Teaser Thursday- Dolphins in the Mud

“You said you cared about me,” he said in a warning tone.

I refused to let him intimidate me. There wasn’t much he could do to me or himself in a hospital room. If he tried, all I would have to do was open the door and yell for help. “I do care. That’s why I’m saying this. You’re going to get better, physically and mentally, whether you want to or not.”

As soon as I said it, I knew that was bullshit. Of course he wouldn’t get better if he didn’t want to. Even if they put him on meds and forced him to go to therapy, he still had to want to be healthier in order for anything to work. Maybe he wouldn’t figure that out.

“No one can make me do anything I don’t want to do.” He laughed. “I sound like a little kid. I used to say that to my mother. It pissed her off.”

“Yeah, I don’t think parents like it when their kids say things like that.” I glanced at the door, hoping it would open and Mr. Silver would walk in and say it was time for me to leave. This conversation was going around in circles, and I was starting to feel even more uncomfortable. I had no idea whether I was saying any of the right things to him, or if I was making everything worse.

“I do want to get better,” he said. “Having broken bones sucks. So does being crazy.”

“You aren’t crazy,” I said. “Bipolar isn’t crazy. It just means there’s a glitch in your brain.” That was sort of how Dad had described autism to me after Cece’s diagnosis. I figured it applied just as well to bipolar as it did to autism. “That’s what the medication is for, to fix the glitch.”

“Mom won’t come to see me.” Another couple of tears headed down his cheeks. “Dad said she told him she’s tired of me playing games, and she isn’t going to let me manipulate her.”

It ticked me off that Noah’s father had told him that. Bad enough that his mother had said it. Noah didn’t need to know. Mr. Silver should have kept it to himself. I didn’t think either of Noah’s parents understood what was going on. All they knew was their kid had something wrong with him. That made them feel like bad parents, and they couldn’t see how hard it was for Noah.

Just the way Mom had always been with Cece.

“Maybe she’ll come see you while you’re in the other hospital,” I said.

He shook his head. “She thinks I’m faking all this. That I just jumped off the stairs to get attention, and that there’s nothing wrong with me. She wants Dad to bring me home and keep a better eye on me or something.”

“That stinks.”

“Yeah.” He looked like he was close to crying. “Mom and I’ve never gotten along anyway. She always complains about how much work I am. That’s why she doesn’t always travel with Dad and me.” He sighed. “You don’t want to hear all that anyway. I’m going to be in the hospital for probably a couple months, Wayne said. Are you and I still…?” He trailed off, like he didn’t know what to call our relationship.

Neither did I anymore. “We’re still friends,” I said. “Other than that, I can’t answer you. I don’t know.”

“Yeah, I figured that’s what you’d say.” He forced a smile. “That’s okay. When I’m all sane again, we can talk about it, right?”

“Sure.” I didn’t know if talking would change anything. Getting rid of the mental image of him falling to the floor would take a long time. Even if he got the help he needed, I doubted I’d ever be able to trust that he wouldn’t do something like that again.

I already had a sister who needed me to help take care of her. I couldn’t handle having to take care of a boyfriend too. But I didn’t tell Noah that. I didn’t want to set him off again.

“Cool.”

The door opened and Mr. Silver came back in. “Noah, you should get some rest. Chris, thank you for stopping by.”

He sounded kind of pissed, so I guessed Dad’s conversation with him hadn’t had any effect. I was grateful that he’d interrupted, anyway. “No problem. Noah, I’ll talk to you sometime, okay?” That was the most commitment I was willing to make. I didn’t know when he’d be out of the hospital, or whether he’d go back to Wellfleet afterward. Or whether I would get past what he’d done enough to be around him again where there weren’t doctors and nurses ready to step in if something happened.

“Yeah, sometime.” Noah lay back and closed his eyes.

I left. I had nothing more to say.

Fictional Diversity

In fiction, there seems to be a tendency toward main characters, especially females, all having similar appearances. Often white, often slim or at least average build, often long-haired, and so on. In the absence of a character description, some readers default to assuming that’s what the character looks like, and there have been cases where a character who does not fit that image has been depicted that way on the book’s cover.

(That includes one of my own books, several years ago, but I was able to explain to the publisher and cover artist, and they changed it. Some authors haven’t been so fortunate.)

It’s unfortunate that that’s the default mental image some readers—and publishers—have of fictional characters, though. It gives fiction the appearance of being a homogeneous place where no one who’s even slightly different exists. Which is completely the opposite of reality, and isn’t at all fair to those who aren’t seeing themselves represented on the pages.

This is, fortunately, beginning to change. The Tumblr blog Size Acceptance in YA talks about how important it is to have main characters who are overweight—or underweight. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag gives examples of why it’s so important to represent *everyone*. Both sometimes give examples of books that do show different races, ethnicities, body types, and so on.

On the flip side, I wanted my Deep Secrets and Hope series to have diverse characters, but I’m white. When I was researching for the final book of the series, Ball Caps and Khakis, I was accused by someone online of cultural appropriation because the main character, Manny Park, is Korean-American. I was doing the research so I *wouldn’t* be appropriating anything, but it bothered at least one person.

I think it’s important for everyone to be able to find at least one book with a character they feel represents them, whether racially, ethnically, body-type-wise, sexual orientation, gender, or any of the many other ways human beings are different from one another. Because being different is part of what makes life interesting, and in my opinion, that should show in fiction as well.

Teaser Thursday- Midnight Chat

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I made it through the rest of Friday. At work, Talia and I were friendly when we had to talk to each other. When we first got there, she asked me again why Rob and I hadn’t been in class, and I told her all I knew was that Rob had gone home. She let the subject drop. She probably didn’t even care what happened to Rob. She just wanted to make sure I didn’t blame her for anything else. For the rest of my shift, I avoided her as much as I could.

After work, I watched TV with Dad and Olin, but I gave up after a while because my brain wouldn’t shut up long enough for me to pay attention to the shows. I was stuck again on the news about the kid in Wyoming. I hadn’t heard any more about him, so I still didn’t know why he’d done it, assuming anyone had managed to find out.

Maybe he’d been like Rob right up until he picked up the gun. Maybe people had told him to toughen up or had said he didn’t need help. His friends and family might not have noticed anything was wrong, or they might have wanted to believe they were imagining it. Just like I wanted to believe Rob was okay.

If Olin hadn’t been around, I would have talked to Dad about my concerns. Then again, he might have called Rob’s parents, which wouldn’t have done Rob any favors. Even though he knew how Rob’s father and Lee-Anne were, he probably still believed they would help Rob if they found out other people were worried.

I knew better. I didn’t want to think about what Rob was dealing with at home tonight. His dad was probably going off on him again, ranting and not giving Rob a chance to defend himself. And of course Lee-Anne would be backing up everything Rob’s father said.

I finally went to bed around eleven, but I couldn’t sleep. For over an hour, I lay with my eyes closed, trying and failing to shut off my thoughts.

My phone buzzed, and I immediately grabbed it. It couldn’t have been anyone other than Rob, even though I didn’t understand why his parents had given him back his phone so soon.

Hi, Mira.

Hi. Are you okay?

His answer took a couple of minutes to show up.

Define okay. I’m home. Father and his wife doing usual. Blaming me. I whine. I’m weak. Same old. Can’t leave my room but still want to see you tomorrow. They gave back my phone at least.

Good. I wanted him to come over too, but I didn’t see how if he wasn’t allowed to leave his room. Then again, since his parents had changed their minds about his phone, maybe they would change their minds about this too.

You want to see me, right?

Yeah. Of course.

Just checking.

He shouldn’t have needed to check. He knew I was his friend. Nothing would change that.

Are you still there?

Yeah. Sorry. Thinking. I hadn’t even taken a minute to reply. He was twitchier than usual. I couldn’t blame him, but if he wasn’t going to give me time to type my answers, it would get annoying.

I’m thinking too. Need to find a way so stuff like this stops happening.

My chest tightened. I sat up and tried to breathe more easily. He hadn’t said anything threatening. Only his usual thing about wanting to stop the bullying. But all I could think was that the kid in Wyoming might have said the same kind of thing.

The news story had gotten to me. That was all. I had to let go of it.

Self-Publishing vs. Vanity Publishing

I’ve recently had to explain the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing. This is not the first time I’ve had that kind of discussion.

Both forms of publishing might involve paying someone else. But in self-publishing, *you* are the publishing company. Any expense you go to might be for things like professional editing, or cover art, or printing if you choose to have a print run done rather than print-on-demand. (Print run means you have a certain number of copies printed and try to sell them; print-on-demand is things like CreateSpace, where no book is actually physically printed until someone orders it.) But at the end of the process, *you* have published the book. You just paid for services you weren’t able to do yourself.

Vanity publishing, on the other hand, means you send your manuscript and a bunch of money to a company, and they take it from there—to an extent. They might handle the printing and cover art, but there is probably no editing done. You’re still responsible for marketing the book and making sales, just as you would be if you self-publishing. But the publisher of the book isn’t you, it’s Vanity Press Inc. (or whatever the name of the company happens to be.)

In self-publishing, it is entirely possible to do the whole process without spending a cent. Go with a print-on-demand service like CreateSpace; it’s free. Make your own cover if you’re good with digital graphics, or have a friend do it if you know someone who can. Or barter for it; offer to trade proofreading for cover art, for example. I wouldn’t recommend editing the book entirely by yourself, because it is easy to miss things, but you could also barter for editing, or have someone you trust read the manuscript carefully and call things to your attention. Not the ideal, but it is free.

In vanity publishing, you don’t have a choice. You pay, they do a book, and you have to run with it from there. You might not sell enough to recoup the cost. You might, as a friend of mine did, find yourself having paid $5000 for a box full of books you can’t do anything with.

However you choose to publish is your choice, but it’s important to know what you’re choosing. I’ve encountered a number of people who think that paying a company to publish your book is the *only* way to get published. I’ve also encountered a number who think paying a company to publish your book is the same as self-publishing. Make sure you know what choice you’re actually making.

Teaser Thursday- Intercession

This is an unedited excerpt from an unpublished novel.

I shut off the car and we got out. Laura leaned against the hood, staring over the bay. “You can’t see the portals from here.”

“As far as we know,” Dominic said. I glared at him and he shrugged. “There could be other portals we don’t know about.”

“I don’t think this is a good time to talk about them,” I snapped.

“They’re there, though, even if we don’t talk about them.” Laura paused. “I can’t do this anymore.”

She sounded completely defeated. I couldn’t imagine what she was feeling. Three years earlier, when I’d seen Stacy taken by the force of darkness, it had been hard for me. But that was nothing like losing my entire family. And I knew Laura believed it was her fault her family was gone.

“Laura, you can’t give up now,” Dominic said. “You and Zeke defeated the force of darkness. We’re close to getting rid of it completely, at least for a while. We need you.”

“No.” Laura spoke quietly, but all her pain was in that one word.

Dominic reached out to her. “It wasn’t your fault,” he said.

Laura stepped out of Dom’s reach and turned to me, her eyes searching my face, though I wasn’t sure for what. “What do you think, Phil? My brother’s gone because I helped him fight the force of darkness. My parents are gone because the force of darkness wanted revenge on me. It’s all because I had to get involved in this stupid light versus darkness stuff. So who’s right, Dom or me?”

I held out my arms and after a moment she came into them, though she held herself stiff. “Dom’s right, Laura,” I said. “It wasn’t your fault. None of it.”

“Then whose was it?” Neither of us had an answer for her. She pulled away from me. “That’s what I thought. You have what you wanted, Dom. You’re free. I’m not staying here.” She took a breath. “Tomorrow we’re going to Boston for the funeral. I finally got everyone to listen to me. I won’t be coming back. I’m going home with my dad’s brother instead. He and his wife have plenty of room. Maybe I’ll even go to college there.”

I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. “You’re moving to New York?”

“Where else could I go?”

“Your grandparents’. Or you could stay with me.”

Laura managed a small smile. “I love you, Phil, and I appreciate the thought. But I can’t stay here. Being here, seeing you and Dom all the time, it would just remind me of everything. And you’d both still be working against the forces of darkness. I’d be too scared that something would happen to you.” She kissed me. “I’ll miss you. I don’t really want it to end this way between us. But I think it has to. For now, at least.”

“I love you.” It was all I could say without choking on the lump in my throat.

“I love you too.” She turned to Dominic and hugged him. “I’ll miss you too, Dom. Have faith. Everything will work out.”

“Take care, kid.” Dominic kissed her cheek before he let her go.

“You too. Both of you.” Laura hesitated. “You don’t have to take me back to my grandparents’. I need to walk. I–” She broke off. After a moment she turned and walked away.

I couldn’t watch her go.

Blaming the Wrong People

TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT

Think about puppies and kittens. Don’t read past this point if you might be triggered by the topic.

This is a bunch of random words I’m putting here so this will be what shows up in the previews of the post, rather than the previews showing the stuff some people might not want to read.

I think this should be enough randomness for the previews. On with the actual post…

I saw something on Facebook recently about an item of clothing for women. An item designed specifically so it would be more difficult for a rapist to remove.

This is something that’s bugged me for a long time. When someone is sexually assaulted, it is not their fault in any way, and yet our society teaches that it is. That it’s especially the fault of any woman who experiences an assault—and a frighteningly high percentage of women do.

We aren’t taught “don’t commit sexual assault.” We, women particularly, are taught “don’t get assaulted. Don’t go out alone after dark. Don’t wear shoes you can’t run in. Don’t wear skirts that are too short or shirts that are too low-cut. Don’t drink. Don’t go anywhere with someone you’ve just met, even if they seem like a nice person.”

Victim-blaming, to put it bluntly, sucks. Telling someone how to prevent being a victim, instead of teaching people not to victimize, is useless. We can’t control other people’s actions, and if someone is determined to commit a crime, or doesn’t even realize what they’re doing *is* a crime, no amount of modest clothing or only going out in daylight is going to change things.

“Here. Here’s a pair of pants you can wear that will make it harder for someone to rape you” is complete crap. It’s an unfortunately necessary bit of complete crap, but that doesn’t make it any less crap. It’s still putting the burden on the potential victim to prevent the potential criminal from being a criminal.

This is a rant, because the solution is so global there’s no way to implement it unless everyone is on board. And that solution is to recognize that someone who is sexually assaulted is NEVER complicit in their assault. Is NEVER to blame. That solution is to offer the same legal recourse and the same support to assault survivors that we offer to someone whose home was robbed, or someone whose car was stolen, or someone who got beaten up outside a bar because they looked at someone else wrong.

But some people will never be on board with that, because for whatever reason, some people will always blame the victim for being victimized, rather than the criminal for committing a crime.

And that sucks. That’s all I can say. It’s wrong, and it sucks.

 

 

Release Week- Midnight Chat

My newest novel, Midnight Chat, releases tomorrow from Harmony Ink Press!

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The story was inspired by a song…my own song, “Midnight Chat.” (Available on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify… links at the end of the post.) I wrote the song nearly two years ago now, after a too-long drive through rush-hour traffic to the home of a then-friend who was working with me on some music things. During that drive, I was listening to my Spotify playlist, and one of the songs, “I Don’t Like Mondays,” caught my attention.

I started musing about the subject of that song, someone who committed a school shooting apparently out of sheer boredom. And then thought about an incident about a year and a half earlier in which a girl turned a friend of hers in to police after he threatened to destroy a school from which he’d been expelled.

The words started rolling around in my brain, and by the time I reached my friend’s house, I had composed nearly the entire song. And not long after, I had the seeds of the novel firmly in my brain, with Mira MacDonald practically shouting at me to tell her story. So I did.

Recognizing when a friend of yours needs more help than you can give is difficult for anyone. When the friend takes a course that could lead to tragedy, it’s even more difficult. Mira faces some tough decisions in trying to help her best friend Rob cope with bullies, neglectful parents, and an undiagnosed mental illness, and the ultimate choice she has to make is something no one should have to decide. But she makes it nonetheless.

I hope you’ll check out the book, the trailer (which will be up later this week, and includes the song), and the single, on Amazon.com, iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify.

Teaser Thursday- Totality

From the never-published 8th book of the Reality Shift series.

On Thursday afternoons, Shanna and I usually got together for her healing lessons. She’d shown an aptitude for energy healing and had become my first—and so far only—student shortly after we’d met. We didn’t always have lessons on Thursdays, though; sometimes the time we spent together ended up being conversations about things that were concerning her, and other times she had a healing session herself. But all of it counted as part of her learning.

I knew those afternoons were important to her, and I tried to keep the time available even if something else was going on. I’d arranged my work schedule to allow Thursday afternoons off. I couldn’t do anything about holidays, of course, but the week of Thanksgiving she and I had met on a different day, and I had no reason not to do the same this time. “This afternoon will be fine,” I said. “Do you have anything in particular that you want to work on, or just continue studying healing?”

“I’m not sure yet,” she said slowly. “I thought about asking you if I could talk to Tethys, but I’m not sure I have anything specific to ask her.”

“Well, if you come up with some questions between now and this afternoon, let me know,” I replied. “We could definitely do a session; I haven’t channeled for anyone for a while, and I could use the practice.”

“Okay.” She sounded reluctant, and I didn’t expect her to come up with any questions. She always seemed frightened when she spoke to Tethys, though Tethys was certainly not frightening. But I could understand why talking to a being of light intimidated Shanna; she’d had enough trouble believing she was worthy of talking to the spirit guides and light being who worked with her. “Do you want to get some breakfast?” she asked.

“I brought fruit bars,” I said.

Shanna grinned. “Then can we go eat them?”

“Absolutely.”

We went into the cafeteria. I chose to keep quiet about how pleased I was that Shanna had asked for one of the vegan fruit bars I almost always brought with me for breakfast. I’d been bringing two, one for me and one for Shanna, since she and I had become friends, and she’d gone from refusing to take one in September to actually asking for one now. For her, that was huge, since she’d learned from the way her parents had treated her that she should never ask for anything. If I said anything, though, she would be embarrassed, even if what I said was intended as a compliment.

We sat at our usual table in the cafeteria and I took the fruit bars out of my backpack. Shanna had just opened hers when Ken came over to the table. “I want to talk to you, Shanna,” he said, sounding angry.

“I don’t want to talk to you.” Shanna didn’t look at him, but the look in her eyes and her energy field indicated it was out of anger rather than the fear she’d shown around him before.

“Then just listen,” he ordered.

“I don’t want to listen to you either,” Shanna said firmly. “Let me try this in a way that you’ll understand. I don’t want you anywhere near me. Leave me alone.”

“You don’t have to be that way,” Ken said in a wheedling tone. “Shanna, we were friends before. Maybe I should never have asked you out; I think that screwed up our friendship, and I’m sorry about that. I’d like to be friends again.”

Now Shanna looked up at him. I ate my fruit bar, trying to act as though I wasn’t paying attention to their conversation, but I was ready if Shanna needed help. “You want to be friends?” Shanna said incredulously. “You tried to convince everyone that you dumped me because I whine too much. You tried to tell them that there was something seriously wrong with me and that was why you didn’t want to see me anymore. I broke up with you because you were too pushy and too jealous, and you tried to make everyone think it was my fault. And you think I’d be friends with you again after that?”

“No one believed me,” he pointed out.

“Because you were lying, and everyone knew it,” she said, her voice rising. “Everyone had seen how you were acting toward me. Just get away from me, Ken, before I say something I’d rather not say.”

Agree to Disagree

On social media, people post a lot of different things. Sometimes things we agree with; sometimes things we don’t.

When it’s a site like Facebook, where in theory we’re “friends” with the people whose posts we see, reading something we strongly disagree with can lead to the desire to correct their misperception. After all, they’re our friend, right? We want them to know right from wrong.

But to them, maybe what they’ve posted isn’t wrong. We don’t all agree on everything. If everybody thought the same way, the world would be a rather boring place.

It’s unlikely that you’re going to change someone’s mind by telling them they’re wrong. Unless it’s something factual, and you have the information to prove they’re incorrect, you’re dealing with a difference in opinions and beliefs. Those are neither right nor wrong in a general sense, only right or wrong for each individual. Telling a friend their opinion or belief system is wrong is more likely to change their mind about being friends with you than about the topic.

If it’s a case where there’s a huge discrepancy between your opinion and theirs, it might be a sign that the friendship really isn’t viable. Back in 2015, when the US legalized same-sex marriage, I posted things on Facebook cheering for the change in law. A friend of mine private messaged me to berate me for posting pro-LGBT+ things on my own Facebook wall, and made it clear that they strongly disapproved of any such thing and would “have a problem” with me if I shared anything like that with them in the future. I ended what was, at the time, a 29-year friendship because I refuse to have intolerance and hatred in my life, particularly in a venue where my offspring might see it.

But if it’s a milder thing, is it worth risking the friendship just to try to convince them you’re right? Of course it’s okay to express your opinion even if it disagrees with theirs, but unless you feel so strongly about the issue that you’d rather lose the friend than the argument, it might be best to agree to disagree.

Teaser Thursday- Cutting Cords

From book 3 of the now out-of-print Reality Shift series.

I arrived at school before the custodian unlocked the doors, so I sat on one of the benches outside to wait. Since the beginning of school, I’d become used to hanging around out there in the mornings. Some days, they’d unlocked the doors by the time I arrived. Depending on how the nights went, sometimes I reached the school too early. I didn’t know what I’d do when the weather turned cold. Waiting outside during our winters wouldn’t be pleasant.

I’d only been there a few minutes when Jonah showed up, walking up the path with his long, dark brown ponytail hanging over his backpack. The light in his blue eyes showed even from a distance. My heart gave its usual happy little jump when I saw him, and I told it to knock it off.

“You aren’t usually here this early,” I said as he sat beside me on the bench.

“What happened last night?” he asked abruptly.

I stared at him, trying to sort out whether I’d done something to make him angry. After a few seconds, I decided I hadn’t. Jonah tended to be pretty up front about his feelings. If I’d upset him somehow, he’d tell me.

Which meant I had no clue what he had on his mind. “What are you talking about?”

He set his backpack on the ground. “You can’t answer a question with a question, Shanna. Last night around eleven thirty, I had a really strong feeling that something went wrong with you. If I hadn’t known you’d get in trouble, I would have called to find out if you were okay. What happened?”

He’d known about my parents’ fight and Mom’s dragging me out of bed. Maybe not the details, but he’d known something. It didn’t even make sense. Jonah had a psychic-y way of knowing things; I’d seen that. Whenever we spent time together, he knew whether something bothered me or had happened. This time, he’d known from half a mile away. It shouldn’t have even been possible. “What do you mean, a strong feeling?” I asked, hoping my question would make him forget his.

Of course that didn’t work. He sighed. “Question with a question again. I mean that when something’s upsetting or hurting my friends, I can feel it. And you’re a good friend of mine. Again, what happened?”

I tried to process the “good friend” part.  I’d only known Jonah about a month and a half, since the beginning of school. So far, he’d become the best friend I’d ever had. I just had trouble believing he’d think of me that way. Friends I’d had in the past had never thought as highly of me as I did of them, so they didn’t usually stay my friends for long.

“I’m waiting,” Jonah said patiently after a minute or so. “You don’t have to talk about it, of course. I’m just concerned, Shanna. You have a bruise on your energy field, too.”

“I bumped my head,” I mumbled. My hair covered where the mop handle had hit me, so he didn’t see any bumps or anything. Of course, every injury showed in my energy field.

Jonah looked closely at me. Oh, yeah. Lies showed up in people’s energy fields too. I looked away. “Must have been a pretty hard bump,” he commented.

“Yeah.” I glanced at him out of the corners of my eyes, unable to look him in the face. Most of the time, I told Jonah the truth about my life. However, lying about the stuff Mom did had become so much a part of me that I did it without thinking. “It still hurts.”

He reached toward me. Instinctively, I shrank back. Hands reaching for me didn’t usually mean anything good.

“Shanna, I’m not going to hurt you.” He gently put his hands on my head, exactly where Mom had hit me.

I flinched before I realized it didn’t hurt. Only warmth from Jonah’s hands, more than just body heat, touched me. Energy, flowing from the universe, through him, into me.