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Monday, September 30, 2013

Writer's Quiz: Is Your Partner Supportive of Your Writing?

Writers! Help me out. I'm hoping to utilize the information gathered from this quiz to inform an article for a journal. This is such a salient topic for writers...having support is essential to success (well, it helps anyway). Other posts will follow at a later date, analyzing this data, as well as problem solving how to help writers who feel they don't get the support they crave from their partners.

The first eleven questions are required, and the 12th is optional. However, I'd appreciate any and all information from you writers who feel unsupported by your partners. If you'd be willing to further dialogue with me about this topic, please leave your email address in the box for question 11.

Thanks so much!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Unplanned Pregnancy and Being Resurrected

Dear Jeannie,

My character only feels valued at her job where she excels at research as a paralegal in a prestigious law firm. She has plans to go to law school. For three years she has stayed home with her twins. She loves her children but feels nonproductive doing mom stuff. The twins will go to three-day preschool in the fall. She is so excited to be able to work half a day. She and her husband have put an addition on their home for the twins, and their old room is to be her office where she can work at home as well. She has her future planned out, then she finds out she’s pregnant. To me this seems like a set up for depression. What are some other ways she could react to her situation? 

Bezerko in Sandpiper Bay, NC  

Dear Bezerko,

You've just described what might possibly be my biggest nightmare. She would be utterly devastated. Yes, depression would be a likely option, but if she were sitting in my office, we'd have to address the polarizing issue of whether she wants to keep the baby or not. My guess is that she would at least contemplate abortion, even if she is adamantly opposed to it. She wouldn't be normal if she didn't. She resents the life inside of her, as s/he will prevent her from achieving her goals. This resentment would likely be accompanied by guilt. She could even begin eating less healthy, skipping vitamins/prenatal appointments, and taking less care of herself in general in hopes of a "natural" miscarriage. I believe there to be a real disconnect for women who want to work, yet feel that they have to or should do the mom thing. Some women have children because they are "supposed"'s like a natural progression. You get married, then you have a family. Your heroine finds her fulfillment in her work, and there's nothing wrong with that. It doesn't mean she loves her children less. I'd actually love to know how you resolve this, so drop me a line. Best of luck!

Dear Jeannie,
Six men wake up alive over a hundred years after their deaths, with strange supernatural powers, to a world that is practically unrecognizable, all loved ones they knew gone, full of weird technologies and cultures, and monstrous creatures that are a constant threat. The group surmise that they were resurrected and given their new abilities to destroy these monsters, and go on a journey to do just that. How do these guys even begin to cope? I imagine that some of the grieving process would be postponed as they focus on handling their new situation, but certainly not for long.

Thanks a bunch,
Maximum Emotional Damage

Dear Maximum Emotional Damage,

You'd be right. Maslow's hierarchy of needs speaks plainly to what their main focus would be. Outside of food, water, air and shelter...the next level of need is Safety. So it will be during moments of relative safety from the monsters that the men will reflect on their previous lives, and the feelings of loss and grief that come from that. As to how they navigate the grieving process, that can follow the traditional stages of grief, but it might not, since grief is so individual. Plus, they are faced with truly overwhelming circumstances...a new life, a new body, a new world, with new toys they don't know how to use. They might react with being so overwhelmed that they are reckless in battle, wanting to end their bewilderment by being offed by the monsters. Some might face more traditional suicidal thoughts. They might let out all their aggression on the monsters, which would be a healthier option. Sounds like you definitely are doing the type of thinking that's needed to make these guys come alive on the page. Thanks for writing in!


Leave an anonymous comment below, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle, and I'll post my answers to your questions in future columns.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Jurassic Park Sighting: True Blood

If you don't know what a Jurassic Park Sighting is, click here. Otherwise, read on.

I was catching up on my True Blood series, and came upon a whopper of a Jurassic Park Sighting.


If you haven't watched through season 6, episode 8....DO NOT READ further.

At the end of episode 7, Eric's sister, Nora, dies a horrific death from Hep V, which has been injected into bottles of True Blood to taint them and destroy the vampire population. Eric holds Nora in his arms as she meets the true death and ends up a pile of goo in his arms.

At the beginning of episode 8, Eric is understandably upset. Before I get to the Jurassic Park Sighting, a little history is in order. Eric has already undergone a rather dramatic character change since the beginning of the series, when he was just this bada$$ vamp who owned a bada$$ bar and didn't give a you-know-what about anyone's feelings.

Then he met Sookie and began to feel things for her. And these feelings interfere with his bada$$ness, soften him up a bit. He just signed Sookie's house back over to her at the beginning of season 6, which was almost synonymous with giving her up. Not something Northman would have done in season 1, that's for sure.

So anyway...Eric's emotional, about as upset as he was when his maker Godric met the son. Bill comes in, and Eric wants to know how long Bill has known that deaths like Nora would happen. Bill doesn't know, and says he doesn't choose when the visions come to him. He reiterates that they have a lot of work to do in order to prevent other vamps from meeting the same end.

Eric is ticked at Bill's emotionless display (which would be fairly proper for a vamp), and he says, "My sister's blood is still warm on my chest."

Wait, what?!?


Did I miss something? Since when did vamps have ANYthing warm about them? They're dead! This is Eric being overly melodramatic...which is seriously a Jurassic Park Sighting.

Let's Anaylze

Have you come across any Jurassic Park Sightings yourself? Did you hear Eric's ridiculous statement on Sunday? I just laughed, backtracked, and watched it again to laugh harder.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Therapeutic Review and Giveaway of Love's Awakening by Laura Frantz!

Mmm..hunky haunted heroes on my couch are becoming a favorite. I've got Jack Turlock fidgeting today on my chaise lounge (because he'd much rather be swinging a scythe around than verbal bantering with a therapist).

Here's a blurb about Love's Awakening from Laura's website:

Ellie Ballantyne, youngest child of Silas and Eden, has left finishing school. But back at her family home in Pittsburgh, Ellie finds that her parents are away on a long trip and her siblings don't seem to want her to stay. When she opens a day school for young ladies, she begins tutoring the incorrigible daughter of the enemy Turlock clan. The Turlocks are slaveholders and whiskey magnates, envious of the powerful Ballantynes and suspicious of their abolitionist leanings. As Ellie becomes increasingly tangled with the Turlocks, she finds herself falling in love with an impossible future--and Jack Turlock, a young man striving to free himself from his family's violent legacy. How can she betray her family and side with the enemy? And will Jack ever allow her into his world?

Being a Turlock is synonymous with being from the wrong side of the tracks. Especially if on the other side of those tracks are Ballantynes. For Jack to have anything to do with Ellie Ballantyne would be the essence of being star-crossed lovers.

And all because his mother nearly married Ellie's dad. But marrying Jack's father, a whiskey mogul, sealed the deal on a rivalry bigger than the Hatfields and McCoys. Jack's father is no saint--far from it--and at a very young age, Jack witnesses his father's cruelty and evilness and is scared into silence.

How can he ever be suitable for the Ellie, a fine gentlewoman who is taking the time to give his younger sister the proper tutoring she should have had (if his mother had been any good at mothering)? Jack's near-death experience at the beginning of the book, where a tree almost lands on top of him during a tornado, shakes him to his core, and his outlook on life and faith changes. Events like what he goes through have a way of making you question what you hold dear...and what you don't.

During a time where the abolitionist movement is gaining ground, he knows his father's leanings toward slavery isn't as popular anymore. His brother's way of getting things done is reckless, showing disregard for life. Jack wants to escape, in part to protect Ellie and in part to protect himself.

If you want a book that's heavy on the star-crossed lover theme, this is for you. Frantz weaves a tale that had me--no joke--reading the last 30 pages while driving to a conference just so I could finish it! (Thank goodness it was very early and with very little traffic on the road.) The author gives voice to the abolitionist movement, and those brave Americans who forsook everything to advocate for equality for all. The overall message of this book is that righteousness prevails, and it left me very satisfied.

Giveaway Details

If you'd like to be entered in a giveaway for this book, all you have to do is leave a comment below with your email address. I love for my giveaways to be perks for my readership, so if you haven't already followed me on Google Connect, please click on the blue "Join this site" button. Giveaway will run until Sunday, lower 48 only.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Paralyzed Athletes and Raising Clones

Dear Jeannie,
Evan was an athlete fresh out of high-school, and he had high hopes of being an Olympic runner. But he is involved in a hit-and-run accident that leaves him paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair, probably for life. Pretty much all of his dreams and his life up until that point have been crushed; what do you think his immediate reaction would be? How long would any shock from this stick around?

Thank you,
Olympic Runner 

Dear Olympic Runner,

Man, you're cruel, aren't you? :) Athletes who suffer serious injuries are particularly difficult to treat. They are groomed their entire lives to reach certain goals, and when those goals are suddenly and tragically unable to physically be met, it's devastating. His immediate reaction will be shock and disbelief, of course. He'll probably be in denial about the extent of his injuries and will hold on to the belief that he'll walk again, etc. When it become apparent through the passing of time that you're not going to give him a miracle, he'll begin the intermediate stages of grief at that point (depression, mainly). Your specific question as to how long can't be answered, not definitively. Grief is so individualized to each person. But I'd go on a limb to say that the shock could last anywhere from a few days to a week or longer. Denial, however, can last much longer. Athletes just don't want to give up. It's in their blood.

Dear Jeannie,

Mel is in her thirties, working on a top secret space exploration program when a six year old clone of herself shows up. Since there isn't anyone else to take the girl, she is pressured by her sister and boss, who was adopted at a similar age and is very close to Mel, to take her as a daughter. Previously Mel had wanted children and had been the one that would always help someone in need, especially kids, but now she doesn't want anything to do with the girl. What would cause this kind of reaction?

Thanks very much,
Sci Fi Stuck 

Dear Sci Fi Stuck,

Kudos for such a weird, fascinating plot! Since I love brainstorming, here goes: My best guess would be that the girl reminds Mel of things she'd rather leave buried. Childhood can be traumatic for so many reasons, and having to relive it through this little clone might be too much for her. Perhaps the girl makes Mel feel weak and helpless, a being to be enacted upon rather than a strong, top-secret exploration program insider. Maybe the girl embarrasses her by innocently revealing insecurities that maybe still cling to Mel's emotional interior. It could be that the weirdo factor is too high...raising yourself? I'm so curious where you go with this. Hopefully this is helpful in giving you some place to start.

Got Questions?

Leave a comment below, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle or Terrified in Texas, and I'll answer your questions in a future Dear Jeannie column.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Therapeutic Review and Giveaway of Dangerous Passage by Lisa Harris!

I am happy to host Avery North, the main character from Lisa Harris' new romantic suspense, Dangerous Passage, on my couch today.

Here's a blurb about the book from Lisa's website:

When two Jane Does are killed on the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia, detective and behavioral specialist Avery North discovers they share something in common--a tattoo of a magnolia on their shoulders. Suspecting a serial killer, Avery joins forces with medical examiner Jackson Bryant to solve the crimes and prevent another murder. But it doesn't take long for them to realize that there is much more to the case than meets the eye. As they venture deep into a sinister world of human trafficking, Avery and Jackson are taken to the very edge of their abilities--and their hearts.

What can I say about Avery? The girl has been through the emotional ringer, that's for sure. You find out very early in the book that she's suffered two tremendous losses, that of her husband and brother. She's dealing better with the traumatic grief of the former than the latter. She's also dealing with a mother who has been changed by the loss of her son, changed so much that she's not the support for Avery that she once was.

Any one of these issues alone might would have brought her into my office.

Then these girls start cropping up dead. Avery's got a lot of irons in the pot, especially when you throw in the hottie medical examiner. She's single-momming it with a pre-teen, and trying to juggle a demanding job, time at church, time to herself, time with a retiring father and distant/grieving mother...and now this burgeoning relationship. Whoa.

I really appreciate how serious Avery takes all of this, especially with a child to consider. Too often in their needs, and their child rarely, if ever, factors into it. So Avery got lots of kudos in my book for being a good example of how relationships and even dangerous jobs should be viewed when there are children in the mix.
my office, I see moms who make these rash, hurried decisions out of codependent desperation in an attempt to meet

You'll have to read the book to see how Avery's job gets even grittier and how she and Jackson heat things up. Lisa does a great job of integrating the suspense and the romance, so you get a good dose of both elements.

I'm giving away my review copy* to one lucky commenter below. My giveaways are a perk for blog subscribers and followers, so if you haven't already, please click the blue "Join this Site" button to the right and add your pretty, smiling face to my subscriber list, or Click "Subscribe in a Reader" if you prefer.

Just leave a comment with your email address in a spam-me-not format (jeannie at charactertherapist dot net). The giveaway will run through next Sunday.

*Available August 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Emotional Trauma and Dissociation

Dear Jeannie,

Callie was raised by humans in San Francisco during the California gold rush. Callie's father spent his days panning for gold and her mother was a very cautious laundry woman who spent a lot of time teaching her children the basics of self defense. Callie's family (including her three younger brothers) were killed by gunslingers when she was six. She, in a moment of terrified panic, killed said gunslingers with a hatchet, leaving Callie the only survivor. She was informally adopted by Alfred and is moved to New York City, where she learned that she had an older brother in Texas. Callie and her brother eventually got in touch through letters and became good friends before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Her brother  joined the Confederate army and Callie was ordered to enlist in the Union army alongside Alfred no matter what she had to do. Despite this, Callie and her brother make an effort to keep writing to each other throughout the war. What kind of emotional baggage might she be carrying?

Stressing in the States

Dear Stressing,

By far the most traumatic thing mentioned is that her family was killed by gunslingers and that she then killed them with a hatchet. Hel-lo, Lizzie Borden. Major trauma. And at 6 years old, too. Very impressionable age. She might well have to mentally repress this in order to continue to function. I can only imagine the amount of blood she saw. So insert her into a war, and this could bring flashbacks. Also learning that she still has family left, even if she never has met her brother...this could be something she latches on to...some semblance of belonging, however meager or thin. Anyway...hope this helps. Thanks for writing in.

Dear Jeannie,

I have some further questions about Dissociative Disorders. Can my character Charlie be aware of other identities he has, but not know them other than what the doctors have observed and reported? Then, his true identity - Brian, married to Susan with four daughters across the Atlantic - is just buried so deep that it hasn't found a trigger? As an undercover he'd want to bury it, right? What about Mary/Susan? Is it possible she could remember her actual childhood, but be stuck in the adult cover of childless Mary and Nick, and not remember Brian's name, or their daughters?

Splitting Hairs in Alaska 

Dear Splitting Hairs,

People's experience with dissociation is as varied as people are. I've worked with several individuals over the years, and they all have different stories. One woman had other personalities within her that she was unaware of until she would read journal entries she wrote while in that altered state (incidentally, in a completely different penmanship). One woman knew exactly how many alters she had, and they communicated "within" her, for lack of better words. People who have split personalities (as it used to be called and I find actually rather an apt description) may well remember their childhood as in tact (meaning all the personalities have the same memories of the same childhood). You're adding an additional fictional later of the undercover agent storyline, which would further complicate things in a reader's mind, I feel sure (b/c I'm a bit fuzzy on it), but it also opens up possibilities to you that may well could suspend reader disbelief. I wish you the best on this intriguing idea!

Got questions of your own? Leave them in the comment section, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle, and I will post my answers in next week's column.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What do Popples® have to do with Characterization?

I've spent week before last monitoring Popples® on eBay.

Yes, you read right. Popples®.

Anybody out there remember these furry little marsupial-like toys from Hasbro? Back in the day, I had the one pictured, Puffball. 

This vintage toy is going for the low, low price of $49.95. And in a week-long fog of insanity, I nearly pressed the Buy It Now! button several times.

One, because this would serve my need for immediate gratification.

Two, because I love the idea of being reunited with a beloved toy from my childhood. In fact, love it so much that I was almost willing to part with 50 bones for this reunion.

(And would, in fact, have done so if my husband hadn't looked at me and said, "What on earth are you going to do with that?" I didn't have a good answer. I mean, I wouldn't let my daughter play with this "un-matted" vintage toy that I put down major bucks it would likely sit on a shelf or in a drawer. I saw his point and bootlegged the picture for old times sake.)

But it got me thinking about people in general, and of course, our characters, which we model after real folks. Folks who have moments of insanity like this. Folks who have fond remembrances and affinities for things from our childhood. It says a lot about our character to form these attachments.

I'm not big on character forms, but a little character exercise every once in a while never hurt anyone. Answer the questions below to get to know your MC a little better.

1. What decade did your character grow up in?

2. Use this link to search for toys that correspond with that era. [WARNING: Potential time suck.]

3. Select a toy that you could imagine your character being willing to pay $50+ for 25 years later.

4. What feelings does this toy evoke in your character? Why?

Let's Analyze

Learn anything new...about yourself or your character? How many minutes did you just use up exclaiming over some of those old toys that you knew and loved?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Going to Conference? Don't Forget to Doodle....

I found a fascinating article in Applied Cognitive Psychology about how doodling just might help you remember more facts when faced with a primary task.  Here's the abstract:
Doodling is a way of passing the time when bored by a lecture or telephone call. Does it improve or hinder attention to the primary task? To answer this question, 40 participants monitored a monotonous mock telephone message for the names of people coming to a party. Half of the group was randomly assigned to a ‘doodling’ condition where they shaded printed shapes while listening to the telephone call. The doodling group performed better on the monitoring task and recalled 29% more information on a surprise memory test. Unlike many dual task situations, doodling while working can be beneficial. Future research could test whether doodling aids cognitive performance by reducing daydreaming. Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
The British researcher, Jackie Andrade from the School of Psychology at the University of Plymouth, determined that doodling did in fact help. The control group remembered 7.1% of 8 names in a two and a half minute staged voicemail they listened to, while the doodling group remembered 7.8%.

The test subjects were given small shapes to shade in, to replicate the absent-mindedness of natural doodling (b/c if subjects felt their doodles were the real focus of the study, they might feel self-conscious).

Some have thought that doodling would actually detract resources from the primary task, like, say, attending a writing conference or a training of any kind. But it appears that doodling actually maintains arousal levels and aids in go for it.

Out here in California, I regularly attend trainings with manipulatives on the tables, such as tiny play-doh containers, crayons, pipe cleaners, etc. In my office, I have what I call "fidgety toys," for those folks with restless energy who just need to engage their hands in something so they can free their mind to talk to me. I use toys such as Tangle Creations, slinkies, Jacob's ladders, wire fidgeters, etc, to name a few.

So shamelessly pull out your pieces of paper and sketch away...or play with games on your iPhone or iPad. The results are the same.

Let's Analyze

Are you a fidgeter? Do you have to keep your hands busy? If so, do you feel it helps keep you attending to the task?  And how many of you will I see at ACFW? Holler at me!!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Stages of Development and Bibliomania

Dear Jeannie,

My character, Tanya, is a six-year-old in a fantasy setting. She becomes pair-bonded with a Genki (speak with him telepathically and be aware of each other's presence and state). Her village believes the Genki are monsters, and exile Tanya, along with her family, when this is found out. She is allowed to set up outside the Genki village (who are also mistrusting of humans) of her pair-bond. I imagine Tanya would have some guilt from her family going into exile with her, and causing grief for her pair-bond. Also maybe some anger towards her village and confusion about the recent events. Fear of other humans is probably another outcome. Though, I believe, there would also be a stabilizing effect from her pair-bond. What else would be realistic for a six-year-old in this situation? And, as she grows into a young teen, how might these events affect her emotional and mental development, as well as that of her pair-bond?

Curious in Cascadia

Dear Curious,

Only a writer can ask a question like "what else would be realistic for a 6-year-old in this situation?" after having just described a scenario where The Village (Shyamalan) meets Twilight-type stuff. :) The most important part of that question is her age. The psychosocial stage she's supposed to be in is industry v. inferiority...but she's reading more like the stage for 3 to 5-year-olds, which is initiative v. guilt. She's exerted too much control over her environment by bucking the trend to not go into the forest and now is pair-bonded with a Genki. According to Erickson, she's definitely going to feel guilt. But at age 6, kids are usually entering the academic world more if, while outside the Genki village, she's engaged in some sort of industrious learning or schooling (whether traditional or about the Genki or the pair-bond or what-have-you), this will do a lot for helping move her along. You can consider the pair-bond stabilizing only as far as she doesn't blame him or their bond on what has happened to her. Moving from her village and uprooting her family is what professionals would call an adverse childhood event, which in turn, if prolonged or severe, can cause trauma and stunted development in children. If the pair-bond is a positive experience in her mind, then he will be the secure base she'll gravitate toward, and research shows just having one of these in a child's life improves outcomes for them. Hopefully this information, and the Ericksonian psychosocial stages I gave you links for, will help you out. Thanks for writing in!

Dear Jeannie,

Sylvia lost a child, aged about 6 months, in a horrific accident (the baby fell from the a mountain cliff). Sylvia was then age 32 and already had two other children. We meet her when she's 60 and suffering from bibliomania. How likely is it that the accident and the book hoarding are connected psychologically?

The Lost Girl

Dear Lost Girl,

I'd have to know a few things first, namely, when did the book-hoarding begin? Did she collect books at all prior to the accident? Bibliomania is not a disorder recognized by the DSM-V (newest edition of our "bible" of mental disorders), though it would fall under obsessive-compulsive disorders. I'd want to know if Sylvia had any other compulsions prior to collecting books, because by age 32, usually a person would already have displayed symptoms of anxiety or compulsiveness. I'd also want to know if collecting the books relieves anxiety she might have, and if so, on what doess her anxiety center? If it could talk, what would it say? It's my understanding that for the bibliomanic individual, the type of books collected doesn't matter. They will buy many copies of the same book, with no intention of reading. How severe are her compulsions? Is her house completely littered with books? or is it just her deceased baby's old nursery? Gotta say...this would be a good one to have sit on my couch. Kudos, 'cause I'm other readers should be as well. :)

Got questions of your own? Leave them in the comment section, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle, and I will post my answers in next week's column.