Category: General

Keep Yourself Alive

December 1 is World AIDS day. While I am no means an expert on the topic, I do know a little something, and it’s my blog so I can say what I want to:

When I was a teenager I started to do volunteer work at a local AIDS task force office, in the small city where I went to high school. Mostly, I handed out condoms at drag shows, which was a lot of fun. I also answered phones from frightened individuals wanting to know about symptoms and helped to organize candlelight vigils for those who had passed, and that part was not so much fun. I saw people who had once been healthy and vibrant practically vanish in front of my eyes. It remains to this day one of the hardest and best times of my life, and it made a huge impact that has stuck with me in the mphmph years since.

Several years after leaving home I had the immense pleasure of meeting Rebekka Armstrong, a gorgeous and vibrant former Playboy model who has been HIV-positive since the age of sixteen. She spends a great deal of time touring the world, visiting college campuses and talking to young people, because guess what? Kids these days, they don’t care very much anymore.

See, things have changed a lot from the landscape that existed when I was growing up. Medical advances mean that infection is not quite so scary, no longer an immediate/automatic death-sentence, and people can continue to live full and productive lives for a long time if they take good care of themselves. That’s good news. No, it’s GREAT news. But the flip side, is that a growing number of young people are getting infected because they think “No biggie, I’ll just take the same drugs that Magic Johnson takes.” Seriously, Rebekkah said that was one of the biggest comments she heard.

So, this casual attitude has resulted in a strong uptick in infections, largely among a) young adults and b) older heterosexual women who figure they are old enough not to need birth control and hence do not use condoms during sex. In the US alone there were 54,000 new infections reported. That seems, to me, like quite a lot.

And yes, you can take the same drugs that Magic Johnson takes probably, but you probably don’t have the budget and resources that he has. As I understand it, these drugs are very pricey. As much as thousands a month if you do not have insurance. THOUSANDS. And you are looking at being on medication for the rest of your life. And there’s the fact that the strain of HIV one person carries can be compromised by the strain of HIV that another person carries, so it’s not like you suddenly have license to stop worrying about safe sex (Not to mention that a man was recently imprisoned for using his body as a weapon; he had unprotected sex with several women while knowing he was HIV positive, and those women got together and turned him in).

So HIV infection may no longer be a death-sentence, but it seems to me that it is pretty much still something of a life-sentence. We have come along way in the world of medicine, but safety should still be respected. Your health and your body should be respected. Thinking that it can’t happen to you is a dangerous place to be, in my opinion.

And finally, it bears repeating that one can carry the virus without showing symptoms for some time, and that symptoms can mimic other illnesses to a certain degree so it is important not to assume and not to self-diagnose (this was my number one advice to callers back in the day, and I think it still holds true). So get tested – most places will do it for free (and anonymously!) at the health department, so bring a good book to read while you wait, and get it over with. I’ve done it many times, and aside from the wait-and-see part, it’s not so bad.

Oh, and if you’re breaking into a cold sweat the first time they motion you into that little room, it may be a good time to consider whether you are being as careful as you could be. I know it was for me.

Okay, I’m all done preaching everybody. Stay safe.

One mom’s thoughts on bullying and teen suicide

I’ve been chewing on this post for awhile, mostly because I wasn’t sure I had anything to add on the subject that hasn’t already been said. Somehow, though, saying nothing seemed worse.

I just finished reading INFAMOUS by Suzanne Brockmann, which is a fun and gripping romance about a history professor who meets and falls in love with the descendant of a man she has written a biography about. It was a good story, and I was disappointed to notice some negative reviews for it on Amazon, based in whole or in part on Brockmann’s tendency to promote her social/political views including those of gay equality.

Personally, I applaud her.

As the mother of a gay son she is using her voice and her platform to educate, to make the world a better place…to help ensure that her child is afforded the same rights and treatment as everyone else. Which he deserves, because we are all human, and that is the bottom line.

Like a lot of people, I’ve had Tyler Clementi and the heart-breaking stories of other bullied young people who came before him on my mind quite a bit. In every way imaginable his story hurts my heart. As a person who was bullied in school herself, as a person who has been close to depression and suicide, to the gay community, who remembers just how clueless and awkward we are as teenagers, who has been an educator of young people, as a mom, etc.

Most of all as a mom, because no matter what else occurs in my life I am a mom first and foremost. Am I the mom of a gay son? Not that I know of, although my youngest is not even old enough to tell which hand he’s gonna write with so it’s hard to say. And it IS, believe you me, the same kind of a thing. Plenty of science can attest to sexual orientation being a trait that develops in utero just as surely and uniquely as a fingerprint.

It is a blessing, and a part of what makes us all who we are.

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you think such science is BS, that homosexuality is a “choice”, or whatever. I urge you to rethink this and do a little research. Regardless, should we not be teaching our children that teasing, ridicule, pranks, etc are unacceptable for any reason? I spend more time than my kids care to think about, hammering them over the head with the whole “treat others the way you want to be treated” speech. I may not be the most devout of churchgoing individuals, but I sure as hell try to give my kids that message.

Some friends of Tyler Clementi’s roommate have argued that he would have played the same prank (catching what should have been private, intimate moments on video) had Tyler been with a female instead of a male.

Umm… point being?

What was done was unacceptable, period. Gay, straight, or otherwise, we would be hard-pressed to find an individual who does not have some aspect of themselves that causes them shame and insecurity. NONE of us would want our privacy violated in such a way, or heaven forbid have those insecurities caught on video.

I sure as hell wouldn’t.

As a mom, I would be horrified to find that my child had ridiculed another or violated their rights. Or that such a thing had been done to them. Sure, kids and teens can be seriously lacking in the empathy department, but that is why it is a lesson that parents and teachers need to teach and re-teach until it is ingrained. When parents blow off or downplay bullying as “just teasing” or harmless, it tacitly condones such behavior to their children, and such actions can have far-reaching implications that we may never envision.

So please, parents, make sure your children understand the importance of treating their fellow humans the way they would want to be treated. The way YOU would want THEM to be treated.

You may think they already know it, but it doesn’t pay to assume. The way we turn this around is by promoting acceptance, and you don’t have to agree with a person’s lifestyle to treat them respectfully as equals.

No way should a sweet 18-year old kid have to suffer the kind of ridicule that makes them feel so desperate that they think they have to end their life by jumping off of a bridge. An 11-year old should not be so shaken from taunts at school that he bequeaths his Pokemon cards to his sibling and then hangs himself.

It is horribly, obscenely, disgustingly wrong.

I just want my kids to be healthy and happy. And I hope I am successful in teaching them to be good and decent human beings. The rest is gravy. Who they love is inconsequential so long as the happy part applies.

If you or someone you know is being bullied, or is depressed enough to be thinking about finding a permanent way out, please know this:

It REALLY does get better. That may sound like crap, but many of us have been in that dark place, and no matter how all-consuming it feels, it is NOT permanent.

I know what it’s like to hate yourself so much you think the world would be better off without you, or to have the day in and day out pain of merely showing your face in school feel like too much to handle. Or to be so fucking mad at those bullies that you think maybe you’ll show them – you’ll end it all and the blood will be on their hands, and then maybe they’ll learn.

All I ask, is that you hang on until tomorrow. Then tomorrow, see if you can do it again. Get help, wherever you can. A school counselor, a parent, a friend’s parent, a hotline, whatever. If you’re in college, just about every campus has a GLBT organization. If you’re not in college or your campus doesn’t have such a group, find the nearest campus that does. Call Oprah if you have to. People out there care, and know what you’re dealing with. I swear to you.

I cannot count the ways that I am grateful to still be here on this earth. I’m not sure I would have said that a decade or two ago. So things do indeed turn around.

And here are some places you may find help:

The Trevor Project is a suicide prevention resource for GLBT youth. 866-488-7386

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-TALK (8255)

The GLBT National Help Center – they have a national hotline as well as listings to help you find a resource close to you. 888-843-4564

You Can Cut a Can With It, and STILL Slice a Tomato!

What was it John Lennon wrote? “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans,” or something? Feels especially true this week.

So I had a lot of grandiose plans, like getting caught up on my writing workshops and submitting some query letters (you know, the whole journey toward getting published?), writing about romance, and vampires, and manlove (even all three at the same time!) until my inspired little fingers cramped, and writing some articles, and doing the hokey pokey and turning myself around. Counting and organizing the many bags of marshmallows in my pantry, etc.

I got…well, almost none of it done. Which really pisses me off. Especially given my recent bouts of insomnia, wherein I am JUST awake enough not to be able to sleep, but still tired and lacking in lucidity enough that productivity is elusive. I try to work, but I wind up either just staring at the page and drooling, or…well, usually its the drooling thing. Plus I wrecked the car on Wednesday, at which point I just kind of threw up my hands and gave up on trying to do anything at all, and instead immersed myself in the latest from KA Mitchell.

In fact, I was so the opposite of productive, I wound up slicing apples with this massive Miracle Blade knife of my husband’s – the one where they cut like a piece of lead pipe on the infomercial and THEN they throw a pineapple up in the air and cut it in half with the same knife – because I was SO behind on doing dishes I didn’t even know where any of the other knives were. It was a little like trying to tweeze my eyebrows with a sledgehammer.

The Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter of the Romance Writers of America is currently having a “60 days to success” sprint. Kind of a light-the-fire-under-your-ass-and-get-some-stuff-accomplished-for-a-change thing. You know, you set some goals that you’d like to achieve, give ’em a deadline, yaddah, yaddah. So my big one was to get hopping on sending out query letters. I got as far as having someone critique my query letter, I made a couple of changes, then fizzled out. Bah.

Well at least I did SOMETHING, I guess. I made a plan, to have a plan. Or something.

Oh, one teeny bit of good news. I just put on a pair of jeans I haven’t worn since before I was pregnant with my oldest kid. Now, they once upon a time were my baggy jeans and they are NOT baggy now, but it’s progress! W00t!

Pardon My Language! (Writing Workshops, Part Deux)

Whew! August was a God-awful month, not only was it hotter than Hades over here in Northern VA, but I accidentally signed up for more writing workshops than I could shake my proverbial stick at, and it was a real bitch trying to keep up. Despite that, I learned a TON. So here’s the 411 (And for my previous workshop rundown, click here):

  • Social Networking for Unpublished and Published Authors with Beth Barany – Okay, Beth is awesome, Y’all. I’ve taken a handful of social networking/PR type workshops, and I thought they were all good. Some of them were a little high-level or a little jam-packed though and instead of actually doing any of the stuff suggested, I filed it away and vegged out in front of youtube instead. 😛 So Beth keeps the focus primarily on Twitter, Facebook, and Blogging (with a smattering of other stuff like LinkedIn), which of course are the biggies and thereby helps steer us all away from confusion. She helped with specific technical questions, and was infinitely patient with those of us who were all “Umm, where do I click to make that thing do the thing you said it’s supposed to do?”. The workshop had a vast array of experience levels and it seemed like everyone was able to learn something. I, for example, got over my fear of Twitter and discovered its many magical joys (like being able to follow Adam Lambert’s tweets). Ahem…Beth also does creativity coaching for writers and offers tons of services like one-on-one coaching, in-person workshops, and has tons of informative articles on her Writer’s Fun Zone blog (I love the name of her blog, btw – good medicine for those of us who get all angsty and up in our heads about writing). So Beth will probably be hearing from me again, when time and money is available, because she rocks. AND best of all? She’s generous with her time and super sweet! I recently took a workshop from a writer who I will not name, who I felt got a little…harsh with some of us in the workshop, and it made it hard for me to learn and enjoy, so I probably won’t go back to her again for help. I know some authors feel that they should help thicken us pre-pubbed writers’ skin, but I feel like I get enough of that stuff from the agents I query.
  • Public Relations with Marcia James – Apparently I had PR on the brain when I signed up for stuff last month. This was a great workshop, though I admit I was a little overwhelmed by all the material. As a pre-published author I felt like some of it was premature, talking about SWAG and book signings kind of went over my head, but I still felt that this workshop was very worthwhile. First of all, Marcia was great. Funny, nice, very responsive. She was even good enough to check out each participant’s web site and make individual suggestions. There were (I think) something like 16 lectures crammed into a 2 week period, her suggestion was to just print them all and save ’em for later, which is what I did because a few days in my head was spinning. The lectures were all by guest lecturers in the industry though, so I found that the various perspectives were helpful, and as part of the class Marcia offers a 300 page file of various PR options, everything from blogs to visit and where to get cheap business cards to where to get your book reviewed.
  • Prose And Contests: Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Writing Contests But Were Afraid To Ask by Amy Atwell – If you enter writing contests or have been thinking about it, this is a REALLY great course. I entered a couple this year, and I see there being a few really big pluses: you get your work critiqued, you get potential exposure with agents and editors, and potentially something cool to put on your resume. Unfortunately, I felt totally confused so after entering two I stopped, not wanting to waste my time and money on something I was pretty sure I was doing wrong. Some chapters just don’t give much in the way of guidelines, either. Amy’s course went into great detail about contests, everything from how to format your entry to interpreting your scores and all the stuff in-between. She’s teaching the course again next month and then not again until next year (click here for her workshop schedule) so strike while the iron’s hot!
  • Nuts and Bolts of Publishing with Misa Ramirez – Misa teaches a variety of workshops, this one covers the publishing industry in a kind of broad way, but she starts off asking what specific questions the participants had about the industry so she can tailor the material and that was nice. She also covers some helpful topics like web presence, author bios, and was nice enough to critique anyone’s bio who asked.
  • Deep POV with Jill Elizabeth Nelson – Personal opinion, improving your skills with deep POV is one of the best things you can do to make your writing stronger. Jill’s workshop format was old-school to me in a good way. She’d give an example, then homework exercises, then a critique, kind of like back in grade school. A lot of people learn really well with this style and I got a great deal out of the workshop. She also does a critique of a small passage of everyone’s own work at the end. My only issue (and this was ME, not Jill) was that I felt a teensy bit uncomfortable sending samples of my work, salty verbiage and all, to a Christian writer, and I kept feeling the need to apologize for all the bad language. She was extremely gracious about it though. I also took a deep POV workshop with Carrie Lofty and it was great too – different teaching styles, both very good.
  • The Book Factory with Kerri Nelson – This one is all about how to amp up your productivity and produce multiple novels a year. Kerri is a super mom and super writer, plus she does a bunch of other stuff like one-on-one critiquing, with three kids roughly the same age as my own three, so I figured I could learn a lot from her. I was right! I am still having a little trouble implementing her methods but I already feel that I am getting more done, and her teaching style is friendly and straightforward. According to her workshop schedule she’ll be teaching this one again in January. I took Kerri’s pitching workshop earlier this year and loved it as well (and her technique is effective, I got a full submission request from the pitch I developed in her workshop).

September is shaping up to be another busy month, more workshops I signed up for and then forgot about, including one on Erotic Novellas (my last MS was 100,000 words so I am VERY excited about this one) so stay tuned!!

Watch this space! Risqué story series coming soon!!

Coming soon! The “Risqué Story Series”. Yeah, I’ve decided to jump on the whole story-in-a-blog bandwagon, I got the idea months ago for a story I haven’t had time to write, but the characters have been swirling around in my head, and whining for attention so we’re gonna try this and see how it works out.

This looks like it will be a novella length paranormal romance, I’m still playing with the title but I think I’ve got one that I like and will have the first installment up shortly!

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I should take a moment to remind that I have lifted the PG-13 rule from my blog (hence the new title!!) so these story series posts are almost guaranteed to contain “mature language” (translation: I tend to drop the f-bomb a lot) and “situations” (sex, drugs, rock and roll, etc) and maybe even some really dark subject matter, so read at your own risk.