Thursday, February 18, 2010

PTSD and I

Written on Tuesday, Feb. 16th 2010

I lost a year of time, roughly. From that year, I can only recall a few memories and those are traumatic to different extremes. My mind has just blacked out the rest. I don’t know if I will ever get that year back. For a long time I didn’t want it back. How much has been repressed and how much has simply been bashed from my neurological system by the horrors…it’s difficult to say.

Sometimes, like on a night such as this one, I sit here and try to force myself to remember. I stare into the abyss for hours, afraid, and yet I hope something will return to me.

Why? Well, it’s been several years now and I don’t want to suffer from night terrors anymore. I don’t want to have my darkest memories come to me when I least expect them and leave me a shocked statue when they recede into those shadowed corridors of my mind.

Betsy Lerner (http://betsylerner.com/) encourages writers to get therapy. I believe that is a good thing. She’s a brave lady.

But I think there is a stigma attached to mental illness, no matter what some people say. I’ve certainly experienced it in my personal life. Betsy wrote about how the publishing industry views mental illness in her book, too. So maybe the smart thing for me to do is to say nothing.

Still, as I left therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) this afternoon, I decided to take start taking some big risks with my life. Nothing ever changes without risk. First of all, I just publicly admitted that I have a mental illness—PTSD.

Frankly, I’m tired of hiding such a huge part of what shaped me into the writer I am today. And I think, even if some agents—and later, some publishers—don’t want to take me on because I suffer from PTSD, then our professional relationship wasn’t meant to be.

When the time comes, I will keep fighting to get my work represented and published no matter how many more obstacles I am presented with. After all, I survived so much in life already, why would I let this stop me?

Another reason I kept quiet…my fear of my triggers. But I am going to have to face this too, if I want to get better. People are going to hit them—accidentally or on purpose--and I will be thrown back… I’ll just have to cross that bridge when I get there.

I suspect hiding the PTSD has contributed to me being unable to completely heal thus far. As with digging up the memories and speaking of them—a challenge of immense proportions—I think getting everything out there is my only choice. The truth is very freeing, I understand.

But, as I sit here and stare at that void, I wonder if the memories I still have will unsettle some things I shouldn’t. Some things I buried probably should not be disturbed, with good reason. I know the therapy sessions are going to nearly kill me, drain me. I suppose I am nervous because I am truly testing the limits of my strength. And no matter what happens, I can’t stop.

Now I ponder how my work will change if I manage to cure myself of PTSD. How will my voice be altered? Will it be a bad thing for my writing and a good thing for me? And is that what I want?

Since I actually ask myself the last question, I have a right to fear testing my strength. For how can I heal when part of me doubts? Maybe some messed up part of me wants to suffer and that’s why so much time has passed? They say people who suffer from PTSD do things like that…

Maybe I am so merged with my writing, so twisted that I would rather remain locked in a world of night terrors and flashbacks than risk letting my work slip even the slightest bit. Oh, I can see myself all right. But I wonder if I will be sabotaging this effort before I’ve begun. And what does that truly say about me?

To be the greatest at anything, you must be willing to sacrifice everything. After all I have endured to this point I am starting to think it might mean I can’t have peace as well. Then I think, that’s just the PTSD talking. I don’t know.

I do a lot of thinking and staring into the abyss of my mind.

Mel

“And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” ~~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Song Lyrics -- very rare for me...

LAUGHING SPITE
By
Mel Skinner


There’s spite in your smile, Love
but you ask me to stay
Then you want me to reach
but you get in my way

So you laugh --- Yeah, you laugh
And here I am, your favorite joke
You love me, leave me, give me hope
Then you laugh ---
And I forget why I’m here anymore

You were the weaver of dreams, once
but you failed to reveal them lies
Just makebelieve so you could be King
Did you think I’d want to be the Princess who cries?

(Now) You laugh at me --- Yeah, you laugh at me ---
And here I am, Your favorite joke
You love me, leave me, give me hope
And I (can’t) forget why I’m here anymore!

Oh, love is not love when manipulated!
How long ago did I go from your girl,
to the joke you paraded?---!
When all I wanted was a promise---
a promise --- a promise ---! of one true intenTION!

So try…Laugh at me!...Laugh at me---!
And here your favorite joke is leaving
Once you loved me,
and it’s your turn for grieving

Maybe you’ll laugh, Baby
But I only hope I’ll be too far away, to hear you
Oh, to hear you
Oh, I don’t want to hear you

No, it’s my turn to laugh now…

Is there a smile without spite,
eyes without fight,
somewhere?


Copyright © 2009 Mel Skinner


NOTES:


Since I can't really work with the format here, I left out the notes you would normally see like "bridge," "repeat," and the underlined words, etc. I tried to make up for this in other ways. Who knows if it worked out? I rarely work in lyrics. This song just happened to come to me.

I have put it here after much debate. Though I own the copyright, I doubt I will actually try to actively sell it. To be frank, I'm much too busy. And I have no idea if this is crap or not. I like it, but who am I to judge lyrics, right? So the blog it is.

Mel

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Test Groups

Throw my manuscript to the dogs, if you please! I want to watch their reaction. By God, I need it!

At this point in my writing career I really value a good B*tch of a reader in my Test Group. Interpretive reading of critiques just plain old sucks, if you ask me. A good B*tch reader will give it to you straight—none of this walking on eggshells bull people try to hand over to preserve your “feelings.” Blah.

The learning process slows when people try to smooth over the more difficult truths. There’s too much to comprehend and too little time!

However, I understand that the readers in the Test Groups are mostly strangers to me and cannot know that I am at a level where I will not be hurt by criticism. Conveying this to them with words is not enough, obviously. And I have yet to divine another way to communicate this truth in a convincing manner. Everything I think of seems inadequate. If you have a suggestion, please feel free to comment.

So when I find a good B*tch reader, I always carry them over into the new Test Group, if they are willing. By the way…I mean B*tch in the most respectful of terms--they rule the pack in this analogy.

Anyhow, a teenage reader—a pup--from one of my earlier Test Groups heard about the current rewrite for “Nightmares” and made a comment along the lines of… “Oh, so there won’t be that endless introduction of that Commander now?” In her defense, she meant it as a compliment.

I admit, in the earliest draft, the introduction was too much. My problem lay in the fact that she never once mentioned any serious complaints while in the Test Group. Nothing showed up on the manuscript or on the questionnaire afterwards. Naturally, I laughed off the comment. But it got me to thinking.

I knew that readers were not going to be completely harsh with me--not all of them, anyway. Of the group in question, two were excellent (they let me learn!). That is a low percentage, but not unexpected. From the rest, I was able to gain a bit here and there. Everyone allowed me to learn something—not everyone was a mine of information. Then again, with the large percentage of teenagers, I seldom find mines of the sort I hoped for. A teenager can be a B*tch reader, though they rarely have the guts.

On the other hand, the response was very encouraging. I am too realistic to let that do anything for me for more than seconds at a time, though. Still, I remember what a certain author told me (I don’t know if she would care if I mention her name, so I am going to err on the side of caution). She said… “If you have the teenagers, you have it.” I had discussed the group with her briefly and the early results, which showed a practically perfect score and all these great comments from the teenage audience. None of the adults were in yet, and I was a bit worried on that count. She helped me through a really stressful time, and I’ll never forget that. But I digress.

When I think on the teenager readers in that Test Group—some were hardcore readers, but I managed to get a range including a high school football player—I wonder about the ones who were probably being easy on my feelings unnecessarily. What did they really think?

So I thought about what my recent conversation had revealed in comparison with what a B*tch reader from that group had to say, and they match up pretty closely. The emphasis with teenagers is definitely on issues that have to do with their attention span. I’ve already been working on these problems for quite awhile.

I’m going to have another Test Group for “Nightmares” in the late spring, I think. The results should offer some great comparisons.

I hope this will be the last one. They are expensive propositions…I have to pay to print all of those copies of the manuscripts (single sided, double spaced), the questionnaires, to buy more three ring binders if the group expands or I need replacements, to ship (and return ship) to people beyond an hour’s drive, etc. But this is one of the best ways to learn, to perfect my work, to get detailed feedback, and eventually have contact with readers who are NOT family. I try to make sure most members of the group are strangers to me, and keep a good distance from them throughout the “experiment.”

Perhaps one might call me crazy for doing a Test Group. I’m not sure anyone else does them. I’ve not heard of it. If anyone does, and they read this blog, I’d love to trade stories. :)

Maybe the expense is a deterrent. Maybe people don’t believe they can learn from it. I made it work for me, but I can’t speak for anyone else.

The design of the Test Group is unique to me, since I had no model to base it on. The questionnaire took some time to compile and perfect (though the first copy had a typo that a reader caught!).

Finding readers is very difficult. I am always looking for them and I usually plan for twice as many as I have slots. The reason for this is simple: by the time Test Group rolls around half of them will drop out. Most of it will be personal issues, whatever life throws at them.

Test Groups…they are a lot of work and stress. Very rewarding though.

By the time I get this manuscript edited, back from eval, and through the Test Group, my query letter should be ready. Hopefully, I can make any adjustments I need to the manuscript at that time, have Laura slap my hands away from it long enough to query the select group of agents I have been researching, and we’ll see how it goes.

I wonder how my book will read then. It just keeps getting better. Most of the time, I’m nervous as heck about the whole thing. The roof is going to fall on my head, right?

Mel

Clumsy and Insane in PA

I promised a whole post on the embarrassing part of my recent Query Travels trip. Here it is…

After driving nine hours to PA, I arrived at the hotel to have what I shall call “an episode in clumsiness and insanity.”

Because we had selected a location nearest the venue for where I was to see Janet Reid the following morning, I imagined that she just might be staying at the same hotel. Silly, yes? I know.

Still, that thought had somehow been turned into paranoia in my brain. Until, as I stumbled out of the car on my travel weary legs into the night, I felt nearly convinced she could be watching my clumsy as* from one of the windows. Surely she would see my computer bag, think “ah, a clumsy writer for me to point out and destroy tomorrow,” and I would be doomed before I ever arrived. Being very tired, nervous, and thrilled (I was going to learn from Janet Reid in person! Yes!) all rolled into one, combined with this paranoia and a strange environment didn’t help.

Mom brought a cart to put our stuff on. I helped load it up, surreptitiously trying to disguise my laptop bag while watching the windows out of the corner of my eye. I laugh when I think about it now, but I could almost hear the “Jaws” theme music playing.

So I start to push this unwieldy cart inside. The thing does not want to cooperate with me! The edge of it totally bumps into one side of the sliding glass doors, popping it off the track. Of course, I don’t know that, so I think I broke the door. I stand there with my mouth hanging open.

Just then, I look up to see a sharply dressed woman coming through the doorway—she’s obviously a guest, not an employee. She looks at me and the situation. And I say… “I think I broke the door.” Like an idiot. Without missing a step, she keeps on walking, but she frowns.

At this point, my paranoid brain goes into overdrive. I have no idea what Janet Reid looks like. So, naturally, I think… “Oh my god, I broke the door in front of Janet Reid!”

I can see in my mind the scenario of the next day. I pick a seat at the very back of the room; try to look inconspicuous, hide and duck as much as possible, still she finds me. Not only that, but my query letter is now number 30 of 30 in the rankings and I have to come to the front of the room to discuss the finer points of my epic failure. To be fair, even in my nightmare scenario, Janet teaches me from my mistakes…in front of the entire gathering, but still.

In a panic to save myself from the dire fate awaiting me, I scramble to fix the door. Is it fixable? Yes! Thank God I can pop the darn thing back on its track! And look, as I move into the sight it works like it should!

The stupid cart is moved on through. The lady—who I later learned was NOT Janet Reid, of course---came back and saw I had fixed it. She said nothing, but she smiled at me. I felt a little better. At least, in my newest scenario, I no longer heard the “Jaws” theme and the lighting in my “room of doom” wasn’t as dim.

When we got up to our room, I still worried about the whole thing. I searched the web to see if I could figure out what Janet looked like—to no avail. And the insanity just got worse. I hadn’t slept in days. Work, nerves, the thrill, and the newness of everything just overwhelmed me.

I paced the room as I made Mom laugh with these scenarios of what horrible things would happen to me the next day. My sister called to torment me. She threatened to drop Janet a line, and she might have done it too if it wasn’t so important to me. The Caits loves to prank me…and I got her good with that Jacob shirt! Laundry day is coming!

Mom tried to reassure me, but I was hopeless. Eventually, I took my medicine and went to bed.

Bright and early, I was up and at that meeting. Good Lord, you should have seen me. I felt like I was off to Kindergarten again. Mom had to walk me to the door and everything. And before she left, I hesitated three times. Janet is the Query Shark, but a gathering of writers is deceptive…like a pack of piranhas in murky water who claim to be vegetarians. They make me super nervous. And I hardly slept at all the night before. I probably looked like a vampire--and one of the youngest among them so an easy kill too—dressed in black, pale as can be, quiet. You wouldn’t even know I have been writing for as long as I have if you would have seen me that day. Mom should have brought me a lunch for emphasis, and handed it off right at the door.

When Janet spoke that morning, I did get up the courage to ask a question. I phrased it this way… “I hope this isn’t a stupid question, but…” And she said, “There’s only one stupid question. Do you know what it is?” Of course I didn’t. I thought it was mine. She then went on to say, “The only stupid question is, ‘Where is the ice?’” I hope I quoted her correctly. I think I’m pretty darn close. Anyhow, you get the point. She’s brilliant and funny, while I epic fail again. I almost wish I had a magic mirror to look back so I could see the expression on my face. Truly, it must have been the blankest look one person ever gave another. It’s just that I was overwhelmed by Janet—I find it hilarious how I couldn’t give a crap about an actor or singer, but present the Query Shark to me and I act like I’m five. I guess it’s all in who you respect and admire for their work. Sherrilyn Kenyon is also hella awesome. But I’m getting off topic.

That afternoon, I sat in the room with 30 other writers, Janet, Suzie, etc. One by one, she had us all state our protagonist’s name and what happens to them in ten words or less. Almost everyone failed. One guy got it—I didn’t envy him because I knew he had to make his whole manuscript fly. You have to win a few thousand battles before you win the war.

When she got to me, I started out okay…but I got caught up. “Nevaeh must save her family…” Janet interrupted.

“Why?”

I replied, “She loves her family.”

“Why?” she countered. Basically, she didn’t believe the approach. She wanted me to start differently, so she said, “Nevaeh must decide…?”

I repeated, “Nevaeh must decide…” And for the life of me I hadn’t a clue what she had to decide! What decision could Janet possibly be referring to? But I repeated twice more… “Nevaeh must decide…? Nevaeh must decide…?” while trying to figure it out. Plot point after plot point ran through my mind. The whole time I must have looked quite the idiot. Not that anyone else had it particularly better off than I (other than the one guy). Yet, my goodness, I don’t know how she stood me that long. Finally, she moved on saying she would come back.

Later, Janet came and sat down with me. I mention this in an earlier post so I won’t go into it again. She was great.

When we got back to the hotel, I was bone weary. Still, I went right to work. That folks, is the extent of my insanity.

I am glad to say that once rested, I no longer hear the “Jaws” theme. After my initial psyched period, I have set back to work on my manuscript. All is as it should be.

But I can’t help thinking…somewhere there is a random lady who is laughing to herself because she gave the “look” to some clumsy b*tch who nearly broke the hotel door. Said lady looked on with disapproval when she probably couldn’t have given a crap, while the clumsy b*tch looked like death warmed over and felt like it too. But she turned it around in the end because I did. I imagine how much more dramatic that night could have been to my paranoid mind if I hadn’t—if she hadn’t. Amazing what smiling at a stranger will do, huh?

Mel