Doctor Sleep: A Book & Movie Review

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I read The Shining in my Popular Fiction class in college. I was one of those people who hadn’t seen the Stanley Kubrick film before reading the book, so when I finally did watch it, I had mixed feelings. I loved the cinematography, score, and a mounting sense of dread the film imparts. And the iconic bloody elevator scene? Pure magic. But some of the other choices — like changing the ending and reducing Wendy to little more than a scream queen — made me question why they bothered translating books into film in the first place. 

When I read that Stephen King was writing a continuation of The Shining, I was gassed. I devoured the book, Doctor Sleep, in just a few days. I loved it. It’s one of my favorite King novels, so when I heard they were making a movie of it, I was once again happy but wondered how they’d translate much of the content onto the screen. I saw the movie on Friday. Here’s what I thought.

A Quick Synopsis 

For those that don’t know what Doctor Sleep is about, here’s a quick synopsis. Danny Torrance is all grown up. An alcoholic with a temper that rivals his father’s, Dan soon hits rock bottom. Looking for a change, he ends up in Frazier, New Hampshire. There he gets a job as an orderly at the local hospice. He gets a room, a sponsor, and becomes sober. Dan soon becomes known as “Doctor Sleep” for his ability to help dying patients in their final moments. 

Meanwhile, a girl named Abra is born and right away her parents notice her unique abilities — abilities that seem an awful lot like the Shining. As the years pass, Abra and Dan form a psychic connection. Abra is powerful. So powerful that she draws the attention of the True Knot, a group of vampiric nomads who live off the life essences of children who Shine. As the True Knot closes in on Abra, Dan goes to extraordinary lengths to save her. 

Book vs Movie

Doctor Sleep the movie is a total homage to both the book and the Kubrick film. Fans of the book will be happy to note that the majority of the source material is the same, down to the dialogue. The director (Mike Flanagan, who also directed the brilliant Haunting of Hill House series on Netflix) removed some characters and combined a few, which works well for the film. Additionally, the scene in which the Knot is feeding on a child is delightfully creepy, down to the blue flashing of their eyes.

One change that I found to have hurt the film is the (spoiler alert) decision to change the motivations of the True Knot for wanting Abra. She is a powerful kid and desired by the Knot for two reasons. The first is that the group is starving due to their primary food source drying up — there just aren’t enough “steamheads” anymore. The second is that the group needs steam because many of them are sick from the measles, which they contracted from the last boy they killed. Only the first reason was presented in the film. To me, the Knot being sick from an illness they didn’t think would affect them in any way added to the fact that they are losing strength. It ratcheted up the tension, in a way that I didn’t think existed in the film. 

Additionally, the film really showcased Abra’s power. While I enjoyed seeing such a strong female character (and one of mixed race, like me) I felt that the tension between her and the eponymous leader of the Knot, Rose the Hat, needed to be higher. Even watching the movie knowing that in the end (again spoilers) the Knot is defeated, I still wanted to feel some doubt that Abra and Dan would win. 

That said, the movie features several tie-ins to the Kubrick film, including the creepy horn-led intro song, similar shot arrangement, the iconic bloody elevator scene, and even the Big Wheel scene where Danny runs into the twins and then stumbles on room 237. Additionally, there are other Easter eggs to iconic horror films, which I won’t spoil for you here. 

Overall, I thought this was a solid adaptation, albeit with a tad less tension. I highly recommend it,  but suggest you read the book first. 

Have you read Doctor Sleep or seen the movie? What did you think? 

My Favorite Psychological Thrillers

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When it comes to my own writing, I tend to gravitate toward urban fantasy or horror. Like most American women, though, I love a good psychological thriller. Over the years I’ve often wondered why I gravitate toward these stories with unreliable narrators, flawed-beyond-belief characters, and enough drama to fill an entire season of Real Housewives. There are five books that stick out for me in this genre, and I’ve listed them here. 

Dark Places– Gillian Flynn

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered. She testified against her brother, Ben, who was convicted and sent to prison for the massacre, which some believe was part of a Satanic ritual. Cut to present day — Libby is broke and alone. The donation money she survived off of has all but run out, so when she gets contacted by a group called the “Kill Club,” she takes a chance and meets with them. They are obsessed with crime and the murder of her family, and of proving Ben’s innocence. They make an offer – go back to the scene of the crime, meet with all the players that evening, and find out what really happened in exchange for a handsome payout. Libby agrees but as she starts to return to the darkest evening in her life, she realizes things aren’t all that they seem. 

This is Gillian’s second book but in my mind, it’s far superior to Sharp Objects and Gone Girl (I know, I know). The prose drips with darkness, the scenery is painted perfectly, and the characters are totally messed up. This book is told through three different characters — Libby, Ben, and their mother, Patty. Each one reveals a little more about their lives leading up to the massacre, and the truth about what really happened will shock you. 

Good Me, Bad Me – Ali Land

Milly’s mother is beautiful. She is charming. She is good with children. She is also a serial killer, and abuses Milly in ways that one cannot imagine. When Milly turns her mother in after she murders another victim, she’s put into witness protection and given a chance at a new life. But she feels the pressure of having to keep her old identity a secret while preparing to be the star witness at her mother’s trial. All the while, her surrogate family life begins to chafe — her surrogate mother is a ghost of a woman who’s barely comfortable with Milly in the home. Her surrogate sister and her school’s Queen Bee, bullies Milly relentlessly. And her surrogate father is also her psychologist, who may have ulterior motives for taking Milly in at all. As the tension escalates, Milly’s true nature shows, making you wonder how much of our makeup is nature and how much is nurture. 

If you like twisted narratives and flawed, unlikeable characters, this book is for you. Not a single person in this book is good — each one is flawed, and it’s just a matter of to what degree. Additionally, it’s rare that we get content about female serial killers, so I found the way that Land writes about this character to be supremely compelling. 

Good As Gone – Amy Gentry

Thirteen-year-old Julie is kidnapped from her own bedroom, with only her younger sister, Jane, as a witness. Her family stands strong amidst the terror of her disappearance and adjusts over the years to her absence. One day the doorbell rings, and Julie’s mother, Anna, is floored to see a woman on the other side claiming to be Julie herself. Anna is all at once thrilled and horrified —Julie says she was abudcted into a human trafficking ring. She’s got scars, she’s dehydrated, and she’s in need of therapy. As Anna and the rest of the family work to reintegrate Julie into their lives, she soon begins to question the woman called Julie’s legitimacy. And when she’s contacted by a private eye, the tension only escalates. 

This book is split between first person and third person narratives. For some, this may make the book difficult to get through. However, each chapter reveals more and more about these women’s story — how Anna and her family dealt with Julie’s loss, and the twisted story of what happened to the woman calling herself Julie. The writing is swift and easy to get through, and the characters are well fleshed out. 

The Favorite Sister – Jessica Knoll

Business owners. Best friends. Enemies. These words describe sisters Brett and Kelly, who co-own a series of Soul Cycle-esque gyms in New York. Kelly, the older sister, is a single mother. She’s the money-minded straight woman to younger sister Brett’s creative bravado. Their relationship is even more strained by the fact that Brett has been thrust into the spotlight on the reality TV show Goal Diggers. In this world, she is the brassy, queer, Rubenesque woman who’s plucky attitude has secured her place as fan favorite. In Kelly’s world, though, she’s a pain in the ass sister who told a lie so big it would ruin both their lives if discovered. When Kelly ends up on Goal Diggers as a new cast member, tensions flare between the sisters, the other cast members, and the show’s producers. Someone gets black out drunk. Someone gets beaten up. And someone ends up dead. 

I devoured this book in a day and a half. Knoll’s writing is exquisite, as she delves into each individual character’s lives and through them makes keen observations about what it’s like to be a woman in this society. If you love Real Housewives-level drama, unreliable narrators, and a book full of mostly unlikeable characters, I highly suggest this. 

Penpal – Dathan Auerbach 

Told in first person by an anonymous narrator, Penpal recounts the narrator’s ordeal of being stalked from the time he was a young child. He recounts several events from his childhood, some of which were clarified by his mother after she finally revealed the truth about the ordeal. In Kindergarten, the narrator was given the assignment to write a letter and tie it to a balloon to send off. At first, he thinks no one has gotten his balloon, as all his classmates have received a letter back. At the end of the year, he receives Poloroid photos in response. Other strange events occur, culminating in the death of the narrator’s friend, Josh, and Josh’s sister. The final reveal of what really happened is enough to send shivers down your spine. 

Penpal was originally written as a series of Reddit stories, then adapted for The NoSleep podcast. I first heard the podcast and was so captivated by the story that I had to get the book. The story at its core is simple, but effective. Who hasn’t been afraid at the thought of someone stalking you? Who hasn’t been surprised to find that some of your childhood memories didn’t unfold exactly the way you thought? If you like thrillers that border on horror, check out Penpal.

I know there are more juicy thrillers out there. Which ones are your favorites? Leave a comment below!

Journey to Astera – Outline Fatigue

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It’s mid-November and all I can think is “fuck, how did we get here so quickly?” I love the holiday season and spend all year waiting for October to get here. But this year, it feels wild how fast the year has gone by. Not just because this year has been intense, but because we’re about to close out a decade. There’s a lot I wanted to accomplish by now, but I try not to let the negative bitch inside me win. There are so many things I’ve done in the last decade — graduated college, moved across the country on a whim, married my best friend, traveled internationally, and completed the book I started when I was 19.

First Draft Woes 
The first iteration of To Astera, With Love came to me in a dream. I was in college, grieving the loss of my father, and wanting to escape. So I started writing a book about a vampire apocalypse and its survivors. I took several breaks while writing it, some short some years long. This was before I became a more disciplined writer. Back when I wrote only when I felt like it before I learned that an outline was the key to my success.

Second Draft Wins 
For many people, the third time’s the charm. For me, it was the second draft that was a charm. I outlined it with the help of my mother-in-law after a friend of mine beta-read the original draft and came back with “you’ve got great characters and snappy dialogue, but your plot makes no sense.” It stung, but I knew she was right. I’d written without an outline, and so it became a 75,000-word stream of consciousness. I found an outline technique that worked for me and got to work. A year and a half later, I finished To Astera, With Love.

The Next Adventure
I followed the advice of all the greats who say that you should give yourself a break between books. I took two weeks off from writing altogether, then I started working on other projects I’d been meaning to get to. I’ve since started outlining my next book and let me just say – it’s been a struggle. I’ve felt incredibly blocked lately, in a way that I haven’t in years. Perhaps I’m building this up so much after the high of writing my last book? Or maybe I need more of a break than I thought? Either way, I’m doing my best to take this a little at a time and be patient with myself.

Have you ever struggled with writer’s block? What do you do to overcome it?

Five Witchy Movies to Bing Watch Now

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For many people, witches are terrifying because of their abilities to bend reality to their will. For me, being a witch seems like the most exciting thing you could be. I’d love to be able to move things with my mind or cast spells or change the weather. It’s this desire that compelled me to feature witches in To Astera, With Love

While you’re at home staying put and avoiding Ms. ‘Rona, you’re probably looking for something good to watch. When you’re ready to get your magic on, check out these five witchy movies. 

The Witch
Set in the 1630’s New England, The Witch follows a family of five after they are cast out of their colony over a religious dispute. The family – father William, mother Katherine, and children Thomasin, Caleb, Mercy, Jonas, and newborn Samuel – move to an abandoned field by the forest where they must build their own home. After the baby disappears one day on Thomasin’s watch and Caleb falls ill after a walk in the woods, the family accuses her of being a witch. Despite her protestations, bad things continue to happen. 

I loved this movie from the moment I saw it. It feels historically accurate from the costumes to the set to the writing – the characters actually use 17th century vernacular. Additionally, it is deliciously creepy to follow the family’s descent into madness. 

The Craft
Sarah Barnes moves to Los Angeles with her father and stepmother. She makes friends quickly with a group of outcasts. There’s Rochelle, one of the only black students, who’s constantly bullied by a group of white girls. There’s Bonnie, whose body is covered in burns from a car accident, forcing her to constantly stay covered. Then there’s Nancy, who’s poor and lives in a trailer with her abusive stepfather. The girls introduce Sarah to a deity they call “Manon,” who they feel will endow them with powers. After they complete a ritual, they each start to use their powers in various ways. Nancy becomes power-hungry, and soon Sarah finds herself at odds with them. 

The Craft offers ‘90’s nostalgia, teen drama, and all the witchcraft you need. The one thing that is frustrating about this film is that Rochelle’s (played by Rachel True) storyline was centered on dealing with racist bullies. Given that she was the only black character, it only served to tokenize her more than the writers probably wanted. 

The Witches
Eight-year-old Luke is on vacation with his aunt Helga in Norway. While roaming around his hotel, he spies on a group of witches during their annual gathering. He overhears the Grand High Witch talking about a potion that will turn children into mice. Before he can get away without notice, Luke is captured and turned into a mouse. With the help of his aunt and another boy at the hotel, Luke conspires to kill the witches and escape. 

I remember watching The Witches with my siblings when I was a kid. At the time, I was scared by the Grand High Witch, played by Angelica Houston. Watching it as an adult, it’s definitely campy but still worth watching.  

Hocus Pocus
We all know the tale – Max and his sister Dani move with their family from Los Angeles to New England. Max is upset about the move, and even more perturbed about having to take his little sister trick-or-treating. After running into his classmate Allison, the trio visits the house of the Sanderson sisters. The sisters were hanged 300 years prior for being witches. The house has become a museum and is being watched by Thackery Binx, a teenager turned cat. He warns them, saying that if a virgin lights the black flame candle, it will bring back the sisters. The candle is lit, the sisters return, and All Hallows Eve gets a lot more interesting for Max, Allison, Dani, and Thackery Binx.

This classic film featuring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson sisters is on everyone’s list for top Halloween movies. I won’t try to convince you how great this film is because you should have seen it already – right?  

Blair Witch
College students Heather, Mike, and Josh are making a documentary about the Blair Witch, who supposedly haunts the woods in Burkittsville, Maryland. As they interview local townsfolk, they are told about the history of the witch and of a man named Rustin Parr, who allegedly killed children at the witch’s behest. As they make their way into the woods, more and more creepy disturbances occur – they hear noises at night around their tent, their map goes missing, and eventually Josh disappears. 

This is the film that started the found-footage craze. When it first came out, many people thought that it was real. It’s been parodied a lot, and many people may disagree with me, but I feel this film holds up if you’re looking for something more atmospheric than gory. 

What’s your favorite witchy film? Leave a message in the comments! 

7 Best Vampire Movies

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While many blogs are waxing creepily about their favorite slasher or ghost or white-person-possessed-by-a-demon movie, I thought I’d do something different. Today I’m talking about vampires. These creatures have always fascinated me –  as a kid I worked my way through many an Anne Rice book on the bus ride home from school. I love them so much that I’ve featured them in my upcoming book, To Astera, With Love. Here are the seven best vampire movies for your binge-watching pleasure. 

Fright Night
Charley Brewster’s life is an average, all-American teen who is obsessed with horror. After several disappearances in his town occur, Charley begins to suspect his neighbor, Jerry Dandridge. Jerry catches on to Charley’s suspicions and tells him to mind his business – or else. In comes a man named Peter Vincent, a vampire hunter and host of the television show, Fright Night. Charley is obsessed with the show and believes that Peter is the only one who can help.

I remember watching this movie with my older siblings on VHS (yes, I am an elder millennial) and being simultaneously afraid and scared of Jerry Dandridge, played by Chris Sarandon (who’s also the voice of Jack Skellington).  

30 Days of Night
It’s winter in Barrow, Alaska, a small town that annually experiences 30 days of a polar night. Many of the townsfolk leave for larger cities and the ones who stay behind, including Sheriff Eben Oleson (played by the smoldering Josh Hartnett), prepare to hunker down. They expect business as usual, but when a dusty-looking stranger wanders into town and destroys their only method of communication to the outside world, things get ugly. A group of vampires arrive and begin slaying the townsfolk, forcing the remaining survivors into an attic with several days of night left on the clock. 

This has been the only vampire movie that has truly scared me. I was so freaked out after seeing it in theaters, I called my sister and made her talk to me all the way home. If you’re a fan of the gorier stuff, I highly recommend this. Also, if you’re a millennial and remember when Josh Hartnett was the heartthrob, this movie is for you. 

Interview with the Vampire
After he is ambushed by vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac, reporter Daniel Malloy realizes he’s got a story on his hands. The vampire tells him all about his life before and after his turning. A wealthy plantation owner in Louisiana, Louis grows sick of living after the death of his wife and child in childbirth. While roaming through a graveyard one night, he is attacked by Lestat de Lioncourt. Lestat turns Louis, who is soon disgusted with the fact that he now requires blood to stay alive. At first, he survives on rats and feral animals, much to Lestat’s dismay. Soon Louis is unable to take the gnawing hunger and turns a young girl named Claudia as she sat at her dead mother’s side. The trio began as a family of sorts, with Louis doting on her and Lestat tutoring her to be a top predator. As the years pass and Claudia realizes she’ll never grow old, she lashes out at the men, setting in motion a chain of events that eventually leads to her death and Louis’ further disconnection with the world. 

This movie is on most people’s lists for a reason – it’s a great movie featuring talented actors, beautiful costumes and sets, and the right amount of gore for a horror film. This is for fans of vampires, historical fiction, creepy and murderous children, and Brad Pitt’s entire everything. 

Blade, a half vampire/ half-human vampire hunter, raids a club secretly owned by vampires. After a vampire is taken to the hospital and feeds on Karen, a hematologist, Blade takes her in and saves her before the vampire infection can take hold. He and his friend Whistler explain to Karen that vampires are real and they want to destroy all of humankind, a fact confirmed by the young head of a vampire faction named Deacon Frost. But Karen is marked by the vampire that bit her, and as Blade fights to keep her safe, he comes up against a familiar face. 

This movie is a cult classic, and for good reason. Wesley Snipes is excellent as the title character, and from what I’ve read, the characterization and execution of the movie is similar to the comic books. It’s perfect for fans of 90’s movies, plenty of gore, and movies with strong black characters. 

What We Do in the Shadows
Roommates suck, and in this movie, they literally do. This mockumentary is about vampires Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr. They are roommates living in New Zealand just trying to get blood and get by. When Petyr, the oldest vampire of the group, turns a young man named Nick, the group is hesitant to accept him and his friend, Stu. Overtime, though, the vampires bond with Stu more than Nick and drama ensues. 

This movie is hilarious. It’s the perfect campy film for anyone who’s not a huge fan of horror but loves supernatural. Additionally, those who love Flight of the Concords will enjoy seeing Jemaine Clement as Vladislav “the Poker.” 

Queen of the Damned
Set sometime after the events of Interview with the Vampire, Queen of the Damned follows Lestat as he becomes a rock star and reveals the existence of vampires. Because of this, he is warned that other vampires planned to kill him. As he’s attacked by these vampires at one of his concerts, the mother of all vampires, Akasha, rescues him. Meanwhile, human and member of the supernatural- scholars the Talamasca, Jesse Reeves, finds out her great aunt is a vampire with ties to Lestat. 

This movie is my guilty pleasure. I know, I know the book is usually better and in this case I completely agree. Anne Rice is a master world builder and the movie doesn’t fully do her vampire universe justice. However, there’s something about this film that is lovable – whether it’s the killer soundtrack, sexy costumes, or the way Akasha is obviously the original HBIC, I’m not sure. If you’re looking for a slightly cheesy early-aughts film to add to your repertoire, check this one out. 

Lost Boys
When Michael and Sam Emerson move to their grandfather’s Santa Carla, California home with their mother, the boys are more than a little upset. But when Michael meets his beautiful manic pixie dream girl, Starr, at a concert on the boardwalk, he draws the attention of a group of bikers led by David. He invites Michael into the fold and soon Michael slowly begins turning into a vampire. Meanwhile, Sam meets the Frogg brothers at a comic book store, who warn him about vampires and who he eventually calls upon when he realizes his brother is becoming one of them. 

This movie holds a special place in my heart because it was filmed in Santa Cruz, a beach town close to where I grew up in San Jose. I love the characterization of the vampires in this film, and it is so iconically ‘80s that it’s hard not to love. It’s not gory, more campy, so if you’re not a fan of gore I highly recommend. 

What are your favorite vampire films? Leave a recommendation below!


Journey To Astera

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It’s a rainy day in Atlanta. Normally this type of weather makes me want to sit down and write for hours on end, but today? I feel like I’m dragging ass, trying hard to put one word after another. Today I wanted to give you an update on my upcoming book, To Astera, With Love

My book is currently with my editor. Because this is the first time I’m working with an editor I didn’t know what to expect. The first thing I learned, however, was to turn off my email notifications. Every time she made an edit or added a comment, I would get a notification and pop open my manuscript to see what she said. This made me far to anxious and so off my notifications went. 

Cover design
My cover is now being designed! I had a very unique vision for my cover, so I knew I had to find someone who could help me execute. I hit up a former coworker who is currently a freelance designer and tattoo artist. We had a long conversation about what I wanted and I was so happy that he caught my vision. I should have a rough draft soon. Once I get the full cover back, I plan to do a cover reveal!

Back cover copy
This was a challenge. I had a hard time narrowing down what information to put in the back cover blurb – after all, you don’t want to put so much information that you turn away potential readers. After running it by several fellow writers, a few friends, and my husband, I’m excited about the first bit of content my future book readers will interact with.

Next steps
This is my first book that I’m working to publish so there’s a lot of things I’m learning on the fly. Thankfully, I found Jane Friedman’s website and her self-publishing checklist. While I am waiting to get my edits back, I plan to do some research on pricing, purchase ISBNs, and develop a robust marketing plan. 

If you’re a published author and have any advice to share about the publishing process, or you’d like to learn more about my upcoming book, I’d love to connect with you! 

Best Podcasts to Listen to While Taking a Break From Writing

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Because the muse is a cruel-ass mistress, we want to hold onto her as tight as we can when we finally have the inspiration to write. However, it’s still necessary to take breaks during your writing session, and listening to a podcast can help take your mind off of your work while also avoiding the time suck that is television. The podcast revolution of the early 2010s means there’s an abundance of content out there to listen to. As someone who spends most of her commute to and from work listening to podcasts, I’ve listened to a lot of them. Here are the top seven I’ve found that are solid for when you need a writing break. 

Last Podcast on the Left
I mentioned this podcast in another blog. It’s made my list again because it’s that good – show hosts Henry Zebrowski, Ben Kissel, and Marcus Parks cover all horrors, real and imaginary. Every episode is extensively researched and the chemistry between the show hosts creates a funny and intense dynamic. Some of my favorite topics are Jonestown, witches, chaos magic, Aileen Wuornos, Columbine, and the electric chair. 

You’re Wrong About …
Helmed by hosts Michael Hobbs and Sarah Marshall, this podcast seeks to set the record straight on some of the most memorable events in the American zeitgeist, including the Satanic panic, Amy Fisher, the Challenger explosion, Enron, and more. This is the perfect podcast for anyone who loves learning about the events that shaped our politics, culture, and world views. The hosts are funny and insightful, and it’s easy to binge-listen to episode after episode. 

Listening to Disgraceland is like listening to short stories about music’s greatest legends. The host, Jake Brennan’s writing and voice are hypnotic, and as he draws you in on tales about Amy Winehouse, Brian Jones, and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez, you’ll be able to picture each even perfectly. This is a great listen for musicophiles and history buffs alike. Some of my favorite episodes are about Sid Vicious, Marvin Gaye, and Motley Crue. 

Think you know everything there is to know about Greek mythology? Think again. Mythunderstood expands on these myths, as co-host Paul breaks down some well known and some obscure myths for his co-host, Sarah. In this podcast, you’ll learn about the Titanomachy, Perseus, Hercules, and the Trojan War, just to name a few. If you need some myths to inspire your own world-building, this podcast should do the trick. 

This Podcast Will Kill You
Hosted by a pair of scientists who are both named Erin, This Podcast Will Kill You covers diseases from the flu to malaria to scurvy. Not only do you learn about the biology of the virus and how it affects your body, but you also learn about the history surrounding it and its current standing in the world. This show is not for the faint of heart, but the hosts add just enough levity that the details on how scurvy breaks down the collagen in your body or the mortality rate of rabies don’t seem so scary.    

Hollywood Crime Scene
Listening to the ladies at HCS is like hanging out with your best friends, talking about true crime, and eating your favorite comfort foods. Long-time friends and hosts Desi Jedeikin and Rachel Fisher talk about crime specifically related to Tinsel Town – everything from Natalie Wood to Bobby Brown to the Food Network. Their chemistry is amazing and they don’t hold back with their commentary about the crimes, food, sex, or other celebrities. They are also very honest about their lives, and that adds to the feeling of spending time with friends. 

What Did You Do?!
There are a ton of true crime podcasts out there, but very few are helmed by black hosts. Charneil and Dee examine crimes, both famous and lesser-known, using their respective backgrounds in forensic psychology and social work. Their unique perspectives and humor make this podcast feel like you’re launching into deep conversation with your best friends about the correlation between mental health and crime. Some of my favorite episodes include Andrea Yates, Elliot Rodger, and the Covina massacre. 

Hopefully one or all of these podcasts will inspire you to keep writing your current WIP or start a new one. I’m always looking for new podcasts to add to my already long list – what podcasts do you listen to? 


Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going

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This last year has been a journey.

This last year and a half has been one of extreme highs and lows. I’ve been through a lot, and I’m finally ready to share what’s happened. As you know, writing is often the best salve, since it allows you to pour out your emotions on the page without fear of immediate judgement (from everyone but yourself, that is). 

The death of my father-in-law
I’ve always had a great relationship with my in-laws, even before my husband and I were married. We all have a deep love for reading, writing, good movies, and politics so we clicked almost immediately. My own father passed away ten years ago, so the relationship I had with my father-in-law was special because he became a second father to me. He offered advice and care when I needed it, was always there for a laugh, and he made it a point to read what I wrote and let me know his thoughts. But he was older, in his late 70s, and his health was declining. He was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disorder that affected his platelet count. When he had a heart attack and went to the emergency room, we were given the most devastating news – he had a mild heart attack, and there wasn’t much they could do. The blood thinners they’d put other patients on would not work because of his low platelets. But if we did nothing, he’d likely have another heart attack. We were in a catch-22 for the better part of the summer. After several weeks in and out of the hospital, and after his 80th birthday, he passed away. In a weird way, I felt that my experience having lost my own father helped my husband cope, because I could let him know what to expect in terms of his emotions and those of others. 

I got married 
I married my best friend on October 12th, 2018. It was a breathtaking ceremony and reception, filled with some of the people I love most in the world. As anyone who’s planned a wedding knows, it is of the most fun yet stressful things to do. My planning process was filled with more drama than I cared for – from conflicts with my family flying in from the West Coast, to nearly firing my wedding decorator to my mother being late for every wedding-related function, including the wedding itself. In the end, though, there’s nothing I would have changed. We got married by one of our best friends as the sun set over the Chattahoochee river. We had photos of both of our fathers on a table, surrounded by candles. My sister sang “Ribbon in the Sky.” Every speech was wonderful and reminded us just how loved we are. Our first dance was “The Very Thought of You.” I danced so hard one of the straps to my dress broke. Our honeymoon was all I’ve ever wanted – we went to Paris and Amsterdam. It was my first time out of the country. As our anniversary approaches, I’m still so in love with the man I married. He’s someone who loves me for me – he nurtures my talent, cares for me when I’m down, and keeps it real with me when I need it. 

My husband was diagnosed with cancer
The first several months of a married couple’s life is described as the honeymoon phase. In those first few months, most couples are recouping from the wedding (mentally, physically, and financially) and sending out thank you cards to their wedding guests. Our first year has been very different from other newlyweds – my husband was diagnosed with low grade Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in January, just after his 35th birthday. His Oncologist presented his case to the Emory tumor board to determine treatment. They decided based on his age, health, and type of cancer that “watchful waiting” is the best course of action for now. The news has changed us in ways we are still figuring out. Even though he’s not actively receiving chemo or radiation or immunotherapy treatment, we’ve been to Kaiser so many times it feels like we could rent our own room there. Anytime his physical state changes, the alarm bells sound off in my head. Neither of us can stand commercials or TV shows or movies about cancer. We are both in therapy, and the topic of our future is one that we speak about with both hope and fear. We’ve realized that the small things like household chores and errands don’t matter as much. We’ve also realized that we’ll be paying off my student loans and his medical bills for literal decades. 

I was laid off
Being laid off is a special kind of trauma, and the second time around felt worse than the first. I had been a marketing specialist at my company for almost two years. The company itself was experiencing growing pains and after a year and a half of being the marketing strategist/digital project manager/ social media strategist/ sole copywriter, I was ready to move up or move on. I’d started talking to my manager about a promotion, and worked to demonstrate my value each and every day. I worked through lunch. I checked work emails and Slack after hours and on weekends, responding in kind. I believed that this behavior would make me an asset, but I soon learned that was not the case. I was sitting in a meeting when I got a Slack from one of the managers in the building, asking me to come to his office. It was unexpected, not just because he was not my manager – who worked out of the main office in the midwest- but because he never asked to speak to me one on one. When I walked toward his office and saw the head of HR sitting there, my heart started racing. They told me that they were reorganizing the company and my position was being eliminated, effective immediately. They said that my boss, who was on vacation at the time, knew about my impending lay off but couldn’t say anything. The head of HR told me she would accept a call from me if I wanted to chat. I never called her, and six months later I have yet to hear a thing from her. All was not lost for me, though. Two weeks later I took a job with a better commute, higher pay, and less stress. 

I finished my book
The first draft of To Astera, With Love was a meandering 70,000 words about young adults living in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by vampires. There was a witch who’d perfected magical tattoos gave them out to help fight the vampire hordes that killed his family, a ghost cheerleader, and a psychopathic loner who got the girl in the end. Ultimately, it was my critique partner who sat me down and told me that the work was a mess. The plot was lacking, some of the characters weren’t fleshed out, and the world building was flimsy. I was devastated at the time at the thought of starting over, but then something wonderful happened. I spent a rainy Sunday workshopping ideas with my mother-in-law, an author and former TV writer. The final version of Astera is based on a few simple ideas – what if a vampire ran for president and won? What if this vampire was vile, not just for his insatiable bloodlust, but for his regressive views and scapegoating of another supernatural group, witches? I kept the magical tattoos and found-family elements from the first book. A vengeful witch who gave out magical tattoos became a 21-year-old college student named Mercury, who worked part time at his family’s tattoo parlor. The ghost cheerleader was cut out, and the psychopathic loner became a privileged rich kid named Ellis, who was Mercury’s oldest friend. Instead of a group of young adults barricading themselves in a home and venturing out only for supplies, Astera has them on the run from a group of vampires led by a frat boy with a triangle-shaped body who still believes in GTL. In this world, politics are the same – the president has a cabinet and can sign or veto bills into law, journalists write political articles that aren’t always true, and young people are a driving force of change. There’s also a Witches’ Council, people’s powers are dictated by one of the four elements, and violence against witches is commonplace. Writing this book was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. I’ve decided to self publish, and so the manuscript is being edited and I’m in talks with a designer about the cover. I’m overwhelmed about what lies ahead but I’ve also never been so excited for my work to be out in the world. 

Now you know way too much about me. If I didn’t scare you away, come back for more next week, where I’ll be sharing more about To Astera, With Love

8 Badass Women Of History

Last updated on: Published by: Amanda Ross 0

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Women are remarkable. Though there are so many women throughout history who have made a mark, I chose these eight because some are lesser-known and some have a history that has not been talked about fully. Here are eight badass women of history.

Boudica – The Celtic Savior
The Romans conquered Britain in 43 AD, and when they did, most Celtic tribes had to swear fealty. But the Iceni tribe, led by King Prasutagas and Queen Boudica, was initially left alone as a (forced) ally for the Empire until Prasutaga’s death in 60 AD. Since there was no male heir to the throne, the Romans took over. They publicly humiliated Boudica, flogging her and raping her daughters. When Gaius Suetonius Paulinus (the provincial governor at the time) marched into Wales, Boudica and an army of Celts defeated the Roman Ninth Legion. Boudica’s army ravaged Roman strongholds, destroying the Roman capital of Britain and marching to London. Though her final battle with the Romans ended in defeat, Boudica is still hailed as a national heroine.

Tomoe Gozen – A Warrior Worth A Thousand
Born circa 1157, she was one of the Onna Musha, part of the female warrior class. She was an accomplished archer and a master of the long sword who fought in the Genpei War. The Genpei war, which was a Game of Thrones-style fight for the thrown between the Taira family and the Minamoto family, raged from 1180-1185. During the war, Tomoe established herself as such a badass, that Lord Kiso no Yoshinaka named her as the commander of his army. This probably because Tomoe led a group of 300 soldiers in a battle against the Taira army (which numbered in the thousands) and emerging as one of five survivors. Or possibly it was that she collected the heads of seven Taira mounted soldiers in one battle.

Florence Nightengale – The Lady With the Lamp
Florence knew from a young age that she wanted to be a nurse. Despite her family’s staunch disapproval, Florence left England to study at the Kaiserswerth hospital in Dusseldorf, Germany. She became a nurse and was promoted to Head Nurse after only a year. She was known for her work to improve sanitation processes, so Florence was contacted to help with the harsh conditions of the Crimean War. Florence saw that more soldiers were dying from disease and infection than injuries sustained in battle. She got to work cleaning the hospital, procuring clean linens, and nurturing the patients. Her work reduced the mortality rate by two thirds. During the Civil War, she was consulted on how to improve sanitation conditions on the war front.

Harriet Tubman – The Conductor
Harriet was born into slavery in 1820. When her owner died in 1849, Harriet escaped slavery and fled to Philadelphia. Instead of remaining safely in the free state of Pennsylvania, Harriet helped her family make the journey to Philadelphia, starting with her niece, Kessiah, and her family. In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, making an escape from slavery more perilous for black Americans. As a result, Tubman routed the Underground Railroad to Canada. She helped hundreds of slaves escape to freedom, and during the Civil War, she acted as a spy for the Union Army.  Because of her badassery, Harriet Tubman will soon replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.

Claudette Colvin – The Trailblazer
Before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, there was Claudette Colvin. Claudette was born in 1939 in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1955, at just 16, Claudette refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. She was arrested and served as one of four plaintiffs in the case Browder vs Gayle, a case that ruled Montgomery’s segregated bus system as unconstitutional in 1956. Though Claudette was instrumental in changing this law, her contribution to the start of the Civil Rights Movement is little known. After she had her first child, Claudette and her son moved to New York, where she served as a nurse until retiring in 2014.

Shirley Chisholm – The Game Changer
In 1968, Shirley became the first black American congresswoman. Prior to serving in Congress, she received a Master’s degree from Columbia, served as director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center, and as an educational consultant for New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare. She made history in 1968 when she began the first of many terms on in the House of Representatives, serving New York. Shirley also helped form the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969 and also ran for the Democratic nomination for President in 1972. Though it was George McGovern who ultimately received the nomination, Shirley’s run made history once again.

Billie Jean King – All She Does Is Win
Billie Jean was a tennis star, an advocate for pay equity, and one of the first openly gay athletes. From an early age, Billie Jean had a love of sports. She played softball until age 11 when she took up the tennis racket. In 1966, she won her first major championship at Wimbledon. By 1968 she became the world’s No.1 female player. Her 1973 match with player Bobby Riggs, a talented but sexist player, secured her place in history. The match was dubbed the Battle of the Sexes, and Billie Jean beat Bobby before an estimated 90 million viewers. In 1981, after being sued by a former assistant and lover, Billie Jean came out. She divorced her husband and settled down with her longtime partner, Ilana Kloss.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg – The Notorious R.B.G.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the second female appointed to Supreme Court Justice. Born in Brooklyn in 1933, Ruth went on to graduate from Cornell University and then Columbia, where she earned her degree in law. In 1980, Ruth was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals and served until 1993, when former President Bill Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court. In her role as Supreme Court Justice, Ruth has established herself as a staunch feminist and advocate for social justice. She was a key decider in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

History is filled with so many more amazing women. What women do you look up to?