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Friday, December 20, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Back in Two Weeks

The queue is empty, according to my books!

So if you have questions, now's the time to post 'em. I'm taking off until the first Friday in January, when I'll write my next Dear Jeannie column. Leave your questions anonymously below, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle, and I'll get to them first come, first served.

Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Merry Christmas vs. Merry Winter Solstice?

I'm intrigued by this flowchart I ran across on Facebook. I believe it was originally posted here, but don't hold me to that.

In this world of being politically correct, agencies are moving toward (if they haven't already made the full transition) to having "holiday parties" instead of Christmas parties. Some places are celebrating "winter solstice" instead of Christmas. It's frowned upon to sing Christmas carols and say "Merry Christmas!"

Here's the flowchart:

Click to enlarge.
I say Amen! to this chart! And besides, the last time I checked, on the actual calendars that are mass-produced by various companies world-wide, on December 25th, it says CHRISTMAS in bold letters in the box. Christmas is recognized as a paid holiday by organizations, even at the county, state, and federal levels.

Religion aside, wishing someone a "Merry Christmas" could basically mean the same as saying "Merry December 25th" (which most people have off from work to be frickin' merry!). So it's even rational.

Me? I buck the political correctness for religious reasons. Here's the door to my office:

And the banner in my home:

I just don't want anyone to question my preference for winter holiday greetings, but I always smile and acknoledge the gracious intent behind anyone's well-wishing. Just wish everyone could do the same.

Sorry for the rant, but I realized this is a pet peeve of mind after I sat through a meeting where someone suggested the wording in a newsletter be changed that referred to the literal 25th day of December as Christmas. Aggravation.

Let's Analyze

What's your preference for "holiday greetings?" What do you do if someone calls you out on your chosen greeting?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Dear Jeannie: A Family Divided and Arranged Marriages


Dear Jeannie,

Sean, Matt, and their family are newcomers to a tightly-knit, politically volatile community. The boys are all young enough to grow up with the neighbors, but old enough to still be considered transplants. When war breaks out, Sean and his brothers are pretty evenly split between joining one of the two sides--or abandoning both and falling prey to cowardice and greed, in Matt's case. Sean joins the "enemy" army, which had more of his loyalty before they moved. I'm thinking this is going to really tear up the family (there were 4 brothers, most of whom were very close to their idealistic mother). Sad, but workable. But what about their community? Since some boys joined "the cause" and others didn't, would they be completely booted? Attacked, either physically or verbally? And what about Matt's new criminal career? Will the family be able to maintain a life here, or are they going to need a new start, somewhere else?

Armed Brat in Arlington

Dear Armed Brat,

War definitely polarizes people in and of itself, much less if you've got a North & South-type thing going (great television series!). If the family is divided, I'd think the sons who joined the "enemy" side would definitely be unwelcome in the community that is predominantly for the other side. Would they have to hide out? And as to whether they'd be able to maintain a life there (I'm assuming after the war?), I'd think that would depend on a few things: 1) Does the family consider this place their home? Since you made a point to mention that they are still considered "outsiders," they might not want to. 2) Has Matt's criminal career made them lepers of society by their association with him? 3) How idealistic is their mom? I find it somewhat hard to believe she'd want them to be involved in this policital upheaval, but that all depends on what her stance in it is. If the brothers are close to her, then her opinion will hold a lot of sway over them.  Anyway, there were some parts of your question that were unclear, so if you want to clarify some things in the comment section below, I'll respond as soon as I can. Thanks for writing in!

Dear Jeannie,
When she was 15, Francesca's stepmother asked her to choose between raising her half-sisters or starting her own family. She thought hard about it at the time, but she's been a faithful surrogate ever since. The girls are close. But now they're in the New World, with new rules, new family, and new relationships. Francesca's been maneuvered into an arranged marriage, and her groom doesn't know she comes with a ready-made family. Between being completely up-ended by the move and having her control taken away from her, she has a sizable dose of anger. Where and how is she going to direct it? The girls? The groom? She's been making "adult" choices for a number of years, but they don't seem to have prepared her for any of the new dilemmas facing her. How can she learn to make decisions *with* someone, instead of *for* them?

Micromanaged in Micronesia 

Dear Micromanaged,

Francesca's biggest challenge will be the arranged marriage, not the move. He would represent the largest unknown. How was she maneuvered into the arranged marriage? She'll likely feel incredible resentment toward that figure. And if the husband-to-be comes across high-handed (or perhaps he's just a regular, chivalrous male), she's not going to appreciate that, either. You didn't mention how old she is when they make the move to the New World or if she's harbored hopes of a marriage of her own, so it would seem feasible that her anger could resolve fairly quickly as she journeys through her character arc and through marriage. It might be helpful to have her and her fiance butt heads early on as they join forces for some task. They can learn each others' ins and outs over this task, which they are both less emotionally invested in than marriage. Hope you write him with miles and miles of patience. :)


Maybe I've got some answers. Leave your question in the comment section below and I'll post my answer in a future Dear Jeannie column. Queue's empty!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Enter to Win a Romance Writer's Grab Bag for Christmas!

No hoops to jump through. Just want to share my love for all my readers with this unique Romance Writer's Grab Bag. I bought it some time ago from Winklenook's Etsy shop, and have been saving it for Christmas time. (And it was a one-of-a-kind the buck stops here!)

Click on the pictures below to enlarge.

It's handmade in rich green. with a burnt orange flap over.
It has ALL sorts of pockets inside. Very roomy interior.
No joke. Your own "Thinking Cap." Totally cute.
It comes chock full of story prompts, advice for romance writers, quotes, and craft info.
And this handmade drawstring bag comes with a strawberry timer, suggestions for using it, and a pencil sharpener.

Any writer would really like this, but I'd think a beginning writer would definitely love it. It would make a perfect Christmas gift.

So, I'm offering one lucky commenter the chance to win this bag, and I'll even holiday gift wrap it and ship it in time for Christmas to whatever address you give me. How's that for customer service?

All you have to do is LEAVE AN EMAIL ADDRESS for me to get in touch with you. I'll run the giveaway through Sunday and ship Monday. Share this on Twitter (@jeanniecampbell) or Facebook (tag me in the post) through the buttons below and get 5 extra entries. Blog about it and you'll get 10!

Can't wait to see who the lucky winner is. Good luck!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Stepping Outside Comfort Zones

Dear Jeannie,
Cass' older sister is a prestigious figure in a military organization. Cass is one of twin sisters who have always been very close to their older sister, offering her blunt advice or telling her when she's being stupid, and receiving the same in return. Cass, unlike her older sister, has a flair and a skill for a more 'domestic' role - she's a very skilled cook in the organization's kitchen. Cass rules this domain and is a huge presence within it - but very rarely ventures into the world beyond it. First, is it realistic that Cass would stay so close by her kitchen despite her sister's position? Secondly, something tragic is going to happen to Cass' sister and she's going to lose her position. Is there a realistic way that Cass might then pursue the position her sister once held?
Lost in Lake Macquarie
Dear Lost,
Yes, I think it's totally realistic for her to stay in the kitchen despite her big sister's prominence. Association doesn't have much on comfort. Just because you know people in high places doesn't mean you want to join them. The answer to your second question is more difficult, because it depends on her motivation to do so, which in turn depends on your story world. If circumstances were such that she thought she was somehow serving her sister best by stepping up, perhaps. Or maybe she wants her older sister to be proud of her for not letting the position go to someone not related to them. Since you stated that they were close to each other, then some nudge from her sister to do this would go a long way. Exterior complications and conflicts (who else wants the position? would people accept the "cook" stepping up? - etc.) are going to be the key as to whether she'd give up her comfort zone or not. She'd be fully capable of it, it seems, but you'd have to figure out what would motivate her to exchange her apron for a gun (or insert appropriate term here from your story world). Best of luck as you figure it out!

Dear Jeannie,
Jude has a magical ability which his parents have forced him to hide due to the public image of those with magic as antisocial and dangerous. The government is also thought to forcibly take custody of any magic user considered dangerous. He has little control over it due to lack of practice, but it sometimes appears as a multicolored glow around him when he feels threatened. Given the stress his parents have laid on secrecy and his own fear of what would happen to him if his magic was discovered, how would he react to this obvious sign of his ability? Would he try to avoid threatening situations, or try to overcome fear?
Confused in Chicago 

Dear Confused,

What kind of boy is Jude? Does he run headfirst into whatever he's doing, only pausing to consider ramifications after something goes awry? Is he a planner? Not taking a step until he knows the outcome? Is he rebellious? If his parents said not to do something, would that be like an invitation served up on a silver platter for him to do that very thing? These core personality traits will answer your question for you. Both of the scenarios you presented (avoiding threatening situations that might instigate magic use or overcoming fear associated with not being able to control it) are very feasible. Since I don't know much about Jude from your thumbnail sketch, you'll have to actually make this call. Personally, I think it'd be more anxiety-provoking for the reader if he was scared of what would happen if people figured out he had magic, so therefore would want to avoid situations that could trigger it. Readers will tensely flip pages to see when, inevitably, this choice fails him. But that's just my opinion. Hope you figure it out....let me know what you decide. Good luck!

Got Questions?

Maybe I have answers. Leave your anonymous comment below using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle. I'll post my response in future Dear Jeannie columns. Queue's empty, so get those questions in!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Time Travel and Emotional Intelligence

Dear Jeannie,
Byron met his future wife when she was on a time-traveling spree. He met the "real" younger version of her later that year in school. He became friends with her easily, but who he really wants is the adult version of her. The story hinges on Byron not pursuing a relationship with her when they first meet, but is that believable? Is it further believable that Byron would make decisions/assumptions about his future based on wanting to meet the woman again? Given the choice, for example, between a financially sound job offer and a government job he wouldn't like as much (but would put him in close proximity to the girl/woman), would a man let "what if?" be more important that "what now?" 

Over-Dramatic in Darlington 

Dear Over-Dramatic,

What kind of man is Byron? Is he ruled by his heart or his head? Is he romantic or practical? Type A or B? Depending on these answers, he would either pursue her with passion waiting for her to blossom into the "adult version" of herself, or he'll rationalize his involvement with her away (i.e., too many variables could shake up the ultimate outcome). If he's totally snowed by the adult version, I'd think he'd grit and bear it (even though he does like the younger version) and hold out, waiting for her to morph. He'd also take that job he doesn't want so much so that he could be near her...if he's ruled by his heart. That image of her adult self will motivate him to do things he normally wouldn't do. Maybe not what you wanted to hear, but he would be looking for that spark he saw to confirm his actions. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly wanted to make sure that his mom and dad ended up together, and everything had to line up exactly right for that to happen. Depending on your sci-fi version, could something in the present affect how she winds up in the future? Your third question was a bit convoluted to answer in this column, but his perception of Marty McFly's concerns makes a huge impact on the answer. Thanks for writing in!

Dear Jeannie,
Helen had a retired, eccentric crusader for a father, who made sure she was well-educated in a time when many women couldn't read. But now he is gone, and her young step-mother has ambitions for her own children. Book-smart is not the same as people-smart, though, and neither has much to do with land management. Both Helen and her step-mother need the crusader's lands for their plans--the step-mother for the cash to fund her goals, and Helen to take back her lands/people. Since Helen has grown up with her head in the clouds, she is woefully unprepared for both her duties and her step-mother's manipulation. How can she build her "intelligence quota" so that she can successfully cope with this conflict? Is that even possible? There's an odd mix of idealism and prejudice in her background that don't auger well for a well-balanced adulthood.
See-Saw in Santee

Dear See-Saw,

I believe that you are referring to Helen's emotional quotient rather than her intelligence quotient. She lacks emotional intelligence (EI), given that her studies centered on book knowledge. Unfortunately, EI has to be learned. If her father didn't teach her, then she'll have to learn by doing...and fall flat on her face when she naively trusts someone to do what's in her best interest, or doesn't follow-up on something she should have. She seems destined for the school of hard knocks, and that's okay. She'll have to learn from her mistakes. EI is about identifying, assessing, and controlling (sometimes) the emotions of yourself, others and groups. Emotions are in the people realm of things. However, with some tutelage, she might be able to pick up on some of these basic people skills through her reading. I think of reading books to my young clients...I have them identify emotions the characters have and try to have them identify when they have felt the same. Learning to read people like this, and understanding the push-pull of emotional interactions, is a valuable trait to have. Best of luck!


Maybe I have some answers! Leave your comment anonymously below, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle. I'll post my answers in future Dear Jeannie columns.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Turkey's on the Couch....


Taking the week off to be with family...hope you have a fantastic Thanksgiving!!!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Effect of Abortion on Men

Dear Jeannie, 

Wesley wasn't romantically involved with Crystal when she became pregnant, but she was very special to him. Unbeknownst to him, he had developed a lot of protective affection towards her. Against his advice, wishes, and prayers, she had an abortion and fled the state. Is it realistic for him to carry life-altering guilt about her choice for years? He was the only person she knew who argued against the decision (partly for moral reasons, but mainly because of the physical dangers and consequences she would face). He doesn't connect to people easily, so would he still want to track her down afterwards, or would he mentally throw her in a garbage bin? I know some women go through healing and therapy in the wake of this kind of decision, but what about men?

Mourning in Myrtle Beach

Dear Mourning,

I love this question because it's thinking outside the box. YES!! Men can mourn the loss of an unborn life, and I believe this had largely been undressed in the media (for sure) or in fiction (I read one book where the man carried this burden....there are probably others). What is unique about your situation is that the baby was not his child (if I'm reading it right). So it's a bit more far-fetched that he'd carry this "life-altering guilt" about a child he wasn't biologically connected to...but I suppose he could feel guilt in general about her choice. But the further you remove him from the outcome (i.e., if it were his child, or if they had plans to raise it together, even if it wasn't his) the less likely his guilt reaction would be. Whether he'd want to track her down or not would depend on his feelings for her prior to the abortion. And he wouldn't do it for some time, probably, as he'd harbor anger (at least initially) against her for what he would perceive as her reckless, impulsive, selfish action. But kudos for thinking about an issue in such a different light. Thanks for writing in.

Got Questions?

'Cause the queue is empty! Leave your own questions anonymously below, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle, and I'll answer in future Dear Jeannie columns.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Jurassic Park Sighting: Francine Rivers

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

This post might not make me popular amongst readers of Christian fiction, but I recently reread the Mark of the Lion trilogy, and I stumbled across a huge Jurassic Park moment.

Here's the set-up: In Book One, we learn of the German warrior Atretes. He was captured by the Romans and sent to train to be a gladiator for the games. He makes a huge name for himself, with several devoted followers, based on his ability to kill. He's quick, cunning, fueled by anger, invincible in facing death.

I was reading Book Three, As Sure as the Dawn, which picks up where Book One's story left Atretes. He is about to travel away from Ephesus with Rizpah, the woman who took in his child, in order to
escape danger and potentially being lured back into the arena to fight.

They are on the ship and a Roman centurion boards, which causes Atretes to think he's been sold out. He's preparing to fight, and there's a skirmish. Then his feet get tangled up in the ropes on the deck.


This ineptitude from a Chatti warrior who ran through woods and breakneck speeds, dodging branches and roots and such? This from the gladiator who trained with spinning wheels flying at his face, quick and nimble and extremely coordinated?

Sorry, but I'm not buying it. He hasn't fallen in battle once. And this time, because the author needs to have Atretes beholden to the Roman centurion (who happens to be the Christian designated to take him back to Germania), he trips?

My mouth dropped and I just shook my head. Totally out of character for him.

I'm not dogging Francine, though. These books rock and are among my favorite series ever. 

Let's Analyze

What about you? Read anything lately that made you go, "Say what?"

Friday, November 15, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Spoiled Teens, Past Lives & Equinophobia (Fear of Horses)

Dear Jeannie,

I cannot tell if my young MC is spoiled or rebellious. Or maybe neither? Lynn grew up as the pampered, complacent child in a family of sharp tempers and strong opinions. She happened to agree with the rules and expectations placed on her, so issues like conflict resolution, self control, or authority were left to other people. Summoned to a foreign court as a teenager, Lynn finds herself ill-prepared for the schemes, responsibilities, and power struggles that ensue there. When told what to do (or what she can't do), Lynn keeps getting washed away with unexpected anger, stubbornness, and a severe case of the "will nots." She doesn't seem to have any coping strategies in place, and no one who loves her recognizes the furious, power-mad person she's turning into. So, I'm not sure (a) quite what's happening with Lynn (whose full-on tantrums erupt when she's in her late teens/early twenties, following one too many betrayals), and (b) how I can either equip her to handle herself better or provide people/experiences to mature her properly. Any suggestions appreciated!

Off-Guard in Eutawville

Dear Off-Guard,

You wrote that Lynn was a complacent child amidst a family of sharp tempers/opinions. I assume she "happened" to agree with the rules and expectations because they indulged her rather than gave her boundaries. A steady diet of this type of spoiled upbringing will leave a child ill-equipped to deal with life when things don't go her way. So the answer to your first question is that Lynn is both spoiled and rebellious. She's going to kick against the goads when any kind of rules are imposed on her. And if this is when she's a teen, then so be it. I'm not sure what "full-on tantrum" means in your book, or what betrayals she's suffered, but I do have one suggestion that would work for helping her gain empathy. If she were exposed to another person, close to her age, preferably her own sex, who had things so much worse off than her...a slave, if you will...and were to strike up a friendship with her, she'd have to wrestle with the discrepancies in their life situation. Of course, the slave would handle what Lynn perceives as insults with aplomb instead of anger. Acceptance that life isn't always what you want it to be. Lynn needs a little yang to her yin, you know? Try that out and see if it helps.

Dear Jeannie,

Cicely is about to get dragged away, very reluctantly, on something you might call an "adventure" - although it quickly turns into a nightmare. Cicely's mother has dragged her all around the world her entire life and while it's been fun, is it plausible that Cicely is sick to death of it and would want a plain and simple life more than anything? The other guy is one who's been reincarnated time and time again. He remembers slivers of his past lives and not all of them were good people - in fact, they've done some awful, bloody things. How deeply do you think this would affect what he's like?


Dear Anonymous,

Your first question seems very simple: people want what they can't have. It's been that way since the  beginning of time...the whole forbidden fruit, and all that. If Cicely has been high flyin' all her life, it's very feasible that she'd want to settle down, have sleepovers and proms and all that, like a normal person. As for your other question, a man who has glimpses of some of the awful things he's done in past lives...I imagine that's very much like a person who "loses time" (dissociates or goes into a fugue state) and remembers glimpses of it later. It's very disconcerting, leaving the person apprehensive, and sometimes fearful of these recollections. Depending on how he felt currently about some of the "bad" behaviors, I'd think he'd want to right wrongs, so to speak. Maybe they'd make him more circumspect, handling people with more kindness. Hope this helps.

Dear Jeannie,

Katy was a witness to her parents' death by a favored horse. She had been outdoorsy and good with animals before this, but a crippling fear of horses changed a lot of things. Stables practically give her hives. As a young adult, she'd now like to leave her foster home. Which involves getting on a horse again. Part of her knows the fear is irrational, but telling herself that doesn't seem to help. And she has lost her only "friend" (more like a captor), so she's without any kind of support system to encourage her attempts. Not just this first time someone throws her on the back of an animal, but also in subsequent attempts to ride, how is she going to react or process this fear?

Unseated in Union Station

Dear Unseated,

You wrote that Katy was "thrown on the back of an animal." With a fear like hers, this would be debilitating.  But you also wrote that she's without a support system to "encourage her attempts," which indicated that she did make attempts. So depending on how her early attempts went to get back on the horse, she might be able to function through her fear, especially if her body knew what to do while her mind was preoccupied. Don't underestimate how strong latent memory can be. It's like riding a bike or brushing your teeth. The only variable is the horse itself. I'm not a rider, but I've been told they sense and react to fear themselves. But it if's the favored horse she knew well and loved, then the animal might overlook her tenseness. I'd ask a horse rider, though, for sure. Psychologically, she's do much better if she went through a process of systematic desensitization.  Let me know if this answers your question. Best of luck!


Maybe I've got answers. Leave your questions below anonymously, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle. I'll post my answers in a future Dear Jeannie column.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Time, Talent, & Treasure: What It Reveals About Your Character

What we pay for, invest time in, and volunteer for speaks volumes about what we value. So it is true for our characters. (click to tweet!)

It was quite catchy to hear it stated that this is our TIME, TALENT, and TREASURE.

It's easy to use money as an indicator of value. It's measurable in a dollar amount, and one can erroneously conclude that the higher that amount, the greater the value placed on what was paid for or contributed.

But that's not the case. Wealthy individuals can give money that cost them virtually nothing, and certainly don't convey what they are passionate about. I know individuals who sponsor children for about $30/month....and this costs them. They feel every dollar they give.

Time can be measured, as well. Hours, days, weeks. Volunteering for something you're not passionate about makes the hands on the clock s l o w down....while volunteering for something you are passionate about makes them fast forward. 

What's not so easy to measure is talent. It goes hand-in-hand with time, as it takes time to give of your talents to any endeavor. But we don't give or our talents and gifts equally. We pick and choose when and where and for how long we'll serve in a given capacity.

For example...I sing and play the piano. I value my commitment to church, and so therefore give of my talents there and sing in a praise team and play the piano ever-so-often when called upon or there is a need. I don't get reimbursed for this time.

If I were to be asked to play for a wedding of a close friend, it would be my joy to serve them with playing and/or singing. However, if I were asked by someone I didn't know, I'd definitely charge for this time and for the use of my services.

The difference is that my values come into play. My value of friendship or of my faith makes the same talent offered different.

So here are some questions to ask your characters, in no particular order:

1) What types of fund raisers would you be most likely to ignore or most likely to participate in? Why? (those magazine scams, gift wrap, band booster candy bar or gift wrapping sales, giving money for the kid with cystic fibrosis whose family placed a jar next to the cashier at the grocery store, supporting a university alumni association, etc)

2) What non-emergency would make you dip into your emergency fund to give to others? (friend needs rent money or they'll be evicted, you see a homeless man on the street, etc)

3) What would compel you to give up a Saturday or an evening after a hard day's work volunteering Why? (manning a soup kitchen for an hour, helping a friend move,

4) When you aren't at work or home, where do you spend most of your time? (shopping centers, church, bar, friends' houses, etc)

5) What hobby of yours would you let a friend/loved get for free that you normally make other people pay for? Why? (i.e., beading, event planning, playing the flute, landscaping, etc)

Moral values play a huge part in what characters support with their time, talent, and treasure. (click to tweet!)

Let's Analyze

What are some other indicators of something you value?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Weathering Hurtful Writing Comments From Your Partner

I'm wrapping up my series geared toward writers who have partners who don't "get" them and sometimes have a hard time communicating their writing needs to these partners

One of the themes that came up from my writer's survey was this: how do writers weather hurtful comments like "get a real job" and "when are you going to bring home some money?" Or barbs like, "No one is going to read what you write, so why waste your time?"

At the heart of statements like these is a lack of understanding, lack of compassion, and lack of respect.

One of the above is definitely indicative that the couple could benefit from counseling. 

Can you guess which one? 

Yep. Lack of respect.

Research as been done about indicators of marriages (or partnerships) that succeed or fail. And Dr. John Gottman has written the definitive material (Why Marriages Succeed or Fail...and How You Can Make Yours Last!) based on this research.  

And lucky for me, I've written a series based on this book already. So I want to draw your attention to some previous posts.

First of all, there are six signs that relationships are souring. Comments like the ones above definitely fall within within that realm. Gottman found one sign to be four descriptors of rocky marriages, which he called the The Four Horsemen (e.g. of the apocalypse). They were: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. 

Comments like "get a real job" are both critical and contemptuous of writers. Seek professional help ASAP. (click to tweet!)

If you want to read more about the other five signs, then click here and here.

This might not have been the post you were expecting, but the stakes are very high in a relationship at a juncture like this. Pussyfooting around the issue doesn't do anyone a favor. 

I use the material in the 3 posts listed in couples therapy all the time. If you purchase his book (Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last), it has some great self-help-type questionnaires that you can take to see if your relationship truly does match his criteria. 

To instill a little hope, I've seen couples change it around. Knowledge is power, and simply being aware of patterns can help put an end to them. 

But don't just sit there and do nothing while your partner berates you. Reach out for help, whether that's with the book or a professional counselor or a pastor.

Let's Analyze

The series is over, and I'm glad. These are hard questions that popped up in the comment section of my survey. I hope that you've found the suggestions helpful, and don't think I copped out on this post. My heart truly goes out to those with partners who are not compassionate or understanding about the singular and oft-difficult calling to write.

If you've had to deal with comments like the ones mentioned in this post, how did you deal with it? What did you say? Leave your answers anonymously if you prefer.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Creator Contracts and Matchmaking

Dear Jeannie,

Rylynn is a creature of myth. She shouldn't exist, and not even her creator realizes the enormity of that responsibility. Wise and intuitive, she nevertheless lacks any form of introspection, as her mythical nature has voluntarily "slaved" her will to her creator's. Rylynn has been traded as a commodity to Ivor, but her creator has commanded her to break this contract. She wishes to honor the contract faithfully, but the command outweighs that, and the contradiction is making her sick. My trouble is Ivor. Recognizing her for what she is, he would prefer to keep her, but her attachment to her creator makes her a dangerous liability. Ivor is trying to shift her allegiance. He's been offering her freedom, safety, kindness, and purpose, where before she had only known cages and commands. Is this enough? Rylynn's love of authority structures is off-balance in Ivor's world, but is this enough to force her to develop some introspection? Does she need any? And is there any way for Ivor to successfully gain her loyalty without exposing her to the damage her creator has wrought?

Stumped in Steubenville

Dear Stumped,

The closest thing to compare this to in the real world would be that of a foster child. Rylynn's creator would be her bio parent, and Ivor her foster parent. Foster parents offer everything Ivor is: freedom, kindness, opportunity. Yet children who were raised in the worst possible scenarios still want to live with their bio parents. It's ingrained in them, as much as Rylynn's desire is to honor her creator. And yes, they do get sick, too, with physical maladies...but mainly because of the guilt, I think. Children aren't stupid, just misguided. Rylynn can probably see that Ivor is a better situation for her...after all, she was traded like cattle. But to even dream about that situation would be like betraying her creator, thus causing her to feel incongruent and then sick. Here's my thought: have Ivor let her go. You know the old adage. If he lets her go, she'll run back to the creator...but it won't be a happy homecoming. It never is. Or if it is, it never lasts. She'll hopefully see the discrepancy between the two men and make the right choice. Wish you the best with this!

Dear Jeannie,

My daddy, Jairo, married young to a political ally. She cheated on him, committed treason, and tried to "get rid" of their child. (That's me!) He takes very good care of me, and doesn't miss my mother. I want to get him a new wife. I like my honorary auntie, Larue, for the position. She forgets that she's tired when she sees me, and always listens before she makes decisions. But my daddy doesn't look at ladies. Especially not my auntie. (He says it's better to be attacked head-on as her enemy, rather than manipulated and micromanaged as one of her minions. But he took back the manipulation part.) How can I help my daddy see her? And not just notice her--he should take care of her like he does me. She will go home soon, and my daddy will get lonely and bored. Should I make him move us to where she lives?

Lovista Tegyr

Dear Lovista,

It's widely understood that "familiarity breeds attraction." You need to figure out a way for your honorary aunt to come live with you. Daddies who love their little girls fiercely will have to be moved when they see someone taking care of them as you've described your aunt doing. If your dad doesn't interface with her and see her awesomeness in action, then likely, he won't appreciate it. Most likely, he'll first feel gratitude for her connection with you (in like of your mother's lack thereof) and that gratitude will then morph into love. It would be even sweeter if he starts to rely on her (even without realizing it) only to have his lack of commitment almost cost him a relationship with her (say, he sees her going out on a date with someone else and gets a little jealous over it). A good example of what I'm talking about is in Lori Wick's contemporary romance, Sophie's Heart. Hope this helps!

Got Questions?

Maybe I've got answers! Leave your questions in the comment section below, but do so anonymously, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle. I'll post my responses in future Dear Jeannie columns.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bonus Dear Jeannie: Ben, Zack, Luke and Nina on the Couch

Dear Jeannie,

Upon their fathers' deaths, two cousins each inherited the thrones of a joint kingdom made of two city-states. Ben--athletic, charming, possessed of excellent "people sense"--fell easily into a wealthy, hedonistic social world that favors the aristocracy. Zack--studious, far-seeing, maimed in his first battle--threw himself into governmental reform in favor of the growing middle class. As they grow from teenagers to men, is it plausible for them to keep their kingdom intact? Growing up, they had respected each others' strengths, but with both their personal and political lives at odds, there's a lot of room for dissent and disrespect. The merger of the two cities had been their fathers' vision, which they were each raised on, but both of their councils keep pressing for a split. At what point do old friendships and pure cussed stubbornness give way to jealousy and disillusionment?

Eaten Up in Edisto

Dear Eaten Up,

It is said that personalities only become more entrenched and pronounced through life (i.e., people are unlikely to see things a different way). Best friends frequently grow apart, especially if their interests and passions are so dissimilar. Yet, anything is possible. Depending on how you want to write it, you could have them using the strengths of the other to further their father's wishes (i.e., Ben catering to the wealthy an Zack to the middle-class) and recognizing that kingdoms have to have both to survive. Or you could have them dissolving the kingdom due to "irreconcilable differences." It seems that with both councils pressing for a split, this would be more likely....that, and the fact that you mentioned the two city-states were "warring" to begin with. Likely, emotions would still be running high on each side, b/c that kind of hate doesn't turn off with a few signatures to a piece of paper. So really, the question isn't so much of a psychological one as a what's-your-preference question. What would serve your plot and your theme better? Because the answer is that it could go either way. I welcome additional thoughts below. Thanks for writing in!

Dear Jeannie,
Luke has two families: one with legal claim, and one who loves him. His father died before he was born, and he has been raised as a half-servant/half-political pawn ever since. (His mother was remanded to slave status on her husband's death, and dies when Luke is about 12.) The other family, into which his favorite cousin marries shortly before his mother's death, are long-standing enemies of the family who keeps him. Nevertheless, his cousin's new family give him an education, every scrap of protection they can afford, and open-ended job offers. Their love saved his life, giving him purpose and direction. They would adopt him in an instant, if it wouldn't start a war. Luke, having grown up as a knotted rope in a slippery tug-of-war, has never accepted the adoption or the employment. He continues to serve his family.

How can I write Luke's story without making this sound like Stockholm Syndrome or some sort of hive mentality? As a grown man, he persists in hoping to infuse his blood family with some of the kindness and compassion of his heart's family, but is this a delusion that's going to kill him before anyone sees his perspective?

Worrywart in Wilmington 

Dear Worrywart,

Luke sounds like a typical child in the foster care system. They find the love, acceptance, and support from strangers (ideally), but would give anything if that could have come from their biological family. And yes, sadly, this is usually a that persists following disappointment time after time. The odd thing is, these children generally would prefer to be with their biological family, regardless of what that family did to them. I've pondered this, coming to the conclusion that children are hardwired to love their family, no matter what. Children who were faced with much better situations, much better opportunities, and unending affection would rather live with bio parents, who abused them, didn't value them, treated them as mistakes/ just didn't make sense. So at least you're writing Luke's loyalty to the legal family realistically. Something pretty major would have to occur for him to give up on this hopeless crusade (nothing short of the death of the legal family, almost). While his dream might not literally kill him, could. Sounds intriguing...good luck!

Dear Jeannie,

Nina's parents died when she was young, leaving her to the care of her older brother. He abused her and "farmed her out" to his friends when the authorities became suspicious. By the time the reader meets her, she is the half-starved mother of three illegitimate children, whose fathers she *never* wants to discuss. She finds work in a castle whose lady offers an education, self-defense training, and a lock on her door. The lady and Nina are both subjects of a lot of unfriendly gossip, but they never talk about things like the past. When one of the retainers starts romancing her, is there room for anything other than hostility? He's quiet and kind, but also a known sneak, so most of the castle catches on to his campaign before she does. If Nina never talks about some of the white elephants in her life, will they be destructive and permanent baggage?

Zipped Lips in Kissimmee

Dear Zipped Lips,

Oooo. Damaged. Love this. When this guy starts to romance her, she won't know what to make of it. She won't expect men to be gentle and kind, and certainly not to treat her as if her opinion mattered. She'll avoid it, but thoughts will niggle in the back of her mind, wondering why he's different. No, she won't trust him...might not ever trust him...and time would be their only ally, which means you'd have to see about the passage of time in your book judiciously. No short-term, flash-in-the-pan romance for her. These white elephants in her life will always be present. Even talking about them doesn't remove their presence, but it might take the power out of them if she does. Bottling things up can be extremely negative and impact a person psychosomatically (meaning physical complaints that can't be explained medically, etc). Nina would likely be a very sickly-type woman, as might her children, all of which is indicative of her exposure to the traumatic experiences she's been through. Best of luck writing this intriguing character!

Monday, November 4, 2013

How to Communicate Needs to Non-Writing Partners

I'm continuing my series geared toward writers who have partners who don't "get" them. One of the questions that came up from my writer's survey was how do writers communicate with their spouses (who lean toward not being supportive) to let them know what they need, both emotionally and physically?

Let's start with Communication 101, via your friendly Character Therapist.

A Primer on Communication

Every message sent to someone has to be encoded by the sender (hopefully this is done well) and decoded by the receiver (hopefully this is done well). Just as in the game of Telephone, when the initial message can get distorted before it gets to the end of the line, there's all manner of "noise" that can warp the message.

Noise can be anything in the environment (children, television, cell phones ringing, etc.) or anything the receiver is going through (rough day at work, had a fender bender, just got a promotion, etc.) or anything that the sender is going through (anxiety, depression, joy, etc.).

I know...that's a lot of variables to consider.

Seven Steps to Effective Communication

1) Try to reduce as much environmental and personal "noise" as possible. (click to tweet!)

Timing is everything. You want your partner to be in a relatively good mood. You don't want them to be distracted. Kids need to be asleep or away. TV needs to be off (muted does not work!).

2) Ask if they have time to talk, because you've got something on your mind. (click to tweet!)

Even if they are sitting there looking still ASK, don't assume. This means you respect their time and autonomy, and it opens channels more. If they say no, they at least know you've got something in the hopper that you want to address. If they say yes, proceed to step 3.

3) Know exactly what you want to say. (click to tweet!)

Having just a vague idea of what you want to get across isn't a good idea. Your partner likely is already on edge because you've requested to talk to them, which lends a seriousness to the conversation. Their anxiety becomes unavoidable "noise" that you have to cross, so being succinct and to the point will greatly reduce the chance that they misunderstand you.

How do you do that?

4) Be aware of your body language. (click to tweet!)

It is said (from different sources) that anywhere between 60-90% of communication is non-verbal (meaning your body language, expressions, pitch, tone of voice, etc). Be mindful of how you're standing/sitting, how you're using your hands, and how you arrange your facial expressions. The old adage is true: actions speak louder than words.

5) Use I-statements. (click to tweet!)

Never, ever, EVER start sentences with "You." Nothing puts another person on the defensive faster. Then, you've lost them as far as actually listening to you, because I guarantee that they have tuned you out while they try to come up with a rebuttal. Even if you aren't trying to be mean, and you say it nicely, it still comes across as aggressive.

Instead of "You never take care of the kids so I can write," say, "I'm disappointed when I end up caring for the kids all weekend, and I wish you'd offer to take them out some Saturdays so I could write."

That's simplistic, of course, but hopefully you get the idea. People can't argue with how you feel. Using feeling words is a great way to get across what you're wanting to say about what you need.

In general, an I-statement should have three parts:

I feel ___X___ when you do ___Y___, and I wish ___Z___.

"I feel frustrated when you leave the kids at home with me, and I wish you could take them out somewhere when you leave."

"I feel hurt when you ask if I'm ever going to get a real job, and I wish you could respect my writing more by not making comments like that."

"I don't feel valued when you expect me to do all the cooking and cleaning, and I wish you'd offer to wash the dishes or do the laundry every once in a while."

Now, I realize that it looks simplistic, but actually saying these things is very difficult. Your knees might be knocking, even more so if you and your spouse have had many a row over your writing.

6) Listen in return.

Also easier said than done. But you're asking for them to hear you out, so you need to be willing to do the same...even if the outcome isn't what you had hoped to hear. It's okay to be hurt by something that is said in return, and it's okay to cry...but do hear them out. Then you can try to respond with an I-message, conveying your feelings about what they said.

7) End the conversation if things get heated. (click to tweet!)

Request to continue it later when emotions aren't running so high. What happens to folks whose disagreement turns into a fight is that they cease actually arguing about the issue at hand and begin slinging insults about the person and/or fighting about the fighting. Not walk away with an agreement to revisit it later.

Word of Caution

All the communication skills in the world might be insufficient when trying to communicate your needs to someone who doesn't value what you do. Sad, but true. Essentially, you're working within a deficit, and if you don't acknowledge this up front, you're not doing yourself any favors.

Monitor your expectations. If your spouse has been very unyielding, then don't ask for the moon. Start small. Baby steps in the right direction are better than being stonewalled.  (click to tweet!) #3 above should take some thought and consideration. These steps aren't a magic cure-all for a relationship mired in conflict, but they do offer hope and a potential way to meet on the same page.

Consider marital therapy if you think having a mediator present would be helpful. Someone who doesn't have a vested interest in either side can do wonders for helping partners really "see" the issues at hand by stepping outside themselves.

Let's Analyze

Any other suggestions you'd make for communicating effectively about such a touchy subject? Have you ever used I-statements successfully? Leave a story below about how you did.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Invasion of Privacy and Polar Opposites

Dear Jeannie,

In futuristic Asia, certain people are subjected to a certain government program where everything they think and feel gets monitored by an unknown individual. Lisa, who has turned sixteen, is one of them. My question is how would she react to this sudden invasion of privacy, having a complete stranger she's not allowed to communicate with know all her innermost thoughts? On the other hand, how would the unseen observer handle knowing everything about her?


Dear Anonymous,

No teenager wants their secrets splayed open for anyone to see (unless they themselves post them on a site like facebook). It's the "certain people are subjected to" line that will most likely chap her. She'll rail against being one of the chosen ones, and most likely she'd try to "trick" them by thinking things that she normally wouldn't, etc. But she would only be able to keep up the charade for so long. But I imagine she'd still fight against it. Still, she'd have to be curious (not that she'd ever admit it) as to who was listening in and observing her. She might become somewhat of an exhibitionist, leading them on a merry goose chase. It might not progress to anything resembling Stockholm Syndrome (though there might be similarities...she's not physically "captive" but her mind is), but it could. Feasibly, over time, she could even begin to develop romantic feelings toward the person, if you were thinking of going in that direction. Sounds like an interesting plot line, for sure. Thanks for writing in!

Dear Jeannie,

Dani is a survivor, who makes more allies than enemies. My trouble is her son, Aidan. Where she is aggressive, he is thoughtful. Where she draws her sword, he calls a time-out. He's a good strategist--more from study and theory than practice--but he would never try to outwit his mother. I have been modeling their relationship (and reigns) after Louis XIV and XV of France--a domineering public figure, followed by an overwhelmed introvert. This assumption isn't necessarily accurate. What kind of parent/child dynamics would contribute to a healthy adult relationship between this single mother and her son? (Her councilors and warlords used him as a pawn often during his childhood, which neither of them appreciated.)

Dethroned in Dallas 

Dear Dethroned,

Having a common enemy always forms close ties. If Dani's councilors used her son, especially for ill, she'd be protective of him, no matter their differences (assuming she loved/wanted him, that is). Vice versa for Aidan. Since Dani is such an alpha, she might naturally try to coax her son into a more subdued position, as two alphas in one pack don't work. Not knowing the dynamics that made dad leave the picture, Aidan might be more than willing to be put in that position, as doing so evokes kindness and pride from mom. He'd most certainly do this is if he was isolated in a castle somewhere and didn't have peers his own age to incite him to rebel. Dad's departure would most definitely play a role in the dynamics between them. If dad died while Aidan was young, then that would further solidify their relationship, even though polar opposites. They would be what each other has left, so to speak. So I guess I'd want to know more about dad and other environmental factors. Feel free to write more in the comments...I'll get to them when I'm not working my day job. :)

Got Questions?
Maybe I've got answers. Leave your question below, anonymously, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle. I'll post your question in a future Dear Jeannie column in the order in which they are received.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Helping Non-Writing Partners "Get" Your Passion

As promised, I'm addressing some of the themes that solidified from analyzing the results of my writer's quiz. Today I'll focus on suggestions to help people "get" your passion to write.

In the comment section on my survey, many frustrated writers said they wished their partners would understand them better. Several commented that their partners weren't readers, so they felt even more hopeless about ever reaching a level of understanding.

Addressing Your Expectations

I'll never forget driving cross-country as a newlywed and reading Liz Curtis Higgs' Lowlands of Scotland series. I was crying my eyes out, turning the pages, and my husband looks over at me and says, "What's wrong with you?" I self-deprecatingly laughed at my "stupidity" and said it was "a sad book."

Those of you who have read this series know that these books aren't just sad. They. Are. Heart. Wrenching. I felt every injustice Leana endured with the very fibers of my heart. I could easily insert myself into the story and feel utter, complete empathy for her plight as the "unloved" sister, reminiscent of Leah in the Bible.

Why do I tell you this story?

Because there are two types of people in the world: those who read and those who don't. As a writer, if you married a non-reader, it's unrealistic to expect them to start picking up books--especially your books--if they never did so before.

It's probably a bad idea to try to read the same book together, even. Inevitably your partner will not take it as seriously as you, or he won't understand how or where you glean the insight from the book that you do. It's not in their genetic make-up.

So expecting someone like this to comprehend how you can lose yourself in story, how you can occupy hours/days/weeks/months with honing your craft, how you wait with bated breath for contest results or for "the call"...this is a T A L L order.

Learn to Speak the Language of Metaphor


To help them get you as a writer, you have to reach your spouse with a metaphor. You might not have to dig all that deep for the right metaphor, but it does have to be tailored to him/her.

What's your partner into? If money were no option, time no obstacle, children no speed bump...what would your partner do? Hopefully your partner's pastime would be something easy to compare to, like photography, fly fishing, gardening, bowling, playing basketball, watching football, sewing, or underwater basket weaving.

The same things they get a thrill out of, a rush from, a feeling of satisfaction from...these can translate well to writing. While the delivery of the endorphin rush is through a very different mechanism, it's still an endorphin rush.

And anything worth doing well is worth spending some time perfecting. Writing isn't easy. It can be heart-breaking. It can be frustrating. It can be tedious. But many hobbies out there also invoke these same feelings.

Stay alert, looking for how you can metaphorically connect your writing passion with that of your partner's. I think you'll be surprised at how metaphors can come together nicely.

For my husband, I used his love of rock climbing to help him understand what it's like for me to write. He has to prepare for each excursion, getting all his tools (carabiners, ropes, etc). Me, I have to have my laptop (justified my MacAir with this you know how expensive climbing gear is?), craft writing books, reference books, etc. Since I'm a seat of the pants writer, I compared his trying to take one path up the mountain and realizing it wasn't going to work to my writing myself into a corner. Oops. You repel back a few chapters and start on a different path. And of course, when he summits, that's when I type "The End." [Quite lovely analogy, really.]

And you know what? He got it.

My only issue now is that I suit up to do this every day...and he only climbs mountains once a month, if that. (More on this later.) So the metaphor breaks down, I suppose, as many metaphors do. But the thrill, the rush, the excitement of starting a new project/mountain, the frustration of not succeeding/rewriting, the investment into tools/laptops...those things remain.

Let's Analyze

What's your partner into? Let's brainstorm some analogies below! And I'm ready for somebody to try to throw me for a loop with this...bring it. I think where there it a will, there's a way. Don't give up before you get started!