Fight or Flight? I Choose Fight.

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This is not the first time I've written about my depression and anxiety (here and here). Nor will it be the last. Nor am I the only writer struggling with mental illness(es). And yet... there is still a stigma. There are still hushed whispers and a sense of shame surrounding the topic. Even though 5% of the world is estimated to suffer from depression (that's 350 Million people...) we, as a society, refuse to talk about it. Refuse to address it for what it is: a problem

See, mental illness, in whatever form it takes, is uncomfortable. And by nature, our fight or flight response usually tells us to "run" from uncomfortableness rather than to fight it. But if we don't start fighting... individually and collectively... we are going to lose the battle against mental illness. We will self-destruct and destroy what we've built by remaining static and unchanging. 

That's why I'm writing this post. That's why Emerald O'Brien and I started our mental health initiative. Because yeah, we're just two people. But we're two people who are fighting. And that's how change begins. When you decide to fight instead of take flight. 

And fighting with someone in your support system, someone who not only understands your suffering, but wants to help, is an extremely powerful thing. To me, I believe it's one of the most crucial parts of healing and re-healing every single day as a mental illness sufferer.

Mental illness is a daily struggle for those of us who suffer from it. But it doesn't mean that we always display obvious signs. It doesn't mean that we let it take over our lives all of the time. To most people, I am a very well adjusted, fairly happy person. But they don't see the struggles I have behind closed doors. They don't see the nights I'm up until 3am during a thought spiral. They don't see my shaky hands as I grip the wheel when I know I have to drive somewhere. They don't see or hear from me on the days where I can barely get myself out of bed, let alone do something productive. Most of all, people don't see the nasty, self-destructive and utterly debilitating thoughts that invade my brain. Because I don't show that to them. I don't show it to anyone. But as my mom says, "everyone has a cross to bear." 

I think this is the reason why it's so shocking when a celebrity commits suicide (whether that is literally taking their own life or utilizing another method to do it). It's not all that surprising to mental illness sufferers, but it IS surprising to those who have no idea what we're going through. I hear people say, "But why? He seemed so {insert positive adjective}." And yes, maybe he/she did seem like that... but just as I explained above, people with mental illness learn to hide that part of themselves from others. We suffer alone, most of the time. 

And that's the problem. If those with a mental illness felt comfortable opening up about their struggles, perhaps they wouldn't have to suffer alone. Maybe they would be able to ask for the help they need. And perhaps, others who are equipped to help would do so without making those who suffer feel ashamed. How do we get there, though?

By talking about it. By fighting against the stigma. By demanding better treatment of the mentally ill. By educating those who have no idea what it means to be mentally ill. 

If we could all accept that mental illness—untreated—is a problem, then we can begin to move toward a place of change. 

One of the hardest things I've done in my life is come to accept that I have a mental illness. That I will most likely always have it. But that it doesn't define who I am. I am NOT my mental illness. But part of acceptance means understanding that my mental illness is a part of me. And when I treat that part of me with the respect and honesty it deserves, I'm ultimately doing myself and others a favor. 

I've wanted to write a story that deals with mental illness for a long time. But my struggle has always been that mental illness is not exactly entertaining. It's not fun. It's not glamorous and it's really not exciting. So how do you tell a story with a topic that goes against everything you've learned to incorpoate in your novels?

The answer is simple: Tell the truth. 

Because the truth is enlightening. It's powerful. Which is why the next novel I'm writing is about mental illness in all it's not-exciting, not-sexy, uncomfortable glory. Because I deserve a novel that depicts my reality. You deserve it, too. 

You know what else we all deserve? To know that there's hope for those with a mental illness. This book isn't going to be sunshine and rainbows, but I want my readers to know that in reality, if you can accept your mental illness... you can learn to deal with it. It may never go away, but there will always be a "better day." And yes, there will still be shitty, terrible days. But that's the point... that you become strong enough to endure/tolerate the shitty days so the better days are that much better. And I hope that by depicting characters in a world that is tied so closely to reality, that readers who do not suffer from mental illness will see a side they haven't seen before. That they will understand our struggles just a little bit more. 

And then I hope that they too will join me in the fight to understand mental illness and how to help those who suffer from it. 

Emerald O’Brien and I have made it super easy to begin that conversation... that fight... a way to help in even a small way.  Purchase a book. Help someone in need

I'm Not Ready to Make Nice

“They say time heals everything... but I’m still waiting.”

— Not Ready to Make Nice | Dixie Chicks

If you know me or have been a long-time reader or follower of mine, you know that I don't shy away from the hard things. I am open and honest about a lot of things including my depression and anxiety. Some of you may know that I'm also a sexual abuse survivor. And if you didn't - now you do. What a lot of people don't know though, is how many times I've been silenced about this part of my life. How many times I've been labeled a "liar," (see below confession from a family member) and an "attention-seeker," and a "whiny baby who didn't understand what actually happened." Listen, none of us are strangers to the way things are in our society. The way rape culture is rampant. The way abusers are protected instead of punished. The way a victim's voice is pushed aside. You've seen the media coverage, just as I have. And if you're anything like me, you've been enraged by it. But how do you deal with it when the situation has happened and is happening to you? How do you go about your day with a smile, knowing that the man (and his family) who hurt you is walking around without a care in the world because he knows that his punishment will be light? How do you learn to "deal" with the fact that so many people, including the criminal justice system have minimized (and often just plain squashed) your voice?

The answer: you don't.

You never learn to deal with it because it's not something you should ever have to deal with. 

“I’m not ready to make nice. 
I’m not ready to back down.
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round. ”

— Not Ready to Make Nice | The Dixie Chicks

So why am I writing this post now? Because I've been silenced for the very last time. A year and a half ago, I received a call from my father who is not usually an emotional man. But the minute I answered the phone, I could tell something was wrong. 

"He did it again," my father said. 

"What? Who?"

"Leonard. He hurt your cousin," he responded, his voice catching. 

That single moment will go down in history as one of the worst in my life. Because in that moment, I felt the things NO ONE should have to feel. Guilt. Shame. Disgust. I felt like what he was telling me was my fault. I'd failed to prevent another person from getting hurt. I was overcome with a sense of hatred toward myself. Why didn't I make a bigger deal out of what happened to me? Why did I work so hard to forgive him? Why didn't I grow up to be a sexual abuse case-worker? Why didn't I make sure to raise my voice louder instead of keeping quiet? Why did I have to be so well-adjusted -- no one pays attention to the well-adjusted kid. I should have made more poor decisions and MADE people pay attention to the things that had happened to me.

Logically, those are some of the most ridiculous thoughts to have crossed my mind. But in that moment - logic doesn't matter. What matters is how you feel. And that's exactly how he made me feel. 

It's been a long year and a half. To be honest, this case has affected me more than my own case against him has. I'm older and unfortunately, not as resilient as I was at 10 years old. So when I was told that I was not going to be allowed to read the Victim's Statement that I worked weeks on... the statement that contained ALL the things I should have said years ago and hadn't... I was furious. Livid that they were once again silencing a victim. That the re-victimization this case has caused was not nearly as important as the actual crime he committed. The son of a bitch took a plea deal. His punishment was set (only 2 years in prison - second offense). And still... they would not allow those of us who have been destroyed by him to tell him that. 

My only consolation is that there is a sort of justice within the prison system. And though I generally don't condone violence -- I am a believer in vigilanteism. Because if the people we trust to protect us are not doing so - who can we trust? I hope that the prison system enacts their own form of justice so that perhaps the man who has hurt so many people will understand what it's like to be held accountable for his actions. That he understands that even though the justice system has protected him, he cannot be protected from all. That there are others out there who care enough about his crimes to enact their own form of revenge. I know that this may seem unhealthy to a lot of people. And trust me... I've been in therapy long enough to know that even most therapists may think that there are some healing, processing and forgiveness steps that I missed along the way. 

But the truth is that life is not a forgiving place. The world does not go 'round in a black and white way as we'd like. We hurt people and people hurt us. And contrary to the popular quote, "No one can make you inferior without your consent" - I call bullshit. People are cruel and the way I was abused, without my consent, did make me feel inferior. I've spent a lot of time coming to terms with all the emotions that are wrapped up in being a sexual abuse survivor. As much as people would like to tell you what and how you should feel - they can't know what it's really like to be your position. Even in talking to other sexual abuse survivors - you discover that there's a variety of ways people handle the situation. 

All of this is to say that I'm writing this post because I can. Because I won't be silenced by the judge presiding over my uncle's case. I will not be silenced by his family who continue to lie about what happened. I will not be silenced by the criminal justice system that continues to fail me and plenty of other victims. And I will not be silenced by society -- a place where it's uncomfortable to talk about things like this. A place where people would rather see "good" than "evil" and acknowledge that it exists.

If the criminal justice system and his family will not hold him accountable for his actions, I hope his fellow community members will. I've never liked the idea of publicly shaming people for their actions, but that was before I realized that some criminals just don't care. They don't care about their victims. They don't care that they've been hurt. They don't care that they've been silenced. So today, I invite you to read my victim impact statement. To look at the documents that I've had in my possession for the last twenty years. 

I will not stay silent. And I promise to always raise my voice against injustices like mine.


TO MY ABUSER,

I am a daughter, a sister, a wife and a sexual abuse survivor. It's taken me many years to say those words aloud. And until now, I’ve never had the opportunity to address my abuser in this capacity and say the things I should have said years ago.

Leonard, I can still remember, vividly, the way it felt when you touched me where you weren’t supposed to. There are times, in the dead of night, when I can remember the fear of hearing your footsteps coming toward me, your body heat as you laid down next to me. These are unwanted memories I wish I could forget -- visceral reminders of the injustice and pain a loved one can cause. You can’t get rid of memories, though; it doesn’t work like that. What happens, instead, is that the memories impact every choice you make in your life. I am incredibly careful with who I trust. Who I show my true self to, because I don’t ever want to feel the loss of control I felt when I was a child in your care. I have learned to love on a case-by-case basis and to dole out that love little by little so as not to be betrayed. I have guarded my heart to protect myself – often to my own detriment – because of the residual effects of what you did to me. 

I’ve lost a lot of things thanks to you, and I want to tell you what all of those things are so that you can understand that what you did impacted my life in every way.

The first losses are the obvious ones -- the guilt, shame, and disgust that I felt at ten years old knowing that you had put your hands in places they didn’t belong. I had to explain over and over to various family members and counselors what happened to me. It was hard. It was horrible.

I didn’t know it then, but looking back, I now realize that you also took something very important from me as a child: my ability to say no. You made me feel small and insignificant and scared. You took my voice when you betrayed your role as a caretaker… as a trusted family member … and when stuck your fingers inside of me, you robbed me of a moment that should have existed solely for my future self to enjoy with a trusted and consensual partner, someone who respected me and my body. 

That loss of consent has impacted my decisions throughout the years and shaped me into someone who has a hard time recognizing that I have a choice. A choice to say no. A choice to stand up for what I disagree with.

Sexual abuse does not claim only one victim, and you should know that. When I came forward about what you’d done, the pain rippled throughout our entire family. Sisters and brothers that were once close were torn apart. Grandparents and grandchildren were separated. More importantly, a family I once trusted and believed loved me, became the family that treated me as if I were the one who committed the crime. I am the victim in this situation, but while my siblings and I were denied precious time with our grandparents, you were allowed the luxury of staying in contact with your loved ones. Your children and your wife got time we didn’t get.

You robbed us of that time and you robbed me of the chance to get to know my relatives. While your grandchildren grow up and learn who their family is – I am certain that I’m not in that history. My cousins will never get a chance to know the real me, because their knowledge of me will have been marred by your lies. The town that I should be proud to walk through because I have a rich family history there was taken from me, too. A town I grew up wandering the streets of, a town where people would smile at me because I was a Hankes. Now, I can’t stand to be in your town where the people believe you are a respected part of their community. That is not a community I can support. 

My dad has always been a fierce defender of his family. He has expressed such a deep love and loyalty to his parents and siblings that when he was forced to miss Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners because you would be there has been one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve had to watch.  It pains me deeply to know that my grandfather, one of the most inspirational and courageous men I’ve ever known thought of you as a son. That he respected you. I imagine that he is rolling over in his grave right now, disgusted with the kind of man you’ve proven yourself to be.

But the biggest thing you took from me was the narrative of my childhood. While I refuse to let you believe that you ruined my entire childhood, I can’t deny that when I look back at my youth, those painful years stand out the most. Those years of nightmares. Of therapy. I have loving parents and an amazing family, and for that I’m grateful, but my childhood memories often turn to this traumatic time in my life instead of the moments I’ve shared with them. And that’s your fault. You did this to me.

I want you to know that despite all the ways you have altered my life and the way I live it – you did not break me, no matter how many times I believed that you might have. I stand here today, strong and confident in who I am. And I know that I am one of the lucky few. My support system was bigger and more robust than anyone could have imagined. The people in that circle of support believed me. And loved me. And sent me to therapy. But the thing I remind myself of every day? I’ve been surrounded by the best male role models I could have asked for. Thanks to my father and stepfather, my uncles and my husband, I’ve learned that men do not have to hurt you to love you.

I know that you and some of the other people in this room might be asking, “Why is she still talking about this when it happened to her so long ago? Why can’t she just let it go?” The answer is that it’s still happening to me and to your other victims. It will always be happening to us. The day you decided to touch another little girl and that brave little girl told her mother was the day that I became a victim all over again. What I didn’t expect was to feel the weight of your actions fall upon me.  Like the guilt of not being able to protect that little girl or any of the others you may have hurt after me. Because of the disappointment with myself that I didn’t stand up and raise my voice in a louder way. So no, I will never stop talking about it

I also became a victim again when I found out that you rewrote the truth, when the cousins and family that should have known what really happened were told lies about me and my family. The most disgusting part of this is that you painted an inaccurate picture of my mother, making her out to be a vindictive woman in order to gain custody of her child. My mother, who at the time not only trusted and loved you as her own sibling, but was an outstanding mother and gave me every ounce of love and support she had within herself – all so you could keep the truth about yourself hidden. 

My mother did a great job of sheltering me from some of the more painful aspects of this situation. It actually wasn’t until recently that I was able to read the interview you had with the child protection worker assigned to my case and Officer Steve Holst. In that interview, you admit and I quote, “I knew I had a problem and I told my wife about it. We didn’t know what to do.” And yet you sit here today, claiming that you have done nothing wrong.

There is another part of the interview where the officer asks your wife, Roxy, if I had told her what happened. She acknowledged that I did tell her.

I remember the day that I told you, Roxy. And the day I told your son. And the way you both brushed it off. Looking back, is it any wonder I was so scared to tell anyone else? You made me out to be a liar, when you knew the entire time what your husband was doing. Why you continue to stand by his side, even now, baffles me. To know that you care more about a man who hurts children than you care about your own flesh and blood is appalling. Knowing that another adult was aware of what was happening and didn’t care enough to stand up for me has been a hard fact to accept. I beg you, Roxy, to reconsider the example you’re setting for the younger children in this family by staying with a man who purposely hurts children. What he’s done is not okay. And it’s not okay that you’ve supported him. 

Leonard, a few years ago, you wrote me and my father a letter (see below for actual letter). And I’d like to quote that letter now. “I am communicating with you now because I have been seeing (with Roxy) a specialist in counseling trauma survivors. He has helped me to see that the possibility exists that you may feel that I have no remorse or guilt for what I have done to you since I have never communicated it to you. As such, I am taking this effort to say the following to you now. I want to deeply apologize to you for what I did to you. Both at the time of my abusing you as well as any resulting effects that have or may yet, linger. You did nothing wrong, you were just an innocent child and I was the adult who abused you. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but my selfish thinking blinded me to the true wrongness I was engaged in.”

I spent a lot of time with your letter. I read and reread it. I spent countless hours talking to my therapist about it and came to the conclusion that I had to open my heart to forgiveness. Your letter felt genuine, which is why I allowed myself to be in situations that made me uncomfortable for the rest of my family. To allow my father time with his parents. To enjoy pivotal moments in my life with the rest of the Hankes family.

But you did it again. You abused another child. You broke the promise you made in that letter. And worse than that – you deny that you did. To anyone reading that letter – you may sound like a man who regrets what he has done. Who has resolved to change. I bought that story hook line and sinker and worked to forgive you. But you didn’t change. To this day, you continue to put your sick needs ahead of your family and you continue to hurt innocent children. It is this letter that ignites the most rage in my soul. In writing it, you hurt me again. You betrayed me, again. I want you to know that I will never forgive you for what you’ve done. 

I want everyone in this courtroom to know that just because a person does good things, it does not mean he is a good person. Sure, Leonard may usher at your church and take collection every Sunday. He may cut your lawn and help you when you’ve fallen. No one denies that he has worked hard and done good things in his life. But he is not a good person. He is not a good man. A good man would never hurt a child knowingly, would never allow himself to be put upon a pedestal when he knows the things he’s done to hurt others. 

That’s why I’m disappointed that he is not being punished to the fullest extent. It is not right that a repeat offender is able to spend a brief amount of time being punished for his crimes while his victims will spend the rest of their lives dealing with the pain he inflicted. I am astonished that a man who has admitted his guilt and who has been proven to be a predator is granted such leniency and will undoubtedly have the ability to continue to hurt children. 

You can tell that, despite the trauma you’ve caused me throughout my life, I am an extremely well-adjusted and productive member of society. I do work that allows people to raise their voice and tell their stories, and I am very good at it. I credit my success to my support system. But because of the luxury I have enjoyed, I owe it to the rest of the world to raise my voice for other little girls who have been traumatized and abused. It is not only my duty and responsibility to speak out and educate people on sexual abuse – it’s my deepest desire. I will not be an idle participant any longer, and I will not keep quiet, even when it makes some people uncomfortable, even when it means rocking the ship. I feel bad for your children because of the lies they’ve been fed. But I hope that they recognize the truth in my words and the words of all the victims’ statements that will be read today. I hope that they realize their legacy can be so much more than that of their father’s. They do not have to sit by idly and support him. They, too can have a voice that matters. And if they decide not to? That’s okay. My voice is loud and it will carry over them and be the light for other victims. 

I do not detect any remorse from you, Leonard and Roxy, but if you care even the tiniest bit for me or the other people you’ve hurt, you will do the right things. You will recognize how deeply you’ve hurt us and impacted our lives. You will admit the truth to yourselves and to your family. Your children and siblings deserve that much. They deserve to know that they were lied to and manipulated by the people they love the most.

I came here today to make it known that I would not let this moment pass by without telling you the things I should have said years ago. I am a sexual abuse survivor – but that label does not define me. I am so much more than what you did to me.

Thank you. 

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My Love Affair with the Freewrite

If you’re a millennial like me, you might be more used to the slight tinking noise of your laptop keyboard. Perhaps it’s the click of your cell phone keyboard. But, when the developers of Freewrite decided to bring the past back to life (with a just a touch of modernity), they realized they’d capitalized on something people take for granted… nostalgia.

The developers at Freewrite (Astrohaus) wanted to make a typewriter that held true to the elements that everyone loves(d) about typewriters but also add some of the newer technology to complement the needs of modern day writers.

So, what does that look like?

 

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A compact, sleek thing of beauty that has wi-fi capabilities, an e-ink screen, the capacity to sync your documents to the cloud and that’s about it. It retains the nostalgic clank and clamor of the keys. The delay in the words you see on the screen. The inability to go back to previous sections with a cursor. And though the wi-fi is built in, it’s purposely left for only limited use. You can only use it to sync your documents, update the device's firmware and a few other minor details. There’s no clicking to the internet. No checking Facebook for “just a second.” No tweeting.

It’s just you and the keyboard and a screen full of your words.

So how does the Freewrite fare when put side by side with modern technology we know and love?

As you might have guessed, I decided to purchase one. In fact, I’m typing this post on it right now. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not only addicted to my precious Mac devices - I'm pretty confident that I'd die without them. However, I felt myself wishing things could be simpler. I found myself saying, “I wish I had the willpower to stay off the internet for even a day!” And I know what you’re thinking. “Well, c’mon, it’s not really that hard. Just. Do. It.”

I hear you, I do. But as my therapist would say, “if you can’t summon the willpower - take away the temptation.”

So there you have it. As of October 3rd, I had not written a single word in months. And the last thing I’d written before that was a short story. 10k words. Now, some might think that’s okay and it would have been if I were happy about it. But for someone who previously was writing upwards of 100K a year, this was NOT okay. And I was unhappy. The one thing I loved to do so much had stopped. And the truth was, I was using distraction as an excuse.

So when I saw the Freewrite on sale (it still is!), I knew it was time to make a radical change…if even just to jumpstart the momentum.

So did it work?

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YES! There is something oddly compelling about sitting down with the Freewrite, no internet and just going to town on your draft. The lack of editing capabilities forces you to either

1. Murder your inner critic
2. Be VERY methodical and critical as you write so that you end up with a fresh draft by the end.

And the sound… I will admit that I’ve fallen a bit in love with the sound of the keys. The higher pitched tone of the delete key and the slight, but discernible tink of the return button.  And the screensavers that rotate and change and make me smile when I pass it.

Now, don’t get me wrong – there are some issues. I’m not going to sit here and claim that it’s all sunshine and rainbows. Some of the things that bother me are also some of the same things that also make me happy. I know, I'm contradictory.

The lagging screen, the lack of arrow keys, the posture required (okay, that’s probably just me) - the inconsistency of the backspace button - they’re all things that drive me batty because they come so easily on the computer. In fact, I believe we take those things for granted. I have never loved my shiny mac as much as I did after a two-hour writing session on the Freewrite.

At first, I tried to love the Freewrite for everything, but it’s NOT an everything kind of device. To me, the best and most important thing that the Freewrite provides and encourages is distraction-free possibilities. It allows you to get out of your head - for even just a few minutes - to get your words on the screen. I have achieved some of my greatest word counts using the Freewrite and that’s impressive because I’m naturally a very fast typer/drafter. The Freewrite unlocks some kind of freedom in your mind. Allows you to push away the outside world and do what you always want to do: just write.

I truly believe that if I hadn’t forced myself to get the Freewrite and start drafting something… anything... I may not have gotten started again at all. And to me – that makes it worth its weight in gold.

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But the fact that I still like to use it (like when I’m on deadline to write out a blog post about a modern day typewriter) makes me feel a burst of warm fuzzies. I love that I can always pick it up and expect to see Poe staring back at me, telling me to set my story free.

I love that when I sit down at the table with just the Freewrite - it encourages me to indulge in my intentions: to set my stories free.

What I Love About Love Stories

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not UBER romantic. I'm kind-of-sort-of romantic and definitely more into romance than my husband is, but I think romance and love are two different things. And romance can be feigned. Can be dramatized. But love? Love is a bit of a shiny unicorn. What do I mean?

I mean that love is so nuanced and different for everyone that it's hard to capture what it actually is. But that's why I LOVE "Love Stories" because when you're reading a good one, it doesn't matter if the characters resemble you or not, you still FEEL a bit of what they're feeling. You understand what they're going through, even if you haven't gone through it yourself. It's strange - but love is universal although there's no one size fits all to it. 

If you're married or in a long-term relationship - you may understand this sentiment: when you read/see/hear of a romantic gesture or someone getting engaged/married or falling in love and you wish, for the tiniest of moments that your experience had been like that. Or that you wish you could have it all over again. But then you snap back to reality and realize that's not going to happen and you don't really want that. 

But when you read a love story... you get to experience that over and over again. 

For me, I don't write a lot of love stories or romances. I'm drawn more to the darker elements of life. But most of my books still have some small element of romance or love in them because I truly believe that love is one of the strongest driving forces in our lives. Whether it's a romantic love or the love of a family member/special person, etc. Love and Fear are the strongest emotions humans can feel and I LOVE the way books can explore those topics more in depth.

I absolutely love reading a romance or love story where I'm invested in the characters and either they're redemption or their demise. I get ALL the feels when I fall in love with the characters falling in love. It's one of my favorite things about reading AND writing love stories. 

Do you like reading love stories? Why? Tell me in the comment section!

In Which I Write a Sappy Thanksgiving Post

As I sit here writing this, a few days before Thanksgiving, I find myself debating about whether or not to write this post. Mostly because it's pretty much the week EVERYONE starts lamenting about how grateful and thankful and blessed they are -- and shouldn't we be doing that EVERYDAY? Shouldn't we be grateful and thankful more than just around the holidays? We should - but sometimes, we all need a little reminder that it's time to count our blessing and reflect. 

So I'm writing this today as a reminder. Both of where I've been, where I'm at and where I want to go. I never believed the theory that "so much can change in one year," when I was a child. But as I've grown into adulthood, I'm learning just how true that is. The last three years of my life have had more changes in it than any years past and you know what? They humble me. 

I've had some really really shitty times in the past couple years and some really amazing ones. But regardless of whether it's a good or bad time in my life, I need to remind myself of the blessings that I have. 

  • I am a smart, capable woman who has a great career and by all accounts - a dream job. I get to write books, help people write books, do what I'm good at doing. I get to sit in my pajamas and do the work! I get to take a nap in the middle of the day if I want. 
  • I have family and friends that support and love me - in spite of my bad habits and judgments and grumpy exterior sometimes. At any one time, I have no less than a dozen people I could pick up the phone and call if I were in trouble, or needed to talk to. 
  • I am able to channel my passions into creativity and enjoy the fruits of my labor. 
  • I have readers who love my words and tell me so and it makes my heart swell with pride and love that they are there. That I write for them. 

On Monday, I spent the day talking at my old High School to a group of creative writing students. Young adults who have yet to cross the precipice of the beginning of their adult life. They are cautious and curious and full of unbridled yearning to touch the real world. I admire that - because there is a sort of jadedness that comes from growing up. I watched their eyes light up when I told them that like a lot of them - I was told a lot what I "couldn't do," but that I stopped listening to those voices and instead turned to the ones that said, "you can." I watched them get excited when I explained that having a good job that pays well isn't something that is always linear -- or what society expects. That if you work hard and believe in what you want out of your life and take control of it yourself, you can do what everyone thinks is impossible. The economy is a scary thing right now and a lot of the generation is being told what they should do. The kind of jobs they should have. But I think it's important for them to hear that if that's not the direction they want to go, they don't have to limit themselves. They can do what they want so long as they have the drive and passion to do it.  

After the last question had been asked and I walked out to my car to drive home, I felt incredibly grateful and blessed to have that opportunity. That someone thought *I* was someone those kids could look up to. I've always known I wanted to help other and do something important with my life -- but I never guessed when I was younger that the way in which I would do that is by doing what I love to do and being me. My words help people. My knowledge helps people. 

And for that, I am beyond grateful, thankful and blessed. <3

What I LOVE About NaNoWriMo

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I remember the day I found out about NaNoWriMo. I was in my first year of college, working for IOWA Public Radio and manning the third shift by myself. During those nights - there was A LOT of time to do "me" things. Research, read, do homework, etc. It comes as no surprise that even then, I wanted to be a writer. So when I stumbled upon this magical thing called National Novel Writing Month - I was interested. The more I read about it - the more intrigued I became. Write an entire novel in 30 days? 50,000 words? That's crazy! There's no way... I thought. But I couldn't stop reading the forums and people who had done it and by the end of the night, I was convinced I was going to do it. 

And I did - and never looked back. 

I had documented it all on a blog that is now defunct and long-gone. How I wish I'd kept it (or at least kept the posts) so I could look back. But *spoiler alert* I did not win the first two years I did NaNo. I failed miserably. But at least I tried. It wasn't until 2009 (when miraculously, my book blog was started and I have Facebook posts to honor the memory) that I put my foot to the ground and said - I'm going to do this thing, no matter what it takes. This was when I moved to a new city - started a new University, a new job and a full schedule. And you know what?

I rocked the shit out of NaNo. Here's a little glimpse into that crazy month of NaNo in 2009:

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And here's an excerpt from my blog from that same day:

I DID IT! I fucking did it. How in the hell did I do it is what I want to know. I can't believe I'm sitting here and I actually did it. I'm freaking out here... and its like 2 in the morning so I can't exactly scream or jump around because everyone's sleeping. I'd have a celebratory drink except I cant find my parents liquor closet. Plus...again its 2 am..probably not the best idea.

LOL - so you get it, right? Why discovering NaNo was such an amazing thing for me? In the years following, there were many celebratory status updates and posts like this, but the first time is always the best. 

Now, you might think that everyone would be on board with this awesome thing, right? But that's not the case. There are a lot of people who vehemently detest NaNoWriMo for various reasons. Even my mentor doesn't love it. But I'm a huge supporter of NaNo, obviously. And I decided to break down my reasons.

1. Camaraderie - there is nothing quite like a group of people gathering around a topic/theme they are super passionate about. There's just this... vibe that surrounds the month. There's a sense of "belonging" that many writers often don't feel. The first year I did it - I found out that people gathered at the local library to write. It was a sense of community I hadn't found elsewhere. 

2. Developing habits - Due to the nature of the time constraints and word count - it FORCES you to write consistently. While I don't always prescribe to the thought that you should write every single day, I do think there's validity to the theory. But more than anything, I truly believe that habit begets momentum and momentum begets progress and progress = a finished novel. When you set a goal and work toward that goal every day, you begin developing habits and soon it becomes a part of your everyday routine. And I can't think of a better habit to pick up than carving out time to write everyday. Sometimes people just need a little nudge, or accountability and I think in a way NaNo does just that for writers. 

3. A sense of accomplishment - not everyone wants to be a writer who gets a book deal and becomes famous. Sometimes, someone just has a dream of writing a book, plain and simple (I know, it's hard to imagine for those of who do write TO be read). And even if a writer DOES write to be read - there's something to be said for wanting that, dreaming that and haven't yet been able to accomplish it. But with NaNo - even when you don't "win" - there IS a sense of accomplishment. Of finishing. Of seeing 50,000 words you wrote on the page. They don't have to be great (and most likely they won't be) but when you hit that 50,000 mark and it's the end of November - I'm telling you - nothing feels as great as looking at what you created and saying, "I did it!" I'm a fan of ANYTHING that puts you in motion toward your dreams/goals.  

4. Helps to silence the inner critic - When I'm NOT in NaNo mode - I tend to let my inner critic take root and my progress becomes stalled and sometimes even stops. But because of forward motion of NaNo, it kind of forces you to silence that inner critic and just keep going. Because you know what? You may have 50,000 words of crap, but that's what revisions, rewrites and additional drafts are for. You can't edit a blank page (said by so many people, I don't even know who to attribute it to). I know SO many writers who want to have a clean, near perfect draft... but I don't think that's reality. And it's definitely NOT my reality. No matter how fast/slow I go with my writing - I always have additional revisions/drafts I need to complete. So for me, NaNo is a way to get the story on the page faster and focus on revisions afterward. 

5.  You have a book you want to write - and there's no better time to start than with NaNoWriMo. Whether your a plotter, panster, first time writer or seasoned pro - there's no discrimination when it comes to NaNo. There's no age limit. NOW is the perfect time to bust out your idea or your dream to write a book and just start. You may surprise yourself with what you're able to accomplish.

So I hope if you were on the fence about NaNoWriMo - you read this post and find yourself excited to try something new. And if you're a veteran writer and haven't done it - why not try it, too? 

Me? I'll be attached to the keyboard this month, pumping out the first draft to my next novel. See ya on the flip side ;)

The Fascination with Horror

I have always openly admitted how much I love October, Halloween, the horror genre, and generally anything to do with the macabre. Why? I don't know! But I'm not alone. One Google search sent me to thousands (literally, THOUSANDS) of articles about why people are attracted to horror, true crime and documentaries about killers (both those rightly convicted and those not). I found this one to be particularly enlightening and this one, too. 

I've heard from various family members that they think it's "weird" that I'm so fascinated by this topic, especially since it stemmed from such an early age. I remember my father sitting me down when I was younger and we'd watched IT or Chuckie from Child's Play. When I was a young teenager, me and my sisters favorite thing would be when Friday rolled around and my dad came home with a handful of rented scary movies. In High School, I won a speech tournament using serial killers as my topic. You could say that I've been obsessed for a while. 

This love of the dark and disturbing has served me well in several of my novel/short stories - but oddly enough, I haven't ever written straight horror. Possibly for the same reason that I have never written Dystopian (another genre I love to read/watch). I'm intimidated by it. 

But with horror - I'm more scared of what it would say about myself. I imagine that the people involved in thinking up the horrific things that happened in the Saw movies are probably not exactly proud of themselves (well, maybe they are) - I, for one, would be a little embarrassed to admit that my mind is that warped. Possibly, I've never tried to write horror because I don't want to admit that I find pleasure/joy in writing about such dark themes. To be a witness, a voyeur is one thing. To dream it up, create it, write it -- that's something else entirely. 

I think that someday, I'll give writing horror a try. I have a million pieces of inspiration all around me - so why not? 

Would YOU write horror (if you don't already)? Could you? Do you read it?

Why I Write Short Stories

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I've long heard over and over from readers and writers alike "I hate short stories... they're not long enough. They're not worth it. They don't make money. They leave you wanting more. Waste of time." And you know what? It makes me really sad. I LOVE short stories. Both as a reader AND a writer. Sometimes, I really want to quench my reading thirst - but I just don't have time to read a novel. Sometimes, I am really jonesing for a certain theme and find an anthology of short stories that is filled with stories on that theme. And sometimes, my favorite authors throw out a few short stories to fill the void between their next book. Whatever the reason is, I love it!

But as I writer - I love writing short stories! Here are few articles I've found that boil down the most basic reasons quite succinctly:

But for me, personally, it's a mixture of both of those articles. And I guess the biggest thing is this: I'm good at them. I don't say that in arrogance or to boast. I say that because you know when you're good at something, and you FEEL good doing it and when you finish, you have a sense of contentedness and accomplishment? It can be coloring or painting, singing or heck, cleaning the house! Whatever you're good at - you do it because you're good at it, you enjoy doing it and it fills you with a sense of joy.

That's writing short stories for me. 

When I was a teenager and started to take writing seriously - I honestly didn't think I'd ever write short stories. I thought it was for MFA students who were "super prickly and stuffy" and for those who didn't have the "chops" to write a novel. But the truth is that writing short stories is actually a lot harder than people think. Which is another reason why I do it. 

You have to do in a short story, what writers are allowed to do in a full length novel. All the elements still have to be there - a beginning, middle and end. A compelling first line. Three-dimensional characters. Conflict. Tension. Climax. It ALL needs to be in a short story and you don't have a lot of room to make all those things happen which is why if you can master the short story, you are actually strengthening your skills as a storyteller. 

My short stories have always been challenges to me. To make my characters sharper, more distinct. To make the plot tight and all-encompassing. To make the depth of the story and character arcs enough within the timeframe allotted. 

I have to be honest and say that some of my FAVORITE characters and stories have come from writing short stories. If I had never taken a chance on diving into my craft and taken the challenge of trying to write a short story, I wouldn't have come up with the stories that my readers love (despite them being short stories!). 

I really do urge you to try reading a short story if you haven't (a few of mine are FREE and/or .99!). And if you're a writer - I urge you to try and challenge yourself with a short story. You might surprise yourself with how much you learn from the process!