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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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?
I picked up a book recently because it’s set in New Orleans. The plot sounded okay, but really, New Orleans. As someone who used to live in the American Lowcountry, I miss the South. As an Anne Rice fan, I feel I’ve visited New Orleans many times, even though I haven’t.
I was excited to start this book, escape the desert for a while, and be lulled into a sensuous stupor by the sights, sounds, and smells of what many consider the most beautiful city in the world.
To say I’ve been disappointed is an understatement. Here’s what I’ve gotten so far: “There was something about New Orleans—something about the air itself—a certain sultriness found nowhere else, that silky touch of humidity on skin like fingertips dragged slowly over your flesh.”
Great! And that was the first line. Since that first line, nothing, nadda. The author could be writing about Wall, South Dakota, and I wouldn’t know. Where is my French Quarter? Where is the overwhelming, sweet scent of magnolia? Where are the horse-drawn buggies for tourists?
I’ll tell you where: in New Orleans. But not in this author’s book.
As a writer, setting is important. In my novels (even in my short stories), the city becomes a character. When I wrote Life without Harry, my readers rejoiced over places they recognized and couldn’t wait to visit places they did not. Same goes for Something about a Ghost, set in Phoenix. You know damn well you’re in Phoenix. You feel the dry heat and smell the spring-blooming orange blossoms. You see the purple-red sunsets, because Phoenix has a persona. Setting should have a persona.
As I mentioned, I was once lucky enough to live in the American Lowcountry. I lived in Charleston, South Carolina (aka “Heaven on Earth”), and the novel I’m writing at present takes place there. An excerpt:
“The air felt crisp, clean, light, and although most of the flowers were long dead, the air still smelled like some sweet bloomer over the usual scent of saltwater and wet sand. He clunked down the metal stairs that led to the ground floor and paused as his boat shoes met grass.
“He walked through the yard and its overabundance of dormant gardenia plants, their waxy leaves still green and lush despite the chill. The Crepe Myrtles at the end of his sidewalk were almost bare, beyond a few dark orange leaves that clung. He pulled a leaf free and held it between his fingers as he took a left and walked down Church Street toward Battery Park.
“He passed the houses where rich people lived, passed their well-kept gardens, their BMWs. He passed over brick roads, beneath the sprawling, wicked arms of Angel Oaks. He paused at Stoll’s Alley, a tiny walkway of brick, overwrought with climbing ivy—one of his usual short cuts—and kept moving until he entered Battery Park, the very tip of the Charleston peninsula.
“He stayed on the edge of the Battery. He stood on the walkway overlooking the harbor with his elbows leaned against the cold metal rail. The sky was cloudy, so the water looked dark green, tumultuous as though a storm would soon arrive. In the distance, he could see Fort Sumter and an American flag that flapped in the wind. There was a wind, a slight one that brushed softly over his face and brought with it the smell of dead fish.”
Do you smell the smells? See the sights? Feel the air? I hope so. I worked hard to take you to Charleston, even if you’ve never been there. This is setting, and for some reason, we’ve forgotten it. We’ve gotten so caught up in plot, character, conflict—but what is a story without a world, a sense of place?
This is a reminder to writers and readers alike: don’t let books get away with weak settings. Don’t be lulled by pretty people. People are but a thin pie slice of what is really happening in a story. Don’t disappoint me. I’ll find you and write about you on my blog.
Depression makes you feel like a broken toy. You once had use, but now, you’re forgotten, sprawled in the dust beneath a child’s bed. You can’t remember what it’s like to not be broken. You can’t imagine anyone fixing you.
So you lie there, tired, broken, and no one can reach you—not even mom’s feather duster.
Depression destroys you. It makes you forget how to work or how to eat. It makes you want to sleep but not cry. You are beyond crying. You feel nothing but a crushing pain in your chest. You feel nothing but aching muscles and the strange beat of your heart that seems louder in the silence.
It’s very quiet under the child’s bed. In the dust.
It’s not scary under here, not like the movies would have you think. There aren’t monsters under this bed—just you, the broken toy. You are in pieces. You can’t hurt anyone.
Depression is the bad thing you’re waiting for that never happens.
Depression is loss, but lost what?
Depression is the hope that this day will soon be over, because maybe you will wake up not so broken tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow will be better.
Maybe tomorrow, the child will find you under his bed. He will dust you off and sew you back together. He will play with you again and remind you what you’re here for.
You will remember how to work and eat and maybe even smile. Tomorrow.
For now, you lie in the dust and watch feet pass the foot of the child’s bed. You wonder: how do they do it? How do they go about their days? How do they keep their pieces together? When you are so broken.
You’re not even old! Barely played out! How did you end up in this dingy, under-bed place? How did you get here? But you don’t remember. One day, you were fine; the next, you weren’t.
Depression is the dark thing in your dreams, half remembered by morning.
Depression is the thief that takes and makes you forget how to give back.
Maybe you should rest now, sleep for a while, under the bed. Stop looking at other toys. Stop wondering how they stay together. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, you’ll be fixed again.
In the Fall 2013 issue, Mary Baldwin College’s literary magazine, Outrageous Fortune, published an excerpt of my novel, Damned if They Don’t. So many thanks to them for enjoying my work, and here’s to 2014 – a new year of inspiration and publication.
Novel Excerpt: Damned if They Don’t
by Sara Dobie Bauer
After their early morning dance practice for the College of Charleston’s presentation of Cabaret, Cleo and Alessa stepped into the October sun.
“Ah.” Cleo sang the word like the first note in Act Two. “Now, this is what I’m talking about. Crisp and cool.”
They were both chorus members, which had at first been a blow to Alessa’s experienced ego. Then, as the graduate school workload steadily increased, she saw the casting snafu as a blessing in disguise.
“Where are we meeting Emily for brunch?”
Of course, Cleo and Emily were practically in love. As soon as they met over drinks at Social Wine Bar on East Bay, the friendship was cemented. Together they bemoaned the dating scene in Charleston, because although there were plenty of eligible bachelors, most of them turned out to be untrustworthy asshats. They thoroughly disagreed on the topic of Graydon. Emily still found his persona deplorable, while Cleo was charmed down to her toes by the tall, brooding musician. Alessa, of course, fell somewhere in between.
She reached for her phone. “Emily was going to text me when she woke up.” She looked at the screen. “Why do I have three missed calls from Graydon?”
“It’s ten AM on a Saturday. Shouldn’t he be hung-over somewhere?”
“One would think.” Just as she was about to call him back, her phone rang again. “Graydon?”
“Hello.” He sounded out of breath.
“Are you okay?”
“No. Yes. Where are you?”
“Just leaving the theater.”
“I’ll be there in five minutes.”
“Wait. Cleo and I are going to …” She held the phone away from her ear and stared. “He hung up on me.” Alessa looked back at her phone. “Emily says to meet her at Virginia’s on King. Apparently they have a mimosa special today.”
“Well, what are you going to do?”
“Graydon said he’d be here in five minutes.” She shrugged.
“What, is he gonna propose or something?”
“I’m waiting until he gets here.”
“You don’t have to. Emily is probably already at Virginia’s.”
“No. I want to see what’s going on.”
The stern look on Cleo’s face told Alessa not to press any further. It wouldn’t have mattered. Graydon showed up across the street in three minutes flat.
Cleo scoffed. “Does his hair always look that perfect?”
“Yes. It’s disgusting.”
“He’s carrying red roses.”
“I can see that.”
He almost got hit by a car crossing the street, which made both the girls scream at him, and of course, he took a moment to cuss out the driver. He arrived on the sidewalk, and despite their hours of dance practice, he was actually covered in more sweat than either of the two women. Alessa pulled a hand towel from her gym bag and dabbed at his forehead and cheeks.
“Thank you.” He nodded.
“Flowers?” Cleo smirked. “What’d you do now?”
He gave his familiar glare, complete with lowered brows and strong set jaw.
“Cleo, why don’t I just meet you and Emily at Virginia’s?” Alessa opened her eyes wide, giving the expressive equivalent of, “Get the hell out of here. Please.”
“Fine.” She winked at Graydon. “You look sexy covered in sweat.”
Alessa agreed, but she wasn’t going to say it—not with the way he was behaving. Obviously he had screwed up, but what was there to screw up anyway? After four months of dating, they still didn’t use titles, no boyfriend-girlfriend. He still slept with other women, and sometimes they didn’t speak for days at a time, despite the fact that they worked in the same restaurant. She’d given up on anything normal with Graydon a month earlier, when another woman kissed him right in front of her. Now this? What, had he gotten someone pregnant?
“Graydon. What’s going on?”
He cleared his throat. “These are for you.”
She took the extended roses. “Thank you.”
“I woke up this morning in the bed of another woman.”
Alessa glanced away down St. George Street.
Read the rest at Outrageous Fortune’s website!
I attended a fantastic book signing at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe this weekend to see Ransom Riggs: a hilarious, talented young man who penned Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children as well as its newly released sequel, Hollow City. Ransom was sociable and clever, great at off-the-cuff jokes and comic tidbits. Meanwhile, I was a nervous wreck in my seat because there were too many people and the chairs were too close together.
Me at Ignite Phoenix, speaking in front of 900 people.
I’ve fought for years to act the part of an extrovert. I do public speaking. I throw parties at my house. I come off as confident, outgoing, and a little eccentric. The truth: I’m painfully introverted, and it takes an awful lot of emotional energy to leave my house.
According to About.com’s Psychology page, “People who are introverted tend to be inward turning, or focused more on internal thoughts, feelings, and moods rather than seeking out external stimulation.” Introverted does not mean shy; it just means we’re happier in our own heads than in the center of a crowd.
Even the social butterfly can be an introvert, which is a perfect example of me. I am a social butterfly, but only for a certain amount of time. After awhile, I run out of words, and I literally need to get home before I have a panic attack.
The Huffington Post has an article entitled “23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert,” and it gave me a laugh. Among the listed items:
- Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than having to mingle with those people afterwards. (Can you say “Ignite Phoenix?”)
- You screen all your calls—even from friends. (Guilty.)
- You have a constantly running inner monologue. (The voices! The voices!)
- You’re a writer. (Literally, this was on their list. No joke.)
I could go on, but you get the idea. As I said, I’ve fought to be an extrovert, because I admire people who are. Some of my best friends and social icons are extremely extroverted. They’re charmers. People like them, remember them. They love “doing things,” and I’ve wanted to be like that for years, but you know what? I’m thirty-one, and maybe I’m getting a little old to be someone else.
Sometimes, it sucks really knowing yourself, because you might not like what you find. For instance, I’m grumpy and unpleasant when I’m around people for too long. I’m horrible at returning voicemails because I hate talking on the phone. I’m in my head so much, I feel like I occasionally neglect my husband, my family, my friends … these are flaws. I don’t like them, but they are mine.
I once considered being an introvert a flaw, but no longer. It’s who I am. It’s who a lot of people are. I’d like to be like Ransom at Changing Hands. I’d like to be relaxed in a crowd and feed off the energy around me, but I can’t. And maybe I should stop trying.
The older I get, the more weird and introverted I become. Does this worry me? No. I’m just growing more comfortable with myself.
I am an introvert. I don’t want to go to that dinner theater performance because I’m terrified they might pull me on stage. I refuse to go on weekend trips with people I don’t know well, because I can’t be trapped in a hotel room with them. I know when to say “no,” but I say YES to introversion—because that’s who I am. Hear me roar … while sitting happily alone on the couch in my living room.
THERE BE SPOILERS HERE! IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED ALL OF SHERLOCK SEASON THREE, DO NOT READ. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Episode One: The Empty Hearse
We all wanted to know how Sherlock survived the dive from St. Bart’s. Within the first three minutes of season three, we get an idea via an action-movie style montage including a bungee chord, a hair ruffle, and a sexy smooch. I loved this opening. Completely unbelievable and hilarious, and of course, it was a mere flight of fancy from Anderson.
Sherlock-Molly kiss. And tumblr EXPLODES!
The tempo of this episode was a little off, but I forgive, especially because of Martin Freeman’s face when he realizes Sherlock is alive and standing at his dinner table. Priceless, followed by several punches to the face. We also get to meet Sherlock’s parents, played by Cumberbatch’s real mum and dad. Adorable. We meet Mary, Watson’s soon to be wife. There was even a Sherlock and Moriarty almost-kiss—which begs the question, what the hell really happened on that roof at the end of season two?
I don’t think the truth was made clear, but I do think this was done on purpose. Co-creators Moffat and Gatiss knew how many theories there were, so they gave us three, the third of which being the most likely—but nothing is for sure. Did I feel a little cheated by this hedging? Perhaps, but this episode felt more about character than plot. They made Sherlock softer, almost a real human being, and this theme of Sherlock’s sentimentality stretched the whole third season.
Episode Two: The Sign of Three
An episode about a wedding but not necessarily a detective. I call this episode “odd,” but I enjoyed it because I like odd things (like Benedict Cumberbatch’s face, for instance).
Highlights included John asking Sherlock to be his best man, after which, Sherlock resembles a frozen computer screen; comedy gold. Speaking of, the stag night within which the boys get horribly drunk and try to solve a case. Instead, Sherlock passes out on a floor, vomits, and they both end up in jail. Finally, dear Janine the bridesmaid falls for Sherlock. (Janine: “Do you always carry handcuffs?” Sherlock: “Down girl.”)
So Mary and John are married, and the grand finale: they’re expecting a baby! I really enjoyed the dialogue and back and forth. True, not too much of a mystery here, but one hell of an adorable best man speech from Sherlock and lots of laughs. Which prepared us for …
Episode Three: His Last Vow
Mary is a bad, bad girl.
Well, this one wasn’t very funny at all, was it? And yet it’s one of my favorite episodes of the series. We meet the odious Charles Augustus Magnussen (CAM), who actually accomplishes a face lick without being silly. He is the man Sherlock hates the most and must bring tumbling down.
First off, Sherlock has a girlfriend in this episode—Janine, of course, from the wedding, which is just so, so awkward. I knew something wasn’t right; we all did. We soon find out he’s only dating her to get to CAM. He even proposes to her to get into CAM’s office, which is when …
MARY SHOOTS HIM! MARY! Yeah, John’s wife is some sort of super killer assassin person. That was shocking, yes, but I must say, the entire sequence inside Sherlock’s mind as he fights to stay alive was fan-freaking-tastic. It even featured Moriarty, who I love, but really, amazing, amazing sequence. Gorgeous. So well done.
In the end, Sherlock survives the bullet wound and John forgives his wife. The coup de gras: Sherlock murders CAM, and there’s a sweet goodbye between John and Sherlock as Sherlock goes off to die in East Europe on some undercover assignment. But then … but then …
MORIARTY IS ALIVE!!!!!! Sherlock gets called back to London!! Closing credits!!!
My brain exploded—almost. Would have been a hell of a mess. But this whole Moriarty thing raises so many questions. For instance, what about the body on the roof from season two? Someone must have known Moriarty was not dead, and my money is on Mycroft. Maybe Mycroft was hiding Moriarty (God knows why), and with Sherlock’s life in peril, he brought Moriarty back to life?
Well, the speculation now begins, as we are on hiatus—again. Weren’t we just on hiatus? Yes. Yes, we were, and we’re back, and who knows when we’ll get season four? But I’m sated, for now, and it’s a good thing; I’ve been Sherlock-obsessed for months. Time to get back to real life. But take heart: Moriarty lives.
YES!! YES, WE MISSED YOU!!!
I have been following the career of mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile for over ten years now. He’s a year older than me, which means that while I was chugging beer at Ohio University, he was already on tour. I’ve seen him perform three times, as of last night, and the man never, ever disappoints.
I took along a novice as my date, and as I explained to her the wonder that is Chris Thile, she said, “I think you have a crush on him.” Oh, okay, maybe, but it’s not because he’s hot or mysterious or dark. I really have a crush on the music, and I think my girlfriend now feels the same.
The Musical Instrument Museum is a cool place to wander. There, you can see weird instruments you’ve never heard of as well as instruments played by some of your favorite musicians. The venue housed inside has been called one of the best in the world by musicians who’ve played there, and by the end of his show, Thile agreed. I do, too; he’s never sounded so good.
Chris Thile is a quirky guy. He has nice clothes, yes—well-cut, stylish, colorful suits—but he can’t tame that wonky blond hair. He dances when he’s on stage. He moves with the music like an eighties hairband head-banger. Between songs, he goes on long tangents, akin to a stand-up comedian. Last night, he even admitted: “Most of my banter doesn’t go anywhere.” Yet, the audience was not perturbed, because Thile is too charming and wide-eyed to be a nuisance.
He hit several high notes for me, including segments from his four-part suite “The Blind Leaving the Blind,” which chronicles his painful 2004 divorce. He did a Fiona Apple cover, connecting my favorite female musician to my favorite male. As if that wasn’t enough, he attacked Bach (which he described as a huge musical cube in the center of his set).
As a solo musician, I assume you worry you’ll be boring up there all by yourself, but Thile’s set list kept us glued to our seats. He jumped from classical to covers to sad songs to songs that paused in the middle due to audience hysterics (see “If You’re Gonna Leave Me Set Me Up With One of Your Friends” or, my personal favorite, “Too Many Notes”).
Thile is thankful, modest, and so comfortable on stage, you’d think he lives there. He is the epitome of a one-man show: a genius talent and an improv expert. He received three standing ovations and deserved many more.
Post show, we all stood around, hoping he’d show his face (as he did when I met him last year at Crescent Ballroom). Alas, there was no sign, so my girlfriend and I prepared to hit the road … until we walked outside. I spotted Thile, and in stiletto heels, I scampered to a parked car where I found my music crush and said, so eloquently, “Can I, like, talk to you for a second?”
We shook hands and reminisced over the Crescent Ballroom show. We talked high points of his solo tour and his upcoming reunion with his first band, Nickel Creek. I thanked him for being, well, him, and I even got my second (second!) Chris Thile hug before we separated in the night—him to dinner with his in-laws and me to a giggle fit in my car.
There is something to be said for great musicians. There is even more to be said for great musicians who are polite. They have a way of inspiring fellow artists to be the best they can be. Thile works hard, you can tell; he makes me want to work hard at my craft, too, but I hope I remember more than just that. I hope I remember to always be humble and never forget to say “thank you.”
Ask a person with social anxiety to speak in front of one hundred teens about social anxiety, and the irony is all too apparent. Still, when Gina’s Team asked, I said “yes,” and immediately asked myself WHY? What was I thinking? I’m terrified of speaking in public, but I resigned myself to my fate.
Gina’s Team is an organization founded by my friend, Sue Ellen Allen. Gina Panetta died while serving time with Sue Ellen at Perryville Prison. She died because of ignorance—Gina, a young woman with children who loved her. Now, Gina’s Team works to promote education and self-sufficiency for incarcerated women and men in Arizona.
Mingus Mountain Academy.
Wednesday, a group of us from Gina’s Team traveled to Prescott to visit the Mingus Mountain Academy. Mingus is a safe place for emotionally and behaviorally at-risk adolescent girls. The girls there are victims of abuse. Some are suicide attempt survivors, drug addicts, and criminals. Others have escaped sex trafficking and unsafe home environments. All in all, they are broken and in need of healing.
Upon our arrival, I was surprised at the attitudes of these young women. They approached us immediately, shook our hands, and introduced themselves. These are teenagers with a healthy respect for their elders and confidence not mustered by most adults. Impressive.
We congregated in the gymnasium for the speech segment. Three of us offered our input. Lori and Diana (both ex prison inmates I was blessed to work with at Perryville) told their stories of missing fathers, drug abuse, rape, and prison. When Lori broke down in tears, the girls of Mingus cheered her on and shouted, “We support you!” Some of them even joined in her tears, because they related—they understood.
As I mentioned, I was invited to speak about social anxiety and depression. I gave the narrative version of my life—from my days of black hair, cutting, and an abusive relationship to now. I told the story of meeting Jake, and the girls gave a standing ovation when I told them I’d been married two whole years. They were just so thrilled to hear I’d found someone—someone who loves me for who I am, who doesn’t hit me, who lets me be me.
Afterward, during the Q&A, they asked me to sing for them, which I did (another standing O). One girl was brave enough to ask how I stopped cutting, since she is a cutter herself. I channel my depression, anxiety, and rage into writing, so I told her she needs to find her cutting replacement, too. Another girl asked how to get over losing someone. The only thing I could tell her was time.
As we got ready to leave, young women ran to me to give me hugs and read me their poetry. I was amazed again by their self-confidence but also by their talent. The girls of Mingus can write!
On the drive back from Prescott, we read their comments. A repeated theme: “You give us hope.” I received a personal note, as well: “Sara, you inspire me to move on with my life.”
During my speech, I talked to them about a lot of things—about escapism, how to cheer up when in a funk, and how to be strong, especially in a world dominated by men. I also talked to them about God and how He gave me depression and anxiety for a reason: so that I could relate to others suffering from the same diseases and let them know life is never without hope.
I completely crashed after my trip to Mingus. I felt the lingering nausea, which always follows public speaking. As an introvert, my body was sapped of all energy. Yet, I basked in the images of my day—all those beautiful, broken girls and the way they cheered for us outsiders, strangers. They enveloped us in their love, despite perhaps feeling unloved themselves.
I hope to return to Mingus in September for their annual poetry slam contest. I can’t wait to hear more of their written words, their form of artistic escape. Until then, the girls will be in my prayers because I want the best for each and every one of them. They deserve the best.
The producers of BBC’s Sherlock did something really mean this week. They released a shot from a cut scene in the final episode of season three, “His Last Vow,” in which Irene Adler leaves Sherlock a single red rose in the hospital.
I’ve been writing a series about these two for over a year now, because I love them together. After the completion of “This is Not a Safe House, Part II,” I received several emails requesting a part III. But I had nothing else to say … until the aforementioned photo was released. Now, I have plenty to say.
Just for you, the beginning of “This is Not a Safe House, Part III.” For the story in its entirety, follow the link provided at the end. It’s Christmas!
This is Not a Safe House, Part III
by Sara Dobie Bauer
Sherlock Holmes in a hospital bed looked unreal, so in the darkness of night, she reached out her fingers and touched the skin around his white bandage. He was real. And warm. He was alive, breathing, asleep, and probably high on morphine. Comforted by the quiet sound of beeping machines that monitored his heart rate, Irene Adler was finally able to set the small vase and red rose on the table at the foot of his bed.
Should she wake him? If she did, she knew she would have to answer for herself—her absence. Perhaps if she woke him, he would think it but a dream and forget her by morning. But no, the rose would give her away. He would know it was from her, so maybe she should leave, just turn around and go, before those piercing blue eyes could stab her in the heart.
One more touch; she’d never been good at denying herself anything. She hoped the drugs were strong in his system as she leaned over and kissed his forehead.
His voice rumbled beneath her: “I was wondering if you were going to cut and run.”
She lingered with her mouth against his skin and then pulled back slowly. “So was I.” Irene looked down at the man she loved and hadn’t seen in over two years. He had aged some, filled out. Not so skinny anymore, and his features, more rugged. She knew she had changed, too.
“You didn’t answer me.” He sounded furious.
She stepped to the bottom of his hospital bed and smiled. “Did you ask a question?”
“When I came back to London, I sent for you. You didn’t answer.”
He tried to sit up, but his face melted into pained wrinkles.
She ran to him, her weakness showing. She put her hands on his chest and pushed him back against the bed. “Don’t,” she said.
She watched him take a few deep breaths, his eyes closed.
“You look different,” she whispered.
“I look different? You were blond last I saw you.”
She nodded, remembering their time in California. He’d talked as if they had a future then. He’d talked about her coming to hide at Baker Street when he came back to life in London—talked as if they might end up happy. Together.
He looked up at her, and she withered under his gaze. “Why didn’t you come back?”
“Who shot you?”
He chuckled, bit at his bottom lip. “Planning a vendetta?”
“Don’t call me that.”
Irene tried to hide behind her long hair, loose around her shoulders. Quietly, she asked again, “Who shot you?”
(Read the full story HERE.)
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Last week, we celebrated the veto of a ridiculous discrimination bill (SB 1062), which means (yay) I don’t have to leave the state. On a personal note, I received word that my first published work of 2014 will be my short story “Don’t Ball the Boss”—an audacious gay romance about a celeb and his PA.
Finally, though (and come on, most importantly), last Thursday was Dallas Arizona’s birthday. I met Dallas a couple years ago. He’s probably the most famous gay guy in Phoenix and not only because he’s hot but because he’s sweet and he can dance. He dances often, all over the city, but my favorite venue for a good old Dallas time is at Ice Pics Video Bar on McDowell.
The place looks scary from the outside because there are no windows, and the front door is sort of hard to find. Whenever I’ve gone there, I’m one of the only chicks; seriously, you can hear crickets singing when I walk in the front door.
Ice Pics is dark on purpose. Inside, there are TV screens everywhere, playing clips of old musicals and current music videos. There’s a dance floor and stage. They have indecently cheap drinks. And despite the fact that my girlfriends and I are usually the only chicks, we feel welcome.
The thing I’ve realized about Ice Pics: you have to come prepared. The friendliness of its clientele can be truly overwhelming. Case in point: Thursday, Dallas’s birthday. As soon as I saw Dallas (who was wearing nothing but fluorescent yellow underwear stuffed with dollar bills, of course), I was wrapped in a huge hug and my picture was taken. I was introduced around, hugged some more.
I’m in there somewhere …
I soon had gay boys circling me like friendly, smiling sharks. They wanted to talk about my outfit, my hair, my body, my lipstick. If you don’t take a complement well, do not go to Ice Pics. You will shrivel and pass out under the adoring scrutiny of the men inside.
When I go to Ice Pics, I feel like I’m on vacation—and, it seems, so does everyone else. There is long, loud laughter and sudden, unexpected stage performances by Dallas and his crew. One second, you’re outside talking to a strange, tall boy in multi-colored skivvies. The next, you’re inside, and Dallas is in a wig and glitter, dancing to the Bee Gees. Next, you’re on stage, too! You just never know.
Last week, we in Arizona celebrated the epic failure of a disgusting piece of legislature, but we also celebrated Dallas. I’m happy to know him, and I’m happy to live in a place with a pretty rocking gay scene.