Friday, August 22, 2014

Robin Williams and the difficult discussion regarding depression.

I have a confession to make. I'm having a hard time getting over the death of actor/comedian Robin Williams. It is completely irrational, I know, since I did not know the man personally. How could the death of a complete stranger be so upsetting?

Well, the truth is he wasn't a complete stranger. He was part of a very unfortunate family I belong to as well.

Depression is a difficult conversation to have and an even more frightening admission to make. There are so many misconceptions about this disorder that anyone afflicted must muster a lot of fortitude to paint themselves with this particular brush. People who don't have depression see this as a personal weakness rather than an affliction. They see it as a character flaw, rather than a disorder.

Even people I respect, who are more intelligent and more well-read and more accomplished than your average human, get it wrong. And that's even more upsetting. These people, who would never expect someone with no legs to run the Boston marathon without artificial limbs, expect people with depression to "buck up" as if someone afflicted could do that through mere will alone.

The fact that Robin's life ended in suicide only makes this conversation that much harder. The shock, for some very notable people, turned to anger. How could he do this to his family? To his friends? To his fans? How could he be so selfish? So weak? Some even made the observation that he probably deserved to die if he felt that way, which helps NO one who is struggling with the same mental health issues.

People made snap judgments on his character, completely ignoring that an event like this is the perfect time to readdress the mental health issues that so often go undiagnosed in this country, MOSTLY because people believe the misinformation that surrounds these disorders. (My own belief is that things such as addiction and homelessness likely stem to undiagnosed mental health issues, and that the idea that they aren't "strong" enough to defeat this enemy on their own leads to even more self-destructive behavior.)

And I get it. When someone dies, we all feel a bit of helplessness. We don't know what to do or say to make the bereaved feel better. We don't know what to do to get over our own grief or lessen its sting. We're sent reeling by the shock, and floundering for a way to manage our own emotions, which run the gamut of sadness, anger and confusion. This is all exacerbated when the death in question is a suicide, because our own accountability gets called into question.

Why didn't we see what kind of pain he was in? What more could we have done to save him this horrible fate?

For many, to combat the feelings of failure on our part, we shift it back to the person who was suffering enough to do such a thing.

Looking at the reports, I'm not sure what could have been done. He was getting treatment, he was seeking medical intervention. It wasn't enough - and maybe that is what scares all of us the most.

ESPECIALLY those of us living with this disorder day after day.

Maybe that is the reason I can't think about Robin Williams and not dissolve into tears. I know his fate could have (and still could) easily be my own.

Last night BBC America aired the Doctor Who episode "Vincent and the Doctor." It was all the more poignant given our recent loss. A genius grapples with madness until the madness ultimately wins, and we lose someone astounding and important. I won't spoil the show if you haven't seen it (and you totally should, BTW,) but what Doctor Who did with that episode was genius in and of itself. By using symbolism, they showed depression as the invisible frightening monster it was, that only the person already trapped in the darkness could see. They also showed how all the love and positive uplifting in the world couldn't touch this medical condition and "save" someone from himself.

Depression is more than just simple sadness. It goes beyond turning the frown upside down and finding the silver lining on every dark cloud. It is a biological aberration in the brain that haunts its sufferers with dark thoughts of extreme sadness and apathy, hopelessness and worthlessness. It is as irrational as it is unrelenting.

Basically it is a disorder that lies to you about what you can and can't do, as well as who you are. And it runs on an endless loop in the brain with voices too loud to ignore. Little things become insurmountable, even an act as simple as brushing your teeth or getting out of bed. Every ache and pain is amplified to the point of acute misery, where adding day-to-day activity into the mix is unthinkable. Where one person can have a headache and still head to work, a person with depression can have a headache and not make it out of bed. It seems impossible to move or to think beyond brain signals that have gone haywire.

It turns up the dial on negative thoughts and emotions until you are buried beneath them all, with no real hope of making it back out again. The uninformed will call this lazy. Clearly they have no idea what it's like to fight through the painful matrix of the mind. When you hit a dead end in the maze, sometimes you need help finding your way back out again. Why does acknowledging you need that help and asking for it when it risks your character alone make anyone anything other than brave?

Uninformed people will also tell you that people who commit suicide are selfish, but as someone who has grappled with suicidal thoughts, I can tell you that isn't true. When you get to the point of suicide, your opinion of self is so low that it feels like a benevolent act to spare the world from who you are. You tell yourself that the people who love you would be better off without you, that you're too much trouble, you're too difficult or complicated.

And you know this is true because the person you are forced to live with day in and day out is too difficult and too complicated for YOU. (This also makes it hard to trust anyone else. If you can't trust the voices inside YOUR head to keep you safe, how can anyone outside of your skin love you enough to make up the slack?)

All you want to do is silence that voice and end that pain once and for all, and you think the world around you would be better off for it.

Those are the lies that depression tells. It is an insidious enemy that resides within one's own brain.

Medication helps to a point, but as anyone who has actually dealt with mental health issues will tell you, finding the right one is a roller coaster ride about as torturous as untreated depression. Certain meds make you feel like a zombie, and some even make those suicidal feelings worse. It could take months or years to find the right one for you, which will make diabolical depression lie to you even harder, telling you that you are beyond help so that you'll give up completely.

This would appear the case for Robin.

So you do the therapy and read the self-help books, maybe even try hypnosis or turn into the most vocal cheerleader for everything good and positive in the world. You can't entertain negativity, even for a second, or else you might lose your precious foothold on sanity. Every step forward is a step upward, and none of us can afford to miss even one.

Life knocks you back enough.

When someone wants to "vent" to me, or - for lack of a better word - whine about helpless situations, that's not just annoying. It's dangerous. It could potentially knock me down the slope to helplessness and despair. I've made it back up that slope (barely) so many times I can't afford to risk another topple. If you need help with depression, I'll steer you to professionals and I won't entertain that negative pity-party bullshit because I just can't. It's not you, it's me. I'll tell you all the positive things I have to yell inside my own head when I struggle with those same feelings. If you persist, I'll cease talking to you.

I have to. My life literally depends on it.

I have been to the edge two notable times in my life. And by edge, I mean Rose hanging over the bow of the Titanic, holding onto Jack for all she's worth so she doesn't disappear into the depths below kind of edge. The first time I was 13 years old. As many of you already know, I was sexually assaulted as a four-year-old. I kept that secret for nine painful years due to the inherent shame I felt for having gone with a stranger, and touched where no one was ever supposed to touch me until married. I felt so corrupted that when my father died when I was eleven, I felt that was my punishment. Clearly I wasn't supposed to be happy. I had been brought up believing in a wrathful, angry God all too willing to smite sinners... this was an easy lie to believe.

In the two years that followed, the pain of adolescence added to the volatile mix. Kids are cruel and adults weren't much better. Instead of recognizing the symptoms of my undiagnosed depression, I was treated like I was lazy and weak, which only made me feel even more worthless because these were things just beyond my will. By the time I was 13, I couldn't really see the light at the end of the tunnel. And if I did, I just assumed it was yet another locomotive destined to run me over.

I had people I loved and who loved me, but the pain and the fear were unbearable. Going to school, doing homework, doing chores, all simple tasks that we all do day after day felt like mountains to climb. When a friend of mine went through her own sexual assault experience, it was the final straw. Life was ugly and the only guarantee I had ever found was that more pain and fear would follow.

I took a knife from the kitchen drawer and sat at the dining room table. When someone contemplates suicide, it's a big deal. This is the end of the road. It becomes intrinsically ritualistic. You run what you're about to do over in your head as you work through your own thoughts of grief and mourning for the life about to be lost. You think about those you love and try your best to separate your soul from theirs to release them from the bondage of knowing you. It's bad enough that you are afflicted/cursed... but for those brave and wonderful souls around you who have to deal with your struggle, you feel the most guilt. They blessed someone horrible like you with love and kindness, and all you could give back to them was confusion and pain.

All you can see in that moment is that they'd be better off without you. They'd miss you, of course. They'd grieve. But one day they'd know you did the best thing for everyone.

It's not a selfish act at all. It's a desperate act. And it's painful as hell. There are no words I could use to help you empathize with that level of hopelessness. It goes beyond, "What am I going to do now?" You are too exhausted, mentally and physically, to muster any spark of ambition to move forward.

All you want is rest. Long, peaceful, silent rest.

I remember how it felt when I placed that cold steel against my wrist. Tears poured from my face as every emotion imaginable scrambled my brain. Before I could pull that knife across my skin, the phone rang. It was one of those mustard-yellow, rotary-dial Ma Bell phones mounted on the wall behind me with a fifteen-foot coiled (and usually tangled) cord. This was way before cordless telephones and caller ID. I had no way of knowing who was on the other end. And I'm not entirely sure what prompted me to answer, but I did. Surprisingly, I was met with the cheerful voice of my best friend.

I say surprisingly because my best friend never called me. We lived about 300 miles apart by this point, and his mother didn't allow him to make expensive long-distance phone calls. Instead we corresponded by letters, at least two a week, all that previous year, talking about the kinds of superficial things twelve and thirteen-year-olds talk about.

But this particular day, his mother had caved and allowed him to call. And he was overjoyed.

He was equally confused when I burst into fresh tears and sobbed so hard I could barely speak. When he asked what was wrong, I let the torrent free and explained everything. He was the first person I told about being raped, and the first person I told that I was contemplating the unthinkable.

He responded with tears of his own. I didn't know it at the time, but he was struggling with his sexual orientation. It was the early 1980s in the big ol Texas Bible Belt, and his struggle was just as silent and torturous as mine. The only thing he could confess to me was that he couldn't make it without me, and that was enough for me to set my knife down.

He saved my life that day, in an act I truly believe was divine intervention. And despite many other traumatic events that followed, I know I was lucky to be spared. Just look at what all I would have missed.

It is the main reason why there was only one serious attempt to follow, when I nearly lost my kids - which are the main reason I breathe.

Fast forward to 1999. I had been through quite a bit by then, including domestic abuse, homelessness and the death of a child. But it took a custody issue with my two surviving children to nudge me back out onto the ledge. I had lost custody due to the abuse we all suffered when my first husband, Dan, had been undiagnosed with bipolar disorder. That, compounded with the death of my third son, was too much to take. My marriage was in ruins, I was feeling overwhelmed by my adult family obligations, and work was hell with an emotionally abusive boss who regularly used my ego as her punching bag. The voices in my head were now being spoken outside my head, and, again, they were easy lies to believe. I still had Jeff, but he had his own life in Texas, with a partner and a career.

I truly felt like the world and everyone in it would be better off without me, since my emotional tank was on empty and I had nothing else to give.

Like before, the plan was very ritualistic. I planned to go to my son Brandon's grave, take a bottle of sleeping pills and slip into eternal slumber right beside him.

I was once again saved by a phone call, this time a stranger I met on the Internet. Our conversations usually were lighthearted and fun, but this time it was as if he knew I was in crisis. He insisted on calling and, like before, I couldn't hide the pain anymore. That one act of kindness broke through the dam. By daybreak I had abandoned my plan. The next day I was at the doctor's office, getting a prescription for anti-depressants. Therapy soon followed.

When I think of the pain Robin must have been going through in that moment, all alone, with no one there to pull him back from the abyss, my heart absolutely shatters. That he died at all sucks, but that I know how much he must have suffered to do it to himself is unbearable.

And I blame nobody. Not even Robin himself. If you expect anything about depression to make sense, it just won't. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment. There is no guarantee. There is only the struggle, which on some days is a lot harder than others.

He slipped away and we couldn't catch him. And that sucks.

BUT... here's the good news, and an important part of Robin's legacy that he leaves behind. We can talk about depression now. We can bring that dialogue into the forefront. We can recognize that success has dick to do with this medical condition, or happiness or even being a good, proactive, generous person that everyone loved. Some may even feel, "If it could claim someone like Robin, what hope is there for me?" Because it happened to Robin MEANS that there is hope for you. It eradicates the lie that there's something uniquely wrong with you alone. It afflicts millions upon millions, no matter where they are in life.

And guess what? There are far more success stories than there are tragedies.

It also demolishes the lie that it is an act of selfishness or of weakness. Robin was 63 when he died, and a lifelong sufferer of this disorder. It takes immeasurable strength to live with depression. If you can raise your head or function in any way when your brain has slowed you down to slow motion while the rest of the world is in fast forward, that is a mark of your strength. If you can walk outside your door when you have the crippling anxiety that can go hand in hand with depression, it is a triumph to be celebrated.

Look at all Robin was able to do despite his condition.

These victories will always outnumber your slumps. I was diagnosed with chemical depression 15 years ago, after suffering with it at least 18 years before that. It has affected every area of my life. Yet I have managed to raise a family, make a successful career for myself and have long-standing relationships. The disease never stopped lying to me that I'm a worthless piece of shit that deserves all the bad luck it felt like I suffered. It still tries to get me to look at all the negative stuff, even while the positive pile just kept growing and growing.

Every day I can look at the positive and refute the negative is a victory, even if I can only manage a second.

People who follow my FB page know that I always try to share positive, uplifting messages. What you may not know is that they are 100% directed at me. This is me rewiring my own mental dialogue, to battle this disorder for one more hour, one more day. It was a battle I never wanted to really share before, because the last thing I ever want to be described as is weak, but after Robin, I know it's my responsibility to put another face on this disorder, another voice introduced into the dialogue with personal history with this ongoing fight.

If I can, I want this intensely personal, soul-bearing scary blog to be that phone call at the right moment for someone else. I want to be that voice of truth and understanding piercing through the painful fog of lies and hopelessness.

If you or someone you know are battling feelings of worthlessness, sadness and apathy towards those things that usually make your life worth living, take this test: Screening for Depression, and then follow up with your medical professional. Fair warning, some professionals do not fully understand what you're going through either. I tried to talk to my medical doctor about my social anxiety and was told that I was "self-centered" and "needed to find God." Leave these folks in the rear-view mirror. They cannot help you.

But help is still out there. Lots of it. And more every day.

If talk-therapy and the first prescription aren't enough, TELL YOUR DOCTOR. If he or she can't help, find another one. Depression will lie to you and tell you that you cannot be saved. But that isn't true. What worked for someone else may not work for you and vice versa. Depression carves out its own individual path for people, and they cannot be compared one to the other. Walk your own path. Do what is best for YOUR health. It's not a failure. It's not a weakness. It's a treatable medical condition that many simply do not understand. The only failure or weakness is letting the opinion of fools prevent you from getting the help you need.

SO DON'T GIVE UP. You may not see it, but you are worth so much more than you know. People don't love you in spite of your complications. They love you, complications and all. And their lives will be darker if you're gone, filled with a helplessness and regret you can't even fathom.

If you are in your own moment of crisis with no one to talk to, call a hotline to speak to a professional educated to handle your situation.

And thank you, dear, sweet Robin, for giving so many so much hope and joy and light throughout your life. You made a difference for so many, and that took the most strength and selflessness of all. May it be the legacy you leave in your spectacular, but brief, existence. Go with love, and rest in peace at last. <3

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The #IceBucketChallenge: A story of Triumph... and of Controversy?

On August 16, a friend of mine challenged me to do the #IceBucketChallenge. The decision to do it was rather immediate. I'm never one to back away from a doable challenge if it does something to help a cause. I've raised money, I've done the walks, I've done the birthday campaigns, as well as partnering with major charities. I figure if it's within my ability to do something, by God, I should. I have one simple philosophy:

I figured all it would really cost me is a little momentary discomfort. I could just give money, of course, which was the heart of the challenge. You either put up or pay up, so that anyone, no matter who they were or where they were in their lives, could contribute. But money is only half the battle. We learned that in the 80s with AIDS. It took education and awareness to turn the tide, and that's true of anything that demands true change.

As a minor public figure, I figured I could use my brand to further the cause. I went online and learned about ALS, which, to be honest, I had never researched before. It hadn't touched me personally (thank God,) so I had no real impetus to do so before. This is true for so many things in life. We learn based on opportunity and interest, and the #IceBucketChallenge provided me both.

What I learned was heartbreaking. ALS stands for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It has no cure and is 100% fatal. The average patient will die within 2 to 5 years of the diagnosis as they are virtually buried inside their bodies through paralysis until ALS eventually attacks their respiratory system, where they usually die of respiratory failure or pneumonia.

While this is dire, I had never heard about it. I knew there was something called Lou Gehrig's disease existed, but that was the extent of it. Likewise there is still a lot to learn within the scientific community. Lou Gehrig died in 1941, but the first drug used that altered the course of ALS wasn't approved until 1995.

That's a long fucking time.

That was why it was important not only to put money behind this cause, but to tell people about it. Every 90 minutes someone is diagnosed with ALS. And someone also loses their battle to it. This is unacceptable to me.

I decided to use my public image to further that important cause.

I didn't do it because I wanted attention. Anyone who knows me can tell you that kind of thing sends me promptly into major anxiety attacks. I fight a fairly disabling social anxiety disorder, where any attention paid to me personally is extraordinarily uncomfortable. This is why I don't post a lot of personal pics of myself or post a lot of videos of me doing anything, and generally only go where I'm asked (rather than ask to be included.) I posted this video (and did this challenge) in SPITE of those things. Why? Because I couldn't do nothing. Once I knew there was a problem of this magnitude, I knew I had to play some small part in making a bad thing better.

That is the heart of progressiveness. We're not just content to complain and to whine. We are constantly looking for a way to make a difference.

And by all accounts, the #IceBucketChallenge is making a huge difference. As of today, more than $40 million has been raised for a cause, which more than doubles what it made all of 2013. Take a minute to let that sink in. The same social media that usually tracks celebrity gossip, cat videos and current TV/music and movies became a driving force for ALS awareness by raising $8.6 million in one day.

That is incredible.

And yet... unbelievably... this challenge walked hand in hand with controversy. Participants were virtually shamed by other celebrities and social media leeches who use current trending topics to sharpen their hipster brand with snarky criticism. It was criticized for not being used correctly, even though it was even more successful than anyone could ever dare dream. People quickly grew tired of the constant videos in their feed that interrupted celebrity gossip, pop culture news, bitching and whining about the government and politics and those all important pet videos. They were quick to voice their discontent about how inconvenient it was that something positive and uplifting was cluttering their feed.

People, I should say, who still have the use of their hands to type out these messages, who aren't facing a shortened lifespan that demands we treat each moment as a gift because there just aren't as many out there as we had hoped.

Ask yourself what you might be complaining about if you knew you were going to die in two to five years. I think you might find that list would change dramatically from the current status quo.

Some turned it into a weapon of political attack as a joke, which did absolutely NOTHING to benefit the cause, and only worked to keep people divided and hateful. Which is ironic, if that's the kind of public figure you were satirizing at the time.

If you click on the #IceBucketChallenge trending topic, there are those who have leeched onto the trend to assert their piousness and cynicism in some kind of dickhead hipster move. It takes absolutely NOTHING to type out a snarky 140-character criticism of something you know nothing about, just because you want to throw a little shade at something that is popular.

"I sure hope the people taking the #IceBucketChallenge are actually donating money."

My question is...Are you?

Newsflash: if you dare criticize something like this without donating to the cause or even do a little research to find out about ALS and share what you've learned, then YOU are weakest link in this scenario. YOU could be the one donating or spreading awareness, in other words ensuring that those things you "fear" are covered, but instead you'd rather chastise or complain. In the end, what has your negativity truly helped?

It certainly hasn't raised $40 million dollars.

Instead, what you're really doing is saying, "Yeah, there's a problem. I hope someone ELSE is taking care of it so I can sit here and be dismissive and critical."

Then there are those who try to limit what we can do with some senseless and ridiculous either/or argument, like this particular meme:

But again, pointing this out and sharing this pic solves NOTHING unless you provide alternatives. Post links to donate to charities who provide clean drinking water for kids in Africa. (I have raised money for Charity: Water and regularly post it to drum up donations.) Or be a revolutionary and post links to BOTH Charity: Water and the ALS #IceBucketChallenge. I know it doesn't seem so with this limited meme, but you really CAN tackle these two problems simultaneously.

But whatever you do, do something productive. Say something productive. Organize for your own pet charities or get the word out about those things you feel need attention.

In other words...

What an ALS Family REALLY Thinks about the Ice Bucket Challenge

Nothing you do to help someone else who is suffering is wasted. So do something. Please.

#TBT A love story for a lifetime. (And your #FridayFreebies Preview!)

Sometimes I really have to search my mind for a #TBT blog topic, but this one is a no-brainer. Tomorrow I will celebrate my 13th wedding anniversary with the illustrious @MrGeevie. Add that to the two years we knew each other prior to our wedding and you have 15 years of an amazing love affair I wouldn't even have the words to write.

When I met Steven, I was tied up in a tangle of unhappiness and helplessness. I was behind the eight ball in every area of my life, from my job to my personal relationships. I had even contemplated ending it all by January of 1999. When Steven came along in March, it was a tough, dark time that my Peter Pan instantly brightened.

With his even-keeled personality and his good humor, this manchild showed me it was OK to have fun. It was OK to dream big. It was OK to be happy. He saw me as I was, not as I saw myself (or even how others saw me.) It was a brand new perspective for me and one that facilitated every single one of my dreams coming true.

Steven is my partner in every sense of the word. He's been my first (and usually most brutally honest) beta reader since the very first piece of writing I've ever shared with him. He's responsible for creating characters in notable books, (i.e. Twitch in COMIC SQUAD,) and usually is a receptive and intriguing soundboard whenever I want to bounce ideas around. There are times when his input changes the trajectory of a story because he's the one who calls me on any lazy bullshit writing. When he finished reading GROUPIE, he was 100-percent #TeamGraham. This is not surprising given that he was the major prototype for Graham. But he voiced my gut instinct that I couldn't tie up the first book of GROUPIE as the full story, with some manufactured HEA tagged on at the end that just didn't make sense. There was more to the story. There had to be.

So I broke a few rules. Cracked a few eggs. And because of my own personal Graham, I wrote the trilogy that launched my career.

He comes with me with my signings, my helpful sales manager doing the nuts and bolts sales stuff I can never bring myself to do.

That's how we work, you see. My strengths are his weaknesses and vice versa. We don't "complete" each other, given we were pretty complete people when we met in our late 20s. But we complement each other perfectly. I really don't know if there is anyone anywhere who could have been a better mate.

Hence why we're still going strong after all this time.

There are some who say that Rubenesque romance (i.e. books that celebrate heroines in all their shapes and sizes) is unrealistic because fat girls simply can't find love. The whole reason I opted to write my first one, LOVE PLUS ONE, was because I was living proof that we could. Jake Dalton, the hunky best friend of my heroine, was able to see Shannon in a way she couldn't quite see herself. And that was almost letter for letter how Steven romanced me. He was her friend first, a strong and devoted voice in her ear that could make her laugh, even when he was telling her when she was being an idiot.


Shannon had plenty of time to think during the two-hour drive from the studio to Jake’s ranch in Ventura County. Ninety-eight of those minutes she gleefully plotted Rex’s painful but imaginative demise. Do spark plugs come in that size? Plus she’d need an awful lot of duct tape. And where, exactly, would one buy a pillory?

About the time she rounded the last turn to take her to the Dalton ranch, she finally dismissed the idea. Despite her creativity there just didn’t seem to be a way she could do it and not end up in jail. And stripes just weren’t a good look for her body type.

What she would do, she had no idea. Hopefully Jake would know.

She hopped out of her car and didn’t even bother with the formality of knocking on the door of the main house. There was no point. It was still early enough in the day. Jake would be out at the stables, doing the labor that he loved so much.

Honest work, he called it.

Manual labor, said she. She tried it for exactly one summer in her junior year before she and the entire Dalton clan (including the horses) decided ranching just wasn’t for her.

She found Jake in the stables, making time with his other favorite girl – his horse, Lightning Lane. “Jake?” her voice trembled. Jake looked up with surprise. She hardly ever – scratch that - she never came to visit him on the ranch during a workday.

“Shan?” She nodded. Her bottom lip trembled as her eyes filled up. Immediately Jake knew something very wrong had happened. He rushed to her side and she threw her arms around him and began to sob. “Oh my God. What happened?” He immediately imagined the worst.

“Rex,” was all she could eke out.

Jake was confused. His normally unflappable friend was quite flapped, and no one had died? His grip tightened. If that rat even thought about –

“He stole my idea!”

“He what?”

Shannon pulled away and plopped down on a big block of hay. “You know that idea that he said was so cliché? He told Dixie about it. She loves it. She gave him the job.”

Jake joined her. “I thought you were going to tell her about it.”

“I choked. Every time I got up my nerve I lost it just as fast. Rex assumed that meant the idea was up for grabs and he went for it. And she loved it.”

That last part came out as a wail. Jake put his arms around his friend. “I’m sorry, Shan.”

“And the best part? Dixie assigned me as his assistant. She actually expected me to work for him.” She pulled away and pulled a sorry-looking piece of tissue from her pocket to blow her nose. “No. The best part was when he tried to get me to his place to ‘work’. That’s when I quit.”

“You quit?” Jake was incredulous. Quitting was not in Shannon’s nature. Not starting, that was one thing. But quitting?

She nodded. “I couldn’t stay there after that. Not with that lying snake as my boss. Are you kidding?”

“Just go back and tell Dixie the truth.”

Jake infuriated her sometimes. He was so level-headed. If A happened, do B. No sweat. Well, dammit, she thought to herself. Sometimes there was some sweat. “It’s not that easy.”

“Why not?”

She was going to hit him soon. “Because I have no proof for one thing.”

He laughed. “I think Dixie would give you the benefit of the doubt.”

She shook her head. Worst case scenario, Dixie would think she was the kind of person who would undermine another employee just to get ahead.

She’d think Shannon was someone like Rex, and Shannon couldn’t bear that. If only she hadn’t thrown away that outline, Shannon thought with a groan.

Jake took her hand in his. “It is that easy, Shan. This is your promotion. You need to fight for it.”

She sighed. She didn’t even know what she’d do with it if she got it. Rejection she was used to. But failure? That was another issue altogether. So the idea was good, but was it good enough? What if they spent all this time and money and the show flopped anyway? She’d never be able to face Dixie again.

Dreams were all about endless possibilities. Reality had a nasty way of destroying those possibilities one by one. To her, it was just easier to start over somewhere else and forget all about Rex, Dixie and Love Plus One. When she said as much to Jake, he finally did something he never thought was possible with Shannon.

He got mad.

“If you don’t go back and fight for that idea, then maybe you deserve to have it stolen.”

She was shocked. “What?”

“Listen to me. I’ve known you for a long time, and there are some things I know for certain about you. You’re smart. You’re funny. You’re amazingly talented. And you’re also the biggest obstacle you face. You walk away from challenges so you never have to fail, but you can’t succeed that way either.” She turned away. He knew her too well. “Let’s face it, Shan. Producing this new show would require you to get out of your own way and put it all on the line. I think... no. I know you can do it. But until you know that too, then maybe the people who have that confidence are just better people for the job.”

Tears coursed down her cheeks. She came there for comfort, not a butt-whooping. They’d known each other for nearly a decade, and now he decides to implement tough love? “Thanks a lot.”

But Jake wasn’t falling for it. He’d held his tongue long enough. It was time to push his little bird out of the nest. “Shan, I love you.”

“No, you don’t.” It was another wail.

“Yes, I do. If I didn’t, I’d put on a hat and join your little pity party. But what you need most is to hear that you can go back to that studio, you can confront that jerk and let Dixie know the truth. She will believe you because something this good could only come from you. And it is good. And it will succeed. And you do deserve it.” Her eyes met his. “This is your chance, honey. You just have to go claim it.”

He pulled her into a hug, where she proceeded to soak his shirt. He had always been her biggest cheerleader. By the time she left the ranch she felt like she could tackle the world.

That was just the kind of spirit Jake was. He could motivate anyone, touch anyone. And he had faith in her. Maybe, just maybe, she could finally find a little faith in herself too.


This isn't too far different from how Steven challenged me to change my own life. His belief in me, his support and encouragement, have been the fuel to my rocket.

So happy anniversary, honey. You really are the reason I believe in love, from this moment on. xoxo

In honor of my anniversary, once again I'm giving y'all the gifts. I'm holding over my $0.99 cent sale of GROUPIE all weekend!

I'm also giving away free copies of my books LOVE PLUS ONE and COMIC SQUAD, in honor of the Hubs, in addition to my gritty drama, DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS and my rom-com fairytale PICTURE POSTCARDS. Get em now while they're FREE!!

BTW, there is an EPIC giveaway coming up VERY soon (think Labor Day) worth $150 (at least.) It's a scavenger hunt that only those who have been downloading my freebies can really "win." So download like the wind this week and next so you can be ready to play!!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

August Newsletter, introducing $0.99 Wednesdays!!

Happy August, everyone! I'm currently out on the road for my first book signing at the Indie Author Houston Mashup event in Houston this coming Saturday. I'm so excited to meet you all. I'm bringing a limited variety of books with, but we can also take orders at the table. So we got you covered either way if you want a signed paperback copy of any of my books.

Always feel free to message me on Facebook with these requests as well. I'd be happy to provide this service to anyone who cannot make it to one of the many signings I'll be doing in 2015.

Here is the official list (so far.)

August 16, 2014 - Indie Author Event Houston Mashup, Houston, Texas.
January 16, 2015 - Indie Author Event Phoenix Mashup, Phoenix, Arizona.
February 7, 2015 - Deep in the Heart Author Event, Austin, Texas.
March 20, 2015 - Indie Author Event Detroit Mashup, Detroit, Michigan.
April 18, 2015 - The British Book Affair, London, England.
May 1, 2015 - Hard Rock Author Event, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
June 13, 2015 - Indie Author Event Toronto Mashup, Toronto, Canada.

A little trailer to whet the appetite.

I've decided to make a commemorative copy of the Fullerton Family Saga available for people who make it to these events. It's a complete volume that includes three books in one, honoring our favorite Fullerton, Jonathan, on the cover.

If I released it, it would be a $29.99 value. I'm selling it at the book signings for $20. In Houston I'll only have two copies available, so you'll want to get to my table ASAP if you want a copy to take with. But even if you can't make it to one of the many places I'll be appearing (or I run out,) I'll be doing fun little giveaways here on the blog, starting in September. The Labor Day giveaway will be HUGE, so you definitely want to keep an eye out for it.

Of course the other big news is the new development with Chasing Thunder, which you can now track on the publisher website at True North. We're working hard on the cover currently.

"Like" True North on Facebook for all the latest details. They've got some powerhouse writers for their launch, it's going to be an epic 2015.

This does mean a delay till y'all can read the new books, but I'll definitely have some new stuff for you to read in the meantime, including another rocker trilogy. For those interested in the Southern Rocker series, the first books should be published by October. It is my goal to release the first two books, Southern Rocker Chick and Southern Rocker Boy simultaneously, with his/her POVs to tell the story that will pick up in Southern Rocker Romance, taking our intrepid dreamers to the fame-making Los Angeles, where you'll see some VERY familiar faces. ;)

As summer winds down, the promotions are heating up. Introducing $0.99 Wednesdays! Every Wednesday, for 24 hours ONLY (and ONLY on Amazon,) you can purchase some of my best sellers for under a dollar.

This week:

This is my #1 bestseller, one that hung in the top 100 Kindle sagas for three whole months. If you thought about buying it before but weren't convinced, here's your chance to see what reviewers and readers have been raving about since January.

I'm still working on the Leftover Club, but with all the other exciting developments, this one may not release until September, with an exclusive deal for a major bookseller. Keep watching this space for more information.

That's it for August! Make sure you come back for my Labor Day newsletter. We've got an epic giveaway to come. It's gonna be HUGE. See you then. ;)

Friday, August 1, 2014

A triumph 25 years in the making.

I wanted to post this as a #TBT blog yesterday. If ever there was a topic for #TBT, this could not be more fitting. Alas I ran out of time to post because I've been a busy bee for the past three weeks, doing top secret, game-changing stuff that I can *finally* announce. But first, a little back story.

In 1989, I moved to Los Angeles with my then boyfriend, Dan.

We had a couple of hundred dollars in our pocket and a car we owned free and clear. Texas had become a dead end for us, particularly for Dan, who had been injured at a factory job and his settlement money was almost gone. I was doing time at a minimum wage slave job (Burger King) and Dan was trying to find anything he could. When he decided to head west, there was no way I'd let him just ride on out of my life after a two-year campaign to convince him to love me.

When you're nineteen, you still believe in that "Don't Want to Miss a Thing," I can't breathe without you kind of "love" that Diane Warren became famous for writing. You really think life begins and ends with that one person, and you'd risk any kind of hardship or struggle to make it work, and make every single boneheaded decision you can think of to go for broke and make it work.

It doesn't help that when you're nineteen you're usually a complete idiot. You don't really have the life experience under your belt to understand cause and effect. Everyone else has been saving your bacon your entire existence, you don't understand the idea of sacrifice and commitment. You still think you're invincible, and the rules don't apply to you.

When my relative who lived in LA said we were not welcome, and pointed us to the nearest welfare office, we ended up homeless. We knew that didn't even have enough money to move back to Texas, so we had to make it work where we were with what we had.

We lived out of a Pontiac Bonneville, parked behind a grocery store next to a railroad on an isolated road in Van Nuys. While we did go to that welfare and sign up for services, we were in no way willing to be "dependent" upon the system to sustain us. The best that the "system" could do was ensure we had a few bucks in our pocket we wouldn't have had otherwise, and a handful of foodstamps so we didn't have to panhandle or dumpster-dive for food. In addition to that, Dan worked day labor jobs so that we could get a motel room once a week and eat on a daily basis, while I went to classes I found through the unemployment agency, which had been amicably named E.D.D. For downtime, we killed time at the beach or in Griffith Park, places where you didn't generally need money as an excuse to stay for long periods of time.

For everything else, there was the car.

It was in this car that I got the idea for my first full-length novel. I had already written a novella at 14, so of course I knew a book was in me somewhere. What better way to deal with the painful reality of homelessness than to funnel all that angst and fear and shame into a story? When "Welcome to the Jungle" came on the radio, the story gelled within that four-minute song. I knew I wanted to write about a runaway who got in way over her head after making a desperate escape to Los Angeles.

Talk about writing what you know. I was getting a crash course in the subject. I had unintentional research every time I woke up in the back seat of that car, where we used towels to block out any unwanted attention.

We ended up seeing a side of L.A. that many people who can afford hotels and apartments or have family don't really see. When you see homeless people "littering" your sidewalks, parks and freeway onramps, you can appreciate their destitution without feeling a hint of their despair. To live it is a whole other thing. You live with fear and vulnerability on a minute-to-minute basis when you don't have anywhere to belong. We learned about the importance of community, with the people who were either likewise homeless or those who had a heart for those who were, who stuck their necks out in order to help their fellow man. We passed this sense of community on where we could. Even if we scoured the floorboard for enough change to buy a $0.33 taco just to have something fresh to eat (rather than eating expired food recovered from the dumpsters behind the grocery store,) Dan especially would give literally his last dime to another person down on his or her luck who asked.

We also learned the pain of becoming invisible to everyone else, as forgotten souls who were best left out of sight. Tinseltown was definitely tarnished. The promise of a relaxed life under swaying palm trees was quickly replaced with a rat race I was not equipped to win. Not alone, anyway. So every single line of that GnR song hit like a fist as I went to the only place I knew as a 19-year-old to process everything: my writing.

I wrote that book longhand on notebook paper, transferring it to a floppy disk whenever I had access to a computer. Months later my mom rescued us from life in our car, and right around that time I got pregnant with my son, Tim. We abandoned Los Angeles altogether, heading north to the San Joaquin valley to begin the next phase of my young life as a mother. Dan went back to class and after a difficult pregnancy, I took full-time care of our son. We moved to Texas and back to Fresno, bouncing from place to place, relying on a network of friends and my mom, to create a better existence for ourselves. We went through all our trials and tribulations. I had my second son. Life "happened." I would be 22 before I finished this epic first novel (with a partial handwritten sequel,) on an old word processor (not quite a computer but a lot more efficient than a typewriter) that my mom got from a department store to help me with my endeavors.

After I finished my novel, I was sure it was ready. I was sure I was ready. I expected to send it in to an agent and have it sell almost immediately with a progressive heroine and timely story. I opened up the Fresno phone book and let my fingers do the walking. Remarkably, I did find a literary agent based in Fresno. I took this as a positive sign and promptly fired off a query and packaged up my manuscript for her perusal. I expected that the hardships were over. My professional life as a writer was sure to begin. How could it not? I had done the work. I had paid my dues. I was 22 but I was *ready.*

Or so I thought.

She wrote me back with a very polite "thanks but no thanks." She outlined where she felt the manuscript was weak and what I had to do to make it stronger, which, looking back was one of the best things she could have ever done. Many times you barely get a "no," much less something so personalized. But she had taken the time to review the work and wanted to give me, as a young writer, some tips to help me in my career.

Even MORE remarkably, she read the whole thing and used a red pen to edit the crap out of it. Editors these days cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars, and it's virtually unheard of for an agent who decides NOT to represent you to invest this kind of time and effort. Looking back I know it's because she saw something in me, all that potential that my teachers talked about for years, that I squandered on teenage angst and drama that got me nowhere.

At the time, though, it was the most painful indictment of my abysmal failure there could ever be. I was the perennial good girl, a people pleaser to the NTH degree. And anything that had anything to do with my writing talent and intelligence? I had always been aces and gold stars whenever I held my work up for inspection.

There wasn't a page of that manuscript that didn't have blood-red ink dripping from it. My ego was battered by the time I read it all the way through. I. Was. Mortified. I thought I had a chance to become a real writer?? This professional found me completely inept... or so I thought.

I promptly shelved that project and would not pick up writing again until after my third son, Brandon, passed away in 1995.

Years later I would get an agent and revive my hopes that I actually DID have what it took to make it, but I never revisited this first story. Not because it was painful, my ego eventually healed and I got over myself.

But because of how much this story meant to me, I wanted it to be *perfect.* I wanted to do justice to these characters I loved like they were my own kids. It stayed on the backburner until this year, when I finally felt I could tell this story the way that it was meant to be told.

There were times as I wrote it where I would literally cry as I typed, with GnR or Bob Seger in my ear, these songs that have long been the soundtrack for my fictional family. I saw these characters rise from the page, taking me by surprise and teaching me things about them I could NEVER have known at 19 or 22.

I was excited to release it for all of you by the 15th of August, and finish the series by the end of the year. We were going to go on this journey together, and I couldn't wait.

But life, like it always has, introduced a different path.

A writer friend of mine, and in fact, my greatest cheerleader since 1996, had been trying to hook me up with her manager, a virtual powerhouse who had been working wonders with her career. We'd talked off and on for a couple of years, but on July 13, my friend pitched one of the ideas I have brewing for next year and I sparked this manager's interest.

But it was my new book, the rewrite of that first book, that captured her interest most.

We had an epic phone conversation and two days later I had a contract to sign sitting in my email inbox. I was about to be what I always wanted to be: a writer with representation. And I knew I was plugged in to someone who was as passionate about my career as I am, so I was hopeful that we were about to see some amazing things happen.

We started with my brand. With her advice, I began an "image overhaul," changing my personal photos and half the covers of all my books, as well as doing a final edit on my now completed novel.

We worked closely and I took her advisement to heart on every single matter.

As we left for a weekend trip to Arizona yesterday, I felt confident in all the changes made. I developed a bunch of plans to share all the new stuff with you all, thinking this would be the biggest news for August.

While we were somewhere in between Palm Springs and the Arizona border, my manager called me, said to put her on speaker phone, and told us all the unbelievable news: after only weeks, my book, Chasing Thunder, had a publisher.

I now have a new contract to sign, this time with a traditional publisher.

Twenty-five years after I first heard that song and put a pen to paper, the Wyndryder saga finally won the respect of professionals in my field.

To say it was mind-boggling is an understatement. When I sent the text to my son, I included the :O emoticon to show my level of shock at how fast it all happened (an overnight success after two some-odd decades.) He wrote back and asked why the mad face? I said that's not a mad face. That's the I'm crapping myself because I just won both showcases on the Price is Right jubilation face.

I still have that face. I'm still in shock. I'm ecstatic and over the moon, but still in UTTER shock. Yesterday was the biggest day in my writing career yet, and I've had some doozies in the past few years.

So naturally I wanted to share it with everyone who has been with me thus far. And that's all of you. :)

Here's where things stand now:

The publication date of Chasing Thunder, the first book in the Wyndryder MC trilogy, has been postponed to a date TBD by the publisher. My other stand-alone novel, The Leftover Club, WILL release shortly (hopefully August, but I'm still ironing out the details). It has a brand new cover:

As a hybrid author, I will still self-publish my romance novels, including a brand NEW series by the end of the year. Get ready for the Southern Rocker Romance books, which will hopefully be published in their entirety by December/January:

I have a whole new website and new covers to about half of my books, including the GROUPIE and FIERCE trilogies:

... as well as several stand-alones:

And now I can publicly announce that the incomparable and unstoppable Italia Gandolfo is my literary manager. If this is the kind of magic she can manifest after a few weeks, I can't WAIT to see what kind of miracles she'll make happen next.

Ironically I posted a photo on FB yesterday that said, "I can. I will. End of story." I added, "I can, I will, I am," and encouraged everyone to do one thing every day toward their dream and "watch the magic unfold."

It may take 25 years, but I am living proof if you hold onto your dreams, and are willing to work like a beast, you can make it happen.

So make it happen.