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Nashville!

Dear Nashville:

Thank you for being so lovely and friendly.

Thank you for the music, and the time spent with artists whose hunger feeds my own creativity and lust for a life lived living.

Thank you for the time spent with friends, old and new, and for such laughter I am left achingly full.

Thank you for the delightful boys. I adored their mischief matched by kindness.

Most of all, thank you for the reminder that I am the keeper of my own flame, and that I must burn as bright as I need to, in order to light my way. And that, in doing so, I warm others by my fire.

And they warm me in return.

Yours,
Nicole

Nashville is a place where you may just make a deal with a devil. Or two. ;)

Move over Proust!

Career switch, maybe?

 

My co-anchor!

My favorite weatherman. He’s got the best footwear. ;)

These boots are made for walkin’…

 

Sauron has apparently taken up residence in Nashville.

One of my great crushes. A complicated man with a craggy face and craggier voice. <3

The Parthenon was amazing! So delightful and random.

 

My namesake, Nike.

Always an adventure. ;)

 

Happy 2016: or, Onward and Onward…

Hello lovelies and happy New Year! I hope you had wonderful celebrations, whether they were quiet or raucous, and that you had someone you love with you, even if that someone was yourself.

Right now I’m in Key West. I traveled here with friends from my time in Shreveport, Louisiana, where I taught Modernism (poetry, drama, and fiction) for two years. They were my first and last years as the scholar I’d always thought I was going to be, before writing sidled up to me one night and took me home. We hit it off, writing and I, much to our mutual surprise. So I left Louisiana for a job as a creative writing professor, but I cherish my memories from there as well as my friendships.

Not least because these friends know how too cook. In fact, I’ve been banished from the kitchen, a position I am not very familiar with, while they make a traditional New Years Day feast of black eyed peas, cabbage, corn bread, and pork chops. So I thought I’d use the last of my brain cells not burned out by the beach this morning (or the champagne last night) to reflect on what I learned this last year:

  • Listen to podcasts

This is an easy one, but I mean it. Listen to podcasts. Listen to Dear Sugar, for sure, and Ted Radio Hour, to hear brilliant people say brilliant things. Definitely listen to Risk!, or the Moth, or This American Life, because storytelling will make you a better human being (it will also entertain you). Better yet, take a walk every day at some point and listen to one episode of a podcast and I promise you virtually anything you’re struggling with will be better.

  • Take time

I’m pretty driven. I had one boss call me Pure A, as in Pure Type A. That’s not entirely accurate, as I can also be a total sybarite, but this year I really let myself unapologetically take time for myself. It’s not that I didn’t get my work done, it’s that I also prioritized things like exercise, and eating well, taking time to go out with friends, and canoodling. In other words, I treated myself like a whole being and not just a writer or professor. And I got a hell of a lot of good work done, actually. So don’t forget to take time for yourself; you’re not a machine.

  • Have faith

Not in a higher power, muffins, but in yourselves. You’ll get through stuff that’s bad, you’ll enjoy stuff that’s good, and you deserve to do both. And on that note…

  • Be kinder to yourself

I listened to a podcast (!!) where a wise woman talked about how we say horrible things to ourselves, things that we would never say to a friend. So I started doing what she counseled: when I went on a mental tangent listing all the stuff I’d fucked up or forgotten or was behind on, I would stop. Then I’d reframe the conversation so I sounded like my best friend rather than my worst enemy. I’d encourage and counsel, rather than remonstrate. Rather than sounding delusional, as I’d feared, I sounded reasonable. Better yet, being positive meant I’d think through solutions rather than festering in disappointment. So be nice to yourself! You smell good and people like you. Never forget that.

  • Millay is right

One of my favorite poets is Edna St. Vincent Millay, and one of my favorite poems of hers is this one:

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

This year I learned to act like love–be it between friends, family, or lovers–is exactly as important as it is. And you should, too. We are small and we are insignificant, and the greatest of us are as ephemera. But we are here, and the connections we forge are our only real grace. When love ends, we learn about ourselves, and when love begins we learn about other people. So put your heart out there, friend, and be amazed by who picks it up.

Anything you’ve learned this year? I’d love to hear in comments. xoxoxo

Something About Which I Am A Little Less Stupid: Disappointment

So I spend a lot of time thinking about shit. It’s kinda my job. I’ve also read a lot and I listen to podcasts and I do the things smart people do. But while I would like to tell you that I am now super smart, I mostly constantly realize one single thing….

I know very little.

In fact, I know nothing about a lot of subjects. And there are a whole slew of subjects about which, quite frankly, I know disturbingly little. Then there are the subjects that I’ve definitely read an article about, but I’ve forgotten what it said except for that one line about the chimps. That was a good line.

My point here is not to be self-denigrating, but to suggest that all of us, realistically, know very little. I mean, some of us know a lot, for people, but compared to Yoda or Data or Stephen Fry, we know dick.

This awareness of my lack of knowledge, however, means that I am pretty excited when I think I kinda figure something out. Now, the nature of my brain means that this something is probably not going to be a mathematical equation or something involving, erm, facts. My world is one of story, and narrative, and empathy–of attempts to trace the webs of intention and id and instinct that propel us crashing through life. I spend vast amounts of time trying to interpret these disturbances in the undergrowth; to figure out other people even though I know, because Philip Roth told me so, that we can only ever get each other wrong.* That said, I think I figured something out this year that is pretty gotdamned powerful and has maybe made me less of an asshole, to myself and to others.**

Here’s my little revelation:

I don’t get to be disappointed.

When I’ve said this line to people, they stare at me like one might at a misprinted fortune cookie. So let me explain.

What I’ve realized this year is that disappointment is a passive stance based on expectations I probably have no right to have, either because they are unfair or I have not actually articulated them to the other person…or to myself.

Let’s unpack that theory, shall we?

First of all, there’s the idea that disappointment is a passive stance. When I’m disappointed, I let another person’s actions define my emotional state. In other words, I cede my own emotional control to another person.

Meanwhile, this person may or may not have been aware I even had the expectations about which I am now disappointed. Here’s an example: I cook an amazing dinner, hoping that my friend will greet me with a thousand praises. Instead, he drops his bag inside the door and tells me what a shitty week he’s had, shoveling the food in his mouth as if it were prison rations rather than carefully prepared coq au vin.

Here is where I have to scrutinize whether I have been honest, to my friend or to myself. Did I tell him that I was inviting him not to dinner, but to an hour of praising me preceded by food, the intended subject of said praise? Probably not. Did I even admit to myself, consciously, that this is what I wanted? Again, probably not. But every chicken part I seared was probably accompanied by a fantasy of his looks of tender adoration as meat juice ran down his chin.

So I have invited him to my house under false pretenses, expecting a reaction I have not articulated. When those expectations aren’t met, I feel disappointment. I may allow my night to be ruined, or my relationship with this friend may be soured.

What I should do, instead, is weigh my motivation before I offer anything. What am I really asking for, when I extend an invitation? I listened to this brilliant podcast about communication recently, and Dr. Neha Sangwan was talking around this idea. In her example, I might ask a friend to go hiking, but she doesn’t want to go hiking. I feel disappointed. But this is where I have to ask myself: did I want to hike (which I can do by myself or with anyone else) or did I want to see my friend (which is not the same thing as going on a hike). If it’s the latter, that means I can say to my friend, “Hey, I just want to see you. What if I come over with some brie and we high five and hug it out?” (That last part was not Dr. Sangwan’s example. She’s much more sophisticated.)

Reversing Dr. Sangwan’s example is what I try to do nowadays when I feel disappointment with someone or something. I start with the feeling and try to get back to the root of what I’m really disappointed about. Almost always I find that it’s something I’m not being honest with myself about or it’s something I never articulated to the other person.

And then what do I do with that knowledge? First of all, it helps me let go of the passive feeling of resentment that disappointment engenders. I can say “Okay, I need to do better at communicating, next time.” Secondly, and more importantly, I also have to confront my expectations and take responsibility for them.

What I mean by this is that sometimes people genuinely aren’t treating you well or they’re not giving you what you want, or need, or believe to be fair. If I refuse to go the passive-disappointment route but rather expect myself to articulate what I want out of a situation, that means I have to take action.

Let’s use as an example the friend who always, and I mean always, bails on plans. I can continue to invite that friend to the same kind of events, and subsequently “be disappointed” when they bail. I can allow this to happen over and over until I feel so resentful that I kinda hate that friend. Or I can ask myself what’s really going on. Is this friend bailing because he really doesn’t care about me? If so, maybe I need to reconsider the friendship. But if not, maybe I need to reconsider my behavior. Maybe I should stop asking him to do things he clearly can’t or doesn’t want to do. I can find different things he might want to do, or I can say, simply, “Hey, I want to see you.” I can take all the energy that would have been sucked up by feeling sad and resentful and turn it into making the friendship work.

I’m still not totally adroit at this whole strategy of not being disappointed, but the process of working backwards from my reaction of disappointment is really helping. I have to ask myself what is it I really wanted from someone, or a situation, and often that question results in an epiphany of “Oh, what I wanted had nothing to do with that person” or “Oh, what I really wanted was unreasonable and kinda selfish.”

I’ve learned a lot about myself from doing this and I think I’m getting better at dealing with situations that would have driven me batty, in the past. Most importantly, I think it’s made me less of an asshole. Always a good thing.

What are your thoughts on disappointment? Feel free to share in comments!

– – – – –

*American Pastoral. Read it.

**My only real goal at this point, since I’ve given up on ever having abs.

IT’S ALIVE!

So I’ve been the worst at updating this site, as you can see from the dates. But I am alive! And I am writing! Just not a ton recently because this year has been kind of all about my day job and actually having fun. (yes, fun!)

Jinn and Juice came out this year, as did a number of Jane True short stories. Oh, and that little number I did for that Sookie Stackhouse anthology. Thanks to everyone who bought and read and reviewed and contacted me to tell me they were enjoyed.

As I said, I am working on something new and it’s almost finished. I have no idea if it’ll sell to a publisher, as it’s a new genre for me and I don’t know, yet, if I’m any good at it. But it’s a genre I’ve recently fallen really in love with and it’s really challenging for me–something I really wanted right now. And this project doesn’t mean I won’t ever write urban fantasy again, but this is the story I felt was in me at the moment. And by in me, I mean taking a hell of a long time to come out. But that’s mostly because of other things…

Like my day job! I am now directing the MFA in Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University. It’s awesome, I’m super psyched to be doing it, but it’s a lot of work and a steep learning curve, obviously. I’m also going up for tenure this year (which kinda freaks me out), so that’s a huge career step. But I’m enjoying it all and I am very lucky to have a day job I love to go along with the writing.

I do have to admit, however, that it’s not all been hard work. This year I think it really hit me that Pittsburgh is my home now and will be for the foreseeable future. Along with that realization came an urge to really anchor myself in the social soil here. I had already met all of these amazing people and this is the year I wanted to embrace my inner Molly Bloom and say “yesyesyesyesyesyesyes” instead of “nonononoIhavetowrite.” And it *was* the writing that got bumped, not because I don’t love it or take that career seriously, but because I was *not* under deadline for the first time in five years and, for once, it was my day job that had the more pressing obligations.
So what have I been up to, besides building our MFA program, teaching, mentoring, etc?

Well, there was WordPlay.

And learning how to teach students to read good.

There were wigs (and not a wig).

We helped forward The Gay Agenda in Texas.
I totally stayed hydrated.

I got a makeover.

Let’s not get started on my bread game. Or the pound cake. Or this monster.

Or our #squadgoals.

Orrrr the fascinators.

There were pickles. And furries!

Chuck Wendig rocked our res.

I also rocked my fair share of poor life choices.

There were visitors from Scotland. Guess what we drank?

Don’t ask.

There were lots of concerts. Especially brass bands.

We did some writer camping!

There was a Bookfest in Florida with actual goddamned gators.

And two of my favorite things this year…. speaking at the Library of Congress.

And being in a movie.

So I guess it’s been a pretty crazy ass year. You can see the rest on my instagram (or at least the beverages). I’d say it’s also been an unqualified success. I have such an amazing life here, and I’m so grateful to everyone who has welcomed me and made me feel at home.

That said, I do miss the writing and I’m itching to get back to it. I think I’m going to warm up with some blog posts, for the holidays, on things I’ve learned this year. And then I’m going to jump back on this manuscript, which is so close to being finished!

You’ll be the first to know what happens with it, promise. xoxoxo

Over at the Holy Taco Church…

DIS CAKE: Or how to nail Pinterest. 2015-07-09 16.34.28

Enjoy!

A Recent Talk: What It Means To Love What You Do.

This is from a talk I gave recently to an honor society… Reposted here by request. xoxo

What it Means to Love What You Do

I am here to give you a speech, at a time in your life that is full of speeches. In fact, you’ve probably already sat through quite a few of what I will henceforth refer to as “That Speech.” “That Speech,” as you may have noticed, often revolves around a similar set of themes: “something something passion,” “something something do what you love,” “something something oh the places you’ll go.”

“That Speech” often emphasizes how important it is to love what you do. It might quote Steve Jobs, who very helpfully reminds us, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Impractically, “That Speech” may eschew practicality, perhaps quoting Maya Angelou, who says, “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.” The two in this impractical one-two punch may come from Stephen King, who said ““Yes, I’ve made a great deal of dough from my fiction, but I never set a single word down on paper with the thought of being paid for it … I have written because it fulfilled me … I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.”

(PS: I got all of these quotes from a Thought Catalog piece, which should tell you something.)

“That Speech” sets up a very neat equation: p (for passion) multiplied by w (for work) equals h (for happiness). It’s simple, guys! Do what you love! For your career! And you’ll be happy!

That’s it. I’m done. You can all go home now.

I’m just kidding. I don’t believe any of that. And neither should you.

This is not “That Speech.” For those of you who know me, or know my work, you may already know my philosophy: embrace the joy, even as you acknowledge the pain. My characters like to see the glass as half full, even as they recognize it’s probably half empty. In my own life I attempt to live with passion at the same time that I grapple with the idea that life is ruled, ultimately, by chaos.

So what is this speech? I’m here, after all, to induct you into an honor society. To applaud your good works, your efforts, your innate intelligence, and your dedication to our English language and all of its modalities. You are also college students, our students, jumping through the hoops we’ve set up so that you might enter adulthood armed and ready for the combat of life.

This is where it gets deep. And maybe a little depressing. And where it veers away from “That Speech.” For today I’m going to talk to you about passion. About what it really means to “do what you love.” And it’s going to be the real deal, not the Seuss version. Because that’s how I roll.

Love has been on my mind a lot, lately, as I’m attempting to write a contemporary romance. Because I’m one of you, a nerd, I’ve been researching what love is really, according to scientists, and philosophers, and other “experts.” As I’ve been reading these books, however, I knew I was going to have to write this speech. Quickly, certain parallels became obvious: the books I’ve been reading may be about romantic love, but the lessons they impart aren’t limited to this realm.

This struck me while I was reading a fabulous book by Dr. Mari Ruti, an expert in Kristevan psychoanalytic theory with a background in sociology and comparative literature. Ruti wrote a book called The Case for Falling in Love, in which, paradoxically, she claims love is anything but nice, or easy, or gentle. In fact, early on in the second half of the book, she warns, “So I’m thinking that love might actually be one of the least effective ways of gaining happiness.”

At this point I paused in reading and I thought about this speech. I thought about what we tell students, all the time, about “doing what they love.” And I thought about my own life, as, admittedly, one of the privileged few who not only got to do what she loves, but gets to do it in two realms, simultaneously, as a professor and as a writer. I’m one of the lucky ones…right?

I am! I love my life. I get to teach rad things to great students like you, many of whom genuinely bring me joy. I get to write books that other people read, books full of me, books that bring me a sense of fecundity and peace that I don’t want to examine too closely because it’s admittedly kinda weird.

Indeed, if I were giving you “That Speech,” I would stop talking right now. I would tell you that my narrative starts with me having a passion (books) and then making a career out of that passion (teaching and writing) and that now I am happy (full stop).

But I’ve already warned you. This is not “That Speech.” I’m not saying I’m not happy…I am hugely content with my life. I’m proud of my accomplishments. I don’t want to be anywhere else right now, which I know makes me incredibly lucky. My glass really is pretty darn full, which is nothing to sniff at.

That said, there’s another narrative “That Speech” doesn’t often acknowledge. It’s the narrative that’s full of rejection, of compromises, and of sacrifices. It’s the narrative that is full of insecurities, of fears, and of opportunities lost for every opportunity gained. It’s the true narrative of “successful” people, and it’s not all wine and roses. But it’s also the narrative that, despite where you may think this speech is going, I hope to help you understand and to embrace.

Returning to Ruti’s quote about love, the whole second half of her book is about how love is not the version popular culture sells. She’s talking about romantic love, of course, and we understand that version well if we’ve ever read a romance or seen a rom-com: boy and girl meet, boy and girl go through various struggles to be together; boy and girl succeed; boy and girl live happily ever after. At the same time, we can easily see how this narrative is often endorsed in our ideas of career: boy or girl meets passion; boy or girl pursues passion despite the odds; boy or girl succeeds in passion and makes it his or her career; boy or girl is happy. The end.

What Ruti explores, however, is the idea that love is not going to make you happy. This is also an idea often talked about on Thought Catalog, so I’m probably not blowing anyone’s mind here. But the way she talks about what love does to us, and for us, is where I want to linger; what I want us to explore. It’s about the idea that we should pursue our passions in the same way we approach love, knowing that we will get hurt. Indeed, to take it a step further, Ruti argues that it is only in actively embracing the idea that ultimately all love must fail, that we can truly, genuinely pursue passion.

Ruti goes on to say of love, “The catch-22 of love is that it has the power to make us happier than pretty much anything else in the world, but whenever we step into it, we risk unfathomable unhappiness.” In your own experience, you probably know how this works in the realm of romance. The real life version of our love lives is, sadly, very different from the cinematic version, including such varieties as “boy or girl meets object of sudden, intense attraction; object of intense attraction remains completely disinterested; boy or girl takes it on the chin, goes home, and eats a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Life goes on.” But what I’m here to warn you of today is that this scenario also is the norm for our non-romantic loves. What we most want, what we most think we need to be happy, is often the thing that is hardest for us to achieve. It is the thing that, in striving to reach it, makes us most unhappy. And it is the thing that, if we do reach it, keeps us on our toes.

I quoted Steve Jobs earlier. Again, that was a Thought Catalog quote, taken entirely out of context by a listicle. Like all such listicles, it’s the short-short version; the pithy version; the version that fits on a fortune cookie, with a fortune-cookie message. It’s a quotation that pops up all over the place, and yet people knew there had to be more than the listicle Steve Jobs, which is why his biography was so anticipated. And in that biography, people learned that Steve Jobs, success story, was also Steve Jobs, lack-of-success story. For every major triumph was preceded by dozens of setbacks, even failures. They read how things like his personal life were incredibly complicated because of his career success, but also, and this is important, because of his passion for that career.

The lives of people like Jobs intimate how passion is not a limitless resource. Neither is it wholly constructive, nor is it necessarily “good.” Pursuing a passion often means sacrificing other, perhaps less prioritized by us but not necessarily less important for us, passions. But most importantly, pursuing a passion sets you up to lose that which you care about most, constantly. If we want to do what we love, we must come to terms with the idea that what we love might not always love us back. Or, as Ruti writes of romantic love: “[T]here is no way to love without exposing ourselves to the possibility of pain; there is no way to turn passion into something safe and controlled.” Here’s what this speech is actually about: about how everything we know, deep down, about romantic love, is also true about vocational passion. Love, in all its forms, hurts like hell.

This is also where “That Speech” breaks down, taking that earlier equation of “passion multiplied by work equals happiness” with it. In my own life, I have had far more failures than I’ve had successes. There were universities to which I wasn’t accepted. There were scholarships that I did not win. There were agents who sent me letters telling me I was completely off base with my manuscript. There were editors who politely declined to buy my book. There were reviewers who hated everything, except maybe the font, about what I wrote. There were friends who got mad at my (actually occasional) success. There were lovers I left behind to move for a job. There were critics who said I was unfeminist, and to whom I couldn’t respond because of the nature of non-discourse in the blogosphere. There were proposals for new books that I failed to sell. Right now, I go to my critique group every week with work I hope they’ll love and instead my dear friend and brilliant mentor, Nancy Martin, who used to write romance, gets that dreaded “Wellllllll” face and tells me all the things I really, totally, absolutely got wrong.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you in all honestly that almost every day I get stuff wrong. Almost every day I fail at something. Almost every day I give something up because I have to do something else. Almost every day I disappoint someone because I can’t be two places at once. Almost every day, I have to tell someone “no” even as someone else tells me “no.” Almost every day I wonder at least once whether it’s all worth it.

The only days I don’t have any of that are the very rare days when I don’t engage. When I’ve hit my wall and I don’t check my email at all. I don’t do anything for either career. I don’t even talk to friends. I totally check out and just read all day, take a bath, and go to bed early.

On those days, I don’t fail at anything. I also don’t get anything done, and as important as those very rare days of doing nothing are to my mental health, the thought of living every day like that makes my teeth itch.

I should say it’s because it is all worth it. And it is, at least for those moments that it is worth it: those rare moments when a reward suddenly appears, like a treasure chest in a video game. There are a lot of moments, however, when it genuinely feels not worth it. But, asks the fortune cookie, what are our other options?

Actually, despite what “That Speech” will tell you, you do have other options. You can decide your passion isn’t worth the pain. That’s not the worst decision to make, either. In fact, there are times that I’m pretty sure giving up on passion and retreating to a safer position is actually far more sensible and probably more enjoyable. You may not get the highs of true success in that which matters most to you, but neither do you suffer the lows. And there’s nothing actually morally wrong with choosing comfortable stasis over passion, despite what Thought Catalog tells us.

But the trade off is stasis. In rejecting the idea of rejection, of failure, of pain, we also throw out the possibility of true joy, of genuine creation, and of the unicorn, that happiness with a horn, which is actual bliss. Not only that, but we cannot, in my favorite Nietzscheism, become what we are. In remaining static, our clay remains lumpen. We remain untested; unformed. Ruti writes:

In a deep sense, passion is meant for the resilient—for those who know that they’ll find their way back onto solid ground no matter how badly they fall. It’s meant for those who are confident that love’s disappointments won’t ravage them beyond repair. And it’s meant for those who recognize that sometimes a massive love followed by a massive failure is more glorious than a timidly lived success.

Ruti sees glory in the attempt, in the pursuit of passion, even if it means failure. Not because of what remains external to us (a relationship, or a book, or a career), but because of what it does to us, to our internal being. She writes of playing safe, “Doing so might spare us some grief, but it would also deprive us of important occasions for actualizing our deepest human potential. It would make it too easy for us to stay shallow and inattentive.”

But now I’m starting to sound like a fortune cookie. What, after all, is the concrete benefit to pursuing passion, especially when shallow and inattentive isn’t the worst thing in the world?

I wish I could answer that question. I wish I could give you a list, maybe a listicle, even, with the Top Ten Concrete Reasons Pursuing Your Passions is Awesomesauce. But I can’t.

That said, no one can, for anything in life. The internet is lying to you, by making the world a place of neatly bulleted lists. The only reason to attempt to live your passions is because you have to. Because you’re that person, cursed with that curious combination of drive and masochism, who may or may not achieve enough success that people forget all the failures when they narrate your life from the outside. In other words, you’re that person who takes more joy in the process than the outcome, which is what it truly means to love something.

A lot of people tell me they love writing when what they really mean is that they want to be a successfully published novelist. These are not the same things, although they sound similar enough to the novice. One is about process; the other is about the outcome. If you genuinely love something, you love the process. All of it. Even the parts you actually hate. Even those parts that are unloveable become loveable because they’re a part of this process you can’t help but do; because they get you to the next part that you truly love again.

If you love the process, the failures still hurt. They can even still be devastating…at least for a while. Then the process rears its head again, looking for attention, and you can’t help but reach out trembling fingers to stroke its fickle head. Success, meanwhile, feels great…for a little while. Until the process morphs into a new shape, and suddenly it’s not enough to have written that last book, or that last journal article, or taught that last class or led that last seminar. Suddenly your last success looks a little cheap, a little easy…there’s a flashy new success on the horizon, all dewy eyed and flaxen haired and you want to take that success to dinner and get it into bed very, very badly.

When you elevate the process over the outcome, that’s when you know you truly have passion, god help you. Nietzsche put it as only Nietzsche could:

Success has always been the greatest liar – and the “work” itself is a success; the great statesman, the conqueror, the discoverer is disguised by his creations, often beyond recognition; the “work,” whether of the artist or the philosopher, invents the man who has created it, who is supposed to have create it; “great men,” as they are venerated, are subsequent pieces of wretched minor fiction

For Nietzsche, both power and success are objects of scorn: it is the work that is remembered and that creates its author, in retrospect, rather than the author creating the work. In this way, to Nietzsche, success was dangerous. His example was Wagner, who Became Wagner, and therefore couldn’t actually be Wagner anymore. I think our current version of this sort of success is the artist who “sells out” and becomes “corporate.” But I could go on all day about Nietzsche, and he’s not the point. The point is that even if we are successful, that carries with it a whole new raft of burdens, along with more room for even greater failures, risks, adventures, etc. There is no happily ever after.

But don’t worry, I am aware that “There is no happily every after” would be the worst place imaginable to end a speech like this one. I know I should end in a way that makes you all want to fist bump. So I will mimic the internet, and I will give you a list. The Top Five Concrete Things I Can Actually Say To You With Some Assurance:

  1. They Don’t Call it The Passion for Nothing

Just like Jesus discovered, the passion kinda sucks. Having passion means you put yourself out there. Entering the boxing ring means you’re going to get punched; trying something you love means you’re going to get punched in the heart. Which leads me to number two…

  1. Question Everything, Including Yourself

I want all of you to have a cynical streak, but not too cynical as that’s as annoying as blithe ignorance. Just don’t forget to extend that cynicism to yourself and ask yourself the really hard questions, including do you actually love what you say you love? We’ve all read or seen that romance where the heroine or hero only really loves someone because that person is shiny and expensive. Ask yourself the same thing about what you think you’re passionate about: do you really love the process, or do you actually just want the outcome? Taken from my earlier example, are you one of those people who just wants be a published author, but doesn’t actually like to write? Spoiler alert, those people never actually succeed. So if you are confusing process with product, you’d be wise to take a step back and reprioritize.

  1. Embrace Failure

I said something about masochism early on and I wasn’t kidding. If you really want to embrace your passion, you have to embrace failure. You have to want it; to love it; to seek it out. You have to go into that boxing ring not only expecting to get punched, but anticipating cultivating every bruise so you can look back at the footage and see where you went wrong. You have to love the process so much that even its grittiest, most painful parts give you a weird sort of pleasure. Think Fifty Shades of Passion and embrace the knowledge you will fail.

  1. Understand Success

The flip side of embracing failure means understanding success. There is no such thing as “success” in the same way there’s no such thing as “happily ever after.” External factors impose themselves (jobs are lost; editors are fired; fans lose interest). Internal factors also play a role. Passion may wane altogether for what you’re doing. Suddenly you may realize your career is great but you’re missing out on something important in another part of your life. Or, more likely, if you’re a truly passionate person there’s always a shinier idea on the horizon, and to reach it you have to cross a new minefield of failure. Is there ever any protection? No, but there’s Voltaire.

  1. Cultivate Your Garden

Voltaire’s Candide tells us “We must cultivate our garden,” a rejection of more optimistic philosophies current to his time in favor of acknowledging everything that can go wrong in the world while still imparting a little practical advice. The fact is, all we have is our garden. We can attempt to make that garden big or small and we can give it as much variety as we choose. From a practical standpoint, however, if you try to build a giant garden full of only one expensive crop in search of a profitable harvest, you’re risking a cataclysmic failure. I would suggest the biggest garden isn’t always the most fruitful, and I would stress the importance of finding a few passions to cultivate, including a passion for yourself: for self-care, for self-improvement, and for self-knowledge, or at least as much as we can have of that.

And here’s the final piece of real advice I can give you, and I don’t even want to call it advice. I guess it’s what I’ve realized about my own life, looking back. Keeping in mind that I don’t have all the answers, in fact I barely have any answers, and that I’ve already told you the vast majority of my career experiences can be seen as failures, I look back at my life and the one thing I’m genuinely glad of is that, for the most part, I have lessons rather than regrets. What I mean is that, when I look back, I’ve learned a ton of lessons from all my failures, and so, as long as we don’t include sartorial choices involving overalls in the 90s, I have very few genuine regrets.

That’s what I want for each of you. That’s what I actually think defines success. Success doesn’t mean reaching a certain apex in terms of job title, or salary, or book contract, or anything like that. For me, it means looking back on my life and seeing that I learned a lot and made the best of what I had to work with. In my case, it meant pursuing my passions. Did this always make me happy? Absolutely not. Sometimes it made me miserable. But I always had the process, which meant I could learn and attempt to move forward. Sometimes I was halted in my tracks: no Rhodes Scholarship for me. But I could look at who did win, think through why I didn’t (I was vastly underqualified) and reassess where I was and what I wanted, using that failure as a touchstone. It meant being honest with myself, being vulnerable, and being open to change and growth, which can feel horrible at the time.

And that’s what you have to look forward to if you pursue your passions: the pain of growth spurts and lots of failure. But you also have the other things, the things that are usually the subject of speeches like this, and that, if we’re lucky, become part of a life lived for passion. In Goethe’s Faust, Faust’s wager with Mephistopheles is that, in his highest moment, he’ll lose his soul. Well, “highest moment” is a common English translation; in the German, it’s augenblick, or eye-blink. Our highest moments, as Goethe warns, are just that: over in the blink of an eye. That doesn’t mean, however, that those eye blinks aren’t so glorious they’re worth a man’s soul. If we’re lucky, during our pursuit of passion we get those eye blinks: moments of bliss, of true happiness, be they of pride, of insight, of epiphany, of acknowledgement that a struggle has been mounted and won. And sometimes, just sometimes, we create something beautiful, or important, or worthy, or helpful.

Nietzsche, of course, speaks of this knife’s-edge walk between failure and success best: “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” So take this, going forward, each of you: passion is a barbed thing, and apt to draw blood. Understand that failure can lead to lessons worth more than success, which is a fickle mistress anyway. Know that you must love the process as much as the product, or the pursuit of a passion may not be worth all the pain. And learn to cultivate your own garden. Life is a game, full of arbitrary rules, played with forces that are as apt to tip over your entire board as they are to give you a get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s how we play at life despite this knowledge that defines us and I, for one, would rather play with passion. Thank you.

 

 

 

Annnnnd…. Back to Florida!

So last month I was in Florida with friends and family, where I behaved very badly.

2015-02-07 14.24.28 Despite this, Florida is letting me back in. This time I’ll be at the 2015 Lake BookFest, which is near to Orlando. I’ll be doing lots of events, so come see me!

In other news, JINN AND JUICE is out in audiobook! I did a quick listen the other day and the narrator does a great job. Meanwhile, the paperback will be hitting shelves next month! So if you’re waiting on the hard copy your time is nigh. 😉

Speaking of which, I received my author copies of the book from Hachette and they look gorgeous! I’ve also got some of my fave cover quotes ever. Lyla looks great in the larger trade paperback and she’s just gorgeous! Here are some pics:

2015-03-07 00.03.50 And, as usual, if you’d already read the eBook or you’ve listened to the audio, please leave a review wherever you bought it. They really help us out and I’d be grateful!

Well, I have to go pack and head to Latrobe. I’m flying out of this tiny airport on Spirit airlines, so I’m prepared to pedal.

Have a great week and hope to see you in Florida! 😉

Basic Incubus Excerpt and Instagram Warning!

Hello lovely readers,

First of all, I just want to warn y’all there will be some HORRENDOUS Instagram abuse by moi this weekend/next week.

I’ve been promising to visit my friend in Florida for AGES and they finally had an epic Southwest sale that I could NOT resist. So I bought tickets to FL and we made plans to go to Disneyworld. Then my mother made googlie eyes at me and I was like, “You should come too, moms!” and she was all, “And your dad!” So it became an epic Peeler event.

Anyway, long story short like a week later I was invited to speak at an event starting the day after I return from Florida, at the LIBRARY OF CONGRESS. Whut? Yes. There are so many levels on which this is like a total nerdgasm-worthy dream. First off: speaking at the Library of Congress. Secondly, I’m a talking head in a documentary about romance, called Love Between the Covers.

Keep in mind that, as a child, I didn’t watch TV and want to be the heroine in the gunslinger Western, or the tough cop in the TV drama. I wanted to be the talking head on the PBS documentary of Napoleon, because that was what was inevitably playing on our televsion. Then, in college, I’d get SO psyched seeing my professors talking on PBS or the BBC about the historical Jesus, or Modernism, or whatever. So to be a talking head in a documentary may be the lamest dream come true you’ve ever heard of since that one girl in the fifties asked for saddle shoes but for serious. I am SO PSYCHED.

The next day, I’m speaking on the plenary panel of the related symposium on popular romance. You can go to either the film or the symposium or both! For free! More info available here. 😉

Anyway, the whole weekend/week is going to be a whirlwind, but a delightful one. Disneyland, Harry Potter world, the film premier, and then Library of Congress. Amazing! And you know there will be hella pictures, so feel free to follow me here.

Up till now I’ve been busy getting  BASIC INCUBUS ready for sale on the 17th of this month. Here’s an excerpt, as a treat. Thank you all for enjoying these little stories. They’ve been a joy to write, and have reminded me that I actually like writing. Thank you for reading them.

Without further ado, here’s a brief snippet of BASIC INCUBUS:

BasicIncubusFinalThe first part of date night was lovely. We went all the way to Eastport for dinner and a movie, since we could only do the dinner part if we stayed in Rockabill. Dinner was delish and I, at least, enjoyed the film.

“I can’t believe you made me watch that,” Anyan complained as we walked to the car. We’d parked where we usually did when we came into Eastport—behind Iris’s boutique, which was equidistant from our favorite restaurant and the small movie theater. It was also a nice, dark, quiet alley that no one used, except during the daytime, which meant we didn’t have to go home to get down, wink wink, nudge nudge.

“Dude. It was awesome.”

He gave me a wild-eyed look, the kind he gave me when he was seriously doubting my sanity. “It was not awesome. It was horrendous. It made absolutely no sense.”

“But there were gigantic robots. Gigantic, sentient robots. Fighting!”

“Is that seriously all you need to enjoy a film?”

I thought about that for a few seconds. “Actually, yes,” I decided, eventually.

“I am partnered with a fourteen-year-old boy,” he grumbled. It was an old complaint. I grinned at him.

“And you have the soul of a ninety-five-year-old woman. If you didn’t have me in your life you’d be at home right now, drinking Ensure and watching Murder, She Wrote.”

“I’ll give you a ninety-five-year-old woman,” he growled, backing me into the side of our truck, pinning me there to loom over me. His head dipped for a kiss, one I returned with enthusiasm.

I loved date night.

Things had just started to get interesting, with one of Anyan’s big paws finding its way under my shirt and my own hand wrestling with his belt buckle, when we heard a long, terrified scream from a few blocks down the dark, unused alley.

Anyan stepped back, his head raised to the wind. But the screamer didn’t stop, just took a ragged breath and started screaming again, this time shouting, “Police! Help!”

With practiced moves, Anyan’s shirt was off and his pants were undone and he was dogging out, leaping out of his jeans and boots to land on four feet. He raced down the alley toward the sound, barking like mad. I followed him, gathering up his clothes and running laboriously behind him.

I was part seal, fercrissakes. Gimme a break.

When I caught up with him, he was standing at the edge of a small half-circle of people, gathered around something lying next to the back wall of Eastport’s small hardware store. I could feel Anyan’s glamour, so no one noticed the giant hell hound nudging through the crowd to see what had happened, or me following.

The good news was that the screamer was alive. She was sobbing and still gasping for help, but her friend had her in a tight embrace and was comfort-shushing her.

But that was the only good news.

For on the pavement, lying between the store’s dumpster and the concrete stoop leading up to the back door, was the body of a girl. She may have been late teens or early twenties, but she looked very young and very fragile. She was also very dead.

And she hadn’t died pretty.

Update on World Domination……..

Hello, friends!

I know, I know, it’s been forever since my last update. But I’ve been so busy, between Day Job and the writerings.

First off, we had our residency, for our MFA in Popular Fiction. It’s an awesome program that focuses on writing popular genre novels, so you come in knowing you want to write a romance, or an epic fantasy, or a YA vampire novel or whatever. Then you write it! From home, mostly, with the aid of a mentor, except two times a year when you come to campus for intensive, five-day residencies. And they’re not lying when they say intense! But it’s so much fun and this one was particularly enjoyable–no drama, and we had the most wonderful Guest Professor, Kate Carlisle.

2015-01-13 20.48.12I have been a huge fan of Kate’s work since I started in on her Bibliophile Mysteries series, which I can’t recommend highly enough. I love it. And I’d met her a few times to know she was very nice. But she was more than nice: she was smart, hilarious, wise, and wonderful. I really wanted to keep her, but apparently we’re not allowed to kidnap our guests.

Overall, she helped make an already very good residency (no drama! no plague! yay!) damn near perfect, and I’ll miss our boxed-wine fueled evening natters very, very much.

Processed with MoldivAnd even though I didn’t get to keep Kate, I did get to keep one thing… Paul Goat Allen’s mannequin, Manny. Manny’s visiting for the next few months, and he will live in my office. He’s apparently already scared the crap out of the cleaning lady, for which I apologize. He can’t help his hook hand.

2015-01-12 17.34.31While I was gone, I forgot (yikes!) that my Carniepunk story, “The Inside Man,” was published as an individual short. It’s a Triptych story, with Capitola and the gang, and is about a creepy clown. Which is really synonymous, isn’t it?

In other publishing news, I’m working on getting Basic Incubus out! It’s done, just needs revised and edited and all that good stuff. But you can click on the (awesome) cover for the blurb, release dates, and the first few pre-order buttons (they’ll keep coming as I get to them).BasicIncubusFinalAnd don’t forget that other short Jane True short stories are out, including “The Hound of Bar Harborville” and “The Ryu Morgue.”

In terms of upcoming novels, for those of you waiting patiently for the paperback of release of Jinn and Juice, it’ll be hitting bookstore shelves April 7.

PHEW WITH THE UPDATES. I hope y’all have a great week and do some fun reading! 😉

The Story Behind the Story: Jinn & Juice and “Borderline Dead”

Hey folks! Today is release day for JINN AND JUICE and for DEAD BUT NOT FORGOTTEN, a Sookieverse anthology in which you can find my story, “Borderline Dead”.

I thought I’d do something a little different today and, instead of telling you about the books (cuz that’s all over the place), I’d tell you about how I came up with their ideas.

JINN AND JUICE

Peeler-JinnandJuice-TP The idea for Jinn and Juice came to me where I get a lot of ideas: in the shower. It was when I was still living in Greensburg, PA, but I’d been spending a lot more time in Pittsburgh and was falling in love with it (I now live there).

Everything I love about Pittsburgh, however, is what makes it not very….supernatural-y. I love that it’s kinda Midwestern and it’s an actively revitalizing city, which means it’s not chockablock with the trendiest hangs ever, like New York. I love that it’s most famous for fries on sandwiches and something about a towel and putting chairs out in front of your house to reserve your parking spot.

So, a delightful place to live for a nice girl from Illinois, but for an immortal creature with supernatural powers who could live anywhere it wanted…wouldn’t Paris be a more obvious choice? Or NOLA? Or Istanbul?

So, I was in the shower and I thought, “I would love to write a book set in Pittsburgh.” Then I laughed to myself and said out loud, “Yeah, but what sort of supernatural creature would live in Pittsburgh?”

From answering that question Lyla and her clan of misfit toys living in steel-soaked Pittsburgh came into being. Thank jeebus for the powers of the showers. 😉

“BORDERLINE DEAD”

dbnf When I first got the offer to write for this anthology, I was basically hysterically happy. Like crying and everything. Of course I said yes, but then I had the inevitable moment of panic: What the hell am I going to write about?

I think we all get that when we say yes to something like this, but my writing for a Sookie book was like that inevitable feeling compounded by a thousand. Because I looooooooooove Sookie. And I loooooooooove Charlaine. There are so many reasons that made this whole thing mean the WORLD to me and that made choosing a character to write about seem super daunting.

But I knew two things about myself: I can’t write fan fiction because I think that text is immutable (give me a break on this, I have a PhD in literary criticism. It’s beaten into every neuron in my brain that the text is sacrosanct). And I also love writing about the underdog, and I knew the ultimate underdog in Sookie’s world would a plain old human.

So almost immediately I knew I wanted to write about a human and I probably couldn’t write about anyone that had any sort of big, important role, or I’d spend the next nine months combing over the extant texts to crosscheck every word said, muscle moved, ideology expressed, etc, for continuity.

And so I picked…. BETHANY ROGERS! I was super excited when I remembered her and then I went back and reread book two. And remembered BETHANY DIES IN THE END! Shit!

That left me with Desiree Dumas, who was even more perfect than Bethany because she was literally just a memory. Not even a character we meet, other than in Bethany’s recollections.

Now that I had a character, I could piece together her story. Desiree was young, working in a vampire bar. She was obviously popular, and Bethany envied her. She probably had a vampire lover (or two). And she was in  Houston, near the border…

“Borderline Dead” evolved from there, a story about a girl on the run and a shapeshifting coyote, all bound up with themes of personal redemption and not being a bigoted jerkface.

So those are my releases for today! Click on the photos to see more about the books and for buy buttons. Happy reading!