“Which One?”

Recently, I had a conversation with someone I hadn’t heard from in three or four months. He asked whether I’d finished my book.

My immediate response was, “Which one?”

It isn’t that I’m working on a lot of books at this point, though that used to be the case. From 2009-2015 or so, I was always working on a book or short story, and during a lot of that time, I worked on more than one project simultaneously. If someone asked whether I’d finished my book, I genuinely had no way to know which one they were talking about, unless I remembered the last conversation I’d had with them. Even if I did remember it, though, it might not help me figure out which book  they meant, because I might have talked to them about more than one.

hard cover books in attractive colors
hard cover books in attractive colors

Nowadays, I work on one book at a time, and sometimes I’m not working on any books or stories. But as I rebuild my career in the direction it used to be–though hopefully less stressful and better organized–I’m nearly always working on something, even if it’s just a brainstorm.

In the few months since the last time I spoke to this person, I worked on, and then temporarily set aside, a young adult novel. I’ve written several short stories, and completed a novel I’d been working on for nearly a year and a half; the stories and this novel are adult fiction and under a new pen name which I haven’t officially launched yet. My memory is wonkier than it used to be, so I legitimately can’t even remember for sure when I last talked to this person, let alone which project I’d talked to him about. And I didn’t want to ask, because that would have looked a little foolish. Some people don’t understand why I don’t remember every word of every book I’ve written; most people definitely wouldn’t understand why I can’t remember what I was working on this past summer.

Since I had recently finished the adult novel, I told him that yes, I’d finished my book. I just hope that was the book he was asking about…

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.

Choose Who’s In Your Life

Most of us have family members or friends. Sometimes close, sometimes not so much.

The hard part is when someone who’s been close to us suddenly isn’t. Either they’ve backed off or we have, or maybe they’ve done something we just can’t accept. Maybe it’s an issue of physical distance, maybe one of emotional. Maybe we feel worse when we’re with them than when we aren’t.

When we let someone into our lives to that extent, and especially if they’re a family member, cutting them out can be difficult. It might even seem impossible. But if you feel negative when you’re around them, or if they’ve changed the way they act toward you to something hurtful, sometimes you have to make that choice.

We all have the right to decide who’s in our lives. Even being related doesn’t guarantee someone a place. People might say “I can’t stop talking to them, they’re my parent” or something along those lines, but that’s still a choice.

Choose yourself first. Be the most important person in your life, and surround yourself with people who make you happy, or at least comfortable. You deserve it.

Going to Be Away…

I’m going to be away for a week, which means there won’t be a post next Monday.

I’m not sure about this going away thing. I’m going to a retreat, which I went to last year as well. Last year, it was difficult. I only knew three or four people there, and two of those were people I didn’t know well. I met people there, of course, and I’ve kept in touch with a few of them who will be there again this year. So it won’t be as difficult from that perspective.

But just like the convention I went to in January, at this retreat, there are going to be a lot of people. At times, things are going to be very crowded and loud. I don’t do well with crowded and loud. It’s also at a summer camp that has no internet or cell phone access, so I won’t be able to distract myself with my usual things. (Which is kind of the point of having the retreat there, since it’s a thing you aren’t really supposed to be distracted from.)

A lot of things will be outside, and I’m not always comfortable being outside, either.

I have to be very mindful during this retreat of my health, both physical (because there’ll be a lot of walking) and mental. Fortunately, I’m going with a close friend who’s aware of this and will be keeping an eye on me, but it’s my responsibility to manage my health and make sure I’m taking care of myself. Which I can do, I just have to remember that pushing myself is okay, but shoving myself…not so much.

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.

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.

Teaser Thursday- Dolphins in the Mud

The hubbub around the mud grew with the arrival of another van. People started wading into the muck and talking about the best way to haul the dolphins out. The animals just sat there, staring with sad eyes at the humans. Dolphins were always shown as these graceful, beautiful creatures. There was nothing graceful about them now. Some of them flopped around, trying to swim through the goop, and some of them just held still like they knew there wasn’t any hope of freeing themselves.

They were still beautiful. I kind of wished Mom had let Cece stay outside to look at them. Then again, seeing the dolphins like this probably would have upset Cece. She liked watching dolphins swimming on TV and in movies, and she wouldn’t have understood why these dolphins just lay there in the mud.

Or maybe she would have. Maybe Cece understood more than the rest of us and just wanted to hide it.

Noah and I stood there next to each other for a long time without saying anything. I’d given up on talking, since he didn’t seem to want to share any information with me. I didn’t know if he kept quiet because I did, or if he had something to hide. The reason didn’t matter to me. I didn’t know anyone else I could be silent with and not end up feeling totally awkward.

With Noah, I didn’t feel awkward at all. I’d just met the guy, and I already felt like maybe we’d become friends.

Of course, I hoped we’d end up more than that. He was cute, and I had a sense that there was more to Noah than he was showing me. Mystery appealed to me. Plus I was just plain lonely.

Like there was the slightest chance of a guy like him being gay. I decided to stop thinking along those lines and just be happy about having someone to hang out with besides my parents and Cece. At least for the amount of time it took to free the dolphins.