Why Being Nice Matters To Me

Over the past 24 hours, there have been several posts floating around social media that really struck a chord with me. Some of you may have seen them:

Jennifer Aniston wrote an essay about how she’s fed up with being questioned about maternity (among other things).

Victoria Beckham is being villainized for kissing her daughter *gasp* on the lips.

And then, randomly, a Buzzfeed post where their Try Guys were photoshopped to look like famous photos of women.

After being bombarded by all of this for the last day– and so much more over the past few months– I’ve decided I need to rant a bit and I hope you’ll follow along.

I’m really tired of all the hate and judgment that exists in the world today. When did everything become so negative? It’s ALL the time, everywhere. So much hate and shame. It’s hard to function.

I live in darkness a lot. Some of you know that I am bipolar. My official diagnosis includes Bipolar Disorder, Severe Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, and PMDD. What all of that means is that I’m an emotional mess most of the time. Most of you don’t know that about me though. Just as many of you don’t know that over a decade ago, I had a nervous breakdown. I was told I’d never work again, and yet, here I am, a successful author who also has a full time job with a company I not only love, but also believe in completely.

Why am I sharing this? Well, because the mental health issues really affect me on a day to day basis. I have to fight to stay positive. I’m sometimes picked on for it. I find it amusing, to be honest. The running joke is that I’m “Perky Poppy” and I’ve embraced that nickname fully. Because the reality is, I’m not very perky at all. But I try, very hard, to find the positive and to have fun in the little things. Otherwise, I’ll be back in that pit of despair that I fell into when I had my breakdown.

That’s not the only thing I have to fight though. Cause guess what? I’m fat. Yep. Said it. And you know what else? I have other issues too, medical stuff like a skin problem that is really no one else’s business but strangers seem to think it’s okay to make nasty comments about these things. I am made to feel ashamed for looking the way I do. Because that’s the truth. I’m ashamed of those things. But I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been made fun of for one of those physical features by some random stranger while I’m out shopping or even through some comment on a photo of me on social media by someone who is labeled a “friend”.

So when I see posts where someone is having to explain why they choose to not have children, or who are called names for showing affection to their child, or where our physical appearance is altered to make us more ideal… I feel shame. That’s what we do, right? We shame each other to make ourselves feel better.

I’ve done it too. And that I really do feel shame for and should. Who am I to ever make fun of anyone else? It’s something I try really hard to not participate in. Most of the time, I succeed. Sometimes, I don’t.

True story. When I go to events and I’m in Poppy-mode (which is the way I like to think of how I mentally prepare myself for events. I gird my loins, as it were, and try to force the fear and shame and terror away so that I don’t show all that negative emotion to the people around me), I’m often complimented on my appearance. And it makes me both uncomfortable and really happy at the same time. And can I tell you another truth? Just about the only time in my life that I’m EVER praised for my looks is when I’m with this crazy internet family of fellow book lovers whom I adore.  I don’t know how to handle the praise. I usually smile awkwardly and say thank you.

See, I know that there are so many people out there just waiting to usher in another bushel of humiliation so actually believing someone who thinks I’m pretty? Ha. It’s so much easier to believe the other is true. Ever seen those horrible, terrible, people of Walmart posts? I think those posts are the ultimate evil. And yet they are in some crazy way beloved. I don’t get it. Their sole purpose for existing is to dish up a healthy dose of humiliation to those unfortunate folks who are captured on camera in an unflattering moment. I don’t use the word hate a lot, but I truly hate those posts and what they stand for. Can you imagine for a moment what it must feel like to be one of those people who are included in those posts? Can you imagine for a moment being one of those people who goes around seeking out someone to take a horrible photo of that you can share with the world?

I have a very dear friend who is one of the most gorgeous men I know. Seriously. I think he’s stunningly handsome and I get that little flutter in my belly when he’s around me. And you know what? He’s ashamed of how he looks. He’s incredibly body conscious. I know the feelings are irrational, because I have them myself, but damn, the man is gorgeous and he’s embarrassed over not having a 6 pack or 8 pack or whatever the hell pack of abs men are supposed to have to be attractive. (Um, and sweets, if you’re reading this and figure out that I think you’re gorgeous… well, surprise! But you are!)

So after all that, I have to wonder. Why am I so uncomfortable with compliments? I know so many friends who are as well. Why is it easier to believe the ugly and not the nice? I want to change that, both for myself and others. I don’t want there to be humor in humiliating random strangers or celebrities on the internet. Instead, I want the norm to be a world where we make it a point to praise the people in our lives and not be so quick to put them down. Heck, I get that it’s easier to jump in with your opinion on whatever latest scandal is rocking the world. But having an opinion and spewing hate are two completely different things. And somehow that difference has been lost in translation.

My day job is in marketing. There’s this cool “rule” in marketing known as the 80/20 rule. I’m not Pollyanna enough to think that negative thoughts and comments aren’t going to exist, but maybe we can work on keeping them to only 20% of what we do and think and say. Is that too much to ask? Can we actually succeed in being positive 80% of the time? Is it a pipe dream? Can we at least try?

I remember an essay on parenting I read a long time ago– and I can’t find it now but I wish I could so I could share it– that basically said for every time you tell your kids no or correct them that you should praise them for something at least 4 times. Can you imagine how cool that would be? If we actually had people around us all the time who were looking for the positive? I would love that. I mean, it would be really great if I just didn’t give a crap, but lets face it, I do. And I’m sure you do too. It’s a thing, right? Part of what makes us human or something? We have to care what other people think about us… right?   It would  also be great if I could actually believe the praise. I’m working on it. And I don’t know, maybe if I heard good things on a daily basis instead of hate and shame…maybe it would be easier?

I know there is a lot of philosophy out there about getting back from the world what you give to it. I don’t mind being known as Perky because maybe, just maybe, that means I’ve made someone else happy for a moment. Maybe, just maybe they accepted a compliment I gave them and for one moment were able to believe it as truth. I want to put more positive out into the world because God knows I need it back. It’s how I survive the days when my illness gets the best of me.

So how about it? Can we all try? Or is it too much to hope for? Can we strive for more nice? Because it’s more important than we think and it’s so easily overlooked. Kindness matters. Thoughtfulness matters. Hope really fricking matters and sometimes, for those of us like me who struggle with darkness, those random nice thoughts make all the difference in the world.






Friends With Benefits: Straight Women and Gay Men

Last week, on my drive home from seeing my brand new baby niece in Indiana, I heard a discussion on a morning radio show that had me actually yelling out loud to the poor, deluded lady who called in. See, she’d fallen into one of the pitfalls of being friends with a gay  man—she’d developed a crush on him and wanted to ask him out on a date.
As I’m speeding along on Interstate 69 (and no, I’m not making that up!), I was telling her not to do it! Trust me “Kristy” it’s a train wreck waiting to happen. Alas, the call I was listening to that morning was the follow up call. I was right. Not only did she get turned down, but her friend and co-worker filed a sexual harassment complaint against her. You can listen to her story here: 
“Kristy’s” dilemma did get me thinking, though, and for that I thank her. See, about a decade ago, I was in Kristy’s shoes.  I had a relationship with a gay man (we’ll call him “Steve” since I haven’t actually asked his permission to share our story!).
Steve and I met through work and quickly became inseparable. Everyone at work thought we were a couple—at one point Steve even had a picture of the two of us on his desk. We went on dates and bought each other presents. We’d even gone away for the weekend together, although we never had sex. After about five months together, Steve told me he was moving away. Our relationship had confused him, and although he loved me, he didn’t want to have sex with me. Funnily enough, I felt the same about him. My heart was still broken because his leaving left a hole in my life.
As I had a seven hour drive ahead of me, it gave me too much time to reminisce on the pitfalls of friendships past and present. I’d learned a lot from my experience with Steve though, most of all the importance of putting my gay friends firmly and immediately into a “friends-only” box to keep myself from having confusing feelings again. My mind was whirling though, and no one who knows me will be surprised by the fact that I wanted to talk it out. The first person on the speed dial was my amazing friend Tim.
Tim and I met about five years ago. He’s a good friend of my brother’s and when we met, we became insta-friends in a way that doesn’t happen to me very often. Tim is openly gay, so it wasn’t too hard for me to put him in that friend box. Then things got a bit complicated.  I’d gone to an event and met Tim’s family. His grandma took an instant liking to me, and she has been trying to convince Tim and I for years that we are perfect for each other! Tim and I both know better, but the lines did get a bit blurry for a while. So when I talked to Tim about poor Kristy’s unfortunate choice, he understood completely.
My question for him was primarily whether or not the reverse happened…were gay men sometimes confused by their feelings toward straight women? Tim assured me that it does happen—not often, but it does. By this point my brain was spinning with so many thinky thoughts that I probably should have stopped driving. I didn’t, of course.
What I did begin to think about was an expression I’ve heard many times in regards to straight women finding a good partner. How many times have you heard someone say “they’re either married or gay”? I’ve heard it quite a bit. And I’ve found that it’s often true. Finding a good partner is hard for most of us. If only it were as easy as we make it out to be in our romance novels, huh?
The thing is, as a straight woman, I find it difficult to be “just friends” with a straight man. In my experience, it always turns into something else for at least one of the friends. And heaven forbid you try to be friends with a married man. The lines are way too easy to cross. I’m a flirt, who also happens to be a bit on the touchy-feely side. I have to always be aware when I’m around straight men—single or married—to not smile too much, to not touch too casually, or any of those little things that I generally do to my friends without thinking. I’ve had way too many female friends get upset with me over being overly friendly with their boyfriends or husbands, even if the thought of being with them in any way other than “oh that’s so and so’s husband” had never crossed my mind. Sad, huh?
My thinky thoughts then turned to why it’s okay for me to be touchy-feely with my gay friends when I don’t do that with my straight friends. Am I being disrespectful to their relationships? Have I crossed lines there? EEK! I was only half-way through my seven hour drive and I needed to make sure I wasn’t ticking off someone’s other half!
Thank goodness for speed-dial and hands-free cell phones because I was able to pick the brain of one of my married gay friends on this very subject. After a bit of an eye-roll at the question, he assured me that it didn’t bother him at all when I touch his husband—but he had been upset before by other women who get a bit too up close and personal with his man.
Whoa. Brain spinning in loopy loops. What’s the difference between what I do and what other women do? Well, it seems like it comes back to that box I mentioned earlier. The guys I consider close friends know that I’m not thinking about what’s in their boyfriend’s pants and I’m certainly not imagining what’s going on in their bedroom. They are in the “friend box”. It’s really all about intent. I don’t want to know what goes on in my girlfriend’s bedrooms with their significant others and I don’t want to know what goes on in my gay friends bedrooms with their partners either! I don’t use their lives as fodder for my own fantasies and certainly not for the sex I write in my novels.
However, my friend assured me that not all women keep to those guidelines. Especially not women who read or write in the gay romance genre. Oh my. While this news probably shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did, I found myself both shocked and a bit mortified that someone would be picturing my buddies in bed. (Yes, I’m blushing just thinking about it and I know the guys who I talked to about this subject know that and are already laughing at me!)
After much more thinking, I finally arrived home, and being me, immediately messaged another friend who I knew had had an uncomfortable experience with a female writer getting a bit too close for comfort. The thing is, as female writers in the gay romance field, we’re going to want to ask questions sometimes. Let’s face it, there are bits we don’t have so making sure we portray things accurately is pretty important in the scheme of things.  I know I always try to have at least one guy beta read for me, because they will find something the gals miss. 
So this friend and I spent time chatting about the difference. It became clear to me pretty quickly that while I was looking for more technical info, this other writer was actually looking to add specifics into her novels from my friend’s private life. I’m not sure if I would call what she did objectification or fetishizing, but either way, it left me feeling perturbed on my friend’s behalf.  The line had clearly been crossed and, as a result, that writer no longer has my friend to talk to. Her actions cost her a friend.
And the objectification doesn’t come only from the women. As my gal pals and I have experienced, there is a certain amount of objectification that happens with gay men and straight women, particularly where breasts are concerned. Oh yeah, I went there. But I know straight guys wouldn’t grab my chest the way gay guys seem to feel free to! And the comments. Seriously, guys. Take a minute to think before you ogle or grope, please.
As the title of this post suggests, I think there are many benefits to being friends with gay men. They just aren’t the typical “friends with benefits” that the term has come to mean in society. I love having a man’s ear to talk off when I’m having man troubles of my own. I love having men in my life who are “safe” to hug—I don’t have to worry about them thinking I want in their pants if I touch them! As a writer, it’s amazing to have someone who I can turn to for questions when I have technical questions. There are a lot of other benefits, but really, it’s just about having friends—male or female—where sex isn’t part of the equation.
What I’ve learned from talking to my friends about this is that we need to be *very* careful not to make our friends feel like research projects or science experiments. There are lines that shouldn’t be crossed.  Although our intentions may seem noble, they come across as intrusive and downright rude.
With all that thinking, I really haven’t come to any solid conclusions other than the one I’d already come up with: make sure I have my friends in the appropriate box. I have to wonder though, have any of you had similar experiences? After hearing Kristy’s dilemma, remembering my own, and talking this over with several friends, it seems like the experience is more common than I’d first imagined.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. The topic has certainly stirred up a bit of a hornet’s nest among my friends. So what do you think? Where are the lines and when do they get crossed? Have any of you lost friendships because of this?

Coming Soon: Soul Magic

It’s pretty crazy to think that almost one year ago, I was biting my nails in anticipation of my first book, Mind Magic. Now, a year later, the final book in that series is on the Coming Soon page at Dreamspinner Press.

Soul Magic continues the story of Simon and Gray while adding in a connection between Cormac, Simon’s vampire ancestor, and Liam, the High Moon Pack’s Beta. Here’s the official blurb: 

Blood runs soul-deep. Cormac hasn’t been the same since the night the High Moon Pack was attacked. With his magic weakened, he’s consumed by a bloodlust he hasn’t felt since he first became a vampire. His need to replenish his power makes him a danger to his last remaining family member, and his hunger makes him careless. And that’s just the beginning of his troubles. Feeding from pack beta Liam Benson was supposed to slake his appetite, not leave him craving more.

Simon Osborne and Gray Townsend are trying to fight a being history says shouldn’t exist—one with all three types of magic. The pack must use all of their resources to combat the mysterious triad, even turning to the shady Council of Mages for help. While Cormac struggles to reconcile his past failures with his current desires, Simon must attempt the impossible: an alliance between mind, body, and soul.

You can find more information on Soul Magic here: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3799
At the same time, another book popped up on the Coming Soon page with my name on it. Almost a year to the date after Mind Magic’s release, it has been translated into Italian. It really boggles the mind how much support and love has been shown to this series! 
I look back on the past year and count my blessings. They are many and varied. I’ve found the path I was meant to be on, after years of struggling to find my place. Finally, my soul is happy…I am happy. I love what I do.

So many incredible people have joined my life on this journey. I’m thankful for each and every one of them. My life is enriched by their presence and they provide the fuel for my muse that helps me keep finding worlds and characters whose stories demand to be told. 

I can’t wait for everyone to read Soul Magic and complete the circle with me. My journey is far from finished and with three more books scheduled for release in 2013, I can promise that I have plenty more for you all. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

Passing On and Passing It On

Yesterday, I had a moment of clarity that made me smile and released a huge weight from my chest. I wanted to share that moment with you, as well as a bit of sad news.

My grandma taught me many valuable lessons. One of them was the importance of passing it on. We call it Paying it Forward these days, but it’s the same thing. When you have blessings in your life, you share those blessings with others. You don’t do it because you want something in return, but just because you appreciate all the gifts that have been given to you.

See, when my grandma was younger, they went through a pretty rough patch. Grandpa was sick and couldn’t work, and in those days if you didn’t work, you didn’t get paid. Grandma worked nights at the canning plant, but had 6 kids at home to take care of as well as a now-sick husband. Things were rough, but the VFW saw their need and helped them get groceries, put gas in the car, and even helped fix the car when it broke down.

When grandpa got back on his feet, they passed it on. They joined the VFW and made it their mission to help other families like they’d been helped. They ingrained that lesson in their kids, and it was a lesson taught to the grandkids and great-grands as well.

It’s funny. I sometimes take it for granted the way I was raised. Giving is just what we do. Yesterday, one of those moments happened for me. I had a chance to connect a couple folks who needed each other. It put a huge smile on my face, and I realized that those moments, when you give and expect nothing in return, even for the smallest little thing, those moments are the ones that fill your spirit up, that make your soul healthier, wealthier and wiser. Getting a book contract or a great review has nothing on those moments.

Grandma passed away a few weeks ago. I count it as one of the biggest blessings in my life that I was able to be with her for those last few weeks. To hold her hand and have her remind me of the lessons she’d been teaching me for years. It’s been hard for me. Grief is a difficult thing, but yesterday…in that moment when I realized that I’d done exactly what my grandma had taught me to do, when I felt my soul fill up with joy over a simple little thing, I realized I don’t have to be sad anymore.

I’ll miss her every single day. I wish I had her here to help me cheat on my crossword puzzles…how that woman knew the strangest and most random words is a secret she’d never tell me! But having her was a blessing and the lessons she’s taught me will be with me forever. A part of her lives on. She paid it forward and with 6 kids, 12 grandkids and over 20 greatgrands…she’ll be paying it forward for years to come.

Manic Monday

One of the things I’m known for (quiet peanut gallery) is making lists. I like lists. If I don’t have lists, I forget things. I’m also very fond of spreadsheets, but that’s another post. Along with my list comes a very complicated system of email/phone/pop-up reminders on my laptop. Really, I have no excuses for forgetting things.

Why blather on about lists? Because one of my buddies asked me what I was working on at the moment and when I ran through the list, she got very quiet. (And not in the hunting wabbits kind of way). I got a little nervous, but when she finally regained her voice, she asked me how I kept everything straight. I assured her that I have my list.

And then, horror of horrors, what did I do this weekend? I tossed the list out the window. Okay, I really didn’t. I made sure it was backed up in google docs, and then I threw the printed version in the trash. (I haven’t totally lost my mind!)

Thing is, sometimes you need a fresh start. Last week, I was bogged down under minute details that did nothing but stress me out. I fretted, I worried, I whined and complained. Until I got rid of the list. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

One of the things that no one warns new writers about is the importance of prioritizing. Well, maybe someone has, but I’ve never seen it. Feel free to link me up!

At the moment, I have four major projects in the works. One book in edits with my publisher, the second in first draft edits with me, a third in first draft stage, and a free serial online read.

That’s a lot of balls in the air, and I’m not a juggler. Funnily enough, I actually finished my edits this weekend. Because I didn’t try to do twelve things at once. I stopped and focused. And crossed one thing off the list. (Oh come on, you know I had to reprint the list first thing this morning!)

Now why didn’t I think of that sooner?

My Wildest Fantasy, or Why Alphas?

Recently over on the M/M Romance group at Goodreads, the topic of Alpha males emerged. There was a bit of contention, some of it on my part, as to what *exactly* being an alpha means.

Dear Santa, I’ve been a good girl. Can I have him? Love Poppy

Here’s the thing. As far as I’m concerned, an alpha is that dream man who will come along and sweep me off my feet. He’s handsome and strong, and will beat the tar out of anyone who messes with me. Okay, I may have embellished that last bit. I can’t help it. I’ve been listening to this Bubblegum Rock station on Pandora and “My Boyfriend’s Back” was playing. Oh yeah, you’re gonna be in trouble!

Most of us get tired of carrying the burden all alone. Some of us are lucky enough to have Spouses, Mates, or Significant Others who help us out. Some of us aren’t.

There’s gotta be a good reason the alpha male trope has been around for such a long time. He fulfills a fantasy that’s hard to come by in real life. Then again, most of us don’t want him around all the time. We’re strong enough on most days to kick ass and take names on our own. But some days, oh some days wouldn’t it be nice to have someone be our white knight upon a fiery steed?

Can I quote any other songs here? *must turn off the Bubblegum Rock station*

So, I’m curious, what does an alpha mean to you? Why do you want them in your romances?

The law of entropy (AKA Change takes Work)

I saw mention this week of the law of entropy, and realized I didn’t know what it meant. That ever happen to you? So being the intrepid Googler that I am, I looked it up. Since it’s all about physics, and I’m no Sheldon Cooper, I didn’t get the majority of it.

But one part of the definition caught my eye:
The second law of thermodynamics states that in general the total entropy of any system will not decrease other than by increasing the entropy of some other system. Hence, in a system isolated from its environment, the entropy of that system will tend not to decrease. It follows that heat will not flow from a colder body to a hotter body without the application of work (the imposition of order) to the colder body. (from Wiki)

They gave a great example of a iced drink, and how the drink changes. Being the dedicated coffee drinker that I am, I applied that to my coffee. My fellow coffee drinkers (and tea drinkers, too, can’t forget you) know all about entropy. We sit our piping hot cup of coffee by our side and proceed to get distracted by the shiny. Next sip we take, our coffee is cold. Epic Fail.

Now if I were one of those fancy folks who had a cup warmer on my desk, it wouldn’t be such an issue. But heaven help me if I put one more thing on my poor desk. It’s grumpy with me as it is due to the massive pile of books I’m using for research.

There’s also a lot of talk about order, disorder, and even chaos with this whole law of entropy business. Oh, I know all about chaos! Chaos and I are friends. We go way back. I’ve been trying to tame chaos, but it goes back to that definition above, especially the part that says “without the application of work”.

Who knew? Life is work. Writing is work.

I love those times in my life when I become a master of the obvious.

So now I’m thinking of creating a new law, and changing the face of physics as I know it. The Law of Poppy states that in order to make things happen, you have to work for it.

No one will hand me the shiny gold medal just for being so darn nice? What? That doesn’t seem fair! But as my mother loves to tell me “Life’s not fair.” She’s full of those little bits of wisdom. She also loves to tell me to “Get over it.” But that’s another blog post.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to treat writing like a career in 2012. The great thing about it? My job is fun! I get to write, which is what I love, but I also get to play on Facebook, interact with other people who have the same interests I do, and even take trips! (Albuquerque better watch out!)

It’s definitely a new way of thinking, but the law of entropy (and my now-cold cup of coffee) tells me that if I add a little heat, do a little work, I can do it. Well, either that or I just need to drink my coffee faster. I’m still figuring that part out.

It’s a learning process, that’s for sure. So what do you need the law of entropy for?