Book Review: Odd Spirits by S.T. Gibson

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Note: I received an advance reader copy of Odd Spirits from the author in exchange for a book review. 

It takes a lot of commitment to make a marriage between a ceremonial magician and a chaos witch work, but when a malevolent entity takes up residence in Rhys and Moira’s home, their love will be pushed to the limits.

Brewing up a solution is easier said than done when your magical styles are polar opposites; throw a psychic ex and a secret society in the mix, and things are bound to get messy.

Fans of The Raven Cycle and The Haunting of Hill House will devour this paranormal romance with a diverse cast of characters!

Like so many other writers I admire, I discovered Sarah Taylor Gibson through social media. When she announced that her novella Odd Spirits would be released this month, I could hardly contain my excitement.

I was not disappointed. Odd Spirits is the literary equivalent to dark chocolate. Once I got a taste, I could not put it down. The writing style is absolutely gorgeous, and the story itself is immediately captivating. It was sweet and romantic one moment and brutally honest the next; plus, the paranormal elements made every chapter dark and mysterious in all the right ways.

The story follows Rhys and Moira, who discover that their house is being disturbed by an unpleasant spirit. Moira’s a witch who learned magic from her mother and grandmother; Rhys is self-taught. While Moira takes on clients who are interested in tarot readings and reiki, Rhys practices ceremonial magic with spells in Latin and Hebrew. It isn’t always entirely clear if their magic comes from a supernatural power (i.e, the magic in Harry Potter–you are either born a wizard or a Muggle), or if their magic is the sort of modern witchcraft that’s making a comeback. However, it is always clear that the result of their magic is usually supernatural.

For such a short amount of time, Odd Spirits manages to address all kinds of topics, and it certainly does well in terms of representation. But what I loved most about Odd Spirits was how it so beautifully addressed the challenges that creep into your marriage. Drew and I haven’t been married for long–our first anniversary is October 28–but I definitely related to their story (aside from the supernatural elements, anyway). Conflict isn’t fun, but addressing problems is necessary for relationships to thrive.

Bonus: Odd Spirits came just in time for the fall–and Halloween! If you need a cozy read, this story is perfect. Grab your pumpkin spice latte, light an autumn-scented candle, and then spend a weekend reading ghost stories. And then grab more pumpkin spice lattes. Obviously.

Overall, I gave Odd Spirits 4/5 stars. Needless to say, I’m excited to read more of S.T. Gibson’s work, and I’m planning re-read this spooky-sweet story in the fall (see above.). In the meantime, be sure to visit website for more updates. You can also purchase the e-book version of Odd Spirits on Amazon or Smashwords. According to the author, there will be a print version coming soon!

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a few announcements (and a confession)

Hello, my loves!

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Over a month, in fact. I’ve read that in order to be a successful blogger, you should post on a regular basis.

Welp. I have broken that rule many times.  But the blogging gods are obligated to forgive my absence, because I have some pretty damn good excuses.

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First, an important life update: Drew and I bought a house! We were hoping to buy a home sometime this year.We moved at the beginning of June, so the timing couldn’t be more perfect…it’s just that moving requires a lot of cleaning and packing and unpacking. It’s been an exciting–yet exhausting–few weeks; while we love our home, there are some maintenance issues that need to be fixed. Like, ASAP. And then I can finally put my design knowledge from all those episodes of Trading Spaces to good use.

Then–because when it rains, it pours–the real trouble began. About a week or two after moving, my car’s transmission died. After a few Google searches, we realized that a new transmission–and a few other related repairs–would cost more than my car was actually worth. (A 2006 Mazda 3 with a dead transmission? Not a hot spot for lots of cash money, folks.). I made plans to donate or sell it, and Drew and I came to terms with using one car between the two of us.

For a couple of weeks, carpooling worked extremely well. I pass Drew’s office on the way to work, so I’d drop Drew off in the morning and pick him up on my way home.

Then, one fateful day, when I was FIVE MINUTES AWAY FROM DREW’S OFFICE, I got into a car accident.

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Fortunately, everyone involved was safe. It just meant that Drew was stranded at work for a couple of hours, and that we were officially without a car. Currently, we’re using a rental car (yay, insurance!), but the insurance claim has finally been settled and I successfully sold my car. Our house still needs some work, but we’re in a much better place–mentally and financially– to handle it.

We also visited my family in Missouri over the Fourth of July holiday! We celebrated our family’s July birthdays, too. I did start writing this entry over the weekend…but I didn’t get very far. Basically, I was partying too hard to blog.

In other news…

I’m excited to announce that I am now a prose reader for The Cerurove! It’s a lovely literary journal that you can read online; the editors were kind enough to publish my flash fiction piece for their second issue, and so this community has a special place in my heart. We’re currently accepting submissions–we’d love to read your work!

These days, much of my writing time is dedicated to poetry. One day I read the news and did what any sensitive artist type does: I wrote about it. The result? I’m working on my first chapbook manuscript. It’s a critique and love letter to America, and it is both very difficult and very easy to write. I have no idea if or when or how it will be published–but I promise that it’s actively in progress. At the very least, I will one day share my work here.

Needless to say, blogging hasn’t been on my list of priorities.

But I also find myself frustrated with the blogging world. Everything–from the writing to the photos to social media–has to be perfect. You need to know your audience. You need to build your brand and use it to your advantage.

The problem is, I don’t know what my brand is. Am I a book blogger? An author and poet? A wannabe travel writer? A social justice advocate? An occasional theologian? In my mind, these things are intertwined; reading and travel feed my empathy, which affects my politics, which affects my faith, and on and on it goes.

This line of thinking does not fare well in hashtags or algorithms.

I don’t have the time or energy to build a better website; nor do I want my content to be perfectly curated.

I want to write.

I want to be me.

When I first started this blog, I wrote about whatever I wanted. I liked knowing that people read my posts, but at the end of the day, it was all for me. It isn’t the way to build a successful blog, but I find myself longing for this carefree freedom. Perhaps this inherent brandlessness was my brand all along.

I do have another post planned for my Read and Resist series, and I’ll definitely write about our trip to Iceland. In the meantime, I just want to discover everyday, ordinary magic. ❤

A Poem/A Prayer

Due to my overactive imagination, there are some days when I have thousands of ideas for blog entries, article pitches, and stories. In the literary world, this is a blessing–but lately, it doesn’t feel that way. Call it procrastination or laziness if you must, but it doesn’t change the fact that I often feel frustrated and overwhelmed because I have no idea where to start.

When I do write, it’s even harder to tune out my inner editor or keep myself from cringing when I read past publications. As I am sure you can imagine, this strips writing of its joy–the very thing that made me want to write in the first place.

 

This week has been rough. I originally planned to write a post regarding the shootings… but when I sat down to write, I went to poetry instead. It has been so long since I have written a poem–I almost forgot how wonderful and comforting poems can be.

I decided that this is the best home for it. Consider it a prayer for all of us.

 

 

i am

a poet,

or maybe an artist.

      (it doesn’t matter.

       call me whatever you think

       sounds more romantic.)

i am

a dreamer

a starry-eyed wordsmith.

             (i think

              ‘starry-eyed wordsmith’

               sounds more romantic

               than ‘wannabe writer.’)

on a typical day,

i agonize over everything important

and potentially pretentious,

like oxford commas

or blog aesthetics.

             (is that witty enough for twitter?)

 but one extraordinary day,

 the smell of ink will

overpower that of gunpowder.

              (and maybe stories

             will save the world.)

my god,

what an anomaly that will be.

              (no one told me

              that it takes such courage

              to write.)

 

Have a lovely weekend, my friends. ❤ May you always create whatever brings you joy.

Book Tag: Pokémon Go!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am slightly obsessed with the phenomenon that is Pokémon Go. Judging from the amount of people I see every day following Lure Modules and traveling to various gyms across town, you might also be a  Pokémon Trainer–and if that’s the case, then this is the post for you, my friend. If not…well, I’ll be listing some of my favorite books, so there’s something for you, too.

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Read at Midnight started an awesome Pokémon Go book tag, which combines–you guessed it– Pokémon and books! Each Pokémon (or Pokémon Go item) corresponds to a similar book (or books). And yes, it’s totally fun and adorable. Let the games begin!

Disclaimer: All graphics belong to Read at Midnight (permission to use them given on the blog). Pokémon belongs to Nintendo. Pokémon Go belongs to Nintendo and Niantec. 

pokemon-tag-01startersEven before I learned how to read, my library was well-stocked with bedtime stories. My parents were excellent at reading out loud, and so my love for books started early. Goodnight Moon was my all-time favorite, but I also loved Where’s Spot? (and the Biscuit stories…or anything with animals, really) and Doctor Dan the Bandage Man. I was also partial to my Sleeping Beauty picture book and its read-along tape. I may have memorized it. NBD.

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The Harry Potter series, forever and always.

The Secret Garden and Where the Red Fern Grows also top my list, because you are never too old for Magic or crying about dogs.

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Since I work in a bookstore, this answer comes from a very jaded place in my heart. I’ve totally lost interest in The Wait, which I hadn’t even heard of until it flew off the shelves. For a while, it got to the point where I didn’t have to check if we had any copies available. I just knew we were out. And I wish I got paid extra for the amount of customers who asked when we would get more.

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Where do I begin? Many of my favorite YA books could fit into the Ditto tag–but I’m going to go with Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. Teen misfits fall in love. It’s nothing new, but I adore it with my whole heart.

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It isn’t often that I am intimated by the length of a book, but after reading monsters like Atlas Shrugged and 1Q84, I’ve been more hesitant to give Les Misérables a try because it will probably take for-ev-er. I’ve also been avoiding re-reading A Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones). With my current schedule, that re-read would probably take years.

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I distinctly remember staying up into the wee hours of the morning to finish Mockingjay, the third book of the Hunger Games series. And then I bawled my eyes out.

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For my readers who have no idea what this means:

In fandoms such as Harry Potter, you ‘ship’ characters, which means you are rooting for the two to be in a relationship. Think of it as trying to set your best friend up with someone super cute, except shipping usually involves more tears and a lot of fanfiction.

So, an ‘OTP’ is your ‘one true pairing.’ It’s the ship you ship the hardest–and my bookish OTP  is Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger (from the Harry Potter series). They honestly cannot get anymore perfect (and if you tell me JK Rowling said that Harry and Hermione should be together instead, I will SCREAM.).

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There are so many to choose from! I definitely can’t go this entire post without mentioning my girl Meg Cabot, though. Remembrance, the long-awaited installment to the Mediator series, is the perfect amount of ghost-hunting and romance. It made me laugh and gave me the feels, and I was totally addicted.

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Am I too predictable if I choose the Harry Potter series again?

Well. It’s true. Harry Potter. Cursed Child, here I come.

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Most definitely The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. I still haven’t read Winter (don’t kill me–and no spoilers, please!), but after finishing Cress, I started to really appreciate the intricacies of the story. Retelling a fairy tale well is one thing, and to retell it as a sci-fi story? Brilliant.

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The Court of Thorns and Roses series has been getting a lot of attention lately, and I still can’t wait to start it. Faeries mixed with Beauty and the Beast? Uh, yes please.

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I know you shouldn’t (literally) judge a book by its cover, but let’s be real: some books are just pretty. Really, really pretty. And I want them all. For instance,  I absolutely adore this Song of Ice and Fire boxed set…but I’m waiting until all books are released until I finally buy it (oh, and I’d love to find a set that isn’t made of leather. I don’t eat cows, so I don’t like wearing or reading them, either). The struggle is real.

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For this category, I’m going with any books that my writer friends eventually publish. It doesn’t get any more exciting than that!

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Lately, I’ve been borrowing more books than buying them, but there are a few authors whose books I will always buy–especially if there is a new release. In the past, my list has included J.K Rowling, Meg Cabot, and George R.R Martin, but recently I have been keeping an eye out for Rainbow Rowell, Marissa Meyer, and Patrick Rothfuss.

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When Pokémon Go was first released, the servers were down constantly, and there were times when these technical issues caused some DEEP EMOTIONAL PAIN. Waiting for a book to be released is even more agonizing, if you can imagine such a thing. George R.R Martin is especially good at toying with my emotions. I need Winds of Winter in my life like…right now.

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A book tag isn’t complete without friends! If you find your name, use the categories above and write your own Pokémon Go/book post! Even if I don’t list your blog, consider yourself tagged. Pokémon and books should always be shared. ❤

I tag my Teacup Trail comrades, Topaz and Christina; my soul mate, Xan (I know your med school schedule is pretty demanding, but it doesn’t feel right to not tag you because I think you’d find this adorable ); and Abby (even though you’re not into Pokémon, you’re into books).

Now let’s go catch ’em all.

Are you obsessed with this game, too? What team did you join? Which Pokémon is your favorite? Which Pokémon are you still waiting to catch? Send me a Tweet or leave a comment–I want to know everything about your adventures! 

The Death of the So-Called ‘Death of Reading’

I have always dreamed of having my own library. You know what I’m talking about: stacks upon stacks of books, with ladders to reach the highest shelves and a cozy spot to curl up and get lost in other worlds.

In other words, the kind of library that the Beast gave to Belle.

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This scene makes me really emotional, okay?

And so, when e-books entered the literary world, I was determined to avoid them. After all, you can’t have a huge library with electronic books. When my parents asked if I wanted a Kindle, I felt as though I had been personally attacked. “I like holding a physical book,” I protested. I mean, really. What book lover would ever buy one of those stupid things?

Millions, actually.  Eventually, even my own pretentious attitudes toward electronic books disappeared, and I now own a Kobo–thanks to my wonderful parents, who probably always knew that I wouldn’t be able to resist the lure of downloadable books. My Kobo has not destroyed my life as a reader, nor has it destroyed my dreams of owning a huge library. I still buy books faster than I can read them. 

 Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them.”

― Neil Gaiman

Despite the amount of bookstores that are still standing, many still speculate that the e-reader signifies the end of libraries and traditional bookstores (Borders going out of business didn’t give them much hope). Others worry that we just don’t read anymore.

Millennials probably get blamed for their lack of reading skills more than any other generation, simply because we grew up with the Internet.  But like e-readers, the Internet has only supplemented our bookworm life. Goodreads, for instance, is a website dedicated to talking about books; even social media sites like Tumblr and Instagram have thriving book communities.

My experience as a bookstore employee has also convinced me that books still have a bright future. Customers ask for books by their favorite author, or for my personal recommendations. Children beg their parents to buy several books at a time. People spend hours in the store reading and deciding what to buy. Despite twenty-first century technology, the book business is alive and well.

It is also true that nowadays, we are reading other forms of the written word–e-books, yes, but also blogs, articles, literary journals, fan fiction, and other online novels. As far as I know, these aren’t considered in the studies that allegedly prove that readers are rare…which is actually quite a shame. There are plenty of writers who blog for a living, or choose to write fanfics that are well over a 50,000 word count (the standard word count for novels), and they all need the support of readers. If we are so convinced that the future is destined to be a dystopian hell without libraries or well-read people, we must also learn to embrace stories in all their wonderful forms. It’s much more productive (and less annoying) than claiming that no one reads.

I can safely say that I’ve let go of any cynicism or fear about the future of reading. We may love modern technology, but we also love books. As long as they are writers with stories to tell and the people willing to read them, books will survive.  And perhaps one day, we’ll each get a library that even Belle would envy.

 

House-Elves and Children’s Tales

If we haven’t met–or, more than likely, if this is your first time visiting–there is something you should know: I love to read. I can never quite answer the question, “What do you like to read?”, because I’ll read anything. As writers, that’s a piece of advice we constantly give one another: read everything. It’s also good advice for the insatiably curious; for many of us, it’s hard to find something that isn’t interesting. The French Revolution? Yes. Heart-wrenching love stories? Sure. Dragons? Of course. Why are you even asking that question?

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At this point, my to-read list is miles long, and it’s grown substantially since I started working in a bookstore. Despite this, I find myself wanting to re-read the books from my childhood.

I want to revisit the books that kept me company on the school bus. I want to meet my favorite characters, as if I were reading about them for the first time. I want that magic, that spark that made the world feel smaller and so much bigger at the same time.

“Old stories are like old friends, she used to say. You have to visit them from time to time.”

-George R.R Martin, A Storm of Swords

But it doesn’t stop with children’s books: I’ve also had the urge to read more young adult literature. YA has always held a big piece of my bookworm heart, and I’m quite sure that will never change.

But why am I so drawn to children’s books? Why young adult, when I am already past my teenage years?

There are countless reasons, many of which have to do with my interests as a writer or how reading fiction can make us more empathetic. I could write for hours on those reasons alone, but today I want to take a different angle and focus on adults who read–and enjoy–books for younger readers (teen fiction or otherwise).

Twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings and literally anyone who is older than the typical middle-grade to high-school age group are often looked down on for reading children’s books. The author of this article claims that adults should be embarrassed of that fact, and that we’re missing something if we disregard other forms of literature for YA.

Of course we’re missing something if we only read YA, just like we are missing something if we are only listening to one genre of music or watching one television show. If we are missing something when we read books for children, then the reverse must be true: we are missing something if we don’t.

I have read many YA novels and rolled my eyes at allegedly romantic lines or the cliche protaganist. But I’ve done the same for ‘adult literature,’ too. Bad writing is just that: bad writing, and it can exist in all genres for all age groups. Ever heard of a book called Fifty Shades of Grey?

I was eight years old when I read the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the very first time. And I’ve re-read it–and the rest of the series–about a dozen times since. The story doesn’t change. However, my perspective changes, and that makes every reading experience different. The Hogwarts I knew growing up is not the same Hogwarts I know now. I grew up. I look at my world, and Harry’s, from another lens.

The very fact that I have grown up is exactly why reading children’s books is still beneficial. I haven’t read The Chronicles of Narnia since I was in elementary school. At that age, I had no idea that Aslan was an allegory for Jesus. I just thought he was a really cool lion. With that knowledge, what could I learn from Narnia that I couldn’t before? Maybe nothing. Maybe something incredible.

The same is true for countless other novels. As an adult, teen fiction like The Princess Diaries and Eleanor and Park challenged my ideas about romance; classics like Peter Pan felt more meaningful as an adult because I understood the bittersweetness of Neverland.

There is wisdom hidden in these so-called simple tales, and to ignore them completely, or else assume that the older readers of YA are immature or unintelligent is a very narrow point of view.

“That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Like I mentioned earlier, this is just one of many arguments for children’s/YA lit. But perhaps the simplest reason–and the reason that no one should ever need to defend–is that people love these books. They may be overly satisfying stories, nostalgic indulgences that we can devour like candy, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In my opinion, all good stories should feel like eating candy. Who wants to read a book that is easy to put down?

My Nana once told me that she learns something from every book she reads. So read whatever allows you to think and grow. Read what you love. For some of us, that includes fairy tales.

 

Please Hire Me: English Major Edition

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When I was a bright-eyed senior in high school, ready to take on college and still terrified of what I would find there, I knew that I would major in English.

Well, why wouldn’t I? It had always been my best subject, not to mention the subject I loved the most. My dream was to write books for the rest of my life, so it seemed like the obvious choice.

But to everyone else….well, not so much.

Upon meeting your fellow freshman (and sometimes their parents) you will always–and I mean ALWAYS–be asked the same three questions:

  1. What’s your name?
  2. Where are you from?
  3. What are you majoring in?

“I’m Katie. I’m from Kansas City, Missouri,” I would say. “And I’m majoring in English.”

I learned very quickly that majoring in English was not exactly a ‘normal’ major. I met many other English majors, of course, but to those who chose a more–well–practical path, my choice made no sense.

So, more often than not, I was interrogated about my future. I came to dread the typical follow-up conversation, which always included one of the following questions (if not both):

  1. What do you do with an English major, anyway?
  2. Oh, so you want to teach?

 

I mean, they made an entire song about this in Avenue Q.  Literally everyone asks this.

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And yes, it is as exhausting as it sounds. If you are like me, and hate having personal conversations with strangers, you learn to provide a reasonable, well-rehearsed answer so everyone can move on with their lives and enjoy their dining hall meal in peace.

I told most people that I ‘wasn’t sure,’ but I was ‘interested in publishing and editing.’

I mean, that’s true. am interested in those things, but it’s not the only reason I became an English major. If I had been completely honest, I would have said something like, “I love reading and writing and  all I want to do is write books and learn more about literature and and OH MY GOD I love WORDS.”

But then I would have no friends, because I would have scared everyone.

It is also quite difficult to be honest about your dreams when you are constantly told that English majors are doomed to be unemployed.

But why should I care? I mean, I don’t want a normal job. I just want to write.

Here’s the thing: most writers don’t care about the amount of money they earn, but they know they need a steady job to support themselves until they can live off of their writing. Not all of us want to be teachers.

By my senior year of college, my anxiety about the future had taken its toll. My capstone class focused on job-hunting skills, and I had an internship with a literary magazine, but I still felt ill-equipped. I was scheduled to graduate a semester early, and I had nothing planned. Nothing at all. Well-meaning friends and family members asked what I wanted to do after college, and I broke down in tears.

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I cursed myself and my stupid decision to major in English. Why didn’t I choose journalism? Why didn’t I double major in communications, or media? Why was I such an idiot?  I convinced myself that I was going to be living on the streets (even though I have wonderful parents who would never let that happen).

Eventually, I decided to go on a three-month long mission trip (which is a story for another day). My fear of being eternally unemployed was put on hold…until I came back home.

The Great Job Search began.

It. Was. Awful.

I hate searching for jobs. Absolutely hate it. From cover letters to interviews, everything about applying for jobs exhausts me. Some people can handle this–for instance, my boyfriend once told me that he used to apply for ten jobs a day. TEN! I feel accomplished if I apply to four.

After weeks of searching and interviewing, something funny happened.

I was offered a job.

A job! Just for me!

The position was at a family clinic. I checked patients in and out for appointments and answered phones. It wasn’t related to what I wanted to do, but it was a job.

After a few months, this fact alone became slightly discouraging; would I always be stuck with jobs that were so far from my goals? Was it because I had decided on my college career as a 17-year-old?

My worries were founded on ideas that had been planted in my head from people who–although they meant well–had never experienced life as an English major.

I think I have learned a few things since then.

Take heart, English majors, because:

My first full-time job may not have been my dream job, but first jobs hardly ever are. I was not in a good place when I was hired (and by that I mean I was super depressed and crippled with anxiety), but as my heart healed, so did my perspective. I gained experience. I met wonderful people. I learned more about healthcare, and, as a result, have even more love and respect for any doctors and nurses out there. I desperately needed that job, and I am so thankful I was hired.

Majoring in English is not a hopeless endeavor. Do you know how many times someone has looked at my resume, scoffed, and told me that they couldn’t hire me because I studied English? Zero. That’s because English majors are actually awesome. The skills you learn as an English major are needed for every single job out there.  Excellent written and verbal communication skills? Umm, that’s kind of our jam.

You can go to any job board and search ‘writing.’ Seriously. Do it right now. The options are endless, from copy writing to editorial assistant positions. I honestly do not know how the entire ‘English majors don’t get jobs’ idea started, because you can search ‘English major’ and get very similar results. Sometimes job hunting takes some creativity–and it definitely takes a lot of hard work, but you’ll find something out there. I promise.

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To be honest, I feel a little hypocritical writing this; after all, I still have not found my dream job. I still find job hunting exhausting, and I’d love to just sit at home and get paid to watch Netflix (I mean, it’s 2016. Come on, America).

But I’m not as hopeless as I used to be. And if you are drowning adulthood anxiety, I am here to tell you that job hunting gets much easier. It’s a part of life, and it just takes practice–and maybe a lot of chocolate. Trust yourself and keep believing in happy endings. One day, you might not even need that nine-to-five. ❤

 

Further Reading/Listening: 

Jobs (& Hints) for Creative Souls

Careers After an English Major 

What Do You Do With a B.A In English/It Sucks To Be Me from Avenue Q (warning: explicit lyrics)