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Monday, February 28, 2011

High on a Mountain Book Review and Giveaway!

Author Tommie Lyn writes historicals with heart. She sent me a copy of her newest release, High on a Mountain, to review, and it was a pleasure to do so on many levels.

You can read the Prologue and Chapters One-Three from Tommie's website, but here's the backcover blurb:

As a boy, Ailean MacLachlainn dreamed of living an adventurous life and longed to be a celebrated warrior of his clan. Until a shy smile and a glance from Mùirne's blue eyes turned his head and escalated his rivalry with Latharn into enmity and open conflict. 

When Ailean became a man, his boyhood dreams faded. Until Bonnie Prince Charlie came to reclaim his father's throne. The Jacobite loyalties of Ailean's clan chief involved the MacLachlainns in the uprising and set Ailean on a course toward a destiny of which he could never have dreamed. 

What happens when a man's dreams turn to dust? And when a man loses everything, does he have what it takes to go on?

So, as my last name might imply, my husband's heritage is very Scottish. Unfortunately for me, Campbells aren't exactly known for being the nicest people in history. (In fact, my husband visited Scotland and was turned away from several villages just because his last name is Campbell. The people still hold a grudge, but it's little wonder.) Tommie has clearly done a lot of research into the feuds and fights, especially of certain battles.

So I open up her Prologue, which is available to read on her webpage, and it's all about us nasty "Cambeuls." (And nasty we were. Geez.) At this point, I closed the book, looked over to my husband, and said, "I believe I know why Tommie wants me to review this book." HA!

But the further I read, the more engrossed I became in Tommie's great story. I realized that her main guy, Ailean, (pronounced A-lun, according to the Scottish Gaelic pronunciation guide at the front of the book), is one psychologically tormented guy. It was fascinating to read--and heartbreaking. It's hard to imagine all this bad stuff happening to one guy, but as her backcover blurb reads, Ailean's dreams do turn to dust and he does lose everything. And I mean everything. (Think 18th century Job.)

And he is way traumatized from it. He suffers PTSD in a very severe form. Tommie portrays the flashbacks accurately and feasibly, and they definitely interfere with Ailean's daily functioning. He avoids things that remind him of his loss. He wishes death upon himself to ease his awesome misery. He was almost instantly stripped of everything that he had previously defined himself as: son, brother, husband, father, freeman, and even his beloved Scotland. He's angry at God, of course, because he feels forsaken and from the looks of things, he has been. He can't move on because he's held captive by his traumatic past and encompassing grief.

The villain is a Cambeul (go figure). And he's a wicked, wicked man. He's got a problem with anger management for sure, and develops a propensity toward alcoholism (actually, it's more than a's full blown alcohol dependence). He has a great backstory, which sets up his life direction well, and Tommie even made me feel sorry for this horrible man once or twice.

This book had a satisfying ending and is ultimately about Ailean coming to understand that life might look more beautiful from the mountaintop, but he lives down in the glen. However, if one trusts God's direction, the glen can be beautiful as well.

To be entered in this book giveaway, you need to do 3 three things:

1) Be a follower of this blog.
2) Live in the lower 48 states.
3) Leave a comment below about why modern-day Campbells aren't so terrible (any positive about any Campbell will do) and your email in a spam-me-not format in the comment section below.

I would say that the best Campbell-positive comment will win the book, but I'll use a random generator. :)

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

T3 - Who is Saying What?

Have you ever tried to portray in your books a misunderstanding between two characters and found yourself wondering if others would think it was feasible? If you've got two people dialoging with one another, there is always a chance for miscommunication.

According to Transactional Analysis (TA), we communicate via three different Ego States (parts of ourselves):


[I know what you're thinking, but no, this is not Freud's Id, Ego, and Superego, although they have been compared. Freud's theory says that each state is one type of behavior: Id=feeling, Ego=thinking, Superego=judging. TA says that each Ego State above has all three.]

Every person has a trio of P-A-C, and we constantly shift back and forth between them in our interactions (a.k.a. transactions) with others. I'll break them down.

The Parent ego state is a set of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that we learn from our parents (or caretakers). It's almost like we unconsciously mimic them, incorporating their values, morals, and core beliefs into our outer communication. We express these ideals by being either critical or nurturing.

The Nurturing Parent is soft, loving, and quick to give permission. The Critical Parent is the other side of the coin. When in this state, a person will react as they imagined their parent might have reacted, or they act toward others the way their parents acted toward them. It's uncanny, but we might use some of the exact same phrases we head from our parents, or strike the same postures, use the same mannerisms or gestures...we become our parents.

The Adult ego state is our data-processor. This is the objective, non-emotional part of ourselves, using all of the resources we have as an adult human being with many years of life experience to influence us. It is factual, responds to situations without passionate convictions, and simply uses what it hears, sees, and thinks to come up with solutions to problems. (Think Mr. Spock.) The Adult is situated in the middle circle of the diagram to orchestrate and mediate between the Parent and the Child.

The Child ego state is who we are at our most natural. This is when we behave like we did in childhood. There are two parts to the Child ego state, both of which have positive and negative aspects. The first is the Natural Child, which is much like my three-year-old. On the positive side, she is spontaneous, playful, lovable, and charming, and experiences the world in a direct, authentic, and immediate way. On the negative side, she can be impulsive to the degree her safety is compromised.

The Adapted Child is the part of our personality that has learned to comply with the parental messages we received growing up. The positive aspect of the Adapted Child is that we respond appropriately in social situations. The negative aspect is that we overadapt and give up our power and discount our value, worth, and dignity.

Dr. Carol Solomon (2003) gives a good example of how each of the above Ego States would respond to the simple action of a child playing in the sand.

Nurturing Parent: Go ahead, play and have fun!
Critical Parent: Now, don't you dare get yourself all messy!
Adult: This sand looks really interesting. I can make a castle.
Natural Child: WOW! Look how tall my castle is!!!!!
Adapted Child: I better not get my clothes all dirty.

At any given moment, our characters (and us) will volley amongst each of these ego states when interacting with others and our inner selves. Depending on which Ego state the person with whom we are communicating is operating from, signals can get BIG time crossed. And this usually is where we have misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and less-than-satisfying communication.

Next week, I'll go into how you can know which Ego State your character is using. Hopefully you find this as fascinating as I!

Q4U: Have you ever stopped mid-sentence, repeating verbatim something your parents said to you? What was it?

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Movies & Madness: Finding Nemo

Since I was at home almost a week with my flu-ridden child about two weeks ago, I watched a lot of animated movies in a short period of time. Finding Nemo happens to be one of my daughter's favorites. As an occupational hazard, I began to point out all the therapeutic issues the characters displayed, especially those in the fish tank. (They might as well be representative of an in-patient psychiatric population!)

Gurgle - OCD - disgusted by human mouth, ocean is contaminated
Deb - delusional about her "sister" Flo who is really just her reflection in the glass
Bubbles -neurotic about the bubbles
Gill - the hard-as-nails fish who's been there, done that, got the scar to prove it; into conspiracy theories
Crush - thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie
Bruce - shark with abandonment issues from his dad
Chum - the shark who relapsed on fish by eating his "bring a buddy" before support group
Dory - major short-term memory loss
Nemo - guilt over last words spoken to his father

But none come close to Nemo's father, Marlin. Let's take a look at him. He got married and hopped on the good fin to do the bad thing, resulting in tons of little babies in need of loving care. He then suffers surely the worst kind of pain when he loses his new wife to a shark attack, as well as all his babies--save one: Nemo.

Marlin has severe PTSD from the attack, as is evident in how he babies Nemo and doesn't want to let him grow up. He believes the little fin is proof positive of Nemo's need to be overly smothered. After all, Nemo can't swim as well with his little fin, which serves as a visual reminder to Marlin of all he lost when the shark ate his wife and other babies. Marlin has a fear of the open ocean, now, and does his best to instill that in Nemo. It's "not safe" to swim there.

Then Nemo comes into his own obstinacy when his dad makes him feel foolish in front of his new school friends, harping on how they could have been killed at the drop-off and that Nemo can't swim because of the little fin. Most of you probably know what happens: Nemo gets defiant and goes to the boat, touches it with his fin--a part that resonates in the hearts of all parents with children--and gets caught by the Australian deep-sea diver/dentist before he can return.

Then Marlin is on a mission to find Nemo and bring him back safely. He encounters all manner of traumatic problems, any one of which would send a sane fish over the edge. First Dory - who can't remember anything. Then the sharks and their "Fish are Friends, Not Food" support group--I can only imagine the true terror Marlin would feel after losing his wife and children to a shark and then to have Bruce chase him down, intent on taking "just a little bite." Then they have the jellyfish ordeal, and the whole getting-eaten-by-a-whale ordeal, having to jump in the mouth of a pelican to prevent getting eaten by seagulls, and all this to see little Nemo belly-side up in a plastic bag, pretending to be dead.

Now Marlin is super depressed. Who wouldn't be? But to be reunited with his son, who is alive, brings out the fierce protective part of Marlin once again. He doesn't want Nemo to do anything to endanger himself or put himself out further than Marlin thinks is appropriate.

Then the last upheaval happens....the part where Nemo is small enough to swim through the fish net, where Dory and thousands of other fish are trapped, to motivate the entire group to "swim down!" as a way to fight against being taken in the net--something Nemo has learned from his time with the Fraternal Bond of Tankhood members. Marlin has to make the decision to let Nemo go once again, and this is the deciding moment for him as a father. (I would think writers would get a lot out of watching this movie as it relates to internal motivation and external tensions. Incredible, really.)

It's a kid's movie, after all, so all ends well. But Marlin has come to a more healthy decision about how to parent Nemo, which leaves Nemo happier and Marlin happy, as well. He's beat his mental illness. Realistic? No...not after all Marlin went through. But then again, who are we to try to fight against the willful tenacity of a father with everything to lose? Perhaps its a lesson of the power of the mind over mental illness.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Treatment Tuesday: Personality vs. Parenting

This week's assessment is for Michelle. She wrote in about her character Shannon,* who was raised with a Golden Retriever, over-indulgent mom and a Beaver, micromanaging dad. Shannon craved her dad's approval so much that she put a Beaver mask over her Otter/Golden Retriever personality and is still wearing that mask today. Shannon's husband, Rod*, had a power patrol Lion father and an avoidant mom. Since they were wealthy, his parents hired others to deal with Rod.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional. 

Michelle wants to know: How will Shannon parent her daughter Allison, who knows just what to do to get her mom to do what she wants and Josh, who stays buried in his iPod and video games? How would her beaver mask impact her parenting? When Rod looses his job and the family has to move in with Shannon's parents (who tend cattle and cotton), how will this affect them based on their personalities?

I'm totally flattered that Michelle has obviously been scouring my old posts! As you can see, she referenced almost every parenting style post and personality types post I wrote above. Thanks for that feel-good, Michelle.

I want to start this assessment out with Rod, even though you couched your questions as being about Shannon. But Rod's my concern because of his power patrol father who he looks up to so much. I'm not sure how much interaction Rod really had with his parents, since they hired people to look after him (I assume nannies and the like), but you indicated Rod was a Lion like his father, which will probably give him the tendency to be a power patrol. And that's what he knew, after all.

So if his tendency is toward power patrol, that could cause some problems between him and Shannon, who is at heart a Golden Retriever and might have a bent toward over-indulging, like her mom. It all would depend on how well Shannon wears the mask of a Beaver. If she's still seeking approval from dad, or trying to heal the rift that developed after her barrel racing accident, then she might try to be more like him, micromanaging everything her children do like he did to her in hopes of connecting with him. This will be confounded by her moving back into her childhood home.

There's something almost magical about grownups boomeranging back to their parents' home. Fully functioning adults can become sniveling little brats as they adopt the method of interacting with their parents they had growing up. If Shannon's mother was such an over-indulger, she might revert to not making her bed or washing her own clothes because mom is there to do it--not only for Shannon, but for Shannon's family.

The controlling part of Rod will not like this. To say that living as extended guests in his wife's parents' home will be difficult for Rod is the understatement of the year. He's going to kick against this with all his might, as he's used to being in control and managing his own family (and career). Accepting anything like charity or handouts will not be easy, if not impossible. Rod would be desperate enough to take a job that he doesn't like to remove themselves quicker from this scenario.

The generosity of Shannon's nurturing mother will not be appreciated by Rod...he'll likely see it as an affront to his ability to provide those things for his own family. This will move Shannon into a difficult mediating position. She'll find herself split between defending her parents and their way of life and way of interacting with others and trying to ease Rod's disappointment and anger over the living situation by commiserating with him about her parents.

But I digress. Back to the parenting. Shannon's figured out how to be a Beaver by observing her dad. She knows how to approach Allison to get what she wants done. It's the underdog Golden Retriever/over-indulger inside of her that may let Allison think Shannon's a pushover--when in reality, Shannon is indulging Allison, possible against her better judgment, but doing it all the same. Rod isn't going to have that close of a relationship with Allison, likely, because she knows he's not the person to go to if she wants something. Allison will favor her mother.

As for Josh, it's pretty typical for boys to go through their video game phase where they hardly say ten words a day to human beings because they are playing their marathon rounds of Zelda (can I just date myself here?). Shannon will lean toward either micromanaging the amount of time she lets him spend on the video games and turning a blind eye when he doesn't get off right at the one-hour mark. Rod will not be this way. When he says "thirty minutes and lights out!" he means just that.

I'm not sure I'm really helping that much with this assessment simply because you've got this great backstory for Shannon and have given her a personality mask of being a Beaver when she's really an Otter. As you can read from my post here, Otters and Beavers don't mix. They are fairly diametrically opposed. Rod probably fell for the Beaver part of Shannon...but a Lion can get along with an Otter just when Shannon's true personality shines through, it shouldn't put an end to their relationship. However, if she swings more toward the Golden Retriever style of over-indulging, this will be a problem for his power patrol Lion (as I mentioned before).

Shannon's got a unique problem, because when projecting an image to the world that's not who you really's exhausting. Your body has to use energy to keep up pretenses that it could use otherwise to repair the body. So FYI, when Shannon gets tired or sick...her true colors will shine through because she'll have less energy to keep the mask in place.

That's all I have Michelle. I hope it helps put you on the right direction. I welcome any additional comments below. Thanks for writing in!

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Mental Illness in the Presidency

Happy President's Day to you! Hopefully you're off work, laid back in your recliner, and getting some serious writing and social media networking done. 
In honor of our presidents, I thought a post on mental illness in the Oval Office might be appropriate for my blog readership. Duke University psychiatrists Jonathan Davidson, Kathryn Connor, and Marvin Swartz teamed up in 2006 to diagnose our fearless (or not-so-fearless, in some cases) commanders-in-chief from 1776 to 1974 using biographical information.

37 presidents were researched, and 18 (49%) suffered from some sort of clinically diagnosable disorder. The most common disorders were depression (24%), anxiety (8%), bipolar disorder (8%), and alcohol abuse/dependence (8%) were the most common. 10 of these presidents (27%) suffered a disorder during their presidency, which in most cases probably impaired job performance.

So which president had what? Some of the more notable ones are below:

Abraham Lincoln: depression (more than the others, this was widely known)
Franklin Pierce: PTSD/depression from witnessing his son's violent death in railway accident
Ulysses S. Grant: alcohol abuse/dependence; social phobia
William Taft: sleep apnea (often dozed off during important meetings)
Theodore Roosevelt: bipolar (showed signs of manic energy b/c he was indefatigable)
Lyndon B. Johnson: bipolar
Richard Nixon: heavy alcohol abuse/dependence (especially through Watergate--go figure)
Calvin Coolidge:social phobia; depression (after teen son died of an infection); hypochondria
Thomas Jefferson: social phobia

Interestingly, the contemporaries of Grant, James Madison, Rutherford Hayes and Woodrow Wilson who knew them as young men wouldn't have thought that either of them would grow up to do very much based on their seeming mental problems/deficiencies. 

Just goes to show you that you can't judge a book--or a president--by it's cover too early.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

T3 - Challenging Your Character's Inner Lies

Last week I wrote a post, The Lies Our Characters Live By, in which I discussed various examples of internal lies a character (or person) can believe about him or herself. How would a therapist go about unearthing that lie and then challenging it to help the character achieve inner healing?

A transactional analysis therapist (click here for more info) understands that people make decisions as children based on injunctions they receive from their parents. (Injunctions and decisions were covered last week in The Lies Our Characters Live By post.)

TA therapists believe that whatever injunctions a person received as a child--and whatever the resulting internal lie from that injunction was--can be challenged and replaced with a different truth. This is called a redecision.

So, put your therapist caps on. You're about to treat your own character. Don't worry--no degree required. :) Doing this exercise with your character should hopefully help you write their internal character arc in a powerful, meaningful way.

1) Return to the scene of the crime. (Backstory)

Get your character to open up to you about a scene from their childhood when they internalized an injunction from their parents that led to self-limiting actions or thoughts (lies!). Have the character reexperience the scene.

I'll walk a character through an example. Say I've got Charlie, who never got any attention from his parents when he showed independence. He only received positive strokes (read post here) when he was helpless. Perhaps he visualizes a scene where he went out and mowed the lawn on his own and his father came home from work just as he was finishing. Instead of being pleased that his son had helped out around the house, Charlie's dad is furious. "You're not old enough to take the mower out by yourself! You could have hurt yourself."

2) Have them relive it with an alternate ending. (Crisis of Belief)

A little fantasy goes a long way. Have the character recreate the ending to the scene. Have them challenge the injunction they received from their parents (or possibly some other authority figure) by using the knowledge they have in the present to effect the redecision they need to make.

In the example above, Charlie had the injunction of "Don't grow up." He made the decision to "remain a child forever, to be immature." He likewise set out on a course to prove just how immature he could be...perhaps he turned into a playboy or gambler or some other vice that always made him dependent on others to bail him out...much like dad always did.

Charlie goes back to the scene of the crime, but instead of internalizing the injunction of "don't grow," and making the decision to live that out, Charlie changes the ending. Dad just returned home and lit into him about not being old enough to mow the lawn. He stands up to his dad and says, "Even though I want your approval and attention, I don't need it to exist. Your acceptance isn't worth the price I have to pay for it. I'll be the man I want to be, not the boy you want me to be."

3) Play out the redecision in a scene close to the ending of your book. (Climax)

Put the character's new redecision to the test. Put them in a similar circumstance to where they normally would have defaulted to live out their previous, inappropriate decision...but have them make the right choice.

Charlie has made the redecision to be his own man. He finds himself back at a casino having to retrieve a friend. The dealer, a long-time friend, calls to Charlie to come over and play. Charlie faces the climax scene (fork in the road) of whether to pull up a seat and cash his recent paycheck into chips, or grab his friend and exit the place, because he's got to pay his rent with that money. He leaves the casino with the check still in his pocket, having made the responsible decision that won't bring him back to his dad begging for money or for someone else to bail him out.

Now your character is all healed. Congratulations! You make a great therapist/author. :)

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Save the Date Review

I took about 10 hours on my day off (Lincoln's Birthday) to begin, immersed myself in, and finish Jenny B. Jones' new February release Save the Date. Once again, Jenny has crafted a superb story, worthy of her reputation as a witty, award-winning writer.

Here's the blurb from the author's website:

Desperate times call for desperate proposals.

Former NFL star Alex Sinclair is a man who has it all–except the votes he needs to win his bid for Congress. Despite their mutual dislike, Alex makes Lucy a proposition: pose as his fiancee in return for the money she desperately needs to keep her girls home afloat. As Lucy is forced into South Carolina high society, she discovers the very people she wanted to stay away from are the ones who know secrets about her past. Bound to a man who isn’t quite what he seems, Lucy will find her heart on the line as she helps Alex in his campaign, knowing when it’s over she will have to walk away. But when God asks Alex and Lucy to scrap their playbook and follow his rules, will they finally say, “I do”?

I would have thought Jenny wouldn't be able to write a book that topped Just Between You and Me in my estimation, but I believe she might have done it! Judging on how long it took me to read it, that is, I should say she did it for sure. She's got the best banter of just about any writer I've ever read. I would just giggle like a schoolgirl reading her dialogue or descriptions. Really funny girl, that Jenny B. Jones. Makes me wish I had her on speed dial to make me laugh when I need a pick-me-up.

Who doesn't like a forced-arrangement for the hero and heroine? Jenny puts a nice, fresh spin on it. Both struggle with issues within their family, Lucy for her lack of it and Alex for his abundance of it. Coming to terms with understanding who you are and how that is or isn't reliant on who your parents are is an issue any reader can relate with. Finding our own path, and making sure it's a path God wants us on, is part of maturing in our faith. It was great to read about Lucy and Alex's faith journey.

Jenny did a great job of portraying her characters as they dealt very realistically with self-defeating and doubt-inflicting lies they had come to believe about themselves. It's truly amazing the lengths a person will go to in order to accommodate these lies. Everything revolves around feeding into the lie--both actions and words.  You can read last week's Thursday Therapeutic Thought on the lies our characters believe if you want more information.

Jenny writes about this in such a way that it's entirely plausible to believe the characters do what they do, operating from that self-defeating way of thinking. You never doubt what they do, just keep turning the pages to see how it will all unravel in the end. And that, friends, is the mark of a wonderful book.

Thanks, Jenny, for one-upping yourself. :)

* provided a galley of Jenny's book in return for my honest review.*

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Treatment Tuesday: Hero or Anti-Hero?

This week's assessment comes from Juliette, who is writing a fantasy about Adam*, a member of the declining and inbred noble caste called Grobal. Adam faces an age-old question of love or power. He falls in love with Katelyn,* who is from a servant caste he grew up thinking as inherently inferior to his own. To be with her, he'd fall from his upper caste. Worse, his older brother Nicholas*, who currently sits on the throne and has instructed Adam in methods of cruelty to gain political success, outs Adam's true heritage as the son of his mother's servant. 

To accept the accusation is to lose all power, so Adam reacts by demanding everyone prove the purity of their blood before casting him out. The irony is that Adam knows in his heart that he has experienced true love from both Katelyn and his real father. He wants to be happy with Katelyn, but he tries to distance himself from both of them because the part of him that wants to be a noble and cling to power hates the part of him that was born of the "inferior" group.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Juliette wants to know: Does Adam feel ambivalent about his day-to-day decisions - like when Nicholas tells him to do things, does he wonder if they're the right thing to do? What aspects of his fundamental identity crisis would impinge on his thoughts before he learns the truth? Would he be likely to have suspicions about his origins, or would denial make that impossible? Would he come across just as conflicted in his behaviors, or as a good guy or bad guy? How far might he go in his backlash reaction against servants after he learns the truth? Would he be likely to verbally abuse Katelyn at this point? Would he be able to recover in a supportive environment, or would he need therapy? How can he be psychologically redeemed?

This spells great conflict, Juliette! Really deep questions, so hopefully I'll have some nuggets for you to work with.

From reading your narratives (thanks for expounding via email), I am having a hard time determining if Adam is a hero or an anti-hero. You mention many things that sound heroic, but because I don't know his ultimate motivation, they may, in fact, not be. 

How great is Adam's motivation to keep power, and is it greater than his desire to be happy and in love? Everything hinges on that answer. I get that his motivation is BIG to keep power. But why? Is it a selfish reason, like that's what he grew up believing to be his heritage, his rightful place, his entitlement (which would make him an anti-hero)? Or is his reason for wanting power more altruistic so he can he make big, positive changes when in control? (which is more heroic). This is a great article on heroes and anti-heroes that might be helpful.

I think that Adam is going to be feel extremely ambivalent and confused about his brother Nicholas's orders. This part of your narrative seems to make Adam more of an anti-hero, because he's had such a dark mentor in Nicholas, which is typical of anti-heroes. (Maybe you have written his real father in as a positive, good mentor?) However, if he is a hero, he'll be very eager to take over Nicholas' reign because he believes Nicholas has been treating people too cruelly. As a hero, Adam would want to change the people's outcome.

As to his suspicions about his origin, unless you've written in some nuances that would make him think his mother was unfaithful to her husband with her servant, or that the servant was taking on more of a fatherly role than was his place, then no, children don't inherently doubt things like who their parents are. They pretty much believe what you tell them, and they'll die defending it, too. (Don't talk about my mama!) I don't think denial will play a big's just not in a child's nature to be suspicious like that...unless it's been planted somehow.

You've got two aspects of Adam: the Adam before he knows the truth about her paternity and the Adam afterward. Before, he still connected with this servant, knowing that she's inferior. He loves her, and surely he must have known going into the relationship that it would be a problem when he was older/on the throne/etc. Did he simply follow the model set before him of his mother and how she got along with her servant? Was the nobility known for indiscretions or improper relationships? Did people turn a blind eye, like Regency England lords keeping mistresses on the side?

After he learns the truth, I'd hate to be around someone like him. Depending on the motivation question earlier, he'd definitely have a backlash toward servants. After all, they represent a part of him that is most decidedly inconvenient to acknowledge. Being rude, emotionally abusive, and hateful toward them will be Adam's way of slaying that inner part of him as well. This makes him sound like an anti-hero, really knocked off kilter because he can't dominate others.

But if the ultimate goal is to keep power (and thereby distance himself from the servants to do so) for some altruistic reason, such as to help servants be on more equal footing in the future, then his backlash will be all an act. In this scenario, if he pushes her away, it is to inflict a little pain in the present to prevent a greater pain later. If there is anyway to bring this aspect into the story, then you'll have absolutely no problem "redeeming" Adam in the reader's eyes, no matter how he might lash out at Katelyn or other servants.

But he also just discovered that the things he knew from birth are just wrong. His mother lied to him, built his life around an important untruth that will cost Adam dearly--the throne. This is a major identity crisis, and people act out, lash out, withdraw, and do all sorts of out-of-character and crazy things when their worlds have been turned upside down. I imagine he would verbally abuse Katelyn, push her away. He'd probably be extraordinarily angry at his mother and his brother, who has the "pure" blood and also outed him.

Since you said neither Adam or Nicholas come to have power in the book, I would hope that Adam's desire for happiness wins out in the end. As one born of a servant, he's in the servant's class and can eventually seize a life with Katelyn once he comes to terms with himself and loss of nobility. What does being noble really mean to him? Can he come to an inner character arc of redemption by understanding that the caste system is mere semantics? That his real father and Katelyn are more stoic, more dependable, more noble than the true nobility because they never gave up on him and were always faithful? That nobility is really a misnomer?

These are just some of my initial thoughts. You've got so much conflict to work with, which is awesome. My biggest suggestion is to make sure the reader knows Adam's fundamental role as either hero or anti-hero. My assessment was more difficult because I wasn't sure. If you have additional questions or clarifications, please feel free to make them below. I'll do my best to answer, and I really welcome dialogue! Sometimes the best stuff comes out in the comments for some people who write in.

Thanks for giving it a shot. I hope it helps!

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Monday, February 14, 2011

True Valentines Keep No Records of Wrong

Happy Valentine's Day! Being the day dedicated to love, I thought I'd touch on an aspect of love that often gets overlooked: forgiveness. According to First Corinthians 13, love "keeps no records of wrong."

Does this mean that we just let it roll of our backs after a good cry? Or should we just not acknowledge that feeling of hurt?

NO! To do that is to live a lie. What God wants is forgiveness, as he has called us to forgive "seventy seven" (i.e., unlimited) times. There are two primary ways to forgive, which can be incorporated into our novels and lives.

The first type is Restoration Forgiveness. This is the type that we most often want to encounter, but often eludes us fully. To have restoration is to have complete healing of the breach between two parties. Something as final as death or as inconvenient as geography can prevent this from happening. In its most ideal state, it looks like this:

1) Party A offends Party B
2) Party B chooses to forgive A
3) Party A, acknowledges the wrongdoing and accepts the forgiveness
4) Relationship between A and B is healed

Imagine two people hugging one another as a symbol of this type of forgiveness. It doesn't mean that Party B necessarily forgets what A did as if it never happened, but Party B lets go of the hurt and pain associated with the action and chooses to remember the good times together and not dwell on the offense. We're not God; we won't be able to forgive and forget as He does. 

The other type of forgiveness is Release Forgiveness. Compare to the above:

1) Party A offends Party B
2) Party B chooses to forgive A
3) Party A never acknowledges the wrongdoing
4) Party B chooses to release Party A

This is the hardest type to experience, and many never quite make it to the fourth point, choosing to hold on to their offense and their grudge. It is very important, if one of your characters (or even if someone you know in life) has this type of problem, to acknowledge their hurt. If Party A never acknowledges the hurt, then Party B may never move on.

A third party, though, (in many cases, a therapist) can help tremendously by just acknowledging the hurt, which in turn would help Party B be able to release it. Because before release is a possibility, the hurt has to be recognized and validated as an authentic, he/she-shouldn't-have-done-that hurt. Emotional health and healing will never occur as long as the bitterness is inside.

Application for Writers:

If you have one of your characters suffering from a hurt that hasn't been acknowledged, either by the wrong-doer or someone else, the chances of this character coming to a believable healing by the end of the book isn't feasible. Psychology tells us so. :)

If you have a hurt in your own life that resembles one that you need to release, tell someone about it that you trust, and let them help recognize the hurt for what it is so you can then release it and move on.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

T3 - The Lies Our Characters Live By

Since I got positive feedback for last week's T3 (Thursday Therapeutic Thought), I'm continuing with more Transactional Analysis (TA) goodies for you today.

When we're growing up, we receive messages from our parents that establish the "dos" and "don'ts" by which we learn to live. Your character grew up receiving both, and they have a profound impact on how your character goes about his adult life today, whether he realizes it or not.

First, when a child behaves in a way that the parent perceives is unacceptable or is somehow threatening to them (which is more about the parent than the child), they issue what TA therapists call injunctions. These are messages of disappointment, frustration, anxiety, and anger that might come from the parents' own pain and are given at the psychological level between the ages of 0-7.

As a result, the child will make a decision based on the injunctions (messages) they receive. We never sit by passively, so a child will decide whether to accept or reject the parental messages, thereby assuming some of the responsibility for forming their internal mantra or indoctrination. These mantras are often LIES.

10 common examples of this phenomenon are below, and they should ALL look familiar to you writers (adapted from Gerald Corey's WebTutor/Transactional Analysis):

1. “Don’t make mistakes.” Children who hear and accept this message often fear taking risks that may make them look stupid. They tend to equate making mistakes with being a failure.

• Possible mantras/lies: “I’m scared of making the wrong decision, so I simply won’t decide.” “Because I made a dumb choice, I won’t decide on anything important again!” “I’d better be perfect if I hope to be accepted.”

2. “Don’t be.” This lethal message is often given nonverbally by the way parents hold (or don’t hold) the child. The basic message is “I wish you hadn’t been born.”

• Possible mantra/lie: “I’ll keep trying until I get you to love me.”

3. “Don’t be close.” Related to this injunction are the messages “Don’t trust” and “Don’t love.”

• Possible mantras/lies: “I let myself love once, and it backfired. Never again!” “Because it’s scary to get close, I’ll keep myself distant.”

4. “Don’t be important.” If you are constantly discounted when you speak, you are likely to believe that you are unimportant.

• Possible mantra/lie: “If, by chance, I ever do become important, I’ll play down my accomplishments.”

5. “Don’t be a child.” This message says: “Always act adult!” “Don’t be childish.” “Keep control of yourself.”

• Possible mantras/lies: “I’ll take care of others and won’t ask for much myself.” “I won’t let myself have fun.”

6. “Don’t grow.” This message is given by the frightened parent who discourages the child from growing up in many ways.

• Possible mantras/lies: “I’ll stay a child, and that way I’ll get my parents to approve of me.” “I won’t be sexual, and that way my father won’t push me away.”

7. “Don’t succeed.” If children are positively reinforced for failing, they may accept the message not to seek success.

• Possible mantras/lies: “I’ll never do anything perfect enough, so why try?” “I’ll succeed, no matter what it takes.” “If I don’t succeed, then I’ll not have to live up to high expectations others have of me.”

8. “Don’t be you.” This involves suggesting to children that they are the wrong sex, shape, size, color, or have ideas or feelings that are unacceptable to parental figures.

• Possible mantras/lies: “They’d love me only if I were a boy (girl), so it’s impossible to get their love.” “I’ll pretend I’m a boy (girl).”

9. “Don’t be sane” and “Don’t be well.” Some children get attention only when they are physically sick or acting crazy.

• Possible mantras/lies: “I’ll get sick, and then I’ll be included.” “I am crazy.”

10. “Don’t belong.” This injunction may indicate that the family feels that the child does not belong anywhere.

• Possible mantras/lies: “I’ll be a loner forever.” “I’ll never belong anywhere.”

There are many more injunctions, as well as countless mantras a character could develop. Interestingly enough, parents also give messages called counterinjunctions, or messages that tell a child what they should be doing, the "oughts" and "dos" of parental expectations. Examples are “Be perfect.” “Try hard.” “Hurry up.” “Be strong.” “Please me.” No matter how hard a child tries to please their parents by meeting these expectations, they will still feel that they are not doing enough, because the injunction messages are stronger.

Next week we'll look at how you as an author can take a transactional analysis technique and help your character work through the internal lie they believe to determine a healthier truth about themselves. Stay tuned!

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Flying Hugs and Kisses Review

I got my first children's book in the mail to review and wanted to share my thoughts about it with you today. The author, Jewel Sample, won The National Parenting Center 2007 Seal of Approval for this book, which is a big deal!

From the back cover:

Flying Hugs and Kisses is about five children who creatively take on roles of support toward each other while showing their individual feelings about the death of their baby brother. This sensitive story of grief recovery is a great resource for parents to use to help their children understand and affirm their experience of the loss of a brother or sister.

My thoughts as a mom:

I'd have absolutely no issues letting my child read this book. It was poignant, setting up the tragedy in a way I really appreciated. At first, I thought the child would die during the delivery or something, which would be a very different story from a child dying several months later, after everyone in the house has bonded with him or her. The book will resonate with parents who have gone through the heartbreak of losing a child just as much as it will with the siblings experiencing such a loss. It's sensitively handled, as well. The pictures aren't jolting or disturbing. Emotions are handled realistically, with tears and downward-turned lips. In short, very appropriate for the subject matter.

My thoughts as a therapist:

I'm planning on letting the non-profit facility I work for utilize this book for therapeutic interactions with children. It's really that good, and I can tell you right now there are no other books in our Book Nook that address Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. There are books and books written about it for adults, but Jewel has now crafted a book that will reach children of different ages and intellects and help them cope and make sense of the loss.

The ending of her book nearly brought tears to my eyes, and I've zero experience with losing a child. It also gave me a terrific therapeutic technique I can suggest and put into practice when I encounter clients who have gone through a tragedy like losing a child. No, I won't tell you what the technique'll just have to the read the book!

You can find Jewel at her blog Jewel of a Book.


If you are an author of books for children, in particular books like the one reviewed here that you think would have a therapeutic impact on readers, PLEASE send the book to me to review. I'd love to post my thoughts here on the blog and get the word out about these books.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Treatment Tuesday - Triggers (i.e., Flashbacks) 101

This week's assessment comes from Joe.* He's a writer, of course, but isn't writing in with specific questions to his manuscripts. No, even better, he's asking a question that I think many of you writers will benefit from hearing the answer.

Joe wants to know: How can things that I've heard called 'triggers' or something to that effect, be used within a story line?

Joe's reference to triggers (which is indeed the right word) describes the phenomenon of things that we see, smell, taste, touch, hear, or just sense that might cause us to relive or remember something in our lives, either good or bad.

Triggers has come to have many associations within the psychological field, in particular with two main issues: substance abuse and trauma.

A trigger for a person who uses methamphetamine could be emotional, such as feeling alone or depressed, or it could be the action of running into certain friends who also use. A trigger for a person who has experienced a trauma could be the exact same thing, but instead of triggering them to use a substance, it triggers an anxiety response, such as flashbacks, panic attacks, and avoidance of anything that reminds them of their trauma. (To read more on post traumatic stress disorder, click here.)

Use of triggers in fiction does not have to be limited to people with addictions or traumatic pasts. A person without either could also experience a "trigger" that takes them back in time, like a nostalgic reminiscence. For me, the scent of Jergen's Original cherry almond-scented lotion makes me picture a bottle on the back of the toilet in the bathroom at my grandmother's home. I'm also reminded of hugging my grandmother and smelling that scent. It's nostalgic, a powerful memory triggered by my olfactory sense.

Joe further asks: How can one use these to make a character give pause to his/her life and either 1) do something about it, b) delve further into depression/reprobate behavior/insert issue here that they are currently using to cope, c) do nothing and let it go each time, waiting on it to return to roost, or d) decide that this "ghost" of their past needs to be put behind them once and for all, as they've been haunted by it for too long and it's time to "clean house" and move on?

And of course the answer depends on the arc you want to send the character through. Some novels depend on the character arriving at a healthier conclusion not to be haunted by their past, but some are the opposite. Villains typically bear the brunt of not reaching emotional wholeness, as the book pivots on their inability to see around their own pain or trauma and want to inflict that on others, etc. Some characters will never be motivated to "clean house" while others will see relief in any fashion they can find: therapy, drugs, violence, spirituality, religion...the list goes on.

The best way to use a trigger--or flashback, if you will--is to show the reader something about that character that they wouldn't have gotten in the present time. It needs to be purposeful, not whimsical on the part of the author. If you pick something in the present day that is going to trigger your character, you need to have the backstory firmly imprinted in your mind to know why.

Here are some considerations when thinking about putting in a flashback scene:
  • What will it say about the character? 
  • Will it exhibit the damaged place they come from? 
  • Will it showcase the perfect family they once were a part of only to juxtapose it against the crumbling fiber of a failing marriage in the present? 
  • What glimpse will it give the readers about the character's existence in the past? 
  • Will the character act very differently in the flashback--out of character--because the event changed them forever? 
  • Will it evoke a very present reaction of tears or anger, which will also show something about the character's coping mechanisms?
Once you figure these questions out, then you'll know whether to move your character through it or stunt their emotional growth for the story.

Just FYI---various literary devices can be used to transition the reader into the flashback:

1) a space within a scene to denote the jump back in time
2) a ### or other marking to denote an entirely new scene
3) use of the past perfect (had talked) before moving back into present to allow the reader to experience the flashback along with the character
4) italics (although this is overdone if the flashback goes on for pages; pulls the reader from the story)
5) whatever your editor or house requires

Hope this has been helpful when considering the use of flashbacks and triggers in fiction. I'll welcome any comments or questions below...hopefully I'll have an answer!

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Character Stereotypes: The Ditz

A ditz is someone you can count on not to count on. With synonymous names like flake, space cadet, scatterbrain, and airhead, very few readers would likely want to read a full-length novel about one, but they would make for a colorful secondary character or sidekick.

The ditz is often portrayed in films as a blond, buxom, bubblegum-chewing valley girl. Common examples would be Reese Witherspoon’s role as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde and Alicia Silvertsone as Cher Horowitz in Clueless. An example of a male flake would be Rhys Ifans’s character Spike in Notting Hill (interestingly, also blond).

But surely there is more between the ditz’s ears than air. What’s really going on with them?

Let me boil a ditz down to three traits. Hopefully you’ll see that they are, totally, more than just, like, airheads.

Click here to read the rest of my article.

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

And the Winner Is....

The lucky winner of Janice Thompson's Stars Collide is LISA!

I've sent you an email requesting your snail mail address.

Thanks everyone for entering!!

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

Don't forget to enter the giveaway for Janice Thompson's new release, Stars Collide. Giveaway ends tomorrow, so click here! 

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    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    T3 - Different Strokes for Fictional Folks

    This month, I'm moving on to my newest professional interest: Transactional Analysis (TA).

    Transactional Analysis sounds really daunting and intellectual, doesn't it? It's actually just analyzing a person's transactions with others in such a way as to improve their lives. Simple, huh? But you might be wondering what a series grounded in TA can do to better your character development and by extension, your writing.

    The answer is an unmeasurable amount! TA is so intuitive--the concepts so "Ah-ha!"--that you'll have a better understanding of not only your characters, but also of yourself. Just stick with me.

    TA is a theory of personality as well as an approach to doing therapy. It's main idea is that people make decisions based on past experiences and understandings that were at one time necessary for psychological survival but now may be no longer valid. (Many times, they aren't!)

    The first aspect of TA I want to introduce you to is the idea of "strokes." Eric Berne, a Freudian-trained psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who founded TA, believed that humans need physical, social, and intellectual stimulation, and that a "stroke" is any act of recognition/stimulation. He theorized that people needed these strokes to develop a sense of self-esteem in themselves and trust in the word. Without strokes, a person can die, as research has proven infants who go without human contact do die.

    Hold it right there. In all the reading and writing you've done, wouldn't you say that a lack of self-esteem (in some regard) or a lack of trust in others form the basis of many an internal character arc? A heroine who sees herself as unlovable. A hero who will never trust another woman. A character who believes all goodwill toward him is faked. Another who sees herself as unattractive, unworthy, imperfect.

    Psychological strokes of acceptance, recognition, or attention are what give our characters confirmation (or the opposite) of their worth. Strokes can be verbal or non-verbal, and they come in 2 varieties:

    1) Unconditional or Conditional

    Ah. Gets interesting here. Conditional strokes are received for doing something. "I'll like you if/when you act a certain way, achieve a certain goal, make a certain dollar amount." These strokes have to be earned, and are contingent on the person having to make a change in some way. Unconditional strokes are given just for someone being who they are. "I like you no matter what." These strokes don't have to be earned.

    2) Positive or Negative

    Positive strokes (a.k.a. "warm fuzzies" -- I'm serious) say "I like you." They can be non-verbal physical touches, smiles, waves. They can be verbal words of appreciation, love, friendliness. These strokes are necessarily for a person to be psychologically healthy and whole. Negative strokes (a.k.a. "cold pricklies") say "I don't like you." This could be a cold shoulder, walking the other direction when they see you, setting a person up to be made fun of, etc.

    People want to be recognized and accepted. As children, we test various ways of garnering strokes to see what behaviors or tactics will get us what kind of stroke. We will carry these methods into adulthood. If positive strokes are lacking, people will seek negative strokes, as research has proven that negative strokes are better than no strokes at all. If a person receives no strokes, they can become depressed and will resort to self-damaging and harmful methods to receive recognition.

    Now for some questions for your characters:

    1) What does your character do most often to receive strokes?
    2) What kinds of strokes does your character receive?
    3) How much of his/her time is spent trying to garner strokes?
    4) Who in your character's life give them the strokes they survive on?
    5) What kinds of strokes is your character most likely to give?

    Q4U: You tell me...will this help you get inside your character's head more? In the comment section below, give me a Thumbs Up for more transactional analysis posts or a Thumbs Down comment for "No more, please!" (Won't hurt my feelings...I want this to be useful!)

    Don't forget to enter the giveaway for Janice Thompson's new release, Stars Collide. Click here!

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    Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    Therapist Funnies - You will SMILE!

    Just for your enjoyment, a few therapist funnies to make you smile:

                                                      Q: How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? 
                                                      A: Just one, but the light bulb has to WANT to change. 


    A man is walking along the street when he is brutally beaten and robbed. He lies unconscious, bleeding. While he is lying there, a police officer passes by, but crosses to the other side of the road, without trying to help. A boy scout troop does the same, as do a number of pedestrians.

    Finally, a therapist walks by, and runs up to the man. He bends down and says, "My God! Whoever did this needs help."


    During a session, a psychotherapist says to his client, "Today we're going to try and analyze your Freudian slips. See, a Freudian slip is when you want to say something but you make a funny mistake and say something slightly different. The analysis of such a mistake can lead to some emotions you're in conflict with, some bad memories from your childhood, and so on. Have you made any such funny mistakes lately?"
    The client thinks a moment, and responds, "You know Doc, yeah. I made a funny mistake while talking to my mother. I was eating dinner with her and I wanted her to pass the salad, but instead I said: 'You stupid witch, you ruined my life, I hate you.'"


    Welcome to the Psychiatric Hotline.

    If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly.
    If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2.
    If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5, and 6.
    If you are paranoid-delusional, we know who are and what you want. Just stay on the line so we can trace the call.
    If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press.
    If you are depressed, it doesn't matter which number you press. No one will answer.
    If you are delusional and occasionally hallucinate, please be aware that the thing you are holding on the side of your head is alive and about to bite off your ear. 


    Top 10 Signs a Therapist is Approaching Burn-out:

    10) You think of the peaceful park you like as "your private therapeutic milieu."
    9) You realize that your floridly psychotic patient, who is picking invisible flowers out of mid air, is probably having more fun in life than you are.
    8) A grateful client, who thinks you walk on water, brings you a small gift and you end up having to debrief your feelings of unworthiness with a colleague.
    7) You are watching a re-run of the Wizard of Oz and you start to categorize the types of delusions that Dorothy had.
    6) Your best friend comes to you with severe relationship troubles, and you start trying to remember which cognitive behavioral technique has the most empirical validity for treating this problem.
    5) You realize you actually have no friends, they have all become just one big case load.
    4) A co-worker asks how you are doing and you reply that you are a bit "internally preoccupied" and "not able to interact with peers" today.
    3) Your spouse asks you to set the table and you tell them that it would be "countertherapeutic to your current goals" to do that.
    2) You tell your teenage daughter she is not going to start dating boys because she is "in denial," "lacks insight," and her "emotions are not congruent with her chronological age."

    And, the number one reason a therapist may be burning out...

    1) You are packing for a trip to a large family holiday reunion and you take the DSM-IV with you just in case.

    Some of these rang true...happy Wednesday!

    Don't forget to enter the giveaway for Janice Thompson's new release, Stars Collide. Click here!

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    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    Treatment Tuesday - Survivor's Guilt 101

    This week's assessment is for Jennifer. She wrote in about her current WIP featuring two brothers. The hero feels he is to blame for his brother's death. His brother was driving the car and they were having an argument about the hero's irresponsibility when they got into an accident. The hero's brother died, leaving the hero with survivor's guilt. To add insult to injury, the hero's brother was considered the "perfect" brother, the responsible one--yet he was the one who died. Enter the heroine, who was the girlfriend of the deceased brother. She finds out she is pregnant, and the hero wants to "make things up" to his brother by marrying her and giving the baby a name.

    Jennifer wants to know: Would this reaction make sense? Are there any other common factors found in people experiencing this type of guilt?

    Before we get to your specific scenario, a brief overview of Survivor's Guilt might benefit my readers. Survivor's guilt is a phenomenon that occurs when a person experiences a traumatic event and lives when one or more people died. This could be war, a car accident, terrorist attack, hurricane--any event where some people die and others do not. The survivor perceives himself to have done wrong just by surviving.

    Survivor's guilt used to be it's own diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual until 1994 when it was subsumed under Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It carried with it many of the same criteria as PTSD does now, including depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, withdrawal, nightmares, episodes of uncontrollable crying/laughing, and a loss of interest in things that one brought pleasure. (Very similar to PTSD.)

    This type of trauma response can result from 1 of 3 situations: (1) individuals feel guilty for surviving or being uninjured when others were killed or injured; [your hero fits here] (2) they were unable to rescue someone or had to leave someone dying in the disaster; or (3) it was not possible to overcome "the bad guys" (Holen, 1993; Simpson, 1993).

    Some of the questions your hero will be thinking:
    • Why did I live when the he died?
    • Should I have died so he could live?
    • Would he have had a better life, more to live for? 
    • What more could I have done to save him?
    What makes your story doubly interesting is that your hero has both active and passive survivor's guilt. According to clinical psychologist Yael Danieli, there is both "real" and "imagined" guilt. She distinguishes between them in that real, conscious guilt comes from an actual act of commission or omission on the part of the survivor that may have contributed to the emotional endangerment/harm/death of the other. The fact that your hero and his brother were arguing in the car might indeed have hindered the brother's driving reflexes in some way.

    Imagined (also called passive) guilt is guilt a person's feels when they wish they could have acted differently, maybe more heroically, and as such would have prevented the harm that befell the other person who died. Usually this guilt happens in the absence of having knowingly acted in a harmful manner (i.e., the person didn't do anything that would have hurt anyone else), but not always. Your hero could have been talking about roses on the side of the highway when the other driver hit them and there was absolutely no fault of his in the accident. But because of his passive guilt about the argument, he's moved on to active guilt about playing a role in the actual accident.

    [A caveat: one question to ask yourself about your hero is this--is he a control freak? You mentioned he wasn't the most responsible of brothers, which would lead me to the conclusion that he's not a control freak, but I ask this question because those people who are frequently have an even harder time dealing with survivor's guilt. The feeling of utter helplessness in the face of what might seem to be a random, senseless event leaves them unable to cope. They would rather believe that they could have done something differently to counteract their feeling of ineffectualness.]

    So he's got this beast called survival's guilt. Would it lead him to want to marry his brother's girlfriend to give the baby a name? Short answer? Sure. Many survivors try to join in the "recovery effort" after a traumatic event--and trying to help others impacted by the loss is a major way to do this. It might be a proactive way he could relieve the guilt, assuming that relief is something he actually wants. But for some reason, this doesn't ring especially true to me, almost as if I'd think he'd rather wallow in the guilt, you know? You mentioned that he was some sort of slacker. Irresponsible. That his brother was the "perfect" brother.

    My gut tells me that your hero would have many dormant feelings of worthlessness or not being as worthy as his brother emerge after the accident. Old messages of him never "measuring up" or not being as good as his brother might have been triggered, which would possibly illicit all manner of self-condemnation, inner turmoil, or acting in such a way as to prompt rejection or disdain from others so that his internal feelings and external factors gel.

    So for a guy like this (if I indeed pegged him right), marrying the girlfriend would have to serve some greater purpose. You didn't mention anything about love in the character sketch, and a pregnancy is time-limited, so it appears that the marriage would be very close to the death of the brother--within the year. I got to thinking that if he had loved this girl all along that would make the marriage all that more bittersweet and tormenting, like he finally got what he wanted--but at the expense of his brother. That's emotionally intense!

    How would your character make an arc that leaves the reader satisfied that he'd dealt with the guilt and moved on?

    Aaron Haas wrote about survival guilt in Holocaust survivors in his paper (found in Lemberger, 1995). In it, he writes, "Guilt is the penance one pays for the gift of survival." Psychologist Donna Marzo wrote that instead of having a person focus on their guilt, they should focus on the gift of survival. In your book, that could mean a gift for your hero to change his ways, mend his relationships, be better than he was. It's a second chance. Let his internal arc swing this direction to give your reader a nice cathartic conclusion as he embraces life and living.

    Good luck with this! Any other questions, leave them for me below. Hope this helps.

    Don't forget to enter the giveaway for Janice Thompson's new release, Stars Collide. Click here!

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