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.)

#WakeofVultures quotes, as chosen by YOU!

Since Wake of Vultures released on Tuesday, I've had an offer going on Twitter: You tweet me a page number between 1 and 335, I'll tweet you a line from the book, chosen just for you. Here are the results. If you like what you see, I hope you'll pick up a copy as hardcover, e-book, or audiobook, wherever books are sold online or at your local indie. And if you tweet me a number, I'll still tweet you a line. Not page 13 or 333, though. Those two are pretty much pecked clean.

Adopt A HIT!

Do you have room in your heart for an adorable, plucky orphan?

Today in my local used bookstore, I heard a sad sort of whimpering. When I looked down, I saw it. This sweet preemie copy of HIT. Worn and forgotten among among the flashy hardcovers, rarely seen after the cover change to SEXY BLOODY CREDIT CARD, this original-cover ARC is very limited edition, in excellent condition, and desperately in need of someone to love it. Good with cats, is scared of dogs who like chewing, is definitely not for children.

If you think you could give it a great home, just leave a comment below. It can be a limerick, a haiku, a sob story-- anything. Originality counts. I'll pick one lucky winner and send this bouncing baby to you with swag, a signature, and an official adoption card.

For more info on HIT, buy links for the pedigreed hardcover, or to read the first chapter for free, go here: www.hitbookseries.com

Or here, if you're sassy: www.noonereadsthefineprint.com

HIT can't wait to meet you.

Winner will be chosen and announced here and on Twitter and my Facebook author page on 10/9.

HUGE VULTURE GIVEAWAY! BOOKS AND JEWELRY!

We have 4 prizes, total, up for grabs here:

(1) book of mine of your choice, including any Blud book, Servants of the Storm, Carniepunk, or HIT - WINNER = RHIANNA WALKER!

(2) paperback copies of WAKE OF VULTURES (UK edition) - WINNERS = TIMOTHY MOORE AND BRANDI TAMBASCO!

(1) VULTURE PRIZE PACK (paperback WAKE OF VULTURES + Great Horned Owl pendant in bronze from Fire & Bone ($39 value) - WINNER = VICTORIA GRUNDLE!

Emails going out now. :) Congratulations, and thanks to everyone who entered!

WAKE OF VULTURES is out October 27! So far, it's got some amazing blurbs from leading SFF writers, starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal, and is appearing on the Barnes & Noble Bookseller Picks for October 2015!

If you're in Atlanta on Saturday, October 24 at 1pm, please join me, Cherie Priest, and V. E. Schwab for the WAKE OF VULTURES launch party at FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, GA! Cake, booze, and books! (All my favorite things...)