Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Characters Showing Strength

In just a couple of days I will be sending the manuscript of my collection of humorous short stories off to my beta reader / manager for editing and feedback. I have had a blast working on that book and I cannot wait to get the cover on it and ready for release at the end of August. With that said, I am now jumping back in on my Sharing Strength series. It is a huge switch to go from writing and editing fun, entertaining stories about casino life to telling the story of a teenager dealing with a major trauma.

For those that don't know, Sharing Strength is a novel I wrote in response to a documentary I was watching. I spent three hours observing how the writers and cinematographers went about explaining PTSD, its effects on those living with the syndrome, and finally telling the audience that unless you served in the military you couldn't possibly have PTSD. I was infuriated. I was diagnosed with PTSD when I was in my early twenties and I have served a day in my life. I don't believe for a second that what I went through was any less traumatic for me than a soldier seeing combat. It is simply a different form.

My anger at the creators of that documentary immediately awoke a series of characters inside me. There was Craig. A father dealing with intense depression and self-hatred after being involved in a single car crash that killed his four year old son Jeremy. Craig suffers from a horrible case of survivor's guilt and deals with it by spending most of his time in a drunken stupor. He doesn't want to live the way he is but he doesn't know how to cope any other way so he joins a support group.

Brian and Kyle have been best friends since they were ten. They became like brothers from the moment Kyle moved to the neighborhood and Brian's father took him in as another son. Kyle's mom was a single mother and was grateful for the friendship and father figure her son found. Along with Brian's younger, they worked on cars, learned to target shoot and after high school the bets friends joined the military. On a mission one day their team was ambushed and they witnessed several friends killed in action. They take dramatically different attitudes toward what the experienced and approach the support group with those opposing views as well.

Jasmine is a survivor of domestic abuse. She has the scars, both mental and physical, to show what she has been through. She doesn't trust men and lives behind the lens of her camera. It is safer for her to stay disconnected and observe the world from a distance. She has a loving family but she never told them what she was going through because her abuser convinced her everything was her fault and everyone would either laugh at or blame her if she spoke up. She believes there is a way to be happy again but knows she needs someone who isn't so close to the situation to talk to in order to find her path back.

Rachel is a good girl raised in a strict, religious household. She is a teenager but her worst rebellion is staying awake to read a romance novel before bed instead of doing her Bible studies or homework. She has close friends on the swim team and has always found swimming to be the perfect escape. She is gifted in the pool so much her friends call her Fish. One night she is called on by one of those friends to rescue her from a bad situation and ends up the victim of a sexual assault. She is so ashamed she rushed home to hide what happened but things get even worse when the boy that attacked her tells everyone she came on to him. Rachel's world turns upside down as she fights to clear her name and deal with the fallout form the rumors surrounding her. When door after door in her life slams closed she finds the support group looking for someone who will listen and not judge her.

I began writing the background stories as a novella called Survivor. Jasmine's story is based on what happened to me as a teenager and while, for legal reasons, it is a fictionalized version, it was important for me to finally admit what I went through. Survivor has had a tremendous response and I have heard from others who experienced similar pasts how it helped to see they weren't alone. I am now preparing to write Rachel's story and then I will be moving on to Craig. For Kyle and Brian I am working with a combat veteran who is helping me get a first hand look into the world of combat. These are not easy stories to share but I think they are ones the world needs to know.

As soon as the four novellas have been released I will be releasing the full novel. As it is a follow up and shows the support group working for all of the characters and how they interact with each other I wanted readers to get to know each of them individually first. I love every one of them and hope my readers will have the same care and affection I have found in the fighting spirits and desire to heal they share with one another and the me as well.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Writing Raw

Recently I read a book called Broken by Angela B. Chrysler. It is unnerving to read a book about abuse. Knowing the story is based on true events can make it even more difficult. For me though, the most difficult part in getting through the book was recognizing myself in the pages. I have written many times about being a survivor of domestic violence. My torture was more psychological than anything but there were elements of physical abuse intermingled with the emotional agony.

The one thing he never did personally was sexually assault me. Though it has happened by others, and being in the situations that led to it were a direct result of what he made me believe about myself, he chose to use sex as another method of psychological manipulation as he cheated on me over and over with other girls, making sure I knew he was choosing them over me because I wasn't good enough. I saw those same themes reflected in the words of Broken. I saw the same phrases I have said myself put out there for everyone to see. The level of raw, painful emotion dripping from that book is unimaginable if you haven't lived through at least parts of it.

In the introduction to the story she takes a moment to explain why she wrote the book. She is upfront about the reality of the story behind the words and even advises that if you have a similar experience you may want to speak with a therapist before going forward. I did. I thought I was prepared for the subject. I had weekly appointments to talk to my therapist, in fact, but it wasn't the subject I ended up having difficulty with, it was the description.

I have my own book, Survivor, which covers the same topic of domestic abuse. When I wrote it I struggled with nightmares and flashbacks, forcing my mind to confront things from my past I had successfully buried. I battled everyday with my memories, surprising my frustrations and pain in order to share my story. Survivor is the fictionalized version of what happened to me but it was real every single day for me.

Having read Broken now I understand just how reserved I was when it comes to the graphic details. Survivor is significantly more watered down than Broken and I have had to stop and think about why I did that. First and foremost I don't believe it was a conscious decision. I have never been a writer that tackled graphic, dark subjects not to mention I think I was trying to protect my own mental well being. When then entire series is finished I may go back to try rewriting Survivor with more honest emotions.

I am working on researching and drafting the other three novellas in the Sharing Strength series. It is my dear hope that I am able to take inspiration from Broken and use more imagery honest to the scenario. I want the books to ring as true for those who have experiences like those covered in the books to feel that connection I felt while reading Broken. They are hard books to read, even more difficult to write and face as a situation that causes these types of pain and anxiety but it is important to me to shine a light on such subjects. I just need to increase my own therapy appointments and make sure I am as honest as possible.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Dealing With It

A year and a half ago I attended my first writers conference. It was an amazing experience I have discussed here many times. There are so many parts of the weekend that stick out in my mind. Everything from trying to stay awake on the drive from Vegas to San Diego to the social event Friday night. I loved every one of the break-out sessions and keynote speeches and wouldn't have traded my one on one meetings with the agents for anything. There is one part I rare talk about because it wasn't the focus of any part of the weekend but recently the networking dinner and follow-up at the hotel bar afterward has been on my mind.

Saturday was our one full day. It started with breakfast and the morning keynote address delivered by one of my idols, and the reason I attended in the first place, R.L. Stine. We then broke off into our chosen break-out sessions. I had two meetings with agents to discuss pages from books I wrote in order to get feedback. When my time came to go to my meetings I quietly exited whatever session I was in the snuck back in when finished. One of the agents I submitted to had been a flip of the coin for me. There were only two agents accepting pages to critique in that genre. I picked one but did a break-out session run by the other and enjoyed speaking with him. During lunch I got the opportunity to talk to him again and he invited me to join his table during the networking dinner that evening.

He gave me his card and we discussed the two books I presented while at the conference. He was interested in my thriller series once I finished all four books. There was even a more personal interest because some of the books are set in London and he is British as well. We talked about it at length and he asked me to send him the manuscript of the first book once the series is done. Once we talked about that series he asked about my other book, Sharing Strength. the group at our table got to hear all about PTSD and the documentary that inspired me to write the book in the first place.

Understandably PTSD is not a happy subject and the party took on a heavy tone as we sat at the bar. In order to cheer people back up I began telling funny stories from my life in the casino world. Everyone eventually laughed along and shared interesting things from their day jobs, assuming they weren't full time writers. At the end of the evening one of the agents offered me his card and said he wanted to get first look at the humor book I was pitching. I tried explaining I wasn't pitching anything, I just wanted to make people laugh. We went around a few times before I took the card and said I would see what I could do.

There have been some bumps along the way but I am writing the book now called Just Deal With It. The first book (fingers crossed there will be more) is set right in my beautiful Las Vegas. It is essentially Vegas from the dealer's point of view. The cover is designed, the stories are written. I am about to begin editing and then it will be off to my beta before being released at the end of August.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Writing An Escape

Writing is a strange beast. It comes with blocks to impede progress, characters who will wake you up in the middle of the night to chat about a book you haven't even developed a concept for yet, a constant form a stress, and the greatest escape imaginable. I used to be one of those writers who would say I was going to write as soon as everything was set up perfectly and I had inspiration. Then nothing could stop me. What a joke that was.

When I took on the challenge of Nanowrimo eight years ago I was sure I knew how the story would play out. Never Give Up had been weighing on my mind for the better part of a decade and my outline was ready to go. Were things aligned perfectly? Definitely not. Was the inspiration lamp burning as bright as the north star? Hardly. I flailed my way through page after page as I chased a word count that at times seemed overwhelming and ended up so far off script from my outline I ended up throwing it away halfway through the month. I was able to do something I had never experienced in my entire life, I tapped into the characters themselves and just let the story flow.

It didn't matter if the television was on in the next room, I could put head phones and on and play music associated with my story. I didn't care if I had a perfectly organized office since I would crack open the laptop and write wherever and whenever I had time in order to get my words in. I didn't focus on the proper word choices or think about editing because I was under a time crunch. That part could come later. It was just about the words.

When Nano ended that year I was elated. Even more though, I was in shock. I had finished my story. I finished it and it turned out to be a completely different story than I expected. Even the ending changed form my original plan. I began working on the editing and revising while sending it out for agents. I also began my rejection collection at that time. It took years before I had that story published but I learned a great deal along the way.

The most important was that waiting for everything to be perfect and inspiration to strike is just a fancy excuse. I trained myself quickly to be able to sit down anywhere to write. it might take a few minutes to wake the characters up but when I get in the zone I can write thousands of words without realizing I am anywhere else but the world I have created. When I need an escape from the real world now I can simply open one of my book files then let the story cary me away. It is better than drinking away my problems (at least for me), and right now I could use all the escape I can get my hands on. Looks like I will be gracing the coffee shop with my characters as friends for awhile until things in the real world calm down again.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Making It Work

What do you do when you are working on a humor book centered around a particular industry but that industry is currently making you very frustrated and depressed? How do you find the funny and entertaining when you don't even want to be around it? It is amazing how quickly things can change.

For years, the better part of a decade now, I have worked in the gaming industry as a casino dealer. I love what I do. I enjoy the interaction, variety of games, friendship of those in the trenches with you, all of it. In particular I love all of the craziness that surrounds us. The people watching is second to none and the stories we can all share about "that one time we saw a player..." or "do you remember the guy...", it makes my job a blast to go into everyday.

Like any job there are a few people here and there that our personalities haven't meshed well or a personal struggle I have to battle. Right now it is my shift. I have worked the day shift for nearly six years and recently moved back to nights after accepting a promotion to full time. I am grateful for the benefits and the set schedule. the extra money from working more days is nice too. The only problem is I cannot sleep during the day. Even with the addition of blackout curtains and blinds turning my room into a cave, a sleep mask, even every variety of medication from home remedies to prescription treatments I am awake by nine every morning anyway.

That was no big deal when I got out of work at eight the night before but when I punch out at four and have to drive home then wake back up by nine it gets exhausting very quickly. I spend so much of my night trying to stay awake and focused I can't pay attention to finding stories to share for my book. I set myself a deadline to publish and I am excited to share what I think will be a fun collection but at the moment I am struggling to concentrate. I have worked with my doctors and my company but I so far have been told I have no other options. I just hope this doesn't cause a domino effect making other projects and shows impossible in the future.

I honestly love being a casino dealer. It is a unique, fun, and entertaining experience every time I punch in. My casino is wonderful and the perfect location to see and hear things that would make so many others question if it is an actual job. We are loud, happy, and a little inappropriate. We tell cringe-worthy jokes, commiserate on lousy tip days, and celebrate each other when good things happen. It is a family and one I wouldn't trade. I just miss my day shift family and the ability to focus more to accomplish other things in my life. I just need to find a way to make it work.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Learning From Experience

I have been attending shows (book, craft, my own) for a few years now. I have done book launches and signings for charity. I have organized such events and been a part of ones designed by others. I have participated in indoor and outdoor events and have taken note of the pros and cons of everything so I would know how to improve for the next show. This past weekend I took part in another signing and was completely blown away.

It was, to date, the most expensive show I have been in. The table fee was well above my normal range. I had to travel over four hours to get to the show and pay for a hotel room for two nights in order to be there for the event. There were other expenses such as gas and food it really began adding up. When looked at on paper it might seem like the cost of attending compared to the relative small amount of sales would make me never consider doing an event like that again. In reality, I came home and began looking for more.

I learned so much from being a part of this signing. I was able to be in a  table hop that got readers to visit specific tables for a chance to win a prize. This gave the opportunity to speak with more people, even if they didn't buy from me. Those connections are invaluable. I did the meet and greet with other authors as well as the event organizers and saw things they did I have never thought of or things I did that weren't working and I was able to understand why. There were so many things happening at every moment I wish i could have sat back and just taken notes.

One of the biggest things I learned was pre-orders. All of the other Las Vegas authors had a form and link for people to order their books for a discount. The pre-orders were paid in full before the event and guaranteed to be at the table for pick up. I learned to make the form and share it. I was thrilled beyond words when I got my first pre-order (I may have actually jumped up and down for a moment). There was something so satisfying about going into the event knowing I had some books sold already.

The event was short but it was so focused on the success of the authors I barely noticed. We enjoyed time with our VIP guests, had lunch, opened up the room for general admission readers, spent time talking books and having fun, then all of a sudden it was over. The day flew by and I wasn't ready for it to end. The VIP readers joined us for dinner then we all headed for the hotel bar to relax and enjoy each other's company. I was exhausted but thrilled to have been able to attend. I have a list of things I can do better in the future and have several more books coming out soon so I cannot wait to sign up for the next event and put my new found lessons into practice.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Based On A Cover

I recently finished reading a book I had purchased based solely on the cover. I remember the day I saw it for the first time. I had some time to kill and opened the Facebook app on my phone and as so often happens, I saw a post briefly before the screen refreshed and the pst was gone. More than once I have opened the app to see someone's cover as they promote their latest book. That was the case when I opened my phone that day as well. For just a second I saw the flash of someone's book cover, then it was gone.

In that moment I was transfixed. The cover wasn't beautiful. It was, in fact, somewhat terrifying. The person on the cover reminded me of the girl from the ring and the shattered lettering on the title captured my attention immediately. The biggest problem I had was I barely saw it before the screen updated and I lost the image. I wasn't even sure I had read the title correctly. It was one word but I couldn't be sure and the picture disappeared. I had no idea who posted it, what group it was advertised in, or anything about the book other than the cover art. I spent over an hour scrolling past post after post in order to find that cover again.

When I finally located it I must have sat and stared at every feature of the cover for close to half an hour. There was something horrifying yet relatable in the darkness I found on that book cover. I had yet to read the synopsis when I found myself ordering both the ebook and a print copy. I rarely read ebooks but I wanted the option. I memorized the author's name and the title in case I needed to look them up again but I ordered and waited with mounting anticipation for it to arrive.

I will be honest with you, I was;t sure I would care for the book. I loved the emotions the cover brought out but I had no idea what it was about and since I struggle to get into ebooks I never bothered to open it on my kindle and begin reading or even explore what the book was about. The day it arrived I held it and turned it over and over, finally taking a moment to read the synopsis on the back. Broken, a book by Angela B Chrysler, arrived and took my world by storm.

The synopsis read When young journalist William seeks out Elizabeth, an acclaimed author, hoping to write her biography, the recluse grants him twenty-four hours to hear her story. What unfolds are a range of traumas, teetering on the edge of the macabre. While toggling the lines of insanity, Elizabeth examines her neglect, rape, abuse, torture, and pedophilia-filled past. The more Elizabeth delves into her psyche, the more William witnesses the multiple mental conditions Elizabeth has developed to cope with a life without love, protection, trust or therapy.

I was intrigued but it was the cover that still stole my imagination. I could only imagine how someone would come to pick such an image. Now after having read the book I can't imagine her choosing anything else. The book stuck with me and I have a few more posts that will be involving my reactions and connections to the story itself. I highly recommend it as long as you are prepared for the raw emotions and honesty within its pages. It isn't for the faint of heart.