girls get married so young: so they can finally have sex.
According to the film, one in six American girls take purity pledges. There’s even a Purity Pledge Facebook page. States are financially rewarded for teaching abstinence-only sex education, the product of which seems to be more teens having sex but being stupid about it. I’m all for waiting, but the way we’re educating teens about sex is just making things worse. Abstinence-only education is the sexual equivalent of Hitler burning books.
In How to Lose Your Virginity, Therese does an amazing job of interviewing varied and well-informed sources. She talks to magazine editors, sex educators, and a man on his way to becoming a woman. I was really impressed, honestly, with the creator of the porn series Barely Legal: a woman who had a horrible first sexual experience at the age of thirteen who now uses Barely Legal to rescript a woman’s first time into something sexy and passionate instead of awkward and uncomfortable.
Therese addresses the idea of virgin versus slut. She also questions what defines “virgin” anyway? She looks at the development of history and how patriarchal motifs have made women into objects to own, just as our virginity is something we “give away” like a birthday gift.
How to Lose Your Virginity is not blatantly sexual. It is not offensive. It is true and powerful. At certain points, I was laughing. At other points, I was wrathful. For instance, one abstinence avowing psychopath said she did support gays being abstinent, as well, until marriage … but since her organization did not believe in gay marriage, gay people have to be celibate their entire lives. One young man was asked the reasonable number of sexual partners to have in a lifetime. According to him, men could have as many as they wanted, while women could only have five.
This documentary will rile you up as well as inform you. I suggest it to anyone—women and men alike—who believe in sexual freedom. As Therese says, instead of “giving up” our virginity, let’s give up our myths about virginity. Preach, sister.
For more info, visit http://www.virginitymovie.com. Also, please check out this amazingly informative website for youth: http://www.scarleteen.com.
The Molotov Cocktail is self-described as “A Projectile for Incendiary Flash Fiction.” Understand I don’t usually write flash fiction, but something about the magazine: the look, the content, the attitude … I had to be part of it.
The perfect opportunity arrived when we had a garage sale two weeks ago, and I realized I hate garage sales. While sitting there, watching people dig through my belongings, I wrote an essay with only Molotov Cocktail in mind. Blessing of blessings, they accepted it.
For your deviant enjoyment, The Molotov Cocktail presents “You Need My Shit.” (Oh, you really do.)
You Need My Shit
by Sara Dobie Bauer
My husband suggested I keep my revolver in a little box during our garage sale just in case. It never occurred to me to be worried about people robbing my African statue that looks like it’s taking a shit.
Seven AM in Phoenix feels like living in a stove set to three-fifty. People show up and dig through piles of clothes I used to wear. Strange the things you remember, like how I once posed for a female friend’s camera in that corset with the red skull on the front.
There’s this one guy who shows up in a suit and tie. He laughs when I tell him he’s overdressed. He’s too friendly. I think about my revolver in the little shoebox at my side. Then, he goes into his Jehovah’s Witness spiel, and I think about the gun even more.
(So do I really get to shoot anyone? Read on at Molotov Cocktail‘s website, Volume 5, Issue 11.)
Photo credit: Boise Daily Photo
I’m not one for Johnlock. (I’m an Irene Adler/Sherlock Holmes sort of girl. As Benedict Cumberbatch would say, “I like to be the dominant one.”) That said, I think the Sherlock/John Watson friendship is incredible. Here’s a short little ditty about what happens when Sherlock takes a bullet for John and John demands Sherlock make a promise he can never keep.
by Sara Dobie Bauer
I race around a back alley corner, Sherlock behind me. It’s rare that he’s behind me, but Lestrade held him back to shout a warning as I took off running after our man. The suspect may have murdered two women. He got away from us once; he will not get away again.
I feel my gun in the pocket of my coat, but I don’t take it out—not yet. Having something in my hand will only slow me down, and I like being in front for once. I can hear Sherlock behind me, the tap of his dress shoes on pavement. I’ve often wondered how the man runs with such speed in dress shoes. Then again, he does everything like a cat: jump, perch, sprint. He’s the human equivalent of a cheetah.
The sun has almost set, but my eyes are quick to adjust to dim light. I acquired quite a few things in the war, the least of which was a bullet wound. My reflexes are faster, my vision, keener. I hear things other people don’t—like the sound of fumbling footsteps ahead, for instance.
We’ve got him. He won’t shoot another woman dead. As I rush past a dumpster, only now do I pull my weapon. Best to be careful. We know the suspect is armed.
I round another corner. There is a dark shape ten feet ahead of me, frozen in place, blocked by a tall chain link fence. I move to aim, but the suspect already has me in his sights. The world slows.
In Afghanistan, I had no time to prepare for being shot. The bullet hit me in the shoulder like a heavy raindrop. There was no pain, only a dull knowledge that something was wrong. I have time now to prepare. I have time to wince at the sound of the gun going off. I have time to pull my own trigger, but I’m seconds too late. I know that.
Instead of the expected thud and ache of a bullet wound, I see black. I wonder if I’ve been killed. Is this death? No, I don’t suppose death has weight, but there is a weight against me: a heavy, long-limbed weight in a black coat. Only when I hear him moan, softly, do I realize I have Sherlock pressed against me. He slouches until my arms hold him around the chest.
I take steps back until I have Sherlock on the ground. He’s talking about my shot. The suspect is dead, ten feet in front of us. Sherlock’s eyes stare at the sky. His breath puffs out in labored wheezes, and this is not due to our chase. I have a horrible fear that Sherlock Holmes just took a bullet for me.
Read the rest at FanFiction.net.
(Amazing fan art credit: sheWolf294)
I was once thrown into the Salt River by a guy named Damian. I forgave this because he is a cool dude with good taste in movies. Then, I heard he was doing something REALLY COOL that did not involve throwing women into rivers.
Damian will be embarking on a one-year, 19,000-mile bike trip from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, all the way to the bottom of the world: Ushuaia, Argentina. He will be doing this solo ride to help raise public awareness of the benefits that regular exercise offers to those battling mental illness. He will raise money for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, specifically their “Hearts and Minds” campaign.
As a diagnosed depressive, how could I not get behind this project? Damian already has two amazing sponsors: Caledonia Spirits and Hero Apicus Nutrition. They’ve been a huge help, but he still needs more funding to make this trip happen.
To donate, head to Damian’s GoFundMe site. For more about this super cool dude and his mission to support mental health awareness, read on …
An H and Five Ws with NAMI Advocate Damian Reusch
How did you come up with the idea for this solo bike adventure?
I wanted to undertake what I considered to be a transformative journey, one that would compare with the “Great American” adventures that used to fill novels and dime store magazines, before advancements in technology seemingly shrank the world to a more user-friendly size.
I have always felt, as the world I live in became more and more connected, a sense of increasing disconnection. I have longed for an experience that will allow me to rediscover the awe I knew as a child, the wonder and fascination I only knew from the books I read and a life I imagined. I have grown tired of living inwardly, with the incessant concern for professional and personal growth … I wanted to live outwardly for a bit, to have focus on a goal outside my personal narrative and perhaps in the process bring back some measure of connection through its fulfillment.
I decided to choose a charity that I felt a connection with and endeavor to begin a journey that people could identify with, and be excited by. People love a story, and though there are fewer today, they especially love adventure stories. I thought that would be an interesting way to try to rekindle people’s spirit of fascination with the world at large, while at the same time raise money for an important and often overlooked cause. The Pan American Highway is the world’s longest motorable road… so why not ditch the car and bike it?
What is your inspiration?
My greatest inspiration is the world as a whole. I remember a few years ago, I was in Austin visiting some friends. They took me to an overlook that was situated over a river next to a roadway. I imagine most people climb up there for a view of a sunset, or the rolling hills, or the slowly crawling river below … but I couldn’t take my eyes off the road and the cars driving on it.
I had been thinking a lot about the idea of a personal narrative, how we are all the stars of our own story, and how constrictive that mentality can be. I began to imagine a sort of story board, drawn like a circuit with lines extending out of each passenger. Each line led to a box, each box splintered into another possibility, and each possibility splintered to another and so on … constantly changing with each passing second, constantly evolving, fracturing, and expanding outward.
That is the world I wish to see, so I see it. An explosion of stories, intertwining and unraveling at every moment, most of it unobserved potential. My narrative became less interesting knowing all that potential was out there waiting for a catalyst to bring so much to fruition.
A trip like this will most likely not bring any measure of “traditional” success, but it will drop me in the center of that stew of unrealized story lines.
What do you hope to achieve?
I hope to have an incredible journey, to experience the world in its most raw form, to meet incredible people and for a moment experience their story. I hope to raise money for a great cause that benefits people who in their own way may feel as lost or disconnected as myself.
Where are you most excited to go?
Ushuaia, Argentina. That will mean I have completed the journey successfully.
When did you realize you had you own mental health issues?
I realized at a very young age. It manifested itself as a reaction to the profound disappointment I had in the people around me, in their inability to see the long view, the larger picture. I became frustrated at first, slowly mired in anger, then boom. I was diagnosed with what is called Intermittent Explosive Disorder. I have never been medicated. I have always found that all of my frustration can be mitigated through an active lifestyle. At times I am obsessively active; at times I struggle. But I am lucky in that I know what I need to maintain a positive balance. That is why I relate so well to the NAMI “Hearts and Minds” Campaign.
Why is mental health so important?
Throughout history, mental illness has been treated like possession or witchcraft, rather than like an illness, which is why it still carries the stigma it does today. The brain is an organ, but it is an organ we lack critical understanding of. That lack of understanding can lead to confusion and eventual disassociation rather than acceptance and healing. We are a thousand steps behind where we should be with regard to the treatment of mental illness, and we are there because of the lack of an open dialogue. The first step is to drive awareness. Mental health should be no more taboo than an infection or a genetic disorder.
I am so, so proud of Damian’s mission. It’s time we all supported him and mental health awareness. Head to GoFundMe right now and become part of the solution. Thank you!
Wallace is jaded, British, and wandering through life in Toronto when he meets his best friend’s cousin, Chantry. They form an immediate connection through offbeat humor and a general distaste for small talk. They leave the party together, and Chantry gives Wallace her number only to make it quite clear that she has a BOYFRIEND named Ben.
Wallace, still recovering from his cheating ex-girlfriend, tosses Chantry’s number. Of course, a little thing like that can’t keep them apart, and they soon become best of friends. But can men and women really be just friends?
This is the set up for Elan Mastai’s brilliant screenplay, What If. The plotline is vaguely similar to my favorite romantic comedy ever, When Harry Met Sally. That said, What If in no way steals from Harry and Sally. Instead, it wends it own quirky, modern, hilarious path toward what one hopes is a happy ending for Harry Potter … er, I mean, Daniel Radcliffe.
Let’s face it: whenever I see Daniel Radcliffe, I see Harry Potter. That said, he successfully shook the wizard off his back in his brilliant performance as Wallace. In an interview, Radcliffe said Wallace is the character he’s played most similar to himself. If that’s true, Radcliffe’s personality is freaking adorable, and I want to have a beer with him.
Not only is his comic delivery spot on, but Radcliffe isn’t a little boy anymore. Well, I mean, he’s short, but he’s officially a man, as proven by a nude scene in which I kept thinking, “When did Harry Potter grow pecs?”
Romantic interest Chantry is played by Zoe Kazan. I’d never seen her in anything before, but now, I love her because in Chantry, she created a loveable, odd artist person who struggles between her love for long-time boyfriend Ben and her fondness for Wallace. She, too, is comic genius, but this may all be due to screenwriter Elan Mastai.
This is his first full-length romantic comedy. Well, I dub him Rom-Com Genius. The dialogue is painfully funny (and sometimes awkward) but ingenious. For instance: “I just had sex and am about to eat nachos! It’s the greatest moment of my life!” (A line delivered by Wallace’s priceless best pal, Allan, whose every line is worthy of a chortle.) Add an additional smattering of colorful side characters, and you have a full cast to fall in love with.
I think what impressed me the most about the writing was that Mastai never took things too far. The comedy was not gross or over the top. It reminded me of conversations I have with my family and friends and hope no one’s listening to.
It’s no secret I’ve been having a hard time lately with my depression. Yet, by the time What If was over, I was smiling—really smiling. I felt good for almost an entire day, which is saying something for me. This is a film that makes you feel good. It makes you hug the person you love a little tighter. It makes you think funnier thoughts. Oh, and it totally makes you have a crush on Harry Potter … er, Daniel Radcliffe.
If you haven’t seen the trailer, enjoy:
I take all the credit for my husband realizing his dream. No, but really, I met this lovely girl named Kate through prison book club. She was not an inmate but a volunteer. I met her for coffee to prep for her first steps into Perryville Prison, and she mentioned she worked at an organic farm.
My husband, Jake, was totally into farming at the time. Well, I mean, he liked growing things in our backyard. I even bought him a couple classes at Desert Botanical Gardens just so he could see, for sure, what he thought of this whole planting things in the ground thing.
I asked Kate if I could bring Jake by to see Blue Sky Organic Farms, just for a visit. Jake started volunteering out there: Jake, the nuclear engineer who worked at a huge facility called Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. The reason I have power to use my computer? Yeah, Palo Verde.
Jake was Navy for nine years. Then, he came to Charleston, South Carolina, met me, and um, married me. (Grin.) We moved together to Phoenix, because he got the job offer at Palo Verde, and he seemed fine, for awhile, until he found Blue Sky.
Blue Sky Organic Farms is a family-owned small business in the West Valley of Phoenix, right at the base of the beautiful White Tank Mountains. Jake loved volunteering out there. He loved his coworkers: David, Sara, RJ, and of course, Kate—the one who opened the door in the first place.
It took several months for total discontent to set in. My husband, who had done the same thing since the age of eighteen, suddenly didn’t want to be in the nuclear business anymore. He wanted to be a farmer.
We started small: five chickens in our backyard. Veggie garden. Then, he took the leap and, while still working at Palo Verde, raised and slaughtered over a hundred pasture-raised, organic chickens. (You may recall this, via The Chicken Incident.)
The talks began soon after, the questions for me: What if I quit my job and become a farmer? What if we sell our huge, unnecessary house? Do you think your parents are going to freak out? Yadda yadda yadda … until it became real.
Sunday night was Jacob Bauer’s last night at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. Our house is under contract, and we’re looking at rentals near Blue Sky. His first official day as “Farmer Jake” was Monday, and I’m thrilled that my husband has finally found his dream. He not only found it, but he is going after it.
People ask me if I’m nervous: less money, less stability, my loving husband possibly infringing on my OCD writer routine. Yes, I’m nervous. I’m a depressive introvert with an anxiety disorder who needs structure. (Wow, embarrassing when I write it out like that.)
There are times when everything is fine, when I have complete faith that God is running things and I have nothing to worry about. There are nights, though, when I can’t sleep. There are days when I feel like I can’t breathe.
Then, I remember: I’ve had the pleasure of spending most of my adult life living my dream, being a writer. Jake has been trapped in a job out of habit. How amazing that he has finally, at thirty-three, found exactly what he wants to be. He deserves this, and this brings comfort, because when I see Jake smile, I smile, too.
Will there be the occasional panic attack from his dear wifey? Yes. This is huge. This is terrifying. Still, Jake has felt all along that God was leading him. God is leading him; it’s what God does. Jake and I just have to have faith and love each other.
Whatever happens—however many meltdowns I may have—I am now a farmer’s wife, and I have never been more proud of the man I married.
Thanks to Urban Dictionary, I can better explain steampunk. (Ah-hem.) Steampunk literature “is a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. It could be described by the slogan, ‘What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.’”
AH! See, I get it now! I didn’t get it until I got the chance to read my very first steampunk novel, The Clockwork Dagger by Arizona author Beth Cato. There was some further confusion when I realized a “clockwork dagger” is not actually a shiny knife covered in Rolexes. Nay, a clockwork dagger is one of the queen’s spies and assassins. But I’m really getting ahead of myself.
Octavia Leander was orphaned as a child but brought up under the tutelage of Miss Percival, who taught Octavia to be a medician, otherwise known as a “healer.” Octavia showed extreme promise. That’s because she’s a super-duper medician, devoted to the Lady: a higher power personified by a mysterious, lost Tree.
When Octavia comes of age, she is sent on a journey. She will take an airship and become the medician of a small town far away from Miss Percival and Octavia’s upbringing. Octavia is excited at the chance to save people and travel. Her excitement is heightened as she boards her airship and meets hottie-hot steward Alonzo Garrett (who has a secret). Octavia is also tailed by the overly friendly Mrs. Stout (who has some big secrets of her own).
Octavia’s trip is interrupted first by a swarm of mechanical gremlins, one of whom she befriends and names “Leaf.” (I love Leaf!) Then, Octavia’s life is threatened. It would appear someone wants her dead. Her brush with death brings her ever closer to the charming Alonzo. (Yum.) Together, they must figure out why someone would want to kill Octavia. Does it have to do with the rebels who fight against the Queen? Is a clockwork dagger perhaps aboard the ship?
Cato knows how to write, and hey, that’s saying something in a literary world oversaturated with young adult melodrama. She has created a well-rounded, detailed world. I’m especially fond of Octavia’s medician powers, as well as Octavia’s faithful, unquestioning devotion to the Lady. Oh, and Octavia’s outfit! She wears this all-white dress that soaks in stains. (I need one.)
The Clockwork Dagger is action-packed from page one, and the conflict moves along swimmingly and with ease. In fact, even the reader is conflicted. For one, who are we to trust: the rebels or the Queen’s men? Is the Lady as all-powerful and loving as Octavia might think? When is Octavia going to KISS ALONZO? See? Conflict.
This is a book about serious problems, but Cato doesn’t take herself too seriously. There are moments of laughter and romance. There’s nothing depressing about Clockwork Dagger. In fact, I left this book hungry for more. Thankfully, there’s a sequel already in the works. I highly suggest this thrilling debut—my first foray into steampunk—and a welcome addition to an ever-expanding, interesting genre.
For more about Beth, visit http://bethcato.com or just head over to Amazon and pre-order your copy of The Clockwork Dagger now.
Beth Cato writes about wild adventures on airships. She writes about mechanical gremlins and sexy (sexy) stewards with long hair. She is a Steampunk Goddess. She is also soft-spoken, beautiful, and fond of spending time with neurotic other writers, namely me.
Our husbands set Beth and I up on a blind date over a year ago, because we were both “artists.” We fell into friendship easily, because indeed, we were both “artists” with quite a lot in common (including a love for British TV). When the news came that her debut, The Clockwork Dagger, had been picked up by Harper Voyager, I was one of the first to hear … and REJOICE! I mean, seriously, if there ever was a reason for celebration!
The Clockwork Dagger will be published September 16, but because I “know people” (um, Beth), I got a look at an ARC. My full review will be posted Thursday, but in the meantime, take a gander behind the red curtain and learn more about a girl who’s about to take steampunk by storm.
An H and Five Ws with Debut Steampunk Author Beth Cato
How did you come up with the world of Clockwork Dagger?
A number of years ago, I wrote a steampunk story I was unable to sell. A while later, I was trying to figure out a new novel concept and I hit on the idea of doing Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, but on an airship with a healer as the main character. I decided to use the same world from that old short story, though I had barely developed it there. The characters from that story do show up briefly in my novel as well.
Who is your favorite character in your novel?
Oh, that’s such a hard question. I have to say Mrs. Stout. She’s inspired by one of my favorite television characters of all time, Mrs. Slocombe on the British comedy Are You Being Served? Mrs. Stout is a fifty-something woman with a loud voice, loud hair, and loud clothes, but as vibrant as she is, she carries some terrible secrets. She’s so over-the-top with her mannerisms that she’s a delight to write.
What is the best thing about being a writer? Worst thing?
Best thing, no question, is seeing people react emotionally to my writing. If I can make someone cry or feel angry or cheer out loud, it’s the most amazing thing in the world. The worst thing … rejection. Always rejection. Soon enough, I’ll have that in the form of harsh reader reviews, too. I fear my skin will never be thick enough to deal well with that.
Where have you felt most inspired?
I took a cruise to Alaska last summer. One morning, our ship traveled through the fjords to view a glacier. I sat by our open balcony door and wrote in my journal and read a book. We then did a day trip by bus and train from Skagway up into British Columbia. I breathed in that crisp air, as if I could store it in my lungs as long as possible. I knew I needed to write about characters going to these places. In my next book, I hope to do just that, though it will be hard for words to do justice to that wild beauty.
When (if ever) have you wanted to give up on writing?
I have an urban fantasy novel that I wrote and rewrote and wrote again. It was near and dear to my heart. The problem was, I worked on it for ages but I never had anyone critique it an an early stage. When that finally happened, the feedback was devastating. The book, quite simply, did not work. You can’t accept all critiques (some people are just plain wrong) but I knew this person was right.
I spent about three days in a horrible depression. I could barely eat or sleep. I really debated if I should completely give up, but then the next question was, “What am I going to do if I don’t write?” I couldn’t think of anything else. So, I figured, I need to fix this book. I need to prove I can write. I tore the novel apart. I rewrote it yet again. I had it critiqued by a whole group of people. Six months later, that novel is what snared my literary agent.
Why steampunk fantasy?
Adding magic and mythological creatures in with history makes things fresh. I made things a little easier on myself by setting the novel off Earth, so I didn’t need to rely on strict historical details, though a lot of World War I-era research still went into it. I had the chance to think about so many what-ifs: “What if battlefield medical wards could use healing magic alongside standard surgery? What could limit that magic? What if your enemy in trench warfare had fire magic … and airships?”
Airships in particular are a trademark of steampunk. I was obsessive about making them as realistic as possible. I based the principal airship in my book on the infamous Hindenburg, down to the room descriptions and the angles of the promenade windows. For me, those historical details make it more real and believable, even with the heavy reliance on magic. Plus, it’s just plain fun to write and to read!
Learn more about Beth at http://www.bethcato.com, and look forward to my review of The Clockwork Dagger Thursday!
So how do you write a novel in 41 days? Real answer: I have no idea. But here’s my best guess. See, I wrote a short story two months ago called “I Like Your Neck.” It was about an awkward newbie vampire named Celia who falls in love with the smell of her neighbor’s blood. I sent the story off to a magazine, and the editor wrote me back. She said the story was great, but they couldn’t use it. Furthermore, she said “I Like Your Neck” should really be a novel.
At the time, I was disgruntled, because I’d just given up on a novel, and I really didn’t want to dedicate another six months on several thousand words that would surely suck my energy and soul. I gave it some thought but didn’t take the comment seriously until I mentioned the suggestion to one of my first readers, Dan, who responded: “Well, of course it should be a novel.”
I started writing “Bite Somebody: A Bloodsucker’s Diary” in late May, and I finished it yesterday. Nobody is as shocked as me. I’ve never written a full-length novel so quickly before, which made me wonder: what made this one so easy? And don’t say, “It’s obviously just a piece of crap,” because it isn’t. I know it’s only a first draft, but I think “Bite Somebody” is really good.
In honor of my completed manuscript, I offer you some ideas on how to write something you love—and write it fast.
1. Love your setting.
I want to live on a beach, but I don’t. I live in a desert. That said, every April, I meet my Aunt Susie on Longboat Key on the Gulf Coast of Florida. There, we lay on the beach, swim, and drink rum punches. In order to spend more time in Florida, I set “Bite Somebody” on the fictional Admiral Key and therefore got to spend 41 days living on the beach with Celia. Because of her beach habitation, I woke up every morning wanting to go back to work—in a way, go back on vacation.
2. Know your song.
Bob Marley’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is the theme song to “Bite Somebody.” This might give you some idea as to what kind of vampire novel I’ve written. No one’s sultry. There are very few deep thoughts. Plus, Bob Marley is beachy, and in a book involving the beach, a hot ex-surfer, and Mary Jane, no song fit better. Every morning, before I opened Word, I listed to Bob. If I ever felt my attention waning, I listened to Bob. Bob was my anthem.
3. Love your lead.
Celia is a recovering fat kid, turned by a male vampire in a drunken stupor due to her red hair. She is obsessed with 80s movies and works at an all-night gas station called “Happy Gas.” She has no self-confidence, and her favorite film is Pretty Woman. (She dreams of being rescued by her own white knight.) Celia falls in love with the scent of her new neighbor, Ian Hasselback, and as she fights for fang control, she is shocked by his attentions. The Hot Guy has never liked her before. I wrote “Bite Somebody” as Celia’s journal, so I got to talk like her for 72,000 words. She says things no one should, and she’s painfully awkward. She’s basically me off medication. How freeing to write all the things I keep to myself! Talk about catharsis!
4. Love your romantic interest.
Ian Hasselback: ex-champion surfer, pothead, computer nerd, and really nice guy. He’s an accurate portrayal of my husband if he’d been hit in the head a lot as a kid. I’m not saying Ian’s dumb; he’s just chill. He’s funny, too, and he finds Celia to be fascinating. Let’s be honest: I have a huge crush on Ian. I think this is key to writing romance. If you don’t love your romantic interest, why should your lead character? Although I loved playing the voice of Celia, I loved being with Ian. He’s fun to hang out with … and the sex scenes weren’t bad either.
5. Laugh a lot.
This conclusion is directed to people writing comedy. I don’t want you to laugh a lot if you’re writing, like, Gone with the Wind, redux. The writers of Sex and the City used to sit together in one room and type. They would read each other lines, and if they couldn’t make each other choke on coffee, the scene wasn’t worth it. That’s how it went with “Bite Somebody.” If I wasn’t making myself laugh—loud, freakish guffaws—I cut the scene and started over. I’ve never written a book this funny before, and it kept me coming back, no matter my mood, because if I felt down, I’d feel up by the time I had a couple paragraphs under my belt.
6. Know the ending.
I knew the last line before I started page one of “Bite Somebody.” This sounds dubious, I know, but it’s true. I therefore knew exactly where I had to go, and I looked forward to it with every passing page. Every page led up to a final line, and I was excited to reach that final line. I always think about Michael Douglas in Wonderboys—how he couldn’t finish his manuscript because he “couldn’t stop.” Know your beginning, middle, and end. That way, you can stop eventually and enjoy the ride to the end of the line.
“Bite Somebody” will now be scrutinized by my meanest critic: me. Once I’ve done a read-through, Celia and Ian go out to my first readers. God help us. And happy writing to you!
I entered this model search on a whim. I got an email about it, and thought, no, thanks. Then, I looked at the past winners … and none of them looked like me. In fact, most of them were about nineteen and blond. For shame! So I entered. I like to think I represent the over thirty, non-blond, quirky demographic.
Now, I made one mistake. I didn’t realize there was an open casting call where you get 1000 free votes for just showing up. This means I’ll come nowhere close to winning, which is fine. I’m just glad my face is up there in the running, looking different. Different is good.
If you’d like to give me your vote, please do! Head over to the AZ Face of Foothills site and vote here. If you’re up for it, there are some other over thirty folk and some MEN, which is cool. Vote for them, too. Spread the love of different.
Oh, and PS: You can vote as many time as you want, so if you’re bored at work, keep pushing that button.
Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch is a thirty-seven-year-old British actor who closely resembles either an otter or space alien. I’m really not sure if he was even considered mildly good-looking until 2010, when he premiered as title character Sherlock in the BBC’s modern adaptation.
Co-creators of the show Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have famously been interviewed as saying the BBC didn’t think Cumberbatch was sexy enough to play Sherlock. Now, oddly enough, he’s considered one of the sexiest men on Earth, with a trove of maniac fans known as “Cumberbitches.”
Empire Magazine listed him number one in their list of 100 sexiest movie stars. He made Glamour Magazine’s list, too. Oh, and number one in the British Sun (two years in a row). In response to this, Cumberbatch says, “I enjoy being considered handsome, even though I think it’s hysterical.”
Do I think he’s good-looking? Yes. God, yes. (See obsessive Pinterest board.) That’s right, folks. Embarrassing as it is, I’m a member of Benedict’s maniac fanbase. And it is kind of embarrassing. When I was a kid, I had this thing for Brad Pitt (posters on the wall, signing my name “Sara Pitt”). I haven’t had that kind of obsession again until now, and I’m thirty-two and married.
What does this have to do with my career? Since getting to know Mr. Cumberbatch via BBC’s Sherlock, he has inspired countless fictional characters in my work, most notably in “Don’t Ball the Boss,” soon to be published by Stoneslide Corrective.
When he got his Emmy nomination.
The TV show inspired me to write fan fiction, as well. I’ve written five pieces
fan fiction and have been shocked by the overwhelming response.
I’ve had women and men send me emails requesting more, more! They shout to the rafters that I should be published immediately. My Twitter following has possibly doubled. In fact, I once found my name mentioned in a Twitter conversation involving no less than six Cumberbitches. When I chimed in, one of them tweeted, “It’s her! It’s HER!” as if I were a celebrity.
My stories get upwards of two hundred hits per day. As writers, we very rarely get such immediate praise and develop such a fast following. Benedict Cumberbatch has unknowingly made me famous.
But the actor is more than creative inspiration. This is going to sound sappy, but he’s a life inspiration, as well. He was almost killed after being kidnapped in South Africa, but due to this terrifying experience, he just says he learned “not to sweat the small stuff. And just enjoy the ride of being alive.”
Apparently, he’s impossible to interview, because he’s like a fish with a shiny object. He’s easily distracted, due to his overwhelming enthusiasm. According to GQ writer Stuart McGurk, “I feel, compared with Cumberbatch, like someone going through existence with the contrast dial turned down. To him, it seems, everything is neon bright. The barbs may sting more sharply, but his sun must shine that much brighter.”
Taking pictures with fans.
co-star Martin Freeman said, “He’s sweet and generous in an almost childlike way. I could take advantage of him playing cards.” Other male co-stars seem to have developed complete bromances with Benedict (Michael Fassbender and Zach Quinto, for example).
Cumberbatch admitted recently that he’s seeing a therapist to deal with his new fame, and he admitted this with no shame, saying mental health should be more openly discussed.
In everything he does, he seems exuberant, fun loving (see U2 photo bomb), and incredibly polite. He worships his fans, and he says “thank you” every five minutes, even in the middle of the Oscar’s red carpet. When I said earlier he looks like an alien, he might really be an alien, because no human being can possibly be so damn sweet!
This is what I mean when I say life inspiration.
The man’s behavior, even as he has become a superstar, is jaw dropping. He has yet to go the way of Bieber or Lohan—stars who got famous and lost their shit. Instead, Cumberbatch has become more gracious, and according to Steven Moffat, “better looking the more famous he gets.”
Today, I say thank you to someone I’ve never met and will probably never meet, because unknowingly (and over and over), he has inspired me, made me laugh, and made me want to be a better person. He has improved my career (something even I never saw coming). And it all started while watching PBS, when I thought, “Wow, that man has great hair.”
Bromance dancing with Fassbender.
Solarcide is known as the Home of Weird Fiction, a gallery of the dark and dangerous. What an honor to be considered such. What an even bigger honor to be their featured author for June 2014! Feast your eyes on the opening paragraphs of my noir thriller, “The Youngest Brother,” and follow the link at the end to read the full story at Solarcide.
The Youngest Brother
by Sara Dobie Bauer
In the crowded bar, it was easy to spot the man who’d just lost his father, come straight from the funeral to forget as much. He looked gentle, quiet. The youngest of four brothers, he was a senior at Harvard, where he attended as a history major, of all the wasteful things. He had not been admitted to the prestigious university thanks to his father’s funding, which was sizeable, but on the basis of his own intellect.
Of the four brothers, she considered him the second most handsome, shadowed only by the eldest—the man who’d hired her.
Yes, she easily pulled the young man from the crowd of posh academics, near as they were to the university where he studied. Not that he looked very different; on the contrary, he was clean-shaven and in an expensive, black suit. Expensive? She recognized those sorts of things; considered those sorts of things part of her job. Knowing the cut of a man’s suit said a lot about him, and she was all about knowing.
For instance, take the mournful youngest brother at the bar: simple black meant he wasn’t showy, didn’t have a big ego, not like the men who wore suits with silver pinstripes or slick, red ties. Thin lapels meant modern, not retro, so he didn’t look to the past for respite. Finally, the suit was slimly cut, snugly tailored, which meant someone who was used to movement—someone in good shape, athletic.
Of course, she cheated on all accounts. She knew these things about the young man; his brother had told her. She knew he was intelligent and subdued. She knew he swam laps every night at six PM, and his name was Duncan Sadler.
She had arranged to be surrounded by people that night so as not to arouse suspicion. Being an attractive woman, alone in a bar, playing pool, only attracted attention from men, and there was only one man she planned on talking to at the Sphinx, Duncan Sadler’s bar of choice. She knew that about him, too.
Her so-called friends, more like acquaintances, were in on it, in her same profession. They understood the need to blend in, so they all played pool together until someone won. Then, she took a sip of beer. With her eyes, she told them she was going in and didn’t need their backup anymore.
It had all been arranged; once she struck up the youngest Sadler in conversation, her friends would leave, say they were going somewhere else. She could play the lonely damsel card, if only long enough to get Duncan to the alley.
(So what happens to Duncan Sadler? Find out at Solarcide!)
I want to cut my wrists. Don’t panic; it’s not a serious thing. I don’t want to kill myself, but sometimes, when I’m daydreaming, I like to think about cutting myself.
I’ve been doing it off and on in secret since eighth grade. Once I hit my upper twenties, I stopped caring if anyone noticed. Now, in my thirties, good friends know how things are going based on my Band-Aids.
Again, this isn’t a suicide thing. It’s not a “cry for help,” as Marla Singer might say. I don’t cut for attention. I don’t cut because I mean myself any harm. I cut because it feels good. Physical pain is better than emotional pain any day. But it very rarely comes to that anymore. Mostly, it’s just in my head. I fantasize about cutting because it calms me down.
Say I’m in a crowded room, and people are small talking around me and I’m just feeling … anxious. I zone out and picture a knife against my skin. Not cutting into my skin—just lingering above it, like a playful tickle. This is my meditation, my visualization, my Power Animal. This image calms me down. Always has.
I considered getting a tattoo on my left wrist. That way, I wouldn’t cut my left wrist anymore because I wouldn’t want to ruin the ink. But then I thought, “How does ink do on scar tissue?” The tattoo is on hold.
I spoke to a group of troubled teens a couple months ago. I admitted to a room full of strangers (who possibly had more in common with me than most “adults”) that I’d been cutting for years. One of the girls asked, “How did you stop?”
Well, I didn’t want to tell her I hadn’t. Instead, I told her I channeled the yearning to cut into something else—my writing, for instance, or yoga.
But being a cutter is like being a smoker. You quit … but you never really quit.
I’m not writing this to freak out my mother or make you uncomfortable. I’m writing this to be honest. Although I haven’t been depressed in a while (yay medication!), when I am depressed, I often question God’s intentions: Why did You give me this stupid disease? Why did You do this to me? What kind of a loving god are You?
See, I get sad, then I get mad. Once I’ve calmed down, I usually realize I wouldn’t be “me” without the depression. I wouldn’t be as weird or funny or oddly charming. I wouldn’t be an artist. I also wouldn’t be able to speak to troubled teen girls or write blog posts like this that hopefully help other people—make them feel not so alone.
Recently, when I opened up about self-harm, I brought it up, nonchalantly, with a friend of mine who shocked me by saying, “Yeah, I’ve been trying so hard not to cut lately.” Who knew? Now, I do, and now, we talk about it.
We need to talk about this stuff. In college, I hid my mental health problems. No one would ever have thought, “Wow, Sara’s a real downer.” (Thank God for closed doors.)
The older I get, the more I have learned to embrace “me,” even the psycho side of me that wants to stay in bed, never eat again, and play with knives. If anyone needs a hug, it’s her!
So seriously, I’m not trying to freak you out. I just want you to know me, and maybe someday, we can help each other. Isn’t that why we’re here anyway?
He was tall with gangly limbs and a graceful walk. Too-bright eyes darted with too much energy. Maniacal black hair and pale skin. Obscenely full mouth. But too skinny. Tired. Exhausted. Starving for information and wanted for different reasons by every woman at the London Library.
There were the older women in their sixties, who wanted to take the young man home and feed him, give him a bed for sleeping. There were the women closer to his own age who wanted to take him to bed and do no sleeping at all. And there was Luella, who at age thirty-five, fell somewhere in between.
She only knew how old he was because she’d seen his license when he applied for his library card. Twenty. He was only twenty, and his name was Sherlock Holmes.
Walking toward her desk, he could be awkward. His feet were too big, but he was already handsome. Luella suspected he would one day be decadent. He would one day be very bad for someone.
“Mating cycle of African locusts.”
He often spouted sentence fragments at her. Whenever he spoke, addressed her that way, she ignored him for thirty seconds on purpose.
Luella’s co-worker Amanda—a lovely redhead right out of university—once said she wanted to “bang his voice,” if that was possible, and his voice was a very nice part of the overall package.
But it was his eyes—his freakish, cold, ice-like eyes—that made Luella’s stomach quake. Sometimes, Luella woke up at night, and her mind flowed over with images of avalanches and icebergs.
“Luella.” Hers was the only name he knew, because she was the one he used—had apparently chosen from all the other librarians as his slave.
“Mating cycle of African locusts, yes.” She adjusted a stack of leather bound books on her desk. “Amanda is not busy at the moment.” She gestured to the nearby redhead who leaned on a desk and looked to be imagining how to most efficiently remove Sherlock’s jeans.
“No,” he huffed.
“Mating cycle of African locusts. Please.” He tapped long fingers on the top of her desk until she stood up.
Her high, black, patent leather heels made no sound on the red carpet. Then, she clunked up the well-lit stairs of the library with him right behind her. He was always close. He sometimes felt like a shadow. There was nothing sexual about it. Factually, there was nothing sexual about Sherlock at all. He did not strut or wink or flirt. He barely smiled, and he was terse, rude.
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, he was the epitome of sensuality. The sound of his voice, the way he caressed book covers, how he looked not like a man but like a painting … he was unlike anyone Luella had ever seen.
She walked past stacks of biology books. “Why on Earth must you know about African locusts?” She paused and poked at book bindings.
“I just need to know.” He batted her hand away and found the book she was looking for. He pulled the book free from the shelf and turned away. He disappeared behind another row of books, but she heard the low rumble of his voice as he whispered to himself.
The lingering scent of stale cigarette was his “thank you.”
She overheard other women talking. Luella knew they resented her for being Sherlock’s worker bee, so they never talked to her about him; they talked about him when they thought she wasn’t listening.
“I’m going to ask him out. Do you suppose he knows what he looks like?” Amanda whispered, but whispers tended to carry in libraries.
“Absolutely. Not,” Terry said—a woman with a Master’s degree who always brought much younger men to holiday parties.
“How? How can he not know he’s beautiful?”
Luella wanted to speak up and tell them, “Because he’s too smart to care.” She didn’t. She went online and ordered a new book about Chinese death rituals instead—for Sherlock.
“Wouldn’t you love to peel off all those layers and bang him against a bookshelf?”
“Pull on that glorious hair …”
Amanda giggled. “Suck that bottom lip for days.”
She cussed, loudly, when she realized he was standing above her desk, wearing all those layers her co-workers talked about. He always over-dressed, even in the summer—coats, scarves, like he was hiding something. She wondered if he was just a skeleton below the neck.
“You scared me,” she said.
He blinked at her. “In-som-nia.”
She stood up slowly and rounded the desk. She paused next to him, thinking.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
Luella looked up and noticed his eyes were bloodshot. Dark circles sat like tiny, purple pillows under his eyes, and his hair was wrapped in knots on his head. “Are you all right?” she replied.
(Read the rest of Luella’s experience with the young and very dangerous Mr. Sherlock Holmes HERE at FanFiction.net.)
Jared Leto as Rayon.
I could go on and on about the awards. For example, both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto won Oscars for their performances in 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club. It was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Screenplay. We all know awards aren’t everything. In fact, sometimes, Oscars indicate a yawn fest. Not in this case.
Dallas Buyers Club is the based-on-a-true-story of Texas cowboy and rodeo man Ron Woodroof. Ron was a man’s man. In the opening scene, he’s banging two chicks while watching a bull rider get creamed. (Ur, no pun intended.) When he’s electrocuted at work, he gets taken to the hospital where he realizes he has AIDS.
Ron vehemently denies the diagnosis saying that AIDS is for “faggots,” and “he ain’t no faggot.” Interesting to me—and painfully sad—was how ignorant we once were of a disease that is now a worldwide epidemic. In the 80s, AIDS was the bane of homosexuals alone and could be passed on via toilet seat.
The treatments were equally ignorant, as portrayed in the film as Big Medicine shoves dangerous amounts of AZT down the throats of willing test patients to their detriment. Ron found a way around this. Originally given thirty days to live, he travels to Mexico and finds alternative treatments not approved by the FDA.
To save his life and the lives of others, he starts the “Dallas Buyers Club.” He’s not selling drugs; he’s selling memberships. Along the way, he befriends unlikely ally Rayon, a gorgeous, sweet, and uncouth tranny played by Jared Leto.
I have no clue how many pounds both McConaughey and Leto lost for their roles, but let me say they lost a lot. In the nude, they’re both almost feminine, delicate. It’s hard to believe where these boys began in high school faves like Dazed and Confused and My So-Called Life. Now, they are unrecognizable in their roles. McConaughey becomes Ron Woodroof, and Leto is literally a breast. Oscars well deserved.
The message of the film has several different levels. On one hand, it addresses the massive problem that was and is AIDS. Even though we know more about it now, it’s still a terrible, tragic disease. Thankfully, last year was the lowest for reported new infections since the mid 1990s. Yet, millions, gay and straight alike, are still fighting a battle.
Secondly (and possibly the most angering issue addressed in Dallas Buyers Club) is the money monster that is the pharmaceutical corporations who seem to be in cahoots with the FDA. Ron Woodroof found a way to treat his illness, but since the FDA had not approved his methods, his treatments were taken from the people he was trying to save.
I’m sure the film tended a little toward propaganda on that front. I mean, Dallas Buyers Club made the FDA into complete toolbags. I hope it’s not as bad as portrayed, but maybe it is. I mean, doctors do want to feed us pills, and we take them without question, just like the AIDS patients who died in early AZT trials before doctors discovered proper dosing.
The question posed by this film: Does a patient have the right to seek any treatment they want, regardless of what a doctor or the government has to say? As a dabbler in both naturopathy and traditional medicine, I say yes. If people were more informed of alternative treatments, the world would be a different place. Last year, a friend of mine lived through a cancer death sentence not through chemo but through organic foods, vitamin IVs, and juicing. Ron Woodroof would approve.
I didn’t cry until the credits, and I’m not sure why. I felt despair at the hopelessness of so many AIDS patients. I felt anger at the FDA and the way our government is run (by the deep pockets of Big Medicine, apparently). And I’m not spoiling anything when I tell you Ron Woodroof is no longer with us.
When Dallas Buyers Club was over, I cried. Like so many other modern masterpieces (RENT, Angels in America), this film will stir you and remind you that you only get one life. Better do something with it.
Jake and I saw Kings of Leon last night. I love them. I listen to them when I’m sad, angry, happy, when I want to dance. I listen to them always. Instead of doing a full concert review, I offer you my favorite of their kick-ass rock songs. And they played all of these last night at the Ak-Chin Pavilion.
They opened with this ditty, hiding behind a curtain that made them look like ten-foot-tall ghosts. A creepy girl shouted from a huge TV screen. Warning: one of their wilder songs that showcases “the scream.”
An extremely sexy song I think is about vampires.
3. Molly’s Chambers
From their first album, back when I first fell in love with my boys. (Look at their hippie hair!!) Now, this is a dance song. This is a sexy woman power dance song.
A melancholy tune that Jake occasionally does for karaoke. They rocked it last night, surrounded by images of flying flame.
Well, it’s called Arizona. How cool is that? I like driving through the desert at night to this song, especially when the stars are out.
6. Back Down South
I want to move back east when I hear this song. I want to move back to Charleston and have an oyster roast.
7. Wait for Me
From the newest album, this one always strikes a chord. I scream the words … and try not to tear up. An affirming song about love and patience.
8. Cold Desert
Save the best for last. When they played this last night, a wave of fake snow fell on the crowd. Talk about theatrics. I might have sobbed a little. I get emotional around music I love, okay?
Chambers Austelle (great name) is a Charleston, South Carolina, native and artist. I own four of her pieces. One—a black and white photograph of a forest that I understand she took while almost falling from a car—was a wedding gift. I have a spooky Halloween painting of a haunted house and two glorious portraits of my dogs.
Sure, I’m an obsessive fangirl, but she’s also my sister-in-law. My brother is a musician, and I find it miraculous that two artists can cohabitate and still love each other without MURDER. (Because seriously, I’m sure Jake wants to just murder me sometimes.)
Chambers is prolific and inspiring. She presses on, despite the difficulties of being an artist (i.e. rejection and emotional meltdowns). It’s time for you to meet her.
An H and Five Ws with Painter/Photographer Chambers Austelle
How did art become your passion?
I think people love to hear about epiphanies. They want to know that “Ah-HA!” moment. Well, I never had one. The closest I think I’ve ever come to that is when I’ve tried other things and have inevitably realized, ah-ha, I should really just be making art. I think my mother may have realized it was going to be my passion, or already was, when I was seven. I think that was around the time she gave up on my room’s walls or carpet ever staying clean. I’ve always wanted to explore and create new things, using everything as a canvas or platform. I never took it too seriously until I changed my major to Studio Arts and realized that being an artist was a real possibility.
Who is your biggest artistic influence?
Wow. That’s a tough question. Sally Mann hands down set the path for my artistic style in photography. When I was in college, Rothko and Francis Bacon were definitely my favorite contemporary painters. For me, their work was the strongest and most mesmerizing. I know, I know, could their imagery be more different? But for me they’re both extremely meditative in their own way. I am influenced by so many different artists, though. I love images and am constantly looking at different works of art. Currently, I’d have to say the biggest influence award goes to Egon Schiele and Matisse for their use of line and flatness of color.
As an artist, what are you most afraid of?
Failing. My husband is an artist as well, and we talk and joke about how hard the struggle is. If something we’re working on isn’t coming along the way we imagined it, it hits somewhere deep. Being an artist isn’t a job; it’s who you are. So if you fail at a task, you feel you’ve failed as a person. We joke how people who have office jobs (not that office jobs can’t be stressful) probably never go home and cry about how they could’ve stapled those papers better, stacked them in a more aesthetically pleasing way, or made that sticky note a little more compelling. Oh yeah, then there’s that real fear of will we have food and can we pay that bill?
Where have you done your best work?
I have a beautiful studio. It’s the biggest room in the house. It’s filled top to bottom with canvases, weird tools, cameras, and little treasures I might or might not use one day. And everyday I drag what I need out to the kitchen table and set up shop. I love our home, and I guess I feel most comfortable in the most lived in room.
When have you felt most frustrated as an artist? Have you ever wanted to just give it all up and become an accountant?
I get FRUSTRATED with the can opener; I get disappointed with art. When I’m starting a new piece, I am excited. I can see the image in my head and can’t wait for it to be real. I work in layers, and although I have an idea of what the final image should look like, I like to leave room for interpretation and to follow the work itself. It’s extremely rare that the final piece will look like what I had first imagined. This being said, that middle ground also leaves room open for disappointment. I finished “Ann” a couple weeks ago. I was so upset halfway through. I thought I had failed. I left it alone until the next day, in which I worked straight through to the finished product. It’s always a give and take, but it’s always, always worth it.
WHY are you an artist?
I’m an artist because I can’t imagine being anything else. The first art class I took in college was Drawing 1, the prerequisite for all other studio classes. I remember the professor asked how many of us were Studio Art majors. After a whopping two of us had raised our hands, he told us that being an artist was a lifestyle choice, not a job. “Make sure this is what you want,” he said. It’s a conscious decision you’ll have to make everyday. It’s hard to answer this question without giving a cliché answer, but I make art because I love to. Yes it’s hard and scary sometimes. I always have to work to get better. It’s incredibly rewarding, though. It’s my job to create new beauty, whether it’s a contemporary portrait or just a burst of color and pattern.
Learn more about Chambers Austelle at her two websites:
I chose my favorite pieces of her work for this blog post, but there are so many more you need to see.
My husband is cut like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. He has honey brown eyes that melt women into puddles of lusty angst. He has a single dimple when he smiles, and he smiles a lot. He has an ass that Michelangelo would have sculpted into a fifty-foot statue. He has a voice that makes Jell-O quake. And those are his lesser attributes.
Jake married a girl with depression. He married a difficult wife, and yet, he makes adorable growling noises and kisses my neck until I laugh. He holds me when I cry. He tells me—no, he makes me believe—everything will be all right, because he will never leave me, never stop supporting me.
He volunteers at an organic farm, and I love when he comes home all sweaty and covered in dirt. He always kisses me and says he needs to shower, but I don’t let him because I want to hold him. He makes me proud to be his wife.
Jake is so funny, he could make Louis CK laugh and blush. It doesn’t matter if he’s having a bad day; he will drop everything to make someone else feel better. He does it with a smile—a joyous smile that’s wrought with happy wrinkles, from his mouth to his eyes.
He dances like a white Usher. We joke that it’s because his brother is gay, and his bro can dance, too. Jake dances with no ego. He doesn’t care if people think it’s funny that a straight guy just loves to dance. He also doesn’t care that people thinks he’s a nerd for loving bad eighties elevator music.
My husband lives with no inhibitions, no fear. He is the bravest, most honest person I know. He is immediately embarrassed if he gossips. He sees the best in people, and he has taught me to try to do the same. He has taught me so much: how to be comfortable with myself and how to believe I am beautiful.
My friends have a nickname for Jake: Mr. Hottie McHotterson, and it’s not just because he fills out a pair of jeans. It’s not just because he rolls up the sleeves on his button-down shirts to show off his ripped forearms. My friends think he’s hot because he makes them feel better when he’s around. He does that to everyone.
My husband should be on posters. He should be on billboards with his six-pack abs hanging out. But he should also be on posters that say “This is a real man. This is what every man should strive to be.” He is perfect within his imperfections—his sweet snoring, his messy cooking style, and his bed head, half-mohawk blond hair.
He is what I spent my life looking for, and that makes him hot. Hotter than the desert in July. Hotter than the love anyone deserves.
“I am not amused.”
You know that scene in Clerks where everything goes to hell and the guy shouts, “I’m not even supposed to be here today!” That was me yesterday.
I flew home from a wonderful vacation in Florida Tuesday night knowing full well that my husband would be slaughtering chickens all day Wednesday. Jake has been raising Cornish Cross chickens for months now, and it’s a cool endeavor. They’re pasture raised, healthy chickens, fresh from farm to table. (You can buy one here.)
I’m proud of his project, but I told him, several times, I wanted nothing to do with kill day. I told him, “If I see any blood, we’re going vegetarian and you won’t eat meat for the rest of your life and you’ll be miserable.” I’m threatening when I’m terrified.
My mistake was taking him lunch. I went to Papa John’s. Jake’s pizza was ready, but when the guy pulled it out, he realized he’d forgotten the cheese. This should have been an omen, because what kind of idiot forgets the cheese? Well, what kind of idiot brings her husband lunch when she knows he’s murdering poultry?
I arrived, and Jake asked me to help out—just for a second. He needed my help bagging and labeling seven or eight cleaned carcasses. Clean? Sure, okay. He led me through his processing line like a horse with blinders: “Don’t look over there. There’s blood in the buckets. … And that trashcan is filled with heads. Don’t look in there. … Actually, just stand at this table and stare at the dirt.”
I could hear the living chickens nearby. They clucked and made strange sounds reminiscent of “No, no, no.” I focused on my task at hand. Cleaned chickens were placed in front of me, and I put them in plastic bags. Behind me, I heard Jake’s helpers taking chickens to the kill cones where I knew they would soon have their throats slit.
(“No, no, no!”)
I focused on my bagging, because I’m a good wife. I’m a good wife.
(“No, no, no!!!!!”)
Then, I hear this weird sound behind me, and Brandon (Jake’s pal) cusses. I’m worried Brandon has just cut his finger off. Nay. A chicken has escaped the cone but its neck has already been slit, and it’s flapping and bleeding all over the mother-trucking place.
I drop the damn cleaned chicken I’m bagging and start screaming, followed by unintelligible mutterings and sobs. Jake has to comfort me. He keeps saying, “That’s never happened before.”
The Mexican helpers are looking at me like I’m a crazy white girl. Well, I am a crazy white girl! I didn’t grow up on a farm! I don’t know how to “eviscerate” anything (except maybe a bottle of vodka). I was upset upset UPSET!!!
I left. I went to the grocery store and bought rice, beans, and green vegetables—nothing with meat and nothing red. I was utterly wrathful with my husband for even putting me in the position to see a flapping, screaming, bleeding chicken.
(“No, no, noooooo!!!!”)
Okay, so today, I’m laughing. I told this story to my father earlier, and he was so hysterical with sick amusement, he couldn’t talk. When he could finally breathe again, he said I had to document the chicken incident. So documented.
I keep looking at our egg-laying chickens in the backyard. They’re assholes who peck my toes, but I hope they know how lucky they are, little bastards. Daddy is a chicken killer, but he has spared their scrawny necks.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me lately that life is not a bowl of cherries. I’m not sure what they’re trying to accomplish by the routing of this cliché. Is this supposed to make me feel better?
I was in Florida for a week, and I never wanted to come back to Phoenix. I wanted Jake to move to the beach with the dogs and me. Burn our house down. Forget about our jobs, our belongings. Become perpetual beach bums. I could bartend; he could fix and rent out bicycles. So long as we were near the sand, the water, and the lifestyle.
While there with my brilliant Aunt Susie, we scattered Grandpa Schwind’s ashes into the sea. She reminisced; he never missed a sunset when he was down on Longboat Key. He would wander to the beach at night and say, “Thank you, God.” He planned his whole day around it.
Saying goodbye to Papa.
Susie and I had an amazing week together. We rode beach cruisers to visit the friendly peacocks down the street. We spent all day at the beach and saw two baby sharks. We drank Kryptonite cocktails at the Daiquiri Deck, and I ate enough oysters to kill a small child. I even took a long walk on the beach in the middle of a torrential rainstorm.
I came back to Phoenix, hoping to keep the “beach mindset,” and I failed immediately. Life got in the way. First, there was the aforementioned “chicken incident.” There was an overburden of work and the stress of trying to sell our house. There was a premenstrual emotional breakdown on Saturday. Finally, yesterday morning, a close friend of mine passed away.
The bowl of cherries comment came about when I admitted to someone I didn’t really want to live in Phoenix anymore. I want to move back east. I want to be near the ocean again, and the longing to do so is a resounding ache in my chest.
Then, David died yesterday, and a friend told me death was just part of life and that life isn’t easy and mortality is a bitch and blah blah blah—I don’t know if this kind of talk helps other people, but it only makes me angry.
People telling me life is hard does not help. People giving advice only makes things worse. I need to channel the girl I was on the beach last week, walking in the rain with the tide on my toes. She was so blissfully happy, filled with joy. She was free.
My Grandpa Schwind would have wanted me to be that girl always, every day. David (who reminded me so much of Papa) would have wanted the same. In the past six months, I’ve said goodbye to both of them—such joyful, peaceful, kind men, who would never, ever say, “Life is not a bowl of cherries.”
I need to find the girl I was on the beach, but I need to remember these two important men I’ve lost, as well. We scattered Papa on the beach because now, he can watch the sunset every night. Every night, he can say “Thank you, God.” I am utterly lost, but I can’t buy into this bullshit about life not being fair, life being hard. The negativity will drown me.
I won’t listen. I won’t hear. I’m done being told to keep a stiff upper lip, to be strong. Another friend recently said I needed “joy and ease.” She wanted me to say it like a mantra: “joy and ease.” Okay, I can get behind that. Life might be hard, but it’s also a lot of fun. Screw anyone who says otherwise.
I was fortunate to interview Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus for SheKnows. Separately, they’re cool dudes—guys you’d want to have beers with on a beach somewhere. Together, they’re known as “The Minimalists.” Sound kinda like super heroes? They are.
When both in their waning twenties, they dropped everything, well-paid jobs included, and embraced the philosophy of minimalism: less is more. They truly realized, in Fight Club fashion, the things you own end up owning you.
The less belongings they had, the better they felt. The less junk in their lives, the more room for good stuff. What’s the good stuff? Health, relationships, contribution, growth, PASSION.
Their first book, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life was a how-to. Their second collaboration, Everything that Remains, is a why-to. I’m going to warn you right now: this book feels like a steel-toe kick to the gut. In a good way.
Josh wrote the majority of the book with excellent footnotes by Ryan. Josh didn’t focus on his writing career until his upper twenties, although he’d always been interested in the craft. Apparently, he learns fast, because his prose is stellar. At one point, he makes a three-page sentence work. Flawlessly. Almost makes you want to smack him.
“I’m approaching Times Square, swimming vigorously against the stream of people and the spill of electric light. Everything seems caffeinated. I am here beneath the howl of the world, the pulse of a city dead inside, and yet all this noise is unable to wake the dead. Heads tilt downward, faces lost in glowing screens, technology turning people into zombies.”
Arggggg, this makes me clutch my stomach, it’s so good.
Everything that Remains is not lacking in literary quality. It’s not lacking in substance either. The road to minimalism is wrought with many personal potholes for both Josh and Ryan as they turn their lives inside out and upside-down. They learn a lot, and so do you.
The book evoked several emotions in me. First, there was excitement, because the prospect of getting rid of my crap is tempting. There was also guilt. Josh called me out on a lot of my grasping—grasping at things, at bad relationships, at … Well, Tyler Durden said it best: “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”
By the end, I felt hopeful, because again (paraphrasing Mr. Durden), once we’ve lost everything, we’re free to do anything. That’s where the title comes from. Once you get rid of your baggage, you’re free to enjoy everything that remains. And everything that remains is way better than a closet full of expensive shoes or a collection of comic book action figures.
One more excerpt:
“Too often we attempt to hold tightly the life that has already left us, but when we get rid of life’s excess, we discover that we’re already perfect, right now, beautiful down to our bone marrow.”
Head over to IndieBound and buy this book as soon as you can. Then, check out The Minimalists in all their web glory.
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Marla Singer, played by Helena Bonham Carter.
I’ve always had an affection for Marla Singer, the accidental antagonist of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club
. She has an affinity for pills, cigarettes, and despair. In the words of Tyler Durden, “At least she’s trying to hit bottom.”
I understand her, the way she throws herself into a relationship with a man she calls “the worst thing that ever happened” to her. I understand her yearning for rock bottom, because at the bottom, we are alone. There is no one to worry about and no one left to worry about us. Like Tyler says, “Hitting bottom is not a weekend retreat.”
Although Marla Singer is sad, she is powerful. She is untamed and crazy. Although I’m not just like her (thank God), I hold aspects of her in me. In homage to her, I recently took part in a photo shoot that brought out my inner Marla. For an afternoon, Marla Singer was my power animal.
Many thanks to fabulous hair stylist, Yvonne Rosales at Enlighten Studio, and makeup artiste extraordinaire, Angel Castro. But many, many (innumerable) thanks to brilliant photographer Chris Loomis who allowed me to be as angry as I wanted to be–and smoke about a pack of Camel Lights in the process.