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Friday, July 11, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Hallucinations and Angels

Dear Jeannie, 

Susan is a good girl, who survived the 60's without falling into drugs or too much social revolution. Mostly because the Dark Woman in the corner didn't like her leaving the house. Susan has enough crazy going on already in her family's home of locked doors and midnight fights, she doesn't need any new hallucinations. But she's come to a point where reality is pretty mixed up, which has led to her being institutionalized for an undiagnosed disorder (not schizophrenia, but close) in the spring of '71. What are some of the treatment options available for her? I'd like for her to get better, but a part of that healing will also involve an attraction to one of her doctors. I'd like for this to be mutual, but right now she's doing a lot of pacing, insomnia, and writing down the Dark Woman's orders so she can tear up the pages. Not mainstream appealing. What boundaries should I be careful of, to make sure that the healing and the relationship both remain stable and healthy? 

Caged in Connecticut

Dear Caged,

Some clarification would be needed to address this question. Is the Dark Woman indeed a hallucination? Does Susan actually see an apparition in the corner of her home? Hear this person talk to her and give orders? Or is this Dark Woman a part of Susan's own self? I'm trying to determine if she actually as dissociative identity disorder (which would have been called multiple personality disorder back then) rather than schizophrenia. However, assuming that she's just hearing and seeing the Dark Woman, as a hallucination, then she'd be institutionalized at the early 70s with schizophrenia, not an undiagnosed disorder. After some cursory research online, as schizophrenia in the 70s is not my specialty (lol!), I found a research paper in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry that discussed on page 160 [second full paragraph] an innovative method started in the 70s to treat schizophrenia that your doctor might just be a proponent of. Let me know what you think! He could be slipping her fish oil tablets to get better....

Dear Jeannie: 

In my book that I started years ago, and have worked on in an on-again, off-again fashion, I have dealt with an angel coming to check on the emotional health of angels who now live on earth. We discussed the main characters way back in the summer of 2009 (June/July time frame). One of the things my angel therapist has to do is counsel a human woman who is a school teacher who becomes involved both emotionally and physically with one of her students. This has been in the news several times, and I decided to make it part of the plot of my book. Can you help guide me with how you would provide therapy to this kind of woman, or at least point me to one of your blog posts that have dealt with this issue? I would be most appreciative. 

"Fictional Counselor"

Dear "Fictional Counselor,"

I remember the plot well. Thought it a most interested twist on angels. You didn't mention the age difference between the teacher and the student, but perhaps that is only secondary to the nature of your question. A few topics come to mind that I'd want to tackle with this woman, namely self-esteem, co-dependency, and healthy boundaries. I'm never surprised when poor decisions are trace back to low self-esteem and confidence. Likely, you'd have to have the angel therapist dig into the teacher's background. How did her dad treat her? Was her mom complicit in this treatment? I'd
probably do some transactional analysis stuff with her (look on my sidebar for all my posts dealing with that subject). The teacher received her view of men initially from her dad. Perhaps, if she had an abusive father, a younger male student was seen as less threatening, someone she could control and not be afraid of. These are just a few of the areas that I'd start with and I'd want to use talk therapy with her, perhaps some artistic pursuits to bring out the creative side of communication. I always let clients decide where we go, so it's a bit unusual of a question, but that's where my initial thoughts went. Hope that helps! Good luck.


I might have answers. Fill out the form below, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle, and I'll answer them in future Dear Jeannie columns.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Young Adults Changing Life Trajectories

Dear Jeannie,

Airi watched most of her village get slaughtered. Those with silver eyes like her were spared, only to be tortured to death by the sadistic soldiers at the order of the Emperor. Airi saw her mother die this way. Airi was on her way to the same fate when she was rescued. Airi was a gentle young woman who loved people and helped them where she could. She was even training to become a healer. Airi was a strong, independent woman. Would something like this turn her into someone who was no longer self reliant? Would it be plausible for her to turn from a gentle healer into someone who would kill others like the soldiers who destroyed her village and tortured her with her healing skills? Would she have trust issues with those who rescued her? Thanks for the help.

Airi's sadistic author 

Dear Sadistic,

Its hard enough to grieve the loss of someone you love, much less to watch them die. Add the context of her mother's death, and the pending doom of a similar reality, and all bets are off. I guess what I'm saying is that you could have her go either way: maintaining her independence, fiercely protective of it, remembering what it was like to be in captivity and to be fearful all the time, determined not to be so again. Or you could have her grow angry and bitter at her circumstances, and possibly seek retribution for for the evils she endured (think Linda Hamiliton in Terminator 2). Sometimes these individuals are so cunning that they relish the opportunity to use the same weapons against their enemies that were used against them. I don't think she'd have trust issues with her rescuers though. Of all you wrote, that seemed the most improbable. When you are in a life and death situation and someone rescues you, you'd be more likely to be grateful for the salvation, not suspicious. Hope this helps!

Dear Jeannie,

Davin lives, eats, sleeps, breathes his squire training. Every decision this young man makes is oriented towards becoming a strong and capable knight. Until he goes home for the summer, for the first time in about five years. His parents let slip that he's betrothed to the king's daughter. Putting two and two together, Davin is pretty sure this means he has somehow become heir apparent for the throne. He knows the princess, and even likes her, but this is not part of his plan. As a 13-year-old, how is he going to process this information? My plot calls for him to make a new plan about this--at a fairly adult level--but I'm not sure he's at a point where he can think through the steps and consequences necessary to get where he's going. He's a stubborn, sincere boy who loves order and dislikes deviating from a tested, proven method or structure. (The princess in question is a strong-willed rule-breaker with an impulse-control problem, though Davin has found that she redirects her energy in healthy channels when he supports her unconventional goals.) Can this boy get from childhood to adulthood with his plans intact, or will he allow someone else to choose his future?

Courtly in Cornwall 

Dear Courtly,

At age 13, this young boy should be more interested in social relationships that you've indicated he is. Perhaps he's not into girls yet enough to want to give up his plans, but then I'd definitely make his knight training a tight-knit cohort of young men, because that's the stage of psychosocial development he's in. If in your story world you've normed 13-year-olds being betrothed, then he should react in the typical fashion. But for someone so driven to be a knight, he might definitely be irritated. In his push to fit in to a group of people. he might have defaulted to the knight trainees as his "peeps." But I just didn't get a sense of why he's so motivated to be a knight. Most young boys just want to play and goof around. Yes, he'd be trying to figure out who he is and what he wants to do. He'd want to establish his role as a knight, and participate in all the activities knights-in-training do. He might even see the princess as some sort of project to channel his abilities into (like he's trying to salvage her from being so headstrong but learns something from her in the process...that there's life to live out there). I'd welcome additional question if you'd lile to dialogue about this. Good luck!


I might have answers. Fill out the form below, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle, and I'll answer them in future Dear Jeannie columns.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Sensory and Sleep Deprivation

Dear Jeannie,

Genesis was the first of a powerful race, who came to be viewed as gods by the other race indigenous to that part of the world. Most of this powerful race came up with a plan that would have harmed this less powerful race and Genesis was forced to destroy his own people to prevent that. However, his actions were misunderstood. The people he had protected viewed him as having betrayed the rest of the 'gods,' coming to view him as a somewhat Satan-like figure, and sealed him away with magic. This place he was trapped in kept him in complete sensory deprivation (to the point where he couldn't even feel the breaths he took) and in a state somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness for over a thousand years before he was finally released by mistake. Keeping in mind that he is of a more durable race than humans, what sort of mental effects would be likely to result from such a long period of sensory deprivation and then suddenly being returned to the regular world with all its senses? What would be a believable reaction to being subjected to this by the very people he gave up his own species to save? Not to mention being villainized by them?

Thank you so much for your time,
Sadistic in the Sandias

Dear Sadistic,

It sounds like you might have Genesis in an isolation tank of some sort for over 1000 years. Sensory deprivation is a common form of torture, and it has different effects for different folks, much less a more "durable human." For normal folk, sensory deprivation is actually relaxing and therapeutic, almost like meditation. But extended deprivation can result in hallucinations, anxiety, bizarre thoughts/delusions, and depression. Perhaps Genesis could withstand some of these negatives longer than an average human, but would still have aspects of these symptoms after, say, 100 years. Psychologist Donald Hebb conducted experiments in the 50s and 60s which were recreated in 2008 in the documentary "Total Isolation." You can watch the almost 50 min show in its entirety here, which may give you additional ideas. I'd Google Hebb, as well. Good luck!

Dear Jeannie,

Kat spends her nights in the Dream World, a world where missing parents are brought together with their children. Kat's been visiting her father, a soldier, for almost four years now. However, the Dream World only exists in dozing. It feels like sleep, but leaves Kat feeling as if she only dozed through the night. Apart from difficulty concentrating and crankiness, how would this affect Kat after four years? What would sleep deprivation do to her, if anything? Also, at the end of my novel, she realizes her subconscious made up the Dream World to help her cope with the loss of her father. Is it plausible for her to invent such a complex world? 


Dear Anonymous,

Strange that your question follows Sadistic's! And fascinating story line. Sleep deprivation can cause multiple issues for folks, like memory problems, weakened immune systems, increase in the perception of pain, and depression. Kat might even act like she's intoxicated. Studies have shown that sleep deprived people who are tested by using a driving simulator or by performing a hand-eye coordination task perform as badly as or worse than those who are under the influence. So you could probably use that in your characterization of her. Your plausibility question is an interesting one for sure. The brain is capable of hallucinating loved ones after they die (you should read my grief posts), and coping with death differs for everyone and could involve elaborate dream sequences for sure. So no, I don't think its impossible. I think how you write it would indicate whether the reader believes it to be so. Thanks for writing in, best of luck.


I may have answers. Leave your question below anonymously, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle. I'll post my response in future Dear Jeannie columns.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Meningitis Fears

Dear Jeannie,

My character had a case of meningitis at the age of ten, in which he lost his hearing. Since then he has felt the reality of his mortality, and fears engaging in seemingly risky situations. The loss of his hearing also concerns him; He attempts to hide his hearing aids with a hat that he never removes. Seeing as he had done nothing to cause the Meningitis in the first place, is it reasonable that he should be fearful? He is still young, so could it be a case of ‘old fears dying hard’?

Thank you,
Bothersome Caution in British Columbia

Dear Bothersome Caution,

A kid who is ten years old is just entering into the stage of psychosocial development where their peer group is becoming more important. He likely wants to hide his differences (hearing aids) so that he fits in better. So that's totally realistic and understandable. As for his fear, there is something more fearful about things out of our control than things in our control. We can rationalize that we could have done something different which would have changed outcomes, but for something like being struck with meningitis...that's the luck of the draw. That makes his outcome on life very unpredictable. I think it makes sense that he'd be cautious, living by a set of rules that he adopted early on as a way to cope with his circumstances. (This would especially be true if his parents reinforced a certain hypervigilance in their attempts to keep him safe.) Anyway, hope that this helps you out. Thanks for writing in!

Got Questions?

Maybe I've got some answers. Leave your question below anonymously, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle, and I'll post my response in next week's Dear Jeannie column. The queue is empty, so now's the time to get your question in!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Medieval Courting and Mistaken Twin

Dear Jeannie,

Arianne grew up in a very restricted convent until family obligations dragged her back to the real world to get married. And though her education was wholesome and chaste, her family's history is full of intrigue and manipulation. Arianne can hold her own with the best of them. She is fortunate enough to have some say about whom she chooses to marry. When he finds out the extent of the skeletons in her closet, he leaves. Arianne has no second choice in mind, nor any interest in managing her family without her chosen spouse at her side, but wishing and waiting won't get him back. For her to chase him down and court him will break a lot of their medieval social taboos. How can this convent-bred girl romance a man who already knows the worst thing she's ever done?

Hunting in Hoosierville

Dear Hunting,

Arianne would need to show a side of herself that he's never seen. Something about herself that would throw the "worse thing she's ever done" into sharp relief, making this new side almost be unbelievable. People have both good and bad in them. Yin and yang. She's more than the sum of her family's background of manipulation. However, she might end up turning to a bit of manipulation to land him back in her arms, which could be the heralding of your black moment toward the end of the book. Romance can look very different, depending on the giver and the recipient. She'd need to know what melts his heart, and whether she held any sway over him (and how) prior to him finding out the extent of her skeletons. You didn't mention whether they stayed married after he left, as I'd imagine that would also be a blow to her convent-bred ways. Did he leave b/c he was overwhelmed? B/c he couldn't see them being together?  B/c of moral opposition to what her family had done? Did he love her at all? Answers to these questions would definitely enlighten how she'd go about wooing him back. Thanks for writing in!

Dear Jeannie,

Twin girls are born into a family, only there is no punchline to this joke's beginning. Alyssa and Eva are fraternal twins but can be VERY hard to tell apart. Growing up, Alyssa never minded that Eva went left every time Alyssa chose right. They were different people, what was wrong with that? So Alyssa stayed calm in the face of Eva's many tantrums and rebellions. Until one of Eva's wild friends mistook Alyssa for her sister, attacking her and abandoning the family to cope with an unplanned pregnancy. The family's response is to send Alyssa away to have the baby, so some of their love and grace towards Alyssa is tempered by rejection. She hadn't exactly crafted her identity around being the opposite of her troubled sister, but she had taken some confidence and pride in being wholesome and obedient where Eva was not. I would love to have her counseled all through the pregnancy and return home reasonably healed, but I'm not sure that's plausible. (This is set in either the mid-80's or early 90's, if that matters/helps.) What is her recovery going to look like? I'd rather have her actually healed than pasting together a facade that will hide internal fractures, but I'm afraid that, in her hurry to get back to normal, Alyssa will do just that. Is her identity going to have a massive overhaul? What is healthy going to look like for Alyssa after this?

Exiled in Exeter 

Dear Exiled,

Oooo.  Really like Alyssa's backstory here. The bitterness she'd feel toward her sister would be enormous, I'd think. I mean, she'd never have been attacked if she hadn't had a wild, crazy sister. And I bet she does have the "good sister" identity, more than you'd think. Twins often pride themselves on individual differences, or being polar opposites. Uniqueness in the midst of such great uniformity is treasured. So to have her be sent off, like Alyssa is the "bad sister," would be more of a rejection to her than the social ostracism and unwanted pregnancy. Healing for her would have to include some sort of acknowledgement of the loss of her innocence, the unfairness or being attacked instead of her sister, the anger she probably has toward Eva as a result, the shame of being sent away, and the feelings she has around her baby (whether she keeps the infant or not). I figure she's got about 7 1/2 months to "heal," as girls usually find out they are pregnant in the 6-8 week range. That's quite a bit of time to try to "return to normal," since you really do have a time line where she can't be reunited with her family, etc. A lot of therapy could do a world of good during that much time. Not sure I'm answering what you wanted, so feel free to ask additional questions below. Good luck!


Maybe I've got answers. And I promise that I'm going to do better with the blog. I've had a lot going on personally, and computer/internet time has definitely suffered as a result. Perhaps one of these days I'll share a bit more. In the meantime, leave your questions below anonymously, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle. I'll post my answers in future Dear Jeannie columns.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Complex Antagonists and Writing Yourself into a Corner

Dear Jeannie,
I'm having a hard time getting a handle on my antagonist, Arik. The story's told from my narrator's POV, who doesn't like him and writes him off as selfish, petty, cruel, and generally in hot pursuit of evil. I doubt he was 'born this way', but I can't get a bead on him. Arik grew up in a family that's feuding with my main character's family, and each side has a different take on the events that fueled the conflict (Arik's great-whatever-father tried to kill the narrator's great-whatever-father, but killed his wife, instead. From there, blame was spread and a body-count began.). Arik is first the heir-apparent, and then takes over his clan, and all of his interaction with the narrator involves games of one-upmanship, off-kilter treachery and betrayal, and one murder of a trusted ally. Only my narrator and one other already-biased person were witness to this death. How is Arik going to handle this accusation? Why is he such a...body part? He has a close relationship with one of the good guys, but he never does anything remotely redeemable. Is this too much?

Overloaded in Omaha

Dear Overloaded,

I'm sure you know this, but no one is all bad and no one is all good. Arik wasn't born in hot pursuit of evil, as you wrote. Circumstances shaped him into the person he is. Donald Maass makes a point in Writing the Breakout Novel that characters in fiction need to be as complex and multidimensional as people in real life. So I'd think about have your narrator show Arik saying, doing, or thinking something that the narrator would never assume that he was say, do or think. Have him wrestle with this opposing view of his enemy, and thereby let the reader wrestle with it. Depending on where you want to go with Arik (i.e., will they shake hands at the end, so separate ways, or will there be one man left standing?) you don't have to fully redeem him as some sort of anti-hero if you give him redeeming traits. That's up to you. Hope this helps!

Dear Jeannie,

Niko lives in a futuristic society where contact with the opposite sex is lethal. Scientists and politicians have worked ways around this, automating some things and segregating others. Although Niko is a decent person, he is still a product of his culture. Which would seem to include an adherence to the state (who raised him), an utter lack of concepts like family, and a certain detachment from pesky things like consequences. He's fighting that last one as he meets new people and fights for a cure that won't end in extinction, but the more I work on Niko's story, the less stability I find. What room does he have for faith? Or compassion? As an author, it's fun to consider how to throw people into situations, but it looks like I'm exchanging one unreality for another. I don't really see a way to tell this story without coping with a prevalence of homosexuality, so I almost wonder if I need to head back to the drawing board for this. Could a same-sex society survive more than a generation? If these men grow up from boys raised entirely by 'the state', will relationships (between colleagues, adversaries, mentors, etc.) be vastly different without those young ties to fathers, family, and females?

Twisted in Tulsa 

Dear Twisted,

Wow. What a predicament you've written yourself into. (Isn't that fascinating, how we authors do that? Why do we do this to ourselves? Gluttons for punishment, I guess.) Anyway, you're story world sounds intense. Thinking from this worldview, a society of males wouldn't survive more than a generation unless you have some major fantasy elements that you've not shared (perhaps in the automated parts of society you mentioned?). If young men were raised by the "state" and had no exposure to females, then this would be what they know. Their nurturing needs would be met by males, and not necessarily in a homosexual way (i.e., Yoda or Chef from South Park). I'm just curious about where the females are in your story. Are they sequestered away somewhere, on their own too? You might just need to leave me some comments below and explain this a bit better! Otherwise, feel free to utilize my assessment services if you want more individualized feedback.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Dear Jeannie: "There is no Santa" and a Frozen Scenario

Dear Jeannie,

When Charlee was four, her mother left for another man to start the 'perfect family.' Charlee and her sister, Cassie, visited once. Afterwards, Cassie declared their mother to be dead to her. Charlee took that seriously and believed her mother to be dead until finally making a comment to her father when she was eight. Her father told her the truth. How would she react to that as an eight year old, finally learning the truth? When she's forced to go live with her mother because her sister died and her father left for the army, would it be reasonable for her to refuse to accept her new family? How long would it take for her to forgive her mother, whom she heard horrible things about from her sister? How long would it take for her to forgive her sister for leaving her and lying to her?

Bewildered in Bulgaria

Dear Bewildered,

Great questions! Most four-year-olds believe what they are told. You can tell them anything, and they believe it. Learning that her mother is alive wouldn't be much different for an eight-year-old than learning that Santa isn't real. Now the import and consequences are much more far-reaching, but an 8-year-old wouldn't necessarily understand that. There's going to be some adjustment for sure when she goes to the new family, but children are wired from birth to crave having a mother and a father. Even children who are abused want to still be close to their abusing parents. Charlee would likely adjust well to living with her mom (depending on how well mom treated her, I suppose, but I'm operating on the assumption that her mother wants a relationship with her). You can see my series on how children respond to death and grieving to see how she might handle the death of her sister. Dealing with the lies might be more overstated in your questions than would be realistic. Children who learn Santa isn't real usually don't have long-lasting traumatic damage. Hope this helps!

Dear Jeannie,

A seventeen year old Allison escaped from a massacre that took the lives of both her parents. Her only remaining family is a thirteen year old sister, Vera, who she's suddenly become responsible for. Allison is as hard-headed and stubborn as a mule, and her idea of coping with grief is to - well, not. Allison suppresses her grief - she refuses to talk or even think about her parents, refuses to let herself cry, and shuts down anyone who attempts to get her to open up about it, including her own sister. At first, Vera understood her behavior. She thought Allison needed time to cope on her own. But as the story progresses, Allison's behavior only grows worse. In addition to keeping her grief inside, she's hiding a number of important secrets, and now Vera is becoming angry with her. She hates how her sister keeps her in the dark, and that Allison won't even trust her with how she's really feeling. The tension between these two is coming to a boil - Vera is going to confront Allison, and Allison is going to lose control of her feelings. I understand from your previous posts that holding back grief too long results in breakdowns. What I don't understand is how such a breakdown would manifest for a stubborn, snappish, yet hurting character like Allison. More importantly, how is such a breakdown going to affect an already shaky relationship between the sisters?

Adventuring in Austin 

Dear Adventuring,

This scenario reminds me of the movie Frozen. Allison is the Elsa character, and Vera is Anna. Elsa was deeply hurting after the death of her parents and having to keep the secret of her powers to herself to protect Anna. She isolated herself, which is a realistic reaction to grief. Anna tried multiple times to get Elsa to talk to her, yet Elsa continued to shut her out. Eventually, they have a confrontation over Anna wanting to get married to a guy she just met, and Elsa can't contain her feelings and reveals her powers, which are scary to everyone and overwhelming to both Elsa and Anna. It looks to me that you could have a similar showdown. The two sisters would definitely be awkward with each other afterward, but breaking the ice (ha! no pub intended...) would be essential for them to move on. Vera will have to confront Allison. It won't be pleasant, but it'll be necessary. It's possible that Allison will withdraw even further (like Elsa did with her ice castle), but she might become more aggressive or her behaviors more erratic. Grief is so varied, as I wrote in the post. It's been my experience that just about anything can go when it comes to grief reaction. Thanks for writing in.


I might have some answers. Leave your comment below, anonymously, utilizing monikers like Sleepless in Seattle. I'll answer them in future Dear Jeannie columns.