If You’re Not #OwnVoices, Maybe You Shouldn’t Write It

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Trigger Warning: The following discusses self-injury.

A couple days ago, a book blogger posted a photo on Instagram that several members of her audience and the book community felt triggered by. In the photo, she’d painted her hand and arm blue and added bleeding cut marks in gold. When several people politely pointed out that her photo was making them think of self-harming, she became defensive, saying she hadn’t read the book yet and didn’t know that it was harmful. She continued by stating that because she’s an artist, her photo can’t possibly be harmful because it’s art. (See screenshots of the photo and one of her comments here; the rest of her and others’ comments have been mysteriously deleted.)

It got worse from there. While more people politely spoke up and said that they too felt triggered by the photo, she became more defensive and began accusing these people of bullying her. She began deleting anyone’s comments who disagreed with her, and invited her friends to jump in and defend her from this horde of mean people recovering from self-harm. Other people started jumping in, saying “Well, it doesn’t bother me, so it shouldn’t bother you.”

When someone tells you “This hurts me, please stop,” your job is not to get defensive or angry. Your job is to listen to the human being in front of you. An appropriate response would be “I’m so sorry. I had no idea but I’m listening and I’d like to talk about this so I can do better.”

Whenever this happens, though, it’s almost always a marginalized person being bullied by a person of privilege. This blogger had no idea the effect of her photo because she’s never suffered from self-harm. She even admitted it herself, saying something to the effect of “I have depression and anxiety, but never self-harmed, so no one should be bothered by this.”

If you don’t know what the motherloving hell you’re talking about, maybe you should just not.

The book in question is Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth—a book that has been discussed to great extent for its many problematic themes. There are so many issues with this book, it’d take me a whole other blog post and then some to cover them, so I’m not going to go into detail. What I am going to talk about, though, is how privileged authors and their hordes of privileged fans are doing the marginalized communities that they pretend to serve more harm than good.

This should be obvious, right? Gather ’round. I’ll Liz-splain it to you, in case it isn’t.

Here’s how this goes down. Authors like Roth—who don’t suffer from chronic pain or self-harm, and are white—decide they want to tell a story. Maybe their intentions are good. Maybe they genuinely want to shine light on what it’s like to struggle with self-injury and chronic pain while showing the world that dark-skinned people are not dangerous by default. But in their lack of experience, their inherent prejudices show through. You don’t have to be purposely hateful to be prejudiced, by the way. This is another thing that privileged people can’t seem to wrap their heads around, but I digress.

Roth’s portrayal of these themes is problematic because of her lack of experience and neglect to consult anyone with those experiences. Often privileged authors go dancing into writing a diverse book like they’re doing marginalized communities some great big favor. They’re not.

Look, I’m a huge advocate for diverse books. I believe that the more of us who are writing them responsibly, the more normal they become. Readers won’t have to search very hard to find characters like them. But if you can’t be bothered to admit that something is outside your area of expertise and find an editor plus beta and sensitivity readers who do have that knowledge, then you shouldn’t bother to write that book. Leave that space for someone who does know what they’re talking about.

It’s pretty simple.

And if your fans are behaving problematically, posting triggering photos without regard for the people who are very nicely speaking up about it, then your book is acting as a catalyst for abuse, completely condoned by your flippant interview responses.

As authors, we have a responsibility for the weight of our words. There’s nothing wrong with including a particular topic or theme in our books—so long as it isn’t inappropriately glorified or vilified. We can’t control how our words are interpreted, nor can we control our readers’ actions, but we can do our very best to articulate ourselves well. That’s our damned job, after all.

I’ve been seeing a lot of marginalized people asking non-#OwnVoices people to stop writing diverse books, and I’m inclined to completely agree with them. Even when privileged authors do so responsibly, those who think they’re above serving their readers with care ruin it for everyone else. There are so many POC, chronic pain patients, and survivors of self-harm who should’ve had this publishing opportunity over someone who has never experienced these things and can’t possibly understand the perspective she’s written from.

I’m all for bringing diversity into your fiction whenever you can, but this attitude that some authors have—this sense of entitlement that they can do whatever they want and too bad for anyone who’s hurt by it—needs to stop. It’s a message loud and clear to your horde of privileged readers that it’s okay to treat other people with the same prejudice and disrespect.

We see you.

What I’m Working On (Release News and More)

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Occasionally I like to check in with my goals for the year and to share with you what I’m currently working on. Usually it’s not this late in the year but I’ve been crazy busy! If you want a better idea of what’s up, join my FREE email list to get my newsletter.

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2016 Goals

This year, my goals were:

  • release something every 2-3 months
  • write six new novels
  • maybe join a social club
  • read more books
  • practice acceptance

I’ve done pretty well on all of these so far.

A couple of my releases were actually re-releases through my now closed publisher, but I released books in March, June, and August, and have a new release scheduled for November 18th. That book is Just One More Minute, a standalone NA romance in a duology, and I’ll be sharing more details soon.

I definitely didn’t write six books, but I’m extremely proud of the two I have written so far this year. One of those was Just One More Minute, and the other was the first in a new series that you’ll be hearing about probably in 2018.

Though I didn’t join a social club, I did work really hard on my PTSD. A lot of my anxiety eased up this year, and I was able to get out and enjoy lots of activities with friends and family. Much of the work I did was practicing acceptance, and I’ve forgiven myself and recognized that none of the traumas I’ve endured were my fault. That, to me, would’ve been a win enough for the year.

But I also managed to squeeze in lots of reading. You can see some of the books I read this summer here. I’ve also read the much talked about Author Anonymous by E.K. Blair and the beautiful Pretty Pink Ribbons by K.L. Grayson, which I’ll gush about in my autumn reading wrap-up in December.

This year didn’t go as planned—as life usually tends to do—but I’m extremely proud of every single second of it.

Writing and Release News

As I mentioned, I’ll be releasing a standalone NA romance on November 18th. Just One More Minute is part of a small town duology; this book is a complete standalone about Rowan and Matt, and the other book is a complete standalone about Char and Amarie (release date TBA). It will be available on all ebook retailers for $2.99, though I may be running a promo for the first few days. The duology name is Not Just Any Love.

I am currently working on the fourth South of Forever book, tentatively titled Dancing on Broken Strings. The book is outlined and was going to be the final book in the series, but after reading through some recent reviews and seeing how much readers love these characters, I knew I had to write more. Plus, if I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t ready to let go of Jett, Koty, and the gang, either. The fourth book will release in early 2017, and then I’m going to take a break because…

…it’s time to focus on wrapping up the Comes in Threes trilogy. I never meant to be away from this series for so long. When I released Crazy Comes in Threes in 2013, I had every intention of immediately writing and releasing the other two books. But I had a really hard time writing Trouble Comes in Threes. The story hits so close to home, and I was dealing with some other personal things. Then I signed with a small press and it felt like the right choice to focus on my rockstar romance series. I never stopped thinking about Quinn and Tara, though, and over the last three years countless readers have asked me when their story will continue. It’s high time. I am currently outlining the sequel and, as long as my body cooperates, will be writing it as soon as I’m finished with the fourth SOF book.

I’m hesitant to post any kind of release schedule, because both life and the publishing industry are unpredictable. However, for those of you who like neat lists, my tentative schedule looks something like this:

November 18th, 2016
Just One More Minute
Standalone, Not Just Any Love

Winter 2017
Dancing on Broken Strings
Book 4, South of Forever

Spring 2017
Trouble Comes in Threes
Book 2, Comes in Threes

Book 3, Comes in Threes

Summer 2017
Book 5, South of Forever

Dates may change, of course, and I may switch up the fifth SOF book with the Char/Amarie book or another standalone, depending on how things go. However, the plan is for the SOF series to be my main, longer series, with releases alternating with shorter series and standalones.


30% off THE NANNY WITH THE SKULL TATTOOSThe Nanny with the Skull Tattoos is 30% off on Kobo through October 31st! Use code 30OCT at checkout. You can download the Kobo app on your smartphone or tablet for FREE. Click here to purchase your copy.

7-spooky-storiesJust in time for Halloween, my short story collection The Last Minute Before Midnight is back on Kindle Unlimited! Click here to read for FREE with your KU subscription, or to purchase for $2.99.

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To Be Understood

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Recently I found out that the depression and anxiety I’ve been dealing with isn’t chemical, isn’t major depressive disorder or dysthymia or bipolar disorder, but is actually the result of multiple traumas—probably PTSD. And the more I learn about trauma and how it affects the brain, the more what my new therapist says makes perfect sense. All of this misery started fifteen years ago for me, directly after a majorly traumatic event. Since then, I’ve been through several other traumatic ordeals. I didn’t even think of them as traumas until long after they’d happened; for years, I thought of them as Things Not to Think About.

But the thing is, our brains remember these things whether we want to or not. These events become dark spots in our memory, resulting in behavior and feelings that make us think we’re crazy—especially if we’re not connecting them to those Things Not to Think About. This is why trauma is frequently misdiagnosed. Many mental health professionals know about trauma but aren’t trained enough to recognize the signs, to see where trauma has been confused for something else.

I spent years careening from professional to professional, pill to pill. None of it worked. A psychiatrist reasoned that this was because I have bipolar disorder when, in actuality, the problem wasn’t chemical at all. No wonder antidepressants weren’t working (or, more often, making me feel worse)! This same psychiatrist speculated that it must be bipolar, because I’m an artist and “lots of artists are bipolar.”

Our mental health system may help a lot of people, but it’s also a very flawed system.

Up until last month, my coping method for those Things Not to Think About was to avoid them like the fucking plague. I know now that this was how I tried to protect myself. Turns out, avoiding these things actually made me feel worse. I ran and ran, spiraling into depression and anxiety, sometimes feeling better but never for very long.

My new therapist is working very closely with me. She tells me that I need to accept the things that have happened. First, though, I have to face them. I have to acknowledge that they happened.

I’ve been in denial so long, I don’t know how to face these things. Even when I do, I gloss over them and try to make a joke. Laughter is my coping mechanism. I laugh at everything—nervous, awkward laughter. And by avoiding everything for so long, I’ve racked up a hefty amount of shame. I think our society often shames or even blames victims so much that when we become victims, we are afraid to even acknowledge to ourselves what happened. So many women don’t report sexual assault, for example, for multiple reasons. Fear. Inability to prove anything. Embarrassment. So these women remain silent, hoping that they can just put it behind them.

The crazy thing is, social workers and primary care physicians have started asking patients standard questions—”Have you ever been physically assaulted? Have you ever been sexually assaulted?”—and then, when the patient answers “Yes,” do nothing. They make a note of it and move on to the next question or to the flu that needs to be treated.

Our society is good at ignoring trauma. The military, for example, fails to treat many veterans who experienced horrific things while serving. I knew someone who, while in the Navy, had to gun down children. He never received treatment. Before he enlisted, he was a charming and handsome young man who laughed a lot. He came back very wrong, saying and doing things that were sometimes weird and other times frightening.

After Columbine, 9/11, and Sandy Hook, as a nation we barely took time to grieve. We’re so good at ignoring our pain.

All I want for Christmas this year is to get past those Things Not to Think About, but it could take months or even years before I recover. I’ve carried these things with me and avoided them for so long, it sometimes feels like an impossible task. In the safety of my own head, I can think about them for fleeting moments without panicking. If asked to talk about them, at best I can gloss over them quickly as if reading facts off a piece of paper. At worst, I shut down completely. Ideally, I’d like to be able to get to the point where I can write about them here, telling my story in an attempt to help others.

But that terrifies me, because then people will know.

It all comes back down to the shame.

There are things I’m afraid to talk about for many reasons, but what holds me back the most is the fear that people won’t believe me. There are a lot of people who have been worried about me, baffled by my increasingly odd behavior. I know I don’t owe them any explanation, but my soul cries to be understood. And I know I couldn’t take that kind of rejection.

But I want to come out of the dark. I want to help others who might be dealing with the same things. And I really, really want to save myself. Lately I’ve felt like I’m not really living, like I’m walking and talking but kind of a zombie. I’d really like to take my life back.

I think everyone deep down just wants to be understood.

Why I Decided to Stop Taking Antidepressants

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I have depression. The kind that I have is cyclic and incurable, though they tell me that it’s treatable. A few months ago, I started feeling less motivated. I had been medication free for a little while after a really bad experience on Viibryd, but my therapist and I determined that it might be a good idea to get back on something. My APRN—who prescribes my psychiatric medication—agreed. So we started me on Abilify.

Within a couple of weeks, I was feeling productive again and less depressed. I felt more like myself. But a couple months later, I felt myself slipping into a downward spiral. So we added on Wellbutrin. And for a little while, it seemed like it was helping.

Until it wasn’t.

My APRN decided to take me off the Wellbutrin. And even though I’d been on the lowest dose, I crashed. Hard. For two weeks straight, I burst into tears at random. I completely stopped working. My self-esteem plummeted. All I wanted to do was sleep. I struggled against suicidal thoughts. I had wave after wave of panic attacks.

My mental healthcare team decided to take me off the Abilify as well. I’d been taking a moderately low dose, but my APRN told me that I didn’t need to wean off. I should’ve known better; I’m very, very sensitive to these meds. But honestly, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I stopped taking Abilify cold turkey.

My APRN and therapist talked me into trying another antidepressant, Effexor. I let the APRN call the prescription in to my pharmacy. I had every intention of giving it a shot.

Until I started feeling worse.

I had a terrible time coming off of Abilify. Though I no longer felt suicidal, I completely stopped caring about anything. Getting out of bed took monumental effort. I wandered through my days, exhausted. I cried all the time for no reason.

Antidepressants tend to have an adverse effect on me. When I was fifteen, Zoloft turned me into a zombie. Ten years later, Prozac made me suicidal. Viibryd almost killed me. Lately I’ve wondered more and more whether I have any business taking these drugs. I know they help some people. But the fact of the matter is, we don’t really know why these medications work. We don’t know much about the brain, and we know even less about mental illness. More and more, I’m wondering if putting these chemicals into my body is doing more harm than good.

After some thought, I’ve decided not to start Effexor. I want to give myself more time to heal from coming off of Wellbutrin and Abilify. These medications alter your brain chemistry; coming off of them throws things out of whack even more. As your body gets used to being without them, your brain chemistry changes yet again.

Honestly, I’m terrified to throw anything else into that mix. No matter how bad I’ve been feeling, I want to get better. I’m truly scared of what might happen if I try yet another antidepressant.

The past few weeks are a blur to me. I’m not writing anymore. I’m barely working at all. Deadlines are looming and part of me could care less while the other part is horrified that I’m so apathetic. Everyone I know is worried about me; I’m worried about myself.

I’ve hit rock bottom.

But I don’t plan on giving up.

I’m fighting for my life, one minute at a time. See, I want to live. I want to feel better. I want to be writing again.

And I will.

In the meantime, I need to heal—without pharmaceutical help.

I honestly am beginning to think that I have treatment-resistant depression. I’ve tried multiple medications from each class. I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was fifteen. Yet nothing seems to help. I’m looking into alternative treatment options. I’m also considering getting another opinion on my diagnosis; in the early 2000s, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, yet more recently I was re-diagnosed with dysthymia. I’m wondering if I’ve been misdiagnosed. A social worker once told me that she thought I have bipolar disorder. It would explain the cycles I go through. If I’ve been incorrectly diagnosed, the proper diagnosis could unlock the key for treating my depression.

So that’s where I’ve been, why I’ve been so quiet, and partially why I’ve slowed down a lot. Like a bad cold, I’ve got to ride this out and take good care of myself in the meantime. And eventually, this will pass and I’ll be even stronger.

As the Buddhist saying goes, “This too.”

“I’m not giving up
I’m just giving in”

To me, this means to stop thrashing against it and instead, float for a little while, letting my mind, body, and spirit rest. This song perfectly explains that need to just let go.