Where Angels Can’t Follow: Book Birthday

Good morning, y’all. My mom likes to start these book birthdays off with issues that will give me mini-heart attacks at 6AM. (She means well and will be spamming all of her friends with my books all day.) “Your pre-orders aren’t being delivered correctly.” Or “people can’t pre-order on iPhones”. With a bit of Amazon consulting, it was sorted by 7AM, but I was almost relieved when Windows told me it had to configure a feature update. (Incidentally, if you have this problem with a pre-order, don’t delete your app and restart your phone over and over. Just delete the book and download it fresh. It will still be in your Kindle library if you delete it from the device.) Since I was helpless due to the Windows gods, I went for a four mile run listening to the catchy, fast songs from Hamilton. It was just the thing for a book birthday.

I get caught up, probably like most artists, in how well a thing is being received. Do I have reviews? Are they good? Did people love my characters? Did I sell enough to keep doing this? In the end, it doesn’t matter. I give my best words and best characters to my readers. I want to give you the same places to crawl into that I have–beautiful worlds with the kinds of people we want to know.

One of my favorite quotes about creating art is advice from Andy Warhol, “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” I’ve been taking Mr. Warhol’s advice, and I have over a hundred pages of Iron Spirits done now. Here’s to knocking out the next two hundred.

I hope you find characters and lines in each of my books that sneak their way into the channels of your brain and that my books are a refuge when you need it. Happy reading!

Poetry: Worse

The anniversary of my attack is looming, a great maw snapping at the smiles and sunshine in my life. I’ve had an uptick in panic attacks, super hearing, and insomnia. I’m operating on caffeine and stubbornness today. It’s enough. This poem was inspired by me asking my significant other if he thinks I’ve gotten worse. Because for some demented reason, I have to know the truth; I have to pry it out like a rotten tooth.

Worse

“You’re getting worse.”
I wrap my arms around myself as far as they’ll go,
protecting my core like your words are hits.
But they don’t keep coming.

I wait for the conditional get-better-now, stop-panicking
receding footsteps.
But there was no or else.
No if-then.

You pulled me closer
as I apologized for more things I can’t help.
I might as well apologize for the rain, too.
And you stop my torrent
like a shut-off valve in the sky.

Where Angels Can’t Follow: Blog Tour Day 5

Good morning! We’re wrapping up the first week of the Where Angels Can’t Follow blog tour. (There’s one more week of blog stops to go, for those of you wondering when I would get back to poetry, writing blogs, and finishing Iron Spirits.) I can’t believe we’re only four days away from the release! I am excited to share the world, the characters, and their hilarity. One of my writing idols, Joss Whedon, once offered this advice for writing, “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” And that was my goal.

Today’s stop on the blog tour is Jazzy Book Reviews. You can find an excerpt of Where Angels Can’t Follow here, if you haven’t gotten to it yet. (At least your wait for the rest won’t be long now!) It’s also one of your last opportunities to enter the Iron Shards giveaway.

https://www.jazzybookreviews.com/2020/09/where-angels-cant-follow-by-jessi.html

Poetry: Un-Days

I know that some of my readers are here because of our mutual love of poetry. And the Where Angels Can’t Follow blog tour is not going to speak to that. So, here’s a new poem I wrote yesterday, which was a hard day for me. I didn’t fall into the hole in my calendar, but I did keep busy with random chores, freezing meals to a ridiculous degree (who needs that much spinach lasagna?!), and finishing the day out with a drink. Odin, the German Shepherd who seems to know when my days are difficult, did not leave my side.

Un-Days

The days we used to celebrate

become holes in the calendar.

Stay-away-from-the-edge,

you-might-fall-in days.


Anniversaries that got crossed out–

absent champagne, flowers, and cards.

Birthdays that aren’t

for people that aren’t.

Days when the world stopped

and our lives fell

into a pit disguised as an ordinary day.


It’s a dubious privilege of aging–

learning how to span the shaky debris over those holes.

I’ll tell you my secret:

don’t look down.

Poetry: Paradise

I recently bought last-minute tickets to hike at Mount Rainier National Park. I had never been to the Pacific Northwest, and after I decided that I was done depriving myself of beauty and the things I love, no one could stop me. So, I hopped on a plane to Seattle and was not disappointed.

There’s a section of Mount Rainier National Park called Paradise. I was there, hiking the Skyline loop surrounded by flabbergasting waterfalls, wildflowers, and Mount Rainier when a woman stomped past me on the trail.

Paradise

Have you ever been to dismal towns called Paradise

and thought the founders lacked imagination?

I have.

But this time, the name fit.

The sleeping volcano dominated the landscape.

The wildflowers filled every spot that no one stepped.

Waterfalls fell with such abundance that no one names them all.

And a woman stomped down the trail,

unflabbergasted by the embarrassment of riches.

Some people are angry even in Paradise.

Poetry: False Beliefs

When you begin trauma therapy, one of the first things you tackle is false beliefs–the ideas that somehow everything is your fault or that you deserve anything terrible that happened. (Survivor’s guilt, years of an abuser telling you that you deserve abuse: there are many kinds of trauma that instill those lies in us.) And as the false beliefs and guilt slide away, you learn to be happy again. To me, that alone was anxiety inducing–where is all of the pain I am used to drowning in? The terror I carry with me?

I was creating some of my own misery by not pursuing things I loved, like I was an afterthought who didn’t deserve consideration. I took on everything everyone else wanted and didn’t know how to say no for a long time. And as you can imagine, people don’t like it when you stop yielding. But no one else will say no for you.

Things have clicked into place for me during the isolation of the pandemic. And I’ve reclaimed my time to journal, my time to read, and time to travel and drink in beauty. Of course, that comes at the price of not doing everything everyone else in my life wanted–not doing laundry for my entire family all of the time, not having an immaculate house, not giving a damn what the neighborhood thinks of my yard, and not volunteering with every organization my kids want to be a part of. The pandemic shut everything down so that I got to see what I was adding back, and the answer is almost nothing that I had before. And I like it.

False Beliefs

I believed The Devil over time.

I believed the terrible things he said about me.

And I began to wonder how anyone wanted me.

I believed no one else would.

And if I was so awful,

then maybe I deserved him.

He punched the wall.

I deserved that.

He broke my lamps, doors, dishes.

I deserved that.

He broke me.

I deserved that.

I’ve served my penance in a hundred miserable ways.

I kept words trapped inside of me, un-writing.

I didn’t allow my eyes to roam over the beautiful words

that other broken wordsmiths wrote.

I didn’t let myself venture underground.

No sparkling speleothems to soak in.

I starved myself of beauty.

I deserved that.

And then the angel came along and wanted what’s best for me.

In every way.

He loves my freckles, my scars,

my hellbent-on-success, impossible goal lists,  

my damn-the-torpedoes approach to life.

And I get to put on a sequined shirt, a leather skirt, a hot pink jacket.

To open the books I’d hoarded for when I was good enough.

To write each day like it’s my last, and the ink is endless.

To linger at waterfalls, wildflowers, and gypsum.

To be happy.


I deserve that.

Poetry: Closet Chair

For eleven months now, I’ve had PTSD, following a violent attack, and my panic attacks are not really going away. It’s not a pretty thing that people want to know about or discuss. We’d all really rather I were normal–whatever that word means.

I really like hiding away in my closet when anxiety creeps in. It’s the quietest place in the house, it’s not so bright there either, and I feel safe in the smaller space. I know it’s odd. Just try to explain your habit of freaking out in your closet next to the impractical shoes to someone you might want to date. It makes you really popular, in case you’re wondering. It’s more of a fifth date confession.

My boyfriend really sees who I am in this closet, the good and the bad. And recently he did a beautiful thing; he put a giant beanbag in there for me.

Closet Chair

The beanbag’s overstuffed and too big for its spot–

a chair for you and a bed for me.

Beige microfiber, in full fluff just below the lowest hanger racks.

It cradles my whole body, hugging me when no one else will.

It’s one of the nicest things anyone’s done for me.

You didn’t try to drag me into the light, puffy-eyed and sniffling,

where you could pretend this isn’t happening.

You didn’t impose a timeline on my recovery,

never treating my panic like it’s fleeting.

You pulled up a chair and invited me to be comfortable

while in pain.

Like a spouse settling into a hospital chair to wait out the night,

you settled in like you’d stay.

In the beanbag for two in my closet.

Poetry: Some People Are Worth Melting For

I gave the context for this poem in yesterday’s blog post.

Some People Are Worth Melting For

Little eyes are pouring salty waterfalls at us.

“Olaf can’t talk to me anymore!” she wails.

I didn’t know that she even cared about Olaf, or his battery-powered repertoire.

His prognosis is grim to her.

His vocal cords have cancer, and his remaining time is a few crossed-off calendar days.

I propose a thorough surgery to restore function.

He didn’t get this way from chainsmoking, and we can fix it.

She questions the consequences, the scarring, the methodology.

“There’s no seam near the button! Don’t you think this is a delicate procedure requiring laparoscopy?”

We hash out an entire exploratory surgical plan,

yet no one can turn off her lacrimal glands.

“Lilly? What else happened today?”

Her lip quivers. And I also perform heart surgery.

Author Life: It’s Not What You Think

I video chatted with my daughter last night, and she was teary-eyed, seeming so much smaller than I know she is with her eyes wide and upset, taking up half the screen. She was blubbering because the battery was dying on a beloved Olaf stuffed animal. (Olaf is the snowman from Frozen.) That piqued my motherly intuition the moment I heard it. I didn’t even know she had an obsession with Olaf. And if I don’t even know about this stuffed animal, then it can’t be worth crying over.

I was already tired and had summoned every ounce of patience I had left. My bathtub pipe was leaking catastrophically after it was “fixed”. It had flooded through the ceiling over my kitchen table, making my kitchen a slosh-zone. My significant other and I’d had a disagreement. (I hate those.) My co-parent had already called me over because he didn’t know what to do with the diminishing morale about virtual school, and I’d brought donuts to get a few smiles. I didn’t get a job that I knew I’d nailed the interview for. (Authors need insurance, too.) And I had been afflicted with stomach cramps all evening. So, for context, I was done with the day.

I reassured my daughter that we would fix the stuffed animal. Then, she started wailing that it didn’t have a seam near the button for the sound. I asked her where the seams were, and she told me there was one in its head and one on its bottom. Before I knew it, I was agreeing to give a colonoscopy to a stuffed snowman to replace batteries that are probably non-standard and need to be ordered.

But I still knew that wouldn’t normally upset my cheerful girl. My daughter is a force of optimism and confidence. So, I asked her, “What else happened today? Was it a good day?” And then she launched into the real problems. My children were issued school laptops long after their peers and were behind in virtual school at a new school, and she was positively petrified about French and the “jibber-jabber” she couldn’t interpret. Launching into a new language three weeks behind everyone else would be enough to shake anyone, so we talked it through and made a plan. I had the perfect anecdote about a time that I thought I would fail Latin, and the tears abated.

I find myself upset sometimes, too, with seemingly minor triggers. But those are often only the last thing added to the mountain of stressors upsetting me. After I disconnected our chat, I was mulling over the hellish weeks I thought I would fail Latin when I was fifteen. And then I thought about the anxiety and PTSD that let me see she wasn’t crying over Olaf. Both the anxiety and the Latin class seemed impossible to me and without meaning or purpose when I endured them. As my tiny daughter asked me last night, “Why is life so hard?” I thought back to myself, panicking in the closet earlier in the day, asking my significant other, “What did I do to deserve this?”

And the challenges I overcame seemed to have meaning as I guided my daughter through her own fear and stress. If you do make it through hell, you’re a lot better at going back and guiding those you love out.

I’m raising a giant cup of coffee to all of you this morning. She’s going to conquer French, and I’m writing more on Iron Spirits. Let’s continue our march out of hell today.

Indie Publishing: How to Handle Inappropriate Messages

So, you did it. You published a book! Congratulations! And your author photo is on your site, and you look professional, well-kempt, maybe a little hot.  Good for you!

At least, good for you, until some random person finds your photo on your author page or your website. And you’re new to this, so there are not 200 messages sitting in your author inbox. In fact, that guy who just messaged asking to be your significant other (maybe a little more crudely) might even hurt the response rate on your Facebook page if you ignore the message. *beats head into desk*

You have a few options. You can respond politely thanking people for their interest and then direct them to your latest publications. It’s a response and can be a form one that you copy into those messages. Maybe you’ll get some sales, too? I’ve got my fingers crossed for you. Maybe that’s the end of the weirdness.

You can also just not engage. You’re an author. You’re probably a recluse who wants minimal social interaction. Why on Earth would you invite conversation with a cretin? People know authors are not going to respond to messages promptly. We’re tempestuous and creative and introverted. But it might not be the best decision for your business.

So, you decide to send the information about your book to the weird person. And now you’ve gotten a dozen messages you weren’t looking for. Somehow you’re this guy’s poetess and angel and who knows what else. Why can’t he even spell your name correctly?! I’ve heard about women in my writing community who had actual stalkers who found their address, about people who created new profiles to get around bans, and about unsolicited pictures messaged to authors.

And you might be thinking, This isn’t Tinder! It’s my professional page. Why?! First, you can always respond to those pictures with a microscope emoji. Just sayin’. And second, all jokes aside, it’s a good idea to just ban people who look like they are headed in that direction before they get the chance to continue. You don’t have time for that, and chances are good that someone who can’t spell your name probably isn’t going to appreciate the word “phoneme” in the first chapter of your book.

The goal is to sell books. So, keep that in the front of your mind when navigating messages. If the harassing messages don’t stop, then make them stop. Ban the sender. You have writing and marketing to do. Don’t engage if it isn’t helping you reach the goal. Good luck, and I wish you an inbox with raves about your book and no misspelled compliments about your hair.