Hello friends! This may be my last blog past from this platform. I’ve signed up with Hostgator and am moving on to the brave new world of self-hosting, which is both exciting and freakin’ awful. Seriously, I’m somewhere between creatively technical and technically crazy, so the process of setting up my new website, which will be elfarris.com, has been one that would invite much hair pulling if that didn’t give me such a bad headache.
Why a new platform? Maybe because it’s just time for a change, as a ballplayer in many a city has said. I love WordPress. I love what blogging has done in terms of helping me hone my voice and meet other bloggers and writers. Recently, though, my heart hasn’t really been in it.
With one book published and another on the way this spring, the honest to God’s truth is that marketing these two titles, and writing a third, with an expected release date of fall or winter this year, is leaving me very little time for blogging and commenting on other blogs.
And I’m okay with that. Well, no, it makes me feel a little sad, because I hate goodbyes and I’m about to enter a brave new world but I don’t feel very brave. So I am trying to be okay with it–trying really hard. My deep-down intuition tells me that this is the right move for me at this moment in time.
As far as marketing, I’m relying a great deal on advance reviews (34 and counting), word of mouth, and my flagship platform, my Facebook Page, Running from Hell with El. I am also hoping that some of you will invite me to chat on your blogs and will buy a copy of Ripple. The support I’ve received from fellow writers has been astounding me, and I don’t know where I’d be without your help.
One of the things I’ve been doing a lot of is creating posters, and each poster contains a hyperlink to Ripple on Amazon. One of the posters, for example, has been share 160 times on Facebook. I read somewhere that a reader must see the name of a book four times on average before they purchase it, so I’m hoping that as my page-friends and author-friends and regular just awesome as-is friends share these posters, enough readers will see it in order to decide to click over and buy it.
Well, I have lots more marketing tips, and would be happy to ask any questions from anyone, especially in a Q&A, but for tonight, I’m going to close with a gentle fare thee well, and let the characters from Ripple have the last word. I’ll make sure I leave my forwarding information, but you can always find me on Facebook or Twitter, or in the pages of my books. xoxo
Last week, after I wrote a post that referred to my own elbow-throwing, competitive propensities, a woman who skates by the name of Molotov approached me on my Facebook Page, Running from Hell with El, to see if I was interested in sponsoring a growing derby league, Portland Renegade Roller Derby. We started talking, and this Q&A is what resulted. Oh, and my answer is yes, hell yes I want to help support this league of hardy souls!
El: I just think roller derby is the coolest, most fascinating thing!
Molotov: It is pretty great. And seeing how it can bring a community of women together is kinda amazing too. My league is a renegade league, which means we broke off from a bigger league here in our town.
El: Ahhh–I was wondering what the renegade meant. I mean, I see renegade and I automatically smile!
Molotov: It was too big and micro managed and became for profit and lost a lot of its community feel. What they are doing is great for a lot of people, but we just wanted something different. So it thus has became a lot of hard work starting a league and team from the ground up!
El: Grinning. How long have you been playing roller derby (is “playing” the right word?)?
Molotov: I’ve been skating most of my life, but only have been skating derby since November.
El: So it’s called “skating” derby?
Molotov: Most of our coaches and base teammates have been playing for four to six years. It’s called “bouting.” Once I made the mistake of calling it a “game” the first time I went to a bout. And I was very embarrassed.
El: LOL–I can imagine.
Molotov: But we say skate usually.
Molotov: Just roller skating and blading.
El: This is fascinating! And you were a runner before?
Molotov: Yes, since I was 18. I still want to run again. I haven’t really since last June.
El: I don’t think we ever lose that desire. Did you suffer an injury?
Molotov: I have anemia and it was too much. I was getting out of breath and really sick. My 7 year old beat me in the last 5k we did together.
El: Shaking head–that’s rough.
Molotov: So I knew something must be wrong then.
El: Yes for sure. How did you find derby?
Molotov: I wanted to play derby for a long time. My kids and I watched Whip It back when it came out.
El: That was awesome!
Molotov: My best friend is involved in another derby group in our town.
El: That’s the main league right?
Molotov: she has been skating with them for years and still not on a team. I went with her to a bout a couple of years ago and met the person who is now the ringleader of our group.
El: The ringleader–is that the league commissioner of the renegade league?
Molotov: Yes, our president. I just call her ringleader to be silly.
El: LOL! What does roller derby do for you?
Molotov: I always wanted to do derby, but always thought it was too expensive, too much time, I didn’t deserve to spend then time on myself, etc etc. I was in a very unpleasant marriage up until just a few years ago and never would have been doing this if I was still married.
El: I’m so glad you’re out of that marriage hun! I was talking about derby tonight with my husband, and he grinned at me.
“You know Cutie, if you were younger . . .”
” . . . Yep. I’d do it for sure! Nothing more fun than throwing elbows and hitting people, lol.” I replied.
does that sound familiar?
Molotov: Lol! Totally.
El: Grinning. I thought so!
Molotov: We have people of all ages.
El: What’s the range?
Molotov: 23-43, currently.
El: How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking?
Molotov: I’m 32.
El: Oh you’re just a kid!
Molotov: Ugh–wish I felt like just a kid.
El: Are you kidding me? 32?! You’re in your athletic prime!
Molotov: So I met this crazy, fun, positive, happy gal at a bout. Her name is Julie Locktress and a year later (last November) she invited me to be part of what we are calling the Renegade movement. At first I thought I was too weak and tired to even skate because of my anemia. I hadn’t ran since June or May. I hadn’t been on skates in two years, since I had taken a fall and hurt my tailbone. But I was depressed and anxious and needed a cause for myself other then just raising my kids and carting them around to their sporting events and working 50 hours a week to keep a roof over their heads I don’t get any child support from their father and am basically on my own.
El: Oh man–50 hours a week and no child support? And hun, we all need something greater than ourselves, you know?
Molotov: Yes, exactly. So I figured at least I could help with the admin part of it.
Molotov: But then I started taking derby classes and I went broke and ate Top rRmen and oatmeal packets for lunch to buy skates and gear
El: that is *awesome* good on you!
Molotov: And I’ve been working ferociously to get better and stronger and raise awareness and get sponsors and skaters. I got in touch with a friend I had not seen for 10 years and now she is going to skate with us. And she brought another girl, who also brought a friend and so on and so on.
Molotov: So we have a mix of new skaters and older experienced skaters. we are from all walks of life
El: Like what careers?
Molotov: One is a Native American and she is a licensed Drug and alcohol counselor.
Locktress is a hairdresser.
Molotov: We have a waitress/model, a graduate student, a nurse, a logistics worker/liberal arts major.
El: A nurse!? LOL!
El: And what’s your 50-hour week job?
Molotov: I work in shipping/receiving/inventory control for a laser test equipment company. I was a full time student too up until a couple of years ago . . . I’m hoping to get back to school one day.
El: (nodding) I hear ya.
Molotov: Yes . . . no time to be sad or feel sorry for myself. When I am not busy that is when I start to fade. So I work hard, love hard, play hard.
El: Seriously I get that. And don’t think too hard or too much (that’s my problem lol).
Molotov: Mine too.
Molotov: I wanted to be a philosophy major.
El: And that’s where sports and competition help me. Who is your favorite philosopher?
El: Loved War and Peace. Why Tolstoy?
Molotov: His writings on women and love really speak to me for some reason. I like a lot of the less known ones too… like Karl Marx. Economics and philosophy are very closely related.
El: So as a philosopher, what does derby signify to you?
Molotov: Oh wow . . . that is very deep . . .
El: that’s where I abide lol!
Molotov: I suppose it lies in the theory that we must make today count . . . and each moment . . . and I want to inspire and help others the way that I have been inspired and helped by so many. If I had know that my life could be as good as it is now, I would have chosen a different path very long ago. But it matters not now, because here I am and I am what I do with it. I got a tattoo on my back a year ago that reads ” take the pieces and build them up to the sky” its a line from my favorite song and summarizes the journey of my life.
Molotov: It’s a most beautiful song . . .
El: Biffy Clyro?
Molotov: YES. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0q2iXlsKNA
El: Listening now. OMG if I were building a soundtrack for Ripple this would be in it. It’s profoundly moving to me, in ways I can hardly explain. There’s a scene in Ripple when Phoebe, the rape victim, is falling apart, but her friend talks to her, helps hold her together, and this song, it could be playing.
Molotov: I’ve had a lot of people who have helped hold me together . . . so yes.
El: Same here. This song, the one tattooed on your back–is this what derby kind of means to you?
Molotov: I think what derby means to me . . . is a dream that I had given up on coming true. And an exciting journey just beginning. One I am so honored and proud to be a part of.
El: That makes me so happy to hear, almost happy tears, you know? Because we should all find those dreams and take part in those journeys.
Molotov: It’s easy to find excuses not to follow our dreams. The hard part is doing what we really want.
To support these great women, please follow them on Facebook. If you’re interested in sponsoring them, as I sure am, please contact them here:
email@example.com. Sponsorship packages start for as low as $50.
Ripple is live, and on sale at Amazon for a low introductory price of $4.99 on Kindle and $12.99 for paperback. I wanted to tell you a little about royalties and pricing before I move on to the advance reviews. At the price of $4.99, I make about $3.50 for each e-book I sell, and at $12.99 for the softcover paperbacks, I make about $2.50 in royalties per book. With a sunk cost of around $2,500 for publishing and editing costs (and I did not scrimp, at all, on anything, especially editing), I will need to sell about 825 books to break even. At some point soon, I will increase my prices, but I want to drive up volume first.
And that, my friends, is where you come in. If you like Ripple, or even LOVE Ripple, please take a few minutes to tell your friends and family. And I’d be so very grateful for an Amazon review from you as well. Reviews help sell books, pure and simple.
It’s crazy. I didn’t send out a single query letter, and while I’m honestly not too worried about what happens, I do find myself occasionally missing an agent. My fate is entirely in my own hands, and I really do hate asking for help. Then again, I tell myself, I believe in my product. It can help heal broken hearts or just as important, it can provide a reader with hours of entertainment, and that’s maybe even more important than accomplishing any higher purposes.
To my surprise, readers are liking Ripple more because it’s a good story than for its literary merits or its healing qualities. And you know what? That’s awesome! It means that I’ve done my job as a writer . . . and it takes the pressure off me. I don’t need to worry about how good it is from an objective literary standpoint. Whew! All that really matters is that it entertains its audience, and it is.
That brings me to reviews. Without further ado, here is a sampling:
I’m in the middle of the book, but had to pause to share my thoughts because this story is powerful! The female characters are real – fallible, sometimes irritating, always endearing. The villains are so evil, so creepy – Farris gives us insights into the twisted minds of predators right from the start, and it makes me bring my feet up on the couch whenever she gives me a glimpse . . .
I will come back and add more to my review when I finish the book, but if you are debating about this one, I recommend you go for it!—Christine Morgan.
From the author of the excellent novel, Off Switch:
Farris draws from her former legal career and her former life within the legal profession to craft characters that fit perfectly into the story. They are real. They play their parts well. We see people who are more concerned with their careers; a district attorney who always stops to consider just how close the next election is before deciding what the `right thing to do’ is- managing partners at law firms whose employees are involved in the “scandal” as they call it- heaven forbid they call it a child being raped- who make decisions to terminate people from employment to distance themselves from any negative attention, all in order to protect their large, multi-million dollar books of business, and a detective on the case with ulterior motives for his own demented reasons. And folks- this is what makes this read so real. It shows one of the ugly sides of the American power class, where professions have become more important than people, and often, even when they are genuine victims, child victims at that, of situations that are completely out of their control.
As a man, I like how Farris does not demonize every living sapian with a penis. This is often the unattractive case with books in this genre, and Farris’ writing leaves no doubt that the savage beasts in this tale are evil because they possess evil in their hearts, not because they possess Y chromosomes.”Kevin E. Lake
And another one:
Ms. Farris hit a home run her first time at bat with Ripple! From the ball-busting attorney Helen Thompson to the slimy detective, she portrayed each character so well they jumped right off the page. I had a very hard time putting this book down. Ms. Farris’s knowledge of the legal system is well-suited to writing a legal thriller. The topic was a very sensitive one and was handled carefully but came across as very realistic. She left herself open to a sequel here and I can hardly wait for it!—Heather Zwicker.
Here’s one from another excellent writer:
Most legal thrillers treat the reader as if they can’t handle the nitty-gritty of a life in law, but this book gives the reader credit for understanding and appreciating being pulled into the reality of law. And a nightmare. Although this female protagonist is a driven attorney with a busy schedule that is dizzying, nothing can stop her when her daughter is at stake . . .
This is a tough subject to handle, and stories like this too often fall down the pit of pity and hammer readers over the head with how tough it is to be a woman, how unfair it is to be a woman, and how women are the prey of men. This book never goes down that trap, and I appreciated it. Evil walks this earth, and it does its dirty job in many different ways…but is always defeated by the human spirit and the strength of community.
The writer’s voice, pacing, and style are those of a seasoned professional and never get in the way of this challenging story. She knows how to build tension and suspense . . . She knows when to throw in a dash of humor to ease the tension, and she wakes us from a nightmare with the gentle shake of hope. She takes us through the struggle for recovery, showing that whatever the trauma, we can be active parts in the healing.”—M. Madsen.
I am so grateful for these reviews, and for many others like it.
I’m also grateful for how my son is doing. His blood pressure has trended way down, and while still higher than it ought to be, it is stabilized. We will be back into the hospital for more tests this week, and in a way, this scary personal thing my family is encountering is helping me keep this book release in perspective. I am not my book, and its success or failure does not determine how I feel about myself. After all, like the main character in Ripple, I am finding, albeit in a painful way, that my family trumps my career. Sometimes fiction copies life, and sometimes, I suppose, life follows fiction.
Thank you so very much for your support and most of all, for your prayers and kind thoughts for my family.
Hello friends. I hope the sun is shining on your Saturday with as much light and brilliance as it is shining on mine. It’s been an overwhelming week for me and for my family. We spent the greater part of the week in specialists’ offices and holding my son tight as we search for answers. While we still don’t have a diagnosis for what’s causing our son’s high blood pressure, our hopes our high and our faith is firm. We will find a cause and then a cure. In the meantime, I thank God every morning for another day, for me, for him, for all of us.
Your prayers and kind thoughts mean more to me than I can adequately express here. Please keep lifting my family up, and please know just how much we appreciate it. Truly, we are so grateful for your love and support.
As you may or may not know, Ripple’s planned release date is Monday, 1/21. I thought about delaying it, but right now, working is keeping me sane and helping me get my mind off my worries. With my family behind me, I’m going ahead and releasing Ripple on time. It’s true to my nature and true to what the characters in this novel would do were they in my shoes. No matter the circumstances, life must be lived, rather than set aside. And in living, and working, we can find relief from our difficulties.
To those of you who were kind enough to advance read Ripple, I would be so very grateful if you could write an honest review on Amazon and/orGoodreads. And I do mean honest, with the gentle caveat that the more stars you give it, the more likely it is to end up in the hands of other readers.
I’d also like to send out a huge thank-you to Renée Schuls-Jacobson, who sent me a note late last night and single-handedly turned my Amazon blurb into a much better end product. My name may be on the title, but the writing of this first novel has been one I could not have done alone.
Here are the links to Amazon and Goodreads.
And finally, to buy an autographed copy of Ripple, I think you can click on this link: Buy Autographed Copy of Ripple
And again, thank you all so very much for your support, and especially for your prayers and kind thoughts concerning my son.
He fidgets. We wait. He jumps up, runs over to the machine and looks all herky-jerky, happy, just wanting to play with one of those toys they give to kids. You know the toys, right? They’re packed into this glass case, and a kid deposits a fake coins into the dispenser after he gets done with the pediatrician. In the old days, we got lollipops for our troubles, but modern kids, they’re all obese, or heading that way, so they get these cheap toys. Or so they say.
I look in the mirror and I see a fat woman and for the life of me, she won’t seem to go away. Stop, El. This isn’t thinking. It’s abuse, another form of it, and deep down, you don’t want that anymore.
“Mom! I want this one! The jelly-wiggle!” He grins, all dimples and elbows, and dances around, in a circle, each hand raised with index fingers wagging toward the ceiling. When he dances like this, his face breaks into sharp angles that accentuate his Eastern-European chin dimple, which is, I just learned, caused by some strange genetic malformation of the chin bones. My husband has it. So did Kirk Douglas, and so does his son. The funny thing about this chin dimple is it makes a man look incredibly handsome.
It’s funny, isn’t it? The things that are malformed, not right, a little off, unique, can be the things that make a man, a boy, most loved. I always was taken with a chin dimple, and the fact that it’s a mistake, a genetic error, makes me even fonder of it.
“Shh,” we whisper. “Calm down, love.” He runs back and sits next to my husband, who wears a dark gray suit. Before I can count to ten, he jumps back up again, and stares, intense, eyes narrowed, at the jelly wiggler toy.
She leaned over and scribbled something on his chart. I squinted. 160/102. No. The muscles around her eyes flexed and then she let go, and as her eye muscles retracted, she undid the blood pressure cuff, all the while speaking to my son. Rip, it went, and it sounded so loud in that coffin-quiet office with the pictures of our aging doctor and her three sons on the walls, and I leaned over and shut the office door.
“160/100,” I whispered to my husband, who was watching Dr. M while I held onto my tiny creature, not so tiny now, but in my mind’s eye, I see him as a baby.
“Mama, was I this big?” He asks, holding his arms about a foot apart.
He grins, and the grin is as big as his face. “The size of a football?”
“Yeah,” I nod.
“I could fit inside a football?” The light dances inside his eyes.
“Yep.” Now I smile back at him. “That big. No bigger.”
She ripped off the elastic that makes the cuff grip his right arm so tight, and wheeled around, writing something down in his chart. It’s a thick chart for a six-year old. After all, we always joke, he’s our medical scare baby. When I was pregnant with Maddie, I got laser surgery on my eyes, and with those surgically-repaired eyes squinting, I could read her handwriting. 160/100.
It passed quickly. The appointment, I mean. But how fast will this pass? How fast will he pass?
Just a few days ago, he stood in front of the fridge in a Cambray button down shirt and baggy khakis, all serious and tiny, and in my mind’s eye, with both eyes fixed on all fifty-two pounds of him, I saw him as a fifteen or sixteen year old. He was tall and lanky and searching for a glass of water. For some reason, I often see him projected, his tiny form onto his future form, older, taller, a vision, a future ghost of the man he is becoming. It always makes me smile, he always makes me smile, this little boy of mine, this unique, quirky, challenging imperfect child, this sunshine, my sunshine, and I know I can hold on only for so long.
I never wondered if God was giving me this vision to comfort me, to let me know what this youngest son could have been, because he was no longer to be. But it’s weird, because I never see my other two children as older versions of their little selves. Just the baby of the family, my baby, this dimpled man-child of mine. Is God sending him to me, this future man, as a message, as a reminder, a letter of love and comfort and a promise that he will make it through this okay? Or is God reminding me to hold tight, so tight, because his time here is fast fading, fading?
This morning, I really, really wanted to chew a head off, or at a minimum, a hand. This is the absolute bane of all small business owners, particularly artists and writers: setting up a new business. Yeah, yeah, it’s exciting and I’m grateful and, well, yada, yada. But when three children are yowling, busting heads and basically working through their Ophelia, Hamlet and Polonius routine and the man is conducting scientific experiments in the kitchen, the whole process of arranging a freaking PayPal button on WordPress becomes more a bloodletting experience than anything else.
And no decent mom refuses to take a child to the library, right? Right, but only after I get my new page set up on WordPress: this one. But right now, I gotta confess something: I’m not feeling like a decent mom. I’m trying, but I’m also working as hard as I used to work when I practiced law. Don’t get me wrong: this time around, I love my job, but I’m getting too obsessed with line edits, double spaces after periods (damn my eyes, I’m switching to single spaces), proof copies, mailing advance reviewer copies, and a plethora of other small details.
You see, even though I’m self-publishing, I refuse to compromise quality. I’m rolling the dice on my own name and reputation, and it’s not like I can blame a secretary or intern or junior associate or asshole client if anything gets messed up. This book must look as good as anything that is traditionally published.
And you know what’s getting sacrificed right now? Sigh. Yep. My family. Or as Helen realizes in Ripple:
Excellence may not be about making beds and cooking brownies, but excellence was about more than rising to the top of your profession. She’d fucked up. She hadn’t meant to. She really hadn’t meant to hurt her daughter, but she had. Her own excellence had been achieved by sacrificing her family and now she was paying the price for it. No, now Phoebe was paying the price for it, she realized, and she winced.
Sometimes fiction mirrors life; other times, life mirrors fiction. All I know is that I need to find a balance, somehow. It doesn’t mean that I should give up trying to create the best product I can, but I need to try harder here on the home front. These twelve and fourteen hour days, after all, are nothing to be proud of—not when those hours take too much time away from my children.
How do you all do it, your working moms and dads? Do you feel trapped between work and home? As if you constantly fail work or family at the expense of the other?
Hey there (peeking up from my [can’t say the brand because it annoys some readers] keyboard, coffee mug in hand, looking a little wild-eyed. It’s been a crazy-busy month, and I’ve loved almost every minute of it, with that confusing sort of loathing, glowing love-fear-hate that all new business owners feel at the outset of their respective professional ventures.
Hmmm, that sounds both pompous and intimidating, but it’s also accurate. To do it right, to turn out a well-heeled, smooth final product, a self-published writer must take the reigns, learn the ins and outs of all aspects of publishing, or as I keep muttering under my breath in times of stress, “We’re going ALL-IN, baby!!!”
I keep trying to write an organized summary of what I’ve been doing, but that’s crazy, because it’s been a whirlwind, a cyclonic-blending of associated pieces of the crashing-wave-puzzle that is self-publishing. So here are a few pieces of it . . .
I have a friend who is a graphic designer and many other things extraordinary, and we agreed that the cover should look Salvador Dali-esque. Many private messages and phone calls later, and after many purchases of stock photo licenses, we ended up with the following, and we declared it beautiful. So did many-fold Facebook friends and followers. But then I got a message from a dear friend, and with some trepidation, this writer-blogger friend let me know that the traditional publishing house that put out Wicked used the same model with a different background.
“What?” chuckled my graphic designer, and so did I. “You mean a super-rich publishing house bought the exact same photo I did? No wonder traditional publishing houses are dying!”
Even though we weren’t violating any intellectual property laws, we agreed, without a split second of doubt, to nix the cover. The new one will be based on an actual friend rather than a stock photo. We’re not taking any chances this time. And it should be ready in the next day or so.
I’ve spent hours and hours talking, mostly on my main social media platform, Facebook, to friends and acquaintances. I devised as part of my marketing plan a legion of advance reviewers who will read mailed or e-mailed copies of a not-yet final version of Ripple. After helping me print pre-paid postage mailing labels from Stamps.com on pieces of white paper and taping them to bubble envelopes, my husband, chuckling, and a little tired of packing books, wondered how big “El’s Army” was going to get.
I like the term he coined. I love the grassroots feel of how I’m marketing this first novel of mine. So far, the feedback has been wonderful, and I’m hoping and praying this translates to buzz and increased sales. Even if it doesn’t . . . I’m giving it my all and enjoying every minute of it.
What I haven’t enjoyed so much, wait, okay, what I deplored and resorted to hair pulling, teeth-gnashing and much cussing over because of has been CreateSpace. Great company—don’t get me wrong. But for awhile there, I spoke of it between gritted teeth. I would upload a file (versions 7.1 through 8.3 and on and on) and then would wait for their file review process. Again and again, it came back with margin and font issues. I went through at least twenty uploads before I finally just ordered a hard copy. Once it arrived, I got out a ruler, measured the margins, and then applied the measurements to my latest working copy of my manuscript. And I chose a number of different fonts, from Cambria to Garamond to Calibri . . . and each font change messed up my italicized passages until I figured out how to use a template for italics.
Right. It’s boring to write about and your eyes are probably blurring up . . . unless you’re also thinking about self-publishing, and if so, please feel free to ask me what the hell I’m talking about. The way I see it is that if my meanderings into the sticky-icky world of CreateSpace can save you some trouble, then please let me help you!
So that’s about the size of it. I could write another 700 words about El’s Army and CreatePurgatoria, but my graphic designer is on the other line and there’s a note from Amazon’s Online Store that I must attend to . . . something about how pre-orders can begin in a couple of days, in advance of the actual 1/21 release of Ripple. And that’s worth a Snoopy Happy Dance or two or three.
I’ve been quiet since Friday. The Connecticut tragedy incited a PTSD reactive response, and to keep myself safe, I pretty much shut down my online presence. Everything I read, whether it was pleas for better gun control or essays on the prevalence of mental illness in the psyche of your typical mass murderer, sent me spiraling into a place I find difficult to describe.
Even worse, I’m having a manic episode, or I was having it right up until yesterday. I don’t like talking about my own mental illness. I’m ashamed of it. But I try to have courage and talk about it because I hope that by speaking out, I can educate others and help other people who are mentally ill.
This country needs to be willing to look at mental health issues even when there isn’t a tragedy. We need to attend to it when the small defeats and victories of friends and neighbors take place around us day in and day out. And for the love of all things good, we need to be really, really careful when something tragic occurs. Before we blame mental illness or gun control laws or try to assign blame to anyone or any single condition, we’d better take our time to research all the issues and get the answers right.
I’ve read a lot of articles, or to be honest, skimmed the ones that were too painful, that blamed the shooting on mental illness. Every time I read something like that, I cringe. The mentally ill are not more likely to commit acts of violence; in fact, they are much more likely to be the victims of violence. As painful and scary as it is for me to seek help when I’m feeling ill, it’s tenfold times more painful and scary to get the help I need in a charged atmosphere of blame-storming for a heinous mass murder.
As S.E. Smith wrote:
As always in cases of rampage violence, mental illness has been dragged into the mix, and I’ve been watching the Internet for the last three days with a growing sense of both deja vu and horror. None of the things being said are new — all of them are in fact very bone-achingly familiar — and all of them are extremely unhelpful, dangerous and counterproductive.
The American Psychiatric Association states that the vast majority of people who commit violent crimes do not suffer from mental illness.
Substance abuse is a much bigger risk factor for violent behavior; in people with untreated mental illness (a shockingly large number due to the difficulty involved in accessing services), drug abuse is a confounding factor in acts of violence in many cases, not the underlying mental illness. Socioeconomic status, age, gender and history of violence are also more significant indicators of the risk of violence.
You’re more likely to be hit by lightning than to be injured by someone who suffers from schizophrenia.
And yet if you believe the stories and anecdotes widely published this weekend, you will do what people typically do: you will stay the hell away from mentally ill people. Each time a tragic event like the one in Connecticut occurs and mental illness is raised as a proximate cause, people pull away even more from the mentally ill. In other words, the very stigma associated with mental illness intensifies, and those of us who most need love, compassion and support receive even less.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I get the treatment and the care and the compassion that so many of my ill brethren do not receive. Most people don’t even know that I’m ill. You see, I know the warning signs. In the case of manic episodes, my mind starts racing. Creative thoughts pile onto creative thoughts, and then it gets faster and faster and I can’t stop working won’t stop working don’t want to stop working and it’s amazing the things I can get done . . . but I feel an overload, an imbalance, a systems shutdown approaching. But like a jet plane hurtling through the air on cruise control, I cannot switch directions, not even when I know exactly how it’s going to end: nose down in the mountainside.
Crashing hurts, and it makes no sense to an outsider, but with time and medication and therapy, I’ve gotten much better at engineering less destructive crash landings. The most important thing I do is to radio ahead to the tower, or tell a few friends that I’m losing altitude too fast, and that I am, frankly, feeling ill. In other words, despite the stigma that attaches to my illness, I reach out for the help I need.
I was on the phone this morning with one of my best friends, and she just sort of sat with me. She told me that she loved me no matter what, and that she wasn’t going anywhere, and that my illness didn’t make her not want to be my friend. In fact, a few of my friends called me. They won’t let me fall through the cracks, and when I crash land, they’re there to pick up the pieces.
That’s what grieves me about so many of the articles I tried so hard not to read this weekend. For every one that begged for compassion, three more confused mental illness with violent propensities. And you know what this does? It rains down shame, ugly, dark sickly-familiar shame on those of us who suffer from mental illness. As gut-wrenchingly difficult as it is to seek treatment, this sort of fear-mongering makes it that much harder for people like me to seek help.
It takes courage to seek help, and it takes courage to admit you’re ill. Fallacious arguments that connect mental illness to violent propensities make it even harder. Please have compassion and use discernment when you address issues of mental illness. After all, you never know who could be affected by the words you use.
I grab my jacket and my wallet and my cell phone and my room keycard and my Sportsband and I head out of the Clarion Hotel, down a hill or two, and walk for about a mile until I spot an old white building which is almost blocking traffic. It’s the old library here in Shepherdstown, West Virginia and as crazy as it sounds, the damn building was not so much built around the street as the street was built around it.
I peer into a window of an old red brick building and try to make sure that Hypnocoffee is open and it is, so I open one door, step into a vestibule, and open another door, which takes me into the best coffee shop I’ve ever visited. Maybe that doesn’t sound right; after all, this is a small town and a small shop that lacks name brand recognition, but it’s the truth and I swear it.
I’m on a working vacation with my husband. He’s working, that is. I’m supposed to be working too, but I’m a writer and I spend most of my time walking around and taking the sights in and trying to find stuff to write about. Travis is busy from eight to five. Anyway, this leaves me lots of time to search for stuff to write about and to me, that’s another way of saying that I’m going on an adventure.
Before we left, that fine man of mine spent hours researching coffeehouses in Shepherdstown. “Cutie, I just want to make sure you’re really comfortable,” he explained. He’s either really solicitous or I’m a pain in the ass when I travel, or it’s a combination of both. The truth is, he researches coffee as if he were the coffee version of an oenophile and I’m downright picky about what beans I drink.
There is a really popular coffee house here, called Lost Dog Café. Fortunately Travis warned me that there baristas were rude; their coffee, bland, so I didn’t take it personally when the young woman at the cash register tossed an empty cup at me when I ordered a large brew. She barely made eye contact, and I felt out of sorts and shy as I paused and looked around. Lost Dog is a cool place. It’s all funky, with lots of color, a kaleidoscopic array of chalk scrawled all over chalkboards, t-shirts and mugs for sale, and a directive to be artsy-cool or drink coffee somewhere else. That made me laugh because I’m making my living as a writer. I write real stuff. But looking at me, in my 41-year old mother of three very imperfect body, baggy jeans, running t-shirt and Brooks running shoes, well, no one would ever know that I’m a creative type. And that’s all right with me.
After all, it’s what you do, what you create, not how you look when you create it, that really matters.
And that brings me back to Hypnocoffee. They are first, and above all else, a coffee roastery. You won’t find any t-shirts in here, or fancy mugs, or poseur political slogans. And that’s okay with me. Because what you will find, or what I’ve found, is the best cuppa Joe I’ve ever quaffed.
“Woooo, Cutie. Check this out. They employ the pour-over approach.”
I glanced at my husband, barely paying attention. “Uh-huh.”
He shifted his iPad in his hand so that I can see it. “Look. Check it out.”
I nodded, and he showed me what looked like a giant hourglass, with a white paper filter filled with fresh-ground coffee and almost boiling water on top.
“They say this makes the best coffee, ever. It’s the latest thing, and it’s taking the coffee house by storm.”
“Mmm, nice,” I murmured, my eyes searching for the pages of my book.
“So you’re going to like, no, love this place.”
And you know what? From the moment the coffee hit the roof of my mouth yesterday, I loved the dark brew and the place that brewed it.
The barista is a young guy, and yeah, I’ve reached the age where all creatures under thirty are young guys. Getting old can be a bitch, you know? This young guy wears a bow tie and his eyes twinkle when he talks, especially about coffee. “Yeah, you’re going to love the pour-over,” he predicts, with a smile that starts near his eyes. “It blows the doors off French Press coffee. And I know French Press coffee,” he adds, in response to my own benchmark for comparing coffee brewing methods. “I used to work at a place where we made coffee out of these industrial size French Presses.”
I take a sip and smile, again feeling shy. It’s hard for me to know what to say to people, so I usually stop trying to figure it all out and just tell the truth. “It’s awesome. Great coffee.” I tip my 12-ounce white cup at him and smile, crossing the small shop in about seven steps before I reach the inner door.
That was yesterday. It’s Tuesday, and I’m back again. It’s my kind of place. As Hemingway would say, it’s a clean, well-lit place, and I’m comfortable here. I’ve met Tony, the owner, and he’s a runner and a father and a busy man who, like me, is doing what he loves, loving what he’s doing, and doing it pretty damn well.
I’m thinking too much, too fast, too much, too fast. Damnit. What if it’s a really really bad idea to self-publish Ripple? Should I have kissed many more asses? Why didn’t I kiss more asses? Who do I ask to do my advance reviews? Is it any good? I know it’s good. But there are millions of would-be writers out there. Am I just like the rest of them? Am I really a loser? A wanna-be, would be, could be but can never will never be?
Should I go back and try to be nice to the people I’ve been ignoring? What about all of the pages that I’ve not been talking to because I’m talking to other pages and writers? Should I be trying harder? Should I be on my knees groveling, or at least gladhanding? I have stopped interacting with so many pages and blogs and it’s all a kaleidoscopic mishmash of should-dos and can’t and won’ts and I have no fucking clue how to sort it all out. Why do I have to be the one to handle this?
The real question is why do I need to be the adult here? I don’t feel like an adult. I don’t feel like I’m in control. Not I. Or not me, depending on how the rest of the sentence goes . . . no. Not I. Funny. I never really studied grammar that much or even wanted to learn it. I was above the rules but the real truth is that I always sensed, nay feared, that the rules were above me.
There. That’s the truth. Icky ugly truth. I play this whole act, this “Your rules not mine” rebel act long and hard but you know what I’m hiding? This deep fear that if I play by the same rules, throw the football on the same exact field with the precise dimensions and markings that all other writers obey, everyone will find out (who is everyone) that my writing just isn’t good enough.
That’s my icky ugly inner fear. It’s fucking debilitating. Should I stop cussing? Just an aside, but is it? Last night I made this poster, and I consciously went with the word “ass” as in “work your ass off,” because it was authentic. But I also know that a lot of my inspirational friends won’t share anything that has a cuss word in it, and while 10,820 fans is plenty, every new fan equals a potential reader. Then again, my freakin’ name has a curse word in it, so does that make me ineligible for being shared by the goody two-shoes of pages?
Not that there’s anything wrong with goody-goodies. Oh my gosh. Part of me wants to be a good girl and part of me wants to be a badass and those two sides of me will forever lay siege to one another! Right?
And should I put one space or two after a period? Am I the only old-school holdover who still goes with two spaces? I like two spaces, not one, but I don’t wanna stand out, stick out, or run alone.
Or do I?
As far as the cussing thing, my characters cuss, and so do I but I’m also a born-again Christian and I need those fans—the moral majority (giggle) too. I need as many fans and readers as I can get because hell, I’m trying to sell books, right? But what’s the point of selling anything if I have to change who I am to make a sale? How boring, stupid, phony, cruddy, pointless . . . is it to change who you are just to make a few extra bucks?
Speaking of a few bucks, what the hell am I doing self-publishing Ripple? Seriously, what the hell am I doing? Did I decide to ignore the traditional publishing houses for a reason other than I’ve been telling everyone? Was it simply because I was scared Ripple wasn’t good enough? Did I think that the rejection of everything that I am and want to be would be so awfully soul-crushing that I couldn’t chance it? God help me if I have to face the exact same pain that every other writer faces.
Yep. Maybe it always comes back to God. And needing His help. I’m scared, and I’m about to jump off a big limb that’s hanging over a muddy bank and into these swirling waters, and as much as I love crazy adventures and especially swirling waters, I’m so afraid that I’ll smash into unseen rocks and end up all bloodied and concussed and broken-hearted.
This is one of those times I wish I could call my mom. But I can’t and I won’t but I will . . .