All posts in the books category

SJ Reads: Coming Alive

Published July 16, 2018 by admin

So not a writing book, but still something that I think will speak to all types of creative people, and people in general. I’ve recently been working my way through this book, and I have to admit, I’m impressed.

coming alive


We hold ourselves back a lot, whether by attitude toward ourselves or behavior toward others. I think, sometimes, we…maybe not make excuses, but view these as permanent conditions and self-blame. Note: I’m not talking about mental illness and other issues, which are a whole other thing.

But with how much people are going through these days and the constant conversation being had about self care and similar topics, every little bit helps. Basically, these are practical exercises to use for certain types of behavior you notice in yourself. For me, I picked this up as something to help with procrastination, self-enabling, anxiety, talking down to myself, you know the deal.

I really like that there are specific exercises used for specific emotional circumstances. The authors do a great job of explaining their backgrounds and how they came to develop the tools in this book, and why this differs a little from other schools of thought. It’s simple, it’s fast-moving, it’s doable, and it helps with self-sabatoge. I’m enjoying what I’ve read and tried out so far, and have a lot of hope that these ideas and practices are doable long term.

Get it here

SJ Reads: Growing Gills by Jessica Abel

Published July 9, 2018 by admin

It’s Camp Nano time, so I figured I’d look at some writing/creative books for those who are of the mind. I fell into this title last year, read through it once, and really want to go through again step by step. I’ve sat in a few things Jessica Abel has done, and her mindset to cutting through the excess to help you figure out how to balance and schedule your creative work is one of the best I’ve seen.

We all know we have a lot on our plates. I think sometimes we think that’s a necessary thing, especially when we’re just starting out or trying to rebrand ourselves, or whatever. Sometimes, clinging to all of that at once, though, just isn’t going to help. That’s where Growing Gills comes in.

growing gills


What I love about this is that it’s motivating, but realistic. Abel also really makes the reader get into what’s going on with them internally that could be affecting how they work and how they perceive things. You definitely have to participate in this book and keep an open mind that the way you’ve always done things…the comfortable, good ol’ way you know how, just may not be the best thing for you.

Look, the glow of Nano is going to wear off. Don’t you want to know what to do with your work and how to move toward doing more of that and doing something with it?

This isn’t one of those things that promises that you’ll be completely fixed and all you need to do is believe and do a couple of visualization exercises. This is asking things of you, and asking you to be honest to yourself. But, it also isn’t judgmental and is very much the type of conversation a lot of us really needed to have way before whatever brought us to reading this book. This makes you put in some work, physical and emotional, but, it’s very much a real-world guide to improving your creative situation and making things better than where you’re at now. This will help you chart a path, and that’s something not a lot of us have either done for whatever reason, or completely know how to do.

Her blog is also awesome, and pretty much you just need to look up all of her media and advice, because you will find something between all the various forms it comes in to help you out.

Seriously, though, start by Getting this Book

SJ Reads: Save the Cat

Published July 2, 2018 by admin

I’ve also been trying to read more about writing, so today’s SJ Reads goes with that line of thought. I try to be aware of anything that will help me out, and I’ve noticed a lot of my writerly friends mentioning this title. I was skeptical at first, and then I paged through it at the library, and then I bought it, and then I obsessively read it and bought gigantic board to stick on my wall and five million index cards.

Of course, I’m talking about Save the Cat.

save the cat


You may be confused, because it’s a book on screenwriting. Here’s the deal – I will take any help I can get, and this book breaks down story development in really nice, specific ways. Some of it was not always the easiest to hear because we all know I like to be a little too clever-clever at times. The thing is, you can be that way, but also plan and follow a structure that will make things easier for you in the long run.

What I like about this is how it discusses ways to plan your overall basic story/theme in a pitch that I can definitely see helping not just in writing, but when shopping a project. Then, the discussion of beats and how limiting the amount and planning how energy flows ahead of time…this would have made some of my early writing so much easier, let’s put it that way. I also like the concept of using index cards vs trying to sit down at a computer and write out a giant outline or synopsis…or even to just start writing. This makes things feel more manageable, and I will take all of that I can get in my life. While the examples given aren’t always the most current, they’re still good examples and things are explained specifically and well. This is the kind of advice book that feels like the author actually has done this technique and used it, and it isn’t just something thought up to pitch an advice book. It does make you think and consider parts of your story or idea and how they’re working. It does make you do homework before you sit down to write. You know what, if it means I’m not trying to correct multiple points in time and aspects of a structure simultaneously, sure, I’ll try it.

Quick read, easy to understand, doesn’t talk down to the reader, enjoyable and feels doable. If you’re into any sort of writing, definitely check it out.

I do have the sequel, but haven’t gotten there yet, so I’ll update accordingly when I do.

SJ Reads: Paperbacks from Hell

Published June 25, 2018 by admin

So obviously, I need to rethink how to stay on a schedule. Welcome to your creative life: it’s always something. This time, though, I’ve been really leaning into a lot of writing, looking at where I’m at and where I want to go, that sort of thing. So good things in my absence.

But yeah, nuff of that, we can cover all that later, let’s talk books.

One of the things I’ve been doing lately is really expanding what I’m reading, focusing on different things, and picking up things I may have missed.

And my dudes, I love this book so much. Not only is the writing hilarious, but this is a documentation of a period of literary history you shouldn’t miss. I give you: Paperbacks from Hell.

paperbacks from hell

In all seriousness, it’s a fantastic book. I grew up in the heyday of trashy 80s paperback horror, but at that time it wasn’t my bag (I was more into carebears and my little ponies, the gateway drugs of alternate dimensions, demon possession, and other sparkly horror for young girls). I remember seeing crazy covers on store shelves when I got bored waiting for my parents to do whatever it is parents do in a store (I’m still not sure, honestly). I didn’t really understand where they sat in the genre, though, and certainly didn’t appreciate the history of them.

This book is a necessity. If you love horror, if you’re a horror author, if you do panels talking about horror, I’d better see this book in your hot little hand. It explores the evolution of genre titles from late sixties (led by The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, etc), up to the early 90s when RL Stine and Christopher Pike ruled all. Each chapter goes by a type of subgenre, and it’s really a fantastic breakdown that also helps you understand where publishing was at the time and what the hell happened.

The thing I notice with a lot of people at smaller conventions is that they can namecheck Stephen King, Clive Barker, Anne Rice, maybe some splatterpunk or southern gothic and a few other things, but a lot gets brushed over. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist (tangent rant: reminds me of the time I was told by a co-panelist that horror comics don’t really play the same roles in genre and it turned into me proclaiming my love for them for a good five minutes at least. I expect this book will lead to similar performances re: horror writing history when I’m on future panels, so look out for that).

Guys, know your stories. Know what all is out there. A lot of the books mentioned are out of print, but you can still find some in ebook, still find some in yard sales. Not all will be your cuppa tea and that’s fine. I’d never heard of Elizabeth Engstrom, I went right out and read When Darkness Loves Us because of this book, and oooooh my gawd. Suddenly I have a huge influence to namecheck because it almost makes me angry how good her writing is. Plus, I mean if not that, killer babies, satanic whatevers, evil toys, monster animals and all that are tons of fun, amirite?

I also appreciate that the authors go into the place of Gothic fiction and Gothic romance within the timeline, and just generally make everything so easy to follow. Plus, they’re hilarious. I’ve loved Grady Hendrix’s novels anyway, but now I feel he and Will Errickson need to be my best friends. The narration in this book is amazing – I laughed so much reading this thing, I can’t even tell you. It never takes itself too seriously, and it’s infused with a huge love of every book that’s profiled.

Seriously, if you even half appreciate the horror genre, or want to ogle some epic covers, check this book out.

Guest Post: Crescendo of Darkness

Published June 7, 2018 by admin

Don’t you love it when you take off for a couple weeks and it turns into…uh, more than a couple weeks? Yeaaaah. Anyway, we’ll get into that later. For today, let’s look at an amazeballs new book out that’s sure to grab the interest of horror fiends and music fans alike!



Music has the power to soothe the soul, drive people to obsession, and soundtrack evil plots. Is music the instigator of madness, or the key that unhinges the psychosis within? From guitar lessons in a graveyard and a baby allergic to music, to an infectious homicidal demo and melancholy tunes in a haunted lighthouse, Crescendo of Darkness will quench your thirst for horrifying audio fiction. is proud to present fourteen tales of murderous music, demonic performers, and cursed audiophiles.

Please enjoy an excerpt below from Crescendo of Darkness.

“Keep the Beat” by Calvin Demmer

A young girl questions why her tribe plays the djembe drums

every night and finds it may be more than just a tradition.


It resembled clockwork. Dusk would fall, and the sounds of djembe drums, which ranged from thuds to slaps, would start. First, it was only one or two drums in the distance, but, within minutes, Aminata heard the beat all around her. It was a simple pattern, which didn’t end until night had blanketed the world.

Watching some of the villagers of her tribe prepare fires to cook, it dawned on her she’d never questioned why the drums were brought out. She inhaled burned wood scented smoke from the fires, wondering why people went separate directions into the jungle to sit alone and play. Were they providing amplified entertainment for the rest of the village while they cooked? There was no singing along with the beat as was usual when instruments were played—though she did hear a few people mumble along. As soon as it was dark, the drums stopped, the people returned, and everyone ate.

Every night.

She’d approached Idrissa, one of the male elders she got along with best, after deciding to investigate the peculiar ritual. He was tall and muscly, which were common features among the men in the community. The drums had already started up their beat.

“You’re not wrong to question it,” Idrissa said, taking a seat alongside Aminata in front of one of the fires. “In fact, it’s a good sign. It shows you’re ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“You’re ready to know more.” Idrissa reached for a stick and held it over the fire. Smoke rose from the end of the stick. “Maybe, you are even ready to participate.”

“I’m ready.” Aminata didn’t really feel the desire to hit on a drum, but if it led her to uncovering the purpose of why they were played, she was prepared to feign interest.

“Hmm. Perhaps you are ready.”

“I am, elder Idrissa.”

“Do you believe in ghosts?” Idrissa looked to the heavens.

Aminata frowned.

“Have you ever wondered why we take the ill or severely wounded beyond the mountains?”

“You take them to the land of peace, to die. Like you did with my parents when they were ill and could not be healed.”

Idrissa nodded. “Yes. That was a sad day. You were very brave. But, there is more to it. The mountains surrounding us are very special. You see, if a person dies in the valley, their spirit can’t move on to the next realm. They remain stuck. We believe they live in caves in the mountain and are only able to roam the land at dusk.”

Aminata smiled. She didn’t know how to respond to the ridiculous tale. Why could an elder never be direct? She’d have to go through an entire procession of some age-old myth before she’d ask one of the younger adults, who’d then give her a straight answer. She bit her lower lip, regretting not going to one of the younger adults first.

“But,” Idrissa said, making a fist. “Not all the spirits in the valley are friendly. A few warriors from tribes that once ruled these lands, or warriors who attacked our very tribe, remain.”

Idrissa picked up a djembe drum near him. Softly, he tapped the beat Aminata knew well. It was the same beat she heard every evening at dusk.

Every evening.

Idrissa stopped. “That beat. These drums. They protect us during dusk. Our village has been performing the ritual ever since we first moved to the valley.”

Intrigue lit a flame in Aminata’s mind. She didn’t believe the tale. Evil ghosts roaming the land at dusk were a step too far, but she couldn’t resist asking a question, either.

“What happens if the beat isn’t played?”

“Bad things.” Idrissa placed the drum on the ground. He seemed reluctant to release his grip and his fingers trailed over the drum’s animal skin. “You see, Aminata. Not only must the djembe drums be played every night, correctly. But, there can be no area in our defense where there is silence. The wrong type of ghosts will find that spot, and…”

“Aminata. Aren’t you going to eat tonight?”

Aminta turned.

Didi, one of the elder women, stood with her hands on her hips.

“Yes,” Aminata said.

“Come then.”

“Don’t worry.” Idrissa patted her shoulder. “Tomorrow, I will have a surprise for you. I will discuss with the other elders first, but I believe you are indeed ready for the next step.”

Aminata nodded.

She followed Didi. Her stomach growled, as her mind tingled with many thoughts awakened by the old myth. She hadn’t received the truth, but she believed she’d obtain the real reason from one of the young adults. What she had received was a peculiar story. And now, she wanted to know why there was such a strange tale in the first place.

Was it covering up something else?


To read the rest of this story and thirteen

other horror music shorts, check out:

Crescendo of Darkness


SJ Reads: Steal Like an Artist/Show Your Work

Published November 6, 2017 by admin

Since so many people are doing Nanowrimo, I thought it might be interesting to focus SJ Reads this month on books about writing and creating. I know, way to get original, amirite?

Anywho, let’s start with something light and easy.

I’d had the books of Austin Kleon recommended to me before, but because I am a stubborn beast, I put off reading them. Which I shouldn’t have, because they’re really easy to get through. Deceptively so. They’re the type of books that you can read in a sitting, then immediately have to reread so you can get the full effect.

steal like an artist


I really like how empowering this book is, plus his unique approach to his own art and writing is really fun to look at. Kleon discusses how he came upon his technique, plus he walks people through what it really means to be an artist with the obvious experience of someone who’s been there. There are some nuts and bolts things, but there’s also a lot of positivity and encouragement, something that artists of all types just don’t always get enough of. Based on an address to college students, this book is filled with great material that a reader can go back to over and over again. The words are also the graphics, so there’s a lot to take in visually from an actual artistic perspective, as well. This is something that’s really nice for people who are starting to get into their career, or who may need a pick-me-up.  It’s nothing to do with specific technique so much as it is helping you lay out your journey and not feel so alone. Get it here!

show your work

This one is more about marketing (though it’s not really based around that concept). This leads with the idea that generosity and using a network trump networking. Admittedly, this one has been harder to stay with, not because I necessarily disagree with it, but either I haven’t been in the right frame of mind each time I go to read it, or it just doesn’t flow as well as the first book. It does feel like there’s a little more nitty gritty to this one, so it’s a title I plan on going back to. Definitely worth a look, as well. Get it here!





SJ Reads: Hester

Published October 30, 2017 by admin

Time to round out the month with another nostalgic Halloween read! This week’s pick will be one of my favorites from when I was a kidlet, and likely one that only people who date back to bronze age (like me) will remember. I give you: Hester.




Hester is an alligator who’s getting ready for her Halloween party, but has time to spare. She goes out trick-or-treating, but ends up at a house that is owned by a very nice older lady and her friends. Since this book isn’t easy to find and has been out forever, spoilers ahead:

Hester totally trick or treats at a haunted house, but it’s full of nice monsters who are happy to have a visitor (and if memory serves, they let her in because she’s dressed as a witch, herself). There’s also a vignette where she helps the older lady (a witch) with some broom issues.

This is a super-cute book with some really vibrant and vivid illustrations. I remember checking out this particular title all year round as a kid, because I had a thing for exploring haunted houses (and this book is probably responsible for me thinking that any inhabitants of such houses would be a friendly delight, setting up my childhood mind to get wrecked by adverts for horror movies later on). The illustrations really give you room to explore – there’s some good detail which led to a great deal of imagining on my part as a kid.

I like this story because it’s somewhat gentle, with Hester soothing and helping out the haunted house inhabitants. They’re never really referred to as anything other than a nice old lady/nice people, so the book relies fully on the illustrations to convey the “joke.” Still, if you also look at it from the standpoint that they could very well be nice people except for the prejudices that are put on them (thanks horror genre), it’s interesting from that angle, as well.

Over all, a cute, fun, Halloween read that will give kids a lot to explore and give adults a chuckle. Unfortunately, it’s out of print, and while it’s a little easier to find than last week’s title, you’re going to end up paying for it.  I would definitely recommend checking out your local library system for it, because it is definitely worth a flip through.