Author JL Gribble lists her fave urban fantasy authors

(JL Gribble is one of my girl crushes. We met at a book nerd convention and were basically friends in, um, five seconds. Eventually, we had drinks with Severus Snape. No big deal. Her new urban fantasy novel, Steel Blood, came out Wednesday, so I asked her to tell me about her must-read urban fantasy authors … not counting herself, of course. Oh, and all gif choices are mine because I just had to. Take it away, JL!)

When celebrating the new release of an urban fantasy novel with very nontraditional vampires, the best place to go is the online home of other authors with nontraditional vampires! If Celia, Imogene, and Victory walked into a bar together, I imagine Victory would travel the following emotional journey: shock, amusement, confusion, possibly more shock, and then acceptance of her fate (preferably with beer).

Grab your own beer, blood bag, or other drink of choice and join in the party as we celebrate Victory’s newest adventure in Steel Empires Book 3: Steel Blood. Since I write more on the urban fantasy side of the speculative fiction spectrum, Sara asked me to talk about my top 5 favorite and/or most influential urban fantasy authors.

I first fell in love with Mercedes Lackey when I was introduced to her epic fantasy Valdemar books in middle school. Once I ran out of those, I started in on the rest of her novels and found that she also wrote some crazy adventures in “our” world, too. While I enjoyed the books with elves and Guardians, what really piqued my interest was her retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in early 20th century San Francisco. The Fire Rose introduced me to a world of elemental magic that didn’t exist in a medieval allegory. The rest of her Elemental Masters books showed me that urban fantasy doesn’t need the trappings of an immediately identifiable modern society to be successful.

In the His Dark Materials trilogy, which I also discovered while still in school, Philip Pullman solidified my love for alternate universes. As he dragged his characters through epic adventures, I was more than happy to go along for the ride. To this day, I find myself considering what sort of invisible animal companion a person might have, whether for characters in my own books or a person I know in real life, as a metaphor for characterization and personality. For the record, mine is a blue-point Siamese cat. (His name is Alex.)

I have a ton of respect for the modern Young Adult genre and the barriers it is breaking in the speculative fiction world, but I’m kind of glad that it wasn’t as much of a thing when I was younger. Instead, back in high school, authors like Laurell K. Hamilton were on my go-to list for strong female characters kicking supernatural ass and saving the world. Though I no longer follow the Anita Blake series or this author, I’m glad that part of my early urban fantasy education involved a world that mashed together every paranormal creature (and the kitchen sink), letting me know that I shouldn’t be afraid to do the same.

For a while, it seemed like every urban fantasy series involved a strong female character kicking supernatural ass and saving the world. But as in all things, the mold gets more fractured with every use. These days, I thoroughly enjoy authors such as Carrie Vaughn. Even though her Kitty the Werewolf series still embodies some traditional elements of how urban fantasy “should” be done, it quickly did away with the tortured love triangle and presented characters in committed relationships who supported each other through their adventures. This was a refreshing find in a world that seemed Twilight-mad.

These days, the books that immediately get bumped to the top of the to-be-read pile are those by Ilona Andrews. I especially enjoy the Kate Daniels series, with it’s incredibly unique urban fantasy setting, but even the books marketed as paranormal romance still feature well-crafted world-building and dramatic characters, despite the half-naked men on the covers. In homage to this favorite author, the books in my series all start with the word “Steel,” just as the novels in the Kate Daniels series all start with “Magic.” I may have picked up the first book on a whim because the author shares a first name with my mother, but I was immediately sucked in—pun not intended.

I hope this list has helped you revisit some old friends or learn about potential new favorites! In the meantime, I hope you consider checking out the Steel Empires urban fantasy/alternate history series as I celebrate the release of the third book in the series.


As her children begin lives of their own, Victory struggles with the loneliness of an empty nest. Just when the city of Limani could not seem smaller, an old friend requests that she come out of retirement for one final mercenary contract—to bodyguard his granddaughter, a princess of the Qin Empire.

For the first time in a century, the Qin and British Empires are reopening diplomatic relations. Alongside the British delegation, Victory and her daywalker Mikelos arrive in the Qin colony city of Jiang Yi Yue. As the Qin weredragons and British werewolves take careful steps toward a lasting peace between their people, a connection between the Qin princess and a British nobleman throw everyone’s plans in disarray.

Meanwhile, a third faction stalks the city under the cover of darkness. This is not a typical romance. It’s a good thing Victory is not a typical vampire.


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By day, J. L. Gribble is a professional medical editor. By night, she does freelance fiction editing in all genres, along with reading, playing video games, and occasionally even writing. She is currently working on the Steel Empires series for Dog Star Books, the science-fiction/adventure imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press. Previously, she was an editor for the Far Worlds anthology.

Gribble studied English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She received her Master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where her debut novel Steel Victory was her thesis for the program. She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats. Check out her website or find her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.


I Miss Dead People


I’m tired of missing people. On September 11, 2016, fifteen years after that thing happened, I sit in church. I texted Reverend Chris the night before so I wouldn’t have to say it out loud in front of the congregation, wouldn’t have to ask for prayer requests for my cousin, who died while swimming in the ocean the afternoon prior.

Chris mentions the shocking occurrence for me, but even the pronouncement, coming from my patient pastor, doesn’t bring comfort. I spin the gold and emerald ring on my finger—belonged to my grandmother, years dead—and add Cousin Bob to the list of people I will miss. The list keeps growing, as lists are wont to do.

I have remnants in my home from all my dead people.

From Grandma Schwind, I have a favorite scarf, jewelry, and even her lipstick. (It tastes like strawberries.) From Papa Schwind, I have one of his worn flannel shirts and a bottle of lotion that smells like him. I keep the lotion on the back shelf in a cupboard and never use it, because the one time I did, I kept sobbing and smelling my hands.

There’s very little of Uncle Barney left, except a magnet on my fridge that says, “Jesus would slap the shit out of you,” and a paperweight—oh, and stories. Barney left lots of stories, and sometimes, when I make spaghetti sauce from scratch, I’ll add just the right ratio of oregano to garlic and smell his kitchen.

Grandma Dobie left me antique dolls. Most people think they’re creepy, but I keep them in my office where they watch me like Grandma Dobie used to when she babysat after school. It was her death, in fact, that nudged me toward dying my hair black and cutting my skin in secret, although I doubt she meant to leave me those things.

I’ve removed most traces of my brother, Matt, not because he’s dead but because we haven’t spoken on the phone in months, and the reminders hurt. He’s grown away from me—grown into someone new—with a wife and life of his own in Charleston. I used to call him randomly with funny stories. Last night, I called him crying to tell him Bob was dead. He didn’t answer, because he never answers, but I left a voicemail. I don’t know if he’s happy or sad, healthy or sick. I don’t know much of anything about him anymore.

Cousin Bob was a native New Yorker, married to the beautiful, gregarious Betty Ann. He had one of those Goodfellas accents, yet he was the sweetest, most selfless guy you’d ever meet. When 9/11 happened fifteen years ago, he was so close to the Two Towers that dust rained down on him and he found a torn airline ticket amidst the rubble. I wonder if he kept it, a memento of someone dead on that cursed flight.

In church, I blink away a stupid, pointless tear and try to focus, but I keeping thinking about how I’ve said goodbye to all my dead people in church, sitting in an uncomfortable pew. Church is a place of such life, such light, but also darkness and death. It’s a place for brides, babies, and caskets. Peace and pain.

Despite my panicked voicemail from last night, my brother probably won’t call me back, won’t calm my tears like he did years ago, when we were younger, before everyone started dying. I still have all the dead people’s numbers in my phone, as if I might still call them, as if they might still answer. But then, I’ll see Grandma’s scarf in my closet and remember she’s dead, because if she were alive, I wouldn’t have her favorite scarf. I’ll never delete the phone numbers.

A couple weeks ago, my mom had a tough morning. She kept thinking about her parents. She said, “Sometimes, I wish I could turn back time.” If only to spend one more Christmas at the house on Walnut Street as a family. If only to laugh with my brother—like that time at Ohio University when Matt and I raced each other, sprinting two blocks, to get to the nearest bathroom for fear of a public indecency arrest. If only to hear Bob say, “Fugittaboutit,” still unsure of what that New York expression means but loving it nonetheless.

I’m tiring of missing people, but there’s little to be done about it. “Grief ambushes” sometimes seem omnipresent: the scent of a certain perfume, the sound of a stranger’s laugh, a piece of jewelry you wear over and over as if, in the wearing, the dead still live.

After church, I climb the tallest tree in our backyard with Jake watching. I need to be away from cold Earth; I need to see the sky. Jake tells me not to fall, and I tell him I’ll do my best. As always, I mean it.


TEAM BLUE New Adult Scavenger Hunt: Guest Nadine Nightingale

BiteSomebody_finalWelcome to the New Adult Scavenger Hunt! This event was inspired as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors … and a chance to win some awesome prizes!

I’m your host, Sara Dobie Bauer, author of forthcoming novel, BITE SOMEBODY, which has been called “the Pretty in Pink of vampire stories; fun, self-consciously retro, and not afraid to be goofy.” (There’s a giveaway on Goodreads right now, so head over and enter!)

At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize: one lucky winner will receive one book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

Go to the New Adult Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are THREE contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of TEAM BLUE, but there are also red and purple teams to follow for a chance to win a whole different set of books!

Team Blue S2016

If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the New Adult Scavenger Hunt page.


Directions: Below, at the bottom of this post, you’ll notice I’ve listed my lucky book number. Collect the lucky book numbers of all the authors on Team Blue, and then add them up.

Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by Sunday, May 1st, at noon Eastern Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.



DSCN0920 (1)Nadine Nightingale, aka Dini, is a traveler at heart. She considers the world her home and practically lives out of her suitcases. When she’s not glaring at a blank page or abusing her poor keyboard, she spends her time reading, watching movies (preferably horror), pretends to work out, and hangs out with friends and family.

Poor girl also suffers from a serious Marvel superhero addiction. So, if you run into her at night, wearing black, know she’s secretly dreaming of being the infamous Black Widow.

Her love for writing started in the sixth grade where she annoyed her classmates with a short story featuring Sailor Moon characters, a cemetery, and creepy ghosts. Yes, she’s always been addicted to the dark side. Nadine writes paranormal romance. Her debut novel Karma (the first book in her paranormal romance series Drag.Me.To.Hell.) is published by the Wild Rose Press and will be out in May 2016. Nadine has a BA in Comparative Religions and studied Creative Writing at the University of Oxford.

She would love to hear from you. To contact Nadine directly, please email dinilovesh@gmail.com, or find her on Twitter @dini_caroline.


People call me all sorts of names—bad girl, black sheep, and my all-time favorite…Satan’s bride. I could blame the fact I’m a witch for my behavior, but the truth is I’m infuriating, arrogant, and stab-worthy.

Alex Remington is a hunter and everything I’m not—righteous, honest, caring. We used to have a thing, but that was before he learned I’m a witch and tried to kill me.

Eighteen months later, he’s back in my life and we have a deal; I’ll help him save his brother and he’ll disappear from my life for good. But karma can be a real bitch …

Available May 4 from The Wild Rose Press.

Pre-Order Now:
AMAZON US http://amzn.to/1SglH6I
AMAZON UK http://amzn.to/1WfszHt
AMAZON AU http://bit.ly/1qwpQxl
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KOBO http://bit.ly/1PWMpje

Karma_w10669_med (1)


The clerk is either blind or drunk because there’s no way Mr. Righteous and Responsible is hitting a bar while his brother goes all zombie assassin and a bunch of kids fear for their lives. Right? Wrong.

Bursting through the solid door of The Reckless Heart, I find him next to a brunette bombshell with a half-empty bottle of whiskey in his hand. Son of a bitch! What the hell is he thinking? Judging by the way he pulls the chick toward him, I’d say he isn’t thinking at all. I cuss under my breath, ignore the pulsating pain that torments my foot, and push through the crowd, using elbows when necessary. One thing’s for sure: I’m going to beat the f***ing crap out of him. I mean, I get it. He had a rough day. But what about me? I almost died a couple of hours ago, was treated like a freaking murderer, and to cap it off, I’m stuck in this godforsaken town. So, if anyone has a reason to get drunk and screw around, it would be me.

“Manda,” he says when he spots me, that cocky as hell grin on his stupid face. “So good to see ya, baby.”

“Don’t you f***in’ baby me,” I hiss through gritted teeth. “What the hell are you doin’, Alex?” I look from him to Miss I-love-to-nibble-on-your-ears.

“What’s it look like?”

“Like you’re getting your f***in’ ears pierced by that slut,” I say.

“Hey,” the future porn star shouts. “You can’t let her talk to me like that.”

I make a face unable to disguise the disgust washing over me. That’s the kinda girl he digs when he’s wasted? The sort who has a guy fight her battles for her?

Alex pats her back, but his eyes are on me. “Ah, don’t mind her, honey. Manda is juuust…” His stupid grin intensifies. “Jealoussss.”

I curl my hands into fists. Relax, you can’t kill him here. Too many witnesses. I take a step toward the chick, because the next words are only meant for her. “He’s right,” I whisper. “I am a very, very jealous person.” A psychotic smile on my lips that would send Michael Myers running, I step back.

“Oh my gosh!” Her gaze drifts to my bare feet. “Don’t tell me you dated a freak like her.”

Alex shrugs. “What can I say? I was young and needed sex.”

I’m standing in the middle of a bar without shoes, but that doesn’t give her permission to call me a freak. Done playing nice, I get into the chick’s face. “You look like a smart girl. How about you go and lick someone else’s ear before I show you what a freak I really am?”

Her jaw drops. “You’re crazy.” She faces Alex, eyes clouded with fear. “She’s fricking crazy.”

Alex sips his whiskey and laughs. “Relax, she ain’t gonna hurt you.”

I smile. “Sure ’bout that?”

She grabs her bag from the table, throws her hair over her shoulder, and shakes her head. “Whatever. I’m out.”

Watching her stomp out of the bar, Alex raises a brow. “So.” He takes another sip straight from the bottle. “Since you scared the shit outta my one-night stand, you could at least have the decency to have a drink with me.”

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I already miss the old Alex. Taking a seat next to him, I rest my elbows on my knees. “All right, spill it. What’s the matter with you?”

He waves the question off. “Nothing. I’m just having a lil’ fun. Aren’t you always telling me I should loosen up?”

I might have said something like that, but I hadn’t meant for him to drown his last brain cells in whiskey while the lives of innocent people are at stake. “Look, I know you’re upset, but I think I found Jesse.”

“So?” He gulps down the booze as if it’s water.

So? Jesus f***ing Christ, when did I become the responsible party in our screwed up partnership? Jumping up, I grab his shirt. “Let’s get the hell outta here, Alex. We have a zombie to cure and kids to save.”

Fire ignites in his eyes. “You can stop pretending, Manda.” He puts his hands on my hips and pulls me closer. “You don’t care about Jesse, these kids, or me. And you know what?” He grins. “It’s all right. You don’t have to. God.” He looks me over. “I wish I could be a little more like you. Reckless. Selfish. Careless. Life must be so much easier for you.” It’s a miracle he doesn’t fall from his chair, trembling and all that.

“You’re right, Alex. Life is easier that way, but it’s also lonelier.” I tug at his shirt. “Now, are we done with your self-pity? ’Cause last time I checked, you had a brother to save.”

He rests his forehead against my belly and sighs. “I hate you, Amanda. I hate everything about you, but,” his warm fingers burn through my tank top, “I also miss you.” He looks up. “I miss us.” His aura shows a hundred shades of truth, and my heart jumps a little.

It’s kind of hard not to believe him when he looks at me like I’m the only girl in the world. But he’s in a hopeless place, looking for distraction, and I’m not willing to be that. I draw in a deep breath. “You’re wasted, man.” I try to pull him to his feet, but the son of a bitch is heavy. “C’mon, I’ll take you to my room, and we’ll sober you up.”

Now, don’t forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a copy of KARMA, BITE SOMEBODY, and more!

To enter, you need to know my magic number is 11. 

Add up all the numbers of the authors on TEAM BLUE, and you’ll have the secret code to enter for the grand prize HERE.

To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author, Jennifer Macaire. 

Thanksgiving Before

Mom, Grandma, Susie, Barney, and Dad

I wake up hung-over. The night before, I took my little brother Matt (home from Ohio University for Thanksgiving) out on the town. He didn’t realize the night before Thanksgiving was like a Perrysburg High School reunion, the bars of our small hometown overflowing with alumnus, all there to see each other, reminisce, and get irresponsibly spiffed.

I shower, drink some coffee. Around noon, Matt shows up at my tiny, one bedroom apartment that sits above a railroad tracks. I’ve lived there so long, I don’t even notice the noise disturbance or the way the glasses in my kitchen vibrate like tiny Christmas bells.

We open the first beer of the day: Winter White Ale from Bell’s Brewery up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. For some reason, we decide to watch Reanimator. I sneak a quick cigarette out my back window and scream and laugh when the dead cat comes back to life on my TV screen.

Soon, Mom calls and says she and Dad are heading over to Papa and Grandma’s on Walnut Street. Matt and I open another round of beers and pretend to bemoan family time, although you can tell by the way we both get sort of giddy, jumpy, that we can’t wait to get to Papa and Grandma’s—and not only for the snacks. I wash the smell of smoke from my hands and put on my winter coat.

The Schwind homestead is a big, brick house with lots of windows and towering trees in the front yard. Based on the cars in the crooked driveway (hell on high heels), Aunt Susie is already there and my parents, too. Uncle Barney might stop by for a quick bite, but he’s always so busy with friends and parties all over the Toledo area—a popular guy. We pass a row of plastic pink flamingoes to the side of their drive.

Matt and me

As always, the front door creaks when we walk in. The house is overly warm and smells of turkey and Papa’s cologne. And there he stands! Papa wears a thick corduroy shirt of deep red, khaki pants, and dress shoes. He always looks ready for church. He’s already mixing a pair of gin and tonics in tall glasses, painted tennis rackets on the side. After he gives us both a kiss (shouts, “Sara baby!”), he pulls two more glasses from the cupboard for Matt and me.

The women—Susie, Mom, and Grandma—somehow fit in the kitchen, as well, despite the lack of counter space. Susie has on an apron. My mom and grandma don’t seem concerned with their semi-dressy attire (fancy sweaters) as they sip their own cocktails and flit about from piles of potatoes to casseroles, shouting, “Did you check the turkey?” It won’t be ready for hours, but it seems imperative to constantly open the oven anyway.

Matt and I wander through the thin hallway that leads from the stifling heat of the kitchen, past the living room where in a month we’ll celebrate Christmas, and finally to the TV room, where my dad sits on a small, bedraggled couch with his Canadian beer and a handful of peanuts.

There’s a spread of food on a circular green table: salami wrapped pretzels, Papa’s famous nacho dip, sliced cheese and crackers, and a cornucopia of mixed nuts. I go right for the pretzels and find them a perfect complement to my gin and tonic. The three of us take our respective seats, not once settling down in Papa’s recliner—because he’ll be there soon enough to watch the game.

For the next two hours, I bounce back and forth from the kitchen to the TV room. I don’t cook; it’s never been expected of me, and I don’t mind. I’d rather watch football anyway. I make conversation with my little circle of family. We’re not ostentatious—no over pouring of cousins and spouses for Matt and me, yet to be found.

Uncle Barney does stop by. Despite the cold temperatures, he’s in a Buckeyes t-shirt, sweating. He travels with his own beer cooler and drinks two, three, in the span of about thirty seconds. As my father would say, he’s “cutting the dust.” Barney talks loudly, laughs with further volume, until I find solace in the repetitive nature of sports with my dad, brother, and grandpa.

We feast at 5:30. The turkey is golden brown. Papa carves it, of course; it’s his one defined responsibility—that and consummate bartender. Then, we dig in. By the time I’m done with my first plate, Aunt Susie hasn’t even sat down. She always has to make sure everything is perfect.

Mom and Dad
Mom and Dad

Matt, Dad, and me down three plates before Papa and Grandma have finished one. It’s a Schwind thing, the slow eating. It’s been an ongoing joke since Charlie Brown met Snoopy. My dad heads back to the TV room before everyone is finished, as does my brother. Waiting for Papa to finish dinner is like waiting for a slug to cross the finish line.

By the time we wrap up for the evening walk, the world outside glows in a moonlit shade of navy. We don winter coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. It gets cold so early in Ohio. We take the same path, as always: walk up Walnut Street, turn right on Indiana, and then left on Louisiana into the heart of downtown Perrysburg.

They lit the little Christmas trees up and down the strip that morning after the Thanksgiving parade. Already, shop fronts gleam with white lights and reindeer. We wander all the way to the statue of Commodore Perry. We glance at the muddy Maumee River. We cuddle close to stay warm and begin to celebrate, because the walk makes it official: Christmas time!

When we get back to the house on Walnut Street, the dishes are magically clean. Grandma never goes on our after-dinner walk, so I assume she did them. That or a secret clan of Italian elves she keeps hidden in the basement under the ping-pong table.

We return to the kitchen, decorated with paper turkeys and a fake flower arrangement. Together, we eat pumpkin and banana cream pies and drink coffee spiked with Bailey’s.

Uncle Barney heads home, following a sweaty, wet kiss to my cheek. The rest of the boys retire to the TV room where Papa promptly starts snoring in his reclining chair. Mom and Susie do the last bit of straightening up. The house still smells like turkey. It’s still too warm, which is why we start to doze off until Dad gives Mom the eye that clearly communicates he wants to go home.

Matt goes out to meet friends, and I head to my little apartment on the railroad tracks, rocked to sleep by my faithful trains, tummy full and wallowing in the beauty of tradition, that Thanksgiving many years ago.



Let’s go to Costco with an anxiety disorder!


When my husband asks me to go to Costco, I feel like I’m being punished for doing something terrible. Not terrible as in I shrunk his favorite shirt in the washer. Terrible as in, “Wench, you burnt my chest hair with a blowtorch! Now, get ye to Costco!”

I was hellbent against joining the place, despite several of our friends’ insistence that Costco is “The Happiest Place on Earth” (which is actually Disneyland, but I’ve never had the heart to tell them). Jake talked me into it, but even walking in to get our membership cards, I remember thinking, “Oh, so this is what evil looks like.”

See, there’s this famous story in my family about my mom at Christmas time at Meijer, a superstore in my hometown. She was overstimulated by the lights and the crowds and she couldn’t find my dad, so they had to call his name over the loudspeaker: “Dave Dobie, paging Dave Dobie; please come collect your crazy wife in produce.”

The lesson learned? Stay away from superstores, especially if, like me, you suffer from an anxiety disorder.

Costco wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for EVERYTHING ABOUT IT. I headed there today, post-workout, so I felt all limber and jovial until I reached obstacle one: The Parking Lot of Death. I don’t know if my fellow consumers are literally trying to kill me or if their cell phones are so far up their asses that they’re uncomfortable and can’t reach the brakes because they’re too busy screaming, “Please, get this cell phone out of my ass.”

Then, in order to enter the members-only champagne room (there isn’t really champagne; there should be champagne), you have to show your members-only card, which I’m sure makes other people feel really special but just makes me feel like I’m about to enter Auschwitz.

You have to get a cart, because everything at Costco is in bulk, because Jake and I obviously require 30 ROLLS OF TOILET PAPER AT ALL TIMES. The shoppers at Costco move like sea turtles following city lights. They’re slow, vacant, and probably, someday, a huge bird will swoop down and bite their heads off. (I bet Costco owns huge birds! They probably stock the huge palates of 30-roll TP!) It’s impossible to be efficient, because everyone moves around the floor-to-ceiling aisles, mystified by the free food samples that probably cause cancer.



Now, picture me: medium height, skinny, post-workout bandana, haunted look, and sallow cheeks. Picture me curling into a smaller and smaller ball on the top of my cart. I chew my lips. I stutter-step and try to breathe, but they apparently suck all the air out of Costco, and I CAN’T BREATHE! I have to hurry because if I don’t hurry I’ll die of asphyxiation, but I can’t hurry because the lady in size 20 jeans in front of me won’t decide if she wants fifty or one hundred pounds worth of hot dogs.

If you’re lucky enough to make it to the register, everything is almost all right. You pay, you smile, you run like hell for the door with all your toilet paper, but then, you have to pass the exit test where nice-looking ladies (who are probably vengeful dragons) check your tab and make sure you aren’t stealing anything. And then to The Parking Lot of Death!

By the time I’m back in my driver’s seat, my head is spinning and I’m thinking, “Why don’t I keep bourbon in my purse? I should totally keep bourbon in my purse.”

Costco is like hell with fluorescent lights and the smell of microwaveable food where the majority of its inhabitants are chubby and slow-moving. Maybe, just maybe, some of the customers never leave. They circle the aisles on auto-pilot. They forget their families, their names. They stay forever. They become Costco employees.


Grandma Goes Home


What do you do the morning after you lose someone you love? Even if that death was for the best, following months (years) of illness, suffering, and grief? We lost Grandma Schwind last night: the last remaining grandparent in my family, the matriarch. She left us at 7 PM. She navigated her way past the pain, the hospital bed, and all the other old, sick, and suffering at her nursing home to see Heaven and Papa and her beloved son, lost much too soon, Barney. Last night, Grandma went home.

It’s a relief really. Ten minutes prior to The Call from Ohio, I was having trouble eating. I was telling my husband how the wait was killing me. My chest ached with tears that would not fall, not until I felt Grandma’s absence. I’d been holding onto phantom pain for two days, ever since Grandma’s breathing changed, ever since she stopped eating. I hadn’t cried. The tears wouldn’t come. The saltwater simmered in my chest but would not boil, not until my mom called sobbing at 7 PM to say, “She’s gone.”

With those two words, tears came in earnest—sobs that shook my body as Jake held me until even the dogs came and wrapped us in their tail-wagging embrace. Jake said, “Some dogs can smell cancer. What makes you think they can’t smell when you’re upset?”

0011Leonilda Schwind was once a Macy’s sales clerk in New York City. Of Italian descent, she had that wicked foreign appeal; plus, she was gorgeous. I think my grandfather fell for her immediately when they met at that picnic in Central Park. They were married for sixty-six years before Papa died last October. They had four children, three grandchildren, and lots of great-grand dogs.

By the time Papa passed, he was one of the last of his friends still standing. Same with Grandma, and if the clouds rumble today, it’s because there is a huge party happening right now, above our heads. You might hear Frank Sinatra on a chilly breeze or maybe smell gin.

I don’t feel sad this morning. I’m sure, over the course of the day, there will be bouts of stark reality—the reality of death. It’s difficult, living so far away, when someone you love dies. It’s easy to pretend it isn’t real. A few months ago, even, there was a moment when I was on the phone with my mother, and I almost asked her to put Papa on the phone. I didn’t say the words, thank God; I hung up and stood there, shaking. And even years after my Uncle Barney’s death, I still have those moments when I think, “Oh, my GOD, he has to hear this …”

I know death is real. I know Grandma has gone home to her Lord, her family, her friends. I mourn the loss of the stubborn, funny, beautiful woman she was, not the bedridden sick person she became. There are so many memories, so many stories (too many to tell here). It’s a relief to know Grandma isn’t sick anymore. She’s probably in Heaven, her twenty-five-year-old New York self, glitzed up in the latest fashion (I picture a big hat) with her curly, black hair; big, shining eyes; and a smile that could light up all of Times Square. Papa is there, too, in his sailor uniform, his ears a little too big for his head. And Barney: thin and smoking cigarettes and laughing, laughing …

The older we get, the more people we know on the other side. Grandma might have had us here on Earth, but she had a crowd of revelers waiting for her arrival last night in Heaven. And of course, a kiss from Papa, and perhaps a quick, “What took you so long, Lee? I missed you.”



Screw You for Saying Life Sucks


I’ve had a lot of people tell me lately that life is not a bowl of cherries. I’m not sure what they’re trying to accomplish by the routing of this cliché. Is this supposed to make me feel better?

I was in Florida for a week, and I never wanted to come back to Phoenix. I wanted Jake to move to the beach with the dogs and me. Burn our house down. Forget about our jobs, our belongings. Become perpetual beach bums. I could bartend; he could fix and rent out bicycles. So long as we were near the sand, the water, and the lifestyle.

While there with my brilliant Aunt Susie, we scattered Grandpa Schwind’s ashes into the sea. She reminisced; he never missed a sunset when he was down on Longboat Key. He would wander to the beach at night and say, “Thank you, God.” He planned his whole day around it.

Saying goodbye to Papa.
Saying goodbye to Papa.
Susie and I had an amazing week together. We rode beach cruisers to visit the friendly peacocks down the street. We spent all day at the beach and saw two baby sharks. We drank Kryptonite cocktails at the Daiquiri Deck, and I ate enough oysters to kill a small child. I even took a long walk on the beach in the middle of a torrential rainstorm.

I came back to Phoenix, hoping to keep the “beach mindset,” and I failed immediately. Life got in the way. First, there was the aforementioned “chicken incident.” There was an overburden of work and the stress of trying to sell our house. There was a premenstrual emotional breakdown on Saturday. Finally, yesterday morning, a close friend of mine passed away.

The bowl of cherries comment came about when I admitted to someone I didn’t really want to live in Phoenix anymore. I want to move back east. I want to be near the ocean again, and the longing to do so is a resounding ache in my chest.

Then, David died yesterday, and a friend told me death was just part of life and that life isn’t easy and mortality is a bitch and blah blah blah—I don’t know if this kind of talk helps other people, but it only makes me angry.

beach picPeople telling me life is hard does not help. People giving advice only makes things worse. I need to channel the girl I was on the beach last week, walking in the rain with the tide on my toes. She was so blissfully happy, filled with joy. She was free.

My Grandpa Schwind would have wanted me to be that girl always, every day. David (who reminded me so much of Papa) would have wanted the same. In the past six months, I’ve said goodbye to both of them—such joyful, peaceful, kind men, who would never, ever say, “Life is not a bowl of cherries.”

I need to find the girl I was on the beach, but I need to remember these two important men I’ve lost, as well. We scattered Papa on the beach because now, he can watch the sunset every night. Every night, he can say “Thank you, God.” I am utterly lost, but I can’t buy into this bullshit about life not being fair, life being hard. The negativity will drown me.

I won’t listen. I won’t hear. I’m done being told to keep a stiff upper lip, to be strong. Another friend recently said I needed “joy and ease.” She wanted me to say it like a mantra: “joy and ease.” Okay, I can get behind that. Life might be hard, but it’s also a lot of fun. Screw anyone who says otherwise.


Why My Husband is Hot

Jake Bauer1
My husband is cut like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. He has honey brown eyes that melt women into puddles of lusty angst. He has a single dimple when he smiles, and he smiles a lot. He has an ass that Michelangelo would have sculpted into a fifty-foot statue. He has a voice that makes Jell-O quake. And those are his lesser attributes.

Jake married a girl with depression. He married a difficult wife, and yet, he makes adorable growling noises and kisses my neck until I laugh. He holds me when I cry. He tells me—no, he makes me believe—everything will be all right, because he will never leave me, never stop supporting me.

He volunteers at an organic farm, and I love when he comes home all sweaty and covered in dirt. He always kisses me and says he needs to shower, but I don’t let him because I want to hold him. He makes me proud to be his wife.

Jake is so funny, he could make Louis CK laugh and blush. It doesn’t matter if he’s having a bad day; he will drop everything to make someone else feel better. He does it with a smile—a joyous smile that’s wrought with happy wrinkles, from his mouth to his eyes.

He dances like a white Usher. We joke that it’s because his brother is gay, and his bro can dance, too. Jake dances with no ego. He doesn’t care if people think it’s funny that a straight guy just loves to dance. He also doesn’t care that people thinks he’s a nerd for loving bad eighties elevator music.

My husband lives with no inhibitions, no fear. He is the bravest, most honest person I know. He is immediately embarrassed if he gossips. He sees the best in people, and he has taught me to try to do the same. He has taught me so much: how to be comfortable with myself and how to believe I am beautiful.

My friends have a nickname for Jake: Mr. Hottie McHotterson, and it’s not just because he fills out a pair of jeans. It’s not just because he rolls up the sleeves on his button-down shirts to show off his ripped forearms. My friends think he’s hot because he makes them feel better when he’s around. He does that to everyone.

My husband should be on posters. He should be on billboards with his six-pack abs hanging out. But he should also be on posters that say “This is a real man. This is what every man should strive to be.” He is perfect within his imperfections—his sweet snoring, his messy cooking style, and his bed head, half-mohawk blond hair.

He is what I spent my life looking for, and that makes him hot. Hotter than the desert in July. Hotter than the love anyone deserves.

Jake Bauer 2


You Are a Broken Toy

Doll 2
Depression makes you feel like a broken toy. You once had use, but now, you’re forgotten, sprawled in the dust beneath a child’s bed. You can’t remember what it’s like to not be broken. You can’t imagine anyone fixing you.

So you lie there, tired, broken, and no one can reach you—not even mom’s feather duster.

Depression destroys you. It makes you forget how to work or how to eat. It makes you want to sleep but not cry. You are beyond crying. You feel nothing but a crushing pain in your chest. You feel nothing but aching muscles and the strange beat of your heart that seems louder in the silence.

It’s very quiet under the child’s bed. In the dust.

It’s not scary under here, not like the movies would have you think. There aren’t monsters under this bed—just you, the broken toy. You are in pieces. You can’t hurt anyone.

Depression is the bad thing you’re waiting for that never happens.

Depression is loss, but lost what?

Depression is the hope that this day will soon be over, because maybe you will wake up not so broken tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Maybe tomorrow, the child will find you under his bed. He will dust you off and sew you back together. He will play with you again and remind you what you’re here for.

You will remember how to work and eat and maybe even smile. Tomorrow.

For now, you lie in the dust and watch feet pass the foot of the child’s bed. You wonder: how do they do it? How do they go about their days? How do they keep their pieces together? When you are so broken.

You’re not even old! Barely played out! How did you end up in this dingy, under-bed place? How did you get here? But you don’t remember. One day, you were fine; the next, you weren’t.

Depression is the dark thing in your dreams, half remembered by morning.

Depression is the thief that takes and makes you forget how to give back.

Maybe you should rest now, sleep for a while, under the bed. Stop looking at other toys. Stop wondering how they stay together. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, you’ll be fixed again.


To be an Introvert

I attended a fantastic book signing at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe this weekend to see Ransom Riggs: a hilarious, talented young man who penned Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children as well as its newly released sequel, Hollow City. Ransom was sociable and clever, great at off-the-cuff jokes and comic tidbits. Meanwhile, I was a nervous wreck in my seat because there were too many people and the chairs were too close together.

Me at Ignite Phoenix, speaking in front of 900 people.
Me at Ignite Phoenix, speaking in front of 900 people.

I’ve fought for years to act the part of an extrovert. I do public speaking. I throw parties at my house. I come off as confident, outgoing, and a little eccentric. The truth: I’m painfully introverted, and it takes an awful lot of emotional energy to leave my house.

According to About.com’s Psychology page, “People who are introverted tend to be inward turning, or focused more on internal thoughts, feelings, and moods rather than seeking out external stimulation.” Introverted does not mean shy; it just means we’re happier in our own heads than in the center of a crowd.

Even the social butterfly can be an introvert, which is a perfect example of me. I am a social butterfly, but only for a certain amount of time. After awhile, I run out of words, and I literally need to get home before I have a panic attack.

The Huffington Post has an article entitled “23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert,” and it gave me a laugh. Among the listed items:

  • Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than having to mingle with those people afterwards. (Can you say “Ignite Phoenix?”)
  • You screen all your calls—even from friends. (Guilty.)
  • You have a constantly running inner monologue. (The voices! The voices!)
  • You’re a writer. (Literally, this was on their list. No joke.)

I could go on, but you get the idea. As I said, I’ve fought to be an extrovert, because I admire people who are. Some of my best friends and social icons are extremely extroverted. They’re charmers. People like them, remember them. They love “doing things,” and I’ve wanted to be like that for years, but you know what? I’m thirty-one, and maybe I’m getting a little old to be someone else.

f4da910154a970b30270c93711ec96daSometimes, it sucks really knowing yourself, because you might not like what you find. For instance, I’m grumpy and unpleasant when I’m around people for too long. I’m horrible at returning voicemails because I hate talking on the phone. I’m in my head so much, I feel like I occasionally neglect my husband, my family, my friends … these are flaws. I don’t like them, but they are mine.

I once considered being an introvert a flaw, but no longer. It’s who I am. It’s who a lot of people are. I’d like to be like Ransom at Changing Hands. I’d like to be relaxed in a crowd and feed off the energy around me, but I can’t. And maybe I should stop trying.

The older I get, the more weird and introverted I become. Does this worry me? No. I’m just growing more comfortable with myself.

I am an introvert. I don’t want to go to that dinner theater performance because I’m terrified they might pull me on stage. I refuse to go on weekend trips with people I don’t know well, because I can’t be trapped in a hotel room with them. I know when to say “no,” but I say YES to introversion—because that’s who I am. Hear me roar … while sitting happily alone on the couch in my living room.