Monday, March 13, 2017

Stress or Burnout? Why they’re Different and Why you Need to Know the Difference



Stress or burnout? Writers can suffer from both.

by Ruth Harris

Look at your to-do list.

  • WiP needs edits and revisions
  • Editor/cover designer to hire
  • Promo forms to fill out
  • First draft to finish
  • Get that new book/new series ready to launch
  • The next-to-final draft need polishing
  • Backlist covers need a refresh
  • A box set waits for formatting and covers.
  • An idea for a new series needs an outline
  • Time to write a new book for an existing series
  • Newsletter!
  • Writing a newsletter for your pen name
  • Writing a blurb / a blog post
  • Analyzing results of AMS and FB ads
  • Beta readers to be contacted

Now look at yourself.

  • Snapping at colleagues, the strangers at the table next to you in a restaurant, the checkout clerk at the supermarket.
  • Snarling at your dog who’s too afraid of your rotten moods to snarl back.
  • Fighting with your spouse/roommate/bestie over…nothing.
  • Can’t sleep.
  • Can’t eat or you overeat.
  • You’re losing/gaining weight.
  • Productivity has slipped to zilch.
  • You hate everyone.
  • And everything.
  • Including yourself.

We’re stressed out. Or are we burned out? 

We feel like hamsters trapped on an endless wheel. We’re tired, crabby, frustrated, uninspired, and unmotivated. Our anxiety-meter has topped out and we’re not even running on fumes any more—we’re running on empty.
We talk about it among ourselves, moaning and bitching and rolling our eyes. Our sense of humor turns blacker and blacker.
We can—and do—complain about our plight but we’re paying real consequences, physically and emotionally. Our friends and family suffer the fallout. So does our work.
Stress and burnout are related but they are different although, according to experts, some of the signs and symptoms overlap. Whatever the specific definitions, stress and burnout reveal themselves with specific symptoms and are more dangerous than you might think.

Stress or burnout: how they’re different.

Stress is a condition of too much and is characterized by over engagement.
Too many demands, too much pressure. Your emotions are overactive and hyped up, you face too many demands on your time and energy, and feel barraged by unrelenting pressure. The consequences of stress are primarily physical: your pulse rate quickens, your heart pounds, but you still feel a glimmer of hope. You think that if you can just get everything under control, you’ll be OK again.
Burnout, a result of continual stress, is a condition of too little and is characterized by disengagement.
You feel empty, emotionally drained, and devoid of energy. Burnout reduces productivity and leaves you feeling helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Your motivation is gone, your creativity kaput. You feel detached and depressed, and as if you have nothing more to give.

The Mayo Clinic lists the common symptoms of stress

Stress symptoms can affect your body, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can give you techniques for managing them.
Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Common physical effects of stress

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems

Psychological effects of stress

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression

Behavioral effects of stress

  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exercising less often

The Harvard health newsletter describes the symptoms of burnout.

Burnout, which can be a result of prolonged stress, is a gradual process. The signs and symptoms are subtle at first and can mirror those of stress. However, over time they become more severe and destructive.

Physical effects of burnout:

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time
  • Lowered immunity, getting sick a lot
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits

Emotional signs and symptoms of burnout:

  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
  • Detachment, feeling alone in the world
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment

Behavioral effects of burnout:

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
  • Taking out your frustrations on others

Type A personalities and burnout.

Psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D explains that high achievers—Type A personalities—often experience burnout. She describes the early and later stages of burnout as follows:

Chronic fatigue.

In the early stages, you may lack energy and feel tired most days. In the latter stages, you feel physically and emotionally exhausted, drained, and depleted. You may even feel a sense of dread for what lies ahead on any given day.

Insomnia.

In the early stages, you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep one or two nights a week. In the latter stages, insomnia may turn into a persistent, nightly ordeal. As exhausted as you are, you can’t sleep.

Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention.

Lack of focus and mild forgetfulness are early signs. Later, the problems may get to the point where you can’t get your work done and everything begins to pile up.

Physical symptoms.

Physical symptoms may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and/or headaches. (All of these symptoms merit a medical evaluation.)

Increased illness.

Because your body is depleted, your immune system becomes weakened. This makes you more vulnerable to infections, colds, flu, and other immune-related medical problems.

Loss of appetite.

In the early stages, you may not feel hungry and may skip a few meals. In the latter stages, you may lose your appetite all together and begin to lose a significant amount of weight.

Anxiety.

Early on, you may experience mild symptoms of tension, worry, and edginess. As you move closer to burnout, the anxiety may become so serious that it interferes in your ability to work productively. It may also cause problems in your personal life.

Depression.

In the early stages, you may feel mildly sad, occasionally hopeless, and you may experience feelings of guilt and worthlessness as a result. At its worst, you may feel trapped, severely depressed, and think the world would be better off without you.
(If your depression is at this point, you should seek professional help.)

Anger.

At first, this may present as interpersonal tension and irritability. In the latter stages, this may turn into angry outbursts and serious arguments at home and in the workplace.
(If anger gets to the point where it turns to thoughts or acts of violence toward family or coworkers, people should get professional assistance.)

How to manage stress and avoid burnout.

Because the consequences of stress and burnout are serious and because so many of us feel overwhelmed and stressed out, recognizing the signs and symptoms is critical.
Learning how to manage stress and avoid burnout before it starts can save your marriage, your relationships, your job, and your career.
In Part Two of this article, I will turn to experts for advice about how to manage stress and burnout.


Meanwhile, my excellent blog partner, Anne R. Allen, asks:

What about you, scriveners? Are you suffering from stress or burnout? It’s so easy for writers to get stressed these days, since most of us have day jobs, and the job of being a writer involves so much more than actually writing. Do you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself or others? 
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Monday, February 6, 2017

Writers: How to get out of your own way and build resilience.


Resilience: The Key to Reaching Your Writing Goals in 2017

(This article was first published at Anne R. Allen's blog on January 29, 2017. Visit Anne's blog this week for her always-reliable advice on 5 good reasons to blog and 5 bad reasons.)

Books! The ones that got written!

They’re mean and nasty and they're out there waiting to get you.

  • Inhibitions
  • Hang ups
  • Glitches
  • Gotchas
  • Snares and snags
  • Roadblocks
  • No go zones
  • Flops and fizzles
The reasons (excuses?) for not writing/not beginning (or finishing) your book/not allowing enough time and energy for marketing/blogging/advertising often come down to the same tried-and-true suspects.

1) The P Word.

As if you don’t know what I’m talking about. 😉
But, just in case you only recently landed on Planet Earth, let’s call it what it is: PROCRASTINATION. Here’s a short list of tip offs:
  • Tweeting instead of writing.
  • Surfing the web instead of setting up your AMS ads.
  • Making coffee instead of contacting reviewers.
  • Playing Words With Friends instead of working on your BookBub application.
  • Cleaning the bathroom instead of searching for the right cover image.
  • Organizing your spices instead of updating your blog/website.
  • Alphabetizing your shopping list instead of building your email list.
Bottom line: You’re doing anything and everything you can think of exceptdo what you need to do to take the next step forward.

2) Interruptions.

  • Phone.
  • Kids.
  • The dog.
  • The cat.
  • Neighbors.
  • Your husband/wife/significant other.
  • The Amazon drone delivering 3 pairs of gym socks you ordered half an hour ago.
Interruptions are the writer’s toxic waste dump. Interruptions cause you to lose your train of thought.
If you were in the zone, you’re now out of the zone. If you weren’t in the zone, you’re now out in Siberia.
You’re frazzled, frustrated and cranky and you’re wondering how you can get through your to-do list when you’re dealing with almost constant interruptions.

3) Power Failure.

Your MC is on the top branch of a burning tree and the bad guys are down below. With guns, knives, IEDs, RPGs, snarling tigers. machetes and blowtorches.
So now what?
What does the MC do?
What do the bad guys do?
How about his/her husband/wife, cubicle mate, best friend, bridge partner, girl friend/boy friend, Pilates teacher, dog walker, nutty neighbor, favorite TV comedian or movie star?
Who says what? To whom? Why?
You mean you don’t know? Don’t even have a clue?
The outline is useless. Imagination is kaput. Forward motion is stopped.
You’re experiencing a complete power failure.

4) Fear And Loathing.

You have more ups and downs than a yoyo. Right now, your current state of mind redefines the downside of bipolar.
Maybe you…
  • Forgot why you’re writing the damn book and you hate every word anyway because you’re a no-talent nobody.
  • Can’t figure out whether it’s a comedy, a thriller, urban fantasy, horror or romance.
  • Can’t remember why you started the stupid thing in the first place.
  • Have no idea what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, who your characters are, what genre you had in mind and why the bleep you even bothered in the first place.
  • Have a  first chapter that sucks, a blah middle, and you’ll never figure out the ending.
  • And you’re bogged down, flailing away in quicksand and only getting in deeper with every chapter. You’d be better off slinging burgers at Mickey D.
Writers, like everyone else, have mood swings. Usually not enough for clinical intervention but enough to seriously undermine confidence and halt forward progress.

5) The Fantasy Trap.

You’re writing the Great American/Bolivian/Icelandic novel. It’s so wonderful you’ll out sell Stephen King and Nora Roberts combined. Millions and millions of readers will lap up your every book and wait breathlessly for the next one.
An invitation to the White House, to a billionaire’s yacht, to a fabulous mansion on a private island in the Caribbean will arrive in the mail. Beautiful, brilliant people are lined up, just waiting to experience the exquisite pleasure of your company.
And, while you’ve unleashed your imagination about the rewards about to come pouring down on you, please, definitely do not forget the prizes: The NBA (Not the one aka hoops that’s played by tattooed seven feet tall men. The other one.) The Booker. The Legion of Honor. The Nobel. The Pulitzer. Foreign translations. The big azz movie deal. Your name in lights.
The list is endless.
And it’s paralyzing.

6) The Michelangelo Dilemma.

Every word chiseled in marble. Every syllable a treasure for the millennia. So, of course, it has to be perfect. That’s why you have that infallible misery-maker, your own personal internal critic, to tap you on the shoulder and remind you of every terrible thing anyone ever said about you ranging from your defective personality to your crappy taste in clothes.
You’re so terrible, even your dog hates you.
You write. And rewrite.
Consider and reconsider.
Contemplate and then contemplate some more.
You hit the delete button. Then the undo. You open the sentence-in-question in two documents and review them side by side. Still can’t decide which one is better so you write a third version.
Which just adds to the confusion and misery as you scratch your chin and tear your hair (at the same time if at all possible because—don’t forget!—we’re going for perfection here) and try to decide whether or not a fourthversion is called for.

Tough (Self) Love Leads to Resilience

Almost every item on this list, no matter the superficial differences, is a self-inflicted wound. Bottom line, you are the one who is causing your own suffering.
The mess you’ve created is your own doing.
You did it to yourself.
You are the snarling beast standing between yourself and your goals.
We are not in “it-hurts-so-good-don’t-stop” mode here. We are in self-defeating territory, a lethal terrain in which you will never get your book written, much less edited, revised, proof read and published. Much less promoted, publicized, advertised.
Which is actually the good news. Since whatever is going wrong is something you are doing to yourself, you are the one who can undo the damage. The key is resilience—the ability to bounce back—and perception is key to resilience.
Do you conceptualize a negative event as traumatic or as a chance to learn and grow?
If you shift your focus from external (blaming fate, Amazon, your editor) to internal (What can I do to change the outcome?) and you will feel less stressed and more in control.
Here are some specific approaches to rescuing yourself from the setbacks and frustrations almost every writer faces at one time or another. Over time, you will learn which approaches work for you and, most likely, develop effective coping techniques of your own.

1) The P Word.

Are you an adult? Or a kid who doesn’t want to go to school because there’s a history test today and you haven’t done your homework? The real answer is—or should be—that you’re a professional and professionals get the job done. If you’re floundering in self-defeating procrastination, pay attention to the following techniques.
Dr. Patrick Keelan uses a Flow Chart method to help clients overcome crippling procrastination. Dr Keelan’s practical, effective approach starts with four simple questions.
From revising your to-do list to rewarding yourself, these tips on beating procrastination for students also apply to writers.
Professor Tim Pychyl, a psychologist at Carleton University in Canada, works with the Procrastination Research Group and offers six steps for freeing yourself from the trap of procrastination.

2) Interruptions.

Nora Roberts famously said that she will allow interruptions only in the case of blood and/or fire. NR is as professional as it gets. Isn’t her no-nonsense attitude something to emulate?
Although we can’t control emergencies, we can (usually) exert some control over the day-to-day interruptions that steal our time and energy.
  • If your cluttered, disorganized home office is working against you, here are some tips about how to make your office work for you.
  • If home is too chaotic, go to the library or a coffee shop.
  • Turn off the Internet. Here are 8 web distraction blocker tools.
  • Silence the phone and let voice mail handle your calls.
  • Put up a “do not disturb” sign. Or, like a friend of mine, string yellow “crime scene* tape in front of your office door or work area. (I love this idea! Maybe I’ll put one at my front door to keep out those magazine salespersons and religious nutjobs…Anne.)
  • Make a deal: Trade a hour of uninterrupted work for an hour of errands/child care/chores: you’ll walk the dog (the one who hates you)/do the grocery shopping/take the kid to soccer practice in exchange.
For further consideration: If your family doesn’t respect your work, might that mean you have somehow given them the signal that it’s OK to barge in and interrupt you whenever with whatever?
If so, you must undo the damage you have inflicted on yourself by having a serious heart-to-heart with the perp (or perps), or, if necessary, some sessions with a therapist to help figure out why you are undermining yourself.

3) Power Failure Reboot.

Every writer faces the blank wall, the blank screen, the blank brain. Every writer has been there and every writer has escaped because, if they hadn’t, no book would ever have been finished.
Including Isaac Asimov who wrote 500 books in 25 years and who often got stuck but didn’t let getting stuck stop him. Over the years, he developed a strategy:
“I don’t stare at blank sheets of paper. I don’t spend days and nights cudgeling a head that is empty of ideas. Instead, I simply leave the novel and go on to any of the dozen other projects that are on tap. I write an editorial, or an essay, or a short story, or work on one of my nonfiction books. By the time I’ve grown tired of these things, my mind has been able to do its proper work and fill up again. I return to my novel and find myself able to write easily once more.”
What you need to do is Be Like Isaac (read about his 6 writing tips in Charles Chu’s article at Quartz) and develop a backlog of techniques that will get you moving again.

Here are a few suggestions—

  • Brainstorm with a trusted friend.
  • Go to your junk file. By that I mean drafts you wrote but didn’t use. Never delete unused paragraphs or scenes, just put them in a junk file. When you’re stuck, open the file. You may well find just the right route forward in something you once rejected.
  • Make a list. Steven Sondheim spoke of making a list of all the words that might apply to the song he was writing. That list, SS said, revealed hidden connections he hadn’t seen before. There’s no reasons that approach can’t work for a writer.
  • Have a glass of wine. I am not talking about getting rip-roaring drunk. I am talking about having a glass of wine with dinner. The combination of a small amount of alcohol, good food, a relaxed mood and diverting conversation can spring open a door that has been stubbornly closed.
  • Go for a walk. Take a shower. Weed the garden. Empty the dishwasher. Go to the gym. Often, just getting away from your desk and engaging in a mildly diverting or physical activity is enough to get you off dead center and break the block.
  • Give up and go to sleep. Let your unconscious (which knows more than you do) get to work. Amazing how often you wake up the next morning with just the answer you’ve been looking for.
  • Make friends with your own tics and twitches. For some, it’s beginnings. For others, it’s endings. And what about that godawful, go-nowhere, endless muddle in the middle?
  • Anne offers reliable advice about first chapters.
  • Chuck Wendig lists 25 ways to fight the mushy middle.
  • The experts at Writer’s Digest tell how to write a great ending.
  • Janice Hardy talks about chapter endings and book endings.

4) Fear and Loathing.

Happens to everyone. In fact, fear and loathing are so predictable that many writers (include me in) have come to see F & L as a normal part of the process.
F & L need not be a way of life or a dead end. Here are a few escape routes.
  • Going back to your original outline can help. So can reading over your notes and research. Finding just the right, almost forgotten nugget can make all the difference.
  • Making a reverse outline will often untangle the snarl.
  • If you’re working on a computer, viewing your book on paper via a print out yields a different perspective.
  • Sending your manuscript to your Kindle and reading it there can make a difference. Even changing the font can help you view your work in a fresh way.
  • Having someone else read your manuscript and report back can help.
  • Maybe it’s not as mind-blowingly vile as you think.
  • Or maybe it is, and you have to rewrite/revise. Rewriting and revising are part of the process, your precious second chances. Embrace them.
  • F&L is why god created beta readers, crit groups, and editors.
  • Patience, perspective, persistence, and, if necessary, a pair of outside eyes are called for.

5) The Fantasy Trap. 

Dreams, even big dreams are OK and, for some, come with the territory.
They can motivate but if they lead to paralysis, you will need to ask yourself why you are allowing a dream to interfere with the necessary day-by-day, word-by-word real-life work required to make the dream come true. Only you will be able to answer that question but unless you can look at yourself with an unflinching eye and cut down the unrealistic fantasies that are stopping you, no dream can come true.
Remember, even Stephen King has to take out the garbage.

6) The Michelangelo Dilemma

Perfection doesn’t exist. Everyone knows it. So why do some writers torment themselves trying to achieve something no one—not Einstein, not Picasso, not Shakespeare—ever achieved?
If you are in that group or even if you have self-defeating tendencies in that direction, try a dose of reality. For shock therapy, go to the Amazon page of any famous, bestselling writer and check out the one-star reviews.
Ernest Hemingway—“I have had root cannels [sic] that were less painful”
Nora Roberts—“worst thing I’ve read in a long time”
Lee Child—“garbage”
Need I go on?
And you think you’re going to write the perfect book? 😉

The Takeaway:

The more times you rescue yourself from perfectionism, procrastination, a block, unrealistic dreams, the more you will become a writer with confidence—and resilience—and the closer you will be to getting where you want to go.

The Giveback:

Now about you: Have you fallen into the fantasy trap? Do interruptions trip you up? Does a rotten review ruin your day/week? Do you know how to rescue yourself? Do you have a plan for developing the resilience a career as an author demands? Do tell!


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Tougher than Harvard. More demanding than MIT. Husband Training School is the last hope of wives Who Have Had It.



They love their husbands but...


Sissie Canholme had had it. Her pulse was racing. Her heart was pounding. Her anti-perspirant stopped working hours ago.
Jogging?
The treadmill?
A Zumba class?
Nope.
Sissie Canholme was comfortably seated in a quiet room. Soothing music wafted from high quality speakers and fragrant jasmine tea in small porcelain cups waited on the low, red lacquered table in front of her.
But why the stress and anxiety? Certainly not because she was over eight and a half months pregnant. Sissie was healthy, the baby was healthy. Everything was ready and completely prepared for the coming blessed event.
So what was the problem?
Brunette, hazel eyes, age 36, California-born, California-bred, Sissie was on the executive floor in a sleek, ultra-modern office tower located in Chengwai, China. She was waiting for a decision from Ling Yun, Weibo Digital’s CEO that would affect her future—and, in turn, the baby’s future.
Sissie was in China to negotiate a manufacturing deal with Weibo Digital for her employer, California’s tech titan, xWorks. If Ling Yun’s response was positive, Sissie’s status at xWorks would rise. So would her paycheck, and she would move up another step in the company’s hierarchy.
Meanwhile, her hair smelled of Chinese cigarettes. Her eyes were dry and scratchy from too many late nights at the office and too many trans-Pacific flights. Her makeup was melted, her hairstyle collapsed, her shoulders slumped.
She had to pee. Her eyelids were drooping. She wanted to sleep. The baby was kicking up almighty hell. She was so tired she almost didn’t care any more when the door to the conference room opened. Ling Yun, elegantly attired in a hand-tailored Savile Row suit, gestured to her.
“Come in,” he said. “We’ve considered your proposal.”
His tone betrayed nothing nor did his expression. This was, after all, the inscrutable Orient.
Sissie, her armpits soggy, her stomach in knots, her bladder about to burst, the baby kicking up almighty hell, followed him into the conference room. She listened to the terms of Weibo Digital’s counter-offer, her expression neutral. (Ling Yun wasn’t the only one who could be inscrutable.)
When he finished, Sissie managed the polite bow mandatory for doing business in Asia. She thanked Ling Yun for his consideration and said she would have to discuss his response with her manager before she could reply.
Exhausted, Sissie barely remembered leaving Weibo Digital, going to the airport and boarding the plane. She was looking forward to seeing the nursery her husband, Gordo, had prepared for little Sissie Jr.
The baby furniture would be in place, and so would the pink scatter rug and pink-and-white gingham curtains she had picked out. Picturing her beautiful baby and the picture-perfect, fully furnished, freshly painted nursery that was waiting, Sissie smiled to herself.
She was looking forward to spending the few days before giving birth in an atmosphere of beauty, harmony and tranquillity. As the plane climbed to altitude and crossed the Pacific, she relaxed for the first time since arriving in China and fell into a deep, refreshing sleep.
* * *
Except when Sissie got home, the IKEA furniture—the bassinet, changing table and storage unit—was still in the garage, still packed in shipping cartons. The crib had been partially unpacked but not built. Slats and protective wrapping material were strewn over the cement floor, and a hammer and screw driver were abandoned somewhere in the chaos.
When Sissie went into the house, she saw that the nursery—it was the unused second bedroom—was unpainted. The rug was rolled up and shoved into a corner, the windows grimy, the curtains unhung.
Gordo, who had a freelance business maintaining the web sites and twitter accounts of on-line athletic wear and equipment retailers, was on his computer filling out the roster of his fantasy football team. His Joe-college good looks were untroubled, his blue eyes tranquil. He hadn’t had time to get to the crib yet, he said.
“You have time for fantasy football but you haven’t had time for the baby’s crib?” Sissie said, doing her best to keep her voice at a reasonable pitch. Still, the sarcasm leaked out. “You work at home. You’re here all day.”
“I wasn’t home all day,” said Gordo, completely missing the edge to her tone. “I was playing golf.”
Golf?” Sissie snapped. “You were playing golf?”
“Jeff called,” said Gordo, referring to his college roommate. “He had the day off and asked if I could join him in a round or two.”
“You thought golf was more important than the baby we’re having in a week?”
“I don’t know why you’re so upset,” said Gordo, a bewildered expression crossing his face. “I’ll get the furniture put together. I promise.”
Angry tears stung Sissie’s eyes. “You’ve been promising for six months and that furniture is still in the garage,” she said. “In shipping cartons. You haven’t even opened them."
“I opened the crib."
“Only halfway. The slats are all over the floor."
“I just said I’d get to it, didn’t I?” said Gordo, now sounding pouty and aggrieved. “I don’t know why you’re so angry."
“You don’t know WHY I’M ANGRY?” Sissie shouted, her pretty features screwed up in rage. “What’s wrong with you? You act like all this isn’t happening. Well, it is happening. We’re having a baby and, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m the size of a whale. My job is half killing me and I have two baby showers this week. Where am I supposed to put the baby stuff?” she asked. Then she burst into tears. “Where am I supposed to put the baby?”
“Now I understand,” said Gordo. He reached out in an attempt to soothe her. “You’re upset. It’s the hormones."
With that, Sissie pushed him away and homicide entered her mind. She was going to kill him, she thought. She was going to go to the garage and get the hammer and bash his brains in. She was going to pick up a slat and beat him into a mass of bloody, splintered bone and mangled tissue.
Then, memories of movies and TV shows elbowed into her consciousness—a tormented scream, the cold, hard bars of a cell door, the harsh rasp of a sadistic guard—and her murderous fantasies screeched to a halt.
Without another word, she marched into their bedroom and slammed the door so hard plaster rained down from the ceiling.
She picked up the phone and, blinking away tears of fury, she dialed the number one of the women in her Lamaze class had given her.
* * *
“I need an application form,” Sissie said, relaying her cell phone number and email address. “It’s an emergency.”
Former Marine Corps Drill Instructor Robin Aguirre sighed.
She had heard it all before from other wives who phoned Husband Training School.
It was always the same and it was always an emergency.

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Sometimes you need a goat.

Early morning at the Kihali animal orphanage in Africa

A poor, brave little rhino named Zuri (Swahili for “beautiful”) has been rescued from poachers but her recovery is not going well. She is depressed and listless, she has nightmares and lies in her stall crying for her cruelly murdered mother.
None of the medical interventions have helped, and Zuri, who associates humans with the killers who took her mother’s horn, refuses to nurse. Her sad bleating and quivering body are clear signs that she is still in deep mourning.
Why, wonders Renny Kudrow, Director of the Kihali animal orphanage, hasn’t she started to recover? What if she doesn’t get better and they lose her?
He’d be to blame, he thinks. Not the Kenyan rhino experts, tall, skinny Jomo and strong, burly Muthengi. And certainly not the vet. Dr. Starlite Higgins has done everything medically possible.
Feeling guilty and disconsolate, Renny’s thoughts drift to Starlite’s idea. Her impressive work on a DNA database will make Kihali a leader in the conservation of endangered species, but just because her latest idea was unconventional and untested, didn’t mean it wasn’t worth trying, did it?
Renny doesn’t know, but he is in charge, the responsibility is his and he feels its weight. Time is growing short for Zuri, he knows, and he is running out of options. He must make a decision.
Stretching his long legs, Renny gets up, abandons his tea, still hot in its battered tin mug, and leaves the veranda. He jogs across Kihali’s yard as the African sun begins to rise and doesn’t stop until he reaches the laundry line that, suspended between two poles, runs behind the kitchen. There, in her usual spot, tethered by a fraying rope, is Boozie.
The moment she sees him, she does what she always does. She jumps up and greets him the way she greets everyone.
She stands on his toes and kisses him.
***

A Goat Named Boozie

She has a black face, white ears and an inquisitive manner. Like most of her kind, she is intelligent and affectionate but, like most of her kind, she also has a propensity for creating mischief.
She’d earned her name when she’d gotten into the left-over drinks after a cocktail party on the veranda, over-imbibed, and fell off the low porch into the petunia bed where she passed out and slept it off. Since then, adult beverages have been carefully kept away from the adventuresome and irrepressible young goat named Boozie who, following Renny, bounds across the courtyard to Zuri’s stall.
Leading Boozie, he enters the stall wordlessly. Starlite and Muthengi both raise their eyebrows, glance at each other, but say nothing.
As Renny supervises and Starlite and Muthengi watch, Boozie introduces herself to Zuri with a kiss.
Mewling softly under her blanket, poor, depressed Zuri seems not to notice.
Boozie, undaunted by the lack of response, explores Zuri’s head and ears with dainty tastes and gentle nibbles. Then, ever curious, she investigates the short, stubby legs and, from there, moves down to the padded three-toed feet.
“Mouthing and chewing are the ways goats explore the world around them,” mutters Renny in his professorial way, not looking at Starlite even though he is standing next to her.
“You sound like you think I didn’t know,” Starlite replies with a slight edge, looking straight at him as Boozie continues her affectionate explorations. “Wasn’t my suggestion the reason you decided to introduce them?”
Renny isn’t about to give her all the credit. “One of the reasons.”
Starlite isn’t in the mood to back off, either. “So maybe I had a good idea after all.”
“Possibly,” he says and shrugs slightly, keeping his eyes on Zuri and Boozie and assiduously refusing to acknowledge Starlite. “Let’s see what happens.”
Starlite leaves her tart retort unspoken when she notices that Zuri’s quivering has subsided. She turns to Muthengi. “Zuri seems almost relaxed for the first time since coming to Kihali.”
“Rhinos have thick hides but sensitive skin,” Muthengi says. “They love to be touched.”
“And goats love to do the touching,” Starlite adds.
Renny, watching, suppresses a smile and makes no comment as Zuri, turning her head to favor her right eye, looks to see who is paying so much attention to her.
Seeming to conclude that the friendly young goat offers no threat, Zuri takes a deep breath and clumsily struggles to her feet. She is weak from lack of exercise and her short, stubby legs wobble and offer unstable support.
She takes a few hesitant steps, then stumbles and falls. She cries out in distress and remains on the floor of her stall. She seems defeated and ready to give up.
Boozie, undeterred, scampers over and kisses her ear. Zuri turns toward her new friend and, encouraged, she takes a deep breath and rests for a moment; then, gathering her will, she uses her chin to help support herself while she gets up. She teeters for a moment, then finds her balance and arranges her feet squarely on the ground beneath her.
She turns toward Boozie, who urges her on with another enthusiastic kiss. Zuri looks up at her new acquaintance and even seems to smile.
The two quadrupeds stand side by side, one slim and sprightly, the other low-slung and rounded, a mismatched couple if there ever was one. Still, they are at peace, comfortable with each other, comfortable with themselves.
Wordlessly, Renny turns to Starlite and she sees that his eyes are filmed with tears. For so long, she has felt the sting of his disapproval and she, too, is moved. Impulsively, she reaches out and, wordlessly, briefly grazes his hand with hers.
“They’ll do well together,” she says.
“Yes,” he replies, his voice thick. “I do believe they will.”

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Like books by writers like Rona Jaffe, Judith Michael and Barbara Taylor Bradford?


DECADES, Book #1 in the Park Avenue Series was originally published in hard cover by Simon & Schuster. Now FREE at all ebook vendors.


THREE WOMEN. THREE DECADES.

Spanning the years from the optimistic post-War 1940s to the Mad Men 1950s and rebellious Make Love, Not War 1960s, DECADES is about three generations of women who must confront the radical changes and upended expectations presented by the turbulent decades in which they lived.

Evelyn, talented but insecure, faithful to the traditional values she grew up with, is a loyal and loving wife whose marriage means everything to her.
Nick, handsome and ambitious, a chameleon who changes with the changing times, is her successful but restless husband.
Joy, their daughter, coming of age at a time of anger and rebellion, needs them both but is torn between them.
Barbara is the other woman. Younger than Evelyn, accomplished but alone, she wonders if she can have everything--including another woman's husband.

But can she? Is she willing to pay the price? And how will Evelyn handle her rebellious daughter, her straying husband and the threat to her marriage?

DECADES, sweeping in scope yet intimate in detail, is the emotional, compelling story of family and marriage, betrayal and healing.

“A brilliant book. Three generations of women are succinctly capsuled in this novel by a writer who has all the intellect of Mary McCarthy, all the insight of Joan Didion. Rarely have attitudes been so probingly examined—tough, trenchant, chic and ultra-sophisticated, Ms. Harris recreates the decades in which her heroines lived, from zoot suits and Sammy Kaye, through Eisenhower, Elvis and poodle-cut hairdos to moon walks, Mick Jagger and micro-minis. Readers will be entertained and few will be able to forget what Decades has to say about men and women and the games people play.” —Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Ruth Harris has re-created both the style and substance of three decades of American life—from the bobby socks and innocence of the 1940s, to the crinolines and caution of the 1950s, to the bra-less T-shirts and alienation of the 1960s.” —Book-of-the-Month Club

Powerful. A gripping novel that depicts the lives and loves of three generations of women.” —Women Today Book Club