Is it the end of Carolina Kel?

We took life as it came this year. Oh, a funeral in Virginia? Pack up and hit the road, kids. Oh, they want me to go to the hospital because my blood pressure went up again? Okay, let me send the hubs home for the bag. Oh, emergency c-section? You’re not giving me time to properly freak out about it and for that, I’m grateful. Two more funerals before my preemie baby is six months old? Get the black clothes out of the closet and find someone to watch the kiddo, because I’m not taking my baby into the funeral home. Last time someone coughed and then shook hands with my husband. He turned up with a cold a few days later.

I’ve had one or two people remark to me that we’ve had a crazy year, and as they said it, I was dimly shaking my head. Like, no it’s not a big deal.

Liar.

With less than three weeks left in 2017, I’m looking back on all that happened this year and feeling slightly dizzy. Three funerals and a baby. Ba-dum dum. Sounds like it should be a punchline to a joke. My life still feels crazy at times, but I don’t have time to get bent out of shape about it. I’m too busy washing bottles, changing diapers, making sure the coffee pot is clean for the next day, and trying to write. One day, one week at a time. I even did NaNoWriMo this year, only to fail horrendously. But that fall was the best ride I’ve had in a while.

I’m not the same person I was a year ago. Likely it’s a combination of becoming a mom and losing three grandparents (four if you count the VA funeral) in the last 13 months, but I feel fundamentally different from the person I used to be. And because I’m a writer with a blog, you get to read all about it. Don’t you feel lucky.

I’ve said before that something’s changed for me as a writer. I worked on a draft for almost seven months this year, and finished it. What’s more than that, I started a second draft of another story for NaNoWriMo that I’m still working on and hope to be done with by the end of January. I’ve got plans forming in the back of my mind, and an eye for world domination. Or, at least domination of my corner of the Internet.

2018 is going to be MY year. The year of AUTHOR Stephanie Braxton. I’ve always called myself a writer but never an author, because in my mind authors are published, and I’m not published. (shhh, shadows rising, you don’t exist anymore) But 2018 is going to be the year I “get serious” and change that. With my current tentative timeline, I’m planning to prepare a story for self-publication sometime in January of 2019. I’m going to spend this next year writing, editing, and building my author empire…I mean platform.

Building an author platform means a complete overhaul of my entire public Internet presence, and I think it’s going to mean a new website. One with my name actually in the address. That was a hard decision to come to because through blogspot and wordpress, I’ve always been Carolina Kel. It’s my Twitter and Instagram handles. It’s the name on my current “writer” Facebook page (which will probably be removed in favor of a new one). Making a new website, probably with a blog, has made me wonder what I will do with carolinakel and wordstomidnight. I don’t want to remove them, but the fact is keeping up three blogs is kind of silly. Not to mention difficult.

My current plan is to build my author platform one social media outlet at a time. I’m going to start in the first quarter of 2018 with Instagram and then Twitter. I’ve come to have a bit of a love affair with Instagram. I’ve often thought about starting a YouTube channel, but I do not have a fancy camera, nor proper editing software to make quality videos. So I’m going to do Instagram and use the Stories feature instead.

I’ve been watching a ton of Kristen Martin videos on YouTube and she is giving me all kinds of insight and ideas for how to get started and make 2018 a great year. I know it’s not going to get any easier once my daughter finds her legs (and her voice), but it’s a challenge long overdue. I’ll be 27 in April, and before my daughter turns 5, I want to be able to say I’m a published author. By then I’ll be 31. I’ve got four and a half years to establish myself as a author. Even if I never make a living from it (like many writers don’t), I still want to have made the effort and see the beginnings of an empire. It may be a small empire, but it will be mine.

2017 was a year of vast change in my corner of the universe. Some of it great, some of it sad, but I know one thing. My family and I are going into 2018 with our heads held high and the sparkle of opportunity glistening in our eyes. We made it through this year in one piece, we can do anything. More than that, I want to teach by example to Jelly Bean that she can do anything she sets her mind to. Even if I don’t owe taking this chance to myself, I owe it to her, because she is everything to Bear and I, and she is the reason I got my bear face on, always.

Bring it, 2018.

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If you’ve never been…

If you’ve never been to the Renaissance Festival, let me describe it to you.

Think of every fall festival you’ve ever been to, then add in all the medieval and geeky elements you can think of. A Renaissance Festival is handmade items, sold by vendors that travel the country doing what very few people are privileged enough to do: something they love. Crystals and jewelry made from silver, pewter, and gold. Swords and daggers and hammers. Real, custom made leather armor and vests and gauntlets, purses and hats. Practical things like cup sets made from glass crafted by hand, and pottery items that serve that perfect use in your kitchen.

It is all strong smells. Incense smoke lazily drifting into the air to spread around the festival. Meat cooking on the grill and carried around in plastic wraps, but you still get the juice all over your fingers. It’s the smell of beer with that beautiful layer of foam, carried in plastic cups by people dressed in full costume, smiling as they toast with their friends to a merry day.

A Renaissance Festival is also in the sounds. Music played on bagpipes and violins and little flutes and guitars. It is an extremely large crowd of people, the majority of which are very merry indeed. It’s the participants calling out their wares in what I can only call a Renaissance Festival accent. Everything is “Good day” and “Sir and Lady” and “Huzzah!”

A Renaissance Festival is clinking chain mail worn by a customer and not a performer. Unique outfits made by hand and worn in such a way that you will never see anywhere else. It’s all the flowy skirts worn by women in boots with vests laced up tight to push up the bust.

Everyone is cheerful and wants to know “Where did you get that?” and “Is that a daiquiri?!!” There’s almost a sense of community, like you’re among your people. Kids run around, the little girls wearing fairy wings and the boys dressed like princes, wooden swords grasped in their small hands as they trail beside their parents with a sugary treat in the other hand.

Bear and I are repeat customers at the Renaissance Festival because we love it. It would be so easy to spend two whole days taking in everything the festival has to offer. We love to catch the belly dancers every year and any musical acts that happen to be performing. This year we really liked the washer wenches, a couple of bawdy women serving up some PG-13 humor on a stage lined with clotheslines strung up with garments of various shape and size.

Our food favorites are the soups served in bread bowls, fish n chips, and turkey legs. This year I tried their strawberry shortcake and it was delightful. They also have these amazing cinnamon roasted almonds. We almost always try to get some mead or ale. This year Bear got some pumpkin flavored ale he loved and I had a plain ole margarita. I have several shops that I always have to check out their new wares every year. Mostly silver jewelry, pottery, blades, and some of the costume shops. Over the years, I’ve gotten a couple of necklaces, a bodice dagger, my belly dancer noise makers, and some spoon rests I use daily in my kitchen. Yesterday I almost bought a flask wrapped in leather with the Targaryan symbol on it.

If you have any kind of appreciation for anything Celtic, good food, or geek culture, you should check out the Renaissance Festival at least once in your life. A lot of people take it in once and that’s enough for them, but if you’re like us, you’ll find that you want to go every year. It is a lot of fun, and I can’t wait til my kid is big enough to attend too.

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Reader Rambles – Touched by Venom

Last week, I had an interesting experience I had missed out on for a while. I stayed up past my bedtime to finish a book.

The book was Touched by Venom by Janine Cross, and it was the first of a trilogy titled The Dragon Temple Saga. I picked the entire trilogy up at a yard sale on the same day as one of my baby showers. I remember being heavily pregnant and squatting down to look at piles of books laid out on a blanket in someone’s yard was no easy task, but I was lured by the sight of dragons and a woman on the covers. In case we aren’t friends on Facebook, I am very much into dragons at this point in my life, which may or may not be the result of a very popular HBO show. I’m enchanted by dragons, and Touched by Venom promised a different take, where dragons are not only revered, but they produce a highly addictive venom.

I will just say that this book, while accurate to the blurb on the back cover, was not what I expected. For the first half of the book, the dragons were largely in the background and not a major part of the story. Naturally, they’re a huge part of the culture and traditions in Cross’s universe, but they weren’t the center of the story to begin with. What was the center of the story from the start, however, was a spiral into deep poverty and a mother’s guilt and a daughter’s desire to have her mother’s affection and approval.

This is not a sunshine and roses book. There are some very dark themes in this novel that took me by surprise and I think, had I been ten years younger, I might not have finished this book because of these elements. As it was, I was very into Cross’s crafted detailing of the world and the events that our main character faced. I committed a massively stupid act when I looked at the reviews for this book on Goodreads and one of the biggest criticisms seemed to be that the main character just let this happen to her, that she was very passive. Well, she was nothing but a child for the majority of this first book. Many of these circumstances were beyond her control but in this day and age of Harry Potter and child heroes that save the world and defeat the big baddy all without any parental supervision and guidance whatsoever, it’s really not so surprising that people held this against her. I didn’t. Nor did I blame her for how she reacted in certain situations or the choices she made, even the icky ones.

One thing that I saw in the reviews that really irked me was the comment that strong women wouldn’t let these things happen to them, no matter what. No matter the time or place. No matter the circumstances of poverty and abuse. I think that’s incredibly indicative of a privileged life and naivety when you think we can always stop the bad things that happen to us, and that if we don’t, it’s a sign of weakness.

Another thing that really hit me hard about this book was the mother daughter relationship. As a new mom myself, I am imagining if it were me in that situation, being forced to make these decisions. It hurts my heart to see the main character so psychologically damaged because of her mother’s obsession with getting her sister back, and that deep seeded desire for her mother’s approval and affection despite all the wrong she’s done. That part felt so authentic. I can’t imagine the guilt of knowing what happened to my oldest daughter and making decisions to try to get her back, even if those decisions are harming my youngest child. That’s just a hard situation for all involved.

This is a high fantasy novel that revolves around some very real themes of family relationships, poverty, and a cycle of addiction. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you can stomach it, it’s worth the read. To me, it almost had a Conan the Barbarian feeling at times, it was truly barbaric in places. I really liked this book and I cannot wait to continue the trilogy, but I can’t help feeling I need a palette cleanser before I go on to book two, it was that dark.

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The Unpopular Opinion

When I published Shadows Rising almost four years ago, I knew nothing about marketing and author platform. One thing I very quickly learned was that my readership did not need to know everything about me. What I mean by that is before I hit the self-publish button, I used my blog frequently to share my thoughts about religion, especially as I identify as something other than the mainstream faiths. Even though it stuck in my craw a bit, my mom was the one to point out that maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea to advertise it so broadly as I tried to sell a book. Reluctantly, I agreed with her, and this single decision seemed to reverse my personal rules about interaction online.

In college, I was not opposed to getting into arguments in the comments section. I’d happily jump in and share my two cents. However, age has made me a little wiser, wise enough to realize those arguments on Facebook are utterly pointless. Not to mention, if I ever hope to build an author platform, I need to leave that sort of thing for someone else. I hate to say I need to remember I have a public image to uphold, but it’s almost like that, only not anywhere near the sketchy, cover up your sins Mr. Politician level.

Nowadays, even without an official author platform to uphold, I’ve entered into a realm of silence where politics and religion are concerned. I very rarely get down into the nitty gritty here is what I believe on Facebook anymore. I share peace, love, and coffee with the occasional side of babies and puppies. I try to avoid sharing or posting anything that I know could stir up a fuss. In other words, I keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself…and my husband when I can’t take it anymore. That being said, I want to get something off my chest, and this will likely be the last time I do this until I feel so strongly again.

These days, I have very unpopular opinions. I’m not going to share them all, but I am going to openly criticize those who condemn anyone who opposes their beliefs as bigoted, racist, or homophobic. There seems to be this illusion among a certain sector of the political spectrum that they have the moral high ground, that they are the only ones that are or can be correct. The rest of us are just petulant children incapable of rational thought or decision making, living in the past and refusing to let go of bygone times where we made laws based on the fact that guns only held one bullet. I’m sure you can imagine what straw broke this camel’s back.

You don’t have to be a feminist to be for equality between the sexes. If you believe in the 2nd amendment, that doesn’t make you a child refusing to let go of a toy. If you support the right to a safe and legal abortion, that doesn’t make you a monster child killer. If you don’t think Trump is the devil incarnate, that doesn’t automatically make you a racist, sexist, homophobe. If you don’t think the government should pay for healthcare or higher education, that doesn’t make you a bad person. If you don’t support gay marriage, then you just need to sit in the corner and be quiet, that ship has sailed. Oh, and don’t marry someone of your own sex, ya idiot. Let others live their lives the way they want. It’s not hurting you. Love is love. It’s a very simple concept.

[DISCLAIMER: I know there are some crappy humans out there marching under the banner of hate, empowered by Trump and things he said. I’m not denying that, and those people deserve no defending. I’m not here to defend them.]

The world will continue to spiral into madness the longer we deny each other, the longer we name call and continue to refuse to work with our neighbor to achieve a common end, just because we disagree on the details and get snide with each other over where we stand politically. What do I believe that common end is? Opportunity. The opportunity to make something of ourselves, to have a safe place for our families to live and grow, to have access to the necessities in life like a BASIC education and BASIC healthcare.

No one owes you anything. This is the land of OPPORTUNITY and democracy. We have the potential within these borders to change the world, if we can only come together. Our country does not suck. We are blessed in ways I think many of our fellow citizens can never truly understand, because they don’t realize how bad things can truly get. To them, Trump being elected was the end of civilization as we know it. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but the sun will still rise. You will still be able to go out and do your thing. I think we all know someone who thought Obama would be the end of all that is good and just and guess what, we’re still here. Americans can survive more than we know, especially loud mouthed politicians. Most of us don’t realize this because we may think we’ve been tested, but we really haven’t.

I guess the bottom line of what I want to say in this blog is this: Be nice to your fellow human. Don’t belittle them because they don’t support a gun ban. Don’t be angry at those who do support a gun ban. Be angry at the shooter. Be angry at a government who, for all their resources and supposed brilliance, cannot come up a way to stop these mass shootings from happening. But then again, they’re not god. In fact, I’d say our elected leaders are the most flawed of us all. There’s only so much they can do, and so much we can do. We cannot control the tragedies of the world, but we control how we respond. Respond with love and an outstretched hand to your fellow man. I’d be willing to bet most Americans, both gun owners AND anti-gun, were horrified by what happened in Las Vegas, and want to find a solution so it doesn’t happen again. We just disagree on the best way to achieve that end. Even with blood on the ground, that is the truth of it. Just because it’s not simple doesn’t make it not true. Love is simple, everything else is messy.

Be nice to your fellow human. Believe it or not, we’re all in this together. And that’s the last I’m going to say of it. Back to our regularly scheduled writer nonsense.

Kelswitch, over and out.

PS: If anyone, ANYONE, tries to pick a fight or argue in the comment section about ANYTHING, I will drop the ban hammer on your head so fast you won’t even see Tweety Bird before you hit the ground.

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A Brand New Jelly Bean

It’s been a while for the Kelswitch. The last month in particular has been crazy. On Friday, June 16th, I was admitted to the hospital with gestational hypertension. My blood pressure had been high for a few weeks and that day, I had another doctor’s visit and it had gone up even higher. My doctor was concerned about it progressing into pre-eclampsia and posing a threat to my baby. So she sent me to the hospital with the initial thought of just twenty-four hours to monitor me. That then progressed into a two night stay and they began talking about moving my induction up a few days and doing it right when I hit 36 weeks the following Wednesday. My little girl would have been a solstice baby, but that wasn’t going to happen.

Sunday morning, I was woken up by nurses swarming my hospital bed. The baby’s heart rate dropped, and it dropped a few more times even after I moved around. So early that morning, my doctor came in and said they didn’t have time to try to induce me. That only left one option, emergency c-section.

I wasn’t given any time to really freak out about them cutting me open. I didn’t have time to think about what could possibly go wrong, or even really that we weren’t quite ready for this yet. We thought we had a couple more weeks.

So Jelly Bean was delivered at 35 weeks and 4 days. Even though she was/is tiny, she is healthy and doing really well. After she came, my blood pressure almost immediately went back to normal and my doctor reaffirmed what Bear has been telling me all along, that the hypertension wasn’t my fault. But it was hard not to feel like it was, and not to feel like my baby had to spend a week in the NICU because of something I did wrong.

Apparently being a mother comes with all sorts of guilt, deserved or not. Being a mother is also humbling as hell. It blows my mind every time my Jelly Bean blinks up at me that Bear and I made her. The two of us came together and made a new human, which is such a gift and so amazing that I don’t understand how some people can be so blase about having a baby.

As tiny as she is and as much as I adore her being so tiny and everything she does is adorable, I cannot wait to see her grow up. I cannot wait to see her personality emerge and learn what interests she’ll have, if she’ll be as different from me as I am from my mom, or if she will really be my mini me and we’ll share not only small facial features but interests and beliefs.

Although I’m suffering no delusions that she and I won’t butt heads, especially when she hits her teen years.

I am enjoying being on maternity leave and dreading going back to work, even as part of me misses my daily routine. Routine is nice. Routine makes me happy. I’ve been subject to Jelly Bean’s rather sporadic schedule these last few weeks and I’d love to get her on a specific schedule that she sticks to, hopefully before I go back to work. And then there’s writing.

My write every day streak ended on day 55, the day before I had my c-section. I’m still writing though, and I’ll go more into how that’s been going with a new baby over at I Write Dangerously. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading this quick little update!

Kelswitch, over and out.

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Death of the Browserlust

I’ve always loved bookstores. I’ve always loved the simple act of being in bookstores, browsing the shelves, smelling paper and ink and often coffee. It is my zen place. Walking through a good bookstore, surrounded by thousands of ideas and dreams made reality, it makes me feel like anything is possible. Naturally, being so enamored of bookstores, I have given into their temptation regularly for years. Especially since I became a self-sufficient adult, I have indulged myself heavily with new books over the last three years and enjoyed every minute of it. However, as with a lot of things lately, my perspective is changing.

I think my browserlust has died a quiet little death. It’s been in recent months, since I’ve been pregnant and my husband works third shift, that whenever I have the opportunity to go to the bookstore and just browse, I would just as soon pass it up. As my TBR pile has gotten larger and larger, I’ve begun to think that I would rather focus my purchases on authors I already know I love, including two extensive series that I’ve lost touch with over the years but absolutely adore. The TBR pile monstrosity isn’t the only reason I think my browserlust has died either.

The house we bought last year is more than decently sized, but when you have seven bookshelves of various sizes, all of which are filled to the brim, it eventually becomes a question of where to put them, and how to store books you purchase in the future. We have three bedrooms, one of them is our master and the other is slowly being morphed into a baby room. That leaves a single room left to store bookshelves filled with books, movies, and geek paraphernalia. As of now, there is only one bookshelf in that room, but our living room currently holds four bookshelves. No, wait, five. We actually have nine bookshelves altogether, the last two narrow and short, and I cleaned one of them off to put in the baby’s room to start its book collection on.

I’ve been having conversations and debates with myself lately about which books deserve to be kept, and how materialism plays a part in our day to day lives. I like having stuff, but with a baby on the way and plans to not stop at just one child, I am beginning to wonder where do we draw the line. Where do I draw the line of how much stuff I keep? Our kids will want to have their own stuff as well, and they will need somewhere to put it. I want them to have stuff.

I have no objection to materialism, but I’m beginning to think the idea of moderation applies here as well, especially when you’re going to start a family.

This is probably the main factor in my sudden lack of browserlust. The only thing that really makes me sad about it is right now, a trip to Barnes & Noble doesn’t have the same zen feel to it that it did before I got pregnant. When I’m constantly thinking about our finances and how to best be prepared for this baby and all the worries that come with those two things, I miss that feeling. I may find it again, but it may or may not be in the bookstore. It is kind of funny though that I have no desire to go hang out in the bookstore right now, but I’ve been on a strange reading kick here lately. I have already read eight books this ear, which is a lot for me in recent years.

I wonder if the two have any real correlation…

Until next time, Kelswitch over and out.

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The Serpent King

The Serpent King, by Jeff Zentner. It’s a book I would have never bought on my own from Barnes & Noble, or even for a few bucks at Ed McKay’s. It came into my possession as the first book I received as an OwlCrate subscriber, last March. The theme that month was Writer’s Block.

This book takes place in rural Tennessee, and follows three friends entering their senior year of high school, with all that that entails. One of them, Lydia, is headstrong and sure of where she will be after graduation. Her two friends, Dill and Travis, are not so sure. Dill’s father is a zealous preacher with a penchant for snakes and watered down battery acid, and is currently in prison for possession of child pornography. Travis comes from a broken home, where his father constantly laments his lack of football accolades, comparing him to his brother, who was killed in action overseas.Lydia is the only one of the three with a good home life, though Travis and Dill’s mothers both try, in their own ways.

I did not expect to like this book. When I first started reading it, it made me feel a little melancholy, remembering what it was like to feel left behind by my friends and lonely in the world. Also, living in rural North Carolina, a VERY watered down version of Forrestville, I can still see shards of southern life that are familiar to me in this story, good and bad. I really liked Lydia, and the way she thinks is very reminiscent of how I thought at that age. I felt empathy for how trapped Dill felt, stuck between family obligation and what Lydia tries to convince him he can be. I adored Travis, a gentle giant who immersed himself in fictional worlds full of honor and glory, wearing a dragon necklace and carrying a staff around. I saw a little of myself in all three of these characters, lame as that might sound, and I cared what happened to them.

This is a contemporary novel, a lot of small town bite and coming of age elements. If you’re looking for a quick read that’s just about people, about being human, I recommend this book.

 

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