How to Survive a Transition Period

We've all been through periods in life where everything is up in the air, for the most part. You might be between jobs right now, or maybe you're looking for a new apartment or a new relationship. Whatever the case, you might be feeling lost, helpless, and confused. But I want you to know this: you are not alone.

I'm not where I thought I'd be three months ago. Sometimes that terrifies me. Other times, it's exciting. My mood shifts every day. As a perfectionist and a self-professed control freak, this is difficult for me. Nothing is going the way I planned, and sometimes, I feel stuck, unmotivated, and anxious about my current situation.

How to Survive a Transition Period

In moments of helplessness, you might feel as though you'll never get "unstuck," or that you'll be where you are for the rest of your life. Of course, that's not the case. No matter how confused, anxious, or lost you may be feeling right now, you are not alone, and this transition period will end. Nothing lasts forever, after all.

But while you're in the midst of a difficult phase, there are some things you can do to make your life a little easier. Here are a few strategies I've discovered for how to survive a transition period in life.

1. LIST YOUR STRESSES

The next time you feel anxious or upset about the course your life has taken, sit down and make a list (bonus points for writing it out on paper) of all your current stressors. An example from my own life might say, "Not enough writing time, don't have my own apartment, live far from friends" and things of that nature. No matter how silly or small what's stressing you out seems, I want you to write it down. Once you've got your list, it's time to move on to...

2. CIRCLE EVERYTHING YOU CAN CHANGE

Chances are, there are several things on your list that are outside your control, such as the deteriorating health of a loved one, suffering from a chronic illness, or anything like that. For this exercise, I want you to try to ignore those points. We're only going to focus on what's within our power to change. Let's look at my examples: writing time, apartment, and distance from friends. These are all within my power to change, regardless of how hard it might be to do so. After you've figured out what you can change, feel free to...

3. LIST POTENTIAL NEXT STEPS

When you've figured out what you can change, you should decide how exactly you want it to change. For me, with writing time, I want to write more. If I make that goal more specific, it means I want to edit or draft at least 1,000 words each day, regardless of the project I have going at the moment. Some next steps toward that goal would be analyzing my time, determining what can be cut, tracking my writing progress, telling friends and loved ones, and perhaps outsourcing some tasks. When you know what all you need to do, go ahead and...

4. DETERMINE ORDER AND PRIORITY

Now that you have your next steps, what needs to be done first? Let's go again with my writing example. I need to track my time and determine what can be cut from my life to make time for writing. I need to outsource some tasks to make more time for writing, and tell friends and loved ones that I'm taking time for myself each day, so they'll know not to disturb me. I also need to track my progress once I'm writing regularly, to make sure my system is as efficient as possible. So, my order and priority list might look something like this:

  1. Track time spent every hour of every day.
  2. Analyze time, determine what can be cut or outsourced.
  3. Cut any distractions or necessary tasks, outsource others.
  4. Determine writing schedule and block off time.
  5. Tell loved ones of my time block.
  6. Write!
  7. Keep track of writing progress and analyze to determine maximum efficiency.

Not too shabby, right? As soon as you've listed everything out, you can always break it down into smaller steps too, if need be. But when you've written out your list, it's time to...

5. ATTACK THE LIST

From here, all you have to do is tackle each item on the list, one at a time, until you accomplish your goal. That's not so bad now, is it? If you want extra productivity and goal-setting points, you can also add self-imposed deadlines. So for me, let's say I want to track all my time every day this week, and start my analysis on Saturday. Self-imposed deadlines are a great way to help you stay motivated and on track.

Pro tip: Tackle one goal at a time! Although it might be thrilling to try to change everything at once, you're much more likely to see success through building habits one by one. Wait until you reach one goal before rushing on to the next one. :)

I also recommend writing your goals out, including the order and priority of your next steps, and keeping them somewhere you can see them every day. That way, you can be constantly reminded where you might be heading, instead of where you are.

What are your tips for staying focused on your goals?

Film Review: MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST

The date is June 14, 2015. A young woman diagnosed with over a dozen serious medical condition goes missing after the violent, unexpected death of her mother, and an explicit Facebook status. As police and media scramble to figure out what went wrong, reports come flooding in—the girl is safe… but nothing here is as it seems. The girl is much older than her mother claimed, she does not suffer from any of the ailments listed on her records, and she can walk without assistance. What’s more, as the lies unfold, police suspect she may have more to do with the murder than they first thought.

MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST.png

About the Murder

The story of Claudinnea “Dee Dee” and Gypsy Rose Blancharde is one of the most shocking true-crime events in recent memory. I first learned of the murder in a Sword & Scale episode (if you’re not listening to this podcast, you should be). In a classic yet severe case of “Munchausen by Proxy” Syndrome, perpetuated by a narcissist, Dee Dee lied about Gypsy’s health, inventing chronic and sometimes terminal illnesses to garner sympathy, attention, and monetary gifts. Gypsy’s “conditions” also allowed the family to receive complimentary trips to Disney World, free flights all over the country, and a no-strings-attached Habitat for Humanity house. The rabbit hole goes much further down, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll end it there. If you want a more in-depth exploration, I recommend you listen to the podcast episode or watch the documentary, which I thought was excellent.

My Review

The film garnered some criticism for its “late-night investigation expose” approach, but I’m not sure that’s warranted. On the whole, I thought the documentary did an excellent job not only illustrating the systematic abuse that led Gypsy Rose and her boyfriend to commit murder, but also reporting on the extent of the crime and how it has affected the lives of the people involved. Though the film did paint Gypsy in a sympathetic light at times, it never excused or condoned her actions.

If you’re interested in true crime, and especially the Gypsy Rose Blancharde case, this is one documentary worth streaming this weekend. Want even more spooky things in your life? Sign up for my newsletter for writing progress updates, and check back on the blog each week for more horror, true crime, writing, and unsolved mystery posts.

Mommy Dead and Dearest is available on HBO Go and HBO Now.

What do you think about this case? What are your favorite crime documentaries?

3 Unsolved Mysteries I'm Dying to Write About

What if you disappeared today, on your way home from work or school?  It's something none of us want to think about happening, but it's entirely possible. It happens every year—millions of people all over the world go missing, never to be seen or heard from again. Throughout history, we've heard strange accounts of unexplained disappearances, people vanishing without a trace, strange and gruesome murders, and other unsolved mysteries. What keeps us coming back to them? I'll tell you, along with sharing some of my top three favorite cases that have yet to be concluded—cases I might one day write novels about.

What's the Appeal of Unsolved Mysteries?

When was the last time that you were really, truly terrified? For most people, it can take several minutes to remember. In the modern world, we often like to think we're exempt from primal fears—exempt from tragedy. But even with all our security systems, technology, and so-called wisdom, we can never be one-hundred-percent safe from what lurks in the darkness just behind our houses.

We love unsolved mysteries because they remind us of the darker, deadlier parts of humanity—while lulling us into thinking it could never happen to us. Scary stories give us all the adrenaline with none of the risk. Therein lies their appeal.

Scary stories give us all the adrenaline with none of the risk. (Tweet this)

3 Great Reasons to Sleep with the Lights On

  1. The Dyatlov Pass Incident. After watching the movie Devil's Pass (2013)I became much more interested in this bizarre event. In the Ural Mountains of Russia in 1959, the bodies of nine hikers were discovered in the snow, having tore open their tents and sprinted into the cold for no apparent reason. As the investigation progressed, it was determined that six of the group members died from hypothermia, with the remaining three having succumbed to fatal injuries. Possible explanations for the hikers' deaths include an avalanche, infrasound, military tests, paradoxical undressing, a cryptozoological/extraterrestrial encounter, and more. All investigators could conclude was that the hikers died as the result of an "unknown compelling force." The case was closed in the 1970s, but a group of people are currently trying to convince the government to reopen it.

  2. The East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer. I learned about this killer only recently, but I'm pretty sure my next manuscript is going to be about him. Throughout the mid-1970s, this man committed fifty rapes in Northern California. Between 1979 and 1986, he murdered twelve people in Southern California. It took investigators a long time to realize the rapes and murders were connected. The Unresolved Podcast did a couple of great episodes on this killer, as did Casefile, if you'd like to learn more. The Original Night Stalker has never been apprehended, and could very well still be alive. As of 2016, the FBI is spearheading a nationwide push to expose the perpetrator, offering a $50,000 reward for his capture.

  3. The murder of JonBenét Ramsey. I'd be surprised if you haven't heard anything about this one. JonBenét Patricia Ramsey was a child beauty pageant queen who had her life cut short at age six. After the child was reported missing, her parents received a ransom note, allegedly from JonBenét's kidnapper. However, eight hours later, the girl's body was discovered in the family's basement. Since she was discovered with severe cranial damage and with a garrote around her neck, her death was classified as a homicide. Of course, the Ramseys denied any and all involvement in their daughter's death. The most popular theory posits that her brother, Burke, committed the murder, with JonBenét's parents helping to cover it up. The case remains an open investigation with the Boulder Police Department.

I could have included so many more unsolved mysteries—it was hard to limit myself! What do you think of these? Did your favorite make the list? Subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my writing progress, and stay tuned for more articles on horror, true crime, unsolved mysteries, and the unknown.

You Can Now Read Reflections on Wattpad

I've been on Wattpad for several years now, but I've only recently begun participating in the community and uploading my books. As of this post, I'm a self-published author, which means I retain the rights to my work. Therefore, I can distribute my novels however I see fit—I can even offer them to readers for free on Wattpad. If you haven't heard of Wattpad, it's one of the most popular mobile publishing platforms worldwide, and it's making a big splash in the book-reading and -writing world.

Wattpad lets you read free, full-length books

Imagine a world in which anyone could write a book, upload it, and get instant feedback and engagement from mobile readers. Sound too good to be true? It's not.

Recently, I listened to an episode of The Creative Penn podcast titled "Mobile, Multimedia, And An Audience Of Voracious Readers." In it, professional author and speaker Joanna Penn interviews Ashleigh Gardner, head of partnerships on Wattpad, about the merits of the digital platform, as well as how it serves to boost authors' sales and exposure. While I recommend you listen to the entire episode, one comment in particular stuck out to me:

You build your audience, you build your fan base and you're able to sell them different things in different ways...we have launched something called Wattpad Futures. It's not open to all users, it's really targeted at the top 5% of writers on the platform. It lets them make money by people who are reading their stories. They have new premium ads that go into those stories that every time someone watches it, similar to YouTube's model for their creators, that they're getting paid for that usage. There are some authors that are making upwards of 10,000 in a certain, like within a quarter just based on that reading time.

Gardner also had this to say about the platform:

People are spending over 15 billion minutes reading every month so it's a huge audience. (Tweet this)

That got me thinking: Why am I not doing more publishing on Wattpad?

How I'm Using Wattpad As an Author

With that said, I'm thrilled to announce that my latest novel, Reflections, is now available to read in full—for free—on Wattpad. I have my other novel, Blood and Water, available to read there as well. It's the release/new edition, so if you read the first edition, definitely check this one out. (I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the changes I've made. You can also read Touch: A One-Act Play and my short story "Teacher's Pet." If you do read, please consider voting, sharing, and leaving a comment or review. All the works on my profile have been completed.

Many writers on Wattpad choose to publish chapters as they write them, but that causes too much anxiety for me. I'm not sure I'll ever convert to that model. At any rate, I hope to use Wattpad more in the forseeable future. Follow me there, and stay tuned for more updates on my writing.

REFLECTIONS Is Out! Here's an Excerpt

My YA urban fantasy/mystery novel Reflections is now available in paperback and ebook form! You can also add the book on Goodreads. Here's a little preview for you.

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1 | THROUGH THE WOODS

The hot dressing room made Ramachandra “Rama” Ganeshan sweat, but not because of the temperature.

She and her best friend Myra Hare had been at the mall for hours. Myra had a dozen outfits stuffed into bags on her arm, but Rama hadn’t found a single thing she liked.

She never found anything she liked anymore.

The department-store dressing room pushed on Rama from all sides. Why was it so small? Either the air conditioning had broken, or she’d lost her coping skills. Sweat slicked her face, ran down her neck, and kissed the contour of her spine. She scowled at herself.

Standing in front of the dressing-room mirror, Rama hated her reflection. The too-tight, too-low, too-short dress dug into her thighs.

Disgusting.

As she studied her reflection, her stomach clenched. If only the ground would swallow her before Myra asked what was wrong.

There were too many questions. Rama didn’t have the answers.

Myra rapped against the door. “Can I come in?”

“Hang on a second.” Rama smoothed the dress over her stomach. Every bulge resisted the fabric. She’d never ask Myra for the next size up. “I’m changing back into my clothes. Not getting this one either.”

“Rama,” Myra said, “that’s like, the eighteenth outfit.”

“I know,” she said. “I’m sorry. Give me a minute to change back.”

Myra sighed.

Guilt gnawed at Rama. Myra had proposed the shopping trip. They didn’t see much of each other. Myra did cheerleading, and Rama had three AP courses. She seldom left the house. Helping her parents with the restaurant kept her busy most nights. Social life? Forget it.

To make matters worse, so many teenage girls had been murdered in the past year that the mayor of Aldale, West Virginia, established a curfew for minors. No other mayor had ever imposed a curfew, but Mayor Paulson said it was necessary.

Aldale had three stoplights. An hour away Morgantown boasted shops and restaurants and West Virginia University, where Rama hoped to attend medical school someday. Two years ago, at fourteen, she’d joined other gifted students auditing lectures and shadowing residents. She’d pressed her face against the glass above an operating theater, breathless as a surgeon held a heart in his hands.

In that moment, she’d decided to become a surgeon too.

Though it wasn’t far from Morgantown, Aldale might as well have been centuries away. Morgantown wasn’t huge, but it had chain restaurants. It had a mall, a real one, and a Walmart.

Aldale didn’t have anything like that. Their mall didn’t count. If Rama or her parents needed anything, they had to go down to the drugstore. John Lewis Finster had opened Finster’s Drug Shoppe in the 1950s. It housed a dusty, decrepit soda fountain with a lunch counter and everything in the center of the store. If anyone had ever eaten there, Rama didn’t believe it.

Like everything else in town, it had seen better days.

Everyone went to Finster’s to get almost anything—prescriptions, toiletries, gifts, condoms. Once, Rama had seen Jessica Spurlock in the family planning aisle. Jessica hadn’t taken anything, and even if she had, who would believe it?

Jessica epitomized the small-town “good girl” ideal. Imagine if someone caught her buying condoms when she was “waiting for marriage.”

Somehow, she convinced her parents to let her spend nights with her boyfriend.

She got to stay out all night, even with the curfew. Even though girls like Jessica were murdered without explanation.

The dead girls had been Rama’s age, classmates and friends. Girls she saw in town, flitting from store to store, laughing in the park, sitting in her family’s restaurant. Smiling, shining faces. Smooth skin and bright eyes and white, even teeth.

They had been girls Rama envied, ones she would have given anything to look like. All her life, she’d assumed the world was easier for pretty people. All her life, she’d been wrong.

Even in Aldale, violence could happen.

Rama knew better than anyone else.

Myra’s parents didn’t buy it. Danger lurked everywhere. Their children were smart. Sure, they should be careful, but the mayor had gone too far. Nothing like this had ever happened in Aldale. Myra’s parents thumbed their noses at the rules and let their daughter roam. They preferred a lax parenting style, and sent Myra to the mall alone, armed with their credit card. They never asked questions.

“Let’s go to the mall today,” Myra had said after class. “You need to get out.”

For some reason, Rama went along with the plan. Myra was right.

Myra knew best. That truth underscored their whole friendship. Since childhood, she’d “helped” Rama, telling her what to wear, where to shop, and who to spend time with. Myra had more social clout, so Rama trusted her.

Besides, Myra loved her. She wanted the best for Rama—even if Rama didn’t know what that was herself.

In the dressing room then, Rama wasn’t convinced. Myra was wrong. The dress scratched her skin, exposed the scar below her collarbone, and clung to her hips.

She was a pig.

Rama’s fingers brushed her scar. Myra had seen it. Nobody else. They’d never talked about it. Rama hoped they never would.

Months ago, Myra asked Rama why she’d cut her hair. Rama hadn’t said a word. It was past her shoulders now, but still shorter than it had ever been. When she stopped wearing jewelry, Myra said nothing. And when she showed up sans makeup on the first day of school, Myra kept silent.

If she had suspicions, she didn’t say so.

Rama’s parents weren’t so thoughtful.

“Why can’t you dress like you used to?” her mother had asked. “Myra dresses well. Let her take you shopping.”

“Your mother’s right,” her father said. “You should spend more time with Myra.”

In the present, Rama swallowed the lump in her throat. The walls of the dressing room closed in around her—what if the ceiling caved in? She would be crushed or suffocate in the nation’s smallest mall.

No one would miss her—not even Myra, who’d pressured her to go in the first place.

“You all right?” Myra asked.

“Fine,” Rama lied. “I’m hungry is all.”

“It’s making you cranky.”

“I know, and I’m sorry. Look, can we go?” She tugged the hem of the dress. “I don’t want this.”

Myra sighed again. “You said you needed new clothes. We can’t leave until you find some.”

“I hate everything I try on.” Rama pulled the dress off and tossed it on the chair. A plastic hanger clattered to the ground. Rama stooped to pick it up. Her hair fell in her face. “No point staying here if I don’t want to get a dress.”

“I’ll find you something else then. Let me try, okay?”

Rama studied herself in the mirror again. Stretch marks pulled across her hips and thighs, dipping into her ragged waistband. How long had she had those panties? The underwire of her bra poked out on one side. Her hair, disheveled, dull, and tangled, elicited a frown.

If only she could have been anyone else.

Anyone who wasn’t her or anybody like her.

Myra returned with an armful of clothing. She knocked on the door, and Rama paused a minute before opening it. Myra shoved the clothing in. Rama dropped the pile of clothes on the chair. From what she could tell, they all fit too tight, showed too much skin, drew too much attention. What was Myra thinking?

“Well?” Myra asked.

“Close the door.” Rama would never wear any of it. Myra didn’t understand.

No one did.

“Something’s wrong,” Myra said.

“It’s nothing,” Rama answered.

“I wish you’d tell me what’s bothering you.”

Rama inhaled.

“It’s not about the clothes,” Myra said.

“No, it’s not.” Rama squeezed her eyes shut, willed away tears. In her mind’s eye, he loomed—the man with the mustache. Chicken tikka masala. Fear unfurled like a banner.

“Ramachandra.”

She opened her eyes.

Myra smiled. “If you don’t love your body, there’s no way you can be happy.”

Myra’s legs and curves were the stuff of magazines. She’d never had a pimple.

Rama sniffed and covered her scar. She could never tell Myra what had happened that day.

Myra took the clothes from Rama. “You win, all right? We’ll go.”

“I appreciate your help.”

“It’s nothing,” Myra said. “We’ll get milkshakes on the way. Grab your bike. I’ll drive you.”

That morning, Rama had biked to school. Myra drove them to the mall.

Rama wanted to be alone.

“I’m biking home. I need the fresh air.”

“By yourself?”

“It’s all right.”

“With the murders?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“How can you be so sure?”

Rama exhaled. “I’m going straight home, no stops on the way. It’s not dark yet. I need to think. Just let me take my bike.”

Myra didn’t press her. “Suit yourself. Let’s go, girl.”

 

After Myra and Rama separated, Rama rode her bicycle through the forest behind the mall. She’d chosen the long way home—a half-hour trek—but that was good. She needed to think. Once she got home, she wouldn’t have the time or the silence for that.

Her father had asked her to help with dinner service. She and Myra had spent too much time at the mall—she might not get home before sunset.

At one point in her life, the dark had been scary. But the most dangerous monsters hid in plain sight, attacked in broad daylight. The shadows and the light they worked against were equal threats.

Trees shaded the straight, smooth path through the woods. Soon, they’d drop their colored leaves for Rama to crunch beneath her tires. The air was warm for October, but it was still autumn. Winter wasn’t far off.

Rama liked winter. She could cover up her body without looking out of place. When the temperature dropped, everyone covered up.

If winter never ended, she might not be so miserable.

At one time, she’d appreciated her body. It was nice, as far as bodies went. She could undress and look in the mirror without cringing.

Then he came into the restaurant and took all that away. Now thoughts of summer made her sick. When school let out next May—

Ramachandra. Stop it.

Rama’s bicycle jerked. Shocked, she hit the brakes and skidded to a stop. The bicycle wobbled. She struggled to keep her balance.

What had she run over?

There were no roots on the path.

The bicycle swerved. Rama’s tire ran over something else. She toppled from the seat, handlebars slipping out of her grasp.

Rama landed hard on her knees. The bicycle smacked against the ground.

She’d run over a rock. She’d have to check her tires.

That’s what you get for not paying attention.

Rama scrambled to a seated position. She braced herself against a tree to see what she’d run over—

There was a body on the path.

Rama shook herself.

No. She’d seen it wrong. She scooted forward on her butt, grinding dirt and leaves beneath her shoes. A twig snapped at her heel. Its broken edges scraped her ankle.

She had to get a closer look.

There was a body on the path.

The girl was Rama’s age. She lay on her side, facing Rama, blue eyes glazed. Unseeing. Dirt coated her long blonde hair and blood poured from her caved-in skull.

Jessica.

Drenched in sweat and shaking, Rama fell on all fours and threw up on the ground, retching until her ribs ached.

Jessica Spurlock.

Her parents lived in town. Rama had ridden her bike past their house.

They’d gone to school together.

She wasn’t coming back.

Emboldened by shock, Rama lifted her gaze—and saw the man beside the body.

She’d missed him at first—his clothes camouflaged him. Blood spattered his green flannel shirt, khaki pants, and brown boots. He held a bloodstained rock. Blood marked his face too.

A flash of recognition.

The man from the restaurant. He lived in town.

Her father’s friend.

The Smiling Man.

Rama heaved again, but there was nothing in her stomach.

She looked once more. It couldn’t be. Her eyes had tricked her.

But what if they hadn’t?

When she scooted closer, he looked up from the body.

He locked eyes with her.

He smiled.

Rama took off running. She couldn’t run before. He’d blocked the door behind him. He was twice her size. The knife—

Pounding heart. Aching thighs. Screaming shins.

She kept running.

If she stopped, he’d catch her. If he caught her, he’d hurt her.

He’d hurt her once before. She couldn’t take her chances.

Her mind shut down. The mustache threatened. The sharp tang of chicken tikka masala—

Rama spun around.

No one there. He hadn’t followed her.

She stopped to catch her breath.

For the moment, she was safe.

What was he doing in the forest? How had he found her again?

Rama hadn’t told anyone about what happened. The less she dwelled on him, the easier it was to pretend it was a nightmare. When she spoke of him, she gave him power.

He was already powerful.

The Smiling Man was her father’s friend. Someone from town. No one to be afraid of. Before the attack, she’d believed he was nice. But what he’d done to her, and how he’d spoken, how he’d touched

No time for that. Stay present, or he’s going to track you down.

Rama gulped air and focused. What was there, besides the man?

Jessica Spurlock. Seventeen. Pretty, thin, and popular.

Murdered with a rock.

Why had Jessica been in the forest? Why had the man been there too? Above all else, why had the man stood next to the body with a rock, like he’d done it?

And that smile.

Rama shuddered so hard she pulled a muscle in her neck. Wincing at the pain, she processed what she’d seen. If the Smiling Man had killed her, what had he done to her first?

She covered her mouth. She wanted to scream. The man would come after her, given she could testify against him. But could she testify, if she had to? Every time she imagined admitting what had happened, she came close to passing out. Add stumbling upon a crime scene and she wouldn’t make a great witness. Besides, she had no evidence.

Rama took another breath.

Behind her, a branch snapped.

She jumped back against a tree. There was someone on the path, but it wasn’t her attacker.

“Jessica?”

Whole and unblemished and alive. No signs of assault.

Rama couldn’t breathe. “How did you—?”

“It’s okay. You fell off your bike. You hit your head. Remember?” Jessica touched her hair. “I tried to help. You ran away.”

She spoke like they were friends, but they seldom talked at school.

“Your head,” Jessica repeated.

Rama pressed a hand against her throbbing temple. How long had it done that? She didn’t remember hitting it, only falling off the bicycle, seeing Jessica’s dead body and the Smiling Man.

Jessica’s brow furrowed as she took a step toward Rama.

Rama stepped away but there was nowhere to go. Her back was still against the tree. The bark scratched her elbows. Dizziness swept over her—but was it from a fall, an injury? She touched her temple. No blood. She probed her face. Nothing.

Could she still have hit her head hard enough to hallucinate?

Jessica fiddled with her pendant. In the fading light, Rama couldn’t tell what it was. Dead Jessica hadn’t been wearing a necklace.

But the body on the path might not have been real.

“I don’t know,” Rama said. The air crackled like a storm was coming, and ozone filled her nostrils. The hair rose on the nape of her neck. Jessica unnerved her. If Rama looked at her for too long, Jessica’s form flickered—for a second, and no longer.

“You’re all right?” Rama asked.

“Of course,” Jessica said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Rama’s tongue refused to move.

She’d fallen off her bicycle and hit her head. That induced hallucinations. The Jessica standing in front of her was alive and well and real. She was expressing her concern.

Rama’s fingers jumped to her temple again and searched her hairline. Normal.

Maybe she’d just bumped her brain, like a football player. Didn’t some of them end up in hospitals? Her parents didn’t watch football. Her father preferred soccer, what he called football, like in India. No wonder those players wore helmets.

She should have worn a helmet.

She should have gone with Myra.

“You were dead,” Rama said. “You were lying in the road.”

Jessica’s expression stayed the same. “Come on now. Let’s walk you back and get you on your way.”

She could ask Jessica to check her head, but Jessica wasn’t a doctor, and wasn’t that weird? Other questions nagged her, but she wouldn’t get the answers.

Jessica led her to her bike. Rama struggled to slow her heartbeat. Jessica’s words hadn’t reassured her. They’d made things worse instead. None of it made sense. Her head felt fine. Had she hit it, or did it hurt because Jessica said it should?

Rama stooped beside the bike and ran her hands over the frame. Cold metal. Real.

She checked the ground.

No body.

No Smiling Man.

Praise Brahma.

Jessica raised her eyebrows, tapping her foot.

She looked nothing like dead Jessica.

“You’re all right,” Rama said again.

Without speaking, Jessica squatted down. She peered into Rama’s eyes. Rama looked away.

Jessica sighed. “Whatever you think happened—what you think you saw . . . I’m okay. Everything is fine.”

“Everything is fine.” In saying it, Rama hoped to convince herself it was true. Still, there was something amiss.

What if she’d seen neither Jessica’s body nor the Smiling Man?

But what if she’d seen both?

Maybe her detour through the woods had done more harm than good.

Jessica’s fingers brushed Rama’s cheek and Rama jerked away. What the hell was Jessica thinking? Rama hated physical touch.

Jessica recoiled too, and frowned.

“I have to get home,” Rama said. “It’s getting dark. I promised I’d be back by now.” Why had she added that part? When Jessica didn’t respond right away, Rama’s anxiety made her continue. “I shouldn’t have gone this way. I never go this way coming back from the mall—I cut through town. But I don’t ever see anyone going this way and I thought—”

“Sweetheart, it’s okay,” Jessica said.

Sweetheart? That was different.

Rama swallowed. “I’ll see you in Spanish tomorrow. Take it easy.”

“Yeah, I will.” Jessica stood and brushed herself off. “Same to you, all right?”

Rama righted the bicycle and climbed aboard. The whole way home, her stomach churned. When she got back to the restaurant, she still couldn’t get the woods out of her mind. No matter how many times she went through Jessica’s explanation, it didn’t satisfy her.

Rama’s head didn’t hurt. She couldn’t have fallen and hit it, let alone hallucinated. What could she have run over, if not Jessica’s body? No roots on the path. No obstacles.

She thought of the Smiling Man’s teeth, the dread in her stomach. Jessica’s hands on the end of her necklace.

Whatever the pendant was, it must have been important.

So why had Rama never seen her wearing it before?

BLOOD AND WATER Is Now on Wattpad

Once, I had all my books available for free on Wattpad. Then, when I thought about querying Reflections, I was worried for some reason that having my work up there would hurt my chances of getting representation (no idea where that thought came from).

Since I'm self-published, I have complete control of my work. I want to make it available for as many people—and potential readers—as possible. And since I write YA, teenagers are my audience. The majority of Wattpad users are teenagers. So putting my writing on Wattpad seems like a great idea—why didn't I think of it sooner?

Anyway, if you want to read Blood and Water, it's now available in full—for freeon Wattpad. If you do read it there, please leave votes, comments, reviews, etc. and you'll probably make my whole year.

Preorder REFLECTIONS Now!

The release date for my YA urban fantasy novel Reflections—a murder mystery with shapeshiftersis only a little over a month away, and I am so excited. I can't remember being this excited about something I've written before. I could probably release sooner, but I want the book to be good, so I'm taking more time than usual. Reflections goes live on June 10 in paperback and ebook form, and if you're eager, you can now preorder it (paperback link, ebook link)! Also, feel free to add the book on Goodreads!

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I'm planning to give away about ten ARC copies to readers, bloggers, and reviewers. If you're a diverse book blogger, you take precedence—especially if you're Indian (since my girl Rama is Indian). Please contact me if you're interested in receiving a copy in exchange for an honest review! I'll let you all know when there are no copies remaining.

I'm releasing Reflections a week before my birthday so I can tell people what I want as a present (book orders and reviews, y'all). I cannot wait to share Rama's world and journey with you! Be on the lookout for a few sample chapters on Wattpad sometime soon.

Cover Reveal: REFLECTIONS

Totally wanted to do this post as some kind of link-up thing, but I was at 221B Con all weekend and therefore did not plan anything (though I did have a great time). ANYWAY, without further ado, here's the beautiful cover for my novel Reflections, releasing this June!

*drumroll*

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ISN'T IT GORGEOUS?! 

As usual, this cover brought to you by the talented Taylor Carney, who also designed my Blood and Water cover. 

And here's the blurb! 

 "Rama would trade almost anything for the chance to become someone else, even for a little while."

 In the small, rural town of Aldale, West Virginia, Ramachandra “Rama” Ganeshan wants nothing more than to avoid dressing rooms for the rest of her life. After a brutal assault destroys her confidence and self-esteem, she yearns to be someone else . . . someone pretty, popular, and loved—until multiple girls in town are found murdered.

After stumbling across her beautiful classmate’s body and a terrifyingly familiar face in the murderer, Rama encounters a group of shapeshifters who know more of the killings than they let on.

Only by earning the shapeshifters’ trust and becoming one of them will Rama be able to help serve justice.

But first, she must learn to love herself and confront her painful past—and find the courage to investigate the violence.

How to Stay Focused on Your WIP

Photo Credit: ihtatho on Flickr

One of the hardest things about being a writer is keeping up the motivation to see a project through. With traditional publishing especially, it can take a long time to get a book out into the world. From first draft to second to third to querying and going on submission and more—it seems like the cycle will never end. It can be difficult to stay focused and encouraged through the process.

I’ve managed to find some techniques that have helped me stay focused while working on drafts and edits and diving into the querying process. Although these tips and tricks may not work for you, I recommend giving them a shot. Here’s what helps me keep an eye on the prize and keep my excitement level up when working on a project.

  • Pinterest boards. I’ve talked before about how much inspiration I get from Pinterest. When motivation wanes, a glance through my project’s Pinterest board reignites my excitement.
     
  • Playlists. This is another topic I’ve touched on before, but I cannot underestimate the power of music. When I start a project, I listen to the same playlist every time I dive into writing. I associate those songs with that project. Sometimes, all I have to do when I'm unmotivated is put that music on and then I’m ready to go.
     
  • Remember why you started. If you’re writing a book, especially to a specific market, you should have a reason why you’re writing it. For example, with Reflections, I wanted my MC to be a trauma survivor with body image issues. Rama shows the devastating effects assault can have, and how it doesn’t end someone’s life or make them “damaged goods.” I’ve already talked to some friends who say they need this book, and that encouragement helps. If I don’t finish this book, I’ll feel like I’m letting them down. Looking at the big picture is a huge help when trying to motivate yourself to reach the finish line.
     
  • Immerse yourself. Surround yourself with your WIP in any way you can. Right now, my desktop and phone wallpapers are all related to REFLECTIONS. I can’t escape it. I also have a pile of crystals on my desk that I see every time I sit down to write. If you’re living in your book, how can you not get writing done?
     
  • Take care of yourself. One of my goals for this year has been to go a little easier on myself. I have a terrible habit of working myself into the ground. Most of the time, my intense work ethic is a blessing, but it has driven me to burn out before. When working on a project, make sure to take breaks. Get plenty of sleep, fresh air, and water, and don’t feel guilty about taking days off if you need to. Never underestimate the importance of breaks. If you’re writing something that’s triggering, breaks are essential.

Publishing is an industry that requires grit, determination, persistence, and patience. Armed with these tips, you should be able to stay on track with your WIP, meet your deadlines, and get your book out in the world.

Why I'm Going Trad

Holy wow. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. I’ve been hard at work on the edits for Reflections and cannot wait to share it with the world. After I’m satisfied with the manuscript, I intend to launch myself into querying… which I’m dreading a little bit.

I’ve queried before, even with this manuscript in some earlier stages (when I thought it was ready), but this time, I’m serious. This time, it’s real.

Since my debut novel is self-published, as well as my one-act play, I’ve gotten questions about seeking traditional publication. Why am I making the switch?

First, I don’t have as much time as I used to. As much as I enjoyed managing the details of my first book launch myself, it was a little overwhelming. The only reason I could put the book out when I did was that I was self-employed, working full time from home. All the marketing, planning, promoting—I got to do all that myself. Now that I have a full-time job (not working for myself), it just isn’t feasible.

I feel like I need the support of an agent and a publishing team behind me. Don’t get me wrong—I know authors still do a lot of their own marketing, but it would be nice to have a couple people by my side as I go through that whole process.

Traditional publishing would also give me a much wider distribution than self-pub, and a great deal more exposure. While I’m not in writing books to make any money, I do want as many people to read my books as possible. Traditional publishing makes that much more likely than self-pub.

I’m still happy with my decision to self-publish Blood and Water and Touch. Self-publishing has taught me a great deal about releasing books as well as offered me several opportunities I might not have gotten otherwise. Still, given where I am at this point in my life, I’m leaning toward going traditional.

It's Rerelease Day!

I've been working on this rerelease for quite some time now. Since debuting in 2015, I've learned a lot about the writing, editing, and self-publication process. Naturally, that means I've grown and learned from my mistakes. I've developed higher standards.

When I first published Blood and Water, I was going through a difficult time. I was alone in Florida, working at a job I hated, depressed and suicidal. Finishing that novel was one of the only things that kept me going. I was determined to put my work out into the world—to let it spread its wings and fly when I myself was trapped.

At that time, I was more concerned with getting it published than getting it right. If I could just get it out there, everything would be okay. So maybe I rushed (I totally did). I put something out I wasn't totally satisfied with. And that truth has been driving me crazy ever since.

As I think more on the importance of legacy, I've realized how much I wanted to ensure the best product possible goes out into the world. That's my biggest reason for deciding to rerelease. Now, I have the time, and I'm publishing the book I wanted to in the first place.

The revised edition of Blood and Water is now available in ebook form. You will also be able to purchase it in paperback, hopefully soon. This new edition contains some new scenes, a few hints toward the sequel, and so much more. Thank you all for being so patient with me. I promise this book will be well worth the wait.

This Is a Political Post

Photo credit: Liz Lemon on Flickr

I’m not sure I’ve ever done a political post before, and if you don’t want to read a political post, feel free to click out. But I can’t sit by in silence and watch people suffer. I can’t watch my sisters fighting hard to maintain our rights without participating. Feminism is something near and dear to my heart, and now more than ever, I need it—every day.

I’ve had many people tell me lately that “Feminism is men hating” or “You’ll never get a man to love you if you’re a feminist.” I’ve had people say they wouldn’t be my friend unless I stopped being a feminist. Other people have told me they’re not comfortable with my opinions.

You know what? That doesn’t stop me. Your discomfort doesn’t take precedence over someone’s rights. I understand that many people are miseducated regarding feminism, and still others have been taught all their lives that women are naturally inferior and should never be equal with men. You may belong to one of these groups. You may even feel that, as a woman, I have no right to complain about a system in which I can vote, start a business, and enjoy most of the same privileges as American men.

However, nothing you can say to me will make me turn away from feminism. I fully acknowledge my privilege as a straight, white, cisgender woman. I understand that I have it better than many of my transgender, queer, or POC sisters. I’m not denying that. I wish things were different. Although I benefit to some extent from the current system, I am by no means content with it. Now more than ever, I need feminism. Now more than ever, I want to be heard.

The new administration—President He Who Shall Not Be Named—has me terrified to live here. I am now a citizen of a country in which our leader is sexist, misogynist, xenophobic, racist, and a slew of other unpleasant “ists.” Every morning I wake up and wonder how it happened. How did we as a people ignore so many red flags? How did we assume it would get better, that he might back down, that maybe just maybe everything would be okay?

If you don’t see a problem with the new president, go ahead and click out of here. Unfollow me or block me or whatever you like. For me, it’s not a matter of debate. We now have a president who has openly and on record berated, belittled, and objectified women across the board. The following quote sums it up pretty well:

I did try and f*** her . . . I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping . . . She wanted to get some furniture. I said, ‘I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look . . . I’ve gotta use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful ― I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p***y. You can do anything.

The man who said that is now the president of the United States. Let that really sink in for a minute. Although he's not my president—I refuse to add that title to his name—he's in power now, despite so many warnings and red flags and concentrated efforts by concerned citizens to try and stop him. And for the first time in my life that I can remember, I am genuinely, truly terrified about the future.

Last weekend, when news of the Muslim Ban broke, I tweeted about it. Here:

That was all. I didn't say supporters of the ban were stupid, deserved to die, or anything like that. But that didn't stop a horde of trolls and malicious Trump supporters from descending on me with death threats, wishes that I would be raped, and even a Live Leak video of a Muslim woman being simultaneously beheaded and raped in the street—which ultimately led to me having two panic attacks, logging off Twitter, and locking my account for the weekend.

Never in my life prior to this administration have I gotten death threats. Never have I had anyone say, "I hope you get raped." But it's a whole new world now, with new rules, and no one is safe. And that's why I keep fighting. I don't want anyone else to go through what I went through just for expressing an opinion. I thought we lived in a country that welcomed free speech and encouraged understanding between different groups of people. I guess I was wrong.

No matter what happens now, I'm going to keep fighting. I hope you'll be there with me. It will be a long four years, but as long as we're together, we stand a fighting chance.

Stay safe out there, peeps. I love you. Come to me if you ever need to vent or anything, and above all else, remember—you are not alone.

Turning Off the Editor Brain

Photo credit: Rob King on Flickr

One of the biggest challenges in being an author and an editor is turning off the editor brain. After spending all day proofreading and editing, it's hard to come home and write or settle in with a book. Especially when I'm writing a first draft, it's crucial to turn off my inner editor.

Lately, that's been much easier said than done. And it's not limited to my work. I read at least a chapter before I go to bed, and most of the time, I can't help skimming the pages for grammatical errors. 

In some ways, this is good. It allows me to analyze literature, dissect a piece to figure out what works, and emulate it in my own writing. But it also detracts from my enjoyment of the piece.

The same goes for my writing. How am I supposed to finish a draft if I edit it to death? Instead of moving forward, I'm trapped in a hell of my own making (the road to which is paved with adverbs—thank you, Stephen King). Falling into this never-ending editing nightmare is a good way to guarantee I never finish a book.

As writers, it's normal to want to edit your fiction. You may even enjoy editing someone else's work. Even if you're a writer and a freelance editor, you should do your best to keep the two realms separate. Let your writing time be writing time, sacred and non-negotiable. The same goes for your editing time.

For me, I've found that it's best to stick to one project at a time (I'm only just now getting that!) unless I'm first-drafting one and editing another. It's too much stress on my brain, and I'm trying to be kinder to it. I suggest you do the same—we need our brains for building books!

I've learned to turn off my editor brain easier than I used to, but I still have some way to go. What about you? Do you struggle to keep from editing when you're supposed to be writing? Tell me about it in the comments below! I'll see you all back here next week.