I might be a bit scarce online for a few days. We had until August 15–i.e. tomorrow–to get out of our current apartment, which means that things are now completely hectic, and a lot of things are getting lost.
I really don’t like moving, but I think we’re going to be in a quieter, happier place once things are settled. It’s just the getting settled bit that takes time and energy. And packing. And unpacking. And lots and lots of boxes.
So once things are a bit more organized, and we have internet and electricity and all that important stuff, I’ll be online more. Meanwhile, please feel free to leave me a comment, or message me through my Facebook page (link in the sidebar). And please check out Dolphins in the Mud!
Release Week Teaser- Dolphins in the Mud
Cece sat down on the floor, hugged her dolphin, and started rocking. I hadn’t even been sure how much she’d noticed about what was going on. Obviously she had realized Mom wasn’t there, and it bothered her. She just didn’t know how to say how she felt.
“Chris, is your dad around?” Kadie asked softly.
“He’s at work,” I replied. “You can try calling him, but he doesn’t usually have much time to talk.”
“Okay, then can you tell us a little about what’s going on with your mother?” Nina asked. “We shouldn’t even be here without one of your parents.”
“Didn’t Dad call you?” I went over to them so we wouldn’t bother Cece with the conversation. “He said he would call you and tell you what was going on.”
“I didn’t get a call from him.” Kadie looked at Nina, who shook her head. “When did he say he was going to call?”
“Last night,” I replied. “I gave him the cell numbers Mom wrote down, and he said he’d take care of it.” I should have figured he wouldn’t. He’d had too many things going on at once. He probably hadn’t even remembered I’d mentioned the therapists.
That wasn’t an excuse, though. Once again, I had to be responsible for something my parents should have done.
I glared at Cece, who of course didn’t notice since she was still rocking and staring out—or at—the window. None of this was her fault, anyway. She couldn’t help the way she was, and she definitely couldn’t help how our parents were. Maybe if Cece hadn’t had autism Mom would have stuck around, but Cece couldn’t do anything about that. Mom didn’t know how to handle a kid who needed as much as Cece did. Cece couldn’t help needing so much, though. And Mom had had alternatives.
I sighed. “Dad needs to step it up.”
“Your father’s doing his best,” Jillian said. “This isn’t easy for him.”
“It isn’t easy for me either!” I shouted.
The women jumped. Cece didn’t even move.
Words started pouring out of me, and I didn’t bother trying to stop them. “Listen. You don’t know how much I’ve been doing around here. Every day, Mom would take off for a few hours. I don’t know where she went. She said she was running errands. She told me not to tell Dad, because she didn’t want him to get mad at her for leaving me alone with Cece. So I was already doing that. Then I come home Monday and find Cece still sitting in her school van, waiting for someone to come for her, and the driver almost didn’t even let me have her. Then I had to—”
I stopped. All of them were staring at me like I’d gone nuts or something. Maybe I had. After everything that had happened the past few days, maybe going nuts was the sanest way to deal.
“I’ve been doing a lot for a long time,” I said, trying to keep my voice down.
“Your father didn’t know your mother was leaving you alone with Cecelia?” Kadie asked.
I shook my head. “I shouldn’t have said anything. It doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t think Mom will be back.” I glanced over at Cece. She was still staring out the window, so I hoped she hadn’t heard me.
“It does matter,” Nina said. “You shouldn’t have been put in that position.”
“Watching Cece isn’t a big deal.” I was starting to feel really uncomfortable now, like I’d done something wrong by tattling on Mom and by doing what she’d told me to do. Plus Kadie and Nina made it sound like I wasn’t capable of taking care of my sister. Obviously I was, since I’d done okay so far.
“That isn’t the point,” Kadie said. “We’ll talk to your father about it later. Do you think he’ll be home soon?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I just know I’m tired of having to do everything, so I hope he is.” I looked at Jillian. “No offense. You’re helping a lot right now, but you weren’t around before.”
“I would have been if I’d known,” she said quietly.
“Yeah. Thanks.” Mom wouldn’t have let Jillian help. She hated letting anyone other than me know she couldn’t handle Cece. The only reason she said anything to me was because she figured I wouldn’t tell anyone else.
Or maybe because she didn’t have anyone else to talk to. She could have made friends with Jillian and some of the other women in the neighborhood if she’d wanted to, but she hadn’t bothered trying. She shouldn’t have been leaning on me, but maybe she hadn’t known what else to do.
Welcome to release week for Dolphins in the Mud!
Needing help can be difficult to accept, especially when it’s something that people assume everyone can do, or that someone should be able to handle. Often that leads to someone being unwilling to ask, and trying to do more than they’re able. Sometimes that can have devastating results.
We live in a world where to some extent community is valued, and we’re told we can rely on our friends and family. At the same time, some things are simply not talked about. If you need help moving to a new home, you probably won’t have too much difficulty finding people. But if you need help dealing with a mental illness, or with a child’s needs, you won’t necessarily get the results you hope for.
In Dolphins in the Mud, both the main character’s mother and his new friend Noah Silver need help, and neither is able to ask for it. Chris’s mother is overwhelmed by taking care of her nine-year-old autistic daughter Cece. In the town where they previously lived, she had a support system that gave her some respite, but since they moved, she has isolated herself from neighbors and refuses to admit to anyone that she can’t quite handle Cece alone. Even her husband is unaware of how badly she needs help, and since he has a four-hour round-trip commute to his full-time job, he isn’t around to give her any assistance.
Meanwhile, Noah is coping with untreated bipolar disorder. Although he has been diagnosed, his parents won’t allow him to be put on medication. They try to keep everyone from finding out that their son has a mental illness. He does have a therapist, but the therapist only sees Noah occasionally, and Noah generally refuses to speak to him. Noah won’t admit, and sometimes doesn’t recognize, that he needs more help than his parents are giving him.
In Chris’s mother’s case, her refusal to ask for help is equal parts pride and shame. She is too proud to let on that she can’t be the perfect mother, and she’s ashamed of how ineffective she feels in dealing with Cece. After all, aren’t mothers supposed to be able to take care of their children no matter what? This refusal, though, leads to her making choices that disrupt the entire family, and ultimately abandoning her husband and children altogether.
With Noah, his inability to get the help he needs for his mental illness nearly results in tragedy. As he becomes more deeply and unhealthily entwined with Chris, his need to hold onto the one person he trusts results in his taking drastic action when his father threatens to stop letting Chris and Noah see each other.
Through all of this, Chris, too, isn’t asking for the help he needs. He doesn’t feel equipped to take care of Cece as much as his mother demands, but he won’t talk to his father or any of the neighbors about it. He knows he definitely can’t handle Noah’s clinginess or needs, but doesn’t know who to talk to about it, other than Noah’s father. And Mr. Silver has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t want to hear about Noah’s struggles.
Ultimately, Chris is the only one who does ask for help. He speaks up for himself and Cece when their mother abandons them. Although he lashes out in anger, he does make it clear to his father and some of their neighbors that he and Cece both need more help than anyone is giving them. And as Chris and his father become closer, his father is the one Chris turns to for help in dealing with Noah’s illness and the impact it has on their friendship.
Asking for help isn’t easy, and when you’re afraid of what other people will think, it’s even more difficult. But it is important to do.
Teaser Thursday- Blue Jeans and Sweatshirts
I definitely wasn’t up for discussing coming out anymore, so I joined Guillermo and Chastaine kneeling at the coffee table and started trying to design a card for Natalia. I wanted to do something in her favorite color, but I didn’t know what it was. I pretty much didn’t know anything about her.
I didn’t like that. If she hadn’t told me about what happened to her, I probably wouldn’t have talked to her at all. I was trying to be her friend, but it was mostly because of what she’d told me. That kind of sucked. She was a nice person, and I wished I’d talked to her more in the past. But the kids in Mr. Houseman’s class had mostly been in a separate classroom since elementary school and only joined the rest of us for things like art, gym, and lunch, and I didn’t really know any of them.
I wished I could do something about that, but right then, I had way too many other things on my mind. I knew Mr. Houseman chose a few seniors every year to mentor his students, so maybe I would talk to him about doing that next year. By then, the rest of the crap in my life might have let up a little.
When Aunt Imogen got home, Chastaine and Guillermo left. I wanted to leave too. Aunt Imogen wasn’t a big fan of company after work, especially if she’d had a stressful day. But I didn’t want to wait too long to talk to her about Chastaine and me. That would have only given me more time to get anxious about it.
She kicked off her boots at the door and sat on the armchair beside the couch. “Are you staying for supper, Holly?”
“It’s up to you.” I hesitated. Now that she was there, I had no clue how to bring up what I needed to talk about.
Evan took over, because he was Evan and that was how he did things. “I told you Holly wants to talk to you about something.”
“Yes, and that’s why I asked about supper. If you two are hungry, we can eat while we talk.”
“I’m not hungry,” I said. I kind of was. My headache was worse, I was dizzy, and my stomach kept growling. But I wasn’t sure I’d be able to eat even if I wanted to. And I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to.
“Okay, well, I am.” She leaned back. “I’m happy to help with whatever’s going on, Holly, but I’m tired and hungry, and that’s going to make me a little cranky.”
“So let’s make this fast,” Evan said. “Mom, Holly needs help figuring out how to talk to her parents about something.”
“Okay.” Aunt Imogen looked at me. “What’s going on?”
“I have a girlfriend.” There wasn’t any way to ease into that information, so blurting it out seemed like the best way to start. Even though as soon as I said it, I wished I could take it back.
Aunt Imogen’s expression didn’t change a bit. “As in you’re dating a girl?”
“Yeah.” I stared at her. Even though she accepted Evan, I’d expected her to kind of flip out on me. Or at least react somehow.
“I thought you had a boyfriend,” she said.
“They were faking it.” Evan touched a finger to his lips. “Sorry. Not my story to tell.”
I was kind of relieved he’d interrupted. “What he said. Nathan and I weren’t really going out. It was a cover.” I decided not to tell her Nathan was gay. Even though I was pissed at him for throwing me under the bus, that didn’t give me the right to out him.
“I see.” Aunt Imogen held up her hand, exactly the way Mom did when she wanted me to be quiet while she processed something. The same way I did, for that matter. “Okay. You’re dating a girl, but everyone believes you’re dating a boy.”
“Not anymore,” I said. “He got mad because people were saying I was cheating on him with my girlfriend. They didn’t know the truth, but they assumed. He kept going off about how people would think he was gay if they knew I was, so I told him to tell everyone he broke up with me. Except I guess he said I was the one who broke up with him, which is just giving everyone more reason to think my girlfriend and I are a couple. I mean, we are, but it isn’t like we wanted everyone to know.”
“Some people can’t handle their own lives,” Evan muttered.
“Do you want to tell your parents because you’re ready to, or because you’re afraid they’re going to find out from someone else?” Aunt Imogen asked.
“The second one.” I sighed. “Everyone talks to everyone in this town. You know that. Someone’s going to say something in front of their parents, and their parents will know mine, or it’ll go through a few other people first. But they’ll hear about it one way or another.”
“Parents are usually a few steps behind the grapevine, but most things get out eventually,” Evan said. “I agree with Holly. They’re going to hear about it sooner or later, so it’s probably best if they hear it from her first.”
“I agree too,” Aunt Imogen said. “Holly, first things first. I want to make sure you understand this isn’t a bad thing. No matter what anyone says. You’re who you are, and if you’re brave enough to be that person, that’s good.”
“Thanks.” I wasn’t sure I completely believed her, but it was nice to hear anyway.
Teaser Thursday- High Heels and Lipstick
“The attorney called,” Dad said.
Mom shot him a death glare. Obviously she’d been trying to ease into that little piece of news.
My heart stopped, and oxygen didn’t seem to exist. For a few seconds, I was afraid I would vomit all over the linguine. I hadn’t even wanted to press charges against Jim. It was my word against his, and I’d had sex with him enough times that no one would believe I hadn’t wanted it. Or they wouldn’t care. Some people believed if a girl said yes once, it was a permanent yes. Girls didn’t have the right to change their minds.
I’d gone through with reporting him partly because of Maryellen. If Jim had only done it to me, I probably would have let it go. But if he’d done it to Maryellen too, he might not stop there. That possibility was what had finally pushed me into going to the police.
The way Dad was looking at me, I couldn’t guess whether the news was good or bad. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
“Go ahead.” I took a deep breath.
“I wanted you to eat before we talked about this.” Mom glared at Dad again, then tried to smile at me. She totally failed. “There won’t be a trial. You won’t have to sit in court and talk about yourself or anything you’ve done.”
“I shouldn’t have had to anyway. I’m not the one who did anything wrong.” I stared at the food in front of me. My stupid stomach rolled too badly for me to even think about eating. I needed more information. Not having a trial might mean they’d decided he was innocent. Or they were dropping the charges. I couldn’t get the words together to ask.
“You know how those trials go,” Mom said. “They always ask what the girl was wearing or how many people she’s slept with. They try to make it the girl’s fault. You might have had to tell everyone….”
She trailed off and clasped her hands together. Her face was red. She couldn’t say I might have had to tell people I’d had sex with Jim and other guys before. Or that the day he did it, I’d been wearing a tiny little bikini. My parents hadn’t found out about my sex life until I reported Jim. Now they tried to pretend I was still a virgin.
I didn’t want to deal with the judgment and bullshit. At least anger cleared my brain enough for me to ask the question I needed to ask. “What did they say?” I demanded. “I won’t have to testify. Why?”
“He admitted what he did,” Dad said. “Pled guilty. He hasn’t been sentenced yet, but the fact that he already has a record doesn’t look good for him, from what I was told.”
“He didn’t have a record when he did it.” I couldn’t process what Dad had said. Jim had pled guilty. Why? After all the things he’d done, he’d decided to admit to the worst thing possible. It made no sense.
Besides, one of the lawyers we’d talked to had told me the fact that Jim had been sentenced for beating up Evan Granger wouldn’t count against him when it came to what he’d done to Maryellen and me. Dad must have been wrong.
“He was on probation when you reported it,” Dad said. “I don’t have all the information, Chastaine. It was a short phone call to let us know you won’t have to go to court. They’ll call us after the judge signs off on his sentence. He’s not in jail or anything right now. They released him to his father. But he can’t come anywhere near you. The judge ordered him to stay away.”
It took a minute to sink in. I wouldn’t have to sit in court and tell people what Jim had done to me. I’d already told way too many people, so not having to go through it again wasn’t a bad thing. And Maryellen had barely been able to get a single sentence out about what he’d done to her before she completely broke down. I’d had to take her to the nurse because she started crying so hard she couldn’t breathe.
That was all I wanted to focus on. We wouldn’t have to talk about it again, at least not to strangers.
Some Thoughts About Dreams
In this world, there are those who create, inspire, and live their dreams unafraid. We all need to be unafraid to live our dreams. All of us can at least try. You might not reach your goal, but if you never even try, you’ll never have the chance. Let go of the “can’t” and “shouldn’t” and fear. Start now. Dare to shake the world.
Sometimes we might feel like we’re nothing special. We haven’t done anything noteworthy, nothing that hundreds or millions of other people haven’t also done. We feel like we’re just one of a number, nobody that others would notice in a crowd or miss when we’re gone. But here’s the thing. Everything you’ve done is unique, because *you* are unique. Even if billions of others do it, no one does anything exactly the way anyone else does it, because no one is anyone else. Just as an example, no one phrases things confusingly in the same way I do.
Almost everyone has dreams and hopes for their life. When was the last time you made a list of your dreams? Have you done so recently, or did you decide the time has passed to accomplish them? For many things, there’s no such thing as “too late.” You might have to adjust your hopes and expectations, but you don’t have to give it up completely.
When we’re kids, we have dreams. We know what we want to be when we grow up, and that’s really cool. But sometimes those dreams are talked out of us. Our parents tell us we’re being unrealistic, or other kids make fun of us. It’s important to let kids hold onto their dreams. Even if it doesn’t seem probable, that doesn’t make it impossible.
Believe you know the things you know. Personally, I sometimes hold back from writing something because even though I know plenty about it, I’m afraid I’ll be wrong. Or that others won’t believe I know what I’m talking about. That makes it awfully hard to get things done. It doesn’t matter if they believe in me. It matters if *I* do.
Too many times, I’ve talked myself out of doing things I wanted because other people have told me I can’t. I’ve changed that in the past few years. There’s still a way to go, but I’m not holding back anymore.
Teaser Thursday- Shoulder Pads and Flannel
“Your mother’s brother Tomas,” he said, then stopped.
Even on edge about what Papi might say, I couldn’t help smiling a little. I loved Uncle Tomas. He was a lot younger than my mother. He’d only been about ten when I was born. When Mami had brought me to visit her parents, Uncle Tomas had always let me play in his room, even though I usually broke things.
When I was eleven, he’d moved to Las Vegas, and I’d only seen him twice since. He didn’t come back east even for holidays, and we couldn’t afford to go see him. The day he’d moved, we’d helped him load his car. He’d handed me a shoe box and told me not to open it until I got home.
I still had the seventy-dollar set of watercolor pencils he’d put in that box. They were in the corner of my room with the sketchbooks I’d bought over the past few years.
“Tomas likes men,” Papi said. “That’s why he left. His mother didn’t mind. He was her baby, so anything he did was okay with her. His father, different story.”
I nodded, staying quiet because I had no idea what to say. I’d sort of recognized Tomas was different from the rest of the men in my parents’ families, but I hadn’t caught on that he was gay. By the time he’d left, I had realized I liked boys, and now I wished I’d kept in touch with Tomas. Having someone who understood would have been awesome.
“Your grandpa didn’t want a gay son,” Papi said.
“So he made Tomas leave?” I clenched the fist Papi couldn’t see because it was under my leg. Grandpa—my mother’s parents insisted their children and grandchildren use only English around them—didn’t take much crap, but he loved his family. I couldn’t imagine him throwing someone away.
Now I had more reason than ever to make sure no one found out I was gay. Even if by some miracle Papi accepted it, Grandpa wouldn’t. And I had no idea about the rest of my family.
“He didn’t make Tomas leave exactly.” Papi sighed. He looked tired. “He made it impossible for Tomas to stay. Called him horrible names. Tomas waited until he was an adult to tell the truth because he knew how his father would react. He had work ready for him in Las Vegas, and when his father did exactly what Tomas had expected, Tomas left.”
“That sucks.” I glanced at him. He was studying the art supplies on my bookcase.
I held my breath. Liking to draw didn’t mean someone was gay. Being friends with a guy who dressed like a girl sometimes didn’t make someone gay either. But the way the conversation was going, I was afraid Papi would put pieces together and come to the right conclusion.
“Family is family, always.” It was one of Papi’s favorite sayings. “Your uncle doesn’t see his father at all. He hardly sees his mother and the rest of the family. It isn’t right. He should want his family, and they should welcome him with open arms.”
“It was partly their choice,” I said. “Grandma could have defended Tomas.”
“She did. He was her baby.”
She hadn’t done a very good job of defending him, or he wouldn’t have moved across the country. I kept that to myself. We didn’t say anything against our family, not ever. Especially not our grandparents.
“Your friend Evan’s parents don’t mind him?” Now he looked at me with a pleading expression.
Begging me not to say I wasn’t like Tomas and Evan. At least that was how I took it.
Preparing for a Move
I’m going to be moving to a new apartment in the very near future. I’m not sure at this point where. We found out at the beginning of June that our rent would increase, so decided to try to find another place. We hadn’t found one, but when we spoke to our landlord about staying here, they told us they’d already found another tenant. So we have no choice but to leave here… and no decision yet on a place to move into.
But I’m trusting that will work out for the best. Meanwhile, I’m getting ready for the move. We had been accumulating boxes, which I’m now filling with books, papers, knickknacks, and so on. I’ve cleaned out my closet and bureau, donated a LOT of clothes I wasn’t wearing or wore only rarely, and sold some clothes as well. I’ve been cleaning out other closets and cupboards, too, and finding things I forgot existed. Which means we probably don’t need them.
When I was married to my kids’ dad, we moved a lot. Seventeen times in fourteen years. My current husband and I have been in our current place for five and a half years. That’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere as an adult. I’m kind of sad about having to leave, because even though I like variety and change, having a steady home would have been nice. But maybe the next one will last longer. Meanwhile, I’m looking at this as an adventure.
When the actual move happens, I probably won’t be online as much for a few days, but I’ll be checking in. As long as the move doesn’t coincide with the release of Dolphins in the Mud on August 8, it’s all good.
Teaser Thursday- Nail Polish and Feathers
Holly gathered her stuff together and left without spilling any more info to Mom. I walked her outside. As soon as we were out of Mom’s sight, Holly whirled around and snapped, “Why didn’t you tell her?”
“Tell her what?” I backed up a step. “Seriously, what’s your issue?”
“You didn’t tell her anything!” She put her hands on her hips and glared up at me. I was almost a foot taller than she was, even if I was shorter than a lot of the guys at school. “You didn’t tell her about Moe.” She ticked that off on one finger. “You didn’t tell her about them chasing you before lunch. You didn’t even tell them about the fight with Ray; I told her that.”
“She’s my mother,” I said with exaggerated patience. “I don’t have to tell her everything. And in case you don’t get it, you don’t have to tell your parents everything about me, either.” Holly got along great with her parents, especially her mother, and she really did tell them everything. She couldn’t—or refused to—understand why I didn’t blurt out everything in my life to my mother.
It was really pretty simple. Mom didn’t need to hear it all. She had her own crap to deal with, including my father when he started trouble because of me. I could have added to the stress by telling her how bad the bullying really was and that I might have a boyfriend. I could even have told her about the makeup and how I wanted to be a drag queen. But doing that would just make things harder for her. She tried to hide it from me, but I knew things were already hard enough.
“I’m not going to tell them about Moe or the makeup,” Holly said. “Someone has to do something about Frankel and those guys. They’re getting worse, Evan. They don’t usually attack you in the hall. They say shit, but they’re usually too worried about getting kicked off the team to actually do anything. Doesn’t it worry you that they did something this time?”
“It worries me more that you don’t understand that I can’t just tattle on them every time they do something.” I kicked a piece of loose concrete at the edge of the walkway. “What do you think will happen if I tell on them, Holly? You think the school’s going to say, ‘Oh, poor Evan shouldn’t have to deal with that, so leave our school, you big bad bullies’?”
My voice grew louder, but I didn’t care. Holly drove me nuts when she refused to understand why I had to keep my mouth shut. “I’ll tell you what they’re going to say. It’ll be, ‘Evan, we’re sorry you can’t get along with your classmates. We’ve spoken to Mr. Frankel and Mr. Ferreira, and they said you must have heard them wrong. It’s your word against theirs, and since they’re the star athletes and you’re just the weird gay kid who likes to wear flamboyant clothes, and they outnumber you, we believe them.’”
By now I was shouting, and Holly just stood there staring at me. So did Mrs. Hamel from her second-floor porch across the street. Probably my mother was at our window staring at me too; I didn’t bother checking.
“I’m sorry, Evan,” Holly said in a quiet little voice. “Calm down, okay? You’re right, and that’s what really sucks. School’s supposed to be safe, and for you it isn’t. And it shouldn’t matter if you wear guys’ clothes or women’s or some of each. You’re supposed to be safe.”
“Yeah, well, how’s that fantasyland working for you?” I turned away, because now that I’d let all that out, my eyes were getting wet. Holly wouldn’t think any less of me if I cried, but I would.
Recently, I got a rejection on another novel. This would have been the re-release of one of my past novels, one that I rather like and would love to see get a new life with a different publisher.
Rejection happens when you’re an author. It’s a normal thing. When I first started writing, I got a bit spoiled because I pretty much never received a rejection on anything. That wasn’t so much because I was an amazing writer whose stuff blew people out of the water, though I suppose that might have been the case with some things. Mostly, however, my stuff didn’t get rejected because some of the publishers I worked with didn’t always expect great quality. If the idea was good, they accepted it.
That isn’t anything against those publishers. If it weren’t for them, I might not have started getting published in YA at all. But it is a facet of working with small, digital-first presses.
This novel was my second to be rejected by the same publisher this year. When the first one was rejected, after I’d taken time to revise it according to feedback they’d given me the first time I submitted it, it hit hard. I thought I’d done a good job, but they pinpointed some of the same problems as the first time. I almost didn’t send them anything else.
But this time, the rejection didn’t matter so much. It was partly about the story, though one of the biggest things they didn’t like was something the original publisher and some reviewers praised me for when it was published several years ago. Mostly, though, it was about the genre. This one, like the one that was rejected earlier this year, is paranormal, and the publisher wants more contemporary fiction at this point.
It’s hard to take that personally. It just means I need to work on something different for a while, and that isn’t a bad thing. I enjoy writing paranormal and urban fantasy, but I can deal with writing contemporary. Meanwhile, now I have one book I might self-publish, and another I can submit elsewhere or to an agent, once I polish it a bit more.