Some personal news, and why I'm not doing a launch party for STRIKE


So I often get personal on here, but not about this topic. I've had a lot of questions about the STRIKE launch this Tuesday and why I'm not doing the usual launch party or any sort of tour. So here goes.

My dad was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2011, and after surgery and a few years of remission, it came back with a fury. He's been fighting hard, but as of last Friday, his oncologist has given him weeks to live, and he's starting hospice care tomorrow. I will be spending more time with my parents to help out. This is why I'm not able to do a launch party for Strike and have not planned any travel this summer. As of right now, I am planning on fulfilling my obligations at RT Vegas and ConStellation in April, but if that changes suddenly, you'll know why.

Know that I have great support and will not want to talk about this via PM, email, or phone, but I really appreciate everyone's kind words and good thoughts. If you want to do something nice for me, please go get a colonoscopy. It's not as bad as it sounds, and I know, because I had one in November. You'll be glad to know my colon is totally clean.

If you're hoping to get a signed copy of STRIKE, I will be stopping by FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, GA to sign stock, and I'd be happy to personalize any of my books for you. Just call, email, or order online, and they're happy to ship. Strike will also be available at the Big Book Fair at RT Vegas. And you can always email your mailing address to whimsydark (at) gmail (dot) com for a signed bookplate, although that might take me longer than usual.

And I guess now you know where I got that bitter line in HIT about how fucked up our medical system is, that it takes more money to die slowly from cancer than it does to become a doctor. 

Hug your loved ones, y'all, because cancer sucks.


Here is the painful truth:

Now matter what you have, you will always want more.


I used to think writing a book would be enough.

Then I thought getting an agent would be enough.

Then I thought selling a book to a traditional publisher would be enough.

Then I thought seeing my books in the bookstore would be enough.

Then I thought selling more books and getting into anthologies would be enough.

These days, I tell myself that if I hit the bestseller list or see a movie or TV show of my book, that will be enough.

But I know well enough that it won't be.

Bad news, kids. Nothing is ever enough. You will always want more. And even if you got to a place where you had all the success, fame, and money you think you want, you would be utterly miserable. Why? Because then you have more to lose, and because there's nothing worse than getting everything you ever dreamed of and having nothing left to strive toward. 

When you're first beginning your publishing journey, it's very easy to spend your days seething with jealousy and feeling like time is against you. Every sale or offer of agency announced is one chance you've already missed. If you'd just finished that mermaid book in time, it would've been on trend and sold for mad bank. If you could only get to that con, you'd meet the right person and get your foot in the door. You feel impatient and hungry and like you deserve your shot, too. But this time crunch? Is a lie.

If you're not getting what you want, it's not because of time. It's because you haven't written enough yet, you haven't failed enough yet, or you aren't ready to level up.

From this side of the process, having been there myself, I see it clearly.

And yet.

When I see other authors announcing a new book sale, that they've hit list, that they've sold foreign or movie rights, that they're being shipped off to standing-room-only book tours, I get jealous. Sooooo painfully jealous. Enraged, self-critical, self-pitying jealous. And I feel that old time crunch again. I feel like these successes are something I deserve, too, and that it should be happening right goddamn now.

I suspect that, a few years from now, I'll see it for what it is:

I haven't written enough yet, I haven't failed enough yet, and I'm not ready to level up.

So here's what I do when that green-eyed bitch Jealousy breathes down my neck:

  1. Get off social media, where we only see the high points of someone's career and life.

  2. Rekindle my own creative passion and find a way to fall in love with the work again.

  3. Take in more media—more books, more non-fiction, more comics, more TV and movies.

  4. Get out of the house and reconnect with nature and other people.

  5. Remember that there are people who are desperate to be where I am and be supremely grateful for my friends, my art, and all that I have accomplished.

  6. Help lift other people up.

It can sometimes feel like publishing is a fancy, exclusive room where people hang out without you. That there is a secret handshake or code word that will get you past the doorman, and everything will be Easy Street forever after that. It's not until you're sitting face to face at the bar with other professional writers that you realize that WE ALL FEEL THIS WAY ALL THE TIME. We all feel like loners trying to claw our way past that velvet rope, and everyone who actually gets in that room suspects they are an imposter who will soon be discovered and kicked out.

You know how the Hulk's secret is that he's angry all the time? The secret of most pro writers is that we're jealous. All. The. Time. When we actually get what we want, we have a few brief, shining moments of celebration—carefully presented with beautiful filters and appropriate levels of surprise and modesty via social media—before we're back to worrying and wanting. And working even harder to stay where we are.

I'd like to say that I have an easy solution for you, but there isn't one. In order to be a writer, you must be consumed and obsessed and driven by the work, and that compulsion doesn't typically come from a place of comfort and zen. Great art comes from discomfort and disequilibrium and daring. Leveling up comes through hard work. And all of that takes time.

How long does it take to write a book? It takes what it takes.

How long does it take to get published? It takes what it takes.

How long does it take to be satisfied with your art, your career, and your success?

It takes forever, broken up by small moments of mercy.

Savor them. Savor that partial request. Enjoy The Call. Take lots of pics signing your first contract. But never forget that none of it will ever feel as good as opening a document and starting a new book, your heart full of hope and your eyes sparkling with the thrill of adventure. That's what you need to live for. Not the money, not the fame, not the success. It all comes down to who you are when you sit down to write and if you're willing to keep doing it, even when you feel like you're not enough.


15 New Tricks to Stab Depression and Anxiety in the Butt

Post subtitle: How a $5 Wal-Mart bra can change your life


For you and for me, here's a list of the new things I'm doing to keep depression and anxiety at bay. First, though, let's all acknowledge that bodies and minds and times are different, and what's currently working for me might not work for you, and it might not work for me in the future. There's no magic bullet here. If meds work for you, keep it up. Do not quit meds and hope that yoga and tea will fix that shit. Still, maybe you'll find something that helps. If I'm missing something that works for you, please share it in the comments.

1. Yoga

First off: I'm not getting into any talks of cultural appropriation. I refuse to debate anyone who doesn't like yoga. I am telling you, quite honestly, that yoga is making the biggest difference in my life right now. It connects my body and mind and relaxes me better than two drinks ever did. I look forward to it. It gets me out of the house. I talk to people. I sleep better. My body feels stronger. My digestion works better. I bought a travel mat and do it at home and on the road. I read about the history and philosphy behind it. I love my studio and found a teacher I believe in. It's not bullshit. This feeling is real. If yoga isn't your thing, you might try Zumba, Jazzercize, a personal trainer, a barre class, Pilates, kickboxing. Something that forces your brain and body to move and keep you grounded.

2. Probiotics and digestive enzymes

Whether you're considering the ongoing science behind the brain-gut connection or you just get an upset tummy when you're anxious, I can assure you that life is always better when your digestion is regular. You might have to play around with brands and strains that work for you. I've found probiotics that make me feel wretched, and I've tossed them in the trash. But when you find the combination that works, it's awesome. I'm currently using HyperBiotics Pro-15 and DigestMore, an enzyme blend especially helpful for people without gallbladders. It's so important that I don't travel without those bottles. Get thee a good quality probiotic, stat.

3. Natural Calm

This powdered magnesium supplement by Natural Vitality is everything. I have it in cherry flavor and in a formulation balanced with calcium and zinc. Magnesium is freaking awesome-- it helps with digestion, with mood, and with the thyroid, especially Hashimoto's thyroiditis, which I have. I drink 1.5t mixed with water morning and night. It's amazing.

4. No gluten

Yep, I'm one of those gluten free assholes who has tested negative for celiac disease and wheat allergies but nevertheless sees a 180 degree difference in my body when I avoid wheat. When I quit, I dropped 7 pounds immediately and saw huge changes in my entire body, from a lack of sugar cravings to less indigestion to better skin. Not eating wheat means I make better nutritional choices all around. Mind you, I didn't replace wheat products with a barrage of GF snacks; I don't replace bread or buy $5 bags of pretzels, and if I did, I doubt I'd see the weight loss. But I eat a hell of a lot more salad now, and that's pretty cool.

5. Lots of sleep, no matter what it takes.

When I get anxious and depressed, I dread going to bed. I love sleep, but I hate feeling like I can't get the sleep I need. That means that I might have to take a Lorazepam before bed. Or I take Melatonin when I'm traveling or Unisom tablets when it's really bad. Point being that I'd rather take half a Unisom and get ten hours of sleep than proudly toss and turn all night and get four hours of crappy sleep. Find what works for you and use whatever crutch you can until you're on the other side of your mental health issues. Your brain can't heal if it can't sleep.

6. SAD light in the morning

Sunlight can be hard to come by in the winter. I have my SAD light ($80 on Amazon) programmed for 45 minutes. I sit in front of it as I check social media and email in the morning and drink my Crio Bru. The only bad thing about it is the frown I get when the damn thing turns off. And whenever it's sunny, I'm outside, trying to soak that shit up. Vitamin D is your friend.

7. Meditation

I suck at meditating on my own, so I use the Headspace app. While traveling, I use earbuds and meditate to go to sleep; I rarely finish the 10 minute session. If Headspace doesn't work for you, there are tons of free apps and sessions online and on YouTube. Hell, even Jeff Bridges does an amazing series of psychedelic meditation trips. Find someone you can listen to and try to make time to clear out your brain.

8. Daily journaling and listmaking

I bought The Artist's Way Morning Pages Journal, a big, hardcover beast. I don't use it the way I'm supposed to. I make a list each day of things that I do that are good for me, or moments I want to remember, or things that made me feel wonderful. I plan books and write quotes that strike me. It's great to look back and see how much I accomplish and how many moments of mercy I tend to forget when times get dark. And when I can't get to sleep at night, I make a list of all the shit I'm worried about or need to do and set it aside until morning, when it feels negligible. Just push that to-do list to Future You and go to sleep.

9. Reading out of my comfort zone

When I was younger and friendless and had acres of time, I loved sweeping fantasy tales that drew me into a new world. But now, with two kids and a husband and a career, I've leaned toward fast, immediately compelling reads, especially YA. I basically untrained my brain to commit to big, fat books. Now I spend my daily bath reading a big ol' fantasy, and I'm remembering how pleasant it is to be immersed in something heavy and long-term. I'm also reading more non-fiction. The idea here is to force your brain to slow down and work in a different way. We get caught in our loops, and it's valuable to do the unexpected.

10. No more underwire

So I've spent most of my adult life wearing lightly padded underwire bras to make my bazooms look bazoomtacular. But once the indigestion and anxiety and gallbladder issues started, I one day realized that I looked forward to taking off my bra every night and never put one on unless I was going out in public. I came to dread the bra. And then I realized that... well, I never promised anyone a fantastic rack. I don't owe the world Victoria Secret boobs. So I started wearing these $4.96 bras from Wal-Mart (pictured above) and never looked back. No confusing straps. No underwire. No tight band. I feel more comfortable all the time, I can do yoga or ride my horse in them, and no one yet has complained about any lack of boob lift. So there. If this doesn't apply to you or you require more support than I do, the take home lesson is this: If you dread a particular item of clothing or part of your beauty routine, see if you can change it or give it up. If your jeans are too tight or you hate tying sneakers or heels hurt your feet or mascara makes your eyelashes fall out, fuck that.

11. Nightly epsom salt bath that is sacrofuckingsanct

I blogged at length about this, and I stand behind it. Epsom salts, dead sea salts, essential oils, Lush bath bombs. Get that hour of relaxation and enjoy the hell out of it.

12. Forgiving myself

Every Thursday at yoga, we each draw a card from deck. My card last week, which I drew on Wednesday because I knew I couldn't make Thursday, said, “I forgive myself. As I forgive myself, I leave behind all feelings of not being good enough, and I am free to love myself.” Goddamn, that's powerful. I hold myself to very high standards, and when I mess up, I chew on it and nurse it until I feel like shit. No more. Let it go.

13. Eating well

Fruits, vegetables, cheese, nuts, quality meats. The more I rely on prepackaged food, the worse I feel. I've even upgraded the protein bars I take when I travel to make them less candy bar and more rectangular whole foods. I'll bake a pan of chicken breasts and use them to make turmeric chicken salad or toss the into a bed of spring mix or stir fry with frozen broccoli. Just making them ahead of time suddenly makes every meal easier.

14. Lots of tea

Seriously. I've learned to love tea. I love Jasmine White Pearl tea and Candy Cane Lane tea and Caramel Yerba Mate tea and Decaf Coconut Chai tea. A lovely fan sent me a fancy batch of Russian Caravan tea. Tea is good for you and warms you up and hydrates you. Buy good tea and stop your crazy life and relish it for ten minutes.

15. Recognizing signs of anxiety and shutting them down

If someone is posting tons of good news on Facebook and I feel myself getting jealous? I unfollow them. If everyone on Twitter seems to have great announcements? I don't read my feed. Googling symptoms or illnesses makes me crazy? I don't do it. Talking to someone ratchets up my blood pressure? I don't take the call. Stuck in a real life convo that makes me feel like shit? Bye, Felicia-- albeit politely. Basically, when you feel your body start to freak, you slam down the NOPE and stop whatever it is. Get up, go do something else. Turn on music and dance around. Whatever it takes, don't let that shit in. You're worth it.

What's working for you?

Aaaaaand it's winter.

I haven't blogged in a while, and the last time I blogged, it was a post about preparing oneself, emotionally and physically, for winter. Winter, when it gets dark too early and the nights seem endless. Winter, when it's cold, and you can never get warm enough, right down to your heart and your toes. Winter, when you're supposed to feel jolly and warm and cozy and surrounded by loving family and friends, and instead you feel bleak and dreary and hopeless and alone.

As my online record shows, when I start talking about something, it's often because I'm working my way through it. If I'm talking about first drafts, I'm most likely slogging through one and in a rough patch. If I'm talking about events, I'm planning one. And if I'm telling you how to batten down the hatches, it's because I see the darkness on the horizon and am trying to remind myself how to fight it.

I had a hard Christmas, but not for the reasons you would expect. I have a loving spouse, healthy and happy children, a roof over my head, and a career I love. I also have a sick parent, a lame horse, an ongoing and invisible physical ailment, and a deadline that feels tight, even for me. Add all that up, and I spent most of Christmas crying. In my bed, hiding it by the tree as the kids opened gifts, into my scarf while walking my limping horse endlessly around a rainy field, all the while aware that there was nothing actually wrong, really, and it was all in my head, and I couldn't let anybody see it or I'd ruin their Christmas.

The good news is that I finished my first draft and got my physical stuff back on track, but I had to crawl through dark places to get there. Looking back, even a week ago, I flinch at the thoughts and feelings poking holes in me like worms in compost. I stopped taking care of myself, and I stopped feeling any joy, and every moment felt like I was a scientist watching my life through a microscope, calmly recording moments with no emotion. I'm through that now, and I want to share, for you and future me, how I found the light at the end of the tunnel.

First off, I talked to my husband. The most immediate problem (of my list of 18 problems that I presented to him amid an uglycry), was physical. I've had these weird bouts of raging indigestion since February, which led to two trips to the ER and having my gallbladder removed, and that indigestion was supposed to be fixed, but it came back. And it wasn't like, "Oh, I ate too much fried shrimp, and I need to burp." It was like, "I think I'm having a heart attack and I can't breathe and my stomach is a vat of raging acid and if I go to sleep, I'll die." So I'd stopped eating gluten, and that helped. And then I fell down an internet hole of things I should and shouldn't eat and which supplements to take and suddenly I quit eating because the pantry felt like a mine field. I would sit there, all day, just taking stock of how horrible I felt and not eating.

Guess what, kids? That ain't good.

So my husband, the brilliant psychologist, decided we would track my food. Everything I ate, for weeks. He needed data. He suggested I start on the basic allergy restriction diet, which is turkey and rice and pears. And that's it. I looked at the chart he made, and I thought about what it would be like to eat only three foods for a week, and it felt like my soul was squeezing itself into a tiny little box that wasn't worth inhabiting. I... uh, really like food. And if I couldn't eat, what was the point of living? And then he said something along the lines of, "So either you follow this diet and give me flawless data to analyze, or you just decide it's all bullshit and go back to eating like a normal person."

And I was like, "That's a choice?"

It was an epiphany moment, right there. The food wasn't causing the ailment; the anxiety was causing the ailment and making me crazy about food. I felt my soul unfurl again like a cat in a sunbeam, and food hasn't bothered me since.

They say stress can cause digestive problems, but until now, I didn't really grok it. I thought that physical things caused physical things, and that was that. I thought that if I could just find the pattern, I could solve the puzzle. But as soon as I had that breakthrough, I realized that I was doing it to myself. Sitting in front of the laptop for hours, freaking out over a deadline or scrolling through social media and seeing triumphs and awards and Best Books lists I couldn't reach--it was making me feel horrible, mind and body. So I quit. I got off Facebook and stopped looking at Twitter--except for people talking to me. I quit scrolling through everyone's smiling holiday pictures. I picked up a book and curled up in my bed and tried to think about something that wasn't me, and it actually fucking worked.

That was the biggest change, but I adopted new behaviors to help me relax. I take a daily epsom salt bath and read the kind of big, heavy book I normally shy away from. I meditate--using the Headspace app. I write down each day what I did that was good for me. I started writing a new short story. I spent New Years Day out of my comfort zone, hiking up a waterfall. And I started taking this supplement recommended by a friend that includes tons of Magnesium, the lack of which apparently causes basically every problem I've been having. I started using my SAD light again and have been making a point to get out of the house and talk to real human beings, even when it feels like a Herculean task.

You know-- taking all the advice I dole out and then neglect because I'd rather sit in bed in my pajamas and worry about nothing.

I want you to know that I'm not writing this because I want sympathy or feel sorry for myself. I'm writing it because I know I'm not alone. The holidays make tons of people feel shitty, and we're trained to keep it quiet, to smile and say we're fine. On Christmas Day, my friend hugged me and asked me how I was doing, and that's what I said-- fine. Five minutes later I was crying, but I couldn't let her see that. And I couldn't say it on Twitter, either. I mean, no one follows me to hear me say HAPPY HOLIDAYS, I CAN'T STOP CRYING, THERE IS NO HOPE, SORRY I SUCK.

Yeah, no.

The thing is, when you're headed down the spiral or floating back out of it, it all seems so elementary. Follow these easy steps, and you'll avoid SAD! Take care of yourself, and you won't get depressed! And that's bullshit. If there's a way to stop it, I haven't figured it out. I've tried two medications, and they both messed me up. One sent me to the ER. I still wait too long to take my Lorazepam, hoping I can talk myself out of the panic attack. Like I can just, you know, reverse my brain chemicals by sheer force of will.

Yeah, no.

I don't know how to fight it, but I know we're not alone. And I know that if I just keep going long enough, I'll come out of it. If you can just muddle through, you're going to have that sun-through-the-clouds moment when you remember how to smile. It doesn't always make sense-- I mean, one time, I saw a cardinal, and then it lifted. BECAUSE I SAW A BIRD. But it'll happen.

This weather is weird, and writing is hard, but winter is stupid, but I believe in you.

So what I'm saying is that if you see me spouting depression advice, it's not because I've conquered it. It's because I'm fighting it, hard, just like maybe you are. And if I disappear off social media, it got me--but only for a little while. And that's not weakness. That's not my fault. It's not your fault if it gets you. We prepare as well as we can, and we sit through the storm. There is no armor for this fight. But there's an entire army of us, and we'll keep going until we break through. 

Here's to hoping spring comes early this year for us all.

Thanks for listening, take your meds, and get plenty of sleep. That helps, too.

If you're not finding new music, you're dying inside.

I still remember the first popular song that made me feel alive. Fiercely, aggressively alive. And hungry. It was Lithium by Nirvana. Up until that moment, I'd meandered around the radio stations, bopping along to whatever my parents listened to. I knew what I hated, I knew what I could tolerate, I knew all the words to Prince songs, but nothing lit me up inside like Lithium. I turned the radio up loud and jumped on my bed, and then I began to latch, one by one, onto new songs and devour their albums. Friday in Love led me to The Cure. A boy I liked led me to ska. I cried to the Indigo Girls. Music became the soundtrack of my life, tracking my highs and lows. 

And then, some time after college, I lost my ties to new music. The radio stations only played pop, I had jobs and responsibilities, I didn't have time or money for shows. I wore sensible blouses and pumps. Aside from picking up the new Weezer CD every year, I just lost touch. Looking back, it's hard to trace my feelings because they weren't tied to music. When I got pregnant with my first child, someone gave me The Postal Service CD, and then Californication by RHCP came out, and I listened to them so much that my baby learned to kick in time with Anthony Kiedis, but I wasn't actively seeking new music. A vital part of my emotional life just... dried up. I fell asleep.

As I got back into writing, I used music to help my creative process. For each book, I create a playlist of what the book *feels* like. Not songs that are on the topic of the book, but songs that taste like the book when I sing them with the windows down, barreling down country roads. When I hear that playlist, I'm back in that world, living with those characters. If I get blocked, I go for a drive or take a bath with that music, and it sets me back on track. I write to it, I edit to it, I cogitate to it. And that means that I need new music for every book, because once a song has been used, it's attached to that book forever.

This craving for new music has reignited the passion I felt the first time I heard Lithium. There is no triumph like falling in love with an album and seeing the band perform it live, shouting the lyrics at the top of your lungs. Since I became a writer in 2009, we've seen The Civil Wars, Manchester Orchestra, the Airborne Toxic Event, Mona, Gangstagrass. When I hear these songs, I'm not a worried, aging mom struggling to keep her shit together. I'm 18 again, filled with energy and longing and excitement, my body a live wire. The world feels full, the possibilities seem endless, and I feel refreshed and ready to tackle anything. Science corroborates it-- new music is as rewarding to the brain as sex or money. And it's good for the aging brain. And if it fuels your writing, all the better.

But how do you find new music, especially since you're not 19 and surrounded by college shows and blaring boomboxes? At first, I used Pandora, but it was frustrating. Their algorithms didn't predict my book or tastes, and I could only veto so many songs before I was forced to listen to something I hated. Then I found Spotify, where I pay $9.99 so that I can have all my playlists on my iPod for traveling. I find one song on Spotify that really exemplifies the books--often a song I already know. I pull up that band. And then I click the Related Artists tab. Boom! Dozens of artists doing similar work. I go down the line, checking out the top 5 tracks of each band, which are shown by how many times users have listened, and I add the ones I like to the playlist.

It only takes 20 seconds or less for me to know if a song is going to appeal. If I *really* like a song, I'll just let it play and forget I'm judging it. Sometimes I'll add entire albums. When a band/album stops working for me, I go right back to the original Related Artists tab using the back button. I keep going until I've got a few hours of songs. I'm not horribly picky or trying to write a musical soundtrack to match the highs and lows of the plot-- I just want songs that are atmospheric and fit the book as a whole. When I'm sick of the process, I consider it done, click Play, and start writing.

By the time I've finished a book, I've listened to the playlist hundreds of times.  It becomes a world I inhabit, and that classical conditioning means I can immediately fall into the book and start writing. And then, if I can, I try to find the bands that really clicked and see them live. It's like living inside your book for an hour, being with a great and ferocious animal, feeling its heartbeat thump madly against your chest.

So if you're still listening to your college CDs, I double dog dare you to go out and find something new. Stretch your brain, hack your writing, give yourself a reason to look forward to folding laundry. When I think back to the years that I forgot about the joy of new music, I want to go slap myself and holler, "WAKE UP. STAY WOKE. YOU'RE SLEEPWALKING."

The sleeper has awakened, and she likes modern bluegrass. Who knew?

(p.s. You can hear all my book playlists here. Spotify is free to use. The $9.99 is so that I can store playlists on my iPod and iPad to listen while traveling.)