My New Reading Lamp

Can I get real nerdy with y’all for a moment? ‘Cause I just got a new reading lamp, and I’m more excited about it than I probably should be. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I remember when I went from living on campuses with my partner (who was a hall director, and therefore had to live on) to owning my own house – and suddenly having to buy lightbulbs for the first time in almost a decade. Bulbs had changed – and suddenly there were just SO many options. It was overwhelming.

Cut to me buying a lamp for the first time in eight years. [facepalm] Not only can I now control the brightness, I can control the color – from white to yellow?? As someone with light-sensitive headaches, this is a game changer. Lamps have come a long way, y’all. (Yeah, I realize I’m late to the game. Just let me nerd out a bit. ;-P )

Low-level white light
Fully-bright white light
Fully-bright yellow light

Do you ever get really nerdy over things like this? What’s your nerdy thing?

Cover Design

Probably the thing that worries me most about self-publishing my second book is the cover. Not in the “will people love it” sense – but in the “what if I can’t get it to look how I want” sense, in the “what if I royally mess up the dimensions” sense.

I know – I know there are folks that you can pay to create covers for you (and that a LOT of places recommend not creating your own covers for various reasons). I get that. But I also know a lot of folks don’t have the money to pay for such work (if they are at the cover stage, they’ve probably already paid a chunk of money for editing). So I thought I’d share a couple resources that I’ve come across that are incredibly helpful. These resources are more about the particulars (like dimensions) of the cover rather than the design of it.

The first thing I would recommend is getting a Canva account if you haven’t already. You don’t need a pro account in order to design within Canva, though if you intend to use their images, you will be limited without it. If you are planning to use an image you own the rights to (either you have created it yourself or you have paid someone to create it), then no need to pay for the pro version. (If you are an author with social media and don’t already have a Canva account, trust me – it can be your new best friend. So easy, even without the paid version, to create posts for things like Instagram or Facebook; you can also create flyers and bookmarks – the Canva world is your oyster.)

The first resource is How to Create a Book Cover Using Canva. This will walk you through step by step, including signing up for Canva. So if you are worried because you’re a beginner, there’s no need. They’ve got you here.

The most important piece of information you will need in order to create your cover will be how many pages your book will be. (This means that you will have already had to format it.) Once you have that, you can hop over to How large should my cover be? After a few clicks for your specifications, click calculate – this will let you know how large the spine needs to be.

If you’re not at the stage where you know how many pages/how big to make the spine, I’d still recommend playing around in Canva, getting to know the program. Maybe even create a cover you’d like to have. You can then workshop it. Then, once you do have the size of the spine, you’re ready to go.

Chai

I love chai masala. I could drink it every single day and never get sick of it. I’m a ginger fiend. The cloves and cardamom and cinnamon are like a spicy hug. The little boost of caffeine helps me in my moments of need. It’s all perfection.

In my stories, my characters are all a piece of me in some way, so it’s no surprise that most of them drink chai. During the “search and edit overused words” phase of my first book, for kicks and giggles, I decided to search for the word chai:

As I told my writing buddy, Jack – I regret nothing. Chai masala is delicious. The end.

There’s not a coffee shop in this city that I haven’t taste-tested the chai. Some are deliciously spicy; others taste like cinnamon oat milk. I will drink it plain. I will dress it up as a latte. I will, sometimes, even try a new flavor. (The Sweetie Pie Chai I once had in at the Steaming Cup in Waukesha, WI, is still a favorite – a chai masala latte with English Toffee flavoring.) My tea cubby is easily 75% different versions of chai. So it’s unsurprising that this particular drink ends up in my writing. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

If you, like me, enjoy chai, I offer you this recipe – a homemade chai concentrate:

Chai Masala Concentrate

  • 2 inches ginger, sliced thinly
  • 2-4 cinnamon sticks
  • 10 cloves
  • 10-15 cardamom pods
  • 15-20 black peppercorns
  • (option – you can add a star anise or two)
  • 10 cups water
  • 10 teaspoons loose leaf black tea

An optional (but recommended step) is to break (but not pulverize into powder) cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and peppercorns (it’s important not to turn them into powder because then you can’t strain them out of the concentrate). On medium heat, dry roast the spices in a pot for a minute (or until they become fragrant). This will only kick the chai up a level – but it’s not necessary.

Add the water and bring to a boil; boil for five minutes (if you don’t dry roast, give them ten minutes to boil). Your house is going to smell amazing right about now! Bring down to a simmer and add the black tea and mix well. Simmer for five minutes. Remove from heat. (I’m not a sweet tea drinker – so I don’t add anything, but you can add sugar to taste at this step – stir until it dissolves.) At this point, you’ll want to trust your tongue. You will want this to taste like tea – and we don’t want to tip over into bitter. The recipe calls to let it all steep for another fifteen minutes off the heat. Remember that this is a concentrate – so it will taste strong.

Strain liquid to remove tea leaves and spices. Store in the fridge. Use 1:1 ration with your preferred milk or milk substitute. You can serve it steamed, heated, or chilled.

Fun addition – if you like vanilla chai, I recommend making your own vanilla extract* and adding a splash to your chai. (*1 cup vodka, 1 vanilla bean scored with a sharp knife – put bean and vodka into air tight container and let sit a minimum of eight weeks, giving a gentle shake now and then)

Meet Lucy

With the decision to self-publish, I thought I would dedicate at least one post a month to this book – in this instance, introducing you to the main character. The idea for Lucy first took hold maybe five years ago. I had a flash of a young girl, adopted, who was in search of her birth family – and innocently stumbled upon the fact that she can see her dead ancestors. (Well, imprints of them.)

When I sat down to actually start writing the story, I opted to “cast” Sophie Skelton as Lucy (I like having a solid idea of what my characters look like for consistency purposes, so it’s helpful to have a specific image to refer to). She had the right look of what I had been imagining for Lucy, right down to the wavy, red hair. It was around this time that I also realized that Lucy’s story would land her in Scotland (for anyone who knows me, it was only a matter of time before Scotland showed up in a story somewhere). I just didn’t know yet how the pieces would all tie together.

It was important for me that this story not be about the trauma of being adopted in the sense that she would be taken into a truly loving family – the curiosity about her birth family wasn’t going to be a search for a “better” family. Instead, it’s a search for understanding herself. 

In this story, Lucy’s adopted father was a foster child himself, and he was given a life (as he tells it) when he was adopted by Grandma Fran (named after my own grandmother – technically an adopted grandmother, but we never thought of her that way – she was just Grandma), who let him finally be a kid. It was his life’s goal to do the same for other such children. He even went into social services as a career, which was how he first encounters Lucy as a one-year-old child.

Even so, she just can’t help but wonder what her life might have been like, what her birth family might have been like. She struggles throughout the book because she’s afraid that admitting this curiosity will make her adopted family feel that they weren’t enough for her when they absolutely have been.

But then she runs into a dead ancestor while in New York city – and she feels she has no choice but to discover whatever she can about the family she lost.

A Story a Day: Month Ten

For this month, I chose at random stories by LGBT+ writers in honor of October being LGBT History Month. I found them through google searches looking first for LGBT+ writers, then for LGBT+ specific literary journals. As with the previous nine months, I have no idea what these stories are about – the goal is simply to experience new writing. Feel free to read along!

  1. The Last Performance of the High Priestess of the Temple of Horror” by Carmen Maria Machado
  2. Judy in Her Good Robe” by T Kira Mahealani Madden
  3. Five Wounds” by K-Ming Chang
  4. Wise Ale” by SJ Sindu
  5. Ground Fighting” by Venita Blackburn
  6. I’ve opted to delete today’s story because after reading it, it’s definitely not something I feel comfortable endorsing.
  7. The World Well Lost” by Theodore Sturgeon
  8. I am a homosexual, mum” by Binyavanga Wainaina
  9. My Fellow Passerine” by Jay Wayne
  10. The Problem Is” by Dena Linn is
  11. The Heart Specialist” by Shuvayon Mukherjee
  12. Guava” by Kaiomi Inniss
  13. Our Father” by J.C. Lovero
  14. The Secret Stirrings of Pelago Bay” by Kim Kelly Stamp
  15. World Got Smaller” by Yves
  16. Dysphoria’s Love Letter” by Parker Adams
  17. The Door on the Left” by Ari Masters
  18. Bigger Than the Light” by A.Dot Ram
  19. Temper Me to Pieces” by Hale
  20. (De) Composition” by Kit Lascher
  21. The Fox” by Bishop V. Navarro
  22. Ratmilk” by Never Angeline North
  23. Your Childhood Best Friend Gets Her Hands on Some Questionable Dope” by Jasmine Sawers
  24. Dear Reader” by Min Staussman
  25. SINGLE CAPRICORN” by Abigail Swoboda
  26. good boy” by travis tate
  27. some stories never #lyft you up” by Addie Tsai
  28. One Story” by Beasa Akuba Dukes
  29. cool air” by Edward Wells
  30. Six-Month Skid” by C.A. Munn
  31. Screen Time Up 16% This Week” by Charlotte A. Paige

Celebrating my Writing Buddy

A photograph of my bookshelf displaying my friend Jack Lelko's book with a cartoon finger pointing at it.

I first met Ophelia O’Leary several years ago. She was smart and complex and a little bit sassy – not unlike her creator, Jack Lelko (who you all know as my writing buddy). I’ve had the chance to revisit her world a few times over the years – most recently when I set her published pages on my waiting bookshelf (the same shelf I’d been pointing eagerly to every time he and I FaceTimed while I was in my office, going – see, right here is where your book is going!).

It’s been such a joy watching my friend Jack go through the process of self-publishing his book. Not everything went smoothly, mind you – but he was going for it, and I was so happy to see him believe in himself and his story so much. This was a labor of love…and blood and sweat and tears and, allegedly, a sacrifice or two. But Ophelia is out in the world – meeting people and causing chaos, as she was designed to do.

Photograph of a display shelf at Nook & Cranny Books in Seattle - displaying a copy of my friend Jack Lelko's book.
Jack’s book on display at Nook & Cranny Books in Seattle, WA (USA)

She’s been out in the world a couple of months, now, but yesterday was the first time I’d been able to see my Jack in person (I live in the Midwest; he’s on the coast) – and I couldn’t let the occasion go without a celebration of this special story.

If you like Christmas, chaos, and cheekiness – with a bit of magic realism and whimsy thrown in – I encourage you to visit Ophelia and her friends in Nollag. You can find Christmas Bitch in many places, including at BookShop.Org.

To celebrate properly, we of course needed a cake*:

*So, I’m not going to say where I got this cake. Because when I went in the first time to ask about pricing, no one said anything about the use of “bitch” in the title. Then I went in to place the order, and I was told that they couldn’t do it because it’s not ‘family friendly.’ I was given the option to have it done but with “bitch” covered over in red. (I asked if they had any recommendations of where I could go to have it done, and they listed off places that wouldn’t do it because “they’re moral, too.” [strained smile]) I realize I should have considered this was a possibility – but, again, no one said anything when I went in to have a consultation about it. At this point, I was out of time, so I said fine, figuring I’d buy some icing and write it in myself. Then, when I went to pick it up, I saw the moment when the person going through the cooler looking for my name on a cake realized which cake I was picking up – they glanced around, came over to me with the cake in a cardboard box (instead of the normal see-through plastic), and whispered – “So, I did it anyway. Please don’t open the box in the store.” To the person that “did it anyway,” thank you – there’s no way I wouldn’t have ruined this cake trying to write it in…

Bookworm Gardens

Yes, it’s getting colder. Yes, you can now get just about any beverage with a dose of pumpkin spice. Yes, school is back in session and snow is inevitable. [enter sobbing here]

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still adventures to be had – and we sure love any adventures dealing with books. And let me tell you, if you’ve never been to Bookworm Gardens in Sheboygan, WI – you are missing out.

Bookworm Gardens opened it’s (out)doors in 2010 and is now home to over seventy different gardens – all inspired by children’s literature and driven by their mission is to “enrich the mind, body, and spirit of the young and young at heart.”

While the Gardens are an adventure on their own, there are also themed events to keep an eye out for. Last summer, I had the chance to share Bookworm Gardnes with my nephew and sister, and we arrived without knowing it was fairy day – in addition to exploring the Gardens, we also got to decorate our own wands, got our faces painted, and even built a ‘ready to move in” home for tiny fairies. 

Some special events that still remain are the Boos + Brews (young at heart only) on Oct 14 and the Happily Haunted Gardens (all ages) on Oct 16-16, 20-23, and 27-30 (from 5 -8 p.m. each night, with “twinkly lights, live book characters, entertainment, trick or treat stations and fun surprises during this beloved, not-so-spooky event”). See the Bookworm Gardens website for more information and to get your advance tickets.

The Gardens are currently open Wednesday through Sunday until the end of October from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. (except for Sunday, when the gardens are open 9-5). If you can’t make it before October ends, don’t worry – they will open again in May! See the Bookworm Gardens website for more information about reservations and admission prices.

My nephew creating a fairy home during our visit (which turned out to be fairy day).

Another Cave Point Post

Back in March, I wrote about a wintery trip my friend, Jen, and I took to Cave Point. We’ve since bookended our summer with another trek to our favorite spot on Earth. It’s hard to believe summer, defined here as the time period between the end of one academic year and the start of another, is over. But here I am, four weeks into the new year (five if you count in-service). And I’m still trying to figure out what happened to summer.

Well, I do know, of course. I taught this summer. I took care of the house (really looking forward to being able to put that mower away for the winter…). I took care of my cat, who started on meds, who injured her leg, who has been switched to a new diet so that I don’t have to force her to take a pill twice a day. I created material for a new course I’m now four weeks into teaching. I dealt with not one, but two trees falling on my things. I mean – who saw that coming? Not this girl.

And I wrote (a bit). I didn’t quite make my goals of words in my WIP or with reading (I still have two Anne of Green Gables books left). But summer threw a lot my way, so I’m ok with where things are. Goals are made to motivate us. And they can be revised.

Taking the day to head up north and traipse around with my friend was just what my little soul needed. I always feel refreshed after – the fresh air, the heart to heart chats, the sound of the water crashing into the cliffs. There is not a time of the year that I don’t love this place – and every time we go, not matter the weather, we say the same thing – what a perfect day to be here.

And it was a perfect day. The bright sky – the shade from the trees. The water level was low enough that we could still safely climb around – but the wind was moving enough that we still got some epic splashes. I already can’t wait to get back. Maybe once the colors change. 🙂

I don’t think I will ever take a more perfect splash photo. (That’s my friend, Jen.)

1,000,000 Words

Normally, I have no idea how many words I read in a year because I don’t track them. I’m also not someone who usually sets goals for reading because I’ve never needed an incentive to do it (plus, my life isn’t consistent in its chaos, so it’s hard to know what I can feasibly accomplish or not).

It seemed easy enough, though, to add a short story to my mornings (even if I have to occasionally punt that story to my evening and set a reminder in my phone to read it). Enter the “A Story A Day” challenge.

Well, as of today, this short story challenge has added an additional million words read to my year. Not something I was aiming for – just a fun surprise when my excel sheet updated this morning and hit seven figures. 🙂

Wherever Would I Be

I’ve made a fairly big decision about my second baby – Lucy’s story. I’ve decided that I will be self-publishing this novel. It might not feel like a big decision to most – but it feels big to me.

There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is because of my experience with the publication of my first book. As a debut writer, especially, there is a lot that is out of your control. Understandably. (But also, of course, frustratingly.)

I started writing this manuscript, my love letter to Scotland (my first, I guess I should say – there will certainly be more), on July 1 of 2020, though the idea came to me much earlier than that. As with my first book (and each book since), I “casted” my characters to help give me a static idea of what they would look like. I wrote out the (tentative) outline of the story. Then I got to writing.

The first full draft of the book was 60K. [chuckles] I was SO eager to get to the Scotland part of the story that I absolutely RUSHED the rest of it. I was left with a skeleton of a story. I immediately went through the manuscript to fill it out – to slow down the parts that I had rushed. I ended up somewhere around 76K. Better – but still short. I decided then to call on my trusty beta readers – asking them specifically where they would want/need more. With their help (I did a revision after each of the three sent their comments back), I ended up with a story of 83K that I absolutely loved. A story about family. About identity. About journeys – both metaphorical and literal.

I, however, still had no title for it. [chuckles flatly] Titles are the worst. For a brief moment, the title was Luminous. Also, it was Looking for Lucy for a bit. And a few others. I finally landed on Wherever Would I Be, which has stuck.

I did spend some time querying, to no luck. There were a number of folks who liked the story, but for this reason or that felt they weren’t the right ones to champion it. (Doesn’t matter how it’s framed, the rejection still smarts, right?) I did submit to RevPit just to see if there was interest. And this is where the seed of self-publishing officially took root. One of the editors I had subbed to wrote me after the announcements were made (I was not chosen) about the connection she had to the story and gave me some feedback on the pages she had read. What she wrote made me feel like she understood the story.

I reached out and asked if she would do a line edit for me. I sent along a sample chapter, and her response, again, made me feel like I could trust her with the work (she said it didn’t need a line edit and offered what her plan would be). I said yes, we signed a contract, and now I’m awaiting her email (which should arrive today). I’m looking forward to seeing what she had to say and for a chance to jump back into this story again.