It Can’t Rain All the Time

via GIPHY

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been 10 days since Mike’s surgery; ever since then, it’s been pouring on us. I could sit here and list every single thing that’s gone wrong since, but 1) it wouldn’t really be productive and 2) ain’t nobody got time for that.

I’ve got articles to write, 15-20K to reach for SOF4, and a nice hot shower to take.

These past 10 days have been very difficult and stressful—my blood pressure was 140/92 when I checked it Wednesday night, and that was hours after I blacked out, so I’m guessing it was much higher—but Mike and I are fucking scrappy. We’ve rallied so many times these past couple weeks, and somehow we’re still cracking jokes and cracking each other up.

10 years together, and we just keep getting stronger.

We also have fantastic family and friends who have helped us in so many ways, more than I could ever count or repay. Even simple things like late-night face time with my best friend, sitting outside just talking. I told my mom last night that, while I was bailing out my tub earlier, I had a moment where I was thinking Where are the grownups? and then realized Shit—I’m the grownup! We laughed way too hard because she told me she still has moments like that.

Adulting is hard, but no one actually knows what they’re doing. Which, if you want to be cynical, could mean that we’re all just a bunch of overgrown and unsupervised kids, but I’m just grateful that I’m not the only one who doesn’t always have the answers.

It’s only February and I’ve already changed my business plan and production schedule several times to roll with life’s punches. At this point, I’ve decided to just focus on writing for now.

via GIPHY

It kind of sucks, because I wanted 2017 to be a publishing year for me, releasing something new every quarter or even every two months. Since my blood pressure is high, though, I need to clear my plate as much as possible. Right now I have no release dates in mind, but I’ll let you know as soon as I know when SOF4 will come out. In the meantime, check out this teaser. It’s dead sexy.

For the time being, I’m buckling down and focusing on just writing and taking care of everything in my immediate world. To keep up with me, subscribe to my newsletter.

☔️

Here and Queer: On Writing a Bi Romance Heroine

via Unsplash

*deep breath* There’s something you might not know about me.

I’m queer.

As in, LGBTQIA+. As in, bisexual (but I prefer queer). I’ve blogged about it before, and I’ve been out for years, but it’s not something I talk about often. Even though I’m proud as fuck to be bi—to be me—there’s another part of this story that is painful. Well, a few parts actually:

  • When I tried to come out to family, the first person I told said to me that there’s no such thing.
  • When I came out to my then-boyfriend (who was a complete scumbag anyway), all he could talk about was threesomes.
  • More recently, when discussing my sexuality with someone, they were all “Hold up. You can’t be queer. You married a dude!”

Thankfully, I had a fantastic support system when I came out: a whole bunch of queer people in my high school. We may have all drifted apart, as people tend to do after high school, but I’ll never, ever forget my friends Lisa*, Lacie*, Joy*, Phoebe*, and Starr*, who were all super supportive during the great LGBTQIA+ coming out party. (By the way, I’ve been searching desperately for Phoebe on Facebook, with no luck. I can’t remember her birth name or last name. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. I was one of very few people that she shared her name with and told she was trans, and I would love to know how she’s doing, how her story after high school unfolded.) This was before Twitter, so I can appreciate how very lucky I was to have such a support system.

Not many people are so fortunate.

via GIPHY

I’ve been thinking about my sexuality a lot lately. A lot. It’s extremely important to me that I don’t lose that piece of me. That it doesn’t get lost in my heterosexual marriage or these strange, dark times we’re living in.

Being queer is an extremely big part of who I am.

I knew that Krista, the heroine and main character of my work in progress Cruising with the Blues, would be queer. I also knew that she and Perry were meant to be. I’ve struggled so much with this novel, writing tens of thousands of words only to scrap them because I just couldn’t get it right. I think I was trying to do too much with one book: play matchmaker, address a few social issues, wrap up the series… You know, nothing major. 😅

In the very first draft I wrote, Krista was a bi woman struggling with depression. I wrote something like 5,000 words and then tossed it because it just didn’t feel right.

In my second try, Krista was a spoonie like me, only living with Lupus. (My disease is possibly pre-Lupus.) She was also bi. Again, I was trying to squeeze too much into one book. I threw away over 16,000 words, which stung.

With my third shot, I wrote another 6,000 or so words, cutting the mental and chronic illnesses. This time I approached the story from another angle, matchmaking Krista and Perry by using their shared desire to get their band mates into rehab. Once again, though, I was focusing too much on things outside of Krista, rather than on Krista herself. So I scrapped those words, too.

Altogether I’ve thrown out something like 20,000 words. Can you say ouch?

But fourth time’s the charm because this time around, I understand Krista a bit better. I now totally get why she’s so upset with Poppy for ditching their plans to share a cabin during the cruise.

Krista is in love with her best friend.

She’s also got a thing for Perry.

There have been two times in my life when I was in love with two people at the same time. It doesn’t seem fair that the heart can be so conflicted, but it happens. It’s a painful experience, something that you can’t just turn off—just like Krista’s and my sexuality.

While I’m still incorporating other elements into SOF4—getting Krista and Perry together, wrapping up the series, getting Jett and Max help—I’m focusing more on bisexuality and the stigma from all sides.

How non-queer people just don’t get how you can have feelings for and be attracted to both the opposite and the same gender.

How queer people often exclude bisexual people, writing us off as “confused” or “looking for attention.”

How you just don’t feel like you fit in with either the straight or gay world sometimes, or all the time.

This kind of erasure—from two opposite parts of your life—can be heartbreaking and confusing, to say the least.

By exploring Krista’s feelings for both Perry and Poppy, I’m hoping to give other bi people a safe haven where they can find characters they relate to. There are so few books out there with bi characters, and the few that do usually have them in same-sex relationships. I’m writing the book that I’ve desperately needed for years, damn it.

I wonder all the time if I’ll someday regret marrying a man. I love my husband with all of my heart, and I’m happily monogamous. Making the choice to be in a heterosexual relationship despite my still-very-much-alive attraction to the same sex is conflicting enough, without other people saying things like “But you’re married. You can’t be queer!”

To which I reply, “The hell I can’t!”

I’m over 6,000 words into Cruising with the Blues now. It’s both painfully and proudly #ownvoices—written based on my own experiences as a marginalized person.

(Side note: I feel kind of weird using the word “marginalized,” but I also feel that it’s important to call it like you see it. A lot of my bi friends have purposely assimilated into heterosexuality, because even though gay people are for the most part accepted by our culture, our society just doesn’t understand or accept bi people. And trans people, and ace people, and… *neverending sigh*)

The first 5,000 words came slowly, but now that I’ve realized where Krista is coming from, man am I on a roll.

Letting her shoulders relax, she melted back into the music. Perry moved with her, letting her set the pace and tone. His hands never wandered—even though she desperately wanted them to—and he kept a respectable distance between them. Still, he was close enough that she could feel the heat radiating off his body.

And something else.

Something like desire.

Or maybe she was just projecting.

via GIPHY

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

How to Create in a Time of Resistance

via Unsplash

Pretty much everyone I know is having a hard time functioning right now, never mind writing or otherwise creating. Whether you’re upset by current national or international events, or things going on in your personal life, it might feel selfish or meaningless to continue making art. I’ve had a really hard time focusing on writing lately, and every 500 words has been a battle, but there are several things that have been helping me. I thought I’d share them with you so that you can keep creating, too.

Remember, simply existing is resisting. Continuing to make your mark on the world is a protest in and of itself.

Write morning pages every day.

I’ve talked about The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron in previous blog incarnations, and how working through the book helped unblock me during a long and stubborn episode of anxiety and depression. In the book, Cameron introduces the morning pages—three daily pages of stream of consciousness writing in a journal. You do it the old fashioned way, with pen and paper, and just write whatever comes to mind.

I’m terrible at doing these every day, but I almost always come back to them when I’m stressed. (Imagine how productive I’d be if I did them every day anyway!) I’ve started doing them again, and they’ve been extremely helpful. I almost always write about current news in the U.S., but by writing about it, I’m dumping the things that are blocking me. After closing my journal, I’m much more able to focus on my To Do list—and my work in progress.

Practice self-care.

Even when I’m not anxious, I often get sucked into whatever novel I’m currently writing, forgetting to do things like eat meals and shower. During times of crisis, a normal routine is more important than ever. If you’re feeling thrown, sticking to your routine will keep you grounded. Plus, just like flight attendants always tell passengers, you can’t help anyone else if you don’t put your oxygen mask on first.

You have to come first. It’s not selfish, it’s pragmatic; you can’t fight for anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself. There are five things you should be doing every day for your own sake.

  • Eat three meals. Whether you’re hungry or not, feed yourself breakfast, lunch, and dinner—even if you can only manage small meals. Keeping your body fueled will not only give you more energy and focus, but it’ll also help stave anxiety; when your blood sugar levels drop, anxiety is often aggravated.
  • Take all medications. You might think this is a simple thing to remember, but if I’m thrown off anywhere else in my life, I can easily forget to take my meds. Get yourself a pillbox and organize your medications by day and dose time, then set reminders on your phone or with your friendly virtual assistant Siri or Alexa.
  • Get your R&R on. “How am I supposed to relax,” you ask, “when the world is burning?” It’s easier said than done, but during times of crisis it’s more important than ever to take time out. Watch something lighthearted on Netflix. Treat yourself to a hot bath or a face mask. Snuggle with your cat, dog, or other furbaby. Make sure you’re carving out some kind of “me” time every single day, allowing yourself the room to decompress and just chill.
  • Use coping methods. This goes hand in hand with relaxation. Hopefully, you already have a toolbox of coping methods you can go to when your anxiety is high. Some of my favorites include journaling, aromatherapy, meditation, hot baths, writing, reading, coloring, yoga, and music. A coping method can be anything that puts you at ease and isn’t harmful.
  • Get moving. Sometimes, the best way to dispel anxious energy is to get your body moving. Even if you have limited mobility or can’t go out for a walk, you can do things like chair dancing. Whirling through my house and cleaning like a tornado almost always calms me. On days when I’m too sore or stiff to scrub anything, though, I still walk a bit through my apartment or do some simple yoga poses, like standing forward bend.

Do your civic duty tasks before you create.

Remember what I said about creating a routine? Build your work as an activist into your day, making your tasks part of your regular schedule. That way, when you sit down to write or paint or create, you’re not thinking about what you “should” be doing to save the world, because you’ve already done it.

Pick a couple issues that are important to you and stick with them. Right now, so many things are happening so quickly, it can feel overwhelming to keep up with them all. The truth is, though, that you can’t fight every battle. You can try, but you’ll just burn yourself out. By assigning yourself a daily task to fight for one or two causes, you’ll be organizing yourself for action.

Remember, this fight is a four-year marathon, not a sprint.

For example, my daily tasks are:

  • share information that is sourced and fact-checked
  • support my fellow activists with kind words and self-care reminders
  • cheer on my state senators and representatives, and bring issues to their awareness as needed

Yours might be something like “call my senator and ask them to please fight the Muslim ban” or “make my sign for tonight’s women’s rights gathering.”

Then get your tasks done. Set a timer if you need to keep yourself from losing track of the day passing. You can also do them in batches—whatever works best for your lifestyle and schedule.

Put your ass in the chair and create.

Your art is important. Even if it has nothing to do with current events, people need what you’re making. If you’re writing a romance, you’re giving people an escape. If you’re painting a protest piece, you’re encouraging other rebels. If you’re knitting caps and mittens, you’re keeping people warm.

The world needs your art.

The world needs you.

  • Unplug. Log out of Twitter and Facebook. Close your news tab or app. Shut off the ringer on your phone and get away from distractions. Turn off the TV and radio. It’ll all still be there when you’ve finished your work for the day.
  • Put on some music to help you focus or relax. I like the Deep Focus playlist on Spotify. Soundtracks and ambient spa music work well, too. Or maybe you need some thrash metal to get your fingers moving over the keys. Plug those earbuds in and block out the world.
  • Set a daily goal. Whether you’re writing a novel or painting on canvas, setting a daily goal for yourself keeps you on task. Be realistic and gentle with yourself; when you’re already stressed, setting high or unachievable goals may put more pressure on you. You may want to set goals that are possible but challenging, or goals that you know you can easily reach.
  • Hold yourself accountable. Sprint with a friend. Find someone in your industry to buddy up with. My work wife J.C. Hannigan and I did two 30-minute sprints yesterday. Share your progress on social media as you meet milestones. I like to tweet out my total word count at the end of every day. Sharing your momentum keeps you motivated, and more likely to reach the end because other people know how far you’ve come.

Using these tips every single day will get you back into productivity in no time—especially if you’re gentle with yourself and allow yourself to do what works best for you. Give these things a try and experiment to see what has the best effect.

Did these tips help? Please leave me a comment and let me know, or share any other suggestions!

Six Days Into a Crumbling U.S.

via Unsplash

It’s only been six days since Trump was sworn in as President. I knew things would start happening, and that it’d be fast, but I couldn’t have imagined how quickly.

Before Inauguration Day, Congress voted on their annual budget, which is normal. However, they re-allocated the ACA budget to miscellaneous. In Trump’s six days of office, he’s signed executive orders to:

  • give power to agency and executive department heads to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the [Affordable Care Act]” while he works on repealing it
  • pull federal funding from women’s affordable healthcare organizations that provide abortions, ignoring the fact that these same organizations also provide cancer treatment and other healthcare to low-income women, men, and teens
  • resume and speed up the Dakota and Keystone Oil pipeline projects, continuing to route them through Standing Rock despite environmental concerns, land treaties, and President Obama’s executive order to halt the DAPL and look for alternative routes
  • pull the U.S. out of the United Nations
  • withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership
  • ban refugees from entering the U.S., begin deportations, give police officers power to act as immigration officers, and block federal funding from sanctuary cities
  • allow torture of political prisoners, which breaks the Geneva Convention
  • begin building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, which Mexico has refused to pay for; I suspect the ACA’s re-allocated funds will be paying for its materials, and political prisoners will be used for slave labor to build it
  • impose a federal hiring freeze
  • put a gag order on federal employees from disclosing information to the public or press (Environmental Protection Agency; departments of Commerce, Health, and Human Services; the Interior; and the Department of Agriculture, which was later lifted after public outcry)
  • initiate an investigation into illegal votes, which can be used as a reason to affect voting in future elections

(Note: I will edit later and link to each EO; I’ve already spent too long at the computer and my joints are extremely sore.)

A President can sign as many executive orders as he wants, bypassing Congress. Congress can pass legislation to override EOs, but the President can veto them.

Trump said in a 2014 Fox interview that he wanted to wreak havoc.

You know what solves it? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have a [chuckles], you know, you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.

So did Trump’s Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor, Steve Bannon, in a 2013 interview.

“I’m a Leninist,” Bannon proudly proclaimed.

Shocked, I asked him what he meant.

“Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

Trump has been leveraging our social, political, and working class issues, instigating the blame of our problems on disabled people, black people, Latinxs, and Muslims. He insists that the ACA is being taken advantage of by lazy people who don’t work. People who rely on the ACA and Medicaid for healthcare are veterans, single parents, people with disabilities, cancer patients, retired people, and low-income families. No statistical evidence suggests that any large percentage of people covered through the ACA are “lazy people.”

Trump blames crime on black and Latinx people, saying that killings in Chicago—largely populated by black and Latinx people—have increased, when they have in fact decreased. Chicago has long been a site for regular Trump protests. Yesterday, Trump threatened to send military into Chicago under the guise of preventing any more murders.

He’s destroying our relationships with other countries’ leaders, which may be irreparable.

Though Trump’s authoritarian regime and collapse of the U.S. has begun, there’s still a lot we can do.

Kendzior also says, via several tweets:

There’s a lot to do. I advise working locally. Know your community. Pick an issue or two you care about and commit for the long haul. And understand that as horrifying as this all is, millions stand with you. Find common ground, stand up for others—and know the enemy.

Senator Markey and Representative Lieu have introduced legislation to prevent Trump from launching a nuclear first strike without a Congressional declaration of war.

Shit is real here in the U.S., my home. Most of the people I know are either completely oblivious, in denial. They don’t see how dire things are. I’ve been following all of this and urging family and friends to pay attention. They won’t. I think, honestly, most of them just can’t believe anything like this can happen. They believe that our Constitution and government will protect us. The Constitution can only protect us if our government upholds it. Right now, our government is fighting amongst themselves. There’s little opposition from the Democrats against the Republicans and Trump’s Cabinet.

This is really happening.

We’re really living this.

It’s not exaggeration or alarmist to say that we’re living in an authoritarian crackdown. It appears that Trump is compromised, by both the Nationalists he’s put into his Cabinet and Putin.

This is really happening.

Alexandra Erin says that even Trump might not understand what he’s doing; he’s being told what to do (click the tweet to read thread).

It’s possible that we mere peons cannot even begin to understand what’s happening to us. We just know that we don’t want it and we don’t deserve it.

I’m at a loss here myself. I read each executive order with growing cynicism and horror. To be honest, I didn’t want to believe Kendzior’s and others’ apocalyptic predictions before and around Election Day. I thought that by urging electors to vote against Trump would be enough, but now it seems that we were fighting the wrong battle. We should’ve been urging our senators and representatives to pass legislation to block all of the things that Trump promised during his campaign, protecting all of the people that Trump is trying to harm.

It might be too late.

I’m not giving up. I’m terrified, to be perfectly honest. With every executive order that I read, I find it harder and harder to focus on anything; writing and working as normal seems pointless in the face of what’s happening. When this has happened in other countries, millions of people died. It seems like a cleansing has begun: women, disabled people, non-white people, queer people, Muslims.

I am three of those groups.

I said that the best resistance is existence, to keep creating art and living in spite of what’s happening. I urged people to donate to the organizations that fight for us. I pulled out an old YA novel that I wrote in 2011 about two lovestruck seventeen-year-olds fighting Nazis and told myself that I should put all of my angry, anxious energy into revising it.

I still believe in fighting for our freedom. I come from a family of veterans and I will never dishonor their sacrifice and memory by giving up those freedoms. I will keep writing. I will send letters to the White House. I will put aside my phone anxiety and call my state Senator and Representative, and ask them to fight. I will start attending town meetings and make my concerns heard.

I will be brave by keeping on, even when I’m scared and overwhelmed. Even when people around me diminish my concerns. Especially then. Too much is at stake.

Writing Through Trauma: What is Trauma?

via Unsplash

Note: This blog post is a raw, unedited chapter from my current work in progress, Writing Through Trauma. Part memoir and part inspiring instruction, Writing Through Trauma aims to help you write your way through difficult events in your life. Click here to join my email list to get notified when I post new chapters.


Up until November 2015, I had no idea that the events I’d experienced were considered traumas. In fact, I was so determined to believe that they were no big deal, I’d repressed them almost completely. Any time you bottle something up, though, it almost always explodes on you.

And explode it did.

It wasn’t until I started seeing Dina*—a trauma-certified therapist—in November 2015 that I realized the things I’d experienced were not only traumatic, but also the root of the depression and anxiety that I’d been fighting for the past 15 years.

Trauma is any event that shatters your sense of safety and what you thought you knew about the world. Trauma is subjective, meaning that what might be traumatic for me may not affect you the same way, and vice versa. Examples of trauma include:

  • being bullied as a child
  • becoming sick with chronic illness and/or pain
  • getting into a car accident
  • having your area hit by a severe storm
  • being sexually or physically assaulted
  • serving in a war
  • having a miscarriage
  • the death of a loved one
  • and more

None of these examples are more or less traumatic. Everyone responds to stress in different ways.

Trauma develops into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when a person who has experienced one or multiple traumatic events becomes stuck in the brain’s natural fight/flight/freeze response. Most of us react in some way when something bad happens, but are able to calm down—especially once you realize that you’re safe.

For example, if you’re driving during a snowstorm and slide on ice, doing a complete 360° turn and nearly hitting a wall, you feel afraid. Your hands shake, your breathing and heart rate speed up, and your brain kickstarts the fight/flight/freeze response to help you get through the incident.

If you’re able to process the event—driving, snowstorm, icy roads under snow, spun, stopped before hitting the wall—you’ll realize you’re safe and your brain will shut off the fight/flight/freeze response.

If you’re not able to process our example event, though, you may start having nightmares about the incident (re-experiencing symptoms, or flashbacks). You refrain from driving yourself anywhere whenever it snows (avoidance symptoms). You snap at the people around you for seemingly no reason and have a hard time sleeping (arousal and reactivity symptoms). You may even completely forget that you nearly hit a wall while driving in the snow, but still believe that you’re a terrible driver when it snows (cognition and mood symptoms).

For years, all of these things were happening to me, and I had no idea why. I experienced recurring episodes of severe depression and anxiety. I saw nearly a dozen mental health professionals, who repeatedly misdiagnosed me. Many of them asked questions about my past, such as “Have you ever been raped?” But none of them ever mentioned that my past traumas could be causing my present symptoms.

I tried medication after medication—all of which affected me adversely, either intensifying my depression and anxiety or causing unusual side effects. One antidepressant, Viibryd, caused waking dreams, extremely vivid nightmares, and severe anxiety and depression. Still neither my therapist at the time nor the APRN who was prescribing me the medication ever realized that my problem was not chemical, which explained why antidepressants were not helping.

I hit my lowest point in October 2015 when, against my will, I was hospitalized under a physician’s certificate.

My APRN had recently taken me off one of my antidepressants, Wellbutrin, without weaning me, and I had a really hard time coming off them due to rapid withdrawal. Within days, I become barely recognizable.

I’d walk into a room and, unable to move, burst into uncontrollable tears.

I couldn’t do anything I loved—like writing my rockstar romance, the South of Forever series.

I kept having weird thoughts that were not my own, like “I wonder what would happen if I filled the tub, got in, and then threw a toaster in with me? Wait. Where the hell did that come from?!” The thoughts freaked me out, because I did not want to die.

I wasn’t able to eat, sleep, or shower and I spent every day on the couch watching TV shows and movies that I later wouldn’t remember.

It was absolutely terrifying, because I knew this wasn’t like my usual depression and anxiety.

I told Grace* (the therapist I was seeing at the time), and she told me there was nothing more she could do for me. I also told the APRN who prescribed the medication, and he decided I should also come off Abilify, the other antidepressant I was taking. When I asked if I should wean off, he insisted that I should be fine.

I wasn’t.


Note: This blog post is a raw, unedited chapter from my current work in progress, Writing Through Trauma. Part memoir and part inspiring instruction, Writing Through Trauma aims to help you write your way through difficult events in your life. Click here to join my email list to get notified when I post new chapters.


*Names have been changed for privacy.

December 2016 News and Goals

dec2016goals_12022016

I’m going to keep this one short, because my wrists and fingers aren’t happy with me right now.

First things first: What do you think of my new blog theme? Well, okay, it’s not new. It’s WordPress’s Twenty Fifteen theme. I think it’s slick!

Nerd things aside…

cover_ebook_jomm_600x900_11282016-2

Just One More Minute is now available. Grab your copy now!

Kindle · iBooks · Nook · Kobo · Google Play · More

Or, if you’d like a free copy in exchange for your honest review, please click here.

"Just One More Christmas" (Not Just Any Love Series, Book 1.5), by Elizabeth Barone

Speaking of Just One More MinuteI’m currently writing a Ro/Matt Christmas story, “Just One More Christmas”! It will be available very soon for $0.99. Make sure you’re on my email list; all my subscribers will get a free copy.

In case you missed it, I’m currently on hiatus from social media. Here’s why, and here’s a bit more of an in-depth post on my illness.

On to the goals!

I’m also reading a lot more. I missed reading! I recently finished I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai—the girl who fought for education and was shot in the head by the Taliban. It was an inspiring read, and also really insightful into the war on terror and its global effects. I strongly recommend every American reads it! We tend to live in a bubble out here.

I’ve also been reading Cold Fire by Dean Koontz—which is, as always, very good—and Chris Fox’s Write to Market. I’m learning a lot about writing better books, which is always a good thing! For some reason, I never finished David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital, so I restarted it. I think I just forgot I was reading it, to be honest. Brain=mush. Mostly, though, I’ve been focusing on the Koontz and Fox books. Then there are the many books on my iPad that are begging to be read…

Bookworm problems, am I right?

via GIPHY
via GIPHY

That’s it for my December goals!

What are yours? Leave me a comment and let me know!

You Don’t Know Exhausted Until

you-dont-know-%22exhausted%22I never followed up on my last health update (the one where I found out I was once again looking at a Lupus diagnosis). Since that post, I’ve gone into a full-throttle, super nasty flareup.

  • My pain has been steadily at 10/10 (8/10 at the lowest, with medication). I thought I had it under control after breaking up my Tramadol dose. Usually I take 100mg at bedtime, but I started taking 50mg in the morning and another 50mg at lunch instead, using my herbal medicine before bed to get me through the night. I got the idea to split my Tramadol from a friend, whose pain management doctor told her that Tramadol isn’t great for treating pain; you have to take it ahead of the pain—which I’ve long suspected. The downside to all of this Tramadol? TMI alert: I’ve been a little constipated, which I’m pretty sure is making my back pain worse.
  • Joint pain is symmetric, meaning both sides hurt. So both of my thumbs are painful and stiff, both knees, both elbows, etc. Oddly, my right side hurts more than the left in some cases; my right big toe, right hip, and right thumb have consistently been more swollen and painful than the left side. I suspect these joints all have bone spurs (Dr. Memet said she thought my toe did [both in the toe joint itself and the other nearby joints]—, my hip x-rays showed bone spurs, and my thumb feels exactly the same as the other joints do).
  • The pain is a hot ache and it radiates. But it also feels… bruised? There’s almost a throbbing, too; I can feel my joints swelling. It’s really hard to explain. Regardless, it feels fucking horrible.
  • My lower back is equally painful on each side, and very stiff. This morning Mike had to help me get dressed and put my slippers on. He had to help me sit and stand up multiple times. And every time I need to get something from one of our cabinets, he’s had to do it for me (our cabinets are underneath our counter—no overhead ones).
  • The pain wakes me up at night, multiple times. There have been a few nights where I couldn’t get comfortable and so didn’t sleep at all.
  • On top of the pain, I’m drained—no matter how much sleep I get. I’m not usually a napper, but I’ve been caving and taking naps. I’ve also been chugging Emergen-C like it’s my job. Neither that or coffee really help, though, so I’ve mostly been drinking plain water.
  • The only place I’m truly comfortable is on the couch. It curves nicely against my back and reclines, so I can get the pressure off my hips and knees too.
  • I need my cane while out and about—if I’m even up to leaving. I stayed home instead of going to a wedding reception this weekend. Today I basically haven’t moved from the couch, because walking and standing are sucky.

Since my last post, I found out that my anti-dsDNA was positive and pretty freakin’ high. A positive anti-dsDNA means:

  • there’s definitely something autoimmune going on
  • there’s a pretty good chance it’s Lupus
  • the immune system is attacking the DNA
  • the person is currently or about to be in a flareup
  • the higher the levels, the worse the flareup

My rheumatologist’s lab measures anything over a 10 as positive; my anti-dsDNA measured a 24. That’s more than double the normal level.

My rheumatologist said he doesn’t want to diagnose without a positive ANA, but I’ve found several medical journal articles that said doctors don’t need more than a positive anti-dsDNA to diagnose Lupus—especially with presenting symptoms. My rheumatologist said he was calling in Plaquenil, though—or so I thought. When I went to pick it up at my pharmacy, it wasn’t in. I checked the pharmacy several times, and they even checked other locations. No dice.

Honestly I’ve been so exhausted, not to mention tired of the medical merry-go-round, I haven’t called my rheumatologist’s office yet to see what happened with the ‘script. I was on the phone multiple times with them before and after my blood work came back, trying to resolve my bad appointment. I’m just sick of having to do all of this.

I have, however, been reading up on the anti-dsDNA, Lupus, and some other things.

  1. What Arthritis Pain Feels Like—It’s possible that I have both OA and RA (or Lupus). Dr. M told me I have bone spurs in multiple joints. However, some articles indicate that bone spurs can be caused by RA/autoimmune. It really depends on the author, as rheumatologists all have different opinions. Either way, this article describes my pain to a T.
  2. New Findings with Eppstein Barr Virus—I know one thing for sure: this all started after I had mono, which is caused by EBV. I thought this article was interesting, because even though it didn’t mention Lupus, it did mention some findings. For example, researchers believe that a healthy zinc level may keep chronic active EBV disease at bay. I’m wondering if my EBV is slowly evolving into Lupus. If so, could taking some of these supplements help keep flareups away? Or maybe it’s CAEBV? Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? Rheumatoid Arthritis? Lupus? Some combination of multiple or all of these? Can someone please get me some answers before I lose my mind? 😜
  3. Characterization and Treatment of CAEBV Disease—This article made me want to check my EBV levels; if nothing else, it’d be interesting to compare where they are during a flareup to their levels during remission.
  4. Understanding Lab Tests and Results for Lupus—This was the article that suggested rheumatologists only need positive anti-dsDNA and presenting symptoms to make a Lupus diagnosis and begin treatment.

    Anti-DsDNA is more specific to lupus than ANA and can be very valuable in making a diagnosis of lupus. […] If the anti-DsDNA levels are high, the disease is more likely to be active. There is either a current flare or a flare may be imminent.

  5. I’ve long been complaining about Connecticut healthcare. Recently I found another spoonie living in CT who, after years of getting nowhere, went to see a rheumatologist in Boston. Within a single office visit, he diagnosed her and began treatment. I’m starting to think it’s time to get an out-of-state opinion.
  6. She also has a post all about filing for disability, which really gave me hope because I thought after being rejected that there was no way I could get it. I know many people get rejected the first time and have to try again, try again, but I thought since I lost my diagnosis, I definitely didn’t have a chance. But it seems like, as long as you can prove your illness is affecting your ability to work—which it is—you can get disability.

I know I should’ve called both my primary and rheumatologist days ago, because even if they don’t feel like doing anything about it, at least this will be documented. It’s nearly time for a followup visit with my rheumatologist anyway, and I’m scheduled for a followup with my primary for November 17th. (Long story short: My primary wants me to come in every month in order to have my Tramadol refilled.) And my rheumatologist wanted to check my levels again in another month.

I’m out of ink (and can’t afford more right now, sigh); I’d really like to print off these articles as well as a list—my current symptoms, things I’ve tried, goals that I have, etc—and bring them in with me. I’ve started looking for rheumatologists in Boston who take my insurance (spoiler: there aren’t many), and I’m considering picking one and calling to make an appointment. But it’s a three-hour drive there, and we’re barely scraping by—never mind able to afford a trip to Massachusetts and back. I’m really starting to think it’s worth the risk, though.

I also need to get my medical records from Dr. Mongelluzzo (my former primary) and Dr. Greco (my first rheumatologist who retired, which was why I started seeing Dr. M); those records have blood work showing positive anti-dsDNA (and I’m pretty sure a positive ANA, too). I’d like copies for myself, rather than transferring them over. For one, it’s just good to have them. And two, I don’t trust Dr. S to actually read through them (nor do I trust Mongelluzzo’s office to actually fax them over, as I’ve had so many issues with them in the past; they’re very nice but extremely busy). I’d like to make copies of my copies for Dr. S, and highlight things that fit into the puzzle. Basically, I have to be my own detective and advocate.

The problem is, I need to get into Waterbury and sign a release form for each of them (the offices are across the city from each other). This is also a gas money issue. And, I have to pay for copies of my medical records from Dr. Mongelluzzo (I’m not sure about Greco’s office). A friend got copies of hers, and it was something like $2 a page—so I know my records are going to be hefty, since I was there for several years.

So maybe now you can see why I’m so doctor-fatigued. 😂

It’s all got to be done, though, if I’m ever going to get anywhere. I’d really like to start moving forward, because I’ve been in limbo for the past nine years. I mean, I dropped out of the university I was attending for my B.S. in Elementary Education because I was so sick. And I never went back. I’m still paying off those student loans. Even though I really love being an author, it’s not enough. We’re drowning here; I’m frustrated because I can’t work, and Mike is frustrated because his job doesn’t pay enough and he can’t seem to find anything else. It’s kind of funny because we both really want to take care of each other.

He insists that he can handle everything if he finds something better; I insist that, if only I could get better, I could work too and he wouldn’t have to stress it.

I keep hoping that if I work hard enough, write better books, and write enough books, we won’t even have to worry about it anymore. But the reality is, even if I became the best author in the world with the most published books ever, it’s not always possible to make a living. I mean, maybe I’m being cynical and negative, but someone has to be on the low end of the spectrum. Not everyone can be a NYT/USAT bestselling author or even mid-list.

Heavy sigh.

On the plus side, I’ve been pouring all of this frustration into my work in progress (SOF4). Speaking of, I broke 12K last night! *happy couch dance*

I should mention again that I have a GoFundMe page open and, if you’re an author looking for services or just want to help, you can donate and help us catch up on bills. Click here.

Anyway, I think I’ve burbled on enough for now. Thanks for listening. 💜

Elizabeth Barone

November 2016 News and Goals

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

Just One More Minute comes out in 12 days! You can pre-order your copy for only $0.99 here. Books2Read will either automagically detect your favorite retailer, or you can choose from their list.

It’s a beautiful thing indeed.

This month is already proving to be a tough one, so I’m trying to take it easy. Easier said than done, of course. I’m flaring hard, so pacing and resting are important. But I also have a release, which means promotion! And of course I’m writing SOF4 (see my latest update here).

Goals for November

  • Write at least 50K for Twisted Broken Strings (South of Forever, Book 4). (My total goal is 75K, but I’m taking it slow.)
  • Release Just One More Minute. Thank goodness for pre-order. I don’t have to lift a finger on release day, other than to change the price to $2.99. I’m also looking for bloggers who’d like to share Chapter 1 sometime this month, and maybe even review an ARC. If that sounds like you, you can sign up here.
  • Finish beta reading for my CP. She is seriously a doll; I’ve been taking way longer than forever on this and she’s been nothing but patient. The worst part is, I love her novel! Time is not my friend.

There are a lot of other things I’d like to do, but I’ll be grateful if I can accomplish these three. I’ve been scheduling important social media posts so that I don’t have to spend a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook (plus I can get some extra rest). I struggled a lot with doing this—in my silly mind, I felt like scheduling them was disingenuous. But Rachel Thompson and all the wonderful people in #bookmarketingchat assured me that it’s all still me, and that it’ll make my life so much easier. They were totally right.

Speaking of chats, I’d really like to make more of these. Unfortunately, by the time they start I’m usually shot for the day. That’s typically the hour that all I’m good for is curling up in front of the TV and fighting sleep. There are some really good ones, too, so it’s a bummer. If this sounds like you, let’s high five and make matching #TeamTiredAuthor T-shirts.

I’ve slowed way down with my reading. I still have the rest of Claire Contreras’s Hearts series, and my pre-order of J.C. Hannigan’s Rebel Heart came in and I can’t wait to re-read it! Plus I have about a dozen books I’ve bought but have yet to read. Reader/writer problems, am I right?

However, I’ve started writing morning pages again! I’m beyond broke, so I picked up an $0.88 composition notebook. My pages are not usually in the morning; often I’m scribbling in them just before bed, to try to alleviate my mind. Not to mention it kills my wrist and fingers. But I get those three pages done anyway.

There are a few writing books I’d like to pick up, especially Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant’s The One with All the Writing Advice. I’m fascinated by the concept of cultural shorthand. I also realized I never finished Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering. I didn’t even make it halfway through, because there was so much to absorb. But I think I’m ready now.

So many books, so little time.

My GoFundMe page for donations and author services to help my husband and me catch up on bills is still up. I was able to pay a couple of bills thanks to your help, but we have a long way to go. We didn’t make our electricity bill, so we now owe that plus next month’s. I’m thinking of coming off the budget plan, because ours is set way higher than what we’re actually using, and keeping up with it is killing us. It’s only in the brutally cold January and February that we go over and it comes in handy. If you’re an author in need of budget-friendly services or would just like to help, you can donate here.

This month What Happens on Tour (South of Forever, Book 3) is part of Kobo’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend sale. It will be $0.99 from November 22nd to 28th, no code required! And the first book in the series, Diving Into Him, is forever free (everywhere). So if you’ve been eyeing the South of Forever series and are a Kobo reader (you can even use their free app), now’s a great time to start. I recommend getting the free Book 1, then the $2.99 Book 2. Then when the sale goes live, pick up Book 3 for only $0.99! Check out the series page on Kobo here.

A lot of people ask me when I’ll have paperbacks in stock again. I have a few on hand in my office that I’m using as rewards for the GoFundMe. Eventually I’d like to get all of my books back in print, but here’s the thing: it’s less budget-friendly than publishing an ebook. If you’d like a paperback, please consider picking up an ebook copy and telling your friends. My hope is, once I get ahead of my bills, I can finally get started on paperbacks.

I think that’s it for now. To keep up with everything I’m doing, join my email list!

NaNoWriMo Week 1 Wrap-Up!

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

The first week of NaNoWriMo is officially behind us now! I have a lot going on in my personal life (nasty flareup, financial stress, very sick relative I’m worried about), so I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like to. Still, I’m pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished so far.

Title: Twisted Broken Strings
Series: South of Forever, Book 4
Word Count Goal: 75,000
Current Word Count: 9,078 10,021

Admittedly, I’d written about 4K before NaNo started. Listen. Every month is National Novel Writing Month for me, okay? My production schedule waits for no NaNo, and all that. I’m just grateful that things fell this way so I can actually participate this year.

😂 I’M A PUBLISHED AUTHOR I DO WHAT I WANT DON’T JUDGE ME 😂

That said, my word count goal for this book is high. 75K?! I tried to whittle it down, I really did. The other SOF books are about 60K each, give or take. But Krista and Perry’s story, well, it needed a little more than that. There’s no way I’ll write 75K by the end of this month, though. Not with the condition my wrists—and the rest of my joints—are in. I do think I’ll hit the NaNo goal of 50K, though. Slow and steady wins this race, my friends. Hell, I’ll even write 54K, just to make up for that 4K I wrote before the official start. 😉

With every novel I write, I try to learn a new technique. Here’s what I’m doing with Twisted Broken Strings! (Possible spoiler alerts, so reader beware.)

  • Giving an antagonist a “save the cat” redeeming quality or two. So far, we’ve come to hate Saul (lead singer of King Riley), and we have a lot of reason to. But we’ve barely gotten to really know him—the real Saul. Krista gives us that perspective. Saul is her brother, and he’s made a lot of mistakes, but she knows he isn’t all bad. She’s just as concerned for him as she is for Jett and Max. I’m hoping that softens him a bit in my readers’ eyes. Krista reflects on good deeds he’s done and her worry for his sobriety (and safety).
  • “We’ll never speak of this again.” I can’t remember the name of this writing technique—brain fog, the horrors!—but basically something happens that the reader and/or other characters aren’t aware of that no one wants to talk about. Between SOF3 and SOF4, South of Forever goes on a regional headliner to promote their EP (and to shake off the disastrous tour with King Riley). This happens off-screen, and during that time, a thing happens that affects the plot of SOF4—a lot. It’s hinted at a couple times, and eventually revealed to the reader so that the reader can commiserate with Krista. This wasn’t part of my original outline, so I’m pantsing the big reveal. After talking with my CP, I determined that I definitely don’t want to reveal it too early… but also don’t want to wait until the very end, either.
  • #OwnVoices. Twisted Broken Strings is my very first #OwnVoices novel—my MC Krista is disabled, like me, dealing with similar struggles I had in college and have now. There’s no magic cure for her at the end; where I’m still undiagnosed, I’ve diagnosed her with Lupus (since that’s a possibility for me), which is an autoimmune disease with no cure. Krista’s Lupus isn’t the main plot, but it impacts the story a lot. It’s simultaneously cathartic and really freakin’ hard to write about this. I really want to show people that just because you don’t “look” sick, it doesn’t mean you’re not struggling—and you can also lead a fulfilling life. I’ve had #OwnVoices supporting characters before, and included bits from different areas of my own life in several novels, but never like this.

So despite gimping along, I’m pretty satisfied with this week’s progress.

How many words have you written so far this week? Tell me where you’re at in the comments below!


ED: I ended up doing some writing today, so I’ve updated this post to reflect my new word count for the week!

5 Last-Minute Tips for Your #NaNoWriMo Novel

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) starts tomorrow, and whether you’re a procrastinator at heart, joining at the last minute, or just coming off another project, you’re totally scrambling. Have no fear! I’ve done a few NaNos—my debut novel was one of my past projects—and as of the 18th I’ll have 10 published novels under my belt, so I’ve got some quick and easy tips for you to make a comeback.

Don’t know what to write about?

Sometimes just coming up with a plot feels impossible. Or maybe you’ve got too many ideas. Try the method I used to write my next release, Just One More Minute.

  • Pull up Google and search for tropes in your favorite genre. (I typed in “romance fiction tropes” and found Mindy Klasky’s super detailed list.)
  • Look through as many lists as possible. Grab a piece of paper and jot down the ones that sound intriguing to you. (I really liked the “enemies to lovers” and “office romance” tropes.)
  • Go through your list. Are there any two or three tropes that might fit together? Do they work with any ideas you might already have?
  • Write up a quick synopsis in one to three sentences using the tropes you’ve chosen.

Bam! You’ve got a novel.

(Need a little more guidance? See this post.)

Need a super simple plot structure?

When I first started writing longer fiction, I booed anything remotely resembling an outline. Too many years having roman numerals driven into my head, I guess. I wrote by the seat of my pants, which was a lot of fun, but I had trouble finishing anything longer than 10,000 words. It wasn’t until I combined plotting and pantsing that I created a process that works best for me.

One thing I’ve found really useful is the classic three-act plot structure. Harlequin has a fantastic breakdown of this, along with a dissection of the movie Mean Girls as an example. There are all kinds of plot structures, but I’ve found the three-act one to work best for me; that way, I don’t try to cram too much into one novel (though I do often have one or more subplots running, and usually have to do some wiggling to work them into the three-act structure).

I especially love how Harlequin explains each section, and I found analyzing Mean Girls really helped clarify things.

Bonus points if you can sneak in a try/fail cycle into your Act II!

Running out of character names?

I have one rule of thumb when it comes to naming my characters: don’t name two characters with the same first letter. I’m a speed reader, so when I’m in the zone, I get really thrown off if there are three characters whose names start with the letter S and five whose names all start with J. I heard somewhere that this isn’t good practice, as most readers get confused. Of course, even if the first few character names come easily, it gets harder and harder to find fitting names.

That’s when I turn to Google and start looking for “popular girls names 2016,” “girls names that start with a c,” or even just “girls names.” I especially like Nameberry and BabyCenter, since their sites are well organized. I just scroll through until I land on something that screams my character to me.

For last names, I tend to jack them from real people I know or have met. I think real last names are more interesting than any you could look up online. (Skimming through “common Puerto Rican surnames,” for example, can get repetitive, but running through my Puerto Rican friends on Facebook gets me some really strong and unique last names.)

Worried you won’t finish?

Find someone who will hold you accountable. Whether it’s a friend, your blog readers, or another writer, tell them what you’re doing, your goal for the month, and how many words you want to write every day. Ask them to check in with you (or, my personal favorite, share your progress with your Twitter followers every evening).

In the past, I’ve even posted chapters on my blog or Wattpad as I’ve written. Having someone cheer you on is extremely helpful.

You can find local NaNoers by choosing a region in your account settings, then visiting the forums and checking the write-in schedule. Even if you never physically make it to an event, you can chat with other writers in your area right in the forums.

You can also add me on NaNoWriMo and follow me on Twitter. 😉

Don’t know how to start?

Sometimes that first sentence can be the most intimidating. Seasoned authors will tell you to “just start,” but it’s often easier said than done. If you’re staring at a blank page and that little blinking cursor is taunting you, try this.

Good novels are born from conflict; it keeps the writer churning out words and the reader turning pages. Instead of starting your book off by laying out the scene, throw your main character and another character right into it. Maybe there’s an argument, or something happens to throw off your protagonist’s entire day before they’ve even left the house. Keep throwing wrench after wrench into their plans, until you’re ready to introduce the main problem.

(Which, by the way, should be done in the first or second chapter.)

If your main character is busy putting out fires, you’ll never be stuck, and you’ll have plenty to work with.

Happy NaNoing!

XOXO,
Elizabeth Barone

Were these tips helpful? Do you have any last-minute NaNo tips? Let me know in the comments below!