Random Stuff

I really stink at blog post titles.

Tempeh for Two has been out for almost two weeks now, and I’m so excited to see people buying not only this book but the previous books in the Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat series! Also, Tempeh has gotten a couple of really good reviews, which I need to remember to add to this website.

I’m doing a random stuff post because I’m dealing with some personal life things that are taking my time, focus, and mental bandwidth. Without going into a lot of detail, if you’re someone who does energy, or prayer, or anything along those lines, I’d appreciate some going toward my 77-year-old father, and some going toward me and my kid and son-in-law who are trying to help my father.

Since finishing writing Ebb and Flow (which may turn out to be the first book of a new series, a spin-off from Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat) and releasing Tempeh, I’ve taken a short break from doing Karenna stuff to work on some young adult fiction. From 2010-2017, I had several young adult novels published under the pen name of Jo Ramsey. From 2005-2010, I wrote 40 YA novels, some of which were among those published, and which form one long series broken into three “branches,” and a separate but connected shorter series. I’m currently going through all 40 of those books to see whether I can–and want to–rewrite, update, and edit them to eventually self-publish. It’s work, but it’s been fun work, and it’s helped keep me together through dealing with the aforementioned personal life stuff.

Hopefully next week I’ll have an update about my March release. I’m not entirely sure if the book I was planning to release in March, A Fighting Chance (follow up to Chance Met) will be ready, but I have another book that will definitely be ready for March if A Fighting Chance isn’t. So stay tuned!

2023 In Review

2023 has been over for just past a week now. Last week, I talked a little about what I have planned for 2024. Now I want to take some time to celebrate what I did in 2023.

I released two Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat novels. Even though the original plan was to release three, that didn’t work out, but I did release two. And I’m proud of myself for that.

I changed my release schedule when life stuff got in the way of what I’d originally planned. This is definitely cause for celebration, because in the past, if I’ve said I was going to do something, I’ve felt like I had no choice about doing it. Even when it wasn’t possible to actually follow through. In 2023, the book I’d slated for a March release took longer to revise and rewrite than I’d anticipated, especially since I wound up almost doubling the length of what had originally been a novella. Expanding the story took time, and I was trying to do it while in the thick of dealing with the fallout from my mother’s passing and my father’s health issues, among other things. Instead of forcing myself to stick to the release schedule I’d set and risking putting out a shoddy product, I chose to delay the March release by a couple of weeks, which then resulted in delaying the May release (which would have been Try the Tofu, Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat 4) to July, the September release to October, and not planning to have a November release at all. I felt a little guilty about that, and also dealt with some “people will forget I exist if I don’t release books often enough” fears, but ultimately it turned out to be the right choice, both for my books and for my mental health. And I did end up having a late November release with my Christmas short “Snow on Christmas Eve.”

I wrote two novels. Fill the Empty Spaces was started in December 2022, but I wrote the bulk of it in early 2023. I also wrote Take Some Tahini (Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat 6)… and then rewrote the first few chapters of it. I also wrote a few short stories and started a new novel, Ebb and Flow at the end of November. (Ebb and Flow is a spin-off from Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat, and will probably be released in fall 2024.)

In addition to the two Real Werewolves novels, I released two other novels and a short story (or short novella, depending on how you look at it).

I dealt with family issues, health issues, and life issues, including one that knocked me for a severe loop at the beginning of December 2023. I’m still dealing with that one, but I’m doing much better than I was at first.

Like I mentioned last week, I have plans for 2024, and hopefully this time next year, I’ll be celebrating a lot more!

Tough Time of Year

At this time of year, a lot of people post about how wonderful the holidays are. They fill Facebook and other social media with pictures of decorations, dinners, family and friends. And for some people, the holidays really are wonderful.

For others, they aren’t. This can be a very difficult time of year for some people, for various reasons. There might be estrangement from family members. Loss of loved ones. Not coping well with the increased amount of darkness for those of us in the northern hemisphere. For all kinds of reasons, this can be a tough time of year.

For me, this year, it’s very tough. I’m not going to go into why, because it isn’t something I want to talk about publicly at this point. I am managing, to some extent. I have some support from people in my life, including my therapist. After the first of the year when things reopen on regular schedules, I’ll be getting additional help to cope with what’s going on. But it’s difficult and painful, and it’s making this season not…something I want to celebrate this year.

I am thankful to my kids and spouse, and to the friends who know the situation who’ve been checking in with me. I am not the person who is most heavily impacted by what’s going on, but I am impacted, and it helps to have that validated.

I’m also thankful to the people who have no idea what’s going on and don’t even know me, who are bringing me bits of joy. Someone bought a copy of one of my nonfiction channeling books (written as River Lightbearer). Someone else bought a copy of one of my children’s fiction books (written as Kim Ramsey-Winkler). Someone emailed me in response to my announcement of the Tempeh for Two release date telling me how much she loves the Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat series and that she can’t wait for this next book.

At this time of year, to those of you for whom it truly is a wonderful time of year, I’m sincerely happy for you, and I hope you cherish what you have. For those who are struggling, be kind to yourselves. Don’t force the “holiday cheer” if it isn’t there for you. Honor how you feel and what you need. And for everyone: Remember that you don’t know what someone else is dealing with. Be compassionate, and don’t underestimate the power of what seems like a tiny gesture.

Yule (Winter Solstice) is imminent here in the northern hemisphere. Darkness will begin to ebb; light will become more prevalent. And hopefully things will become easier.

Healing My Writing

I love writing books.

For several years, I couldn’t say that. Most of my life, writing was therapy for me. It was how I sorted out all the “how to human” questions I had as an undiagnosed neurodivergent person. It was how I explored gender and relationships during times when I couldn’t explore those in my own life. It was how I processed trauma, how I fixed things, how I tried to figure things out.

At some points in my life, it was literally how I stayed alive.

Then, in 2014ish, I started struggling. At that point, I was five years into being a published author. My books were selling poorly, and sales were getting worse all the time. Publishers were going out of business, in one case taking my rights to my books with them. (They allegedly sent me rights reversion notices for all the books; I never received those notices and my emails requesting that the notices be re-sent were ignored.) Publishers were doing… let’s say interesting mathematics when it came to calculating royalties.

I was struggling with the pace I’d set myself; I was writing both romance and young adult fiction, and I was so afraid readers would forget me if too much time passed that I was pushing myself to write a book or more every single month. But the idea well was running dry, and I was starting to get feedback and criticism about repetitious characters and plots. Which didn’t help my mental state or my view of my writing, which meant my writing suffered even more.

At this time, I was also dealing with some personal life/mental health stuff. Past trauma resurfaced along with the infliction of new trauma at the hands of someone I trusted. Since the trauma was sexual, I became unable to write sexual content–which was necessary content in my romances. It all culminated in my having such a massive panic attack while trying to write that I almost had to be hospitalized.

I stopped writing romances in 2015. My novel Dawn Over Dayfield–which was more romantic suspense than actual romance and included only one very brief sexual scene–was the last Karenna Colcroft thing I wrote before I gave up entirely on romance writing and tried to focus on my young adult books. But once Karenna Colcroft was put into hibernation, my YA writing started to suffer as well. My last YA novel (under the author name Jo Ramsey) was written in 2016 and published in 2017… and then I gave up entirely on writing. For the next several years, other than occasional blog posts and really long Facebook posts, I wrote nothing.

After a couple-few years, I started writing again. This time, I wrote nonfiction books connected to the channeling and mindset coaching business I was attempting to build (https://riverlightbearer.com). I enjoyed creating those books and started thinking maybe I could write *something* again.

In 2020, during the pandemic days of sitting at home with little to do, my partner and I were talking about the shortage of children’s fiction that includes accurate, positive depictions of pagan spirituality, alternative family structures, and other concepts. My partner looks after an elementary-school-aged girl; I have a grandson about the same age. I said to myself, “I’m a writer. Maybe I could write books for those two kids that have the concepts my partner and I talked about.” So I did. I wrote a series that currently numbers five books; it was supposed to be 8, but one of the plot points in book 6 gave me issues because it was too close to something that had just happened in my own life. But those five books did get written, and as with the nonfiction, I chose to self-publish them. (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BC4TVKZ3)

And then in 2021, when my younger kid was staying with me for the summer and I was trying to find ways to occupy myself without intruding into the space they were using while staying here, I started rereading some of my published books. For a few years, I’d bandied about the idea of rereleasing my Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat series, but I kept deciding not to. I didn’t want to do the work of editing the books. I didn’t think they would sell. I didn’t have time. I came up with a ton of reasons that all boiled down to the fact that I was still recovering/healing from the issues in 2014 and 2015, and I simply wasn’t ready to resurrect Karenna Colcroft and try writing again.

But in 2021, rereading those books, I thought, “Damn, these are GOOD! I was a good writer.” And I decided it was time for Kyle, Tobias, and their friends to see the light of day again. I even wrote three brand-new romance novels, one of which was published last year; the other two won’t be published because they are heterosexual romance, and I realized pretty quickly in 2022 that focusing on male/male romance both results in better connections with readers and other authors *and* is better for my mental health. (Though one of those other two novels will be scavenged to form the plot of Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat 7, and some components of the other are forming part of the framework and plot of A Fighting Chance, my current work-in-progress that’s a follow-up to Chance Met.)

And seeing that I was able to update and revise the RWDEM novels, that readers wanted them and that readers and authors from the “before times” remembered me and were happy to see me back, I started loving writing again.

Well… mostly. Sometimes the characters and plot points still give me angst, and don’t even get me started about writing the *blurbs*. But I am enjoying writing books again. And I’m excited to start sharing new things as well as rereleasing some of my favorites from my previously-published works.

Release Week!

Happy July! This week marks the release of the newly revised and updated version of Try the Tofu (Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat 4). I’m so glad to bring Tobias’s perspective back to the series; unlike the first three books, Try the Tofu is narrated by Tobias Rogan, the Alpha who is mated to the world’s only(?) gay vegan werewolf. Of course, his mate, Kyle Slidell, still plays a major role, but Try the Tofu and book five of the series, Tempeh for Two, are very much Tobias’s stories as the werewolf world faces a threat from a very unexpected source.

Because we’re in Tobias’s head for this book, in addition to better understanding who he is and why, we get a deeper glimpse into the traumas he’s experienced and the PTSD he lives with. Some parts of this book were difficult to write and may be painful or triggering for readers. Tobias is a strong, powerful Alpha, but that doesn’t mean he’s “gotten over” the traumatic events of his past. He does experience PTSD. He has anger issues. Despite being a werewolf, he is very human.

But he is also arguably the most powerful Alpha in the United States. He’s a compassionate leader and friend, a caring partner, and an advocate for those like him who have lived through trauma and live with its aftermath.

I hope readers enjoy getting to know him on a new level in this book! Try the Tofu is available on Amazon for Kindle preorder and will release Thursday, July 13, in Kindle and paperback formats.

Life Stuff

Cutting this week’s post VERY short because I am working on way too many things, and sometimes I need to set something aside for the sake of my mental health and well-being.

I’m still working on the first draft (which is partially edited) of Fill the Empty Spaces, because the story keeps getting longer and also the characters don’t seem to have a stopping point in mind. I might have to put my foot down. Meanwhile, Trey Damone and his son Mikey, along with Zane Wolfskin, from my Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat series and the novel Chance Met, have just made a cameo appearance…

I’m also finishing up proofreading on the re-edited version of Try the Tofu (Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat 4), which will be up for preorder June 22 and will be released July 13.

And, on the not-writing-life side, I’m working on applications for graduate school. I finished my Bachelor’s degree in 1992 and then let a combination of trauma, life circumstances (including abuse, hence the trauma), and raising my kids keep me from going any further. For over a decade now, I’ve thought about becoming a mental health counselor, and I’ve decided if I don’t make the effort now, I probably never will. So I’m applying to various Master’s degree programs to try to make this my new career. And the application process is a LOT more intensive than I anticipated, so it’s taking a LOT of my time and mental bandwidth. But it will be worth it if I get accepted.

There are other life things going on that I’m not ready to talk about yet. But all of the above plus the things I’m keeping to myself mean that I don’t have as much time or “spoons” as I would like, so I’m going to end this blog post here.

“Stop Writing Damaged Characters”

One of the most common pieces of writing wisdom that gets bandied about is “write what you know.”

One of the things I know–much more thoroughly than I would prefer–is trauma. I have experienced various forms of trauma throughout my life, beginning at a very young age, and I live with Complex PTSD among other diagnoses.

I also live with neurodivergence. I don’t have a formal diagnosis of autism, but several medical and mental health professionals have expressed their belief that I am autistic, and even if I’m not, trauma also alters how one’s brain works and therefore is a form of neurodivergence.

Those things tend to show up in my writing. Many of my primary characters have experienced trauma in their lives, and some are still deeply affected by it while others have received support in learning to manage their PTSD. I write characters whose experiences and way of navigating the world make sense to me, which means that often, they are like me.

Early on in my writing career, nearly a decade and a half ago, I submitted a book to a publisher I’d been working with. This was probably my fifth or sixth book with them; I can’t recall for sure, because it was a long time ago. And like the other books, this one had a heroine (this was when I was almost solely writing heterosexual romance) who had a trauma history and was still being affected by it as she tried to progress in her healing journey and in her relationship with the hero of the story.

The publisher told me I needed to stop writing damaged characters, because readers didn’t want to read about people like that.

The publisher was wrong.

It is absolutely true that some readers don’t want to read about characters who aren’t perfect, especially in a romance story. And that’s fine; those readers are not my target audience.

It is *also* absolutely true that there are plenty of readers who are, themselves, trauma survivors who are struggling with their pasts and how it has affected their minds and their way of navigating the world. And despite what this publisher said to me, I received reviews and messages from some of those readers thanking me for not only *accurately* depicting PTSD in my books but also for showing that one does not have to be “fully healed” from trauma (something I don’t believe is even possible, healing is a *journey*, not a destination) in order to find love, respect, and a healthy relationship.

The other thing my publisher was wrong about is that my characters are “damaged.”

Being traumatized does not mean someone is “damaged.” Living with PTSD or mental illness is not “damage.” (Some people prefer to use that term for their own experiences, and that’s valid; I take issue with the term being applied to *other people*, especially by someone who doesn’t actually have lived experience with these things.) It means that one’s life has been altered. One’s perceptions and understanding of themselves and the world have been changed. But I am not “damaged,” and neither are my characters, though some of them certainly *feel* as if they’ve been damaged.

In my Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat series, Tobias Rogan is the Alpha of a very small werewolf pack in Boston. He is also, as we learn as the series progresses, the most powerful werewolf in the United States. He *chooses* to remain with a small pack because he doesn’t want power. He doesn’t want to rule others. He simply wants to make people’s lives better.  But his power and dominance are innate, and he uses them to help those he cares about–which eventually extends well beyond his pack.

Tobias is also a trauma survivor. He grew up in an abusive household. He was changed to werewolf at age 15 (in violation of shifter law) in a very traumatic assault. Decades later, when the series takes place, he still experiences flashbacks and other signs of PTSD. Which *affect* him, of course… but they do not render him “damaged.” They do not prevent him from being a fair and powerful Alpha werewolf. And they do not prevent him from finding, accepting, and building a life with his mate, Kyle Slidell.

I did not listen to that publisher all those years ago. And I continue not to listen. I write characters who have lived experiences I understand and can relate to. And I will continue to do so.

When the Characters Take Over

Several weeks ago, I finished writing the first draft of a new novel called Fill the Empty Spaces. This novel started as a way of processing the passing of my mother at the beginning of December; although she and I didn’t have the best relationship, the realization that she was no longer around hit harder than I’d thought it would. Through much of my life, until my writing brain stopped functioning in 2015, writing was how I processed, how I coped, and sometimes how I kept myself alive. Although I didn’t write much of anything for six years, now that I’ve started writing again, it has once again become one of my ways of dealing with and understanding life. And, in this case, death.

(This isn’t the final cover, it’s just something I’m using to keep myself in the story’s mindset.)

When I started writing Fill the Empty Spaces, I didn’t know it would turn out to be a novel. I thought I was writing a short story. But Del Nethercott, the main character/narrator, had other ideas. So did Lochlan Moroney, the character who becomes Del’s close friend and possible love interest. At the beginning of the story, Del is only about a month past losing his longterm partner Austin, who was killed by a drunk driver. The last thing Del’s thinking about is a new relationship; he’s barely functioning day to day, and his grief over Austin consumes him. The story extends through a few months, until four or five months after Austin’s death, and we witness Del’s healing–though of course he’s still grieving–and the beginning and blossoming of his connection with Lochlan. At the beginning, I thought Spaces would turn out to be contemporary; Lochlan threw a metaphysical/paranormal loop into the story that wound up being a key part of the story. And so the “short story” became a novel.

As I said, several weeks ago, I finished the first draft of Spaces. Or so I thought. To be honest, when I said, “The end,” I wasn’t actually certain it was. I’d reached a point in the story where it felt like I could stop and hold something over for a follow-up book, probably from Lochlan’s point of view.  The story didn’t end with a “happily ever after” or even really with a “happy for now.” It ended with “Del, you aren’t ready for a relationship, so let’s stay friends until you *are* ready and then see what happens.” The book as I ended it at that point was not a romance (nor did I intend to say it was; I was very clear in talking about it that it was a novel with romantic undertones).

This past week, I started editing the manuscript. I’d done some editing as I worked on the first draft; I didn’t do much plotting or brainstorming before I started writing, so some of the things I put in the story didn’t work or dragged down the pacing too much to remain, so I’d yoinked those as part of writing the first draft. But there was still work to do.

By the time I reached the end of what I’d written, though, I knew I had to continue the story. Ending it with Del and Lochlan agreeing that they would enter a relationship when Del reached a point in his grieving process that he could handle having a new partner was good, but it wasn’t where Del and Lochlan wanted to end the book. So I finished editing what I’d written and started writing more.

As it stands now, two days into the process of continuing the story, I don’t know where Del and Lochlan want to end up. I’d like to see the book end with them in a relationship, but that’s going to depend on how Del’s grief and healing progress. And with what happens to each of them in the meantime. It’s been a long time since I started writing a book with the mindset of “let’s see where this goes,” and I’m enjoying doing it again, even if these two guys do keep throwing wrenches into the process.

Fill the Empty Spaces is currently planned for release on October 12 of this year. I’ll keep you updated!

Time Management

Time management…where what often happens is my time manages me.

analog clock

That’s something I’m working on, but I’m neurodivergent (I haven’t been formally diagnosed with anything, but multiple medical/mental health professionals have said that I am almost definitely autistic, along with living with Complex PTSD which also affects how my brain functions). There are numerous factors that go into my relationship with time and accomplishing things, and some of those factors fluctuate day by day. For example, I have fibromyalgia. If it’s a higher-than-typical pain day, more of my mental bandwidth goes into just being capable of things like preparing a meal or walking to the bathroom; I don’t have anything left over to focus on writing a story or doing paperwork or whatever was on that day’s agenda. If it’s a day I’m scheduled to work at the daycare center where I’ve just taken on a one-day-a-week gig, I have to get up at 4am and probably won’t be able to concentrate on anything by the time I get home at 4pm. (To clarify: I’m not working a 12-hour shift. I get up at 4 because I prefer to have time to ease into the day rather than getting up and immediately rushing out of the house; I leave a little before 7 and have to fight city-area rush hour traffic to get to the center by 8. I leave work at 3 and then have to fight the beginning of afternoon rush-hour traffic to get home.)

In addition to the “do I have the bandwidth today” thing, I also have some issues with executive functioning. I might have a task in mind but not be able to sort out where to start (e.g. do I make the spreadsheet first, or look up the info that goes on the spreadsheet and write it down and then make the spreadsheet, or…), which isn’t a case of “just figuring it out” or “making a decision,” it’s literally my brain being unable to put multiple steps of a process into the most logical and efficient order.  That difficulty also crops up when it comes to determining which task of the several on my list should be done first. I do have a daily “task list” (I hate calling it a “to-do list” because then I feel crappy if I don’t get everything done), but I’ve found that trying to schedule the tasks at certain times of day leads to a further break-down of brain cooperation because I start feeling trapped, which pings one of my CPTSD buttons and can even trigger a full-on PTSD flashback/panic attack. But *not* scheduling the tasks sometimes leads to me spending 5-10 minutes just staring at the day’s list trying to decide what to do first.

This is becoming more of an issue for me because I’ve added things to my figurative plate. I’m still trying to write, though my writing brain seems to be on a bit of a break (I’ve done a couple of short stories recently and hope to start working on another novel by the end of the month). I’m promoting the books I’ve already released. As noted, I’ve started working one day a week at a daycare, and that might not be the *same* day every week; they’ve said they’ll try to let me know the week before which day they’ll want me the following week. I’m looking into going back to school for a Master’s degree in social work or mental health counseling, and yes, I am aware that going back to school with my particular combination of mental and physical health issues along with the neurodivergence and associated executive dysfunction might be a recipe for frustration, if not disaster; meanwhile, I’m trying to organize myself and my time to allow for researching different schools and their requirements and then actually completing the application processes for the schools I choose. (I’ll worry about how to manage the program itself once I’ve applied and been accepted and figured out how to finance it…)

A lot of times when I talk about trying to organize my time and tasks, I get advice like “Use a planner!” or “Just figure it out!” or “If you really wanted to do these things, you wouldn’t be having such a hard time.” None of which is helpful, and none of which even remotely acknowledges that executive dysfunction and physical or mental health conditions are not a CHOICE. I didn’t choose to be repeatedly and relentlessly traumatized at home and in other settings from pretty much birth until my mid-30s. I didn’t choose to be born to two neurodivergent parents (neurodiversity often has a genetic component). I don’t choose to feel trapped and panicky when I try to follow an intensely structured schedule, and I don’t choose to have a messed-up memory that sometimes results in me not even remembering to write things in a planner, let alone look in the planner to follow the plans. I definitely don’t choose to be unable to figure out how to sequence the steps of a process or to take longer to sequence the steps than it ultimately takes to complete the task itself…

Over the years, I’ve learned some accommodations and routines that help, but none of the issues I deal with are choices. I’ve also learned to give myself compassion and make allowances for the things that are genuinely outside of my control.