I write because it’s cheaper than therapy

It turns out you can buy a whole collection of “cheaper than therapy” t-shirts and most of them make the valid point that doing something physical, or doing something you love, is good for your mental health. I guess the remaining ones (mostly about chocolate, wine and beer) make the point that the occasional indulgence is helpful too.

Most people I know who write, do include “writing as therapy” as one of their reasons. Sometimes it is the main one. I’m no exception. Writing anything is an outlet for me, and it is one of the reasons I blog, and at times keep a journal. In some ways the journal is the best mental health tool, because it is a place where I can explore my own issues without giving any thought to a reader.

However, fiction provides a sort of veil between my raw emotions and a make believe story while it allows me to delve deep into issues that might never surface in something more contained like a journal. Creating a plot has a certain non-linear element of surprise to it that can take me exactly to the places where I least want to go.

When I started my first novel, I promised myself I would do my best to write without fear. Some of that entailed pretending that no one I knew would ever read my book. (I still have to pretend that sometimes.) I got the chance to go to Ireland in the middle of my first novel, and toured the Jameson distillery. I was surprised to learn that every bottle of Jameson contains the two Latin words “Sine Metu.” Without Fear. Well, Mr. Jameson and I seem to have things in common.

I have a theory about writers block. So far, in my case, it is caused by one of two things. The first, and easiest to solve, is that my body needs something and I’m ignoring it. Usually it’s sleep, but sometimes it’s food or water or even a trip to the bathroom. My brain will eventually cease to create until I care for myself.

The other is that I want to go somewhere with the story and I’m censoring myself. Occasionally it’s because I have another direction I want the plot to go, but more often it’s because something deep within wants to take the story into territory that bothers me. I’ve learned that my muse becomes silent until I relent and stride into the dark forest that is scaring me so.

There, I find the demons that have my particular number, and as we stare each other in the eye, I become a little stronger and they become a bit less terrifying. As I write them into the ordinary, I turn them into creatures of the light.

The forest is huge and the creatures are many, so it’s not like this writing thing is a quick road to complete mental wellness, at least for me. But I do recognize that writing forces me to confront my worst of everything, and with the confrontation comes a measure of understanding.

While looking for information for this blog, I found a great post written by “The Angry Therapist” on tips for dealing with life if you can’t afford therapy.  I found the entire article worthwhile, and some of it surprising and wise. I especially liked tip seven: share your story.

A final word about therapy. Several people I’m close to either see or have seen a therapist and each one of them has benefited from it. It is, I’m told, expensive and hard work, but with the right therapist and the right attitude, it can be life altering. So please understand that I don’t mean to claim here that writing, or any other activity, can or should replace therapy when it is needed, or even wanted.

Therapy may be something I’ll try someday. Much as it may help me, I’m confident I have enough garbage in my head that writing for my mental health will always be an option for me. Besides, I have six other fine reasons to write, and there are four of them I haven’t given much thought to lately. One of them I’m kind of secretive about, and it will be the subject of my next post.

(Read more about why I write at at The Number One Reason I Write Books, Nothing cool about modest ambitions, My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing,  I love to be loved , Remember My Name and What’s the Point? )

Designing your own book cover, part 4

My easiest cover by far came with c3. It was the most difficult of my books to write, so maybe some sort of universal balance was at work. I’d barely begun skimming through the Shutterstock collection when I found not one but two backgrounds I loved. Which to use? I decided I’d send them both on to Jen at Mother Spider and let her decide.

I knew I didn’t want the image of Teddie, my hero, to be a photo. This was a book about out of body experiences, and a clear likeness seemed too stark. I wanted something vague, more like a sketch. She had to be young, dark-haired, and there had to be green involved.  I didn’t expect a lot of results when I combined all these search parameters, and I didn’t get them. However, the one image I got had potential.

This drawing of a young woman possessed the ethereal quality I wanted, but didn’t fit the cuddly softness I felt was part of Teddie’s personality. I played with it a little, and was happier once she had a rounder face and the soft brown eyes I envisioned.

The next challenge was to find a way to show an out of body experience in a single image on a book cover. I thought of showing her face three times, each one more transparent than the last. Also, I wanted a white bird because, well, it was symbolism I liked. I took all that and came up with the two straw man versions below and sent them off to Jen.

Jen did three brilliant things. First, she layered one of my backgrounds over the other to create an orignal and beautiful backdrop. Second, she got rid of the bird. Third, she rearranged Teddie to look back upon herself, conveying the idea of out of body in a way my linear images never could.

When this cover came back, I loved it instantly. She humored me by adding in the crescent moon instead of the dove, and we dinked around trying to match the font of my two-character title to the previous three books, but otherwise not a single revision was made. There was no doubt in my mind this was the cover c3 was meant to have.

Recently, I did some light editing and clean-up on all of my books, mostly to remove the links from all versions as they have become impossible to maintain. I decided if I ever wanted to make a tiny modification to the cover, now was the time.

Was there anything I wanted to change? Anything at all?

Well, I’d never been entirely happy with Teddie’s porcelain doll white skin or her sensuous lips. I thought a faint pink blush would make her look more human, and thinner lips more age-appropriate. I tried a make-over and was pleased with the results.

The new Teddie, and her beautiful cover, are shown to the left. It’s a joy when something comes so easily and works out so well.

(For more on this topic see Designing your own book cover, part 1, part 2 and part 3.)

A better word than courage?

While I was thinking through my idealistic first novel about how telepathy could bring about empathy, compassion and peace on earth, I was already formulating a far different story about the times and circumstances when understanding a point of view is incomprehensible, and when even the most vulnerable need to find the strength to stand up and fight.

I was moving my emotions into the coolers colors that, to me, denoted the “but what about” response to all the good cheer of peace and joy and hope that my first three books were encompassing. In order to write about the one, I had to write about the other.

The word I wanted to describe the theme of my fourth novel was somewhere in between desperation and bravery. It was a word that would call to mind

the children and elders in a village grabbing kitchen knives and pitchforks and fighting in their own front yards with their hearts and souls to preserve what was decent and good in the face of indisputable evil, and, against all odds, triumphing.

I called it courage, but that only scratches the surface of what I was trying to convey. Is there a word for this situation? If not, we need one.

(For more thoughts on words we need, see A better word than loyalty?, A better word than peace?, A better word than joy?, and A better word than hope? )

Sisters

My only sibling and I live far apart, so it requires money and effort to spend time together. Life is busy and it’s easy for months and even years to pass without face to face contact.

We’re alike in may ways, but different enough in others that we’re capable of irritating each other in the special way that only family members can.

This weekend, I traveled by car, plane and bus to make it from my remote house in the mountains of Western North Carolina to her remote house in a small town in Western Illinois. We ate, drank and reminisced , which was all well and good, but what matters to me is that we did more. We trotted out some of those differences and used the ways we’d grown apart to help each other.

My sister has more clothes now than I’ve owned over my entire lifetime, but I have got to admit that she really knows how and where to shop. It goes with modern country living that these places are all online, so part of one pleasant afternoon was spent sitting on her couch shopping for clothes. Oh, and for dishes. She’s really good with kitchenware, too.

I’m more at home with my computer, and had fun helping her manipulate music among her various devices. She and her husband have a new boat, which was great fun in and of itself, and now she is hopefully set up to enjoy playlists while she cruises down the river. And she is definitely getting a new mouse and keyboard for Christmas.

She is also one of the few people I know with whom I share my books before they go to the editor. This visit caught her about half way through the draft of my latest novel. I understand that may writers are reluctant to share their work in progress with family members so I consider myself lucky to have relatives who are genuinely  supportive of my passion to tell stories. I’m particularly lucky to have this amazing genetically similar pal to give my stories a second set of eyes.

Is she enjoying my book? Of course she is. She’s my sister. Does that keep her from making  a few suggestions? Of course not. She’s my sister.

The Amazing Things I Get to Do

I jumped out of a helicopter today without a parachute. I used my ability to see the future to save my mother’s life, I stared down two villains at gunpoint, I orchestrated a corporate take-over and I played with penguins. It was a great afternoon.

Years ago, I loved to read fiction and I still do. However, in recent years, that same energy has gone into  my writing  instead. Writing is hard work, and stories don’t always go as well as the writer would like, but when they do, the feeling that you are doing what your characters do is even more compelling.

These people live in my head. I know far more about them than will ever appear in my book, and when they set foot in Antarctica or on a beach in Brazil, I am there with them.

Because many of my characters have superpowers, I get the added bonus of doing things I never could in real life. Today, I wrote this scene about one of my characters who can “travel”, that is, have conscious out of body experiences.

Vanida had never used her energy body to travel to someone who was on an airplane, so she was alarmed when she ordered her body of light to seek out Yuden and found herself rising thousands of feet into the air and moving westward. It took effort not to panic and snap back into her physical body which was resting quietly on the beach in Brazil.

She was glad she had persevered, though, once she sighted the tiny plane approaching, and realized why she was where she was. The skill with which her energy body matched the speed and direction of the craft amazed her, and allowed her to cross through the metal as gently as if it had been sitting on the ground.

Tonight, I will go to sleep dreaming about flying through the air, matching my speed to that of an airplane and passing gracefully through its walls. It should be a night of sweet dreams.

One Great Idea From the Misogynist Wing of the Alt Right

Like almost everything you can imagine, and a whole lot of things you can’t, it exists on the internet. The same wonderful, amazing tool that fuels my stories by letting me see locations I’ll never visit and open doors into the minds of others I will never meet, also allows me to find voices that repulse and frighten me. In fact, it allows me to find them easily.

Like most people, I avoid the dark corners of the internet, until my desire to make a character or incident more authentic drives me back to some putrid place. This time, I was trying to do something that seemed pretty safe. I was trying to learn more about Argentine women, because I was writing about one. Flipping through sites, I landed on a blog about how to get laid in Argentina. It seemed to be part of series of posts advising men about how to obtain casual, consensual and free sex in every country on earth. Crass but harmless.

The author advised me that women in Argentina were far too high maintenance and that I would be better off just heading over to neighboring Brazil. Something about the general tone started to bother me, and I filed it away for a possible future blog post of my own.

geniusBecause I’m a news junkie, over the last few days I’ve heard a lot about Trump’s new campaign chief executive Stephen Bannon, who also heads up Breitbart News. I had not heard of Breitbart News before, but according to a wealth of sources it is part of an alternate reality known as the alt right, in which a wide variety of paranoid white-centric ideas are held as truths. I checked it out for myself, and found headlines like “Obama Golfs as Louisiana Floods” and “Texas Voter ID Case Compared to Area 51 Alien Conspiracy” (two actual headlines used today). Okay, I’m going to go with the talking heads.

I also went back to the how-to-get-laid-in-Argentina blog, thinking I might write about it, and lo and behold I found another post there entitled “If Trump Doesn’t Win We’re Screwed.” Hmm. Seems like this guy writes about more topics than effective pick-up lines. It didn’t take much in the way of looking around to find a post called “Ugly Minority Girls Are Winning Beauty Pageants To Satisfy The Diversity Agenda” and to find comments like (I quote the exact words and apologize in advance for any offense) “overweight and obese girls have more sexual partners on average than girls who are in shape, because the same lack of impulse control that leads them to stuff their faces with food also leads them to hoover up cocks left and right” and “homosexuals and bisexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to be mentally ill: their malfunctioning sexual impulses lead to their entire personalities being dysfunctional.”

By this point I was looking for some bleach to clean out my browser. Ick. Yes, people can believe anything they want and they can also share those thoughts with others. But does this blogger seriously believe what he writes, or, like much of the alt right, does he just enjoy shocking people with outrageous statements?

I decided to look further into this. The blogger has a name, Daryush Valizadeh, and he achieved a small amount of infamy when he wrote a post in 2015 suggesting that rape be legalized on private property. His argument was that such a law would coerce women into becoming extremely careful (or paranoid), to the point of never being alone with a man with whom they did not want to have sex. Thus rape would be eliminated. After a lot of criticism, he claimed that he was being sarcastic.

sungazing5The Southern Poverty Law Center follows him due to his “specific examples of misogyny and the threat, overt or implicit, of violence” and you can read their latest on him. (I am happy to provide a link to the SPLC site, but will not link to his blogs.) According to the short Wikipedia entry on him, he is against female promiscuity, which seems a rather odd stance for a man who writes books with titles like Bang Lithuania: How to Sleep with Lithuanian Women in Lithuania and Don’t Bang Denmark: How to Sleep with Danish Women in Denmark (If You Must). I  have no idea what he has against Danish women.

Another odd contradiction is that along with his clarion call for men to be sexually aggressive, he has recently begun to rally his followers to reject globalism and adhere to nationalism. It seems a strange stance for a man who is the child of two immigrants, who has lived in multiple other countries and who writes travel books. Perhaps he is trying a little too hard to merge his philosophies about sex with the politics of the alt right.

I do confess to reading one of his posts from start to finish. It was titled something like “don’t have sex with feminists” and it advised men that the feminist movement could be seriously diminished if males would simply refuse to become intimate with women who held unacceptable ideas like wanting equal pay. (I’m serious, equal pay was the horrible feminist idea that he used as an example.) His plan for stopping feminism is for every man in every bar to respond clearly and firmly to every such statement with something like “then forget it, I’m not attracted to feminists.” He thinks this would make women feel so rejected that they would rethink their silly ideas.

I almost wrote the man to say “Please get all of your followers to do this. Please. What a service this would be.”

Imagine the scene in the bar. He says “Forget it, lady, I’m not attracted to feminists.” She says “Thank you so much for telling me. I’m not attracted to assholes.”

And everyone leaves the bar happy. See, even I can find one idea from the misogyny wing of the alt right movement with which to agree.

 

 

 

The Power of Three

I joined a small writers group recently and it has added new energy to my story telling. Perhaps I should point out that the group is small in number, not short in stature, and that a lot of the energy I feel comes from the fact the others also write a sort of fantasy – science fiction- metaphysical melange like I do.

life lessons11We hold animated discussions about how telepathy works and how to write a phrase readers will want to quote and the other day we got started on ideas that are inherently powerful, even magic if you will. The best example we could find was the power of the number three.

Make three wishes. Blood, sweat and tears. ABC. The popularity of a trilogy. Star Wars’ brilliant three trilogies. Yes, I even wrote a whole fiction book called “C to the power of three.” The Huffington Post has a fun article on threes and marketing experts are happy to advise you on how to harness its power.

But no one seems to have this figured out better than those who compose country western songs. Seriously. I was not well acquainted with the musical genre before I wrote c3, but my hero Teddie was clearly a fan of it. I had made sounds tracks for the main characters in my other books and was compelled to do the same here. So I sought out CW songs that fit my story and Teddie’s personality and yet which I liked okay too. You can find all of them on the music page for this blog.

Almost every song tells a story, unlike most music in other genres. Every story is told in three parts. Always three parts. Each story is more compelling than you would expect, grabbing your heartstrings with an almost magical grip. Past, present future. The power of three.

Today I updated the music page with more details about my schmaltziest song, “Laughed Until We Cried” performed by Jason Aldean. Dammit I don’t like sappy music, but this one gets me every time. It must be that three thing that he uses so well.

Enjoy this excerpt from where the song appears in the book, and then enjoy the video at the end.  Grab a tissue. That power of three thing might get to you also.

Ariel got word from work that she had to leave a day early for a business meeting in Germany and Teddie was surprised to find herself sad at the news. The night before Ariel left, the two sisters sat together at the kitchen table, laughing and reminiscing, and Teddie realized how helpful it had been to have a relative close by as she went through this. She went to bed with a touching song about reliving family memories called “Laughed Until We Cried” playing in her head.

In spite of the soothing start to the night, she woke up a couple of hours later, filled with worry. On Lawan’s advice she had refrained from traveling in her mist body since the surgery, and she was growing more concerned about Usha by the day. She looked down and saw Usha, and she thought she was dreaming. Then as the absolute silence sunk in, she realized that she had gone traveling without meaning to.

Usha lay sleeping, fully dressed in robes that looked much like Lhatu’s. She was sleeping on a mat in someone’s kitchen. She seemed fine, but Teddie thought that there would be no harm in looking around a little more to make sure.

Teddie entered each room. Usha was in a home with two parents and three children. It was small and simple, but also clean, warm and cozy, and well decorated with children’s art. Teddie was going to go out on a limb and guess that the mat in the kitchen constituted the family’s guest room. These nice people must have taken her in for the night. Teddie felt an odd pang that for all the much-touted hospitality and generosity in her own home of Texas, no one she knew would even dream of providing lodging to a traveling stranger. And sadly, it was often wise that they did not do so.

She tried to see any detail at all that might help her figure out whose home this was. The children’s art, the handmade furniture, even the pile of shoes by the door. It was true, she knew it for a fact. If she could just bring back a picture of any one of these, it could be circulated around and somebody somewhere would recognize this place. Teddie stared hard at each scene, wishing she could memorize and redraw it. What a crying shame that she could not.

She woke up with tears of frustration in her eyes and as she rubbed the water away, she knew it. She simply knew how to do it. She crept into the den where Lawan and Awut both slept, and she shook her trainer awake. Awut took one look at her face and he could tell as well.

Videos taken at a concert can be good or downright awful, and this one of Jason Aldean performing “Laughed Until We Cried” live at Memorial Coliseum in Ft. Wayne, Indiana on October 22, 2010 is one of the good kind. It captures the energy of the crowd and feel of the concert while still providing enough reasonable quality audio and video for the viewer to enjoy the music.