Unbranding.

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Branding.

As far as I’m concerned, this is a bizarre concept.

For as long as I’ve been writing and publishing, I’ve been told I’ve got to “be a brand.”

“Sell my brand.”

“Become my brand.”

“Promote my brand.”

And it’s weird, I think, because a brand is something like, Suave shampoo. Or a GMC truck. Oil of Olay lotion.

And I am a human being.

I am not a product. I am not a brand. I am not for sale.

I mean, I sort of understand what this advice is trying to tell me. I’ve got a product, my books. And if I want to sell them, I’ve got to be a business person. I get that.

But most of this advice feels like it’s trying to turn me into something I am not. Acting as though I am a brand or a product instead of just myself is like insisting I wear my hair straight because that’s what’s in style. Or that I dress properly in the latest fashion, name brand clothes.

Sorry. I can’t be that.

My hair is an unruly, curly mess, and I like it that way.

I’m a jeans and T-shirt, or peasant skirt with combat boots kind of girl. That’s me.

It goes entirely against my grain to pretend to be something I am not.

If I can tell you anything honestly about myself, it’s that I’m pretty transparent. What you see is what you get. I love Jesus, but sometimes I cuss. I try to be organized, but my house is always a chaotic mess. I am a terribly awkward human. I’ll help anyone out to the best of my ability, but I won’t be taken advantage of. I have an abnormal addiction to potato chip dip. I read so much sometimes I forget to fix dinner. Sometimes I’m too loud. Sometimes I can’t tolerate being around other people at all. If I make a promise to you, I will do my level best to keep it. I am imperfect.

I am all these things.

But I am not a brand. Not a product.

I am a human being who writes. Yes, I tell people about my work. Yes, I want you to buy it.

But not at the risk of giving up on myself, or turning myself into something I do not wish to be.

So if you follow me, you’ll see promos, sure. You’ll see me talking about my books, the highs and lows of writing them. You’ll see pictures of my kids and my dogs, because my family is my world. You’ll see jokes, and stories about my life. And I try to stay involved with the people who faithfully follow me around on the internet, liking my writing, sharing it, reviewing it, talking about it. I appreciate you, every one of you. You make me smile. You are helping me to do this thing I’ve wanted to do since I started writing really bad, really dramatic poetry in the seventh grade.

You are important to me. I love to see your posts, your kids, your pets.

I want to see you, as YOU. I don’t want to get to know a fake you.

I appreciate realness and honesty.

I can’t pretend to be something I am not. But I will keep writing books, and telling you about them, and hoping you will buy them, so I can keep writing more.

Please never think of me as some nameless, faceless brand.

I’m not. I’m just me.

The wild-haired hippie chick writer who lives on the corner in the house with all the kids and the unkempt yard with the hysterically barking little dogs in the window.

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The Camping Hell Vacation.

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For the last two weeks, we’ve been camping.

We haven’t been that far from home, as my husband didn’t actually have time off work. But we went anyway, seeking a bit of respite from the everyday noise we live day in, day out.

Before we left, we talked about how we’d relax, sit in the sun. Swim every day. Take the kayaks out.

These were nice thoughts.

We came to the campground on a Saturday and set up the trailer. If you’ve ever done this, you’ll know it’s pretty well an all day job. If you haven’t, watch the movie RV with Robin Williams.

Then you will know. You will understand.

That first day is sort of exhausting, especially when you add in four kids and two dogs.

So anyway.

We get in, right, find a good spot with enough of a back lot to set up a few games and it’s got a good fire pit. Close to the outdoor pool. We pull in, get the rig leveled, get it unhooked from the Yukon.

At that point in the day, it was about six thousand degrees in the sun. We all were drenched in sweat, carrying around equipment, getting the electric and water hooked up, hauling out camping chairs.

Finally, we were done.

Problem: we had not yet purchased any food for this impromptu little trip. The trailer was too hot to leave the dogs in while we left, so we took them with us, even though my 5 year old dog, Zoey, is hysterical about car rides.

I don’t mean hysterical in a good way, either. Everyone was hot and hungry, and of course the kids were complaining, when do we get to eat, Mom, Mom, Mom, we’re dying Mom, Mom? Mom! We’re starving to death! MOM! So we think, God, we’ll just grab Taco Bell right quick, then go buy groceries. No campfire tonight.

But it was still awfully hot outside, and we worried that if we left the dogs in the car it would be too hot, and if we rolled the windows down while we ate, there was a likelihood that Zoey would attempt escape, due to her aforementioned vehicle hysteria.

Problem: What to do with the dogs while we eat and shop for groceries? Bingo! Husband has a brilliant idea, he’ll drive up the road a few miles, leave the dogs with his brother. Pick them up when we’re done.

So we drop the dogs off, and as we’re pulling out, they’re staring at us out the window, forlorn, clearly we’ve abandoned them, Mom? Mom? Mom! Where are you going? MOM! DON’T LEAVE US HERE TO DIE!

And the kids in the backseat: Mom? Mom! Are we going to eat now? Can we eat? What are we going to eat? Why can’t we eat right this second? Is food going to happen soon?

So we get to Taco Bell. Manage a fairly uneventful meal. Head to the local grocery store.

This was about eleven at night. My daughter decides she’s too exhausted from the day to be able to shop with us, so she stays in the car. Husband, me, and three kids head in. This is an unfamiliar grocery store, so we’re walking slow, trying to find everything. Trying to think what we need, why didn’t we write a list? Our brains are too hot and too tired and too filled with tacos to think straight.

And the children all have their own sugar agendas. They take advantage of our zombie-like state. Mom? Mom! They wave boxes around at us. Can I have this? Please! I need this! Mom? Mom! I’ve never had a triple berry cream cheese chocolate icing covered Danish! I NEED THIS! PLEASE! Lemon bars? Mom? Mom! MOMMOMMOMMOMOMOM! Fruit snacks? Bananas! OH MY GOD! Look! New flavors of Doritos! PLEEEEAAAASSSEEE! We give in on things we never ever buy. What the heck. It’s vacation. Sort of. In some way. We’re camping five miles from home. Still.

Also, we are too tired to read ingredients. Husband and I meet eyes over the yelps of the children. We know what we want. Oh yeah. We nod at each other, smiling slowly.

Sleep. We want sleep.

As long as whatever the kids are throwing in the shopping cart doesn’t sport a poisonous decal on the side, we don’t care. Whatever. Let’s just get this miserable job done.

Also, I slipped a couple of clearance rack tank tops and a sweater in, because I’ve lived with my husband for over twenty-two years now, and I perceived he was too tired to realize what I was doing.

But I mean, heck. It’s vacation.

Finally, we finish. Pick the dogs back up. Drive out to the campground. Try to keep everyone quiet so no cranky neighbors call security on us, because it’s happened before (when one of my kids was laughing out loud at two a.m.) and we haul all the groceries into the trailer. Put them away. Think longingly about sleep. Sleep. SLEEEEEEEP.

Tomorrow will be fun, kids. Mom promises. But right now you all need to just shut up and go nighty night, okey dokey artichokey?

After a brief episode about people fighting over which beds they get, the kids start getting their beds ready. This is where the vacation started to take a left turn.

Sort of, veered off the road and off a cliff, into a lake, as it were.

My daughter was folding down the couch bed and froze. “Uh…Mom?” She sounded sort of panicked.

I mumble something to the effect of, “Whaaa…sleep…sshhhh…”

“The floor is broken. I mean, cracked. I mean, the floor under the couch is ripping apart.”

Oh. Yay.

Surely this can’t be right. The floor was perfectly fine at the end of last summer, the last time we used the trailer. I go to inspect.

But she’s right. There is a long tear in the linoleum. I slump my shoulders and go to tell my husband.

He kneels down to check it out. Grabs a piece of linoleum, rips it right apart. “There’s water under here,” he says. “Standing water. I wonder where that’s coming from. Get the flashlight.”

I get the flashlight. He inspects further. “Oh,” he says. “There’s bugs down here, too.”

“BUGS!” my daughter screams, grabbing her bedding and jumping to the bunk bed, where her brother is already half-asleep.

Probably termites, I think. That would be our luck.

We get towels. Soak up the water. Husband takes a knife and cuts out a giant chunk of the linoleum. He is fascinated with the bugs. I am fascinated with the thought of sleep.

He asks Siri about the bugs. Siri says they are mold mites.

“OH MY GOD THE BUGS!” my daughter is shouting. “THIS IS THE MOST DISGUSTING THING TO EVER HAPPEN OH MY GOD!”

So by the time we get the mess cleaned up, and the bugs safely vacuumed away, it’s about four in the morning. Finally, time to sleep.

Except, it began to rain. It rained and it rained and thundered and the lightning was so bright, it kept lighting up the entire trailer. And my husband kept getting up to check on the floor, see if more water was coming in. At some point, he went to the bathroom, where he found water coming in from the little skylight, and mopped that up, left a towel down. Mumbled something about fixing it tomorrow.

Eventually, the rain stopped. And that’s when we heard the clack-clack-clacking sound coming from the air conditioner.

We turned the fan up, then down. Fooled with the temperature. Husband took some mysterious part of the AC unit down, inspected it. Couldn’t figure it out. Swore. Mumbled. Put it back together.

Monday he had to work. And at work, he kept thinking about the reason the little skylight might be leaking. So when he got back to the campground that afternoon, he grabs the ladder, climbs up on top of the trailer, and instructs me to go into the bathroom, and crank the handle until he says stop.

So I do. He’s crouched up above the thing, this little plastic dome, pushing, pushing, as I crank. I can see his face turning red. It’s hot outside. He’s determined to fix SOMETHING.

But the thing would not shut all the way. And I had cranked it all the way down. I see this look of resolve pass across his face, and I think, DON’T. But…he does.

He takes his palm and slams it against the plastic. It shatters, and little bits of plastic and sawdust rain down on my head. I think, this is beginning to feel like we are trapped in some version of a National Lampoon’s Never ending Miserable Camping Vacation movie.

So now, he’s stomping around on top of the trailer. Muttering, cussing, talking about burning the trailer down, the stupid piece of bleep bleep bleep, wishes he’d never bought the mother effing bleep bleep bleep, can’t get a break no matter how hard he tries, etcetera.

My son stands frozen for a second, then hollers, “Um, Dad, I’ll run up to the camp store, see if I can find anything to fix it! Maybe they got…I dunno…duct tape or something!” and off he runs.

Smart boy, I think. I wish I had thought of a reason to run.

Instead, I stay put, cleaning up the mess. Listening to husband have a breakdown on top of the trailer.

Lightbulb! I say, Hey, I’ll go up to the camp store and see if they have a service out here, or know a company that does on site repair.

Husband waves at me to go on and go, disgusted with the trailer, with himself for pushing too hard, with camping, with life in general, why can’t he just be a single guy with an easy life, living on a beach in Florida.

So I get a name of a company, bring it back. He calls, leaves a message. We sit at the trailer the remainder of the day, waiting for the company to call back, or show up. They don’t.

Finally, later the next day, a big, burly woman in a van pulls in to our campsite. I show her the problems we are having. She checks the air conditioner. She checks the little skylight.

She tells me to tell my husband to quit trying to fix things. I do not relay this advice to my husband.

She fixes the skylight, but can’t do much other than super glue a piece of the air conditioner, something about the fan blade blah blah, but they don’t make them anymore, blah blah, hope this glue will just hold on for a little while, anyway kids. That’ll be two hundred bucks, thanks, call me anytime.

At that point, my kids had invited some friends out to stay over. They were looking forward to going up to swim, do some fun stuff. I stayed back at the trailer as the repair lady fixed our broken stuff. I think, well, anyway, I can enjoy the sun. Sit out here and crochet, read, work on my new novel.

I put on sunblock, but burnt through it anyway, as I generally do, because I got the fair Irish skin of my ancestors. I went in, put a little aloe on, came back out to work, tried to find a slightly shadier spot.

My skin feels weird. More than the painful feeling of burnt skin. It feels…I don’t know. Can’t figure it out. Itchy, I guess. Itchy on top of the sunburn. Several hours later, I realize this is not just sunburn. It’s a rash. A terribly itchy, painful, burnt, filled with hives, rash. I drink some Nyquil, as it’s the only thing with antihistamine in it that I’ve got at hand.

The next day the rash was worse. I went out, bought some Benedryl, and some Benedryl cream. I think, surely this will clear up soon. I can’t think of anything strange I’ve gotten into. I begin to wonder if the nice woods behind our lot has something poisonous in it. Wouldn’t that be just my luck?

We went up to go play mini golf with the kids. On the way, the service airbags light comes on in my Yukon.

Next day, husband goes to work, I take the Yukon in to be serviced. No problem, bad sensor, have fixed by this afternoon, that’ll be two hundred eight-three dollars, thanks, call us anytime, pleasure working with you.

By then, the rash had worsened and was making me so insane with the itchiness, I made myself a doctor appointment. Doctor looks me over, questions me, decides I am allergic to the sun, puts me on steroids.

“…and Valarie?” she says as I’m leaving. “Try to stay out of the sun.”

No swimming for me. No kayaking. This sucks.

But all of this was worth it, totally worth it, guys. Because of one conversation.

My husband was making a big breakfast the other day, outside. French toast, sausage patties, eggs. As he was getting ready to cook, the older man camped next to us wandered over, struck up a conversation. He was a nice guy, said he was seventy-five, and his eyes were lined from frequent smiles, and his skin was tan. The kids were still half-asleep, and I brought out my little crochet bag, sat down under the awning in my lawn chair, and got back to work on a granny square blanket I’d been working on.

The man looked at me and grinned. “Hey,” he says. “My wife used to do that. That thing…”he waved at my hand holding the crochet hook, “that thing with the, the hook there, and the uh, string. Er, thread. Yarn. Whatever.”

I smile pleasantly. “Oh yeah? That’s nice.”

“Yup. She did that for years, but she give it up now. Now she does needlework.”

“Mmmhhmmn.”

He suddenly slaps my husband hard on the back. “Do you know what she used to make? Peter warmers!”

My husband’s eyes widen. He coughs. He mumbles something indeterminate.

The man carries on. “Made them all the time. It was great. Birthdays, Christmas. Peter warmers, all the time. Like a gag, see.”

Husband says something along the lines of, “Oh yeah, hhmmn, nice, haha.”

They stand in silence for a few moments, sipping coffee, staring at the woods. The man breaks out into he-hawing laughter. “Goddam peter warmers, for Christ sake! Hahahahaha!” He slaps my husband on the back again. My husband laughs obediently.

“Warmers! For peters!”

Now they are both laughing so hard, they are bent down, coffees forgotten on the picnic table, holding their knees, quite literally hooting, laughing so hard the sound becomes just repetitive harsh, raspy breaths shoved out through ridiculously wide smiles.

As soon as they’d begin to settle down, the man would hoot again and shout, “Goddam peter warmers! PETER WARMERS!” and off they’d go again.

“Peter warmers! So they don’t get cold!”

Finally, the man says, “Well, I’ll let you get back to making breakfast. Good talking to ya!” and heads back to his trailer. My husband stands, spatula in hand, watching the man’s legs disappear around the side of his camper. Once they are safely inside and we’ve heard the door close, my husband slid over to me and whispered, “Was that guy talking about peter warmers? Is that really what he said? I wasn’t entirely sure…”

And that was when the dark clouds rolled in out of nowhere, and the winds were suddenly 60 MPH, and the kids and their friends started running around, trying to catch things that were suddenly airborne, like our yorkie, and the platter of sausages flipped over and blew away…

Author Interview with Michelle Picarella

Wonderful blog post about a fantastic author, friend, and publisher.

Darke Conteur

A little late than never… 😛

This month I give you an interview with a good friend and fellow author, Michelle Picarella. Not only is she CEO of Twisted Core Press, and their anthology imprint 7DS, but she has released a new book called Livian.

  1. Let’s get to know you a bit. Where are you from, and what genre do you write?

bethehappilyeverafterI’m Michelle Anderson Picarella, a born Tarheel. (I claim both North and South Carolina as my home.) My writing genres vary, though I tend to lean toward fantasy and anything with a comedic flare. I especially like writing family-friendly works. Beyond writing, I am a publisher- a part of 7DS Books and Twisted Core Press. We publish the truly twisted concepts of fiction. If you can compare a book as similar to another popular book, it isn’t Twisted. We are here to give the readers something they’ve never…

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Help me help others.

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I love buying indie books.

When I hold them in my hands, it’s almost as if I can feel a piece of the author’s strength.

Writing a book is hard. Publishing a book, well, that takes a particular sort of strength.

It’s more than hard work. It’s taking your raw soul and sticking it out on the front porch, where passerby might point and laugh at it.

There’s always that risk. And here’s the thing: we are aware of that risk before we hit the publish button.

We do it anyway.

We do it because for the 99 people who might point and laugh, there is one who doesn’t.

For that one reader, we might build a connection. That connection is worth it. It’s worth it to me.

It’s worth it for so many other indie and small press authors I know.

I love weird art. I love attending craft fairs and coming across some tiny booth with a nervous artist who isn’t sure of themselves. They’ve toiled for months over their idea, struggling, failing, trying again.

They’ve loved their weird little idea so much, they’ve stayed up past midnight, long after the kids are in bed, knowing they’ve got to be up early for work. They’ve sacrificed money and valuable time and brought their art to a craft show or Ren Faire or Farmer’s Market, and they stand there, shifting around, hoping someone will stop by and notice their pieces.

These are the people I try to support. If I’ve got a choice between supporting Wally World and their cheap, mass-produced items or purchasing a creation born of love and independent spirit, I’m going to choose the struggling artist every time.

I rather desperately want a yarn bowl. I know a girl taking classes, learning to make vases and cups. Her skill set isn’t yet at a place where she can make me what I want, so I will wait. It might be another year or two. I would rather purchase a unique yarn bowl from someone I know.

I love imperfect art. When one edge is a little lopsided, that’s the one I choose. And I love to get to know other artists and have the opportunity to watch their art improve over time, to watch that spark of joy in their eyes when they’ve almost made their vision into reality.

I work so hard to help support other artists because I understand that feeling of having this great idea inside and desperately itching to make that idea into something tangible. When an artist finds their perfect niche, it’s an amazing thing to watch. The focus, the sacrifice, an artist is willing to make to see their idea come to fruition.

When I make a profit selling my books, I try always to take a portion (sometimes it’s a very small portion) and feed that back into the indie community. Because I love to read and write, I very often use that money to buy indie and small press books. By supporting indie and small press authors, I’m also helping to support their editors, cover artists, and formatters. It helps all of these people get the opportunity to make more art.

Or I might buy a single from a new indie band. (FYI, check out Deadman Fall.) Or a crooked piece of jewelry from a new crafter.

Sometimes, I pay my bills and take care of my household and there is no extra money to do this. But I still want to be supportive. So I write reviews for indie and small press books and post them on multiple sites. I share those reviews on Twitter and Facebook. I add books to my Pinterest book boards. I shout on social media about indie books and indie music that I love. I share artist’s pages and websites. These things cost me nothing but time, and I’m willing to stay up a little later, or get up a little early, to make the time to do it.

Most of my readers have followed me for a little while now, and if you’ve read much of anything on this blog before, you know I’m the parent of children who live with chronic illness. Medical appointments are frequent, the hospital is a long drive, and insurance doesn’t always cover the cost of medication. If you’ve followed me anytime within the last year or so, you probably also know that I was injured at the last job I had. Combined, these circumstances make it difficult for me to work at a “regular” job.

I write. A lot. I’m trying to get my work out there. I need help to do that.

I don’t have a big name, or extra money to spend on promotion. I have this little blog, and social media, and the wonderful people who take the time to purchase my work and read and review it.

I have you. I can’t fully express how grateful I am for the people who take the time to read this little unfancy blog in its tiny corner of the Internet. You follow me on social media and share my work. Thank you. You add me on Goodreads. Thank you. You tell your friends about my books.

THANK YOU.

Because of you, my lights are still on and there is watermelon in my fridge. Because of you, the dogs’ kibble dish is full and my kids aren’t going hungry. Because of you, I have gas in my tank to get to doctor appointments.

Some of you guys I don’t even know, but you keep showing me support. You rock.

I can’t afford big giveaways or promotional stunts. Money around here is tight and my wallet has eleven cents in it.

I can’t pay people to shout about my work.

What I’ve got is one indie book and one book I signed with a small press to publish.

What I’ve got is a sincere desire to help support other indie artists.

What I need is help.

When you choose to help support me and my writing, you are helping more than just me. You are helping my family. You are helping the editors, cover artists, and formatters.

You are helping me help support other artists.

As long as I am making money on my books, I will take a portion and use it to support some form of art.

If you follow me on social media, you will often see me take pictures of myself holding up indie and small press books I’ve bought. Authors don’t ask me to do this. I do it because I believe in supporting creative people who are brave enough to put their work out there. (Incidentally, I LOVE when people post pictures of themselves holding up one of my books and tag  me. It makes me smile the entire day. Thank you.)

I promise to continue putting my money back into the indie community.

Will you help me help others? Will you check out my books, and buy them if you are able? If not, will you share my writing on social media? Will you help me keep making art, and supporting others who do?

I would so appreciate it if you would.

Thanks. You guys rock.

My new release, Slither!!

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Look!!! I’m filled to overflowing with exclamation marks today! Woohoo!!!

My book baby, my little slithery, snake-y, serpentine-entity-worshipping book baby is live! Released! For sale! Out there! Go buy it! And read it! And even if you don’t like snakes, leave me a review because you like me…right? (God I hope so.)

Check this blurb:

We’re often told tales of the underworlds to feed the darkest corners of our nightmares. We tuck them away with the sunlight and laugh away the fear our minds created. But the daylight offers no relief for Zari. She’s hidden her waking nightmare as nothing more than a damaged past. The venom of her secrets consumes her, as well as those she cares for most. Emmett, the love of her life and the only one with a past dark enough to respect her space, becomes a pawn in the war against the demonic force which is her bloodright. Can Zari overpower those out to get her to feed on the innocent? Can she save Emmett from the evil of Slither?

Here are the places you can find Slither:

http://bit.ly/slitherkindle

http://bit.ly/SlitherKobo

http://bit.ly/SlitherPlay

 

Spilling.

I’ve been watching my mother-in-law die.

She’s been sick since Easter, and has been fighting with all her strength to hang on, to pray, to believe.

The problem is, her strength is fading.

Remember the cartoons when we were young, where the character would stick his finger in the dam and plug the leak? Then five more leaks would spring up, and he’d stick in the rest of his fingers. More leaks, and he’d plug them with his toes. His nose. Then suddenly, he’d grow an extra hand to plug the new leaks.

It’s been like that.

One problem gets fixed, and six more spring up. Liver failure. Kidney failure. Kidneys spontaneously recover. Celebrate! But wait…now the liver is worse. Paracentesis, every two weeks. Weekly. Bi-weekly.

Neutropenia. She’s back in the hospital now, but I cannot visit this week, because I’ve been sick with a sinus/ear thing.

C. Diff. Having spent so many years now raising children with immunodeficiency, I know how bad that is.

It’s strange. When the news first comes, it’s a sharp pain, white and hot. I want to deny it, even as I hear the words the doctor is saying.

After that first pain, though, I start to feel as though I’ve got two hearts: one made of steel, and one of emotion.

I shove the one made of emotion behind the steel heart, and do the things that need doing.

Doctor visits. Appointments for tests. Days spent in the ER. Days spent admitted. Medication pick-ups.

I’ve heard that people say I’m coldhearted. I’m not.

It’s simply that I have been down this road before, and I know what is coming.

Crying won’t change it.

But in this space in between a terminal diagnosis and death, there are things that need to be done.

I can’t accomplish those things if I’m a weeping mess, so I do the only thing I know how to do.

Separate.

Put the pain somewhere else. Anywhere else.

Deal with it later.

I could do what others do: talk, talk, cry, and talk, and ignore that the person who is dying needs help. Needs groceries. Needs medication. Needs to go to the doctor.

But my conscience doesn’t work that way. I can’t not step in to help a helpless human being.

And the part of me that ought to be able to embrace both the emotional side and the harsh reality of this terrible situation seems broken.

The pain will come out later, in a rush.

I’ve found that I tend to move through grief by spilling words, and if the current situation is any indication, I’ll be writing another book this year.

I’ve got the idea in my head, but it’s harder to get the words out when I feel as though my emotions are frozen. But the story is there, in my head. In my bones.

It will be dark. But people who’ve read my stories before should be getting used to that, I guess.

In the meantime, I will keep tapping along at it and stopping back in here to release some of the words I don’t feel like I can say out loud.

Words are harder, that way. Out loud.

But they’ve got to spill somewhere.