Teaser Thursday- Opening Up

(From a previously-published novel, now out of print.)

I stood by the gym door, leaning against the wall, while I watched the basketball game. It was halftime, if that’s what they call it in basketball, and the cheerleaders in their little skirts were doing their routine out in the middle of the floor, dancing and throwing each other up in the air. Watching them probably should have gotten me all heated up or something, but it didn’t.

Seeing the guys in their basketball uniforms, including the shirts which left their muscled arms bare, was a different story.

That was a problem for a sixteen-year-old guy. I shouldn’t have been interested in other guys, except for the part where they knocked down the other team and won the game for our school. I was supposed to follow girls around like my friend Isaac did, drooling over them and trying to score dates, or moaning and complaining about them like my nephew Jamey had done up until a couple weeks ago.

Yeah, nephew. He’s the same age as me, a couple weeks older, in fact. Part of the weirdness of our family. I kind of hoped he’d start complaining and moaning about girls again soon. He’d stopped when his ex-girlfriend committed suicide right before Thanksgiving.

Most of the guys I knew had girlfriends or at least went on dates. Some of them didn’t leave much to the imagination when they talked about what they did on the dates. I always kind of nodded and pretended I cared about the conversations. Really, I didn’t want to hear about who did who.

The cheerleaders finished their routine, and the people in the bleachers clapped and cheered. A couple of cheers weren’t exactly rated G. Those came from the other team’s players, probably trying to intimidate our team by hitting on our girls.

The teams took the court again, and my attention immediately went to the guys. I had to be really careful about watching them. If any of them figured out I wasn’t solely interested in the game, it wouldn’t be good. The last thing I needed was to be called a queer or worse every time I went into the locker room, like this one sophomore guy I knew.

I wasn’t stupid, and I wasn’t prejudiced. If guys liked other guys, no problem. It only became a problem when I started thinking I might like other guys. I should have been into sports and girls like my friends. That was what they and my parents seemed to expect. Instead, I worked stage crews for the school plays, belonged to the drama club, and tried to pretend I didn’t like watching athletes in their uniforms trotting around the field, or court, or diamond, depending on what season it was.

“Hey, V.J.” Jamey was suddenly standing beside me.

I jumped about fifty feet straight up. I hadn’t heard him walking down the corridor behind me. If he’d noticed my eyes were glued to the basketball players, he would ask a bunch of questions I really couldn’t answer. He’d already started asking me why I didn’t go on dates and had tried to fix me up with a few girls in the past couple of years.

I took a deep breath and shoved my hands in my jacket pockets. “Hey,” I said, trying to sound casual.

“How’s it going?” He nodded toward the court.

I shrugged. “They’re not so great. Isaac’s doing pretty well, though.”

“Yeah, he’s a jock.” Jamey grinned. “Why are you standing over here by yourself? Bliss, Kayla, and a couple of the other girls are in the bleachers. You could have sat with them.”

“I wasn’t really into the idea of listening to them gossip.” I didn’t think those girls liked me much, anyway. Kayla definitely didn’t. She made bitchy little comments every time she saw me, as long as she didn’t think Jamey would hear. Then again, Kayla made bitchy little comments to almost everyone.

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” He shrugged. “At least I don’t have to deal with that with Jebbi. She doesn’t talk behind people’s backs.”

“Why don’t you make it official with her? You’d both be happier.”

He shrugged. “She thinks it’s too soon after Tina.” A frown crossed his face. “So do I, to be honest. It’s only been a few weeks, and I’m still trying to make myself believe it wasn’t my fault she killed herself.”

“It wasn’t.”

“Yeah, I know.” He sounded like he wasn’t quite sure.

The Waiting Game

Another book has been submitted. And now the waiting begins again.

Waiting is a necessary part of the whole “being a writer” thing. You have to wait for the book to be finished before you can revise and edit it. Of course, in that case, you aren’t just waiting. You’re writing. At least I hope you are, because if not, the book isn’t ever going to be finished.

You have to wait until you have the revisions and edits finished before you can submit the book. Once it’s submitted, you have to wait to find out if it’s been accepted. If it’s been accepted, you have to wait for edits. And cover art. And other things the publisher will send you. You have to wait what might seem like a really long time for the book to see the light of day.

If the book is rejected, you have to wait to find another publisher or agent to send it to. Or wait until you decide not to try it again. Or wait until you do another bunch of revisions and edits to try to address whatever made the first publisher or agent reject it.

When it’s published, you have to wait for reviews and royalty statements and checks.

A lot of things in life are all about waiting. Writing isn’t any different. Every good thing takes time, and having a book out there in the world with your name on the cover is definitely a good thing!

High School Changes

The end of high school is a stressful time. Some students are thinking about college; some have already been accepted, some might not have heard yet, or might not know where they want to go. And they don’t know what college will be like. Other students are heading into the workplace or the military, and they don’t know what that holds for them.

On top of that, the senior year of high school is filled with projects. Many high schools require students to complete a graduation project or portfolio, which has to be done in addition to the homework they’re assigned, and there is a LOT of homework.

It isn’t entirely easy for parents either. The college application paperwork, and then the financial aid paperwork, seem like a mountain of things to fill out. But more importantly, parents are watching their kids dealing with stress, and possibly anxiety and depression, and all they can do to help is just be there. They can’t make it better, and no matter how old a kid gets, in a positive family, the parents are *always* going to want to make everything better.

It’s a time for the student to adjust to being an adult, and for the parents to adjust to having an adult. It’s a time when support is necessary. From family, from friends, and most of all between the student and the parent. It’s a time to be there for each other as much as you can, and as much as you’re able to allow.

High school ends, and you move on with life. It gets easier. But when you’re standing on the edge of such a massive change, it can be scary. Don’t go through it alone.

One Publisher Basket…

Currently, I’m only working with one publisher. They’re a great publisher, but sometimes I get a little worried about having all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. On the romance side of the publishing business, I’ve been watching a number of publishers, including two that were at the forefront of digital romance publishing, go out of business, and take authors’ dreams, money, and books along with them.

I haven’t seen that as much on the YA side of things, other than YA imprints of the aforementioned romance publishers. And I know my current publisher is solid. But I was burned by three of the publisher closings I mentioned above, and two of those were ones I thought were solid. So I’m a little more cautious than when I first started out.

I definitely plan on writing and submitting things to my current publisher as long as they let me. But I’m thinking it might be a good idea to try getting in with another publisher as well, maybe with the book that was recently rejected. (I can fix things…)  That way, I wouldn’t have everything in one place.

Then again, with so many small presses and digital publishers falling apart lately, I don’t know whether I would be able to find another publisher that I could count on.

It’s something to think about, especially because I really like the book that was recently rejected and I’d like to keep trying to find it a home. But I’m not going to make a snap decision about anything.

What “Trigger” Means

Sometimes online I see people seriously misusing the word “trigger” in a mental health sense. This has been said before, and better, by others, but I need to chime in.

If something annoys or upsets you, it isn’t a trigger. It’s something that annoys or upsets you.

If it makes you angry, it isn’t a trigger. It’s something that makes you angry.

If you don’t like it, or you find it disgusting or disturbing, or you strongly disagree with it, it still isn’t a trigger.

Something is a trigger, in a mental health sense, when it causes severe mental and emotional distress arising from past trauma, including flashbacks of the traumatic event (or one of them). Triggering, in this sense, is a reaction tied to PTSD. An incident, or word, or whatever, reminds you so strongly of the trauma you experienced that it’s as if you’re experiencing it all over again.

If you haven’t experienced that degree of trauma, I’m glad for you. But many others have. If you did, but you’ve worked hard to overcome it and you can confront things that used to trigger you, I admire you. I’ve been able to do that myself with a few of my more minor triggers, but there are some things that will probably always trigger me. (Don’t ever tell me to take a bath to relax myself…)

Using “trigger” in a minimized way, for example, “I can’t stand that color shirt, it’s really triggering me” or “He told me I was wrong about Supernatural, and that triggered me” is completely insensitive and offensive, and it causes a lot of harm to those who are legitimately triggered by reminders of traumas.

The more the word is tossed around, the less impact it has, and the more likely it is that if someone said, “I read a sexual assault scene in this book, and I ended up in the emergency room because it triggered me,” other people are going to just brush it off or accuse the person of seeking attention. Think about what you’re saying and why. And think about the effect your words have on others.

What I’m Working On

I’m currently working on revising another of my out-of-print novels to send to another publisher. This one is interesting to work on. It’s different from most of my books.

For one thing, there’s sexual content in this one. Not explicit, but it is there on the page, rather than just being mentioned or not happening at all. And it happens between a 15-year-old and someone who claims to be in his early 20s. (It’s portrayed as being predatory and unhealthy; that’s part of the point of the book.)

For another, this is a direct tie-in with one of my adult romance series (which is also now out of print). I had a series about the world’s only gay vegan werewolf and his mate, the pack Alpha. Something in the Alpha’s backstory struck me as good YA fiction fodder, so with the publisher’s agreement I wrote the book and they published it under their children’s/YA imprint. The official story was that “Jo Ramsey” was a fan of “Karenna Colcroft” and got Karenna’s permission to write the book.

(Some people still don’t realize that I’m both of those authors…)

The book has its disturbing bits. I remember how badly I triggered myself writing the scene where the main character, Tobias, realizes that the older guy he’s crushing on actually intends to harm him. But it also has what, in my opinion, is some pretty good writing.

I don’t know what the future holds for the book. I will be submitting it to a new publisher, but there’s no guarantee they’ll accept it. It remains to be seen. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the revising.

Teaser Thursday…

This is longer than my usual teaser; it’s a short story I just found amongst my files of unpublished stories, so I decided to share.

“The Devil went down to Georgia…” Trying to steal a soul and all that.

Except I’m not “the Devil.” I admit I steal souls. That’s kind of my thing, as you humans would say. The souls don’t get stuffed in some firey pit or whatever, though.

I eat them. All of us demons do.

It’s still fun to talk a human into handing over their soul, no matter what we plan on doing with it. And all those stories about how people sell their souls for fame and fortune? Completely true. We’re demons. We can do magic. And if someone has a particularly tasty little soul, I don’t see a reason not to reward them for giving it to me. After all, whatever I give them will only be theirs for a little while.

All those cool techno things humans have come up with over the past century or so have made my job so much easier. Instead of having to wander around among you all, I can just hop online and find what I’m looking for. Believe me, the cyberworld is a whole lot more fun than the real one, even for a demon.

So here I sit, tapped into the human Internet, though I’m not on a computer. You guys think you’re so advanced, but you still need a device to be able to access all the information flooding around. All I have to do is stretch my brain and pop on in.

I’m in a game I’ve hung out in before. Animated chicks in scanty clothes and big, buff dudes in armor beating up monsters. And demons. Whoever created this game must have run into one of us in the past, because I swear I recognize some of my buddies among the bad guys here.

I’m the only real demon in here right now, though. I made sure of that. There are so many humans to go around, I have no need to poach someone else’s hunting grounds.

Some of the half-naked chicks and steroid dudes are beating up each other, too, which looks fun to me. It’s all artificial, of course, but every character in the game is controlled by a human somewhere out there in the real world. A human with a real soul. They don’t know it, but their souls shine through their avatars. None of them would be able to tell, but I can see every one of them.

Including a bright, shiny gold one straight ahead of me, glowing around one of the muscle men. The soul tells me the controller of the character is male too, and it’s a soul I would love to sink my teeth into.

He’s beating the crap out of three other characters, all of which are controlled by other humans somewhere out in the “real” world. They keep going at him, and he just keeps fighting so fast his movements are a blur.

One by one, he kills off the other three guys. Even though they’re fighting him at once. Even though they’re huger than he is. He wins.

He is a damn good player, and I have an idea. Instead of offering him fame and fortune, I’m going to give him a rare opportunity. I won’t ask him to just hand over his soul. I’m going to let him fight for it.

I’ll win, of course. He’s good, but no one is as good as me.

I wander on over. In the game, all conversation is via text, so I type, PVP?

Player vs. player. At least I think that’s what it stands for. That’s what I always mean when I use it, anyway. I probably should learn a lot more about these games if I’m going to use them, but why bother? Humans have a whole culture built around the things. I’m just looking for food.

Sure, the guy responds.

So he’s into the idea of killing other players in the game. In real life, judging from the soul I’m now studying more closely, he’s a nice kid who wouldn’t hurt a fly unless he was protecting someone else. In the game, he has a dark side.

And he’s arrogant. He’s done this before and has always won.

I like arrogance. It’s delicious served over a heaping helping of terror.

Name? I ask. I like to know who I’m devouring. And I don’t mean his character’s name, either. That’s floating above the cartoon’s head. Bob the Destroyer.

Seriously.

It’s better than all the random string of babble names I usually see. It either shows a sense of humor or a complete lack of imagination, I’m not sure which.

Bob, he says.

Really? I’m Sorcheth.

Not what this says. He made his guy point at my head, where the name “Loriatelas” is floating. Just because I make fun of the random string of babble names doesn’t mean I don’t use them when I drop into games. They help me fit in.

No kidding, I type.

For a moment he doesn’t say anything. I just wait. These kids today have it drilled into their heads that they shouldn’t give out personal information online. Not that it stops most of them. They think they’re indestructible. They do stupid stuff even when they’ve been told not to and can’t figure out why bad things happen to them.

Jonny, he says finally.

Cool. I don’t say anything else about the name, because I don’t want to creep him out. He doesn’t know if I’m another teenage punk or an adult pervert.

Or a very hungry millennia-old demon.

Want to make a bet? I ask.

Make the offer, close the deal. That’s how we work. It isn’t quite as easy in a game, because I’m not standing right in front of the real person holding out real money or whatever. But the ones who think they can take me are almost always willing to make a wager.

Sure, he says again. What do you want? Weapons? Skills? A rare pet?

Your soul. No reason I can’t come right out and say it.

Soul? Really? So I guess your toon isn’t just a fun costume.

I chose the avatar in the game that most closely resembles the “demons” players are supposed to destroy. Like I said, some of them look a lot like some of my buddies, which means I look like a demon. Or a devil, for those who think that way.

Hiding in plain sight. Always fun.

No, it isn’t. I know he won’t believe a word of it. The whole point of the game is to be someone or something else for a while. So what do you say?

If you win, you get my soul. Ha ha. He hesitates. That’s a one-sided bet. What if I win?

I’ll give you the biggest, fastest, most advanced gaming system there is. Gaming was such a ginormous part of some humans’ lives that they’d created computer systems especially for the pastime. Personally I didn’t see the point, but then again, I don’t see the point in a lot of things humans do. Nor do I particularly care.

Which would mean you finding out where I live, because how else would you deliver it? I’m not an idiot.

I laugh out loud, not that he can hear it. This kid is cocky as hell. I like it. It’ll give a nice spice to his soul when I devour it after I beat the crap out of his toon.

You have to win first. Then we’ll figure out how you get your system. As I say it, I realize he’s taking this seriously. If he thought I was just making a bet within the game, he wouldn’t be talking about me finding out where he lives.

Maybe he’s run into my kind before, or maybe he’s just one of those humans who sees across the lines between what they believe to be real and what actually is real.

Cool. That will make him even more fun.

Okay, he says after a couple of minutes. So PK. I win, I get the system somehow or other. You win, you get my soul.

That’s it.

Ha ha. Betting my soul with the devil, huh? It might be a sin, but I’ll take your bet. I am the best ever at this game.

Arrogant and he knows what he’s talking about. Maybe he really has encountered one of my buddies. No matter. Obviously he thinks he can defeat me, and I’m more than happy to prove him wrong. We’ll see. I win, I take your soul right away. You win, you’ll have your system.

I don’t need his address. I can just make the thing appear in his house.

Sounds good. Ready when you are. His avatar strikes a pose.

So do I, and so it begins. I have all the skills, weapons, and powers that my type of character has in this game plus a few of my own, but to be fair, I stick to what’s available in the game. If I’m going to beat Mr. Cocky-pants, I’m going to do it on his terms. That will make victory—and his soul—taste so much sweeter.

But he’s a damn good fighter. For every blow I land, he lands three. I’m bleeding, broken, and still fighting but barely. Heck, I’m even out of breath.

If I don’t get my act together, he’s going to win.

I land another blow and he reels back. Animated blood flies. I get in a few more hits, but then the damn kid rallies and strikes me in the head. Right through the helmet. Magic sword or something.

And then everything goes black. Life force gone. Whatever the heck they call it in the game.

The son of a bitch killed me.

I lost.

This has never happened before. I never lose. I’m a freaking demon, for crying out loud. And this little human thing has defeated me.

I see red. Like a firey haze. I want to kill the little bugger. How dare he beat me? He will pay for this. Mark me, he will pay.

I made the bet and lost in a fair fight, though. And yeah, demons do play fair. We might obscure and mislead, but we don’t lie and we don’t renege on our bargains.

Which sucks, because it means I have to go crawling back to Jonny and give him his damn gaming system.

I get another life and go back to Jonny, who’s sitting on a rock beside our fighting ground. Good fight, he says.

Not good enough. I make a little gesture with my hand, sending his gaming system off through the dimensions to wherever he lives. There you go. I’ll be back for a rematch someday.

Wow! He must be seeing the system. Thanks. Rematch anytime. I told you once, I’m the best.

We’ll see. Enjoy your system.

I’m not about to stick around the location of my defeat. It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while a human does get the better of one of us. This is one of those times. I swallow my pride and slink away. He won fair and square, and I’ll grant him that he is a damn good player.

But there will be a rematch someday. He can’t always win. Next time, I will gain his soul, and I will show Mr. Jonny that you don’t mouth off to a demon.

 

 

 

 

Redefining Self

Figuring out who you are isn’t something that happens once. Life is an ongoing process of change, reconsidering, and redefining. But when it comes to some subjects, people don’t always remember that.

I’ve known people who came out as homosexual in their 40s or later, after years of giving no sign at all that they were interested in people of the same sex. In a couple of cases, they themselves didn’t realize they were interested, or at least they didn’t admit it to themselves. But then they realized, or they came to terms with what they already knew.

That doesn’t mean they were heterosexual up until that point. It means they were living in the way they thought was best for them, or the way they thought they had to in order to be accepted by others, but over time they realized that wasn’t who they truly were.

Online, I’ve seen teens and young adults accused of “faking” their sexual orientation or gender “to get attention,” or of “jumping on the bandwagon,” because they’ve changed their self-identification over time. That doesn’t mean they’ve ever been dishonest about it. It means they might not have thought it completely through before they first came out. They also might, over time, have seen references to orientations or genders they didn’t know existed, and realized one of those terms fit them better than the way they’d previously identified.

I’ve also seen people say that certain genders and sexual orientations were “invented” by people on the Internet. This is not true. Those genders and orientations might not have had names until recently, but they still existed.

The Internet has been a help and support to a lot of people as they work on defining and identifying themselves. People who might have thought something was wrong with them because of the way they felt can now learn they aren’t the only one who feels that way. Of course, the Internet also has its downside; people can be judgmental and bully one another.

But the process of defining and identifying oneself doesn’t have a finite ending point. We all learn new things about ourselves over time. Life isn’t stagnant, and neither are we.

Teaser Thursday- Cluing In

I trudged back to health class, where I dropped the pass on Mrs. Forrestt’s desk and slumped into my seat to listen to yet another lecture about teen alcohol abuse. We’d been on the same topic for about three weeks now, and pretty much all of us had become sick of hearing that we shouldn’t drink and why. I didn’t think drinking was such a great thing anyway. I didn’t need it hammered into my brain over and over.

The bell rang and my stomach growled at the same time. Jebbi and I picked up our stuff and headed to the cafeteria. “I can’t eat lunch with you today,” I said. “Tina thinks we need to talk.”

She shook her head. “Tina always thinks you need to talk.”

“That’s a relationship, I guess.” I hefted my books. “I want to dump these in my locker. Come with me?”

“Sure.”

We pushed through the crowd heading to lunch and finally reached my locker. “I don’t know anything about relationships,” Jebbi said as I fiddled with my combination lock. “I’m not sure having one means you have to listen to someone telling you what to do all the time, though.”

I shrugged and finally managed to pop the lock open. Not an easy thing to do with a pile of books balanced on one arm. “She doesn’t tell me what to do. Just asks me to do things I don’t really want to, and I say no, and that’s that.”

“If you say so.” She nodded toward the end of the hall, where Tina stood with her arms folded and a thunderstorm on her face. “I think I’ll leave you two alone. Want me to buy you something to eat in case you make it to lunch?”

“I’ll buy something before she and I talk.” I slammed my locker shut and tugged Jebbi’s sleeve. “Come on. She won’t bite.”

“No, she’ll just say I’m taking her man’s time again, like she always does.” Jebbi sighed. “Being friends with me isn’t helping things between you and her.”

“You’ve been my friend a lot longer than she’s been my girlfriend, and I don’t care what she or anyone else thinks about it. Now come on.” I pulled on her sleeve again and she followed me up the hall.

Tina stayed right where she was until we walked up to her. “I thought we’d agreed to talk at lunch, Jamey,” she snapped.

“Yes, and I’m not at lunch yet,” I said. “I had to drop off my books, and now, since it is lunch, I’m going to buy some food.” My stomach rumbled again. “See? I’m hungry.”

“What are you doing here?” Tina glared at Jebbi. “Stealing someone else’s boyfriend? Once wasn’t enough for you?”

“Tina, shut up!” I said.

“You’re sticking up for her?” Her voice rose. “So maybe people are right about you two.”

“You know Jamey and I are just friends.” Jebbi spoke calmly, but her voice shook a little. She hated confrontations, especially with Tina. She also hated the reminder of what had happened freshman year between her and Drew Edgerly. “I’m not stealing anything, and I’m sorry you don’t trust Jamey enough to let him have other friends. Jamey, see you later.” She strode away down the hall.

“Good.” Tina reached for my hand and I pulled away. “What’s wrong?”

“How can you talk to her that way?” I narrowed my eyes. “You know damn well that what happened with Drew wasn’t Jebbi’s fault. And it was two years ago! You’re being a bitch, and I don’t waste time with bitches.”

Writer’s Block

Sometimes I just plain can’t think of anything to write. It doesn’t matter whether I’m working on a novel, or a nonfiction article, or a blog post; I just can’t think of anything.

This is one of those times. I was planning to do a blog post about writing. But I did one that’s at least sort of about writing last week, and now I’ve temporarily gotten stuck for ideas.

It happens. Occasionally, my mind just goes blank. I doubt I’m the only one. Most of the people I know sometimes have trouble thinking of ideas, whether it’s for writing or something to do on a Saturday afternoon or whatever.

Most of the other authors I know go through time periods when the idea well runs dry, and they don’t have anything to write. There’s a lot of advice about what to do at those times to get the writing flowing again, but sometimes it’s okay to just say “I’m not going to write anything today.” Or this week, or even this month.

So I’m not going to write a blog post about writing this week. Instead, I’m writing one about not being able to think of one to write about writing. And sometimes, it’s okay to do that.