Book Breakdown of 2014

Posted: December 31, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

And so, as 2014 shows itself the door, it’s time again to recap the number of reads I’ve conquered this year.

Last year’s grand total: 16

This year’s grand total: 17

Shit, I barely scraped by.  I ain’t proud, kids, but I can at least comfort myself that I have a hefty amount of unread books waiting for me to crack in 2015. Alas, the book breakdown abounds…

PicMonkey Collage

  1. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon – Handy creative how-to book. Quick and easy read.


  1. The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison – Similar to, but almost better than, a Gillian Flynn book.


  1. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S. Thompson – Only HST can make politics uber-interesting.


  1. The Gunslinger – The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King – Enjoyed but not enough to continue the series.


  1. I Lived to Tell It All by George Jones – Jones lived a crazy-ass life. Good fodder for my then-in-progress novel.


  1. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – Better than Gone Girl. Get on this book, Hollywood.


  1. Hank Williams the Biography by Colin Escott – Sad, sad tale but a great delve into his short life.


  1. Still in Love with You by Lycrecia Williams – Written by his daughter, this was a quick read to get Hank Williams’ wife’s take on the relationship.


  1. The Mapmaker’s War by Ronlyn Domingue – This book pained my heart. Such a beautiful, strange tale. READ IT.


  1. Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi – One of the best true crime books I’ve ever read.


  1. Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck – OK, I read my 2nd Steinbeck book after the much-hated “Grapes of Wrath”…and let me say I didn’t hate it! Success. Really enjoyed, actually. Great humor and story.


  1. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – I definitely appreciated it, but didn’t like the main character and overall, it wasn’t as good as I expected.


  1. People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry – Creepy true crime story involving a 2000 Tokyo murder case.


  1. The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide by Schuler Benson – Quirky southern tales.


  1. The Intern’s Handbook by Shane Kuhn – Tamer version of “John Dies at the End.” Great action scenes.


  1. Doll Palace by Sara Lippmann – Beautiful and haunting book.


  1. The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport – Inside look and informative bio about the lives of the Romanov Sisters.


My vote for the best book I’ve read this year?

I gotta say, demented as it is, and despite the number of gems I’ve read this year, that the winning book of 2014 has been Helter Skelter. Despite it being a massive 700 pages, I ate this book up. It’s true crime at its best (worst?) and bloodiest.

Now what about you?  How’d you do this year? Do tell, so I have a reason to buy more — what’s been your favorite book of 2014?


Life Lessons from London

Posted: December 14, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Thanksgiving had me catching the traveling bug and jaunting off to London for a quickie 3-day trip. While there was no time to bring back any souvenirs, I did bring back some observations from across the pond.

Oh, London, where the squirrels are trained to attack tourists and Jack the Ripper is alive and well.


Buckingham Palace Ain’t that Impressive

More resembling a museum than a regal residence, the London residence of the queen is “meh.” No disrespect. It’s just…a square palace with some gold gates and some strapping dudes staring stealthily. I expected more. I guess take the five minutes to see it to say you saw it and then go drinkin’ at some pubs.




You Will get Harassed on Brick Lane but the End Result is Worth it

The harassment isn’t all that bad. Actually, it’s harassment to come and eat delicious, delicious Indian food so who can get mad about that? Ok, I’ll admit it did get a little tedious turning down every person who hopped out of the shadows to try and convince you to come eat their palak paneer (and that is not a euphemism) but we survived and eventually found an amazing place called Sheba where the naan flowed like water and the curries curled your toes.


Don’t attempt to shop on Sloane Street

Unless you’re prepared to give your left nut, firstborn or a healthy dose of cash for a $3000 suit or evening gown, don’t even set foot on Sloane Street.


Near Harrod’s, this fancy schmancy row of shops shames us paupers. From Jimmy Choo to Chanel to Valentino it’s a shopping destination for rich folks from across the globe. Me and my Target shoes wouldn’t be appreciated. But I have no problem with that.


 The Underground Doubles as a Confession Booth

The Underground is London’s transportation system, and while at first a tad confusing to navigate, it makes getting around a breeze. However, with tons of people spending tons of time getting from place to place it becomes very intimate, very fast. People brazenly eat smelly foods, silently cropdust and have awkward conversations that should be held in the privacy of their own home while sitting thigh to thigh next to you.


How I look on public transport


 When public transportation doubles as a confession booth it may be a good idea to bring in a priest.


Complimentary Hotel Breakfast Buffets are on Steroids

When you imagine a complimentary hotel breakfast buffet in the states, maybe you picture a sectioned off piece of lobby with mini cereals, yogurts and cold pastries. One where you hurry down in footie pajamas amid businessmen in suits to snatch what you can before dashing back up to the room to gorge yourself.

Eat up, peasants

Eat up, peasants

However, in London breakfast buffets are a majestic and delicious experience. White table cloths and china. Servers and hostesses. Hot foods and NUTELLA.


Hear the angels sing

Hear the angels sing

WTF, America? You’ve been doing this all wrong.


London Bridge Has Deceived You

Yeah, that iconic sight you picture when you sing “London Bridge is falling down” is NOT London Bridge. It’s Tower Bridge.


THIS dull thing is London Bridge.

Wait, what?

Wait, what?

I know I just rocked your world but the news couldn’t be helped.

Shakey Graves – And the War Came

It’s a girl that smells like books but can’t read. It’s me dream gal. — Shakey Graves/Reddit

Um, yeah. That quote? I’d kinda like to tattoo that on my arm. Press pause on my heart while I fall onto my fainting couch.

This is what you get from Shakey Graves. Lyrical gems that raise eyebrows and flutter lashes. I just recently discovered this one-man-band singer/songwriter and with his recent release And the War Came all I can say is it’s a CD that is best listened to when you need a little bit of blues and rock and roll to brood to.

Plus, he looks so deliciously dirty. I just want to roll around all over his face.



Yeah, I’ll admit it.

Anyway, check out one of my fave Shakey vids.


New album info here.

Get it. Get it.




Sara Lippmann – Doll Palace


If there’s anyone who deserves some sweet pimpin’ it’s Sara Lippmann. Back when I was a young’un, I’d read her short stories online and be in awe of her writing gloriousness. And now her new collection of short stories – Doll Palace – is a sucker punch read. Wonderfully constructed characters, choice dialogue and brilliant writing abound. Though the stories are short, a lot of emotion is invested in the read. The book kinda makes your heart ache just a little bit, which is okay because it’s worth it. You’ll just never get the stories out of your head.

Buy or peruse here.



Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Apples – Food52

We got music and reading covered, now onto the most delicious part: FOOD.

A recent recipe posted on one of my favorite websites Food52 is a delicious Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Apples. If that’s not a mouthful, I don’t know what is. I made it a few weeks ago and it lives up to its amazingness. It’s kinda like the perfect boyfriend. It doesn’t take a lot of effort, is just sweet enough, and it doesn’t criticize you if you eat two slices in the bathtub.

It also never compares you to your mother.

It also never compares you to your mother.

I’m just sayin.

Recipe is here.

As soon as I saw the cover of the book, I knew I had to have it (must have the precious…). And as soon as I saw it was by Schuler Benson, I knew I had to read it. The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide contains 12 gritty stories about the Deep South. Most of them uncomfortably good, terribly sad, and riddled with a southern dialect so well done it’s almost a wonder (note to self: start using “Nawp” in everyday conversation).

With short stories like these, I always question the background behind what inspired each individual one. In such short, powerful stories, there’s gotta be some dirt, some small flash that’s the reason why it’s been brought to life so well. And so, I prodded the mind of the author himself to get a behind-the-scenes look at five stories from this collection.




Cryptic Bullshit: Stories Behind Five Stories from The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide



“Grace” got its start in a small place. The first scene I wrote from this story was the narrator’s description of the chair as it burned. The confessional nature of sponsorship rings hollow for me, and that was the biggest inspiration behind this one. The trust, the weight falling away… it’s a pleasant notion, and something about it does feel like relief, especially in the throes of that mania or catharsis or whatever it is. I liken it to a revival. If enough people tell you you’re healed, you can stand for a minute. Hysteria is a powerful thing. But in the periphery, something’s always on fire.


“The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide”

I’ve been in some pretty sketchy situations and done some pretty sketchy shit to get by. Probably the worst was working for a company that owned two cemeteries in my hometown. I had a fancy title, but what I really did was sell graves. My circumstances at the time didn’t afford me the luxury of being able to quit a job just because I didn’t like it, but I performed very poorly and was eventually fired. I’ll never forget that relief. Near the end of my tenure there, a couple of friends of mine died. It was abysmal. I was completely demoralized. This story started there, but ended somewhere else entirely.


 “Ace Damage”

I had this class near the end of my time at the University of Arkansas. It was a “Bible as Literature” class, and the professor had an entertaining slant he’d use to teach the material. Very enlightening, lots of fun. “Ace” started out as a kind of Old Testament golem story that started taking root while I was doodling in the Bible class. I threw in a little Garth Ennis worship and some pyromania, and it turned out okay, I think. I’ve gotten some awesome feedback on this story, which has been very flattering. I wasn’t sure if anyone would like it.


“Pet Wife”

This was a weird one to write. I’ve always had a fascination with found things and this kind of “residual haunting”-type vibe they can carry. Like most stories in this collection, this started out as something much different. A Rapture story. It ended up a lot shorter than I thought, and a lot more “found thing” than “Rapture”, but I adore it. The contents of the letter make me want to cry, and I really have no idea why.


“Stroke Test”

I spent most of my youth in a pill bottle. The idea of “euphoric recall” is fascinating to me, specifically because people like me are told it’s this thing we can’t escape. To me though, at this juncture and for the last few years, it’s felt very foreign. I can remember the shitty times like they happened yesterday. Fear, sickness, guilt. Shame. When I try to think of the good times, that elation, that recklessness, all that comes up is grime. Filth. A dirty memory rusted. “Stroke Test” is a crooked ode to good times that never were.




Schuler Benson’s fiction and poetry have appeared in Kudzu Review, Hobart, The Fat City Review, and elsewhere. He has been nominated for a Sundress Publications Best of the Net Award, a storySouth Million Writers Award, and 2013 and 2014 Pushcart Prizes. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Arkansas and is currently enrolled in the MA Writing program at Coastal Carolina University. The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide is his first book.He tweets from @schulerbenson,  and can be found on Facebook at /schulerbenson.

Buy his book here.

The city of Portland would be proud. When I visited last month I did not make one “Portlandia” joke. How’s that for restraint?

Instead, I thoroughly enjoyed the weather and the alcohol.

And the No-Dog-Pooping signs.

And the No-Dog-Pooping signs.

In Portland, I realized that I had forgotten the way an old city feels. Portland has an East coast, old highways, and salty air kind of vibe, which isn’t felt in the southwest. And with its buzz of neon signs and wet water in the air, there was something nostalgic about the city and its atmosphere.

And now on to a perfect Portland 2-itinerary. The stops to brake for and the food to devour.



Check into a room with a hipster vibe. The Ace Hotel in downtown Portland full-throttle hums with tourists and locals. With a lounge, a photo booth, upstairs mezzanine with work space, coffee shop and bar and restaurant, The Ace is ace. Seriously, though. It’s probably one of the best boutique hotels I’ve stayed at. Everything is unique and quirky, and the little touches they do truly make the experience.

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Portland is a city where you wait in line – sometimes minutes, sometimes hours – for food. But it’s worth it. I’ll tell ya that.

Do get a caffeinated buzz on at Heart Coffee and Stumptown Roasters. Do buy $20 bags of coffee and feel like a pauper afterwards.


Do toss money at Voodoo Donuts. It’s worth visiting for the tagline. A helpful tip to make the line wait easier – have lunch and a few glasses of rose at Dan and Louis Oyster Bar, then stumble on over to make conversation and giggle at the Cock and Balls Donut.

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Don’t pass up the chicken and biscuits at Clyde Common. Mind. Blowing. One of the best brunch spots in town.

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Do be fatties at Ox. I tried sweetbreads and it wasn’t the worst thing to happen to me.

Don’t be afraid of the lines at Pok Pok and Salt & Straw on SE Division Street. The calories are worth it. Be sure to try the Olive Oil ice cream at Salt and Straw.



Don’t try to make conversation with the bartenders at Kask. They will scowl and not be amused. Do however order one of their specialty cocktails. Just keep your mouth shut, son, and drink.


Do put on your reading glasses at the Multnomah Whiskey Library. You’ll need ‘em for the Whiskey Bible. SERIOUSLY. ARE YOU LISTENING, MORTALS? This place is amazing. Be prepared for a wait but it will all be worth it once you have that glass (or glasses) of sweet, sweet nectar in your hands. You will probably make the best-worst decisions after a night at this bar.

Do you hear the sound of angels singing?

Do you hear the sound of angels singing?


IMG_20140815_234324 IMG_20140816_000253


Do smell the roses at the International Rose Garden Test Garden. With so many colors and different varieties of roses, it’s definitely a bad place to be for a person with ADD.

This guy just deserved jazz hands.

This guy just deserved jazz hands.



Do head to Portland Saturday Market. Exclaim obscenities at the $10 flower bouquets that would normally cost $80 elsewhere. Don’t buy inappropriate aprons and bow ties for cats, even though I know you really want to.

$10 bucks for this. WTF?

$10 bucks for this. WTF?

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DO NOT miss Powell’s Books. The epitome of a bookstore, this place is really, really, ridiculously good looking and a book-lover’s wet dream.

IMG_20140816_133204 IMG_20140816_142458

Do explore and shop the Pearl District.

Do stop by Hoodoo Antiques and take in the threatening graffiti and quirky artifacts.


IMG_20140815_151331 IMG_20140815_151359



Aaaaand there you go. If you ever head to Portland, your two-day itinerary is planned.   Just be prepared to gain 10 pounds. You’re welcome.

I rarely get hot and bothered and exert an excess amount of physical energy, because you know, the couch, but when I do, you can bet your ass it has something to do with music. Now when it comes to getting concert tickets for my favorite bands/musicians, I consider myself a pro.

Up-close-and-personal is what I want to be when my favorite band rolls into town. And I’ve been pretty successful. Nostril-seeing successful. Hugging-Hanni-El-Khatib-successful.


yesssss, let’s just bask in this moment of glory.

Yesssss, let’s just relive this moment of glory.


So while my skill set is mostly limited to lifting a wine glass, I thought I’d share my fight-to-the-death concert ticket scoring moves because, sometimes you can’t win ‘em all, but you sure as hell can beat out the next person.


How I look when I try to get concert tickets.

How I look when I try to get concert tickets.


1. Be Nosy

First — sign up for your favorite musicians/bands’ mailing lists. Usually, this gets you access to pre-sale tickets. They typically send you a special code so you’ll have first dibs over all the other uninformed peasants.

Next, follow the band on Facebook and Twitter.

Another helpful site to become extra-stalker-ish is Bandsintown. It’s the easiest way to get mass notifications of when…well, your bands are in town. Track your favorite acts by adding them to your queue and you’ll get email alerts the second a tour is added in your city. You can also view past and upcoming tours to make you extra jealous and extra sad that you can’t attend.


2. Keep Your Whore Mouth Shut

You will turn into Judas in this step. Potentially jilt a lover or a best friend.

Do NOT announce your ticket purchasing plans. Keep them on the down low and off social media and out of your circle of friends and the general population. The less people who know about pre-sale, the better.


3. Cancel Plans

I don’t care if it’s the rapture, the instant you know the date tickets go on sale, mark your calendar. Note the time zone.

Come purchasing day, I don’t give a good goddamn what your plans are. You cancel that shit. Call in sick to work. Lock up your pets and children. Seclude yourself. There must be no interruptions. All the focus is on your tickets. Practice sour bitchface if someone dares question your actions.


I will cut you.

I will cut you.


4. Be a Multitasking Mofo

Okay, the day of purchase is here. Be prepared to multi-task like you’ve never multitasked before. You have three options to get tickets.  And you have to be fast.

First, use the website. This isn’t rocket science.

Second, dial the box office number on your phone and be ready to call if the website won’t work or if you aren’t getting the tickets you want. Practice your whiny voice and be prepared to pitch a fit.

Third, if the vendor is Ticketmaster, download the app. The free mobile app “typically allocates tickets especially for mobile sales” AND you get to bypass that pesky security code.


Welp, I've always considered myself more of a cock gobbler, but this'll have to do...

Welp, I’ve always considered myself more of a cock gobbler, but this’ll have to do…


5. Two Is the Best Number

Do NOT volunteer to buy more than two tickets. For you and a friend. For you and your partner. Keep it easy. Having to buy more than two royally screws you over. It’s easier to buy two good tickets up close, than having to wrangle four together. You’ll get pushed to the back of the bus…and the nosebleed sections.


6. Have a Happy Trigger Finger

If you’re buying online, get on ten minutes before the tickets go on pre-sale. Say it’s 10am. At 9:58am, log in with the pre-sale code and starting hitting refresh. Hit it over and over until you get access. A bit Arkham Asylum? Perhaps. However, when I do this I always wind up two rows from the stage, so I ain’t stopping my OCD for the men in white coats.


7. Don’t Be Picky

Now you’re logged on. Work fast and pull up the seating chart. Zero in on what you want and go for it. Be decisive; do not take a few lovely minutes to ponder where you’d like to sit. Getting the best tickets means just selecting your seat STAT. If the tickets are gone when you try to purchase, don’t be picky. Just back that ass up a row and try again.


8. Have a Plan B

Yes, Plan B may come in handy AFTER the concert, but right now, this isn’t what I’m talking about.

Okay, so your best laid plans failed, despite my amazingly awesome tips, and you got shit tickets or there were no seats left and you opted out.  Calm down; do not shake a ragey fist at the screen. All is not lost. For die-hard fans, if you still want the best seats in the house and are prepared to pony up some cold hard cash, head to TickPick or StubHub where the scalpers live. These options are pricey and infuriating  BUT if you’re willing to pay for it — they got it. Because, ‘Merica.


So there you go. Now you have an action plan for snagging the best tickets. Steps that don’t involve throwing elbows and sharpening shivs to get what you want. Although, that would make for a mighty fun blog post.


Jack White knows what's up.

Jack White knows what’s up. Yeah, he does.



I present to you the Write in Three Steps Rule.

Okay, so maybe it’s not your rule. But it’s my rule. And maybe it’s not so much a rule as a habit that works. And maybe it’s not so much a habit like that Pop Rocks addiction I once had, as it is a magical unicorn that makes writing easier and less scrambled in my brain.


*cue token unicorn photo*

*cue token unicorn photo*


Writing in three’s is something I’ve always done, but have only recently come to this “Oh-hey- I-actually-have-a -process” newsflash.  I use these three steps for flash fiction, blog posts, for my day job copywriting, and to a more liberal extent, as I’m writing my novel.

Do with them what you will.


Step #1: Death Gurgle What You Think You Mean

Word vomit is your friend. Go on. Just upchuck the words. No matter the thought, the random, unintelligible sputter, get it out.  Don’t worry about how it sounds, what you mean, if it contains numbers or bad spelling, it ain’t no thang.

I like to think of this part as the skeleton. The base outline. A small paragraph, even a sentence, helps you formulate your thoughts. Get that shit in order, son. Leave blanks where you don’t know what to say. I usually put  ‘XXX’ as a placeholder so it looks exceptionally dirty, but that’s just me.

Step #1 is like the death gurgle of writing. No one will understand it except you, and I say, let it gurgle.


Step #2: Say What You Want to Mean

This is the lengthy, drawn out, JUST FUCKING WRITE step.

Elaborate upon what you death gurgled in Step #1. Fill in, flesh it out, make the sentences fatty-fatty.  Try to get some semblance of shape and meaning.

But still, as you say what you want to mean, just write. Still, just write. Don’t worry if you’re wrong yet. Don’t let doubt interrupt your blather. Make it up if you don’t know it. This part can take a few go rounds. This will be never ending until you get it right.

Now you’re probably wondering how this is different than the first step…well, you’re fixing and shaping it into a paragraph, a bullet, or a story, when Step #1 is just getting it out.

You’re shaping it into what you want to mean, what you want your words to stand for.



Step #3: Say What You REALLY Mean


This third step contains murder. Blood on your hands when you’re done so get out the body bags and the bleach. This step is being cruel and kind. Kill your (word) darlings with a hatchet. A buzz saw. Or my personal favorite a mace.


the finest writing instrument available.


I let Step #2 sit for a few minutes, days, hours, weeks, depending on how much time I have, and then I go back to clean. Let there be nothing extraneous, confusing. Cut out the shit. Finesse words and polish it up to be clear. Read and reread, chop out extra words.

Sometimes, not all of your story, your writing will need this step. Sometimes you’ll luck out and get it right in Step #2.

Say for example in Step #2, I wanted a character to be hangry so I wrote: “Discovering he was all out of snack cakes, Gus shouted at his woman to head down to the Piggly Wiggly.”

But when I comb back over the sentence in Step #3, it’s what I wanted to say, the boring gist of it, but not what I REALLY meant. Gus needs to be hangrier, more dickish, his love of snack cakes more obvious.

So working on the description, I revise to: “Discovering he was all out of snack cakes, Gus bellowed at his lazy woman to march her fat ass down to the Piggly Wiggly for a box of the finest Little Debbie’s she could scrounge up.”

Now if that sentence doesn’t earn me a Pulitzer, what will?

Next, fill in those triple X blanks. Do research in this step.  And not Wikipedia research. Branch out from that and really dig around on the internet like they taught you to in those libraries back in school.  And for anyone born in the 90s/2000s and don’t know what I mean, suck it.

The key here is to say what you REALLY MEAN. Your character’s reaction zeroed in on. Your plot point crystal clear. Your call to action obvious. All finessed, smoothed out, prettied up for your boss, yourself, your blog, your audience, your basement gimp.

Make sure they get it like you do.


Got the inside scoop on some of your own writing tips? Have Little Debbie snack cakes to send me? Give me either in the comments below. Remember, sharing is caring. Especially when it comes to cake.