Deadly Ever After

The Writing Adventures of The Undead Duo–Julie Hutchings and Kristen Strassel

Archive for the tag “Julie Hutchings”

Julie, Not On Display

TODAY’S BREW: cupcakes.

By Julie

The world has gone mad. If riots in the streets were the least of our worries, the sun could shine more brightly, but instead we have been cast into the gloom of an orange glow that is so tremendous it flays us alive. And we did it to ourselves.

In the midst of this terror, you wonder, WHERE IS JULIE HUTCHINGS? WHAT DOES SHE THINK? WHAT IS SHE DOING IN THIS, THE DAWN OF OUR FINAL DAYS?

Oh, I’ve been kickin’ it, you know?

I unplugged an awful lot. (See also: “Are you on Facebook?” “BAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! gasp. BAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” and “Did you see that tweet?” “NO! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”) Part of that was relieving myself of the brain-insistence that the universe will turn to goo if I don’t blog on a regular schedule, if I don’t answer emails for a day, if I go for even a couple of days without opening my laptop.

Not just for political reasons, but personal reasons. I needed to occupy my own headspace , remember who I was before people on the other side of the screen existed, and wow, do I feel like Julie.

SORRY, WORLD.

You know what I’ve been up to? Making like, 3 dozen cupcakes at a time with my kids. I got a tortoise (he’s kind of a jerk and it is the best thing ever). I’m editing for clients like WHOA. (hit me up, writers. My rate could change come January.) I did stuff like buy new curtains, get rid of old furniture, things that exist and affect me in my personal space. I’ve been writing (though not as much as I’d like) and planning my next books. I’ve been going to the park even when it’s too cold to feel my fingers. I’ve been reading. I’ve been teaching writing courses and helping the elementary kids with their writing at the boys’ school. I’ve been breathing and doing one thing at a time.

I couldn’t recall the last time I’d done one thing at a time.

I’ve been doing things for folks that have helped me when I was down.

I’ve been watching TV.

I’ve been Christmas shopping. (too much)

I’ve been breathing and enjoying everything.

I’ve been writing in notebooks rather than on my laptop a lot and that feels so grass roots and like home that I could just cry.

Anyway, I now feel like I’ve rested, and that I can weave blogging in a lot more without wanting to close the door and not speak for the rest of the day. I want to share with you guys again. But for a while, I just wanted to be happy with my family and friends in my physical life and be Julie, not on display.

But now ROGUE ONE is coming out, and I can’t make any promises. I live at the movie theater now.

 

Not Giving Up Saves Lives …by Julie

TODAY’S BREW: Are popsicles coffee?

By Julie

I’m not quite sure how to start this, even though I wrote an outline, because I FEEL it so much. I feel all of the obstacles lying flat beneath my feet, the signs all pointing the way I led everyone to go, and this is what not giving up is about.

Sammy has made so much progress recently it’s unbelievable. Truly unbelievable. A few things have gotten us here: the right diagnosis, the right medication, the right commitment, the right amount of help and the right kind, and a child that lets nothing put him down. All over the past month or so, Sam has gone from NEVER using the potty, to ALWAYS using the potty. He’s learning to separate himself when he feels angry and asking for quiet moments with me reading when he’s ready. He’s speaking really, really smoothly, with zero to minimal jabber, or “word salad.” His attention span is spectacular. This child is a miracle, and he made himself that way.

I hear an awful lot that most mothers would not go this far to support their child. I’ve suffered a lot–but we have suffered a lot. And I cannot let my child suffer. I don’t have the ability. I don’t have the ability to quit some things. Growing, helping, loving, teaching my children is one of them.

Because if I teach my kids that there’s a time to quit, they’ll see nothing but the limits to reach.

If I teach them that their happiness is negotiable, what chance do they have of pushing limits to find it?

If I teach them to stop the harder it gets, I’ve taught them that what they’ve pushed through was unnecessary.

If I teach them to give up, have I taught them anything at all? I’ve only taken from them. Taken their light at the end of their own personal tunnels, taken the depth of their feelings and made light of them, taken their ability to ask “what if” and think of all the other boxes to think outside of and break through. I’ve taken their ability to stop at nothing because I’ve shown them that something can stop me.

We’ve been watching a lot of America’s Got Talent, and I love these people that will stop at nothing, no matter how unconventional their dream. For some people, the dream is just to be happy. But this one made me cry harder than the rest.

I saw this when Sam was just sitting beside me, playing a building game on my tablet, something that would have been too dangerous (yes, dangerous), he wouldn’t have had the ability to sit and do anyway. Pato, because of his OCD, was unable to leave the house, couldn’t ask for help, resorted to begging for money to support himself. To make it where he has is incredible, but all I could think was, my Sammy will never have to experience that because we fought to combat OCD. First.

It’s easy to yell at a child who dictates who goes in what order up the stairs when you’re carrying armfuls of groceries and he’s been making your life hell all day. But seeing what the alternative does to him makes it non-negotiable for me. Imagine that such a trivial thing could throw a child into a wild-eyed sobbing episode for an hour, that he’d remember this moment for days. Imagine facing that every day, having to fight not only himself, his own brain, but to fight for understanding, too. When he can’t understand it himself. Can barely tell us what he wants.

How do you not help that child? How do you not put his needs first?

Because we did this, because I knew what Bipolar Disorder looked like when I brought him to the pediatrician at barely four, because we treated what we could then–OCD and Hyperactivity Disorder–and we were “on watch” for a mood disorder, because we knew what was happening when that mood disorder became real, because we didn’t stop, Sam has every chance of not going through the hell that so many other people have. We got this. That is what not giving up is.

NOW ABOUT ME. ME ME ME ME ME ME.

This summer so far was not about me and my needs, and I knew that going in. I had a strict timeline of what I wanted for Sam, what I needed from professionals, what I needed to see in changes due to behavior therapy and medication, and I needed to see what I could do having him home during such immense changes. July 15th was my deadline for a lot of things. I also was doing editing for clients and trying to have FUN with the kids, because I refuse not to have fun. (We have had so much fun.)

Now is the time for me to focus on my work. What *I* need. So as not to stretch myself too far, I had to suspend working on my own writing because I don’t want to hurt myself (think nervous breakdown, ulcerative colitis, debilitating panic attacks), and I refused to do my best I could do without it being my best.

I made all the right choices.

I have a new list of agents to pitch THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS TO….a book whose query is now a shining thing of magnificence that begs for reading, and a book that I am now finally able to finish the sequel to! I’m halfway through the sequel, and have a good start on the prequel and had to stop in May to concentrate on other things. My time has come.

Wait, weirdo, you’re writing a sequel and a prequel to a book that isn’t even being published yet?

YES I AM BECAUSE I DON’T STOP AND THIS BOOK WILL NOT GO UNNOTICED.

I don’t write because of what anyone else wants. I write for what I need. And every moment of my life is teaching something to these two amazing kids. They will see that my passion is what drives me and I drive it right back. That I give all I have to get more, and what I want is dependent on nobody but myself. There is no magic number of rejections, no “almosts” in my world. There’s always another way. There’s always more roads to travel. I’ll dig relentlessly making my own if that’s what it takes. And because this is who I am, it is now showing my kids who they are. What they can do and what won’t stop them on their way to it. It’s why Sam remembers little things I say like, “You like what you like. If you like the Alice in Wonderland tea set and you want to offer tea to everyone while doing ninja moves, then hey. You like what you like. Nobody can stop you.”

Be you, everyone. Stop at nothing to be who you want to be. Define your own happiness. Make your own rules–they’re just ideas anyway. Rules about publishing, rules about how young a child can be to show a certain illness, rules about what to say and who to say it to, rules about gender, rules about love, rules that we make for ourselves…. Reshape your world to be what you need. That’s what not giving up is about.

 

Red, White and BOO! FREE BOOK.

TODAY’S BREW: mucho coffeo

By Julie

HAPPY HOT, BRIGHT AND LOUD HOLIDAY, EVERYONE!

As a reminder of when we can once again pumpkin spice the very blood in our veins, the anthology I was a part of for Halloween, (ahem, currently ranked #8 in horror anthologies on Amazon, cough cough), HALLOWEEN NIGHT: TRICK OR TREAT is FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE FOR YOU AND MEEEEEEEEEE!

Red, white, and boo!

So go grab yourself a copy and shudder through the works of some amazing authors, including LIL’ OL’ ME. Get it right here: https://www.amazon.com/Halloween-Night-Trick-Amy-Giuffrida-ebook/dp/B017E0Z27O/ref=pd_sim_351_3?ie=UTF8&dpID=510kfeF7eGL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_UX300_PJku-sticker-v3%2CTopRight%2C0%2C-44_OU01_AC_UL320_SR200%2C320_&psc=1&refRID=E8SFAXYSH63TNFWTEQ7X

Enjoy! And tell your friends! READ A BOOK, SAVE AN AUTHOR.

 

 

Defeating the Dunk Tank with Julie

TODAY’S BREW: A reasonable amount of coffee, it was perfectly reasonable.

By Julie

For many weeks now, I’ve felt GOOD.

It’s been a long time. A long time since I was the woman who could take on the world with a smile on her face. A long time since I wasn’t exhausted by the thought of leaving the house. But suddenly, everything fell into place. First and foremost, my INSANE HORMONES are under control, and have been consistently for about two months. This is the lynchpin in everything else being manageable, because my hormones? They’re monstrosities that could guarantee I would be questioning my will to live–seriously–for a couple of days every few weeks. My doctor’s last ditch effort to get them under control was the 1977 Dear God, It’s Me, Margaret, rainbows and tube socks and wood paneling version of the birth control pill. Three months later, I’M FIXED.

I’ve been fairly up front about what I go through with my baby, Sam, and how normalizing life for him is a constant activity. He’s been diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder and OCD. After a LUNATIC CRAZY VIOLENT PUBLIC DISPLAY OF WILD HATRED from him two Fridays ago, I did some research and uncovered Oppositional Defiant Disorder. After nearly two years of therapy and much longer of COPING, I’d found the thing that described Sammy better than anything. And we talked about it, and I put a reward system in place that I just knew was going to work like nothing else has consistently. And it DOES. We’ve had the longest period of peace in the house in five years, and more progress in understanding and lasting behavioral changes than I’ve ever seen with my boy.

Suddenly the sun shines a little brighter. Again.

Things have been getting better for some time now, and all the time it seems to be improving. I’m HAPPY. More than that, I’m me. I’m my old self again, and feel like I can conquer anything.

It was no light decision to write this blog. It meant that I was giving in to the idea that this is really happening. That things are good, that I’m healthy, that life is being fair to me as it should be for someone who works so goddamn hard to do it right.

I compare my life since the start of 2014 to a carnival dunk tank. I went from being the clown that volunteered to sit at the target, laughing, to this dirty, sad clown swimming at the bottom of the dunk tank, trying to get to the top. Every morning instead of starting in the seat and wondering if I’d fall in, certain that I’d just climb out again feeling refreshed, I started out at the bottom. I swam for the surface, I floundered from the second I opened my eyes. I fought for air and the balls kept getting thrown at that target.

I was never the clown that lost a bet and ended up in the dunk tank seat. I volunteered for it. I put myself in the risky spot, I put my money where my clown nose was before anybody, and I went to bed at night in fresh clown pajamas feeling pleasantly tired after a lot of swimming, and climbing and laughing.

Being the dunk tank bottom feeder doesn’t suit me. And I’m not that person anymore. I’m the ringleader again, and the sideshow is me, burning a clown suit and exploding a dunk tank with about a thousand pounds of explosives that all smell like my power source, strong coffee and kickass books and the ability to take on anything. The world is once again, my dunk tank.

Not the one I just exploded, but a different one. One maybe filled with ice cream.

For the Love of Donuts by Julie

TODAY’S BREW: I call it Hatred Hazelnut because I accidentally bought beans instead of ground coffee.

By Julie

The hours of 3:30 to approximately 5:30 Monday through Friday are a little like having a bald eagle rip out your eyes around here. It would be painful as hell, but I’d be sort of honored because it was a bald eagle, right? I’m so glad I get to pick up my kids from school every day because for so long I couldn’t. And that after-school time is a wild stampede.

Today was NUTS. I give you the breakdown:

3:00 “Sam, wake up, we have to pick up Ben soon.” (at 3:20)

3:45 OH MY  GOD I FELL ASLEEP (on my laptop), fly to school where Ben stands on the stairs and yells “YOU FORGOT ME” then laughs, thank Christ.

3:50 “Sure, we can go to the park.” Sam proceeds to freak out within 10 minutes because none of the kids are playing with him. (literally ALL OF THE KIDS ARE PLAYING WITH HIM).

4:00 I have given Sam enough alone time to scream at us from the dirty tree that he has his freakouts under. I deliver the blanket. We do nothing without the blanket.

4:05 Sam is walking around the playground, screaming at no one. Bennett yells from across the playground at friend “I DON’T WANT TO PLAY YOUR PEE PEE GAME YOU WEIRDO.”

4:07 Am discussing with fellow mom that I have no energy to sugar-coat this, that her kid child has to stop peeing in the woods and chasing Bennett saying he has pee pee hands. Neither of us can have this talk with a straight face.

4:10 Sam has ordered us all to stop goddamn playing because we are LEAVING.

4:12 Am calming Sam down as he sobs saying nobody even loves him and threatening to kill himself. (Yes, we see not one, but two therapists. It’s being handled.)

4:15 I ran over a bird on my street on the way home. What the hell bird doesn’t FLY AWAY?

4:16 Sobbing Sam refuses to get out of the car. Ben is yelling at me from the doorway that we got a package and can he open it. Sam is streaked in dirt. I’m late taking my meds.

4:20 Sam asks me to go up the stairs first. (OCD requires that we do this exactly as he asks). Proceeds to cry that I left him behind.

4:25 Ben is still going on about the package. I’m reading a book to Sam who is calming down. Ben approaches, a look of horror on his face and breaks to me with agonizing slowness that our elderly dog peed on the floor. (She does this literally 5 times a day, this is not newsworthy.)

4:30 I forgot to take dinner out of the freezer.

5:00 Laundry has to happen. Ben has finally been given permission to open the box. It is a replacement Lego that the company was kind enough to send us after Boba Fett mysteriously disappeared.

5:05 Legos are all over my couch, I’m making sandwiches, and excuse myself upon delivery. “I’m going to cry for three minutes, and I’ll be back. There will be no more excitement today. I’m all excited out.”

Then you know what? I cried for a couple of minutes, but I didn’t think any of these things:

  • THE WORLD WILL END IF I DON’T CLEAN THIS HOUSE WHAT KIND OF A PERSON LIVES IN THIS MANY LEGOS
  • I am the worst mother
  • I can’t live like this one more minute
  • Everything is horrible and then it’s soaked in pee and why bother please let me go to bed now.

I DID think these things:

  • Ben is 9 and I’ve never missed picking him up at school because I fell asleep. Which is a pretty damn good accomplishment if you knew what I did in a day.
  • I still brought the kids to the park even though I knew Sam might have a tantrum and it was late.
  • This is just a couple of hours that are rough every day almost, and then it will be good
  • What kind of bird doesn’t just fly away??
  • I got to revise my book today and am halfway done with editing and that’s pretty cool
  • I feel not one ounce bad for eating 2 mini packs of cookies.

See, this lifestyle is why I love donuts. Donuts GET ME around this time every day. I don’t eat a donut every day, but I probably would if they were here. And if I eat a salad for lunch, like today, I have extra rights. The fact that I’m smiling now, and not freaking out shows me what headway I’ve made mentally, emotionally and hormonally in the past month alone. It’s a damn good feeling. I can handle some chaos. I maybe even like it a little. I like it just fine when I have donuts.

 

The Writing Spark and Why Writing Happens All the Time

TODAY’S BREW: 8 o’clock Hazelnut

By Julie

Creating a book takes more than words on paper. It takes watching the world. It takes paying attention to things you normally wouldn’t. It takes breathing and wondering and finding new things to inspire you every single day. It’s the random line that means nothing but creates a context to be fit into.

Writing a book is living life and committing it to paper, fictional or non. Without living your life, you have nothing new to offer. A writer has to sometimes let their brains flow freely, make notes on five different books, cut pictures out of magazines, doodle and re-read old books, take walks or watch tv all day. Writing is something a writer is always doing. Everything beautiful and ugly and powerful is a book in their heads and that can’t all be bolted down into a thousand words a day.

A writer is the deconstruction of goals over and over, the tearing apart of their own rules and limitations. A writer knows that nothing can stop them from creating, no matter what medium they use. Life is their medium.

So, writers, when those moments hit that you lament you didn’t take a free hour to write, remember that you have. Writing starts in the heart, and it makes it to your brain in a hundred different ways. It isn’t always about throwing slobber on the page to weed through later. It’s surviving the ambush of images and sentences that you live with every minute.

Write. Do it your way then make all new ways to do it. Have ten notebooks, write the middle first, spend half a day at the craft store digging through clearance bins. Find the spark. The spark is what writes the book. The spark is what makes you need to create. A writer lives their work, and their work lives because of them. Don’t let anyone tell you that the way you do your art is wrong. There is no wrong way to make art except ignoring the spark in all its various forms.

Captain Coping Mechanism Tries To Emote

TODAY’S BREW: made at home Hazelnut

By Julie

If I’m being honest, I’ve been irritable since I woke up. Still lying in bed, I was annoyed, snapping at the husband, wishing I didn’t have to do All the Things.

Add to this the incessant battle of potty training with a child the physical equivalent of Hulk and the mental equivalent of that boss you once had that HAD to be right.

Add to this that my fertile window ended yesterday, and I know this because I track every step of my Hormonal Trail of Tears to better anticipate what will happen next.

Add to this the death of a family member that I would rather not discuss.

Add to this my physical exhaustion from the book fair I co-ran and the fact that I spent too much time outside yesterday–never a good idea for me.

I didn’t want to admit that I was going to have an anxious day. 15 days of feeling well-balanced and happy despite any little pitfalls was not a title I was willing to give up.

7pm and I have isolated myself emotionally from my loved ones. I reached out with a shaky little pathetic hand that I assume everyone understands is me needing affection when I feel vulnerable, and when it’s not recognized, BOOM! YOU’RE OUT, MOTHERFUCKER!

Then I can’t read, write, edit, move.

Then everyone’s accomplishments become my failures.

Then I see the end of the day as a bigger picture, symbolic of my waning lifetime.

Then I took my emergency anxiety pill and cried a little–not as much as usual by a long shot–and I wrote this. Because I need to get outside myself when the panic disorder rears its stupid fucking head.

It’s silly of me to think that 15 days of feeling fantastic means YAY YOU DON’T HAVE HORMONES OR A PANIC DISORDER ANYMORE! These are things I will probably always have to cope with, and I did cope with them today–albeit, fairly poorly in some respects, but I did something different, and that has to count for something. And I didn’t hide in my bedroom, sobbing and screaming. And I’m not shaking at all. And I do want to go to bed and I can’t say with amazing gusto that I want to wake up tomorrow, but I’m counting on that when I do I’ll feel better.

So today I don’t get a pretty sticker that says I had another excellent day. And that’s okay . Maybe I’ll give myself an ugly sticker. It’s not a goal, and it’s not a failure. I cannot expect absolutes–to always feel wonderful any more than I can expect to always feel stressed. But when my body and mind tell me they need a day to freak the fuck out, I’m just going to admit it.

This is step one.

The Zen of Kicking Ass with Julie

TODAY’S BREW: I took Juan Valdez’s donkey and I just squeezed.

By Julie

I missed you guys.

Blogging for me was a business strategy. Kristen and I wanted to make it as writers and knew we needed a platform. I had no idea that blogging would bring out a new side of me as a writer, one that connected to a community sometimes with my ugliest side(s).

So stepping away from blogging for so long, when I had been meticulous with the schedule was very, very difficult. But I couldn’t do it all anymore. I couldn’t blog once or twice a week, write a book–no, two books!–no, three books! I CAN WRITE A HUNDRED BOOKS AT ONCE!, edit for clients (which is the same amount of energy as writing a book), run the Scholastic book fair, be Most Involved Mom Ever and survive. I had a nervous breakdown, which I did a post about. My last post, actually.

But guys, things are better. Not just better–they’re GOOD. I see a therapist now, just for ME. Not for my marriage, not for my child, but for me. I realized that not blogging would not end time as I know it. I wouldn’t lose anyone. I missed deadlines. For interviews, editing, my own for writing…. And everyone was like, “yeah, that’s okay, just be better.” I thought for sure I would be screwing up; everyone’s lives. I gave myself a goddamn break. And everything is better because of it.

Even my books are fine. They’re still there, waiting for me to finish up all in good time. I don’t need to produce at the fastest rate humanly possible. I NEED to enjoy the process. I can be tired to write. I wrote all of RUNNING HOME and half of RUNNING AWAY after 10 hour shifts in retail, after being awake since the crack of dawn with an infant. But I can’t write well when I’m spent. I shouldn’t say I can’t write well–I do, I do write well, but I don’t write at my best, even when I think I am. THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS is a good damn book, one I’m uber proud of and was so sure was ready for an agent. A lot of agents thought so, too. Amazing agents, including my dream agent read the full manuscript, and all were torn, but all of them just found something MISSING.

One would think this would be heartbreaking for me, and sure, the dream agent passing on the book was. But I got over it, and I’m revising the book–based on what I think it should be better at–and I realized that the book was the best I was capable of AT THE TIME, which is still goddamn good, but I was spread too thin. It’s difficult when your best work isn’t your best but still damn good because you can’t recognize the troubles within. It’s the A+ student who suddenly gets a B and has a heart attack–still good, but not good enough. It breaks you for a minute, but you take the next test. Because you have to. Because being that good is a commitment.

Totally off the subject–I get to do that because this is the first blog I’ve written in months–yeah, I just said a few times that I’m a good writer. I am. IT’S NOT JUST OKAY BUT ACTUALLY RECOMMENDED TO CHAMPION YOURSELF. Being your own worst critic is fine or whatever–I prefer to be my own best friend. I wouldn’t be nasty to a friend about their writing, and I won’t do it to myself. Not for that or anything else.

ANYWAY. I’ve felt really well-balanced for two weeks today. I count it like someone sobering up would. Two weeks where I didn’t feel like I was hanging on by a thread. Where I woke up happy instead of feeling like I was fighting against my life from the second I opened my eyes. I’m starting to feel like I can do anything again–a dangerous feeling if I didn’t learn a lesson so well.

So, you’ll be seeing more of me ’round these parts. Talking about writing, dropping wisdom and stuff, telling you my dark and uglies. You know, I never got the appeal of Howard Stern until I started working at becoming a public figure. He HAS to be himself, let the ugliest sides of himself show and highlight them like it’s the best fucking thing ever. I kind of get it now. I mean, he’s still a pig? But he refuses to be ashamed of anything about himself, and that’s awesome. I think of him sometimes when I talk about my raging hormones, my crippling anxiety (which is doing much better), being the poster girl for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, mistakes I’ve made, the weird crap I like. This is me. I like myself a whole lot, and I do what I want to do. I can apologize for mistakes I’ve made, but I won’t apologize for who I am. Who I am is pretty goddamn fantastic, dark and uglies and all.

Thanks for sticking around, folks. I look forward to kicking some ass for you on the regular.

 

 

 

NOT TODAY: The Benefits of My Nervous Breakdown by Julie

TODAY’S BREW: Crème Brulee. It may taste nothing like crème brulee, I would not know

By Julie

I had a nervous breakdown.

In retrospect, it had been coming for a while. I slowed down editing, writing was getting harder, and I was surviving tragedy after minor tragedy left and right in addition to the eighty million things I manage to fit into my days. I couldn’t even blog and claimed it was a “holiday vacation” when it was really that I was burnt, but still burning. I knew I should have seen it coming because I’d been waiting every time I went out in public for the time I would be alone so I could cry for no real reason. I’d been reaching out to crisis lines, unable to enjoy anything I normally did.

One day the week before school vacation, it just hit me. I couldn’t handle any noise whatsoever. I was holed up in my bedroom’s silence; a bird flew by outside, and cawed. It sent me into a convulsive jump and I couldn’t stop shaking for hours. Doing ANYTHING made me cry–getting a glass of juice for the kids, the steps to get in and out of the car, listening to the dog whine for scraps…. I had nightmares that wouldn’t quit. My panic attacks immobilized me but for the need to stay in one place and bounce my leg or rock back and forth. I’d shake for hours afterwards. I woke up shaking and wouldn’t be able to even hold a drink without spilling it until after 5 at night. I bit my cuticles until they were bloody, a really lovely complement to the bleeding psoriasis that cropped up all over my palms. I was gritting my teeth so consistently that my jaw ached.

And I had to STOP. Everything. I sat on the couch and watched Shark Tank because it required zero emotional investment. I read in short spurts. I got off all social media. I couldn’t let the kids watch cartoons while I was in the room. I stopped everything.  And I admitted to my doctor and to a therapist’s office that I was indeed having a nervous breakdown and needed immediate help. I didn’t minimize it, saying I was having a rough patch. I said what I knew in my heart was happening.

What followed was a sense of peace that I hadn’t felt for a long time.

Finally, I hit my limit. It was freeing to finally say, “Well. That’s that. I finally found my limit.” And then I had to stop. I had to let the machine rest and clear the smoke.

I’ve always been told YOU CAN DO IT, JULIE.

The trouble with that is that I KNOW. I won’t stop until the thing I want to accomplish is achieved. I won’t say no to someone who needs my help. I multitask to a fault, and boy are those days over. I always could do it.

Nobody was telling me I didn’t have to. I need that, so much.

When the breakdown hit, there was no denying that I was out of commission. My husband was absolutely incredible, just letting me be, confirming that I didn’t have to do everything, that I needed to be first. Not just first, but only. Just for a while.

It’s now been a couple of weeks, and I am back to editing at a less grueling pace. I’m taking control of my environment in that when I say I CAN’T HANDLE THIS, I don’t. I DON’T. If I can’t handle the noise or brightness, I leave. If I can’t handle any more thinking, I stop. I don’t force myself through it. I had my panic meds increased, am getting therapy, and I’m cutting back on social media a lot. I read more, I’m writing longhand the way I did when writing RUNNING HOME. I’m meditating and going back to my roots. I even put a sticky note on the back of my phone that says NOT TODAY: meaning no social media, primarily, but also extending to not adding to my manageable to-do list. It doesn’t all have to be done today. I use that post it note a couple of times a week.

Having a panic disorder is rough. Not giving myself the space I need to cope with that and dealing with the number of responsibilities and pressures and need for taking charge that I have is a disaster waiting to happen. Well, the disaster happened, and now I can move forward. And I’m really okay. I really am. More than I have been in quite some time.

What I’ve learned overall is that I CAN do it, but I don’t HAVE to do it unless I WANT to. No matter what I tell myself, apart from the fires that I put out being the parent of children that require a lot of investment from me, there is not a goddamn thing that I HAVE to do. It’s all choice. And I’m smiling as I say that having choices is something I LIKE again.

Thank you all for your support. And speaking of support, if YOU have anything, anything at all weighing on your mind, there’s an amazing text support that I go to, and they are so helpful. Text SUPPORT to 741-741 and a trained counselor will listen.

Take care of yourselves, readers. Take care of each other.

In Which You Learn About ALL SMOKE RISES by Mark Matthews and He Gushes About Me But I Didn’t Ask Him To.

TODAY’S BREW: Blizzard Brew by New England Coffee and it is STRONG.

By Julie

As an editor, I get to play with books before anyone else, and sometimes I feel like I’m finding treasure. ALL SMOKE RISES by Mark Matthews, a long-time friend published alongside me at Books of the Dead Press, is one of those glinting jewels. Visceral, beautiful, horrible, speaking of the human condition and of what it could be for both good and bad, frightening and hopeful and destitute. In this post that I SWEAR he asked me to put up, I didn’t as HIM to put up, he raves until I’m in tears about how awesome I am as an editor, but let me tell you that Matthews has a style and unique perspective on his subject matter and in his craft that gleams like a shiny apple. Not to mention that I got to spend time with him at a convention once and it was awesome. He’s just the most genuine, thoughtful and hilarious guy, and it shows in this book.

 

 

All Smoke Rises releases this week, a follow up to my last novella, Milk-Blood. While it takes place just weeks after Milk-Blood ends, it also serves as a stand-alone read. *Hi, this is Julie. It totally stands alone. It will beg you to read MILK-BLOOD, though.* The book tackles drug addiction, urban decay, mental illness, and a host of other real-life horrors.

 

Even though it’s a story, it doesn’t mean it’s not true. The material is not fiction. It’s happening, right now. Addicts are roaming the streets, craving heroin the way a vampire craves blood. Children are living in urban squalor, with poverty so deep their best meals of the day come when they go to school. As Kealan Patrick Burke so generously wrote in the introduction, “All Smoke Rises perfectly encapsulates horror as a reflection of real life.”

 

The inspiration for writing All Smoke Rises came from my own work as a substance abuse therapist. For nearly 20 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of addicts from the Detroit area, many of them indigent. Before this time, I spent years in my own addiction. I woke up each day and my daily efforts were how to get high and get by. I now have 23 years clean and sober, and will never forget the immense power addiction has over the human soul.

 

All Smoke Rises is a book I’m damn proud of, but certainly did not create it on my own. I’ve got a long list of beta-readers and an incredible editor. Julie Hutchings. The most demure woman in the twitterverse. *It’s true, I am.*

I should point out, before I go on, that it was my idea, not hers, to guest blog and thank her for what a great job she did in editing my manuscript.

 

Readers would thank her, too, if they could, for the book they would have read would have been a much lesser piece had not Ms. Hutchings poured her own heart into the story.

 

Nuts and bolts were tightened. Extra parts were thrown away as needed. Paragraphs were reshaped, certain sentences were turned into stand-alone paragraphs, others were ended on a different note to keep the plot flowing. Overused phrases and words were smashed over my head until I saw stars. Rewording these descriptors made me work harder as a writer and created a better product.

 

If you’ve ever had a word document edited, you’ve come to know those little comment bubbles on the side. Well, Julie’s comments were different. They came alive. They spoke to me, made me laugh, or reached out from the screen and gave me nugies. If a nugie wasn’t enough, they grabbed me by the neck and squeezed until I heard my own esophagus crack. All of this to challenge me to be the best version of myself, and I responded in kind best as I could.

 

I’m so incredibly excited for this book. The producer of Monkey Knuckle Films is reading it now, and I hope some of the plot-line will be included into the movie adaptation of Milk-Blood. John F.D. Taff said, “All Smoke Rises makes Milk-Blood look like a freshman writing assignment.” Kealan Patrick Burke agreed to do the introduction after giving it a read, and seeing what he wrote was a highlight of my writing career.

 

But I did not write it alone, so thank you, Julie, for your invaluable contributions. Worth adding that, if you are only a digital friend of Julie, she is exactly as you would think in real life. I spent just a few hours hanging with Hutchings at a convention, and it was like swimming in a pool full of her tweets. She’s genuine good people, with genuine editing skills that I’d recommend to anyone who listens.

 

 

 

ALL SMOKE RISES

Ten year old Lilly is the victim of a terrible house fire and a wretched family. Her father is an addict with mental illness, her mother was murdered and then buried across the street, and her uncle got her addicted to heroin. Lilly’s tragic story has been told in the book ALL SMOKE RISES, and it may be true, for the author has broken into your house, and placed Lilly’s body on your kitchen counter. He demands you read the manuscript, before cutting his own wrists and bleeding out on your floor. Now you have decisions to make, for Lilly’s body may not be dead, and her family is coming for her.

 

“Make no mistake, when it comes to citations of true horror, you will be hard pressed to find a deeper and more challenging example than you will here. Matthews knows the heartbreak and tragedy of his subject. By the time you are done reading this, you will too.” ~KEALAN PATRICK BURKE, Bram Stoker Award winning author of KIN and Sour Candy

******

 

ADVANCE PRAISE “Heartbreakingly sad, overwhelmingly disturbing, creepy, violent and poignant. Highly recommended.” ~JOHN FD TAFF Bram Stoker Finalist “Filled with such dread and depravity that even the most desensitized among us will feel the pain. Matthews’s prose vividly shows the viciousness and hopelessness of drug addiction, and the beautifully horrifying images will stay with you long after the final page is digested.” ~JON BASSOFF, author of Corrosion, winner of the Darkfuse Reader’s Choice Award “True reality horror, with supernatural elements that only serve to make it more believable.” ~MICHAEL BRADFORD, Executive Producer, Monkey Knuckle Films.

 

Check out ALL SMOKE RISES on Amazon. Just $2.99 for kindle

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