Make Space For Your Joy

This won’t be a long post today. It’s Black Friday and we all have things to do. You might be shopping today. You might be working today. You might be cleaning up after a massive family event from yesterday and gearing up for about seven more before the New Year.

Today I’m decorating the house for Yule and Christmas. I’m wrapping gifts, writing cards and baking cookies. My goal for the next month is to spread as much holiday joy for my friends and family members (especially the furry ones) as I can. 

But I need to remember, and you need to remember, that we matter too. 

We deserve to enjoy the holidays. 

We deserve to have fun and play like children. 

We deserve to find magic this time of year. 

We deserve to say no to anything we don’t want to do.

We deserve joy. 

And I’m telling you right now that no one is going to make space for your joy if you don’t make it. No one’s going to clear your calendar. No one is going to make time for you if you don’t make time for yourself.

I’m not saying that the people who love you are slacking. I’m saying that what counts as joy for us isn’t always obvious. It is up to us to spoil ourselves. To make our joy happen. 

So please, tell me what you’re doing today to make space for joy. I’m drinking a peppermint mocha latte while I read A Christmas Carol on my couch. What about you? 

Your 2022 holiday reminder

You know what time it is. It’s November 11th and I’m willing to bet that at least one person reading this has already had a mental breakdown over the holidays. Well, I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. The holidays are meant to be enjoyed, not suffered through. 

I have for you today a list of holiday dos and don’ts. These are the same ones that I go by, though I usually need a reminder around this time of year. Really, I do this for myself as much as for all of you. Because it’s so easy to get caught up in all the expectations of this time of year and forget that the point is to have fun. The point is that we just spent another eleven months dealing with inflation, family-breaking politics and scary world changes. We get one month out of the damned year to commit ourselves to joy, and so help me we’re going to take it!

Yes, this list is going to look a lot like some of my previous ones. But I become a better writer every year, so I’m going to go ahead and repeat myself anyway. It might sound prettier this year. 

Holi’do

Spend time with the people you love. I mean the people you actually love, not the ones you feel obligated to. 

Prioritize your joy. What do you love about the holidays? Do you love baking cookies, or reading holiday classics? Do those things to the fullest. Personally, I’m all about seasonal coffee and reading any holiday book that isn’t a romance novel. I also love a good holiday movie or special. So, I plan on doing those things as much as possible.

Find little things to make the holidays better. A mug that you love, a set of really pretty stickers. I’ve been all about these ambient videos recently. 

Yes, the holidays are great for big meals, events, fancy clothes, parties and all that sort of thing. But there are so many little joyous moments to enjoy as well.

Be kind to people. Actually, this should be something you do all the time. But especially during the holidays, be nice to people. You can buy someone’s coffee in line and donate to charities if you’re financially able to. Be kind to people in the service industry. Be kind to everyone you come into contact with if you can. It’s the holidays, just be nice. 

Holi’Don’t 

Don’t spend time with people who make you feel like shit. A lot of people have gotten better about this through the year, but seem to find it harder during the holidays. So if you feel like you need someone to give you permission, consider it granted. You don’t have to see anyone who is a dick to you, ever. It doesn’t matter if they’re family. If they can’t treat you well, you don’t need to be around them. 

Don’t skip your self-care just because you’re busy. And I totally understand that this time of year is busy! But if you’ve been spending this year putting good self-care habits in place, don’t wreck them now! Keep up with your yoga, daily walks, journaling, face care, meditation, alone time. Whatever it is that you do to take care of yourself, keep doing it.

Don’t overspend. Again, this one I need to hear more than anyone else. I get the desire to overspend. Especially on my pets. I swear I am such a sucker for anything holiday-themed for these spoiled ass animals. Oh, and my husband I guess. But overspending just puts you in a bad spot come January. It’s a spot I don’t want to be in again. 

Don’t let other people make you feel bad about how you celebrate. Not even me! Look, I have some strong opinions about people who put their Christmas decorations up before Black Friday. But it’s honestly none of my business. Put up your decorations whenever you want, however much or little you want. Don’t put anything up at all if you don’t want. Celebrate whatever you want to, or don’t celebrate however you want to. Whatever it is, don’t let someone else tell you what it should be. 

Don’t get hung up on the details. And yes, this is one I struggle with! I spent weeks searching for chestnuts because it just could not be Fall until I had baked some damn chestnuts. 

But there is every chance that, just like the last few years, you might not be able to get something you want or need due to serious supply chain issues. We’re going to have to make some exceptions. We’re going to have to be flexible. Because if we decide it just cannot be the holidays without this one thing, and that one thing is out of stock, we’re going to be sad for no good reason. 

Don’t think that your holiday has to look like someone else’s holiday. Right now, Instagram is my best friend and also my enemy. I am in love with this specific holiday aesthetic of red gingham and burlap on white furniture with candles and red trucks with Christmas trees and labradors. Oh, but I also love this all-natural Yule look with clean pine trees decorated with cinnamon sticks, cranberry strings and dried orange slices. 

I am not an Instagram model. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that. I will never have that perfect aesthetic, no matter how much I try.

You as well will probably not have that aesthetic that you want. Your holidays will also not look like your mother’s, your grandmother’s, or that one-in-law who is perfect and a bitch about it. Your holidays are going to look like yours. And that’s practically perfect in every way. 

And so are you. 

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It’s Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve. I’m going to the day job today, but that’s alright. I help people at my day job. Not a bad way to spend the day. 

Later today there will be celebrations. We’ll have a nice dinner and open crackers. We’ll watch Elf and play games. Then we’ll go to bed early. Not because we’re eager for Santa’s arrival, but because I’ll be up bright and early to be at the day job again on Christmas Day. 

I had Yule off, so it’s not a big deal. 

There’s lots of excitement to come over the next 48 hours. Lots of fun, lots of food and wine. It really is the best time of the year.

I hope that you have a beautiful Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I hope that your Yule was wonderful if you celebrate it. If you celebrated Hanukkah early this month, I hope that was great. I hope that your whole month was great. 

And I hope that, even if it wasn’t, you give yourself some time today and tomorrow to just enjoy life. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, everything is shut down so you might as well take some time for yourself.

Read a book, enjoy something indulgent, watch a movie with people you love. Don’t suffer people you don’t care for. Play with your kids, your pets, your friends, your partner, your co-workers. Make someone laugh today. Let yourself be a kid. Do what you love most, as much as you can. 

Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Have a beautiful day. 

Holiday Books That Aren’t Romance

Holiday books are my jam right now. But I have a problem. I don’t like romance novels, and the vast majority of holiday books are fucking romance novels.

And I’m just not down for that. 

So after spending way too much time searching online, checking out Bookstagram, and stalking my local library, I cultivated a list of holiday books that are a bit more my speed.

Sadly, none of them are what I’d call speculative horror. But at least they’re not solely about getting someone to kiss under the goddamned mistletoe. 

Santa Claws, By Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

This is a cute, cozy murder mystery. I have a secret love of these kinds of books. And I’m a long-time fan of this series.

In this one, the main character Mrs. Murphy, a tiger cat, finds the body of a dead monk in a Christmas tree lot. She and her person, Harry, end up tracking down the killer just in time for Christmas.

Is the writing great? No. But it’s quaint, full of small-town charm, and includes a scene where a corgi almost takes a bite out of a dead body.

Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay

This is a nonfiction holiday book about what it’s like to work in a hospital during Christmas. It’s got some moments, let me tell you. There’s death, blood, annoying upper management. And a holiday tie that goes off at literally the worst time you could possibly imagine. 

If you read This is Going To Hurt by the same author, you might have already heard some of these. Read the book, then go do something nice for a medical professional. Like, I don’t know, get your covid vaccine. 

Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chivarini

I was worried at first that this was going to be another romance novel. But the historical story of Henry Longfellow was interesting enough to encourage me to keep going.

And I’m so glad I did! 

Yes, there’s a love story between two volunteer choir teachers. But there’s also a story of a family whose father is missing overseas. And a young girl who’s accused of plagiarism. A boy accidentally sets a tree on fire. A woman whose husband has just passed on, getting through her first Christmas without him.

There’s so much going on in this book. And the way it all fits so neatly together at the end is nothing short of a Christmas miracle. 

Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva 

You guys, this is a premiere novel. Can you even believe that? This is her first novel! 

This holiday book is about the creation of A Christmas Carol. I thought at first it was going to be a slightly romanticized version of the truth. To be clear, no this is not the case. It is an almost totally fiction story about the creation of A Christmas Carol that includes ghosts, magic, publishing contracts, and long walks through London at night. I loved every single second of this story. And I teared up at parts.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

This is such a classic, you might be thinking. Why would I even include this on the list? Well, let me tell you why. I talk to people all the time who swear they know A Christmas Carol front and back because they’ve seen so many versions of it. But they’ve never read the actual book.

Don’t do this. Read the original. You can find it for free online. It is worth every second.

(I’ll also be joining the other Haunted MTL writers in reading this ghost story for Christmas. Starting on December 21st, check it out.)

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

The Herdmans were the worst kids in the history of the world.

So begins this classic tale about a family of neglected children finding the true meaning of Christmas, and reminding a few people who thought they already knew it. 

I have a few holiday books still on my list to read. I can’t vouch for them yet, but they look alright. If they’re good, they’ll probably make the cut for next year. 

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

The Christmas Killer by Alex Pine

Christmas Cake Murders and Christmas Caramel Murders by Joann Fluke

Silent Bite by David Rosenfelt

By the way, it would be dumb of me to not mention that I wrote a Christmas book. It’s called Twelve Little Christmas Stories. Like the name would imply, it’s twelve speculative fiction holiday tales. Some are charming, some are ghoulish. All are fun. 

Let me know in the comments what your favorite holiday book is. I’d love to lengthen this list. 

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2021 Gift Guide For Writers

I do this every year, so there’s no real need for a massive introduction. You need gift ideas for any writers in your life. I have some suggestions. Let’s get into it.

In case there isn’t anything on this list that fits your holiday shopping needs, I do this every year. Here are links to all of my previous years’ shopping guides.

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

Gifts that cost nothing. 

I always like to start with gifts that cost nothing but time. In our world of ultra-consumerism, these are underrated. I embraced free things in a lot of ways this year.

– I foraged pine boughs, sticks, and pinecones for some one-of-a-kind decorations and ornaments. (Note, if you’re going to do this, spray your projects down with hair spray as soon as you can. I like Aqua Net, personally)

– Instead of buying wrapping paper, I’ve been using the paper that comes in my Chewy orders. This cost me nothing but a couple of bucks for the red ribbon. And these look so cute!

– I relied a lot on things we already had. Holiday-themed mugs look great on the kitchen counter. White pens work in place of gift tags. Red, green and white books set through the house. The place looks like a holiday wonderland, and I didn’t add many items at all.

Now, about the gifts. 

Time spent together is the best thing you can give someone for the holidays. Anytime, actually. I make a point of spending Yule doing two things, reading and snuggling with the darling husband. Honestly, the less time I can spend buying things, wrapping them, cleaning up, and cooking, the better. Those things are great, and I’ll never stop doing them. But I’d like to lessen them. This is a gift not only for my husband but for me as well.

As far as writer-specific gifts, I can’t suggest enough an offer to critique something they’ve written. I would personally love this gift, as it’s really hard to get sufficient beta readers. (I don’t suggest this as a gift from your spouse. Beta readers need to have a level of honesty that probably isn’t great for a relationship.)

Another great gift you can give the writer in your life is to recommend their work to others. Especially if you can request their books from a local library. Word of mouth is the best way for a book to get someone’s attention. There’s just nothing better.

Finally, a fun option, if you’re artsy, is some fan art. I’ve had a few friends do fan art for my work, and I love it every single time. Even if it’s bad. Especially if it’s bad.

Gifts that cost money dollars 

If you’ve got some cash to spend, here are some good ideas for the writers you love. As always, I’d like to remind you that none of these items are sponsored, I don’t get anything for suggesting them to you.

A journal is always a great idea. I know for a fact that I’m getting some cute ones from Archer & Olive. There are great ones on Etsy too. And handmade is always cool, even when it’s not your hands that made it. 

If you’re looking for something to give them a kick in the behind, I’d suggest The Hero’s Journal. I got a copy of this earlier this year. It wasn’t for me, but that’s just because I have a bullet journal and that fits my needs well.

The Hero’s Journal is super fun, though, and seems tailor-made for those trying to forge a creative path in life for themselves.

Did your favorite writer win Nanowrimo but lack the funds to get a winner’s shirt? What better thing could you give them than a physical reminder that they kicked their word count in the ass?

And if they didn’t win, the Nano store probably still has something drool-worthy. And the money spent there goes to help young writers. Win, win.

A gift that would be great for writers and readers is a soundtrack from something they enjoy. I love writing while listening to show soundtracks. My current favorite is the album for Wheel of Time. It just gets me in the right writing vibe. I don’t know why, but the singing in Old Tongue (which I do not understand) takes up enough of my brain to keep it from straying but not enough to distract me.

Video game soundtracks are also great for this. 

Another suggestion is a good reading light for either their desk or reading chair. I’ve been all about proper lighting during the last few years. There’s just something so cozy about a single lamp illuminating my chair like a halo. 

Finally, if your writer doesn’t already use Dabble, I’d suggest getting them a subscription. I’ve been using Dabble for a few years now, and it is just awesome. I can use it on any device, it autosaves my work. It’s just the best writing software I’ve ever used.

That is it for my list this year. If you have any handy suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments. And I hope you’re all having a great holiday season so far. 

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It’s time for another holiday pep talk

It’s November, and it’s time to have the talk. The same talk we have every year. Sorry not sorry, we’re gonna talk about it again.

As much as we all want to pretend otherwise, this holiday season is going to look an awful lot like last holiday season. Supply lines are backed up. Everyday items and festive goodies are hard to find. More than a few have lost their jobs or had their hours drastically cut. Many of us will be celebrating the days with empty seats at our tables. Some buried loved ones. Some had to cut toxic family members out of our lives. 

It’s likely you, like me, aren’t entering into this festive season in the best of spirits. 

I still want to celebrate. I want to have fun. I want to bake and watch festive movies. I want to enjoy good food and time with the people I love. And I want to enjoy good stories. 

So I’m here again to give you four pieces of advice to get you through this season. Listen, we need the holidays. We need bright moments of joy. We need cats playing in wrapping paper, Yule logs burning, good meals, and great moments.

We’ve gotten through tough years before, as a society. Wars and Depressions. I don’t know you, but I bet you’ve gone through some tough holidays yourself. After death or divorce. After losing a job or a fight.

I’ve had holidays so broke every gift came from the Dollar Tree. I’ve buried a grandmother in mid-December. I’ve changed religions and lost the comfort of a Church family to celebrate with. I’ve had a holiday season after a bad divorce.

This year, we’re in a new home and we are struggling, cash-wise. Health has been a concern this year. And some other things I can’t talk about yet.

But I’ll be damned if I’ll take my current pleasure away from myself. And here’s how I’m going to do it. 

Prioritize like hell

You know my favorite thing in this whole wide world is a list. So when I started planning for this season, I made my list by priority. It’s hard to do it, but you’ve got to. Sit down and think about what you’d want to do if it’s the only thing you do. 

The top of my list is watching Elf with my husband on Christmas Eve. Right after that is having a fancy charcuterie board dinner on Yule. And third is reading holiday books under a blanket with a fire video on the tv and Harper on my lap. 

Yes, there are other things. Simpsons episodes and about a million movies. Lots of recipes to make and decorate. But you know what? If I don’t get to do any of those things, then I guess that’s what happens. I know what I’ll sacrifice, and what I won’t. Because what we make a priority gets done.

Get as much off your plate now as you can

You may have noticed on social media that I’ve been talking a lot about this. I’m batch writing all of my blog posts through the end of the month and scheduling them. Both for here and Haunted MTL. (Except my reviews of Dexter, New Blood. By the way, I’m live-tweeting during every episode over on Twitter. Follow Haunted MTL so you don’t miss it.)

I’m finishing a rough draft this month during Nanowrimo of course. I’m writing scripts for an upcoming podcast. 

And then in December, I am doing as little as freaking possible.

So if I’ve got to go all over town to find Christmas crackers, I damn well can. So if I want to spend my whole weekend reading and baking cookies, I damn well can. And if I just want to sit with some hot chocolate and watch the snow (or rain) fall, I damn well can. 

If it goes well, I might just set up my goals next year so I can take all of December off then too. 

Now, I’m still going to have to go to my day job. As already mentioned, I’ll still have episodes of New Blood to watch and review. I’ll still be updating social media. 

But that’s not near as much as I’ve been doing. And it’s nice, to worry not about what I need to do, but what I want to do. 

So what can you get off your plate this month, so you can play and celebrate next month? 

Be flexible

Christmas just won’t be Christmas without the special sugar cookies your family has been making for five generations. That’s gonna be a real hard sell if the one ingredient you need is on a boat stuck in a loading bay by customs.

If you’re not already noticing a supply chain issue, I’m surprised. Every time I go to the store it feels like half of what I normally get is just not there. And what is there is sure as hell more expensive than it was last year. 

Look, we’re going to have to get flexible this year. We’re going to have to settle for less than we want, for not the perfect picture. And it’s not great. 

But it’s better than letting yourself get into a tear because you have to get creative. Be aware, be prepared, and be flexible. 

Be patient

I mean this last one in two ways. First of all, be patent with your fellow man. Everyone is going through something right now. I already went over that in the intro. Yeah, it’s easy to get pissy when someone’s being a bitch in public. You might even want to be that person losing it because there is not anything in the grocery store your child will eat, and that quarter-filled cart is still going to set you back eighty bucks. But please, for the love of God remember that we are all humans. We’re all trying to get through something that sucks at best. And not all of us are getting out of it alive.

Be patient with people, and be patient with yourself. Take time to rest, get help when you need it. And if you lose your cool at your mother-in-law over Thanksgiving dinner, maybe just apologize and forgive yourself.

I truly hope you have the happiest of holidays, no matter what that looks like to you this year. We all deserve that warmth and light at the end of a long year. Enjoy what you have to enjoy, love who you have to love. 

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