Pumpkin Spice Everything

We’re still a few days out from fall, but late summer brings with it the promise of the coming harvest season. The days ever so slightly cooler, the nights come ever so slightly earlier, and we see a smorgasbord of pumpkin-flavored treats. The flagship of this fall flavor fleet is the pumpkin spice latte, that most perfect blend of espresso, steamed milk, and pumpkin pie spices that brings in the season with much pomp and circumstance.

Starbucks continues to have the best PSL (the full name is a lot to keep typing out) on the market. Maybe I’m just biased because the barista working at the Starbucks I went to this evening was on top of their game and made what may be the best PSL I’ve ever had, but I find Starbucks’s concoction to be the most balanced between the sweet snap of the espresso, the creaminess of the milk, and the bouquet of warming spices that is the pumpkin magic. Sheetz has a decent PSL even if they opt to call their drink a pumpkin pie latte. I find it a bit too heavy on the coffee, which results in the spices being rolled right over; yes, I know it’s a flavored syrup and not the actual spices, but this actually pronounces the overpowering burn of the coffee in that a syrup should blend more efficiently. McDonald’s is good if you demand creamy goodness, as they use the sweetest syrup and go real heavy on the milk, but I still prefer the perfect balance of Starbucks.

Of course, both Dunkin’ and Panera Bread have their own entries in the PSL game. I haven’t tried those, as they did not come to my location last year and I haven’t checked those businesses this year. But my favorite fall treat is not actually the PSL. And it’s not pumpkin ales, though I love those as well, with New Belgium Pumpkick being my favorite. No, my favorite pumpkin munchy has got to be Krispy Kreme’s Pumpkin Spice cake donut. It’s near-perfect in that it balances spicy and sweet on a knife’s edge, and goes beautifully with a cup of coffee. The first time I dunk a day-old pumpkin spice donut into a fresh cup of black coffee is probably the moment that fall starts for me every year.

My wife also makes a fine pumpkin soup, which I usually have for lunch more than once as she cooks a hearty batch. And I’ve been tossing around an idea for a pumpkin spice pizza for a few years; I’m thinking a pumpkin-spiced dough topped with a seasoned pumpkin puree with cheddar cheese and crumbled country sausage. If only somebody with more pizza-making skill than I could take on this project, I’d happily test it out.

What’s your favorite pumpkin treat? If you don’t like pumpkin–then what’s wrong with you?

NaNoWriMo

I’m a little excited over this year’s National Novel Writing Month. So much so that I’ve already started sketching out ideas. I’m not usually one to plan my writing–I tend to just sit down and write and let what happens happen–but I finished my novel back in 2017 and I’m determined to finish again this year. I just kind of ran out of steam early last year and barely broke 10k words; I want to hit the finish line once more, as that was an incredible feeling.

If you’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo, I highly encourage you to do so, especially if you’ve always wanted to write a novel and just have never found the time. It feels remarkably good to create something, and when you hit 50k words and know that your novel–yes, YOUR novel–is complete, you’ll feel on top of the world. If you’re unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it’s just what it sounds like; each November, writers amateur and professional alike pledge to write a novel of at least 50 thousand words. That sounds like a daunting task, and it is, but if you just let yourself go and write the novel inside of you those words will just fly onto the page.

That’s what I did in 2017. I wrote a novel that I had been avoiding writing for years, wanting to write something different or simply being afraid to encounter such dark and personal material as that novel would demand. However, I gave in and wrote some of the best writing I’ve ever produced. I have high hopes for this novel’s success in the future.

November will be here before you know it, so don’t put off making an outline or doing some character development beforehand–just don’t actually start writing until November 1st! Or do start writing, and just be prepared to set it aside and work on something different. You can never have too many projects.

Hunting Season

For a few years, my little brother and I went hunting at least a couple of times each season. We hunted squirrel, with only once or twice going out with any intention of getting deer. We enjoyed it, even if our hunts were not fruitful. Then, one year my wife and I got a bearded dragon from Pet Smart. We did not know that the little guy was sick when we purchased him, thanks in large part to the negligence of said business, and he died after just a week. It was a horrible experience; he had a bone disorder that caused him great pain, and we watched him die over several agonizing hours. After that experience, I was convinced I couldn’t watch an animal die, at least for some time, so I took a break from hunting. After all, watching an animal die is a possibility when hunting.

But I’ve healed from that ordeal and I’m ready to get back to it. I’ve missed going out into the crisp autumn air at the break of day, the comforting weight of my boots on my feet, the slow crunch of dead leaves underneath as we crept through the woods, hoping not to startle potential game. It was my one chance at true adventure, given that my job has me firmly planted at a desk indoors–which is fine, but it’s nice to have a change of pace.

My decision to revisit this hobby came as I started writing a new book. It’s about a hunter who has to confront his own painful past as he tracks down a dangerous bear that seems to be as unnatural as a ghost. Writing this has got me thinking fondly of my memories with my little brother and, on a couple of occasions, my mother, who accompanied us as an observer.

So come this autumn, I will probably find myself out in the woods once more, shotgun in hand, hoping to bring home a harvest to share with my family.

A Summer in Hell

I’ve been enjoying the summer break from my full-time job, chiefly because I’ve stayed inside for most of it. I’ve been re-reading the Harry Potter series (up until I finish the fourth book, which I’m reading now, at which point I’ll be reading the remainder of the series for the first time), and The Lord of the Rings. I’ve also been reading Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. It’s quite good, but my other reading options have been so light and easy on the eyes that it’s easy to choose them over it. I’m determined to get to a good stopping point with Harry Potter, probably after the fourth book, after which point I’ll be “caught up,” and continue on with James’ work. I’ve already reached the half-way point of Tolkien, which is a good place to pause.

Outside, it’s been ridiculously humid. The temperature has been around average for a North Carolina summer, but the humidity has been such that the heat index has been over 100 degrees every day. It’s expected to reach 120 degrees tomorrow, which is of course the day my wife wants us to get back in the habit of going to the gym.

I’m putting a couple of submissions in, but have set aside for my writing for awhile. I’ve hit something of a wall and have no good ideas. However, the only way to write is to actually do it, so if I don’t have a spark of imagination any time soon I’ll write some fan fiction. That’s gotten the creative juices flowing before.

What Makes A Man?

In an ongoing effort to improve my health, I’ve started taking more care in my cleaning and grooming habits. Attracted by their whimsical marketing, I started a “soapscription” at Dr. Squatch and now have six bars of soap made from all-natural ingredients. I also ordered some products to take better care of my beard (I had long fallen out of the habit of daily applications of oil and balm). I grew to be a particular fan of Grave Before Shave when trying to maintain my facial hair before, so I turned back to them in my latest efforts to have a soft beard that my wife actually wants to touch. I’ve also got some solid cologne on the way from Duke Cannon. I haven’t worn cologne in years, so this will be a welcome change.

Of course, I’m well aware that all three of my sources are marketed specifically for men, using stereotypical cisgender heterosexual male imagery. I’m not fooled into thinking that using Bay Rum scented soap (it smells fantastic, by the way) and “Naval Supremacy” cologne will turn me into a barrel-chested sea captain. And I’m aware that by buying these brands, I’m sending the message that this type of marketing works, and telling me I’ll be more attractive to women and feel “like a man” will make me buy a product.

But we live in a capitalist society, and this type of marketing is inescapable. So I’ll try to balance out whatever social harm I’m doing by contributing to this ever-hungry animal by actually displaying the non-superficial qualities of masculinity in my everyday life.

Which begs the question: what are those qualities?

According to websites such as The Art of Manliness, those qualities are honor, hard-work, a sense of classical style, physical fitness, and the possession of the same types of skills one tends to learn as a Boy Scout or survivalist enthusiast. According to the more hostile places online, such as The Return of Kings (which I refuse to link to), those qualities are a dominating and aggressive personality, sexual conquest, and–dare I say–the triumph of the will.

Traits like honesty, dedication, and the possession of practical skills are all good traits to have, but what makes them masculine? The only answer is tradition. For much of human history, especially in the memory of the oldest among us, men were caretakers and women were homemakers. Men did things with their hands, earned money, paid bills, and made decisions. Women raised children, cleaned house, cooked, and sewed. There were two easily identifiable genders and thus two easily identifiable gender roles.

But there are no longer two easily identifiable genders. We’ve come to realize that gender exists on a spectrum, and most people are no longer pigeon-holed into being either a man or a woman based on what traits they possess and what role they fulfill in their household. Our understanding of biological sex is even more complex than it once was, so there’s not even a suitable peg of indisputable science to hang these conventions on.

So, what makes a man? The answers are beyond skill sets and social roles. The answers are more broad and subjective. The qualities of a “good man,” however, are still simple. A good man: pays his debts, keeps his promises, works toward social justice and the greater good, is an active and contributing part of his household, is respectful to others regardless of their social standing, expresses himself open and honestly while minimizing the damage his words could cause, cultivates healthy and enriching habits and hobbies, has an appreciation for both practical and aesthetic experiences, is intellectually curious, is willing to admit fault and accept accountability,  and does not hesitate to constantly re-examine his beliefs and values in light of new knowledge.

It’s almost as if that which makes a man makes a person.

Adjust your pronouns accordingly.

Coffee or Tea?

I’m a dedicated coffee drinker. I started drinking coffee as a child and haven’t looked back since. Granted, as a child, I would load my coffee up with sugar and cream (one could say I was ahead of the curve when it comes to gourmet coffee drinks) and now I prefer it black. Unfortunately, one of the health issues I’m facing right now is high blood pressure and I’ve been looking for ways on how to lower it.

After some cursory research (and, admittedly, without consulting an actual medical professional), I’ve found out that tea not only has less caffeine than coffee but can help lower your blood pressure. I made the switch, ordering some fine tea from The Tea Spot, and have been enjoying my tea thus far. I’ve loved chai tea for years, so I helped myself to a chai sampler pack–which I highly recommend. So far, I’ve sampled the Rise and Chai and the Pumpkin Spice chai. The Rise and Chai has a hint of turmeric that gives it a subtle sweetness. I love all things pumpkin spice, so of course I enjoyed that flavor (though the aroma was more pronounced).

But here’s the thing: I miss coffee. I like tea, but I love coffee. It’s my favorite non-alcoholic beverage. Now I’m no coffee purist. I have a Keurig and use it without regret. I also have a pour-over coffee pot, and on the days I have time to do so I love using it. Regardless of how it’s brewed, I just simply love a good cup of bold, flavorful coffee.

So I’m think I’m going to switch back. I’ll still drink tea so I get the health benefits of it, but my daily beverage will be coffee. I just love it too much. I can look for other ways to lower my blood pressure, many of which I’m already doing. I just–in case you haven’t gotten the gist yet–love coffee too much.

When It Hits You

I’ve been struggling to write lately, chiefly because I’m in the middle of several projects and don’t know where to take any of them. Or at least, I didn’t know, but now I do. I can rework one novel I was writing into a slightly different monster–more dark fantasy and horror, less historical–and all of a sudden it feels like I have a new project with limitless possibilities.

That’s a great feeling, isn’t it? When that inspiration hits you and all of a sudden everything makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t make sense, but at least it feels right. It feels like you’ve been trying to put a square peg in a round hole, and all of a sudden that peg changed shape and now it fits just right.

I hope to have more of those moments.

My wife, who is my go-to editor (she has edited professionally), just finished the novel I’m going to try and find a home for. Here’s hoping within a year I’ve got a publishing deal worked up. And look, an email alert telling me she’s made edits to a short story. Back to work, I suppose.

Been Feeling Less Than Better

I haven’t posted in a very long time. I’ve had some health issues and have had difficulty gathering the energy to write, for this blog or otherwise. Making it through my day job is taxing enough, considering I’m fighting fatigue all day. I’m taking medication to help, but I’m still on the road to recovery as opposed to having arrived there.

For those of you that read (or started reading) this blog, don’t worry; I haven’t forgotten it. Just been feeling, as the title of this post says, less than better.

The Joy of Horror

I definitely consider myself a genre writer. I’m not too keen on literary fiction; it most certainly has its place, and there is some fantastic literary fiction out there that well-deserves its accolades. But as both a reader and a writer, I would much rather be taken out of a realistic setting and put into something fantastical and truly imaginary.

So, I write and read genre fiction. My favorite genre is probably horror, both as a creator and a consumer. I enjoy the visceral thrills of horror, to be sure: the external conflict against an unrelenting force bent on destruction and the desperate need for survival can make, in able hands, for compelling reading (and watching; I love horror films just as much as I love horror fiction). I enjoy even more, however, the character development and introspection that’s inherent, and maybe even unique to, the horror genre.

Horror, as a genre label, has numerous definitions. Some akin horror to pornography, in that it offers a sensual and emotional experience that is superficial and fleeting, and serves little intrinsic purpose with little value. It is this definition of horror that has, before the current horror film renaissance we’ve slowly been experiencing ever since the release of 28 Weeks Later…, so often commanded discussion of the genre. Horror movies were excuses to watch attractive yet obnoxious people have sex and then die, and horror fiction was trash consumed by goth kids all in a race to be edgier than their fellow nihilists. Lately the way we talk about horror has grown more nuanced. It’s now accepted that the horror genre uses the base human emotion of fear to explore classical human experiences and literary themes, most often dealing with trauma.

What I admire the most about the horror genre is that it forces the reader or viewer into a state of discomfort before engaging them with subtext. Why is this discomfort necessary? To build empathy with the characters, for one. It’s hard to not think about existential dread and the fragility of life when such ideals are being played out right in front of you. Another reason why this discomfort is necessary is that squeezes the audience out of their comfort zone, which makes them more willing to engage with weighty topics and ideas.

I love many other genres, and will be talking about all of them. But it’s horror that I find the most engaging, exciting, and ultimately meaningful. It’s no exaggeration that after finishing The Shining I felt more alive than I ever had up until that moment.

ACCEPTED: 12-Point Buck

I had another flash fiction story accepted to Trembling With Fear. It’s called “12-Point Buck,” and it’s about a hunter who is expecting to take a home a prize buck to be rewarded, but then something happens that changes his hunt into something more personal.

I’ll post a link  in my published works once it goes live. I’m happy to report this success after a string of rejections, and as usual I hope to ride this wave to even more good news. I’m working on a submission for Welcome to the Splatter Club. This one explores a theme I find uniquely fascinating: how far will a creative professional go to realize their art? I also have my eyes on an epic fantasy and/or a detective anthology from the same publisher.

Good luck to all of my fellow writers trying to make it in this cutthroat world. Well, not really cutthroat, but most certainly breakneck.