Thursday, February 25, 2016

Self-Confidence and Body Positivity

Warning: This is a long post. You might want a cup of coffee and a sandwich or something. It's okay really ... go on and make yourself a drink, at least. You can just leave me here a second and go on, fill your water glass, grab a soda, something. I promise, I'll wait.

Ready? Okay.

Now let me start off like this: I'm not usually a name dropper (especially in negative circumstances), so I'm not going to link the particular review that led me to this post. However, I intend to tell you about it so that hopefully, you'll make the same connection I did. If not, I hope at least that you'll understand how I made the connection.

I use social media a lot. I'm pretty active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Google+. I go through bursts of activity on Pinterest and Vine, though I'm usually liking/sharing/repinning there, rather than creating new content myself. I have debated creating 6-second Vine reviews ... but so far I have only thought about it and not actually tried it. Videos are hard for me, because I haven't yet reached a place in my personal confidence journey that will allow me to do that regularly. I get stressed for weeks beforehand, end up tomato-faced and sweaty in the video ... it's not pretty. But the point is, I'm pretty active online, in a way that allows me to interact with people who wish to interact with me.

I don't use Goodreads a lot anymore though; I stopped using it back when people started leaving snarky reviews on books that hadn't even been released yet, just because for whatever reason they didn't like an author. I stopped using it when people began to think it was okay to hurt someone's career and well-being over petty disagreements, when the reviews there stopped being honest or meaning anything at all.

However, I'm honest enough with myself to recognize that as things sometimes swing too far in one direction, they often swing back in the natural habit of things, in search of balance and correctness. So I haven't disabled Goodreads, and I still open the copious emails they send me whenever someone wants to friend me, recommend a book, etc.

A few days ago, I received an email, letting me know that someone wanted to friend me, so I clicked, accepted, and then got curious. Since I don't use the account, I haven't added my newest books. But people add books often ... are all of my books on here? I went to my author profile page and checked, and low and behold, all of my books are there. But wait ...

On Amazon, Fat Chance is rated over four stars, and I'm very proud of the reviews collected there, especially because very few of them are actually from anyone personally connected to me. Several are from bloggers I asked to review the book, or readers who got the book in some contest or something. But what that means to me is that I can trust those reviews. I believe in them. I take confidence in my writing skill from them. But there has been one that has bothered me just a little for a long time -- I'll tell you about it in a second.

While I was on Goodreads, I happened to noticed that Fat Chance was rated just under four stars, and it had quite a few ratings and such. So, since I'm a glutton for punishment, I went scrolling.

It's my own fault really. I had been wishing for some time for just a few more bad reviews, ones that would balance out and give the good reviews a bit more in the way of legitimacy in the eyes of random book shoppers who tend to stay away from books with ONLY good reviews.

Goodreads fixed that right up. I found a review, a bad one. Well, not a bad one, really. It was a very good review, well written and opinionated. That's what we authors want, after all, to inspire such a level of opinionated feeling that the reader simply must write a review, simply must share that sense of strong emotion. This reviewer felt rather strongly (as did the Amazon reviewer I mentioned a few paragraphs up) that in the story of Fat Chance, I, as the author, had engaged in some very serious and very despicable Fat Shaming.

You know what Fat Shaming is, right? Urban dictionary has several different definitions for this phrase, so I'll share a few, just in case you hadn't heard the term before:
  • Actually, no I won't, because half the definitions listed on there are actual examples of the kinds of things Fat Shaming assholes use to Fat Shame people unfortunate enough to not have a popular body type.
I won't talk down to you. You know what Fat Shaming is. Here's the thing, you don't even have to be Fat to be Fat Shamed. I mean really. You know who Ashley Graham is, right? The curvaceous babe who recently had the nerve to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, even though she isn't a size zero? Let me tell you though, she isn't a size 22 either, okay? She's not even Fat by most standards.

But check this other girl out; this girl is around a sixteen/eighteen, and she's a little bigger than Ashley Graham, I think. Her name is Sarah Rae Vargas, and she's is sexy, vivacious, and full of personality. She's bold and brash and strong, she's inspirational. She's absolutely beautiful ... but she calls herself Fat several times in some of her YouTube videos. Why? Because she is courageous enough, and unaShamed enough to own her body, her shape, and the image she wants people to see. She doesn't do it with shame, or with teary eyes, or with some kind of outwardly broken pity-me persona -- she does it matter of factly because her body shape is a matter of fact.

Some people are white, so we call them that. Some people are black, some are short, some are tall. Some are skinny. Some are fat. It isn't Shameful to own what you are, and it isn't Shameful to be public about it, regardless of how it makes other people feel. It's okay to be what you are, to accept what you are. A Fat body isn't any more shameful than a scarred body, a body with pieces missing, a body with extra pieces. When did we forget that inside of each body, there lives a person with thoughts and feelings that matter?

Here, let me show you this girl; she is fat too. In fact, Tess Holliday actually is a size 22, and she's completely unapologetic. Imagine this, she's actually proud of her body and makes it a point to love herself, regardless of the abundance of negative external feedback. I think she's my hero.

But you know what, here's the thing. It still isn't any of my business, or yours, or anyone else's. (And by the way, I bet I'm a lot closer in size to that last one than that first one, I'm just sayin'. Not that it's any of your business, but I'll tell you because despite the impression left in the low reviews of Fat Chance by some people who clearly didn't get the message buried inside Cass's character development, I happen to be what most people would call a Fat Woman, not a Fat Shamer.)

I'm sure you've figured out the content of my few low reviews by now, right? Fat Shaming. In writing a character who is depressed because of her body, depressed because it doesn't look the way society says it should, depressed because she has to actually live with the cruel things actual Fat Shamers say to actual Fat People ... somehow I got mistaken for a Fat Shamer. Somehow, in writing a twenty-something character who berates herself in the grocery store, who privately debates the merits of developing an eating disorder in a desperate attempt to be thin enough to be accepted, who only rejects the idea of suicide out of shame when she thinks about the size of her coffin ... somehow that got mistaken for Fat Shaming. But it isn't -- for many real life women walking around in the world right now, it's Reality.

Let me tell you, that's not what Fat Shaming is. Fat Shaming is what happens to real life people who experience real life moments just like those portrayed in that book. Fat Shaming is when you're in elementary school and you stop playing basketball with the kids on the next street because they won't stop asking if your morning vitamin is the Shamu kind. Once upon a time, that happened to me. Believe it or not, those words got wedged in between some fat rolls, and at 32 years old I can still hear those kids. But let me not be comedic or sarcastic here, right? Lest it be mistaken for shaming? Because it's okay if someone else talks to me that way, but not if I'm honest about how I talk to myself? About how millions of women have been taught to talk to themselves?

Fat Shaming is what causes little girls to start asking in middle school for a treadmill so they can try to slim down because they already think they're too fat to be worth anything, but they just have to suck it up and live with it because treadmills are costly and their overprotective family members hardly let them out of the house to do anything active. Fat Shaming is when you overhear those same family members whispering about how Fat you are and how sad it is that you can't wear a bikini (yep, that happened to me too). Fat Shaming is that cruel chiseling away of your self-worth, until you can stand in the mirror with disgust on your face, looking at your own body and literally talking yourself OUT of just slicing parts off, out of sheer desperation. That's not made up drama, it's Real. That's the hard truth of what runs through the minds of soft women.

Fat Shaming is the look you give a Fat person when you see them eating, no matter what it is, because you assume that all they ever do is eat and all they ever eat is junk. They see that look, just like you see their bodies.

Fat Shaming is NOT what most readers find between the covers of Fat Chance. Most readers cry with Cass because they feel the same way she does, they get angry on her behalf because they've dealt with assholes at work. They sympathize with her crush, with her shyness, and they pump their fists with her as she finally finds her self-worth, as she finally finds the strength to shut her critics down in the end. They laugh when she finally has enough confidence to stand up for herself, they cry when she breaks down, and they celebrate when she puts a negligee on and saunters her sexy, curvy ass out into that living room to show her man a damned fine time.

I know it's usually bad policy to address reviews you disagree with. It might even put you on one of those "authors behaving badly" lists. It might make people whisper in the back rooms of the internet book world about "drama" and "nonsense". It might make petty assholes leave bad reviews on books you haven't even released yet, just on principle. Personally, I usually abide by the concept of not responding to reviews out of respect for someone else's opinion being just as valid as mine ...

But you know what? I don't care this time. Here's the thing -- I can take a bad review. I can take someone saying the plot is a little slow (maybe it is), or that the men are too perfect in my books (duh, that's why we read those kinds, amiright?), or that you didn't like the characters, you don't feel my writing style, whatever. That's fine, I get it. I can't please all the people all the time. And thanks to a rough upbringing, I'm okay with that because I'm Pleased With Myself, and that's really ALL that counts for me in the end. I'm the one I have to live with, after all.

But I will NOT be mistaken for a Fat Shamer. I will NOT have Cass's story mutilated in that way by people who think I made up extreme scenes and dramatic circumstances that are overboard and unrealistic, just to make a quick buck on telling a story. And I am NOT afraid to "behave badly" in defense of a story that has made women send me private emails telling me how Cass's story turned their lives around and made them see something worthy in themselves that wasn't there before.

In fact, I'm so okay with not making a quick buck on Fat Chance that it is now FREE. Completely FREE. Not to Shame anyone, but to inspire and encourage.

Ahem. Dang, y'all, I just realized I was actually so frustrated I was breathing hard and my scowl was in full force. I guess I'm a little fired up over it, hmm? So I'm gonna take a break. I'm gonna go take a deep breath now, get some water and straighten out my RBF; but leave me a comment below* if you'd like to see more on this subject, because as you can see, I've got lots to say. I'd love your suggestions too, so feel free to tell me what body positive topics you'd like me to address in future posts, and we'll see where that leads us.

In the meantime, happy reading.

*(newsletter subscribers, click here to comment)*

Friday, February 19, 2016

Getting A Bit Personal

This was an eventful week!

Tuesday, I spent a whole hour chatting with Ms. Donna Wright, the interviewer at Hummingbird Place. We talked about books, muscles, hotties, Donna's dream job as arm candy, and the absolute and undeniable deliciousness that is Dwayne Johnson. We talked about some of my most secret ambitions, my upcoming appearances, and just a little touch of my upbringing. It was a great show, so if you missed it, please take a few minutes to check it out here.

Wednesday was my birthday. I'm thirty-two now, and while I know most people dread their birthdays and make a big fuss over getting older, I really thought this past year was a good one. Besides, thirty-two just doesn't bother me all that much, as it really doesn't feel entirely different from thirty-one to tell you the truth. I didn't wake up with many extra wrinkles that day, didn't wake up with many extra aches or pains. I'm still me. So naturally, I celebrated and ate entirely too much pineapple upside down cake. Did I feel totally overstuffed and a little sorry for eating such a huge piece? Yes. Yes, I did. Was it worth it? Yes. Yes, it was. And it was worth it again for lunch on Thursday.

Then today arrived, and today was a great day. It was the kind of great day that makes me feel totally thankful, since truly great days like this one are so rare for me. I suffer from cyclical depression on a pretty regular basis, so I need days like today to fuel me and give me something to live on when the bad days hit me. So this morning, I spent some time feeling useful as I coached another author through the process of beginning her own newsletter. After that, I met with my cousin for lunch at Applebee's, and we met a delightful server. She was a beautiful person, and I felt blessed that she chose to share some of her personal story with us. After lunch, Dana and I went treasure hunting for things to fill the beautiful gift baskets I'll be giving away at Romancing The Smokies. And when that was finished (these baskets are going to be so cute!), I went to my brother's house to squish his little bitty baby new munchkin. Isn't she adorable?? She's even cute when she cries.

Now I'm home again, hanging with my own little munchkins and enjoying the rest of the day. For me this means catching up on the new videos on my favorite YouTube channels in the quiet moments while my kids play, and one of those channels is called Ryan's Average Life. He's hilarious, not afraid to look like a dork, but also totally inspiring sometimes. So I look forward to his new videos on Fridays, and today was a good one. He talked about losing his virginity, which was absolutely hilarious and made me think maybe you'd like it if I shared a personal story with you.

On the spur of the moment, I posted to my various social media accounts asking for suggestions, and the first person to answer was my cousin Dana, who suggested I write about my best and worst qualities.

It's easy to talk about my best quality ... who can't think of their best qualities? But to narrow it down to one changes things. Is my best quality that I'm loyal? Maybe. Or is that I'm friendly? That I care about people? That I stand up for what I believe in? Is my best quality my courage, my sense of empathy, or maybe my soft heart? I don't know. I know that I have good qualities though, ones that make me smile at the woman looking back at me from the mirror.

Now the bad ones? That's different. We tend to have a harder time thinking of the bad qualities in ourselves sometimes, not wanting to face our flaws, our imperfections. But how can we improve otherwise? How can we grow if we aren't willing to see and admit those things that are "wrong" with us? So, in the spirit of honesty and growth, I'd like to share with you a few of my personal least favorite qualities.
  • I'm moody.
  • I grouch a lot.
  • I'm impatient.
I can also be overly sensitive, and these types of things sometimes leave me at risk of becoming an angry or bitter person -- which makes me less compassionate sometimes than I'd like to be. To make it worse, this is not only present in my treatment of others ... sometimes it has the greatest and most drastic effects on my treatment of myself.

I also tend to see the glass as being half-empty much more often than half-full.
I try hard to fight this though, and I'll often have little bouts of time where I make it a point to be publicly grateful by posting something every day that makes me happy or makes me feel blessed. I want to be a more positive person. I want to feel blessed every day, I want to be able to notice the good things more often than the bad. I want to be more patient. I want to be more consistently open to the blessings that surround me.

And so, in choosing to acknowledge some of my lesser qualities, I choose also to be aware of them in my daily life, to use that awareness to better myself, and to share what I learn sometimes with others who might take something personal from following my personal journey.

Tell me, what are your best and worst qualities? And what are you doing with them?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Ready for the BIG NEWS?

Cassaundra Keaton is the heroine of Fat Chance, the first book in the Kingsley Series -- and she can be either of two things depending on how you look at her.

On the one hand, she's depressing because she's depressed. She's an orphan raised largely in the foster system, battered by life and bullied relentlessly by her foster brother. She's lonely and sad, and she feels unbelievably fat and unattractive. Being inside her head, as you are when you read her first person perspective, can be a somewhat uncomfortable look behind the facade of someone struggling with the emotional burden of depression. Sometimes it's frustrating, sometimes you just want to shake her! Undeniably, sometimes you'll want to close the book and not pick it back up again, simply because it's hard to be inside the mind of such a sad person. I get it though, because I've been her. And I'll just about guarantee that in some ways, so have you. That's where the other side of her story comes in, because you see, Cass isn't just depressing.

For many women (at least, according to the reviews) Cass is also tremendously inspirational. Being inside of her mind allows you to see the blessings that keep her going: the foster mom who loves her, and the foster sisters who count her wholeheartedly as a member of their family. She has a decent job, and even though she may not be deliriously happy in the beginning, she's proud to be making her own way. Watch this beautiful flower bloom as she learns to accept herself, to love herself, and to finally believe in her own worth.

Only then can she accept the echo of that worth in the eyes of a handsome and loyal man who steps most unexpectedly into her life. Through this man, Cass grows in immeasurable ways, finds an inner strength she didn't realize she had, and finally learns to take a stand.

  • Here's a look back at why I wrote Cass, and what makes her such an important character.
  • You can find a guest post from Cass here.
  • In this post, you'll find a character interview of sorts, between Cass and myself.
  • You can find excerpts from Fat Chance here, here, and here.

And now, the big news: Fat Chance is now FREE on iTunes, Nook, Kobo, and Inktera/Page Foundry!! It'll be FREE on Amazon too, as soon as I can get them to price match it. (In the meantime, it's down to $0.99 there.)

Edited to add: Amazon has now price-matched the book!! Fat Chance is free everywhere!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Big News On The Horizon ...

It's been a busy week for me, and I've been turning over some new ideas lately. So for today, as I wait for the right time to break my big news, I thought I'd just give you a quick list of updates:
  • Eden's just about all healed from her surgery. She hasn't had her post-op checkup yet, but she's back to school, back to eating, back to sleeping through the night, and back to her usual chatty self. In most ways, it's a relief, and I'm so glad that she's healing well. (For those who wonder, my mother is back home and doing well too ... she thinks the new hip has improved her balance greatly.)
  • RTS is just barely more than a month away, and I am almost ready! I'm so excited and can't wait to meet some readers! And ... if you're a regular reader here and you plan to meet me at RTS, please let me know that you're a follower here. I may even have a special surprise in hand for you. 
  • Although I'm disappointed to not have Selkie II ready to bring with me to RTS due to the recent crazy events in my personal life, the story is still progressing beautifully and I am in love with the way it's all developing. If I wasn't in love with Annie and Malik before, I certainly am now!
Seriously, I'm dying to tell you the news, but I can't yet. So I'm just going to sign off for now ... but the big news WILL be in the next newsletter.

Happy Reading,

Friday, February 5, 2016

10 Apps That Keep Me Sane

Lately I've been loving my technology. January was a busy month with my mother having a partial hip replacement, my oldest daughter turning twelve, and my youngest daughter having her tonsils and adenoids removed. I'm still writing too, although my writing is much more sporadic than I'd like it to be, and I'm starting to pull things together for Romancing The Smokies! (psst! I only have one seat left at my table! Want it? Better hurry over here and register before it's too late.)

How do I manage it all?

Let me show you ...

Ten Apps That Keep Me Sane

01.) Jorte. This is a calendar/planner app that I use almost religiously. It reminds me to blog on the 4th days so that you hear from me on the 5th days. It reminds me to post on social media every so often. It helps me keep track of laundry day (so that I don't end up buried under mounds of clothes after waiting to do laundry when the girls and I run out of clothes), my bedclothes laundry day, appointments for myself and my kiddos, birthdays, and lots more. I love that it has little "stickers" I can use, that it allows me to color code my appointments and other plans, and that it has a customizable user interface. I can set the viewing panel to show daily, weekly, our monthly, and it has widgets that help keep me on track at a glance. This app has taken the place of the calendar section of what used to be my DIY paper planner (which I loved but didn't fit in my purse).

02.) Microsoft OneNote. This app has taken the place of all the other sections I had created in my DIY paper planner. OneNote is like a virtual notebook that never runs out of paper, and I love that I can erase mistakes without messing up my page. I have the app (and Jorte, too) installed only on what I refer to as my "work tablet," which lives in a notebook-like folio case and has a handy slimline stylus built right in. That and the handwriting keyboard allow me to have the textile feel of handwriting on paper without all the hassles of dead pens, running out of paper, messing up and having to contend with scribble marks, etc., etc. It also helps me to stay organized; OneNote allows you to have multiple notebooks, each of which is allowed to have multiple sections, each of which can have multiple pages. So in my  OneNote, for instance, I have a notebook for novel ideas. Each idea gets it's own "section," where I can then have separate pages for character names and info, scene ideas, plot thoughts, etc. I also have a notebook I use as a prayer journal, with prayer request sections and pages for various people. But my favorite use for this app is my bullet journal. Most people who love bullet journaling love it because it's organized for to-do listing and tracking other things, but I love it because it gives me organized chaos in my journaling habits. With a bullet journal, I'm not obligated to string my thoughts together in any way, and I also love that I can label different bullet styles, such as "quotes," and "movies to watch," and other things like that. Journaling helps me to keep a clear head and work through emotions that might otherwise build up and stress me out, so I love having a digital version that I can carry around with me at all times.

03.) Microsoft Word. This app allows me to write on the go. I've got it installed on my phone and I've used it that way several times, but my most favorite way to use it (aside from my laptop, of course) is my tablet. Like using OneNote for journaling I can use Word on my tablet to mimic the creative textile feel of writing with paper and pen, but the handwriting keyboard (yet another app) helps word to translate my handwriting into usual text. It's the best of both worlds ... I get to handwrite, but I have the convenience of everything being saved in a digital format complete with spellcheck and all the other perks.

04.) Facebook. I use this app not only for the social connection, but also as a portable newspaper. I follow CNN, Fox News, and several of my local news channels, as well as a few celebrities and some fellow authors. Most importantly, I use it as it was intended to be used: as a way to keep up with my friends and post quick updates, questions, or things I want to share with the people I care about. Writing is a solitary job though, in a lot of ways, so using Facebook to help keep my social life alive means a lot to me and probably keeps me from becoming some kind of weird hermit who never showers and doesn't know what the words "selfie" and "fleek" mean.

05.) Slacker Radio. Without music, I'm not sure life would be as worth it for me; listening to music is one of my favorite coping techniques, and Slacker makes sure that I'm never without something to listen to. The app is free to use, and with a paid subscription I can eliminate the annoyance of commercials, shut down the DJs, and play most music on demand. They have seasonal channels, lots of genres to choose from, and even (a few) news channels to listen to.

06.) YouTube. Sometimes, I just need to veg out and watch something funny, listen to something encouraging, or just relish the feeling of solidarity that comes from watching a badass chick help other chicks embrace their inner badassery. I love Joe Santagato because he's hilarious and Ryan Abe because he's funny but also beautifully soulful sometimes. I love Sarah Rae Vargas because she's a badass who inspires me to embrace my own inner badass, and Alayna Fenderr because when she's not making me think, she's making me laugh. I used to love Christian Collins (Weekly Chris) back when he first started YouTube because he was always uplifting and inspirational, but then he got popular and ... meh. Lately I've been getting to know Kendall Rae, and sometimes I'll just watch random stuff.

07.) HULU/WWE. I'm listing these as one app, because for me they both work together to serve one singular purpose: They keep me in touch with WWE wrestling, which has been an obsessive passion for me ever since I was a little girl. I'm not even kidding, you guys ... in recent years some of the legends I remember watching in my childhood years have begun to die off, and I've cried real tears for them. Last year I cried over Rowdy Roddy Piper and I totally broke down and wept over the lost of Dusty Rhodes. I watch now and see the legends I grew up loving brought out as novelties, and knowing that someday they won't be there anymore makes my heart hurt. In the meantime, I continue to fall in love with new talents, and professional entertainment wrestling remains something I love and respect with all of my heart.

08.) Clue. It's a lady tracker, for lady stuff. It keeps track of certain lady things and keeps me knowledgeable of my own ... stuff. It even has mathematical pattern predictions. And that's all I have to say about that.

09.) Chrome. This is my chosen web browser, and I love that when I use it on my laptop, phone or tablet, I can get to the tabs on one device that are open on another. It also helps me keep track of my favorite pages from one device to another, and is generally pretty seamless in functionality. I also love the incognito browser tab, not because I'm doing things I feel I need to hide, but because when I have chrome logged into my personal google account, I can easily use an incognito tab to log into my work google account. No signing out and then back in, just bring up an easy tab and do what needs to be done.

10.) JetPack JoyRide. Guys, seriously. I love that game. It's addictive enough to play for long periods of time, but pointless enough that if I need to turn it off suddenly tend a crying munchkin, run an errand, or deal with the urgent demands of daily life, I can drop it without being stressed.

And now I have to drop this, because my bitty one is crying upstairs. I can't wait til her throat is done healing and she's back to her usual cheerful self. Forgive me for typos, wish me luck, and I'll wish you Happy Reading.