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Monday, May 31, 2010

Amanda Flower's Maid of Murder

Amanda Flower's new India Hayes Mystery, Maid of Murder, releases this month, and you don't want to miss it. I'm such a fan of the now not-just-dead-but-beaten-to-a-pulp genre of "chick lit," but Amanda's book takes chick lit, adds a whopping dollop of cozy mystery and a dash of romance for a recipe that makes for just plain entertaining reading.

India Hayes has quirks...and they are glorious. Her day job resembles that of Amanda's (as a small college librarian), but I doubt anyone has got as wacky a family that India does (or such a busybody next door neighbor).

I liked the premise of this book so much that I requested to be a reviewer. Every female I know has had that experience of being asked to be in a wedding and being saddled with an atrocious bridesmaid dress. Yikes. It's real, relatable, and, thanks to Amanda's sense of zany humor at times, extremely amusing. Like, laugh-out-loud amusing.

As a therapist, I zeroed in on India's poor heartbroken brother, who, while innocent of the accused crime, is in need of ongoing therapy. I think every reader will probably identify with some aspects of the Mark's story. We've all loved, all lost. Some of us made it through easily and some of us had to stop for a while to steady our feet under us again. India's value of family is so heartwarming to read because she undertakes considerable risk to take care of Mark and protect him. Would that we all had family members like India.

In short, this book was fantastic. I read it in about two days, and for my busy schedule, that says something. You can read all the first chapter of Amanda's book at her website. When you're finished with that, click the following links to buy it!


Barnes and Nobles


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Thursday, May 27, 2010

T3 - Inside the Head of an Abuser

An abuser is someone who has a pattern of behavior with a significant other that is controlling, manipulative, threatening, demeaning, and intimidating. The key is that it's a pattern, not a one-time or ever-so-often event. At some point, everyone in their life might be insensitive and demonstrate some of the above-mentioned behaviors, but that might make their behavior abusive. It's the pattern of these behaviors that makes the individual abusive.

It's important to look at the motive behind the behaviors to determine who is truly an abuser. We all might display some controlling behaviors, but usually our motives are pure: to protect a child, prevent hurt feelings, etc. But an abuser's motive? Show their partner who rules the roost.

They make requests and suggestions that are much more than what is heard at surface level. Usually there is a threat underlying their words..."Do what I say...or else!" This makes the request more like a demand. The victim will understand that consequences will follow if the "request" isn't met. To the abuser, if it isn't met, the victim is actively defying them. The victim has two choices: either accommodate or frustrate the command...there is no in between. Disobeying them means they will face punishment.

An abuser has a sense of entitlement when the request is made. This sense of entitlement, perhaps more than anything else, drives the abusive mentality. It's a narcissistic trait, for sure. Narcissists think they deserve what they want, when they want, where they want it, and how they want. They don't think they should have to earn respect and compliance, and when they don't receive it, they think they are entitled to be enraged, which of course leads to abusive actions.

What's interesting in my study of the abusive personality is that abusers often think of themselves as the victim! They feel like they are being constantly inconvenienced, and because of this, they are quick to blame who they perceive to be inconveniencing them. From blame comes anger and rage. Then the abuser will rationalize their abusive actions. And this only gets worse with time. The threshold gets lower and lower for how much "defiance" or "inconvenience" they will take, until they will find anything to rage about. This is when the victim says they feel they are "walking on eggshells."

While abusers are not limited to men, it's more likely that they are abusers if for no other reason than their comparative physical size and strength advantage over women. Women abusers are more likely to emotionally abuse men. A lot of female-on-male abuse just doesn't get reported, perhaps because of the stigma associated with a male coming forward to say he is being abused.

Next week, I'll take a look at some of the characteristics of children who grow up in abusive families. Hopefully it'll give you some good material for your WIPs.

The above information was taken in part from the website of Steve Becker, LCSW.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Trichotillomania

I got a question a while back from Carie, who wanted to know of a lesser-known disorder she could give a child in her WIP. While the disorder I'm suggesting doesn't have to be just for children, it's definitely one that will give a different spin to a story.

Trichotillomania (which is SO very fun to say, by the way---trick-o-till-o-mania) is an anxiety disorder where the main symptom a person has is pulling at one's own hair persistently. The most common area where children or adults pull hair is of course the scalp, but pulling of hair can happen anywhere there is hair. Eyelashes and eyebrows are really common, as well.

Usually a child will pull their hair or eyelashes when they feel anxious about something just prior to the act. They'll feel tension when trying to stop pulling, as well. After they pull, they'll feel some relief. (So the argument could be made it's a disorder similar to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, in that they feel compelled to do it.)

Alopecia can occur, which is loss of hair. It can be extremely noticeable, or small and you can have an adorable looking kid for your WIP without some bald pattern on their head and still have them with a problem.

In preschool age children, this disorder is often considered a childhood habit. My own little girl will often tug at her eyelashes while she's falling asleep, almost like it's comforting to her somehow. She'll pull at them gently, though, not with the intent of pulling them out. Likely, she'll grow out of it. If an adolescent child develops this, then it's more likely that they will have some more severe pathology later, like OCD, so I'd think about what age you want the child to be who might have this disorder and where you'll want to go with it.

A very interesting side note: My cat, Cracker, actually had a version of kitty trichotillomania when we moved him from New Orleans to California. He picked and licked and bit at the underside of his torso and inner legs until he had very little hair (which was extremely noticeable, as he was an all-black cat). The vet called it psychogenic alopecia. Our cat was traumatized by the move, apparently! Like I said, very interesting!

So there you are, Carie. A little-known (or at least little-written about) disorder for the kiddo in your WIP! Any questions are welcome in the comments section, as always.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

T3 - Top 10 Reasons Why Characters Would Stay In Abusive Relationships

In order to create more realistic fiction scenarios involving abusive relationships, I had a request to delve a little deeper and give insight into the couple dynamic.

The following 10 reasons why people stay in abusive relationships will be in bold black, and the counter-argument that might be able to "break them free" from the abuse you inflict on them in your novel will be in bold red.

#1) Love. Probably one of the most often-cited reasons. They love the partner and experience times when their partner is loving toward them. It's also painful to admit that someone you love would hurt you, so due to the very real love the victim feels, they will downplay the abuse or convince themselves that it's really not that bad.

Just because you love someone doesn't make them healthy for you. Leaving a person won't shut off your feelings for them, but it will put the victim in a more rational position to look at the relationship for what/how it truly is.

#2) Hope. They have memories of happier times and want to hold on to optimism that those times will return. They might believe the "key" to their happiness lies in a simple change to be had by the abuser---that one day, he will keep to his promise to change or that if the victim just does something differently, the abuse will stop.

Since the victim isn't the one doing the abusive acts, there is nothing they can say or do to change their behavior to end the abuse. The abuser will promise to change in the honeymoon stage, but the only sure-fire way to end the abuse is to end the relationship.

#3) Self-Blame. The victim might begin to internalize the words from the abuser that it was "something they did to deserve the abuse." The partner can say it's the victim's fault, and the victim might actually start to believe it.

You can only control yourself, not the actions of others. There is nothing the victim can do that deserves to be hurt under any circumstances. The abuser is 100% at responsible for what they are doing.

#4) Shame. It might be too difficult or embarrassing to admit what's really going on to friends or family because you're afraid of what they will think about you. One big possibility that might taunt the victim is if they said, "I can't believe you were so desperate for love that you settled for that guy."

If you aren't the one doing the abuse, then you have nothing to be ashamed of. People who might say something similar to the above statement aren't educated about domestic violence. There are people out there who won't judge you.

#5) Comfort. Many people grow up with violence in their families of origin. If a child was ever hit and told by a parent that they did it because they love the child, then they could grow up to think and accept that love and violence together.

Physical abuse is not about love--it's about gaining power and control. There is nothing normal about violence accompanying love. Love is antithetical to power and's patient, kind, not envious, boastful or proud. Love isn't rude, self-seeking, or easily angered. It keeps no record of wrong. It doesn't delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, trusts, hopes, persevered. Love never fails.

#6) Hopelessness. The victim may feel that they'll never warrant a relationship where they are treated any better, especially if they have gone from one abusive relationship to the next. They are willing to settle for an abusive relationship than being alone. There is a certain amount of co-dependence in this viewpoint for sure.

There are more people in the world who don't abuse than who do. Respecting yourself enough to believe you are worthy of a relationship that doesn't harm you might require therapy. The fact is, victims are strong people who endure tremendous much.

#7) Fear. If the abuser has ever threatened to harm or kill someone the victim cares about if the victim leaves, then the victim will stay shackled in the relationship to protect those loved ones.

If threatened, it's important for a victim to have a safety plan in place that they can act on quickly. The plan needs to include "cues" that might serve as warning signs of impending abuse, what things have worked in the past to protect themselves, leading escalating arguments into designated more public places, phone numbers that can be called for assistance, names/numbers of people who are willing to help out if you turn to them, a code word used to let those people know you're in danger, an escape route to safe locations and/or medical care.

#8) Guilt. Abusers are very good at playing guilt trips, and will tell victims how much it would hurt them if the victim left. They often will tell the victim that they would commit suicide.

Guilt trips are just one way abusers try to manipulate victims. It wouldn't be the victim's fault of the abuser actually followed through with a suicide threat.

#9) Religion. Interesting, this one. A victim might feel a messiah complex of sorts and want to rescue, change, fix, heal, and save their partner through being loyal and staying with them. Many Christian women in abusive relationships will quote Scripture about how "God hates divorce" in order to justify staying with the abuser. If they married couple has children, they also become a reason to stay, the victim believing that the child will be better off with two parents instead of one.
Oooh. Tough one to combat! No amount of loyalty or understanding will change the partner. Besides, loyalty must be earned, and someone who is supposed to love you but abuses you instead has betrayed your trust. As for children, witnessing domestic violence is extremely psychologically damaging to a child. It's better for a child to live with one non-violent parent than with two parents in an abusive relationship. Who's to say the abuser won't turn on the child? Visitations can be set up for the child to interact with the abusive parent in a safe setting. If they are real sticklers on divorce, then you can say leaving a person to maintain safety doesn't necessitate a divorce.

#10) Isolation. Abusers will often isolate a victim to the point where they have no close connections with family or friends. If the victim should ever choose to leave, then they might feel they'd have nowhere to go but a shelter or on the run. Victims are frequently dependent financially on the abuser--the abuser makes sure of it, as this is yet another technique to isolate.

Friends and family will be more supportive than you think. Often they resent the abuser for cutting them off from the victim and would be more than happy to step in and offer support if called upon. They'll likely be relieved to be asked finally! There are also programs out there designed for people in abusive relationships to gain financial independence.

I hope this sheds some light into how you can make your characters who are abused be more realistic in their arguments to stay with the abuser. Next Thursday, I'll *try* to take you inside the head of an abuser. Not exactly fun stuff, but helpful in creating vivid, realistic characters!

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Judges' Comments on a Genesis Final

So I'm still reeling here from the news almost a week ago that I finalled in the Genesis competition, but I wanted to share what the judges comments had been for my initial submission in the hopes that others could glean something for your novels.

By far, my lowest scores came in the setting and sensory data departments. The judge who scored me lower gave me a 1 in setting and a 3 in sensory detail.

Specifically, the score sheet says:

Does sensory detail (sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste) enhance each scene?
Does the setting support the story? Is the story well-grounded in the setting?

I had some sensory detail, like shoes crunching on gravel, a bell pealing against glass as someone entered a door, but I had no smell, no touch, and no taste...and I even had my characters things that absolutely succulent-smelling! Yikes! So I went back and added in sensory data to really draw the reader into the scene more.

As for my setting, lower-scoring-judge indicated that I needed more descriptions to help ground the reader. After looking at the entry, I realized I had precious little descriptions. My hero's apartment had a chair and kitchen counter. My heroine's had a scene at a desk. Who knows what the heck that looks like or where it's situated or anything.

So I added this all in and reread it. 10x better. Another little clue I picked up that enabled me to take my barely-15-almost-16 pages entry and add even more to it and still keep it within the 15-page guidelines was to do the 25 lines per page thing. It gave me at least another page's worth to add, which was nice when judges were telling me I needed more descriptions.

So there you go. My comments from the judges were extremely helpful. I hope everyone finds something they can improve when you get your scores back....and be nice and let everyone else know and benefit, too!

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Treatment Tuesday: Boromir and Faramir Effect

Still time to win Lisa Lickel's Meander Scar! Click
here to enter the giveaway!

Today's assessment is courtesy of Charlotte. She's writing about Jason*, her hero in a historical mystery set in England in the 1700s.

Jason's father assumed both his sons would be geniuses after him, but only Jason's older brother, Linus*, succeeded. Although not as dumb as his family (or he himself) perceived him to be, Jason was a dismal disappointment to his father. When he couldn't win his father's approval through intellect, he tried to do so by always being a gentleman and striving to do the honorable thing. That doesn't impress his father, but his godfather gives him a job as his private secretary. Now, at 24, he's given another opportunity to to obtain his father's approval--buying it. Linus's future success in the Royal Society hinges on a private expedition that Linus or his father don't have the means to fund. If Jason can solve a viscount's mysterious problem, then he'll be given a nice bonus payment.

It's during this quest that Jason meets Brina*, a rival in need of help herself. Being a true gentleman, he has to help her even though it is a conflict of interest to gaining the money. The two end up gaining forces when it becomes apparent that there is a troublemaker on the loose. The hitch is that Brina is a con artist.

The bones of Jason's dilemma is this: To stop a man who is violent enough to kill someone, Jason must work with a woman who cheats people for a living. Jason feels inadequate to the task of catching one without the help of the other. Quite the quandary!

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Charlotte has given me a couple of questions that I'll split up to make it easier on myself:

Q1: What could enable this straight-laced gentleman, who places a premium on honor and propriety, to befriend a woman he knows to be a swindler...and enjoy himself in the process? (Jason is not religious and Brina is not a romantic interest for him.) essence, you are asking why would opposites attract, and I don't mean romantically, even though that's the usual connotation when that phrase is used. What is it about people who are different from us? We hold some strange mixture of fascination/distaste with them, and that's where I imagine Jason is when he meets Brina.

Here is a woman who actually does things he despises, that go against his code of honor. Things that have been ingrained in him never to do. Yet here is a woman who holds to know ethics at all. Could Jason's fascination with such a creature overcome his distaste for what she does? How often to we wish we knew what it was like to be like so-and-so? Think of all the high school kids who just want to be cool or popular. When I was in college, I had never had a sip of alcohol. Inside, I wanted to know what was so special about drinking myself silly at a bar.

Perhaps Jason just wants to connect with that part of his psyche that wishes he could get a little something outrageous--mean even--just for the heck of doing it and saying "to heck" with his code. Brina touches that part of Jason that he keeps caged, deep within...and part of him is probably scared the animal will unleash...and it's that dance between fear and uncertainty he probably finds enjoyable.

Q2: How feasible is it that Jason could have an IQ past 130 yet believe himself to be intellectually mediocre?

The answer to this question lies within Jason himself. I've counseled absolutely stunning young girls who only saw ugliness in the mirror because of some cold-hearted comment made to them by a jealous friend, worried parent, or ex-boyfriend that scarred their self-confidence forever. Whatever Jason believe inside about his abilities is the gospel truth as far as he's concerned. It's his internal mantra...something he would repeat over and over to himself.

Your job as an author is to make that belief rock-solid, and from the looks of it, you've got it nailed why he would feel this way. If his father shot off disparaging comments about his intellect, or told him what a disappointment he was, or asked him why he couldn't be more like Linus...any of these things would instill an inferiority in Jason, and he's probably latch on to intellect as the core issue. You can bring him out of this "stinkin' thinkin'" (which is a cognitive therapy term...also used in 12-step recovery) by the end of his character arc by having him come to the conclusion that there are more ways to be smart than just book smart. I'll leave it to your imagination just how that could happen.

Q3: What other long-term effects might his upbringing have?

You wrote that Jason's father "has a touch of the Svengali about him." I must confess, I'd never heard that expression before and had to look this one up. Trusty Wikipedia gave me this generic definition: "a person who with evil intent manipulates another into doing what is desired. It is frequently used for any kind of coach who seems to exercise an extreme degree of domination over a performer."

So if Jason grew up with this type of father, I imagine he always felt he could never be good enough for him. Probably a bit of a love-hate relationship. I've said this before, but men in particular crave "the blessing" from their fathers. This blessing can come in approval, quality time, name it, as long as it's passed on. Jason would be no different. He'd likely feel left out, of course, since it apparently seems all the blessing went to Linus.

Of course, I should like to know what his mother's role in all this is. Is she living? Divorced because she couldn't stand the dad? Died when Jason was born? Who is the mother-figure for him? A little boy really does need the loving nurture of a mom.

The rub in the equation lies in this: Where is he going to pick up that there is a different way to living than what his father (and perhaps his brother, by extension) have? If that's the role model he has, then where would he even learn to care about being honorable? You mentioned a godfather, so I'm hoping that character will be the one to instill in him how important this is? Or perhaps he met someone he looked up to in grammar school?

I'd think about this...because it also connects to why Jason thinks being gentlemanly will win over his father. If his father doesn't seem to value that, then the reasoning is a little off...but then again, people do crazy things for approval. But maybe you could write in a scene showing the father's emphasis on being a part of the ton or how intellect and gentlemanly know-how/honor are like two sides to the same coin that will bring success. Give the reader a reason to believe Jason will go to all this trouble...make them think it might work and the father will throw his poor son a bone.

Q4: What might Jason's relationship with Linus (two years older) be like?

Linus. Ah. Could be the bane of his existence. Maybe he's even the one person Jason has to struggle to just be decent with, the one person Jason knows he should love, but can't bring himself to really feel that love? Since you didn't give a whole lot of info on Linus, I can only speculate. It seems Linus and Jason have little in common besides the same blood running in their veins. But younger brothers have been known to idolize older brothers and want to be just like them. Depending on how verbal dad is about Jason's shortcomings, and comparing him to Linus all the time, that could effect Jason's feelings about his brother.

I'm reminded of the two brothers in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Boromir and Faramir. Denethor (the dad) was constantly comparing Faramir to his great warrior brother, Boromir. It's so wrong...and so sad. Even Boromir got upset about it to his dad. If Jason's dad is anything like this...than brotherly bonding will definitely suffer.

Well, that's all I've got for now. This was long...sorry for that, but hopefully you got something out of it being a bit meatier. Every once in a while I really get carried away. :) Drop any questions in the comments section.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Ebook Review and Giveaway - Lisa J. Lickel's Meander Scar

I'm honored to do a review and giveaway for Lisa Lickel's book, Meander Scar. I heartily agree with Michelle Sutton's endorsement: this book should make your list of the best of 2010 fiction.

Here's a blurb from Lisa's website:

Love can heal even the deepest scars...
After seven years with no clue as to the whereabouts of Ann Ballard’s missing husband, nearly everyone presumes him dead. Now forty-something, Ann is ready for her stagnant life to flow again. Then one day, a dark-haired younger man from her past shows up on her doorstep offering a river of hope in place of tears.
Former neighbor Mark Roth has secretly loved Ann for years. A respected attorney, he’s returned home to help Ann face down disapproving family members and the legal maneuvering of her likely deceased husband’s family— while quietly winning her heart.
When the hidden truth of Ann’s situation turns their lives on end and another tragedy strikes, the two must come to terms with family, faith and the depths to which true love can run.
Lisa asked me to do this review as a way of seeing what a therapist's take would be on the issues she has her characters going through. As a result, I now have a book I'll direct clients to who find themselves in similar situations.

First of all, the name of this book is a therapeutic metaphor. A meander scar (mē-án-dәr skär) is healed earth alongside a waterway. Rivers want to flow straight, but often run into a barrier like a large rock that causes it to veer off course. The water adapts to the landscape, but eventually is abandons the circular path to run straight again. The abandoned meander is first a small lake, then a swamp, then a scar.

Lisa prefaces her book with a definition similar to the one above, and it sets the tone for her novel. You can already conjure up ideas of extreme hurt and pain etching the canvas of the lives of Lisa's characters. But who alive doesn't fit that description? We don't go through life in a bubble! So I thought the scenes portraying that pain and suffering were so well done and realistic that anyone can relate to them.

The main reason I liked this book was because Lisa picked a 40-something heroine to match up with a hero 11 years younger. Whoa! Not often done in fiction, right? I love this quote from the hero's point of view: "He needed someone to understand that relationships sometimes can’t be built inside neat little containers. Sometimes they leak or don’t fit, or grow outside of their limits."

Both the hero and heroine end up facing scorn from family members, coworkers, and clergy for their romantic choices. *sigh* Unfortunately, that's so feasible that it's sad. Love doesn't have a formula, and the characters embraced that. However, the cards were stacked against them as soon as they did so. The heartbreak is tempered with some humorous scenes, like when Ann Googles "older women and younger men" and comes up with some unsavory descriptive terms (like "cougar")--ha! How many of us do stuff like that?

I could go on further, but take it from me....this is a book you don't want to miss out on. You can go to Lisa's website to read the first chapter of Meander Scar. You'll be drawn right in and hooked!

Rules for entering to win a free .pdf ebook of Meander Scar:

1) Leave a comment with your name and email address (don't assume I have it) and if you are already a follower, let me know (+2)
2) Become a follower (by clicking on the "Follow" button on the left-hand side--I want to see your smiling picture in the box!) (+3)
3) Refer a new follower (and let me know!) (+2)
4) Tweet about this giveaway (by clicking on the Re-tweet button above) (+4)
5) Blog about it (leave me the link) (+5)

Thanks, Lisa, for such a great read....and good luck to everyone!

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

T3 - 2 Types of Forgiveness

When hurt and bitterness creep into our characters' lives, how do authors "fix" it for them before the end of the book?

Today I thought I'd tweak my very first Thursday Therapeutic Thought post, as I think I had all of five followers back then (most of whom were relatives!). Forgiveness, or the lack thereof, is often written about, lamented over, and withheld from others. It's a part of life, a choice we can make for ourselves, but can't make for someone else, and therein lies the rub.

There are two types of forgiveness I want to concentrate on.

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

The symbol for this type of forgiveness can be two people hugging one another.

2) Release Forgiveness. This is when one party "lets go" of the hurt. When the relationship will never reach full restoration, release--or letting go--is the next best thing. It's harder to experience than Restoration, and as a result, many never quite make it through the entire process, choosing instead to hold on to their offense and grudge. Compare to the above:

1) Character A offends Character B
2) Character B chooses to forgive A
3) Character A never acknowledges their wrongdoing
4) Character B chooses to release Character A

It is very important, if one of your characters has this type of problem, to have someone acknowledge their hurt. If Character A never acknowledges the hurt, then Character B may never move on. A third party, though, (in many cases, a therapist, a close friend, or perhaps even a descendant or relative of Character A) can help tremendously by just acknowledging the hurt, which in turn helps Character B in releasing it.

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. :)

Q4U: Since it's not always possible to have restoration (due to death, geography, unwillingness of the wrong-doer), what are some creative ways to have the character feel the acknowledgment besides the wrong-doer coming out and saying it?

I'll start:

Finding a lost letter or journal from the deceased wrong-doer that poignantly lets Character A know that Character B had tremendous regret over what they did.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Selective Mutism

This week's assessment comes courtesy of Kelly. She's writing historical fiction, set in the roaring 20s in Georgia. Her point of view character is 12 at the beginning of the story, and she witnesses someone raping her 17-year-old sister. The older sister is bloody from being beaten unconscious. The terrified 12-year-old hides until the man leaves and in the morning, she doesn't talk.

Kelly wants to know: Is witnessing something like this enough to cause my character to go mute? If this was a temporary condition, how long would it last?

I was happy to get to this sketch, as I've never done a post on mutism, so thanks Kelly!

The key to answering your question lies in the fact that you are writing this character in the 1920s. Prior to 1980, there was nothing "on the books" about mutism, and by books, I mean one: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Without a doubt, if your character--who had originally been able to speak just fine--all of a sudden stops, her friends and family would for sure think she was refusing to speak.

When the first diagnosis came out in 1980, it was called Elective Mutism. It's now more appropriately called Selective Mutism (as of 1994). The previous name conjures the idea that the person elected not to speak. A deliberate withholding of words, which also carries the idea that the child would be willful, controlling, and manipulative. In the DSM-III (1980), some predisposing factors were listed, such as maternal over-protection, abuse, trauma, or family dysfunction. My educated guess is that even in the 20s, the prevailing thought would be similar.

What does this mean for your character? It would have been thought that she was either doing this all on purpose, for no other reason than to be difficult, or that she had experienced or seen some sort of trauma. Throw in a difficult relationship with her mom, and you've got a situation ripe for perpetuating this rare disorder (less than 1% of the population).

The only wrench in the plot plan is her age. In all of the DSM editions since 1980, the age of onset (when symptoms begin) was before age 5, although there was some allowance made for this condition not coming to light until a child enters school (which would be at age 6 for some children). So a 12-year old would have a much-delayed age of onset.

I looked into other diagnoses that could fit, but she fits Selective Mutism the best, minus the age of onset. Selective Mutism is found in the Disorders Usually First Diagnosed in Infancy, Childhood, or Adolescence, not in Communication Disorders (because the people who get Selective Mutism know the language and had no prior problems expressing it) or Anxiety Disorders (although most people with Selective Mutism also get a diagnosis of Social Phobia, because it's now considered to be heavily influenced by the person's social anxiety). Selective Mutism carries with it the idea that the person isn't refusing to speak so much as they are failing to speak in social situations.

So how long might this condition last? The latest information in the DSM regarding the course of this disorder is that it can last anywhere from a few months to a few years, although the caveat is there that it can be "chronic" if severe social phobia is also present (meaning that the person is so shy or afraid of social embarrassment that could happen as a result of speaking). They want to speak, but simply can not force themselves to do so.

As a result of not speaking, in school she'll either be harassed or left completely alone. Think of how awkward it would be to be a mute's friend. I guess you could give her a sidekick who loves to listen to the sound of her own voice, though. If she does have social anxiety of some sort, then when spoken to, it wouldn't be abnormal for her to freeze in place. It's also possible for her to not speak at all in one social context (like school) but feel comfortable speaking at home. if that doesn't fit your plot, though, don't stress. (For a comprehensive list of possible accompanying behaviors, click here.)

I suggest thinking about these two things to make this plot deeper and really true-to-life:

1) Why doesn't she come forward and talk about what she saw? You wrote that you're character would die at the "ripe old age of 104," and that she might "remain mute as long as it is convenient to her." Could it be that she's scared for her life? Could it be that she's scared of what will happen to her sister if she spoke up (like her sister being ostracized, socially outcast) or that those things might happen to her or her well-to-do doctor's family? What about casting a pall on her father's practice? If her reason for keeping silent is along these lines, then you've got Selective Mutism almost to a "t." See #2.

2) Consider starting your story off with a child of 5 or 6 instead of 12. Then you'd have it in the bag. Was there a reason (other than arbitrarily picking a number out of a hat) that you have her at age 12? Would you need to adjust the older sister's age as well?

These are just a few questions to get your juices flowing. A great website that I referenced a great deal for this article and tried to synthesize the material in it was found at the Selective Mutism Foundation. There was a very helpful graph that explains how Selective Mutism came to be defined through the years.

Hope this helps, Kelly! As always, any questions are welcome in the comment section.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Delia Latham's Yesterday's Promise Review and Contest!

Today marks the first day of Delia Latham's blog tour for her book Yesterday's Promise, and I'm honored to kick it off when one of my therapeutic reviews.

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

A whirlwind romance amidst the natural splendor of Yosemite National Park. A spur-of-the-moment wedding near Bridalveil Fall. A young bride who awakens the morning after to find her new husband gone with the mountain wind.

Songbird Hannah Johns supports the child born of that ill-fated union by singing in a dinner lounge. Her dream of someday owning the elite establishment and turning it into a venue more suited to her Christian values is shattered when an unexpected transaction places it in the hands of Brock Ellis, the handsome biker who abandoned her in their honeymoon suite.

Ensuing sparks fly high, revealing buried secrets and forgotten pasts. Seeking to find peace with her painful past, Hannah returns to Yosemite, and Brock follows hard on her heels. Back where it all began, she finds herself in danger of losing her heart yet again to the man who shattered it the first time around.

Any good therapist knows to start digging in a person's past to uncover reasons for present-day hurts, and both Brock and Hannah have doozies for backstories. Read: it's the type of past history that could (or should) land them both in a therapist's office.

Hannah's story is intriguing (besides the fact that she's from the Pacific Northwest where I live). Being a preacher's daughter, she had a certain standard to live up to. The first time she breaks out of that mold, and opens herself up both verbally and emotionally, disastrous consequences result. Now she's faced with the instigator, and showing Christ's love and forgiveness has never been harder. That, and protecting herself and her son has never been more impor

Haven't we all felt that way before? Crushed from all sides, as our buried past finally catches up with us? What would you do, how would you act, if you
were faced with the one person who married you one day and left you the next? WHOA.

Then there's Brock, a guy who doesn't quite grasp all the facts, just one thing
he knows for sure: something about Hannah draws him like a kid to an ice cream truck. He's intrigued by her, and his increasing mental jolts since meeting her are so disturbing.

One of the best parts to me was at the end. You think you know exactly how it's going to end....and then BOOM. You step on a mine in a minefield and have yet one more hurdle to conquer before you get a happily ever after, but that makes the HEA that much sweeter.

After reading this book, I got to thinking about that old question: Why does God allow bad things happen to good people? The answer is illusive, other than to say that it is all a part of God's overall scheme to work good in our lives, and to bring us to a point of fully trusting him. He wants to grow us, refine us, and those are reasons to find joy in our suffering.

On June 1st, Delia will award two (2) $10 gift certificates to White Rose Publishing at the end of her t
our. Leave your email address to be entered, and be sure to follow Delia along her tour, as chances of winning can be increased by touring with her and leaving comments at each blog stop. You can find Delia's blogtour info here.

Thanks for stopping by, and best of luck toward winning the gift certificates!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

And the Winner Is....


Thanks for doing so much to get the word out about Deborah's book and my blog!

Will be getting that book to you early next week!

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Friday, May 7, 2010

There's Still Time...

To win Deborah Vogt's Snow Melts in Spring! Click here!

Winner will be posted tonight!

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

T3 - The Cycle of Abuse

Many of our characters struggle with abusive relationships--either currently or in their past. I thought delving into the psychology behind abuse might be helpful for today's Therapeutic Thought.

Take a look at the diagram. The yellow Honeymoon Period and the red Tension Building Period are indicative of "normal" relationships. Most all husbands and wives (or partners or what have you) go through these two stages--swinging back and forth like a pendulum.

The Honeymoon Period is just like what it sounds like. All fun and games, gifts, flowers, promises, and apologies (especially after a Tension Building phase). But the Tension Building phase brings in the little criticisms, some yelling at each other, swearing, even. It's when anger sets up a tent in the living room and people can feel they are walking on eggshells in their own home.

Alternating between the two is considered normal, even healthy. A relationship isn't tested until it hits a few bumps in the road, and when the bonds hold, the relationship is that much stronger for it. While this isn't the best news for married people, it's great news for writers. Tension makes our stories unputdownable. (Yes, I know that's not a word.) All you women's fiction writers out there who like to focus on the married couple instead of the sexual-tension-dating-phase couple usually create something huge that happens between the husband and wife, upsetting the Honeymoon Period and beginning a page-turning story. Usually, this is infidelity, pornography, or drug addictions coming to light.

But for an abuser, they can't go back to the Honeymoon Period without complete the cycle and Exploding. The Tension Building phase gradually escalates to psychological abuse--also called "gaslighting" (where they play mind games on the victim and make them think they are going crazy). They will isolate the victim from all support systems (see diagram below), and drug/alcohol addictions add to the mix in a horrific manner.

The abuser's inability to manage their anger is so lacking that they spiral out of control, sometimes blacking out in rage and not being fully aware of what they do. They can attack someone else physically, emotionally or sexually. A lot of women get raped during this time. Burns, broken bones, stabbings, bruises...and so much more.

The abuser then slips into the charming, charismatic, loving partner they were in the beginning when things were so good. They apologize, give gifts, flowers, cry, and say "I'll never do it again." The victim, desperately wanting to believe they haven't fallen in love with a monster, believes them (or doesn't, even) and it starts all over again.

One thing I recently found out in a domestic violence training is that a battered woman typically tries to leave her partner EIGHT times before she successfully disentangles herself from the relationship. Eight times of trying to make it in a shelter or with a friend, trying to take children away from the home only to be brought back by some financial insecurity or emotional connection with the abuser that renders the woman powerless in the situation.

Abuse is rampant in the world, so it's little wonder it shows up in our fiction. Understanding the mindset of the abused is difficult, as we're on the outside, looking in. What we often don't realize is that the abused woman has been trained/brainwashed to not seek out help or attention, to blend in to the scenery by trying to hide/cover their bruises. They often get upset or agitated when someone asks a pointed question or probes too deeply. But deep down, they do want help--they are just scared to get it. It's such a psychology trap.

If you have any specific questions about this cycle, I'd be happy to field them in the comments section if I can.

Q4U: Have you ever tried to talk a woman out of an abusive relationship? What were her reasons for staying? How did that feel?

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Strong Heroes, Even Stronger Motivations

[You have until Friday for a chance to win Deborah Vogts'
Snow Melts in Spring! Click here!]

This week's assessment is from Jaime. She's writing in a second time about her historical suspense to tap the psychology well about her hero, Seth.*

Seth is a strong, silent, brooding man haunted by past war crimes he committed alongside his nemesis. Seth, whose background is the US Calvary, confessed to his crimes and took his nemesis down with him. He still feels like he owes penance, though, so when a new crime is committed by the bad guy, Seth turns himself in to appease his guilt (and thwart the bad guy by pulling such an unexpected card). He's currently on the run from the nemesis, but when the bag guy threatens the woman he loves, he decides to face his past.

* Names have already been changed to protect the fictional. Gotta love that!

Jaime wants to know: Is there a different psychology behind Seth's "guilt factor" that could bring a different spin to Seth's reaction? Why would a military man consumed by guilt not just face his opponent and end it rather than continue to run away and then take the blame for something he didn't do? How do I make Seth look strong while not losing my entire story?

Reading your sketch brings up some questions for me, not just as a therapist but as a reader. You wrote that you have a hard time believing yourself that he wouldn't just face his nemesis, fight him, and get it over with. You even wrote that turning himself in for a new crime he didn't commit almost seems weak to you, which makes you like him less as a hero.

I say you need to stick with that reaction! If you, as the author, aren't so keen on his behavior--and ultimately his character--then you have two options:

1) Change the behavior (easier way out)
2) Change his motivation (harder, but will pack more psychological punch)

If you change the behavior, you have him fight the guy, win, and then have what might be a very run-of-the-mill novel. Good guys fighting bad guys. Not a bad formulaic equation, but nothing special, either.

If you change the motivation, then you give a new twist that old plot line. My brain started turning as soon as you said the good guy "turned himself in" to thwart the bag guy. (Yes, yes, you also said to appease his guilt...but the thwarting is much more interesting. Guilt is a powerful motivator, sure, but the type guilt he's carrying around is more of a deficit in his Esteem Needs, which is pretty high up on the Heirarchy of Needs pyramid.)

I'd consider a lower needs deficit for his motivation, probably Social Needs. Why on earth would Seth turn himself in for the bad guy? This question led me to the next, more important question: What is the relationship between Seth and the bad guy? Is it simple (i.e., good guy v. bad guy) or is it more complex (i.e., good guy v. former best friend or half-brother)?

I don't think you need to change Seth's character so much as you need to layer it more (which is the psychological punch I was talking about). Characters usually tell us how they want to be written. You've got the strong, silent type who likes to brood. He's former military, so we can all imagine he's a muscular, "git-r-done" kind of guy. So make his motivation for steering clear of the conflict greater than his desire to even the score or fight.

What would keep him away, keep him running? It doesn't have to be a weak, pansy reaction for him to have. Could the bad guy be holding something over him, like a terrible secret? What if Seth doesn't want the girl he loves to find out, and only when the bad guy threatens her--and the secret might come out and "ruin" his life--does he feel the need to stand up and fight (that, and he loves her).

As your sketch reads right now, it's pretty vague why he's not wanting to stand up to Bad Guy. Could he not want to go after the bad guy because to kill him would be to kill the only family he's got left--or even knew he had? (Seriously leaning toward something like this personally. Man....think about the possibilities!) Then he'd be running to protect the guy from himself, from his guilt-infused anger, possibly? What if running was the more noble thing to do? No reader alive would think him weak if you made the motivation for his behavior more solid and something people can relate to.

These are just a few of the brainstorming ideas I had while thinking about Seth and his behavior. It makes sense for him to stand up to Bad Guy when Bad Guy starts threatening the woman he loves. If you give him a great motivation prior to this juncture in the novel, then the showdown will be just that: a showdown! Pitting his motivation to run with his motivation to protect the heroine....good stuff, Jaime. Good stuff.

Hope this helps. As always, if I'm totally off or have misunderstood in some way, please comment! I love running "sessions" between authors and me (and others!). :)

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Deborah Vogts' Snow Melts in Spring Review and Giveaway!

I picked up Deborah Vogts' debut novel last September at the American Christian Fiction Writer's conference in Denver. This past Sunday, I read it...from start to finish. Sigh. Talk about strong heroes and heroines!

Here's a blurb from Deborah's website:

When an aged horse is severely injured on a gravel road in the Flint Hills of Kansas, country veterinarian Mattie Evans accepts the challenge to save him. But she finds herself in the middle of a longstanding feud between the horse’s owner, pro quarterback Gil McCray, and his ailing father—who is also her dear friend.

As the snow melts in spring, Gil’s return to his estranged father’s ranch brings a chance for new beginnings and reconciliation, but when he falls in love with Mattie, he must face the truths that haunt him or run from his past. Meanwhile, Mattie encourages Gil to return permanently to Kansas rather than retire in California. Their love collides when Mattie’s sister arrives on Gil’s doorstep, causing Gil to come to terms with the jealous acts leading up to his brother’s death and seek forgiveness from those he loves most. Can he accept God’s forgiveness, and will that be enough to make him stop running from his memories of home? In turn, if Mattie forgives, she’ll be forced to choose between the man of her dreams and the land she dearly loves.

Mattie Evans' love for the Flint Hills is such that Mattie is an extension of the land. She loves it, how it makes her feel, and the life it allows her to live. But with that devotion comes a difficult decision regarding her new-found love, and that's the stuff fiction is made out of!

My therapist cap sure did tingle atop my head as I delved deeper and deeper into Gil's dark secrets. And like any well-written book, the secrets become increasingly apparent to the reader. No backstory dumps here, folks. Gil's behavior is psychologically justified, as well, which is always satisfying. (I like it when things just make sense.)

The importance of family demands attention in Deborah's book. Connection--both past and present--approval, blessings, disappointed expectations and pride are all aspects addressed in this book that make it very relatable to readers everywhere. Every client I've seen who was estranged from their family didn't want things to be that way. It's ingrained on the inside to have that connection. We all want it, and Mattie and Gil are no exceptions.

Reading this book invoked thoughts of my own expectations growing up, namely of the type of guy I would marry. After reading and relating to Mattie's dilemma involving her beloved Flint Hills and possibly forging a life in the equally beautiful but very different California, I think the Lord gets a great many laughs at us telling him what we want or what we're going to do. Sometimes his plan is different, and letting go of our expectations--even our hopes--can cause us heartache. As Mattie and Gil learn, though, being in the center of God's will can overcome all of this pain.

I haven't had the pleasure of reading Seeds of Summer, Deborah's second book in the Seasons of the Tall Grass series which released this month. However, you can have a chance to read Book #1 in the series because I'm doing a giveaway!

Rules for entering:

1) Leave a comment with your name and email address (don't assume I have it) and if you are already a follower, let me know (+2)
2) Become a follower (by clicking on the "Follow" button on the left-hand side--I want to see your smiling picture in the box!) (+3)
3) Refer a new follower (and let me know!) (+2)
4) Tweet about this giveaway (by clicking on the Re-tweet button above) (+4)
5) Blog about it (leave me the link) (+5)

Good luck to everyone! I'll post the winner on Friday. :)

(p.s. If you have a kindle, you can get the book free by clicking here!)

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