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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Widower Getting Back in the Game

This week's assessment comes from Alice. She's writing a romance and wants some psychological insight into her backstories for her hero and heroine. Hero married young, then lost his wife and baby daughter. He's determined to never love again because he doesn't want to risk the pain. So he shuns emotional attachment.

But a year or so later, he meets Heroine and is drawn to her because he mistakenly assumes she's like him, happy to enjoy an emotionally detached relationship for as long as it lasts. She's a lively, fun-loving 19 or 20-year-old who's in media, traveling all over the world, single, and appearing to be loving it, but in her heart of hearts, she longs for love, marriage, children--long-term commitment.

Alice wants to know: Is it credible that a man who has lost his family would really date someone very young and fun to distract himself from his grief?  Is it likely that a young woman who longed for a traditional home and family would choose a fast-paced adventurous lifestyle instead of a more conventional one that would give her a better chance of finding a man who was ready to settle down and have a family?

Alice, both your characters are experiencing reaction formation (which should sound familiar to you). I did a post here on this defense mechanism. Your heroine is displaying a very classic sense of this, while the hero's might be a bit harder to nail down, but I have a feeling his scenario will fit as well.

For those who don't want to read my other post, here's reaction formation in a nutshell:

Reaction Formation is when a person converts unconscious wishes or impulses that are perceived to be dangerous or anxiety-producing into their opposites. A person could behave in a completely opposite way of how they really want or feel (i.e. a woman fakes indifference to men and gives off an independent vibe when all she really wants is to be loved and cherished). A person could also believe the opposite of something simply because the true belief causes anxiety (i.e. a man believes that all women are gold diggers because to believe only his ex-fiance was is too painful).

Let's take your heroine, because her situation fits so well. She's like Rizzo from Grease. Rizzo was tough on the outside, acted like she didn't care what people thought of her. She played loose and easy because it was better than admitting she really just wanted love like anybody else. Your gal is not wanting to admit that her deepest desire is to have a husband and the requisite 2.5 children. For some reason (which is what you have to figure out), to do this would bring her tremendous anxiety.

So she goes into this adventuresome career and on the outside, ostensibly loves it, thrives on it. But she's empty on the inside, because she does want love so badly, and traveling the world over is hardly conducive to this. Getting a nice, steady job as a librarian or journalism teacher at the high school would be better suited, but that would come at a price to her.

So why wouldn't your heroine want people to know her deepest desire? You mentioned that maybe she was living someone else's dream in order to go into that field. That might answer why she chose that particular field, but it doesn't answer why she doesn't want her inner motivation known. It probably has something to do with fear. Fear of looking weak, fear of not measuring up, fear of making the same mistakes her mother did. I'm afraid I can't help anymore with this, as it's your story, but hopefully that'll get you on the right road with her.

On to Hero. I had to laugh a bit at your question, but I meant you no disrespect. Almost every divorced guy I know has always moved on with someone younger, whether that was the reason for the divorce or if it happened later. Your guy isn't divorced, but widowed, which makes a difference, sure. However, you asked if it was credible for a man to date someone young to distract him from his grief. And I answer that with a RESOUNDING YES.

Why? Because it's credible that a person would do almost anything to distract themselves from grief. I did a ton of posts on grieving and the types of grief here. I'd read through them and figure out which kind he has.

The reason I think he might also be experiencing reaction formation is that he obviously loved deeply and was very happy with his wife, who died. This happiness was at one time so important to him that he doesn't think he can possibly recreate it...even though it might be his deepest desire to have that one again. So he acts in the opposite of what he truly wants, because it gives him anxiety to think he'll never attain happiness again. He goes for no emotional attachment at all, and makes do with a shell of his former life in the form of dates and maybe kisses, but nothing lasting--no connection.

I wouldn't worry about establishing a pattern of this type of behavior for him. She could be his first or his fifth. The first does bring with it some additional maybe make her number 2. I don't think a reader would want him to appear like a womanizer or opportunist, so I'd be careful how you introduce this particular backstory. How old is the guy? It might be that he just connected with the Heroine somehow (through your external story skeleton), and since she was quite a bit younger than him, he didn't think his heart was in danger of any attachment. I'd be curious about this tidbit.

You did ask what would be a credible time to reintroduce him to the dating game. I wrote a post here on my general rule of thumb about waiting to move on: two years. I think anything less than that could come across as tacky to your readers, and you wouldn't want to ostracize anyone. I've also read in research that 2 years for the death of a spouse is about the average time it takes for the survivor to feel normal and ready to move on.

There you go, Alice. Hope this assessment has been as helpful as the last one I did for you! Thanks for writing in again!

And to you other writers out there...the queue is LOW, so now's a good time to write in!

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Technique Toolbox - You Are Special by Max Lucado

You Are Special Technique

Credited toMalinda Fasol, PhD, LPC

For use with: Children or Adults

What you will need:

A copy of Max Lucado's You Are Special

What you do:

I usually will read this book aloud to both children and adults. I like to sit at an angle where the client can see the pictures as I read to them.

The book is about the Wemmicks (wooden people created by Eli, the "carpenter on the hill"). They go about all day long, every day, giving each other stars and dot stickers. Stars for being talented or pretty and dots for being clumsy or having chipped paint. Punchinello, the main character, only gets dots. He meets Lucia (who looks much like an angel, all dressed in white) who has no stars or dots. Lucia says that she visits Eli at the top of the hill often, and the stickers don't stick to her no matter what, because Eli's opinion of her is all that matters.

Punchinello takes Lucia up on her suggestion and begins to visit Eli. Eli tells him how important and unique he is, created just by Eli to be that way. On Punchinello's way out of the workshop, one of his dot stickers fall off as he begins to believe that Eli really means what he says.

After the book, I typically ask at least these 3 questions (sometimes a few more, based on their answers):

1) If you were a Wimmick, would you get more stars or dots?
2) Can you tell me what 5 of the stars/dots would be for?
3) Do you have a Lucia or Eli in your life?

Question 1 gives me an understanding of how the child or adult sees him or herself. I can assess their self-esteem based upon the answer to that question.  Question 2 is a cognitive exercise that has the client labeling what's good (or negative) about themselves. This can prove helpful in determine goals for therapy with adults (ostensibly to improve self-esteem or overcome a fear). Children will often parrot back what they have been told from friends or family members. Question 3 tells me what kind of support network the client has.

This book is not overtly Christian. Lucado wrote it from a Christian perspective, though, and I find it's a great way to introduce Christian principles into session without ever saying the words "Jesus" or "God."

From Max Lucado's website: The world tells kids, "You're special if... if you have the brains, the looks, the talent." God tells them, "You're special just because. No qualifications necessary." Only one of those messages will find its place in their hearts. That's why every child you know needs to hear this one, reassuring truth: "You are precious in His sight."

This is a great little technique to make its way into one of your novels. And if you haven't read You Are Special, give it to a child for Christmas this year. Wonderful, heartwarming story. There are several books by Lucado about the Wimmicks you might also want to consider.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


(For Black Friday, of course! But you clearly aren't hitting the sales if you're sitting here free associating on The Character Therapist.)

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

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

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Top Ten

As Thanksgiving roles around again, we're always prompted to ponder that for which we're thankful. 

My list is below:

1. My salvation
2. My husband
3. My daughter
4. My health
5. My intellect
6. My job
7. My home
8. My mom/dad/brothers
9. My friends
10. My lap top (no joke)

Hope your Thanksgiving is a lovely time of investing in the relationships that undergird you 
and the things that matter most to you.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Art Therapy...Revisited

I'm taking today off. Just because I can.

If you missed it, click here for my post yesterday on art therapy and how it differs from regular therapy.

Check back tomorrow for my Thanksgiving Top Ten list. If I don't see you, then I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Art Therapy

I recently fielded a question from an email loop about art therapy, and it made me wonder if perhaps some of you out there also had the same type questions.

For the record, I'm not an art therapist. I do therapy utilizing art. There IS a difference, and that's important to note if any of your characters ever see this type of therapist.

Art therapists can be licensed mental health practitioners (like LMFTs, LPCs, LCSWs) but they also hold registration or board certification as an art therapist. Depending on the state the person is practicing in, the practitioner may have had to get a masters degree in art therapy or marriage and family therapy with an emphasis in art, etc.

This is not to say that someone like myself, licensed, but with no particular schooling in "art therapy" can't use crayons and paper and glue and scissors in session with a child or adult. I have and I do. The difference is that I don't label myself, advertise, or practice under the notion that I'm an art therapist. This is a HUGE distinction, and the difference between possibly getting sued for malpractice or practicing beyond the scope of your ability.

So what is art therapy all about? Art therapists believe that it is inherently a healing process to be creative. The broken things on the inside are healed through the act of making art as they express themselves authentically and realistically. This is typically thought of as art therapy. There is also the belief that art is a form of symbolism, a way of communicating emotions and working through trauma and conflict. This latter belief is probably the more stereotyped version of art therapy, and is called art psychotherapy.

In reality, if the above words in bold formed a continuum, real art therapy (in the general sense) is somewhere between these two. Art therapy isn't like an art class. There are no grades and no pressure. The images and ideas come from inside the person, and then the therapist can help guide them into understanding those images, finding a meaning for them or a story. I like to use art therapy techniques along with other eclectic techniques in my treatment of clients. I consider art just another avenue for healing, just as I would any technique from various theories. (But that's just me.)

Anyway, just food for thought. In California, saying you're doing art therapy when you're not a registered or certified art therapist is a big deal. When doing my treatment plans, I usually include "arts and crafts" or "art therapy techniques" as interventions, never "art therapy."

Hope this helps when you come to that crucial point in every writer's manuscript when you wonder, "Is this art therapy or therapy utilizing art?" :)

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Castle Fans Read On

I discovered the TV series Castle about a month ago. I quickly caught up on all the episodes by going here (you'll see that you can watch many other shows online here, as well).

Like many others, I grew fascinated with the tension presented by Richard Castle (played by Nathan Fillion) and Detective Kate Beckett (played by Stana Katic). I guess this is the usual formula for TV, but the fact that Castle is an author makes it a bit more interesting to me than say, The Mentalist, which is also about a female detective saddled with a male sidekick "consultant." (Although I like The Mentalist also!)

Recently, though, I found out that "Richard Castle" has two books out: Heat Wave and Naked Heat, both of which have been referenced in the television series as books Castle authored based on his research following Beckett and her detectives around.

I purchased Heat Wave, the first book in Castle's new series, following his "wildly successful Derek Storm books." I was instantly engaged, as ABC has put a new spin on advertising with these books! And how enchanting, for a part of my imagination (and millions of other viewers) to come alive on my Kindle screen, as I actually read about Nikki Heat and Jameson Rook, characters based off the imagination of characters!

If you are a fan of the show, you've got to get this book. I've already gotten the second book, Naked Heat, and I'm looking forward to reading it while I have a long Thanksgiving weekend at home. But I couldn't put it down. The reason?

Well, the writing's tight, the pace fast, the tension and one-liners just as taut and dry as they are on the show. But it was like extending the pleasure of the show, because each episode lasts roughly 40 minutes but this book lasts much longer, like reading the original script behind one of the episodes.

And the author doesn't stop with just tension between Rook and Heat, translated Castle and Beckett. For all of you out there who wish the producers at ABC would throw you a romantic Castle-Beckett bone, this book is for you! It's not hard at all to read Castle and Beckett into Heat and Rook's relationship, and it doesn't impact the series at all, the success of which many say hinges on Beckett and Castle not solidifying anything.

I did try to find out who the real author of these books is. (No, I don't believe it's Nathan Fillion, although it's Nathan's picture on Richard Castle's Amazon author page.) I got several websites saying James Patterson is the likely candidate, others Michael Connelly, based on the fact that both of them have appeared as poker playing buddies of Richard Castle's in the series. You know what? I kinda like the mystery of not knowing.

Q4U: Any of you out there have a special connection with this show? Does Richard Castle's writer's mind not strike a chord and resonate with you?

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Free Association Results and Uncertain Heart Winner!

Start Word: SALT.                        End Word: LOVER.

Can I get an AMEN from you sodium lovers out there? The most interesting association was when Jaime took us from "cat" to "eggs." Methinks she was free associating on "salt" instead of "cat."

And the winner of Andrea Boeshaar's Uncertain Heart is rubynreba!! Thanks for participating in the book giveaway and in the free association!

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


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

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


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Thursday, November 18, 2010

T3 - Ben Franklin Effect

Found something a tad bit fascinating that I hope you find useful when writing. Ben Franklin said, "He that has once done you a Kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged."

Paraphrase: Someone that has already done you a favor will be more likely to do you a favor than someone you did a favor for.

We tend to like people more once we have done them a favor, because normal people will justify to themselves that they did the favor because they liked the person. Conversely, a villain will come to hate his victim and possibly de-humanize them, as this makes it easier on their mind to kill or ruin the object of their hate.

The reason behind this is cognitive dissonance: an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. In other words, in order to do positive things for people when you don't necessarily like them, the person doing the good deed has to change their mental thoughts and feelings about the person they helped, in order to ease their cognitive dissonance.

A classic example from literature is from Aesop's fables. In The Fox and the Grapes, a fox sees some high-hanging grapes and wishes to eat them. When the fox is unable to think of a way to reach them, he surmises that the grapes are probably not worth eating, as they must not be ripe or that they are sour (where we get the expression "sour grapes" from). This criticizing is to reduce his cognitive dissonance.

How can you use it to your advantage in writing? A few different ways:
1) Have a wary heroine do a favor for the hero that was imposed upon her (like at church or from some other social necessity). Just by doing the favor, she'll be less disposed to dislike him, even if the hero didn't ask her to do the favor. (But it will be particularly strong if you have the hero ask the heroine for a favor in front of someone the heroine feels obligated to be on her best interest for!)

2) Have a hero decrease his cognitive dissonance after desiring a date with the heroine, asking her out and getting rejected, and then have him start to postulate about what all misfortunes he has likely avoided by not going out with her. (Substitute anything for the woman: a new job, car, suit, new restaurant booked solid, etc).

3) Have your villain increasingly think of the protagonist as an object, dehumanizing him or her. it makes it easier for the villainous acts to escalate (and for the tension to ratchet up in your book) if you do so.

4) The Foot-in-the-Door technique is a modern example of the Ben Franklin effect, and you could use it as a great secondary plot in a book...and bring in some comic relief if your writing leans that direction. Think about it: your do-gooder heroine gets a phone call to ask if she'd sign a petition about a cause. She says yes, just wanting to get off the phone. Then they show up at her door, and because she said yes on the phone, she goes ahead and signs the petition. Then a week later they ask her to donate to the cause she so obviously shares with them. Well, geez! She goes and gets her purse. Next month, they have her knocking on doors for the "cause" and she's wondering, "How did I ever get into this?"

Have fun with this!

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Writer's Waiting Game

I've seen some great posts about how being unpublished is like being single. My friend and fellow blogger Jessica Nelson of BookingIt did a post here on that very topic, and I recently saw a post from Mundania Press, LLC here about how entering a publishing contract is a lot like entering a marriage.

Since I've yet to enter the published category in fiction, I'm somewhat of a spectator on the sidelines of publishing. During this time, it's easy to lament a lack of publishing credits so much that we fail to see what God is doing during our waiting. It's during the waiting that God strips us of our silly ideals and notions that we have to write a certain thing or present a certain way in order to reach fulfillment.

If we write only third person, stay away from the "edgier" topics, strictly adhere to the no-more-than-3-POVs rule, attend at least one writer's conference a year...then surely God will honor our righteousness with a publishing contract or at least the interest of an agent. If only we get rid of -lys, passive voice, and show--not tell--then we will be "good enough" for a second glance.

The problem comes once you've done all this. You've taken online writing courses. You've paid for the extra critiques. You've entered contests...and even won. You've done everything you were told to do by people who have traveled the path before you. But still no "call," no contract.

In the dating world, this is the equivalent to dieting, exercising, getting contacts, a makeover, and a new hairdo only to sit by the phone, waiting for a potential date to call. You might be tempted to cry yourself to sleep at night, wondering what is wrong with you.

What we fail to see is that there isn't anything wrong with you or your writing! God just isn't done teaching you. He's going to draw out your waiting period as long as it takes for you to realize that not being published isn't a "problem" and that God is still in control even while you're waiting.

We can't lose focus of why we're writing. If our ultimate goal is to give glory to God, than that can be accomplished published or not. He's going to be glorified through our persistence and dedication and desire to achieve excellence for Him. Finding fulfillment, completion, and contentment where you are in the journey is crucial to keeping that fulfillment, completion, and contentment after you've been blessed with a contract. 

We're not on the hunt for a book deal. We're on the mission to worship and serve God while we're waiting. How can you best do that? Here are a few suggestions to help encourage you in your journey:
  1. Learn scriptures you can hide in your heart, whether your heart is broken, searching, or weary from the wait. Two of my personal favorites are below.
    • Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
    • "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)
  2. Have your own person cheering squad. Writers are like shy adolescents in that we need to hear when we wrote a particularly eloquent turn of phrase or when a metaphor blew someone's socks off in order to bloom with confidence. We want to know when we made a reader laugh or cry. Your critique group members and close personal friends and relatives hold a large sway over your attitude and motivation as a writer.
  3. Allow yourself a limited time to vent, then move on. It's deeply therapeutic to express thoughts and feelings over not being published instead of holding them in and letting resentment build. A good cry can be so healing, especially when done in conjunction with a cheering squad member (#2) who loves you. Ignoring those feelings will only make them build up.
I hope that this gives you some ideas of how to maintain a heavenly perspective through the writer's wait.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. 
Look full in His wonderful face. 
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim 
in the light of His glory and grace.

Click here to read the original article I wrote and based this post on.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Storybears in Action

Last week, I did a Technique Toolbox post on a method called Storybears to be used with children. Joe* saw this post and write in with a few additional questions that I'll be answering for this week's Treatment Tuesday.

* Names have been changed to protect the not-so-fictional.

Joe is writing a TV show with a child who is either "sworn to secrecy" or is perhaps a victim of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome or some sort of quasi, dark and twisty sort of Stockholm Syndrome. Either way, the child is intimidated into keeping silent and covering for their "captor," which would be a parent/grandparent/etc. He wants something dramatic and visually appealing to help the child open up but yet maintain a high degree of probability and believability at the same time.

Joe wants to know: Can the Storybear technique could be used to help detect abuse within the confines of the family unit? It seems as though this would be a very useful took for getting them to open up. Perhaps?

Great question, Joe! You're the first screenwriter I've hosted on Treatment Tuesday, so welcome and thanks for writing in.

I've never specifically used the Storybear technique to try to detect abuse, but it would be very possible for an abuse story to emerge from the child during a session. You might have already guessed this, but I think it is important to note that the child's caretaker doesn't need to be present, as their presence would be an intimidating factor that would prevent the child from saying anything that might shed a negative light on the parent.

You've picked some interesting syndromes that you're considering, and given what I know about each one, I think Munchausen by Proxy (also called Factitious Disorder by proxy according to the DSM-IV-TR) would be really unique, even though it is fairly uncommon. A child experiencing Munchausen by Proxy would likely open up and talk about how they were sent to the doctor over and over for something that wasn't really wrong with them than a child who suffers from Stockholm Syndrome and doesn't see their "captors" in a negative light.

A lot would depend on the therapist's ability to discern that abuse might be possible based on what the child says and the absence of any medical symptoms the parents have indicated the child has. You would have more difficulty with Munchausen by Proxy, though, in getting the child alone for therapy, as parents who exhibit Munchausen by Proxy are highly attentive to their child and reluctant to leave them with others alone (for obvious reasons!). 

A child using Storybears might say of the daddy bear who is wearing an angry face, "The dad is mad because the son didn't clean his room." I might respond, "What did the daddy bear do when he learned the son hadn't cleaned his room?" to further dig into any suspicion I might already have. If the child said, "He yanked the little bear's arm and threw him on his bed," then I would let the boy finish his story before asking, "Mikey, this story seems like it might be real. Is this something your dad has ever done to you?" I'd let the child go from there.

Or a more likely example using Munchausen:

Child has a happy face on mom bear (as she's getting her need for attention and adulation met through victimizing her son), sleepy face on dad bear (as he's largely uninvolved) and a sad face on the kid bear. In the session, the child explains that he's sad because he had to go once more to the doctor to be checked out again. I'd comment on the incongruency of the mother's happy face, because that seems counterintuitive. Perhaps the child would say his mom is the happiest when talking to the doctors, etc.

It would take MUCH more than this in a session for me to arrive at a conclusion of Munchausen by Proxy, but a few sessions of this kind of oddity would likely make me want to communicate with the parent or with the doctors involved, the latter of which would take Releases of Information. The child's parent would be very reluctant--if not flat-out refuse--to sign over a release to talk to the doctor, but the request is a fairly common practice to develop a continuum of care around a client.

Hope this gives you something to munch on. :) In short, I'd be uncomfortable calling Storybears an abuse indicator, but it is absolutely possible for it to be used as a tool to detect evidence of abuse.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Andrea Boeshaar's Uncertain Heart Review and Giveaway

From the author's website:

The year is 1866, and Sarah McCabe has wanderlust. In an effort to become independent of her family back in Missouri, she accepts a governess position in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, giving her a firsthand taste of the life she has always desired—a life of luxury, culture, and social privilege.

Richard Navis is a man determined to finish his indentureship to Captain Brian Sinclair and take over his family’s farm. But when he falls in love with Sarah, his homesteading goals blur. She doesn’t seem interested in settling down. What’s more, Richard fears she’s fallen victim to the captain’s charm and persuasion. 

When Sarah’s reputation is questioned, Richard devises a bold plan in hopes of protecting her. But is he too late? Has Sarah already made her choice?

This book has got the love triangle down to an art form, and that was the main reason I asked to be an influencer. Nothing I like better than a little competition for affection. Andrea's Uncertain Heart doesn't disappoint.

I liked the way Andrea presented the age-old debate of love v. money in a really fresh way. Sarah's country background made her desire the finer things in life. Enter Bachelor #1: Brian Sinclair, her rich, charming employer who pays her more to be a governess than she'd ever make as a music teacher. Brian's got a few hangups, namely the fact that he doesn't share Sarah's beliefs and basically treats his children as if they were burdens/afterthoughts.

Enter Bachelor #2: Richard Navis, Captain Sinclair's steward with a head for numbers but a heart for farming--the one profession from whose clutches Sarah was eager to escape. He's just as handsome and charming, and he shares Sarah's beliefs and becomes a fast friend (a deadly word for a man in love, but there you have it).

As a therapist, I've encountered many a woman caught in the throes of the kind of attraction a man like Captain Brian Sinclair can wield. In fact, I'd wager (if I were a wagering sort) that many of you have also experienced it. It can be overwhelming as you soar along with the emotional highs and lows.

I'm a big believer in trying to get the client to listen to her heart, because in all reality, it's not as uncertain as it might seem. I appreciated the way Sarah's heart spoke to her--when she needed it to and took the time to listen. My clients will often say something offhand and it takes me saying, "Wait! Repeat what you just said!" for them to really listen. Sarah's no different. We get distracted by things, especially in the arena of romance. It was a joy to follow Sarah through to her own conclusions.

I'm very interested now in reading Book 3 in this series, as it directly pertains to the ending of Book 2, although I imagine it'll be great as a stand-alone, too. (I hadn't read Book 1 of this series and had no trouble at all following along.) I just want to thank Andrea for including the first chapter of Book 3. That was a kindness. :)

To be entered to win this book, you have to do two things: 1) make sure you are a follower of this blog by clicking "follow" in the right-hand column and 2) leave a comment with your email address written in a non-spam way [yourname (at) hotmail (dot) com]. I'll draw a winner on Saturday!

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


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

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!
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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sober Veteran's Day Reminder

What a sobering reminder of what Veterans have done for us. I'm so grateful.

Thank you for serving! We honor you.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Writing with "Pure Joy"

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
James 1:2-3

What a great verse to cling to. I know that I've clung to this when facing hardships of many kinds, but even though I clung to it, that didn't mean I really understood it.

Pure joy?

Am I the only one who thought James might have been smoking something when he penned those words?

I have always focused on the latter part of the verse. "Trials of many kinds." Especially from the unpublished side of the fence, I know the writing journey is one of the hardest trials I will ever face. The disappointment doesn't go away when you're published, either. Your agent might not like Book #3 or Book #2 might have bombed out with bad reviews.

Even so, we want to persevere through it all with a faith tested and refined like gold.

The part of the verse I never understood - couldn't grasp because it's so counter-intuitive - was to consider my trials with joy. And not just any joy...pure joy.

In my younger days, I mistakenly thought that only one emotion could accompany a trial based on this verse. But rarely is anything that cut and dry. Our emotions are tangled and convoluted. We cry when we're happy and laugh when we're mad.

Just because James didn't mention the other emotions doesn't mean they can't be present. It's okay to be sad, embarrassed, and frustrated. I think the lesson from this verse should be not to let those other, negative emotions overwhelm the joy.

Joy in the circumstance of trial is cerebral - we'll find it in our minds, not our hearts. Jeremiah tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things, so it is not wise to put confidence in our feelings. We should instead rely on the knowledge that all things work to the good of those who love the Lord. (Yes, that includes having your feelings hurt by an agent or a bad review.)

Essentially, James is talking about a cognitive exercise. Every time we are tempted to focus on the negative emotion, we have to train our brains to think like an optimist.

If you were sitting in my office, lamenting a recent turn of events for the worse in your writing journey, here are two questions I would ask you:
  1. What could possibly be positive about this event? Is there a bright side? (Ok, maybe a lesser-dark side?) It might be easier to look down the road for the good that could come from the trial, because our earthly perspective is limited. When we're going through the trial, it's interminably long and defeating, but from God's heavenly perspective, the trial is fleeting -"light and momentary." 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 reads, "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen (the trial) but on what is unseen (the eternal glory). For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." I've added the parentheses to show you the importance of looking up instead of looking out
  2. If your trial were happening to someone else, what words of encouragement would you give them? Taking a step back from our emotional reactivity is hard to do. In fact, we might not be able to fully detach ourselves. We're invested in our problem; it affects many aspects of our lives. But looking at it with more objectivity can help us through it. In order to do this, we'll need to call on our Christian friends for support to help us see through our biases.
James 1:2-3 indicates just one emotion we should feel; it's not an exhaustive list. Negative emotions are permissible, they just shouldn't eclipse the heavenly joy God wants us to experience. While joy in suffering might not be something we feel with our heart, we can make the mental choice to feel it with God's strength.

Click here to read the original article I wrote for SAGE Girl's Ministry. I adapted it for writers.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Book Smart v Street Smart

This week's assessment is from Katrina. She's writing a romantic comedy set in present time about Marnie*, a 20-something who grew up in the special education system even though her IQ is slightly above average. She doesn't correctly predict cause-and-effect outcomes, so she learns things the hard way, and she rarely sees other peoples' perspectives unless she stops and makes a specific attempt. Her parents are deceased, and she has a genius older brother is basically a stranger and an overprotective older sister-cum-mother.

Marnie lives in supported living, but when she makes a wrong judgment call that ends in a small fire, her sister moves her into a group home. Marnie wants to get back to living as independently as she can, to become a "grownup" in the very narrow definition her sister uses. Her inner need to accept herself as she is: quirky and offbeat.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Katrina wants to know: What makes ordinary life so difficult for Marnie? (A diagnosis, if you will.) What would result in her lacking common sense and struggling to learn street smarts, but paradoxically learning certain types of facts easily and quickly? I need to know why she is this way so I can have a more clear understanding of what she can and cannot do.

This was a tough one, Katrina, and I'll tell you why: I couldn't find a single diagnosis that I'd be comfortable giving this character the way you have depicted her. That tells me one of two things: either I'm in need of brushing up on my diagnosing skills, or your character isn't quite feasible at this point.

Her delay in cause-and-effect reasoning doesn't mean she fits into a developmental disorder diagnosis. In fact, I'd say she doesn't, because she's a way more high-functioning adult than most of the diagnoses on that spectrum (like Autism, Asperger's, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, etc). And most all of those diagnoses require a significant social delay which either Marnie doesn't have or you didn't mention.

I looked into diagnoses for her odd, eccentric behaviors, but she doesn't fit anything like Schizotypal Personality Disorder or Schizoid Personality Disorder.

You mentioned maybe adding a savantism aspect to her character to account for her ability to learn certain things super fast. I did a post here on savantism, but that condition would have some significant challenges for the person to overcome that you don't list Marnie as having.

Maybe she gets overstimulated and has difficulty processing what she needs to do at those times, which might make her seem incompetent to those who witness her in that situation. I considered adult ADHD, and I suppose you might want to Google it to see what you come up with.  

However, I suppose a diagnosis of Amnestic Disorder Due to Head Trauma could fit if you could pinpoint her symptoms as the result of memory loss due to a Traumatic Brain Injury. According to what research on the internet I could do with limited time, a Traumatic Brain Injury wouldn't have affected her IQ. (Click here for more info.) However, for her to have the condition above, the injury would have had to impair her ability to learn new information or impair her ability to recall previously learned information or past events. 

See what I mean? This type of rule-out could go on forever (and it did!).

Quirky and offbeat is how you've described Marnie, and I could picture that. Rather than thinking she has some sort of mental problem, couldn't she just be different? I tried really hard to find some diagnosis that might fit, and came up short every time. But since my field is mental health, that's not to say she might not have some other neurological disorder or something like that to account for the symptoms you've given her. You might want to check with a medical doctor to pick their brain.

There isn't a diagnosis for being book smart and lacking in street smarts, but that sounds exactly like what Marnie is suffering from. There are some highly intelligent people who you might laugh at under the right conditions because they seem so inept with commonsensical things, like parking meters or working a fire extinguisher. But you've got her in supported living, which might be for high functioning individuals, but the people who utilize these services would not be okay completely on their own, and a book smart person would be fine on their own.

I could see this a bit better if she weren't in supported living at all, but in a college dorm or something. The supported living/group home part of what you've written doesn't gel at all with her functioning level. So she doesn't take the time to understand other peoples' perspectives and she might not correctly get cause-and-effect all the time, but this wouldn't warrant the type of situation you have her living in. Her family could consider her unreliable or quirky rather than incompetent. She could be gifted--which comes with its own challenges--rather than in special education. I just think it would fit better.

I hope that this hasn't been mentally defeating, because I think Marnie can definitely go the places you want her to go. It just means changing up her backstory a bit. After you chew on this a bit, feel free to email me (or comment below) any additional questions that might come up. Otherwise, I wish you the very best with this book!

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Technique Toolbox - Storybears

Storybears Technique
Credited to:  Creative therapists utilizing Melissa and Doug toys

For use with: Children; Especially effective with children with both maternal and paternal roles filled in their lives

What you will need:

Melissa and Doug Family Dress-Up Puzzle ($11 from Amazon)

What you do:

The therapist introduces the little wooden box with three sets of puzzles, one for the "papa," one for the "mama," and one for the little guy/girl. They come with corresponding shapes on the back of each piece so you know this head belongs in the "father" pile because it's got a triangle on the back or this set of feet belongs with the "mother" because it's got a tiny circle on the back.

I usually explain that I want us to tell each other a story (also called mutual storytelling), and I'll sometimes begin the storytelling if the child is at all apprehensive or unsure of themselves, generally picking a story that corresponds to something I know the child is going through.

Each puzzle comes with a variety of outfits (like pajamas, swimsuits, work clothes, baseball outfits, etc) that the child can mix or match, but the most important thing is the faces. There are 6 faces that depict varying emotions of joy, contentment, sadness (with tears and usually accompanied by a bump on the head or a thermometer), disgruntled (mildly displeased expression), angry (very obviously mad expression), and sleepy (eyes closed). Of course, any expression could be interpreted in any way the child wants.

I will let the child put all the pieces together on the top of the puzzle box (they fit in grooves) before listening to their story (or telling mine).


Children are free to express what is going on in their own family through telling a story about the bears, which removes the personal element and frees the child to be as detailed or honest as they want without fear of repercussion for talking directly about his or her family.

When the therapist picks a very relevant story to the child's current situation, the child will many times nod that they felt the same way, identifying with the child bear, or that their own father acted the same way the bear's father acted in my story. Then this opens up the session for further discussion about what the child did or how he or she felt.

I will also allow the child to change out the bear faces (or outfits) to make the scenario something he or she would like better, to end on a hopeful note. I might share this information with the parents later if I think it might help.

Another great reason for doing this with young children is to aid in emotional recognition. I will leave out the storytelling element altogether and just have the child play with the puzzles, commenting on each face and the features that indicate what the bear might be feeling. I can even have the child practice these same features utilizing a mirror and modeling a smile or angry look myself.

Hope this helps makes those therapy scenes more realistic!

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