Stalking Is an Act of Violence

I had a stalker during my sophomore year in college. He was a wild-eyed, stringy-haired, shabbily dressed guy who was probably in his mid-twenties. He used to stand outside the small library at my college and stare at me through the window while I studied. At least once, he showed up at my dorm room. And he sent me several “love notes.” The one I remember (because it freaked me out) read, “What happens when a flower is cut off from its source? It dies.”

To this day, I have no idea what I did to inspire this young man’s obsession with me. He was clearly suffering from some sort of mental health issue, and I genuinely did not hate him or wish him any ill will. What I did wish was that he would leave me the hell alone. Yet my repeated attempts to convey the fact that I was not interested in a relationship with him (I had a boyfriend at the time) were for naught. He didn’t stop until the university took steps to ban him from campus.

But even if I’d done something to inspire him, his behavior would have been just as creepy and frightening. Although he never did anything overtly violent, the very fact that he was always watching and following me carried an implicit threat of violence. I never felt safe during the few weeks he stalked me. There were times when I genuinely feared for my life.

And this is why any claim that a person can engage in behavior in the online space that justifies real-life stalking troubles me so intensely. Unfortunately, I am seeing those claims being made in the Hale case. (If you’re not aware of what happened, please see this links post at Love in the Margins for a good round-up.)

It’s clear to me from Hale’s initial post that she knows her behavior crossed the line of normative behavior, but that she has no grasp of why. That’s because, like my stalker in college, she sees her behavior as innocently motivated (in her case, by curiosity and hurt feelings; in mine, by “love”). But seeing your stalking as innocently motivated doesn’t make it any less threatening. Because frankly, all stalkers think their motives are pure.

The minute you start justifying bad behavior by telling yourself you don’t mean any harm, you need to stop. Your bad behavior IS harm, whether you mean it or not.

A Brief Personal Update

I’ve been debating whether or not to write this post for a few weeks now. I kept leaning to the side of not posting because, for one thing, this is bound to be a depressing read and, for another, writing it feels a bit self-indulgent and self-absorbed. But when I said on Twitter that I didn’t think anybody would want to read my “depressing shit,” a fair number said that this wasn’t the case and that they genuinely wanted to hear what I have to say. Knowing that people do want to hear and knowing that I don’t want to write twenty emails covering the same ground, I decided to go ahead and do this thing.

So, it’s been ten weeks. On some level, I think I’m still in shock. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I cry every day. Multiple times. I know my son is gone and the sorrow and pain that knowledge brings is unavoidable. It’s not quite as bad as it was four or five weeks ago, when I was crying nearly constantly, but it’s not significantly less, either. Moreover, I’m not sure I want it to be less. Why should it? The longer he is gone, the more I miss him. The more I miss the way he’d bound into my room when I was working to talk to me about something (remember the way Kramer would bound into Jerry’s apartment in Seinfeld? It was kind of like that) or the way he’d call me into his room to share something he’d found on YouTube or the way he’d hug me before he left for an overnight at a friend’s house. And that’s just a tiny list of things that comes to mind at this instant. I could go on and on.

But at the same time, I’m functional. I get up in the mornings and get my kids off to school and myself off to work. When I get to work, I actually get stuff done. For more than two months, someone brought us dinner almost every night or we ate out, but starting this week, I’m cooking again and I have to say that it’s nice to eat “our own” meals again. I really appreciated and enjoyed everything people brought, but you can only eat so many enchiladas and lasagnas before it starts to get old. (Not everyone brought enchiladas and lasagnas, mind you, but there were a lot of them. They are very practical and portable, after all.)

So from the outside, I think I probably look okay. Like I’ve already gotten over this monumental loss that I know I’m never really going to be over. And partly, that’s my choice. I don’t want people to feel like they have to tiptoe around me or, conversely, that they should ask probing questions about my emotional health (especially if they’re not close friends or family). And even with close friends and family, there’s a level on which I just don’t want to go “there”. I can get “there” on my own just fine, and I’d rather do that on my own schedule.

The one thing I haven’t been able to do with any consistency is write. I’ve tried and made a little progress on the YA story I posted a few weeks ago, but by “a little progress,” I really mean little. As in maybe I’ve added 1,000-1,500 words. I think a lot about writing–I plot scenes in my head as a way to get my mind of Julian when I’m trying to fall asleep and thank goodness, that does work. But when it comes to actually sitting down and getting words on paper (or the screen), I just don’t have the concentration. That’s not surprising, from what I hear. The experts say that grief is very consuming and tends to sap your ability to concentrate on anything else.

I’m not putting any expectations on myself at this point as to when (or even whether) I’ll ever write seriously again. I kind of doubt I’ll give it up for good (I tried that once before and was successful for about 10 years, but then the bug came back), but at this point, I have to concentrate on getting through each day as best I can and not think too much about the future.

Just Don’t Ask If I Am “Better”

As I’m sure most (if not all) of you know, my 16-year-old son was killed in a car accident on Thursday, March 20th. I’m not writing this post to vent my grief, but to tell you all how much I appreciate and value the love and support I’ve received from the romance community (as well as my communities of church, Boy Scouts, neighbors, family, and friends). I know, too, how hard it is for you all to listen to me when I talk about how much I miss my son and how painful this all is, because you all know (as do I) that there is really nothing you can do.

People are constantly asking me what I “need” and the honest truth is that I have no fucking idea. I only wish I could give you all a program of steps that would help me through this tragedy and make my life a little less empty and broken. But we all know the truth is that the only thing that can do that is to turn back time, and that can’t happen.

That said, your love and support does help. More than I can say. It doesn’t make me feel “better,” but it makes me feel less alone. Know that just saying you care is the best and most important thing you can do.

I don’t know when I’m going to get beyond crisis mode, which is where I’m living right now. I’m sure it will happen someday. But even when that happens, I’m not going to be “better.” I’m never going to be better. I am always going to be empty and broken and grieving. I’ll just (I hope) be able to live with it a little easier. I’m going to get to know that emptiness, brokenness, and grief and incorporate it into the new me.

So, whether it’s me or someone else you know who’s suffered a loss like this, please remember not to ask, at some distant point down the road, if they are “better.” We will never be better again. But we will go on.

Coming Up for Air

It dawned on me a couple of days ago that I haven’t written a post since the new year began. So, first and foremost, happy belated New Year!

I am *so* not a person who makes new year’s resolutions, but since I always tend to bite off more than I can chew when I set my goals every year, I’ve decided to try to be a little more realistic about what I can and can’t accomplish in 2013. What I am sure I *can* do is finish my second book for Entangled’s Brazen line (Rules of Possession) and at least one other title before the end of the year. My first Entangled book, Skin in the Game, is through its first round of revisions, though I’m biting my nails a bit because my editor has had it for several days and I haven’t heard anything. As soon as I have anything firm regarding a release date for that title, I promise I will post it.

My other goal this year is to take off the twenty pounds I put on in the past 3-4 years. I’m not doing this for appearance sake, but because ever since I started gaining this weight, I’ve found my hips hurt when I’m trying to sleep. This means I wake up multiple times per night to turn over to the side that doesn’t hurt (or doesn’t hurt as much). It’s possible the cause of this pain is something other than my weight, of course, but the coincidence makes me suspect that there’s a relationship, so before I go whine to the doctor, I want to try the obvious solution. Unfortunately, my schedule doesn’t lend itself to more exercise to get rid of the weight, so I’m having to rely on calorie reduction, and let me tell you, it is making me cranky. (On the plus side, the hero of Rules of Possession starts out the book in a rather cranky frame of mind, so I feel like I totally get him!)

Finally, sometimes, I look at my kids and wonder why the writing gene seems to have passed them over. I come from a fairly longish line of writers–my father wrote a couple of novels based on his experiences in the US Border Patrol, my mother’s father wrote a mystery novel, and a great uncle on my father’s side was a published poet. But here I am with my three kids, whose apparent vocations are (oldest to youngers) theoretical physicist, veterinarian, and chef. The theoretical physicist is a very competent writer, but he has no interest in creative writing. The veterinarian muddles through writing and is a voracious reader, so perhaps there’s still hope there in the future. But chef, who is 10 and in the fifth grade, is the kid teachers have always complained about. “He’s so bright and articulate, but he won’t actually *write* anything.”

I think, however, that this might be changing. He’s had a bunch of writing assignments in various subjects in the past month or so, and it seems to me he’s finally found his voice. He has stopped trying to be formal and academic, and the results are fantastic (and funny). I’ll leave you with the piece he wrote last night, which cracked me up (although perhaps that’s because I hate homework almost as much as my kids do).

Why Homework Is a Problem

“AAAHHH, homework! I haven’t had any sleep for twenty straight hours and it’s 1:00 a.m.!”

Hear that? That’s the sound of an unhappy camper because he can’t get any sleep at all. That’s my point right there, right in the lead up there. You see, kids are usually on a sleep schedule. Like, at around 8:50, it’s time for bed. But nope, not until your homework is finished. Which messes up our sleep time thus decreasing performance in school. Another reason is don’t we do enough practice already in school? Because obviously, the next day we’re going to be working on something different.

Also, without homework, kids would get to spend time with their family more as well. Like let’s just say your mom says, “All right, it’s time to go,” and then you say, “Oh, I can’t, I have a project to do.” Well, that means that your family can’t go and neither can you. Another thing is, let’s say your mom walks in the room while you’re working on homework and says, “It’s time to clean your room.” Well, according to my calculations, hold on, I’m still doing the math. Ah! Got it? My calculations are that you wouldn’t be able to do the chores.

Now, as you can see homework is a problem because no sleep, no trips, no ANYTHING. So what do you say let’s get rid of home–

This story was just a fiction story and the district not going to get rid homework. And also this is a really stupid story as well.

“Hey, I heard that!”

Now It Gets Scary

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve decided to follow the self-publishing path for a while and see where it takes me. I am currently writing The Lesson Plan, a novella (about 25,000 words, give or take) that’s related to Grace Under Fire and Taking Liberties, the two stories I sold to Spice Briefs. I’d originally pitched the idea for The Lesson Plan to my editor at Harlequin, but he chose Taking Liberties instead, and I’m rather happy about that because I’m happy to write it free of the pressure to get it in under 15,000 words. Having a little more space to play with is very freeing.

But it’s also SCARY.

When I put out The Reiver, I had literally NO expectations. I hoped to make back the cost of the cover art. That was it. Through a combination of blind luck and the fact that I picked a great cover artist, the story has now outsold anything I’ve ever published–even, I believe, combined print and digital sales of Behind the Red Door, although of course my numbers on that book’s totals are about six months out of date, so it may be closer than I think–and even managed to get me into the Top 20 in Historical Romance on Amazon for the past few days.

So, as I write this new story, I worry. Because now, I have expectations. This is, after all, a brand new, never-before-released novella. It will be several times longer than The Reiver. I paid more for the cover art (and was happy to do so, because it makes me swoony, lol), and I will be paying for professional editing as well as taking much more time with formatting and validation (simply because it’s longer and has chapter breaks, I MUST spend more time). All of this means I will have more invested upfront, which means there will be more pressure to earn it back.

But more than that, I am more emotionally invested in this story doing well than I ever was in The Reiver. That title’s sales seem like proof of concept in some ways, but what if they aren’t? What if they’re a fluke? What if the people who bought that story have no interest in The Lesson Plan and don’t buy it? What if NO ONE buys it?

Gah. /flails in self-doubt

The problem with success of any kind is that it doesn’t always breed more success. Sometimes, it just breeds a more spectacular opportunity for failure.


P.S. My target release date for The Lesson Plan is October 25. If I miss it, it’s all on me. Yikes!

Surprising Discovery: I Read More in Digital

Despite the fact that I’m published primarily in digital form (only one of my books has ever been released in print), I’ve always considered myself someone who preferred paper books to digital. I have a particular preference (or so I thought) for mass-market paperbacks, not so much because they are cheap (although that weighs into the equation), but because they are lightweight and portable. As a result of my belief in my love for the mass-market paperback, I have an mmpb TBR pile several feet high.

And yet, I’m not reading those books. Instead, I’m reading the digital books I’ve downloaded onto my iTouch. What’s more, I tend to FINISH the digital books that I do start reading, whereas the print books are far more likely to be picked up, paged through, and put down, never to be revisited.

I’ve been puzzling over this phenomenon since I realized I have read several novels and novellas start to finish in the last month while I have not finished reading a single print book in twice that time. Why should this be so, I wondered, especially since reading on the tiny screen provided by the iTouch isn’t exactly the most aesthetically pleasing experience?

One reason is actually pretty easy to ferret out: the light on my side of the bed is burnt out and I can’t be arsed to replace it, which means I CAN’T read paper books in bed, but I can read digital books on the backlit iTouch without a hitch.

But that doesn’t explain why I’m more likely to FINISH reading them, even those I find to be flawed in ways that would likely have me giving up on a paper book within a few chapters. The answer finally dawned on me yesterday, though.

You see, I’m currently reading a historical romance on the iTouch that I suepect I would have set aside long ago in paperback. It’s not that it’s bad, mind you. There are just…issues with it. It’s one of those books that might pan out and might not. And if I had it in print form, I’d have already looked ahead in the book to see if it would be worth my while to finish it. (Yes, I’m THAT kind of reader. For shame, I know.)

But on the iTouch, skipping around in the book is a pain in the you-know-what. Oh, I know I could do it, but it’s more effort than it’s worth. And so, I keep on reading. Which means, eventually, I read through to the end, even if the book doesn’t wind up panning out.

I’ve said for a long time that I won’t pay mass-market paperback prices for digital books, which meant agency-priced romances were strictly off my list. For all the reasons others have explicated in the past, I have always felt that digital books should be priced lower than paperbacks, and if I couldn’t get the digital version of a book for around the $5 mark ($6 at the absolute most), I wouldn’t be buying.

But this morning, I went to Amazon and picked up Julie Anne Long’s What I Did for a Duke, a book I’ve been dying to read for a long time but haven’t run across in paperback yet, for the exorbitant (in my former mind) price of $7.99? And I suspect it’s going to be worth every penny, because if I’d bought it in paperback, there is a good chance I’d never have finished it. But I KNOW I’m going to finish it in digital, and that means it’s worth as much or more as the paperback. To me.

Jackie and the Bee

In about twenty minutes, I’ll be heading over to my kids’ middle school to watch my 11-year-old daughter compete in the 6th grade spelling bee. I have not attended a spelling bee in (mumble mumble) years. Not since I competed in one. Because, you see, it was one of the greatest injustices of my life and I have never really wanted to be reminded of the experience. Nonetheless, here I am, going to a bee again.

As I’m writing this, I’m not 100% sure whether my Spelling Bee took place when I was in 6th grade or 8th grade. I’ve always remembered it as 8th grade, but now I’m having visions of the elementary school library. But it really doesn’t matter to the story. It goes like this: The field of contestants was whittled down to three kids, me and two others. One of the others was the boy who ultimately won. I no longer remember his name or his face. But I remember…oh, I remember how unfairly he won.

You see, I got out (third to last) on the word “connoisseur.” I came very close to spelling it correctly, just reversing the o and the i. I was disappointed, but, hey, that was okay, I didn’t spell it right, I was out. But then the final two kids duked it out. In a spelling bee, the last two contestants receive a word to spell until one misspells the word. The other contestant then has the opportunity to spell the word that was just missed. If he/she spells it correctly, then another word is given, and if that word is also spelled correctly, that contestant wins.

I don’t remember what the word that was originally misspelled was, but I do remember that it was something I could have spelled easily, which was disheartening. But then came the final word, the word on which the bee was won. And that word I remember. Because it was… Are you ready?

SPOILER SPACE

Hermit

That’s right. After I am eliminated from the competition for misspelling a complicated word of French origin, the boy who won gets the word HERMIT!? There is something profoundly not right with the world!

Anyway, painful memories notwithstanding, I’m off to support my daughter in her first (but hopefully not last) spelling bee. And if she is eliminated on a hard word and the person who wins gets thrown a softball…well, we’ll have one more thing to commiserate over and laugh about when I’m in the nursing home :)!

My One Writing Resolution for 2011

I’m bad at New Year’s resolutions, which is why, as a rule, I don’t make them. It’s not just that I seldom KEEP my resolutions that makes me eschew them, however. It’s also that I figure if it’s a good idea to do (or not do) something, it’s just as good an idea on December 31 as it is on January 1 and why wait?

Notwithstanding, I did realize I have one goal for myself in the coming year, although I had already implemented it before the end of 2010. Quite simply, it’s this: NO NEW SHINIES. In 2011, I will allow myself to write anything that already has at least a page written, but I will not start any new manuscripts. No matter how awesome a new idea seems, no matter how tired I am of the stories I have to choose from.

The reason I’m making this pact with myself is simple: I’m a great starter and a lousy finisher. I’ve always been this way, and I’ve always known it was a tendency I’d have to struggle against. But now, with 2010 behind me and only two completed manuscripts to show for that entire year (although I wrote several hundred thousand words, I’m sure), it’s very clear to me that I have to confine myself to the books I’ve already started writing. And there are a LOT of them. I mean, A LOT. In fact, in no particular order, here is a list of manuscripts I could tackle this year if I ONLY choose from the ones I have started (not including my active WIP, a category-style romance I’m determined to have done by mid-February at the latest):

  • Single-title contemporary romance, currently at 20,000+ words
  • Middle grade mystery, currently at 16,000 words
  • Historical (Edwardian) urban fantasy, currently around 10,000 words
  • Book 1 in futuristic series, currently at 7,000 words
  • Historical (Regency) romance, currently at 8,250 words
  • “Boy” YA, currently at 5,000 words
  • Category romance, currently at 3,000 words
  • Contemporary romance novella, currently at 4,500 words
  • Short historical (Ancient Greece…yes, really) romance, currently at 2,500 words

And those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. There are undoubtedly a dozen more at one stage or another, just waiting for me to give them my attention. Which means there is absolutely no excuse for starting anything new this year unless (and this is a caveat I don’t would love to have to employ but don’t particularly expect to) I were to finish and sell one of the books on this list, in which case, I might be obligated to write more in that vein to satisfy the contract.

So, that’s my goal for 2011. It’s simple and straightforward and I will consider it a major success if I can adhere to it. (My fingers are already itching!)

My Favorite Books of 2010

So, everyone’s been posting their “best reads” lists for the year. I kept putting mine off because I hoped to finish a couple more before the end of 2010 so they could be included on this list. Alas, it’s only five days until the end of the year and I am 99.9% sure I am not going to finish any more books before then. So, without further ado, in no particular order, here are my favorite books of 2010. (No, it’s not a top ten list. It’s a top eight list. That’s not because there couldn’t have BEEN ten I liked enough to mention, but because I’m a slow reader and there are still a LOT of unread 2010 books in my TBR pile!)

I also have a ringer list of a few books pubbed before 2010 that I read this year and wish I’d read long ago:

  • Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

    Masterpiece Mystery has been airing adaptations of Mankell’s Wallander series, starring Kenneth Branagh in the lead role. I LOVED the first series, which was on back in 2009, so when I saw this book (the first Wallander mystery published) in Barnes and Noble, I bought it on impulse. My husband and I have since been sharing the remainder of the series. I love the spare but evocative writing and the way Wallander solves mysteries not with great flashes of intellect and insight, but through slow and careful thought. If you like mystery novels, you should definitely be reading Mankell!

  • The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

    Faced with the prospect of losing my “historical romance reader” card for never having read a Heyer, I asked around and was told by several people that this was one of her best. I positively ate it up. I had a few niggles with some of the elements in the story (particularly the evil Jewish money-lender), which I mostly allowed to pass on the grounds that it was written in the 1950s. Overall, though, it was about the most fun I’ve had reading a book in a very long time. (And why isn’t PBS adapting Heyer for Masterpiece Theater, huh? Seems like a natural!)

  • Hank the Cowdog by John R. Erickson

    Yes, a kid’s book made my list of favorites. We’re now reading the second book in this very long series, and, holy cow(dog), I adore them. They are hilariously funny, and it’s absolutely impossible to read them aloud without adopting a “countrified” accent. Now that’s what I call “voice,” people! A special thank you to author Margaret Mallory, who mentioned the series on Twitter. If it weren’t for that tweet, I’d never have known these books existed and that would have been a major loss!

A Near CAT-astrophe

As some of you may know because I know I occasionally mention it on Twitter/Facebook, we have cats. At one time, we had five, but one (a gorgeous black cat with the most wonderful personality) went missing a few months ago (sadly). Today, we darn near lost another, but it’s almost as funny a story as it is harrowing.

My husband rented a truck this weekend to move some furniture. He still had it for a few hours today and there was a bunch of stuff we needed to take to the dump. He opened the truck this morning and loaded it, then closed it up and we drove to the dump to pitch everything out. Shortly after we got to the dump pad and started unloading, we caught sight of something running away from the truck. It was one of our cats—Pumpkin Patch, a tiny little calico. Obviously, she climbed into the back of the truck when my husband wasn’t looking and got shut in.

So, there we were, watching in horror as she ran away from us right toward all the huge, noisy dump trucks and big rigs. The poor thing had to be terrified! I’m sure she was wondering where she was, not to mention how on earth she’d gotten there.

I jumped down off the truck and called her, but I had absolutely NO confidence she’d come to me in that situation. (Plus, I was pretty sure this cat has used up all her nine lives and then some, as she has stayed out overnight far too times because she refuses to come in at dinner time.) I had visions of having to tell my children she’d been squashed by a tractor or simply run away from us.

To my utter amazement, however, she turned and came toward me—slowly, tentatively, but close enough that I was able to lean down and nab her. Phew!

We got her into the cab of the truck, and then one of the dump workers pointed out a pet taxi that had been dumped by someone before us. It was perfectly serviceable, and although I have some worries about the possibility that it was discarded because the previous occupant had some sort of contagious illness, we took it and put her in it. Driving home with a loose, terrified cat in the cab of the truck didn’t seem like such a good idea.

Needless to say, she’s home now, safe and sound (actually, she’s sleeping on top the monitor right in front of me), but that was a close call!