Ever wonder what it would be like if two fantastical creatures from different cultures met each other and hit it off? Look no further than Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni, and its thrilling sequel, The Hidden Palace. I dusted off my copy of The Golem and the Jinni and binge read it about three days before I started the sequel. I’ll admit, I’m not much of a re-reader. There’s too many books out there waiting to be discovered to spend my time re-reading even the ones I love, but in this case, my appreciation of the scope of Helene Wecker’s storytelling was richly rewarded. 

She’s not only brought early twentieth century New York City to life, she’s created a host of characters, both human and magical, whose relationships survive the difficult and often harrowing circumstances immigrants faced on newly arriving in America. In this continuation of her previous story, Chava the golem, or a woman made of clay, and Ahmad the jinni, a creature of fire trapped in the body of a man, continue their journey of friendship wile the city around them rapidly changes and the world prepares for war.

Their newly budding relationship is tested when each meets another of their kind, whom they either did not presume to exist, or expect to discover wandering the streets of the metropolis. Drama unfolds as Chava and Ahmad must decide what they mean to each other while, at the same time, they must find their place among the people and neighbors with whom their lives have become intricately intertwined. 

This sweeping narrative, spanning both Hebrew and Arabic folklore and creatures of legend, is sure to enthrall you as much as it did me. The characters are endearing and their struggles, while primarily brought about by magic, feel relatable and real. The story is not without its twists and turns, though, and the ending, while wholly satisfying, leaves open a delicious hint that there may yet be more books to come. 

Until then, enjoy this masterful duo. The golem and the jinni have become unforgettable characters to me. Read, and tell me if it’s the same for you.


This is the first time I’ve recommended a graphic novel, but that’s because this is one monstrously delicious spooky season treat you won’t want to miss. Sarah Andersen is perhaps best known for her well-loved comics, Sarah’s Scribbles, yet that same wry humor and irresistible whimsy makes its way into her charming girl-meets-boy tale, Fangs. 

Elsie, a three hundred year old vampire, never anticipates running into Jimmy the werewolf when she swings by the Odditorium for a drink late one night. The two quickly discover they have more in common than they expected, though they must be willing to adapt to each others’ monstrous inclinations if their relationship is going to work. 

From dusky strolls to full moon transformations, dinner dates (sans garlic), and a shared love of horror movies and sinister novels, Elsie and Jimmy experience the spectrum of awkward and tender moments that come with starting a new relationship. 

Sarah’s brilliant illustrations had me bursting out with laughter the whole way through and wishing the story was longer by the time I reached the end. 

Pick up a copy of Fangs and give it a read. I promise, your Halloween won’t be the same otherwise. 

Background Autumn Coffee Fall  - flutie8211 / Pixabay


You’ve read the articles on writing and productivity. You know what they say, or rather, how they make you feel. If you’re not writing every day, however many thousands of words, you’re not a real writer. Plant butt in chair. Produce on demand, without exception. This is what you’ll have to do if you expect to survive as a professional writer.

I’ve read other articles that state the opposite, freeing you to create as your schedule permits, as long as you commit to your writing in some form on whatever timetable works best. Be regular. Be consistent. These are the keys to success. 

I’d like to suggest something else. Something new and a little different. Instead of focusing on how much writing we’re getting done, how about we focus instead on how much writerly rest we’re allowing ourselves? I’m talking about balance, yin and yang style. Our lives, and especially our writing lives, are inseparable from the rest of our bodily well-being, in the most holistic sense. 

As writers, we are intimately aware of the complex interplay that must take place between our minds, bodies, hearts, and spirits in order to produce our best material. If even one of these aspects of our lives takes a nosedive, the others quickly feel the added strain. If we’re not careful, our inspiration languishes and we may begin to straggle into the dreaded wasteland of burnout. 

I’d like to suggest some ways to prevent this from happening. If we stay tuned to our body’s needs, both external and internal, our art never has to pay the price. 

Physical lack: I don’t know about you, but when I’m exhausted, everything seems harder to do, including writing. I’ve read articles that say to write when you’re tired since your inhibitions won’t be as strong and you’ll be more likely to speak form the heart. That sounds plausible, but what usually happens for me is a muddled mess I have to struggle to untangle later. 

Fix: Pick another artistic project to tackle, like sketching, gardening, scrapbooking, arranging flowers, or whatever activity gets your creative juices flowing. Maybe for you, that involves a walk in the woods, chatting with a writing buddy about your latest idea, or cracking open the cover of the next irresistible book on your to-be-read stack. Refresh yourself physically by taking yourself on an artist date, so to speak. Then come back to your writing when you’re more rested. Challenges feel less insurmountable when we’ve got a healthy amount of physical reserves to throw at them.

Mental lack: I get so frustrated with myself when, after hours of a good plotting session, I still don’t have what I would consider the best representation of my idea. I just spent hours, hours! at the drawing board. Why don’t these plans look any better? *tosses papers in the air* *huffs* This is taking too long! I must not be a real writer. Sound familiar? Yeah. You’re not alone. 

Fix: News flash. Writing takes time. LOTS of time. More than you might think. This is normal. We are creating something out of nothing and although our final products will be streamlined and polished (we hope), the process to arriving there is not simple or linear. Extend grace to your writerly self and your creative mind. Tread gently. Accept that the process will take time and that this is normal and essential to producing good work. 

Emotional lack: Recently I was all set to write a certain short story I’d been excited about and planning for weeks. The day came to put words to paper and I hit a brick wall. I couldn’t face the opening to the story any more than I could gouge out my own eye. Writer’s block? I didn’t want to think it, let alone breathe the term out loud. I moved onto another project and wrote something else that day instead. 

Fix: Several days later, I realized what the problem was. I’d just finished writing the emotionally charged climax to my novel and, rather than giving myself a change of pace by starting a short story, I’d exchanged one emotional challenge for another one very similar to it. I’d bitten off more than I could chew emotionally. My psyche threw up a red flag as a result and pointed me in another direction. I wasn’t blocked, I was emotionally overwhelmed. My creative brain knew the difference and together, we blazed a trail forward. I kept writing. (I intend to finish that short story eventually.)

Spiritual lack: Sometimes life doesn’t cut us a break. It plays hardball. We get thrown zingers that knock us off our feet or demoralize us beyond what we can control or anticipate. I get that. I’ve been there, and I understand. Spiritual fears can be the hardest to detect in ourselves, and the most difficult to overcome, especially without outside help and counsel. They can even lead to us putting down our pens permanently.

Fix: Self-care is so important, guys. It’s vital, now more than ever as we face new and greater challenges in our society than many of us have known in our lifetimes. I can only speak for myself here, but meditation has played a HUGE part in my artistic recovery. It’s no coincidence that shortly after I started practicing yoga regularly, I wrote my first poem, then my first novel. Mindfulness isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a healing journey that will spill over into all areas of your life as you learn to silence the world’s clamor and tune into your inner voice. 

I hope you find time this week to take the writerly rest your body craves, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. As in music, the rests are as important as the melody itself. Restoring ourselves is essential to staying productive and finding inspiration in the world around us. 

Rest up and take care of yourselves! 

From the author of Mexican Gothic and Gods of Jade and Shadow, we now have a scintillating noir thriller set in 1970’s Mexico City during the student uprisings of the Guerra sucia, the Mexican theater of the Cold War. I could not put this book down. From the outset, I was drawn to the rather eccentric life of Maite, a disgruntled legal secretary with an impressive collection of vintage vinyl albums and a penchant for obsessing over the romantic comic book Secret Romance while the city around her is steeped in revolt and political unrest.

Maite’s natural curiosity leads her to begin investigating the suspicious disappearance of the beautiful, well-to-do art student who lives next-door, Leonora, whose life she both admires and envies. Along the way, she discovers Leonora’s connections lead straight to the heart of the country’s political foment – radical student groups and the government agents threatening to quiet any unruly dissenters.

The co-protagonist, Elvis, is every bit as intriguing as Maite. Given little choice other than to fend for himself on the streets, he’s committed to working for El Mago, a tough-as-nails crime boss devoted to squelching the political activists threatening to overthrow the city. Elvis loves old movies, crossword puzzles, and memorizing his word-of-the-day. Despite not wanting to carry a gun, much less use it, his assignment is to find out where Leonora has disappeared to and why.

Danger looms on the streets as Maite and Elvis both seek to learn what has become of Leonora. A mutual love of rock ‘n roll leads to a chance meeting at a cafe jukebox neither of them will ever forget, and a spiraling web of danger from which they’re forced to extricate themselves. I appreciate Silvia’s tight, voice-driven prose and her unconventional depiction of Maite as an antiheroine. Her storytelling genius has reached new heights as she continues to effortlessly master new genres. 

Sexy, daring, and nail-bitingly suspenseful, Velvet Was the Night is sure to enthrall you, heart and soul. Give it a read. You won’t regret it, I promise. It’s not every day a book comes along with a classic playlist like this one. 


I took pains recently to interview myself after a particularly good writing session, one in which I wrote 2,700 words in a sitting, wrapped up in that most envied of states among writers: the state of flow.

Ah, flow! To be completely absorbed in one’s work to the point that everything else fades away – bills, laundry, emails, life concerns in general – and the created world IS reality, our fingers merely a conduit on the receiving end of a movie-like thread playing out in our minds. 

So idyllic when it happens. So rare when it does. That’s why I caught myself afterward.

What had I done to achieve this? How could I make it happen again? What perfect combination of circumstances had led to this fortuitous happenstance, and how could I guarantee myself more of it?

Here’s how that conversation went:

Did you feel prepared to write today?

No. I was pretty nervous, in fact. This chapter involved a fight scene, which I’m unused to writing. I’d envisioned the setting the characters would be in and a bit about how the fight would play out, but I was no more prepared than any other day I commit to write. 

So you’re an outliner. Do you feel having a plan limits you as you write?

Not at all. Although I’m an intuitive writer, having a plan ahead of time keeps my story on the rails and prevents it (well, me) from going off into the weeds. 

What does it feel like to enter your story and experience the world through your character’s eyes as you write?

When it happens, it feels like the most natural thing in the world. I don’t have to work at imagining what my characters are saying and doing because they’re more real than I am. I’m the observer intruding on their world and their desires. Thankfully, they let me stay and chronicle what they’re up to. It feels more like a privilege than anything else, to be honest. 

Would you go so far as to say you’re participating in the collective subconscious?

I don’t know about that. I’m not sure, but I’m not opposed to ruling it out. *laughs* Imagination is a more powerful tool than we realize, and far more accessible to us than we think. That truth, for me, is much easier to acknowledge than to put into practice. I allow too many fears to sway me on any given day. It’s a constant battle to push those voices of fear into the background so I can hear the steady whisper of the story communicating with me.

Interesting. Your story talks to you?

Oh, absolutely. I’m convinced it’s talking far more than I’m able to listen. When the myriad distractions of life aren’t drowning it out, the fear is. Or tries to. 

What kind of fear?

*chuckles* You name it. Fear that what I’m capable of rendering on paper doesn’t match up to my vision for the piece, that my writing is cliche or uninteresting to anyone but me. That I haven’t mined my idea for any deeper meaning. That it won’t measure up. Rejection. 

How do you get past that and get any writing done?

Ah, funny you ask. I wonder that myself sometimes. *laughs* One of the most daunting aspects of writing is that the more you learn how to write well, the easier it is to mess up. At the same time as your writing improves, you learn more ways to fail, so to speak. That can really freeze you up if you allow it to. The trick is not to take yourself too seriously, especially early in a draft, and remember that mistakes are a part of the process, too. They can guide you to the heart of your piece, if you’re willing to get them out on paper first. 

Mistakes are a part of the process. I like that. 

I figured you would. That’s the beauty and the joy of writing, and the key to finding flow. 

What’s that? The key to finding flow?

Grace. Writing, like any form of self-expression, is extending grace to yourself. You don’t have to get it right on the first try. No one’s requiring that of you. Only you’re doing that. You get as many do-overs as you need to make it work. 

And this, my creative friends, is the take-home message from the post-flow interview I undertook with myself: Extend yourself grace. Prepare as much as you can, then give yourself room to be surprised by the power of your own imagination. The bad writing days will likely outnumber the good ones. It hardly matters. The point is to write, whether your fears are deafening or you’ve beaten them down to a dull roar. 

When you’re sharing that polished draft, no one’s counting how many rewrites it took to get there. That’s between you and the Page and, believe me, that’s one of many secrets you can trust the Page to keep.


Tidepool book cover


If you’re looking for a cross between H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and The Addams Family, search no further than this month’s book-of-the-month, Tidepool. I’ve been in the mood for Gothic fiction lately, and the haunted seaside town of Tidepool with its washed-up, mutilated corpses and black-gowned Victorian grande dame, Ms. Ada Oliver, did not disappoint.

I will admit, the book got off to kind of a slow start for me. By halfway through, though, I was hooked, as invested as Sorrow Hamilton in uncovering what became of her brother, Henry, once he left pre-WWI Baltimore to promote a business venture in the shabby, tight-knit coastal community of Tidepool, never to return home again. 

The townspeople are unfriendly and evade all Sorrow’s questions regarding her brother’s whereabouts. The streets and buildings reek of fish and rotting offal. Sorrow is about to give up, go back to Baltimore, and let her dad send in detectives to handle the case when she finds she first has to reckon with Ada Oliver: a powerful, wealthy heiress with a mysterious past, and an even more horrifying secret she keeps locked away in the basement of her hilltop mansion. 

Sorrow has to decide if the price of discovering the truth behind her brother’s disappearance is worth risking her own life in Tidepool’s deadly grip, and I, for one, was not expecting the twists and turns she took as a character by the end of the book. 

A compelling work of not-so-believable but viably creepy horror that is sure to keep you reading late into the night and hardly daring to peer into the ocean’s depths the same way ever again. I recommend you seek out Tidepool’s darkest secrets…if you dare.

Vintage Typewriter Letters Retro  - Skitterphoto / Pixabay


Listen, I get it. If adding another item to your to-do list every day doesn’t sound like fun, that’s because you might be thinking about journaling the wrong way. Imagine if I told you it’s like talking to the kindest, most understanding, forgiving, and patient person about your deepest hurts, worst nightmares, and most nagging fears, and they GET IT. Even more than that, they don’t talk back. They listen. They see you through the worst. When you come out on the other side, they’re there…cheering you on before the next big hurdle. 

Who wouldn’t clear their schedule to make time for this every day?

Yes, of course, you’re thinking, but that person’s not me! I’m my own worst enemy, worst critic, worst cheerleader, you name it. 

Possibly. You might be right. But you don’t have to be. I had the same objections as you, before I started journaling. Ironically, the daily discipline of spelling out my thoughts, feelings, dreams, and desires on paper was the one thing that saved me from the harsher modes of self-evaluation I was used to inflicting on myself. 

As a writer, I’m constantly putting myself in my characters’ shoes. The act of creation necessitates that, like an actor, I view life from their perspective and, with empathy and compassion, portray their logical reactions and feelings in a believable, trustworthy way on paper. When I journal, I’m capturing my own internal life on paper, like that of a character, allowing me to consider my thoughts, feelings, and reactions as a passive observer. 

If I’m too caught up in my own mind to view my thoughts and feelings as a passive observer would, I can’t do anything about them. But I can if they’re someone else’s thoughts and feelings. That’s what journaling does. It frees us from our own perceptions and judgments of ourselves long enough for our subconscious to intervene and help us out, like a friend or a counselor would. The page gives us breathing room from our own minds, a break in the music, time enough to deal gently with ourselves instead of jumping to react, to do the next thing (and the quicker, the better in our culture!).

Rule number one: there are no rules. The sky’s the limit when you journal. Hate punctuation? Don’t use any. Don’t know what to write about? Note the first angry/sad/reflective thought that comes to mind and follow where it leads. None of what you write has to make any sense. In fact, if it doesn’t, that’s probably better. The more masks you peel off, the better. If you can’t be honest with yourself, who can you be honest with?

Without further ado, here is my beginner’s guide to committing to a daily habit of journaling:

J – Just listen. Don’t censor yourself when you write. Whatever is on your mind or in your heart is fair game. Give yourself permission to say whatever you’re thinking or feeling, no matter how ____ it sounds.

O – Observe. When you’re done writing, sit back and read what you’ve written with no judgement. Pretend your words are those of a good friend or someone you’re genuinely curious about.

U – Understand. Search for patterns in your thinking, common triggers for your emotions. Continue to remain neutral to your own observations about what you see. (This is easier to do when you’ve been journaling a while.) 

R – Relate/empathize. Let your subconscious do what it’s amazing at. Be human. Have as much compassion on yourself as you would if these words were coming from the mouth of your best friend in the whole world, or someone you dearly love. 

N – Nudge. In time, you’ll be able to predict your own negative thought patterns and triggers. Here’s where it gets exciting: you can begin nudging those thoughts and feelings in a new direction. 

A – Accept. Life isn’t perfect. None of us are perfect, nor do any of us deal with life perfectly. *shocker* Recognizing that everything you think and feel comes with the territory of being human is nothing short of…liberating. 

L – Learn. Journaling is learning. Learning to listen to yourself and to practice withholding judgment. Learning to treat yourself like a human being. Learning to be kind, to empathize, to champion yourself, and help yourself grow.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that journaling is a habit you can’t afford not to try. It’s certainly been a catalyst for my own artistic development and well-being. I would love if it did the same for you. 

Got any tips you’d love to share about journaling? Drop me a line! I’d love to hear what those are.


Much more than the vivid portrayal of an iconic American star’s rise to fame, Blonde is a masterful recounting of the rich inner life of Norma Jeane Baker, the orphan fated to become one of the most celebrated actresses of her time, Marilyn Monroe. I’ve grown to love the seamless, floating narrative style of Joyce Carol Oates’ lyric prose, and I can honestly say this is the best work of hers I’ve read to date. (Although Mudwoman comes in a close second!)

What initially attracted me to reading Blonde, I can’t exactly say. I’m not a diehard Monroe fan, although I’ve watched a movie or two she starred in. I’d heard it was one of Joyce Carol Oates’ best books, and after this read, I can definitely get behind that! Recently I’ve been struggling with developing a closer third person point-of-view in my own writing, so maybe it was the autobiographical nature of the book that drew me in. (Though Oates has clearly stated the story is not meant to be biographical in the strictest sense.) 

I quickly discovered a voice within the pages that kept me enthralled until the very last one. We can immediately sympathize with Oates’ rendering of Norma Jeane, estranged from her mother as a young girl and shuttled through a string of squalid foster homes until a chance encounter with a less than savory, enterprising Marxist photographer landed her in the limelight of the Hollywood acting scene when she was nineteen years old.

You don’t have to be a Marilyn Monroe fan to appreciate the artistic mastery of this fictionalized accounting of her life, delivered skillfully through the intimate voice of the actress herself. The magic behind the myth is highlighted in all its glorious grit and glamour, a powerful and evocative tribute to the deeply conflicted and driven woman who emptied herself to leave a lasting impression on the silver screen for generations to come.

Man Writer Quill Writing Male  - Prawny / Pixabay


Stephen King used to write in his laundry room. Edith Wharton wrote while covered up in bed, her dog on one side, an inkwell on the other. Charles Dickens had his beloved desk shipped to him when he knew he would be gone from home awhile. Agatha Christie would sit in her large Victorian bathtub and munch an apple while conceiving the plots to her novels. 

Every writer adopts a creative ritual of their own, whether it’s a special place, an item of furniture they occupy, or a certain time of day they prefer to do their work. This ritual takes on a certain significance, a comfortability, and becomes a sacred zone where the air breathes differently and the Muse can be heard. 

I call mine Creative Space, though it’s actually the dining room table I’ve annexed for use as a makeshift desk and paper repository. After five years of claiming the space and filling it with the etchings of my imagination, it’s been transformed. When I sit down in my writing chair, I’m not in the dining room anymore. 

I’m in a place where I can create freely, with no interruptions or external concerns. Sure, they try to invade. That’s when I focus on what occupies the space, so that when the intrusions come, I’m anchored in Creative Space and not the outside world. 

Allow me to share with you five key items that populate my writing pad and ground me in my work:

  1. Pieces of inspiration. A white feather. A favorite quote from the tab on a tea bag. A bound collection of my Dad’s paintings. Whatever artifacts inspire you, particularly if they’re pleasing to the five senses, surround yourself with these items. I haven’t tried an air plant or a scented candle yet, but those might be fun to add to the mix.  
  2. A tiny calendar. A big calendar would be distracting, so I create a small one on a piece of scrap paper and keep it nearby as my writing calendar. I block off the days I know I can’t write due to work-related or other reasons, and that helps me set goals for the days during that month when I can write. I pencil in those goals and stay mindful of them day-to-day. The process gives me a real sense of accomplishment, despite the fact that some months I can’t write as often, or as many days, as I’d like. 
  3. Early drafts of my current WIP. I learned the hard way when doing revisions that the favorite lines I never think I’ll reuse, I invariably will. If I’ve boxed the draft and buried it in a dark corner of the attic, I’ll waste precious writing time unpacking it and exposing it to the light of day again. Now I keep my old drafts close at hand for easy access while working through those endless revisions. 
  4. Notes to myself. At the end of every writing period, I try to set myself up for success. I either construct a solid, working outline for the next chapter, or if I’m in the middle of a chapter, I leave myself notes about what state of mind my characters are in and what logical next move in the plot they will want to make. These notes are an invaluable memory tool when I return to the page after several days of being separated from the head space of my writing. 
  5. Willpower. I prefer to think of it as my shadow-self, my other writerly-half: the part of me that is doggedly committed to producing the one piece of writing that only I can create. I leave that person behind in my writing chair every time I leave Creative Space, and I join forces with them every time I sit back down to create again. A healthy dose of willpower is what it takes to see your word babies through the many stages of revision to completion. Let it saturate your creative territory and the Censor won’t have an inch of wiggle room to invade.

It’s been a pleasure giving you a micro-peek into the macrocosm that is my Creative Space, my world within worlds. I hope you have such a space set aside where you can seek refreshment and allow the words to flow freely.

Care to relate what keeps you grounded in your writing nook? Drop me a line! Let’s keep each other inspired.  

Hamnet front book cover


“God has given you one face, and you make yourself another.” Never have the great playwright’s words rung so true as in this sweeping tale of 1580’s England, a country reeling from the ravages of the Black Death as one family in particular struggles to recover from an untimely loss.

Never once in this story does Maggie O’Farrell mention the name of the young Latin tutor who steals the heart of the farmer’s daughter, Agnes. She doesn’t need to, because immediately we see Agnes is the touchstone of her young husband’s future. Despite her eccentricities as an herbalist skilled in healing, her deep connection with the earth, and her seer-type visions, she is the grounding force behind her young husband’s meteoric rise to fame on the London stage. 

When their youngest son succumbs to a sudden fever, the family is thrown into a turmoil of grief. Through courageous transcendence of this grief, a dramatic masterpiece is born. Though little is known about Hamnet, the youngest of Shakespeare’s sons, his name lives on in one of the most celebrated plays of all time.

What Maggie O’Farrell offers in this story is a rendering of a time not so dissimilar from our own: a world fraught by illness and the threat of loss. Her imaginative portrayal of the personal struggle behind the life and work of one of the most famous playwrights in history is so illuminating as to become a source of inspiration itself. 

Give this book a read. I promise you, the ending is worth the journey. I still have the goosebumps to prove it.