Being Creative in 2020

Some people thrive on adversity. I am not one of them. If a time machine dropped me in some other time and place, I would immediately meet an unfortunate end, and probably in the stupidest possible way. Oh, you mean I wasn’t supposed to pet that saber-tooth cat? But it was so fluffy!

So while Taylor Swift is busy dropping a new album that she wrote and recorded while stuck at home, I am… not. I write slowly in the best of times and 2020 definitely doesn’t qualify.

In the entire month of May, I wrote the same number of words (in total!) that I can write in one really good day.

Yeah…

So if you’re struggling to create this year, know that you’re not alone. Don’t listen to the people (hi, mom!) who tell you that you should be super productive because you’re stuck at home and can’t go anywhere. Mental health is important for creativity, and stress and anxiety aren’t great for mental health—and there’s plenty of stress and anxiety this year.

The myth of the tortured, starving artist, is just that—a myth. Sure, some people probably thrive on chaos, because nothing is ever one-size-fits-all, but I am not one of them. I have two deadlines upcoming, and I’m behind on both. Usually, this would fill me with panic, but this year the best I can summon is a detached sort of dread. I’m all panicked out.

But I continue to trudge onward because that’s all I can do. New Shiny is over 30k, and TQT just crossed 30k, too. I was trying to get TQT done by the end of the month, but that’s just not going to happen unless some sort of miracle occurs.

But, lest you think it’s all doom and gloom around here, I sent the first six chapters of New Shiny off to Mr M and my bff, and they both loved it, so that’s nice. They are biased, naturally, but at least it’s not completely terrible. :)

Now back to the writing cave, Batman. Be kind to each other, wear a mask, and hang in there!

P.S. If you’re in the US, don’t forget to register to vote! And if it’s a been a while, check your registration to ensure you haven’t been dropped from the voter rolls. Even if it hasn’t, it’s a good idea to check. November isn’t that far away and many states have registration deadlines that are quickly approaching.

Birthday Week

My birthday is this week, so I’m celebrating with my annual Birthday Week™. It mainly involves me singing “It’s my birthday!” to myself at random times throughout the week.

Rona kind of put a damper on any kind of celebration, but my bff came over and brought Italian cream cake and wine for a patio chat, so it wasn’t all bad.

This is my last year in my thirties. Honestly, I thought I’d feel more grown up by now, but I don’t. I certainly have my shit together more than I did when I was a baby fresh out of college, but I don’t feel older.

At least I don’t until I hurt myself by sleeping wrong. Then I feel about 110.

The last few years have been especially fabulous. I have five books out, three of them with a big publisher. And I completed my first trilogy! My author copies for CR came in, and the books are so pretty together. 😍

I also have a new trilogy under contract, which is another dream come true. Maybe I can make this writing thing work for me, which is very much not guaranteed, even with a publisher. But I can keep writing because all of you lovely people read my books, so thank you! You made the last year of my thirties a memorable one. 💕

And if you want to give yourself a present for my birthday, I suggest taking some time to read! If you need something new, check out my books and my recommendations for books I loved. Happy reading!

Baking Mishaps

Like seemingly half of Twitter, I’ve taken up bread baking during the apocalypse—sourdough, to be specific, because I couldn’t find yeast for the longest time. I started off making the America’s Test Kitchen no-knead sourdough, but I never turned out a great loaf. It always tasted delicious, but it was shaped more like a hockey puck than a nice round loaf.

America’s Test Kitchen is usually bulletproof for me, so I don’t know what was going on with that recipe, but judging by the comments section, I wasn’t alone.

After tweaking the recipe several times and continuing to fail, I moved on to King Arthur’s no-knead sourdough.

Why no-knead? Because I’m lazy. I’ve watched a small mountain of sourdough YouTube videos now, and I didn’t want to invest quite that much time, effort, or equipment. The more hands-off, the better. And the KA recipe delivers on all fronts: the hands-on part doesn’t take too much effort and you don’t need a special proofing basket.

And behold, my first loaf with the new recipe: it’s tall, round, and beautiful.

A golden-brown, nicely rounded boule of sourdough in an enameled cast iron dutch oven.

It’s also 100% stuck to the bottom of the pan. Welded, one might say. Fused, perhaps. The crust and pan have atomically bonded into a new entity never before seen. 😂😭😭

I got it out, but only at great sacrifice. You can’t see it here, because I’ve cleverly hidden the bottom, but zero bottom crust remains on the loaf. But, other than that teeny tiny (terrible) mishap, isn’t it lovely?

The loaf out of the pan on a wire cooling rack, where you can hardly tell the bottom crust is missing.

I’m going to try the recipe again, only this time I’m going to use parchment paper to (hopefully) prevent the stickage. I should’ve used oil this time (instead of the flour I tried), but I didn’t want to have to scrub the residue off the pan.

That plan did not work out like I thought it was going to. 😂

Have you started baking this month? If so, how’s it going? Have you had any mishaps?

It’s ALIVE!!

We have officially made it through the longest month on record: March 2020, which clocked in at about three lifetimes. I hope you all are doing well and staying home as much as possible.

Austin remains on lockdown, so Dustin and I are both working from home. We try to get out for a run or walk every day (while maintaining appropriate distance from our neighbors), but otherwise we’re at home all day.

So I decided to get a pet.

Probably not the kind you’re thinking.

Behold, my sourdough starter! I’ve nicknamed him Sludge, though Sir Doughy (a recommendation from @WriteByJeannie on Twitter) was a close second.

A quart mason jar half full of sourdough starter on a wooden cutting board on my counter.

Sludge is a vigorous little fellow. I got him from my BFF on Sunday and fed him for the first time yesterday morning. He was still firmly contained when I went to bed last night, but I woke up this morning to this:

A quart mason jar of sourdough starter, with the starter overflowing into the wide, flat bowl it's sitting in.
It’s alllliiiiiiive!

Luckily, Dustin suggested the extra bowl last night, even though the jar wasn’t yet full. Smart fellow, my husband.

We don’t eat much bread usually, but with the longer times between grocery store trips and the desire for comfort food, I’ve taken up baking more often. Yesterday, I made a loaf of Irish soda bread with some leftover buttermilk. It turned out a little misshapen but delicious.

I’m going to try my first loaf of sourdough tonight. I’m starting basic with the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for Almost No-Knead Sourdough. I’ve had very good luck with ATK recipes, so I’m hoping this one will deliver, too. I can get more artisanal after I remember how to make bread at all. 😂

If you want your own pet to love, you can create a sourdough starter from flour, water, and time. King Arthur Flour has a good guide.

And if you need a smile today, here’s Samuel L Jackson giving you some excellent advice (warning: language). It should auto-start about 6:10 in, or you can jump there manually.

Stay safe out there!

Video Game Recommendations

So with the worldwide pandemic, a lot of people are finding themselves at home more than usual (if you can, please stay home and help flatten the curve). In addition to my book recs, I thought I’d recommend some video games. A lot of these can be played co-op, since that’s what Mr. M and I usually play. So find a friend and play together!

Phone/Tablet Games

All of the following are available on iOS, but I’m not sure about other platforms. Links are to the iOS App Store.

A couple of the phone games I play are digital copies of boardgames we like: Ticket to Ride and Pandemic. Ticket to Ride is nice because the game keeps score for you, so you don’t even have to do math. And while Pandemic might be a bit too on the nose right now, it certainly is satisfying when you wipe out the in-game viruses.

When I just need something to fidget with, I play Threes, 2048, or Spider Solitaire. I’ll often play these while Mr. M is watching TV because I can listen to the show and play a game at the same time.

We both also played a lot of Game Dev Story, Grand Prix Story, and Dungeon Village. These single-player games have an interesting interface because I think they were originally for phones with number pads instead of touch screens, but they are super cute if you like building and managing type games.

And if you like Harvest Moon-type games (virtual farming, romancing villagers, exploration), then check out Stardew Valley (also available on PC and game consoles).

PC Games

If you play PC games, these won’t be new, but these are my comfort games.

Stardew Valley is available on PC as well as tablets, but with co-op so you can build your farm with friends. And as far as building/exploring games go, Mr. M and I have spent literally hundreds of hours playing Terraria and Starbound. Both are co-op, so play together! Build yourselves a 2D palace of wonder.

We’ve also been playing a lot of Borderlands 3, which just recently came to Steam if you were waiting out the Epic Store exclusive. I don’t play too many shooters, because I generally prefer swords and sorcery, but BL3 is more of an action-RPG than a straight shooter. Plus the writing is terrific.

Our favorite oldie but goodie is Diablo 3, and we just started playing again for Season 20. We play in Adventure mode now because we’ve played the story so many times. It’s basically click monsters, get loot, and I find it very soothing. Especially because this season I’m playing as a Wizard—not my usual style because I prefer melee builds—but destroying huge swaths of enemies with spells is fun.

Switch Games

We also each have a Nintendo Switch and I’m currently obsessed with Rune Factory 4. It’s not co-op, but Mr. M and I are playing at the same time. It’s like Stardew or Harvest Moon in that you can virtual farm and romance the townsfolk, but you can also go slay monsters and build weapons and armor. It’s super cute and I want to play it all day instead of working. Alas, so far no one wants to pay me to play games.

We also own Stardew Valley on Switch (because of course we do) and the Switch build supports co-op. Yes, we have farms on every system, lol. :)

Need to get in some exercise but don’t want to go to the gym? Try Ring Fit Adventure. It’s not going to replace a heavy lifting routine, but it gets your heart rate up and has a little strength-building with the resistance ring. Plus it masquerades as a game, so it’s more fun than staring at a treadmill screen.

If you play games, what have you been playing lately? Stay safe, friends, and wash your hands!