Tuesday, January 06, 2015

159 Days to 40

January 6th
159 days until 40
This post is the first in a series as I marathon to 40


I've been afraid of my upcoming birthday. It’s a cliché I know, but as I get older, I find that clichés usually have a ton of truth to them.

I don’t like getting older because I haven’t accomplished what I thought I would, and I’m tired…the energy it takes to keep at it, to continue to climb the mountain, is the same as it was ten years ago, but my body feels it a whole lot more.

In a not-too-long ago blog post I described a recent battle with depression and anxiety. It wasn't for very long, nor was it worthy of going off to the mental ward, though I tried…and luckily, I failed. The true sign that you are not insane is asking yourself if you are because if you have that much self-awareness, then you are fine. Good news: if you are actually conscious enough of your own crazy, then you aren't, in fact, crazy!

As I continue to recover from this episode of depression and anxiety, I reflect on why this all happened in the first place.

My family insists that I was doing too much—started school for a CAGS in Mental Health Counseling, published a literary anthology, edited a manuscript for my agent, republished my first two books, work, kids, family….etc… And even the doctors we spoke to all said that burnout seemed to be the cause.

After a period of slowing way, way, way down, I began to get back to my life. I started to feel better over time and that’s when I realized that yes, physically, I was tired and a bit burned out, but what I believe was the fire in the furnace of this slow burnout was a deep, deep sadness about my writing, a sadness that’s been growing, like a tumor, slowly, over the last six years…starting with the moment I graduated from the Solstice Program at Pine Manor College and left the cocoon of love and support that a proper MFA program will provide.



I knew I was meant to be a writer when I was around 9-years-old and complained to my mother about the book constantly being written in my head; I narrated everything in my life, in first-person, and each significant moment was given a chapter title and number: Chapter 14, My First Slow Dance—Where do I put my arms?

That same school year, my fourth grade teacher gave me an award: Ambition Is To Be An Author….it validated my dreams, but over many years, this very same ambition would become my albatross.



Writing, for most of my life, wasn't about performing but about the process of words coming up, stories appearing in my head and then me pouring them out without much self-consciousness. The thought of being published was far away, the stuff of daydreams, not real life.

Then, when my so-called dreams became a reality, and that reality didn't match my day dreams, I started to feel really bad about my writing and then about myself.



A decade ago, I had some success in self-publishing and then got an agent and then  another agent. Those moments weren't planned and plotted, rather wonderful, happy accidents. And when I say success, I mean specifically, I won awards, garnered some media attention, and was desirable to a few agents. For a girl from Middletown, RI, who graduated with a less than desirable GPA and was told don’t bother to go to college, this was a big deal.

Sidebar: Mr. Guidance Counselor who,a little over twenty years ago, told me to look into a two year college, I've got two master’s degrees now and have written a couple of books.  So, you can suck it.



Post MFA, I got an agent and created Sucker Literary and things were looking up…Then, because gravity dictates what comes up must come down, came the failures…many rejections for a manuscript that we had out on submission for almost two years. And my beloved Sucker started to become more work than I could handle alone, and the initial excitement over it among readers and writers seemed wane.

By April of 2014,  that spontaneous overflow of words and the ease with which I had once expressed them had all but melted away. I was left with—what I think was—performance anxiety and stage fright. This is not to be confused with writer’s block. I'd never really stopped writing, but I felt shitty when I dido…at least, initially, and my confidence was much lower. Though I have accomplished much on paper and have experienced many amazing and surprising successes, I actually was feeling worse about myself as a writer than ten years ago when I published my first book.



When I was 17-years-old and a senior in highschool,  I had a similar emotional break down like the one I just experienced in April. And back then, performing my craft (dance and theater, at the time) became terrifying. In fact, I dropped out of being the lead in the school play and I took myself out of most of the dance numbers for my annual dance recital. Where once performing was exhilarating, it now was terrifying.

I got over it. I mean, I was 17 and still didn’t know the depths of my own fears, so once I got myself back on track, I performed on stage again several times over the next few years.

When I was 28, I took my beloved personal craft of writing and put it on stage, and as I had felt with dance and theater, I enjoyed the attention and performance aspect of books signings and readings and seeing it on Amazon and appearing in articles, on radio shows, and even on TV. Then, ten years later, the disappointment and failure of not being where I thought I would be, became crippling.


What I have come to understand is that my way of thinking, the lens through which I view the failures I've had is what’s really sending me into depression. That is, it’s not what’s happening that causes me to feel like shit, it’s my perspective. I can tell you the countless number of fellow author friends who are going through what I am, and they are not depressed. They've been at it for ten plus years, still don't have that book deal, and they don’t feel like failures, nor do I see them as failures. They view each rejection or their lack of selling a ton of books (my self-pub sisters and brothers)  or their not getting a book deal as just these obstacles to walk over or around or—hell—even through.

And, thanks to lots of therapy, I'm starting to feel that way too. Failure is not a four letter word—it's a seven letter word and seven is a magical number. 

Monday, November 03, 2014

Chris Jane's Blog Tour: Kicking it off!

I’m on a bit of a kick using my blog to promote the work of fellow authors. So, when I stumbled up on author Chris Jane, whose book The Year of Dan Palace (November 2014), has been called by Cheryl Anne Gardner, author of The Kissing Room and head fiction editor at Apocrypha and Abstractions Literary Journal,Some of the finest sh*** out there”, I thought to myself, sounds like my kind of writing, my kind of book. Not to mention, when reading adult fiction I am a fan of the following elements: a.) Road Trips b.) Complicated marriages. This book has both. Below are five questions with Chris followed by links for purchase and additional information.   

Five questions:

Q: Why did you choose an end-of-the-world prediction as the catalyst that would motivate Dan Palace to leave everything behind? Why not the diagnosis of a fatal disease, which seems more believable?

A: When a disease enters the picture, a certain part of the story then has to be about that disease. I didn't want to write about a disease.

I chose the end of the world as a threat not only because I thought I would have fun doing it, but because it's a strange, complicated thing. We talk about the end of the world the same way we talk about the lottery:

"If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would ..."
"If I won ten million dollars, I would ..."

In a way, it's exciting. It gives us a chance to fantasize about how we would live "if we knew we would die" (as if we aren't all going to die, anyway, even without the end of the world as a threat).  It's also scary. I think a lot of us enjoy feeling like we have some control over how long we live - healthy diet, exercise, doctors, medicine, prayer, karma, you name it - but none of those measures can prevent the end of the world. Knowing there's no control over the end, no way to stop or even delay it, increases the urgency to live fully in whatever time is left.

The end of the world also invites partners in adventure, others who aren't quite satisfied with their lives and who welcome the opportunity to do something different - like the young hotel worker, Jenny, who latches onto Dan. When someone shares a belief, no matter how outlandish it might seem, that strengthens the belief's credibility, and any resulting selfishness or brazenness become almost ... valid. At the very least, excusable.

Q: What books did you read in your childhood that helped influence your writing?

A: I started out with a lot of mystery/suspense: Sydney Sheldon was an early favorite, and then Dean Koontz (Dean R. Koontz at the time) and Stephen King. After that it was some Agatha Christie, Richard North Patterson, and Nelson DeMille. A little later, after high school, I moved away from mystery and into writers like George Orwell, John Irving, and Margaret Atwood. College introduced me to some of the known minimalist writers (Hemingway, McCarthy, Carver, Steinbeck).

The books I read up to and through high school taught me how critical it was to keep things moving, pages turning. As a reader, I insisted on being utterly absorbed. As a writer, I enjoy the challenge of applying techniques typically labored over in literary writing (the iceberg theory, minimalism), but I also like the challenge of combining that with a story that has movement, one that would make me as a reader want to turn pages.

Q: Novels will sometimes begin one way and end up being something completely different by the time they're finished. Is The Year of Dan Palace the same book now as it was when it began?

A: Skeletally, yes. The story goes from A to B to C as it did when it was in an earlier draft. But the early-draft characters were motivated by a force I hadn't yet identified, which made them difficult for me to predict and at times understand. An exciting development to come out of a revision, to me, anyway, was the discovery of the for-better-or-worse influence of the characters' parents.

Dan, April, Nina, and Jenny are products of their unique, individual experiences separate from early family life, yes, but they - like us - are also the Selves their parents built. Whether they like it or not, the lessons of their parents often guide them, and those lessons - good and bad - live in their most raw, vulnerable spaces.

The inclusion of the parental influences (but not the parents, themselves - they don't appear) changed the core "why" behind how the story and the characters get from A to B to C.

Q: When Dan leaves his wife, Nina, one of the things he wants to do is win back the love of his ex-wife, April. The conflict between Dan and April isn't clearly delivered to readers. You don't tell us exactly what happened. Why?

A: I don't tell you what happened, but they do.

One of the things I enjoy most about limited point of view is that it is incapable of being objective. It can't tell you the absolute truth, and I like that, because people don't deal in absolute truth. When the truth isn't as black and white as someone being murdered, or someone being hit by a car, what does objective truth mean to a subjective person? What does it mean in a marriage?

Dan has his truth, and April has her truth. Their problem (boiled down) is that their truths don't necessarily coincide. Often, or in my experience, anyway, it isn't what physically happens that creates the problem; it's how the participants react to what happens.

Whatever it is that leads to undesirable behavior, it's usually - at its infant roots - forgivable. Some will forgive. Others will choose, for their own often complicated reasons, not to.

Chris Jane bio: (website: http://chrisjane.net)

Chris Jane is a fiction and freelance writer living in New England. Early work involved going door to door and offering to take out the neighbors’ trash for a nickel a bag. A great gig for a 6-year-old entrepreneur at a time when most opportunities for child workers had been criminalized by busybody grown-ups.

The Year of Dan Palace synopsis (paperback and Kindle release date: Nov. 22, 2014):

Dan Palace has always played it safe. He chose the safe job. Married a safe woman. Rarely travels far from home. But something is missing – until a man named Tucker Farling delivers a doomsday prediction that changes his life.

In the final minutes before the New Year, Dan musters the courage he desperately needs to embark on a quest to find that missing “something”: the sense of adventure and true magic he remembers from his youth, along with the love of his ex-wife, who has hated him since their wedding night nine years before.

When things don’t go as planned, Dan finds himself on an unexpected road trip with a young hotel worker and her possessive boyfriend. Together, they experience some of the surprising consequences of living life to its passionate fullest – as do the people they love.

Kindle pre-order link ($0.99 until it releases on Nov. 22. Reg. price: $6.99): http://www.amazon.com/Year-Dan-Palace-Chris-Jane-ebook/dp/B00OFC8HAO


"I could not stop reading this. This is some of the finest **** I have read in a while." - Cheryl Anne Gardner, author of The Kissing Room and head fiction editor at Apocrypha and Abstractions Literary Journal

"Honest, original and impossible to put down." - Joseph Dilworth Jr., Pop Culture Zoo

"At turns funny, smart, painful, and most of all, honest. This is a writer who doesn’t pull punches, who shows us sides of a character it might be easier to turn away from.” – Reggie Lutz, author of Haunted.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween 1992: Hallmark Moment

22 years ago today, October 31, Halloween, I had my first memorable panic attack.  I say memorable because prior to that, I remember two other moments in my life: one was before a French final sophomore year (who doesn’t panic before those) and another was junior year, after trying to show off to my friends that yes, yes the nerd girl can drink beer; I downed four really fast. In both of those instances I was overwhelmed with the sensation that I had to run, that a bear was chasing me, that I was so terrified I might actually craw out of my body. Classic symptoms—well, classic to me now as an almost fully trained and certified mental health counselor with years of counseling and personal experience with anxiety and panic behind me— that no longer scare me (as much) but terrified me back then. Those moments prior to the memorable panic attack didn’t last more than a few minutes, and I just brushed them off.

But the Big One on Halloween evening 1992 was a hallmark moment (and not the good kind, the lower case kind). I was standing in the kitchen making myself some dinner before going out with friends for a Halloween evening of scary movie watching when I was seized from head to toe in spine chilling fear. For absolutely no apparent reason.

I became completely agoraphobic for almost 6 weeks after that first memorable panic attack.
Though I eventually climbed my way out of the agoraphobia, went on to apply and get into a whole bunch of colleges, and have a somewhat normal senior year of high school, that panic attack on Halloween of 1992 was the beginning of what would become an almost decade long struggle with panic and anxiety. Only motherhood at age 28 cinched it for me, and I soon could count not months but years between panic attacks.

So image my surprise when, just this year back in March, they returned. They returned, but it was more like me feeling annoyed by them because they would happen at the very worst time. Driving. I brushed them away though, trying to find ways to distract myself from them. Focusing on the car right in front of me, making sure that I only drove on the right side so I could be near the shoulder just in case (just in case of what? A panic attack? That was happening any way but the mind of a person caught in their cycle of anxiety becomes, well, irrational. ) After a month of struggling and soon avoiding driving to certain places, I had what I call my second hallmark (again, lower case kind) moment on April 30 of this year. Roughly 22 years after my very first one. This one was similar to that one in that I became paralyzed by the fear, and like my senior year, I recoiled into a shell of myself and completely shut down. I stopped functioning normally (no driving, only working sparingly, unable to be alone, like as in alone in a room, even) and had safety signals of my husband, mother, and best friend; if they weren’t within sight, I became anxious to a level ten. I spiraled down very quickly and within weeks was not recognizable to myself.

But don’t panic! : ) This didn’t last too long (about 2 months before I started to live again). I happen to be a really hard worker and very determined, so I threw myself into therapy and worked really hard at coming back into my life.

There are a couple of differences this time around. This time I went from anxiety into a deep, deep depression. Something I had never experienced before. Depression scared me as much as anxiety, actually more so because depression makes you think about things from a very dark and helpless place and you feel like you cannot crawl out.

It’s at this point that those of you who don’t suffer from anxiety or depression are dying to know, well what happened? What caused these break downs (yes, I am really comfortable admitting that I had an emotional break down back in April and back in 1992. Most people have them they just don’t admit it.)

I could write a grocery list of events that were going on that would probably set anyone into a highly emotional state of anxiety. Back in 1992, it was applying to college, my parents marital problems, an on again off again destructive relationship with a boy, a borderline eating disorder, friend problems, on and on. And same with now— I mean anyone who is 39-years-old, trying to work, complete a graduate program, raise their children, be a good wife, have time for yourself, write and publish books, and see your friends and family feels the vice grip pressure of the unwinnable game of Having It All. Not to mention, around this time we lost one of our family pets and the other had a stroke in front of me (both we’ve had since we got married 15 years ago). So when I fell apart, no one was surprised, and everyone was incredibly sympathetic. 

But here’s the thing, as we sometimes say in therapy—the content doesn’t really matter; it’s the theme and it’s the behavior (yeah, I’m a little bit of a cult follower of CBT because it saved my life).  So  what was the theme of the things, events, and moments that caused me such anxiety and how did I respond? I’m not sharing the theme (too personal) but once I figured that out it helped me to at least understand what the anxiety and depression were connected to. But, most importantly, how did I respond? Well, I recoiled, I withdrew. And, thus, I spiraled.

My point in writing this isn’t to talk about the why of my anxiety and depression because a.) Too personal even for me and b.) The why really doesn’t matter in terms of getting better and moving through it.

So my point. I’m going to get to it. It’s this: The way we talk to ourselves about and the way we respond to our feelings of anxiety and depression is what that truly f*** us up.

Yes, there is a biochemical component to this, and I have it, two fold. I’m biochemically wired to be prone to depression and anxiety, hereditarily, as in, DNA-wise (I had my DNA tested). All it takes is too much physical and emotional stress (I mean years worth of it) to send me down the long, blindingly dark road of anxiety and depression.

I had to work by ass off to get better. But the ability to do that is also in my DNA; it’s the same set of genetics that is both responsible for my speedy flight or flight response to non-life threatening (and life threatening) situations and my ability to do, as my husband says, three thousand things at once. It’s the same set of genes responsible for my boundless energy and for my enthusiasm to learn and grow. It’s the same set of genes that allows me to be really disciplined with school, working out, and time management.

So back to my point. My point is this. Depression and anxiety are in our genes. It’s there like Type 1 Diabetes is in some other folks. It’s there just like some forms of cancer. It’s there just like your eye color. It’s there and you have to learn to live with it and deal with it. You cannot hide in your closet forever.

The good news is that so much research has gone into anxiety and depression (which, by the way, I do not view as mental illnesses but rather mental conditions, but that’s another blog post). We have many many therapeutic modalities and medications that can help. But guess what? There is no magic in getting better. Even medications, cognitive behavioral programs, meditation, Acupuncture—none of those things just work, you have to work them.

That’s the first point I want to make and the second is subtler yet harder to grasp. It’s this: we have to stop being afraid to feel our emotions. Anxiety and depression are like dogs—if a dog knows you are afraid, it will respond in kind. If you respond to anxiety and depression with fear based behaviors, it will only get worse.  

The shift for me this time around with anxiety and depression was that I finally let go and accepted that this is what I was feeling. It’s there both physically and mentally, but that I actually did have choices. I could do nothing and stay in my closet and cry, or I could get out and live. And here’s the key, I was going to life my life while feeling the anxiety and depression (it’s called exposure therapy in the counseling bizz). So I drove, worked, took care of my children, was home alone, road my bike, went to see friends, all while anxious and depressed. All while having those yucky body symptoms of anxiety and the heavy and scary sensations of depression.

I’m not saying any of this was easy. I often felt I was carrying 100 pounds on my back as I tried to live; I had debilitating anxiety and depression for those first few months, and every step out of my house, out of my bedroom, terrified me. But I still kept going. I walked through the walls of anxiety and depression because, as they say, the only way out is through. Doing this enough over time I had these clicks. Every few months, a click would settle in, like, look you have been driving to Providence for the last week and you made it! Yay you! Or, you worked an entire 8 our day and though you are tired you did it! Or, your husband was away overnight and you were fine! Each time I walked through the wall of anxiety and depression by living my life a click towards getting better occurred. The thing was my goal no longer was to feel better to but feel better. That is allow the feelings I had to be there and yet still live my life.

We have it in our culture that HAPPY is the goal and FULFILLED and PRETTY and YAY! That real deal is that actually it’s impossible because the human body is not wired for that. It’s wired to have a range of moods and emotions and thoughts that are both what we would call HAPPY and SAD and all the stuff in between.

So today Halloween 2014, this is what I want to say, and it’s a really fitting day to do it, get out there and live—face the ghouls and goblins of your mind, look them in the eye and don’t fight. Don’t resist. Just simply let them be and walk through the walls of fear and sadness.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Day 5 ARIA Blog Tour: Lynne Holden

Hannah:  Hi, Lynn.  Welcome to the final day I’m hosting the ARIA blog tour. Tell us a little information about you and where you’re from.
Lynn:   I am a retired Pastor Emerita, teacher, genealogist and public speaker.

Hannah:  What are you working on these days and what’s the current status of that project?
Lynn:   I am working on a genealogical project involving first and second cousins writing about the veterans in our families.  I will not only contribute to but edit the final book.
Hannah:  Can you tell the audience what inspires you to write?
Lynn:   I like the permanency on the written word. I have always seen my work as an attempt to connect the divine story with our stories.
Hannah:  What genre do you enjoy writing the most?
Lynn:  I am best at non-fiction writing, memoirs, and religious articles.
Hannah:  Any upcoming projects we should now about?
Lynn:  I will be available at the ARIA’S Rhode Island Authors Expo, Saturday, November 8 at the West Warwick Civic Center.
Hannah: Favorite movie?
Lynn:  The King’s Speech 
Hannah: Favorite food or dish to make?
Lynn:  Sweet and Sour Pork
Hannah:  Favorite place you have ever visited?
Lynn:  Petra, Jordan and Jerusalem
Hannah:  Favorite music band?
Lynn:  Can I answer Orchestra?…Boston 
Hannah:  Favorite book?
Lynn:  The Color Purple 
Hannah:  Any parting words?
Lynn:  A big shout out to you, Hannah and my appreciation for all readers around the world:  we can all help to repair the world

Lynn's Book

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Day 4 ARIA BLOG TOUR: Kate Siner

Hannah:  Hi, Kate.  Welcome to Day 4 of the Association of Rhode Island Author (ARIA) blog tour.

Kate:  I’m a Rhode Island native, but I have lived all over.  I have a PhD is Transpersonal Psychology, and other than being an author, I am also an internationally recognized speaker and mentor.  My business, Dr. Kate Inc. provides programs and one-on-one personal development under the slogan “Give A Damn, Make A Difference” 

Hannah:  What are you working on these days and what’s the current status of that project?

Kate:  I am working on my next book. Apathy is Noxious. I am in the editing phase.

Hannah:  Can you tell the audience what inspires you to write?

Kate:  I believe that if people have the right information, they can all live happier more fulfilled lives, and this will radically improve the world.

Hannah:  What genre do you enjoy writing the most?

Kate:  Self Help

Hannah:  Any upcoming projects we should now about?

Kate:  Part of my work is the delivery of Personal development Programs. I have a new program starting this fall, LifeWork Community. I am really excited about it. I am also going to be starting my own radio show called Real Answers on Contact Radio starting in January.

Hannah: Favorite movie?

Kate:  I Heart Huckabees

Hannah: Favorite food or dish to make?

Kate:  I love to cook. I make a really yummy gumbo.

Hannah: Favorite place you have ever visited?

Kate:  I love to travel so I have many favorites: the rainforest in South America, Zimbawe, Vancouver Island British Columbia.

Hannah:  Favorite music band?

Kate:  Frank Zappa

Hannah:  Favorite book?

Kate:  Ah, this one is tough.  I would have to say the poems of Pablo Neruda.  I’ve been reading them over and over again my entire adult life.

Hannah: Any parting thoughts?

Kate:  You can make a profound, positive impact on the world just by learning how to care for yourself and those around you.

Please follow the links below to get in touch with Kate and most importantly, buy her books!

Kate's website.
Kate's book.