Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas Songs - The Good, The Meh, and The Ugly

Now that the holidays are in full swing, I allow myself to listen to Christmas music on the radio.

Over the years, I've found that there are some Christmas songs I still love. Others are just okay. And then there are the holiday songs that is akin to fingernails screeching against a chalkboard.

The Good... (in no particular order)

1. Christmas Time is Here (from A Charlie Brown Christmas). We watch this animated movie every year. Love it! The song itself is a Vince Guaraldi masterpiece. It's sweet and gentle...and it always gets me in the holiday mood.

2. The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole. It's Nat King Cole! 'Nuff said.

3) Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth - David Bowie and Bing Crosby. I remember seeing this
video on MTV as a kid, and I was mesmerized. My brain flipped out just seeing these two very different artists singing together. Apparently, David Bowie hated Little Drummer Boy, so the Peace on Earth part was written for him. Bing Crosby died just five weeks later.

4) Home for the Holidays - The Carpenters. To this day, there isn't a voice that possesses as much purity as Karen Carpenter's. So sad how she died, but hearing her sweet vocals makes me smile...and hungry for some pumpkin pie.

5) Star Bright - Vanessa Williams. I believe Vanessa Williams is highly underrated as a singer. This song showcases her talent. I associate this song with my oldest child, as he loved this song when he was little. It's a gorgeous song with a beautiful, smooth, jazzy melody.

6) 12 Days of Christmas - The McKenzie Brothers. It's crude, but it makes me laugh. I know many people hate this song, but anything that cracks me up is a winner. I learned a lot about Canadians from this song.

7) Christmas Eve/Sarajevo - Trans-Siberian Orchestra. This song packs one helluva punch. I imagine Santa on a giant sled being pulled by fire breathing dragons. He raises his battle ax as thunder and lightning fill the dark sky. Yeah, I know. I'm weird.

8) Mary Did You Know - Pentatonix. Yes, this is a brand new song. I've been a fan of this a capella group since they won The Sing Off. This song is simply amazing. It's hard to believe there's no music here; all all five members' voices are perfect. This version blows Kenny Rogers and Clay Aiken out of the water. Especially Clay Aiken.

The Meh...

1) All I Want for Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey. I used to own her Christmas album. Maybe I'm burned out on it. I don't hate it, but I don't like it like I used to.

2) Jingle Bell Rock - Hall & Oats. I'm a fan of this group, but I'm not as keen on this holiday staple.

3) Same Old Lang Syne - Dan Fogelberg. This song used to make me stop and listen to it every time it came on the radio. It's just so...sad. It's still a good song, but it's depressing. Don't let sad alcoholics hear this song.

4) Feliz Navidad - Jose Feliciano. I actually don't like this song very much, but it's fun to scream it at the top of your lungs in the car. It takes 0.231 seconds to learn all the lyrics since there's only about a dozen words. It's the song that never ends.

5) Do They Know It's Christmas - Band Aid. When this song came out, it was a big deal. I was in the sixth grade, and it was on the radio all the time during the holidays. These days, the song's lyrics are pretty condescending when you think about it. Half of Africans are Christians!

The Ugly...

1) Winter Wonderland - The Eurythmics. I think this song just sounds terrible, and I love The Eurythmics. The whole thing is a mess. Makes me want to throw a sleigh bell at Annie Lennox.

2) Last Christmas - Wham! My daughter loves this song. Me? I hate it. I often stick up for George Michael. Just not here. This is one fart-of-a-Christmas song.

3) Baby It's Cold Outside - Every version of this song. This song is creepy as hell. It's like the guy is slipping Roofies into the girl's drink. Just wrong. Date rape ain't festive.

4) Christmas Don't Be Late - The Chipmunks. I want to jump off a cliff when I hear this.

5) Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer - Elmo and Patsy. I've got a sense of humor, but this song frays my nerves. It's a bad song with bad lyrics...and an equal bad message. When I was a kid, it was funny, sure. But not so much now. I guess it's because I know how expensive it would be to fix a mortally wounded Grandma.

6) Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney. This song sounds like a 7 year old wrote it. The keyboard playing sounds like a horrible video game soundtrack from 1982. Yuck!

7) Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt/Madonna. Gold digger!!!

8) Christmas Shoes - Newsong. I'm sorry, but this has to be one of the worst Christmas songs EVER. Cheesy-to-the-max! It's over-the-top melodrama that makes me physically ill. I'd like to smack the songwriter in the head with my own Christmas Shoe.

So I don't end this post on a negative note, I'd like to leave you with Pentatonix's Mary Did You Know.

I will be taking a little Christmas holiday, but I'll be back before the end of 2014. Until then, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and take care!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

December's IWSG

Oh yeah. I'm feeling insecure right now...

So, this is my last Insecure Writers Support Group post for 2014. I'm so glad I decided to join this gaggle of amazing and supportive writers. For a couple years, I shared in everyone's struggles and felt their pain. It's so much more cathartic to jump in and share my own insecurities.

This writing/publishing gig has made me manic. My highs are really high, and my lows are pretty darn low. And my mood about this first year seems to change as quickly as the forecast here in St. Louis.

As I wind down 2014, I'm left with that same tug-of-war of conflicted feelings. On the plus side, my paranormal YA thriller with Miranda Hardy broke into the Top 20 on Amazon's Best Sellers List thanks to a nice little promotion that gave us some sales. On the minus side, sales of Dragonfly Warrior have sputtered. Sales of its sequel, Shadow Warrior, have been pretty abysmal.

Here's what I've learned though fighting all of these insecurities:

1) I suck at marketing online. Despite my 9+ years as a blogger, I'm terrible at promoting myself on here.

2) I suck at being patient. I've only been at this for twelve months now. Dragonfly Warrior came out a week before Christmas last year, so I need to give it more time. Not so easy to do.

3) I suck at pulling myself out of my writing slump. I got burned out right in the middle of NaNoWriMo, and I'm still in that abyss. Nothing creative is coming out of my brain.

4) I am awesome at selling books at events. Seriously. Maybe it's because I'm a sales ninja in my day job, but no one will outsell me at an event. No one. I will toot my own horn here: I kick ass at selling when I'm face to face with readers.

5) I'll be okay. The crazy heights and terrible lows that come with living this life is enough to make me into a drinker. But in the end, I'll be alright.

Oh yeah, I'm still feeling insecure. But that's what happens when you take risks.

Monday, December 1, 2014

City on Fire

I'm sure everyone reading this knows about the Ferguson protests and riots stemming from the grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson. Facebook has been engulfed in all kinds of debates and arguments praising the grand jury's decision and condemning it.

Having grown up in that part of St. Louis, I have a very personal perspective on the whole mess. It was painful to see my hometown being destroyed, but the longer term ramifications are more profound to me. St. Louis is still dealing with racial issues, and my city has become a microcosm for a much larger social problem.

It's too bad people are actually taking "sides" on this, but this is a complicated matter. Is it about Mike Brown and Darren Wilson? Or is it about racism in this city and country? Or does it go even deeper, harking back to deep-seating issues stemming from America's past: from slavery, to segregation, to desegregation, to urban decay, to white flight...we can point to any number of things.

I've taken the time to understand many of the aspects around this matter, and I hope others do the same. I've learned about why prosecutors use grand juries instead of straight up indicting somebody. I learned why cops aren't trained - or even allowed - to intentionally wound somebody. I have not read all 1200 pages of the evidence that was released by the prosecutor, and I doubt any of us will. It's amazing to me, however, the level of unreliability eye witness accounts are.

The day after the first night of rioting after the grand jury decision was announced, I called a couple business owners I know in Ferguson. Both of their businesses were looted and damaged. One of them had to deal with tornado damage just last summer, and now they have to go through it all again. It's sad, since they both employed local people and provided the people of Ferguson with much needed medical services.

With the holiday season in full swing, I hope my city can find a way to learn from all of this and somehow bride that widening gap that has divided us. This issue isn't just a St. Louis thing as evidenced by all the other protests that have sprung up all over the country.

Many St. Louisans are hopeful, are there are signs of love and understanding within this entire hateful mess. It's not easy to ignore all the sensationalism, rash judgments and sweeping generalizations, and the divisive language spoken by a lot of people. I've seen a lot of UGLY here in St. Louis, but I can still hear the voices of those that hope for a better future.

It's that hope we all have left to hang onto.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Oh How I Miss You Blogfest

It's time for the second annual, Oh How I Miss You Blogfest. Thanks to Andrew Leon, Alex J. Cavanaugh, and Matthew McNish for hosting.

The bloggers we miss, and the bloggers we would miss...

Since I've been at this bloggy-thing for a pretty long time, I want to take the opportunity to introduce you to some blogs none of you have probably ever visited. When I first started blogging, blogs really were just online diaries. Over the years, my best blogger friends have dropped like flies, and for awhile, there were a handful that kept on going like me. But alas, three of them have decided to stop blogging just this year.

RIP - Blogs I Miss

The Weird Girl (2005-2014) Mary was a new mother who juggled home life and her work life as a writer/editor. Recently, her blogging slowed down, and her last post was early September. "Back in the day," she was one of only a few writer-friends I had. We're still great friends, and I have come to rely on her as a beta reader. We keep in touch on Facebook too.

Shaken Not Stirred (2004-2014) Angel Jr. started blogging a year before me, and his blog was a true online diary. He talked a lot about his favorite shows, his struggle with passing his medical licensing exam, and every day stuff. He was also the very first blogger I got to meet in person in a tiny airport in West Virginia. Although his blogging days are over, we're still friends and talk via Facebook.

Phats (2005-2014) Phats became a blogger just a couple months before me. He often posted about his love for anything Purdue Boilermakers. We have a lot in common: I was a high school tennis coach (and Phats still is to this day), we both have a similar sense of humor, and we each had to death with near death health scares. He shut down his blog this summer, but we still talk all the time through Facebook.

Notice a pattern here???

Blogs I Would Miss

The Blog (2004-Present) Cube has been at this for a long time, and she celebrated her 10 year blogiversary just this October. Her posts have gotten much much shorter the last few years, and she doesn't really visit others as often as she used to. Her blog has also taken a political slant since 2010 or so. But Cube is still at it, which is why I listed mentioned her last year. If she ever stops before me, it'd be sad to lose yet another long time blogger.

Confessions of a Dumb White Guy (2005-Present) Shife started blogging in January of 2005, and his posts always make me laugh. It's been pretty cool keeping up with Shife's life throughout the years since discovering his corner of the blogosphere - he had become a father twice and his his book (based on his blog posts) FINALLY came out this Fall. Shife and I are good buddies, and it's been great watching him realize his dreams. Go visit Shife right now!

Thinking about all of these "old-line" blogs, I've come to fully realize that next August 3rd will be my ten year blogiversary. A whole decade of blogging! Any ideas as to what I should do to celebrate with all of you???

Monday, November 17, 2014

I Got Nothin'

I tried this, and it works

So I skipped a post last week, as I was out of town on business. My day job is very demanding, and I just didn't have time to publish a post before I got on the plane.

I was in Kalamazoo, Michigan (yes it's a real place) from Monday through Friday night. During my time there, I had very little time to write. I tried my very best, but it was just not to be. With each passing day, I saw my wordcount stall. And my stats showed that it would be damn near the 4th of July when I'd hit 50,000 words.

Not totally accurate, but it's not looking good, folks.

I'm such a Type-A, and I think all the stuff going on in my life is taking its toll. I had TWO books published in September, and then I had author events every weekend through October. The day job is also kicking my arse. All of this stress is actually manifesting itself physically.

I quit!!!
I don't mean to gross you out, but I get horrible canker sores when I'm stressed. Lets just say I had to stay away from orange juice for a week, and today is the first day I can actually eat a handful of peanuts and not feel like I'm chewing glass.

I'm not a quitter. And I hate losing. But I think I have to throw up the white flag.

So for the sake of my sanity, I'm not going to kill myself to get 50,000 words in before the end of the month. Instead, I think I'm just going to write whenever I have the time and energy.

If you take American commercialism as gospel, it's been Christmas for nearly three weeks already. But, the holidays are right around the corner. In fact, everything in St. Louis is covered in snow. I think I'm going to slow things down and enjoy the holidays without deadlines and tough goals hanging like a dark cloud over my head.

Christmastime is already stressful as it is, right?

How about you? Stress creeping into your life? What do you do to handle it? Is this time of year tough for you too?
I'm gonna be like Ang

I hope to just take it easy, visit all of your blogs, and try to get myself centered for the duration of 2014.