The Angel Choir’s Call: Your September Horror-Scope

Angel

September Overview: A choir of the angels sings the deafening death rattle of summer this month until the nefarious nymph frolics in the fall starting on the 23rd. These are not the angels of our better nature, and they use the final blast of heat from summer to scorch the earth beneath them.

Aquarius (Jan 20th – Feb 18): Angels singing and the last days of summer heat wreak havoc on your vampiric senses and set your teeth on edge. September also brings about shorter days, and longer nights. You’ve been cooped up for far too long, and the nighttime brings out the more aggressive nature of your ruling planet Uranus. You can’t wait to litter the dark hours with exsanginated corpses as you make up for lost time.

Pisces (Feb 19 – Mar 20): The vibrant nature of the transitioning seasons speaks to both your inner artist, and your shapeshifter. The beauty you see and feel pushes you to the brink of madness, much like Picasso. As fall draws near the nymphs take over and you use the skin of your victims as the canvass for your blood-red masterpieces.

Aries (Mar 21 – April 19): The volatile times of September definitely pair nicely with your turbulent nature. The choir of angels speak in unison in as the full moon lights your way during the harvest moon, when your inner werewolf is at its peak. They reign in your feral nature as you use the transitioning times to add numbers to your depleted pack.

Taurus (Apr 20 – May 20): As the dog days of summer draw to a close, your inner hell-hound is ready for a break from the stifling heat, even though the transitioning seasons play on your hatred of sudden change. As you sniff in the crisp air your claws grow razor-sharp and you salivate, ready to shred your victims and return them to the soil.

Gemini (May 21-Jun 20): There is an unsung duality that goes with transitioning seasons that leaves your doppelgänger singing with the angels. It allows you to camouflage yourself and sneak up on your unsuspecting victims. The indecisiveness of summer’s death rattle could leave anxiety and confusion coursing through your veins.

Cancer (Jun 21 – Jul 22): The angelic choir drowns out your banshee wail for most of the month, leaving you mute and unable to play the way you’re accustomed to. This leaves you moody and overly suspicious of others until the nymphs take over, their nefarious manipulations speaking to the angels of your darker nature as your wail goes out hunting, thirsty for blood.

Leo (July 23 – Aug 22): The swan song of summer leaves your fairy in a playful mood. After a busy month holding court in August you lie on the grass with the fleeting warmth of long days. As the month moves forward your mischievous nature comes back with full force, and you once again begin making deals for the souls of your victims.

Virgo (Aug 23 – Sep 22):  You feel most at home during this month, as you are surrounded by the songs of your choir. This is the month where your dark angel feeds on the fruits of its harvest, your victims called to you by the sweet sound of your wings.

Libra (Sep 23 – Oct 22): Your nymph takes over as fall takes its first steps, leaving you with the first part of the month to focus on your pleasure, and the pain of others. But as fall descends and the harvest moon looms full, you become consumed with what your flock will do with in the darker nights of fall.

Scorpio (Oct 23 – Nov 21): Much like Cancer’s banshee, your siren call is drowned out by the angel choir for most of the month, leaving you feeling restless as your darker angels toil inside you. And your demons shall run once your jealous rage takes over.

Sagittarius (Nov 22 – Dec 21): The song of the angels fills your ghostly spirit almost to the point of being corporal during this month, and the longer nights will give you a better opportunity to do your best haunting and hunting under the harvest moon.

Soul Cleansing

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Wow, I’ve been gone for damn near a whole month, and I’m sure your lives have felt empty without me. But I’m back, and I have good(ish) reasons for being gone this long I swear. And I promise never to abandon you like this ever again.

I would love to tell you that August was about landing a dream publishing contract. I would love to tell you that August was about a series of misadventures (okay, there were a few) that make really wild and dramatic stories (not so much). Basically the catalyst for my absence was that my car had a minor issue and my laptop gave its long overdue death rattle at the beginning of the month. So, for the first few days of August I was without both.

It’s amazing what you start to accomplish when two of the things you use most are not available to you.

As a result, I finally got around to my annual deep cleaning of the apartment. I do it once a year. I clean and organize every drawer, cupboard and closet. I dust, sweep, mop and scrub every crevice. I wash all the sheets, towels, slip covers, etc.

I always save the kitchen for last. I could make up some bullshit about food being the energy of life. But in truth the kitchen is a gigantic pain in the ass, so I put it off. But I always feel better when it’s done. Until a week later when I managed to put the underused spices I just happen to need for once in the back of the cupboard and have to dig, and dig, and dig to find them and fuck up the organization.

It’s a two-day process and CrossFit has nothing on all that movement. I’m not too proud to admit my old ass was sore at the end. But it’s the good kind of pain.

It feels daunting at first, but once I get going it’s always cathartic. There’s something soothing about cleaning. It brings clarity and helps me organize my thoughts. It’s also a good time to take stock and realize all the things I truly have to be thankful for.

Don’t worry, I’m not gonna bore you with a full list here, no one wants to read that shit.

The central theme is that I really like my life right now. Although it’s far from perfect, every day it gets molded more and more into what I want it to be. Not enough people can say that about theirs. I have fought hard to create this, and focus on what I want, and my own expectations of myself rather than the expectations of others.

That was a hard-fought battle. That I put my soul into winning. There is a feeling of fulfillment that even as a wordsmith, I lack the words to describe.

The next day my new laptop arrived. It was inexpensive and is pretty basic, but it works, which is a step above the old one. And I don’t care how old you are, new toys are fun. It was also a great opportunity to organize my files, particularly my writing folder. I spent hours getting everything back into its place and set up just how I wanted it.

I also learned a very valuable lesson. Always check your fucking cloud files to make sure everything has been backed up recently. I thought I had it set to automatic. Nope. Not so much. Seriously, if you only take one thing away from this random post about cleaning shit, take that.

Always check your fucking cloud files.

Fortunately, I had updated in mid-June when I started to realize my laptop was on death’s door, so most of my shit was fine. But my podcast scripts all came back in a previous format, which was okay since the first four episodes had already been recorded and uploaded. And the audio files all came back corrupted, which means that all the work on the background audio I had done and just copied and pasted for future episodes had to be rebuilt from scratch.

And that sucked balls, because that side of podcasting is not my strong suit.

But it was an opportunity to do it better the second time around since I had learned a thing or two in the months since I built it the first time. And although I’m biased, I think the audio quality of the two most recent episodes is higher as a result.

And I never would have even thought to redo it if I hadn’t been forced.

I also took the opportunity to look at a few other writing projects from a fresh perspective, most notably the novel that I’ve had in development hell for the better part of the year.

Part of it was exploring other writing opportunities to get me out of there, and putting my shoulder into getting the podcast off the ground. But most of it is because the first finished draft of the novel is crap, and no amount of editing can seem to fix it.

At the beginning of the year, I was two-thirds through the rough draft and although I knew it had plenty of holes, decided to go ahead and finish it. And I did. And Jesus fuck is it awful. That thing will never, ever see the light of day.

But the bones are good. And so is the concept. I am not willing to give up the ghost. I had been reluctant to shred it, 100K words is a lot to trash. But when I started reorganizing my files, cleaning my house, and taking all the stock that goes with that, I realized that I would rather take another go at doing it right from the ground up, rather than put what I had out into the world.

So I’ve been going back to basics, filling out character profiles for the major and minor characters I want to put in the work (basically any character that isn’t completely and intentionally flat. I’m not doing this for “beat cop 2” or any crazy shit like that). I’m writing out descriptions of all the settings as well.

Also, I realized I need to do some research other than a few quick articles on the internet. So I’ll be doing more religious reading in the next month than I have ever done in my life. I don’t plan on finding Jesus, but I’ll have a pretty decent line on where he hangs out.

In short, I’m fully embodying Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory” of writing. And I’m having a ton of fun doing it.

Oh, it turns out that Cards Against Humanity is looking for some freelance writers to work “as needed” or “sometimes.” I don’t have a shot in hell of getting it, but man that application was fun as fuck to write. I may post it at a later date.

So it’s been a busy month of getting organized and getting some shit done that I had been ignoring in pursuit of the more fun and exciting things on my to do list.

And you know what, it turns out all that shit was more fun than I thought.

Creative Favoritism

Creative Differences

I’m sitting here re-watching the show 24. The post I want to write about going back to old favorites doesn’t seem to want to come crawling out of my head. Nor do the thoughts about a post about how creative people experience the world differently. Instead they just want to play peek-a-boo.

Then I realized that I’m an idiot. These posts don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Not entirely. The way I see the world as a creative is one of the reasons I always have an old favorite on in the background when I work.

I am a writer. I am a creator. I see beauty, inspiration and story everywhere I look.

I’m not a big fan of silence. Unless I’m meditating, reading, editing or taking in the gorgeous views of nature I really don’t have much use for it. Even when I write I have something on in the background. It helps me focus. I’m weird. And I accept that.

Hell, I don’t even sleep in silence. I sleep with either the TV, Stitcher, Overdrive or Audible telling me a story. Yes, I am 39 years old and still fall asleep being read bedtime stories. You should try it sometime, you might like it.

Then again I am also a notorious insomniac and maybe the voices just keep me company.

But the fact is, there’s so much content across all these different mediums that it would be impossible to consume it all and have any kind of actual life. So why waste time going back to old favorites, or things you have seen before?

To be fair I’m not sure that I would if we didn’t live in a world where access to these things came with my streaming services. I would not actually pay real cash money to watch something that I have already seen. I spend enough as it is.

I have a few different reasons for doing this.

One, as I said, I am not a big fan of silence. I feel more comfortable having something on in the background. I have lived alone for years, and absolutely love it, but the silence can get claustrophobic. In this way, I’m similar to people who like having the radio on in the background at work, or while they are tooling away in their garage. I just do it with TV I have seen before.

I also go back to these old favorites because seeing them before means they won’t distract me from what I am doing. It’s one thing to listen to something new while driving or cooking or cleaning, etc. But when I am in the middle of trying to write a post, or a podcast script, or a story or a novel outline, I need to be hanging on my own words, not theirs.

The two shows that I most frequently go back to are West Wing and LOST, which also happen to be my two favorite shows (I’m in the minority I actually liked the ending of LOST). At this point, I could probably recite each episode line by line.

Since I spent years both as a political consultant, and stuck on a remote island, it makes sense that these shows would speak to me. Okay, so only one of those things is true.

But there are only so many times you can re-watch a show. You need some other pieces to throw on this fire. My most recent three have been X-Files, House and currently 24 (which all originally aired on FOX now that I think of it).

If watching Star Trek and Lost in Space re-runs with my mom created my love of Sci Fi when I was a kid, X-Files solidified and turbo-charged it. For a bit, I actually wanted to be an FBI profiler so I could be just like Fox Mulder.

House is the only medical drama that ever actually gripped me (no, I wasn’t an ER fan, judge me if you want). It was based on the character Sherlock Holmes, also not one of my favorites. The fact that two things I didn’t really care for could be blended to create a show that unique and delicious is what creating is all about.

And 24 brought a truly game changing format to the TV medium. Never before had a television show spent an entire season covering one day, hour by hour. Events occuring in real time. Even in the always fast-paced spy game genre, there was a danger of things moving at a snail’s pace without ingenious writing.

Those are the most recent three. The examples go on and on.

None of these shows have much in common other than their quality. And even though I just have them on in the background, I still see something new each time I watch.

The concept of learning something new everytime you go back to an old favorite, or a classic, was a favorite mantra of one of my lit instructors in college. I was so inindated with new material to read and analyze, the concept went right over my head at the time.

I get it now.

Plus there is just something comfortable about having them on in the background. And I swear to God it helps me be a better creative. It keeps me motivated. And makes me hungry.

I see the awesomeness of these shows that I love and get inspired. It creates a feeling of being nurtured and pulled in the right direction all at the same time. It feels like home.

Creatives see the world differently. We find inspiration everywhere, even from the ghosts of content past while we write in the present, to make it our future.

I Have Spirit Yes I Do

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Over the weekend I launched my podcast, Spirits on the Plains, releasing it into the world. It’s about the ghosts, spirits and demons from the most haunted region west of the Mississippi. It’s available on all the major podcast directories as well as at www.spiritsontheplains.com. But this post isn’t about promoting the podcast and telling you to go listen to it. Although it’s awesome and you should. This is about the road to getting it made. This is about the pride that comes from seeing sweat equity turn into something tangible.

This is about me being proud of myself for this and sharing that experience.

I had zero fucking clue what I was doing when I started this project. Well, I knew how to listen to podcasts, if that counts. All I really knew is that I loved Kansas City history, and I loved ghost stories, and I wanted to share that love with my community.

Thank God Dr. Internet was there to guide me.

At the start of any new project in life, the best thing you can do is to acknowledge that you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s always a humbling experience, but it turns into something rewarding along the way when you do. I started by reading every article I could find about how to start a podcast, particularly the step by step guides written for people like me who knew next to nothing. I didn’t know what media hosting was, or that I would need it. And I truly knew nothing about recording software or equipment. There were times, particularly at the beginning, where I thought for sure that I had bitten off more than I could possibly chew.

At those times the only thing that really kept me going was that I had shot my mouth off and said I was starting one.

So I started with the tasks that played best to my strengths. I researched and compiled a list of haunted areas around the Kansas City area. I pulled articles about the places I wanted to highlight for the first set of episodes and began to identify people I would eventually want to talk to get more information. Then I started to write, and edit, and edit. And edit some more. Writing when you know it’s going to be converted to the spoken word is a whole different style. Especially when you’re gonna be the one doing the speaking. Also especially when you hate the sound of your own voice.

The most daunting obstacles were on the technical side. As a writer, I didn’t know anything about recording software or equipment, building a website that could handle media files, how to get the podcast distributed on iTunes and Stitcher and had never even heard of media hosting. Quite frankly, once I got to this stage of development, I started to worry about cost. I had no problem putting in the sweat equity to get this project off the ground, but I am not a man of means at the moment, so there was a limit to the amount of cash I was willing or able to sink in.

The fact that I was worried about it truly proved that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

It turns out there is a free recording software called Audacity that a lot of beginning podcasters use. I really, really like free. It also turns out that for $7 a month I could get set up on Libsyn, a media hosting site that not only houses the website, but also pushes the podcast out to all the podcasting directories (after submitting the podcast to them and getting approval). And their walk-throughs regarding all the technical tasks (except recording) were game changers. It took a series of tasks I had no idea needed to be accomplished and helped me tackle them in a single night.

For $15 I own the domain spiritsontheplains.com helping people find my podcast with ease. And I bought the lifetime rights to the song I am using for theme music for $10. And the basic mic I needed ran me $30 on Amazon.

A sunk cost of $55 and $84 in yearly costs to get a creative project off the ground. My hobbies of reading, running and golf each cost more than that. Hell, my internet and streaming cost more than that per month. This is a steal at twice the price.

Then I moved on to actually recording the first episode and playing with the software. Wanna talk about getting lost in the fucking weeds? I seriously hate the sound of my own voice, so pushing past that alone took some effort. I also learned that I breathe, like a lot. Quite possibly more than I should. And it’s loud. So it would be fair to say there was a learning curve with all that. And that there were moments I was very thankful that I live alone.

It got exciting when I started to learn some tricks that made me feel cool. I learned how to fade audio in, fade audio out, run it in the background while I spoke. I learned how to edit out the worst of the errors. And I grinned like a fucking idiot the entire time.

I also learned that it is in fact possible to grow tired of the sound of your own voice. And that I have a lot to learn about getting comfortable talking into a mic, which is ironic given the fact I’ve spent time as a speech writer.

This experience has been rewarding in ways I can’t even articulate. It’s been beyond surreal to see my podcast, something I created, available on platforms like iTunes and Stitcher. Seriously, I can’t stop opening the apps and looking at it.

I also spent more time than I care to admit dancing around my apartment this weekend. I am unapologetic about my state of childlike joy. And again, because of the terrible dancing, I am glad I live alone.

There is zero chance this would have happened without the support, wisdom and advice of my friends. Some of them simply cheered me on. Others were experts in areas where I needed, well an expert, and were generous, giving and patient with their advice. All of them were supportive every step of the way.

I am constantly amazed at how fortunate I am to have such wonderful people in my life.

It’s terrifying and exhilarating to put something like that out into the world. I’m excited to grow as this project continues to move forward.

Now go download it and give me a five-star review.

The Art of Tunneling

Writing Journey

Last week I listened to a podcast called Tunnels, and the creator said something in an author’s note he tacked on to the beginning that resonated with me. He pretty much announced that the first season wasn’t very good (the podcast is on season three) because he was a first time podcaster and was essentially learning on the job. He flat out said that he had no idea what he was doing. And he was right, season two was much better than season one. But more importantly, you could see the creator’s passion for creative content throughout.

This is not a review of Tunnels, what I want to talk about is this concept that it is okay to suck at something while you are learning to do it. It is okay to suck at something while putting yourself out there and learning at the same time. That it is okay to suck at something and bring people along on your journey as you learn. Because I am late to this party, and this concept is a wonderful game changer for me.

This runs completely counter to my life experiences so far. I was raised in a house where accomplishment, achievement and intellect were expectations. It was about the trophies, and winning as though the skills were supposed to be downloaded instantaneously like Neo from the Matrix when he learned Kung Fu. No attention or space was given to the idea of growth, and the idea of sucking at something while you learned, or worse, failing at something, was not tolerated. Period.

As if that wasn’t enough, I went into politics and then nonprofit fundraising. These are two industries where the stakes are high, the learning curve is steep and unforgiving, and consequences for failure are significantly higher than other industries.

I’ve let the fear of criticism be a primary motivator in my life for far too long. And it has prevented me from doing the things that I actually want to do.

In short, the idea that is okay to suck at something while you are learning how to do it is foreign to me. This discovery is like a brand new tool I am just learning how to use. I can already tell I am going to like it. This concept plays well with my constant sense of wonder and imagination, the two things that most fuel my creative drive.

This concept, which puts attention on the journey and the growth, is going to be key in terms of pushing myself to put my work out there. I’ve been so worried about creating superior quality,  that I forgot that creative writing degree and talents as a wordsmith in and of themselves are not enough. It is a good start, maybe even a running start. But it is a running start on a long journey, and knowing that it doesn’t have to be perfect is definitely going to help with creative paralysis, in fact it already is.

The ghosts of our past don’t have to define or present and don’t get to define our future.

I Am Peter Pan, Come With Me If You Want To Live

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Why yes, yes I do have a Peter Pan complex. And I regret nothing. It comes with a never ending sense of wonder, excitement and imagination. You can’t teach those. You can’t learn those. But just like anything else, if you don’t use them, you can lose them. And I can’t imagine how bland life would be without them.

It’s been awhile from my last post until this one, but it has nothing to do with not being creative or pursuing my passions. It has a lot to do with trying to organize all the projects that started to flood my mind as I made the conscious choice to make my creativity a priority, rather than something that I would swipe at on the few occasions I was left with any energy after spending it all on what I believed I “should” or “needed to” be doing.

It’s also been a little bit about fear (okay, maybe more than a little). It can be a little scary to start putting yourself out there, even on a blog that you “soft open” to ten or so friends while talking about promoting it and secretly hoping no one reads it, while also hoping everyone loves it.

I’ve come to realize that is not how creativity works. You have to go, you have to take that leap. So it is time for me to continue down the path that I started down with this, and to leave the learning for along the way. And also to actually promote this blog so hello, to anyone who is just now joining.

The creative process is not linear, and that has been a huge lesson to to learn.

I got mostly done with the first draft of a novel, Sins of a Smaller God, and then realized I had NO female character, at least not one that was strong enough, and some of the progression was disjointed in terms of pace. However, in writing it, I also created a new layer of flashback that I didn’t have in the outline that adds significant and much needed depth to a work that I want to see eventually become published.

It may be back to the drawing board in terms of the draft, but the lessons learned are infinitely more valuable than time spent putting the words on the page, and I look forward to continuing this project while learning and growing even more in my craft. Plus, I suspect the writing happens faster when you start getting a sense of where you are going.

Within the next month, unless there are any unforeseen snags, a friend of mine and I will be launching a podcast called Spirits on the Plains. I will be dedicating a specific post to it when we are ready to go live. Although I listen to podcasts, I don’t actually know a fucking thing about creating one. So I set out to learn. I’ve found people that know more than me and solicited their advice, read countless articles, and found a co-producer to counter my weaknesses with his strengths. It’s been a rewarding and challenging experience, and I look forward to getting it on the digital “airwaves” despite being nervous and hating the sound of my own voice.

I also have plans for this site. I wanted to keep it basic at first as a head nod, a dipping of the toe at putting myself out there. But soon I will be trying to expand it with a serialized story idea I have outlined, guests posts from fellow creatives and a few other ideas that at the moment are nothing more than a few scribbled notes on a page.

Those that know me, know that I can’t stand children. However, I do like looking at the world with the eyes of a child.

Blogging Lessons

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I started this blog eight weeks ago with no idea what I was doing or where I was heading. And after nearly two months I still don’t have an answer to either of those questions. But there has been tremendous value in the experience and the lessons I have learned so far.

Stephen King is famously quoted as saying: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” This seems simple enough at first glance. And I certainly have the reading thing down. But writing is a whole different thing. Most writers, yours truly included, sometimes have trouble getting out of their own way and just writing. I can’t speak for writers everywhere, but for me one of the key reasons is I want everything to come out of me like Sorkin-esque dialogue on the first try. I want everything to be perfectly phrased and witty with strong imagery and conviction. I want to do it like they do in the movies.

That is never gonna happen with a rough draft, nor is it meant to. And anyone who has been reading this blog knows by now it is far from perfect and a work in progress.

But to me that is part of the beauty of it. Making a point to publish regularly has not only pushed me to write more, but it has forced me to become more comfortable with letting people see my writing, which is a bigger step than I can express. It also keeps me in practice. And practice doesn’t make you perfect, but it does make you better.

Posting frequently also keeps writing at the top of my mind which is pushing me creatively in a number of ways. From outlining a novel and finishing NaNoWriMo, to the list of short story ideas in my notebook, to the scripts I have been developing for a podcast and the ideas I have for creative content for this blog, I have been more productive creatively than ever before in my life. And it feels amazing. I can feel the momentum it is generating pushing me toward my goals.

This blog has also been a journal of sorts as I follow the path of my own creativity. Which has been therapeutic. I have been enjoying the fact that is is about nothing and everything and has had no real direction. It has been helpful in my quest to find mine.

I am also learning more about website development through WordPress, which I knew nothing about before this started. One of the things I have learned is that I am going to have to upgrade the site in order to incorporate some of the ideas I have for 2018. And that will lead to a whole new round of learning.

As we close out 2017 I am thankful for the friends that nudged me into starting this even though I didn’t know the way. And excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.