Self Sunday

This morning I saw the hashtag #selfiesunday and decided to pass, because my Instagram has enough photos of my face.  In various, sometimes unflattering forms, but it’s my face, and I suck at taking selfies, so I figure they’re all pretty honest photos.  And that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately: Honesty.

Last week, we had Korean food for dinner and while I was sick, I still snagged myself a fortune cookie because I think they’re hilarious, if only because someone on my mom’s side of the family insists you need to add the words “in bed” to any fortune you get. … Anyways, my fortune went like this:

Your insight this week will lead you to the correct decision. Trust.

A little cryptic, right?  And I was having one of those self-doubting weeks where I was wondering what the hell I was doing with my life (namely, the writing portion of it), so while a fortune like this normally would’ve made me laugh, it didn’t.  Instead, it stressed me out until I reached a So… What Now God? boiling point, erupted, and then looked around at the aftermath of my mini Mount Vesuvius.  Here’s what I found:

I haven’t been writing from the heart.  The projects I’ve been trying to force- there’s no truth in them.  Those of you who’ve read my books are probably scratching your heads wondering where the heart and truth was in those books.  I mean, really- serial killer mystery trilogy and a five-part urban fantasy series?  “Come on Britt, you can’t be serious.  Where’s the truth in that?”

Oh, but it’s there.  Maybe it was wrapped in leather and hung out with Greek gods at a bar built inside a church, but my heart was there, as was the truth I was trying to tell.  But somewhere between finishing up Howl and now, I lost sight of that.  I started to stress about the mere act of writing- keeping up my publishing momentum, actually blogging on a fairly consistent basis- that I lost sight of why I started writing in the first place.  Then I saw this:

After copying the chart into my own notebook, I began to fill in the blanks.  What did I love?  What did the world need?  What was I great at?  Slowly, but surely, the blanks were filled in:

I want to tell a story, and I want it to be real.

So I deleted all my forced, works-in-progress and cleared off my cork board that was littered with blogging topics I’d copied from the internet, having every intention of writing them all, but eventually accepting that would never happen.  Because it wouldn’t be real.  It wouldn’t be honest, from the heart, and genuine.  Which means it wouldn’t be me, and if I’m going to take the time to put myself out there through my writing, why wouldn’t I give you the real me?

So instead of a weekly #selfiesunday, I’m going to make it #selfsunday; a day in which I tell you what I’m really thinking, be it my latest musical obsession or how infuriating writing a novel can be.

Speaking of novels… I found my next story. :)  And it’s true.  True and from the heart and oh, how it’s flowing.  This is that feeling I lost so many months ago, the feeling I could never understand, but never questioned, because it allowed me to write the way I did.  Well, I know what that feeling is, now.  I know what allowed me to write the stories I did.

Me.  My heart.  And my undying gratitude to a God who decided I should be a storyteller and gave me the ability to do so.  That’s what I’ve been missing; that honest gratitude and a heart for weaving tall tales.

So… onto the next tale.

-B.

Midnight Musings

#1: I feel the expression, “I had an epiphany!” means something totally different to writers.

#2: Scrapping a project at 15k is easier than, say, 70k.

#3: This is probably the Universe telling me to finish that damn poetry collection I started ages ago.

#4: It’s so not midnight, but I dig alliteration.

So… What Now, God?

I feel like, if a blog poses a question, it should offer an answer.  Regardless of whether or not the author is an expert in the subject their discussing.  That’s just how I feel about blogs and the questions they pose.  Probably because I’m the kind of person who likes riddles only if you immediately tell me the answer; the kind of person who reads the recipe multiple times before even gathering the ingredients; and yes, surprises stress me out.

That’s just me.  Another thing about me?  I’m an author.

If you’re reading this, chances are you know me, or have at least been hanging around my tiny corner of the Internet long enough to know that I’m an author.  If you’re new or landed here because of a dare or some computer glitch, let me quickly explain: I’m a self-published author who wrote, formatted, and self-published 13 books in two years.  I’m currently at the 2 1/2 year mark and I haven’t written anything since September, when my last book came out.  For someone who was churning out a new book every 2 months… yeah, that’s kind of a change.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.  I’ve spent almost three years writing, publishing, and (not very successfully) promoting my own books.  I started writing when I was seven and sometime around age 12 I decided I wanted to be an author.  Fast forward almost a decade and I have titles in the double digits. *pops confetti* *cleans up confetti* #neatfreak

So yeah, I guess you could say I accomplished my dream.  Only I didn’t.

I have people in my life who aren’t writers.  People who have never in their wildest dreams ever considered doing anything related to writing.  People who wanted to be professors or farmers or nurses- basically anything that wasn’t writing.  Then, out of the blue, on some whim, they gathered up a couple years worth of random writings, put them together, called me and asked me how to publish a book, and went on to fall on Amazon’s list of “Hottest Things Off The Press This Month” (or whatever the hell that list is called).

Boom. Bam. Shazam.

Practically overnight people were blowing up their pages with reviews, inviting them to guest speak/blog, and asking them, “How are you such an amazing writer?  What is your secret?  When is your next book coming out?  Gah, you are so amazing I can’t even look at you I wish I had your life!” (… might’ve exaggerated that last one just a bit)

Now, I’m not bitter.  Like I said, these are people I know and I was more than thrilled to help them along the way.  I love people who write books!  I love people who put themselves out there and decide to try out a craft I absolutely adore!  It’s so awesome watching these people put something together, put it out there, and see it be a huge hit.  I love cheering for them, helping promote them however I can, and offering any assistance. (because, if you’ve never tried to self-publish a book, that shit can make you flipping mental)

I’m not bitter about my friends and their success.  But, when someone who has been writing for six months publishes a book and it becomes the talked about thing in our social circle and beyond, I do get a little bummed.  A little hurt.  A little confused.  And it’s hard, while I’m cheering them on, not to think, “What the hell am I doing?  Why the hell am I wasting my time on this?”  And by this, I mean my own writing.

Here comes the question: Why am I still writing?
And here’s the answer: … 

I don’t know.  I don’t have an answer.  Ever since I first started writing I’ve been told my talent was a gift from God.  And I truly believe that, but not in some weird, child-prodigy writer way.  I think God gave me a talent for writing, and I guess we could back that up with the 13 books I wrote in two years, which non-religious and established writers have called batshit crazy, but also cool.  I’m basically a weird, writing mascot, where the cool thing about me isn’t my writing, but just the sheer quantity.

I could count the number of friends who’ve read my books on one hand and probably still have a couple fingers leftover.  But how many of those friends will proudly tell you how many books I wrote in two years and how I did it all by myself?  All of them.  They’ll give you the statistics, the facts- they’ll make me sound like some writing god come down from Olympus- but could they tell you which book of mine is their favorite?  Could they tell you what they’re about?  A couple of them could, but the majority only know this: that I wrote 13 books in two years.  That’s it.

So now, with the success of my friends’ books blowing up every avenue of social media and my three-year book publishing anniversary coming up this summer, I’m thinking, “What next?”  I want to write.  The thought of not writing breaks my heart in a very real, painful, tear-inducing way.  But at the same time, I wonder, “Why bother?”  Why keep writing books when all I am is some number?  What does it matter what my next book is if all people are going to say is, “She wrote 14 books in three years- isn’t that amazing?”  What does it matter how many books I’ve written if no one ever reads them?

And we’re back to me not having an answer.  And I don’t know when I’m going to have an answer.  So for now, I’m just going to go back to writing.  I wrote one book and decided I didn’t like it, so I scrapped it; if the same thing happens with this book, I’ll just move onto something else.  I’ll keep writing, I’ll keep cheering on my friends and supporting their success, and maybe, someday, I’ll stop being “that girl who wrote so many books” and finally be “that girl who wrote a book I love.”

Because when I was 12 and decided I wanted to be an author, it’s because I wanted to tell a story people would love, not be a sideshow at the main event.

Until next time.
-B.

Why I Took (Most) of My Books Off Amazon

Since the summer of 2012, I’ve self-published 13 books on my own.  The writing, editing, formatting, cover design, etc., was all my own doing.  From start-to-finish, every book I’ve churned out (10 novels, 3 poetry collections) has been a labor of love and insanity.  But of those 13 books, there’s only 6  I could recommend to you without cringing, or giving some sort of disclaimer.

See, I did the self-publishing thing on my own.  Since I started, almost three years ago, I’ve had other writers interested in self-publishing contact me to ask about anything from formatting to pricing.  Heck, I even self-published one woman’s debut novel, because it’s not the easiest process in the world to go through and sometimes, when you have a book you just want to release now, it pays to have someone else do it. (she self-published her second book on her own, and I’m proud of her for conquering that learning curve)  I’m not saying I’m the reason these people have gone on to release successful books, because they’re all wickedly talented, but I like to think the process was made easier for them because they had someone to turn to.

I didn’t have that.  Self-publishing wasn’t as popular three years ago as it is now, and even if it had been, I didn’t know anyone who’d self-published.  Okay, not true- I’d known people who’d gone the traditional self-publishing route, where they worked with an independent printing company and shelled out $5,000 for their first run… of which they might have sold 20 copies out of 500.  18 and fresh out of college, I didn’t have that kind of money and I really didn’t want to try and sell 500 copies of a book I wasn’t sure people would like.  So I jumped onboard the online self-publishing bandwagon and for the past three years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to swim in this tumultuous ocean.

… okay, three years in and I can honestly say I’m still trying to figure out how to tread water.

Look at the books I’ve published and you’ll see how I’ve grown, not only as an author, but as a book publisher as well.  There are still areas I’m not great at (lacking an artistic bone, I hate cover designing), but I’m getting better all the time.  And I’m proud of that.  I love every book I’ve ever written… but there are some that make me cringe when I think, “What if that’s the first book someone reads by me?”

I’ve had people start at the beginning, with my debut novel, and decide they dislike my writing and find the whole production to be immature and lacking.  These are people who live hundreds of miles away from me, anonymously review my book, and there’s no way I can say to them, “Try my latest book.  My latest is always my best.”  I can’t convince people I can’t talk to; I can’t give you a disclaimer if you’re not there to hear it.

So I’ve decided to remove some of my books from Amazon.  What remains are the books I would recommend to someone without cringing or offering some explanation.  Because I’ve come to accept the fact that people’s first impression of me is going to be what they find on Amazon, so might as well make it the best I can offer.

But for those of you who are interested in my evolution as an author (or any relatives who insist on owning a copy of every book I’ve ever written), all my books will forever be available through Createspace.  It’s the Amazon owned company I publish through, but it doesn’t get anywhere near the traffic as my Amazon page, so I’ve deemed it a safe place to have all my books available without running the risk of ruining someone’s first impression of me.

As for future writing?  You have to admit, 13 books in 2.5 years is impressive.  There were so many stories I wanted to tell and words I had to say in those first three years and I have to say, I think I’ve said them all.  Now I’d like to slow down, put a little more elbow grease into what I do, and maybe just craft something that’s really something.  My projects for now consist of a poetry collection, and a general fiction novel set on the Oregon Coast.  I can’t say when these books will be ready for publication, but you’ll know where to find them when they finally are. :)

Until then, thank you to the people who have read all my books, have sworn they’re not as bad as I think, and have encouraged me to keep going, keep learning, keep experimenting, keep having fun.  It means the world to me.

-Britt

Here’s Why I’m Single, And Why Your Children Should Date

A few years ago, my brother watched me tear into a hunk of fried chicken and (jokingly) decided I was single because of my table manners.  Other people have joked that the men in my family would do away with any guy who came-a-calling.  Others claim it’s because I’m an independent woman who will drop-kick you into the next zip code if you annoy me.

To varying degrees, all of this is true: the men in my family are protective and probably intimidating to outsiders; I’m not afraid to break ass myself; if you value your life, you will not come between me and food.

Here’s the real reason I’m single: I’m gun-shy.  A string of stupid decisions have left a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to men and the thought of dating one.  But let me back up real quick.

My grandmother sent me an article about why courtship was fundamentally flawed.  Having grown up in the church and having read “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” I thought there was no way this article could be right.  You know?  The author had to be some confused, secular person or… something.  Yeah, right.

Christian. Homeschooled. “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” veteran.  Essentially me only older and male.  So I read the article, if only to humor my grandmother who would no doubt ask me for my thoughts when she saw me next.  I was giving the article maybe 5% of my attention until I read this line:

It is not uncommon to find a 21 year old stay at home daughter who has never been asked out on a date.

I’d just turned 21 and had to take a long pause as I tried to figure out who’d decided it was okay to use me as a case study for this article.  After getting over myself, I scrolled back to the beginning and this time, I really read it.  And I agree with everything that was said.

It’s time to let your children date.

The author took his grandmother out and asked her for the rundown on how dating was back in her day.  There was a simple rule: Don’t go out with the same guy twice in a row.  So… lunch with Tom on Tuesday, a movie with Bill on Friday, dinner with Tom on Saturday.  By the end of high school, this grandmother had dated plenty of Toms and Bills and knew which Tom or Bill she wanted to marry.  Best part of her dating strategy? (okay, the one her parent’s designed?)  Because she was dating so many different guys, no one guy felt like he was entitled; the relationships weren’t exclusive.  As she said, “The guys wouldn’t even want to kiss you!”

I didn’t date when I was a teen.  At 13 I was told I could court, but dating wasn’t allowed.  But as a teen with issues, desperate for love and acceptance, with a penchant for diving into the emotional deep end, and then writing about it… I found ways.  Just because I couldn’t date didn’t mean I couldn’t give away parts of my heart for free.  It was so easy to fall for boys who’d bask in that adoration, soak it up, and then say just the right things to keep me going; it was even easier for those boys who got all the affection and didn’t need to commit to get it.

As soon as I turned 18, I dove head first into a relationship (coincidentally, my brother did the same).  It was a train wreck.  Emotionally abusive and manipulative, with just a dash of possessive/control issues.  I tried to play it cool at first; I’d grown up with a heavy male presence in my life and had always been comfortable around guys, which apparently translated into me having “experience.”  He definitely had experience so I wanted it to seem like I wasn’t some semi-emotionally-stunted girl who was about to get her first real boyfriend.

Cue disaster.  After the relationship ended, I crawled into a hole to lick my wounds and emerged (some time later) completely gun-shy.  What few guys showed an interest in me after that sent me diving back into that hole and waiting for everything to blow over.  The men in my life now are either related to me, or platonic friendships (or writing mentorships) founded with people who live states away.  So, you know, I don’t actually have to see them in person.

I wish I’d dated as a teen.  I wish I’d learned how to spend time with a guy and walk away with my heart intact.  I wish I’d dated so many guys, I could spot who the players were and which ones were genuinely interested.  I wish I had a list of guys I’d dated, instead of a list of guys I gave my heart away to for nothing.  It’s not that I’m looking for a relationship, but I do have that nagging voice in the back of my mind reminding me that, should someone come along, I’m pretty much incapable of forming any sort of relationship with them.  Actually, I’m pretty sure I’d much rather die alone than go through the guaranteed awkward embarrassment of putting myself out there.

So please, if you’re a parent reading this, let your kids date.  They’ll do it anyways, so why not teach them how to do it right?  Set rules, discuss them, and be honest; no more talk of how “you’ll understand when you’re older” and “dating is something you do when you’re serious and an adult.”  They’re going to fall in love and date, so teach them how to guard their hearts.  Teach them their worth.  Teach them how to date so they don’t end up an insecure twenty-something who has people telling them they need to date, yet have no clue how to date.

Or have grandma teach them how to date, because grandmas seem to have pretty solid dating strategies.

Until next time.
-B.

My Life From Scratch [a review]

First things first: Gesine Bullock-Prado, author of “My Life From Scratch,” is the younger sister of Sandra Bullock.  Yes, that Sandra Bullock.  Funny woman, America’s Sweetheart, total babe.  That Sandra.  Or as Gesine calls her, “Sandy.”  You learn this fun fact towards the beginning of the book, but it’s hardly the story.

As head of her celebrity sister’s production company, Gesine Bullock-Prado had a closet full of designer clothes and the ear of all the influential studio heads, but she was miserable. The only solace she found was in her secret hobby: baking.Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 5.30.47 PM

With every sugary, buttery confection to emerge from her oven, Gesine took one step away from her glittery, empty existence—and one step closer to her true destiny. Before long, she and her husband left the trappings of their Hollywood lifestyle behind, ending up in Vermont, where they started the gem known as Gesine Confectionary. And they never looked back.

Confections of a Closet Master Baker follows Gesine’s journey from sugar-obsessed child to miserable, awkward Hollywood insider to reluctant master baker. Chock-full of eccentric characters, beautifully detailed descriptions of her baking process, ceaselessly funny renditions of Hollywood nonsense, and recipes, the ingredients of her story will appeal to anyone who has ever considered leaving the life they know and completely starting over.

The real story here is Gesine, who sells her soul to a Hollywood production company then decides, “Nah, I want to make cake instead.”  And so she does. (there’s a lot more mental anguish, closeted baking, and taking candy from the devil, but you get the gist of it)  She uproots and moves to Vermont with her uber-charming and tactful husband Ray, and the pair of them decide to open a bakery in a town smaller than mine, staffed by people I would like to know.

The flow of the story is as perfect as the best pastry you’ve ever had.  Gesine starts with her childhood affair with sweets and then quickly moves to life at the bakery, starting at the (ridiculously early) beginning of her day and dragging you along for the ride.  She fills in the hours with snappy bios of co-workers and regulars, flashbacks to life with her German mother and grandmother, and the occasional snippet about how Sandy is one of the best sisters in the world.  You see Gesine’s relatable introversion, sass, and inability to act normal in front of a camera (be it for a write-up in the local paper, or a segment on Food Network).  All the while, Gesine is sharing her recipes with the guarantee that she hasn’t changed a single ingredient or measurement.  So, you know, if you can’t go to Montpelier, Vermont and visit her bakery in person, you can make some of her goodies at home.

Perhaps my favorite element of Gesine’s story is the continual presence of her health-nut mother.  Living in a family of health-nuts myself, I shared Gesine’s pain as her mother insisted on quinoa and wheatgerm when all young!Gesine wanted was cake.  Her mother subscribed to the belief that there’s a time and place for everything, especially dessert.  But despite Gesine’s eye-rolling at her mom as a child, she grew up to understand and appreciate what her mother was trying to teach her: that you need to be conscientious about your indulgence.  Have cake, but have a slice.  Living in a society that is pushing acceptance of obesity, I feel this is a message that needs to be plastered all over the county.  Everything in moderation, guys.  Get that cupcake, but don’t eat the whole damn bakery.

So if you’re in need of a straight-forward, recipe filled, honest read about the power of pastry and the perks of a European upbringing (and how mom is great, no matter what gluten-free nonsense she feeds you), make “My Life From Scratch” that book.

★★★★★

Check out Gesine’s blog, her books, and her delicious looking Instagram feed.

a taste of “Garlic and Sapphires.” [a review]

Gentlemen may prefer blondes, but redheads have more fun, as proven by Ruth Reichl in her book “Garlic and Sapphires.”  While not about hair color, it is about her years working as the restaurant critic for the New York Times, a job that required quite a few creative disguises.  Skim over what the book is about (below), and then let’s move on to the food.

Ruth Reichl, world-renowned food critic and former editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, knows a thing or two about food. She also knows that as the most important food critic in the country, you need to be 9780143036616_p0_v1_s260x420anonymous when reviewing some of the most high-profile establishments in the biggest restaurant town in the world—a charge she took very seriously, taking on the guise of a series of eccentric personalities. In Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl reveals the comic absurdity, artifice, and excellence to be found in the sumptuously appointed stages of the epicurean world and gives us—along with some of her favorite recipes and reviews—her remarkable reflections on how one’s outer appearance can influence one’s inner character, expectations, and appetites, not to mention the quality of service one receives.

I love hearing people describe food, especially the taste, because I have a hard time tasting certain spices and ingredients.  For me, hearing someone describe a meal is like tasting that dish in a way I’ll never actually taste it, because my tastebuds like being defective.  So for me, Ruth Reichl is… a dream come true? someone I want to spend the rest of my life listening to as she describes food?  all the above?

As The Washington Post Book World said,

Reading Ruth Reichl on food is almost as good as eating it.

What I love is that Ruth was a cook long before she was a critic, which I feel gives her a leg-up with the whole “describing food for the masses” schtick.  I can see her writing some amazing menus that would make people drool long before they ordered.  Heck, this book made me drool a couple times and just like the Food Network, I found myself having to pause frequently to dig up some food to eat while reading because this book makes you hungry.  In an absolutely wonderful, “I want to eat like that, but also cook like that,” kind of way.

Ruth doesn’t just talk about food, though.  As the restaurant critic for The New York Times, the restaurant world keeps an eye out for her, which results in her creating a few clever disguises with the help of friends and family.  You see her as an icy blonde, a vivacious redhead that attracts crowds, and my favorite: her mother.  She throws herself into each role, becoming her new identity with an ease that is surprising, but so honest, it’s impossible to read about her transformations and not recognize that in yourself.  We’re all chameleons.  We can all change, fill a role, be someone else.  It’s just that so few of us have a real reason to do that, but reading about Ruth’s adventures, seeing the different aspects of her personality brought to life, left me wanting to play dress up, take myself out, and get to know the different sides of me.

“Garlic and Sapphires” not only left me hungry for food, but it left me hungry to discover other sides of me.  My best side (Ruth’s “Brenda”), my worst (her “Emily”), and the part of me I inherited from those who came before (“Miriam”).  This book is as deep, flavorful, and layered as the food Ruth Reichl describes, which makes me want to flip to the beginning and go back for seconds.

Maybe even thirds.

★★★★★

Check out Ruth and her books here.