Seeking Help

Welcome to release week for Dolphins in the Mud!

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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.

Coming Soon!

Dolphins in the Mud releases from Harmony Ink Press on August 8! And it’s already up for pre-order on their website!

I’m really looking forward to the re-release of this book. It was originally published several years ago, and has been out of print for about two years. To me, some of the content is very important. In the story, main character Chris has family stress to deal with, and believes he’s isolated from his peers, since none of them seem to want to spend time with him. He has a younger sister who’s autistic, and sometimes Chris seems to be the only one she’ll relate to. And he makes a new friend–and potentially more–who turns out to have an untreated mental illness.

I wrote the story so long ago I can’t even remember where the idea originally came from. But I’m pleased that Harmony Ink has decided to give it a second life, and I hope readers will enjoy it as well.

I would love to share the cover art, but as I type this, my website is not letting me upload any images. I’ll work on it!

 

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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- Deep Secrets and Hope

Today’s the official release day of the Deep Secrets and Hope bundle from Harmony Ink Press! To celebrate, instead of posting a teaser from a single book, I’m sharing very short snippets from each of the six in the series.

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I was halfway in love with Taffy Sweet. As a man, he was gorgeous. Blond hair so close to white that I suspected it was bleached, usually in a spiky style that made my fingers itch to touch it. I was pretty sure his eyes were blue, though the lighting used in the confessionals made it hard to tell. I couldn’t deny my attraction to him.

And as a queen, she was just plain beautiful, though sometimes in unconventional ways. Some of her costumes took goth up to eleven, going above and beyond the types of things even the hardcore goths at my school wore, while others were so frilly and poofy they practically gave me high blood sugar. That was the main reason I was rooting for her to win. The other queens were pretty much one-note. Taffy proved every week that she could change herself to match her mood or the moods of the judges.

I wanted to meet her when I grew up. Scratch that. I wanted to be her when I grew up.

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I put the phone back in my pocket and groaned. I couldn’t win. If I’d stuck to my plans with Evan, Mami would have been upset. And then Papi would have gotten on my case for upsetting her.

Now I would only have about half an hour with Evan, which would make him unhappy. He knew how important my family was to me, so he wouldn’t be too upset. But I’d promised him I would go to his place after practice and stay for supper because his mom had to work late, and now I had to break my promise.

Sometimes I wondered why he bothered going out with me. He had to hide it from everyone else, and half the time I ended up saying something stupid or breaking plans with him so people wouldn’t find out.

I wanted to be worth the effort for him, and I doubted I was. But he was beyond worth it for me.

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I’d sworn again. I hadn’t meant to, but I couldn’t help it. Everything was pissing me off, and Kendra wasn’t even close to helping. I wanted to smack her to get it through her head that she was being an idiot, but I didn’t think that would be a good idea.

The fact that I kept talking and thinking about smacking people worried me. No matter how angry I got, I wasn’t violent. Except sometimes with my brothers, but that was usually because they started it.

“You have a lot to be angry about.” Kendra still looked and sounded completely calm.

I didn’t get how she could be that way. I was furious. She should have felt something.

“Yeah, well, I was fine until November,” I said. That was when Guillermo had realized Jim had done something to me. He’d stuck his nose right in it, first persuading me to tell him what had happened, then convincing me to report it so Jim wouldn’t do it to anyone else.

I should have refused. It wasn’t up to me to save every freaking girl in Massachusetts from the guy. Sometimes I hated Guillermo for making me speak up, but he’d had my back ever since.

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My train of thought went right off the tracks. I bit my lip again and turned to look at her.

She nodded. “Yeah, you’re my girlfriend. You’ve been twitchy about changing in front of me since the first time I invited you over to try things on, though.”

“Right.” I held up my hand. “This kind of doesn’t make any sense in my brain, and I’m trying to translate it to say it. I’m failing.”

“You don’t have to explain.” She held out her hand. “Come here.”

I sat beside her and took her hand. My hand was sweaty, of course, because why would it have been as cool and dry as hers? She was Chastaine Rollo. Always calm, cool, and collected, even when people called her names and talked behind her back. I was just Holly McCormack, the wallflower drama geek.

“Is it because you’re afraid I’ll see you naked and be overcome with lust?” Chastaine said.

I cracked up laughing, partly at the way she said it and partly at the idea she would lust after someone who looked like me.

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A while after Delia returned from lunch, a bunch of people my age invaded the shop. I was running the register while Delia did some paperwork in the back.

Even though Delia had told me the art club would be coming in, I hadn’t expected a dozen kids. They spread out around the place as much as they could, picking up supplies and flipping through sketchbooks.

Gut aching, I tried to breathe. I didn’t know that any of them had heard about me. Maybe they hadn’t. And Delia was right. They wouldn’t see a monster when they looked at me. Just a guy like them.

I was afraid to deal with them, though. What if they’d seen my name or picture online? I wasn’t supposed to leave the register unattended, but I quickly stumbled through the curtain into the back room.

“Get back out there,” Delia said without looking up from the papers on her desk.

“I can’t.” I gasped and choked on thin air. Coughing hurt my throat, but I could handle pain. It gave me something solid to hold onto.

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Mom walked over to the chair at my desk but didn’t sit. “This is becoming a problem, Man-Shik. When your father and I approved the friendship with Jim, we assumed the situation would settle down once people learned the whole story. And we feel badly for him. Despite what he did, if he’s paid the price and wants to start over, he should have the chance. He’s only your age.”

I braced myself. “But?”

“But issues keep cropping up. I’m not sure it’s good for you to be involved.”

That was pretty much what I’d expected her to say. No matter what she thought about Jim, I was her son. I was the one she had to protect. And the one who had to make sure our family didn’t get a bad reputation around town, though neither of my parents would ever have said so.

I tore a piece of paper out of my notebook and stuck it in my book to keep my place, then set the closed book beside me. This discussion was going to take a while.

The Story Behind Deep Secrets and Hope

This Thursday is the official release of the Deep Secrets and Hope bundle from Harmony Ink Press. This is a six-book series following the lives of several LGBTA+ teens as they navigate bullying and other difficulties in their lives.

I never really planned on this being a series. It just kind of happened. Originally, I don’t think I actually planned on there being even one novel. I wrote a short story for a friend’s blog, Tales of Rue and Woe, on which they posted about writing, LGBTA+ topics, and an ongoing short story about two teenage boys named Rue and Woe. (Note that my short story isn’t on the blog linked above at this point, and the blog itself has been inactive since 2012.) A bit later, I expanded the short story into what I intended to become a free read e-book, though it didn’t quite work out that way.

The character Evan Granger was inspired by one of my older offspring’s best friends, and has some of that friend’s mannerisms. He was also, to a lesser extent, inspired by the reality TV series RuPaul’s Drag Race, in which drag queens compete with one another in an elimination-based format.

In fall 2012, I went to the GayRomLit readers and authors convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That was where I first heard of Harmony Ink Press, then a quite-new imprint of an adult male/male romance publisher that had published one of my alter ego’s novellas. After talking with the people at Harmony Ink’s booth, I decided to give them a try once I had a book that would work for them

And then I realized that Evan Granger deserved a full-length novel. So I gave him one.

I greatly expanded Nail Polish and Feathers from the free read short story. I added more characters, including Evan’s cousin Holly. I included the “drag queen competition show,” and Evan’s correspondence with Taffy Sweet, one of the queens on the fictional version of the show, became a part of the story.

Harmony Ink accepted the novel, which was released in August 2013. One of my favorite authors, who writes for both Harmony Ink and the adult imprint of the publisher, read it–fan girl moment! She actually read *my* book! And liked it so much she told me there should be more about the characters! With that kind of motivation, obviously I had to write another book.

So Shoulder Pads and Flannel came into being. Followed by the other four Deep Secrets and Hope books over the next few years. The final one, Ball Caps and Khakis, was released in February of this year.

If you haven’t read the books yet, I hope you’ll take advantage of Harmony Ink’s bundle. And if you have read them, I’d love to know what you think!