Release Week Teaser- Dolphins in the Mud

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Cece sat down on the floor, hugged her dolphin, and started rocking. I hadn’t even been sure how much she’d noticed about what was going on. Obviously she had realized Mom wasn’t there, and it bothered her. She just didn’t know how to say how she felt.

“Chris, is your dad around?” Kadie asked softly.

“He’s at work,” I replied. “You can try calling him, but he doesn’t usually have much time to talk.”

“Okay, then can you tell us a little about what’s going on with your mother?” Nina asked. “We shouldn’t even be here without one of your parents.”

“Didn’t Dad call you?” I went over to them so we wouldn’t bother Cece with the conversation. “He said he would call you and tell you what was going on.”

“I didn’t get a call from him.” Kadie looked at Nina, who shook her head. “When did he say he was going to call?”

“Last night,” I replied. “I gave him the cell numbers Mom wrote down, and he said he’d take care of it.” I should have figured he wouldn’t. He’d had too many things going on at once. He probably hadn’t even remembered I’d mentioned the therapists.

That wasn’t an excuse, though. Once again, I had to be responsible for something my parents should have done.

I glared at Cece, who of course didn’t notice since she was still rocking and staring out—or at—the window. None of this was her fault, anyway. She couldn’t help the way she was, and she definitely couldn’t help how our parents were. Maybe if Cece hadn’t had autism Mom would have stuck around, but Cece couldn’t do anything about that. Mom didn’t know how to handle a kid who needed as much as Cece did. Cece couldn’t help needing so much, though. And Mom had had alternatives.

I sighed. “Dad needs to step it up.”

“Your father’s doing his best,” Jillian said. “This isn’t easy for him.”

“It isn’t easy for me either!” I shouted.

The women jumped. Cece didn’t even move.

Words started pouring out of me, and I didn’t bother trying to stop them. “Listen. You don’t know how much I’ve been doing around here. Every day, Mom would take off for a few hours. I don’t know where she went. She said she was running errands. She told me not to tell Dad, because she didn’t want him to get mad at her for leaving me alone with Cece. So I was already doing that. Then I come home Monday and find Cece still sitting in her school van, waiting for someone to come for her, and the driver almost didn’t even let me have her. Then I had to—”

I stopped. All of them were staring at me like I’d gone nuts or something. Maybe I had. After everything that had happened the past few days, maybe going nuts was the sanest way to deal.

“I’ve been doing a lot for a long time,” I said, trying to keep my voice down.

“Your father didn’t know your mother was leaving you alone with Cecelia?” Kadie asked.

I shook my head. “I shouldn’t have said anything. It doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t think Mom will be back.” I glanced over at Cece. She was still staring out the window, so I hoped she hadn’t heard me.

“It does matter,” Nina said. “You shouldn’t have been put in that position.”

“Watching Cece isn’t a big deal.” I was starting to feel really uncomfortable now, like I’d done something wrong by tattling on Mom and by doing what she’d told me to do. Plus Kadie and Nina made it sound like I wasn’t capable of taking care of my sister. Obviously I was, since I’d done okay so far.

“That isn’t the point,” Kadie said. “We’ll talk to your father about it later. Do you think he’ll be home soon?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I just know I’m tired of having to do everything, so I hope he is.” I looked at Jillian. “No offense. You’re helping a lot right now, but you weren’t around before.”

“I would have been if I’d known,” she said quietly.

“Yeah. Thanks.” Mom wouldn’t have let Jillian help. She hated letting anyone other than me know she couldn’t handle Cece. The only reason she said anything to me was because she figured I wouldn’t tell anyone else.

Or maybe because she didn’t have anyone else to talk to. She could have made friends with Jillian and some of the other women in the neighborhood if she’d wanted to, but she hadn’t bothered trying. She shouldn’t have been leaning on me, but maybe she hadn’t known what else to do.

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.

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- Ball Caps and Khakis

Today is release day! Ball Caps and Khakis is now available from Harmony Ink Press, Amazon.com, and Omnilit.com.

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I sat down again, because I wasn’t doing anything useful by standing there. I completely understood why Jim didn’t know whether to take Todd at his word. I wasn’t sure I believed him either. If Todd honestly didn’t believe Jim was doing anything wrong, he should have been putting more effort into finding out who was doing it.

They finished going through Jim’s phone, and Todd made a few notes in his notebook. “Okay. I can’t promise you won’t be asked to bring it down to the station, but I’ll tell them I checked it thoroughly and didn’t see any reason to believe you’ve been using it for anything besides texting and calling Delia and Man-Shik. They should back off, but like I said, no promises.”

“Thanks.” Jim put the phone facedown on the table. “Can you guys maybe work on finding out who actually is sending those messages, if you really don’t think it’s me? Because every time you show up or call, I’m more sure you think I did it.”

“I know. It isn’t something I can help.” Todd reached toward Jim but didn’t touch him. “We have the IP address from Facebook. Now we’re tracking which provider it’s from, and then we have to have the provider tell us whose IP it is. I am on your side. We need other people to give us some ideas of who else to talk to.”

I suddenly remembered what Jae had said earlier. If Jim heard about it, maybe it would make him feel a little better. “Hey, Todd, are you the one who talked to my dad this morning?”

“About what?” Todd wrinkled his forehead. “I didn’t come in until about an hour ago.”

“That’s when he called.” Dad must have talked to one of the other officers. “Jae said she heard Shara and some of her other friends talking. Shara said she didn’t care if Jim was actually watching her. She only reported it because she’s trying to get Jim in trouble.”

“First I’ve heard about it. Hang on.” Todd yanked his phone off his belt and made a call. “Kent? Todd. Did you catch a call from the Parks earlier? Something about their daughter?”

He held up a hand and listened. “That’s it. Are you following up on it? You’d better say yes.”

He listened again. I leaned back and tried not to look at Jim. I should have told him right away about Shara’s lie. He was probably angry now, even more than he had been. I would have been in his situation. It was one small piece of hope, and I hadn’t even remembered to say a word about it.

“Good,” Todd said. “Thanks for filling me in. I’m with Jim now, so I’m going to let him know what’s going on. If he needs to come to the station, call me. I’ll have to bring him.”

He put the phone back on his belt and gave us a smile that looked scarier than any frown Mom could have managed. “They talked to Jae-Shik and your dad, Man-Shik. Kent’s on his way to talk to Shara, and Casey’s going to talk to one of the other girls Jae said heard what Shara said.”

“She lied?” Jim’s voice cracked. “I mean, I know she did, but she admitted it?”

“Jae didn’t want to say anything,” I said slowly. “She’s afraid of losing her friends. But she thinks you’re her friend too, and she knew it wasn’t right for Shara to lie about you.”

“You didn’t say anything when you got here.” He narrowed his eyes. “Why didn’t you?”

“I don’t know.” No question he was angry. I’d seen him close to losing his temper before, and it usually didn’t worry me, but I’d never been the target.

About Ball Caps and Khakis

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This week marks the release of what is currently planned to be the final book in my Deep Secrets and Hope series from Harmony Ink Press. I say “currently planned” because about two and a half years ago, when the first book of the series came out, there was no series planned. People read that first book, Nail Polish and Feathers, and asked for more. And so it expanded from there.

The series definitely has its dark points, and one of the darkest is the plot arc concerning Jim Frankel. Introduced in the first book as a bully, Jim was revealed at the end of the second book to have done even worse. Book five, Work Boots and Tees, is Jim’s story from his own point of view.

That novel has elicited its share of controversy and comments. Some people hate the character; some are sympathetic to him. Not to mention what some readers have said about me, not realizing, perhaps, that the beliefs and opinions of my characters don’t necessarily reflect my own. If I only wrote about people I agree with, who believe only the things I do, my books would be pretty boring.

Ball Caps and Khakis takes place following the events of Work Boots and Tees, and is told from the point of view of Man-Shik Park, or Manny, the boy who tries to become Jim’s friend after Jim is “exiled” to live with his cousin in Michigan. Knowing what Jim did back home in Massachusetts, Manny is cautious about him, but he also believes Jim, like almost anyone else, deserves a chance at redemption. And he defends Jim, even when he isn’t sure he should.

Manny is also asexual and homoromantic, meaning that although he doesn’t experience sexual attraction to anyone, he does experience romantic feelings toward other guys. While much of Ball Caps and Khakis is devoted to Manny’s perspective on Jim’s struggles, some is also about Manny accepting his own orientations and trying to explain them to his parents.

The official release day for Ball Caps and Khakis is this Thursday, February 25, but some advance ratings and reviews have already popped up on Goodreads. And it looks like readers are going to have some pretty strong reactions to this one just as they did to Work Boots and Tees. We’ll see.

Release Day Contest!

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It’s release day for Work Boots and Tees, book 5 of my Deep Secrets and Hope series from Harmony Ink Press! The book is now available on Amazon, Omnilit, and the publisher’s site https://www.harmonyinkpress.com/books/work-boots-and-tees-by-jo-ramsey-330-b. To celebrate, for the next week, until noon Eastern time (GMT -5) on Thursday, October 22, I’m taking entries to win a free PDF or Kindle format copy of Work Boots and Tees. There are two ways to enter, and you can do both if you choose.

First, answer this question either by commenting on this post or, if you aren’t comfortable answering publicly, email me at joramsey34 AT Hotmail DOT com. I won’t share any emails I receive. The question: Have you done something in your life that you thought people would never forgive you for, and were you forgiven? (You don’t have to say what it was.)

Second, share the publisher’s link on your social media accounts. Each share equals one entry. Make sure you either come back here or email me to let me know where you’ve shared it; the entries only count if I know about them.

I’ll draw the winner just past noon on the 22nd. If I have the winner’s email address I’ll contact them as well as posting their name here, but just in case, make sure you check back here to see whether you’ve won.

Thanks for entering. And if you happen to read Work Boots and Tees, please post a review or at least a rating on Amazon (if that’s where you buy it) and/or Goodreads. I’d appreciate it!

Why I Wrote Work Boots and Tees

This is the author’s note included at the end of my novel Work Boots and Tees, which will release Thursday from Harmony Ink Press. I’m sharing the author’s note here as well because some people won’t read the book, and because I think it’s important.

Many people have questioned my choice as the author to have Jim Frankel serve only one month in juvenile detention for raping Chastaine and Maryellen. They feel that he should have had more severe consequences.

I agree. However, what we want as human beings and what the legal system does are sometimes two vastly different things. Research I did into the legal system here in Massachusetts, and discussions with people who had been through a similar situation from a legal standpoint, indicated that in real life, it’s likely that the cases against Jim would never even have seen a courtroom.

As established in the previous books in this series, neither Chastaine nor Maryellen tried to stop Jim. Both were afraid of him and let him do what he wanted because of that fear; however, from his perspective as a somewhat immature and ignorant teenage boy, the lack of “no” meant they were consenting to sex with him.

Because of that, because both girls were in relationships with Jim at the time of the incidents, and (unfortunately) because of Chastaine’s reputation, in real life, charges might not even have been filed against Jim. And if they had been, it’s very likely the case would have been dismissed or he would have been found not guilty.

Please note: As a human being and a sexual assault survivor, I am not stating that the legal system would be right in seeing it that way. I’m simply saying that, based on my research, that would have been the most likely outcome.

In my first draft of High Heels and Lipstick, the novel which details Chastaine’s struggles and the aftermath of her reporting Jim, that “most likely outcome” was what happened. However, as I said, I am a survivor myself, and as such I try to be sensitive to other survivors. The people I spoke with about this were adamant that Jim should see some punishment, whether or not it was realistic.

Although the Deep Secrets and Hope series is fiction, it is contemporary fiction. As such, I feel that I would be doing a disservice to my readers if I present an unrealistic scenario, especially with something as serious as this. On the other hand, I completely agreed with the survivors I spoke with.

My compromise was that Jim, when confronted with the reports by Chastaine and Maryellen, is horrified by what he’s done. Hearing it from the police is the first time he understands that the girls didn’t consent; the first time he realizes that “no means no” doesn’t work, that it should be “only yes means yes.” And because of his own history as a sexual abuse victim, when Jim comes to this realization, he wants to be punished for what he’s done, so he confesses to the police and pleads guilty in court.

Even with a guilty plea, in real life Jim would not be likely to receive as severe consequences as we might wish. On the other hand, since he did admit to what he’d done, he had to receive some consequences. Therefore, again based on research, in the books Jim serves one month in juvenile detention and is released on probation which will end when he turns eighteen. He is court-ordered to receive counseling.

On the non-legal side, he’s also kicked out of both his mother’s home and his father’s, and is sent to live with a relative he’s never met in another state. And he pays a heavy emotional price for what he’s done. Jim is sixteen, and he is a sexual abuse survivor himself. That does not excuse the things he’s done, but it is part of the explanation for them.

As a survivor, as a former teacher who has worked with several “Jims,” and as a parent and human being, I strongly believe in redemption and change. While we might believe that the legal system should have stronger consequences in cases like this, and while some readers will say that since it’s fiction I should have warped reality to give them the outcome they want (I actually had one person tell me Jim should be executed!), as an author I try to give hope and encouragement to all of my readers.

I want survivors to know that they will be heard, and that there will be consequences for those who have hurt them, but I also want the “lost boys” like Jim, the ones who have been victimized and in turn have victimized others out of their own pain and anger, to know that the lost can always be found.

The Story Behind Blue Jeans and Sweatshirts

Thursday will mark the official release of Blue Jeans and Sweatshirts, book 4 in my Deep Secrets and Hope series from Harmony Ink Press.  The series started two years ago with the release of Nail Polish and Feathers and the requests and pleas of a few readers, including an author I greatly admire, that I continue Evan Granger’s story.

Evan is only the main character of Nail Polish and Feathers, but he makes appearances in the other three books currently available as well, as Guillermo’s boyfriend in Shoulder Pads and Flannel, part of Chastaine’s support system in High Heels and Lipstick, and of course Holly’s cousin in Blue Jeans and Sweatshirts. But the storyline of the series has gone far past Evan’s struggles with bullying and trying to become a drag queen.

In Blue Jeans and Sweatshirts, main character Holly McCormack is keeping secrets even from her best friend and confidant Evan. While Evan knows about Holly and Chastaine’s relationship–which Holly and Chastaine are hiding from almost everyone else–he doesn’t know that Holly has almost stopped eating. Neither does Chastaine, even though in Holly’s mind, Chastaine is the reason for it. And while Holly loves Chastaine and wants to help her, her fears and insecurities are getting in the way.

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Writing Guillermo’s and Chastaine’s stories were a no-brainer for me. But I wasn’t originally planning to write Holly’s. It took me a while to see that there was a story there. Even though Holly has appeared in the previous three books and played a big role in Chastaine’s, I didn’t really know her as a character. She was mostly in the background providing support to the others.

But since I’d written Guillermo’s story as the flip side of Evan’s, I thought I should write Holly’s as the flip side of Chastaine’s. And the folks at Harmony Ink Press agreed, especially since they were looking for more books with female main characters. So I sat down to brainstorm, and in the process learned a lot more about Holly than I’d bargained for. In good ways.

Holly’s insecurities about her body, and especially the development of her eating disorder, are something very personal to me. Aside from having had similar insecurities myself, I’m close to a teenage girl who battled bulimia for three years. Although she’s recovered, she still sometimes battles the urges, and she did lasting damage to her stomach and esophagus. I’ve known other girls who had similar thoughts and disordered eating, and I believed they deserved a voice.

Holly’s story, like the other three, has light moments and definite signs of hope, as well as struggles and dark moments. I hope readers will enjoy Holly’s story as much as I did.