Why I stand with #RomanceforRoe and #OurChoice

Photo by Roy Reyna via Pexels

Once upon a time there was a young girl who was raised to believe she could be whatever she wanted to be when she grew up.

As such, she worked hard, studied hard, made it into the college of her choice, and focused on achieving the goals that would allow her to pursue her dream career.

It wasn’t until she’d been out on her own for a few years that she began to notice some odd things. Mechanics and car salesmen treated her as though she were not capable of driving a car, much less making big purchase decisions without consulting with a male relative. The career she wanted was highly competitive and male-predominated, and she was frequently told she should try for something else, like being a teacher. She began running into young men with outdated ideas about the roles women should play, especially in relationships. She was offered salaries a fraction of that of her male cohorts, and many times they took all the credit for work she did as well.

She naively believed that the battle for women’s rights had been fought and won before her time.

Then she came across a fascinating book titled The Mercury Thirteen: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight. (If you haven’t read it, you should)

The Mercury Thirteen told the story of thirteen women–pilots and patriots who in many cases gave up their jobs and families for a chance to be one of the first US women in space. Despite their sacrifices, despite passing the same battery of advanced testing that the men of the Mercury 7 team passed, these women were shut out of the astronaut program by the boys club at NASA and Capitol Hill. That alone would have made for fascinating reading, but there was one statement that stood out among the others: at the time of the program, a woman in the US was incapable of opening a bank account, obtaining a credit card, or renting a car without the permission of a male relative.

The thing is, that wasn’t all that long ago. Neither was the passing of Roe v. Wade. Those battles that the young woman had assumed were over and done with had been fought by her grandparents and parents, not by some unknown agents in the mists of time. Those battles had been fought to grant her the choice of growing up to be whatever she wanted to be. It was just by luck that she’d entered into a world where choice was even an option for people such as her.

It’s all about choice. It’s about agency: over your life, over your finances, over your body.

Here’s the funny thing about civil rights. These battles aren’t something that you fight for and cease to worry about once that victory has been achieved. They are something that needs to be defended every single day or someone may try to take them away.

To that effect, I’m proud to stand with 35 other romance authors in offering stories as part of the Our Choice Anthology.

Says Jackie Barbosa, who spearheaded the Romance for Roe project, “The Supreme Court’s rejection of an emergency injunction against S.B. 8 (in Texas) means that abortion access is now in jeopardy in every state. As romance authors, we believe all people deserve happy endings, including pregnant people who decide to terminate a pregnancy for any reason. That’s why we are raising funds for PPFA and NARAL Pro Choice, leaders in the national legal fight to protect the reproductive rights of all Americans.”

Since Sept. 1, S.B. 8 has decimated abortion access in Texas, forcing the overwhelming majority of patients to either travel hundreds of miles out of state to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion. Politicians in Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, South Dakota, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, and Oklahoma are currently pushing “copycat bills” to their citizens of constitutionally protected rights—which disproportionately impacts women; Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color; members of the LGBTQ+ community; and those with lower incomes.

According to its website, Planned Parenthood and its litigating partners have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider intervention in the federal case against S.B. 8 brought by abortion providers, funds, and supporters, which won’t be heard by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals until December.

For all the details on how to donate and get your anthology, go to romanceforroe.com

Romance for Roe Fast Facts

  • 36 authors
  • 6,418 pages
  • 1.57 million words
  • 20 contemporary, 8 historical, and 8 speculative romances
  • 4 USA Today Bestselling authors
  • supporting two national charities
  • 100% donation based
  • Running for 9 months

 

Author and Anthology Fun Facts

  • 4 USA Today Bestselling authors contributed to the anthology: Zoe York, Eva Leigh, Susannah Nix, and Elizabeth Bright
  • There is a husband and wife team who both have romance stories in the anthology – Nico Rosso and Eva Leigh
  • The stories by Liz Crowe, Carrie Lomax, and Elizabeth Bright all feature a person having an abortion and living HEA (happily ever after – the defining feature of the romance genre); all three stories have also never been published before
  • Most of the stories are full length (>50,000 words or 200 page) novels, but there are also short stories and novellas
  • Nearly all of the stories are by Americans, but there are international authors from the UK and beyond
  • Not all romance authors are women – male and non-binary authors have also contributed stories
  • The anthology covers much of the spectrum of romance currently available, with gay, lesbian, poly, bisexual, and straight characters
  • The stories range from ‘sweet’ kisses-only to erotic. All the stories have their heat level listed, so readers can *choose* what they’d like to read.

 

FAQs

 

Q: What is Romance for Roe?

A: The Romance for Roe charity anthology project was organized by author Jackie Barbosa, with support and assistance from Eve Pendle, Zoe York, and Carrie Lomax. Participating authors responded to a call on social media to contribute a story to this charity anthology in late summer 2021.

Q: Who are the participating authors?

A: Please see the list at the bottom of the Home page.

Q: Is Romance for Roe a charitable organization under the U.S. tax code?

A: No. Do not send money to Romance for Roe; we are not a charitable organization, and it will not be accepted. Donate directly to the organization of your choice, PPFA or NARAL .

Q: What is your affiliation with PPFA and NARAL?

A: None. Romance for Roe has no legal relationship with either PPFA or NARAL Pro Choice America. The charity anthology is a voluntary collaboration organized by author Jackie Barbosa.

Q: What will I receive when I submit my donation receipt?

A: You will receive an email with a link to download the anthology via Bookfunnel. Bookfunnel is a paid vendor and is not affiliated with the Romance for Roe project, Planned Parenthood, or NARAL Pro Choice.

Q: Can I submit a donation receipt for other abortion funds?

A: Romance for Roe is supporting PPFA and NARAL at this time, to counter the legal threat to Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut. Other organizations are raising funds for direct abortion access, and we encourage you to support them if it is financially feasible for you.

Q: Who retains the copyright to the books?

A: Each contributing author retains all rights to their intellectual property.

Q: How do I get in touch with the Romance for Roe organizers?

A: You can contact Jackie Barbosa at romanceforroe@gmail.com.

Q: I donated and forwarded the receipt, but I haven’t got the download link. Help!

A: First check your spam folder. Most likely the receipt and reply with the download link are there. If you received two receipts, please try the other one. If it still doesn’t work, please contact us directly and we’ll try to sort it out.

Q: I donated $10 cash in person / have a photograph/scan of the receipt, can I still get the ebook?

A: Unfortunately not. We’re only able to process digital donations at this time.

Q: Can I buy the ebook from my preferred book retailer?

A: Retailers take a cut of 30 – 65% of the price of all books they sell and charge a download fee dependent on the size of book, but we wanted all the money you donate to go towards increasing access to abortion. Therefore, we are not making this available on retailers.

Q: Will there be a paperback of this anthology?

A: There would need to be about 15 large volumes for the anthology to be in paper, so we don’t feel that’s feasible. Sorry!

 

Whoa, that’s a LOT of stories! I hope you’ll join me and these talented storytellers in raising money to support the defense of a person’s right to choose.

Cozy Mystery Bookish Event Oct 5-14 2021 #CozyMystery #Giveaway

Woot! I’m so thrilled to be participating in the 2021 Cozy Mystery Bookish Event at N.N. Light’s Book Heaven! What with Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp going down, and even some other social media sites, such Twitter and TikTok struggling to keep up, I hope I can get the word out!

It’s simple: check out the Rafflecopter and enter to win your chance at a $25 Amazon Gift Card! Along the way, you’ll find a lot of wonderful cozy mysteries waiting to be explored, including An Embarrassment of Itches by yours truly, writing as M.K. Dean.

When An Embarrassment of Itches was reviewed at N.N. Light’s Book Heaven, they said, “M.K. Dean weaves a brilliantly written cozy mystery and An Embarrassment of Itches kept me guessing until the very end. If you’re a pet lover who loves cozy mysteries, you’ll thoroughly enjoy An Embarrassment of Itches. If you’re a fan of cozy mysteries, you’ll love An Embarrassment of Itches. If pet lovers’ cozy mysteries are your reading jam, pick up An Embarrassment of Itches and start reading. I can’t wait for the next installment in this highly inventive cozy mystery series. Highly recommend!”

Here’s the Rafflecopter to get you started!

 

 

Teaching Yourself New Tricks: Advice from an Old Dog Trainer

The other day I was complaining to a group of friends how frustrated I was with my journey to better health. That I was so frazzled and stressed that even the smallest things seemed impossible. That I was so angry at how much I’d had sacrificed and given up in the last few years that I resisted like hell when asked to give up anything else. How exhausted I was all the time, and how this impacted my ability to make good personal decisions when all my energy for good decision-making was reserved for work.

I begged for their support. I was hoping for some other bit of miraculous advice, the perfect diet plan that would allow me to shed twenty pounds in two days, feel AMAZING with just some small tweaks in my routine, and take at least twenty years off my appearance. Okay, not really. But certainly that’s the expectation we have when starting any new ‘clean up your act’ plan. Miracles in 21 days or your money back.

The response I got startled me.

One of my friends said, “You wouldn’t expect a reactive dog to make huge improvements overnight. Why do you expect the same for yourself?”

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a reactive dog is one who over-reacts to things in its environment. This kind of behavior can be hard-wired into the dog through genetics (certain breeds, especially the working and herding dogs, have been bred to respond to certain situations and stimuli, and can be more reactive as a result), through poor socialization (not having seen enough different things as a young pup, which makes the whole world an intense place), or from a terrifying incident–like getting attacked.

Reactive dogs are tough to live with because almost everything sets them off: movement, sound, certain situations. They lunge and bark in public spaces, making them difficult to walk. The tendency is to keep them home, which makes the problem worse, especially if you stop having people come over. The risk of a reactive dog biting someone is high because their displays are often fear-based, and if you can’t calm them down, their response is disproportionate to the stimuli.

I’ve had two reactive dogs, so I’ve had to learn a lot about managing them.

The first was Abbey, a female German Shepherd that came from bloodlines that featured a lot of Schutzhund champions. Schutzhund is a dog sport that tests a dog’s performance during tracking, obedience, and protection work. That is not to say that a Schutzhund dog can’t make a great family pet, but the sport does prize drive as a characteristic, and reactivity can be a consequence of high drive.

Abbey would have probably been a tough-but-manageable dog had she not had a horrific experience. When she was about three years old, we were out walking after a heavy snowstorm. My neighbors had a litter of adult mixed-breed shepherds that lived in a pen with little human interaction. On this day for the first time ever, they decided to let their unsocialized, untrained dogs loose to play in the snow. Four dogs all about Abbey’s size jumped us as a pack with the intent of killing her.

Had it not been for the excessive snow, they probably would have. Abbey dove under the snow pack while I waded into the mass of dogs, screeching like a banshee, grabbing dogs by the scruff and slinging them across the yard. Their owners came charging out of the house to collect their dogs–with never a word of apology or to see if me or my dog had been injured, mind you.

And after that, if Abbey saw a dog even 100 yards away, she went into an impressive display of barking and growling, pawing the air while I held her back by the collar. Going for a walk was no longer fun. We were like victims of assault, constantly looking over our shoulders for another attack. Abbey thought a good offense was the best defense. She even reacted on garbage days when people set their trash cans on the curb. Whatever was new and different in her environment was grounds for being defensive.

Over the next three or four years I worked on her behavior, taking “aggressive” dog classes, working with trainers and behaviorists. It wasn’t until one such trainer helped me to see that she was over-reacting out of fear that I was able to start managing her better. In the end, we were able to safely introduce her to strange dogs, and pass another dog-walker on a six-foot-wide trail without her blinking an eye.

But it didn’t happen overnight.

When I got my next reactive dog, Sampson, I had a better handle on what to do. I’d made sure Sampson had been well-socialized as a puppy, but his problem was he had a strong prey drive. If it moved, it lit him up. I could always tell when he wasn’t getting enough exercise because he’d flinch if a car or a jogger passed us while we were out walking. I’d have to take him to the side of the trail if we met someone on a hike and ask him to sit while I fed him treats. This required me to be hyper-vigilant, always scanning our environment for something he might react to and heading off that reaction before it occurred. Fortunately, he was very food-motivated, and eventually it got to the point when he saw the jogger, the cyclist, the car, etc, he’d flip around, plant himself in front of me, and stare at me while drool streamed out of his mouth.

A wonderful dog, but not easy to live with.

I bring this up because much like all worthwhile things in life, retraining a reactive dog is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires patience, dedication, and consistency to see results. You can’t decide that this time, you won’t reinforce the behavior you want while discouraging the behavior you don’t want. The results matter because not following through will lead to a lifetime of trying to prevent your hysterical dog from hurting himself or someone else. Not to mention it is horrible to live in a state of such anxiety all the time.

And at no point did I tell either of my dogs they were fat, lazy, or stupid for behaving the way they did. I didn’t scream at them. I didn’t tell them they were ugly. I didn’t set them up to fail. I didn’t ask them to do something not very much fun without providing some kind of reward to make it worth their while. I didn’t expect them to get it right 100% of the time, either. I accepted anything that moved in the right direction until it became a consistent habit and I could ask for a little bit more. I acknowledged that if they got it wrong, I was usually to blame because I wasn’t paying attention.

Why would I treat myself–and the changes I want to make in my life–with any less patience and compassion?

I shouldn’t. And neither should you.

So remember the tenants of dog training when it comes to yourself and the changes you want to make in your life:

  1. Set yourself up to succeed. Look ahead for the triggers and plan redirects around them.
  2. Calmly and firmly tell yourself no when faced with a decision that isn’t good for you (like walking into the break room and discovering boxes of doughnuts from the best bakery in town). Be sure to reward yourself for making the right decision. This is critical! You’ll have to figure out what your “high-value treats” are. Try not to trade one bad habit for another (i.e. you’re trying to quit smoking so you’re eating lots of cookies, or you’re spending too much money shopping online).
  3. Be patient. You’re in this for the long-haul. Getting ten little things right can be set back by getting one major thing wrong, but getting something wrong isn’t the end of the world. Just do better next time.
  4. Remember that you’re making changes for a reason. Failure to stick with it has consequences. Failing to train your reactive dog may result in your dog biting someone or getting into a serious dogfight with injuries. Failure to make needed changes in your life may result in further damage to your mental and physical health.
  5. Remember that some of the behaviors you’re dealing with may have their roots in past trauma. I never blamed Abbey for over-reacting to the sight of strange dogs–we both could have died on that snowy day! Be kind to your wounded self too.
  6. Learn from your mistakes. Failure to plan is planning to fail. I wouldn’t leave the house without a treat bag full of high-value tidbits to distract my dog in certain situations. I also learned to recognize which situations were too overwhelming for her to start, and adjusted our interactions as a result. Identify your triggers and challenging situations and plan accordingly.
  7. Accept that it is up to you to affect the changes you want to see, and that you can’t necessarily expect help from others. When you’re out walking a reactive dog, you have zero control over what other people are doing with their dogs, or on skateboards, or with kids in strollers, etc. It is up to YOU to take yourself and your dog out of a situation that you suspect will be triggering. Same if you’re trying to alter your habits (be it food, alcohol, drugs, swearing, or a pervasive need to sing Disney songs, whatever). You cannot expect others around you to create a safe zone for you. Accept responsibility for your own life.
  8. Ask for help and support. Wait, what? Doesn’t that contradict the last rule? No, not really. Training a reactive dog will fail if some members of the house refuse to support the training efforts. It isn’t reasonable or fair to expect the world at large to cooperate with your efforts to make change, but it is reasonable to ask for help from those in your immediate circle. It’s okay to admit that a house full of cookies (or alcohol or Chez Doodles, whatever your poison) proves to be too hard to resist. You can sit your family down and explain that you have to make changes in order to improve the quality of your life, and while you’re not asking that everyone follow the same strictures you might be making for your personal health (for example, going dairy-free), you are going to need to set limits on how much of the high-temptation food is in the house, and that when choosing to eat out, preference be given to a restaurant that has more options than pizza or burgers. It isn’t wrong to ask for this kind of support, particularly in the early stages of change when you are trying to get a handle on it. You wouldn’t take a reactive dog to a dog park until you’d learned how to manage their reactivity in public. A dog park is too much for many dogs, not just reactive ones! You start out with smaller, quieter walks until you know how to manage your dog in more stimulating situations. So if you’re trying to affect change in eating habits, perhaps eating out with the family isn’t the best choice at first.
  9. Consider professional help. Sure, you’ve been training dogs (or feeding yourself, or dealing with your own issues) all your life. But sometimes you need the help of a trained professional to manage a specific issue. Sometimes that reactive dog needs medication to calm down to the point it can listen appropriately to your training. You might need therapy to deal with old wounds. Perhaps your current methods of coping, which come with consequences, have their roots in previous trauma, and you won’t really effect change until you figure out how to heal from that.
  10. Give yourself credit for the changes and improvements you make. They may not seem like much at first, but don’t discount them! A baby step in the right direction is still a step in the right direction. Eventually, you will no longer be satisfied with baby steps, and you’ll be able to continue pushing forward. Six months or a year from now, you’ll look back in astonishment at how far you’ve come.

So there you have it: why training yourself is no different from training your dog. If your dog slips its collar and runs off, you wouldn’t beat your dog for finally coming to you when you called it, would you? No, you wouldn’t–or you shouldn’t, at any rate.

Then stop beating yourself up for returning to the path you want after briefly straying from it. You can teach an old dog new tricks.

DYI Salon Nails at Home

First, I need to start this post off by saying I am NOT affiliated with any of the companies whose products are mentioned here today. I’m just a gal who loves nail polish and thought I’d share my experiences with different brands.

But you could sum up my love of nail polish–and horses–in this OPI commercial.

 

I’m not one of these people who is supremely talented with nail art. I’m also hard on my hands, and the day job prevents me from wearing my nails too long. To be honest, it’s hard for me to grow my nails out very long these days, which is probably just as well for a writer as well as a horsewoman.

But that means I need nail polish that lasts.

If you’re interested in what I do for nail health, I’ve posted about it here. In that post, I mention that when the pandemic struck, I stopped going for my monthly manicure at the nail salon. (I stopped everything: haircuts, doctor’s appointments, going to the grocery store… I got everything I needed online and if I couldn’t get it that way, I did without.)

After a year of going nail-polish free, I realized I’d broken my nail salon addiction. I no longer felt I could afford either the time or the cost of getting my nails professionally done. And to be honest, of all the things I gave up in 2020, going to get my nails done was the least traumatic to lose. Besides, you can’t check your O2 levels with a finger pulse oximeter while wearing most nail polishes.

But gradually, the urge to paint my nails returned. Painting my nails is a form of self-care. In times when we’ve had to sacrifice so much for so long, I’m not going to apologize for a little self-indulgence.

I went back to my old standby, Live Love Polish first. Sadly, after over a year of abandoning my shades for salon manis, most of my LLP colors were too old and tacky to be revived. I discovered that the site has moved away from selling any polish but their own brand, which is understandable, but I missed the variety they used to offer, particularly when it came to thermal nail polishes. I adore Rothko Red, and was sad to see LLP no longer carried it, but fortunately, I was able to find it elsewhere online. Thermal nail polishes are so much fun! They are color sensitive, like mood rings, so the tips of your nails are often darker than the beds. The color changes dependent on temperature, so I’ve seen my nails go from one shade on a cold morning walk to another after washing your hands in hot water. So much fun!

LLP still has some other fun polishes–most notably, their magnetic series. You paint your nails in black for a base color, then paint the magnetic shade of your choice over it. (My personal favorite is Siamese, but I don’t see it on their site anymore). Before the polish dries, you hold a magnet over the nail, which aligns the metal flecks in the polish to cause a linear area of refraction. The effect is similar to a tiger’s eye stone, very cool!

But neither polish is great in the longevity department. I don’t know about you, but I resent spending a significant period of time painting nails, waiting for them to dry, doing a second or third coat, more drying time, and then a top coat as well… only to have the edges wear or chip within 24 hours. That’s no fun! Gel polishes seemed to last a little longer, but no where near the promised two weeks touted by the companies.

So I began exploring other options. You’ll see a lot of those on Facebook and Instagram! The two that appealed to me the most were ColorStreet and Nailboo

ColorStreet is a system that has you apply strips of real nail polish to your nails. (No, I don’t understand how they do that!)

What I like about ColorStreet is that I can create some of the fun nail art designs I’ve seen online by using their clear overlays on top of a base coat polish. I found the application a wee bit challenging at first, and I would strongly advise watching the videos for tips. Do NOT apply strips to your thumbnails until you’ve done the others because you need your thumbs to shape the color strip around your nails. And be absolutely sure to apply a top coat of clear polish!! I didn’t do that the first time and was disappointed at how quickly the color began to peel as a result. There are other useful tips to know as well–such as using a flat iron or other such device to reseal your packages once you open them to save for future use–I’m afraid I wasted quite a bit of my first package as a result of not knowing these things in advance.

The end result? I really like some of their patterned designs (and am saving them for special occasions, such as Halloween, or the next time I go to a book convention) and the color lasts longer than your standard nail polish (even premium brands such as OPI) but I didn’t find ColorStreet to be cost effective for me, and the application can be a little finickity. Don’t be in a hurry!

But this sheet color Dallas Darling (since discontinued) came out nicely, don’t you think?

But then I discovered Nailboo. I have to say, I am in LOVE. It’s basically the SNS powder system I enjoyed when I was getting my nails done at a salon and it’s SO EASY. I’m going to attempt a little video later today. If I am successful, I’ll link it here. But the short version is not only is the Nailboo system easy to use, but the nail polish is incredibly durable too. Cost-wise you are paying more for the system than the others, but the ease of use and the durability makes up for it, in my opinion. So far, I’ve maintained a shade for two weeks without major issues, aside from twice I’ve had the entire polish pop off the nail in one piece (much like a fake nail) when I hit my hand wrong about a week post polishing. No big deal. I just reapplied the powder and it matched the others like I’d just done them all.

A couple of tips:

  1. Apply the base coat carefully. This is the coat that you use for the building powder, as well as the color powders. If you’re messy when you apply it, you’ll wind up with powder adhering where you don’t want it. Once I’m applying the actual color, I don’t take the base coat to the side edges of my nails, as this can result in a ridge of buildup that needs to be filed down, or you can get too thick a coating.
  2. Use the little brush provided to dust off the powder between applications, but just lightly brush over the nail or you can smudge up the powder. Be sure to use the cleaner to clean the brush afterward or you’ll end up with clumps of polish gumming the whole thing together.
  3. When the instructions suggest waiting two minutes between applying the activator coat and any next steps, wait five instead. You’ll thank me for it later.
  4. After I apply the first coat of color powder, I don’t take any subsequent coats all the way to my nail bed. This tend to build up a thick edge that will catch on your hair and clothing a week or so later, and make it easier to pull the paint off. I try to taper the color application here as a result.
  5. When the instructions tell you to buff and file the nails before applying the top coat, DO IT. Don’t be shy about buffing that surface. If you don’t, you won’t get that highly desirable glossy shine with the top coat because the color coat will be too rough.

The whole thing takes about twenty minutes to do both hands, even with the wait times. Seriously, the more you do it, the faster you’ll get as well. Here’s Ocean Blue before the final buffing and top coat. There were some thick areas of powder buildup where more stuck to the nail than was supposed too–I suspect I put too much base coat on. But it filed down without issue.

And here’s the final result. Pretty snazzy, eh? Honestly, it’s like getting salon nails done for a fraction of the time and price. What I paid for a Nailboo starter kit was the equivalent to a single trip to the salon. I have no idea how long a jar of powder will last, but I suspect I’ll get at least four or five treatments from one jar. Maybe more. My only con for Nailboo is that so far, their color palette is somewhat limited. But I think that will expand as the product catches on!

 

I’m curious: what do you do as a form of self care? 

 

 

Compassion Fatigue: or Why I Didn’t Share Your Post

 

TW/CW for sad things tugging on your heartstrings.

 

 

 

The other day during work I got an email from an acquaintance. A shelter in the neighboring county had posted an urgent notice: they’d been inundated with puppies during the past week and if they didn’t find homes for them by the end of business hours that day, they would have to euthanize them.

Did I know of anyone who wanted a puppy? Like right now? Immediately.

I wracked my brains but couldn’t come up with anyone on the fly.

“Send me the link and I’ll share it when I can,” I offered as a stopgap before delving back into work.

But ultimately, I didn’t share the link. Let me tell you why.

You see, something about that urgent request to spend compassion currency that I have in dwindling supply broke me just a little.

I have to reiterate: it was puppies. Puppies that needed homes right away or they would die. But for the first time ever, getting hit with such a request rang the resentment buzzer instead of the compassion bell.

Whoa. Hold up there. Resenting an impassioned plea to help save at least one or two puppies? Doesn’t that make me some kind of Cruella de Vil?

Sure, I couldn’t do anything directly to save the puppies. But I could share the link, right? How much energy could that possibly take? How could I refuse to put out the word?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. For starters, there was the link itself, which felt very “click-baity” when I read it. “Help us! Puppies will die if you don’t come TODAY!”

Believe me, I know there is probably someone on the other end of that post, hoping against hope that they don’t have to perform the soul-destroying task of euthanizing healthy puppies because some irresponsible person let their dog have them without any intention of raising them and finding homes for them. And my heart breaks for that shelter worker. I know their pain is real, even if they couched their request like so many other posts begging for help.

But practically speaking, by the time I’d put out the half-a dozen or so fires at my job, which also requires a great deal of compassion, it was so late in the day that my sharing the post would have been too late for that litter of puppies. Perhaps it could have raised awareness for someone else out there looking for a puppy that they should check out the shelter, but the puppies in question? Too late.

And that’s when I realized that my compassion bank account was dangerously low.

Because every day we’re hit up with thousands of similar requests. GoFundMe accounts for medical or funeral expenses shared by our friends. Political organizations playing off our justifiable outrage over some restrictive measure that’s just been enacted, and if we don’t donate NOW, warning of the Bad Things coming our way. Just causes demanding we take action. Global catastrophes begging for our financial support. Legal funds for kids in cages, ripped from their families. Egregious acts of racism that deserve investigation and some kind of response. Missing children on milk cartons needing to be identified. And so on.

And yes, I realize that I’m speaking from a place of great privilege because I’m not the one begging for help paying my bills or needing someone to rescue me from having to perform a heartbreaking task.

I think of myself as a compassionate person. Professions that demand compassion tend to attract empathetic people, and I chose my career path years ago because I had compassion to spare. I donate generously to things I believe in because I usually don’t have the time to volunteer in person. I spent years serving as a caretaker to my father because it was my mother’s wish that he be able to stay at home rather than enter an advanced care facility. I trap, neuter, and vaccinate the stray cats that show up around my house on my own dime, finding homes for those that can be tamed and going to ridiculous lengths to take care of the remaining ones (see the expensive catio that I built for these furry freeloaders). I cried when the annoying trash panda, whom I caught three times before trapping the mean tom (who hisses and spits at me every day, despite being nursed back to health), got hit by a car.

I share things. The post about the homeless trans teen who needs help. The post from an internet acquaintance who needs help paying for her cat’s surgery. The posts about fundraisers, many of which I contribute to myself. The posts about organizations raising money to deal with the aftermaths of flooding, fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes. The posts where some mother is asking for likes to show her son or daughter how beautiful they are. I comment with sympathy on the posts of total strangers who have experienced a great loss.

My lack of willingness to share the post about the puppies, and the resentment the request generated, tells me I must draw the line somewhere. None of us are designed with endless wells of compassion. To mix metaphors, we can’t keep overdrawing our compassion accounts to spend on things out of our control. The constant withdrawal of coins to spend on people we don’t know will bankrupt us.

I’m not Cruella de Vil.

I have compassion fatigue.

Put another way, if I’d found a box of puppies myself, I would have taken them into my home. I would have had them vaccinated and dewormed, and tried my best to find homes for them all, while at the same time, trying to socialize them and instill some manners in order to make them the best possible candidates for adoption.

If the local shelter had a fundraiser, I’d volunteer my time, donate some money, and if I couldn’t do either of the above, I’d share the post about it. I’d probably share the post regardless, but in terms of doing something, sharing is the last on the list. I’ve said it before, but sharing posts without taking action is little more than virtue-signaling. It might make you feel good, but for the most part it accomplishes very little.

I wrote a bit about my struggles with social media in general a few weeks ago, and how I think SM breaks are necessary for our mental health. In that post, I mentioned this metafilter thread that my husband had shared with me: What’s Mine to care about and what’s NOT MINE to care about. The original post cited, as well as the discussion thread it generated, is well-worth reading. In the OP, If You Can’t Take In Anymore, There’s a Reason, the poster refers to the need for an emotional circuit breaker because our minds and hearts aren’t wired to care about everything that’s on fire all over the world at the same time, and if we don’t flip that breaker, our whole house will burn down.

I couldn’t agree more. So like the OP, I recommend you pick one fire to put out at a time, and you concentrate on the fire that threatens the things you care about the most. Battle that fire with all your heart and resources. Fight the fire you think you have the best chance of helping to contain, or the one that is the most pressing to you because it’s in your backyard. You can help fight a fire halfway across the world, if that’s the fire that’s important to you, but you can’t squander your limited resources on trying to fight them all.

Because if 101 Dalmatians show up at your doorstep looking for a ride home, you want to have enough compassion in the bank to get them there.

And perhaps if I wasn’t staring down at a compassion overdraft notice, I would have shared the post about the puppies after all. Because that is the sort of thing I care about.

Love a Good Cozy Mystery? Check out these deals!

Do you like cozy mysteries? I know I do! There’s something so satisfying and calming about reading them. Yes, they are not without their suspense, but you’re pretty sure no one you like is going to get killed, and all the killing is usually discreetly offstage. The fun of reading them lies in the puzzle itself, and how our intrepid amateur sleuth is going to solve it. Extra points if there’s food, craft, or pets involved. Like a paranormal twist? Cozies have those too! Your fearless sleuth might also be a witch, or a fae, or a psychic.

I’ve joined with 26 other authors to offer a promotional deal for a limited time: all you have to do is sign up for the author’s newsletter to claim your particular prize! In my case, you get the first chapter of An Embarrassment of Itches–if you enjoy it, you can grab the whole book for just 99 cents! But this deal ends in 5 days, so grab your copy now!

Is it Time to kiss Social Media Goodbye?

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

More and more people I know are discussing leaving social media altogether. Divorcing themselves from Facebook, Twitter, and even the relatively happy place, Instagram.

I’m not surprised, to be honest. Social media has become a toxic swamp, weaponized by those forces wishing to polarize populations and bring countries to their knees. Think I’m exaggerating? Remember the huge hate the latest trilogy of Star Wars movies received from supposed fanboys who hated the fact none of the leads were young, white men?

Welp, a post by Wired in 2018 revealed that as much as half the negative tweets about the film were politically motivated or generated by bots (a storyline worthy of the franchise itself, if you ask me).

It’s not just polarizing people over issues such as diversity and inclusiveness. Social media has become the place most people get their information these days, and the amount of disinformation out there, aimed at creating divisiveness at best and destroying nations at worst, is scary. I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist, but when I see well-educated people in the medical profession or education supporting unverified, crazy theories over statistically-backed scientific reports, I’m concerned, let me tell you.

On a personal level, I find the damage it causes something else altogether. We’ve become addicted to doomscrolling, and because clicks are king, media outlets are creating provocative headlines designed to keep us in a perpetual state of outrage. My husband and I had a conversation about this the other day, and I think for many of us, we share these anger-inducing posts because it’s the bare minimum we can do. Most of us don’t have the time, energy, or resources to do anything other than share the outrage because we think people should be angry and upset over these important issues.

(Don’t get me started on the data mining these platforms do… how creepy is it that my husband and I talk about buying a new mattress and shortly thereafter, our feeds get flooded with mattress adverts??)

But the truth of the matter is not only is sharing bad news (and OMG, there’s SO much of it these days) completely worthless in terms of doing something about it, there may be great harm in doing so as well. It fosters a sense of hopelessness about our ability to change anything: from the impending climate disasters, to voter suppression and the march to invalidate any election results the opposition doesn’t like, from politicians who get vaccinated themselves, but tell their constituents Covid-19 is nothing to worry about, so don’t bother with vaccines and oh, by the way, get back to work, please. And when we get sucked into a state of despair and cynicism, then we stop trying to make a difference where we can.

My husband shared this great metafilter discussion thread with me, and I’m sharing it here with you: What’s MINE to care about and what’s NOT MINE to care about. It has some great things to say about limiting your anxiety over the things for which you have no control and what to do about the things you can affect. That you can’t fight all the battles in the world, but you can’t opt out of fighting any. And if all you’re doing is sharing outrage posts, how is that different from virtue signaling? The metafilter discussion was in reference to this post here, which points out we are not designed to handle all the suffering in the world, and that circuit breakers exist for a reason: to prevent electrical systems from overloading.

My friends, the majority of whom I met online, are moving off social media and onto other, smaller platforms, such as WhatsApp and Discord. The main reason? To keep up with each other during the day but avoid getting sucked into the mire of disinformation and ugly rhetoric out there. I can’t say as I blame them. I’ve taken Facebook off my phone. I’m considering eliminating Twitter next. Some of my friends have taken things one step further: they’ve deleted their accounts.

I confess, the idea of doing that fills me with a sense of dread. I’m a writer. I’ve been told over and over again that I must have a presence on social media. And without the backing of a Big Name Publisher, I suspect this is true. I need to keep hustling to remind people my stories exist, to build a newsletter following, to manage groups, to post regularly to all my platforms, to stand on the deck of the Ark amidst limitless seas, releasing doves again and again in the hopes of one of them eventually bringing back signs of dry land out there.

To consider eliminating my social media presence feels a bit like giving up. Like accepting that I’ll never be more than a small potatoes writer releasing a handful of French fries once a year. So maybe I won’t delete my accounts.

But I can be a better steward of them.

You want fries with that?

Photo by Dzenina Lukac from Pexels

Bishop’s Gambit on sale for a limited time!

Hey! To celebrate the recent honors for Bishop’ Gambit, for a limited time you can grab this story for just 99 cents! Bishop’s Gambit recently placed Second in the 2021 Daphne du Maurier Awards for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense and placed Second in the 2021 PRISM Awards for Light Paranormal Romance.

They’re back and the fun–and trouble–is just beginning! Join Bishop and Knight as they must pose as a married couple to root out the strange disturbances occurring in an upscale suburban neighborhood! 

Bishop’s Gambit (Redclaw Origins Book 2)

Newly-minted secret agent Rhett Bishop would rather face down a horde of angry wolf shifters or her father’s former mob contacts than accept her current assignment: pose undercover as a suburban housewife, complete with a husband, slippers, and pipe.

But after the debacle of her previous mission, Rhett has a lot to prove.

To redeem herself in the eyes of Redclaw Security, and to carry out her mission without distractions, she must table her budding relationship with Peter Knight while the two of them uncover the secrets of Forest Grove.

Armed with her trusty ray gun, her unique little dog, and Knight’s brains, Rhett is confident she can handle whatever the suburbs can throw at her.

Until they lob a curveball.

Bishop’s Gambit was also named a Top Pick by The Romance Reviews!

Kirkus Reviews describes as “thoroughly entertaining and witty, with a nicely judged mix of genres.”

Available from Amazon and these other retailers.

Sale ends soon so grab your copy ASAP!

What do Romances and Mysteries Have in Common?

The other evening I popped into an online book discussion group being held by the Carnegie Library, hosted by Jennie Ellis. I only found out about the book club at the last moment, and joined because while I hadn’t read the featured book, I had read other books by the author, Julia Buckley, and she was going to be present.

What ensued was a delightful hour in which Ms. Buckley described her writing process, and how she came to create her various series, including the Hungarian Tea House Mysteries. She also fielded questions about the publishing industry, her past projects, and what to expect from her in the future.

Toward the end of the discussion, the subject of cozy mysteries in general came up. I lamented that many publishing houses had dropped their cozy lines, and the consensus was this was an inexplicable decision on their part because like romance readers, cozy readers are voracious.

That got me to thinking about the other ways in which romance and mysteries have commonalities, and it occurred to me during the discussion that one of the biggest things the two genres have in common is their contract with the reader.

There’s only one hard-and-fast rule in Romance: there must be a happily ever after (HEA) or at the least, a happily for now (HFN). That means that no matter what happened during the course of the story, we should have either a declaration of commitment between the couple or some indication they are going to be together in the future. It does not mean there must be a baby in the epilogue, though this is an addendum many authors and readers enjoy. It also doesn’t mean that the entire story must be fluffy and light without any angst or difficult storylines. Sometimes the reward of the HEA is all the sweeter for the suffering that took place before reaching that point.

I was having this discussion with my husband this morning, and he brought up (on cue) Romeo and Juliet. Everyone brings up R&J! Shakespeare’s play is not a romance but a tragedy. I went on to say that one of the reasons people take exception to Nicholas Sparks’ books being labeled as romances is the frequent lack of a HEA. Romances have ONE rule.

“Okay,” my husband said, “but what if the purpose of breaking the contract is to get you to look at something from another point of view?”

“Then categorize it as something else,” I countered. “Put it like this: suppose you bought a sci-fi story based on the cover and the blurb. You had every expectation of reading a military space opera based on these things, but instead, you get a romance. You’d be disappointed, especially if you were in the mood for something different.”

“But the Murderbot books aren’t just science fiction,” he offered. “They explore relationships, what it means to have friends, to be human.”

“Themes science fiction explores all the time. Romance has one rule. HEA. How you get there can vary in a million different ways but you have to get there.”

Which brings me to the rule I believe mysteries–or at least cozy mysteries–have: justice will be served.

Like romances, the route at which you arrive at justice can take many forms. I can recall reading an old Ellery Queen novel once in which Ellery figured out who the killer was, but for various reasons, couldn’t go forward with the conviction. At the time, the ending enraged me so much, I threw the book across the room. As a much older and wiser person, I can see the ending made sense, and that the authors had not broken their contract with me, the way I thought they did when I read the story.

It was the frustration of my expectations that angered me so much when I read that story.

The contract should be sacred in my book.

In a mystery, you’re presented with a crime of some sort (not necessarily a murder, but that is often the case). There may be a romance as well–certainly I was more invested in Lord Peter Wimsey’s investigations when they included Harriet Vane–but the romance isn’t central to the story. The central story is the puzzle, the “whodunnit”, behind the shady activity. A mystery writer should make all the clues available to the reader as well, not holding back vital information that the sleuth has access to but the reader does not. It’s part of the deal: providing enough information for the reader to connect the dots while hopefully obscuring the solution until the very end. 

The one rule of mystery? The good guys win.

I think this is why the mystery genre has its devoted following. It’s the same concept as it is with romance: you have certain expectations when you enter into the story. You picked up the story because you were in the mood for something specific. Perhaps you chose a romance because needed to hear that love conquers all. Or perhaps you went with a mystery because you needed to believe that crooked bad guys would someday get their comeuppance.

When I choose to read genre fiction, I do so because I want a certain kind of story with expectations of it ending in a certain way. Let me tell you, with the stresses I’ve been under the past few years, I select my entertainment carefully these days. I don’t read as much sci-fi as I used to because the storylines are often darker and less likely to end well. Am I coddling myself a bit right now? You bet. At some point, when life doesn’t hurt so much, when my mental health is more stable, I’m sure I will go back to stories and movies with darker themes.

While I fully believe there’s a place for having your beliefs challenged, or your insight expanded, I think that can still be done within the confines of a contract if you’re writing genre fiction. Not writing genre fiction? The sky’s the limit! Torture your protagonists! Throw them off a cliff. Let the bad guys win.

But call it something other than romance if your story ends in sorrow, and something other than mystery if the murder is never solved. Your readers will thank you.

Ooops! I Accidentally Published a Book!

You may have heard that owing to a blunder on my part while trying to upload my first cozy mystery for pre-order, I accidentally launched it instead!

My mistake is your gift, however! An Embarrassment of Itches, (Ginny Reese Mysteries Book 1) is now available for only 99 cents and also on Kindle Unlimited for a limited time.

Ginny Reese returned home to her “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it small town” of Greenbrier, VA to help take care of her dying father. She’s used to seeing her share of the weird and wacky as a house-call vet, but nothing in her experience has prepared her for finding the dead body of a client floating in her pool. When she’s named the deceased’s heir, Ginny becomes the number one suspect–and must prove her innocence to the newly elected sheriff–who just happens to be her old high school boyfriend.

At least she can rely on her trusty German Shepherd, Remington!

Creating a new pen name posed some challenges for me, and I’m currently in the process of rebranding the site. My Twitter and Instagram accounts will share both information from McKenna Dean and M.K. Dean, as will my newsletter, but if you’d like to follow M.K. Dean on Amazon, Goodreads, M.K’s Facebook page, and BookBub, here are the links.

I would appreciate any follows–my new pages are so empty! 🙂