Mardi Gras Madness Begins

In my hometown of St. Louis, we have the second largest Mardi Gras celebration in the US. Right now, the costume shop that is my “day” job, is hopping with customers ploughing through beads, masks, and decor.

I’ll be attending at least one parade, the Beggin’ Strips Pet Parade this Sunday, as long as the weather holds out. There’s also a Weiner Dog Derby race and band/party afterwards.

And I’ve added some great pieces (including the mask below) and a SALE in the Etsy store to perhaps help you celebrate. Use code LUVMASKS25 to get 25% off through 2/13 to celebrate both Valentine’s and Mardi Gras. The store link is here:

Haute Hen

So I created a new mask with some steampunk syle:

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I started with a basic plastic form (to keep the mask light weight) and painted it with copper and gold paint to give it a metallic feel.

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I added lace and my own scroll design which was hand cut before adding to the ears. I then added hand painted roses, embroidery, ribbon and gears for additional steam style.

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I was really pleased with the results and shot the pics for the store yesterday. Lipstick via Clinique, Shadows via Avon, Ben Nye.

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More goodies coming to the store soon. Thank you as always for reading!
Victoria

______________

-A new photo/comic book/essay “The Heroine” is coming soon to Amazon/Kindle.

-THE LADY HAS ARRIVED AT HER DESTINATION-“Strax and the Widow” is an ebook on Amazon/Kindle. Please take a peek, enjoy and review on amazon and goodreads! The sequel, “Revenge and Machinery” is coming soon!

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-Like on Facebook-The Countess, Official Fanpage of Victoria L. Szulc

-Follow on Twitter-@TheCountessSP

-On Pinterest-Victoria Szulc (nee Schultz)

-Etsy-TheHauteHen

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-Fine Art America-store coming soon

UPDATED 75% OFF-So Out with the Old, in with the New

SPECIAL UPDATE-I wanted to update this blog with a quick thank you to the HUNDREDS that downloaded my free books AND to announce that through 12/30/14 ALL items in my Etsy store are 75% OFF with code NEWYEARS75. Please feel free to share it. I have everything from steampunk fashion, art and antiques that MUST go in order to make room for new items I have ready to add, including photo prints, more steamy and fun hats, and of course more dog items.

Thank you as always for reading and your patronage!

Victoria

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I hope that you are having a most lovely holiday season! If you aren’t, I hope things get better soon.

And maybe some FREE downloads will help? OR 50% OFF in my Etsy store? Read on!

Today, 12/26 only, the whole Vampire’s Little Black Book Series is FREE for the last time, for volumes 1-10. The covers are redone and I am working on a compilation to be released next year. I hope you will share this with friends and feel free to comment/critique on amazon and goodreads. My link to my author page (and all my titles) is here:

http://www.amazon.com/Victoria-L.-Szulc/e/B00CDFDIBI/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1419620251&sr=1-2-ent

10 The Vamp Hit List

Not a big reader? Like to shop, like dogs, unique fashion and jewelry? Use code XMAS50 for 50% in my Etsy store. Offer good for a limited time, so please check out the store, link below:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/TheHauteHen

K7

As always, thank you for reading!

-Victoria

________

-A new photo/comic book/essay “The Heroine” is coming soon to Amazon/Kindle.

-THE LADY HAS ARRIVED AT HER DESTINATION-“Strax and the Widow” is an ebook on Amazon/Kindle. Please take a peek, enjoy and review on amazon and goodreads! The sequel, “Revenge and Machinery” is coming soon!

Image

-Like on Facebook-The Countess, Official Fanpage of Victoria L. Szulc

-Follow on Twitter-@TheCountessSP

-On Pinterest-Victoria Szulc (nee Schultz)

-Etsy-TheHauteHen

-Instagram-Steampunkcountess

-Tumblr-thesteampunkcountess

-Fine Art America-store coming soon

 

 

Shooting Steam

Part of my steampunk project has been photographing my art, fashion and book covers. I love this outlet for my creativity. I rarely pass up the opportunity to be a chameleon or show my work.

When I first starting looking at steampunk as an art form, I had an iphone 4s. Previously I’ve had throw away cameras, a 35mm and a Kodak digital. The camera on my phone blew me away. The ability to edit on the spot, send pics instantly and a long battery life suddenly made shooting pics exhilarating.

The cover for “Strax and the Widow” is a good example of this process. I already had a good logo from a graphic designer, I just needed a decent image. I was going to “play” my main character Kate Church, but after a while I decided I needed something powerful. An pic that would demonstrate Kate’s strength and the antique setting of the Wild West. I finally settled on some objects that represented key plots in the book which were assembled on a repro Victorian chair. One of the props is an eight foot bull whip that I actually know how to use. And somehow lost in my 600 square foot apartment. Fortunately I work for a costume shop and picked up a replacement. I shot it in color and liked the composition, but it just didn’t click…

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…until I filtered it to black and white. Then, magic:

cover

Add the logo, a graphic background and voila, cover done:

Strax Book Cover

Another benefit to all this self portraiture has been a tremendous morale booster. I’ve never been the thinnest girl in the room, but expressing myself through the characters in my book has been liberating, to say the least. When I started “The Vampire’s Little Black Book” series, the covers had kind of cute illustrations of objects related to the book. As the series has progressed, I realized that the covers needed some sophistication. I had found a model/actor, Patrick Renfrow, to be Will, my vampire, and used him for a couple shots (one of which is Patrick’s own self portrait). Other than those two volumes that feature “Will” on the front, only one other “Svetlana Red and the Chevaliers” is not me. Yep, I’m on the remaining seven covers, or parts of me. Wigs (I’ve now added 2 new ones to my collection), make-up and some ham acting have resulted in some really nice shots.

This last couple of weeks, I had only three more covers to reshoot as I prepare to put all ten vamp stories in a compilation, “The First Ten Bites”.

First up, was “Emma” from “The Long Moonlight”. A week ago, on late Sunday eve, the lighting was perfect with dusk settling in with a mix of blue Christmas lights. Emma is a werewolf and the moon enchants her. She comes undone. I let my auburn hair fly. I really liked how this set came out, even with the light distortion. First the actual cover and cover shot, then other takes from this set:

1 The Long Moonlight

The Long Moonlight

Moonlight 1A Moonlight 2 Moonlight 4 Moonlight 5

Next up was a reshoot, just a couple days later, for “Mabel” and “Roarin’ 20’s”, two of the older stories in the series. “Mabel” became much more of a challenge than I thought. This episode of The Vampire’s Little Black Book is different from many of the others in that Mabel is not a raving beauty. She’s an older, plump woman, a shy and stubborn farmer in 1930’s. This character hits close to home for me.

Back in 2010, I hit an all time high with my weight. Despite working out and occasionally dieting, I was, quite frankly, enormous, bordering on morbidly obese. I started training harder. I did the trendy but effective Beach Body Insanity. I managed to keep most of what I lost off, but after a couple of back injuries I started to regain some of the weight. The good news is some of that weight was a non cancerous tumor/herniated umbilicle (I blogged about it here: https://www.google.com/#q=How+to+repair+a+herniated+navel+and+use+it+for+vampire+material ). After I had emergency surgery last year, not only am I lucky to be alive, but I am celebrating it by continuing to take care of myself and get more fit. I am almost 60 lbs. lighter than I was five years ago. Got a long way to go on getting super fit, but I’m on that road.

Mabel was easy to write. I’d been in her shoes. So back to the session and how to get that on film…

How do you shoot yourself, while not so pretty but still make a good cover? I thought that this would be easy. It wasn’t. I ended up taking about twenty shots until I was finally satisfied with one single piece. I didn’t save any others, here’s the winner:

Mabel

I needed to feature a locket (a key component to the story) and show the essence Mabel as a good hearted, plus sized woman. I think I succeeded, here’s the finished cover:

4 Mabel

In stark contrast, I shot “Roarin’ 20’s” cover immediately after Mabel, and it was easy to get into character. I had gathered up my props and costume. I darkened my make up and did test lighting with some LED Christmas lights:

 

20s 1 20s 2

With a new super white wig, and multitudes of pearls, I was ready to cosplay “Sadie” the poor little rich girl flapper of “Roarin’ 20’s”. Well, I thought I was. Part of the props were two real cigarettes which I’d bought from a coworker. I haven’t smoked since my teens. A bad episode of strep at sixteen pretty much cured me of smoking anything forever. So with one cancer stick placed in the cigarette holder, I started shooting. But it wouldn’t stay lit (after three relights) and I couldn’t get the smoky club feeling I wanted. Down went the holder and I lit up for real.  The noir filter worked incredibly well. I actually got a little nicotine high, and the good pics came quickly and easily. Here’s a sample:

20s 6 20s 11 20s 14 20s 17 20s 22 20s 25

And the winning shot and cover:

Roarin' 20's

2 Roarin' 20's

My cover redos for the upcoming compilation are complete. Soon I’ll have autographed prints available in the Etsy store and standard prints of the photos and covers on FineArtAmerica. Here are all ten covers of The Vampire’s Little Black Book Series:

1 The Long Moonlight2 Roarin' 20's3 Esme4 Mabel5 Creating Anna6 Thirty Three Forever7 Can You Hear My Heart Beating8 Everyone Looks Better Undead9 Svetlana Red and the Chevaliers10 The Vamp Hit List

PLEASE DON’T FORGET! You can download all titles for FREE on 12/26 from amazon/kindle. This will be the last time I’ll offer them for free. Please share and feel free to critique and comment on amazon or goodreads.

A quick update, the steam trunk has found a home, a local steampunker bought it. My Etsy store is almost at 5,000 views! Thank you so much for your patronage.

And as always, thank you for reading.

-Victoria

The Vampire’s Little Black Book series is always FREE if you have Kindle Unlimited!

-A new photo/comic book/essay “The Heroine” is coming soon to Amazon/Kindle.

-THE LADY HAS ARRIVED AT HER DESTINATION-“Strax and the Widow” is an ebook on Amazon/Kindle. Please take a peek, enjoy and review on amazon and goodreads! The sequel, “Revenge and Machinery” is coming soon!

Image

-Like on Facebook-The Countess, Official Fanpage of Victoria L. Szulc

-Follow on Twitter-@TheCountessSP

-On Pinterest-Victoria Szulc (nee Schultz)

-Etsy-TheHauteHen

-Instagram-Steampunkcountess

-Tumblr-thesteampunkcountess

-Fine Art America-store coming soon

 

 

 

Revamping the Vamp, Get to Know Will

When I was writing my first steampunk novel “Strax and the Widow”, I got distracted by whole different genre and character. I wondered what would it be like for a modern day vampire searching for “the one” in modern times. What do you do with eternity on your hands? Could you really fall in love with one person? And if that person were human, could you avoid killing them? Would you tire of an endless life?

I know that this theme is not exactly unique, but I wanted to write a series from the view point of the vampire. Climb into his mind and share his story. And thus my character Will and “The Vampire’s Little Black Book” series was born.

I like the short story format for this series. Each one is written like episodic television; a new adventure or peek into Will’s past. The first in the series “The Long Moonlight” might start off a little mushy, but read it all the way through to discover what’s at the heart of Will.

I like Will. For a vampire, he’s still pretty human. He loves women, but like most men, even after being alive over 600 years, has yet to completely figure them out. He has tremendous powers and desires. He is tempted, and sometimes can’t control his undead yearnings. Will’s made some serious mistakes and like most of us, his past still haunts him. He’s sweet, dirty, passionate, smart, dangerous, sexy, and sometimes a jerk, but always complex and charming.

I’ve just released V.1o “The Vamp Hit List”. It will be available to download for FREE on Wednesday November 19th on amazon/kindle. Remember, you don’t have to have a kindle to get the ebooks. You can download the Kindle app to almost any electronic device.

The whole FIRST ebook series will be FREE FOR THE LAST TIME EVER on 11/30, 12/1, and 12/26. After that you’ll have to purchase them or the upcoming compilation of all the stories, “The First Ten Bites”. I hope to have it available in hard copies/paperbacks by late spring.

Will is going to go away for a bit for a revamp as I wrap up my second steampunk novel in “The Society Series”, “Revenge and Machinery”. Some of the titles will have new artwork and new formatting, so be sure to download on the FREE dates. More of Will’s new adventures will arrive later in 2015.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the series. Please feel free to share the free download dates and rate on amazon and goodreads. I’d love to see your comments.

As always, thank you for reading,

-Victoria

The Vampire’s Little Black Book series is always FREE if you have Kindle Unlimited!

-A new photo/comic book/essay “The Heroine” is coming soon to Amazon/Kindle.

-THE LADY HAS ARRIVED AT HER DESTINATION-“Strax and the Widow” is an ebook on Amazon/Kindle. Please take a peek, enjoy and review on amazon and goodreads! The sequel, “Revenge and Machinery” is coming soon!

Image

-Like on Facebook-The Countess, Official Fanpage of Victoria L. Szulc

-Follow on Twitter-@TheCountessSP

-On Pinterest-Victoria Szulc (nee Schultz)

-Etsy-TheHauteHen

-Instagram-Steampunkcountess

-Tumblr-thesteampunkcountess

-Fine Art America-store coming soon

 

 

 

 

 

Hats Off for Dia de los Muertos!

As Halloween approaches, I wanted to do a little more Dia de los Muertos style and autumnal hats. This blog celebrates those who have left us with some Day of the Dead creativity done in photo essay style. The hats and many other unique items are in my Etsy store, https://www.etsy.com/shop/TheHauteHen  Please enjoy!

First off, a simple sun hat for fall festivals and wineries….

Autumn Hat 6 Autumn Hat 3 Autumn Hat 1

Next up, a classic Day of the Dead Katrina Veil. I decided to go with traditional “less perfect” sugar skull makeup for this shoot and focus on the hats.

DOD Veil 1 DOD Veil 2 DOD Veil 3 DOD Veil 4 DOD Veil 5 Veil Full

Then a beautiful bride’s top hat, complete with a long veil and light up sugar skull!

IBride Etsy 1 Bride Etsy 2 Bride Etsy 3 Bride Etsy 4 Bride Etsy 5 R Bride 1 R Bride 2 R Bride 4 R Bride 7 R Bride 9

Finally, the Groom’s hat, a sweet little topper, also with a light up sugar skull on top!

Groom Etsy 1 Groom Etsy 2 Groom Etsy 3 Groom Etsy 4 Groom R 1 Groom R 2 Groom R 3 Groom R 4 Groom R 5

Thank you for this quick little visual foray into the Day of the Dead. Thank you for reading.

Victoria

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Will returns soon in v.9 of The Vampire’s Little Black Book series, “Svetlana Red” on amazon/kindle. The latest “The Vampire’s Little Black Book” series volume 8, “Everyone Looks Better Undead” by Victoria L. Szulc and volumes 1-7 are also available on amazon/kindle. They are FREE if you have Kindle Unlimited!

Product Details

-A new photo/comic book/essay “The Heroine” is coming soon to Amazon/Kindle.

-THE LADY HAS ARRIVED AT HER DESTINATION-“Strax and the Widow” is an ebook on Amazon/Kindle. Please take a peek, enjoy and review on amazon and goodreads!

Image

-Like on Facebook-The Countess, Official Fanpage of Victoria L. Szulc

-Follow on Twitter-@TheCountessSP

-On Pinterest-Victoria Szulc (nee Schultz)

-Etsy-TheHauteHen

-Instagram-Steampunkcountess

-Tumblr-thesteampunkcountess

-Fine Art America-stores coming soon

Getting Wiggy With It and Changes

I have eight wigs, none of which of are real human hair. Now that I’m working for a costume/Halloween store full time, I have access to even more strands of colorful delight.

Last month I decided I was done with the rat race, the nine to five.  I quit a new day job I’d only had for six weeks. Although the pay was good and it was in my field,  some things I was promised at the onset didn’t evolve. I had just been through seven years of that madness in my previous employment. I’d decided I wasn’t going to go through another seven years of not being happy and broken promises.  So I quit and went full time to a fun job that will also allow me to write and create more. I was ready to make a leap of faith, ready to change.

It’s put another delay in finishing “Strax and the Widow”, but I am much happier and less stressed.

I find inspiration everywhere in the shop, in all the fun costumes and accessories.  I love the endless styles of wigs.  They too help me to change. I’m happy to share a bit of the selection here. Enjoy, I’ll keep you posted on the nifty things coming soon. And note I have reduced prices for a pre-Halloween sale in my Etsy store, so please take a gander.

CCB2BMy newest and second favorite wig, in Mardi Gras colors. A little steampunked Joker cosplay.

 

GM 9GM 4My oldest wig, over 15 years old, first worn at Cardinals games. Used most recently for a mask photo shoot.

 

 

A bit pensive.Wig test and a smile.I have to say this is now my favorite wig. I love the antique blue look and the ringlets.

Steam White

 My real hair, although heavily lightened in these two pics.

Cover of Everyone Looks Better Undead.

Cover of Everyone Looks Better Undead.

 

And then some style. Day of the Dead IndeedAnd some roses.A black wig under the veil and under the hat below.

Fire Feather Hat 1

Austin and Fat (479x487)

Doing my best Foxxy Cleopatra at the premiere of Austin Powers “Goldmember” in a fine afro.

Amy

An Amy Winehouse bouffant black wig.

Viscious

The second use of the red bob wig. I jumped out of that coffin for three hours.

I hope you enjoyed this retrospective of my wigs. Thank you for reading,

Victoria

________________

The latest “The Vampire’s Little Black Book” series volume 8, “Everyone Looks Better Undead” by Victoria L. Szulc is available on amazon/kindle.

Product Details

-A new photo/comic book/essay “The Heroine” is coming soon to Amazon/Kindle.

-“Strax and the Widow” will debut this summer on Amazon/Kindle.

Image

 

-Like on Facebook-The Countess, Official Fanpage of Victoria L. Szulc

-Follow on Twitter-@TheCountessSP

-On Pinterest-Victoria Szulc (nee Schultz)

-Etsy-TheHauteHen

-Instagram-Steampunkcountess

-Tumblr-thesteampunkcountess

-Fine Art America-stores coming soon

Happy New Years 2014 and More Random Thoughts

Happy New Year 2014 and More Random Thoughts

 

I wanted to blog in December but got caught up in last minute art and writing projects. V.7 of The Vampire’s Little Black Book Series, “Can You Hear My Heart Beating?” was late, but arrived in time for the holidays. I was thrilled to see that many readers took advantage of my FREE download period. V.8 “Everyone Looks Better Undead” is coming in a few days. Please watch my links (at the bottom of the blog) for updates on my latest releases or find my author page on amazon (Victoria L. Szulc).

Cover shot for "Can You Hear My Heart Beating?"

Cover shot for “Can You Hear My Heart Beating?”

I jotted down some thoughts over the last weeks, enjoy a small trip into my mind.

Jan 1st Random thoughts on this New Years:

-I make a mean bean dip. Yummy.

-I conceived one of the hottest vampires on the planet. 2000+ copies downloaded world-wide, thank you.

-Started the year with a breakup-and survived (2013).

-Mariah Carey was rockin’ some over the elbow gloves tonight.

-They say spend your New Years with someone you’d like to keep around. This year it’s Bobablou, my rabbit.

-My Clockwork Cat is the coolest 3D piece I’ve produced so far. And it fit right into my steam theme.

-Really liked a lot of music, Daft Punk “Get Lucky” was by far my fav song.

-If you’d have told me I’d be in the hospital for the first time my life (long stay, more than a day) with a huge tumor revomal, I’d told you, hey that’s a load of crap. Oh and Frankenavel is gone. New navel is lookin’ good.

New navel.

New navel 1/2014

Navel

-Goodbye Frankenavel 7/17/13

-St. James Winery, oh Velvet Red. So then, a toast to you my friends, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

_________

Jan 3rd before the blizzard

Random thoughts for today:

-TGIF!!!!!

-Leave your pets out in the cold, they’ll be seized. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pets.

-M-I-Z (they said they couldn’t play in the SEC) Z-O-U (currently kicking butt in the Cotton Bowl!)

-I can barely comprehend that it’ll be 20-30 degrees below wind chill factor by Monday night with 6-10″ of snow. Scott Breihan let me know that Mars is 29 below right now. We’ll be as cold as Mars. Now that’s freakin’ scary.

-I have determined that I will never spill the gooey inside of a Queen Anne’s Cordial ever again. It’s like sticky herpes on the bottom of your feet. You just can’t get rid of it.

-Be safe and stay warm all, happy weekend!

Random thoughts on the snow Jan 5th:

-heck yeah I slept in

-the Arch is somewhere in the picture below

The Arch is in there somewhere.

-on my 2nd cup of yummy tea

-the waves in the 2nd pic below are snow drifts; if I can see them from the 20th floor, they have to be a foot high

The drifts are about a foot high.

The drifts are about a foot high.

-it’s a great day to draw and write about vampires.

Stay safe all!

Ok one more set of random thoughts unless anything super interesting happens:

-it’s snowing 1-2″ an hour

-I forgot how good pizza rolls are

-my rabbit Bobalou looked out the window and gave me one of those WTF? looks

-Sean White looks good with his hair cut short.

-I heard some of my neighbors laughing on their balcony, for about 30 seconds

-Everytime someone has posted how many inches they’ve got, I chuckle “that’s what she said”

-There are now snow drifts on my neighbors balconies, about a half foot.

-Hidden Valley, the local ski resort is closed.

-And the school closings for tomorrow have started.

-last cup of caffeinated tea!

-One more thought, you know it’s bad when they’re canceling church services and hockey games.

Thank you as always for reading. I have a lot of big projects in the works. “Adventures abound and romance is to be had.”  Also new items in the Etsy store!

Yep, it's for sale.

Yep, it’s for sale.

Fire Feather Hat 1

Victoria

Like on Facebook-The Countess, Official Fanpage of Victoria L. Szulc

Follow on Twitter-@TheCountessSP

Etsy-TheHauteHen

Gratitude and a Steam Trunk

Today, the day before Thanksgiving, I awoke a bit worried. Things have been a bit financially tight since my surgery last summer. I made some extra bucks at the Halloween/Party store with a ton of hours and I had my first sale on Etsy-a men’s antique peacoat. But I’ve got bills to pay and I’m working hard to get caught up.
I was tired from last night. I worked both day and part time jobs, then came home and published “Thirty-Three Forever” v.6 of The Vampire’s Little Black Book Series. It has been much delayed (sorry). But more on that in a bit.
I know that somehow I’m going to get to do what I want to do artistically. I will no longer have to hold down a day job. I keep my goals in a positive mind each day. As I headed out the door, I reminded myself to be grateful for the things I have and what I accomplished this year:
-I survived the ending of a long term relationship without bitterness.
-I participated in a major dog art show in Wichita, KS. I manned my booth, drove, and did all the show work myself. And I made a little money.
-I did two other shows for local pet charities and one major sculptural project, “The Clockwork Cat” that tied into my steam theme, helped raise money for the APA and was given good response.
-I had my first major emergency surgery, recovered and I’m back to working out (see my previous blogs). I’ve continued to lose weight after a sixteen pound tumor was removed from my gut. I am grateful to be alive.
-My Steampunk Project continues to grow. I have now finished six stories of the vampire series and am working through the remainders of the Steampunk trilogy.
-I’ve made some awesome hats and won a Steampunk costume contest (hat pic below).

CH8
But my weary attitude this morning changed on my way to the elevators. Someone had left a gorgeous old steamer trunk at the trash chute. My whole day was transformed. I took it as a sign that good things are coming. I’ve enclosed a simple pic below. It will soon be on my Etsy store TheHauteHen. Feel free to take a peek; I’ll be adding some hats, art and vintage pieces during the holiday season.

Trunk
So I want to say thank you to all the fans of my Facebook page, The Countess, Official Fanpage of Victoria L. Szulc, to all those who’ve downloaded my “Vampire’s Little Black Book” series, and to everyone who has supported my art. It’s much appreciated.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving I’m offering all six of The Vampire’s Little Black Book series for FREE on Small Biz Saturday November 30th and Cyber Monday December 2nd. Please feel free to download and enjoy the books. They’re in short story form; great reads for in between shopping and crazy winter weather.
Thank you!
-Victoria
Like on Facebook-The Countess, Official Fanpage of Victoria L. Schultz
Follow on Twitter-@TheCountessSP

How to Repair a Herniated Umbilical and Use It for Vampire Material

Warning: This blog post contains descriptive medical procedures, some adult/bathroom/hospital humor and one somewhat graphic photo of my stitched up navel. It’s a bit snarky from my usual bits. If you find any of this offensive, you might want to skip reading this one.

This summer started well enough. I’ve finished two major projects: my “Clockwork Cat” sculpture for the APA and the first five volumes of my short story vampire series “The Vampire’s Little Black Book” (on Amazon/Kindle). My first Steampunk novel, “Strax and the Widow” is almost ready for publishing. But on Father’s Day, I was sick, again. Plugged up at first, then couldn’t stop going (you know, in the bathroom sense of things).

This had first started in March. Had a little bit of a swollen tummy. Thought I’d just over ate or partook of something not so good. I took it easy a few days.

Now full disclosure: I’m not a thin woman, but I work out and eat right most of the time. I did karate for six years, I’ve taught a wide variety of aerobics and yoga for fifteen years. In January of this year, I had just decided to retire from teaching. I’ve had a multitude of weird injuries and a couple car accidents. After I agitated an old broken back for the second time in six months, I decided to hang up my aerobic Nikes and just work out at home starting in June. I also have access to a rooftop pool, so some laps were definitely in my plans.

In May I had a little relapse. This time my outtie, that had long been an innie as an adult, was slowly poking out to outtie status again. It went back down after a few days.

So back to Father’s Day; I was late to Dad’s barbecue because I was stuck in the bathroom. I was bloated like a large manatee. I decided a simple cleanse was in order. For the next week I cut back on a few things, no beef, and no junk. Then the following weekend I did the clean eating; no junk food, no sweets. A couple protein shake meal replacements each day and a Dulcolax before bed. By Monday, I thought my colon was golden.

Two weeks later after the 4thof July, I was bloated and blocked up like a Soviet Union satellite country in the 1970’s. Out came the Dulcolax and suppositories. I starting stocking up on shiterature; you know, reading material in the bathroom. I made it through a couple books on my Kindle app. My new Steampunk name was going to be Lady Squattington. My navel was definitely poking and starting to turn a little red, white and blue. How patriotic, but scary. There was a hard spot around my navel alternating with what felt like a plastic bag full of guppies under my skin.

Finally, I called a trusted ex-boyfriend who’s had a herniated navel for years. His hadn’t really been painful; he ordered me to get an appointment. Yep, I was caving and headed for the doc. First thing Monday I got in the doctor’s office. Herniated umbilical (navel) was the definite diagnosis. I would need a surgery consult and more tests for certain. The CT scan might take a few days.

So down to the lab I went. They drew blood, but I didn’t feel too hot and didn’t want to go back to work. This is where the trust your gut part literally comes in. I begged politely to see if I could get the CT scan done the same day. Permission granted. I hadn’t eaten since 8am and had been in the medical building since 9am. It was almost noon when my insurance pre-cert came in. I was in the clear to start drinking the iodine for the CT contrast. It wasn’t too bad mixed in with Gatorade. 12:30pm, round two of iodine. Switched flavors of Gatorade, still not too bad but at this point I would’ve drank anything. I was dry as Death Valley. 1:30pm-time for the CT scan and an unexpected bit of, um, excitement.

I needed a complete abdominal scan, so the tech was very informative, telling me they’d do a regular scan first. Then I’d get the contrast scan which would feel kind of warm in the groin, coming up from the bottom. Did she mean the lady parts? Oh there, really??

The first scan was easy, lie still, hold your breath a couple times, two passes. OK, prepared for the warming sensation. Round two commenced and for a brief few seconds from down below, I was on the precipice of something really, really good, too good. I was trying to lie still and think of England, or baseball or something like that. Were the Cardinals playing? Oh no, it’s All-Star break. Ooooohhhh warm. Two passes under the scanner. Thank God I had a female tech, a male might have gotten hurt or liked it. And just like that it was over. I wanted to bottle up that shit and sell it. You could make me drink iodine and get under that machine every day if you could guarantee I would get happy without getting cancer. It’s nice to know my lady parts are functioning just fine, thank you.

It was 2:15. One side-effect of the iodine was loose bowels so I headed home instead of work, had a light lunch and a nap. I then went to the pharmacy for an unrelated prescription. That area of the store doesn’t have good cell reception and I missed two urgent calls. Got home, listened to the messages and promptly flipped out. I had a blockage situation that could rapidly worsen.  I was already pre-admitted to the ER. I didn’t need an ambulance, but I needed to check in within the next couple hours. And I couldn’t eat anything in case they’d do surgery asap.

Called my dad and cried. I also called the ex-boyfriend that still lives in the building to take care of my bunny. No answer, so I packed a bag, made sure everything was off, ready, etc. and left. Knocked on the ex’s door, practically threw him my extra key as I cried again like a five year old. I never knew I’d be so grateful for remaining friends with an ex.

Once in the car, driving to the hospital, a sudden calm had come over me. I was yoga breathing and listening to Josh Grobin. It was hot outside, heat index of 100. So I was rather dismayed when all the ER parking spots were full. Had to park in the neighboring building’s lot and hoof it. And my worst fears were realized as I walked in. The ER waiting room was packed.  I checked in and sat next to a guy who later told me he thought he was having a heart attack. Yet he went out to smoke for a bit.

There were so many apparent possible heart attacks that they brought out some kind of EKG test thingy. I saw one twisted broken ankle, a couple possible early labors, a few people with puke trays and some people just ticked off waiting. By the time my Dad showed up around 7pm, I was more aggravated and tired then worried. Finally I got the call for my new blood work. I practically collapsed with joy when the nurse offered an IV. “For fluids?” I chirped.

“Uh no, your CT.” She said politely as she drew more blood for comparison.

“It’s done already.” I smiled. Although my lady parts may have liked another CT, the rest of my body was ready to get going.

“Oh yeah, there it is.” She looked over the records on her computer and then I was back out to wait-for another hour.

Finally around 8pm, we were ushered back to the ER exam rooms. I could hear the lady with the broken ankle still moaning. Ouch. The male nurse was nice, cute, and young. We went over everything yet again. My vitals were awesome at this point, I think because I wanted to sleep. So Dad and I watched a bit of the Home Run Derby (yeah cable TV!) until the nurse found a lounge chair in the outer quiet hallway for my Dad. Finally the ER attending came in. And he’s hot, like Grey’s Anatomy good looking. But he’s stupid. Or at I think so, because he almost sent me home. “Well you could have a blockage. I see in the radiologist’s notes they see a possible…” blah blah BS!!! I heard my doc say there WAS a blockage.

I know a radiologist. Well not in person; he’s a Facebook friend, a Steampunker and smarter than all hell. Ivy league degrees and used to write Steampunk/medical/personal life blogs. Good stuff. I remember some of his blogs talking about diagnosis, etc. I looked Dr. ER Hottie in the eye and told him if my doctor and radiologist sent me, I was staying. He sighed sweetly, like, oh you poor lady, which got me a bit perturbed. I didn’t care how cute you are Doctor, I’m staying. “Ok, we’ll get the surgeon to take a look.” He smiled. Yes you will mother fucker, I thought as my stomach started cramping.

The male nurse came back and joked with me a bit. Dad and I consulted that he should go home, since Dr. Hottie wasn’t sure I should stay. Finally around 9pm, the trauma surgeon came in, took one long look, a few pokes and in the most pleasant East Indian accent, said, “That’s got to come out, a lot of pressure in there. Tomorrow, 9:30am. Let’s check you in.” At this point, my navel is hard as a rock.  I get the customary gown and thank God, my own room around 11pm.  I give a few quick updates to family and friends via text and Facebook then try to relax.

My stomach wants food, but no dice. I get those funny mouth swabs to moisten your mouth because I can’t drink. The nurses and techs are awesome. I’m offered pain meds, but at that point, I’m pretty good. I sleep. Around 1am, they do a quick check and I cave to meds. I feel like the victim in the first Alien movie. You know, the one where the alien baby explodes out of their stomach?

What can I have? Morphine. Really? Holy crap this is serious. I can do a 2 or 4. I go for 2. La la land until 4am for the next vital stats check. I get a 4 this time and sleep until 7am. The nurse laughs kindly that I’m the first one up. I am ready. I want whatever is in me, out of me, asap. I watch TV, swab my mouth and go to the bathroom. I catch myself in the mirror. I look pregnant. Never been pregnant, but that alien baby looks ready to come out at any moment.  Oh, and it was, ahem, that time of the month. So I had what can only be described as some medical mesh underwear and a feminine pad that felt like a mattress. Why did I bother to pack tampons? And they forgot to take a pregnancy test, so I just needed to remind the nurse after my next trip to the bathroom. Uh, no worries there….

9:30am passes. My surgery is pushed to around 11am, and then, to somewhere between 2-3pm. I sleep off and on, and watch TV. I am too doped up to read and can’t have my contact lenses in. The surgeon comes in for a quick visit and promises that the navel emancipation will be today. 2pm comes and my ex and my older brother come in. They both have herniated navels. The doc could do a three for one special. They both make me laugh and I get more morphine. I laugh some more.  I have to tinkle. The boys have to leave for a moment.

I get up and see a couple of, ahem, monthly stains on the protective bed mat. It is then that I realize I have lost the maxi pad, even with the sexy hospital mesh underwear on. The nurse and I checked everywhere to no avail. I honestly had not a clue how a feminine product the size of a small bus got lost in my hospital bed. I was so doped up I could’ve slapped it on my forehead and wouldn’t know it. For a moment I feel bad for the cleaning staff.

My brother and ex are now wondering what the hold-up is. They come back into the room and I warn them of the missing offending feminine product. We watch more TV after several jokes about mistaken toilet paper and ketchup stuck to the bottom of their shoes. At 4:30, I finally call the nurse and ask when are they coming to get me? I get an answer of precisely 5:07pm.

The transfer team is running a bit late, but by 6pm I’m in pre-op. I recognize my anesthesiologist, I’ll call Dr. A. The same guy did my tonsillectomy, uvula removal and deviated septum fix back in 2006. Nice guy. I chat merrily we go over everything with everyone; doc, nurse, and anesthesiologist. I realize I’m talking a bit too much as my sandman says, “Well since I gave you something to relax, we’ll just wait a second.”  A few moments later, I’m wheeled into the operating room where he tells me to chill and “here comes the happy juice.” Oh happy indeed.

Two hours later I awake to a cacophony of beeps, various hospital staff moving around and other people waking up. It was a cattle drive of recovery with different patients being wheeled in and out. Dr. A checks on me, I’m briefly told something the size of a golf ball was removed and my transfer team takes me upstairs. I’m completely groggy and blind. I’m very nearsighted without my glasses or contacts.

My younger brother, the former EMT, is waiting back at the room and helps me get settled in by being aggravated at the National League team blowing the All Star Game. My older brother and ex left after realizing I’d be in surgery two hours. I meet my first nurse and tech; gratefully I get to eat. I am stunned that I’m put on a regular diet, but wise and listen to the nurse to start with soft food. I drink three apple juices and eat a yogurt. I’m told the non-cancerous tumor was the size of a baseball and to be careful not to rip the sutures out. I feel like its fairy tale where whatever they pulled out of me is like Pinocchio’s nose-it keeps getting bigger.

I watch a little TV news with the younger bro before he has to leave. Suddenly I am overwhelmingly grateful that my parents were serious Catholics. Having so many kind siblings visiting gets me choked up. At 11pm I get my dose of morphine and go nighty night. At 4am they do the standard check. Other than needing a bit of help getting out of bed, I am doing all right. I go to the potty by myself like a big girl. By 7am I am hung over and hungry like back in my club going days.

I remember to start slow, but during that first recovery day, I basically eat and sleep all day off and on. I get to switch off morphine. So what can I take? Vicodin or Oxycodone. I took Oxy after my tonsils were removed and didn’t poop for three days. I opt to take Motrin. Really, you might ask?

Yep, I am an odd one with pain. I swear, you can punch me in the face, stomach, or basically anywhere, and I’d probably come back and kick your ass. I’ve driven myself home after having a root canal and later after having wisdom teeth pulled with my cheeks stuffed full of gauze like a hamster. However, I can get an eyelash or something stuck in my contact lens and I’m like Samson without the hair. That and a back pull will take me down faster than an MMA fighter.

When my surgeon comes in for a check-up later that morning, he’s impressed with my mobility and lack of pain meds. I get to go home Thursday (it’s Wednesday). He explains he had to remove dead omentum tissue that formed a tumor underneath the hernia, reconstructed my navel with some plastic mesh and reattached it to the muscles near the organ wall. I kind feel a bit odd having something artificial in me other than fillings. I can’t lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for three months. WTF? Well, the biggest risks are infection and ripping the sutures. So I will do exactly what he tells me. He removes the patch, takes a look and encourages me to take a peek. I can’t quite see it without straining something so he sees my iphone and voila, I dub thee Franken navel from my impromptu photo shoot.

A good friend and sister-in-law visit for a few hours and I give them the gory details. I get to get up and walk around later. I also get some anti-coagulant shots. DVT is a big deal now days.

I no longer need the IV for fluids and meds but then horrors; I bend the needle in my right arm by accident while sleeping and trying to answer the room phone (a wrong number). It’s leaking a bit. It has to go back in just in case of emergency. Fortunately I do pretty well with needles. The left arm was already attacked for blood work and the CT IV. So the nurse tries two spots, to no avail, on the left forearm. Of this writing, four weeks later, her last valiant try, marked by a massive bruise, has finally healed. They bring in the specialist from the ER. I am flattered as she maps out my veins like a boy scout orienteering exercise. She turns on the exam lights and raises the bed. I feel like I’m having a mini out of body experience. Within moments, I am hooked up again in case of an emergency.

I read and write on my lap top before turning in. I am working simultaneously on Volumes 6 & 7 of The Vampire’s Little Black Book series. One of them is a little thin. They’re short stories, so I aim for 25-30 pages. I know I’ll figure out something later.

The next day I get the go ahead to go home from the surgeon. Hurrah! Bye, bye hospital gown. I get to eat breakfast and lunch before the paperwork is processed and the aftercare nurse goes over some basics. I get an orthopedic band to hold me in. I get a free ride in a wheel chair and my sister in law drives me to my car. I am grateful that I can drive myself home. I recall an old conversation with a friend, long ago in my teens, about the size of our bellies and wishing the fat was just a tumor they could just cut out. Uh, no, you don’t I muse as I get home. Besides, now they have laser liposuction and I’m good on not being cut open for a while, if ever again.

I rest and try to catch up with everyone over the next few days. My morbid curiosity brings me to the scale. In five days I’ve lost sixteen pounds, whoa. Thinking it’s a fluke or water weight, I weigh myself again a few days later. It’s even more, twenty pounds. Damn, how big was that thing?

I have my follow up with the surgeon later and I’m healing blessedly fast. I have to ask, did they weigh the tumor? No, but I got dimensions. The herniated tissue was the size of a golf ball. But more impressive was the tumor underneath-softball sized. Again, whoa!

I had a few days at home to write and draw. I don’t get creative blocks too often; I try to go with what I feel like doing. Don’t want to write? I’ll draw or paint or do some costuming, that’s how I roll. I always have five or six ideas going along for my Steampunk project. And then I have my other ambitious pursuits. The creative well is never dry.

Which brings me back to Will, my vampire; I’d hit a little gap in one of the stories. Um duh, he’s in a hospital, I’ll just insert my most current experience with a parallel story that will fill it out. And presto, I have a new chapter.

My surgery isn’t word for word as above. I take some dramatic license with how Will saves this patient with a herniated navel and develop some of the secondary characters to boot. I hope you’ll enjoy “Thirty-three Forever”, volume 6 of the Vampire’s Little Black Book. It should be released before the end of August. Feel free to check my Facebook page, The Countess, Official Fanpage of Victoria L. Szulc for updates. Thank you to my readers and for the favorable reviews on Amazon. And Franken navel is below. I sincerely hope you didn’t just eat something.

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To the Tower (and the Gypsy Caravan)

There is something magical about the start of summer. I rejoice in the first extended weekend of the season with the promise of bar-b-q, various unique events and of course remembering those who served our country. This year I wanted to do a few different things over the Memorial holiday; stuff that’s been on my bucket list that I didn’t accomplish due to weather, having to work, or even sheer laziness. This time I was motivated and ready for fun. I’d like to share a couple of experiences that have ignited my Steampunk creativity and some stunning photos of why you might want to try these events if you’re ever in the St. Louis area.

With work in the rearview mirror at 4pm on the first Friday night of summer, I headed to my initial destination, The Compton Hill Water Tower.  A few quick basics: it’s located at South Grand and Russell Boulevard in St. Louis, MO. Designed by architect Harvey Ellis, it was completed in 1899 to cover an unsightly water standpipe. In 1904, it was open for the World’s Fair and had over 5,000 visitors each Sunday. It stands over 700’ above sea level, surrounded by “The Naked Truth” sculpture by Wilhelm Wandschneider, a small pond, a dog park and the water reservoir and tanks. It’s a quick 198 ornate metal spiral steps to the bell shaped top. You can view historical photos at little landings along the way should you need a break on the journey. While it’s not open all the time, it is totally worth the $5 to go up on event nights.

It was a Full Moon Opening. There were food trucks, a band and a really wonderful laid back crowd. I had arrived with perfect timing at 7:15pm, paid my fee and headed up to Victorian historical nirvana.

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The 360 degree view from the observation deck is spectacular. Looking East you can see downtown with the Arch, far into Illinois, and the Anheuser Busch and Lemp Breweries. To the North you see SLU’s campus and hospital and Grand Center. In the Northwest, the New Cathedral and the stunning Chase Park Plaza Hotel are easily seen. The view South includes the Jefferson Barracks Bridge spanning over the Mississippi, located 20 minutes away in the St. Louis suburbs.

There were more historical photos and free binoculars at the top. The windows were open all around and the most fantastic breeze blew through. Not a cloud was in the sky. The sun set and bathed the circular observation deck in a golden hue just as the full moon rose. The hour I stayed at the top was simply breathtaking. The other tourists were polite and jovial. Everyone was a pleasant shutterbug.

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I finally came down and took more photos. The Tower glowed golden yellow in the deep blue of the approaching night. I’d planned to eat something, but the food trucks were almost out of everything. That was OK though; my historical and dreaming appetite had been completely sated. Another shutterbug walked me to my car. I hesitated giving out my number though. I’m kind of enjoying a bit of vagabond independent life after the end of a four and half year relationship.

Which leads me to my next adventure of the weekend; Memorial Day trinket hunting at the Gypsy Caravan. The Gypsy Caravan is the Midwest’s largest Antique and Flea Market, held every year on Memorial Day on the UMSL campus. If you can’t find it here, you didn’t look hard enough is what the regulars say. It costs $10 at the gate to get in the day of the Caravan, presale tickets are $8.50, and early birds/extreme pickers can get in for $20 two hours before the official opening. It may sound a bit steep, but all those proceeds have gone to support the St. Louis Symphony for over forty years.

The fantastic weather held up for most of this day too. It was slightly cloudy when I arrived with a huge straw hat atop my head to protect my fresh sunburn (another Memorial weekend tradition). I gratefully scored a parking space in the garage. For those who’ve resisted going due to the 10,000+ crowd, the parking is much improved, Metrolink is a stone’s throw from the gate and some of the vendors are now in one of the garages.

I was immediately entranced by the multitude of vendors and their fabulous wares.  I instantly found a fantastic antique book “Invention and Discovery”. Price? $1!  Yippee!

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I went in search of Steampunk finds and didn’t have to go far. One vendor dealt almost exclusively in watch pieces. Antique Victorian furniture was sold by at least ten booths. I found the most precious postcard reproductions mounted onto shabby chic plaques. I bought a few and got one free.

I debated heavily over several pocket watches. I found one exquisite ladies piece, but for $300, I had to pass. Had to leave behind a stunning set of Victorian opera glasses from Monaco too; $425 was not in my budget. I also passed on a $40 cross-stitch foot stool. The dealer is local though, so that will most likely be a future adventure. However, I did find a USCE compass for $20. It was marked for WWII, but upon further research, I found it was from WWI. And the same vendor threw in a decent “copy” pocket watch for free. SCORE number three for the day. NOTE: I will be giving this pocket watch away next week from my Facebook page, The Countess, Official Fanpage of Victoria L. Szulc.

I finally surrendered to an ice cold Coke and a curb for a while. I hit the last group of vendors and really wished I was wealthy enough to buy all the junk I wanted, but sanity prevailed. I sincerely debated going back for the footstool, but an approaching severe thunderstorm guaranteed the reserve of my cash. Three plus hours was enough. I went home satisfied with my purchases. Enjoy the photos!

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Squirrel, you’re drunk, go home! Courtesy of antique-oddities.com

For more information:

-The Compton Hill Water Tower, www.watertowerfoundation.org

-The Gypsy Caravan, www.stlsymphony.org