Archive for category Life

Self-publishing, Marketing and Brave Farewells

Hello friends! This may be my last blog past from this platform. I’ve signed up with Hostgator and am moving on to the brave new world of self-hosting, which is both exciting and freakin’ awful. Seriously, I’m somewhere between creatively technical and technically crazy, so the process of setting up my new website, which will be elfarris.com, has been one that would invite much hair pulling if that didn’t give me such a bad headache.

Why a new platform? Maybe because it’s just time for a change, as a ballplayer in many a city has said. I love WordPress. I love what blogging has done in terms of helping me hone my voice and meet other bloggers and writers. Recently, though, my heart hasn’t really been in it.

With one book published and another on the way this spring, the honest to God’s truth is that marketing these two titles, and writing a third, with an expected release date of fall or winter this year, is leaving me very little time for blogging and commenting on other blogs.

And I’m okay with that. Well, no, it makes me feel a little sad, because I hate goodbyes and I’m about to enter a brave new world but I don’t feel very brave. So I am trying to be okay with it–trying really hard. My deep-down intuition tells me that this is the right move for me at this moment in time.

As far as marketing, I’m relying a great deal on advance reviews (34 and counting), word of mouth, and my flagship platform, my Facebook Page, Running from Hell with El. I am also hoping that some of you will invite me to chat on your blogs and will buy a copy of Ripple. The support I’ve received from fellow writers has been astounding me, and I don’t know where I’d be without your help.

One of the things I’ve been doing a lot of is creating posters, and each poster contains a hyperlink to Ripple on Amazon. One of the posters, for example, has been share 160 times on Facebook. I read somewhere that a reader must see the name of a book four times on average before they purchase it, so I’m hoping that as my page-friends and author-friends and regular just awesome as-is friends share these posters, enough readers will see it in order to decide to click over and buy it.

Well, I have lots more marketing tips, and would be happy to ask any questions from anyone, especially in a Q&A, but for tonight, I’m going to close with a gentle fare thee well, and let the characters from Ripple have the last word. I’ll make sure I leave my forwarding information, but you can always find me on Facebook or Twitter, or in the pages of my books. xoxo

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Skating with Molotov: Portland Renegade Roller Derby

Last week, after I wrote a post that referred to my own elbow-throwing, competitive propensities, a woman who skates by the name of Molotov approached me on my Facebook Page, Running from Hell with El, to see if I was interested in sponsoring a growing derby league, Portland Renegade Roller Derby. We started talking, and this Q&A is what resulted. Oh, and my answer is yes, hell yes I want to help support this league of hardy souls!rollerderby521293_320380494737815_1774815638_n
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El: I just think roller derby is the coolest, most fascinating thing!

Molotov: It is pretty great. And seeing how it can bring a community of women together is kinda amazing too. My league is a renegade league, which means we broke off from a bigger league here in our town.

El: Ahhh–I was wondering what the renegade meant. I mean, I see renegade and I automatically smile!

Molotov: It was too big and micro managed and became for profit and lost a lot of its community feel. What they are doing is great for a lot of people, but we just wanted something different. So it thus has became a lot of hard work starting a league and team from the ground up!

El: Grinning. How long have you been playing roller derby (is “playing” the right word?)?

Molotov: I’ve been skating most of my life, but only have been skating derby since November.

El: So it’s called “skating” derby?

Molotov: Most of our coaches and base teammates have been playing for four to six years. It’s called “bouting.” Once I made the mistake of calling it a “game” the first time I went to a bout. And I was very embarrassed.

El: LOL–I can imagine.

 Molotov: But we say skate usually.

 El: you’ve been skating most your life? Hockey or ice skating?rollerderbytwo54333_308446725931192_1930708213_o

 Molotov: Just roller skating and blading.

El: This is fascinating! And you were a runner before?

Molotov: Yes, since I was 18. I still want to run again. I haven’t really since last June.

El: I don’t think we ever lose that desire. Did you suffer an injury?

Molotov: I have anemia and it was too much. I was getting out of breath and really sick. My 7 year old beat me in the last 5k we did together.

El: Shaking head–that’s rough.

Molotov: So I knew something must be wrong then.

El: Yes for sure. How did you find derby?

Molotov: I wanted to play derby for a long time. My kids and I watched Whip It back when it came out.

El: That was awesome!

Molotov: My best friend is involved in another derby group in our town.

El: That’s the main league right?

Molotov: she has been skating with them for years and still not on a team. I went with her to a bout a couple of years ago and met the person who is now the ringleader of our group.

El: The ringleader–is that the league commissioner of the renegade league?

Molotov: Yes, our president. I just call her ringleader to be silly.

El: LOL! What does roller derby do for you?

Molotov: I always wanted to do derby, but always thought it was too expensive, too much time, I didn’t deserve to spend then time on myself, etc etc. I was in a very unpleasant marriage up until just a few years ago and never would have been doing this if I was still married.

El: I’m so glad you’re out of that marriage hun! I was talking about derby tonight with my husband, and he grinned at me.

“You know Cutie, if you were younger . . .”

 ” . . . Yep. I’d do it for sure! Nothing more fun than throwing elbows and hitting people, lol.” I replied.

^^^

© Earl McGehee

© Earl McGehee

does that sound familiar?

Molotov: Lol! Totally.

El: Grinning. I thought so!

Molotov: We have people of all ages.

El: What’s the range?

Molotov: 23-43, currently.

El: How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking?

Molotov: I’m 32.

El: Oh you’re just a kid!

Molotov: Ugh–wish I felt like just a kid.

El: Are you kidding me? 32?! You’re in your athletic prime!

Molotov: So I met this crazy, fun, positive, happy gal at a bout. Her name is Julie Locktress and a year later (last November) she invited me to be part of what we are calling the Renegade movement. At first I thought I was too weak and tired to even skate because of my anemia. I hadn’t ran since June or May. I hadn’t been on skates in two years, since I had taken a fall and hurt my tailbone. But I was depressed and anxious and needed a cause for myself other then just raising my kids and carting them around to their sporting events and working 50 hours a week to keep a roof over their heads I don’t get any child support from their father and am basically on my own.

El: Oh man–50 hours a week and no child support? And hun, we all need something greater than ourselves, you know?

Molotov: Yes, exactly. So I figured at least I could help with the admin part of it.

El: (nodding)

Molotov: But then I started taking derby classes and I went broke and ate Top rRmen and oatmeal packets for lunch to buy skates and gear

El: that is *awesome* good on you!

 Molotov: And I’ve beePortlandrenegades29544_308788379230360_644203395_nn working ferociously to get better and stronger and raise awareness and get sponsors and skaters. I got in touch with a friend I had not seen for 10 years and now she is going to skate with us. And she brought another girl, who also brought a friend and so on and so on.

 El: Right!

Molotov: So we have a mix of new skaters and older experienced skaters. we are from all walks of life

El: Like what careers?

Molotov: One is a Native American and she is a licensed Drug and alcohol counselor.

Locktress is a hairdresser.

El: grinning.

Molotov: We have a waitress/model, a graduate student, a nurse, a logistics worker/liberal arts major.

El: A nurse!? LOL!

Molotov: Yep . . . and a construction/flooring sales personrenegades

El: And what’s your 50-hour week job?

Molotov: I work in shipping/receiving/inventory control for a laser test equipment company. I was a full time student too up until a couple of years ago . . . I’m hoping to get back to school one day.

El: (nodding) I hear ya.

 Molotov: Yes . . . no time to be sad or feel sorry for myself. When I am not busy that is when I start to fade. So I work hard, love hard, play hard.

 El: Seriously I get that. And don’t think too hard or too much (that’s my problem lol).

 Molotov: Mine too.

El: Yeah.

Molotov: I wanted to be a philosophy major.

El: And that’s where sports and competition help me. Who is your favorite philosopher?

Molotov: Tolstoy.

El: Loved War and Peace. Why Tolstoy?

Molotov: His writings on women and love really speak to me for some reason. I like a lot of the less known ones too… like Karl Marx. Economics and philosophy are very closely related.

El: So as a philosopher, what does derby signify to you?

Molotov: Oh wow . . . that is very deep . . .

El: that’s where I abide lol!

Molotov: I suppose it lies in the theory that we must make today count . . . and each moment . . . and I want to inspire and help others the way that I have been inspired and helped by so many. If I had know that my life could be as good as it is now, I would have chosen a different path very long ago. But it matters not now, because here I am and I am what I do with it. I got a tattoo on my back a year ago that reads ” take the pieces and build them up to the sky” its a line from my favorite song and summarizes the journey of my life.

El: Beautiful. What song is it?TwoNorthWestJammers

Molotov: It’s a most beautiful song . . .

El: Biffy Clyro?

Molotov: YES. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0q2iXlsKNA

El: Listening now. OMG if I were building a soundtrack for Ripple this would be in it. It’s profoundly moving to me, in ways I can hardly explain. There’s a scene in Ripple when Phoebe, the rape victim, is falling apart, but her friend talks to her, helps hold her together, and this song, it could be playing.

Molotov: I’ve had a lot of people who have helped hold me together . . . so yes.

El: Same here. This song, the one tattooed on your back–is this what derby kind of means to you?

Molotov: I think what derby means to me . . . is a dream that I had given up on coming true. And an exciting journey just beginning. One I am so honored and proud to be a part of.

El: That makes me so happy to hear, almost happy tears, you know? Because we should all find those dreams and take part in those journeys.

Molotov: It’s easy to find excuses not to follow our dreams. The hard part is doing what we really want.
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To support these great women, please follow them on Facebook. If you’re interested in sponsoring them, as I sure am, please contact them here:

portlandrenegaderollerderby@gmail.com. Sponsorship packages start for as low as $50.

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Ripple’s Release and What Really Matters

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This is what we’re going to do this afternoon!

Ripple is live, and on sale at Amazon for a low introductory price of $4.99 on Kindle and $12.99 for paperback. I wanted to tell you a little about royalties and pricing before I move on to the advance reviews. At the price of $4.99, I make about $3.50 for each e-book I sell, and at $12.99 for the softcover paperbacks, I make about $2.50 in royalties per book. With a sunk cost of around $2,500 for publishing and editing costs (and I did not scrimp, at all, on anything, especially editing), I will need to sell about 825 books to break even. At some point soon, I will increase my prices, but I want to drive up volume first.

 And that, my friends, is where you come in. If you like Ripple, or even LOVE Ripple, please take a few minutes to tell your friends and family. And I’d be so very grateful for an Amazon review from you as well. Reviews help sell books, pure and simple.

It’s crazy. I didn’t send out a single query letter, and while I’m honestly not too worried about what happens, I do find myself occasionally missing an agent. My fate is entirely in my own hands, and I really do hate asking for help. Then again, I tell myself, I believe in my product. It can help heal broken hearts or just as important, it can provide a reader with hours of entertainment, and that’s maybe even more important than accomplishing any higher purposes.

Buy Ripple!

To my surprise, readers are liking Ripple more because it’s a good story than for its literary merits or its healing qualities. And you know what? That’s awesome! It means that I’ve done my job as a writer . . . and it takes the pressure off me. I don’t need to worry about how good it is from an objective literary standpoint. Whew! All that really matters is that it entertains its audience, and it is.

That brings me to reviews. Without further ado, here is a sampling:

I’m in the middle of the book, but had to pause to share my thoughts because this story is powerful! The female characters are real – fallible, sometimes irritating, always endearing. The villains are so evil, so creepy – Farris gives us insights into the twisted minds of predators right from the start, and it makes me bring my feet up on the couch whenever she gives me a glimpse . . .

 I will come back and add more to my review when I finish the book, but if you are debating about this one, I recommend you go for it!—Christine Morgan.

From the author of the excellent novel, Off Switch:

Farris draws from her former legal career and her former life within the legal profession to craft characters that fit perfectly into the story. They are real. They play their parts well. We see people who are more concerned with their careers; a district attorney who always stops to consider just how close the next election is before deciding what the `right thing to do’ is- managing partners at law firms whose employees are involved in the “scandal” as they call it- heaven forbid they call it a child being raped- who make decisions to terminate people from employment to distance themselves from any negative attention, all in order to protect their large, multi-million dollar books of business, and a detective on the case with ulterior motives for his own demented reasons. And folks- this is what makes this read so real. It shows one of the ugly sides of the American power class, where professions have become more important than people, and often, even when they are genuine victims, child victims at that, of situations that are completely out of their control.
As a man, I like how Farris does not demonize every living sapian with a penis. This is often the unattractive case with books in this genre, and Farris’ writing leaves no doubt that the savage beasts in this tale are evil because they possess evil in their hearts, not because they possess Y chromosomes.”Kevin E. Lake

 And another one:

Ms. Farris hit a home run her first time at bat with Ripple! From the ball-busting attorney Helen Thompson to the slimy detective, she portrayed each character so well they jumped right off the page. I had a very hard time putting this book down. Ms. Farris’s knowledge of the legal system is well-suited to writing a legal thriller. The topic was a very sensitive one and was handled carefully but came across as very realistic. She left herself open to a sequel here and I can hardly wait for it!—Heather Zwicker.

 Here’s one from another excellent writer:

Most legal thrillers treat the reader as if they can’t handle the nitty-gritty of a life in law, but this book gives the reader credit for understanding and appreciating being pulled into the reality of law. And a nightmare. Although this female protagonist is a driven attorney with a busy schedule that is dizzying, nothing can stop her when her daughter is at stake . . .

This is a tough subject to handle, and stories like this too often fall down the pit of pity and hammer readers over the head with how tough it is to be a woman, how unfair it is to be a woman, and how women are the prey of men. This book never goes down that trap, and I appreciated it. Evil walks this earth, and it does its dirty job in many different ways…but is always defeated by the human spirit and the strength of community.

The writer’s voice, pacing, and style are those of a seasoned professional and never get in the way of this challenging story. She knows how to build tension and suspense . . . She knows when to throw in a dash of humor to ease the tension, and she wakes us from a nightmare with the gentle shake of hope. She takes us through the struggle for recovery, showing that whatever the trauma, we can be active parts in the healing.”—M. Madsen.

I am so grateful for these reviews, and for many others like it.

I’m also grateful for how my son is doing. His blood pressure has trended way down, and while still higher than it ought to be, it is stabilized. We will be back into the hospital for more tests this week, and in a way, this scary personal thing my family is encountering is helping me keep this book release in perspective. I am not my book, and its success or failure does not determine how I feel about myself. After all, like the main character in Ripple, I am finding, albeit in a painful way, that my family trumps my career. Sometimes fiction copies life, and sometimes, I suppose, life follows fiction.

Thank you so very much for your support and most of all, for your prayers and kind thoughts for my family.

Buy Ripple on Amazon!

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My Son: Holding Tight, Not Letting Go

He fidgets. We wait. He jumps up, runs over to the machine and looks all herky-jerky, happy, just wanting to play with one of those toys they give to kids. You know the toys, right? They’re packed into this glass case, and a kid deposits a fake coins into the dispenser after he gets done with the pediatrician.  In the old days, we got lollipops for our troubles, but modern kids, they’re all obese, or heading that way, so they get these cheap toys. Or so they say.

I look in the mirror and I see a fat woman and for the life of me, she won’t seem to go away. Stop, El. This isn’t thinking. It’s abuse, another form of it, and deep down, you don’t want that anymore.

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  “Mom! I want this one! The jelly-wiggle!” He grins, all dimples and elbows, and dances around, in a circle, each hand raised with index fingers wagging toward the ceiling. When he dances like this, his face breaks into sharp angles that accentuate his Eastern-European chin dimple, which is, I just learned, caused by some strange genetic malformation of the chin bones. My husband has it. So did Kirk Douglas, and so does his son. The funny thing about this chin dimple is it makes a man look incredibly handsome.

It’s funny, isn’t it? The things that are malformed, not right, a little off, unique, can be the things that make a man, a boy, most loved. I always was taken with a chin dimple, and the fact that it’s a mistake, a genetic error, makes me even fonder of it.

“Shh,” we whisper. “Calm down, love.” He runs back and sits next to my husband, who wears a dark gray suit. Before I can count to ten, he jumps back up again, and stares, intense, eyes narrowed, at the jelly wiggler toy.

•••

She leaned over and scribbled something on his chart. I squinted. 160/102. No. The muscles around her eyes flexed and then she let go, and as her eye muscles retracted, she undid the blood pressure cuff, all the while speaking to my son. Rip, it went, and it sounded so loud in that coffin-quiet office with the pictures of our aging doctor and her three sons on the walls, and I leaned over and shut the office door.

“160/100,” I whispered to my husband, who was watching Dr. M while I held onto my tiny creature, not so tiny now, but in my mind’s eye, I see him as a baby.

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“Mama, was I this big?” He asks, holding his arms about a foot apart.

            I grin.

            He grins, and the grin is as big as his face. “The size of a football?”

            “Yeah,” I nod.

            “I could fit inside a football?” The light dances inside his eyes.

            “Yep.” Now I smile back at him. “That big. No bigger.”

She ripped off the elastic that makes the cuff grip his right arm so tight, and wheeled around, writing something down in his chart. It’s a thick chart for a six-year old. After all, we always joke, he’s our medical scare baby. When I was pregnant with Maddie, I got laser surgery on my eyes, and with those surgically-repaired eyes squinting, I could read her handwriting. 160/100.

It passed quickly. The appointment, I mean. But how fast will this pass? How fast will he pass?

Just a few days ago, he stood in front of the fridge in a Cambray button down shirt and baggy khakis, all serious and tiny, and in my mind’s eye, with both eyes fixed on all fifty-two pounds of him, I saw him as a fifteen or sixteen year old. He was tall and lanky and searching for a glass of water. For some reason, I often see him projected, his tiny form onto his future form, older, taller, a vision, a future ghost of the man he is becoming. It always makes me smile, he always makes me smile, this little boy of mine, this unique, quirky, challenging imperfect child, this sunshine, my sunshine, and I know I can hold on only for so long.

I never wondered if God was giving me this vision to comfort me, to let me know what this youngest son could have been, because he was no longer to be. But it’s weird, because I never see my other two children as older versions of their little selves. Just the baby of the family, my baby, this dimpled man-child of mine. Is God sending him to me, this future man, as a message, as a reminder, a letter of love and comfort and a promise that he will make it through this okay? Or is God reminding me to hold tight, so tight, because his time here is fast fading, fading?

 

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When You’re Trapped Between Work and Family: A Writer’s Doubts

This morning, I really, really wanted to chew a head off, or at a minimum, a hand. This is the absolute bane of all small business owners, particularly artists and writers: setting up a new business. Yeah, yeah, it’s exciting and I’m grateful and, well, yada, yada. But when three children are yowling, busting heads and basically working through their Ophelia, Hamlet and Polonius routine and the man is conducting scientific experiments in the kitchen, the whole process of arranging a freaking PayPal button on WordPress becomes more a bloodletting experience than anything else.

Unsex me now, I’m screaming inside . . . aw crap. I’m mixing up Macbeth and Hamlet. Did I mention that my fourth grader has chosen the latter as her topic for a book report? And somehow, in this vast library of ours, we’ve lost all five copies of said Hamlet? Right. It’s completely disconnected to my efforts to install a freaking PayPal button on WordPress (for autographed, pre-release copies of Ripple), except that while glaring at JavaScript and Text Edit and related noxious, horrifying thingies on the Mac, the fourth-grader mentioned that maybe we could go to the library.

And no decent mom refuses to take a child to the library, right? Right, but only after I get my new page set up on WordPress: this one. But right now, I gotta confess something: I’m not feeling like a decent mom. I’m trying, but I’m also working as hard as I used to work when I practiced law. Don’t get me wrong: this time around, I love my job, but I’m getting too obsessed with line edits, double spaces after periods (damn my eyes, I’m switching to single spaces), proof copies, mailing advance reviewer copies, and a plethora of other small details.

Front and Back Cover

You see, even though I’m self-publishing, I refuse to compromise quality. I’m rolling the dice on my own name and reputation, and it’s not like I can blame a secretary or intern or junior associate or asshole client if anything gets messed up. This book must look as good as anything that is traditionally published.

And you know what’s getting sacrificed right now? Sigh. Yep. My family. Or as Helen realizes in Ripple:

 Excellence may not be about making beds and cooking brownies, but excellence was about more than rising to the top of your profession. She’d fucked up. She hadn’t meant to. She really hadn’t meant to hurt her daughter, but she had. Her own excellence had been achieved by sacrificing her family and now she was paying the price for it. No, now Phoebe was paying the price for it, she realized, and she winced.

 Sometimes fiction mirrors life; other times, life mirrors fiction. All I know is that I need to find a balance, somehow. It doesn’t mean that I should give up trying to create the best product I can, but I need to try harder here on the home front. These twelve and fourteen hour days, after all, are nothing to be proud of—not when those hours take too much time away from my children.

How do you all do it, your working moms and dads? Do you feel trapped between work and home? As if you constantly fail work or family at the expense of the other?

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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.

 

 

 

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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. “Cutie, 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, Cutie. 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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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

I’m in a crowded room and my family’s there, waiting, and I’m holding my breath.  I see my brother. He’ 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, and it’s my husband screaming for me.  Come help me, El, 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.

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