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Friday, June 27, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Young Adults Changing Life Trajectories

Dear Jeannie,

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

Airi's sadistic author 

Dear Sadistic,

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

Dear Jeannie,

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

Courtly in Cornwall 

Dear Courtly,

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


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Friday, June 20, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Sensory and Sleep Deprivation

Dear Jeannie,

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

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

Dear Sadistic,

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

Dear Jeannie,

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


Dear Anonymous,

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


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

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Meningitis Fears

Dear Jeannie,

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

Thank you,
Bothersome Caution in British Columbia

Dear Bothersome Caution,

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

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Medieval Courting and Mistaken Twin

Dear Jeannie,

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

Hunting in Hoosierville

Dear Hunting,

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

Dear Jeannie,

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

Exiled in Exeter 

Dear Exiled,

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


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