Writing About Trauma

(Given the title, the content warning might be obvious…)

I really have to wonder about my choices of things to write about. Even when I try to write something happy, bad things end up happening to my characters.

It’s been that way for a lot of the time that I’ve been writing. Early on in my romance author career, which happened under a different pen name, a publisher told me to stop writing about abuse survivors, because they were present in every one of my books. I did try, but the books I wrote with “healthy” characters were flat and uninteresting, and they didn’t sell so well. I couldn’t connect to the characters.

I have unfortunate experience with abuse and trauma. I can relate to characters who have gone through it. I ended up going back to writing the type of character I was comfortable with, and those books, at least some of them, sold pretty well and got decent reviews.

That doesn’t mean I enjoy writing about those characters. Or at least, I don’t enjoy writing about the horrible things they’ve gone through. Sometimes it’s just painful. Other times, it’s triggering.

But I keep writing the stories because those are the characters who come to me asking that their stories be told. Which might sound weird if you aren’t a writer, but believe me, to writers their characters sometimes seem to have lives of their own.

Teaser Thursday- Regression

From an unpublished novel.

Laura looked at me, pain obvious in her blue eyes. “He doesn’t want us here.”

“He wants you here. He just doesn’t want to hear that he has a problem.” I put my arm around her. “Do you want to go in, or should we just leave?”

“He wants us to leave. Which means we shouldn’t. Phil, when you saw him the other day, did you sense anything?”

“No. I wasn’t here long enough. And Clyde said Dom’s mind was blocked. Why? Did you sense something?”

She nodded. “Remember what I said the other night? About darkness not always coming from outside? There’s always been some darkness in Dom, I think it’s because of what he went through when he was a kid. But this is more than what was there before. A lot more. And I don’t think he realizes it.”

The door at the top of the steps opened. “Are you guys coming in or not?” Dominic asked.

“You don’t seem to be in the mood for company,” Laura replied.

“Empathy again?”

“No, the way you’re acting.” She pulled away from me and went up the steps. “Dom, if you want us to leave, just say so.”

He looked surprised. “I don’t want you to leave. I haven’t seen you since September. I told Zeke to bring you over.”

“That’s what he said. But like I said, you’re acting like you don’t want us here.”

“I’m sorry. I do want you here, Laura. I just- I’m getting a little tired of people telling me there’s something wrong with me. You’re different. You wouldn’t be saying it without a reason. I’m sorry for what I said.”

“If more than one person has said there’s something wrong, Dom, they might be right. But if you don’t want to talk about it, okay. I’ll drop it.”

“Thanks.” Dominic looked at me. “Sorry, Zeke. Come on in, both of you.”

We followed him inside. In his apartment, Dominic went to the fridge but hesitated before opening it. “Go ahead,” Laura told him. “It’s your place.”

Dominic shook his head. “Never mind. Unless one of you wants some soda or something.”

“No thanks,” Laura said. I shook my head.

Dom took his wallet out of his pocket. “Hey, Laura, did Zeke show you what he got yesterday?”

“No.” Laura looked at me, puzzled. It only took her a second to figure it out, though. “Did you get another picture of your son?”

Dominic grinned. “Yeah. Poor kid looks like me, at least Morgan thinks so.” He opened his wallet and handed it to Laura. “What do you think?”

She looked at the picture and smiled. “I think he’s even cuter than in last year’s picture. And Morgan’s right, he does look a lot like you, Dom. Which isn’t a bad thing. Remember how Miranda and the others reacted to you? That wasn’t because of your personality, you know.”

Dominic took the wallet back. “Watch what you say. You’ll make Zeke jealous.”

“I’m not that insecure,” I said.

Laura sat on the bed. “Dominic, have you heard about anything in the old city lately?”

Dom stared at her. “Why?”

“Because last time I was here I was almost taken through the portal in the alley there. I know Adam and I didn’t destroy the force of darkness. I think I’m here now because it’s recovered. Phil says it took one of the kids in his after school group.”

Dominic turned to me. “You didn’t tell me about that.”

“I found out Friday. I haven’t really had a chance to tell you much since then.” I paused. “It was a ten-year-old boy. He went to the store Thursday night and never came home. He doesn’t live in the city, though, so if it got him at the old city portal, someone took him there.”

“I haven’t heard about anything in the old city,” Dominic said. “That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been anything. I know I live on the edge of the old city but I try not to go any farther into it. It’s too close to…”

He trailed off but Laura and I both knew what he was thinking. For years, Dom had relied on a man named Hal Leighton to help him out when things got hard. Hal had given Dominic a safe place to get away from his parents and had given him a job when he was old enough. Hal had also turned out to be Dominic’s birth father. But he served the force of darkness and when Dom fought against it, Hal turned his back on him. Hal owned a video store only a few blocks from Dominic’s apartment. Dom would want to stay as far from it as he could.

The Dangerous Side of Dating

CONTENT WARNING: DATING ABUSE

Last week, I talked about the new book I’m working on, which is about relationship abuse.

Unfortunately, this is something too many people encounter. It seems to be particularly prevalent among teenagers, especially if they’re dating someone older, but even with someone the same age. When you’re kind of just learning how to be in a relationship, you don’t always know what is or isn’t okay. And it’s easy for someone to take jealousy as a sign of love, when it often really isn’t.

According to the website loveisrespect.org, one in three teens will experience dating abuse of some kind. For one in ten, that will be physical violence. Statistics indicate that it happens more to girls than guys, but those statistics might be affected by the fact that boys don’t often report dating abuse. If a guy slaps his girlfriend across the face, most people would say that’s abusive, but if a girl does the same to her boyfriend, people act like it’s no big deal.

And that, of course, is the heteronormative perspective. I wasn’t able to find stats on dating abuse among LGBTQ+ teens in the short amount of time I spent researching this post.

Any incident of abuse is one too many. But people on the receiving end of the abuse often try to make excuses for their partner—or take the blame for their partner’s behavior. They lie about injuries and pretend the relationship is just fine. Sometimes they realize things aren’t fine and are able to get out of the relationship. Sometimes they aren’t.

Sometimes the relationship costs them their lives.

Loveisrespect.org has resources available if you’re in, or think you might be in, an abusive relationship. Those resources include online chat, a phone line, and a text line for people to contact. If you’re concerned about a relationship, whether yours or a friend’s or family members, please visit that site, or talk to someone you trust.

Teaser Thursday- Reunion

From an unpublished novel.

Mom started to argue but took a breath instead. “It’s your choice.” Then she spotted the envelope. “Oh, good. I was hoping that would come today.” She looked at me. “Laura, you weren’t planning to open that, were you?”

I was really good at looking guilty. Not so good at lying. “I thought about it. Why are you getting a letter from there?”

Mom opened the letter and handed it to me. “Since you seem to think you have to know. Just don’t say anything to Adam.”

She sounded angry but I sensed she wasn’t. It had been hard for her not to tell my brother and me about this. I read the letter out loud. “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Walker, I’m so pleased that you’ve chosen to rent my cottage for a month. I will meet you there at noon on June twenty-second. To reach the cottage…” I trailed off, not seeing the point in reading the directions, and looked at Mom. “We’re going to be there for a month?”

“It won’t be that bad, Laura. We’ll be right on the lake, so you’ll be able to go swimming, and there are other kids your age around-”

“Mom. I didn’t mean it was a bad thing.” It was a wonderful thing as far as I was concerned. My grandparents lived near where the cottage was. Better yet, Dominic and Phil would be nearby. “Mom, do you think I’d be able to visit Dominic while we’re up there?”

“That’s the one who stayed here overnight back around Christmas?” she asked. I nodded. “I don’t see why not. Do you know where he lives?”

“Not exactly. Somewhere in the city near Grandma and Grandpa.” I wasn’t worried about finding Dominic. When I’d first gotten to know him I’d discovered that if I concentrated on wanting to see him, he’d find me. I hoped it would still work. Dominic had become the closest I had to an older brother and I hadn’t seen him since Christmas. Plus I wanted to see Phil and I wasn’t sure I’d dare to go to his house without Dominic.

“Well, we’ll try to arrange it.” Mom took the letter and put it back in the envelope. “Didn’t you have other friends up there last summer? Grandma said you’d met a few people. We’ll try to make sure you get to see all of them.”

I hadn’t really made any other friends there but I didn’t think I should tell Mom that my only friends were two guys who were more than three years older than me. “Yeah. That’d be cool.”

“Did you have…” Mom shook her head. “Of course you didn’t have homework.”

“Actually, I did. History. Wait, don’t tell me. Better get started so I’ll have it out of the way.”

Mom pretended to glare. “You know, just because you’re psychic doesn’t mean you know everything.”

“No kidding. If I knew everything I wouldn’t have to do the research for this history paper.” I went into my living room and got my backpack, then went to my room.

Work in Progress

CONTENT WARNING: DATING ABUSE

Recently, I started a new project. It isn’t the easiest thing to write, but I think it’s important. My publisher suggested I stick with contemporary fiction, so that’s what this is, but in the real, contemporary world, sometimes things are not easy to deal with. And those are the kind of thing I seem to end up writing about much of the time.

This book is about a boy who is in a relationship with another boy. Doesn’t sound so unpleasant so far, right? Relationships can be good things.

But this one isn’t so good. The main character thought at first that his new boyfriend was just a little nervous about being in a relationship. Then he thought his boyfriend was insecure about his other friends. After all, there’s nothing unusual about being a little bit jealous when you’re in a relationship with someone, right?

It might not be unusual, but sometimes it becomes poisonous. When the “little bit” of jealousy becomes the boyfriend taking away his phone to read his texts, and listening in on phone calls, and following him around to make sure he isn’t cheating, it isn’t so good.

And when none of that reassures his boyfriend that their relationship is solid, and the jealousy becomes physical abuse…

That’s the part that’s tough to write about. I know too many people who have experienced that. And I’ve seen too many teens on social media saying things like “He doesn’t love you if he isn’t jealous,” and even implying or flat out saying there’s nothing wrong with physical abuse in a relationship. There IS something wrong with it. It’s never okay.

That’s why I’m writing about it, even though it isn’t easy. I want to make sure people know it isn’t okay. I want people to know they can find help getting out of that kind of relationship.

But first, I have to finish the book.

Teaser Thursday- Betrayal

From an unpublished novel.

The holiday season. Ho ho yeah right.

December definitely wasn’t the best time of year to sleep in an abandoned camper at a campground that was officially closed for the season. I was there only because I had nowhere else to go. And because Suzanne, the owner of the campground, was friends with my mother when I was a child and felt guilty about some of the things she’d seen back then.

It was still dark outside but it was too cold to go back to sleep. By now Suzanne and her husband would be up and I’d be able to warm up in their house, for a few minutes at least. I had a space heater in the camper but Suzanne had warned me not to leave it on overnight. If the camper burned I’d have nowhere left to go.

I slid out of my sleeping bag and unwrapped myself from the blankets I was in. Definitely too cold to stay out here. I turned the heater on so it could warm up while I was at Suzanne and Victor’s and left.

Suzanne was waiting at the door. “I was just about to go get you, Dominic. You have a phone call.”

“I do?” No one knew I was staying here. No one other than Thomas, the man I’d believed was my father until a year and a half earlier. Thomas hated phones; he wouldn’t be calling me. Could he have been stupid enough to tell anyone else where I was? I’d made it clear that I didn’t want anyone to know but Thomas’s memory wasn’t that great. Probably the drugs.

With an impatient look Victor sat at the table, holding the phone out to me. “We’d appreciate it if you didn’t give out our phone number,” he snapped.

“I didn’t give it to anyone.” I took the phone. “Hello. This is Dominic.”

“Dominic, hi. It’s Morgan.”

That was a voice I hadn’t heard in a few months. One I’d hoped not to hear again. “How’d you find out where I was?”

“From Hal.” My biological father. “He said Thomas told him.”

That figured. Hal had been friends with Thomas for years. If anyone could get information from Thomas he could. “Wonderful. So should I expect Hal to show up to get me and feed me to the force of darkness?”

“Hal isn’t looking for you, not really. He got this number for me because he knew I was worried about you. No one’s seen you in months. We’ve all been worried. Even Zeke.”

“You’ve talked to Zeke?” In a way that was good. It meant Zeke had survived fighting the force of darkness and had returned from its world.

“Yeah. He checks in with me once in a while to see if I’ve heard from you. He was afraid something might have happened to you because of what you did last summer.”

“Gee, why would he think that? Just because I was supposed to be working for the force of darkness and I helped him get to the portal to fight against it?”

“He won.” Morgan paused. “At least I think he did. There wasn’t any sense of darkness at the Black Bridge or the alley for a long time.”

“But now?”

“Now there is,” she admitted. “Just the last week or so. I’ve been trying to stay away from those places but it’s looking for its people again. It’s recovering its strength and wants to get back at Zeke. And you.”

“No surprise there. So when are you going to tell it where I am?”

“I don’t really know where you are, Dom. Hal only gave me the phone number. I don’t know if he knows any more than that. And I wouldn’t tell it anyway.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to work for it anymore. I hate watching it take people. I hate knowing I’ve caused it to take people. That’s why I called. I need your help, Dominic. You’re the only one I know of who can help me get free of it.”

I went into the living room so Suzanne and Victor wouldn’t overhear any more of the conversation, though I thought they might already have heard too much. “Morgan, why should I believe you? I know what kind of people work for the force of darkness. I’m one of them. I don’t trust myself all that much and I sure don’t trust you.”

“Dominic, please. It’s calling to me and I don’t want to answer. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“How do you think I can help you? I betrayed that thing, remember? At least that’s what you said at the time. If it found me it would probably destroy me.” The thought crossed my mind that maybe that was what Morgan wanted but I couldn’t believe she’d be that evil. She and I had known each other since childhood; for a while a few years earlier our relationship had been much more than friendship. She couldn’t want to see me destroyed.

Spring Into Self-Care

In my part of the world, it’s spring. The weather is finally getting warmer, after playing a few tricks on us during March and the beginning part of April. People are able to get outside more, which is a good thing after a winter of snow, wind, and ridiculous cold.

But going outside to enjoy activities or just the fresh air is something not everyone does. For some people, it takes thought to figure out what you want to do. Being around nature isn’t easy if you’re living in a city, and sometimes fresh air isn’t really a thing that happens. Being in the country, you might have to drive a while to reach the location of an outdoor activity you want to do.

Being cooped up inside all the time isn’t necessarily a good thing. Personally, I deal with it a lot, because some of the health issues I have make leaving the house difficult at times. They also make wanting to be outside difficult. (PTSD and anxiety.) I have days when I have to push myself to just open the door and step out onto the porch, though if I can at least get that far, I’ll have the fresh air.

Being out in the sunshine, moving around and taking in the fresh air, can be really good for you. Not only can it help you be healthier physically, but it can boost your mood as well. If it’s something you’re able to do, try to make sure you do it on a regular basis. If it’s difficult for you to go places or do activities on your own, see if a friend or family member wants to go with you. Take time to figure out what you really want to do that will get you out of the house once in a while. It’s worth it.

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.