And the Horse You Rode in On: A Rant About the Western World’s Failures Regarding Mental Health

fuck-you

Day after day I’ve listened to news outlets and podcast speakers ungracefully report and backhandedly “process” the news that the German pilot who by all reports deliberately flew a passenger plane into the Alps suffered from depression. I haven’t been able to stand listening to or reading enough to find out definitively if he was officially diagnosed or if he is only alleged to have been, so I apologize if I don’t have that fact absolutely accurate. It hardly matters at this point, sadly. All we’re getting are media barking out variations on, “Why the hell did they let a crazy person fly a plane?”

First of all, fuck you. Fuck you every media outlet and individual who has equated mental health suffering with “crazy.” Fuck your insensitivity, your ignorance, and your kindergarten-level associations.

Fuck everybody in the office who let that copy get to the floor. Fuck everyone who didn’t immediately call in a mental health expert to explain the complex intricacies of the human mental state. Fuck you all for not talking about our medieval level of mental health care support in the United States in particular which kills a lot more people than one misguided soul able to lock himself into a cockpit. Fuck you for not bothering to do research enough to understand a Western plane full of Westerners statistically had to carry a huge number of people with medications supporting depression and anxiety in their carryons, for conditions they would never confess to exactly because of our horrible, terrible culture. Fuck them for not understanding how many people in their very newsrooms made quiet decisions to never, ever tell anyone about their therapist or bad day or never bring any medication to work because they might lose their job. Fuck them. Fuck them all.

I wish I could say “whew, so glad I got that out of my system,” but that rage is not out of my system. Because it’s more than the media. It is everyone in this country who is part of this problem. I can’t speak for other Western countries, but I know while they might be better than us on these matters, we all have a long way to go. To start, we don’t even remotely acknowledge how pervasive mental health issues are. The number of people in each of our acquaintances who suffer from depression or anxiety alone are staggering. Whoever you are, wherever you live, you absolutely know several people with moderate to severe depression or anxiety. Many of them are untreated and undiagnosed, largely because the stigma against mental illness is so intense it seems better to suffer in silence than to seek help.

Part of the problem is depression and anxiety in particular, in addition to being pervasive, are not easily treated. Even if our culture were more understanding of the conditions, by their nature they aren’t easy to address. To start, they are managed, not cured. Depression isn’t something one catches like a cold. It’s a complicated dance of brain chemistry and circumstances. Many of the elements most responsible are literally part of the brain. They cannot be removed or remade, only better understood and adapted to.

There’s also a huge difference between clinical depression and anxiety and the casual depression and anxiety every human feels from time to time. But as humans are wont to do, because we have a passing familiarity with these conditions, we extrapolate the way someone else suffers is similar or the same. Which leads to the ridiculous “get over it” and “snap out of it” remarks. The kind of depression and anxiety I’m talking about is the kind that cannot be snapped or stepped over any more than someone with heart disease can snap out of it, any more than diabetics can decide to get over their blood sugar levels.

We’d never deny an employee their insulin or seizure medication, but we don’t hesitate to back away when someone is revealed, by choice or by accident, as having mental health struggles. We fear crazy. We fear what we cannot control. We fear what we cannot understand.

We also, as a culture, prize the ideal. The prettiest people. The straightest people. The whitest people, or the right “ethnic” people. The most successful people. The well-balanced people. We so value the ideal that even models and actors who starve themselves and spend hours a day at the gym and days perfecting hair and skin are photoshopped. Which is how we end up at this moment with otherwise sane, kind people, spouting the mad, cruel statements like, “Why are we letting these people fly planes? Why aren’t we screening the crazy out of our pilots?”

We’ve played with prioritizing ideals a lot over the last few centuries in Western culture. It’s resulted in genocide, mass-murder, cruel experimentation, and overt and subtle slavery. Not just in Nazi Germany. Every country has had its moment in that ugly sun. It’s clearly a lesson we don’t want to learn, however. We truly want to believe in normal. We want desperately to live in a world where people can work like dogs, live like kings, look like angels, and play like gods. We want to talk about humanity as an ideal too. We want to have a gated definition of human with high walls and impenetrable doors and big pits to load the garbage into.

There is no normal. Humanity is messy, awkward, and terrifying. We will even under the best circumstances produce humans who make terrible choices. We will sometimes, despite our best efforts, turn our own kindness into terror. We will never meet our own ideals. Even if we manage to erect those walls, at best the life inside will be full of pain and fear, because anyone could be sent out that chute into the pit at any time. Because everyone is flawed. It’s not possible to ensure we won’t end up boarding a plane where a pilot might decide to take us on our last flight.

It is, however, possible to not add to his list of victims. It’s possible to use this moment to get real about mental health, to question a culture that allows so many people to descend alone and unaided into mental chasms which allow them to end themselves and others this way. It’s possible to examine our punishing work ethics and streamlined systems of education designed toward an ideal human, not an ideal individual human experience. It’s possible to take this moment to stop and question whether we as a culture offer enough support and compassion to our fellow humans suffering with mental health issues. (We don’t.) It’s possible to use this as a moment to ask ourselves how much we all shoulder the blame every time someone with mental illness takes their own life and the lives of others.

Clearly, though, we’re not going to do to that. Not now. Not as a culture, not in the media.

I don’t know how to end this post. I’m angry, I’m frustrated, and I’m helpless. In a week and some change I have a book coming out where I address, with more aggression than I have yet, the issue of untreated mental illness. It’s a book where my efforts to ask for a beta reader without depression or anxiety to give it a read met in utter failure because every single person I asked admitted to me I wrote a book that spoke to their own struggles with mental health. I’m upset because because I love all those people, and the media shat all over them without so much as tossing them a wet wipe after. I’m upset because my husband and daughter both battle every single day with anxiety. Valiantly. Successfully. My child, diagnosed early and raised by a father who knows exactly what lies ahead, has been equipped with so much aid she has a real chance of being able to treat her anxiety the way she would a heart condition. A limitation, a frustration, but a workable issue. Unless, of course, she runs into people who hear she has mental illness and decides she’s crazy, lesser, or fit only for society’s garbage chute.

I don’t have depression or anxiety. I have a therapist, and I have plenty to talk about, but my brain uses different techniques to manage the hell that is human existence. I crave control and mastery. I work myself to death, self-depreciate and drill-sergeant myself into perceived safety. Very early on my world was unsafe and unhelpful, so I made myself an adult at a young age. My brain’s coping mechanisms are ones our culture prizes. Because it’s very easy for me to appear competent and “fine.” In order to survive, I had to get good at appearing that way, so that’s what I did.

What our culture fails to acknowledge is the beauty, sensitivity, and depth we cut out when we only prioritize one type of human or cut some types out altogether. What we fail to acknowledge is people with high anxiety are better at discovering real threats than we are. They are the people who see tigers everywhere, and when there is a real tiger, they become calm, because the thing they’ve known on a cellular level could hurt them has finally showed up. When the tiger is there, they’re not “crazy.” They’re prepared.

People with depression feel. They feel on molecular levels. They see feelings in ways which truly require more words to describe them. They feel feelings with so much intensity they often paint, write, or sing them. They understand everyone’s feelings, when they’re healthy. They are our great and powerful empaths, the kind we like to write about in fantasy but punish in real life.

We all have gifts. We all have value. We all have struggles. We are all humans, and we all have a right to exist. To make our mark. To love, laugh, cry, bleed. Life is not an exact science, and it will cause a lot of us pain. We can either address that truth and make part of the human experience helping each other through our pain, or we can slap cruel labels on people with pain and try to declare them unfit for our playground.

Frankly, this week has been full of slaps. It makes me sick, it makes me sad. When I wrote Carry the Ocean, when I dreamed of what it could say, I never thought it would change the world. This week though, I really wish something could. I guess I’m victim of the ideal too. I wish humanity wasn’t full of cruel, selfish, unthinking animals. I wish they really would erect a big wall with a lock. I’d gather everyone I loved and ride down the chute with them.

If you have mental health struggles and this week the world slapped you in the face, I’m sorry. I’m sorry every time you turned on a radio or television or loaded a news site you saw our culture being cruel and insensitive. I’m sorry they equated your illness with having a side-effect of mass murder. And above all I’m sorry our society is such where very few people have bothered to point out how awful that was.

This week a man flew a plane full of people into a mountain for reasons we will never truly understand. This year more people will die at their own hand due to mental health struggles at a rate over twenty times higher than the number of people who will die in plane crashes for every reason.

You tell me where the real insanity lies.

Carry the Ocean Tour Information & Other Updates

This post is a hodgepodge of things I need to update people about, and if you subscribe to newsletter, you’re about to get this information twice.

Carry the Ocean Book Tour

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The book tour for Carry the Ocean starts Tuesday and goes on and on and on through almost all of April, because so many bloggers chose to participate. There are also two Facebook parties, and who knows, there might be more. The tour updates daily. You can see the lineup here and use it to follow along and enter the grand prize drawing, which I have to tell you, is going to be the best I’ve ever had.

The Carry the Ocean Book Tour Grand Prize

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The grand prize this time is a signed copy of Carry the Ocean in paperback, a Blu-ray of The Blues Brothers, an Iowa State magnet, and Carry the Ocean scrapbook art. It’s made by Susan Romito, and it’s absolutely stunning. Here’s a little video so you can get a better idea of how it opens up.

Isn’t it amazing? Susan is amazing. A thousand thanks for all the hard work and design concept that went into this prize. Also I want to give a huge thank you to Suminsky Artwork (check out his Deviant Art page!) for permission to use his artwork Brain Master Octopus for the back cover. You’ll get why the art is so incredibly perfect once you read the novel.

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The only way to get this fabulous prize, though, is to win. So enter as often as you like. You can preorder the book right now, though, or wait for it to release on April 7.

Wallpaper

I’ve made some computer wallpaper for both Carry the Ocean and Nowhere Ranch. Carry the Ocean has several different versions, and Nowhere Ranch has just the one. I’ll try to make more eventually, and if you have a book or series in particular you’d like to see, you can let me know in the comments.

Nowhere Ranch Print Order Update

Several of you (okay, over fifty of you) have placed “request for notification” of Nowhere Ranch print orders. I wanted to let you know where that stands. While I’d hoped to have the books already, I have been, no joke, fighting with Ingram over the cover art for over two weeks. Not the content, just the ink levels and size and bar code “color” and placement and…wow. So it will be a little bit before I can offer you the books, but rest assured my husband has a huge spreadsheet of everyone who bought the ebook with a notification of the signed print.

If you didn’t get in on that action and want to, go here and purchase whatever ebook file you prefer with the print notification attached. What this means is I will for sure order that many paperbacks, and if those people want them, they get them. They’ll be $14 each plus shipping/etc, and it’s offered worldwide. The only way to be guaranteed the right of first refusal on the book is to buy the notification. This is one, to get everyone to put a tiny bit of skin in the game so I know you’re serious, and then it’s to get you in the database which Gumroad keeps, because it has your email information. It’s theoretically possible I might have extras and might sell some of them, but there are already a zillion and the deal is if you buy the notification, you are guaranteed the right to buy a copy. I can’t promise that if you try your luck. Because at sixty some books, I might say, that’s all I feel like hauling to the post office.

If you just want to buy the ebook, here’s a link to all the places where you can do that.

Love Lessons Audio & Lonely Hearts Preorder

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Love Lessons is available on audio! You can find it direct at Insatiable Press or at Audible/Amazon. Fever Pitch is coming soon, and I’m hoping to have more audio for you soon.

You can also preorder Lonely Hearts from nearly all major retailers. Go here to find the bookseller you prefer. Can’t find the one you’re looking for? Check back. More are added all the time.

Shall I tell you about angels?

Words are the litmus paper of the mind. ― Terry Pratchett

 I first heard about Terry Pratchett when I was on Jennifer Crusie’s yahoo group. Several people were fans, and whenever a new book would come out, they’d all melt down. I loved and trusted these women, so I gave the guy a whirl. I can’t remember if I picked up The Truth on my own, or if someone said “start here.” I think it was the latter, but I can’t be sure. In any event, it was my first Pratchett. I read about three pages and thought, “Are they all high? What the shit is this?”

Though I put the book down, other people I loved kept raving about the man, so eventually I resumed the book. Something magical happened about fifty pages in. His voice had permeated whatever resistance I’d harbored, and the jokes and bits of wit were now so thick on the ground I felt like I’d sunk through fog into a magic land of words. I firmly believe to this day Terry Pratchett’s books are like tea. You must find the right flavor, steep in it a bit, but once you’re addicted, all tea is wonderful and treasured, and nothing is ever enough.

Alas, today we find we must be content with what we have.

I was working when the tweet came through. @terryandrob doesn’t tweet much, but I tend to see most things that come through on that account, and I saw the announcement as it rolled through my feed.

Terry Pratchett last tweetWe’ve known this was coming. Neil Gaiman’s post in The Guardian last year made me uneasy, as did reports Sir Terry had to leave an event due to poor health. I’ve known he’d had Alzheimers for a long time. I understood he’d go before any of us wanted him to leave. I didn’t realize until this morning, though, as those tweets rolled through and I shouted “No, no, no” at my screen before I began crying, how much I had refused to believe the day would ever come. I thought perhaps some miracle would happen, I suppose, or that we could just one more book, one more year ourselves into infinity. But no. The hourglass has run out. And here we are.

Sir Terry Pratchett is and will forever be my favorite author. He wrote my favorite book, Going Postal, and many of my favorite characters. He is the author I have read and re-read to the point that each book is like a pair of comfortable shoes I put on when I want to feel better or be reminded of great things. That said, I’ve saved several for this moment. Books to save for when I need to read something new. For when the new supply will end.

Pratchett’s work has crafted who I am for the past decade, and radically affected both my writing and my sense of what a story is. I’ll go to the mattress defending the truth that he’s as brilliant and rich as Shakespeare, as able to serve the peanut gallery as well as the ivory tower. He was the storyteller’s storyteller. He crafted rich banquets but served them up on comforting, mismatched china with chips around the edges. He could blown down critics with the force of his wit and sharpness of his pen, but he could also blow them a raspberry and indulge in horrible, groan-worthy puns and extended gags because it pleased him, and many of his fans, to do so.

He taught me, without ever giving me a direct lesson, how to shape a story. When to bob, when to weave. How to forge a character, from what ore to look for one. How to make a villain, though I still struggle with that one, for my own reasons. How to make a hero out of shoddy armor. How to build a world, not by the sparkle of its scenery but by the glow of the hearts of the characters within. He taught me how to follow my heart, but also how to spin my heart in a way an audience has agency. He taught me how to tell more than one kind of story. How to build a brand around something bigger and yet still focused. How to serve my readers as well as my characters. Serve them with my characters.

Going PostalBut mostly he made me fall in love with so many places and people and ideas that I never, ever tire of visiting them. Vetinari, Death, Gaspode, Angua, Tiffany, Granny, Nanny, Moist, Adorabelle, Vimes, Carrot, Detritus—I could fill a blog post with nothing but the names of characters I adore. He painted them so well I can’t bear to watch movies made of them, because they always fall short of the dazzling picture his own words create for me. He made me fall in love with his quirky, intrusive narration. Made me love absolutely everything so much that all I needed to make the purchase was his name on the cover.

I didn’t think I’d be able to do it so soon, but on my way to and from an appointment today out of town I listened to the first hour and some change of Going Postal on audio. It was far more a comfort than I thought it would be. I think largely because it reminded me he’s still here, right there in my favorite books. Because the magic remains, and will for all time. But I’m still sad. I’ll never get to stand at the back of an auditorium and feel the thrill of knowing the man who moves my heart and soul so much stands before me. That the brilliant mind that creates all those worlds is in the same room with me. I don’t know that I could have stood in line for a book to be signed, because I’d probably break down crying and embarrass us all, but now that’s not an option.

It makes me ache there will be no more stories. One more, I think people have said. One more? No. That’s not enough. I want so many, many more. I want them until I’m eighty. I want to stay alive with just enough strength to keep turning pages well past one hundred and keep them coming. I want to keep learning and discovering in new places. Today I grieve because the door has closed. Death has walked my hero across the desert. If I want new stories, I’ll have to close my eyes and hope for whispers on the wind.

Shall I tell you about angels, Sir Terry Pratchett? As Lord Vetinari told Moist Von Lipwig, the thing about angels is that they only appear once.

You were mine.

 

Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken? ― Terry Pratchett

 

Nowhere Ranch, Available Sort of Now

Quick programming note: if you get my newsletter/follow me on Twitter or Facebook and you’ve been pondering going to Gumroad only to find out the price just went up, NEVER FEAR. Read on.

If you read that and thought, “Gumroad?” Come with me. I shall explain.

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I told you Nowhere Ranch was coming back, and it’s here. Sort of. It’s on its way. This is my self-publishing learning experience, which means I’m stumbling around half-drunk, making messes and being generally inelegant. I’m in the process of uploading the book to the following places:

  • All Romance eBooks (already there!)
  • Amazon Everywhere (in process, could show up anytime between tonight and Tuesday morning)
  • Barnes & Noble paperback (that will totally take a long time, I have to MAIL IN this form)
  • Barnes & Noble Nook (in process, probably a few more days)
  • Google Play (it says it’s there, but it’s…not)
  • Gumroad (hold on, I’ll explain)
  • iTunes (OMG, don’t get me started what a PITA that is, IDK when that will sort out)
  • IngramSpark (paperback distribution, basically all over everywhere)
  • Kobo (in process, they’re approving something)

If one of those is your favorite formats/vendors, keep watching this page and click the Buy Now button. When your vendor has their link in place, I’ll add it. When all/most of them are up, I’ll do a newsletter announcing it and have a contest for a free copy as well.

But for RIGHT NOW, the book is absolutely up at a site called Gumroad, where I’ve been able to sell it to you all weekend for $1. Plus, you can add on to your ebook what I’ve been calling “signed print notification,” which basically means because Gumroad collects your email address and I see what you bought, my husband can keep your email in a spreadsheet, and when we have paperbacks ready and priced, he can send a thing saying, “Hey, this is the paperback and what it will cost you plus shipping. You want it?” And if you say yes, you will get to purchase via Paypal a signed (by me, not my husband) (though he would, if you asked) paperback copy of Nowhere Ranch. I set a cap for about 65 of those because MEIN GOTT I have to sign and schlepp all those to the post office, but if there’s somehow this burning need for more, I’ll probably up it. Actually if you got to 150 you’d save me money. So, if I run out, go ahead and ask. I might even just up it if they go “out.” But it will absolutely end by mid-March, so don’t dally.

Now here’s the part you need to hear, especially if the first line of this blog post pertained to you. Because of the way Amazon in particular sets its royalty rates, I can’t price the book any lower than $2.99 without getting scalped. I wanted to have a little bit of time where it was dirt cheap because so MANY of you have bought it over the years, and if you wanted to upgrade, I wanted it to be very painless for you to do so. I might eventually raise the price up to 3.99 or something, but honestly, this book has been out forever, and so long as I make back my investment in self-publishing, I’m content to let that book be a bargain for quite some time.

This means, though, that because Amazon will go live any second and All Romance Ebooks already is, I have to raise the price on Gumroad to match. BUT, because you’re reading this blog, you can still get it for $1! All you have to do is select the version you want on Gumroad, type “rope” into the offer field, and you will still get it for $1. Actually, it’ll be $0.99. And I will leave it that way for another week for sure.

Thanks to everyone who’s bought so far! And if you didn’t get the special notification of the pre-sale but wish you would have, sign up for my newsletter and next time you’ll be among the first to know too.


 

 

Love will grow through the cracks you leave open.

Ranch hand Roe Davis absolutely never mixes business with pleasure—until he runs into his boss, Travis Loving, at the only gay bar within two hundred miles.

Getting involved with the ranch owner is a bad idea, but Roe’s and Travis’s bedroom kinks line up against one another like a pair of custom-cut rails. As long as they’re both clear this is sex on the side, no relationship, no interfering with the job, they could make it work.

Shut out by his family years ago, Roe survived by steadfastly refusing to settle into so much as a post office box. As his affair with Travis grows into more than just sex, Roe’s past catches up with him, threatening the thin ray of happiness he’s found, reminding him it’s well past time he went on his way.

But even a loner gets lonely, and at this point, there’s nowhere left to run. The shame and sorrow of what he’s lost will stay with Roe wherever he goes—until he’s ready to let love lead him home.

This novel has been previously published and has been revised from its original release.

Don’t panic. Nowhere Ranch will be back shortly.

Kanaxa - Coming Soon

At the time of this posting, my novel Nowhere Ranch has disappeared from most electronic retailers, leaving only the first-edition paperbacks, and probably not a ton of them. I think ARe still has it, but they won’t for long.

DO NOT PANIC.

The book has a new cover (reveal on February 25 at Joyfully Jay) and is in the process of getting a spit-shine by Sasha Knight, and as soon as I figure out all the gears and levers of self-publishing, it will appear pretty much everywhere it just was, plus some more places, and especially initially the ebook will cost less. Maybe a lot less. Probably a lot less.

At one point I was going to try to do a sequel, but every time I try to do that for this series, it doesn’t work. It really, really doesn’t work. I had one that kind of half worked, maybe, if you squinted, and then I pretty much took the whole thing and morphed it into Tough Love. Maybe someday I write a new one. Or maybe I don’t ever. Absolutely I’m not right now.

Also, I’m really curious about self-publishing. I’m kind of terrified and a whole lot of suspicious, but I have some very smart people advising me, and I think this is one of those things where I’m going to learn a lot and that’s always good.

I don’t have a hard release date yet. Probably early March because it’ll be done by then and sitting on it will make me crazier than anything else. I will NOT be doing a blog tour for it because I’m already half nuts with work and promo as it is. I will, though, put out an offer for ARCs, so if you want to get on that wagon, join the blog tour signup list, and then you’ll be able to know. There will maybe be a Netgalley thing but I’m not sure. If you want to make sure you don’t miss when it’s for sale again, join my regular newsletter.

The cover ROCKS. I loved the old cover and told Kanaxa, “If you could make something I love more, I’ll be surprised but very grateful.” She talked to me about a few intriguing concepts, then sent me the draft and I was all NEVERMIND, I LOVE THIS. I hope you will too!

To answer your inevitable question: no major revision in this reissue. Mostly me tightening stuff up and using the stuff I’ve learned over the years to make it better. No big story or structure change.

And to answer your next question: yes, this will be happening to Dance With Me later this year too. Pretty much exactly the same thing all the way down.

That’s all. As you were!

Hey @NASCARonNBC, I’m not soft, just pissed as hell. Pull the #GlutenFree Mocking Ad.

nascarNBC is airing an ad during the Superbowl featuring this natty gentleman on the left mocking people with Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. If you’re already mad and just want to tell them off, here’s the petition, here’s another post about the issue, and here’s the ad itself.

If you’re not sure why this is a big deal or you think people who can’t eat gluten should be laughed at, I’m going to encourage you to read on. If you’re from NBC or NASCAR, I really, really want you to read on.

I’m writing this blog post from my desk, eating certified gluten free cereal with vanilla flax milk. I have (dairy-free) creamer in my coffee because while I’ve been doing a lot better, the last few weeks I sort of downshifted back to body train wreck, and in an effort to chill out my stomach, I’m culling acidity in my food. I can’t bear to cut out coffee entirely, so I’m cutting back and adding milk.

The kicker is, this go-round my problem is I’m not noticing when my body is in pain, because it’s so conditioned to feeling like crap I have to go by secondary warning signs. If you’ve read my blog a lot, you know what I’m talking about. Because I’m hoping a whole bunch of you share this, I’ll do a quick recap: for the past ten years I’ve been fantastically sick. Last year I had two surgeries, one emergency, and three trips to the ER. Before I got my actual diagnosis last year—severe, stage four endometriosis—I had a full buffet of horrible diseases floated in front of me. MS. Fibromyalgia. Cancer. Arthritis. Several others with scary names I’ve blocked from my memory banks. I couldn’t walk at times. I doubled over in pain a lot. I missed a lot in ten years. I’m on the downhill side now, but for a long, long time, I was a very miserable person.

During that nasty slide into deeper caverns of health hell, I developed a myriad of allergens and food sensitivity. I’ve lost track of all the special diets I’ve been on. All I know is they would all work for a while, and then they wouldn’t. All until one. When I was waiting for the blood tests to come back to tell me whether or not I had MS, I couldn’t bear to sit still, so I did homework. I read in several instances where modifying diet severely could help alleviate the symptoms, and it was mostly healthy eating with gluten free tacked on, so I tried it. It was very hard and frustrating, but it kept me busy while I waited to find out which of the four horrible diseases they were testing for I in fact had.

Before the first weekend was passed in my gluten free experiment, I not only felt better, but on Sunday evening I stood in the kitchen with tears down my face as I felt nerve sensation return almost fully to my feet. Though within four months I would spiral downward again—cutting gluten doesn’t stop diseased cysts—that diet modification gave me so much of my life back I don’t have words to describe it. And I make a living describing with words.

Many of my allergies and sensitivities have abated, though none have vanished. I can indulge in moderate dairy and egg, and I don’t have to clean my house every ten days top to bottom to keep dust mites in check (every month is okay now), but I still have to have casings on my pillows, and I still can’t have gluten. I can tolerate mild exposure, but not direct. My very recent digestive tract adventures have basically told me to cool it for awhile, to get used to the idea that as much as I miss wheat bread, I might never get it back.

What I have back, though, is my life. I never fully lost it, but I’m getting it back in a real, honest way. It comes at a cost, though, and it’s a very stupid one. Because there are people like NBC and NASCAR who think this is funny. Or made up. They think my sensitivity and the literally life-threatening exposure of Celiac sufferers is great fodder for an ad in a major market. Apparently sick people make great targets.

Not this one.

I have a long, long list of words I’d like to hurl at you, words NBC is so lily-livered over they would have to bleep from their oh so butch NASCAR broadcast. So let me tell you this. I’m not soft. I spent a decade getting sicker and sicker, carried more pain than anyone so clueless and callous as to design, star in, and approve that ad could imagine. I have vomited from pain. I have passed out from pain. I have swallowed pain and attended weddings, conventions, vacations. I’ve strapped on heels and walked on numb feet with a smile because that’s what my job demanded. I’ve bit my cheek until it bled and pasted on a smile as I lied to my daughter and assured her I would be okay, when I wasn’t sure if I actually would. I’ve raised a child. Counseled friends. Written twenty novels. Built a career. Loved and lost and lived a life.

Yes. I’ve cried because I’ve been to events where I couldn’t eat a single thing, stood there hungry and miserable and in pain but didn’t let anyone know. That crying came when I was alone or with friends. Yes, it’s true—some misplaced breadcrumbs can still knock me on my ass.

This doesn’t make me soft.

Soft is laughing like Beavis and Butthead and reaching for an easy joke, mocking people will serious illness because somehow you think this will get you an audience.  Soft is being so ignorant and uninformed you don’t do any research before you make an ad. Soft is being so tone deaf it’s going to take us shaming you in public to know how to behave.

Pain has carved knives into my blood. I am not soft. You, however, are unbelievably stupid. Pull your insulting, incorrect ad. And if this is all you have to recommend your sport and your network? You have a great deal of soul searching to do.

Sign this petition to tell NBC to pull this ad. Read this post for facts about Celiac, a link to the ad, and another argument about why this ad is a kick in the gut to people who truly don’t need that kind of insult.

My Book Is Not My Baby, Though Sometimes It Does Reek of Poo.

via Flickr

via Flickr

“My book is my baby.” You hear that a lot from authors, especially of novels, and as one of that number, I get it. Most of us don’t mean it more than a very loose metaphor, an image-intense description of what it’s like to create something out of almost nothing and have it become something much more. We imprint hopes and dreams on this creation, and we feel great affection for it. Ergo, baby.

While I won’t try to stop anyone else who insists on calling their books their babies, because it’s still a free country, etc, I am not one of those people. And because I just read something about books being babies that kind of made my eye twitch, I feel like clarifying why I am, in this particular instance, anti-baby.

When I write a story, there’s definitely a big stage where the thing is unformed, but it’s not an infant I’m teaching to walk or hold its head upright. I’m trying to find eyeballs and get rid of that weird third ear on top of its head. It’s clay, not flesh. Absolutely I talk to it and nurture it, but I also rip it apart, and kick it, and yell at it—if my books were my babies, they’d all be taken away by child protective services.

Kewpie_dolls_at_the_Ralph_Foster_Museum

via wikimedia

But even if I were to pretend that was all somehow okay baby-tending behavior, what I do next is even worse. I guess I could go with the editing and proofing and beta-reading as sending the kid to school, but…holy hell, I’m not letting it learn. I’m forcing it into a mold, making it acceptable to society in a way which, again, would probably get me arrested if I tried it with my actual flesh and blood child.

Because before I got to the force you into something respectable phase, first I turned it into some free-range hippie. In the drafting phase I let it run amok though the fields and forests, let it shit in corners and climb weird trees, and the whole time this happened I stood by with a notebook, not caretaking. “Oh, look. That made its head break open. Best not let it go there again. Ah, but look what happened when I let it run naked through city center! That was amazing. Let’s do that again, only this time with a big BELL.”

Let’s recap: for this baby, first I design its DNA and rearrange it while it’s alive on my mad scientist table. Then I let it tear around without much shepherding so I can see what it can and can’t do. Then I tie it down, force it into a box, or a series of boxes as I attempt to make it no longer a wild, free thing but an acceptable little Stepford Baby.

I’d love to end the analogy breakdown here, but alas. I’m not done torturing this poor child.

Because next, I abandon this baby and sell it to anyone who will have it. Dressed in a uniform, labeled and wearing enticing signs advertising what it can and will do. Give me the right kind of money, and you can have it for as long as you want it. And I want a lot of people to have it. I want them to enjoy it in whatever way works for them. I made this baby just for them, and I want them to get the most out of it.

via Flickr

via Flickr

At this point, honestly, the analogy is seriously making me want to skip lunch.

Still not done, though.

This selling my offspring wholesale is just one horrible outcome, and it’s the best one. Because sometimes I abandon the baby entirely. If it’s not working for me, I throw it away. Some I keep around for parts and use them on other babies. Sometimes I abandon them for years, leaving them in a limbo of will she finish me? Won’t she finish me?

Okay. Uncle. I can’t go any further. I’m grossing myself out more than I can stand.

Bottom line: my books are not children. Yes, there’s this sense of sending something I care about into the world in a wistful way that has a few shaded areas like sending a child to college. That, I will buy. There’s always a moment where I get the book back from its final proofing and I feel like I’m waving at it from shore. Good luck in the new world. I hope you meet nice people. I hope you do well.

But that is a very different metaphor. A baby implies dependence. Caretaking. Tending. Monitoring. Allowing it to grow but in this very loving way that allows it as an entity, a living creature, to become its own thing. Some of that, sort of, applies to the act of creating a book, but it breaks down really quickly. And, as illustrated above, painfully.

The problem with calling a book a baby is that it doesn’t allow it to grow up. To walk out on its own and succeed or fail. I will stand by the idea that books become their own things, that there’s a point where we can only control so much of them. How good their odds of survival are do come from us—that’s our skill, our instinct, our work ethic. But at some point they sail on, whether or not we’re ready, and we simply watch to see how it all turns out. We can wave signs saying the books are here, can answer questions about them, plaster them in front of people, offer free samples. But that’s it. Anything else is getting in the way.

Once my book is out, it doesn’t belong only to me. Legally, yes, it’s mine. But once you read it? It’s yours as well. My Sams and Walters and Randys and Vinnies and Adams and all of the characters I’ve written—once you read them, they also belong to you, if you choose to keep them.

Anyone tries to take my daughter, or say she’s theirs—well, to be quite frank, I will bloody you. Unless she says she wants to be yours, and then I will watch you very carefully. Because in about a billion metaphorical ways, she is not a story I am writing. She authors her own story, one I am privileged to witness.

I can see how some people might feel I broke the analogy down too harshly. I imagine some authors feel it’s their job to protect their work the same way I protect my daughter, wanting only kind eyes to behold her. Except even that isn’t good—for books, or for my kid. Much as it kills me, I have to let bad things happen to her. She is not an egg. She is no longer a baby. She has my heart, but she also has her own.

Letting the book-as-baby metaphor be more than a cute, clumsy shorthand for the creative process can lead to a kind of overprotection which helps no one, not author, not reader, and not the book. Books are meant to be read. To be reacted to. Hated, loved, ignored, treasured. That is their life. Coddling them, sheltering them, helicopter parenting them is not allowing them to live.

Publishing a novel is not a ticket-punch which ends with adoration and success. Publishing a novel is a chance. It’s an adventure. It’s a risk. It’s dangerous, weird, strange, and often psychotic. Babies should be nowhere near this process.

Pacifiers, though, should probably be purchased in bulk. And having said my piece about this book baby thing, I’m going to brew another of my own patented pacifiers and go back to watching my current book make a big mess in the middle of the second act. It’s a little stinky at the moment, I’ll be honest. But by the time I let you see it, I’ll have it all cleaned up and shining. Once it’s for sale, you can buy it and do whatever you want with it.

Including, if you insist, call it your baby. Just please don’t call it mine.

On the Other Side

I’ve been trying to write this blog post for a month, maybe more. The reason it’s coming out today is because I am shamelessly riding the emotional tailwinds I found in this post, which I read this morning while I waited to drive my husband to work in the bitter cold. I’m now in that cliché place where I want to go buy everything Tom Pollock has written, though at this exact second I mostly want to curl up at his feet and put my head on his shoes.

I don’t have bulimia as he does, and I have no big confession to make, no anchor I’m trying to take off my chest and ask the community of strangers to help me carry. In fact, the blog I’ve been trying to write since forever, the thing I’ve barely been able to talk about even with my spouse, is how odd I feel now that I don’t have an albatross around my neck.

On the off chance you stumble onto this post and it’s your first meeting of me, the quick backstory is that for a decade or better I’ve been sick to varying degrees, mostly invisibly. I’ve carried sometimes a staggering amount of pain, usually without saying much. Without quite realizing how bad it had become, I made every day a battle to find a survivable baseline, and my definition of “survivable” became pretty grim every so often. I developed a million allergies. I strategized with my pharmacist husband how to use narcotics effectively without becoming addicted and/or losing their potency. I tried a million healing diets. I went to every therapy: Western, Eastern, and just plain from the moon. I prayed. I seethed. I endured. Then one day last year, I exploded. A pain in my abdomen became so intense I had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital. A few weeks later it happened again, and midnight exploratory surgery revealed I had horrible, unfathomably bad endometriosis. A few months later  I had a full hysterectomy.

After I healed, as more time passed, some of the allergies went away. A lot of the pain has diminished, now more related to inactivity and re-strengthening than chronic illness. I can eat more things and don’t have to have my house kept in a nearly literal hermetic bubble. In short, I’m a lot better.

Which is kind of funny, because sometimes, if I’m honest, I feel more weak and vulnerable and unsteady than I ever did when I was sick.

During that ten years of hell I raised a child. I struggled with the publishing industry, honed my craft, and eventually began a fiction career. I had friends, made new ones, went through some epic ups and downs with many of them. I traveled, even trans-Atlantic. I painted rooms in my house. Tackled the garden. Everywhere I went, people who knew I was sick would marvel at my determination, my strength. I made blogging about being ill a coping mechanism, a way to take back power. I refused in every way to let it cow me, and it never did.

Not until now, when the battle is over. Now I don’t feel like I can take on even a little bit of unexpected conflict. Now the wrong word or threat on social media undoes me. Someone’s bad day and rant can make me so unsettled I need to unfollow them or decide not to be on that platform for awhile, maybe anymore, period. A random pain in my neck or lower back, a shadow of my former trial, will make me rage and seethe or sob over the unfairness of it all. Battles I would have gladly had in the past I can’t fathom letting get off the ground. Sometimes I can talk a good game, but more often than not I can’t even manage that.

Intellectually I understand what is happening to me. To start, there is a very simple chemistry issue: I have removed a gut full of reproductive organs which produced a lot of hormones–organs which would have shut off on their own, given the chance, but on their own terms, not with a chemical injection and then the slice of a knife. From August until November of last year I rode a strange, terrible wave of adjustment–hot flashes were the outward, awful symptom, but inside I felt a cold fury and terryfying instablity which I could not even begin to control. I haven’t had the courage yet to look back at those months and see if I did any damage, because I’m sure I did. Why it stopped was because my doctor prescribed estrogen–ironically the hormone which could make me sick again–to help even me out. It did. I can’t take it forever, and I’m to start trying to taper it in a few months, but right now it is the reason I function. And what that little episode has taught me is how very humbled I am by my chemistry. No matter how smart or clever or determined I am, or even how patient and kind–I am an organism, and if my chemical mixture is poor, I will be poor.

That knowledge has been sobering me for awhile now, but to be honest it was the gateway emotion into a deeper, more terrible sea. The realization that while all that strength and determination was admirable and helpful, it isn’t me either. Not entirely. I am not, much as I would love to pretend it, a pillar of awesome. I am also terribly, achingly human. I am actually quite weak, and after a decade of struggle, I’m very tired.

And I’m sad. Oh God, I’m so fucking sad.

I lost ten years. I didn’t exactly–I lived life during that time, but not the life other people lived. I was not a usual thirty-year-old, and now I’m forty-one. I remember standing in a wading pool while a younger friend asked me to stop a runaway child belonging to a woman five years older than me, and I had to admit I didn’t have the strength or power to bend down and corral a wiggling toddler. I watched people run past my house and wondered what it would be like to feel good enough to do that. I walked through conventions in heels and nice clothes and took Vicodin so I didn’t care so much that my legs and feet were full of shooting pains and half numb. I sat in doctor office after doctor office while they guessed wrong, or didn’t guess at all, or suggested maybe it was because I was fat. Sometimes said it out loud. I did all that, and I endured it.

But now that’s all gone. Now it is me in the horrible aftermath, sitting with myself by a still lake in the evening breeze, and every so often I turn to myself and say, “That was really not any fun, was it, what happened to us?”

“No, it wasn’t,” I reply, and then those two conversational selves join together, and we cry. Or we pack up the pain and carry it with us on to something else.

The worst part is there’s nothing else to do but carry it and weep over it. Someday I’ll fashion the pain into a glittering jewel, but right now it is raw material, and it’s heavy and hurts to look at. For the first time in…god, probably ever, I’ve been doing that entirely on my own. Oh, I always hide some of the pain, and I am now too–that’s a coping mechanism of mine, barfing out publicly what looks like oversharing, which is of course a smoke screen for deeper pain. Because if you think I’ve shared too much, you’ll never look deeper to think maybe I’ve kept some back.

But that doesn’t give me much this time, because this is different in ways I’m still sorting out. I think it’s something about it being an end. Most of my being, not just my brain but muscle memory is wired for enduring, and I’m not now. I’m assimilating and healing, or something. And it’s fucking weird. I can’t endure like I used to, to start. I do not have that deep, powerful well of adrenaline. When I reach deep for it, I find this, this sadness and exhaustion, and I get disarmed. I still have a sense of who I am, but I’m realizing I’m less the Amazon Iowan who can fell anything while battling chronic illness and more Heidi, woman who can’t quite understand how so much of her life has gone by already.

And that’s it. That’s what I am right now. Sitting shiva over a false front I didn’t realize wasn’t me, sorting out how much of it was indeed a coping mechanism, how much I might be able to harvest and reform into whatever I am now…how much I even should. But mostly, it’s grieving. Sitting by that lake and saying, over and over again, “That sucked, that did. Yes indeed.”

Don’t get me wrong–I’ll write the shit out of this. I’ve already started. At this point I honestly don’t know what you’ll think of Lonely Hearts, of Baz and Elijah, but I’m very at peace with it because they are my angels, my boys who separated that pain into two halves and danced me through it into a fictional happy ever after. During the drafting of that story I wasn’t able to articulate how much I was mirroring myself consciously, but my subconscious was all over it. That’s clear now as I do the preliminary round of official corrections with my editor–holy mother of god, but I was processing pain on every page. I’ll be pulling from these weird feelings for years, on purpose and as a compulsion.

It’s a new adventure, I guess. I’ve been sitting with one kind of pain for years, and now I am privileged to enjoy another variety. One that is not active, one that requires the challenge of holding and accepting that pain happened, that pain had pain in its wake. That the path to hope and healing isn’t simply passing through it, or owning it. The way out of pain is absorbing it. All of it, every shade. Until you realize that being alive is knowing pain is always with you, always changing and expanding, alive in some ways more than you are. That pain is, essentially, the engine of life.

And that life is so wonderful and sometimes heavy that one can understand that truth as deeply as possible…but pain is still bigger and wiser, and it will always be there to show you that you were not as strong as you thought. It always has more for you.

Because the truth is, of course, I’m not sitting at the lake with myself. Or rather, that other self I’m breaking apart from to speak to is the pain I carry. Whether it was done to me, brought on by me, or if it simply happened with no intent on anyone’s part–it’s all mine. It’s all me. And sometimes it is more real, more anchor than I am.

That’s my post. For me, it feels like standing naked in the cold, with a diagram to all my weak places. I don’t like admitting I don’t feel as strong as I once did. But to be honest, if it’s not already obvious, it probably will be soon. Because I didn’t write this and feel power surging back. In fact, it feels very much like laying down a sword.

But Tom Pollock reminded me that confessing, or rather, sharing, being, is taking control. I still need to be at the lake by myself, but it’s nice knowing other people know that’s what I’m doing. Maybe it feels naked, but it’s mostly admitting I was already naked. Acknowledging.

It helps me see, too, what I’m not. I’m not a mess. I’m not on the edge. I’m simply–understandably–exhausted. Admitting the lake I’m sitting at is composed of my own sea of emotions, my own tears. Dramatic flair that that image is and all.

So, that’s me. At my lake, hurting less, feeling weird. Writing words. Including these.

Merry Christmas, Nudging the Newsletter, Going Quiet

Me & Mitch by the tree

Me & Mitch by the tree

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, blessed Festivus—however you’d like to slice it, may it be good. I’m about to go dark everywhere except for the occasional posting of cats on Twitter and/or Instagram. Lots of family, lots of presents, lots of cats (though that last bit is normal).

December 24 at 7AM, a newsletter will go out. If you aren’t currently subscribed, this would be a good time to fix that. Something will happen in tomorrow’s newsletter that will only happen there. It’s possible somebody will forward you the newsletter or link it, but it will be in their favor to not add people to the pool, so they might stay quiet. If you subscribe, you will want to make sure you open it and follow the link inside. Peek into your spam folder/promotions tab too, if it’s not apparent.

I leave you on this not-quite Christmas Eve with a brief message from the character Twitter voted for in a weird mid-day five minute window. There was sort of a tie between Sam and Randy, and they’re pointing out dialogs are more interesting than monologs anyway.

See you in 2015.


Randy and Sam Wish You a Merry Christmas

Sam: We have the blog! Except…I’m not sure what to do with the blog. What is it rated?

Randy: She’s posted a fisting scene on it, so anything goes. *waggles eyebrows at Sam*

Sam: *swats Randy* No, because Mitch isn’t here.

Randy: I’d take video for him, but whatever. *plops on couch, puts up feet* It’s not supposed to be a long post. We show up, flash our asses a bit, be merry, etc.

Sam: It’s too bad they can’t come eat your cookies. You make great cookies. And the holiday party last weekend was amazing.

Randy: Well, Heidi talked about making the 2016 Christmas story about us. If she’s not too absorbed in those Minnesota brats. Though take note they asked for us on Twitter. Kelly got one vote, and Walter didn’t get any.

Sam: Yes, but Walter is mostly you with money and better hair.

Randy. Hey.

Sam: *pats Randy’s hand* Why don’t we tell everyone what we got people for Christmas? Or wait, no, they might read this. How about we talk about what our family celebration will be like?

Randy: We’ll watch the Christmas lights. Later, we’ll welcome some friends to help us sing carols. And we’ll finish up by reading “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Then Steve will beat Chenco with a wire hanger.

Sam: Stop. This is not Christmas with the Crawfords. Come on. Our Christmas is nice. We do go look at lights, and we have soup for dinner and watch cheesy movies, and you make a great dinner on Christmas Day.

Randy: So you’re telling me you don’t want a new spanking bench for Christmas?

Sam: Quit pretending you aren’t the biggest sap at the holidays. They’ve read The Twelve Days of Randy. They already know.

Randy: *sighs* Fine. Yes, I’m a big sap, and we probably will have vanilla, goopy sex on the holiday. Happy?

Sam: *snuggling in* Yep. But she really does owe us a story before December 2016.

Randy: *puts arm around Sam* True that.

Winner of the Sleigh Ride Grand Prize and Lots of Motivation to Join My Newsletter

First things first! The winner of this grand prize pack is Shirley Ann, which means someone in the UK will be sipping out of a Minnesota flask, gazing at a snuggling moose figure while leaving through Let It SnowWilliam’s Doll, and nudging the e-reading forward on Sleigh Ride. Well, probably not all at once. But it will at least be theoretically possible. Congrats Shirley Ann!

Sad you didn’t win? Don’t worry, I’ll be having another contest closer to Christmas. This time, though, I’m only hosting it through my newsletter. Which, I guess, will be easily shared and posted on social media, but if you want to make sure you don’t miss it, be sure to sign up. If I get my act together there will be several contests, but it all depends on how my Christmas and writing prep goes.

Speaking of things to read: remember, I have several free shorts, many of which are Christmas themed, and they’re only available for download through my website. The Twelve Days of Randy and Hooch and Cake are from the Special Delivery seriesFrozen Heart is from the Love Lessons series. I have long had schemes to get those properly covered and edited and loaded to vendors (at which point they’ll be 99 cents, but less clumsy) but for now they remain free and on my website. Go get ‘em.

Already read those? Well, I have a lot of new things in the pipe, and I’m also hoping 2015 is the Year of the Backlist. I have a pile of things out of print at the moment, small and large, and a few more will be coming this year. Some are already reassigned, some I will self publish, but all of them need some fussing and tweaking and re-covering. Stay tuned via my newsletter to find out when those are available. I honestly have no idea on the timeline right now, unfortunately.

But since we’re nearing the year’s end, and since sometimes people ask, here are some specific things and some vague things coming up in my pipeline.

  • The Devil Will Do, re-issue/reworking of Sweet Son, Wilde City Press, February 4, 2015. This book is almost more erotica than romance, though there is a fairytale level of falling in love, connection, and HEA.
  • Carry the Ocean, book one of the Roosevelt series, Samhain Publishing, April 7, 2015. Preorders available now. The story of two young men, one struggling with severe depression, one taking the world by storm who also happens to have autism.
  • Lonely Hearts, book three of the Love Lessons series, Samhain Publishing, August 11, 2015. Cover reveal at Romantic Times Book Blog in January. This is Baz & Elijah’s story, if you’re following the Love Lessons series.
  • Winter Wonderland, book three of the Minnesota Christmas series, Samhain Publishing, Christmas 2015. Paul Jansen finally gets his man, even though he’s not exactly who was anticipated.
  • Clockwork Heart, Samhain Publishing, early 2016. Steampunk romance, alternate early 20th century Europe, sky pirates.
  • The re-release of Nowhere Ranch and its sequel (currently untitled) through Samhain Publishing in 2016.
  • The re-release of Dance With Me through Samhain Publishing in the summer of 2016. No specific sequel planned there at the moment, but they will definitely be around. Keep your eyes peeled in any Minnesota-set book.
  • Book Two of the Roosevelt series in 2016, featuring David from Carry the Ocean, a C4 quadriplegic living in the same building as the characters from book one. My first heterosexual main MC romance.
  • Book Four of the Love Lessons series in late 2016/early 2017. Rose and Mina promise me they will have a fiery, passionate, and tender romance.
  • Book Three of the Roosevelt series in 2017.
  • Book Five of the Love Lessons series sometime in 2017. Not telling who the characters are, but you’ve met one already and the other appears in Lonely Hearts.
  • The release/re-release of several shorts and novellas previously published and some you’ve never seen before.
  • The re-release of the Etsey series (high fantasy romance) and eventually the last three books in the set.

Now, perhaps, you can see why the only convention I’m going to next year is RWA in New York City?

For the next few weeks, outside of the newsletter contest and quick peeks, I’m going to do my best to stay offline. So if I don’t see you before then, have a merry Christmas, happy holidays, and wonderful new year. I’ll leave you with a picture of Sasha prancing beside our Christmas tree. This was the day after we put it up, when it was in considerably better repair.

IMG_3257

 

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