Yearly Archives: 2012

Nixing Covers, Shedding Words, Font Confusion . . . as Ripple spreads . . .

Hey there (peeking up from my [can’t say the brand because it annoys some readers] keyboard, coffee mug in hand, looking a little wild-eyed. It’s been a crazy-busy month, and I’ve loved almost every minute of it, with that confusing sort of loathing, glowing love-fear-hate that all new business owners feel at the outset of their respective professional ventures.

Hmmm, that sounds both pompous and intimidating, but it’s also accurate. To do it right, to turn out a well-heeled, smooth final product, a self-published writer must take the reigns, learn the ins and outs of all aspects of publishing, or as I keep muttering under my breath in times of stress, “We’re going ALL-IN, baby!!!”

I keep trying to write an organized summary of what I’ve been doing, but that’s crazy, because it’s been a whirlwind, a cyclonic-blending of associated pieces of the crashing-wave-puzzle that is self-publishing. So here are a few pieces of it . . .

I have a friend who is a graphic designer and many other things extraordinary, and we agreed that the cover should look Salvador Dali-esque. Many private messages and phone calls later, and after many purchases of stock photo licenses, we ended up with the following, and we declared it beautiful. So did many-fold Facebook friends and followers. But then I got a message from a dear friend, and with some trepidation, this writer-blogger friend let me know that the traditional publishing house that put out Wicked used the same model with a different background.412645_439962252736043_1898737517_o

“What?” chuckled my graphic designer, and so did I. “You mean a super-rich publishing house bought the exact same photo I did? No wonder traditional publishing houses are dying!”

Even though we weren’t violating any intellectual property laws, we agreed, without a split second of doubt, to nix the cover. The new one will be based on an actual friend rather than a stock photo. We’re not taking any chances this time. And it should be ready in the next day or so.

I’ve spent hours and hours talking, mostly on my main social media platform, Facebook, to friends and acquaintances. I devised as part of my marketing plan a legion of advance reviewers who will read mailed or e-mailed copies of a not-yet final version of Ripple. After helping me print pre-paid postage mailing labels from Stamps.com on pieces of white paper and taping them to bubble envelopes, my husband, chuckling, and a little tired of packing books, wondered how big “El’s Army” was going to get.

I like the term he coined. I love the grassroots feel of how I’m marketing this first novel of mine. So far, the feedback has been wonderful, and I’m hoping and praying this translates to buzz and increased sales. Even if it doesn’t . . . I’m giving it my all and enjoying every minute of it.

What I haven’t enjoyed so much, wait, okay, what I deplored and resorted to hair pulling, teeth-gnashing and much cussing over because of has been CreateSpace. Great company—don’t get me wrong. But for awhile there, I spoke of it between gritted teeth. I would upload a file (versions 7.1 through 8.3 and on and on) and then would wait for their file review process. Again and again, it came back with margin and font issues. I went through at least twenty uploads before I finally just ordered a hard copy. Once it arrived, I got out a ruler, measured the margins, and then applied the measurements to my latest working copy of my manuscript. And I chose a number of different fonts, from Cambria to Garamond to Calibri . . . and each font change messed up my italicized passages until I figured out how to use a template for italics.

Right. It’s boring to write about and your eyes are probably blurring up . . . unless you’re also thinking about self-publishing, and if so, please feel free to ask me what the hell I’m talking about. The way I see it is that if my meanderings into the sticky-icky world of CreateSpace can save you some trouble, then please let me help you!

So that’s about the size of it. I could write another 700 words about El’s Army and CreatePurgatoria, but my graphic designer is on the other line and there’s a note from Amazon’s Online Store that I must attend to . . . something about how pre-orders can begin in a couple of days, in advance of the actual 1/21 release of Ripple. And that’s worth a Snoopy Happy Dance or two or three.




The Stigma of Connecting Mental Illness and Violence

I’ve been quiet since Friday.  The Connecticut tragedy incited a PTSD reactive response, and to keep myself safe, I pretty much shut down my online presence.  Everything I read, whether it was pleas for better gun control or essays on the prevalence of mental illness in the psyche of your typical mass murderer, sent me spiraling into a place I find difficult to describe.

Even worse, I’m having a manic episode, or I was having it right up until yesterday.  I don’t like talking about my own mental illness.  I’m ashamed of it.  But I try to have courage and talk about it because I hope that by speaking out, I can educate others and help other people who are mentally ill.

This country needs to be willing to look at mental health issues even when there isn’t a tragedy.  We need to attend to it when the small defeats and victories of friends and neighbors take place around us day in and day out.  And for the love of all things good, we need to be really, really careful when something tragic occurs.  Before we blame mental illness or gun control laws or try to assign blame to anyone or any single condition, we’d better take our time to research all the issues and get the answers right.

I’ve read a lot of articles, or to be honest, skimmed the ones that were too painful, that blamed the shooting on mental illness.  Every time I read something like that, I cringe.  The mentally ill are not more likely to commit acts of violence; in fact, they are much more likely to be the victims of violence.  As painful and scary as it is for me to seek help when I’m feeling ill, it’s tenfold times more painful and scary to get the help I need in a charged atmosphere of blame-storming for a heinous mass murder.

As S.E. Smith wrote:

As always in cases of rampage violence, mental illness has been dragged into the mix, and I’ve been watching the Internet for the last three days with a growing sense of both deja vu and horror. None of the things being said are new — all of them are in fact very bone-achingly familiar — and all of them are extremely unhelpful, dangerous and counterproductive.

The American Psychiatric Association states that the vast majority of people who commit violent crimes do not suffer from mental illness.

Substance abuse is a much bigger risk factor for violent behavior; in people with untreated mental illness (a shockingly large number due to the difficulty involved in accessing services), drug abuse is a confounding factor in acts of violence in many cases, not the underlying mental illness. Socioeconomic status, age, gender and history of violence are also more significant indicators of the risk of violence.

You’re more likely to be hit by lightning than to be injured by someone who suffers from schizophrenia.

And yet if you believe the stories and anecdotes widely published this weekend, you will do what people typically do: you will stay the hell away from mentally ill people.  Each time a tragic event like the one in Connecticut occurs and mental illness is raised as a proximate cause, people pull away even more from the mentally ill.  In other words, the very stigma associated with mental illness intensifies, and those of us who most need love, compassion and support receive even less.mentalillnessstigma

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I get the treatment and the care and the compassion that so many of my ill brethren do not receive.  Most people don’t even know that I’m ill.  You see, I know the warning signs.  In the case of manic episodes, my mind starts racing.  Creative thoughts pile onto creative thoughts, and then it gets faster and faster and I can’t stop working won’t stop working don’t want to stop working and it’s amazing the things I can get done . . . but I feel an overload, an imbalance, a systems shutdown approaching.  But like a jet plane hurtling through the air on cruise control, I cannot switch directions, not even when I know exactly how it’s going to end: nose down in the mountainside.

Crashing hurts, and it makes no sense to an outsider, but with time and medication and therapy, I’ve gotten much better at engineering less destructive crash landings.  The most important thing I do is to radio ahead to the tower, or tell a few friends that I’m losing altitude too fast, and that I am, frankly, feeling ill.  In other words, despite the stigma that attaches to my illness, I reach out for the help I need.

I was on the phone this morning with one of my best friends, and she just sort of sat with me.  She told me that she loved me no matter what, and that she wasn’t going anywhere, and that my illness didn’t make her not want to be my friend.  In fact, a few of my friends called me.  They won’t let me fall through the cracks, and when I crash land, they’re there to pick up the pieces.

That’s what grieves me about so many of the articles I tried so hard not to read this weekend.  For every one that begged for compassion, three more confused mental illness with violent propensities.  And you know what this does?  It rains down shame, ugly, dark sickly-familiar shame on those of us who suffer from mental illness.  As gut-wrenchingly difficult as it is to seek treatment, this sort of fear-mongering makes it that much harder for people like me to seek help.

It takes courage to seek help, and it takes courage to admit you’re ill.  Fallacious arguments that connect mental illness to violent propensities make it even harder.  Please have compassion and use discernment when you address issues of mental illness.  After all, you never know who could be affected by the words you use.

 

 

 




Adventures in Shepherdstown: A Writer’s Life

I grab my jacket and my wallet and my cell phone and my room keycard and my Sportsband and I head out of the Clarion Hotel, down a hill or two, and walk for about a mile until I spot an old white building which is almost blocking traffic. It’s the old library here in Shepherdstown, West Virginia and as crazy as it sounds, the damn building was not so much built around the street as the street was built around it.

I peer into a window of an old red brick building and try to make sure that Hypnocoffee is open and it is, so I open one door, step into a vestibule, and open another door, which takes me into the best coffee shop I’ve ever visited. Maybe that doesn’t sound right; after all, this is a small town and a small shop that lacks name brand recognition, but it’s the truth and I swear it.

I’m on a working vacation with my husband. He’s working, that is. I’m supposed to be working too, but I’m a writer and I spend most of my time walking around and taking the sights in and trying to find stuff to write about. Travis is busy from eight to five. Anyway, this leaves me lots of time to search for stuff to write about and to me, that’s another way of saying that I’m going on an adventure.

Before we left, that fine man of mine spent hours researching coffeehouses in Shepherdstown. “ I just want to make sure you’re really comfortable,” he explained. He’s either really solicitous or I’m a pain in the ass when I travel, or it’s a combination of both. The truth is, he researches coffee as if he were the coffee version of an oenophile and I’m downright picky about what beans I drink.

There is a really popular coffee house here, called Lost Dog Café. Fortunately Travis warned me that there baristas were rude; their coffee, bland, so I didn’t take it personally when the young woman at the cash register tossed an empty cup at me when I ordered a large brew. She barely made eye contact, and I felt out of sorts and shy as I paused and looked around. Lost Dog is a cool place. It’s all funky, with lots of color, a kaleidoscopic array of chalk scrawled all over chalkboards, t-shirts and mugs for sale, and a directive to be artsy-cool or drink coffee somewhere else. That made me laugh because I’m making my living as a writer. I write real stuff. But looking at me, in my 41-year old mother of three very imperfect body, baggy jeans, running t-shirt and Brooks running shoes, well, no one would ever know that I’m a creative type. And that’s all right with me.

After all, it’s what you do, what you create, not how you look when you create it, that really matters.

And that brings me back to Hypnocoffee. They are first, and above all else, a coffee roastery. You won’t find any t-shirts in here, or fancy mugs, or poseur political slogans. And that’s okay with me. Because what you will find, or what I’ve found, is the best cuppa Joe I’ve ever quaffed.

“Woooo. Check this out. They employ the pour-over approach.”

I glanced at my husband, barely paying attention. “Uh-huh.”

He shifted his iPad in his hand so that I can see it. “Look. Check it out.”

I nodded, and he showed me what looked like a giant hourglass, with a white paper filter filled with fresh-ground coffee and almost boiling water on top.

“They say this makes the best coffee, ever. It’s the latest thing, and it’s taking the coffee house by storm.”

“Mmm, nice,” I murmured, my eyes searching for the pages of my book.

“So you’re going to like, no, love this place.”

And you know what? From the moment the coffee hit the roof of my mouth yesterday, I loved the dark brew and the place that brewed it.

The barista is a young guy, and yeah, I’ve reached the age where all creatures under thirty are young guys. Getting old can be a bitch, you know? This young guy wears a bow tie and his eyes twinkle when he talks, especially about coffee. “Yeah, you’re going to love the pour-over,” he predicts, with a smile that starts near his eyes. “It blows the doors off French Press coffee. And I know French Press coffee,” he adds, in response to my own benchmark for comparing coffee brewing methods. “I used to work at a place where we made coffee out of these industrial size French Presses.”

I take a sip and smile, again feeling shy. It’s hard for me to know what to say to people, so I usually stop trying to figure it all out and just tell the truth. “It’s awesome. Great coffee.” I tip my 12-ounce white cup at him and smile, crossing the small shop in about seven steps before I reach the inner door.

That was yesterday. It’s Tuesday, and I’m back again. It’s my kind of place. As Hemingway would say, it’s a clean, well-lit place, and I’m comfortable here. I’ve met Tony, the owner, and he’s a runner and a father and a busy man who, like me, is doing what he loves, loving what he’s doing, and doing it pretty damn well.
hypnocoffee68913_495701293793567_1967693662_n




Gah! I’m an Adult Now: Self-Publishing Fears and Related Woes

I’m thinking too much, too fast, too much, too fast.  Damnit.  What if it’s a really really bad idea to self-publish Ripple?  Should I have kissed many more asses?  Why didn’t I kiss more asses?  Who do I ask to do my advance reviews?  Is it any good?  I know it’s good.  But there are millions of would-be writers out there.  Am I just like the rest of them?  Am I really a loser?  A wanna-be, would be, could be but can never will never be?

Should I go back and try to be nice to the people I’ve been ignoring?  What about all of the pages that I’ve not been talking to because I’m talking to other pages and writers?  Should I be trying harder?  Should I be on my knees groveling, or at least gladhanding?  I have stopped interacting with so many pages and blogs and it’s all a kaleidoscopic mishmash of should-dos and can’t and won’ts and I have no fucking clue how to sort it all out.  Why do I have to be the one to handle this?

The real question is why do I need to be the adult here?  I don’t feel like an adult.  I don’t feel like I’m in control.  Not I.  Or not me, depending on how the rest of the sentence goes . . . no.  Not I.  Funny.  I never really studied grammar that much or even wanted to learn it.  I was above the rules but the real truth is that I always sensed, nay feared, that the rules were above me.

There.  That’s the truth.  Icky ugly truth.  I play this whole act, this “Your rules not mine” rebel act long and hard but you know what I’m hiding?  This deep fear that if I play by the same rules, throw the football on the same exact field with the precise dimensions and markings that all other writers obey, everyone will find out (who is everyone) that my writing just isn’t good enough.

Yep.nomagicpotions

That’s my icky ugly inner fear.  It’s fucking debilitating.  Should I stop cussing?  Just an aside, but is it?  Last night I made this poster, and I consciously went with the word “ass” as in “work your ass off,” because it was authentic.  But I also know that a lot of my inspirational friends won’t share anything that has a cuss word in it, and while 10,820 fans is plenty, every new fan equals a potential reader.  Then again, my freakin’ name has a curse word in it, so does that make me ineligible for being shared by the goody two-shoes of pages?

Not that there’s anything wrong with goody-goodies.  Oh my gosh.  Part of me wants to be a good girl and part of me wants to be a badass and those two sides of me will forever lay siege to one another!  Right?

And should I put one space or two after a period?  Am I the only old-school holdover who still goes with two spaces?  I like two spaces, not one, but I don’t wanna stand out, stick out, or run alone.

Or do I?

As far as the cussing thing, my characters cuss, and so do I but I’m also a born-again Christian and I need those fans—the moral majority (giggle) too.  I need as many fans and readers as I can get because hell, I’m trying to sell books, right?  But what’s the point of selling anything if I have to change who I am to make a sale?  How boring, stupid, phony, cruddy, pointless . . . is it to change who you are just to make a few extra bucks?

Speaking of a few bucks, what the hell am I doing self-publishing Ripple?  Seriously, what the hell am I doing?  Did I decide to ignore the traditional publishing houses for a reason other than I’ve been telling everyone?  Was it simply because I was scared Ripple wasn’t good enough?  Did I think that the rejection of everything that I am and want to be would be so awfully soul-crushing that I couldn’t chance it?  God help me if I have to face the exact same pain that every other writer faces.

Yep.  Maybe it always comes back to God.  And needing His help.  I’m scared, and I’m about to jump off a big limb that’s hanging over a muddy bank and into these swirling waters, and as much as I love crazy adventures and especially swirling waters, I’m so afraid that I’ll smash into unseen rocks and end up all bloodied and concussed and broken-hearted.

This is one of those times I wish I could call my mom.  But I can’t and I won’t but I will . . .

jump anyway.




Bob Costas on Gun Control

Bob Costas stared at the camera with a steely-eyed glare, and then used the entire ninety second halftime segment of last night’s Cowboys vs. Eagles game to argue in favor of stricter gun control laws in the wake of Kansas Chief Linebacker Jovan Belcher’s murder suicide.  Costas paraphrased and quoted from a piece by Fox Sports Columnist Jason Whitlock:

 How many young people have to die senselessly? How many lives have to be ruined before we realize the right to bear arms doesn’t protect us from a government equipped with stealth bombers, predator drones, tanks and nuclear weapons?

 Our current gun culture simply ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy, and that more convenience store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead.”

Costas went on to say that has Belcher not possessed a gun, both he and Kasandra Perkins, the mother of their three-month old daughter would be alive today.

At this moment, I shrugged and turned off the television.  The last thing I want to think about while I’m relaxing on a Sunday night is gun control and the Second Amendment.  For me, football and politics should not mix unless the issue, like regulation of performance enhancing drugs, is germane to football.  Costas’s rant felt like a low blow, an abuse of his invitation into my cozy family room, and like all guests who overstay their welcome, I showed him the door.

 And yet . . . his words remain with me.  I am angry as hell that another woman has died at the hand of an abusive man.  It sickens and infuriates me that because he made a decision to murder a woman in cold blood, a little girl, no doubt once much loved, now faces an uncertain and tricky future.  It’s a tragedy and my prayers go out to that little girl and to the family of the deceased.

 My anger, however, is centered on the perpetrator.  No one forced Belcher to murder his girlfriend.  Nothing excuses his behavior.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, mitigates his dastardly deed.

It is often said that guns kill people.  Having taken a self-defense training course, and having learned more about handguns than I ever thought possible, I think this is overly simplistic.  I can say for sure that in order for guns to kill people, a finger must pull that trigger.

 While I appreciate and respect those who argue that the proliferation of guns increases the incidence of crimes involving guns, I’ve heard from police officers that criminals will always be able to obtain guns, lawfully or not.  As the female police officer who trained us opined, “I want for as many good citizens as possible to arm themselves in a responsible way, to learn how to use those firearms responsibly, and to assist us in making the world a safer place from the criminals.”triggeranger488247_386522741413328_1988699599_n

 This police officer went on to tell us some scary stories about criminals and would-be extreme right-wing members of local militias.  “Please,” she added, “We need all the help we can get from the good citizens of the world.  We’re fighting the good fight, but it’s dangerous out there.”

Her words chilled me a bit.  And handling the pistol frightened me.  She warned us, over and over again, to be careful, and to realize that a single mistake could result in serious injury or death.  I felt empowered but also sobered after I fired the Glock on the firing range.  And it’s unlikely that I’d ever own a handgun.

But I like being able to buy a firearm should I judge it in my best interests to own one.  For sure, there are and should be some limits on the application of the Second Amendment to our modern life.  I’m no firearm zealot.  I believe a firearm can be both a tool and a weapon, and that in the wrong hands, a firearm can do much harm to the innocent.

Perhaps Costas is right.  Perhaps we need to better enforce the current gun control laws.  Perhaps Belcher should not have owned firearms.  Or perhaps Belcher is yet another victim of the epidemic of concussions and perhaps the rash of violent acts by past or current football players is connected to this epidemic.  Perhaps Belcher was using performance-enhancing drugs that affected his personality or made him mentally ill.  Perhaps.

anger334263_378390765559859_1810865759_o

You see, we don’t have the answers, but the best way to find answers is to pursue them with clear minds and calm discernment.  Costas’ rant from the bully pulpit struck me as ill-timed and misguided.  Rather than solve a problem or encourage reasoned debate, he inflamed hearts and incited passions with his self-righteous anger.

My prayers go out to the family the Belcher and Perkins families, respectively.  May Kasandra rest in peace, and may Jovan find in dying the peace that so tragically eluded him.

I’d love to hear your views on this issue.  Please keep it civil and respectful.




It’s Okay to Be Like Everyone Else: A Five-Miler

I’m in a crowded room and then I’m in a bathroom.  I’m holding my breath.  I see someone. He’s carrying this biological terror inside him, this virus that he’s going to unleash on the world, so I take a deep breath and slip out the back door.  I end up in a bathroom, and there’s no toilet paper on any of the dispensers, so I dig under the sink and grab a handful of rolls, which I’m handing to several strangers.  And then I hear my name. It’s him again, and  he’s screaming for me.  Come help me, El, he says, so I go to him, and he’s fallen in this shallow pool with tiles on the bottom.

I hesitate.  I’m scared.  Then I see blood dripping from his mouth and eye, and I leap in there and grab him.  I lead him by the elbow to the infirmary.  But then I must leave.  I’m the only one who knows how to stop the virus.  The secret is orange juice.  The scene changes, and I’m sitting in the back of a car watching a long line of cars queued up for gas, trying to get the courage up to run inside and buy orange juice.  I must buy it, and save myself, and then save everyone else.  But first I gotta get out of the car.

I wake up, shivering.  It’s 6:55 AM and it’s time to get the kids off to school.  I make a mental note to buy orange juice.

It’s 9:45 AM.  I zip up my red running jacket and tap my Nike sportsband.  It’s 38 degrees, so I’m wearing shorts but once I get a mile under my belt, I’ll be warm enough.  My body is tired but my mind is not.  As I jog along, slow and steady, my thoughts flit and fly about and I let them be without trying to control what comes into mind.  I don’t have any agenda when I run today.  I just run.

My run follows the trail along Burke Lake.  Light brown leaves hang from tall pen oaks above me, and many more leaves obscure the soft dirt underfoot.  It smells like burnt wood and mold and dirt and lake water, which for me is what Heaven must smell like.

Last night, I stayed up until three AM working on draft two of I Run.  It occurs to me now that I once ran to keep from drowning under the sea of troubles I then was facing.  There was something almost superhuman in the miles I covered, but even as I ran and ran from my pain, I ran my body almost into ruin.  I smile, gently, thinking of the odyssey of healing and faith I was on, and thank God I don’t have to run like that anymore.

An old man wearing gloves nods at me, and I wish him a good morning.  I need to go to WalMart on my way home from this run because we’re out of laundry detergent.  It’s not the worst task I’ve ever faced it, but I’d rather be outside running past the birdwatchers clutching binoculars than negotiating the blue aisles of a discount store.  I sigh, and allow a small half-smile, because I’m happy now.

But when I ran fifty, seventy, even ninety miles a week, as I did in the pages of I Run, I wasn’t so happy.  It was never enough to be average, or good enough, or middle of the pack.  It wasn’t enough to run 15-20 miles a week, or get Bs in school, or less than excellent reviews as a young lawyer.  If I wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t enough.  I needed that external proof of my own value; I needed it like a woman needs oxygen, because I did not have my own source of self-value.  I knew not the unconditional love that God’s grace provides.

An Oriental woman runs past me in the other direction, and we smile at one another.  Fast or slow, tall or short, we’re all runners, and we’re in this together somehow, even if we never see one another again.  I used to be afraid to be like everyone else, “in it together with them,” because without trophies or a high enough salary or a low enough average running pace, I would be left with just me, my essence, my very being, and that could not possibly be enough.  After all, how could anyone love just me, without a good reason why?

I check my watch.  I’ve run 2.5 miles, and it’s a good time to turn.  A five-mile run is nothing heroic, and that’s okay.  I don’t need to be a hero.  I’m healed now, healed from so many things, including this sick sense that I have to accomplish anything to earn the title of being lovable.

Because that is what I am.  You see, I’m just like you and the next man or woman.  God loves us all, just the way we are.  I smile again.  He loves me.  And as I head back in the other direction toward my Mazda, I think about picking up the orange juice.  Today is my day to be like everyone else, and if that includes making a trip to a discount store, then I’ll face it with a smile.




What Makes a Good Mom?

My daughter with light sabre.

When I opened my daughter’s door to tuck her in for bed, I caught a glimpse of a 9-year old flashing a toy light sabre at incoming storm troopers. Naturally I grabbed the other light sabre and joined her in her valiant fight. We were victorious.

I’ve written as of late about some serious topics, including my daughter’s bullying at school. We received news from the school that leaves me feeling cautiously optimistic, and I wanted to pass that optimism along to you, dear readers.

But this isn’t a post about that. It’s about my kids and me, or my daughter and me. And it’s about the kind of parent I try to be. I don’t try for “best in class” because it’s not about that. Good parenting is not about competing with other mothers or about trying to fulfill anyone else’s notion of what constitutes a good mother.

Speaking of “notions of what constitutes a good mother,” I don’t bake lemon bars, knit fancy scarves, volunteer at school, or in any way fulfill the traditional 1950’s-era definition of what makes a mother. Nothing against moms who do, but I don’t wear dainty skirts, keep a particularly neat house or even get the bills paid on time.  Christmas decorations may or may not come down after the first of January, beds may or may not be made up each day (and never with those super-neat “hospital corners”) and we may or may not arrive at soccer practice on time.

But.

Children receive hugs, often and pretty much on demand. Homework is always checked, and reading lists are assigned. Questions, even hard, icky ones, like “what does incest mean, Mom?” get answered. Balls are thrown, sometimes over the roof and into the backyard and back again.  God is spoken of every day, with or without the exact scripture referenced, but always with reverence and love.  And miles are walked, run and swam together, side by side, hand in hand, with a finish line that stretches ever onward.

At approximately 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, Thanksgiving morning, my daughter and I will reach an actual finish line.  We’re running a 10K Turkey Trot race together. It will be her first of no doubt many 10K races, and the fourth or fifth race we will have run together. She and I will feel the glow of achievement and a small glimpse of glory. We’ll eat our bananas and don our medals and grin at one another, speaking of the next race, the next finish line, beckoning from some distant horizon.  And together we will head, over one finish line, ever onward, always moving forward, with gratitude for this and every second, minute and finish line we pass.

Dear Readers . . . I don’t usually ask questions at the end of my posts, but I’m wondering–what do you do well as a mother or father?




The Mendacity of a Zero Tolerance Bullying Policy

Here is what’s going down in my daughter’s life . . . to protect the privacy of all participants, I’m using initials instead of names, and in some cases have switched initials up.

Dear School Board Rep. MM:

Re: bullying of MEF

I am attaching the e-mail I sent to the principal at TCES. My daughter, MEF, a 4th grader in Ms. GB’s class, has been subjected to bullying all year, which has now culminated in assault. We are considering contacting the police and we certainly will do the same if another hand is laid on my daughter. One of the children involved in the assault has been harassing MEF since second grade. At that point, Ms. Principal S switched my daughter into a different class. In this case, that will not be a satisfactory resolution.

TCES has a so-called zero tolerance bullying policy, which as far as I can tell simply protects the strong from serious repercussions. Given the increase of teenage and even pre teenager suicide that results from bullying, I am very concerned that the school isn’t doing more. While my daughter is not as of yet demonstrating signs of depression, she is showing an increasing desperation and sense of isolation. To date, she has tried to stand up to the children who have been hurting her, and somehow this has led her teacher to argue that MEF gives out almost as well as she gets. I find this more frightening than laughable.

Regards,

ELF___________

 From: ELF
Subject: bullying
Date: November 15, 2012 4:04:51 PM EST
CC. Principal S

Hello GB:

As we mentioned during our Parent-Teacher Conference earlier this month, we are concerned about KZ’s bullying of MEF. This has been occurring all year and today, it culminated with my daughter racing off the bus in tears. Apparently at recess, MEF was sitting alone and playing a game. Three boys (AK L, DG and KZ) marched over and spat at her (which they also did yesterday). One of them ran up and called her a “Guana [sic] Pig” and “Ninja Pig” and when two girls tried to intervene, KZ pushed MEF, causing her to fall down. AK kept calling MEF these nasty names; then DG shoved and pushed MEF into playground equipment. MEF tried to chase them away, and they screamed, “Leave foul beast.” At some point, AK said, “I hope your little ‘sister’ dies” (referring sarcastically to my son TJF, who tried to stand up for his sister during recess yesterday). At some point during this, MEF called KZ a “stupid idiot.”

At the end of this, KZ told MEF that she’d better not tell on him, or else he would tell on her and say that she was bullying him. This, of all the things I’ve heard from MEF, disgusts me the most. She admits to calling KZ a “stupid idiot” only after she was shoved, pushed, called epithets, struck, made fun of and basically tortured.

I do not want to hear what I heard earlier this year: that “boys will be boys.” No. You have a zero tolerance bullying policy. Let’s go ahead and see that policy in force.

Let me be clear: this is a clear pattern of bullying. We have spoken with you regarding DG, Ms. Principal S. In second grade, we switched MEF to a different class after he sexually harassed her. I don’t want him to ever lay a hand on my daughter again and I don’t know how else to make this clear. And Ms. GB, this is at least the fourth time I’ve raised the issue of bullying, either in writing or in person, this year. MEF loves being in Ms. GB’s class. At this point, if anyone is moved, it must be the perpetrators and not the victim.

I would appreciate if this e-mail is forwarded to the parents of all involved children. And Husband and I request an action plan.

Regards,

ELF
___________________

Mr. Vice Principal PBJ:

Thank you for calling me earlier. I’ve received the rest of the story.

MEF just got home from school and told me she was afraid to answer your question about pushing. To your “leading question” of, “Do you think it’s okay that you pushed the boys,” she didn’t answer what she was really thinking. At that point, she’d given up. It isn’t polite to argue with adults, mom.  What she said to me was, “I was trying to protect myself from them. I wouldn’t survive if I didn’t fight back. Especially when they’re spitting at me and calling me bad words. But I didn’t bother telling Mr. PBJ that because he didn’t want to hear it. They don’t really care. Why can’t you just transfer me to a different school, anyway?”

At school today, Ms. GB caught AK and KZ (I think) while they were spitting at MEF. (to MEF’s tremendous relief, Ms. GB gave them a serious rebuke). AK was also bragging that he’d lied and told you that MEF had hit AK (which is nonsense). AK thinks it’s hilarious that he’s pulled one over on you and has somehow convinced you that MEF has bullied THEM. I refer, as exhibit 1, to MEF’s near-perfect behavior record. Seriously. Go ask all her prior teachers.

Oh, and one other thing MEF did not tell you: she has tried to defend herself physically in the past. One day she hit KZ, in the stomach, at recess when he was bullying her. He laughed at her and called her a “weakling.” I fear that she will try to protect herself and will suffer harm at the hands of these boys, who are much bigger, stronger and heavier than her.

What’s happening here is a small, sweet kid is trying, really, really hard to take matters into her own hands. She is trying to create a safe space for herself. When she tried to do that and enjoy some peace, the boys invaded her space (a situation that seemed laughable to you because it involved a make-believe “command center”), spat at her, called her a PIG . . . and then she’s in trouble for pushing them? This is nonsense. Unlike some of the kids in her class, she is not a violent kid, but she’s trying to do her best “to survive,” as she put it. If you don’t act soon, someone is going to get hurt. Please work with me to keep my child safe. I am not satisfied with your response.

Regards,

ELF

On Nov 16, 2012, at 4:54 PM, PBJ wrote:

Good Afternoon ELF,

I am sorry that MEF has the perception that we do not care about what she said because we do.  As I said on the phone, our goal is to make TCES an inviting, safe space for all of our children.   We have begun taking steps to address the concerns we uncovered today and will continue to do so.   I would be happy talk with you further about this either on the phone, or, if you prefer, we can meet next week.  Please let me know how you would like to proceed.  I expect I will be here for at least another thirty minutes, if you would like me to call you tonight please let me know.

PBJ

We won’t stop.

ELF      Date:   November 16, 2012 5:01:24 PM EST

To:       PBJ

I’m far too upset–in tears– to speak to anyone more tonight.

____________

I wasn’t exaggerating. Before I’d typed this, I’d asked all three children to go outside for 15 minutes.  So I could cry.  I needed to break down, feel weak, feel this, for just 15 minutes.  Then I got my shit together, which really only happened when my husband walked across the threshold.

After I took a run, I calmed down and got back on the computer.  A friend of mine sent me a note last night.  She told me a pretty haunting story about a bully named KZ (the same KZ) who tortured one of her son’s friends so badly last year that the child transferred to another school. Yep.  The victim transferred to another school.  My friend added that she heaved a sigh of relief when finding that KZ was not in her child’s class this year. “My son is happy again.”

KZ has chosen another victim: my daughter. His parents don’t or won’t intervene. Meanwhile, the school has erected a smattering of anti-bullying signs around the hallways—the same hallways KZ prowls, searching for victims. 

He preys on the sweet kids. The ones who wear glasses, or are a little bit unique, or aren’t surrounded by a posse at all times. And he’ll keep on hunting until the school stops him. You know what sort of thing happens when the school bureaucrats don’t act?  Kids take their own lives, or they bring a gun into school and . . . well.  Columbine.

What do we do?  I’ve prayed on this a lot.  I’ve prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill me; I’ve asked Him for peace and love and I’m still praying, and pretty damn confused.  I know one thing for sure.  I will not go along with the blanket of secrecy that the school uses to shroud the misdeeds of out of control students.  I will fight, and I will not stop until my daughter is safe. So help me God.

 

 

 

 

 

 




A Hail Mary Pass Thrown into Swirling Gust of Wind: Medicating AD/HD

I paced back and forth in front of my son’s first grade classroom, waiting for his teacher to finish talking to another child’s parents.  My husband tries to come to as many parent-teacher conferences as work permits, but I’d scheduled this one for 10 A.M. on Election Day, so I was going into the breach solo.  And while I didn’t want to feel scared and worried and a little sick to my stomach, I did.

Too often, these conferences hadn’t gone well in the past.  At the very first one, when Ben was still in preschool, his teacher glared at me with this serious, disapproving look.  “You know, you’d better get a handle on this sooner than later, when there’s still time.  Otherwise, he’s going to end up in jail.”

I glanced at my husband in shock.  “Jail?”  I gasped.

“Jail,” she repeated.  “At this rate, with this much oppositional behavior, this much anger, jail.”

In case you’re wondering, we switched preschools after that.

Things got worse before they got better.  When Ben was in kindergarten, I would jump when the phone rang.  If it wasn’t the school calling, I breathed a sigh of relief.  When I visited Ben at school for lunch, his classmates told me that my dear son was “bad.”  As I have written here, this hurt like hell.  I felt powerless and not a little clueless.  The last thing I wanted to turn to was the medicine cabinet.

But we did it anyway, both for our son’s sake, and for our own.  The payoff was not immediate because we had him on too low of a dose: 10 mg of Metadate, which is a generic form of Ritalin.  But once we got the dosage right (20 mg), the turnaround was immediate.

And yet, as I stood in front of Mrs. X, I wasn’t sure.  It had been about three weeks since we’d increased Ben’s dose, and we hadn’t heard from her except for one phone call, which I received the day after we increased Ben’s dose.  It had been a really weird call.  Mrs. X called for the sole reason of telling me that Ben had behaved well all day.  Was this an anomaly, or a new beginning for our troubled six-year old?

Before I even sat down in front of Mrs. X, I knew the answer was the latter: Ben had gotten a fresh start.  A redo, a do-over.  “You know, I’ve been looking forward to this meeting,” beamed Mrs. X.  “It’s been like night and day, like a sun rising, ever since you made the brave step of getting him the help he needed.”

“Really?”  I couldn’t breathe so I tried to sit down without smashing my knees into the tiny table in front of me.  I’m clumsy like that.

“Yes.  Really.  The transformation has been the biggest one I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of AD/HD kids.  Sometimes the meds help a little.  Sometimes a lot.  In his case, he’s gone from . . .”  Mrs. X paused to find a tactful way to say it.  “Well, from struggling, to being helpful, and attentive, and funny and . . . oh so kind.  I mean, he was always sweet and affectionate, but my gosh.  Now he gives me flowers, tells me how much he loves me—“

—“He’s always been so affectionate and sweet,” I murmured, my heart hurting.

She nodded.  “The great thing is that you made this change for him early in the year.  So his classmates won’t always remember him getting in trouble.  I mean, they all struggled to figure out the rules in the beginning, so he didn’t stick out as much in their minds.  And now he’s getting along with his classmates.  He’s funny and well-liked and . . .”  Her voice trailed off and she smiled at me.

Some decisions, when viewed from hindsight, seem obvious.  Other ones seem divinely inspired, like small miracles.  But the decision to medicate our son was more like a Hail-Mary pass thrown into a swirling gust of wind: a combination of savvy quarterbacking, divine guidance and a tad of blind luck all in one.

 

 

 




Ripple, or Women Helping Women: A WIP Blog Chain

As most of you know, I’m aiming for a Christmas release date for Ripple. My friend Deb Bryan linked to me on a chain that contains a few questions about my upcoming book, so here goes . . .

What is the Working Title of your book?

Ripple. Renée Jacobson came up with it while she helped me on the first draft. She told me to listen to the Grateful Dead song of the same name. The following lyrics inspired the name:

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.
Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

After considering a host of alternatives, I’m sticking with Ripple as the title.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The characters came first and the plot followed. I used dialogue as a therapeutic device while in treatment for chronic PTSD. To help me unwrap my messy past, I wrote conversations between my adult self and my younger self, or “Little El.” Eventually, the name “Phoebe,” which means “Child of light,” entered my subconscious, and so little El became Phoebe. Before I composed the main plot of Ripple, I asked myself the following question: what do I wish my mother had done to my abusers? The instant answer was: I wish she had killed them.

And so the main character of Ripple, Helen, becomes the avenging mother I wish I’d had.

Meanwhile, the third protagonist, Cassandra White, was born one awful morning, when I awoke to “barf in the bathroom and a broken down bus,” which was the original working title. Instead of giving up her legal practice to raise kids and write, like I did, Cassandra practices law, and balances a busy practice with raising a family. The morning she awakens to the aforementioned disaster scene, she receives a phone call from a safe house for domestic abuse victims, which is where Helen and Phoebe are hiding. Cassandra becomes Helen’s defense counsel, and like me, battles her own demons even as she helps her client.

What genre does your book fall under?

I struggled with this one, because Ripple stretches across several genres. In some respects, it is a psychological thriller. Like Silence of the Lambs, it has a creepy sociopath stalking a little girl (seriously, you’re going to have to read Ripple to figure out who this is) and some passages that will make you cringe. Ripple could and should fall into the category of women’s literature as well, but I took care to create a few likable male characters.

And yet Ripple is neither a thriller per se or women’s lit: it’s a work of literary fiction, and clocking in at 132,000 words, it’s almost epic in sweep. Although it’s not a beach read, the nonstop action and constant motion leads to easy page turning. Readers who enjoyed The Color Purple or Lovely Bones will likely appreciate Ripple.

 Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

A movie producer-friend called me after reading the first few chapters of Ripple, and practically screamed, “Meryl Street must play Helen!” Indeed, the opening scene of Ripple features Helen, a high powered lawyer “who stands astride the legal profession” slamming a conference room door so hard the frame “shimmers and vibrates.” When I think of Helen, I think of the fashion executive from The Devil Wears Prada.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Oh no! I can’t . . . oh okay. Let’s see. A murder suspect teams up with a band of women at a safe house to trap a would-be rapist who is stalking her daughter.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

I am completely stoked about my decision to skip the entire agency representation process and go straight to self-publishing. As I wrote to my friend, Deb Bryan, I want to retain artistic control over my product. Traditional publishing is run by “writamaticians,”—or folks that view writing more as science than art. The more I researched it, the more I saw that by and large, the only way some excellent novels get published is despite of the mediocre ministrations of a horde of agents and publishers and their minions. Instead of offering the public a true range of work, they act like politicians who form their beliefs only after using focus groups to determine what the public wants. Rather than gatekeepers for the public, agents and publishers act as low rent intellectual whores. And I want no part of it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? 

© E. L. Farris

Six months, give or take a year. I wrote the chapter about barf and the broken down bus a year before I was able to resume writing the rest.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

As mentioned above, Ripple resembles Lovely Bones and The Color Purple, but it has a happy ending. Also, I adore William Faulkner, Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger and pretty much all writers who take chances.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My therapist, who helped me piece myself back together and escape the mental prison of my past, inspired me to show other women how they could find their way to health and a better life. Therapists and professionals who give their all figure prominently in helping Helen and Phoebe turn from victims into Rebel Thrivers.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

© E. L. Farris, 2012 Zander’s inspiration

My characters move constantly, either on horseback, in vehicles, or running on foot on tracks, fields and cross country trails. Many scenes take place in conference rooms, where lawyers argue, negotiate and posture. My favorite character in Ripple, Zander, is based on my youngest son, Ben, and those of you who’ve read my blog entries about Ben understand just how entertaining Zander can be. My favorite scene in Ripple is when Zander climbs on top of a barn roof. He wants to see if his chickie can fly. You’d never guess who rescues him!

Thank you so much to my dear friend Deb Bryan, who tagged me in this blogging chain. Please mosey on over to visit the next link in the chain, my friend Stephanie Saye. The author of Little 15, Stephanie has completed one manuscript about a breakup gone really bad, and is working on another dystopian story about a man who gets pregnant after his wife is granted a wish by a psychic.

Before you go, do you have any questions or comments about Ripple?




Buy Our Books

Blog Categories

Top

Powered by Wordpress Help

%d bloggers like this: