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.

 

shakey

Yeah, I’ll admit it.

Anyway, check out one of my fave Shakey vids.

 

New album info here.

Get it. Get it.

 

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Sara Lippmann – Doll Palace

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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.

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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.

 

sb

 

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

 

“Grace”

“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.

 

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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.

 

Stay

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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Eat

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.

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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.

 

Booze

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.

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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?

 

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Frolic

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.

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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.

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Do explore and shop the Pearl District.

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

 

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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.

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.

Note: Listen to Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings by Father John Misty while reading this blog to get you in the mood…for murder…

[cue evil laughing]

Memorial Day weekend I hopped a plane and flew to California to visit my cousin. Luckily, in her, I have a freakish spirit animal that enjoys the same type of macabre fascinations as I do.

While relaxing by the pool, chilling at the beach, or taking in an art museum is what some normal people do, I’d much rather have my vacation involve the weird. Take me to a new place and I’ll instantly ask to be pointed in the direction of the nearest graveyard. Or wine bar. And hell, if those two ever combine then I’ll be in heaven.

Our dark day in LA consisted of three things that I most heartily (and gruesomely) recommend…

 

American Horror Story House

 

AHS

First, a pit stop at the locale of the American Horror Story house – the Rosenheim mansion. It’s a weird scene; a beautiful mansion set in the middle of a random street of normal-ish houses. Sadly, the mansion seems to have fallen into a state of dilapidated disrepair. The backyard was covered in weeds, while in the front it was apparent the owners have had all they can take of gawkers, because numerous signs warning against stepping foot on property dotted the front yard as well as a flock of foreboding ravens. I kept expecting to see a face staring down at us from one of the upstairs windows before we bolted for the safety of the car.

 Find the Alfred Rosenheim Mansion at 1120 Westchester Place, Los Angeles CA

 

Dearly Departed Tours – Tragical History Tour
 Dearly

Founded by Scott Michaels, this tour is THE tour for morbid curiosity seekers everywhere. Seriously. If you’re in LA and like this kind of weird, dark Hollywood history, book this tour STAT. While numerous tours are offered (Ahem, Manson, anyone?), we booked the Dearly Departed Tragical History Tour.

The Dearly Departed Tours office on Sunset Boulevard was a museum in its own right. Celebrity death memorabilia line the walls and the floors. Jayne Mansfield’s pink suitcase, a signed Sharon Tate autopsy report, a letter from John Wayne Gacy, door pulls from Room 105 of the Landmark Hotel where Janis Joplin died.

Our senses were overstimulated, and after craning and nearly climbing on top of a desk to get a better look at the John Wayne Gacy letter we were stopped by a man. Instead of getting a lecture about keeping my slovenly body off the furniture, the man instantly launched into the story behind the letter, keeping the cousin and I in rapt attention for about fifteen minutes.

After purchasing a souvenir Hotel key chain, we climbed aboard the tour bus and the cousin and I were instantly elated to learn that the man we had been speaking with about the Gacy letter was our tour guide.

He announced to the small group, “I would kill a small child for a Yuengling right now.”

And with this quote so began our tour on Dearly Departed Tours with Brian Donnelly.

Donnelly, an amazing, energetic tour guide, can navigate the city like a pro and show us about 150 sights in two and a half hours. He had a mic and an opinion and like he said on the tour, it’s the perfect combination for someone with ADD. He knew his Hollywood history, was proud to live in LA and didn’t skimp on the gory details.

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Some sights/discussions included: Rebecca Schaeffer’s apartment, Storybook Homes, Scientology Celebrity Center, Lana Turner scandal, The Viper Room, Bela Lugosi, Black Dahlia rumored murder house, Knickerbocker, Beverly Hills homes, Whisky a Go Go, Bugsy Siegel’s murder house, Château Marmont, the Menendez Brother’s family mansion, the spots where Janis Joplin and Sharon Tate ate their last meals (Barney’s Beanery and El Coyote respectively)…and a shit ton more.

I’ll stop here since it can’t even sum up the awesomeness of this tour. All I can say and all I can do is pimp it out. If you’re ever in LA, take three hours and make this a priority.

Dearly Departed Tours haunts 6603 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood, CA

 

Museum of Death
 PicMonkey Collagemod

When all you want to see is genuine serial killer letters from Richard Ramirez The Night Stalker and artwork by John Wayne Gacy look no further than the Museum of Death. The last stop on our frightful escapade.

Nestled in a  nondescript location on Hollywood Boulevard, the Museum of Death lures in the curious, crazed and unassuming. Sadly, photographs were not allowed and I resisted the urge to snap secretive stills. This museum is not for the faint of heart. I asked the front desk clerk about the pass-out quota and he said that they probably give smelling salts to someone about once a week.

The cousin and I have cold hearts and iron-stomachs as we braved the close confines of the small museum, only once getting slightly woozy as we took the self-guided tour.

Divided up into sections, each room is dedicated to a morbid curiosity or real-life tragedy. We feasted eyes on the Serial Killer Room, the Manson Murder room, the Black Dahlia Murder room, Heaven’s Gate recreation, Execution room, Mortician and Autopsy Instrument room (this is where our knees almost buckled), Taxidermy Room, Cult Room, Suicide Room, and more…

One section titled “Heads and Tales” involves a murderous methhead couple that’s an I-CAN’T-EVEN experience probably no one should have, but the cousin and I gawked in horror at the ghastly photos lining the wall and braced ourselves for the night terrors to come.

Leaving, we lingered in the gift shop, where Charles Manson’s vinyl recordings were being sold, and as we walked outside into the bright sunlight, pondered just how chillingly intimate we had just gotten with the gruesome side of death.

The Museum of Death rests-in-peace at 6031 Hollywood Boulevard, CA

 

Summer has officially started in the Valley of the Sun. 108 degrees has rolled in with pretty much everyone resembling this on a daily basis.

AD

 

car door

 

But the heat isn’t a bother. In fact, I love summer.  While my writing slows on Sundays as I’m usually out by the pool with a margarita, it doesn’t mean I’m any less productive.

It’s a positive correlation – the more summer, the more books I read.

And so here is the lineup to be conquered:

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It’s a random mix of books to be read – not exactly light and “beachy” material but I’m eager to start running a train on this reading list.

Wherever you are, I hope you’re enjoying the summer with a book in hand.

And if you’re wondering where I’m lurking, I’ll just be the creeper out by the pool reading about Charles Manson and waiting for the NSA to swarm.

Summer: It’s gonna be one hell of a read.

 

Might as well just toss them all together for some kind of book orgy, AMIRITE?

Might as well just toss them all together for some kind of book orgy, AMIRITE?