Categories
Books Bullying

Pieces of Narrative

Today, I have a new author for you, from the US – new to me, at least. I don’t need to look any further than his writing for this post to know that he is someone whose work I’m eager to read. Henry Corrigan.

Do read on. You will find a thought-provoking article, a striking bio, a book blurb describing a highly promising plot, and a compelling excerpt.

A Man in Pieces will be published in four days and can be pre-ordered now.

The Narratives We Choose for Ourselves
by Henry Corrigan

High school is hell on earth. There is absolutely nothing new about this. There are myriad songs, books and horror movies written about its universally accepted brutality. Before high school, I was practically a straight-A student. I did my homework, studied for tests and I mostly enjoyed the work. That all changed once I reached high school.

Now, to hear my mother tell it, this sudden deviation was due to hormones. She said I hit puberty in eighth grade and it all went downhill from there. I became rebellious and lazy and stupid. And she told me this often enough that for many years after, it became my narrative. I believed that I’d let both myself and my family down by simply being a horny teenager who didn’t want to work.

It wasn’t until I sat down with a therapist and started talking about high school, what it was like and what I went through, that I began to understand how wrong that narrative actually was.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying my hormones didn’t contribute to the problems I had. I’m simply saying they were not the root cause.

In my freshman year of high school, my parents went through a nasty divorce which stemmed from domestic violence. It was also in high school that my grandmother both fought and lost a protracted battle with cancer. During this time I was bullied by both men and women and while this may not have happened in high school, I’m still counting it, because my grandfather fought and lost his own battle with cancer during my first year of college.

I barely made it through high school. I did not make it through my first year of college. I dropped out and spent the next couple of years working crappy jobs, hanging out with my friends, and trying desperately not to think about the future because it all felt like more than I could possibly handle.

When I finally finished telling my therapist about all this, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d failed somehow. But my therapist (God bless her) looked at me, shook her head, and said it sounded like I’d been in mourning.

She was right. I had been in mourning. I’d been grieving the loss of my grandparents and, in a way, the loss of my parents because after their divorce, my relationship with them was never the same. But I’d also been mourning the loss of myself as well, because it was during this tumultuous time that I changed in ways it would take me literally decades to understand.

But one of the things I did learn from all of this, is that while narratives can be helpful, they can also be constricting, even detrimental. Narratives often guide our lives in more ways than we choose to believe, which is ironic, considering they require our belief to function in the first place. So, we must always be careful which narratives we choose to put our faith in, and most especially when it comes to how we define ourselves over the course of our lives.

Author BIO

Henry Corrigan is a bisexual, omnivore author, poet and playwright who writes every kind of story. Whether it’s horror or science fiction, erotica or poetry, high fantasy or children’s books, he writes it all because every story matters to him. They’re what keeps him going. Always an avid reader, Henry started writing poetry in middle school but it wasn’t until he started writing erotica in high school that he really learned the mechanics of writing. What started out as private stories and love letters, soon became publications in anthologies.

To date, he has the rough drafts of two science fiction books, one horror novella, one play, four children’s books, numerous poems and several song lyrics waiting in the wings. Above all, he wants to be known for not staying where he’s been put. To always surprise people, especially himself. Because that’s what makes it fun. The feeling that even he doesn’t know what he’s going to do next.

Social Media Links

Twitter. Amazon. Medium (articles). Facebook. Website. Blog.

Book Blurb

Driven by bad choices and worse options, a desperate father-to-be must battle his abusive boss for the last slot at a dead-end job, but the fight may lead one of them to murder.

Mike Harper would like nothing more than to burn his dead-end job to the ground. But with a wife on bed rest and a son on the way, discovering that the company is downsizing couldn’t come at a worse time. Now, struggling to stay afloat, Mike is forced to fight for the last remaining spot to secure his family’s future. It’s too bad that Tom, his obnoxious boss, is in the same boat.

Tom Downes is a man with few friends and even fewer prospects, but the aging veteran has never gone down without a fight. Now, with his health failing and his marriage falling apart, Tom is willing to do whatever it takes to keep his job.

With a blinding snowstorm closing in, these two desperate men will battle each other on a long and twisted road fraught with heartbreaking losses – and murder.

For when it comes to staying afloat, the American Dream can break anyone…

Pre-order/buy link to Amazon

A Man in Pieces: Excerpt

Friday January 22, 2016

Tom almost smiled, despite the pain.

Maybe it was how the kids laughed, or the way they moved, all flailing limbs and flapping jaws, their shrieks pealing across the street like remote controlled planes. There were four of them, all boys, and the tallest one, broad-faced with a nose like a putting wedge, dove headfirst into a snow drift before rolling easily to his feet. Every inch of him came up frosted, and his smile was as bright as the ice.

Two others, one thin and four-eyed, the other all braces and freckles, wordlessly dropped to their knees and started building a snowman together. The fourth, chubbiest by far, peeked sneakily from behind one of the cars in the driveway, a growing pile of snowballs at his feet.

With only one good hand and leg left to his name, Tom wobbled then hip checked the storm door open. He scowled at the flakes as they swept by. Light as confectioner’s sugar and deceptive as hell; the kind of shit that should fall apart but would pull at your tires in every turn.

The cold put his teeth on edge as he hobbled out on his stoop. Too late; he realized he’d put his keys in his usual pocket. He held his lunch bag between hip and cast and contorted himself until his muscles strained painfully, but the keys came out before any other part of him gave in.

He locked the door behind him, turning just in time to see the door across the street burst open. Out of it bounded a little one, half the size of the rest, same nose, same broad face as the tall one, but she lacked his coordination, and her long dark hair flew behind her like a personal flag.

From his hiding place, Chubby watched her too, and Tom didn’t find it hard to know what he was thinking. The minute she hit the snow she started running around the other three boys in chaotic circles. She wore a parka that was the pinkest thing Tom had ever seen in his life, and she chattered non-stop.

Chubby would peg her first, hard, and she’d probably cry and shriek, which would bring mommy out, but there was nothing for it. It was the way of boys and girls at that age. It’s what Tom would have done if he’d been Chubby.

As if he was keeping to a script, Chubby ducked back down and mashed two snowballs together until he had a real bellringer in his hands. Tom saw him smile and straighten; his arm cocked back with all that flabby weight behind it.

A small, white missile caught him right in the eye.

Chubby yelped like a kicked dog. He wiped furiously at his face. Tom blinked and shook his head in surprise.

The kid sister was beaming like a spotlight, both arms high in a celebratory V. It took less than a second for the other boys to start the pointing and laughing. Chubby’s face turned red, and Tom thought he saw the glint of tears, but that might’ve been the snow melting on his cheeks. Older brother gave kid sister a high five and then they went to help the others with their snowman.

Chubby and his stockpile were forgotten, and play resumed.

Tom glanced towards his car, which seemed a million miles away. The kids couldn’t see how fast it was coming down, or how it was sticking to everything in sight. They wouldn’t have to feel the ice beneath their tires and the ruts and the cracked roadways and the salt and sand so thick it could strip the paint off a car. The most they’d see of it would be watching their parents white knuckling the wheel.

Tom envied them for that. It had only been a couple hours since his last dose of pain meds but already he could feel it. His broken bits were starting to throb again, but it was a groggy kind of pain, almost slipshod, as if someone had laid a shawl across his shoulders that just happened to weigh forty pounds.

In the back of his mind he knew it was a risk heading out, even if he’d been a hundred percent. Already he anticipated the slip of the wheel and the stupid fucks out there driving like traction was something the other guy had to worry about.

Nothing for it, troop. Get your ass in gear.

The voice was right. He never called in yesterday and this was the wrong time to make a mistake like that. Who knew what Asshole Mike had been up to while he was gone? He couldn’t afford to let that sonuvabitch get a foothold, not this close to the end. If he did…if management even thought it was a contest…

Fuck it. Won’t happen.

So what if he hadn’t called in? It was his first sick day in what, a year? Hell, longer than that, had to be. He didn’t need to explain himself. He just had to walk in as he was.

Hey guys! How’s it going? Oh this? Yeah, it was nothing. Had an accident yesterday, but I’m here now. No big deal. Why am I not home, Pat? Come on, man. Got work to do, don’t I?

Nodding to himself, Tom pulled up the collar of his jacket, took a step down the walk, and almost had his feet shoot out from under him.

He teetered and staggered, nearly fell, managed to get his balance but at the cost of his bad foot hitting the ground hard. The bones twisted and howled, sending tracer rounds of pain across his whole body. Tom cursed loudly and sucked in a great big mouthful of burning winter air and then he was hacking like he’d never stop. He coughed ’til his chest burned, ’til his eyes watered, like there was something wet and sickly inside him he couldn’t get out.

He ended up bent over double with a bitter taste in the back of his throat. He breathed as deep and slow as he could ’til his heart stopped its panicky scramble, and he could see straight again. Straightening slowly, he filled his mouth with all that gunk, and spat it, long and wet, into the snow.

Being sure to keep his head high, he turned towards the kids, a hard glare ready for any of them stupid enough to be staring. But the effort was wasted. None of them noticed. Chubby had rejoined the ranks and their play had evolved into a bastardization of football and dodgeball, one kid tasked with making it to the curb before the others pelted the living hell out of him.

Tom wiped his chin and thought about the drive ahead. It would be a bitch, no doubt, but if he got his ass in gear, he could still make it with time to spare. That was all he needed, really. Just enough to fend off Asshole Mike and prove that he deserved to be there.

Stepping carefully, limping heavily, he inched his way down the walk. He’d forgotten his gloves inside, so by the time he cleared the headlights and all the windows, his hands were as white as porcelain and ready to crack.

It took more maneuvering but eventually he opened the door, and his ass met the front seat. As soon as the Crown Vic barked to life, Tom cranked the heater as high as it would go. He couldn’t afford to give it any warmup time, but he forced himself to sit there for a couple minutes anyway. The Vic was ten years old and not in the best of shape. Stressing it, even a little bit, in the middle of winter, was a bad idea. He stared at the dashboard clock as the seconds passed. The clenching in his gut, the way his skin and bones and fucking everything itched to get moving, made it seem like the seconds were taking their time. Out for a stroll through a warm and sunny park Tom would never find.

He closed his eyes and sucked in one long breath, hoping it would steady him, but before he could get that far, the hacking came back, stealing away what little breath he had.

This coughing fit hurt even worse than the last, and when all that wet filled his mouth again, he rolled down the window and hocked it into the snow. By the time he looked back at the dash, the last minute had passed. He threw the car in gear and peeled out of the drive. The kids didn’t notice his passing and he paid them no mind. He was too busy praying for a break in the lights.

Out in the street, he twisted the wheel, and headed for the main road. As he picked up speed, the wind stripped away everything he was too weak to reach – the icicles off his bumpers, the slush off the wheels, even the little bit of red off the door, the thin, drooling streak that stretched from the window to halfway down the paint. It slipped away unnoticed in the gray and white morning.

Categories
Books Social anxiety

Social Anxiety in Hunter’s Rules

I’m delighted to welcome friend and author, Val Penny to tell us about social anxiety in her Edinburgh Crime Novels and in particular the brand new Hunter’s Rules.

In the real world, many people consciously restrict their contact with others due to the social anxiety they suffer, and I try to illustrate this in my series of Edinburgh Crime Novels through the character of Frankie Hope.

 Frankie is now a young man, but as a child he was bullied by his mother and insulted by his father. This has left him cautious of interaction in the wider world. He fears being thought of negatively so, in Hunter’s Rules, the most recent book in my crime fiction series, he waits in two long lines during a prison visit to his uncle, Ian. Otherwise, he would have had to return empty-handed and get scolded by Ian. That is not an option for Frankie.

Frankie also finds it difficult to initiate conversations with strangers. They cause him a great deal of embarrassment. However, he works in the family business, a car showroom where new customers are always unknown to him, so rather than approach them, he will usually leave his more ebullient cousin, Jamie, to make the first approach.

Social anxiety also usually holds a fear for those who suffer from it that they may humiliate themselves in some way or do or say something out of place. They worry about drawing attention to themselves and getting a negative reaction. Frankie is no different.

During his adolescence, he suffered from severe acne and, although he dated the prettiest and nicest girl at his high school, he did not have the confidence to understand why she might like him. The girl had to make the first move; Frankie certainly would not do so.

The only people Frankie is really relaxed around are those he knows best, his twin daughters, Kylie-Ann and Dannii-Ann, his fiancée Donna and his cousin Jamie. They live together in the house Frankie inherited from his parents and I doubt Frankie will ever move – the anxiety would be too great.

Set in Edinburgh, the beautiful capital city of Scotland, Hunter’s Rules revolves largely around Frankie, Jamie and their loved ones. There is no doubt that they are impatient for DI Hunter Wilson and his team to solve the case that has touched them so deeply.

Thank you for explaining that, Val. Here’s some more information about Hunter’s Rules, which launches on 1st January, 2022.

About Hunter’s Rules

A bloody scene brings Hunter and Meera’s romantic plans to an abrupt end.

A young woman was attacked in a hotel lift. She has life changing injuries, but she is alive. Hunter notes that her wounds are like those inflicted on two women who previously died.  

Can Meera keep the injured woman alive long enough for her to identify her assailant? Is the same person responsible for all three crimes? When Hunter is identified as a suspect in the crime, can he establish his innocence and lead his team to solve the crime and keep Edinburgh safe?

Author BIO

This is the sixth book in The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries series of novels. Val Penny’s other crime novels, Hunter’s Chase Hunter’s Revenge, Hunter’s Force Hunter’s Blood and Hunter’s Secret form the rest of this bestselling series set in Edinburgh, Scotland, published by darkstroke.

You can also start at the beginning of The Jane Renwick Thrillers with The First Cut.

 Her first non-fiction book Let’s Get Published is also available now and she has most recently contributed her short story, Cats and Dogs to a charity anthology, Dark Scotland.

Val is an American author living in SW Scotland with her husband and their cat.

Categories
Books

No Place Like Japan

My husband and I are lucky to have been on some amazing trips around the world. One of them took place seven years ago in Japan. In three action-packed weeks, we toured a country that is like no other – modern yet traditional, beautiful and quaint.

Street performance in Kanazawa

We dressed in traditional clothes and consumed local food and drink.

But we remained most definite outsiders. In three weeks, we couldn’t possibly begin to know what it’s like to live in this weird and wonderful land. And it’s only as an outsider that I’m able to write about Japan.

Fortunately, Martin, the main character in my novel: Cultivating a Fuji, also visits Japan as an outsider. Unfortunately, he has lived his whole life as an outsider, starting at school where he was ostracised and bullied.

When Martin is sent to represent his company in Japan, nobody believes he can succeed. He surprises everyone, including himself, but that’s only the beginning.

Edition 2 of Cultivating a Fuji will be released on 22nd February 2021. You can pre-order it now from Amazon at mybook.to/CultivatingAFuji.

What’s New?

Not a lot, so don’t buy it if you’ve read it. I’ve made minor improvements to the text. And I’ve changed the very beginning and the very end.

The beginning is important because the first sentence needs to make an impression, but the story remains the same.

The ending is now the one I really wanted for the first edition, before I allowed myself to be persuaded by a suggestion from an author I admire. Instead of explaining why my ending worked better, or simply ignoring the suggestion, I persuaded myself that she knew better.

So, for me, this novel has been a lesson in trusting myself as an author. It’s important to listen to what readers have to say, but ultimately the decision must remain with the author.

Fortunately, this novel has been enjoyed by many and I hope it continues to satisfy readers and make them reflect.

Categories
memories

Gill Downs: A Tribute

Gill Downs. 1st February 1953 – 18th November 2020

The six days that have passed since I heard the sad news of Gill’s passing haven’t made this any easier to grasp. The suddenness has made it difficult for everyone, especially for her family. No one expected this.

I first met Gillian at school. She was in my year, but never in my class, and I remember her mostly from the coach that took us to kosher dinners and back. Probably most of the girls who went didn’t eat kosher at home, but their parents saw it as a way for them to meet other Jews.

Gill was much more sophisticated than me, more knowledgeable about things outside school. I was younger than most of them and young for my age and, like all the girls I hung around with, she bullied me. I never called it bullying then. Bullying, I thought then but don’t think now, had to be physical. I called it teasing. It wasn’t pleasant. And yet, despite the way they treated me, I continued to hang around with them, every day, there and back and while we ate our kosher meals. Why? Because the alternative would have been to be on my own, and I knew that would be worse.

No one in that group of girls was the highest in the bullying ranking. There were a couple of others – one in particular – who won that title. And Gill, I remember, even agreed to sit next to me when I found myself in the same Maths class as her.

Eventually, school fizzled out. I left with pleasure and a vow never to be in contact with any of the girls from school again. Fortunately, university was much better. But my experiences of school, and childhood in general, continued to have an effect on me as a person. I often kept quiet and when I did talk, I found self-expression difficult and sounded hesitant.

I moved countries, got married, had three children. I worked as a computer programmer and then as a technical writer. My life was good but the problems didn’t go away.

In 2002, I added myself to the list for my school on Friends Reunited (a forerunner to Facebook). Never did I expect anyone would contact me, but they did – first Jane and then Gill. For a long time, Gill and I emailed each other practically every day. It was the perfect medium for me. It gave me time to consider my words, yet provided an immediacy that letters never could. I poured out my problems and thoughts, and she listened and reacted, showing that she understood. She gave advice and eventually told me about social anxiety. It was hard for me to believe that anyone else in the world could have similar problems, so it was most surprising to discover the name, support groups and therapy.

Gill and Miriam, May 2009

One thing that bothered me was that Gill continued to feel guilty for what she did to me as a child. (She had a different word for it: victimisation.) I tried to make her see that she was too young and immature to know what she was doing to me then. I said any blame should be laid on the adults in our lives – mostly the teachers, and perhaps even that isn’t fair because they didn’t know, either.

Without Gill, I’d have remained the same person, quiet and closed to the world. Probably, many people I meet still see me that way. But, through Gill, I’ve learned to write down my thoughts. Without her, I would never have become an author.

It’s hard to believe that I can no longer reach Gill by any means, technological or otherwise. For her, I’m glad, at least, that decades of enduring pain and disability ended so suddenly. For her family, the suddenness has added to their grief and for that I’m very sorry.

I’ll never forget Gill and all she did for me these past eighteen years. Yehi zichra baruch – may her memory be a blessing.

Categories
Social anxiety

I’m probably over-reacting, but…

As far as I know, there was only one time in my adult life that someone decided not to talk to me. The situation lasted for two weeks, during which I was devastated. Why? Probably because in my childhood it was a regular occurrence for me to be sent to Coventry. Because even when this was not the case, I was mostly ignored. When I wasn’t ignored I was mostly made fun of, and yet this was preferable. For me, loneliness was harder than being bullied, and not being spoken to has remained the worst thing anyone can do to me.

When, a few days ago, someone unfriended me on Facebook, it felt just the same. Even though I’ve never met this person. Even though, as I’ve been told, this is a common occurrence on Facebook. This was someone I had “talked” to quite a lot, someone who had always been friendly up to then.

At first, I could only guess at the reason. Later, through a mutual friend, my suspicions were confirmed, although I still don’t understand it completely. I’m hoping that this rift won’t last long either.

Friends, on- or offline, don’t always agree with each other. They can discuss their differences or agree to differ. Breaking off the friendship seems very drastic, even on Facebook. To me, anyway.

Categories
Bullying

Angela’s Ashes

I have just finished reading this heartbreaking memoir of Frank McCourt’s childhood. It’s an incredibly sad tale of growing up in dire poverty. I felt sorrow for the child who, through no fault of his own, was born into that family, anger at the people who could have helped but didn’t, and… envy, but only twice. The memoir recalls two instances when Frank was bullied – one for having an American accent and one for coming to school in shoes held together with bits of rubber tyres. In both instances, the teacher intervened and stopped the bullying.

I don’t remember a teacher ever intervening on my behalf.

Categories
Books Social anxiety

That’s Me!

This post was inspired by Lauren Becker.That's me

You know how you read a description of someone and you think, “This could be me!” It hasn’t happened to me often. Generally, characters in novels aren’t like me and people like me don’t get much attention. Three sources stand out for me.

The first is the first description I found of social anxiety, back in 2002. It’s still there on the site, where they still use the term social phobia:

WHAT IS SOCIAL PHOBIA?
Social phobia is a persistent fear of doing something embarrassing or humiliating which interferes with both personal and professional lives. People with social phobia think that other people judge them negatively. This fear may reflect a sense of being inferior, different, or unacceptable, and it goes with assumptions such as thinking that “if people knew what you were really like, then they would reject you”.

There’s more on the site. When I first read it, I was amazed that even one more person could have similar thoughts and behave in a similar way, let alone “between 3 and 13% of the population”.

I’m not a fan of Jodi Picoult. In fact I’ve only read one of her books, but that one book, Nineteen Minutes, kept me riveted because of the central character, here described by an expert trying to claim he was suffering from PTSD:

A child who suffers from PTSD has made unsuccessful attempts to get help, and as the victimization continues, he stops asking for it. He withdraws socially, because he’s never quite sure when interaction is going to lead to another incident of bullying….

Different people have different responses to stress. In Peter’s case, I saw an extreme emotional vulnerability, which, in fact, was the reason he was teased. Peter didn’t play by the codes of boys. He wasn’t a big athlete. He wasn’t tough. He was sensitive. And difference is not always respected – particularly when you’re a teenager. Adolescence is about fitting in, not standing out.

The last quote is by Etgar Keret in his story: The Son of the Head of the Mossad. I admire Keret for his simple language and complicated ideas:

Ehud was tall and strong and was always quiet. Lots of people thought that Ehud was quiet because he was stupid. That wasn’t true. He may not have been the smartest kid on the block, but he was no moron either.

Have you been described by chance?

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